Creativity: Gift or Craft

I heard a podcast with stand up comedians Ken Davis and Bob Stromberg talking about creativity. The one thing that stood out worth sharing was that neither man felt creativity was a gift. To clarify, they defined the “gift” as the capacity and desire to create, while they said “creativity” is a learned craft that everyone can practice.

I agree that everyone can be creative especially when following these 5 practical steps that I use:

1. Capture

The first step in being creative is capturing the things that stir the emotions. When I capture in a quick note or sketch the thing that impacted me or moved me, I’m able to remember it and give it my full consideration.

2. Explore

Once I’ve captured the moment, I then explore why it touched me. I ask myself questions in an attempt to learn the truth about why I felt the humorous or dramatic moment.

3. Birth an Idea

When I contemplate or meditate on the very thing that I chose to explore, new creative ideas pop into my mind. The one that makes the greatest impression fuels the fire of passion, giving me an opportunity to flesh out the concept in the form of an artistic expression.

4. Play

People stop being creative when they stop playing. It’s therefore important to play around with variations of the new artistic idea. Rather than searching for the one “right” answer to present, playfulness requires exploring multiple right answers to find the most entertaining one that clarifies the message.

5. Polish

Assessing the presentation or performance with a test audience helps me figure out what worked and what didn’t work. More importantly, I learn what the audience understood or missed. This new gained knowledge gives me a chance to tweak and polish my creative idea for its final and official production.

Being creative is a choice that requires a playful viewpoint while developing the craft. Everyone is capable of being creative, but not everyone chooses to work hard at capturing the emotional elements required to be successful. Fortunately the first step is child’s play, which everyone is capable of because we all know what its like having been a child.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

The Duties of a Filmmaker

picThis morning I was curious about the changes in the film industry based on the generational shift in business. The shift is hard to describe, but instead of handing numerous projects over to millennial filmmakers, Hollywood is still making most of the films with more experienced directors and producers.

I googled to learn what new filmmakers think their duties are and was surprised to read about tasks and software. There were no articles about crafting great stories in regard to a filmmaker’s duties. Nor was there anything I could find about the filmmaker’s core responsibility—entertaining the audience, while exploring the human condition.

Film is an emotional medium, which suggests a plethora of articles about how filmmakers create those proverbial roller coaster rides for the audience, but again there were few articles educating millennial filmmakers on how to build the emotions of the audience.

Story is king in both the emotional arena and in the exploration of the human condition. Story is also pure entertainment that opens the eyes and hearts of the audience to consider the filmmaker’s message. But again, there was little about how a millennial filmmaker could craft a story that changes the lives of its audience.

I think Steven Spielberg summed up the core problem well:

“People have forgotten how to tell a story. Stories don’t have a middle or an end any more. They usually have a beginning that never stops beginning.”

I’m not suggesting that filmmakers take classes on film and story theory. But I do advocate that new directors have as many diverse life experiences as possible to create a cinematic “tool belt” from which to fashion dynamic stories. I also recommend directors read a minimum of 10 books a year to capture and understand the observations of writers who explore the human condition.

Unfortunately the typical Millennial only reads an average of five books a year, keeping them far from the ability to contemplate various viewpoints, let alone draw noteworthy conclusions about our culture. A director must have a life perspective that integrates with, not isolates from, the culture at large in order to meet the audience where their hearts live and guide them to a more hope filled life.

Directors must also live inside the culture at large. They don’t have to be of it, but they do have to be in it. I worked on a major animation project years ago with a professor that was my exact opposite. I was conservative and she was liberal. I believed in sustaining life at all costs and she believed in “mercy” killings. The list continued ad nauseam.

The project we worked on helped over one million kids learn the basics of chemistry in 12 weeks. Even I fully comprehended the scientific principles in that short time frame. Why? Because I lived in the professor’s culture and in my own, which allowed me to bring all kinds of innovative ideas and new perspectives to bear on the project.

Once released, the professor admitted that she had worked with several liberal directors that were unable to simplify here complex teachings into simple animations. None of the previous solutions shared truth in a logical manner. She understood that it was my diverse knowledge and experience that made me the right director for the project.

She shared how much she grew as a person from the experience and offered her future services for free. She was willing to do anything for an opportunity to collaborate again. And, she started to rethink her position on a few controversial life issues.

Directors must be able to enter the worlds of other people and capture the essence of the person’s “why.” He must also thoroughly think through how to thread his message in and out of the entertainment elements of a story. These techniques allow the director to come along side of the audience and draw them from their viewpoint to his by the end of the film—fulfilling the duties of the director.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Getting Past the White Blank Paper

A common question I get is, “How do you get past staring at that blank white sheet of paper when you create?”

My answer, “I doodle on it until it’s no longer intimidating.”

The key to any creative project is getting started. You can start at the beginning, the middle or the end, as all elements will have a part in the final creative piece. It might take on a different form or launch you into a better direction or story, but all elements are part of the journey that develops the idea into something worth sharing.

I remember being mesmerized as a little kid watching Mary Poppins. She was wholesome, magical and very smart. When Jane and Michael struggled to clean up their room, she reminded them that, “A job begun is half done.” This statement proved to be true in life and helped me understand the three things necessary to move a creative idea through to completion.

  1. Start Anywhere and in Anyway.

IMG_3363Creatives tend to start with a doodled idea on the nearby napkin. I’ve yet to meet a great film director who doesn’t have doodles in the margins of his notebook. It’s a natural process for creatives to doodle out ideas and turn them into something greater than intended.

For some, clipping magazines for a vision board will kick their ideas off in a powerful way. Others create living reels, storyboards and mood reels. Another might shoot off lots of photos, stick them on the wall and arrange them to find a potential story. There is no wrong answer to spark ideas that can cross over to your next big thing.

  1. Improve Upon the Idea

Once the creativity has been started, the refining process kicks into gear. All first ideas lack luster and rarely fit the final work of art. The journey of creation requires rework 80% of the time to bring the art to life. Three steps will help the creative hone their ideas…

  • What If: Asking what if questions force the mind to consider multiple angles and perspectives on the art. By interrogating the idea for all possible vantage points, a richness of greater value is added to the work.
  • Examine & Re-examine: Focusing in on the craft and bringing the idea to a master level allows the creative to determine the best possible way to share the story or idea. Instead of retelling the age-old story of Sleeping Beauty, Disney diverged from its standards and told the story of Maleficent. Critical and creative thinking can help this process explore new avenues of possibilities.
  • Inspire with Imagery: Finding quotes, verses or images that spark emotions related to your idea will inspire and move the process forward. The creative always welcomes the possibility of sparking something new that polishes an idea or brings it into a unique and fascinating light.
  1. Add Magic

The sparkle or the ah-ha moment lifts the idea above scrutiny. That simple element of magic also transforms the art into something entertaining that must be talked about among friends. Whether it’s a unique moment in a story, the juxtaposition of two seemingly unrelated items, or an uncanny perspective that enlightens, the magic gives the art wings to transcend the culture to something better than its current state.

Get started in anyway you choose and then recreate to make your work better and better, until you finally find the magic element that will make your idea worth sharing by others. It doesn’t matter if your audience is a business team, little children or out of town relatives, everyone needs to be entertained enough to open their minds to your shared idea.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers