Creativity and Storytelling in Filmmaking

When digital video cameras became affordable in the mid 1990’s, I came across a book by filmmaker Robert Rodriguez which featured a segment called ’10 minute Film School’ He suggested learn how to do everything – script writing, camera, editing, the works. I liked the idea so I bought a video camera and started shooting wedding videos on the weekends to pay it off!

I got a job in television doing sound, it was here I realised Rodriguez was right. I saw my sound job as a stepping stone to being the producer/director. But the given conventions of the day didn’t work that way. I would always just be a sound guy. So I quit, bought a first generation imac, with a 13 gb hard drive, packed it in the back of my Kingswood, and set off round Australia to make my own television series!

Learning to be Creative

I managed to get funding from the ABC to do a story about my home town. I wasn’t really sure how to get something unique in my script writing. I was reading a bit of Rimbaud at the time, so tried his theory – ‘The Poet makes himself a seer by a long, gigantic and rational derangement of all the senses.’ I would write a rough outline, drink a heap of wine, and then see if I could be more honest in my writing. An interesting technique, but not one that I would recommend if you want to have any longevity as an artist!

I had an itch to walk an ancient pilgrimage route in Spain, the Camino de Santiago. I decided to make a film of my experience. It was here I learn’t an important lesson about creativity. I’d never talked directly to camera before and I found it quite difficult. I felt I didn’t really know what I was doing and thought my film would be a failure.

But something unique happened. I found the walking stilled my mind, it gave me a clarity. I spent my walking time, thinking about what I was experiencing, and how I could convey that on camera. What made this film special for viewers, is that they see that change, they see me not only getting more confident in front of camera, but also see the benefits I was getting from performing this ancient practise.

I remember the moment I overcome my unease at talking to the camera. Symbolically it was when I performed a ritual passing Cruz de Ferro, whereby one leaves a rock on the mountain pass, and in the process, supposedly leave a problem in their life with that rock.

There is a fantastic video on youtube of John Cleese talking about being creative and his practise of ‘sleeping on it’ – of giving a creative problem enough time for his unconscious to work on it.

A recent book, The Happiness Track, also found creativity can come when one just relaxes, and let’s the mind wander. What I discovered by accident walking the Camino, has in fact been used by creative people for centuries!

Getting the Work Done

I’m not a fan of the idea that one must wait for the right time for the creative muse to strike. Sure enough sometimes one might have fantastic ideas at inopportune moments, like 3am in the morning. But I think generally, if someone wishes to make a career of creative work, they must just put their head down and get a strong routine in place.

My favourite quote about creativity is by Carl Jung, “The creative mind plays with the object it loves.” Sometimes you just have to sit down, forget about trying to create something fantastic, and enjoy the process. There is a state one can enter that psychologists call flow, where time becomes irrelevant and one is just engrossed in the act of creation or play. You see this with children, they don’t care about an outcome, they just enjoy playing.

Jonathan Mann has been creating a song a day for over seven years on youtube. He believes the secret to such a massive creative output is to turn off that critical part of your brain and just do it, to not care what the outcome is!

For myself, I find I can sometimes get bogged down in editing, and the problem is usually related to me giving too much importance to a project, actually giving it too much time! I have found a better approach is to try to edit something as quickly and roughly as possible. Leave it for a time, come back, do a few improvements and wham…move on!

The Universal Story

Anthropologist Joseph Campbell found a story structure that resonated across cultures – the Hero’s journey. In editing my motorcycle adventure around Australia, I will structure the final film with regard to this monomyth. The basis of the myth is that the hero leaves his ordinary world to partake in an adventure, during which time he will face tests, overcome an ordeal, be rewarded, journey back home, be resurrected (change) and return with the elixir (the answer)

A data mining study found a similar thing, that most Western Literature can be surmised to six basic story arcs

It is always handy to sit down at the end of longer projects to see if you can encompass these storytelling arcs into your own stories. It can give you some clarity with regard to high and low points in the flow of your story.

To sum up, here is an interesting video by Canadian Psychology Professor, Jordan Peterson. Creativity is only the first stage if you wish to make a career out of it. More on that later 🙂

Mark Shea is a Travel Video Producer with 20 years experience, producing some of the first online documentaries for the ABC. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) and traveling two years full time as one of youtube’s first travel vloggers. He is currently running a crowdfunding campaign to set up a course related to turning your travel into video stories

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