Writing about authors, Annie Dillard warns: “He is careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns because that is what he will know.” It seems there is such a thing as useful ignorance. It is possible for artistry to be spoiled by intellect. Or maybe what we’re trying to say is simply this: Be careful what you learn in film school.
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.
When things are going well, film ideas lead one to the next. You’re working on one project, and something sparks an idea for another. A perpetual motion machine. But sometimes that machine breaks down, and you’re left trying to pedal your bicycle uphill. Every once in a while, we all need a little boost.
The quickest way to do bad work is to worry about doing bad work. It’s that well-known truth all over again: We move toward what we focus on. At some point, the people who make great things stop worrying so much about making bad things, and they start getting work done, getting projects finished, getting pieces out there. They eschew perfectionism in favor of productivity. They work fast — and fearlessly.
A film can be perfectly executed and beautifully shot, yet still ultimately waste the viewers’ time. As high-end tools become more accessible to entry-level filmmakers, the scales have tipped heavily toward slick, dazzling, albeit somewhat boring films. Maybe that’s why so many of them are only three minutes long. They’re a sprint of flash and wow factor. But you can only sprint so far.
No matter how big our creative dreams, we still have to live one day at a time. Or, to put it in reverse (and to quote Annie Dillard): “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” We can’t montage our way to success. We have to live every moment between now and then. And what we do with those moments is everything.
Win, lose, or draw, there’s something respectable about diving headfirst into something — going for it. The great Annie Dillard puts it nicely: “You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.” It’s the tension between gravity and impact that forces us to get creative, build processes, and maybe even escape disaster. Because, let’s face it, there’s nothing quite as motivational as imminent failure.