The Happy Filmmaker Blog

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  • Inspiration versus To-Do List

    Inspiration versus To-Do List

    As I write this, my house is in utter chaos and clutter. One half of it has to be renovated, and not in the usual cosmetic style of splashing some paint on the walls - even though that usually feels stressful enough and chaotisizes life for a while - but in my case, the walls had to be stripped down to the naked stones, have to be re-plastered, then painted because they suffered so much from the humidity. The beauty of living right by the sea. I'm not complaining.

    Doors are unhinged and standing forlorn in the courtyard, the windows are gone, there is cement dust everywhere (it even covered the cats's food plates much to their dislike) and my camera gear, books, and other belongings build mountain ranges in the living room and my emergency office (the only sanctuaries of clean air) through which narrow canyons lead where I traverse from front door to bathroom to desk to kitchen.

    I have been away for two weeks and the plan was to get this done while I was gone - and of course the plan didn't quite work out (by about four weeks we will be missing the target). But that was to be expected seeing the amount of work that is necessary.

    While I was away, when thinking of the house, I would go through the stuff in my mind and plan what to sort out and give away or sell upon my return. Ever since I have come back, stacks of random belongings stare at me, begging to be sorted or given a new place to live. Wherever I go, I could pick up immediately and find a useful occupation that would keep me busy for the rest of the day.

    Yet, we are launching the preview site of Catalysta next week, I have emails to follow up with people I met at the Cross Video Days in Paris, the last episodes of Dream Job are getting ready for the site launch on 1 September, I am editing some of the preview content to go online on Monday and the festivals that will be screening The Island Bus in the next few weeks and months are expecting press material from me. Not to mention my personal and family affairs that require some attention.

    As you can imagine, my to-do list runs roughly the length of a Dostoyevsky novel. Those are the moments when I discover that odd thing about time: it really is relative.

    Yesterday, I edited for what felt like 20 minutes - and the day was gone. Bamm! The sun set, the cats were hungry. So was I - but I only noticed when the last of the clips rendered and there wasn't anything left to do but listen to my rumbling stomach. On my phone turned on silent, I had a message from a friend asking me to call her back which I had promised to do "in a bit". The message was 6 hours old. Editing does that to me. Most of the time. I simply lose track of any time outside the timeline of my FCP. Writing has similar effects. I have noted this down for only about 2 minutes and already an hour has passed.

    When inspiration strikes, the nice plan that a to-do list represents usually goes out the window. The flow and ease of concentrated creative work is a blessing that should not be tampered with. But it is useful to keep certain checks and balances in place (no one likes skeletal cats staring at them in reproach or dying from dehydration themselves).

    With filmmaking being such an explosive combination of creative play and of meticulous planning, finding and re-gaining this balance is key to being a happy filmmaker. It is also the reason why I advocate meditation and have been practicing it myself.

    If you are claiming to be the "creative type" while you are drowning in chaos, you will sooner or later get on the nerves of those around you and - more importantly - you will start annoying yourself. Neither does sticking to your to-do list like it was set in stone work out in the long run. The two strokes of inspiration that went into the teaser edits yesterday and delighted the producer so much were totally unscripted and would not have occurred, had I not allowed myself to get lost in the creative play. You might not even notice them when you watch next week, but without them, the pieces would feel slightly off. Such is editing, such is filmmaking, such is life.

    I have learned to accept situations like the one I am in during this week as normal. You don't necessarily get those bubbles of calm and clarity in which you launch your greatest artistic works unhindered by outer influences. Directors probably work on the final cuts of their works while 37 weeks pregnant, writers finish books during the loss of a child or a favourite uncle, painters put exhibitions together while splitting up with their spouse and moving house or preparing birthday parties for their best friend.

    Life is sometimes messy and chaotic, sometimes ordered and calm. Both are necessary and have their place and time. In an art form that has more potential for chaos than most others because of the complex logistics involved in most filmmaking, the demand for structure and reliability runs understandably high. But the unpredictable is where the "magic" usually happens. Surfing the waves and regaining balance between the two is what matters to the happy filmmaker.

    Off I go (90 mins later) to tick "blogging" off my to-do list...

  • Creative Energy Boost

    I find that only a few things in life are as exciting and stimulating as the energy boost you get from creative work and working in a team of like-minded creatives when things go right. It can feel almost physically addictive, because it is certainly releasing a lot of happy hormones. I tend to compare my own experience of this with the act of swimming (and pounding the waves smoothly with your limbs) or body surfing - being engulfed and carried by the elements around you, yet in control of them,

    It's what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called "the flow". The flow happens when a person is fully immersed in what they are doing. When actors play off each other and merge with their roles, they are in the flow. When you film a documentary scene and you manage to frame exactly the right action at exactly the right time, you are not thinking only and pre-planning shots, but you are in the flow, you react to what is in front of you and you control the camera with your reaction but that again provides more for you to react to. I sometimes don't realise anymore that camera and my arm are separate. It is almost like turning into that hybrid being where the arm supports the machine bit that feeds the eye - David Cronenberg would like that. 

    It is a state to cultivate and even practice as it is so essential for creating useful work - yet it isn't always easy to manage. As we know, filmmaking is to a great part scheduling, planning, calculating and in general being very adult and rational about things - lest they go wrong.

    Being an adult is also a bit tiring - I don't know whether you had noticed. At some stage, you start to become standoffish and short, giving commands and feeling like people around you either don't realise what's important or treat you somehow wrong. In other words: if you are being very, very rational for very, very long, you will paint yourself into a corner of unhappiness.

    Enter a tool that I am finally discovering to its full potential and which I realise is extremely useful on the quest of being a happy filmmaker: meditation.

    I had wanted to start with meditation for a long time, but somehow didn't quite get the hang of it. It worked, sort of, to sit still and try and let thoughts come and go, focussing on the body - but somehow I hadn't really got the right guidance. 

    Then I stumbled over a website that appealed straight away to the busy, multi-tasking geek inside me: 

    I signed up for the guided meditation practice that the guys over at Get Some Headspace offer and I admit it, probably mainly enticed by the wonderful animations across the site and the fact that they even offer an app for my phone.

    On a more serious level, the fact that Andy Puddicombe, the Headspace founder and fully ordainned Buddhist monk, set out to bring meditation to über-busy Westerners intrigued me. And they got me hooked.

    I am about 4 months into the experience, where their year-long daily meditation program now delves head first (literally!) into the realm of creativity. There are lots of thoughts, feelings and insights bubbling up - and I am planning to share them here once in a while.

    Today's mediation, which was the second of a series of visualisation techniques, made me think about that energizing effect that creativity has on the body. Interestingly enough, meditation ties in very nicely with that - as it can have the same effect. It is also extremely good for recharigng your batteries: like a hot foam bath for the mind.