Friday, March 16, 2012

Forging Mountains of Gold and Diamond

As I delve deeper into research, I’m quickly realizing that the thesis is really about defining the importance of romanticism and how each of my ‘pillars’ ties into the encapsulation of how we perceive ourselves and the qualities of life that we see as important.  Storytelling at its core is spinning tales of life and reflection of the human condition.  You use poetics of prose or visual persuasions to frame your story.

All forms of storytelling is about illustrating the ordinary and rendering it extraordinary.  The best stories don’t do that to a select minority, but spin the tale to sing to the masses.  This is how ideas are changed, this is how society is shaped.

The ‘pillars’ I've defined (nostalgia/Americana, cultural constants, child wonderment and folklore/fairytale/myth) are all avenues of romanticism.  They’re retellings, expectations, customs and societal understandings of what we wish to perceive as how the human condition exists.  

On a more personal, self-serving level, I think what attracts me to the principals of the thesis is that it lays down a groundwork for me as a filmmaker to develop my own sensibilities as a storyteller.  I understand it, and can see how some of the greatest artists have gone through the same process.  It’s an understated, but crucial part of the growth of anyone vying for success in film.  Speilberg put this into practice in the late 70’s and early 80’s with all of his hits-- he explored these same avenues on his own and figured out what worked and what didn’t, and once he developed that sense, he could spring off of that to make some of the heavier, more culturally resonating films of his career.

The same thing could be said for any of the other major artists out there.  I see it in some of the artists I've already examined.  I've seen it in Norman Rockwell, George Lucas, Walt Disney, Frank Capra, Alfred Hitchcock, Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, the list could go on and on.  They’ve all gone through this soul-searching period and once they latched on to the principals that this thesis talks about (unknowingly of course), they were able to figure out their voice.

Rockwell did it with his vignettes of American life, that even at the time of creation, were regarded as nostalgic and yearning of a forgotten yesteryear.  George Lucas went through this by exploring Americana in American Graffiti and folklore/fairytale and mythology in Star Wars.  Walt Disney tackled principals of child wonderment, folklore/fairytale and mythology, and both Twain and Fitzgerald gravitated toward Americana to forge their voices and develop their greatest literary successes.

They all had a sense of romanticism and poetics going into it all, and were attracted to specific instances of the romantic pillars for one reason or another, but all of them succeeded at least initially in this and were able to develop an artistic voice out of it.

Finding your own artistic voice is the one major principal that’s often overlooked or sometimes discouraged in film school.  You are lead to believe that developing a ‘style’ limits yourself as an artist and that you should not market yourself as a one-trick pony.  But you need to develop boundaries for your filmmaking sandbox, otherwise your sandbox will just become a desolate desert.  A basis needs to be chosen and rooting needs to be established by a filmmaker in order to truly flourish as an artist.

The other major thing I’ve learned thus far is the importance of hard work, study and analysis.  That’s the other major principal that’s looked over in film school and is often the reason that the professors of that filmschool ended up as professors rather than filmmakers.  They did not truly learn and develop enough of a craft and voice before they gave up.

There’s a misconception among budding artists that they’ve got what it takes right off the bat to be successful-- they assume they were born with the knowledge to make a film, paint a picture, write a song, tell a story.  They’re conditioned to think that if they’ve got talent, and maybe even a few connections in their particular industry, that they’ll become a rising star and knock their idols off their thrones.  NO!  It takes dedication.  Writers have the best bead on that discipline.  You don’t become a success without first paying your dues and failing at your first few thousand pages.

You need to write, reflect, rewrite, seek critique, rewrite, and rewrite again.  It should be understood that great work, even by the masters, doesn’t take a day to make-- it takes months, years or lifetimes to make a great piece of work.

It takes discipline to learn any craft.  There’s such a disconnect in principals between people just starting out and people who have carved a career for themselves.

You have to make it happen.  You have to put in the time.  You have to read the books.  You have to study the greats.  You have to practice, fuck up and feel the shame and torment of those initial failures but then learn from them.  You need to get over that initial slump of screwing up your work and not achieving the true vision you had in your head when you began creating.

The problem is, most people don’t have enough faith and willpower in themselves to take it beyond that.

It starts with ‘I want to be a writer.’  ‘I want to be a painter.’  ‘I want to be a filmmaker.’  Okay, so do that.  Study the true masters of your profession.  Emulate.  Learn from the best.  Collaborate.  Develop taste and preference.   Manifest opinions.  Always be self reflective.  Ask why-- ‘Why am I attracted to this artist’s work?’  ‘Why is this considered one of the classics?’  ‘What are their techniques?’  ‘How was this created?’  ‘How can I get to their level?’  ‘Why doesn’t my work create the same impact as theirs?’ ‘How can I learn from my failures?’  These are all INCREDIBLY important questions that have to be constantly asked and constantly honed as you produce new pieces.

Allow yourself to make a whole mountain of garbage.  Spend years doing that.  It may feel like you’re always at the bottom of the mountain and that no progress is being made, but if you’re keeping at it, it will happen.  One day you’ll look down at the pile you’ve been standing on and realize you’re pretty damn high.  Whoopee!  You’re just about there.

As you put the finishing touches on the pieces at your summit, climb to the top, plant your flag and claim it.  It’s your mountain of garbage.  It belongs to nobody except yourself.  After the cheering and celebration dies down and you’re left standing there alone on the top of your body of garbage, don’t forget to descend from your place of high stature in the garbage kingdom.  When you get to the bottom, hop in a car, take a train, or travel by horseback and ride as far as you can from it.

Bring a friend or an enemy and make a day trip out of it.  Once you get far enough to be out of it’s shadow (as the sun is now setting, because you’ve been traveling all day), stop your transportation and look back at your mountain with your travel companions.  Truly look at it.

Then look at everyone else’s garbage mountain around you.  How does yours differ?  What is that little twinkle that shines in yours that the others may not have?  What was it in the way you constructed yours that draws you back to it and give you enough pride to call it ‘mine’?

Once you’ve figured that out, you’ve got it.

You can only make a mountain of precious gold and diamonds only if you have the blueprints from building your mountain of garbage.  If you have the blueprints and know how to make your mountain stick out among the others, you’ve got it made.

Now how’s that for a little inspiration?

I feel as though I’m still pretty close to the bottom on forging my mountain of garbage, but I know I’m still creating and still scaling it in indefinable increments.  The advantage I’ve got is that I have a strong feeling that I already know how my mountain is going to stick out among everyone else’s.

In that revelation, I’m not so rushed to make it to the top before everyone else, but instead, am able to create a wider base to begin with and can really take the time to learn the fundamentals, emulate the masters and let myself learn from the mistakes I make without falling so steep when things don’t go as planned.

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