Archive for the ‘What I Learned From…’ Category

dncWe each take many paths in life and learn from all that’s around us. Learn something on one area of life and cross over to another. Here are three nuggets that crossover for me between Highland Dance competitions and filmmaking:

1. “Dance Beautifully” Does Not Necessarily Mean “Dance Standard”

The closer you dance in a competition to “dance standard” (in the eyes of judges) the more awards you win. The higher the level of competition, the more challenging it is to win awards, because eventually there are only slight differences between those who win awards and those who don’t. Yet… anyone in the audience will tell you passionately and honestly that so many of the dancers dance beautifully, awards or not. This declaration is not friends and relatives being kind the dancers, it’s the truth. Parallel this situation to movies. You can enjoy a beautiful movie whether it wins awards (achieving “movie standard” in the eyes of judges) or not.

2. Dance YOUR Dance

When competing on stage at pre-premier level, different dancers know different steps to pretty much all the dances. To the audience it’s like watching several different dances on stage at the same time, dancing to the same music. Sometimes it looks like one of the dancers is going to bump into another because of the varied choreography, but somehow they manage to steer clear of each other. On stage, if you forget a step, a glance left or right to a competitor can just confuse you more because chances are they will be dancing totally different steps. You have to know your dance and dance it with confidence no matter what’s happening around you on the stage. Good advice for filmmaking too. Choose your path with confidence and take it, no matter what the competition is doing around you. Be aware of what’s happening around you (so you don’t “bump into other dancers”), but be true to yourself.

3. Despite Any Errors, “Dance On”

Highland dancers forget steps. They knock the crossed swords out of alignment. A shoe can fall off. The piper can make a mistake in the music. One step can be wrong. So many errors can happen “on the day.” Dancers can stop and wait for the dance to end, stop and leave the stage, or they can dance on. “Dance on” doesn’t erase the error, but can provide a sense of accomplishment at overcoming obstacle, and for the bigger errors that the audience notices, it also triggers deep-felt admiration in the whole room. Take that determination into filmmaking. Mistakes will happen, but work with them and finish the film. Film is not as much a live performance as Highland Dancing, but sometimes you can’t go back to fix a shot; you have to “dance on” to the end.

What crossovers happen in your life?

Cheers… with a little FILM and INK,


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blksinblks1. It’s All About Me
As we grow up, we talk about the reader (or viewer) “identifying with the story” and “identifying with the hero”… basically we mean that the story has to be “all about me.” As reader (or viewer) I have to be the hero, and I take that journey. I don’t just hear the story, I am part of the story… the biggest, most important part. It’s my story. It’s me. As writer or filmmaker that’s a very powerful place to place your audience.

2. I Want To Hear It Again!
We love to hear the same story over and over and over again. Kids can hear the same book read but minutes after hearing it the first time. They will correct you if you get part of the story – or sometimes even a word – wrong. As we age, we do like to see some of these same stories played with… although we still expect certain story points and twists to be met. The trick is figuring out which ones are game for tweaking without alienating the audience.

3. It’s Magic!
Kids live in a world of magic. Nature is magic. Stories are magic. Science is magic. Illusion is magic. There is much science and illusion in filmmaking to craft the magic of stories. Don’t lose the connection to the world of magic so you can see the joy that you (as filmmakers) are crafting.

Anyone who teaches knows the student often teaches the teacher. What you have recently learned from the students and kids around you?

In the meantime…

Cheers & a good shoot to you,

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paintbrshI’ve explored numerous art museums around the world, but it’s the one in Chicago that recently revealed these truths to me:

1.One Subject, Numerous Possibilities of Expression
Each artist will see the subject in a unique way – or in many unique ways. A haystack, a bridge, the Eiffel Tower… see any of them through the style eyes of realism, impressionism or pop art and no doubt dramatically different images come to mind. The possibilities of art (and of film) are the “many” and there is not a single, correct “one”… unless of course we are the artist and looking for the right “one” expression for our own artist within.

2.The Many Drafts Before Brush Stroke #1
No artist starts a full scale finished work from brush stroke number one. There will be many sketches that precede it: pencil sketches, pencil crayon ones, miniature fully-painted versions of the finished work to come. In these experimental drafts, the artist can test form, subject placement and meaning, technique, overall creative vision. Some museums display testing pieces near the final work, and then you can see what’s the same and what’s changed during the artistic process – and a process it is indeed. Drafts and drafts of the script precede the shooting script. Just as shorter films precede longer works on the artistic path of discovery. No single jump to final work.

3. If it’s a Different Time, It’s Different Art
Take Big Ben at dawn, with the warm summer light setting it to glow. Take it again at sunset with the sun providing back light instead, making us perceive its bricks darker than they are. Take it again buried deep in London fog. Different times of day, times of the year, and it’s a very different painting evoking in us different emotions. How too our perspective on the same story changes at different times our lives. We don’t see the same story from the eyes our childhood as we do in adulthood and on to further maturity. Knowing our perspectives as artists changes over time, we can explore the various points of view we could use for a story to find the right one… for now, anyway.

Yes, I’ve done a posting about art and not shown you pictures of the actual pieces I saw that brought me to these thoughts. Well, that’s because it’s now up to you to go to an art museum near you and discover the artistic possibilities and inspiration yourself. What will you discover when looking at the actual paint strokes? Have you done so already? Share them!

In the meantime…

Cheers & an artistic shoot to you,

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1. We Love To See The Same Story Again and Again
We get excited that the opera we saw a couple of years ago comes back to town and off we go to see it again – even though we know the story from previous viewings, and re-read the story before the curtain rises. Operas, fairy tales, myths… we love to see these stories play out over and over again. It is the journey of the familiar tale, the anticipation of the magical moments seen or heard before, and the exciting possibility of new magical moments and insights that bring us back. As filmmakers, what are the magical moments that will give our films a lasting re-viewable quality?

2. It May Take A While To Find the Audience
La Bohème had a weak reception to its first audience… yet it went on to become one of the greatest and most popular operas of all time. Even then, there was great pressure on opening night for a sign of the future (financial and critical) success of an artistic work. Yet a poor reception doesn’t necessarily mean give up on it – opera or film. Just keep trying to find the right audience to make the connection.

3. Education Can Take You Only So Far
In vocal music class, the only acceptable stances for singing were sitting (with your back straight) on the front of your chair, or standing… yet at the opera, characters die in bed for extended periods of time singing arias at full volume from a distinctly – although modified – prone position! There were no beds and couches in vocal music class to lie down on in order to practice this obviously required position for singing in the “real” operatic world. You just have to adapt what you learned to make it work.

Cheers & an operatic shoot to you,

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My (very British) grandmother was born on a Wednesday… and Wednesday’s child is full of woe. So when she lost her budgie, it was just another standard crisis. What was unusual about this event, though, is that the event revealed a great truth.

She looked everywhere for the budgie: up and down around the house, in the back garden. She enlisted a neighbour to help. She asked the nearby chip shop to post a notice in the window. All to no avail. Panic was rising.

Then the neighbour suggested the natural next step: “Now dear, let’s sit down and have a nice cuppa tea.”

Reluctantly my grandmother agreed and so they went back to to my grandmother’s house. They set to making that cuppa tea: boiling the water, warming the teapot, placing the sugar bowl on the table, sharing friendly chatter amid worry. Next my Grandmother opened the fridge to collect the milk. There he was – the budgie – shivering slightly on the jam jar. A moment passed as they regarded each other.

The budgie realized he was rescued, stretched his wings and flew out of the fridge to safety.

My Grandmother realized a truth: stopping for a cup of tea can solve anything.

And she’s right! Take a break for “a cuppa” no matter what your rising panic is: the stress of the production or of looking for freelance work. At the very least you’ll take a few minutes to clear your head. At best… something about that break could solve everything you’re worried about.

Have you ever had a serendipitous cuppa?

Cheers & have a great cuppa tea,

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 1. Not Everything is Black & White

Sure the ball is black & white, but the perspectives of people watching the game differ dramatically. We can share the same moment, same images and still come out with different opinions about what happened on the field. As filmmakers, we can craft a movie experience, and might be able to influence (but cannot control) how the message will be received and interpreted.

2. It’s a Worldwide Experience

Street parties erupt around the world! They are amazing! So many cities around the globe as good as close down during the final few games so the citizens can stop to follow every minute. As soon as the game is over, hoards of fans of all ages descend on the formerly empty streets to share in the exhilaration of a game won. I’m not just talking the host city, either. It’s quite a phenomenon, and I’ve been fortunate to experience it in person a number in a couple of countries now – seeing ghost like streets turn into a network of celebrations – the grandest of all street parties. What an amazing gift that the World Cup can affect with us the world over. Filmmakers have this unique opportunity too to become a worldwide experience, to affect people we don’t even know. The audience may not have street parties for a film, but they certainly line up to see some of them. Wouldn’t you like to affect people on this scale?

3. It Matters

The World Cup isn’t health care, education, food or shelter. No, it’s not what we’d typically consider the essentials of life, and yet is it? When you see the emotional reaction of the fans around the globe you have to recognize how much it really matters. Pride of country. Pride of heritage. Celebration of sporting excellence. It’s great for morale, and with great morale do you think there is anything we can’t do? In this way, the World Cup is also like filmmaking – another forum where people connect to the “product” on an emotional level. We need these emotional connections in life. And so the work we do is therefore essential. It really matters.

Cheers & a happy World Cup to you!

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1. Breaking Your Fast is Re-energizing

After a long night of not eating, breakfast is when you literally “break your fast”. It tastes great; it takes care of that morning stomach growl; it re-energizes you. How – after a long time between projects – working on a new production feels like the same thing. It’s the same re-energizing feeling. Enjoy it. The day has begun again.

2. Who Needs Variety at Breakfast?

We can have the same coffee, same toast or same cereal every morning – our fixed morning routine, yet for lunch or dinner we crave variety. Lots of variety. Some film shoots hire 2 catering companies to alternate weeks just to keep up the variety… not for breakfast but for lunch! It’s got to be because we’re sleepy in the morning. So, we really need that breakfast to help us wake up and get the brain functioning (on set) for the rest of the day! Set time is so valuable, you don’t want to waste it being sleepy.

3. For Some People, Coffee Is Breakfast

Some folk can eat a full bacon-n-egg breakfast every day, while others will find that a cup of coffee is quite sufficient to get the day started. Whatta range! Taking that to a film set, it takes a range of people and skills to put a production together. Assembling the right mix of people in the right roles can be quite a challenge, but how satisfying it is to do so… as satisfying as the first, fragrant cuppa joe on set on a cold morning? Hmmm…

Cheers & a good breakfast to you on the next shoot!

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