Filmmaker Ryan Coogler and a Lesson on Pursuing Goals

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Silhouette of businessman in keyhole Last weekend I saw the award-winning movie “Fruitvale Station.” For anyone not familiar, the film is about the last 24 hours of Oscar Grant’s life, a 22-year-old black male who was shot and killed by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer in the early morning of January 1, 2009.

The director of the film is 27-year-old Ryan Coogler. After reading Coogler’s story and how he came to make the film, I was extremely inspired and wanted to point out a few takeaways from his career path that we all can use when pursuing our own goals:

Initially Coogler wanted to play football and become a doctor. While on a football scholarship at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif., he had to take a creative writing class. After writing about a very personal experience that almost led to his father’s death, his professor asked to speak with him. She asked Coogler about his life plans, to which he responded, “Play ball, become a doctor and be a positive influence in my community.” His professor said, “I think you should become a screenwriter. You can reach more people.”

Although he initially thought she was crazy, Coogler decided to take screenwriting classes, knowing that he truly enjoyed writing stories. By the time he graduated, Coogler had fallen in love with filmmaking.

Takeaway #1: Encouragement is powerful, so take heed to advice.

I don’t mean encourage in the sense of making one feel better but every person needs someone who encourages him/her to pursue his/her goals. Oftentimes, others see gifts and talents in us that we can overlook. Don’t disregard the encouragement and advice of others (especially those skilled and trained in a certain area) when it comes to our career paths.

Coogler had plans to play football and become a doctor. Where would he be now if 1) that professor hadn’t realized the gift he possessed and helped make him aware of it and 2) if he wouldn’t have taken her advice and pursued film? Sure, we all like to create set plans and goals, but be open to change—especially if along the way you discover an area you’re truly passionate about. Don’t disregard advice just because it doesn’t fit into your set plans.

After applying to the Sundance Labs (yet not being accepted) the institute reached out to Coogler and asked him to apply again if he had something new. The next time he applied with “Fruitvale Station.” The filmmaker said attending the five-day workshop was a great experience as he met with writers from various backgrounds, working on a variety of projects who all supported one another. Coogler and the group were able to share ideas and insights. He even said the institute continued supporting his filmmaking efforts after the workshop by providing him with a grant to get his own apartment, funding for editors and connections to be able to shoot the film in his desired location.

Takeaway #2: Networking and support are vital to success.

During his time at the workshop, Coogler was able to meet other writers and  make connections that continue to benefit him to this day. When pursuing your goals, you must network and make as many connections in your field as possible because you never know if that one person you come in contact with could be the person to help catapult you into your career goals.

Support is also necessary. Attaining our goals takes hard work and diligence, but let’s face it, we cannot do everything on our own. Not everyone has the funding to start that business they desire, or the “name” and credentials to get the head person to look at your project/idea. Eventually we will need support from others, and this support can help us go a long way.

In January 2011, Oscar winning actor Forest Whitaker was looking for fresh, young talent to mentor for his production company, Significant Productions. After watching one of Coogler’s earlier short films, Whitaker decided to meet him. And after hearing about Coogler’s Fruitvale script, he actor immediately signed on to produce the film.

Takeaway #3: Get a mentor.

Mentors are everything. In the pursuit of our goals, we need people guiding and helping us who have already taken that road to success. Mentors can offer advice, constructive criticism, accountability and support. Again, we cannot do everything on our own nor do we know everything. A mentor is a great way to gain insight into the field you’re trying to enter and to learn what does and does not work when pursuing your goals.

By Shala Marks