Monday, May 22, 2017

Delicate Nature of Creativity

I am a writer. I'm a solid writer. I was a Senior Technical Writer for companies like US West Technologies, The Regence Group, Holland America Cruise Lines and others. It's not a job for the weak of constitution. Managers do not hold back on critiquing your work, your writings. But after years of that job, I had gotten pretty damn tough on a mental abuse standing. Something my childhood fed into quite well.

Anyone getting through a childhood like I had or my last marriage for that matter, isn't a weak minded person. It didn't make for a weak minded artist in my endeavors either. I have written much non-fiction, horror and sci fi. My book Death of heaven testifies to that.

I am now striving to be a filmmaker. I've produced two documentaries. One at Western Washington University in the Psychology Department, one for Public Access Cable TV. I would have done more for cable and would probably have gotten my own show on a fledgling Cable TV industry back in its beginnings, but as it happened, I moved out of town and got involved in other areas. All water under the bridge now.

My first film now is a short horror film. Shooting for three minutes, at seven it was only half done. Now I'm at 9.5 minutes. I'm doing it all by myself with the help of two others living in my house. Family and friend. But it's led to an interesting epiphany and a realization in working with family rather than a crew you hire on.

There came to be a few issues in viewing the dailies. I now understand some directors locking down the dailies for only a select few. Some comments are useful, most aren't. Some also, considering how they are delivered and the mindset of the messenger, can be somewhat damaging. Both to the project and the creative involved. Me. I'm the creative I'm referring to.

This has been going on for weeks on this, my first narrative film project titled, "The Rapping". An issue came up about an F/X shot. I knew it would be judged as weird, but then that was my purpose. Over a week or so it kept coming back up. The two others in a relationship discussed it separately, then it came up in a viewing of the latest version. All as I'm building the shots into the project as new shots become available.

Understand, I've been studying cinema since before these two crew member and talent (it's a small production), were born. They are viewing this as if they have as much experience as I do. Yes, they have watched films. Yes, they are both very intelligent. Yes, their views have relevance. Yes, I try to listen and adjust accordingly. I have after all cut some shots that took a lot of time to get. I have even altered the pacing (in one instance, I cut shots, then later heard it was now too, too slow or too fast, make up your mind?).

The point I'm trying to make here is that I know what's best for my own project. I have the talent, skill and experience. It's the confidence, and the desire to be polite (and not lose volunteers, always a problem in situations like this), that are the problem.

They do also have cred for being an audience. Trouble there being, it takes skill to watch dailies or rough cuts of a film and "see" where it's going, or "see" the screenwriter's and the director's intentions and overall vision. But that's not all of it.

I admit it. I have an odd creative style. I don't know where I'm going much of the time, but in my subconscious, from what I see in the end products, I do know where I'm going. I just don't always see it or understand it until much later in the project. That's not only hard on others, but near impossible for me sometimes to see exactly where I'm going.

Example. I went through the same experience with every manager on my technical writing. And at every company I worked at. It goes old always having to prove yourself again and again. However once they got used to me, to my style, they got very comfortable and trusted me. Depended on me. Sometimes to absurd degrees and impossible deadlines. But up until then, I had to listen to their vision. I had to attend meetings. I had to research. Then I would take my notes and write.

When I turned in my first draft (second draft really, NEVER show ANYone your first draft), things got interesting. Frustrating, but after a while, after getting used to it, it became an interesting test of patience. Both mine, and theirs.

I'll use one manager and paper I wrote as an example. On his reading my first draft (second, remember?), I warned him that it was only an initial draft. He read it. He was horrified. He said in fact that he was worried I wasn't getting it at all. But I took notes from hism and told him to relax, it will come out fine in the end. Still, he wasn't so sure. I remember his worried look on his face as I headed back to my cubicle.

I wrote a second (third) draft and showed it to him. This was days later. He read it and said that although it was better, he still doubted I could finish it in time and get it correct, as he still thought I way off path from what he wanted. So again, I took my notes from that meeting and went back to writing.

A few days later, only a couple of days before the paper absolutely had to be perfected and finished, I showed him my third and final draft. Typically, I never hod to do more than three drafts but also typically, it usually took me three.

Tenuously he took it and read it while I waited. This time he was quite excited, and pleased. He said he couldn't see how I got to that draft from the previous drafts. He said it was far better than he had expected even before he had read any of my previous drafts. I then handed him two other very different forms of the finished draft, again much to his surprise.

That was something that happened again and again just like that throughout my tech writing career. I would go through three drafts, they wouldn't like what I was doing until the final draft which they would then simply love, AND, I would give them two other very different forms of the same product. I also always finished this much faster than any other writer they had worked with.

That's just how I worked. The first time that happened I was myself very concerned. But then it kept happening that way so that whenever a manger reacted poorly, even angry almost, it just no longer bothered me. I understood my process.

Now that I'm producing a film, once again I'm not concerned that I'm the only one who can see my personal vision of where I'm headed and what I'm doing. When I tried to explain that to my helpers on this current project, blank stares and a belief that perhaps I don't know what they were saying.

In reality it is actually they who cannot see what I am doing. To be fair, we're all new to this. Although I have done other projects, documentaries, but it was years ago. Honestly I have probably forgotten more than they ever knew about cinema and filmmaking. Still, in the end I would expect them to stick to their guns as an audience, even though in watching the final form they will hopefully no longer see their concerns on screen with what I have been doing.

I'll even give it to them that there could be negative audience comments about the shot in question from its initial public screening. And yet, the overall piece will still be cohesive and work just how I planned it. One has to be careful in forgetting the forest for the trees. A short shot zipping by can be lost as an issue, if it blends with the narrative, supports the vision, enhances the format, uses the movie magic that is being applied overall.

"To thine own self be true" never meant more than this. Stick to your guns, and work toward making your truth a reality.

My first screenplay ever is titled, Ahriman. I wrote it in 1984, the summer after I received my university degree in Psychology from Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA. I had taken one final summer quarter just to finish a screenplay. I wanted to leave my college years with a completed screenplay.

I wrote it for two professors, one in psychology and one in the Theatre department. I got As from both of them on this. This was all after a year long special team screenwriting and script writing series of classes I had been chosen for from a playwriting class. One I was sent to take because my first fiction writing professor said I needed practice writing dialog. Mostly because I hated writing it into short stories. Also, I had been disappointed that we didn't get to write a full screenplay to take into the real world with us, in our post university years.

One professor asked me why I had written three screenplays in one. I told him, I was trying to blend things. To experiment. One experiment was never to see the lead character. Well, that didn't' work out so well. But at least I tried.

I also tried to peddle that screenplay for several years but didn't have the connections and it never got sold. Actually, years later I worked remotely as an unpaid screenwriter for over five years with a production company. One of the producers nearly sold it to exactly who I told him not to market it to. A group of Middle Eastern investors.

Angra Mainyu (also: Aŋra Mainiiu) is the Avestan-language name of Zoroastrianism's hypostasis of the "destructive spirit". The Middle Persian equivalent is Ahriman (Anglicised pronunciation: /ˈɑːrɪmən/). - Wikipedia

Ahura Mazda (/əˌhʊrəˌmæzdə/;[1]) (also known as Ohrmazd, Ahuramazda, Hourmazd, Hormazd, Harzoo and Hurmuz, Lord or simply as spirit) is the Avestan name for the creator and sole God of Zoroastrianism, the old Iranian religion which spread across Asia predating Christianity, before ultimately being almost annihilated by Muslim invasions and violence. - Wikipedia

I had warned him that I had taken ancient deities of Ormazd and Ahriman and reversed them. I was sure they'd hate it and I didn't want anyone tracking me down and killing me out of disrespect for their beliefs. To the contrary, he laughed and said that was one of the things they loved about it. Alas, he had a falling out with the east coast executive producer and he headed for Hollywood. He said he'd be in contact and I never heard from him again.

Ahriman is a story about a  prophet prince on a desert planet. Scientists on Earth accidentally sucked him up during an experiment and he was transported to Earth. His people were a warring people and he knew they would attack Earth once they knew of a portal. Once they found a way to get to Earth, they would attack.

It was a bittersweet story with a great ending. It also has another relevance in this story about the current issue I'm writing about. About the delicate nature of creativity. My point there being that it was ten years before I saw in other films some of the things I had written into my own screenplay. Which sucks because once that starting happening, if I did sell it, someone would say "but that's been done in other films." Yeah, but I wrote those ideas years before those were done. Which in the real world has no bearing. If you don't sell it, don't produce it, you don't count. Tough beans old man.

Apparently I was ahead of my time. So I must have some kind of understanding for film, something I've studied all my life since childhood as well as in college. And I'm twice the age of my current crew and talent for the current production. Just saying.

Years after I wrote Ahrman, web sites popped up like Keven Spacey's, so named for his childhood street he grew up on. It's gone now. Another similar screenplay peer reviewed web site lab was Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's Project Greenlight. Many may now know that name as something else.

On those sites, you posted your screenplay and you reviewed other's works in a quid pro quo format. I rewrote my 100 page screenplay nine times one year, taking comments and reviews from others and incorporating them.

Finally one day I read my now 180 page basically, a mini series and realized I had completely lost myself in other people's opinions. Some not such great opinions. But it was a great learning experience. There is after all a balance in following your own vision and taking constructive criticism and comments and incorporating them. But it can most definitely get out of hand if you're not careful and protective of your original vision.

To get to the point.

In sitting here one night this week alone and yet again ruminating on this situation about the commentary from my crew (and talent), something unmanageable was happening to me. It was damaging my vision, my creative understanding of my screenplay and my production.

I likened it in my mind to a road (the screenplay) supported by an intricate and delicate framework of underlying supports, the concepts. I was seeing this in my mind as a train trestle.

Holcomb Creek Train Trestle
That underlying structure isn't just the screenplay, but my mind as elements in the screenplay are situated therein and the supporting structures in my mind as they created and supported the overall concept and storyline.

Each critique from my crew alters or removes one of those struts, the top beams touching and supporting the road that is the story. Changing one of any of those alters the overall structure, if not in the overt storyline then in my underlying understanding of the story structure. That also delves into emotive elements, my self esteem, even more dangerously, my motivation.

When I said I'm a solid writer, I'm also a pretty tough individual. I won't bore you with proof of that from my history and experiences. Just know it's true. To say these critiques to affected me emotionally, isn't quite accurate. But then they did, at least somewhat.

I came to realize all this the other day. While I had been greatly enjoying producing and directing this film, it was becoming a burden. But why? Not because of the critiques that were going against what I was doing, but because of their recurrences.

On set if a director asks for critique, opens it up for comment, make it brief, positive and production. Give it once. If you think it's not being understood, you can push the point, making it clear that you do not think your concern is being understood, or given the weight you believe it needs. . For the good of the project.

However once the director understands, or even if it's simply made clear to drop it, then drop it. Because as important as your concern maybe, and this is important, it is the director's vision that is most likely going to be more important not to disrupt. While one shot or issue may be important, it cannot possibly be as important as maintaining the integrity of the director's focus and therefore the project overall. While a single shot affects a portion of the film, the director affects the entire project.

I was losing the momentum, the energy I had used in order to work on and finish this project. Hearing critiques is one thing. Hearing them again and again and it turning into an argument, is counterproductive. Even damaging.

A film is indeed a collaborative process. Even if you're an Alfred Hitchcock. But there is one head to it, the director. It is in the end a kind of dictatorship. The director takes the screenwriter's vision and the screenplay and runs with it.

The screenwriter can at times become disheartened over what is being done to his or her work because of money, direction, producers, studio, or any of various elements. But the screenwriter has typically finished the job by time the production begins. Whereas the director is dealing with all this in an ongoing manner.

While the screenwriter can have a nervous breakdown over all this, he can. While the director has to be there, day in and day out, in top form to complete the project. The crew, simply has to do what they are told to do, to find ways to do what is being asked of them. The talent (actor) is the same with some more need and input to the process because they are the focus of the action and the camera. Same can be said for the sets and costume and so on, but it can be argued that the talent have more directly invested in an ongoing manner.

Still, the weight of all this rests on the director's head (and to be sure above that level, the producers). The crew (and talent) need to remember that. As long as they do their jobs well, the overall potential for failure of the project is not on their heads. Not if people can point to their work and say, "Well, they did excellent! The direction, or editing are what suck."

This is why on most, certainly larger productions, there are people to screen and protect the director. Like the assistant director (AD) for the most part, or production assistants (PA) who can take the brunt of these interactions that would otherwise be aimed directly at the director. Something the director cannot suffer because they for one need to helm the project and see it to its finish.

In the end the creativity needs to be protected, not so much the individual. In the end, the project has to be completed as well as it can be done. To thine own self be true, is true enough. But also to the project be true. The mission, in any endeavor is important to complete in the best form possible.

Sometimes that simply means one has to protect one's own vision, and oneself.

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