Creative Traction: Staying in Shape

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What is the best way to develop your insight and craft in your trade? Brochures and magazines will tell you to further your education, but the honest graduate will tell you it’s when you roll up your sleeves and work in the field. With Film,  from my experience, its a combination of both – but with limitations to either.

As Spike Lee will make sure to mention in every filmmaking seminar (and rightfully so) – if you are not making films, you need to be writing. I would add “and reading” to that sentence and place that above every filmmaker’s mantle. Oftentimes we think that filmmaking is a linear process, when it is anything but that. Most of the time, a writer already has the ending figured out before he has even conceived the setup or characters. The same principle applies with post-production and pre-production; you figure out what you should have done at the inappropriate time. Few film professors will tell you that The Exorcist director William Friedkin thought of a better ending to his film, The French Connection, years after it won the Oscar and he wanted to go back and change it. As much as you want to frame yourself as a filmmaker, you have to be honest with yourself as an artist and put the film hat aside sometimes when it comes to getting yourself in shape creatively.

Just reading books on subjects like music, painting, or world religions is important to build your insight as an artist. Keep in mind, the film you write and direct is coming primarily from YOUR lens on the world. And that lens needs to be cultured and very wide in order to be relevant to audiences. Believing that you can make a comedy based on a set of jokes shared by a group of friends one night- is setting yourself up for failure. In that same fashion, making a drama based solely on what goes on in your own home will undoubtedly be very one dimensional to audiences. That’s given they even understand the dynamic you are presenting. As an artist, you need to engage people of all types, push the envelope on your comfort zones, go to sections of the bookstore you have no interest in and read, read, read. If you are waiting for the planets to align on that big project you have been on hold for, keep in mind you need to still stay in shape creatively until those doors open for you or you will find yourself panting after just the first few steps into your inauguration.

Don’t ignore the foreign impulses or inspirations that come to you during your focus on any given project, as those inspirations may actually be the seeds of the masterpiece you have yet to create. Write them down, and as painful as it may be, take a segway out of your bubble for a little bit to cultivate it into at least a treatment before you return to your intended goal.

As a filmmaker, frequently being behind the camera is just as important as enriching your mind. Whether it’s commercials, promotional vids, short films, or even photography – keeping your eyes squinted through your viewfinder with a tripod in your trunk keeps you from falling into becoming a couch commando filmmaker, where you start to gain the attributes of a cynical movie critic more than a director. Stay away from that zone, or you will start to mock your own ideas before you have even made anything. Which brings me to my own personal argument towards the role of the movie critic. I personally have yet to understand the satisfaction one may take for critiquing a film definitively, considering he/she is just another member of the audience and sees things as subjectively as anyone else, only gets paid for his/her views. However the use/need of the movie critic is another article altogether, let’s conclude here.

Keep in mind both passive film work and active film work are needed to keep you in balance, almost exactly like working out and maintaining a good diet. One without the other will wear you out, and can even discourage you if your not making the progress you had planned, which is a reality any indie filmmaker has to reconcile daily.

Stay in shape, whether its playing an instrument, reading a book on Samurai culture, building your spirituality, writing a poem after a sunset, listening to someone vent about life’s agony, or dusting off a film in your collection that inspires you – keep the tears flowing, the laughs hearty, pages turning, ink running, and the healthy emotions receptive. The added bonus is that these experiences will also serve to assist you in the filmmaking process too. Keep the creative gears oiled, and the connections warm, because if you are as ambitious as I am, you’re gonna need it for later.