It’s a truism in the film biz that you always need to have a bunch of irons in the fire, because you never know which project is going to get a green light at any given time. And it seems to apply no matter what level of success one has attained in the industry. A quick glance at Ridley Scott’s IMDB page confirms this… He currently has 60 projects in development. 60! That’s a lot of irons in the fire. And he’s Ridley Scott for chrissakes.
This idea used to fill me with anxiety. Can’t I just focus on one thing at a time?! Should I be developing a romantic comedy in case my slasher film doesn’t get funded? How about a musical? A slasher comedy musical? (Don’t steal that last one… It’s going to be my magnum opus.) But what I failed to understand is “irons in the fire” doesn’t mean running around like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to guess what might get that illusive green light. Quite the opposite: If every project we’re developing is consistent with the core of who we are as creators, then it doesn’t really matter which one launches first. Now I feel like “whatever happens, I win.” Much better for one’s mental health.
But the key is to make damn sure every iron we have in the fire is true to our purpose as a filmmaker, photographer, artist, or entrepreneur of any stripe. If that’s the case, then we can’t lose. We like to think we are masters of our destiny, but in reality so much is out of our control. Which project clicks with the right person at the right time is largely in fate’s hands. But what isn’t up to the fates is which irons we put out into the world. And that’s what we need to focus on, because we do have control over that aspect of our creative careers.
By the way, a corollary expression that I love is “go where the green lights are.” As we’re moving our various projects forward we need to pay attention, so when we do get a green light — no matter how seemingly modest — we jump all over it. Conversely, if we’re fighting the universe to get a specific project off the ground, and getting red lights at every turn, then maybe it’s time to put it on the back burner for a while. The time just isn’t right, maybe the project has some inherent flaws, or maybe Mercury is in retrograde. But that’s okay.
Case in point, a few years back I was relentlessly pushing one film project and getting crazy resistance and red lights at every turn. Meanwhile I was getting green lights on several other fronts, but my thinking was: “Persistence, man! You just gotta keep hammering away!” Wrong. I missed more than one potentially huge opportunity because I wasn’t paying attention to the green lights. Clearly I confused persistence with stubborn resistance. So let’s make sure all our irons in the fire are true to our creative purpose, put them out into the world, and then follow the green lights.