When filmmakers think of pacing, they typically think of plot, scenes, music, editing. But there’s another form of pacing that’s equally important — if not more so — than how you pace your story: the way you pace your life. As creatives, we are prone to bad habits. We pull all-nighters. We eat fast and cheap. We spend hours, days, even weeks sitting in our chairs, writing and editing, and living inside our heads. Sometimes it seems like these behaviors are required. Par for the course. But the weird thing is, while creatives are notorious for their unhealthy lifestyles, our best creativity often happens when we’re living our healthiest.
Despite being necessarily collaborative, filmmaking can be lonely. And that loneliness can start to affect you — not just personally, but creatively as well. It’s hard to do good work when you don’t have people behind you.
Any act of creativity takes some amount of audacity. Films more than most. You have to believe your vision is worth bringing to life — that it’s worth investing in, producing, and being seen by as many people as possible. That takes confidence. And in various seasons of life, our confidence comes and goes. When it goes, it can be devastating. You may wonder if you’ll ever create anything good again. Or anything at all.
Here at Musicbed, we talk a lot about community and collaboration — and that’s because we really believe in those things. We believe our lives and our work improve when we share them with other people. But there’s a flip side we haven’t talked about very much. And that’s the importance — maybe even the necessity — of solitude.
If there is such a thing as a secret formula to success, it might be this: work your ass off. After two years of talking nonstop with successful creatives, that’s the best we can come up with. And few exemplify this better than Joey L., a Brooklyn-based commercial portrait photographer who’s shot the likes of Robert De Niro, Jessica Chastain, and Martin Sheen, and worked with brands such as the US Army, National Geographic Channel, and charity: water.
“An important attribute of a great junk shop is longevity,” Luc Sante wrote recently in The Paris Review. “It should accrue layers, like an archeological site.” By this definition, you could consider famed graphic designer, ephemera enthusiast, and second-generation junker Aaron Draplin an archeologist. Inside Draplin Design Co., Aaron keeps an ever-growing collection of artifacts he’s found and swiped for just a dollar or two from junk stores and bargain bins around the world. “See, when you find old, shitty Chevron stickers all stuck together like this, you don’t ask for just one,” Aaron told us. “You ask for the whole stack because then you can trade them with your buddies.” Later, he described himself as a rescue unit. He’s saving bric-a-brac from oblivion and using it to fuel a fresh round of timeless, creative work.
A recurring topic in our conversations with independent filmmakers is how personal/passion projects have either launched, sustained, or saved their careers. For some people, like Hunter Hampton, personal projects have kept them from jumping off a creative cliff. For others, like Khalid Mohtaseb, passion projects have become a surprisingly effective marketing strategy. We don’t think there’s a “wrong way” to approach passion projects. But after having dozens of these conversations, the conclusion we’ve drawn is that passion projects, in whatever form, are an essential part of a creative lifestyle and an even more essential part of a creative career.
At Film + Music we don’t just work around a lot of filmmakers and musicians — we work around a lot of creatives, period. In fact, a lot of us are creatives ourselves. Designers, photographers, writers…and, yes, filmmakers and musicians too. Over the years we’ve had the privilege of watching a ton of careers unfold. Some have blossomed, some haven’t. And after a while you start asking yourself why. What is it that leads someone to a successful career? What choices are they making to set themselves up for success?
If there is such thing as a “traditional path” to becoming a film director, Elle Ginter did not take it. After finishing her degree in journalism, Elle literally found herself out to sea. She worked on a whale-watching boat and talked to people about whales. As luck would have it, her job on the boat eventually led her onto major Hollywood sets with people like Adam Sandler and David Spade…
T. S. Eliot once said, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” It’s as true in life as it is in creativity. Like in any great story, we only find out who we really are when we’re put to the test. The catch is, as filmmakers we often have to put ourselves to the test. Nobody else is going to do it for us.