Passion projects operate within their own economy. One where financial gain is beside the point, investments are expected to be lost, and purity of vision is valued above all else. Passion projects are pieces of art. They exist to exist. Getting them to exist can be the problem, too.
A recurring topic in our conversations with independent filmmakers is how personal/passion projects have either launched, sustained, or saved their careers. For some people, like Hunter Hampton, personal projects have kept them from jumping off a creative cliff. For others, like Khalid Mohtaseb, passion projects have become a surprisingly effective marketing strategy. We don’t think there’s a “wrong way” to approach passion projects. But after having dozens of these conversations, the conclusion we’ve drawn is that passion projects, in whatever form, are an essential part of a creative lifestyle and an even more essential part of a creative career.
Every project comes with its own lessons. There are lessons in failure and success, lessons in easy clients and difficult clients, and lessons in not being able to drum up any projects at all. Some of the most important lessons, though, come when we make projects for ourselves ⎯ passion projects. When left to our own devices, we have the chance to discover what we really have to offer, what we value, what we believe good work actually means. The lessons we learn by making passion projects have the ability to affect every aspect of our work, from the clients we choose to the stories we tell. Often, that’s worth the cost of production alone (whether that’s dollars, or simply the time spent by the people producing it).
Filmmaking, for many, is a treadmill. You spend so much time clawing your way into a position to make films for a living that you find yourself in a place where you’re not making the films you want to be making. Or at least the films you’re personally invested in making. There are deadlines. There are clients. And, of course, there are bills to pay. Sometimes years can go by without stepping off of the treadmill and our big ideas for passion projects do nothing but collect dust. It happens to the best of us. But, here’s the good news: by working to put yourself in this position, you’ve (maybe unknowingly) given yourself the tools you need to pull off a film you only would’ve dreamed of making in your early days.