Artists: Do Not Fear Your Old Work

Most people shy away from, try to forget, or openly reject their old projects. They have “learned so much since then” and are outwardly disgusted with the thought of revisiting outdated work again. If you feel ashamed by the portfolio of your past, don’t be. It’s natural to laugh at the work you did, the person you used to be (pubescent years, anyone?). But do not fear it. Do not avoid it altogether.

As an artist, it’s important to understand who you are and where you came from. You must iterate from old pieces – learn from what worked and discard what didn’t. Develop a genuine voice over time, understand the reception of your craft, and grow. Revisiting past projects helps you appreciate the trajectory of your skills and values. It helps you remember who you were and stay true to yourself. It helps you improve and move on.

Do not ignore your past. It is the key to mastering your craft. It is the compass for your future.

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Iterate Your Voice

The most successful comedians usually come from stand-up. On small stages in trashy dive bars, aspiring entertainers have a relatively consequence-free opportunity to put their act and endurance to the test. With enough 5-minute open mic opportunities, the smartest performers learn what works and what does not. Over time and through plenty of failure, artists refine an authentic routine and stand out against the noise. They find their voice. When it comes to successful entertainment, original voice is everything.

If you dream of entertaining, embrace the small venue. Find a small stage through which you can practice and refine your voice. The Internet counts.

Create Daily

I can think of nothing decidedly more human than creativity. The human value of creativity stems from our primordial experiences as a species when we discovered how to wield tools. Inventing and creating are spiritual endeavours. Like cleansing yourself of toxins, genuine creative output clears the heart and mind. The more often you create, the healthier and richer your humanity becomes. I blog daily and get a kick out of it. What can you do everyday to keep the juices flowing?

Sincere Creation

What’s the motivation behind your project? Capital gain? Attention? A greater noble effort? What do you have to prove? And to whom?

I know from my experiences in Hollywood that projects produced through a climate of unrestrained and unadulterated love for the material have a far better chance at sweeping audiences. With pure and simple love of filmmaking at the helm, a movie’s voice can be authentic, formalistic craft more cohesive, and overall execution more successful than, say, a franchise picture riddled by ambitions for ancillary market spin-offs and merchandising. Too many cooks in the kitchen, too many goals, and too many interests can shred a project into a million pieces.

How do you create great products? Simple. Make things because you love making things, not because you love the idea of making things.

Most people hear an idea and let their minds run wild. Before long, the fantasy overshadows the outstanding work that needs to be done. If you are busy thinking about the idea, rather than feeling or experiencing the idea, you’re on the wrong track.

Success will come when affection for your project is sincere.

Do not love your work. Love doing your work.

The Collaboration Engine

Very few people can get anything done alone. Do not think for a second that you can get away with sitting in a room by yourself all day and end up building an empire. The odds are not great because you will lose inspiration and steam. It has nothing to do with what you are capable of. It has everything to do with keeping your dream fresh. If your dream sits inside of you and never escapes, it will get stale and die.

How do you keep your dream alive? Share and build it with others. Other people can act as bouncing boards. You send an idea out into the world, and it comes back to you in a different form. As an artist, it’s exciting because you can better-understand how others will react to your vision. As a businessman, it’s imperative to get outside feedback. More often than not, you are too close to your dream to see the flaws or incongruities. Find a friend and get outside of your head.

But getting feedback on your dream is not enough. You need to keep pumping the piston by passing the idea back and forth. Strong bouncing boards will shape your idea and make it stronger. Find a collaborator with whom you can pass ideas back and forth consistently. Find a collaborator who is accessible, trustworthy, and near the same wavelength. Try to avoid skipping a beat. Don’t drop the ball, or the idea may shatter.

Keep collaboration alive. It may very well be the key to achieving your dream.

The Difference Between Evolutionary and Revolutionary

There is a general cynicism lately about human progress in the cultural, commercial, physical, and spiritual realm. This week’s South Park had a brilliant (albeit gruesome and disgusting) commentary on contracting the disease, “cynicism,” where everything starts looking and sounding like “shit.” Many individuals (not just me) watch in angst as large companies roll out recycled shlock and menial improvements. A lot of the criticism directed at all companies showcasing video games at the E3 gaming conference this week sang to the beat of “It seemed more like a catch-up game than something completely different.” Nintendo and Playstation announced entirely new gaming consoles, and yet they came off as incremental and uninspired updates in struggle to catch up to the aggressively expanding mobile games market. Only sequels gained traction at the conference, no original game-changing titles. I hold the same criticism of Apple’s latest products: iPad 2, iCloud, OS X Lion, and iOS 5 boast only minor improvements to the user experience that update on and catch up to some superior features of competitors in the computing space. We live in a world farming updates, too distracted by the noise around us to make meaningful, poignant change.

Our world is evolving quickly, but do not mistake evolution for revolution. Evolution is a slow, gradual, step-by-step process that takes time and energy. Revolution is a leap, a blindside, a change that catches us all by surprise. Evolution is differentiation. Revolution is different. Evolution is a hybrid transition between new and old. Revolution does not look back. Evolution is missing the letter ‘R’ at the front, and that letter ‘R’ means business. I have not seen a revolution in the cultural, commercial, physical, and spiritual realm for some time.

Revolution is a modern virtue. How can you build something revolutionary? Use the Reference Test: can you or anyone else compare your creation directly to another creation already existing?

Hollywood pitch culture is a perfect example. Somewhere in the early nineties, producers made the habit of pitching movies as “this” meets “that.” “Terminator” meets “Home Alone.” “Cool Runnings” meets “Blade Runner.” “Veggie Tales” meets “Godzilla.” The problem? Mixing old shit together does not make it new. It simply makes it old shit mixed together. Can anyone compare your movie idea directly to other films already in existence?

If your work comes off as a hybrid between this and that, or an update to something already in existence, then you have not pushed the button hard enough. Push harder. Twist your perspective. See the light. Open your mind. Forget the world around you. Look deep inside. Be true to yourself. Be human. Be real. You are capable of inventing something the world has never seen.

Stop at nothing to change the world. Start a revolution.

Want Your Art to Be Timeless?

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in a romant...

Then avoid referencing contemporary pop culture in your work. Lady Gaga. Transformers. Charlie Sheen. Rickrolling. Twilight. Chewbacca. Bieber. Game of Thrones. Clay Aiken. Metal Gear Solid. Parachute Pants. Stop! Just don’t. I’m sorry, did I distract you from my post?

If possible, avoid referentiality altogether. References divert audience attention away from you and toward the things you reference. Heaven forbid the viewer is not familiar with your reference, or he or she will be alienated further. Drawing attention to anything outside your movie, book, painting, game, etc. does little (or absolutely nothing) to help you connect with audiences and tell your own story.

Want to be timeless? Stay within the world of your story. Do not risk incorporating or drawing attention to a pop culture trend that may fade tomorrow. The teenies of today do not remember musical group Hanson – and that was hardly a decade ago. Do you? If you need to draw attention to something beyond the immediate world of your story, then mention something that has matured and continues to survive public memory. Timepieces like war films are at an advantage in that they can reference authentic trends that continue to stand the public awareness test of time. Steven Spielberg can get away with a James Bond reference in Catch Me If You Can through a scene set in 1963 because three generations now have connected with the character and the 007 phenomenon exists in the world of the character’s story. No inside jokes, just straight history.

Do not let your jokes, characters, or narrative depend on other works that future generations may not understand.