Directing Sucks! Sean’s Confessional – Your Threshold Guardians & 7 Steps To Kick ‘Em In The Teeth (with template)

Total Read Time: 9 minutes. Skim Time: 3 minutes


creative commons commercial license — thanks to davidd


" lead actress... 
my pregnant lead actress who is starring in my action flick? 
She could be my escape!"

A crisp sunny December morn — Thursday to be exact. Birds chirp, a movie shoot is just 2 hours away…and me?

I’m in bed — fetal — and pissed at God.

Surely this will be funny in a few weeks, because just a few months before I had asked God for this film. But now, in this moment I am, for lack of a better term, in utter despair.

This is painful. The most oppressive emotional pain I have ever had — ever.


Because I decided to direct a stupid movie and I want to quit.

In a furious search for an escape, my mind lands on… Libier — my lead actress — my pregnant lead actress — my pregnant lead actress who is starring in my action flick? She could be my escape!

I know, a little crazy, right?

Libier is a very fit woman, doing an awesome job at acting tough, sexy, and cool as an action heroine. But filming is taking its toll on her, and that’s my glimmer of hope, a hope I take to God:

“Jesus, if Libier shows up today and says,

‘Hey, Sean, let’s hold off shooting until after June when my baby is born’… I’m taking it. I’m out!

Suddenly, in my chest, a new feeling burgeons  — hope.

Just enough hope to slide legs from under the thick womb-like covers to trudge along a shockingly cold floor into the shower.


A clip of the scene that Sean shoots that fateful morning…

I arrive on location, and begin positioning gear, I have just enough energy for that ruse. Then the moment… Libier arrives…

I watch her approach, trying to divine her emotions — and my odds. She walks right up to me and starts with a confession, “Sean I have to tell you something…” My hopes are buoyed… — I’ll let you watch the rest.



"...I don’t think this pain is unique to directing movies.
I think this pain is unique to pressing forward..."

I had no way out, unless I wanted to suffer the embarrassment of being shown up by a 5 foot 1 inch pregnant actress starring in an action flick — that I was directing.

If that was not the worst day of my life, it certainly ranks top 5! But amazingly, my film directing career really began right there.


Now that is the crux of this story and my hopes of offering this embarrassing confessional are not for me, but for you.

Let’s start with the truth:


I have been through some of the best training the U.S. Army can provide, and this was still tougher. I have worked at a church, and this was tougher. I have teenagers…and this was tougher.

But I don’t think this pain is unique to directing movies. I think this pain is unique to pressing forward, making strides — real strides — strides in realizing dreams. (Tweet This!)

You know this pain.

You have felt this pain (If not, you have not stepped out enough my friend).


In story, the archetype of the Threshold Guardians serves as tests of resolve that confront the Hero on the outset (the threshold) of an adventure. Their purpose? To cause the Hero to debate whether or not to continue on their journey.

A description of Threshold Guardians with cute fuzzy puppets (and some bleeped language) 

Threshold Guardians thwart the poor unsuspecting sap who thinks that bringing a dream to reality is like eating Oreos (not the adulterated “double stuffed,” or demonic color infected, but the Original kind).

Threshold Guardians show us that dreams are different from fantasy. Fantasies are a snap, a breeze, a joy, a self-indulgent leisure activity that bears disproportional fruit to the effort put forth.

Dreams are both rational and painful. Dreams demand blood and sweat. Dreams are shrouded in toil and turmoil. (Tweet This!)

Threshold Guardians remind us of what we already know deep inside:


It is our duty (as Heroine or Hero of our story) to kick Threshold Guardians in the teeth, then leap over their writhing bodies, diving-rolling headlong into the grand, life-changing adventure that lay just beyond.

TEETH KICKING HELP #1 – Realize You are Facing Threshold Guardians

Perhaps you are on the threshold of your own grand adventure and facing some obstacles:

  • Maybe a jealous friend or bitter coworker.
  • Or closer even, a family member who thinks “you’ve changed” (Well, by God, we hope so…).
  • Or perhaps it’s the Devil trying to keep you from living up to your gifts and calling.

Regardless, if you’re the hero(oine), then there is a Threshold Guardian of some sort trying to SMASH your resolve. And knowing that fact might just be the beginning of your emancipation.

For me, it helped to know that this depressing December morn might just be a test — a passable test — and as I started to grasp that a few things began to change.

The first was — I prayed… A lot.

TEETH KICKING HELP #2 – Learn How to Pray (no joke)

That day I realized how deeply I wanted to see my writing alive and breathing on-screen. And there I was with the opportunity to do exactly that! And I was willing to scrap it because it was all just too hard — boo hoo…

A professional rendering of Sean being self-indulgently sad.

A professional rendering of Sean being self-indulgently sad (yes, those are tears).

So, after this, my prayers changed. I began asking for joy in the trials.  And, slowly, much too slowly, I got just that: a sprinkling of joy.

One of my favorite writers, Matthew Henry, says of prayer that “God requires you, by prayer, to own your need of him, and dependence on him, and to…pour out your hearts before him, and then leave it with him.”

Ole, Matt Henry goes on to say that, “Our addresses to him should be easy, natural, and unaffected; … Let us come to him with the disposition of children, with love, reverence, and dependence…”

Matt is on point. I have children and they make absolutely no pretense about asking for anything, they just ask! O, that we would have such comfort and joy before our loving God.

So take one minute and learn how to pray from the Master (hint: Jesus is giving a format, not laying down a legalistic ritual).

Question: What is your “daily bread?” Is it always physical (ie. food & shelter…)?

TEETH KICKING HELP #3 – The Gratitude Game

"I would make a game of it - like searching for Waldo."

It is said that, ultimately, prayer changes us, not God. I have largely found this to be true.

And because of those (lame, bitter, and sideways) prayers I was able to step back and spot the miraculous in each shoot. I would make a game of it – like searching for Waldo.

For instance, I began to notice that people were actually showing up to help make this movie. Now, they had been showing up for weeks, but I finally (genuinely) noticed it — and these were unpaid people (as in, there was no budget for this flick — take that Michael Bay… jk).

Ordinary people (like you and me) were taking time off work, flexing schedules, opening homes, and business, lending gear, food, and cars to make this movie a reality.

As I moved forward, step-by-step Threshold Guardians were falling, and a movie (my dream) was being made a reality. An attitude of gratitude (to God and fellow-man) swept over me and started to turn the course.

Threshold Guardians be dammed, and cursed back to your sulfur-stenched abodes!

TEETH KICKING HELP #4 – The Pareto 20% for Your Creations

This gratitude, this blossoming joy, gave me just enough breathing room to step back and ask some big questions, like “what are the minimum effective actions needed to finish this movie?”

The Pareto Principle states that “80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes”.

I chose to focus on the 80% results that come from 20% of my effort (that is a "B" in high school).

I chose to focus on the 20% of my efforts that deliver 80% of my results. 80% being a “B” letter-grade (better than I did in High School math).

My goal: I wanted a feature-length (75+ minutes) movie made from my screenplay.

To accomplish my goal I simply needed the minimal footage to edit my story together and nothing more. All that remained was to get those shots, and those shots only — that was my 20%! That simple 20% would generate the 80% results I needed.

Why? Because after I had the footage “in the can” as they say, I knew it was down hill. I could sit and edit at my leisure.

With the left-over 80% of my time I would focus on staying sane and healthy.

TEETH KICKING HELP #5 – Identify Your Apex of Pain

This is important: Identify what will be the apex of pain for your own projects. This is the tipping point where your efforts take on a second-wind, a downhill-like momentum. (Tweet This!)

Focus on what is minimally necessary (the 20%) to reach that point, because beyond that, the pain diminishes and the finish line  becomes visible.

For me — with a pregnant lead actress, the mounting stress of location shooting, and only so much generosity to call upon — getting my footage “in the can” was my Apex of pain. (notice the Mo’ Pain axis on the left of the chart below).

A super-professional chart showing where Sean's "Mo' Pain" quotient was at it's highest.

A super-professional chart showing Sean’s “Mo’ Pain” quotient was highest during shooting.

I needed to cut the effort to the bone, the Pareto 20%. No fluff. No fat.

I would focus on getting only the shots necessary to tell the story (no fun shots, no self-aggrandizing “art” shots, just story shots).

To do that I would need to kick the Threshold Guardians preemptively.

TEETH KICKING HELP #6 – Visualize Success (Not the Cheesy Guru Way, But Like This…)

I remember sitting in a recording studio with a great songwriter and producer Brent Bourgeois and I asked him what it takes to make a great record producer, he said the ability to “hear” the record before it is finished.

I had heard similar maxims during my military academy days: “The General has the ability to envision the entire battlefield before the day of battle.”

Likewise, a good director, painter, choreographer, editor, or writer has the ability to “see” the final composition before a stroke, cut or cue is made.

Here’s how movie director Robert Rodriguez visualizes a film.

(The fun is from 2:36-3:14 And, crappy rez? Yep.)

Question: How could you adapt Rodriguez’s method to your projects? Answer in your comments below…

TEETH KICKING HELP #7 – Make a Plan From Your Visualization (and download my shot list)

"Oh, did you notice? The Threshold Guardians just flinched!"

So I would sit with the screenplay and “Watch” my movie, just like Rodriguez described. I would then make notes of what I saw right on at the screenplay next to each chunk of description or dialog.

It looked something like this…

Screenplay breakdown

A shot breakdown example from the screenplay to my next film.

As you notice I make notes on “positions” such as “Position #5.” I visualize the geography of the location, figuring where to place the camera for the shot. I fight like mad to minimize the number of times I move a camera.


Because setting up cameras and lights takes way longer than one thinks. Cutting setups to the bare minimum destroys useless “waiting-around” time and keeps actors, crew and director happy.

Question: What are the time-wasters in your creations?

I then take those scribbles and type them onto my spreadsheet “Shotlist”.  I do this in no particular order at first as such…

Filled out Shot List Example - unordered

Then I highlight the column labeled setup.

Filled out Shot List Example - highlighted column

Next I sort the whole shot list by “setup”.

Filled out Shot List Example - sorted bt column %22B%22

Now fill in the shot numbers on the newly organized list, add my best guess for when I think I will actually film that shot, and voila, I have a battle plan — on paper (or tablet) and oh, did you notice? The Threshold Guardians just flinched!

.Filled out Shot List Example - added shot # and Time estimates

Take what you just learned from me and Rodriguez and move on to create your own shotlists with this file…

Google Sheets Shotlist

Click to open the Google Sheet. Copy, or modify to your heart’s content.


What is your “daily bread?” Is it always physical (ie. food & shelter…)?

How could you adapt Rodriguez’s “white-board visualization” to your projects? 

What are the time-wasters in your creations?

How could simple tools like spreadsheets become life hacks to organize your creativity?

Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…


Selected Links from the Post

The Pareto 80/20 Principle Explained
Matthew Henry – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jesus Teaches How To Pray


Information Mentioned

Sean’s Shotlist Template (with instructions)

5 thoughts on “Directing Sucks! Sean’s Confessional – Your Threshold Guardians & 7 Steps To Kick ‘Em In The Teeth (with template)

      • You are so gracious my friend! We can only thank you for your witty and joyful way of sharing your journey through what truly was a painfully laborious and trying process to receive God-given joy and life-impacting results. I can’t wait to see your next project and what God will do in and through you!

        Liked by 1 person

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