The “Do what you love” series: Belinda McCulloch, film writer & director

In a flash of red hair, she will wow you with a quick, witty remark, or bless your heart with a piece of genuine encouragement. Her approach to world is open, loving, but very rarely will she be rattled. She has a strength that is comforting and consistent, and she is creative and calculated. She’s no ordinary Bea, and this week’s “Do what you love” is all about her.

What do you do? I write and make films and music videos.

Are you doing what you love? Absolutely.

How did you know that this is what you wanted to do?

In some ways I always knew; in some ways it was a bit of a process. I grew up acting, singing and writing as much as I could. I did an arts course instead of senior high school, which was amazing, but it didn’t really help me narrow down what to focus on. After school I did an undergrad in acting/writing/directing for theatre, worked a variety of different creative jobs, wrote and produced a few stage plays, and spent a year travelling. Then, literally as I stepped off the plane from my year overseas, I got a call asking if I wanted to art direct a music video. I said sure, why not? That was October 2009, and I haven’t stopped working in film since. It has absolutely taken over. At the end of 2012 I finished a Masters in Screen Production, and it was an infinitely satisfying degree.

What has helped you pursue this project/venture/career?

One of my favourite things about working in film is that you rely so much on other people. Each project rests on the tenuous possibility that a group of people with very diverse skills can make something together which is more than the sum of its parts. So I’d say that more than anything, the most helpful thing is continually surrounding myself with people who have good brains and good hearts – people who are not just good at what they do, but generous with each other. Being up for adventure and the unknown definitely helps as well!

What is happening for you at the moment?

I’m currently building up a body of work that I can be proud of, and that I can use to prove to people with money that they should trade me their money for said good work. Ha. I know I’ll always be improving, but right now I’m trying to get to a point where I feel like my lack of experience is not interfering with the story I want to tell. Where the only ‘mistakes’ I make are creative ones, which help me make more interesting work. Fortunately, I’m up to my neck in music videos and short films at the moment, so I’m learning fast!

What is the biggest risk you’ve taken in regards to this project/venture/career?

Every day I say no to things in order to say yes to writing and film, so every day is a risk. Every day, I risk my finances, my relationships, my personal development, and my time on this planet, on the belief that it is worth pursuing the things I love. Some days are amazing, and I feel justified. Some days are immensely frustrating. Sometimes I am paid well; sometimes I can’t afford to eat. But I always come back to writing and making. I don’t seem to get sick of it, and it always feels worth it again after a rest and a good meal!

How do you deal with major challenges and/or negativity about your work?

That depends. If it’s other people’s negativity, I usually take any constructive criticism from it and discard the rest. If it’s my own challenge or negative attitude, that’s harder. Ira Glass said something excellent, which I try to remember.

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

What other practical and/or inspirational advice would you give people who are too scared to chase what they love?

There’s a good quote by Anais Nin – “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” I think it comes down to that in the end. You can only stay dissatisfied for so long. Eventually the frustration will get to you, if nothing else. Frustration can be great – it helps to point you in a better direction.

Paint a picture of ultimate success in what you’re doing.

That’s difficult. I don’t have a particular end point in mind. I’d like to write and direct features, and have books published. But as long as I’m making progressively better work, with progressively better teams, and getting better at saying what I set out to say, that will be success for me. Success is also prioritising different things at different times. I know there’ll be periods of my life where work will be more and less important.

Who is inspiring you?

At the moment I’m thinking about different directorial styles – Herzog, Lynch, Linklater, Jonze, Fincher, Gondry, and others.

What’s life all about for you? Worship. Listening. Exploring story. Increasing in love.

What 3 things are always in your fridge? Lemons, feta, roast-able veges

Where do you buy gifts for people? State Library or GoMA gift shops, bookstores, Artisan

You can view some of Bea’s amazing film clips here Belinda’s Vimeo, of which “Space” is making an appearance on Rage this weekend! Nice one 🙂





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