The myth of effortless genius

"Artists frequently hide the steps that lead to their masterpieces. They want their work and their career to be shrouded in the mystery that it all came out at once. It’s called hiding the brushstrokes, and those who do it are doing a disservice to people who admire their work and seek to emulate them. If you don’t get to see the notes, the rewrites, and the steps, it’s easy to look at a finished product and be under the illusion that it just came pouring out of someone’s head like that. People who are young, or still struggling, can get easily discouraged, because they can’t do it like they thought it was done. An artwork is a finished product, and it should be, but I always swore to myself that I would not hide my brushstrokes." —Matthew Weiner

My friend, playwright Christopher Bryant, sent me this article from MAD MEN creator, Matthew Weiner. I'd read it before, but it was great to re-visit because it really speaks to how I feel about the process of making art, and a conversation that Chris and I had recently about exactly this. 

Fuck the myth of effortless genius.

And that's what this blog, Miles from Elsewhere, is about for me. It's about revealing my brushstrokes, or showing my working out (as Austin Kleon puts it). Because being an artist may be wonderful and at times exciting, but it is rarely easy.

By the way, Chris has a blog of beautiful, honest creative non-fiction that inspires me on a regular basis. Read it.

On writing

Screenwriting doesn’t come easily for me. I write in order to direct, but I tend to avoid the writing part for as long as I can. And the more I think about it, the more I wonder why that is.

I love story. I love talking about characters. I love talking about ideas. And, having come from a theatre background, I love words and dialogue.

I feel a much greater affinity for directing though. I think it’s the solitary nature of writing. Writing is the act of sitting down and turning off all distractions, alone with a blinking cursor and a computer keyboard. Or a pen and a notebook.

It might be different in teams. I love the idea of working in a writing partnership or team, because it brings community to what is, essentially, a lonely art.

Whereas, in many ways, directing is the opposite to writing. Both are acts of storytelling; but directing is about working with people and collaboration, finding points of commonality in a work, or even arguing over interpretation and execution – I love that too. It’s about an exchange of ideas between people and human interaction, which writing can only ever emulate.

For me, music helps with writing. As does an imminent deadline. It’s what gets my weeks and months of stewing, circling thoughts onto the page.

As it turns out, the project I’m developing as my VCA graduating film is not the film I thought I’d make this year. I’d been working a project on since October but something about it wasn’t sitting right. I realised that it would need much longer in development and far greater resources, so I’ve shelved it for the time being.

Instead, I’m working on a project idea that I’ve only been developing for the last 3.5 weeks. Sitting in Hamer Hall on 26 February listening to the wondrous vocals of Sufjan Stevens, I got to thinking about genius and gender in art, about all the gender parity conversations playing out across the film and theatre industries at the moment, and my current project was born.

It’s meant working much faster than usual, and cutting out the months of mulling I usually do before fully committing an idea to page. My process often involves finding the links between quite disparate images or themes, and in this case I’ve had far less time to do that – although I’ve realised that the spine of the work is riffing on a point of inspiration I’ve been exploring for the last year.

Having weekly screenwriting classes and fortnightly script tutes at film school has definitely helped move the project forward quickly. And so has pitching it to classmates, producers, heads of department – basically anyone who will listen. My treatment’s due to VCA in four days so the deadline is imminent. It’s a scary place to be, but also an exciting one.