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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.

Learning a craft is never easy, and there aren’t any shortcuts. As we’ve talked with filmmakers over the past few months, one question we always ask is “How did you learn how to do what you do?” Sometimes it feels like that’s the only question that really matters, and yet it’s usually the most difficult one to answer. While only some of the people we interviewed attended film school (and even fewer finished), all of these filmmakers are self-taught in their own way. Meaning, filmmaking is something they internalize—they’re constantly learning, discovering, and working it out for themselves. Just in time for the holidays, we’ve compiled a smorgasbord of insights into the benefits of a formal versus a not-so-formal film education. Salud!

If you’ve been in an Apple Store recently, you’re already familiar with Austin Mann’s work. He’s the photographer responsible for some of the stunning iPhone imagery currently being used in stores, online, and on billboards around the world. We’ve driven past his 30-story-tall image of a waterfall in Downtown Dallas many times. But if you think having your work on display for the world sounds like a dream come true, you’re wrong. Or at least Austin doesn’t see it that way. His ambitions are much larger and much smaller at the same time.

Anyone who edits interviews knows how much gets cut. Most of our Musicbed interviews start at around 10,000 words and end up around 2,000. We throw a lot away — usually just because a question or an answer doesn’t fit with the overarching theme.