For the last half year or so, Stage 32 member Signe Olynyk has been traveling the world in support of her brainchild Below Zero. The film has played at dozens of festivals, garnering a boatload of awards. Her journey has been nothing short of inspiring. But what's truly amazing is where the project originated: From a bad case of writer's block.
We've all been there... Creatively bankrupt, searching for answers, waiting for divine intervention. In this guest blog, Signe speaks about her process of fighting through the malaise, and finding inspiration in, of all places, a slaughterhouse.
Unmotivated. Lazy. Creatively constipated. Is this you?
It happens to all of us. We're all overworked, underpaid, overwhelmed, and under-appreciated. From time to time, this stew of exhaustion can cause us creative types to lose focus and drive, and our artistic engines can stall. BUT, there is good news. It is called a solution.
I write this because I have been dealing with my own creative exhaustion. Let me back up.
Three years ago, I had a low budget concept about a guy locked in a meat freezer. As someone who is always trying to make 'Ben Hur in five minutes', the simplicity of this idea was a personal breakthrough. But as I wrote the script, I was overcome with the worst case of writer's block imaginable.
I went to film festivals and conferences. I took classes and read books. I stared at my computer screen and drank buckets of caffeine. One day, I even strapped myself to a chair to keep from fleeing the keyboard. Where was the inspiration that would get me through the hell of writing this 'man in a box', script?
After months of little progress, I tried this wondrous thing called the internet. I Googled. Meat freezer. Slaughterhouse. Trapped in cooler. Words that I hoped would trigger some sort of creative anything. As I searched, I came across an abandoned, slaughterhouse near Edson, Alberta that was for sale. After contacting the woman who owned it, I asked if I could come for a visit.
When I got there, I then asked if she would lock me in her freezer, and NOT LET ME OUT - until the script was done.
Admittedly, this does sound somewhat...extreme. Looking back, the expression on her face (part fear, part confusion, mixed with a whole lot of 'are you friggin' kidding) was understandable. But anyone who knows me also understands how obsession, and the quest for authenticity in one's craft often removes the ability to reason.
After spending five days locked in the freezer, I emerged with a completed script. A year later, we were in production on the feature film, 'Below Zero', filming in the same location I wrote it, with stars Edward Furlong (Green Hornet, American History X, Terminator II), horror icon, Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes, Weird Science), and Kristin Booth (Young People Fucking, The Kennedys).
I'll write another time about how we did THAT. But for now, let's get back to that solution I promised you. How do you get past your own creative ice block? Where do you find inspiration in your own life?
I'm not saying you have to lock yourself in the freezer of an abandoned slaughterhouse to write a great script. But you do have to be willing to do what it takes. Inspiration is a luxury, and we should all cling to it when the muse strikes, like the welcome friend she is. Most of the time, we have to create our own inspiration. To my workaholic mind, that generally means making a 'to do list' and racing around to accomplish a whole bunch of things to 'inspire' inspiration. But the opposite is generally true. What we really need to do...is often, nothing.
'Nothing' means just experiencing the laughter of our children, and the company of good friends and family. Finding it in the movies, books, and TV shows we love. Taking walks and 'nature moments' where we simply breathe and appreciate the world we live in. Getting rest and taking vacations, so we are capable of even being inspired.
I haven't decided what I am going to write next, but having myself locked up in a freezer seemed to be the only way I could overcome my own writer's block. Perhaps my next script will be about some guy, trapped in Club Med. That sounds so...inspiring.
Signe Olynyk is a Calgary based Writer / Producer, who also is founder of the Great American PitchFest & Screenwriting Conference, held annually in Los Angeles, CA. Check out her movie, Below Zero.
Signe is available for questions and remarks in the Comments section below.