All creativity begins with the moment of conception.
That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.
And so, in this blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.
Today’s clip comes from the Miles Finch scene in Elf:
Established parcels of structured curiosity. Clancy famously said that if we don’t write it down, it never happened. That mantra has governed my creative work for more than a decade. Thanks to his warning, everything I know is written down somewhere. Of course, that’s only half the work. Because if you don’t organize what you write down, it never happened either. That’s why I’m ruthless when it comes to my content management system. I treat my notes and files and ideas as a literal inventory. The lifeblood of my production facility. The chief asset of my creative factory. And as such, that inventory requires dedicated, daily management. One of the practices I’ve found to be most useful is called walking the factory floor. It’s a casual and thoughtful perusing of every idea I’ve recently accumulated. An established parcel of structured curiosity. A ritual keeps me in tune and in touch with all of the raw materials coming into my production process. Because frankly, I take so many goddamn notes on a weekly basis, there’s no way my brain could cope with that much inventory on its own. That’s why I created a system for extending the mind. A trusted process that does the heavy lifting for me. One that allows me to inspect my ideas alphabetically, chronologically and thematically. And a result, I gain an objective view of what my mind really wants to produce. Are you the foreman of your idea factory?
No tomatoes, too vulnerable. Finch has written more classic children’s book than any other author. He may be four feet tall, but in the children’s literature business, he is a monster. And so, for the right price, he’s willing facilitate a five hour brainstorming session with the editorial team to help them concept their next bestseller. The only problem is, he’s temperamental. He demands first class treatment. And when he doesn’t get it, he storms out of the meeting, telling the team to kiss his vertically challenged ass, unintentionally leaving behind his notebook of genius ideas. Bad move, angry elf. That’s your creative inventory. Your incubator of brilliant book ideas waiting to mature. And because you couldn’t manage your emotions, you made you intellectual property as vulnerable as a tomato. That can be a scary thing for a creator, not having access to your own ideas. That’s why I back up my inventory on the cloud, on my website and on an external hard drive. It’s too important. I’ve worked too hard organizing my thoughts to make them vulnerable to loss, theft, damage or mysterious disappearances. And so, this scene is a reminder to all creative professionals. Be vigilant about your intellectual property. Because when you make a living by your wits, you have to guard your mind like the asset it is. How could you turn your intellectual capital into a software program or web app?
Piracy is a gift. When someone plagiarizes us, we shouldn’t send a subpoena, we should send a fruit basket. Piracy is a compliment. It’s a reminder that what we’ve done is worth copying. And it’s validation that we’re good enough to be a target. Because nobody steals crappy art. Statistically, work that is successful will always have a higher piracy rate. Not a bad goal to shoot for. Besides, being stolen from is inevitable. Piracy is just one of the many punches you have to learn to roll with. It’s part of the job description. Hendrix even said that he’d been imitated so well that he heard people copy his mistakes. How cool is that? Green Day made music history by becoming the first band to sell blank albums. Since millions of their fans were illegally downloading their music anyway, the band released a five pack of blank compact discs with original album cover art printed on the top and sides of the box. And on the side of the case, they reminded their fans, burn responsibly. Armstrong just figured, hey, kids are going to copy, burn, download and rip our music anyway, may as well make the records look cool and make some money in the process. Years later, their band was voted as one of the top one hundred greatest bands of all time, and will soon be inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame. I’d say piracy was the best thing that ever happened to their art. Would you rather have a piracy problem or an obscurity problem?
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