When I experience or even hear about gestures of civility, I’m thankful. The alternative to endless vitriol offers profound potentials for invention, for growth, and even pleasure. On Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for demonstrations of people finding ways simply to treat each other well, or at least with respect.
Things are happening simultaneously, small and large all the time, for everyone. The moment you remember that simple thought is the moment you notice the details happening right in front of you, wherever you happen to be.
Story means everything, even if everything doesn’t look like a story. How we think about what we do is the essential architecture of all stories, and the onus is always on storytellers to make them sing.
Trust is not simply about hearing the truth, or counting on someone to pick you up at an appointed time. Trust is about counting on insight and integrity mixed with courage and confidence. Trust is about knowing that people have your back while remaining unafraid to tell you you’re wrong.
In the main hall the ceiling will soar above everyone, underground, with near magical light shining on opportunities and courageous perseverance and solidified resolutions of city officials, consultants by the score, and financiers. The transit station will declare the power of some, but it will profoundly serve the diverse needs of all.
None of us are born knowing all of the people who will have an influence on our lives. We accumulate those names over time, and soon thereafter they feel like they've always been a part of our experience.
It’s one thing to tolerate other people. It’s entirely another thing to listen.
First, here's a definition for those of you who don't make movies every day. A "rough cut" is essentially a rough draft. It's an assemblage of images and words and sounds to show how a scene or even an entire program fits together. By definition it's not something you'd want to show to a paying crowd; it's rough.
Recently I began to realize something about how people who make media every day regard rough cuts. It occurred to me while looking at one with a close colleague. It occurred to me and made me laugh. Then it made me curious.
To be clear, anybody in this business worth his or her salt understands that a rough cut is generally a wreck. The messy condition of the piece shouldn't be cause for concern, and yet that's where the comedy comes in. No matter how many times I'm sitting with a pro who's either watching or presenting a rough cut, the experience always comes with caveats or questions.
"Wouldn't you agree that these colors are awfully dull?"
"Try not to pay any attention to this big black space in the middle of the scene."
"Aren't we going to have music here?"
"I can't hear the narration."
"The narration is way too loud!"
"Try to ignore that the special effects aren't done yet."
The list is endless.
The funny thing is that if you do this for a living, rough cuts are a daily part of the process. We all know how they work; we shouldn't need to explain to others in the business about the stuff that's not done yet. ("IT'S A ROUGH CUT!")
So, what's the problem?
It's so obvious that it's easy to miss. The problem for creatives showing rough cuts to each other is that we care about our work. We care how we'll be perceived, and we also care about achieving the goals we set out for ourselves. Even if the value of showing an incomplete piece to trusted colleagues on the same team is to aim at a higher goal, the concerns are always the same. "What if they think this is the best I can do?"
Usually it's not. That's the whole point. But that's also why I'm very careful about with whom I share works in progress. Without substantial trust in the relationship, the merits of early internal reviews can get convoluted quickly. It's one thing to show a rough cut to a client who wants to follow the progress of a commission. Those kinds of demos usually need some explanation precisely because your client is not usually an expert in how these things go together. Those kinds of demos can also bring risks. Clients who can't overlook the polish that hasn't yet been applied can sabotage a project still in it vital stages of formation. Clients aren't versed in the nuanced rules of viewing rough cuts, and therefore, early demos of works-in-progress can not be left to chance. (If you're one of our clients wondering if you've been shown a carefully prepared demo, rest assured: YOU HAVE! We WANT you to love it!)
But among those who do this kind of thing everyday, I offer a word of advise. Relax! It's going to be okay. We're in this together, and everyone on the team knows how it works, that it's not done yet, that it's still cooking. Deadlines focus the mind, but perfection only grows bit by bit.
PS -- The new year approaches fast. Guess what? There's still time to share this blog with all of your friends before the new year begins! Don't wait to make it a resolution for 2014, 'K?
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The bread has edges, beyond which the peanut butter cannot go. But because the bread does have edges, toast made right will support peanut butter--or marmalade, or Nutella, or cream cheese--all the way out to those edges. The details matter, especially if you're preparing that toast for someone else.
What if you're making that toast for yourself? You can do it any way you like, of course. But consider the choice you have if you're making toast for yourself, all alone one morning, with nobody else around. I wonder if sometimes in the service of ourselves we think, "It's just for me. It really doesn't matter how it comes out, and it's just a piece of toast."
That's true to a degree. No one will know if you under-browned the bread or missed a corner with the raspberry jam. But standards begin with an internal adjudication, and the moment we begin equivocating about whether quality matters in private is the moment we begin eroding quality in public.
Sounds obsessive, doesn't it? Sounds a little nuts.
It doesn't have to become a boat anchor around the neck of your life. The point is that small gestures add up. In aggregate they begin to describe how we approach our days, how we think about thinking, how we regard an endeavor undertaken and a mission completed. Making toast should not become a complicated process. But next time you're about to coat a good piece of pumpernickel with butter and jam, notice the fine details around the perimeter. If it's for you, there's a moment's pleasure in knowing it's just the way you like it, however that may be. If it's for someone else, enjoy the fact that he or she will ever-so-slightly appreciate the care you took to do it right.
PS -- Yes, yes, here's where the good people of 1AU ask our dear readers to share what you've read with friends and colleagues. And here's the place where you think, "Oh, sure, one more imposition of my precious time." Well, we're asking. It's something we value above rubies, above gold: if you like an idea enough to give it a moment's thought, then consider giving it a measure of freedom. When you share an idea with another person, you release an idea to grow freely in the world.
Like what you see? Set it free.
I recently purchased a bright orange pair of low-profile athletic shoes. Yes, they're comfortable, and a little zany, but those aren't the reasons I bought them. I bought them because they remind me of the teacher I once had, a master producer of documentary film and video.
I don't like hanging onto lots of bric-a-brac. I'm not much for keepsakes and talismans. But the older I get, the more I realize how much I've structured my physical and intellectual worlds to capture echoes and shadows from my past.
This teacher of mine almost always wore kooky running shoes. I recall a particularly crazy pair of his: a split-toed set of bright yellow Nikes that I think he bought on trip to Japan. He's a little guy, not much more than five and a half feet, but rarely have I ever met someone with as much presence or passion or power. He lives in Los Angeles and travels the world making socially minded documentaries for NGOs and broadcast outlets, always supplementing his income with teaching stints to motivated students who want to learn how to tell their own stories.
As I look down at the orange New Balances on my feet today, I find myself wondering if I'm simply trying to emulate my heroes, to play dress-up. As I think about it, I'm more confident than ever about my answer. It's only by preserving the traces of those people in our lives who matter that any of us transcend our own boundaries and have the ability to reach others.
These traces come in all forms. Sometimes we adopt a matter of dress that gently reminds us of someone else. Sometimes we pick up an article of speech and integrate it into our own language without even thinking about it. The easiest examples are photographs or physical artifacts that we keep in our personal spaces. As I've been thinking about this lately, it occurs to me that this preservation of intangible connections to others is in itself a creative act. It remakes the world consciously or unconsciously, tethering us to other people who continue to reach across time and space and shape our actions. As each of us makes our own determinations about what these tethers are and how they function in our lives we remake the universe.
Primarily I spend my life with artists and other highly creative people. As the old saw goes, "artists steal". Read this aphorism as a good thing, a natural phenomena, not a crime of actual theft. For artists it's as natural as breathing to draw upon the traces of other people in service of craft; we steal from everything, especially those influences that affect us most.
But most people are not artists, per se. Creative? Sure. That's why this blog exists in the first place. My point is that a more conscious awareness of the creative influences we feel from people in our lives is one way that everyone can plug in to the power of interconnectedness.
And if you're wondering, "What does interconnectedness have to do with creativity?" it's simple: it's has everything to do with creativity. Without it, we would not remake the world with stories, paintings, music, or even clever ways to stack firewood. Without the need to preserve the traces of others and play new riffs on their old tunes, there would be no motivation to create anything new. Creativity rarely flourishes without at least a moment for it to communicate with someone else.
If you're wondering if I always wear zany sneakers, the answer is an unequivocal no. But when I bought these tangerine trainers recently, I bought them thinking of my teacher. Now on the odd day when I put them on, I think of him and find a tiny spark of shared values reinforced. On other days I think of other people, of other habits, of other values. I'm reminded that in an infinite lifetime, I'd never lose touch with any of the people who matter to me. But life is not infinite, and I must remake my own world everyday, often with the traces of those in my life who made an impression.
That's why I'm an artist.
PS — Yes, yes, it’s always the same old request here at the bottom of the blog. “Please share with your friends if you like it…yadda, yadda, yadda.” There are even the little buttons around here where you can post it to Facebook, Tweet it far and wide, distribute it all sorts of ways. But you know what? You COULD! And you know what that would do? That would make us SMILE.