Writer/director and creative coach Diane Bell wrote stories as a young bookworm growing up in Scotland but never believed she'd be able to make a career of it. If she was interested in words, she could be a librarian or a book critic. But writing books? That was for other people. Her interest shifted from books to filmmaking when she discovered art-house cinema while studying philosophy at the University of Edinburgh in the 1990s. A fledgling screenwriter was born, at least in theory. Still struggling with fear and doubt, Diane pushed her screenwriting dreams to one side and moved to Barcelona, where she immersed herself in the yoga community. Little did she know that move would change her perception of herself - and creativity - forever.
With no encouragement from anyone, how did you find your way to a film career? How did you get past the self-doubt?
I feel like I have a black belt in breaking through self-doubt! The level of fear and doubt I had when I was younger was crippling. I loved literature and film but saw these great writers and filmmakers and believed I would never create anything as good as they did, so what was the freaking point? I was caught in that for so long.
What made me believe I could possibly have a life as a creative was yoga. Yoga changed my idea of who I was in a very real way. I’d had these stories about myself for years. For instance, I had this story that I was not physically flexible. But when I committed to yoga, I was able to do splits, and I was like, 'what is this story I had about myself that I’m inflexible?' The guru of the yoga style I did had a saying, “Do your practice, and all is coming." I started to think if that is true in my yoga, maybe it's true in everything. Maybe when I tell myself I can't be a writer, I can't make a film, it’s all just a story.
You took your practice off the mat and into your writing life.
Exactly. A few years earlier, I'd had an idea for a movie about a voice-over actor who dubs a movie star whose career tanks. In different countries, one actor does the voice of a specific star and becomes the voice of that star forever. I thought, wouldn’t it be strange if you were the voice of an amazing actor who just tanked, who totally screwed up their career. Someone amazing who fucked it up. And then I saw an interview with Mickey Rourke and wondered, "what happened to him?" He was God in the 80s, the Marlon Brando of the time. So my idea became, what if you were the actor who made a living dubbing Mickey Rourke into Spanish, and now his career has tanked. It took me three years to write that script. I bought the Syd Field book Screenplay around 2002 and finished the script in 2005.
What was it about the story that appealed to you?
The idea that it was about being powerless and having no voice of your own and then finding it. That was the journey of my main character and my own as well. He was just a voice for other people. It was about the struggle to find your voice and believe your voice has value.
Diane went on to option that first screenplay and attach Mickey Rourke. Over the next few years, she continued to write and direct films, including the Sundance award-winning Obselidia and bestselling book, Shoot From the Heart, along with an accompanying online film academy and podcast. Around this time, she also began to notice the creatives around her fighting the same crippling doubt she once had and was called to do something about it. The shift that began for her on a Barcelona yoga mat now moved her towards helping other writers, especially women, live their best creative lives.
In your creative coaching, you encourage writers/filmmakers to be rather than do in their creative lives. Can you elaborate on that?
We're trapped in this idea that it’s our actions that get us our best results. We push push push all the time. As writers, we've been conditioned to think we have to send ten emails every single day or we're not really showing up for our careers. We have to cold call five people and feel like shit doing it but this is what we've got to do, so we grind through. I’ve coached people and told them to just stop doing that. You know your intention. Sell the script. Move it forward. So instead of doing things that make you feel like shit, fill your well with joy and bliss. Think about one person you could have a genuine human interaction with. Connect with them, rather than writing twenty query letters, and no one is actually connecting or caring. Just stop.
How do we stop when everything in this industry pushes us towards always being on our grind? How did you stop?
I don’t think I was ever caught in that trap. I think that’s why I’ve had such great results. Because once I broke through the barrier of writing my first screenplay, my energy was so clear. I felt like Superwoman. I knew I was going to sell the Mickey Rourke screenplay. There was no, "well, statistically nobody sells their first script, and I have to write five more before I can expect anything to happen." None of that. It was just, 'I am going to sell it.' And I did. No hustle involved, other than going to Cannes and having a great time and meeting people. See, this is energetics. We don't need to do more, we need to believe we’re worthy and our work is worthy. We need to lean back and let success come to us, no desperation, no hurry. Just knowing it’s a matter of time and meeting the people who fit. It shifts the dynamic of things. If we don't believe something is possible for us or we pursue it in fear, doing more won't help.
You identify this pushing and doing energy as masculine and believe it's dominant in the film industry to the point that it results in an unsafe space for women creatives. How did you come to that?
I’ve been teaching writing and filmmaking since 2014. The majority of my students are women, and I've witnessed in them my own creative struggles. It took a decade of crippling fear, of me doing the inner work to believe my voice mattered, and it was safe to put it out there. I saw a pattern and started thinking maybe it wasn't just about individual psychology or family baggage. I saw then and believe now it’s something that is coded into us as women.
Coded by society?
It's deeper than that. It's ancestral. Until recently, it was 100% unsafe for women to try and have their voices heard. In Scotland, we had 400 years of witch trials, of women being persecuted. It blows my mind. Generations of women. So what women learned over the years was to zip it. To keep quiet. To stay small to survive. And now we have this understanding of epigenetics, of how trauma changes our DNA through generations. So I have no doubt that women have been generationally coded to keep our voices low. It's safer now for us to have our voices heard but it's still risky. Women are still trolled and attacked. So we struggle to create and blame ourselves. “I'm just lazy" or "I don't want it enough" when the reality is, for centuries it simply was not safe for women to create and that's been passed on to us energetically.
How do women create that safe space today?
By connecting to other women and plugging into our feminine power. We've moved into a period where women are creators, but we always have to do it within this masculine energy model of grind and hustle. But our power and safety are in the female energy of allowing and receiving, the being energy rather than the doing energy. Our power is in coming back to creating as women. There are natural ebbs and flows. Rather than linear go go go, it’s cyclical with the moon and seasons. If we attune to it we live in such greater productivity. It’s learning to play with energy so we're living the most creative, joyful lives we can.
Do you see any movement towards being rather than doing energy in the entertainment industry? For all genders?
There’s a huge shift globally to balancing the masculine and feminine. I'm not saying the world should be female energy dominant, just that it's been way out of balance towards the masculine for so long. It’s about balance and harmony for all of us.
What's your definition of success?
I used to think it meant being free to create whatever I wanted. Now I think it means the freedom to live a life based on my desires rather than obligation. Living a joyful life based on desire. That's my definition of success.
For more information on Diane and her work visit https://www.dianebell.com/
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