Ryan Coogler: 10 Rules to Being Successful

It’s incredibly hard to break onto the scene as a young filmmaker. For starters, you have to have an immense amount of talent, but you also need more. You’ve got to have big and innovative ideas, along with great vision, plus exceptionally high amounts of both persistence and charm. It’s no wonder that so few young filmmaking prodigies get noticed, and even fewer go on to prestigious careers.

In the past few years, though, one young filmmaker who has really been turning heads at film festivals and making a name for himself in Hollywood is Ryan Coogler. A native of California’s Bay Area, Coogler grew up playing football, and when he received a scholarship to college for his athletic prowess, he figured he’d play wide receiver for a few years while he simultaneously honed his abilities in math and science; the plan was to get on a pre-med track so he could eventually become a doctor. However, Coogler discovered his passion for film and for writing early on in his college career, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Coogler broke onto the scene in 2013 with his first feature length film, the true story crime drama Fruitvale Station. It premiered at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival that same year, and it won not only the Grand Jury Prize, but the Audience Award for US Dramatic Film. Coogler then wrote and directed the 2015 film Creed.

Coogler’s success as a young visionary filmmaker isn’t an accident at all. Instead, it’s the result of a great deal of discipline and a lot of hard work. He is an artist who genuinely understands what it takes to be successful. If you’re hoping to find similar success in a creative field, then this is a list you’ll want to read. Here are the ten rules for success according to Ryan Coogler.

1. If you want to be successful, work from the heart.

It’s true for any entrepreneurial type, but especially those who are in more creative lines of work. You’ve got to follow your passion and do what you love. If you make art simply to make a living, you may end up with work that’s good, but it will never be truly great. That’s because it won’t make a personal connection with enough people. However, if you create work that you truly believe in, and if your work comes from the heart, audiences will have a visceral reaction to it, and it’s that reaction that leads to recognition and success.

2. Take the long view in life.

A career in the creative arts has a long arc. Yes, it’s essential to focus on the here and now, but it’s also just as important to recognize that your current project is just a piece in the larger puzzle of your career. Small failures may seem catastrophic when they’re happening, but if you’re able to take the long view, you know to turn them into teachable moments and do better next time. A successful artist like Coogler will recognize that there’s time to grow and hone your craft.

3. Find great people to work with.

Again, this goes for entrepreneurs in all fields, but it especially applies to those in creative fields. If you surround yourself with good people who are creative thinkers, passionate, driven, talented, and disciplined, then you boost your own chances of success immensely. Remember, very few people are able to achieve success on their own; you need an outstanding team to really make a splash. For his films, Coogler tries as hard as he can to hire the best actors and the best technicians so that his work is as great as it can possibly be. Whatever your field may be, if you hire the best people, you increase your chances of success significantly.

4. Be passionate about what you do.

You’ve got to love your craft — not just like it, but really and truly love. This passion not only helps you to avoid the dreaded burnout, which all creative people face when they’re in the throes of a project, but it keeps you excited about your work, gets you out of bed every day, and pushes you to make the best work possible. You have to believe in the power of your craft, and passion is what pushes you to do that.

5. Find your path in life.

It’s not easy to find your true path, but once you do, don’t veer from it. It takes knowing your strengths, knowing what you’re passionate about, and knowing how you can earn a living to really find your path. What’s more, you may not immediately know what path to take. That’s why it’s important to get a good education (either formal or informal) and listen to the advice of trustworthy friends and mentors who know you well.

6. Don’t just try to be good — try to be great.

Yes, talent is important if you’re going to be great, but that’s just one small part of the equation. To achieve true greatness, you need to have a strong work ethic and a commitment to your work. This is what has helped Coogler make two of the most well regarded films of the past few years. He’s clearly got talent, but he also works incredibly hard to achieve success.

7. Have a plan, but also have a backup plan.

It’s no secret that sometimes things don’t work out the way we think they’re supposed to. Ryan Coogler initially went to college not to study writing or filmmaking, but to play football and maybe major in chemistry. However, a redshirt freshman year turned into his college’s football program getting scrapped soon after, and Coogler quickly had to switch gears. He took a creative writing class during his freshman year of school and discovered his love of screenwriting. That became a backup plan, which then turned into a pretty successful career! You can call it always having something to fall back on, or you can call it not putting all your eggs in one basket, but whatever you call it, it has led Ryan Coogler to great success.

8. Don’t be afraid to express your emotions.

Or rather, don’t be afraid to express your emotions through your art. If something moves you, chances are it will move others, and it’s these raw feelings, when handled by a highly creative individual, that can connect to wide audiences. To find success, Coogler will tell you, you need to harness those feelings and turn them into something relatable.

9. Be serious about making the best decisions you can.

It’s sometimes hard to do this, as filmmakers and entrepreneurs in all fields are often under a lot of pressure to make in the moment choices. Still, you need to take your decision making tasks seriously: weigh the pros and cons, try to foresee the consequences of your actions, and make the best decisions possible.

10. Look for inspiration.

Coogler is always watching other films, not only in search of inspiration, but also to remind himself why he does what he does. You know who the inspirational people are in your life, and you probably have a good idea of what inspires you. Seek out that inspiration! Get excited about your craft and look for outstanding examples of it to keep yourself motivated.


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