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Insecurity, Part 3: Question Yourself

November 15, 2007

My apologies to any regular readers I may have who were disappointed that I didn’t finish the “series” yesterday. I have no excuse, it just didn’t happen. I hope today makes up for it.

Anyway, back to it.

I believe that when it comes to creativity (I hesitate to say “art” just because of the hoity-toity connotations), there is a good insecurity and a bad insecurity. On Tuesday I talked about the bad insecurity, where you try to gain validation for yourself or your talents by way of comparison with others. Today, as I hinted at the end of that entry, I want to talk about the good insecurity, where you seek to always improve yourself or your talents by way of comparison with yourself.

It’s possible that insecurity isn’t the right word for it. A better, less loaded-sounding word might be “introspection”. Whatever you want to call it, what it boils down to is the question “Is what I’m doing the best I can do?”

I’m going to pick on M. Night Shyamalan one more time, since that’s become a theme here. I think MNS has lost a sense of introspection (yes, you COULD call it a “sixth sense”, but you shouldn’t, because I will slap you). I think he was successful with his first film, and he has decided he can do no wrong, and just throws his first ideas onto the page and onto the screen.

I could make the same comments about the Wachowskis, or George Lucas. Success becomes laziness when you decide that anything you touch is gold.

I mean, in the case of George Lucas, it’s sadly true. As I’ve often said, Lucas could have shit on a blanket, filmed it decomposing for 2 and a half hours, called it Revenge of the Sith, and would still have broken box office records with it.

(Some would argue that that’s kind of what he did, but I digress.)

(It still would have been better than Episodes I and II. Okay, I’m done now.)

Now, on the other hand, you have a filmmaker like Spielberg. I know I keep bringing him up but if nothing else, everyone knows who the hell he is so it’s an easy example. Plus, whether you love him, hate him, or are indifferent, I really do think he’s the single most influential director the American movie industry has ever known, second perhaps to Georges Méliès (but some of you had to check Wikipedia to find out who that was, didn’t you? So you see my point).

Even though Spielberg’s name will instantly make a movie successful, I don’t think he’s resting on his laurels. It seems like he’s always trying something new, always trying to make the best movie he can. He asks others for their thoughts, he allows the input of others to inform his decisions. He doesn’t surround himself with yes-men.

If you are a filmmaker, it is important that you are capable of looking at what you are doing, stepping to the side for a moment and asking yourself “Is what I’m doing the best I can do?” Not only that, but I think it’s important that you have at least one person on your team that you can trust to ask you that question if you don’t ask it first.

I mean, if ONE person George Lucas respected had stood up and said “Now hold on here, George. Where are you going with this midichlorian thing?” and forced Lucas to explain it to him, it would have accomplished one of two things. Either Lucas would have realized that there was a better way to accomplish what he was trying to get at, and changed it, or he would have thought it through and made the midichlorian thing important to the story. Instead, he just kind of dropped it after the middle of Phantom Menace and hoped no one would notice.

I’m not saying you should have a no-man, either. But you need at least one person that you know is looking out for the story. That should be you, but for when you get all caught up in the excitement of a new idea, you need someone else to pull you down to earth and ask “Where are you going with this?”

If it really is the best idea possible, then you should have little trouble explaining why and convincing them. But listen to their objections, because answering them will only make your idea more solid.

Question yourself. Answer yourself. And if you wouldn’t accept the answer from someone else, don’t accept it from yourself. There’s a better idea. Keep looking.

One last thing about insecurity, and this one is mainly directed at the…er…directors.

A common mistake a lot of beginning directors make is thinking that a movie has to be 100% “their vision”. They have to come up with ALL the ideas no matter what and it has to be theirs theirs theirs. This again is all a kind of insecurity.

What you have to realize is that you’re the director, not the dictator. You have to be able to make a decision about everything if no one else has any ideas, but you should also be open to hearing the ideas of others if they DO have them.

Basically, as the director, you decide the destination, and you make sure you keep going in the right direction to get there. That’s where the name comes from.

What is the movie you want the audience to see? That’s what is meant by having the vision. You don’t have to have all the ideas, but you do have to decide whether or not the ideas presented to you will get you to the destination as well as, or hopefully better than, your own ideas. And most of the ideas you hear WILL be better than yours. There’s no reason to insist on going down Avenue A when Avenue B goes in the same direction and will get you to your destination just as well or better.

If it won’t work as well, be able to articulate why. Don’t just say “Nah, we’re going to do it my way.” Explain. Explain to yourself as much as you’re explaining to them, because being a director isn’t about HAVING the best ideas, it’s about KNOWING the best ideas when you hear them. If you’re open to your cast and crew, they will help you make a better movie than you could make alone, and everybody wins when you do that.

One of the comments to the first post in the “series” brought up a good issue with humility. I’ll touch on that in my next post.

From → community, filmmaking

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