Making a film is a 'Big idea" that tends to overwhelm and can be an endless challenge to try and set sail. Where does one begin? This is your dream, after all, and here are a few methods that will help inspire your creative life.
For as long as I can remember, if I wanted to create something, it would not be discovered without reading about it. In fact, reading is a prerequisite to writing. I think that what you read changes your thoughts and then your soul a bit too. Essentially it's where storytelling is manifested. When my brain feels full of information, I begin to write notes and sometimes longer-form content. This is where it all begins. 'Take note of This' because writing for me is everything.
BTS of "Healing Waters"
About ten years into my work as a creative, I finally shifted to writing out my ideas first instead of acting them out. I love production and DPing, but spending a million hours and thousands of dollars creating content was typically not a valuable effort to get to the final result. One problem is that you tend to focus on the technique and not the story, which leads to work that simply looks pretty and nothing more. The more I wrote, the more I understood the value of writing and how it helped me focus on the story instead of driving forward with an idea and unnecessarily using up my assets.
At the beginning of my career, I had a strong focus on writing short stories and poetry. This would expand into screenplays and pitch decks. A few years back, I wrote about 15 pitch decks. The process of doing this helped me see which stories were the most important ones that I wanted to tell. If you're filled with excitement about a story idea, write it and get feedback or "coverage" on your pitch or scripts. Stage 32 has so many wonderful resources here to help you.
BTS the thriller short “There is Something Behind the Walls"
During my time in art school, someone told me, "To truly understand something, you must become it." This idea captured me immensely. Have you ever watched a film such as 'Nomadland' or "Man on the Moon'? Both Frances McDormand and Jim Carrey created genuinely believable characters. Besides being exceptional actors, they needed to do extensive research and development to achieve these incredible performances.
They needed to immerse themselves with many details to become those characters and, in a sense, live it into life. Acting is unique this way, but this also relates to literally any department in the filmmaking business. For example, it may be your dream to become a successful DP working on features, and you may have found or look towards someone who is already there. Roger Deakins is mine. The big question is now.. how do I become Roger Deakins or even Jim Carrey?
First of all, forget about their success and observe what you like about them or their work. If you focus on their fame or success, you're going to be dead in the water. A critical lesson in this process is that you will always have your own unique success. The following steps require research, and the web is no small resource for this. Nearly every subject in the universe has a website or newsletter or club that you can join, and that comes with a community you get to be a part of.
BTS of "Healing Waters"
Stage 32 is a good example, but you can get really specific, like a fan club or personal website where your subject may exist. The point is to get information that you can process and experience about the topic. In my current work, I am writing a pitch for a nonscripted show. I've gone deep into research and began building relationships with people already involved with the subject matter. I have conversations daily about it with existing and new contacts. I have become more aware of my series's topic and how it plays out in my daily life. The fore-ground of my existence is layered with this subject. I am becoming an expert on it and ultimately becoming it. This is the most fun part of motivating the creative process. This is where you will descend upon your own successes.
I can't stress enough the idea of practice. Whatever you do in life, there is only one way to get better at it, practice it. I would also suggest that getting better is not the only goal in your process. Often people don't realize that creation is your lifeblood; moreover, if you don't feed it, you starve it. Distractions are a real issue in this day and age, so I actually have to put my creative time on the calendar. Here's what that time looks like.
BTS of "Healing Waters"
Creative time is my time to meditate on anything I want. This is where the passion for what I am doing is sustained. I intentionally put aside any goals, timelines, or anything that feels forced. I choose Fridays to be my day of play. After a brief email check, I set the day aside to just be in my space, in my head, with the openness of allowing whatever comes to the foreground to happen. Distractions are permitted as long as they are geared toward my creative development.
I might be reading about a new lighting technique and then seek examples of it in a film and then watch it. Right now, I have several projects in various stages of production, from development to financing. My creative play days are spent mostly working on creative development and not on things uninspiring me. When I am developing a project, I will create mood boards, look at inspiration on websites like shotdeck.com, lots of reading and writing. I get many of my ideas from real-life experiences and events, so journalism is something I seek out to get ideas moving. After some time of consuming, I take a break and really look inward at what I feel needs to be done at this moment. This is where I begin to create.
Some people work better with a schedule. I like to find a place in the middle that is unconstrained yet dedicated to a particular day or time. Over the next few months, I'll be sharing my journey as I create my first True Crime Documentary series slated for TV. Follow me on Stage 32.
About Derek Johnson
I am a film producer, director, cinematographer, and sometimes writer.
I have a lifelong addiction to cameras, stories, and pizza. I am also known to go to unbelievable lengths to find a great cup of coffee.
I am known for creating powerful interviews that go really, really deep into storytelling and creative excellence in my cinematography. I am the founder of Kaifilms a boutique film production company.
My first achievement in film production was documenting 9/11 in NYC, which lead to 10 feature and 4 Emmy credits. Currently, I have several films in production and an episodic true crime docuseries.
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