Thursday, March 13, 2008

Live It Up and Write It Down

My life is like a bad t.v. movie. I want to turn it off, but I'm too curious about how it's all going to end. - A friend who wishes to remain anonymous

I don't know why I love that quote, but it always makes me laugh. However, I guarantee that friend's life, although truly bad, is far more interesting than a bad t.v. movie. Because it is fully-lived and authentic.

Filmmakers, especially beginning filmmakers, are notoriously film-referential. Meaning, their stories, conflicts, special moments, visual techniques, etc. are drawn from other films. Or, perhaps worse, their films reference their limited life experiences and awarenesses. I simply cannot watch another first-time filmmaker's film about filmmaking. And so-called "successful" filmmakers are no better, they just have the resources to borrow from the life experiences or artistic perspective of others. They also have the resources and/or are more skilled at warming up tired stories and archetypes with cutting-edge stylistic flourishes.

That's why I am often drawn to the work of a different breed of first-time filmmakers - the ones who aren't so obsessed with movies that they have nothing more to add to their filmmaking than low-grade mimicry. There are many poets, artists, photographers, authors, teachers, lawyers, bricklayers and more who are more compelled to express a unique and personal vision than they are simply in love with the idea of making a movie. Cinema just happens to be the medium that best expresses that vision. Their work may lack the technical polish or mastery of craft that you see in the work of experienced filmmakers, but they have two things that no amount of resources and no level of expertise can ever hope to achieve - originality and soul.


In a previous blog, I explored the development of original ideas. And I've often championed the power of poetic logic and the concept of the crucial oddity. Although these things are often birthed by something within us that defies definition, they are almost always nurtured by life experience. The genesis of imagination is every bit as mysterious as the genesis of universal existence, but like the universe itself, there is definitely something that fuels imagination's expansion and evolution. And that is, quite simply, life experience.

Now, I've certainly met people who have such deep and expansive imaginations or such unbelievable sensitivity (or both) that just a small bit of experience - or a lot of reading - takes them a long way in developing original ideas and concepts. But that is not the case with most of us. Most of us need to go out and see things, smell things, touch things and most importantly FEEL things. We need to unleash our curiosity, unfurl our antennae, unbridle our sensitivity and uncensor our obsessions.

But we do not do these things without reflection. That is the challenge of any artist/filmmaker - to simultaneously feel/experience things deeply while at the same time allowing oneself to observe them, drinking in sensual, pyschological and emotional details. And that's not so easy without either getting completely "lost" in these experiences or, by contrast, being unable to fully invest in them. That's why I tell people to live it up, then write it down when you have the chance. Journaling is a great way to catalog life experiences and impressions. Let things happen, then when you have a reasonable chance, record it in a journal. And that journal doesn't have to be a pad of paper. It can be an audio journal or a video journal. Writing works best for me, but whatever works best for you will do the trick.

However, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. Let go of the idea that you need to catch it all. It is impossible to catalog every great thought, moment, idea or feeling that may pass through your body. If you are able to do that, then I guarantee you are journaling way too much (and thus not fully invested in your life). Whatever you manage to capture will be more than enough to work with in your films. Don't obsess on what you forgot, focus on what you have. And, anyway, if anything is worth applying to or being in your film, it will return to you...again and again.

Secondly, don't create a judgment about how you journal. It may be like a diary or blog. It may be like a newspaper report. It may just be snatches of imagery or ideas. It may be poetry or a song. It can be newspaper/magazine clippings or it may be small creative projects like a photo collage or video art. Everybody expresses themselves differently and journaling is a form of creativity in itself. However, don't turn it into such a "project" that you then stop yourself from doing it regularly.

I often journal with intention. Meaning, I will have a germ of an idea that sprang from who-the-heck-knows-where, then I will pull things from the world around me that may (or may not) be relevant to that idea. And I will pull them down by writing in a journal, clipping out articles, noting news reports, marking passages in books, taking photos, downloading images - all sorts of stuff. When I do this, connecting events and images to meanings and story then, for me, becomes an organic process. As I begin to develop the idea, all of this material naturally finds its way in or out of the idea - expanding, defining and deepening it.

Not incidentally, this kind of work also helps to clarify for yourself who you are as an artist/filmmaker. The types of ideas and images that constantly re-appear for you - or about which you are openly obsessed - will tell you a lot about who you are creatively and help sharpen your artistic focus and over-all vision.

And the good news is that if you never make a single f***ing film, you will, at the very least, have lived a life. And the journaling may simply help you understand and/or appreciate it. So live it up and write it down! And in the process, allow yourself to truly experience this crazy world into which we have all mysteriously appeared and, from which, we shall, just as mysteriously, disappear someday. My goal - which my ego demands - is to leave behind a legacy of films that will enrich the mysterious journey of the lives I am now sharing and the ones I'll leave in my wake.

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