For Creatives, It’s Ship or Die

Why I Decided To Release an Unfinished Short Film.

An Uncertain Future

A year ago, I decided to join a group of Nebraska filmmakers for an anthology project for the Prairie Lights Film Festival. I went through various scripts and chose one written by a woman.

A lot can happen in a year.

2017 was a year of loss for me and I was suddenly faced with an uncertain future. So I decided to dive into more and more creative ventures while planning and looking forward to my short. It was a cathartic escape for me. In an uncertain world, I knew the only thing I can count on is my ability to create. So I placed all my energy into that.

In July of this year, I drove from Mobile to Nebraska to begin the production of my short, Washed Clean. I decided to make it an animated feature. I was using reference video to rotoscope over the actors then putting those shots together with Photoshop and Premiere Pro. While filming, I slept in my car, never leaving the production office I shot in. I had to leave for Alabama again after shooting and was bootstrapping my way back home.

After production, I promptly began my postproduction plan, choosing my shots, designing my characters and workflow, all without a dime. Less than 18 days after I left Nebraska, I was hit in a head-on collision. I won’t go into details about it, but I had to take time to recover from the accident. A lot of time. Which I didn’t have. I began to panic. I’m not sure how I was going to finish this project in time for this year’s festival. It’s too late for me to pull out and my project was highly anticipated.

But now I’m in chronic pain with no car and a depleted bank account. I would draw a frame of animation. When I got tired or was in too much pain to continue, I stopped. Then I woke up and drew another frame. Rinse and repeat. I was proud of myself until I realized I stayed up all night to animate 3 seconds of film.

I attempted to complete my project between doctors’ visits, physical therapy, naps I needed to take, and short-term video editing projects that would actually make me money to pay for all those pain pills, transportation to physical therapy, and other medical expenses.

Eventually, I got tired. Too tired to finish. And furthermore, I needed to bootstrap my trip to Nebraska sans car so I can work the festival. For those outside of the film industry, this may seem like a vacation or a dream position. But it’s basically neverending PR work so you can secure a future job later. Working in the film industry is constantly looking for your next job.

The festival organizers were waiting on my film. A film that I had hoped would be finished. But it was nowhere near finished. I turned it in anyway.

Silicon Valley has given us a new buzzword in the past couple of years: ship. It’s supposedly the answer to perfectionist thinking. If you got a deadline, but your product isn’t complete, you ship anyway. It’s a radically simple concept that has led to an entire industry dedicated to debugging and DLC content, but still. It’s a valid mantra for creatives as well.

You are only a creative if you can produce actual work. Creative professionals constantly joke about “artists” who never have any published work, gallery shows, premieres, or any tangible proof that they are actually artists. Given the pressures of the art and film world, you certainly want to create the best product you can. And you should. But at some point, you have to decide to show the world what you already got, even if it pains you.

I was animating at 3 am when I came to this epiphany. Why was it so important to me to finish this project by festival time? Is it because I have something to prove? Is it because it’s the only thing I feel I have control over in my life? I was in a damn major car accident. I think I deserve a break.

I went to bed.

Washed Clean was unfinished and may have not made sense to anyone but myself. I joked to myself that is was the most artistically pretentious thing I’ve done since I trolled my fellow art students with The Signifyin’ Monkey in storybook form back at the Roski School of Art and Design.

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