Our How to Own it panel features actress and director Bonnie Wright. Best known for her role as Ginny Weasley in the Harry Potter films, Bonnie has since pursued a directing career alongside acting roles and launched a production company in 2012: BonBonLumiere. Being widely recognized as an actress yet pursuing an alternative direction, Bonnie is super familiar with the self-doubt that comes with stepping beyond others’ expectations, and how to get over it and keep moving.
Bonnie: “I started a production company at the end of my degree. I didn’t really know what to do with it, it was just a name I was going to put all of my work under. About a year ago, I changed my email signature to say: Bonnie Wright, Director. It was a small moment, but there was something celebratory about saying it out loud. I think it takes a lot of courage for anyone to say out loud: “this is what I want to do.” My main doubts were that I wouldn’t be taken seriously. That I’d be this actress turned director or whatever. You can think of a million ways you might be pulled apart, but at the same time does anyone really care?
How much are you going to live by the opinions of other people?
I definitely went through a period of feeling judged, but you can’t be governed by those petty things. In terms of the work I do, the only people I really care about are my family and my friends—the people that I love. If they respect what I do, then I’ve done my job. I’ve also come to understand that you can have several interests that inform one another. I realized that my other creative experience has informed so much of my directing work, that just because I might call myself a director, doesn’t mean those other creative outputs aren’t still a part of me.”
Amy: “I used to waste so much time worrying about what to call myself because I did more than one thing. We need to get rid of that slash-y stigma—
Stop worrying about what to call yourself and just do the work.
Bonnie: “Particularly in the era of social media, you can spend so much energy on crafting how you want to be seen. In the end you risk having nothing to show, because you’ve been too focused on how you’re going to project yourself instead of actually doing the work. When I finished film school, I didn’t feel like I had finished learning. I was thinking about doing a graduate program, and spoke to directors who were much further along in their career. They said, the best thing you can do is make and make and make. Just keep making films. That’s how you will learn.
Make the things you’re not proud of, make the things that you like, but just keep making.
Amy: “It requires a lot of humility to be open to producing shit work. It can take years to get to a point where you’re actually proud of something. When we have high standards and a vision, it can be really tough to go through that period when your work doesn’t match up. Noone describes this better than Ira Glass: “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners. I wish someone had told me. All of us who do creative work we get into it because we have good taste, but there is this gap. And for the first couple of years you make stuff and it’s not good. And 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. And 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. And we know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. If you’re just starting out or you’re still in this phase you’ve got to know this is 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. I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. it’s going to take a while and it’s normal to take a while. You’ve just got to fight your way through.”
Bonnie: “Things take time. I very much panicked when Harry Potter finished. I thought—oh my god, I now have to do some other acting job so people will realize it’s what I want to do, rather than something I fell into. That panic was so shortsighted, because I was about to throw my energy out there for the sole purpose of what people thought about me, which is not a productive way of working. I think I recognized that as the wrong way to go about things by looking at the people I respected, particularly artists or filmmakers—most of whom found their careers or recognition much later in life. We live in a time of instant gratification—you need to be successful by the time you’re in your 20s. It’s crazy—you have so much time ahead and it’s all part of one overarching career.
You don’t need to ‘make it’ at a young age—there’s time to develop the story you’re trying to tell.
You need to be able to enjoy the process of each experience, rather than the outcome of what the project looks like or what people think about it. Often, I’ll get so excited to finish a film and I’ll build up this big moment to screening it. But the reality is never as great as the process.”
Bonnie: “We often think, when I achieve this then I’ll feel great, or when I reach that goal I’ll know my work is worthy. From my experience, if you don’t like the process—right now, today—of doing what you’re doing, then the outcome is not going to be any better. It also comes down to discipline, and knowing whether a distraction is just a distraction or something that might teach you something. That’s something I’ve found very hard. Something I try to do, even in experiences as small as going to see a friend or having a meeting, is say:
Will this experience give me power or take it away from me?
We can burn ourselves out with so many things that don’t actually serve us or help us get to the next step.”
Amy: “It can help to remember why you’re doing something. That’s what will get you through tough moments. While money is an important goal which you should absolutely strive for, it cannot be the sole driver. Especially in creativity, when particularly in the beginning, there might not be money around. And when you don’t have a paycheck or someone telling you you’re doing a great job, you need to have a really solid resource to get you through. Remembering why can be that resource.”
Bonnie: “Money is always a tough one for me to talk about, because obviously I had a very backwards career. For a long time, I felt like I didn’t really earn that money or deserve that experience—that I’d just been incredibly lucky to be cast in the film. It took me a long time to understand that I did put the hours into that project, that it was a real job, that I dedicated many years of my life to it—but it’s still something that sits with me. You never want to be led by the guilt of an experience. Film is such a weird industry in that there’s a huge divide between independent cinema and studio movies—they’re worlds apart. The films I’m making now, no one will ever fund them and finding grants for film is near impossible.”
Bonnie: “I had to grow up with a bit of a tough skin. It’s strange to be interviewed at a young age and be totally misunderstood or misrepresented. Sometimes I’d come out of an interview thinking yeah, that person really got me. Then the article would come out and I’d be like, that was not what we talked about. You have to catch yourself—because the minute you start focusing on those things it’s just a vicious cycle that snowballs. You’ll start reading all of the negative comments and there’s no way you can take yourself out of it. It’s really hard to train yourself to do that and not take it to heart, particularly in the age of the internet. Anyone can write anything they want. Often people are just projecting their own insecurities, and it has nothing to do with you at all. In terms of looking for approval, I’ve definitely wasted many an hour waiting for someone to say ‘That was a good job’, or ‘You can do this’. That permission that we constantly search for… I literally have no idea who we’re expecting it from.
It comes down to giving yourself permission.
Bonnie: “I think it all boils down to the fact that I just love watching films. I love telling stories. And I’m really pleased and lucky that at this moment I enjoy telling stories through the medium of film. The fact that I genuinely love that process is what keeps me going. Even if a lot of the time in the back of my head, I might be like—what am I working towards? Is this even a worthwhile thing to be doing with my life? I have no idea. But the mystery of not knowing is weirdly what keeps me going. Mystery in the sense that there might be another profession I end up pursuing or another country that I want to live in, or something I don’t know anything about today.
I think that if you can see life in chapters, it becomes much less daunting.
That mentality has made it a bit more manageable for me to get through each day, because it’s just what I’m doing right now. It doesn’t have to be this huge thing that I’m aiming toward, because for all I know, no one is even listening! It’s also just being able to have fun. Being able to laugh at yourself and to laugh at the industry you’re in. Film people especially can get so serious, and I think you have to find the humor in it. That’s what makes it all OK.”
Read Bonnie’s online OKREAL interview here.