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First, Do the Simple Things Perfectly

When I was younger, I had a temptation to skip the simple things and tackle the complicated things.

The simple things are boring, inherently not noteworthy, or possibly just embarrassing, I thought.

It turns out that if you do the simple things perfectly, you might not need to worry about the complicated things. Or that the complicated things are simple because they're just a series of simple things, anyway.

This is true in filmmaking and the rest of life.

In film school, we had a scene-directing class. The focus was supposed to be directing actors. For our scene-directing exercises, the professor recommended working from a scene from a movie, but he also permitted students to write their own. As film school is the home exclusively to the immodest and delusional, just about everyone wrote their own original scene.

Because the students' scenes were badly written and untested, nearly every exercise turned out poorly. And because the students had a hunch they were on the wrong track, they ignored the simple things altogether, instead focusing on cinematography and production design.

The results were a bunch of pretty shots of nonsense. That's called a failure.

If you're directing a scene, first make sure the scene works on paper. Then cast two actors who can talk and listen naturally.

Those are the simple things to worry about when you're directing a scene. If you fail at those simple tasks, nothing else matters.

Later, I spent a few years assisting a much better professor who taught a similar class. He didn't allow his students to write or even choose their own scenes. He assigned simple scenes (two characters in a room with no fighting, stunts, sex, or hysterics) that he knew worked. Most students did a good job, and everyone learned. Forcing the students to focus on the simple things was wisdom on the part of the professor.

The same applies everywhere else in my life, including outside of filmmaking.

In personal finance, don't worry about how to get rich in an innovative way. First, spend less than you make. Then, pay off any debt. Next, save in a 401K or IRA.

At Tortuga, we need to present clear photos and write helpful copy. The newest and most innovative marketing techniques have hardly made an impact on our business, over and over.

Whenever I find myself focusing on how complicated a problem is, I later realize that I've been worried about the wrong thing.

The right question to ask is:

What's the simple thing that I can do perfectly over and over?

Do a good job at that, and people will pat you on the back for having done something interesting and complicated.

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