A Dreamer Walking

Production Log – The WALL

Posted in Personal Philosophy, Production Log by Jacob on February 6, 2019

A great number of artists who are asked about creative blocks simply say, “I don’t let it happen to me”. And of course my first instinct is to call BS. Everyone gets creative blocks. You know, that wall stopping you from seeing any solution to your story? At this very second it’s looming over me, taunting me for my profound lack of inspiration. I am in the middle of a very difficult sequences for my documentary. I will be sending this edit out to people who can have a huge influence on whether I get funding for the project and I need to make a great first impression. The core idea is there. I know I have the characters and moments to make something wonderful. The dilemma is to be able to connect the dots, so one moment builds into another and each character is fully realized.

Honestly, I feel like screaming and throwing my head in the ground. My current solution of simply staring at the screen, doesn’t seem to be much healthier of an option. Neither is working on an edit when I know I don’t have a strong direction to take. The brain needs a break sometimes.

The mind is an interesting thing. We actually don’t do our best thinking when we force our brain to go specific directions. Left to its natural tendencies, the brain will choose the easy way out. When you combine that with our over stimulated world we live in, creativity can be completely choked out. What happens when we are pushing ahead is we usually follow a specific route that ends up being far more instinctual than inspirational. Rote memory and planned layouts are what most mind’s want to rely on. Technology only helps us with that laid out path. Heck, when writing emails now my computer gives me suggestions for my next several words. Ironically one of the greatest defenses I have to this layed out world set before me is my dyslexia. Dyslexics struggle with rote memory. We usually take twice as long to understand how to follow a step by step process or memorize a planned layout. To put it simply, dyslexic’s mind’s can’t stay focused as easily. We want to break away, try to connect dots that sometimes are just not there.

There are times where the wondering brain finds an unnoticed solution to a problem. There is a reason 20% of entrepreneurs are dyslexic, despite their struggle in the school system and the fact dyslexics make up only 10% of the population. Not every idea an entrepreneur comes up with succeeds. In fact, if you ask them they would tell you most fail. Yet if an entrepreneur comes up with one great innovation out of 10, they can be extremely successful. There is a reason some of the great creative minds in our history were considered to be dyslexic, this includes Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, and Steven Spielberg. Spielberg particularly has spoken about the numerous ways his dyslexic tendencies have helped him as an artist. Few know however, they almost got him thrown out of the film business entirely. At one point in his career Spielberg was known for going over budget and way over schedule with his film productions. The most famous example was Jaws, where a planned 55 day production schedule ended up taking 157 days. Granted, this had a great deal to do with a malfunctioning shark, but his next two films, Close Encounters and 1941, were also way past schedule and budget. His crew talked about how Spielberg kept getting new ideas for scenes. Mid way through shooting a scene he would think of a better way to shoot it. One could only imagine how hard it was to keep up with the constant bouncing around of the man’s imagination.

One thing you may be feeling at this moment is I’m getting away from the original point of this post. I mean, how is Spielberg going over schedule the same thing as me not being able to get past my most recent creative wall. I must say, this is a brilliant example of just how my dyslexia tends to work. My English major mother, who homeschooled me, would have a permanent palm mark seared on her forehead from the amount of times I would simply make a leap from one paragraph to another with no explanation on how I got from one destination to another. This really is what leads to the most devastating creative blocks for me. I need to be able to connect my narrative for my audience. It doesn’t matter how great my idea is, or even how many great ideas I have, if I am not able to walk one through my journey I’m sunk. Spielberg was lucky to have multiple creative colleagues to hold his hand, the greatest counter to his creative leaps is his editor, Michael Kahn.

To get to my main point, creative walls can be described as anything keeping you away from telling your story. With Spielberg his overlong productions were getting in the way of telling his best stories. 1941 is a huge narrative and tonal mess, due to Spielberg losing sight of where the heart of his film was. With his next film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Producer and good friend George Lucas made Spielberg promise he would produce the film on schedule and on budget. And with far more action and many more locations than Jaws, Spielberg shot the movie in 73 days. Did he need to sacrifice his creativity for this? Well, I wouldn’t suggest that to the millions of fans who consider Raiders to be one of the greatest action films of all time.

So what is it? Does one just need to bypass their creative walls by forcing themselves to stay on schedule? Or is needing to acknowledge the block part of being creative? The reason I write these things is to figure out the answers myself. I believe Spielberg found a balance. Though most of his production schedules are quite short these days Spielberg does still use techniques to give himself time to take a break and allow that wandering mind of his to work.

One of my favorite stories of Spielberg’s was when he was asked why he edited his movies on film for so long. Where most filmmakers went digital in the mid to late 90’s, Spielberg was editing with scissors and celluloid during Lincoln, which came out in 2012. He said after watching a scene he would always have edits for Kahn to make. He would point two to three things out and then take a walk. Twenty minutes later he’d come back and they’d go over the next problem. When editing on a computer Spielberg would go through a similar scene. He’d make his suggestions, pointing out two to three things, and before he even got up the edits would be done, the editor ready to move on. The big difference was due to the immediate nature of digital editing Spielberg didn’t have time to wonder. He didn’t have time to search out those suggestions he’d made in his head and explore potential creative ways to solve the next ones.

We have a greater ability now, than ever before, to stay stimulated. We live in a world of instant gratification where if you run into a wall you can simply look up an app for how to get through it or around it. But what if the point of creativity is climbing those walls? What if the wall itself is one of the most crucial aspects to creativity? Following a laid out route is easier, but I believe the crucial ingredient to creativity is the new. The new is inherently difficult to embrace. I have run into numerous problems in my stories, I have done enough research to know ways to get through the problems. Yet, when I try to simply get through the problem I end up neglecting the nuance of the situation. My characters in my stories have similarities to characters I’ve seen in the past, but they are not the exact same. There is a great difference between inspiration and imitation. The techniques I use to connect the narratives and build upon moments, have been inspired by my studies into other great filmmakers, but I’d be doing a great disservice to my story if I simply copied them.

True inspiration comes from facing the WALL. The wall simply represents the unknown. It represents those aspects that are unique about your characters and your story’s arc. I understand the temptation to bypass the unknown for the familiar, but storytelling’ lifeblood comes from the unique aspects you bring. Embrace those things. Then you must figure out the path. As the creator, you are there not only to find the new place but also build the path. This is such a difficult dilemma since these two aspects rarely compliment each other. Yet one of the most brilliant aspects of filmmaking is the collaborative nature of the artform. You don’t need to be great at everything, you simply need to find the people to understand the vision and help get us there.

(This is a new series I am going to be doing as a way to avoid getting back to the heavy lifting of finishing my Paxson Documentary.)

 

 

Is It Worth It?

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on April 19, 2018

640x640_11664732I sit here at 3:30 AM debating for one of the first times in my life, if my life goal of becoming a filmmaker is worth it. I hate to be dramatic, but it’s simply where I am.

Two years of my life has been devoted to a documentary about a place I love, a place I grew up in. It was my first job as an adult. I was given the task to care for the men of Paxson. Six men living in a group home whose value has been questioned throughout their lives. See, these men struggle in a ways we simply can’t imagine. Simple everyday tasks are mountains for them. The ability to walk, have conversation, or even stay awake are all tasks needed to be conquered each new day.

Their struggle was not the reason they deserved a documentary however. We need their story told because of the humanity they show through facing their struggles. The difference is key. Throughout my clients’ lives they’ve been defined by the disabilities they have. Schizophrenia, down syndrome, or cerebral palsy – it doesn’t matter. People simply take one look at them and shutter because they are different. Believe me, I know. I’ve gone on outings numerous times throughout the nine years of knowing them. It’s tragic how the crowd parts ways when we are walking through the store or on the fairgrounds. I see the stares. I see people hesitate to be near them. I hear the judgement when they are talked to. And, they feel these things, too.

All this is not to say I am angry at those who don’t understand my friends. It’s completely understandable. I was the same way until I got to know them. Yet, I know if people could just get past those first awkward moments they would see something amazing. I was actually willing to bet two years of my life and all my talents as a filmmaker on this fact. With the help of some good friends and the support of the special needs community, I set forth to tell their story. And let me tell you, it’s been a bumpy ride.

The most prominent problem has been lack of finances. I’ve actually lost about $500 dollars in the two year process. Until just recently I received no financial benefits. And as much as I can confidently state financial gain was never the reason for this project, I must admit the lack of it has made things extremely stressful. My University has been overly gracious to allow me to use their equipment through the years. Yet, as with all used equipment, it’s a task to get everything rented and upsetting to find things that don’t work. There is nothing more tragic in the mind of a filmmaker then to miss a event or a moment due to waiting periods or malfunctions.

Another factor I must admit to is the question of ego. Oh yes, we all wish we could simply say we are over being rattled by the opinions of others. Yet, artists most of all struggle with having the confidence in themselves to share their work with the world. I told my professor after my very first documentary short, Mary Rose, my next project would be a feature documentary. Two years later, if someone told me the same thing I would struggle not to laugh in their face. Insisting you have the capability to engage your audience for more than sixty minutes is no small statement. Let’s forget about the story, how could one with such little experience expect to accomplish such a feat? To be honest, I started out writing this because I don’t know if I can. I’ve hit the ditch numerous times through this two year process. The hundreds of hours of footage is drowning me. One of my greatest weaknesses, organization, has constantly been something I’ve needed to address. My communications skills, technical skills, and emotional strength have all been tested to the max. The struggle between having enough confidence to lift this project from the ground and the humility needed to hear criticism and get feedback, has not been a battle I’ve always won.

This brings me to my last big dilemma, the loneliness. Now, I do not want to be saying nobody else has been there for me. From the beginning, I have had family who supported me in this project and who have dealt with all kinds of insecurities from this young filmmaker. I have film buddies who have sacrificed countless hours assisting me with setting up shoots and filming. I have a handful of professors who meet me on a regular basis to go over edits, despite me not going to school anymore. And I have the clients and staff from the house, who have championed my cause and been humble enough the allow me to film them. Yet, the vast majority of my time on this project has been spent alone. I sit in a empty room from 4PM to 3AM working through each element of the footage I’ve captured. I am the assistant, the editor, and the director. And my process is labor intensive. I must sync the good audio, organize each interview, and subtitle every line of dialogue for the clients who struggle to be understood. I must be emotionally connected to the material, fighting to allow each voice to be heard, while also figuring out how to stay objective enough to have an accurate perspective over the whole. And, as of today I have not found those who are able be with me on some of the most perilous parts of the journey.

What I describe to you is the great dilemma of every artist. The battle of outside sources and inner conflicts. Each artist I have studied has dealt with these dilemmas in different ways; sometimes at great cost to their personal lives. I don’t know where I will land in the end. Not knowing if I have enough money, struggling to contain the ego, and dealing with the loneliness — all threaten my ability to finish this film.

And this is where I sit.

Then I remember the men of Paxson. They represent what all my struggle, talents, and drive is for. The only time the crushing weight lifts is when they become more important than my fragile ego, my mandatory woes, my sitting in this room alone. Tonight I can soak in my sorrows, but tomorrow I wake to fight for them. In this profession, the soul of the story is what makes each task worth it’s weight.

Thoughts From Tarkovsky – The Ever-Changing World

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Personal Philosophy by Jacob on July 22, 2016

It is a grave, I would even say, fatal, mistake to try to make a film correspond exactly with what is written on paper, to translate onto structures that have been thought out in advance, purely intellectually. That simple operation can be carried out by any professional craftsman. Because it is a living process, artistic creation demands a capacity for direct observation of the ever-changing material world, which is constantly in movement.”  – Andrei Tarkovsky’s Sculpting in Time

This is just one of countless insights I have found from Andrei Tarkovsky’s book, Sculpting in Time. The quote is extra relevant today since there are so many new tools being developed in order to plan out stories, scenes, and even specific shots in advance. Film demands a curtain amount of structure. The very definition of a “frame” suggests structure. Yet, more then any other artistic medium, filmmaking rewards those who are able to break away from the inherent structure of film and adapt to the ever-changing world around us.

I have been in the process of creating several short documentaries. Last year a friend and I made a 20 min documentary on a clinically blind 91 year old woman who walked a mile and a half to church every Sunday. One of the most daunting aspects was the absence of a script. Unlike with fictional filmmaking I was not allowed to create a story before going to shoot. All I could do was hope to find little moments in the process of making the film and put them together in the end to tell a complete story.

What the inability to use structure demanded of me was to observe. I couldn’t rely on any per-conceived ideas. I needed seek out the truth each day, in every moment I captured. Even in the interviews there were contradictions between the characters we covered. Instead of looking at what was said, I found the greatest truths were revealed through mall things, like a hint of a smile or a movement in the eyes; things I would never even think of let alone know how to write into a script.

In the process of making the doc I became less and less interested in telling a specific story. I told my partner I didn’t want this to be about a 91 year old who had all sorts of insights to pass down to younger generations. I didn’t want this to be a doc about a 91 year old who was about to die. I simply wanted it to be about a person who happened to be 91 and let her tell us the rest of the story.

In the end we were able to create a story out of the pieces our subject gave us. But the story had less to do with getting to specific answers and more to do with going on a journey. For a brief 20 minutes we let the audience take a walk with a 91 year old lady and discover a few divine insights before departing. Because we had not yet come to any conclusions before filming we were able to discover insights none of us by ourselves would have ever made.

A beauty of filmmaking is numerous people, if allowed, contribute to the whole of the story. If we structure our story too much we disallow the individual contribution of the person directing the film, the individual holding the camera, or man portraying the character. The difference between a craftsman and an artist is the ability to go beyond what is on the page and bring new insights to the table. We must have an unified vision, a similar journey we want to go on, but its expression need not be limited to one voice. As a unified group we can get to far greater places than we can as individuals.

The Pixar Story

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on October 10, 2011

You will have to forgive me for being so lazy with this blog for the last week and a half. I really don’t have much of an excuse but I promise you I will get back on top of things soon. I found a video that I think is very much worthy of posting. The video is the Leslie Iwerks documentary The Pixar Story. Leslie does a fantastic job with this documentary. She really captures the magic of Pixar and does a great job telling the story of how Pixar has become the studio it is today (or the studio it was in 2007 when the documentary was made). The movie concentrates on the three real founders of Pixar, Ed Catmull, John Lasseter, and Steve Jobs. These three people all had a united vision that they would not give up on. Through constant struggle and overcoming they were able to create a studio that has come out with an unprecedented string of both box office and critically acclaimed successes. Enjoy the documentary and be inspired.

Martin Scoresese- American Masters

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on February 22, 2011

Here is a hour documentary I just watched on Martin Scorsese. I think it one of the best documentaries on Martin I have seen. We are introduced to Martin as a director in the 1990’s (when the documentary was made) and then take a very good look at Martin’s past. I like how these guys concentrate just as much on the philosophy Martin was building on film as they do on the actual movies he created. We are given some great insight to why Martin is such a good director and what makes his films so unique. I think that Martin’s editor Thelma Schoonmaker and Steven Spielberg have some very insightful things to say about Martin. We also get to hear from Martin’s parents, which is pretty fun. Hope you enjoy!

(You will have to go to Youtube to watch the video)