So here we go again, another brief exploration of small discoveries while wading through the detritus of the creative process.

I had a second dream of floods ravishing my surroundings, just as real as my last one, but this one quickly faded before I could write it all down. I remember seeing what started as a small trickle flowing by me turning into a roaring wall of fast-moving water higher than my head, but I can no longer recall anything more. I’ve decided to interpret this as a need to move more quickly. Of course, I haven’t been moving quickly, no surprise there, you’re probably expecting this familiar declaration somewhere in my post. My last posting for the project was back in March, the set walls constructed and primed in January left me with the puzzle of a door that must not look like a door while also being closed from the inside. I’m happy to say this problem was solved, but the walls remained white until June. They waited patiently to become something else, to come alive with color and texture to become a character within the film, a re-enforcer of implied truths. That’s likely too much expectation to put on some walls, but not these particular ones. They have a job to do.

I enjoy telling stories that are grounded in a given truth and believability, even if that story is of a fantastical nature, and I have always enjoyed the very physical and hands-on process of world building including the construction of environments where this truth can unfold. My fear (and that is a bit of hyperbole) is that if I don’t get it right then the story I am telling will be hampered by the amateurishness of the production and design. This is a concern to be sure, but its’ not unique to me. It’s a concern of all who create in some fashion, especially those trying something new or exploring unfamiliar ideas. Do I have the skills I need to make my vision a reality? Yes, great then get to work. No, OK what am I going to do about it? Maybe, then the only way to know is to try. That’s the step off the precipice, and sometimes every step on this project feels like a precipice.

The interesting thing is, that gut punch of taking the next step into the unknown, which makes the process scary, can also be what makes it so much fun and rich with opportunities to learn something new. This coming academic year will be my seventeenth year teaching and I see many students wrestle with similar feelings as they begin production on a project or as they enter into the editing phase. This is one of the reasons why I've been posting about my process. That empty timeline waiting for the first shot to be placed can be a difficult thing to look at, like a painter's blank canvas. It can cause acute anxiety for some, especially those who don’t have a lot of experience with the medium, and that’s OK because it provides a learning experience and challenge to face and learn from. Like a painter using a ground to help make that first brushstroke easier, sometimes it helps to simply lay down some footage. I’m not talking about a string-out, all your shots or a set of given shots all laid down in a sequence, this can work to help make that first step but I find putting together a few shots that I know will not be part of the beginning of the film a good way to begin, more like a sketch of an edit, knowing full well that ultimately those edits may not survive, the scene may not even survive but if I can begin to process the images as some semblance of the story I want to tell, then some of that doubt is alleviated and the process can go forward. I did this on Soulmaker. I picked a closeup shot of the Soulmaker’s eyes, the nautilus shell reflected in his glasses. Bob Roberts’ eyes blinked during this one particular take, a quick double flutter of his eyelids. As I watched this take, I grabbed a random audio field recording, something that I assumed would eventually be part of the atmospheric sound design for this scene and placed the sound under the video. By pure coincidence it lined up perfectly. The sound had a quick double percussive beat creating a moment much like when a child’s eyes blink each time a hammer strikes its target. It's a subtle moment that I believe most people do not notice but it is a precious moment for me. I got lucky, but that luck wouldn’t have manifested if I had not been able to simply take that step.

Too many students are paralyzed by taking that step. There are many reasons why they might struggle with this, each dragging their personal history along for the creative adventure, sometimes with amazing results, but for those who internalize those doubts and fears it can be a painful experience. This is why I try to provide that assurance when taking that first step. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, it just matters that you do it. Nothing is set in stone, and even things set in stone can be changed, worn down, chiselled away or even simply tossed out. There are plenty of stones to etch our ideas upon. Sometimes the best thing that can happen for a student is that they lose their project entirely. It might become corrupted or they haven’t backed it up properly or more than likely they just haven’t practiced good and proper file organization which is so important to maintaining a working project. At that point they are forced to start over. They often agonize over this, thinking of all the work that they have done and the time that it took, but when they start to rebuild they realize how much easier it is. They start to understand that they’ve been building a collection of decisions and thought processes along the way while also developing their technical skills. They are often emboldened by how quickly they can get back to where they were before they lost everything and the work is often stronger for it.

And that leads me back to my white walls. Finally with some time and my own small leap of faith I started painting the walls. The first coat was an ugly brown. I knew it was just a ground, a base that would be covered but it was still a bit concerning. It was flat, dark and dull, but sometimes you have to make something ugly before it can be beautiful, which of course is in the eye of the beholder. I began tentatively adding texture, testing different weathering techniques and that’s where two things happened, my wife found just the right critical but helpful thing to say to jump start the process and then the lesson of my dream came clear - move quickly. Moving quickly was the best way to make this next step work. Building layers, scrapping layers off, adding textures, scrubbing them off, pushing and pulling the surface. Not worrying about the minutia. Get in, step back, evaluate and press on. The process continues. What is posted here is still very much a work in progress, but it is progress.

A lot of makers, SPFX artists, builders of worlds, model makers, cosplay enthusiasts will tell you that the concept of weathering is their favorite part of their process. It is certainly one of the most exciting parts for me too. Coaxing out of nothing a history, backstory and psychological underpinning of the spaces and objects in a created space is a fantastic experience. Successfully creating a believable truth through illusionary tactics is what the filmmaking process is about, and I have a feeling there will be more to say on verisimilitude in future posts.

I know I have to remind myself this regularly, but the precipice that we are so afraid to step off of is often not really a precipice at all. It's simply a step, and most likely there will be another step to catch you as you fall. It's called a stairway and the cool thing about a stairway is that it typically leads you to where you want to go.

If faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen, then it seems that neither can be had without action on our part, of taking that first leap (or step) of faith. The creative process is all about faith. Have a little and by having a little, do a little who knows where it will take you.

25 views0 comments

Lately I've been stuck. Stuck on a detail that is no small thing and yet, is certainly less consequential than I probably think it is. How do I close the exit of my set from the inside? I'm trying to box myself in, to seal the set's doorless room from within while making sure that the illusion of a room with no egress is complete, I want no sign of the outside world seeping through possible cracks. This would be easy to accomplish from the outside or at least easier, but I need to be on the set, in the room to make this film.

I think I've figured it out. It seemed like a throwaway concern at the beginning and it would have never been a concern at all if the set was created in a more "normal" or traditional manner but that's now this project is going. I'm happy with my solution in theory and putting that theory to test has revealed something.

Tolerance is an important consideration but exact tolerances can sometimes lead to more harm than good. I've built this portion of the set, the alcove with some fairly tight tolerances. The slotting mechanism I've created to slide and pull the alcove walls into the rest of the set are tight enough to hold the walls firmly but not without struggle and now it seems to the impediment of bringing the parts together and even more so in taking them back out when it is time return to the "normal" world. So now I find myself considering how much is too much, how little it too little. I'm finding that if I had loosened my tolerance just a bit maybe it would have worked more smoothly from the beginning. Now I find myself trying to lessen wall thicknesses without removing too much - too much and it does not stay in place, Too little and it doesn't move easily enough. My walls have a Goldilocks problem. I'm trying to find the just right.

In the real world there isn't much that is just right. Life is more of a pendulum, with the sway from good to bad and easy to difficult. The funny thing is that these swings from one side to another are never evenly balanced. Often it feels like the stretch of momentum that moves towards or away from those negative experiences seems to be moving through a thick morass while those swings in the positive side of the arc seem to be aided by a slipstream moving us at unexpected speeds, and it is only when the pendulum begins to draw towards the middle are we even able to see what lies behind us and before us. Only then does the force of the swing lessen enough for us to truly see and appreciate all sides of the experience.

Lately I've had my share of the morass, we all have, but I've also had my fun in the slipstream as well. The old adage "it was so close I could almost reach out and touch it" comes to mind. I've been close on a lot of goals and desires recently. That joy while short lived always invigorates me. This project is another great example. There are times when I walk through the set everyday only because I have to do so to get to other things that need my attention. It is an in-my-face reminder of what still needs to be done, but there are other days where I'm riding the slipstream, where things are coming together where a skeleton of one-by's becomes an old plaster and lathe wall. Where a floor comes to life in its stillness below my feet. I hardly realize these moments and experiences though until I reach the center of the pendulum swing. It's at that point that I write. With perspective and insight. Much like today.

No pictures of the alcove in this post. No examinations of the too tight tolerances to share, but peace knowing that the pendulum will continue to swing between the extremes, and that where ever we find ourselves on the big arc we're still moving and there's always good that can come from that.

10 views0 comments

I had a conversation with students in one of my classes the other day where we talked about the act of creation and getting stuck, something I've been writing a lot about lately. In complete disclosure, the entire class is designed to provide a foundation for creating when things go bad, when we get stuck. It's about focusing on the little steps needed to move, and apparently, I've been channeling the wise philosopher Kris Kringle and his illuminations on making a change, Put One Foot In Front Of The Other.

In the class we explore ways to keep creating and kickstarting our actions, we tackle some new techniques that intentionally don't always produce visually pleasing results, and we find ways to exploit the potential energy sometimes hidden in a given cinematic

image. I enjoy teaching this class, mostly because it is a good personal reminder that being creative is not simply thinking about being creative and certainly not about feeling creative because I watch someone else be creative. This is the trap I was warning students (and myself) about the other day. Sometimes that threshold between research and creation or inspiration and creation may get too big that we can't cross over. How often have I found myself on some social media platform, looking at the art and creations of others under the guise of research? An example that I shared with my students was watching Adam Savage on his YouTube channel Tested. So much of what he shares I identify with. His curiosity and technical knowhow, his problem solving and his willingness to share what he is doing are all wonderful things that I appreciate. I enjoy seeing him tackle problems, whether he's building some film related prop, organizing his shop or explaining a new tool. I've certainly walked away inspired and often receive truly helpful information that I can use. It's easy to watch someone like Mr. Savage and learn something. It's also easy to watch someone like him and be thoroughly entertained but assuming you are someone who is driven to create, the problem is being aware of when you are entertained to the point where you abdicate your role as a creator.

That's what this project is for me. It is a big fat thank you very much, but I think I'll make my own work moment. It is a refocus on those bigger personal projects that yes, do require research and are aided by inspiration but ultimately require my action - a lot of it, to not just think about being creative, but to actively engage in the process. This project is a proof-of-concept or maybe a better way to describe it on a purely personal level is -challenge thrown down and challenge accepted. I just happen to be the one doing the challenging and the one being challenged. Can a project like this be realized in a pandemic? Spoiler: The quick answer is yes, There have been many films and other creative projects already done and completed during the last year. Just not this one being completed by me. How much can I do myself? How dependent am I on others is the challenge and question.

Dependency is tricky because to be dependent is not necessarily a bad thing. As social creatures we thrive on interdependency, and just because one chooses to collaborate with others doesn't make them any less creative. There is no way that collaboration could ever be framed as a less-creative practice. By its very nature it is a more creative process because there are more sources of the creative energy being combined and used for something beyond a single creative source. So I would never denigrate the collaborative process and as I've said before I enjoy that process and would like to be part of it more. This is just not what this particular projects is about.

I've reached some milestones in this slower than expected action sequence, but it's time to share some updates. This past couple of months I've made real strides in the set construction for the film. Wall construction was completed, or nearly so, ceilings are roughed in and I've recently, temporarily added the floor (the first constructed element of the set) to get a sense of where I am and what needs to be done. There is still much to do, but I can take a moment and reflect on the progress. I can see where I've come from, an empty space next to my basement office and now see what will ultimately be a constructed environment for this story to take place.

Finishing the construction on the walls, floors and ceilings, adding the architectural and industrial details, finalizing the lighting inserts and painting are the next steps. I'll be honest and say I'm excited about this project, and I'm looking forward to seeing where the next bit of action takes it.

28 views0 comments