top of page

How To Stop Worrying and Love Uncertainty

The soundtrack for 2023 is more Eraserhead than Four Weddings and a Funeral.

The melody is distorted and the rhythm unpredictable. How can we exist in a perpetual state of uncertainty?


Uncertainty about the future generates a strong threat or alert response causing us to feel stress or anxiety. As our defence, the brain craves certainty, which rewards us with feelings of satisfaction.


Certainty is an emotional state created by beliefs not facts. It’s easy and reassuring to cling to comfortable ideas of how things should be, based on unconscious interpretations of previous experiences.


The reality is uncertainty itself is not the problem; it’s always been there. What has risen is our fear of it.

Whatever doubts we have, we want to believe things can be fixed, certain and settled.


We’ve lived through the most improbable pandemic, which massively disrupted our routines and belief systems. 2023 will bombard us with information to fuel our anxiety.


We want to share insights and experiences from an industry which has taught us how to stop worrying and love uncertainty.


No business is as profoundly uncertain as the movie business

The job of creating and selling motion pictures has never been for the fainthearted. Filmmakers need the knack of a gypsy palm reader to forecast the tastes of the masses, on which they bet formidable amounts over a lengthy production cycle.


It’s an erratic business. Movies are not cheap and are launched into an overcrowded marketplace where brand loyalty scarcely exists. The usefulness of a movie cannot be measured. And try asking for a discount when you buy a ticket!


The precarious mood of 2023 mirrors that of filmmaking; temporary systems of self-employed personnel with blurred work/life boundaries and limited budgets, but no certainty of demand.

Filmmakers have a mindset which is primed to work with the challenges of ambiguity, paradox and multiple perspectives. The lessons we’ve learnt are not only about filmmaking but leading teams, managing the unknown and overcoming obstacles.


Here are a couple of examples of the mindset at work.


1. Chaos is present

The fact most things are beyond our control is not a reflection on us, that’s just the way it is.

Movies have chaos running throughout them, from having a big idea to the intricacies of production.


Even when you believe things are going in the right direction, last-minute changes interfere with the best-laid plans.

Orson Welles
Orson Welles

Acting is a very fragile process, and the director-actor relationship is a process that is always evolving, never fixed. Orson Welles relished the thought that something entirely unexpected might happen. He inspired and dazed colleagues with his quest for “divine accidents,” adlibs and unintentional errors, that looked more authentic than scripted action. His definition of a movie director is a person who presides over accidents but doesn’t make them.


When any independent film gets made it’s a bit of a miracle. It’s partially the sheer tenacity of the core filmmaking team; money is always short, everyone is doing you a favour, and to be honest, failure is expected. This demands the balancing act of methodical perfectionism with the can-do urgency of “we’re making this no matter what.” When making a film you must think big and small. This is a fundamental tension in filmmaking, without which most films would not exist.


Things will happen if you keep your mind open. Don’t run away from uncertainty, be present.

2. A Curious Life

For filmmakers curiosity is an obsession and in uncertain times it helps us conquer anxiety.

Curiosity activates reward centres in the brain.


We should strive to foster the kind of curiosity which is motivated by the joy of exploration and learning new things. It’s worth pointing out that the desire for knowledge can also be motivated by the desire to reduce the unpleasant “itch” I feel when I’m racking my brain to remember someone’s name or the line from a song I can’t get out of my head. I just want to get to an answer and feel that sense of relief.


Filmmaking thrives on another flavour of curiosity. We mitigate our desire for certainty by being curious, a form of intrinsic reward that we feel from novelty, hunches, gut feelings, and intuition.

Dr Strangelove

Stanley Kubrick wanted to make a film about the dangers of nuclear warfare. Having acquired the rights to the novel Red Alert he started work on the screenplay for a serious drama.


The more he found out about thermonuclear war and the concept of mutually assured destruction, the more absurd the whole thing seemed to him. He concluded comedy was the only sensible way of doing the subject real justice.


Dr Strangelove (the sub-title of which we have misappropriated for this blog), one of the most brilliant satires of all time started out as a piece of serious cinema, but the natural discourse took the creator to a new level of absurdity.


Curiosity turns uncertainty into dis­covery, overcoming the urge for quick and familiar.

It’s biologically impossible to be scared and curious at the same time. Uncertainty is the inescapable backdrop to our lives.

As daunting as it sounds, when we see uncertainty as signalling a challenge instead of a threat, our world gets bigger.


In a downturn, it’s easy to overestimate the role of money and underestimate the role of mindset. All the energy we put into worrying about things we can’t control comes at the expense of things we can control.


Who doesn’t love movies? We’ve uncovered the principles & techniques filmmakers use to tolerate uncertainty.

--------------------

About Asif Noorani & the Speakers Collective

Asif Noorani

If you’d like to hear more from Asif Noorani about how to equip your teams with these new coping mechanisms, or interested in Asif speaking at an event please do contact us via info@speakerscollective.org. The Speakers Collective is a Social Enterprise.


We work together with a shared commitment to challenge stigma, facilitate important conversations and promote learning on a variety of social issues. Please do contact us via info@speakerscollective.org or call 020 8123 8250 with any enquires.

84 views2 comments

2 Comments


Andrew Nicholls
Andrew Nicholls
May 11, 2023

Uncertainty, and Stress go hand in hand. If we accept that everything constantly changes it makes life easier.

Like

Thanks Asif. This theme of uncertainty was mine in one of the first Blogs on this site - I went back to check! As the saying goes its the only certain thing... thanks for your insight in another industry.

Like
bottom of page