Ever since I saw Jaws, I knew I wanted to be a director.
I wanted to take people on the same thrill ride I’d experienced watching that movie. I came to Los Angeles and got on set as quickly as I could, working in casting, PA-ing, wardrobe assisting, taking acting classes, countless auditions, just to get on set and see how they run. When people were taking their smoke breaks (once upon a time, I know), I was watching the director. Who is that guy whispering in his ear? How did they handle themselves on set?
I did that for so long that one day I realized I wasn't chasing my dream anymore. I'd gotten caught in the LA actor race. If how one spends their day is how they spend their life, I was spending my days hustling for roles in shows and series I didn't care about -- and what's worse, I hadn't been busted by the cops for anything good enough to warrant a decent press break!
So one day I quit my day job, picked up my camera, and came up with a plan. I would write, direct, and star in my own movie. Was it ever finished? No. But that's beside the point. I took the risk. And I was hooked.
On a long road trip that turned into an engagement ride, my now husband and I started throwing around movie ideas. I don't know why, but for some reason the idea of a female serial killer excited us both. Who knows, maybe it was the long, dark, night roads, or maybe because we’d never seen anything like that, but it stuck. We visited a friend in Wyoming who had a great cabin that was near a beautiful state park and crafted the rest of the story on the ride back.
We had a script in three months, went on Kickstarter, and made a bunch of silly, irreverent videos pleading for people's support. And we made our goal! Of course, knowing what I know now, I want to go back in time and help those sweet, naïve, fools (there's never enough money for post!). But we had enough to get a bare-bones crew and some actors on location in Wyoming, and, I have to say, it's worth it.
I acted in that movie (Raw Cut) because, as a smart producer, I was able to push my actress harder than I could've any other person. And I did. We shot a feature film in the outback of Wyoming in 10 days. I'll never forget the moment when we shot our last frame. The sky was magical, and everyone stood around in shock. Had we actually pulled this thing off?
Yes, there were pick-up shots and coverage that the two of us had to run back and get. Yes, post-production was hard on a shoe-string budget. Yes, it was frustrating hearing "Who's in it?" over and over again at American Film Market. But it's all worth it. Because I never would've learned all the lessons I got to apply to my next feature. I never would've been able to accomplish an even larger production, handling five times the crew if I hadn't done casting, and wardrobe, and production design, and catering (and, and, and…) on my first two movies.
I spend every day working on my films. Whether it's communicating with my distributors, or PR, or editing trailers, or putting together business plans for the next movie, or meeting with investors, or watching Vimeo clips of young, talented cinematographers. That is how I spend my days now: With a passion that drives me to be better. To make mistakes and learn from them. To daringly create, and move on, casting aside the doubts and fears that might hold me in place, away from living the life of my dreams.
That's how I spend my days. And that's the challenge for us all. Time is not to be killed or wasted. It's too precious for that.
So go out and make those mistakes, and learn from them. And get better, and better, and better. And cherish every minute of it.
Zoe Quist is a director working and living in Los Angeles. Her films “Raw Cut” and “Mining for Ruby” are being released this August.