The thought of a “path” can be a little bit misleading. Just the name implies that there’s a clearly marked way to go, or maybe even a route backward toward where we came from. We all know that’s not the case. Finding our way can be a confusing, wayward, and terrifying experience — more like navigating a maze than anything else.
Creativity and loneliness seem to go hand in hand. Some even believe loneliness is essential to creativity — not only as a by-product, but also a catalyst. A study from Johns Hopkins University found that people who were socially rejected early in their life tend to be the most creative. Rejection becomes their “fuel.” This explains why creative people are usually pretty weird. They are literally “out there.” On the fringe. Refusing to conform. Which can (a) make their work meaningful, and (b) make their work impossible.
I recently heard one of my favorite directors, Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman, The Revenant), say that his biggest concern for young filmmakers coming up behind him is our outsized focus on results, our obsession with recognition, and our overwhelming need to be seen as a big deal. Basically, he’s worried about our egos getting in the way of making substantive work. For him, empathy is the central focus as he engages the process of making a film.
Creativity is full of paradoxes — not the least of which is the fact that having absolute creative freedom is often highly uncreative. It’s a phenomenon called “paralysis of choice.” The more options we have, the harder it is to choose anything. So we do nothing. When everything is an option, somehow we find ourselves optionless. Which is why almost every artistic medium develops its own limitations over time.
As David Foster Wallace famously put it: “Of course you end up becoming yourself.” Which probably just means that everything seems inevitable in retrospect. And maybe that’s why it’s not surprising that despite having so many things working against them, cinematographers Autumn Durald (Palo Alto, One & Two) and Rachel Morrison (Black Panther, Cake) have built not only successful film careers, but also families. Which isn’t to say it was easy. Just that, when you hear them talk about it, it makes sense. “I guess on some level, [being a DP and a mother was] always a part of the plan,” Rachel Morrison says. “But I got to the point where I was like, ‘How the hell can you be a DP and a mother?’”
The hardest part of making a film isn’t the grueling days, the logistical Rubik’s Cube, or the 10,000 problems that arise over the course of production. The very hardest part is getting started in the first place. How do you go from having an idea to doing something about it? And then how do you keep doing something about it? The great garbage heap of abandoned ideas is both deep and wide. We’ve all contributed to it. But at some point, if we’re ever going to make the film we want to make, then we’re going to have to actually make it.
It’s a dangerous time to be an artist. A couple times a year, the whole world appears to pick one artist to turn on. Maybe they mixed up some facts. Maybe they misrepresented a subject. But, most often, it seems like artists are lambasted for stealing from each other. There are few things trolls love more than showing why something that seems original…isn’t. But with so much content flooding our world and minds right now, the line between inspiration and derivation has gotten blurrier than ever. How can we be influenced by great work without ripping it off?
Our CEO Daniel McCarthy has been on an NBA kick for about 10 years now. So, when he’s delivering an analogy about creative fear, chances are Lebron James’ name is somehow going to find its way into the conversation. Our recent team meeting was no different. As he was giving us a classic McCarthy pep talk about what (and how) we create as a team, he went right to the 2016 NBA Finals.
Nothing gets wasted more often than inspiration. Sure, it’s the spark to something much larger, but far too often it fizzles, flashes, and ceases to exist. Poof. Gone. So, a word of warning: Don’t let your moment of inspiration go to waste. It may be temporary, there’s so much power behind it — and you can use that energy to bring something beautiful to life.
When we landed in Lexington to make our film about Tony Anderson, we had a pretty good idea how things were going to turn out. We’d written a treatment. We’d picked out a few song options. We had a schedule and a shot list and a bunch of little boxes just waiting for us to put a checkmark in them. Overall, we felt pretty confident. We knew when we got back to our office in Fort Worth that we’d be able to put together something decent.