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The Process of Discovery in Filmmaking.

As I dive deeper into a career in the film industry, I find myself creatively stifled more than ever before. On one hand the money driven and hustling side demands an unforgiving fast pace. On the other hand the creative side demands meditation and patience while developing the craft and art. How can these two extremely polarized sides exist together? How can we as artists and filmmakers both create organically while making a living doing the things we love?

Spoiler alert: I don’t have an answer to this question. But I do have a suggestion.

Go out and make something!

Lately I’ve been writing a feature script and feel stuck a lot. I think I’m not at my best when sitting in front of a blank page on my computer. I love writing, but jeez it can be brutal.

With the birth of my son, I’ve been forced to take a step back from pretty much everything to focus 100% on taking care of him with my wife for the past 2 months. Now that he’s a little older and getting slightly easier to care for, I’m dipping back into writing and creating. The past 2 month weren’t, as I thought at first, a waste of time creatively. During this time I was able to just think about the project and about my practice in general. It was time that I needed, but never gave myself. Just time to think!

A question that kept arising was: What compelled me to make films in the first place?

The answer: The process of discovery.

My filmmaking practice really took shape during my time as an artist-in-residence at the Artists’ Television Access in San Francisco (www.atasite.org support local cinema!). I worked and hung out with legendary experimental filmmaker Craig Baldwin, saw almost every show while I was there, and met so many bright and brilliant creative people. It was an inspiring and awakening part of my life.

Craig has this breathtaking archive of 16mm films that he uses for his own films, and sells to others looking for archival material. On any night of the week I would go down to the archive, chat with Craig, and go through these films just soaking everything in. Eventually ideas would form and I’d be working on my next project using the footage from the archive. This process was so natural. There was no format, no formula, no right and wrong. Pure artistic creation.

Many years later, I finally realize I must embrace my own process of making. Duh! Why did that take me so long? :) This keeps things perpetually fresh, allowing me to experiment without the weight of failure imposed by an already saturated film and art industry.

Here are some tips to get you making, experimenting, and inspiring:

  1. Phones and cameras: Most of us have phones that can record video. Use them! They are amazing cameras and they are always on our person. I find that the phone can be a great way to practice framing, play with deep focus composition, and be super low-profile ninja camera person. Having a camera always with you is like having a notebook or journal always with you. You can use it to capture ideas, trying things out, and just have fun without any pressure of making some coherent piece. It can be just for you. Also, it’s fun to try “breaking” the image. For example, put the phone up to a colorful surface (like right up to it, almost touching) press record and wave your hand around. You can get some really abstract images out of a phone camera by just doing things with it that you might be able to do with other bigger cameras.

  2. Stranger than fiction: Life is pretty interesting just by itself. Find someone or something you find interesting, has a compelling story, or your simply just curious about. Try making a short piece about them. Try evoking their energy. Try recording an audio-only interview. Try going with them somewhere. Try going somewhere that excites you and trying to film the location as if it were a character. All of this can be a great way to start a nonfiction or experimental film, and it also can act as a sketchbook for writing fiction too!

  3. Family history: Everyone has a deeply rich and complex family history. Make a family tree and see how far you get. Jot down questions you have about certain family members, points in time, and missing links. Then go out and start finding some answers! (or at least try to). This exploration of family history can lead to very compelling stories that are impossible to make up. These specific stories often have a striking universal quality to them that everyone can relate to. I’ll write more about this in a separate post soon :)

  4. Still life: Take photos too! Motion picture has its foundation in still photography of course. So be a photographer! You can do all the things mentioned in points 1 and 2 above, just with still images. Then if your feel so inclined, post them to social media and get some conversations started. What do people respond to? What draws people to certain images? Use social media as a tool to work out some ideas without showing all your cards.

These are just some thoughts for now, and I’ll be adding more to this conversation in the future.

Do you have any tips to get our lazy depressed-artist selves making? Please share them! I’m always curious to hear what others do to keep their practice fresh and get the gears turning.

Thanks for reading and happy making!