My Quest for Excellence

I’m on a Quest for Excellence… and that feels a lot like JOY.

On set for Employees Only, Day 5 - slightly less of a war zone (Image by Matthew Cylinder)

Just recently I’ve been reviewing my work, as a writer, producer, creative person. And I’ve come to regret that some of the work I’ve done has not been as good as I would like. It’s not excellent. It never really bothered me before. Sure, I like to do good work, even superlative work, but mostly I like to work. I like to create, and I haven’t always been fussy about the finished product. As long as the message gets across, well, sometimes that’s enough. (It’s like sometimes “just ok” is great on a really tricky day.) But sometimes one finds oneself (and by one, I mean me) wanting more, wanting to be better.

I suppose it started because I’ve been listening to new music. Thanks to my brother’s friends I’ve discovered this group Lorde, and their EP is, to my ears, excellent. I especially love the songs “Royals” and “Tennis Court”; I love the producer of the EP – it’s so tight – and the lyrics and the vibe. So what does Lorde have to do with me striving for excellence? Well, kinda everything.

To be fair, it’s not just Lorde I love (pun kinda intended), TV makes me feel this way too. I watch a lot of TV – the work on TV these days is so good, so excellent, I want to punch myself in the face with joy. There are shows on TV that rock my world, creatively speaking. I enjoy them so much that I can’t even be jealous of their work. Shows like “Ray Donovan”, “Louie”, “Enlightened”, “30 Rock”, “Treme”, “Parks and Recreation”, and “Game of Thrones” are just amazingly well-crafted, supported by superlative writing, directing, and acting. And I haven’t even seen “Breaking Bad”, “Homeland”, and “Scandal”, but I hear those shows kill it too.

In spring 2011 I put together a production of my own show, Employees Only. A series I had written. A show I produced and directed. And it’s fine. It’s kinda good. But it ain’t great. It’s not what it could have been. And, this is where my quest of excellence comes in… I don’t want the show to be perfect. But I want it to be better than it is. I want the acting to be better, and the script to be tighter, funnier and sexier (it is now, I think, after several rewrites – post-shoot!). I want to change a lot of things. I want to shoot it again. I want to do another casting call, have a finished set; I want to make something that kills it. Not something that’s just fine. In short, I want a do-over, a reshoot. ASAP.

On set with actors Debi Mazar & Pascal Yen-Pfister (Image by Nico Malvaldi)

We have valid excuses about why our show wasn’t the best it could be… but no one watching it cares about that.

It was done on a zero budget, on a set that wasn’t what was promised. We shot it in an active construction zone – a war zone – and shoot days were routinely delayed 12 hours or more. I cast it quickly, instead of doing several casting calls (no budget, no time). We did this with a crew that, while great, was mostly made up of 20 year old production assistants, learning on the job. My great pal, Allen McLain, helped me produce it, and he essentially taught these kids a master class in production. He showed them, all of us, how to set dress, how script supervise, how to light, how shoot, how to photograph action and sex scenes. My other friend, Ottavia Bourdain, helped to executive produce it. Without Ottavia’s generosity there would have been no food for the crew, no lighting, no extra gear! And without me there would have been nothing. No set, no crew, no cast, no script.

Despite an incredibly stressful and grueling shoot, we finished it. In 6 days. We shot a pilot – 22 minutes and a bunch of extra scenes. And then came post-production. A long, long process. Without a budget, you do most of the work yourself. After firing one editor and hiring Ilya to do the heavy lifting and shape the compromised footage (compromised because there was no set) into a decent story, and after Allen and I edited it further, we’ve ended up with something that I used to think was good enough. This work we put up on a site this past October. Finally, it was done.

I thought my show was good enough because most things out there are crap. Most TV is Kardashians and Two and a Half Men or whatever it’s called, and CSI, and that stuff just isn’t great, to me. But maybe, just maybe, I should’ve raised my bar. I should’ve kept auditioning actors until I found the right ones; I wouldn’t have settled. I should’ve been less concerned with just getting through the production and more focussed on making something that had, at least moments of, excellence. I should have enjoyed it. Here we were making something I wrote! That’s a kind of magic. Why not savor it, bumps and all?

It’s easy to just want to put something up. I know with Happiness Series how voracious we all are for content. Something new all the time. And the Terrence Malicks of the world who can take 10 years to finish a film aren’t that interesting to me. I’m more into the Tina Feys. Content creators that create all the time. And 80 percent of the time create great stuff.

I don’t think I’m beating myself up or being too hard on myself by wishing for greatness. I’m not focussed on perfection – that’s an impossibility – instead I want to create work that is excellent. These are goals. And well, if I knew then what I know now… Employees Only would have a greater chance of excellence.

Wishing to be excellent in life has helped me shaping the Ageless Diet™ Lifestyle, the recipes, the foundation of it, and it’s helped with Happiness Series. I work more quickly too. And I stress less. Because I know what I want – I don’t want to just slog through life anymore than I want to slog through my work. Who would? What a dreary life that would be! And maybe that’s the lesson with my Employees Only shoot. Maybe if I had found a little joy and waited till circumstances were a little better, I would have created something like the shows I admire most.

This is from Dr. Barbara Markway, Ph.D.:

  • Perfectionists strive for impossible goals. Pursuers of excellence enjoy meeting high standards that are within reach.
  • Perfectionists value themselves by what they do. Pursuers of excellence value themselves by who they are.
  • Perfectionists, when they run into difficulty, get easily overwhelmed and give up. On the other hand, pursuers of excellence experience temporary disappointment, but they keep going.
  • Perfectionists hate criticism; pursuers of excellence see criticism as a way to learn.
  • Perfectionists have to win to keep high self-esteem. Pursuers of excellence can finish second and still feel good about themselves.




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About the Author: Tania Van Pelt is the creator of Happiness Series. She is a writer and content creator, working in film, tv, and online. She wrote the popular lifestyle book "Ageless Diet," published in late 2015. And she is currently working on her next book. She also developed a sitcom pilot set in the restaurant business called "Employees Only TV" and is developing another web series comedy about Denver.

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