We assume you make films because you want people to see them. Actually, more than just see — think, feel, resonate with, remember. An audience isn’t a passive group of eyeballs. It’s the reason your film comes to life. Literally, the motion of a film is created inside people’s brains. And the story too. Their experiences and feelings and thoughts and opinions will resonate with yours, and “movie magic” happens. It’s what keeps people going to the movies. And ⎯ allow us to be idealistic for a second ⎯ it’s what keeps filmmakers making them. So it’s funny that, when it comes to feedback, it’s so easy for us to believe that no one’s opinion matters but our own. Or, to go to the other extreme, to believe that someone else’s opinion is the only one that counts.
If there’s one thing filmmaking is not, it’s not a solo act. Sure, every once in a while you can go off on your own and create something beautiful; but for anyone who’s wanting to make a career of their craft, collaborating is nonnegotiable. You’re going to end up working with a crew. You’re going to end up working with actors. We’ve talked with dozens of filmmakers over the past year of the Community, and one topic that almost always comes up is collaboration. As you’ll see, it cuts both ways. While collaboration can be frustrating at times, it’s also almost guaranteed to improve your creative game.
For the past two weeks, we’ve been consumed with A Guide for the Perplexed: Conversations with Paul Cronin, a nearly 600-page conversation between the legendary (and infamous) filmmaker Werner Herzog and editor Paul Cronin. While Herzog comes from an older generation of filmmakers, his rogue approach to cinema strikes us as being particularly timely today. Not just timely, actually — but challenging. At 72 years old, Werner Herzog is still ahead of his time.
The question is not whether filmmaking is stressful. It’s how you’re going to deal with the stress when it inevitably comes your way. Stress is a physiological survival mechanism. It’s our body’s way of telling us to run away from dinosaurs and hide in a cave. But it’s also philosophical ⎯ it’s something we can overcome. Some of the most productive, well-respected filmmakers in the world deal with stress on a daily basis. And they’ve learned how to put it in its place.
There’s a new year upon us, and lately we’ve been thinking about mentorship. Thinking about people who have mentored us, the people we’ve been honored to mentor, and the gift of mentorship itself. For most of us — creative people prone to melancholy and emotional volatility — this relationship is our best hope for keeping each other on the rails, and making sure we all keep working, and living, honestly and productively.
Authenticity, in any case, is a key to work we love. It doesn’t matter if it’s an album, film or some other creative endeavor. We can’t tell you how to make something authentic, that’s up to you, but we can say that we believe your best work comes from a place that’s truly yours, and no one else’s.
Creativity, like any job, is a daily grind. Salesmen don’t wait for inspiration to make a sale. Surgeons don’t wait for lightning-bolt revelations to make their first incision. And the same goes for those of us who do creative work. Whether it’s our full-time job or our side passion, creativity is best practiced every day.
For years now, the name “SoulPancake” has been floating around the Internet, attached to unapologetically feel-good (and unstoppably viral) videos like Kid President, Kitten Therapy, and Heart Attack!, as well as disarmingly philosophical series like Metaphysical Milkshake. Yeah, we’d heard of SoulPancake. But for a long time we weren’t exactly sure what SoulPancake was. A creative agency? A Rainn Wilson side project? A, for lack of a better term, movement?
Everyone wants to be a prodigy. Our culture and generation idolize God-given talent above all else. We’re all waiting for our “gifts” to be discovered — by our industry, by our peers, and even by ourselves. But it’s not long before you’re 30 and you realize you still don’t know how to play the cello. You’ve never looked at a piano and it just made sense to you.
Every project comes with its own lessons. There are lessons in failure and success, lessons in easy clients and difficult clients, and lessons in not being able to drum up any projects at all. Some of the most important lessons, though, come when we make projects for ourselves ⎯ passion projects. When left to our own devices, we have the chance to discover what we really have to offer, what we value, what we believe good work actually means. The lessons we learn by making passion projects have the ability to affect every aspect of our work, from the clients we choose to the stories we tell. Often, that’s worth the cost of production alone (whether that’s dollars, or simply the time spent by the people producing it).