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’m a writer. I write scripts for theatres, I've written a podcast, I've written other site-specific audio work, as well as short films, and I aspire towards writing longer-form film and television. What I write is comedies and comedy-dramas. I work from home on my computer and generally I work alone, but I’m increasingly thinking about how I let other people, for example other writers or creators, into the process.
How would you see that working in terms of bringing other people in? Would it be a collaboration?
Well, last year I worked with a friend of mine to make a short film and it was quite low-budget, with a couple of actor friends, myself directing it and my friend filming it. This was my first experience of being that involved with a shoot, which gave me a big insight into how my writing has to be different for films as opposed to theatre. In theatre, it’s a lot about talking, and in film, there are different stages of editing, as in you’re editing as you're writing, but you’re also editing when you're filming. I realised that so much of what I had expected would be on the screen ended up not being right. Also, what my camera guy ‘Dr Photography’ brought to it was his sense of the story, which transformed how I looked at it as well. So, in terms of that project, it was very much in the process of filming that my conception of what I'd put on the page felt less like a text to be performed but like a blueprint in which I was establishing the area of play. We tweak things as we’re filming, and we didn’t end up doing some of the things I thought we were going to do which meant coming up with other material.
It became very much about me and the director/photographer having a creative discussion on set, as well as the actors bringing their own opinions to it. I think that inevitably when you write a performance it is a collaboration with the stage show; you’ve got the director, you’ve got the stage crew, the lighting and costumes, everything like that. Writing the form text is never the whole thing but what I find is that my writing is always better after the right people have had a look at it and are invested in it. An artist once said to me ‘don't accept feedback from anyone who's not invested in the project and invested emotionally’. Literally, someone could read your script or see your film and just have no interest in it at all and if they criticize it you can take that really to heart. I used to not be able to separate the useful criticism from the not useful criticism.
For me, it's about getting invested collaborators and getting people who care enough or understand or like similar things onboard earlier, especially when you write comedy as it’s very subjective. Some people absolutely can't abide by swearing where some people swear all day long. Something as simple as that can switch someone off from engaging with it fully if it doesn't immediately tap into their taste. I’m open to what collaboration could mean, but for me it’s all about people who like similar stuff.
How do you start? How do you find those people?
I find it challenging. I live in Nottingham and I've benefited massively from that as a writer in the sense that I don’t have to work that much for money to be able to afford to live (compared to London, for example). Also, as a writer, I've been able to focus on being that solitary ego working behind the computer. But when you want to get stuff made, being away from the main creative centre of your country makes things very challenging. I’ve done projects where I’ve chosen people because I know them as friends and I like their work, and they don’t necessarily fit the spec in my mind of the ideal collaborator but I go with it because they're the person who’s nearby. It hasn’t always worked. Ultimately what I want is someone slightly better than me that can whip me into shape, in terms of collaboration.
I’ve had to go to other cities and look for people online, which is challenging as it slows everything down. I know that if I was based in London, for example, or LA or whatever, then there’d be more physical opportunities to meet people. During the Coronavirus lockdown I've done a few online workshops and learnt from a few field experts and am connecting with people in a similar position to me through Twitter for meetup type things, which has been a positive thing from this weird time. I’ve learned there are resources online, as stupid as that sounds. I’ve tried before and it’s been quite hard, but something about the lockdown put a lot of people in the same place and I think everyone started reaching out whereas before people were quite protective about information. I believe if we shared this basic information then we could all just elevate.
Say the mafia wants six new ideas, how do you get them? Talk us through that.
I often refer back not necessarily to the creation of an idea but to the nurturing of an idea - Joseph Campbell’s The Hero's Journey is like a structural system to do that. When I need to come up with a complete story for a character or series I might sit down with that structure and lay out those building boxes. The first part is the character at home: what is their normality? You can put anything in there. For example, say they’re a fireman. What's their normality? Then, you try to put a character against their opposites, something that challenges them. I start by writing things down about my idea of what a fireperson is: they're heroic, they're strong, and you write down these words and think about all the physical and emotional aspects, and you then think about the opposites. Then I think about how that can manifest into a relationship, so is it professional, is it a family thing or a romantic thing? Do they aspire to be something other than a fireman? You bring out every single possibility, and you begin to get an intuitive sense over time and you start to think of how they can connect these points to the blocks of the hero's journey.
I always find myself walking in a circle counterclockwise. What patterns of behaviour do you do around creative thinking?
I find different things work at different times. I've been on walks before where I've felt like I've found a solution to something but then quite often I'll go back and try that thing and realise it wasn't right. I find that a lot of my problem solving happens when I'm in bed at night and if I'm knee-deep in a project, I won't sleep very well because my brain gets super active. When I have to go to sleep during lockdown, I find that because I've been doing a lot of creative work (and also because it's just such a weird time), I've not been sleeping well at all. My mind is racing, but my brain has always done that to some extent. If I've got a few projects that I want to work on, I'm kind of skipping between each of them and just thinking them through again. They play in my head and sometimes something will just come to me out of nowhere. The way I’ve heard it described before is how when one thing comes to you, it's like finding your keys. When I heard someone say that I just thought, yes, that's perfect, because the keys are just where you’ve left them, but when you can't find them, they're nowhere. When you find them you’re like of course, that's where my keys were.
It just comes down to that moment of inspiration. It could be anything. I find it hard to manufacture it but inevitably at night I’ll have some ideas. I try not to write them down as if I wake up and remember them then they’re worth remembering anyway. However, it's that thing of finding the keys when something sticks. It's this feeling of yes, of course, that's what I was wanting to do. One great piece of advice would be to try, wherever it's possible, to not just be working on one project, but to have several things on the go, because while you try to fix one project, you could come up with the idea for the other project.
What do you do in terms of inspiration?
I get inspired by something that, for example, my wife says. She might say something or it might be an interaction we have, and she's the person I speak to the most, especially as she's working at home at the moment because of lockdown. Before lockdown, someone else might say something in a particular way or there might be a small thing that happens and I would write it down. I've got a big Word document where I just throw sentences in. It’s that ‘what if?’ kind of thing that inspires me as someone who likes dark comedy and the folkloric, fairy tales, and existential absurdist dramas, so for me it’s what if that was real? That thing you imagined, what if that was literally as it is? That’s what draws inspiration for me.
Also, if I'm feeling a bit creatively burnt-out, I like to watch stuff that I enjoy. Because I write comedy I like watching sitcoms and I think really good comedians and sitcoms pack in their material so tightly that there are so many ideas that can be stolen, there are so many threads that they don't explore. Overall, for inspiration, I watch stuff that I like and I have my notepads nearby, and when something strikes me, I write it down and then add it to that big Word document. Inspiration is a slow process, but you’ve just got to be open to stuff when it arrives.
Cheers Hugh! Check out some of Hugh's work linked below:
Personal website: https://www.hughdichmont.com/