Friday, August 24, 2012


What exactly is a success? Are there different levels of being successful? The answer is yes. Sometimes being successful has nothing to do with money or financial rewards, but rather a personal measure that can only be defined by those making the effort.
When I produce a film, for example, many people are hired and how they do their job benefits their career and future recommendations. Some I meet only once or twice early in the preproduction process, and then again, when we start shooting.  Most of these people know their job well and do not need to be seen for them to perform to the perfection expected. Nevertheless, a wardrobe person must listen and be trusted or a disaster is in the making. We meet to discuss dressing the actors, and unless it’s a period piece that requires specific wardrobe costumes, something dealing with present day is easier but not easy. If the script is read and there is no mention of bright-red tennis shoes, and the actors show up on the set in red Reeboks, that’s not cool. That wardrobe person didn’t listen, and their success rate slipped a notch or two. Many jobs on a movie set require a successful background, and that has nothing to do with how much money they have. It does matter what their rate of pay might be on their next job.
To a writer, albeit for the screen or a novel, the success comes from building their audience, creating a following, structuring who they are and how they sell themselves to their potential buyers. For the writer who has struggled for years on end, been turned down by every agency in the business, had his or her work criticized negatively, been rejected by all publishers they approached and finally when all else has failed they find their way to self-publishing, and their work becomes a hit. The size of the hit is not as important as the audience that has been found and hungers for another book. That spells success.
Success comes when writers help one another. It is, after all, a very small world we live in. Many writers write alone and their lives follow that pattern until, or unless they find their audience and a bit of success does happen. It’s a lonely profession. I remember being a staff writer at one of the movie studios. I had written a draft of a script, and one of the other writers came over to look it over for me. He first read the content, and we discussed the story. He made several suggestions, some good ones that I ended up using with his permission. When we were all done, he quietly pointed out a few typos and didn’t make a big deal out of it. I remember that to this day. They were easy fixes, but the script would’ve been sent out with them uncorrected, and he saved by butt and some embarrassment.
I always tell students, not everyone will like your work. Not everyone will see eye to eye with your story content. Does that make it an ominous decision? The answer is no of course not. If you gave a thousand books away and only fifty liked it, does that make it harmful, and once again, it may surprise you there’s good news in that message. What you just did was find fifty readers who will look for your next book and most likely buy it. Amazingly, you found part of your audience. I’ve had people hate a screenplay and tell me to my face how horrible it was, how painful just to read and get through it. A month later I sell that same screenplay, and then it ends up making a pretty good movie. More importantly the film made money, and thus I had another audience for my work.
In the film business, unlike books, you are only as good as your last hit. With books, your audience tends to be loyal to you and will follow you and your work. As you build into your success, the reader enjoys it all the more. If you only write one genre, and it happens to be a series, your toes need to be very strong to hold you up, as your stories need to keep their attention with fresh and unique things for your limited characters to do. If you write a variety of genres without type casting your work, your audience will come to expect a bit of the unusual and accept a wide range of storylines. If you stick to one genre and limit the story lines, for example, writing about killers, rapists, military subjects or terrorist, then you need to create wonderful lead characters the audience will love, identify with and seek to follow. Any of the above will spell success when done with passion.
Success allows you to grow and once again this has nothing to do with your monetary world. It will eventually have great meaning, but not early on. No one can make a storyteller. If you have the gift, you can write. The writing part is also an art that no one can give to you. If you’ve ever read the paragraph, many schools use to show us how gullible we are, then you have read a horribly written string of misspelled words and language usage and yet you, the reader, understands the entire paragraph and can explain what it meant. That said there are some great books written with poor language, typos and some unique spelling and then went on to be best sellers. I am not suggesting you ignore your errors and know you will fix as many as you can find or your editor will discover, but perfection is hard to achieve with so many written words. Often times you will pick up a book written by a famous best-selling author and see typos. Most of these writers have professional editors, and yet they miss some bad usage or words missing or misused. It happens to the best, and it will happen to you no matter how many times to re-read your work. Unless every page is horrible, these mistakes are forgivable if the story holds. The reader sees the error and then forgets about it, so they can devour the next page. That, my friends, is part of the success you achieve when you find your audience.
As a filmmaker, success is not measured by your financial wealth. Success is based on how your film sold and if people came back a second time or bought the DVD of your film. It helps if they not only like the story but how the overall film looks. Were the actors dressed right, use the right gadgets; drive the right cars and travel to locations that captured your imagination? If they loved it all, then you made a successful film that will be remembered. Once an audience remembers you will be asked to make another film. You’ve earned a moment of success. What continues to be true is you are only as good as your last film.
As an actor, success comes from how good, your performance is and can you hold the attention of the audience. Do they like you and your character portrayal? Once they like you, they will always like you even when you work in a turkey. Unless you keep making junk, they will forgive one or even a couple but not all of your additional work. That’s when a star becomes a has-been.
Authors face a similar situation when the first part is the storytelling of your planned journey. If your three best friends love it or are afraid to tell you it stinks, but the next thousand hate it, you might want to try another genre or refreshed characters in a different setting. The story is everything, and that goes for film and television. Story, story, story. If you can tell a story and have people listen and enjoy the tale, you are a storyteller. Can you write? Only you will know the answer to that. No one can do it for you. No one can make you a writer any more than they can make you a storyteller. Once you find your handle, you have just received your first dose of success, and each step you take after that brings more success.
Communication skills also help and they can be taught, honed and perfected. Do you respond to fans? Always. Do you answer emails? Everyone.  Do you return phone calls? Each one is like finding treasure. Does anger help? Never. Can you write a good letter? Try, try and try again. They get better every time you write one. Do they help? Success can’t be obtained if you live in a dark bedroom. Communication is part of being visible.
Financial success usually comes after you’ve discovered. How successful you become is basically up to you, after all, isn’t that what you are trying to do?
The best part of success comes when you can choose what you want to do, turn down what you don’t, and be happy with your decisions.
Over the years, I’ve had the luxury of doing many things, acting, writing, producing, directing and filmmaking. I’ve written songs, music scores, created and directed commercials, and I’ve also stumbled. I’ve done good things and bad things, had successes and failures and through it all have enjoyed every moment. As one of my mentors pointed out to me early on, you cannot please all the people as that will never happen. There will always be someone who does not like what you do, including your greatest success. The secret is to enjoy the journey, be happy with what you do and sincerely care about others. What they think you can’t change, but you can entertain most of them, in one way or another. A smile goes a long way and certainly makes you feel better. The best part comes when you help someone else and because of what you do, that little effort opens a door for their success.

Success. It’s right at the corner.

William Byron Hillman © 2012
Book Links:
Veronique and Murray:
Zebra’s Rock and Me

Rollie Kemp Books
Ghosts and Phantoms Part I:
Ghosts and Phantoms Part II:

Coming soon: Quigley’s Christmas Adventure