We all want to be creative.
We all want our work to be different, to get noticed, and to be appreciated. We want people to look at something we’ve done and genuinely tell us that they love it.
Above all else — we want it to be ours.
In the beginning we’ll imitate others — for a filmmaker that would mean drawing inspiration from someone we admire or even just a random video we saw and liked. For a musician, it’s learning how to play the all-to-familiar opening riff of Nirvana’s “Come As You Are”…
But once an artist begins to improve and find a niche, it’s time to take ownership and make original work. Originality is obviously great, but as a filmmaker (and often a musician) you’d be a fool to think you’re better off on your own than in a collaborative environment.
So what happens when we let go of that sense of ownership? When we step into a new space with other opinions and ideas, ones that challenge our own or add a new layer that we never knew existed?…
Well, a lot of things can happen. It can be awkward, it can be fun, it can be a terrible idea altogether…
…or it can be really special.
This is why we made a film for Side By Side, which just premiered yesterday via nofilmschool. The special, one-of-a-kind, crazy good work that comes from creative collaboration is something we’re really familiar with, and when all these great musicians went into one studio to create a record… we knew we had to be there.
They took a risk…
Our friends over at Marmoset recently performed a little experiment: lock 12 local bands up in a studio for four days, giving each band four hours to cover the song of another. They’d put the collection into a unique, shimmering purple record and release just a limited amount. Of course, we had to film the whole thing.
The fabled music licensing agency blew the conch of good times and gathered a ton of great Northwest bands — to name a few: Dolorean, Radiation City, The Parson Redheads, Kye Kye, Purse Candy… the list goes on.
The whole process could have gone one of several ways. Somebody might butcher what was once a beautiful song, or maybe they’d all have an awkward time and produce something that was just alright, and everyone’s time and money would be wasted.
In other words: collaboration is a risk. Making anything creative is a risk, but when you’ve got an accomplice (or accomplices) the intensity is turned up and the consequences are greater. It’s not just your time anymore, it’s everyone’s time.
So how’d the album turn out?
The added intensity behind the project made for a record that feels like nothing else — because it is like nothing else. When have you ever heard of this many bands getting together for one album and creating something completely new?
As you listen to Side By Side you can feel the connection that each song has to the next — they were all there for the same purpose, but that purpose was for each of them to make something completely different.
The freedom of working with someone else’s song allowed these artists to get crazy without the pressure of creating something new and original. They all just relaxed and had fun. As a result, saxophones pop up randomly, tempos are slowed while melodies remain strong, and new voices honor the lyrics that were already great to begin with.
Whether you’ve heard the original versions of these tracks or not, when you listen to the album you can really hear how much love and thought went into the recording process. It’s complex, it’s diverse, it’s all over the place and yet it feels like one very complete piece.
In the filmmaking world, much like the music world, we find that this is essential to creating unique, powerful work.
Why is collaboration so important for filmmakers?…
It’s important every step of the way — and it comes in many shapes and sizes.
Idea Generating: From the early beginnings of an idea all the way to an end, you need people there to work through an idea with you. Someone to give a different perspective, play devil’s advocate, and say…”you know what, I think this would be 10 times better if…”
Problem Solving: Time and time again you’ve heard us say that filmmaking is all about problem solving. In order do that well, you’ve got to be able to divide and conquer… and this means not only finding the answer to your problem but delegating people to carry out those answers. This is going to happen in the pre-production phase, it’s going to happen while you’re on the shoot (constantly), and in post. So yeah… pretty much all the time!
Resources: Other people may easily have connections, equipment, and experience that you do not have. By putting yourself out there to work with someone else, you’re potentially opening yourself up to a world of things you didn’t have going into a project before.
Feedback: Recently we held a 25-person focus group for a rough edit of #standwithme, our current feature length project. They were constructive, but they were definitely brutal at times. We’ve put so much into this documentary in the last 5 months… so hearing people point out everything that is wrong with it was not really fun for us. This is so essential to improving your skills — if you’re not currently presenting your work to a friend or colleague for constructive criticism, start right away! Whether you like it or not, you’re lost in the world of your project. The hard part about reaching out for feedback is the threat of that feedback being negative. But if you’re serious about improving, you must prepare to take those blows to your ego, and learn from them.
Leaning: Last but not least, it’s important to have people there to support you emotionally, physically, and mentally throughout the filmmaking process. It’s a huge undertaking, and there are many bumps in the road. Bring your friends with you.
… These are just a few of the major reasons why collaboration is essentially to growing as a filmmaker. Art can be kind of lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. People want to help, it’s exciting and it presents new opportunities for them as well. Sure, the outcome won’t always be great… and that’s when you decide if you want to work with those people again or put yourself back out there and find some new friends.
How do I put myself out there?…
Ok, this is the fun part. While “networking” is not everyone’s favorite activity, believe it or not there are ways of doing it that don’t involve walking around a party asking people what they “do.”
These are a few ways to get started…
1. Offer your time.
Give someone feedback if they ask for it — or even if they don’t ask, offer some! Helping out a fellow filmmaker is not only going to help them out and establish some trust between the two of you, you’ll be embracing the magical filmmaking karma of doing free work. We’ve had a lot of good things come our way as a direct result of working for free — read our post on doing free work for the juicy details.
2. Take risks.
Try something new! Shoot something you’ve never shot before. Talk to a stranger. Stay up all night working on something. Download the work of someone you admire and try editing it yourself in Premiere (ok, this is actually weird but Grant did do that with our stuff… check out the post on his hustle).
3. Check your ego.
We can still remember the first time we hired a gaffer from outside of our team for a shoot. As the day went on we realized that he’d been in the industry a long time, and we had things to learn from him. It’s important to recognize when you’re in the presence of someone who is more experienced than you in some way, because you can get a lot out of just spending an afternoon with someone. Having an ego is going to hurt your efforts to collaborate through many steps of the process, so it’s a good idea to start letting go now!
4. Find out what’s happening locally.
What’s the local film organization in your community? What are the studios in your area? Get on the good old Internet and find something happening in your city, get up and go to it!
5. Get on social media.
This one seems obvious, but it can be hard to embrace social media to the fullest. Twitter is so great for filmmakers — you can connect with local filmmakers, get updates from the experts, find PA work that studios like us tweet out, or even just ask questions to your followers about filmmaking. It’s a useful tool for any filmmaker — we’ve gone so far as to put a hashtag right in the name of our film!
6. DO things.
Go to workshops, attend seminars and conferences… and make it count when you’re there. These are great opportunities to listen to the experts, but it’s also a great time to meet people and have discussions. Introduce yourself, and practice your 30-second pitch about who you are and what you do.
7. Have fun.
Above all else, let yourself have fun while you’re working. Through all the giggles, inappropriate jokes, and goofing around it’s so much easier for everyone to relax, and breaking down any walls of discomfort are essential to getting creative.
And then there’s the magic…
It’s really difficult to put into words the magic that comes from collaboration. That’s what we tried to capture in this short film on the process of making Side By Side. When you get into a flow with someone else or a group of people, chunks of time pass without you realizing it, you forget to eat, and there’s just an energy in the room that can only come from a unique collection of minds working toward the same creative goal.
We know it’s not the easiest thing in the world to put yourself out there — it can be really intimidating and the fear of rejection or awkward scenarios looms overhead. But collaboration is what can take an idea from good to great in just one conversation.
Not only does it get the creative juices flowing, it often makes the juice taste much sweeter — so we can’t stress the importance of this enough.
We feel particularly connected to Marmoset‘s Side By Side project because we recently made a big collaboration of our own: we merged our company With Etiquette with Marmoset for the ultimate collaboration in music licensing. We loved working with them so much, it just made sense to officially marry the two companies — and now Marmoset’s doing better than ever with a spiffy new website.
So what are you waiting for? Call up someone (who isn’t your mom) and ask them to take a look at your work!
Oh yeah… and get the record!
What did you think of Side By Side?
What are some strategies you implement for creating a more collaborative environment?