Category Archives: tutorial

Rekindle Your Creativity – Inspiration

Inspiration can be a godsend. It is the spark that keeps us going, and the spark that keeps us creating. Often throughout our journey as artists and creators we lose sight, become stagnate, or even worse, bitter and resentful. It is important that we remember what initially drew us to a medium, and what called to us to create.

Creative people are generally curious of the outside word, and often gain inspiration from items outside of their normal daily interactions. That being said, try this exercise when you are at a low point and need inspiration:

Create a folder on the desktop of your computer (or print out images and make them into a book) of items that inspire you. The items don’t have to strictly be your medium of choice, and can fall outside of typical artwork. They can be not only photographs, sculptures, paintings, but also colors, words, poems, patterns, videos, people, quotes, etc. The key is to venture outside of our medium. Refer to your collection when needed to re-spark or reinstate inspiration and continue creating.

Still frames from films that inspire me (The Tree of Life, The Fountain, Blue Velvet, The Holy Mountain, Mario Bava):

As a filmmaker, photographer, poet, and performance artist, I often dabble between mediums, but generally have stuck to one style in each. For example, with photography I have stuck to straight photography (using only photographic images). Recently revisiting poetry as a performance art, I’ve found with several of my pieces (and one particular series of Dada inspired poems)  a way to incorporate them into performances. I’ve also been inspired to do a first with my photography,  merge written words from my poetry into photographs.

Photographs and photographers that inspire me (Pictorialism, Surrealism, Paul Strand, Alexander Rodchenko, Anne Brigman, Elliott Erwitt, Clarence White):

Quotes about inspiration from individuals who have initially inspired me to create, and keep creating:

Kurt Vonnegut – 2006, a group of high school students asked celebrated author Kurt Vonnegut to visit their school. He sent them the absolute perfect response (excerpt):

“What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow. Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.” Read the rest of Vonnegut’s letter

David Lynch – “We think we understand the rules when we become adults but what we really experience is a narrowing of the imagination.”

“This idea comes to you, you can see it, but to accomplish it you need what I call a “setup.” For example, you may need a working shop or a working painting studio. You may need a working music studio. Or a computer room where you can write something. It’s crucial to have a setup, so that, at any given moment, when you get an idea, you have the place and the tools to make it happen. If you don’t have a setup, there are many times when you get the inspiration, the idea, but you have no tools, no place to put it together. And the idea just sits there and festers. Overtime, it will go away. You didn’t fulfill it–and that’s just a heartache.”

Werner Herzog – “Expand your knowledge and understanding of music and literature, old and modern.”

“What most impressed us was Werner’s passionate mission to cultivate a sense of urgency in lighting a fire under our asses to make films that have big stories and convey a sense of poetry, wonder and awe. He wanted us to write, film and edit as if we were on death row and they were coming to strap us to the gurney. There is no time to waste on fear or self-doubt. You’re about to die. It takes a ridiculous amount of courage and inner fortitude to follow your instincts. It’s not for the faint of heart. Be up to the task.”- Marie Francoise Theodore

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Rekindle Your Creativity – Fifteen Minute Photo Walk – Shooting At the Farm

I can’t say this enough, the best way to improve your photography skills is to shoot constantly. Shoot, shoot, shoot. Even if you never use or share the images, the act of thinking, composing, and photographing, enhances your skill set.

One of my favorite exercises for this is what I call “The Fifteen Minute Photo Walk”. The basis is simple, go to a location, take in your surroundings, and shoot anything interesting for fifteen minutes. More parameters can be added to spice things up. Here’s a few categories and items I’ve come up with to pick and choose from for fun.

Only shoot: texture, line, geometric shape, with a single lens, laying down, people, with a single prime lens, at a 1:1 ratio, vertically, from eye level, looking up, looking down, etc.

Find or express: Happiness, sadness, a photo essay, motion, stillness, change, that which is hidden, etc

For this Fifteen Minute Photo Walk I found myself at a small farm that houses a few horses and a goat. The limitation for this exercise was that I would only use one single prime lens, the Canon 100m 2.8 Macro. This lens would have not been my first choice for this type of shoot, but I found ways to use it to my advantage to capture non-traditional portraits of the animals. Here’s a few of my favorites!

This is a great exercise that can be used in any location, even when stuck in the house. I hope it inspires you to keep shooting, or to get out and start up again. Once you’ve done your Fifteen Minute Photo Walk, go ahead and share with me what parameters you set, and a few of your shots!

Rekindle Your Creativity – The Single Shot Music Video

“Okay crew, we’re going to have the band play the song, everyone shoot and we’ll edit it into something.” How many times have you seen a music video that falls into either of these over-piled categories:

#1.Quick cuts throughout the video made without thought or reason.

Or even worse…

#2. A semi-follow able side plot of nameless characters juxtaposed between live shots of the band performing.

Viral music videos are at an all time high, but what do they all have in common? They are unique and based on a creative concept. The huge budgets companies and bands once had access to for videos have diminished. The music video is now made with the smallest budget possible and as cheaply as possible, forcing filmmakers to conceptualize a unique and creative concept that can be enhanced through the tools and limitations of filmmaking. Shooting a one shot video forces the film maker to creatively plan out every portion of the video and constantly justify the reasoning behind each step.

What makes a one shot video successful basically can be broken down into two areas: use of filmmaking, and creative conception. As filmmakers, we should have the first down pat, but as for the second….

Let’s take a look at two examples, the first highly successful with a high production, and the second a low budget production that fell short. Also, let me clarify I enjoy every band I’m listing, and am not saying the song or band is not talented because of their video.

High Production & High Success:

“Ava Adore” by the Smashing Pumpkins, blends both filmmaking and idea conception together wonderfully. The filmmaking side is heavily influenced by theater with the selected costumes and lighting, and the movements and positioning of characters are choreographed down to the dot like a theater production. A dose of German Expressionism mixes in though the singer’s Victorian style clothing  as the singer rising slowly from his seat, nodding to the silent era Nosferatu film. The movement of the band members in and out of both sides of the frame as well their positioning broken up between foreground, middle ground, and background move the theatrics into a creative level of film making. All these elements add together in perfect proportion to making a creative well thought out, and high end video.

That is, until the video flips the viewer upside down. At 2:36 The camera crosses the threshold revealing the back end of the production process and the fourth wall comes crashing down. The viewer rethinks everything up until this point. The rooms the singer progressed, each distinctive in lighting and design, were all part of a set. The dolly track, crew members, and lighting come out from the shadows. The video takes on an entirely new meaning having the viewer question what is before his or her eyes. Rain inside, a simulated sex scene, and the singer on the theater screen mirroring and zooming into infinity. Without this addition, the one shot direction of this video would be average. We re-watch the video again. We notice the primary color palette in the opening room, the high key black and white room, we realize what went into the video that we have overlooked.

Low Production & Not Successful:

“”Yellow” by Coldplay is a more poetic or lyrical approach influenced by the French New Wave movement and post-new wave film makers such as Gus Van Sant. Now I’m saying the video isn’t well done, but the bare bones filmmaking mixed the low visual progression doesn’t keep interest. The visuals of the video fit the meaning of the song, slowly transitioning from night to day (though it looks mostly though color grading). It is beautiful, the song fits the style, but the creativity stops there.

High Creativity On a No Budget:

What if I don’t have a budget?

Time and time again I quote that filmmakers are some of the most intelligent people due to the fact they can manage creativity and skills for any budget, small or large. I’ve found two great examples to fuel creative thinking. Before we do so, let’s jump back again to the focus of this article now that examples have been established. Making a one shot music video is all about making as creative a production possible that translate into film, and using film as a tool to enhance that idea. By planning out every detail of the production including the reasoning behind the camera movement, the composition, and the lighting, conception of future projects will be greatly enhanced.

After the short introduction by the band, the magic begins at 10 seconds in.

What stands out first is that the filmmaking is outlined but not planned down to a “T” mirroring the persona of the band’s aväntˈɡärd music style and personality. Here’s where the creativity mixes exceptionally well with the film making. By the look of the video it was shot with an older camera such as a VHS or Mini DV. But now the real kicker… it’s left on Auto Focus!

The layout of the video has four main spots, the beginning area, the singer, the drummer, and the guitar player with a run and gun switch off between each. The camera is fixed on a tripod and pans to each. The location looks like the inside of a house or apartment corridor with exposed lighting cords in plain sight. All of these elements add to the overall success and creativity of the video by addressing and working off of each. Let’s compare this video to the previous two. “Ava Adore” is well produced and successful, but turns into somewhat forced, while “Yellow” turns into a snore fest. This video is “Fun”. After watching twenty or so one shot videos, the most successful entries have that word in common. That fun translates into creative thinking and utilizing the strengths of filmmaking.

Let’s take a look at one last example.

“LifeWar” by Demon Hunter is about as basic as a production can get. One light (possibly two including the blue flashes on the singer’s face), and a stagnant tripod shot. What makes it successful? The idea mirrors not only the style of the music but the band’s personal message. It has progression – fog, water, paint, fire, etc. This is an excellent example of a creatively successful music video that fits the band’s personality.

I know I skipped over most of the more well known “Viral” style videos such as those by OK GO (Check out the mousetrap fueled fun in “This Too Shall Pass” if you haven’t already), and there are many others that are great as well. Even if you don’t create a full one shot music video, translate these concepts into your productions. Thinking of the reason behind each addition to the production will greatly increase direction and overall quality of the product. Very often the most engaging and emotional moments in films are dynamic single shots. Let this be an exercise in tools that will translate into short films, commercials, and personal projects.