Creative Collaboration & the Pandemic
To borrow from Robert Munsch, the past eighteen months has been a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year. I can say without question that this period of time has been the most bizarre, strange, mildly dystopian year of my life. So many things have happened that were so utterly inconceivable that it’s almost beyond comprehension to imagine, let alone have the events, both big and small, come into existence this past year.
Our inability, in good conscience and in deference to our fellow human beings, to engage in what we knew as normal social interactions has been, and continues to be a challenging reality for most. However, not unlike my perspective on mentoring, which isn’t a formal arrangement with someone else, rather, an orientation to being open to learning from others, to be present and aware of what is happening in the moment and taking lessons from those experiences to expand one's knowledge and understanding. The past eighteen months afford positive lessons if we choose to frame our perspectives accordingly.
Set aside the challenges, frustrations, lost opportunities, uncertainty, isolation, whatever adverse consequences the pandemic has dispensed. The pandemic has also revealed tremendous opportunities for us to take a step back from our lives and see what is truly important. To be grateful for the things we do have, and grateful for the people in our lives who undeniably add tremendous depth and color to our world. We can set aside the anxiety of a grand uncertainty most of us have never known, and take pleasure and comfort in the little things we so often failed to take notice of, and to discover contentment.
Which brings me to a realization of something that I didn’t understand until the pandemic was well and truly underway. I now know why I enjoy collaborating with others, and it could be argued that in order for that understanding to come into existence the process needed to be taken away first. One of the grand lessons in life is loss. It is unfortunate that sometimes in order to recognize the meaning of something you might have to lose it first, or at the very least come close to losing it, at minimum for a time.
I derive much enjoyment and satisfaction from working with others, creating, and collaborating on the production of moving images we call video or films, simply because others will do something in a way that often isn’t how I would do it. And that affords opportunities to learn and grow as a creator. That doesn't mean it’s wrong, it simply means the approach is different, and what I understand now, that is what makes it so interesting. And it is seeing that, which allows me to move beyond what my comfort zone may have been, to take risks because the risk is now shared and somehow less frightening.
Bringing the right people together on a project means that everyone leaves their distinct impression on it. I believe that an imperfect project that was produced in collaboration with others is far more interesting than a perfect project that was executed in isolation. It’s the imperfections that make it interesting, that make it human. By imperfections I don’t mean technical mistakes, or poor quality, I mean imperfect in the sense that the contributions of others will necessarily not be exactly how you or I might have done it, slight differences in camera movement, the speed of a focus pull, the composition of a frame.
Perhaps it’s an edit that holds a shot a few frames longer than where I might have made the edit, or even the use of a shot that you thought wasn’t very good. It’s entirely possible that someone else sees something you don’t, and brings a degree of magic to that small decision out of the thousands of small decisions, and it just works. Maybe better than you could have hoped.
It’s the makeup artist whose work is often missed, because it’s so good and so critical in the context of the character and the scene, and yet when done right you don’t notice it. This contribution is often missed because when it's not there something feels wrong and you can’t place it. Or the grip who anticipates what is needed and simply gets it done or the line producer who takes so much of the burden of logistics out of your hands and returns the freedom to focus on the multitude of other small decisions that might otherwise be missed.
It’s all the small things, the small decisions that add up to the entirety that is important, when there are many people making decisions the number of minor decisions made expand exponentially. There is something to be said about placing trust in those you collaborate with in order to realize a grander vision. I find there is room to focus on small decisions when there is trust in the team. It is serendipity, that imperfect coming together of different ideas and approaches that makes creating with others so wonderfully fulfilling.
The ability to step outside ourselves and be open to the possibility that someone’s idea or view might just enhance and elevate your work, which then becomes ‘our’ work, is what makes creating in teams so gratifying. The orientation of being open to saying, you know what, that does make it better, thank you. To me it is so much more satisfying to say, ‘we made this’ as opposed to, ‘I made this’.
So as we now approach twenty twenty-two, here’s to the hope that the barriers to deep collaboration and community evaporate, so we can all return to creating content, completely unfettered, that is ‘our work’.
A group photo of talent and crew on location of a music video shoot. Tim Morrison (Left) from Age of Days, Ryan Hollings (2nd Left) of Manda Film and Video, and Jason Smith (Right) of Sightline Studios.