He Just Wanted Good Stuff
A fun part of college (and by “fun” I mean “not fun”) is dealing with people who have yet to learn painful-but-important lessons you’ve already tackled. In my case, a big part of learning to be an artist was realizing that being an artist isn’t nearly as cool as I thought. Very little of the art that we like is the result of one genius’ singular vision. Artists don’t just sit around waiting for inspiration to strike them, then effortlessly spit out fully-formed brilliant work. Okay, Bob Dylan did that in 1966. But that’s one out of the 100 billion humans who have lived, so not exactly great odds for me.
Every film student starts college wanting to be a writer-director-producer-editor-etc. Basically as many hyphens as you can possibly cram into a job title. Because the idea of complete control is incredibly alluring. Not because you’re passionate about those jobs, but because you see a great film and wish that it came out of your mind. You want to make something incredible, and say “that’s my movie.” But it’s a fallacy, because those movies were the result of dozens of creative people working together.
I think a lot about Jim Henson directing The Dark Crystal. After spending years building up the Hollywood clout to make his bizarre fantasy passion project, he asked his puppeteer Frank Oz to be his co-director. Oz had never directed a movie at that point, and he wasn’t sure why his friend wanted to share the job with him. Henson’s answer: “I think the movie will be better.” When I read Brian Jay Jones’ biography of Jim Henson, I loved Frank Oz’s recollection of the conversation. It blew him away that Jim Henson “just wanted good stuff,” and cared more about the quality of his work than he did about taking all the credit.
It’s taken a while, but I’ve come around to the Jim Henson approach to filmmaking (now all I need is his talent). You spend just as much time on a bad film as you do on a good one, so I want to get as many great people working on my stuff as possible. The idea that I have a perfect vision that somebody else is going to dilute is asinine. So it’s been frustrating to work on my latest webseries with someone who has never made their own film before. My new partner is mad at me for wanting to hire a director because he doesn’t want anybody to “touch his acting.” He’s my age, but the whole thing reeks of art school freshman. We all start out thinking that our ideas are perfect, and nobody else should touch them. But I’ve learned the hard way that that’s not true.
Moments like these are when you realize why “I can’t talk to you without talking to me” is such a great song lyric (RIP Robert Hunter). We’re all born with the same flaws, and it’s hard to get mad at someone for something you’ve committed countless times. Well, it’s actually quite easy to get mad at them, but you know you shouldn’t.
Without stories of strained creative collaborations, this blog would be nothing but a bi-weekly Bob Dylan appreciation thread. I’ve been in this situation a few times before, and it’s certainly a solvable problem. I’m just hoping I can teach my friends what Jim Henson knew: that opening your world to outside collaborators gives you a better chance of making good stuff.
Student, Writer, Wanter of Good Stuff