A Filmmaker’s Musing: Passion vs Ambition – Katia Shannon

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Passion or Ambition?

What do you want to do more than anything else in the world?

We live in a noisy world, filled with opportunities and distractions. Constant stimulation, unguarded, can quickly make even the most passionate person, feel a loss of direction. So how do you stay true to your path?

Passion stirs you from within. Its contagious energy can transform a draining networking event into a delightful spar with a like-minded peer. At Focus, an international production event in London, I met Elle, a bright and bubbly 19-year-old. She had come to her first-ever networking event to seek advice about a career in film. When I asked her what she thought of the event, she told me she felt discouraged. Someone had just thrown a bucket of cold water on her budding ambition, by detailing the list of drawbacks of their own film career. The next moment, Elle and I were sharing a laugh, my cheeks still flushed from my animated rant meant to cast away the disgruntled bad vibes. There is something about the sight of a person’s hopes dampening before your eyes, which instantly summons the feistiest passion.

If passion is an unruly child, full of potential energy, ambition is the referee determining which playing field to explore. Since I see no neon sign pointing to ‘directing-an-award-winning-and-financially-successful-period-drama-feature’ just yet, how do I moderate the available opportunities? What does the ‘right’ choice mean? With so much content and many platforms, ecosystems and gatekeepers, comes a pressure to specialize.

A film career is sinuous and unpredictable, and I was honest with Elle about that. But we throw all that away and launch ourselves in it anyways. At one point, a passion grows into an ambition, strong enough to get through the door and into the ring. Passion is incredibly powerful, yet it is also just an ingredient (probably spicy), which means it needs a recipe, a direction, to realize itself and blossom – ambition.

Ambition alone doesn’t move people or stir that elusive exec sitting in the corner of the room. However, it’s a map, a plan, the hard work of showing up every day when passion seems dormant. It’s discipline. It’s trying to follow the path as it emerges from under your feet. It’s also trying, not succeeding, and trying again.

From a film perspective, the first step to harnessing ambition is understanding what stories to tell and why. ‘Why’ makes it easier to pick the opportunities that align with your goalpost for success (easier said than done!). ‘Why’ also makes you accountable to yourself. Accountability here serves as my barometer of how close I am to the emotional truth and essence of the stories I want to tell.

The trickier part, and one that I’m still getting my head around is: ‘how’. As a film financier once told me, when considering feature projects, the festival track record of a short film isn’t important to them, but the right sales agents is key. So ‘how’ has a lot to do with the right project presented to the right people, at the right time.

But what if I reverse the framework? Instead of asking myself, how do I find the ‘Right’ people/project/time, how about I ask, what does my current track record say about my passion and ambition? If I were a stranger looking at my work, would I be able to understand my unique and specific aspirations and the passion that fuels them? A body of work should provide a picture for those around to take notice not only of talent and skill, but also of clear goals. And if something isn’t being communicated to that imaginary stranger, then that seems to me, like a logical way to decide what comes next.

Passion needs a direction, ambition needs fuel. Together, they are more than the sum of their parts.

ABOUT KATIA SHANNON: Determined to take her family to Walt Disney World, Katia took her first plunge into film aged 9. Targeting the grand prize of $500, she wrote the winning script for a national contest run by the CBC (Radio-Canada). Produced in 35 mm, Un accident inoubliable opened the Carrousel international du film de Rimouski. Katia later graduated from Concordia University in Montréal with a BFA in Film Production and an award for outstanding achievement in filmmaking. Fuelled by a love for passionate stories of human endeavour and inspired by the worlds of photography, painting and dance; Katia’s films, have been selected at numerous festivals including the Calgary International Film Festival, Whistler Film Festival, Air Canada EnRoute Film Festival and Fastnet Film Festival. Standstill is her latest short film currently on the festival circuit.

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