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Embracing Limitations In Art and Life

Limitations can really suck. Especially if you have big ideas. It doesn't matter if you're an artist, an entrepreneur, or just trying to make life better in other ways, limitations can be such a drag.

And yet, limitations can also be a source of clarity.

I've given this a lot of thought in terms of being a filmmaker. I even discuss the need for filmmakers to embrace limitations at length in my book, Short Films 2.0: Getting Noticed in the YouTube Age. It really comes down to how one looks at limitations. Are they burdens or opportunities?

Limitations In Art

I'm about to release a couple of short films I've produced with Stories by the River. Embracing limitations was a big part of these two films. I wrote and directed one of those films, "Empathy O.D.", which is a near-future sci-fi film in the vein of Blade Runner. It's based on a short story I wrote that will be published soon in Alfar Science Fiction & Fantasy Magazine.

"Empathy O.D." was recently reviewed by the Diamond in the Rough Film Festival's blog. Reviewer Mark Swabb starts the review by detailing how challenging it can be for low budget filmmakers to make effective sci-fi films given all the inherent limitations that come with small budgets. He then writes, "However, once in a blue screen we get a filmmaker like Mikel J. Wisler who manages to avoid the cinematic sci-fi land mines with his nifty short film submission EMPATHY O.D."


More than just flattering, Swabb's review accurately picks up on the choices my team and I made as we made "Empathy O.D." We put our heads together and sought to use our limited resources to our advantage, focusing the story in ways that help keep it short, compelling, and unique (we hope). In short, our limitations gave us real focus and clarity for "Empathy O.D." You can read the whole review here if you're interested.

But what's this got to do with embracing limitations in life?

Limitations In Life

In general, I have lofty goals. Life, however, has many inherent limitations. Time, money, energy, and skill level are all resources that are finite in any given moment (for me at least). There are times when I'm tempted to despair at my lack of money, energy, time, talent, or other resources.

I wasn't born into a wealthy family that can just fund my artistic endeavors. Hell, I wasn't even born a good storyteller. I had to work to really develop those skills, and it is still very much an on-going process. I'm nowhere near mastering writing or filmmaking and even getting to where I am now has taken a very long time.

Okay, enough whining, right?! After all, these are some serious first world problems to be whining about anyway. The truth is, I'm incredibly thankful for the amazing resources I do have, like my supportive and loving family and friends and even the fact that I'm able to pursue creative endeavors at all is a remarkable thing.

In the thick of trying to make something of myself (particularly to have a creative career), it can be quite hard to be thankful, though. In all honesty, I'm not where I'd hoped to be at this point in life. I have not been able to secure funding to make a feature film yet, my books aren't selling as well as I'd hope, and I don't have the money to pay for the kind of broad marketing that might get me the exposure I need for eventual film funding and/or increased book sales.

I'm also a stay-at-home dad. So much of my time is invested in my 3-year-old daughter. There are definitely nights when I know I should be writing or marketing, but just reading a book or hitting play on Netflix sounds far more appealing. Sometimes the energy and stamina just aren't there.

So I've been thinking about these limitations too. It reminds me of something my pastor, Kristina Stone Kaiser, often says when dealing with such realities in life: "What are you going to delay, delegate, or delete?" After all, we can't do everything.

As I look at life goals, career aspirations, and my relationships, I do find I need to think carefully about what season of life I'm in and what seems most important at this time. Are there ways I need to apply the creative limit-embracing thinking I've learned as an indie filmmaker to more areas of my life?

I have to imagine there are. But I'm on the front end of purposefully thinking this ways, so there's much to be figured out yet. It's a journey, to say the least. All I know for sure at this point is that I learn more everyday, and that gives me great hope. After all, if I look at all of my limitations as opportunities for clarity, I might really gain a new perspective.

So ... here I go ...

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