Sunday 5 February 2012

Creative Stuckness, Continued..

TONJA: For me, it's just family, the mommy-gig, getting in the way finding time to write and keeping up my momentum on writing projects. On the other hand, the pressure of having only a few hours a week to write definitely moves me forward. I don't waste those hours.

Tonja, first of all; it sounds like you're doing really well! For so many, the 'Mommy-gig' is the death of their writing pursuits. "I would have been a writer but...", or "When the kids grow up, then maybe I'll...".

You should give yourself a huge pat on the back for still being a part of the game! You write when you can, you read sites like these that are linked to your work. Do you give yourself the credit you deserve for all this?

The hardest thing for nearly all writers, is discipline. It seems that you have it, because you know your writing time is precious and short. Maybe try and develop that a bit more -- try to find a time of day, or certain day of the week, when you'll focus your energy on the writing, and then dedicate yourself to it. 

But it sounds like you're doing better than you think. 

BRUCE: I'm getting more ideas lately for things to write about but I have a problem with getting distracted. If I can just finish this level on a game I'm playing. If I can finish this movie I started watching last night. 

The real problem is I need to commit to sitting down to write more often and I'd like an editor to go over my work. I'm too wordy and I need help getting my point out in a shorter fashion. HELP!

Bruce, I totally get this. 

Firstly, the distractions. Allow yourself to be distracted! Say "This next hour will be for the distractions!" --- indulge in it... watch half a movie, flick around on Facebook, snack on food, text your friends, do all that nonsense; but do it willingly and happily, not guiltily, not like you should be doing better. This is your NONSENSE TIME! 

Also, find time to relax! Turn everything off and listen to your favourite album or watch a film you love, but dedicate yourself to completing it. NO DISTRACTIONS FROM IT, even if it's painful. Even if your brain begs you. Get through it. 

Have some NOTHING time. Sit in a room, put a countdown alarm on for ONE HOUR. Sit, breath, think. DO NOT write, do NOT record any ideas you have, no matter how good they are (during this nothing time, even writing ideas are distractions!). 

---- And, as a separate exercise; have your writing time, your creativity time. Dedicate yourself to seeing it through, do not succumb to distractions. 

The reason for all these different things I've mentioned? We get CAUGHT up in ambition so much so that we refuse to rest. We NEED rest, so we keep trying to rest and be distracted. But whenever we do, we feel guilty, so we force creativity. It doesn't last long, because we're so TIRED!. 

We need to dedicate to each stage of creative life. CREATIVITY, REST, NONSENSE, etc -- they all play a part! Do each of them CONSCIOUSLY and purposefully. 

Neuroscience is proving that the brain follows patterns of behaviour, habits. If we have a habit of getting distracted, we'll keep doing it and doing it and nothing will change.

Break that pattern. Decide what to do, consciously, and stick to it, see it through. The more you do, the easier it'll get. 

DANIEL: Ok, for me it's that I've got loads of writing, which I really WANT to do and am doing, but I also feel I OUGHT to be making short films (which I don't feel passionate about doing right now). So I am worried that if I just carry on with the writing and don't do any directing for a bit, I'll 'miss out' on some directing practice.

Who is the voice of this 'OUGHT'? Is it the wisdom you've heard from a director you admire, or a screenwriting book you read? Why does this voice have so much authority? Question it! And then see what resonates with you. You could make fifty films but how good will they be if you don't know how to write good scripts? Learning comes from all places, it's all relevant and valid. If your juice is getting going for the writing, then do the writing! 

Before you know it, the directing bug will be back and you'll do three short films in a month or something crazy like that. Go where the river is flowing! 

DONNA: Oh wow, there's a lot. I think all artists go through dry spells, not sure there's any real "cure" for that, other than time, patience and willpower. For me it's lack of focus and my own insecurities. When I finally do sit down and write, I keep going back over it tweaking and trying to make it better until I convince myself it's not good at all.

Dry spells would be fine, if only we'd be okay with them. Instead we fight them and get grumpy and think about quitting. Enjoy the process!

Lack of focus is a big one. I think it's often linked to what I wrote about BRUCE'S problem, about the mind being in too many places at once. You often need to step away to get focus, indulge in the things that are affecting your clarity. 

The important thing with writing; is to get the thing written! Go full steam ahead and save the criticism for much later. There's no rule that says your 1st draft must be golden. It's allowed to be awful! You've just to get to the other side, get through it. Otherwise you'll keep re-wording and re-drafting forever and ever. 

Insecurities affect every artist I know, whether they're starting out with short films or directing Hollywood blockbusters. It's part of being creative. If you're not insecure, your art probably isn't that interesting. 

Make sure you remind yourself of your successes. Of how you're better prepared and qualified than you were two years ago, or ten years ago. Creativity is a process that takes time, it has many ups and downs, we just need to hold on to why we started a project and why we want to finish. 

Re: convincing yourself it's no good at all. Compared to what? Compared to your favourite writing? Compared to what you think you're capable of? Or compared to what a friend/parent/partner thinks? Figure out who you're writing for, who the judge is (in your mind), then tell them to back off! It's just writing, it's art, and we only write well when there's an element of fun and energy to it. 

Go Where The River Is Flowing! My new catchphrase!

Care to share?

Saturday 4 February 2012

New Perspectives on Creative Stuckness

I want to try a bit of an experiment.

Every writer, director and actor that I know; they all suffer blocks which render them creatively impotent from time to time. Inner criticism, money issues, sinking passion, lack of clarity, etc. It happens to everyone. I've had five friends this week sharing such problems.

I am asking you, the reader, if perhaps you may want to share some of your current issues which are affecting you're creativity, either by leaving a comment here or by emailing me.

I'm hoping that two things will happen. 1) We will realise how similar we all are, how these disturbances are a common element of living a creative life, and 2) That either myself, or other readers, will be able to help give you a new perspective on your work or the things troubling you, that will help you in some way.

If it's too personal, feel free to contact me anonymously. I'm certain we all have more in common than we realise. Are you struggling to focus on your writing? Are you making excuses to avoid auditions? Did you lose the confidence of the actors on your set? Whatever it is, please share!

Care to share?

Friday 3 February 2012

Current State of Film Rental Industry in the UK, February 2012

1. The video store is dead.

2. Netflix launched streaming only, and suddenly Lovefilm's DVD-by-post model looked antiquated.

3. Netflix don't have the content to satisfy their users.

4. But the user experience on Netflix is amazing. Their recommendation algorithm's are surprisingly good.

5. Lovefilm's streaming sucks.

6. is dying, not just because they're stuck in the DVD-by-post age, but their customer service is poor.

7. Everyone is posturing. Netflix say they want everyone using their service. Lovefilm say they have the deals with studios and the choice of packages to suit your financial constraints. Cinema Paradiso now say they're specialising in foreign cinema.

8. There'll only be one winner.

9. Let's not forget Sky Movies, they have all the deals in place for the newest movies. Used to be they'd premiere films before the video stores, but now with online streaming, the model is changing and it all depends on where the studios want to distribute their films.

10. Independent films can prosper on sites like Netflix if they're given a chance.

11. Blinkbox have a big userbase but Netflix will put a huge dent in it. Why? Because people trust the brand, even though it's just arrived in the UK. And people hate the ads on Blinkbox. They offer free content but the constant interruptions make it a horrible experience.

12. Illegal streaming is growing. People want new releases and they don't want to go to the cinema. Cinema will survive, but we need to accept people also want new releases on their flatscreens at home. The distributors need to satisy this or they'll keep losing out.

13. Netflix is currently £5.99 a month. Don't be fooled, it'll go up. Once people are hooked, they'll stick around, even when Netflix triple the price.

14 ...Unless YouTube or Facebook enter the game. They have the users, they have the resources. They could enter the movie game if they wanted.

15. The consumer is winning right now. We want easier access to movies and we want them cheaper.

16. We only lose because we can't decide which service to get in bed with. That's why the content is split -- (i.e. Lovefilm and Netflix have wildly different streaming content). We're fractured over different services, and there are still a huge amount of people clinging on to DVD.

17. I think we have two more years of being up in the air before we have a decisive answer as to the future of film distribution.

18. We're growing out of ownership. It's not necessary to own films any more. We only do it because it gives us a sense of self, it supports our identity. "Hi, I'm the Kid In The Front Row and I own three copies of 'Jerry Maguire'". But what does that mean? Nothing. We're gradually realising that. Streaming is convenient and increasingly reliable and it doesn't require the shelf space. If films I own on DVD are also available to stream, then I watch them online, it's more convenient!

19. Sky Movies have the exclusives. Lovefilm have the back catalogue. Netflix is cool. Where will this end up? When will Cinema Paradiso go bust?

20. Movies are getting cheaper and easier to access. We should be happy.

Care to share?

Creativity in the Digital Age: The Currency Of Expertise

The film industry used to be very exclusive. It was run by a select few. They still want it to remain this way, but things are changing. The Internet came along, and DV tape, and cracked software, and DSLR cameras, and Twitter, and streaming, and a million different things that put the tools into the hands of the people.

The problem with enabling everyone to make films, is that everyone makes films! We get flooded with material, and most of it is terrible.

A big problem with art in this era is how people perceive success. I talk to teenagers who want to be Hip Hop artists, they talk about driving big cars and 'making it to the top' when they 'get discovered'. They think It's about the attitude and the bling. They think they'll get discovered and someone will pay for everything and make them rich and famous.

"There are potentially more talented writers and directors than I working in shoe stores and Burger Kings across the nation; the difference is I was willing to put in the nine years of effort and they weren't."
-Frank Darabont

If you have talent, you're lucky. If you think it entitles you to anything, you're crazy. I know talented writers whose screenplays are terrible. I know very good actors whose performances don't quite work. The thing you need to realise is that being an artist takes time, it's about longevity, business-wise and talent-wise.

Every success or failure helps prepare you. Those who've been at it a long time naturally build a wisdom, a gravitas. We improve

That being said, it's not just enough to be in the game. You have to be passionate and you have to be pushing yourself. Expertise in filmmaking comes when you are consistently producing work, watching movies, and striving to improve. When you look back at the early work of your biggest influences, you can see them working towards becoming who they'd end up being. If you look at Tom Hanks in 'Bosom Buddies,' and then in 'Splash,' and 'Big,' and then on to 'Philadelphia' and after that look at 'Saving Private Ryan,' you see the growth of a performer. Yet, it didn't start with Bosom Buddies. It started when he was much younger, studying and working in the theatre. He found something he loved, and he worked at it. It took years,  as it always does.

Anyone can pick up a camera and make a bad movie. It takes perseverance to make a lot of them, to learn to adapt and fine tune your skills. We get too caught up in the Spielberg story; about a kid who snuck into the studios when he was 17 and took over the industry. That may have been true, but you shouldn't cling on to that tale. I've been on low-budget shoots where an actor has talked about their aspirations, but done it in a way where they're putting down the small film they're on, because they believe they're destined for greatness, that this is just a stop gap. But what is greatness? For me, some of the best moments of greatness come from the tiniest of films. Art appears everywhere, at any time, and in 2012 (and beyond), one single camera and an actor, filming down your street, may be enough to produce something of brilliance.

It could also be terrible. It probably will be terrible. Why? Because everybody can produce work now. Ever met a 22 year old with a film idea? They speak with certainty that it's a great concept, absolutely masterful. They get much quieter after the final edit, or after the first screening -- because they realise how tough it is to do good work.

With Social Networks, we are inundated with people's projects. They suffocate us. Nobody cares about your project at first, because they only have time for greatness! It's like when someone sends you something on Facebook, you resist clicking on it, you read maybe two lines, or watch ten seconds.

Most things that come our way are a waste of time. Life is filled with the irrelevant. But if you are amazing, people will pay attention. However; AMAZING doesn't just drop out of the sky, it isn't an accident, it's the result of a commitment you make to producing great work, to not leaving things unfinished, to stretching yourself to work with new collaborators.

In the age of Twitter, averageness suffers. Ten years ago it was easier to do something mildly okay and get a bit of attention. Now the information flows much quicker. There's an endless stream, and people respond only  to greatness, uniqueness, brilliance. And they love when things are heartfelt and resonate. The Internet truly is democratising art; we're getting more choice, and the big corporations who owned our entertainment don't hold the power they once did. The show 'Arrested Development' is coming back. It was a small, unsuccessful (ratings-wise) comedy sitcom. The show's fans were obsessive, because they knew it was magic -- a once every thirty years kind of thing. The fans pestered the creator and actors and producers, every chance they got. Jason Bateman and Michael Cera went on to star in big films, but at every press junket or Q+A, the people would always ask "When is Arrested Development coming back?". This has happened because of the Internet; because the audiences have more power now, and because people prefer Netflix over the TV networks. The show reached greatness. Not by the old paradigm of ratings and advertising revenue, but by the fact that it made people fanatical. It reached their hearts and they demanded its return.

Focus on expertise. Get better at what you do. Don't look for success or your big break. Look to improve. Find your uniqueness and work on it. That thing people like about what you do; make it truly your own and master it. Look at Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Diablo Cody, the Duplass Brothers; they're not successful because they found luck. They're successful because they've been at it for years. Kristen Wiig didn't appear suddenly on SNL and in 'Bridesmaids', she put in the groundwork for years and years, and now she's a stand out comedienne, there's no-one like her.

The Internet is flooded with content, and as a result: no-one cares about your work. The media dumbed us down and convinced us to watch crap for a lot of years. It's fair to say, as a culture, we lost our way a bit. It convinced us as artists that the key is marketing, branding, being noticed.

Turns out the key is expertise. People will clamber to work with you if you know what you're doing. Work towards excellence, not celebrity or money; because the world is becoming impervious to advertising, we're starting to think for ourselves again - we want to see and be a part of greatness.

Care to share?

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Things I Love About Music

I love live Jason Mraz recordings, when he totally underplays a key line and makes it a hundred times more powerful. I love the way John Mayer delivers the line "I don't remember you looking any better," in the song 'Who Says.'

I love how Counting Crows make pain poetic. I love how Bruce Springsteen gives the struggle meaning. I love how you think you know what Tupac is, but then you listen to 'Dear Mama' and get completely blown away. I love that Mumford and Sons exist.

I love all the famous Lionel Richie songs. I love how sincere Rod Stewart is on record. I love what it meant to be an Oasis fan. I love that Hanson kept going and quietly became amazing. I love the softer Pearl Jam songs.

I love absolutely everything about Tom Petty. And Aretha Franklin. And Dave Matthews Band. I love what happens to a room full of people when Sinatra's "My Way" gets played. I love Joni Mitchell's 'Blue'. I love every piece of Jazz music that ever came out of New Orleans.

I love that you can listen to an Ennio Morricone film score and have a better experience than when you watched the movie. I love Michael Kamen's 'Band Of Brothers' score. I love how 'Ooh La La' by The Faces was used in 'Rushmore', and I love the Elton John moments in Cameron Crowe movies.

I love 'Ave Maria', and 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered', and 'What A Wonderful World', and 'When The Saints Go Marching In.'

What I am saying is this: I love music. 

Care to share?