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?
Generally, I find ideas come from just talking to people, as people are constantly saying, ‘I have a good documentary idea and you should make a documentary about it’. So I think you have to make sure that you're always open to receiving ideas and never dismiss an idea straight away. If you’re always open then these ideas will keep coming and then occasionally, you get one that just really gels with what you want to be making, or what you want to do. Sometimes I get one where I’m like that is exactly the sort of thing that would work well with my style and it’s a world that I can see myself getting absorbed in for a little bit.
Also, when someone comes to me with an idea I start researching and seeing what’s out there already and working out whether there's a space for me to have a voice in that world, but also exploring whether I should write it. I tell real-life stories of real people and it's important to know whether I’ve got the right to tell that story. There’s a lot of people who say ‘you should make a documentary about the Holocaust’ and I think I don’t have the right to tell that story and I think that I should leave that story to someone who it belongs to.
When making a documentary I consciously visualise ahead of time. If I’m about to start a project, I know I'm going to be spending a lot of time with people and I've got to establish some sort of relationship with them, so I need to work out if I want to be absorbed in that world for X amount of time. It’s also about working out whether your personality is going to be available and relatable to those people.
Say the mafia is your latest client and they wanted half a dozen documentary ideas they’re wanting to fund for 9 am tomorrow. How do you go about coming up with these ideas?
First of all, what hasn't been said already about this subject is that you’ve got to find a new way of looking at it. I mean that’s basic, but if something hasn’t been said or if I find that something is missing, I’ve then got to work out how I can tell that from my point of view or in my style. I would advise firstly working out what needs to be told and then how to tell it through my eyes.
I cannot tell massive stories that are like taking down corporations or anything. I look at people and in what small way I can tell their story, as I know that’s how I work and therefore that I need to look for that part. You’ve got two levels for any sort of film which include the question what is the micro thing that we're talking about? Like, who is the person that we're following? What does that say about the world in general? I think that has to be strong. Start from the person and then extend out, rather than thinking okay, this is the toughest subject I need to be tackling. How do I do that?
Do you follow a set of processes or do you just freestyle?
What I’ve come to understand about the way I work is that I’m not a planner. Some of the best things I’ve done and the things I’ve liked the most are where I’ve just turned up and shot stuff and I always thought that was the wrong way of working. However, if I can establish relationships and establish a rapport with somebody very quickly, then the best stuff is going to happen very naturally, without me having to say ‘now we're going to do this’ and overplanning and overthinking it. There is a need to feel confident in saying this is my project. I have to have done something towards it. I hate talking and planning and working before I do anything, so I have to have something on camera that I work from, and then the idea develops, and the story will develop.
With this strategy are there ever times where the pieces don’t fall into place or get abandoned?
Yeah, I think my job comes with the possibility that things won’t work. There are films that I've made where I've worked like that, which have just been perfect, and then there are things that I've made that have just knocked off, maybe because I wasn’t able to establish a really good rapport, or because the person felt uneasy. There have been times with the state documentary I did where because it was being commissioned, I couldn't do it how I wanted to. I couldn’t just go in and film stuff because they didn't trust me to do that and therefore I think I’ve created something that I'm not completely proud of. This is because I feel the story was forced. But it has to be done and that’s how they work. I prefer documentaries to be more natural and organic as that’s how most documentaries are, but I see things where I think oh that can’t have happened naturally and it’s obviously staged which I think is such a shame because some stories just don't need that.
I always find myself walking in a circle counterclockwise. What patterns of behaviour do you do around creative thinking?
I've got to be in a room with no other stimulus. When I have to apply my brain to produce ideas, everything has to be clean around me, so I'm not distracted. I also have to focus only on that screen or that piece of paper, with no distractions. Also, if I’m generating ideas, if I'm writing them down instead of talking about them, I have to do it with a pen, as I can’t flow with my mind if I'm typing. Normally, I get an A3 piece of paper and I write something in the middle and then my ideas come off from there, and then I work from that and I structure it a little bit further down. It has to come from a tactile approach.
Sometimes as I'm doing that mind-mapping, lists will start to come, so then I'll branch off and then this or that will have to turn into a list. Then, I’ll take those lists on my next piece of paper and be like, okay, how do I need to apply this to become something that I can make action points on? Because I don’t make action points from a big mind map, I’ll take them from lists and think about who I will be working with or what I will be producing. What are the main points that I want to get across? That then filters down.
Do the ideas and moods fully form? Or do you develop them?
Sometimes I have an idea in my head for maybe three years, and I'm just constantly thinking about how it could work. As I said in the beginning, somebody will be like, ‘oh why don't you make a film about this?’ or something will happen to me and I'll think I want to make a film about this and then it will just grow from there. I’ll occasionally tell people in conversation that I’m thinking of making a film about this and they’ll ask a question, and it snowballs. Then I'll say to somebody that I want to make a film about this and they’ll say that I need somebody who would be perfect for it which then snowballs and grows quicker. I often bounce my ideas off of other people and work out whether my ideas have legs.
What’s the last creative problem you’ve solved?
Recently, somebody came to me and said that she runs a pottery business, and she came to me saying she wants to make a documentary about her work. As she was a new client and she was paying, I felt under pressure. I was telling her about the plan because if someone’s paying you, then you have to deliver a plan. I sent the questions over and then I just thought, she's going to overthink that and that's not how I like to do stuff. I don't want to plan the film or plan it shot by shot. So, I said to her that the way I think this will work better is if I give you an overview of what I think the film will feel like and what the film will cover. I said that the best thing for me to do is just turn up and work and just see what we get. I told her I didn’t want her to overthink the questions. She had judged my process from watching a film I made and that gave me confidence and I guess her confidence too that my process was decent enough and would work. I think this was the first time I had the confidence to say this is the way I work, let me turn up with my camera and let's see what we get.
Where do you get the inspiration from?
I really struggle with getting inspiration from other filmmakers or other people because I think I should have made that or I could never produce something like that and I probably get a confidence knock. That's probably a fault that I need to work on. I think I need to get better at looking to my peers for inspiration. I do like the idea of not planning so much and just turning up and working with the natural lighting that you've got and forming ideas around what is already there. Before the pandemic, I loved looking at the way people would meet in the street and capture that meeting because you can’t fake that. When I see moments like that in real life I think it’s wonderful. I mentally locked them in and then tried to make sure that I captured them later on. Before a job I’ll mentally log the natural things I think will happen but some things are quite unconscious.
Cheers Georgi! Check out some of her work linkedin below...