© 2018 by J. Eric Thompson

The Responsibility of the Creative

I’m guessing you’ve noticed the split. There has been a very bitter and public divorce between stories released by Hollywood in any form other than caped or masked — each replete with the obligatory pepper of one-liners designed to substitute (as if we wouldn’t notice) for occasional breaths of levity in an otherwise perpetually explosion — from their counterparts, the independent films with an eye for cinematography, direction, plot, and performance. The latter, unfortunately, often begins with a script that Hollywood would invariably eschew as unproven, i.e. too original, i.e. too risky. This is a frightening notion indeed for anything claiming even a hairsbreadth connection to art.

 

Unfortunately, there is no accounting for the taste of the American public, unless, of course, you just want to shoot a superhero film and be done with it. We’ve herded ourselves like lemmings to watch the big explosions and pretty girls and flash-cut fight scenes enough to display to Hollywood our willingness to fork over a billion dollars for them to allow us to watch Super- or Bat- or Iron Man’s adventures, thus, like any young child’s questionable behavior being reinforced by their careless parents’ apathy, they’ve decided that they want this kind of attention all the time, and are willing to spend $300 million in actors and special effects in order to make that billion, substance be damned. But no amount of money you throw at a story will disguise it as anything more than a script sitting under a pile of cash. You can’t buy a connection with your audience. But (apparently) you can sure as hell charge them to come see the pretty lights.

Thus the unfortunate money-driven vs art-driven models of our filmic culture today. We as Americans would much rather have our everyday lives literally blown away by explosions and computer-generated fireworks than invest anything (other than $15) into a story that might actually make us feel something other than the explosive bass of THX digital. We’re afraid to take that chance, that we might cough up that same $15 for something that isn’t necessarily “proven” to work. Thus Tinseltown would be gambling to produce some such project, and in this modern world of technology and almost machine-driven capitalism, when does an eye for creative orginality stop and formulaic algorithm begin?

The answer is simple: when there are too many cooks in the kitchen.

Film is a societal event, both in viewing and in production. There is a reason it takes ten minutes at the conclusion to get through the credits, and an even better reason why no one reads them. Because, and I would catch some flack from the gazillion PA’s and movie grunts in the country if anyone were ever to read these following words, but their jobs simply aren’t as important, at least as far as the audience is concerned. You don’t know the name of the guy who glued your novel pages together. You don’t know the electrician of the studio where your favorite song was recorded. You have no idea who your favorite photographer’s assistant was, or who pressed the button to print out the magazine pages its printed in because – in a creative sense, of course – it just doesn’t fucking matter. Therein lies my disillusionment with film as a creatively fulfilling medium.

In allowing various artists with varying sensibilities to all attempt to work together in a single vision of artistic collectivism, the completed vision inevitably becomes deformed and diluted through the constant process of passing through dozens of artistic filters before finding its way into the story. A director (and even – somehow – further down on the script-to-screen scale, the writer) hopes – in the writer’s case, futilely – that their vision is able to run parallel with the visions of a crew that some dollar-eyed producer hired in order to ensure the movie makes money first, and is artistically or culturally valuable a distant second. Even though apathy is better than creative obstinance in such a situation, it’s still difficult to trust your visions to people who aren’t on the same page as the creative helm of the project who, more often than not, isn’t actually the creator of the project, but a person designated to adapt it from whatever (proven) form it had taken before, paradoxically enough.

Hitchcock huffily claimed that all the fun was over before they arrived on set on the first day; a filmmaker abhorrent of filming. Once on set the whole thing loses any sense of creativity (unless jerry-rigging lights or lavalier mics count) and the whole thing becomes a completely technical exercise, measuring eye-lines and hitting marks and taking light readings and pulling focus. This collective creativity generates an interesting paradox in the fact that film (especially acting) is a supremely egotistic endeavor. The director is (supposedly) at the helm while the cinematographer wants to shoot the prettiest scenes and the actors want more screen time the way producers want more money, and they’re all supposed to come together on a creative level that no doubt has probably, somewhere, already been done, been proven (there’s that word again), I.e. a novel or comic book or old TV show or set of beloved American characters.

We all want to be actors as children. However, one day we discover (those of us that don’t actually want to become actors) that getting dressed up and pretending the same scene over and over again with little room for divergence (for continuity’s sake) isn’t necessarily enjoyable, because it feels to us like stultified play, like someone is telling us almost what we should be doing and thinking and feeling. It’s as if we get to live all of these amazing lives (should we be cast, of course – the audition process itself is enough to deter anyone from the life of a thespian), only we are told how to live them and exactly what to say with their voices. Inherently, creativity is hindered. Creation is removed from the art form and is instead substituted with interpretation. Interpretivity, maybe. And as an actor, you can only hope that the director (or your co-stars, or the lighting guy, or the DP, or the sound guy) won’t make you look like an idiot in front of the millions of people that will see your performance (as opposed to the slight dozens that see the director and crew flub up at work).

I’m not intending to disparage acting or actors or say that they aren’t creative, because they are, interpretively. But the sense of emptiness I feel in that form of creativity was epitomized in an Inside the Actor’s Studio interview with Dustin Hoffman, when he told James Lipton a story about his younger years and having the honor to work with Laurence Olivier. Hoffman at some point asked Olivier why they, as actors, do this. Why is this their passion? According to Hoffman, Olivier brought his face within inches of his co-star’s, smiled, and repeated over and over again, “LookatmeLookatmeLookatmeLookatmeLookatme.”

I believe that all creativity is at least a little egotistic, if not downright deifying. We use ourselves to filter our experience and knowledge about the world with the abstract thought that we’ve developed, allowing us to create something that wasn’t there before, an imitation of what God or nature or whatever it is that’s bigger than us does on a grander scale. Creating something makes us feel big, or important, even if only to the thing we created. So I cannot hold egotism to merely actors and filmmakers, but I can, in my most selfish creative moments, decry that that kind of stilted sandbox isn’t for me. Mine needs to be bigger, and filled not with sand, but with jujubes or stardust or anything else I could imagine. Not what the director tells me I should imagine because the producer hinted to him to tell me to imagine it.

Film as a narrative art is beautiful and dreamlike because it encompasses so many other forms of art (writing, music, photography, dance, poetry) to literally show us the story we’re watching, to give it to us instead of allowing us to be a part of it, often convoluting the beauty and the dreams because of both money (the dollar-backed “sensibilities” of producers) and the myriad of other creative sensibilities working with a single goal in mind. You know, artistic types. And we’re all aware of how much artists enjoy compromising their vision.

If nothing else, then, film is indifferent to the hinderances of the medium, will keep on keepin’ on, and at least invokes people to work together for a common goal that isn’t political or rife with controversy; a rare feat indeed. There is so much sniping and bickering in the governing bodies of the country today, so much red tape in helping those in an emergency, so much trouble universally sympathizing with victims of a tragedy, that it’s almost refreshing, though, to see such a massive machine feed and organize and employ so many different kinds of people, garner interest in what they’re doing to the point of individuals freely giving them their hard-earned money just to be allowed to see what the collective group has created.

So it is possible, then, for large swaths of people with different ideals and motivations to sacrifice part or even all of their vision in order to collectively create something grand and beautiful and, hopefully, valuable, both financially – for the producers – and culturally – for us, the uncredited audience. This makes it all the more unfortunate that even in such a melting pot of creativity, after a time, the more basic, universal goals (in moviedom’s case, to entertain) seem to inevitably split off into a two-party caste, each of a different extreme; Republicans and Democrats, Hollywoods and Indies, God-fearers and Atheists, Plain and Star-Belly Sneetches. But we, the lovers of the Star-On machine, are as much to blame as McMonkey McBean.

Yes, that rhymed on purpose.

We so often forget the reason that we collectively attempt anything in the first place, be it creative or governmental or charitable or social, and permit our egotistical desires to trump the value of the outcome; we can’t allow the fulfillment we seek in making something beautiful or enlightening or right to overshadow the impact of the accomplishment. Our creativity is only a product of our experience with the world around us; we owe our creative desire and what we do with it to absolutely no one, but what we create is a product of our exposure to our surroundings, everyone on the planet included. The process, then, will always remain in sole possession the creator, but as for the achievement: that belongs to the world.

Create accordingly.