Creativity is usually much admired, in the same way a skill or talent is, but they are not one and the same. One can certainly employ skill and talent in creative ways, but that doesn’t put creativity in the same boat. Creativity refers to your approach and manner of thinking. Essentially, this is a mix of open-mindedness and curiosity, but as John Cleese points out, it’s also about finding time and space, and not caring about always being right.
The video above is somewhat of a revisiting of his original talk on creativity many years earlier, which can be viewed in full here.
Another valuable point of view comes from Hugh MacLeod’s How to Be Creative (PDF). MacLeod’s comments about being ‘discovered’ by publishers and distributors are especially astute.
Publishers are just middlemen. Thatʼs all. If artists could remember that more often, theyʼd save themselves a lot of aggravation.
— Hugh MacLeod
This is an important point, especially as production becomes increasingly democratised. For example, just a few years ago, even small video projects required a significant investment. Larger projects such as feature films were extremely difficult to finance, film and distribute, allowing the oligarchies in Hollywood to remain just that. Speaking to independent filmmakers, I have learnt that while some projects are successful, or at the very least finished, many never make it. Now, the gap between studio and independent success is closing thanks to digital production and projection. Digital SLR cameras, originally only capable of capturing stills, took the video world by storm when they began recording HD video, due to their compact size, range of lenses, and cinematic image. Even big budget studio films and TV shows began to incorporate them into their productions. An entire episode of House was shot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, and the subway scenes with Nina (Natalie Portman) in Black Swan were filmed on a 7D and 1D Mark IV, as their size made it easy for director of photography Matthew Libatique to shoot guerrilla on public transport.
DSLRs with video capabilities weren’t originally targeted at filmmakers. It just made commercial sense to be able to advertise your camera as being able to record video, since all recent phones and compact cameras can capture moving images reasonably well. Now, newer versions of these cameras have extended audio recording and monitoring capabilities, offer the ability to record uncompressed footage, and the recent Canon 1D C can even shoot 4K footage with a full frame sensor equivalent to 35mm film.
However, it was the creativity of filmmakers and cinematographers that truly furthered the democratisation of filmmaking, and led these companies to augment their stills cameras with more professional video features in the way that they did. Programmers began initiatives like Magic Lantern, putting companies like Canon to shame with their simple firmware additions that added invaluable features to their DSLRs for free, some features taking Canon years to implement themselves. This wasn’t just democratised film production, but democratised camera production too. Not only were these cameras being improved by the public, for free, but these initiatives sparked manufacturers to meet the demands of videographers through redesigned hardware as well. Now even lenses and focusing systems in these cameras are being designed with video in mind, on par with stills photography.
A closed-minded person, without a hint of curiosity, would carry on shooting on his ten thousand dollar camera. It took a creative approach to recognise the amazing opportunity DSLRs offered. This might seem stereotypical of the artistic or ‘creative’ type, but filmmakers aren’t creative by nature. Rather, it’s the nature of their work which forces them to find creative solutions. They must bend light to their will, move the camera in a certain way to achieve a particular effect, and adjust what is seen and what is hidden. They must record sound in a manner that minimises background noise when trying to record dialogue or spot sounds, often requiring careful repositioning of mics, or finding a way to turn off or muffle the source of the noise. The process is ultimately problem creation and problem solving, with a little bit of playing god thrown in – and at the heart of it, that’s all creativity really is.