LIVING IN LIMBO: How to Stay Focused & Motivated on Large Projects

By Sam Zalutsky
Spalding MFA faculty, Screenwriting

Right now I’m finishing up Seaside, a microbudget feature which I wrote, directed, and produced. I’m so eager and excited for people to see it. But the filmmaking process is definitely a marathon and not a sprint. Maybe it’s a little like what happens when you are waiting for a book to be published. Postproduction can be particularly challenging. The immediacy and control of pre-production and shooting are replaced with a much slower and less intense schedule. And sometimes it feels like nothing is happening. Argh!

IMG_5365I directed Seaside for three weeks in April 2016, exactly one year ago. It was definitely a career highlight, working with a really talented and collaborative cast and crew. After the shoot, I returned to New York and worked with my editors until late September. After the picture edit, I spent the fall and winter working with my sound designer and composer as well as raising the final finishing funds through an intense 30-day Kickstarter. And in March I was back in Portland working with my cinematographer, colorist, and producer to give the film a consistent visual look. Now I’m putting together the end credits with my graphic designer and submitting to festivals. There are so many little details to attend to.

marathon-250987_1920I am so close to the finish line but in certain ways this is just the beginning of the process. So how can I prepare myself for this next stage: festivals, marketing, and hopefully distribution? How do I recharge my batteries and stay fresh? Here are some things that I do to stay inspired:

  1. Start a new project. When I’m in the middle of production, it’s impossible to work on something else. But now I have plenty of unstructured time. Just like when you’re waiting for feedback from your Spalding mentor, this is the perfect time to develop new projects or projects that have been on hold. This is especially because everybody in the film business always asks: What else are you working on?
  2. Collaborate. It can be really satisfying to create a project by myself but I love collaborating. Whose work do I admire? Who is exploring similar themes? Collaboration is an excellent way to push your work forward.
  3. Similar but different. Right now I’m making a video for an educational non-profit. I love this gig partially because it’s so different from my personal work. But also because the students always inspire me, it uses my filmmaking skills, and is only 7 minutes long!tyler-pruitt-15465
  4. Something completely different. I draw. I take photographs. These projects are short term and easy to complete. So important when working on really long term projects.
  5. Get Distracted. Now, when I have time to let my mind wander, I do. I’m really excited to see the Whitney Biennial and some other current art shows. I have novels stacked on my bedside table again.

What about you? When you’ve been working on a large project and feel frustrated or stalled, what do you do to refocus and recharge?

Thanks for reading and best of luck with your writing.


sam-zalutskySam Zalutsky is a writer/director in New York City. To follow the progress of his new feature, Seaside, please like the Facebook page or following along on Instagram @seasidemovie. He can’t wait to show it to you. His previous work can be seen at www.sazamproductions.com.

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