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10 Steps to Creative Production

People often ask how we have the energy or the time to make films.

We both work day jobs and have lots of individual interests. Then there are friends, family obligations and general life stuff, as well. There are never enough hours in the day, it seems, and this is before you even factor in making films. How do we do it, then? We never sat down to figure this out before, so we thought it would be nice to lay out 10 concepts – in no particular order – to help creative production.

1) Create a time, place, and space for your work.

Schedule a time and a place where you engage in your work. This can be your dining room table at Monday and Wednesdays, 9pm, after the kids have gone to bed, or at 6:30 in the morning before you go to work. Try to stick to the schedule, but don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day. Remain flexible.  Try to be open to spare moments, as well. You can get a lot done in a half hour.

It is also a good idea to have a ritual. This will help set up that sacred space for your work, if you are working in a general use area. Paul and I, for example, have a ritual of making tea and coffee and eating food. This helps us ease into our work, lets our brains switch gears and lets our subconscious percolate on possible ideas, it also helps transition us from our regular work-a-day tasks to the special task of creating a movie.

You should also have a personalized space, or a space where you have access to all the tools you need to create. For a film, this would mean a computer with the proper editing software, sound software, a video camera etc. When inspiration strikes, you want to be prepared, you don’t want to have to stop and look for the perfect sound editing software until you have an idea for a musical theme. You don’t want to disrupt the creative flow. And don’t forget to keep that space as uncluttered as possible. This might be an ongoing battle, and it’s especially tough when you’re in the heat of creative fervor, but it’s important to have a fairly clear space. This includes your computer desktop, but we’ll get into that in a future post.

2) You don’t always need to be going somewhere (Sometimes its OK to do nothing) .

In today’s society the key word is “efficiency,” but when you are working on a creative project, efficiency is often a detriment to your process. A creative endeavor takes time, and sometimes, in your allotted “creative time,” you just need to do nothing, or you need to sweat over the fine points of a plot twist and not get anywhere, or create 10 different titles for your movie. Whether it’s hammering out the fine points in an intricate plot, color correcting a feature narrative, or designing the titles for your movie, these processes take time. Sometimes, it’s necessary to go down a few dead ends before you find the right turn. And sometimes, those dead ends can help to inform your aesthetic. Not only that, but these crafts – whether they be filmmaking, editing, cinematography, or screenwriting, take time. You cannot download a module into your brain like Neo in the matrix.

You don’t have to work every day on your project.  Some days or weeks, you may not feel very productive; perhaps every version of a particular scene seems like shit. That is ok. Give yourself space and time. But try to work on a regular basis, even if it’s not every day.

3) Find a partner, community, collaborator, or fellow seeker.

It is hard to keep to your schedule, to finish a project, and to complete all the little details (like submitting your film to festivals, or applying for grants, or finding a sound editor). For Paul and me, our collaboration is in many ways the secret to our success. In additional to the creative boost – we can vet and refine our ideas – we also support each other. If one of us is having an off day, the other one can often bring us back to business. There is also a sense of responsibility, I have a responsibility to Paul to give my all and to complete our projects, since he, like I, is devoting a significant part of his life to it. In a partner, you will also often find what one person despises, the other person may enjoy. When we first started working I hated applying to film festivals, but Paul loved it and he pushed and submitted the films to festivals. We each have our own strengths.

4) Make it actionable.

I am borrowing this from Paul Allen and his “Getting Things Done” methodology, but it is very important to look at your project and outline what you need to *do*. Making a movie, even a 5 minute short, can seem very overwhelming, and it is a large undertaking. You can break it down into a list of things you can do immediately, or things that you need to do. It’s good, from a psychic standpoint, to break big projects down into small, bite-sized chunks. It is also important to frame your project, and to outline your time frame. What is the next concrete action that you have to do in order to the next step?

5) Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.

So you are writing a script and you discover that a plot point has been left dangling, or you are editing your movie and you realize that some of the acting is flat, or some shots are out of focus. That is OK. Not every piece, nor every aspect of the piece has to be a masterpiece. Find a part of your work to focus on. For example, you might say “OK, the acting is a bit flat, but I’m going to work on editing and use this project to hone my editing skills.” The important thing is that you FINISH your work and MOVE ON. You will learn more from a completed project with loose or untidy ends than from belaboring those issues and never finishing your piece.

6) Every piece has an audience.

What Paul and I have found is that every piece, no matter how idiosyncratic or out-of-the-mainstream, has an audience. Your work will speak to someone out there. That is very important to remember. While you’re creating your work for personal expression, you also are, at some level, creating it to be appreciated by others. Nietchze said that something done only once is the same as if it was never done at all (or he said something like this) Take this to heart when you are struggling to complete your film, or your screenplay, or your novel, or your iPhone application. SOMEONE out there will appreciate it. And keep this in mind as you are rejected from festivals or agents, or if you get lukewarm reviews. Just keep putting your work out there so that it can reach your audience.

If you want your work to reach a wider audience, or a difference audience, then consider this when you start your NEXT project. However, it is always important (however trite this may sound) to stay true to your own vision and voice. This does not mean that you should be self-indulgent or non-critical. But accept your work for what it is. You have a unique and interesting thing to say. Someone, somewhere, will appreciate that.

7) A body of work

Remember that you are on a journey. Every movie you produce or score that you compose will help you refine your craft. You are building up a body of work over a lifetime and every piece is another brick in the edifice. Also remember – John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote every day after school and threw out tons of songs before they started minting hits. You need to create your dogs too, but have faith that you will also create some pearls. Trust that every project you complete, and a few that you abandon, will be stepping stones across that pond.

8. Sacrifice

Nothing is free. While it’s important, even necessary, to have a life outside your work, it’s also necessary to sometimes give some of it up for your work. We’ll be talking a lot in this blog about priorities. As you get busier and busier with your projects, you’ll be forced to make choices. Sometimes, you’ll have to give up days that did not want to give up. Sometimes, you’ll have to explain to friends and family that you’re working late. You may have to explain to them that you’re not neglecting THEM so much as nurturing something really meaningful and important to YOU.

Sacrifice can also mean having another cup of coffee and saying “let’s just finish this thing now” when all you want to do is take the rest of the day off. It can mean grumbling all day as you drive five hours to some remote, dusty town to get a five minute piece of video that you decided, in saner moments, you absolutely needed. Sacrifice is a noble-sounding word, but it usually just means working hard when you really don’t want to. It can also apply to money, though. Sometimes, you cannot have it all, and you’ll have to forgo some things in order to buy others. Which brings us to

9. Discipline

It’s important to remain flexible about your schedule. This assumes that you have a schedule to begin with, though. With one person, that’s often easier to do, and the more people you have, the more difficult it can be to coordinate schedules. It’s absolutely necessary, though, to know ahead of time when you’re going to work. The ideal is to know that certain days and/or nights will always be blocked out. They are sacred, so to speak. You can change them, but it’s the change that needs to be discussed and, ideally, you’ll discuss substituting another day or night for them if you must change the schedule. If times are turbulent, though, and you are both busy, the next best thing is to do it on a weekly basis.

If things get really crazy, then you can always just set the next date at the end of every current work session. Actually, it’s a good idea, from a logistical and a psychic standpoint, to always reinforce when you’ll next work together at some point in each session. “We’re on for tomorrow, right?” becomes more than just a reminder to each other; it is an affirmation. Affirmations may be a cheesey-sounding concept, but they work, and we’ll talk more about them in the future. “Discipline” need not be a scary idea, it’s really about commitment to yourself and your project, and it goes hand-in-hand with “sacrifice.” Which brings us, finally, to


You’re doing this work because you love it, hopefully. If you’re in it for the money alone, go back to school: get a degree in computer science, start a restaurant, become a plumber. Do something else.

There’s nothing wrong with making money, and one would like to hope that hard work gets rewarded, but the arts can be a difficult place to make a living, even after years of discipline and sacrifice. This is why you need a little faith and a thick skin, but that subject is also for a future post. Now we’re talking about having fun.

So if there is no immediate money, why do it? Because it’s something you love to do. If you love to do it, it’s always fun, right? It should be, but it’s often easy to get so wrapped up in the daily punch list that it can seem like a chore. This is when it’s good to take a moment to reflect on what you’re doing. If you work alone, this can mean sitting back and thinking about your goals and dreams – another future post. If you work with others, it can and should involve talking with your partners about what you’re up to. It means letting yourself dream and dream big about your future. It means reflecting on where you started. Sometimes, it means saying “to hell with the discipline today, I’m going to take a walk and get some fresh air.” Lots of fun, right? Fun may be a hard thing to quantify, but you’ll know it when you see it. Sometimes, it just means pinching yourself while you’re in the middle of something and saying “wow, I’m really doing it.” It is not necessarily running out and surfing a 20 foot wave.

When we traveled to the first film festival that we were ever selected for, we went to get our badges and the person at the desk said to us “You’re the filmmakers, right?” We both looked at each other and grinned. After all the discipline and hard work, after all the punch lists and dead ends, after all the sacrifice, THAT was fun.

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