A few days ago a friend called me on the phone to share a story about her and a homeless person who often comes to her door. She was feeling guilty because the woman she offered money to had scorned it because it was not enough. My friend had offered the $3 in her pocket when the woman wanted $20. That was all the cash my friend had in that moment and she felt guilty that she didn’t have more. But I told her that she was not at fault; she had offered what she had. But I felt disappointed, not because she had done anything wrong, but because once again the unique and rare energy associated with giving had been decimated by a lack of appreciation. Giving is a very powerful tool but what people fail to really take into account is the reciprocal and necessary power of appreciation. I am sad that so many people, and many filmmakers, don’t understand how moving it can be.
So let’s start by talking about giving. People give for lots of reasons. Many of them are not even good. You may give because you feel obligated. Maybe there’s an incentive involved–a tax break, a piece of art. Maybe you give because there’s a bargain being negotiated–“if I give this, I’ll get that.” People will give because they feel guilty–obligation and guilt are the worse. Or they will give because they want to feel important or special–a different way of giving. They will give because its habit or it’s something they were supposed to do and they think about consequences. I’m sad to say: none of these are truly giving. They are excuses to give but they lack the most important aspect to giving. True giving is entirely free and expects nothing in return. But people barely remember that anymore.
We give to our colleagues and friends, on holidays and birthdays, we give to the homeless or the man that asks, we give to that niece or nephew that needs our help, we give to the church and the needy, our family and our charities. But do you notice how often most of these gifts require a tag? This tag requires a thank you, or some show of appreciation–there must be some validation that must occur for us to choose to do it again. It is a transaction of a slight kind, and yet it is still a transaction–I give this, to get something in return. That is not giving, and a show of appreciation feels like no appreciation at all. So when did this lack of appreciation begin to mar our understanding of giving?
During the recession gift giving went down the tubes. People felt (but did not necessarily) have less, so they gave less. They shared less, but we all felt we needed more whether this was true or not. So when we did give, the quality around this act started to change. The gift had to have special meaning. We expected the received to know and understand just how hard it was to give. People wanted their gifts to matter more so they raised their expectations. We each needed to have reasons to give because simply giving was not enough.
So as this lesser process of gift giving continued, how people accepted their gifts also began to change. People began to feel that even receiving a gift required something. The gift needed to be earned in some way. A gift became not capable of being simply given. Each gift needed something to be given in return. A thank you note, a nod to do in kind, a favor. Accepting gift, the second part of gift giving, began to disappear. We lost sight that there is not only power in giving but power in receiving. That power comes in the ability to truly appreciate a gift when it is given.
Consider the energy you get when you give a child a gift. It is such an event, as if the world transformed. They don’t apologize for the gift or look for ways to balance out the investment of it. They don’t think about it; they take it. They accept it and they enjoy it. Acceptance is powerful too. When you accept a gift you say more than I am holding it, you say it is worth something and it is worthy of me. You acknowledge the magic that surrounds you when you accept what someone offers; you honor them. I suspect that is why people often find it difficult to give to someone who begs. A beggar has no dignity. Their lack of dignity destroys the worth in acceptance. If you’re asking for something beneath you, anything given loses the quality of worth and honor and takes on the quality of pity. Who among wants to feel or spread pity to those around us. That is not a good feeling.
So how strange it is that we are taught as children to unlearn what is natural–the process of acceptance–so we can learn something unnatural: that every gift must be matched with payment in return. We learn how to appear grateful and how to demonstrate appreciation even if these things are not what we feel. We write notes, send flowers or make connections. Sometimes we give a platonic and reactionary kiss. Then we learn how to do this all over again to keep this cycle of false giving going. But true gifts aren’t given everyday. That is the point. Real gift giving is rare, and it is special. We know it when we feel it.
It’s the time that you left something for someone and never said a word. It’s being anonymous in your contribution. It’s giving someone something not because they asked, but because they needed it. It’s choosing to become a part of a special energy that is incredibly hard to describe but when you feel it, you feel lighter and brighter. You feel strong. Do you remember Secret Santas? There’s so much that goes into being a secret santa–who came up with the idea of divulging the santas at the end? Because the energy you experience when you’re planting gifts in secret is so much more thrilling than when you discover who your santa is at the end–that’s almost a downer. It’s because secret santa’s (and their recipients) are absolved from all that baggage of giving–they give and they receive because they can.
In the film world, true appreciation is rare which is probably why so little films get made (when I only hear over and over again that there’s plenty of money out there) and why investments are so few. Investors can give because they want to receive but not always– they are very similar to philanthropists and they overlap in many ways. Not all philanthropists give because they want nothing in return and not all investors give because they expect to make it rich. But what they both understand is that their gift can have meaning in a larger context. Further they both have a deeper wish to be appreciated.
People can give because they want to be a part of something big, amazing, special, precious. But the gift is something special even as an investment. An investor can give for all the right reasons and I’ve seen that too. They can give because what they have is needed and because they want to see something bigger than themselves succeed. What all filmmakers don’t realize is how important that investment is. It’s not about the money, it’s about the endeavor, about the action. Films don’t make money because of investment, they don’t even make money because of stars, or story, or quality. Money is the by-product–let me repeat–MONEY is the by-product of a film that has the power to make people believe in something. The only reason anyone should invest is because you believe in something. If you can’t do that, nothing else is real or ever will be real. This is why investors leave a project; they never really believed in it in the first place.
What I believe that filmmakers must learn to truly connect with investors and philanthropists is to appreciate. Appreciating is understanding the true value of someone’s gift. A mistake that I feel most filmmakers make with investors is thinking that the only values of the film come from other places–from the story or the star or worse–the money. The investor has value all by him/herself. Learn about them, come to know them beyond their dollar amount. The second largest mistake is wanting more than can be given. The receiver should treat that $150 as valuable as $15000. Every gift that is given should be treasured, no matter the amount. The worth in the investment comes from an understanding that someone has chosen to believe in them enough to take a chance. Funding a film is the riskiest investment there is. However, if we can learn to appreciate more, and want less I believe that we can completely change the trajectory of our endeavor’s future.
Here’s a secret that a producer told me: no one reads all the words of a business plan. Ever. Even at the studio levels. She told me how a big mistake in her business plan went unnoticed by everyone. Filmmakers think that’s what executives, investors, funders are looking for, but what they’re truly looking for is the confidence that what they give will be appreciated no matter the amount or form. The second thing they look for is the reward (not always $) they can reap through the investment– but you have to get past first base to get there. A lot of people have already given a lot to my film for many reasons but I believe the most common reason of all is that I have given them this: my dearest and most heartfelt appreciation. That appreciation has resulted in the first footage of a trailer for a beautiful, mysterious and moving story. Because I have been able to do that I know that there will be more. When we learn to appreciate, abundance blossoms and we discover the opportunity to create something grand and amazing. For that possibility, I am eternally grateful.
Dedicated to Lynne Twist