(This blog was originally published online by Russell Shaw.)
I’m still a nobody. A nobody who loves film. A nobody who, regardless of VOD, the digital revolution, and a democratizing of the art, still believes in the power of the cinema. A nobody who would purport that film isn’t dead but is only just transforming into something more beautiful and exciting. While I may have directed over a dozen short films and written even more, you haven’t seen any of them, and I guarantee that you’ve never heard my name. And that’s okay. I don’t expect to be heard of.
But now you know where I stand.
I remember exactly when I decided that I was going to try and do this thing. This impossible thing.
“And what do you want to do when you grow up?” inquired everyone. “I want to direct movies for a living,” responded the naïve and idealistic young bearded man.
How can we do this? How can we get paid to play?
I was recently discussing with someone how there are probably about five film directors who are worldwide household names. And probably only two of them would be physically recognizable. I claimed that Spielberg was probably the most famous and instantly recognizable director around the world.
This person responded, “What does he look like again?”
Those are the odds. Not that my goal is to be Spielbergian in my pervasiveness (in fact, I don’t desire that at all). But these are the odds creative professionals deal with, especially the ones with insatiable ambition. The ones who would rather create than eat, rather express than exist. Maybe for musicians the odds are a little greater, novelists a little less, and graphic designers somewhere in between. But the margins are so small and so terrifying that it takes an already slightly insane person just to take a step out of the boat and onto the water.
I’ve always concluded that it takes around four things to get there –
- A grain of talent
- Complete overreaching passion
- Several truckloads of luck
- And never, ever stopping
That fourth thing, undoubtedly the hardest but most obvious of qualities, is also the thing that will, eventually, set artists apart from creatives (because I would argue that, in fact, everyone is a creative…but that’s something else entirely). That label, creative, has somehow snuck into our modern vernacular.
“Oh, he’s creative.” That’s right, because he can use the burn tool.
This is unfortunate because it has diluted the powerful vocabulary of true artistry (which, by the way, is more about amassing hours and hours of experience than anything else). Because now we have art fairs and art schools and art factories. And what this does is create the image that art is a choice and a product. If you go to IKEA you can buy 20 copies of the exact same painting to match your throw pillows. If you want to go to art school you can be a painter or a fashion designer or a cartoonist. These things are not inherently evil, yet they are all built on the presupposition that artistry, or creativity, is a choice just like anything else, when in fact it isn’t a choice at all. None of the greats would ever claim that they chose to be what they were…painter, filmmaker, writer. They just are. And they can’t be stopped. It’s a calling from the collective consciousness, born from every generation’s need for artistic representation and voice.
This isn’t elitism; it’s just a defense of something that was once sacred. The way ball players discuss Babe Ruth or cooks Julia Child.
There used to be a reverence attached to someone labeled an artist. You can almost hear it being whispered about Rothko, Rembrandt, Mozart, Bob Dylan, Emily Dickinson, Stanley Kubrick. These aren’t creatives, as we now understand that word. These are artists. And what’s beautiful is that though their mediums may have been different, their ability to communicate ideas and emotions were exactly the same. And if you look into the trajectories of any of these or a dozen other greats, you will find at least one common denominator.
A relentless and unshakable stubbornness. Their specifics may have been different, but their circumstances were all the same.
The odds were completely against them. And they didn’t care. They kept going in spite of themselves. They didn’t know how else to operate. Nothing made as much sense to them as their art, if anything else made sense at all.
Dictionaries often define stubbornness as “being bullheaded and justifiably unyielding.”
When did brazenly believing in what you were creating become negatively stigmatized? Do you think Rothko cared when someone told him his blurry squares were meaningless? Or Dylan that he couldn’t sing? Or Kubrick that 2001 made no sense? If it bothered them they wouldn’t have let you know it.
No, they believed in their creations as blindly and as boldly as possible. So much so that if you didn’t agree that the work was of value, their stubbornness alone would have quickly convinced you otherwise.
I can only believe that this is the truest combatant of self-doubt, destructive criticism, and unavoidable creative blocks. If you don’t believe in it, how will anyone else? After all, conflict and friction are the strongest change agents, and if you truly want to influence the medium or impact your audience with what you’re doing it can’t be expected. It can’t be status quo.
But, we also mess up. It’s true. As artists, and especially young, burgeoning ones, we make mistakes. A lot of mistakes. An unwillingness to revise, consider, and adjust your work will quickly become your Achilles heel. It’s happened a million times. But you better believe in your creations. And when you know in your deepest deep place that this thing you’ve chosen to do is the best thing you could ever do, don’t look back and don’t second guess yourself. There a thousand other creatives chasing you down, ready to trample over you and take your spot.
Let’s hold each other to a higher standard again.
Let’s call each other out for lazy work and praise one another when it hits us in the gut.
Let’s pull the rug out from under our feet and see if we can stand.
Be relentless. Be demanding. Be brazen. Be bullheaded and justifiably unyielding.
Just make sure you're right.