If you don’t know Joey L. from his work for the National Geographic Channel, the History Channel, or charity: water (his images have been displayed in little places like, oh, Time’s Square), then you might know him from his tutorials. Since 2006, Joey L. has been distilling his hard-earned photographic know-how into easy-to-follow instructional videos (originally in the form of hand-labeled DVDs, and now available on the World Wide Interweb). His most recent series, Dudes with Cameras, is a compulsively watchable mix of photographic wisdom, travelogue, and late-night sleep-deprived mischief. Highly recommended.
Years ago, someone gave me a piece of business advice I haven’t forgotten: “Find a competitor,” he said, “and learn to hate them.” In a lot of ways, his advice was sound. Competition not only drives people forward, but it drives entire industries forward. Heck, it’s the whole basis of capitalism. And yet, after following his advice for a number of years, I couldn’t help but feel like there was something seriously wrong with it. Sure, competition could drive me to the next level, but did I like who I was when I got there? (Nope.) And would I be able to keep that same competitive spirit year after year? (Probably not.)
Why do we make films? It would be so much easier not to. The poet Charles Simic said: “I write because I want every woman in the world to fall in love with me.” Whether or not we say it out loud (or even admit it to ourselves), recognition is always on our radar. As it should be.
Creativity is such a fragile thing. Maybe that’s why entire mythologies have been built around it — everything from the Muses to the idea of “genius,” all attempting to explain where creativity comes from and where to find it when it’s gone missing. And it does go missing. Sometimes it goes missing a lot. The inspiration leaves, the magic is gone. You question everything you’ve ever done. Nowadays, we call this a “creative block,” and it can be terrifying.
If you want to get filmmakers worked up in a hurry, talk about film school. Opinions are as varied as they are impassioned. As they should be. Film school requires a lot from a person. It takes a lot of money, a lot of time, and, ultimately, a lot of trust.
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.