As an indie film maker one of the most difficult and heartbreaking things I have to do is to give up on a project. On one hand it feels like a huge personal loss, but on the other hand it's more than just that. An idea turns into a plan, which is taken up by a team, which puts time, effort, and resources towards realizing that idea...and sometimes it just isn't good enough. When the worst happens the loss is felt by more than just one person, the whole team takes the hit.
Maybe it was the script. Maybe it was the actors. Maybe the technical execution by the crew wasn't up to snuff. Maybe it was all of these elements working together to make sure that the project just didn't come together in the end. Maybe it simply wasn't the right time.
I've had every one of these elements go wrong in various projects, as well as multiple elements go wrong in the same project. It's a part of the life of an indie film maker. Probably the worst part.
In Hollywood, this rarely happens. Projects are much more resilient because the professionals really do know what they are doing. Scripts are vetted and rewritten long before anything significant ever moves forward. Cast and crew are carefully selected from the best of the available talent pool (a pool that is much bigger than what we have available for our little 'indie' projects) and lots of time and money is spent on planning, scheduling, and theorizing about what it will take to turn a script into a finished film.
Independent film makers don't have the kinds of resources needed for "Hollywood" success stories. For the most part we are still learning the ins and outs of the business. So we fail. Sometimes we fail hard.
So...you're a film maker and your project just tanked. Now what?
First I would suggest thinking about what possible good came from the project. Here is an example of something good that came from a failed project of mine. The trailer was great (at least in my opinion):
The Pilot episode of "The Downriver Spiral" was filmed (mostly in my neighbor's garage) somewhere around 2013 by myself and a small group of friends. It turned out...okay. Okay...but also not very good. Honestly, it was not very good at all, and when it comes down to it the fault was all mine. I wrote the script. I found the actors. I found the locations. I also dropped the ball, big time.
The trailer, however, was great. I wished the rest of the show looked as good as the trailer. I wished the narrative was easier to follow. As the writer, I especially wished that more of the jokes landed and that the pacing was snappier. I wished--
Yeah, the list just keeps on going.
An older, wiser man who I worked with for many years used to say: "Wish in one hand and shit in the other, then tell me which one gets full the fastest" (Thank you, Ed Burton)
However, all wishing aside - there is a bright side. As I mentioned a few times, the trailer is a fun artifact of that project but an even more important is that the Downriver Spiral helped me move from "someone who wanted to do film projects" to "someone who does film projects" and in the process I made some amazing friends. Two of the actors that I recruited (who were really just friends of mine at the time) are now regulars in my projects and I look forward to working with them any chance I get. I was also able to change the nature of some friendships of mine from "someone I liked to hang out and talk about movies with" to "someone I've been in the trenches with" and the difference between those two types of friendships should never be underestimated.
While good things can often come from a failed project, sometimes the whole effort was so miscalculated and/or misguided that there really isn't a single good element that can be salvaged from the ashes. No good Behind The Scenes photos, no funny trailers, no well-developed movie poster, no blooper reels, etc. Maybe you even burned some bridges in the process (this is a worst case scenario! Never burn bridges if it's at all avoidable!).
So what now?
I say, learn from it.
What do I/we do wrong? What can I do better next time? Identify your weaknesses and work on those first. I discovered that my friends have far too much faith in my ability to write.
My first few projects were 1 or 2 draft scripts. Never move forward with a first or second draft script, even if everyone reads it and says "Great! Let's make this!" Don't believe them! Find someone who doesn't know you, someone online, (or maybe even someone who hates you) to give you an honest critique of your script. It will undoubtedly sting the ego a bit but it will make you take a second look at your project and it will turn out much better in the end.
Remember that failing is a thousand times better than not trying, and the best way to learn is to get out there and get started. Just try not to spend the rent money in the process.
For the record, this is a republished post from a personal blog on my old Wix page. (Just as an FYI)