“Beast It!”: A Little Film’s Big Success Teaches Us About Pursuing Our Own Dreams

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January 17, 2013 ‐ By C. Cleveland
Rex Features via AP Images

Rex Features via AP Images

This year’s Oscar nominations feature a diverse showing of nominees compared to the whitewash of years past. One of the most interesting stories of the award season is a small film’s journey to becoming the most unlikely of Oscar juggernauts. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” grabbed four Oscar nods – including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actress for Quvenzhané Wallis.

The indie film’s micro budget wasn’t the only thing that made its success at film festivals and the industry’s top award show a pleasant surprise. A collective of artists and filmmakers produced and built its sets by hand with found artifacts around the Louisiana coastline. The film’s stars, including Wallis, who was six years old at the time of shooting, are all first-time actors.

For first-time feature filmmaker Benh Zeitlin, Beasts is a passion project that paid off big time.

The Problem With Pursuing Profits

Americans’ devotion to capitalism has allowed them to buy into the belief that success means making money. Many start projects with the sole motivation of generating profits. But, research shows this approach is a mistake.

In his popular TED talk, “The puzzle of motivation,” career analyst Dan Pink presents evidence that pursuing monetary rewards dulls thinking and blocks creativity. Monetary rewards work best for straightforward problems that require a narrow focus. But today’s business world, where most problems require creative thinking, demands a different type of motivation.

“The new operating system of our business revolves around three elements: autonomy, mastery, and purpose,” Pink says. “Autonomy: the urge to direct our own lives. Mastery: the desire to get better and better at something that matters. Purpose: the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.”

Changing Your View of Success

Somewhere along the way we changed the definition of success. We associate it with larges amounts of wealth or a high level of fame. In reality, success is simply accomplishing what you set out to do.

Zeitlin set out to explore how the old folk tales and myths he grew up reading intersected with modern life. He tells the New York Times that his goal in making Beasts was to capture emotional facts that hurricane damage alone doesn’t convey. “What is the feeling of going through this loss of a place or of a parent or of a culture?” he asked. “How does that feel, and how do you respond emotionally to survive that?”

The result was a haunting film that blurs the line between fantasy and reality. It is different from anything else in the theaters. Imagine how his final product would have looked if he set out to make commercial film about land loss following a hurricane.

Success is a Side Effect of Creativity

The uniqueness of Beasts has critics heralding it as the best picture to come out of the film festival circuit in decades, and President Obama dubbing it his favorite film of 2012.

This supports Dan Pink’s theory that if you remove money as the incentive, you give your brain permission to think outside the box. Relieving yourself of the pressure to be profitable gives you the freedom to create unique solutions that grab attention, and generate income.

That’s not to say you should ignore monetary issues like budgeting constraints. Businesses survive off making more than they spend. The lesson here is that it is a mistake to make money your sole motivator. Working toward something bigger than monetary gains makes it much easier to be successful.

C. Cleveland is a freelance writer and content strategist in New York City, perfecting living the fierce life at The Red Read. She is at your service on Twitter (@CleveInTheCity) and Facebook (/MyReadIsRed).

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