People are used to consuming creative products in all their different forms: be they Instagram photos, music or the latest Netflix binge-fest. What isn’t put under the spotlight in quite the same way is the creative process behind those things. At Simply Thrilled, we’re wicked into creative thinking and in this series we dig into the creative processes and techniques which help a bunch of entrepreneurs and creatives of all backgrounds do what they do best. All images © the person/organisation featured in the article.
Whatever you create, how do you create it?
I started as a DJ and then got into filmmaking, and there is a process to both. When you’re a DJ you come up with a setlist and if you’re a filmmaker you come up with a shot list. I like to have everything written down. When I spark an idea I’m doing creatively I will plan it all out first, rather than just going out and hoping that I get a result. I’ll think of what I want and how I would get there and try and cover all bases before I go into anything to make sure I’m well prepared.
Say Netflix got in touch and wanted six animated feature films, but you’ve only got an hour to pitch them and it’s at 9 am tomorrow. How would you kick off that process?
For me, anything you do creatively has to have a reason for being created. I mean, it's good that any kind of art can grow organically, but how are you going to try and control it if you're not thinking it through first? Personally, I would want to make these six films rather than just think ‘oh it’s Netflix and money’. I'd want to make the films because I want to make them. I think the spark of an idea should come from a very natural and real place and you should feel enthusiasm and energy for it otherwise it’s just a chore or a job and you’re just going through the motions.
I did a YouTube-based Tomb Raider computer game and the whole concept came from the idea of change and about how it's never too late, because when they changed the franchise, they rebooted it and completely transformed the main character and that's very similar to life. You always get to a stage in life - no matter how old you are - where you feel you want to reinvent yourself, so that was one concept based on a reality that I wanted to express. I think all kinds of creativity should come from a realistic place that you feel passion for and believe in. For that lightbulb moment, your brain needs to be as free as it can be from clutter to go on an unobstructed journey, and then suddenly you're like oh my god I've got it, of course, it's there.
Does an idea emerge fully-formed or is it a seed you need to develop?
Sometimes you can come up with a concept and you think you've nailed it and then the next day you’ll look at it and think ‘I don’t know how to deliver that’, even though you think that's the preferred result of the thought put into it. Other times you end up with a seed that you don't want but through a natural thought process that seed will blossom into something quite meaningful. I don’t think the aim is to have a particular idea - I think the aim is to have an idea that you understand and feel passionate and energised about.
The film director Robert Rodriguez became famous because he made some films on a really low budget and that caught him off guard. He did this thing called Three-Minute Film School on YouTube. We did about 4 or 5 episodes of really quick talks to students who haven't got any money or contacts or anything like that, and he said that when you want to make a film, you should close your eyes and transport yourself into a cinema and imagine that the cinema is showing your debut to loads of people who you desperately want to love your film. Now you know how the story is in your head, so visualise how you want it to look on-screen, how it's playing out, and how the crowd will think oh my god I love that shot and they get it, they understand the story. Visualisation is about finding out what reaction you want towards your idea or thought process, and then you have to work out how to get that.
© David Wayman
I always find myself walking in a circle counterclockwise. What patterns of behaviour do you do to promote creative thinking?
I think it helps to get oxygen to your brain so walking around in semi-circles is going to get your blood flowing a little bit. If you’re physically doing something that you don’t have to think about it helps you without distracting you. I noticed that when I first started going to the gym I used to get such a rush of oxygen to my brain and had no distractions that I used to almost go into a state of Zen. In terms of thought processes, this might be why writers, because they're not doing anything physical, will go out and hire a place where they can just go and sit with no distractions for a week, like a retreat.
What do you do once that seed is there?
I don’t do anything until I think it's worth pursuing. It’ll live in my head until I think I want to make it happen because I always think that you've only got a finite amount of creative resources in your brain that you can use, and if you use them all up doing stuff for just the sake of it then you’ll have to wait until you've refreshed because you'll get burnt-out creatively. It’s important to prioritise your ideas into those that you think are worth considering. I make a shortlist and figure out artistically and creatively how I would get there.
If you’re struggling or have writer’s block or you doubt yourself, how do you jump out of that?
I think it's part of the career process. You need feedback and have to be open enough to share your ideas and not feel defeated if you don't get the feedback you're looking for. You've got to be a realist; just because you think of an idea doesn’t mean it’s good, and just because it’s not good doesn’t mean you’re not good at what you do. No one has a 100% perfect track record of creative output. You’ve got to wait for the ideas you know will make a difference, and usually the only way you can do that is by being open and being part of a creative process with other people.
Problem-solving - do you approach it as an art or a science?
You’ve got to surround yourself with good people because not everyone can do everything. Even someone who’s been given free creative control on something can’t be dealing with all the logistics all the time because it takes them away from their actual job of being creative. Even if individuals sign up to your programme and want to work by themselves, you need to realise that we’re human beings and we have to be part of a team at some point.
What’s the last creative process you went through?
I’ve just seen the photo I took of the person in the hazmat suit floating above the ocean. I knew I wanted to do a new photo for my printing business. I also knew that I wanted to go to Whitby with my girlfriend because we love the place and we just needed a holiday. Sometimes when you live here in Nottingham you can lack inspiration from the place because you’re so used to it. A different location was the resource available to me which I wouldn’t normally have access to. Then I thought about what's there that would look interesting, thinking of the assets I could take advantage of.
Also, the hazmat suit is owned by Jane, and I remember six months earlier her saying ‘I've ended up with this hazmat suit from this job’ and she offered me the suit. Initially, I thought that’s weird but then I thought that this shoot would need a couple of hands so why not invite Jane and her boyfriend with us to Whitby. It was about reaching out to the resources I had and using the people I know to see how I could turn them into something unique. I then take these photos and pin them to a board, like when a detective is trying to solve mass murders and they've got loads of photos and string going around pins. It’s like that in my head in terms of how I get all the pieces pointing to an end goal.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I just like telling stories, whether that be through music or photography or film. I get the most satisfaction when someone does a double take at a photo and they're like oh wait, hold on. I want to inspire people and give them something that gives them some kind of emotional payoff for their time, and to capture the nature and beauty of being alive and experiencing things.
Check out some of his work over yonder: