Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Kick in the Head, Part Seven

This final one is a little bit different.

One day I was on and I saw a story about how Conan O'Brien's closing words on his last show had really affected a lot of people and caused them to change their lives.

“All I ask of you is one thing, and I’m asking this particularly of young people: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism - it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.” – Conan O’Brien

Everywhere I've ever worked, certain things have always been the same. Our jobs are very difficult and there are a lot of long hours. In the Feature Animation world, you can work for years on a picture and never really know if the film you're working on will get finished, be released, and if so, will ever really be any good. The story process of making a Feature is filled with experimentation, blind alleys and false starts. People in every department tend to get nervous about the amount of work ahead and they have to have a lot of faith in order to believe that the ultimate product will be worth all the long hours and effort.

It takes a lot more energy to stay positive and have faith in the process. It can be easier to give in to the temptation to become bitter and cynical. Working long hours and seeing screenings of the movie that don't quite work can easily lead to complaining behind closed doors and becoming cynical about the whole thing.

Some people fall into this type of attitude because their personality is disposed to be that way. And some people are easily influenced by their co-workers and they end up becoming negative because that's all they hear from their office mates. And some people just don't want to sound like a simpleton, and they know they'll be ostracized by their friends if they try to stay positive, so they just give in.

Certainly there's never any shortage of people on the internet willing to be negative about our films before they're even completed and that can have a devastating effect on the morale of our crews as well.

As with any kind of faith, there's always way more reasons to give up and be cynical than to stay positive and believe that things will turn out for the best and that all the hard work will be worth it (I'm not a religious man, by the way, but I do have a lot of faith in the story process).

So the only argument I can offer is to ask you what kind of people you, personally, would rather be around. What type of people do you like to work with? Spend time with? Date? Marry? What kind of attitude would you like your kids to have?

If you became a supervisor, or director, or the head of a studio, what type of people would you want working on your crew? What would you want them to be saying about you and your movie when you're not around?

Cynicism and bitterness are very unpleasant and unattractive qualities. Everyone gets discouraged and frustrated and needs to express that sometimes. There's nothing wrong with that....otherwise we wouldn't be human. Relentless optimism in the face of all evidence to the contrary can be just as unattractive (and scary) as the other side of the coin. But once people become permanently embittered and react to everything with cynicism it becomes impossible for them to do great work. To do great work you need to be inspired at least a little bit and embittered people are incapable of any amount of inspiration. Once you become cynical it's very difficult to keep developing as an artist. We need fresh eyes and hope to keep seeing the world anew and learning and growing artistically.

So stay as positive as you can and always try to see the situation from the other side. If you were directing the project you're working on, would you look forward to meetings with you? Or would you dread them because your negative attitude is discouraging?

It's easy to fall into being cynical but it's also a very quick way to turn a job that can be uplifting and amazing into a living misery and your own personal Hell. If you bother to read this blog I know you're interested in doing great work and staying inspired at any cost. I know how hard that can be. Believe me, I do. But to do great work and create something of value it's one of the prices we have to pay.


Andy J. Latham said...

Fantastic words on a subject that has been at the forefront of my mind for many months now. Thanks for giving your point of view on it :)

Jim Turner said...

Well Said!

Peter Bangs said...

Couldn't agree more with all you said. You did miss one thing though. The strange belief that only from misery can creativity grow. I think cynicism and misery are often the source for peoples first burst of creativity, My first real bout of storytelling creativity came out of a series of break ups of very bad relationships. You then get trapped into thinking that's the way it's got to be. It took me years to create something out of any positive emotions although now I have I'm doing more than ever.

Keep up the excellent posts.

Daniel Caylor said...

Great words to bookmark and keep yourself in check. There's a lot to get discouraged about out there. Fortunately, I still get inspired all the time, so maybe I'm not as cynical as I think I am.

Sarah said...

How true. Reminds me of what Don Bluth said in an interview:

"People must sit in the dark for an hour and a half, two hours, and see something of value that will entertain them but at the same time, perhaps, enlighten them. It may give them a feeling that they are important, that the world is an important place and that it's a great place to live in and a great time to live. Now a director, to do that, has to actually feel that. You have to get that from somewhere in yourself."

Phil Willis said...

Absolutely spot on!

It takes no creativity to be negative or cynical.

And it's not like you have to walk around with a Pollyanna attitude on not believe things could be better than they are.

But it is your job to come up with creative solutions and move your project forward.

Great post.

Drew Petursson: said...

Thank you.

Harmony said...

thank you so much for this post! i really think this is the most important outlook to have on truly makes everything better. i really thought it was good to hear it from an artistic perspective. i think i needed to hear it today :)

Jeff Overturf said...

Inspiration for all of us.

Michael DeBrosse said...

Thank you so much for posting your thoughts on this. As a graduate just out of school its so hard to continue if things didn't work out. Working on a short film can sometimes be a monumental task especially if your not in school anymore but when i read posts like yours it encourages me to continue and keep being inspired knowing there are people in the same boat out there just like me.

Cassidy Curtis said...

Mehhh, you're just saying all this because "the man" paid you to say it.

(Kidding. Kidding!!!)

Seriously, great post. This is crucial stuff, especially for anyone who's young and impressionable and wants to have a long and healthy career. In any creative collaboration there must always be room for constructive critique--but cynicism is poisonous, and it's kind of the opposite of critique. An honest critique sends a positive message: "I believe in you, and I'm telling you about this problem, because I think you will try, and maybe even succeed, at fixing it." That takes some courage. I think cynicism is a form of cowardice, because it stems from a fear of direct confrontation. It's much easier to complain behind someone's back, which is a guaranteed way to produce no useful results.

Paul said...

Good stuff, Mark. I've stopped reading certain websites and left jobs because the level of cynicism was too high. It's just not a productive attitude.

Quentin Lebegue said...

Really inspiring post, thank you so much. As I am in my early twenties, it surely will be something to keep in mind.

william wray said...

I'm a deep cynic, but somehow have always had that spark of picking myself up one more time to follow the creative muse. I do like the positive attitude thing and go in with one in every job I take.
I like TV as there is less time to second guess and tone down.
I think that core need of self-expression just burns deeper in some than others. When it burns to brightly-- When you can't listen, never compromise, and passively avoid true collaboration, is when you will ultimately fail, unless you run the studio. ;-)

Joe Bluhm said...

Thanks. This is so true. :)