Is It Selfish to Pursue a Career as a Filmmaker?

Is It Selfish to Pursue a Career as a Filmmaker?

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FILMMAKER: Laura Lieben

STORY: The Purpose of Storytelling, or Why a Life in the Arts Is Anything But Selfish.

“You are so selfish!”

…my boyfriend announced a little too loudly as he abruptly stood and stormed out of the restaurant. My gaze hit the floor to avoid questioning glances as I quietly followed him out the door, bearing the weight of his accusation.

SELFISH. That word cut deep into my heart, guilt seeping out like a trickle of warm blood and I was unable to defend myself because I couldn’t help but wonder… was it true?

Why was I so uncompromising devoted to a career of make believe and storytelling?

While he had an extensive list of over fifty dreams for our life, this was my only dream and it seemed to interfere with most of his. I couldn’t blame him for not understanding this stubborn actress because the truth was, I didn’t understand myself.

Do films really matter?

To be honest, I often felt guilty for devoting my life to telling stories while my peers devoted themselves to caring for the sick, raising children and fighting crime.

Now, I felt torn between the man I loved and the work I believed I was created for. I simply had to find the purpose in my work, if there was any to find, or I needed to let it go.

So, I embarked on a journey of the soul to seek out the purpose of an artist, whether actors or filmmakers, writers or photographers, musicians or painters. This spoken-word poem is a powerful 3-minute summary of my discoveries:

If you’d like a deeper dive into the purpose of a storyteller (that’s us, filmmakers!) feel free to read on.

Every profession is built around solving a problem!

Storytellers solve the most dangerous problem of all: Ignorance. This world is full of people who have no idea who they are or why they’re here!

Without story, all of life’s heartaches, tragedies and setbacks are just a mashup of random occurrences which send people deeper down the spiral of confusion, victimhood and despair.

Story lifts the fog to reveal meaning behind the mess.

According to Neuroeconomist, Paul Zak, our brains are wired for story. He says, “Hearing a story – a narrative with a beginning, middle and end – causes our brains to release cortisol and oxytocin.

These chemicals trigger the uniquely human abilities to connect, empathize, and make meaning. Story is literally in our DNA.

Story equips us to win our own battles!

Why are we so drawn to epic tales with fierce battles and heroic victories? Because we are at war, every single one of us.

Even now, an invisible battle is being fought against our very souls until we feel emotionally drained, discouraged and worthless. Getting lost in a great story can feel like an escape, while actually equipping us to fight our own battles.

V.S. Ramachandran, a distinguished professor of neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego, has conducted extensive research on mirror neurons, which are cells in the brain that fire when we observe the actions of someone else.

He explains that they make our brains act as if we ourselves were experiencing whatever that other person is experiencing!

That’s not whimsical ideology; it’s science.

When immersed in a story where characters face their greatest fears, battle the forces of darkness and overcome, we share their deep sense of victory just as if it was us who fought the battle!

This ignites a spark of courage in us to face our own monsters.

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We can exist without story but we cannot truly live!

Look around you. We are surrounded by people who have breath in their lungs but simply no life.

They see with their eyes but they’ve forgotten how to feel with their hearts. They’ve lost the magic in life so they live for one high after the next, seeking fulfillment that simply cannot be found in any physical pleasure.

“Stories have to be told or they die; and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.” Sue Monk Kidd

Our work as storytellers has the capacity to seep into calloused hearts and make them feel again!

Did you catch that?

You and I wield the power to awaken the spiritually dead and give them a glimpse into the greatness within themselves.

Even the most highly skilled doctors can’t do that! Medical professionals may be able to keep people breathing, but only the power of story can keep their spirits alive.

Story takes eternal truths and wraps them into packages of time!

There’s a powerful scene in the movie, War Horse, where two opposing armies are preparing to blast each other to bits – until a horse gets caught in barbed wire between them. Both sides hold their fire and work together long enough to free the horse from his bonds.

This beautiful moment stimulates empathy and celebrates the truth that no matter our differences, there is beauty to be found in every heart, and peace can be ours when love is at the center.

We can memorize pages of philosophy, doctrines and wisdom, yet remain unable to live out the values we claim to stand for. We can listen to hours of lectures, sermons and pep talks and never be transformed.

Story, on the other hand, doesn’t just tell us what to do; it takes us by the hand and shows us how to live. The deepest, eternal truths can only be effectively communicated through the power of story.

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Story stirs up our souls and awakens our hearts to the heroes we were born to become!

It has been said that story is the most powerful cultural force on the planet! I agree wholeheartedly.

Story shapes our ideas, our beliefs and our unique perception of the world. Used well, stories have the power to draw the extraordinary out of the most ordinary people.

I love the scene in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, when Rey is realizing that she’s not an ordinary girl. “Something inside me has always been there,” she says, “but now it’s awake!”

Great stories have the power to awaken our hearts to who we truly are, to that force that rests idly inside each of us until the day it is discovered.

Story is the battle cry that calls us to arms against the forces that would destroy who we are and who we’re called to be.

So…is it all about “selfish” creative fulfillment?

The life of a storyteller is not a passive one. We’ve been charged with a great mission:

  • To solve the most dangerous problem of all: Ignorance!

  • To equip our audience to win their battles!

  • To awaken weary hearts to the truth of who they are!

  • To capture invisible, eternal truths and wrap them into pieces of space and time that others can see and understand!

  • To ignite and empower heroes to rise up out of ordinary people!

If we are ever to live up to this great calling, we must be valiant in guarding our time and our hearts from anything that would deter us from our purpose.

By protecting that gentle voice in our hearts that says, “Hey! This is who I am! This is what I was born to contribute!” we are taking our stand alongside every great leader,

Every mover and shaker,

Every world changer, inventor and history maker,

Every great athlete, artist and renowned filmmaker

Whose influence could only exist

Because they chose to resist the thousands of gifts

Dangling like bate that most would insist

Are simply “too good to miss.”

The truth here is this:

By saying NO to the things that most don’t resist

We say YES to a life of tremendous purpose!

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I am convinced that it is not selfish to preserve your time and your heart in order to use your most cherished gifts, talents and ideas to bless others.

In fact…it is the ONLY way to make your very greatest contribution of service to your Creator and to the many lives you have the unique ability to influence.

So, my friend, my comrade, my fellow storyteller…let’s take comfort the wise words of Steven Pressfield as we press on together into the battle set before us each day to create from the depths of our hearts, tell great stories, and make films that matter:

“Creative Work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention… It’s a GIFT to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution.”


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Laura Lieben is an actress known for the emotional depth and endearing vulnerability she brings to her characters in dramatic feature films, which have taken her from her home province of Alberta, Canada, to the mountains of Colorado, USA, to a palace in Croatia, Europe.

Laura recently wrote and produced her first short film, Heartsong, which earned her a nomination for “Best Performance by an Alberta Actress.” She also teaches a course on Skillshare: “Ready 4 Action! 4-Part Guide to Becoming an Actor in Film & TV”

Looking for an actress who shares your passion for stories that matter? She travels for work! View demos and get in touch at: www.LauraLieben.com


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