Creating Content

Lessons Learned From
Filmmakers, Pixel-Pushers & Audiences

23 November 2002

Manufacturing Your Message

From concept to consumption, what’s your role?

For instance, between 2000 and 2002, I spent significant time with people creating and consuming media of various forms. On the surface, the only common element is the inherently visual nature.

(My dabblings in the audio world came nearly ten years earlier. Perhaps I’ll write about that next.)

Their authorship manifests itself onto various forms. Many consider themselves filmmakers. Most of those today use video instead of celluloid. Then there are the illustrators and animators…

After spending significant time with these people, a single question keeps surfacing to students, wannabes and even those in the field already:

What’s the most important aspect of the craft?

The answer is simple but the explanation is significant.

Film-making, For Example

For filmmakers, the debate usually iterates through the various stages of production. Picture quality tends to start the discussion since you must have an image to create a film.

They talk about various cameras. “Only use a video camera with three chip CCD.” “But film has a far greater dynamic range for preserving color and texture.” If they don’t digress into suspension-of-disbelief factors (due to 24 frames of film per second versus sixty fields of NTSC video), the argument might go something like this:

Sound person: Sound! The audio must be clear. If people are straining to hear the actors, what does it matter whether or not the colors are dimmed slightly?

Actor: But a good actor can convey so much without words, that the sound is really just icing on the cake.

Writer: The actor needs a solid script to build upon.

Editor: More than just a good story, the interaction and dialog must be tight or you’ll bore the audience.

And so on.

Somewhere in the middle, mention of “lighting for film” usually comes up if they’re using video instead of actual film.

Actually, they’re all correct. Each is extremely important.

While the most significant element is actually doing it, these arguments benefit in a very practical way.

When selecting an editor, find someone who believes that editing is most important.

For the camera operator, get one who lives by the code of picture being paramount.

And use a producer who is certain that none of it would exist if it weren’t for this role.

Grand Caveat

Everything so far of course assumes each person plays well with others, enjoys collaborating and is capable of realistic compromise, especially when funding is limited or deadlines are tight.

The Best Advice Is No Advice

After attending various film festivals, film-maker forums and other such seminars, another common theme emerged.

Consider your favorite film director, artist or writer. Perhaps you get the opportunity to see this person celebrated and hear him or her talk.

Inevitably one question eventually arises: what advice would you give to those starting out?

Please disregard anything they might say in response.

What worked for them undoubtedly will fail you. Their experiences will seldomly be yours. Lessons they have learned throughout their life will differ from what destiny has in store for you.

Instead, listen to their answer as, at most, a point of note for their biography.

A certain writer gained popularity with one genre but only later became known for also penning erotica. Yet Anne Rice did this for herself. Perhaps like the vampires mentioned in her most famous series, she had demons of her own to exercise.

So following her footsteps would be folly for anyone else. Though, there might be one exception: someone who also faced those same personal dilemmas, at the same point in time, coming out of the same culture. But for the most part, your experiences differ, times have changed, and you live in another segment of society.

You have your own dramas to draw from.

Write what you know. Explore what haunts your mind.

Your audience will appreciate it that much more.

The Audience Knows It’s About Them

Many creative people– including modern painters and animators alike– will tell you they do it for themselves.

Okay, so then why do they show it to anyone else?

(The only ones who might really be able to claim this are practitioners of the Mandala and similar ephemeral art, but they do it as a ritual in prayer. They create the intricate sand images during meditation then destroy it upon completion as symbolism for the ephemeral cycle of reality.)

At some point, authorship regardless of medium is for an audience.

Of course, most audiences believe it’s all about them. So don’t wake the sleepwalkers, just keep them from accidentally hurting themselves.

It’s All About The Craft!

True craftsmanship is an underappreciated quality in contemporary Western civilization.

Few know what an apprenticeship really means, let alone what a journeyman is or was. After all, we go to college for another couple years to attain Master level, right?

To benefit from the hard work of others, we get the digested version from a textbook or instructor. For those established in their careers, it comes from a panelist at a seminar or conference.

Those who disagree with this– the established way, the well-paved highway– get filtered out fairly early or do a good job of “passing” within the crowd.

M.C.Escher created his recursive illustrations using his own, custom grid-paper and generating several drawings in preparation for the final piece. Often, he went through several creations before finding the one that best demonstrated the effect he desired.

Did he do this overnight? No, it took time. Perhaps the ideas came in an instant, but the laborious task of production work sometimes took months or revisited over years.

He spent his lifetime as an illustrator, but it would seem he was never bored. He kept challenging himself and flaws in perception from behavior of the human eye-brain interaction.

You And Your Art

Understand that learning the craft will take time.

You will probably have to learn a few tools along the way. The tool you first use will undoubtedly fade into obscurity within a few years, unless you’re a practicing Mennonite of course.

Say you’re an animator or 3D designer. If you’re choosing between the ultimate, Softimage XSI, versus the lower initial costing 3ds Max, just pick one and master it.

Know that in the 2-3 years it’ll take to “get good” in the field, the features currently available only in the high-end will by then be taken for granted in all the common packages.

But you’re a traditional artist, using just a pencil or paint brush? Exempt from such nonsense, you say? Think again.

Just as automobiles are increasingly being offered with only automatic transmissions, so to the ol' standby tools are changing.

Think back: Have you noticed how the graphite in your pencil behaves differently? Have you observed differences in the traditional horse-tail hairs in brushes? Composite materials and chemical conditioners– perhaps the slogan “Better Living Through Chemistry” has faded from heavy rotation in advertisement, but it’s still the religion of commercial manufacturers.

Remember, it’s just a tool. It has limitations. Practice, and learn to work around the problems and annoyances.

The Point?

My point to all this is to enjoy the experience of what you’re doing fully.

Do something for the sake of the art and craft, and believe that you’re benefitting yourself in ways you may never understand.

If tomorrow takes you to something entirely different, be comfortable in the knowledge that if you’ve learned something new, you’ve grown some new dendrites in your brain. That will keep your brain healthy which in turn permits you to experience more of life.

Now get going, and show the world what you’re capable of creating!

Copyright © 2002 Daniel Joseph Pezely
May be licensed via Creative Commons Attribution.