Living in Limbo: Staying Motivated During Challenging Times

By Sam Zalutsky, Screenwriting Faculty

I originally wrote this post in 2017, shortly after finishing shooting my feature film Seaside, when I was wading through the long, challenging, and often tedious process of post-production. While the world is struggling to overcome a deadly pandemic, I realize that being stuck in limbo can be a familiar, if challenging, territory for those of us who create. In life and art I often must remind myself that the magic is in the doing and the making; just putting one foot in front of the other each day is essential.

Despite finishing Seaside in 2017, the film wasn’t released until 2019. To be honest, there was a long period where I thought it never would get released. And while it didn’t have the festival run I had hoped for, Seaside just won the Best Feature Award at the inaugural Yale in Hollywood Film Festival. A wonderful surprise! I was humbled and proud to hear the jury’s thoughts and I’m very grateful to have another opportunity to share my work with people. (The awards ceremony also gave me a chance to get out of my sweatpants and put on a nice shirt!)

And if you haven’t seen Seaside yet, you can stream it on Amazon before our lead, Ariana DeBose, stars in Ryan Murphy’s The Prom and Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story (You’ve heard of them, right?)

Wishing you all a healthy, happy, and safe holiday season as well as inspiration and good writing!

[Original Post Date of 4/18/17] Right now I’m finishing up Seaside, a micro budget 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!

I 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 one must attend to.

I 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 important as 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 word do you 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!

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 Zalutsky is a writer/director in New York City. His previous work can be seen at www.sazamproductions.com.

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