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.)

 

 

Compromise

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on September 16, 2011

Compromise can be seen in two lights, negative and positive. Some people try to fight compromise as much as possible through being extremely detailed in their work and making sure they have the resources to stick to their original vision. However, even David Fincher, who takes much longer then the average filmmaker to shoot his films with usually a solid budget, has complained more then once about filmmaking being full of compromise and settling for imperfections.

Unlike David Fincher, Steven Spielberg has talked about compromise sometimes being a filmmakers best ally. He warned the students at Inside the Actors Studio to never let their vision or dream get in the way of making the movie better. Spielberg has shown his brilliant ability with compromise in movies like Jaws, E. T., and Jurassic Park. Originally Spielberg wanted to reveal the shark in Jaws at the very beginning of the film. The problem was that the mechanical shark they made for production wouldn’t work for the first half of production and it wasn’t too believable even when it did work. So, Steven needed to change his vision for the project. What he created instead was something that feels far more scary and malicious. Spielberg used the music and point of view shots to represent the presence of the shark. He waited until we were far into the second act of the film to reveal the shark. Yet, even then he only showed us a few seconds. He knew that if we saw the shark for too long it would look unbelievable and lose it’s maliciousness.

These days filmmakers have the ability to create whatever they want, the computer can literally bring anything to life. Yet, this unlimited ability to express whatever we want on screen is not always a good thing. Spielberg realized the power of limitation in the process of making Jaws. He found that compromise lead to a creativity that required limitations to work. Spielberg left a lot of the terror of the shark to the audience imagination. He knew the audience’s imagination could create a far more terrible creature then anything he could actually show on screen.

Filmmaking is a collaborative process and no matter if you are making a film independently or through a studio system, there are compromises. There are compromises made because you don’t have enough money, because you are trying to get a curtain rating, because you need to make decisions as a team, and the list goes on. What we need to do is run with the compromises. We need to learn how to use the compromises to stretch our thinking into creating something even more thought provoking and entertaining. The strict definition of compromise is settling for less then you wanted, however I think this does not need to be the case when it comes to filmmaking. If we are willing to work together as a team we can dream far greater visions then any one person could. If compromise is needed from one person in order to create a greater whole then the individual must be willing to sacrifice.

The time when compromise must be fought is when non-creative people try to influence your story. You will not always win, the budget will be cut and the story might be changed, however you must not let the business part of filmmaking destroy your creativity. If you feel your vision is being diminished you must know when to throw in the towel. Peter Weir (director of Dead Poets Society, Witness, and Master and Commander) worked on four projects from 2003 to 2010 and he only ended up making one. When asked about the projects he left Peter said he was glad he didn’t make them because he and the studios couldn’t come to agreement and share a vision together. Peter compared getting ready to write and direct a film to getting ready to fly a plan through a storm; if a bunch of red lights pop up before you even get into the storm that is a good sign to bail out. There is a huge difference between making compromises because of creative differences and budget/technical restraints, and needing to compromise because your financiers are not ambitious enough.

I am not telling you to ignore your convictions. However, filmmaking doesn’t work with just one person, it is a collaborative effort. It is impossible to have one man’s vision translated completely accurately onto screen. My suggestion is to embrace this fact and see if you can use the people around you to create a even greater vision. You are not exactly in a better position with a big budget or more time to shoot a film. Even though David Fincher usually has a greater budget and much more time to shoot a film then someone like Clint Eastwood, I do not consider him a better filmmaker. It all depends on what you do with the compromises that come with the medium of film. You can let compromises destroy your vision and your film, as I said sometimes you have to know when to bail out. However, most of the time you can take those compromises you encounter during the filmmaking process and let them boost your creativity and make something far greater then you could have imagined.