• Adam Johnson

What I Learned from the Craft in 2018 | Weekly 7

As REGARDING 2018 inches toward a close, I want to break down 7 things I learned from and about the craft of filmmaking during 2018.

1. Find a community that inspires your creativity.

One of the great blessings of 2018 was launching a group called 31Create, which is comprised of college Christians with a creative call and drive. Together we discuss our creative philosophies, analyze how we should create as Christians, and share new projects and goals. The first semester was so energizing, our theme this semester is Momentum, and each one of us has already started pursuing new creative ventures. Community is key for living, but for creativity and for filmmaking, it's a necessity.

2. Find collaborators.

The Florida Project co-writer Chris Bergoch visited my university's film program to talk about his collaboration with director Sean Baker and his individual journey as a screenwriter. One thing that's stuck out to me is his commission to us to find creative collaborators. In his case, it was working with the transgender stars to realistically portray a story inspired by them in Tangerine, and various subject matter experts they met during the development of The Florida Project and more. This idea manifested itself in the television pilot I co-wrote with three others, and how our knowledges and experiences transferred to our characters.

3. Take inspiration from your dreams.

One of my courses, ironically called International Cinema (taught by THE Ula Stoeckl), focused on David Lynch this semester. Semantics aside, I loved this course and the professor and how she sought to get us to see ourselves as artists, singular auteurs like Lynch. One (of many) things that interested me about the filmmaker is that all of his stories have origins in his dreams and meditations. Since learning this partial method, I've gone to the dream well more than once for an idea or two, especially with my short-form social horror script.

4. Making films is an epic.

When I saw Mission: Impossible - Fallout, I appreciated the action and thought it was a good film, but I wasn't blown away (perhaps because I raised the bar to an impossible standard). Nevertheless, I've probably consumed over 5 hours of interviews with writer-director Christopher McQuarrie and behind-the-scenes material about the movie since that's significantly elevated my appreciation for the film. Listening to McQuarrie's stories makes Fallout seem like a herculean task that at times got by virtually with luck, but also a labor of love for a faithful audience and creatives ready to push the horizons of the possible (to borrow a phrase).

5. Exploring questions that matter to you make interesting art.

As I'll talk about in Movie Deep Dive, First Reformed, starring Ethan Hawke and directed by Paul Schrader, asks significant spiritual questions that it wrestles with throughout the runtime. Silence, directed by Schrader's frequent collaborator Martin Scorsese, did the same. In my second pilot, I used spiritual questions and portentous hypothetical scenarios to craft a story that I want to see, that drags its characters to their worst moments, in life-or-death situations. For my process, exploring questions before answering themes is the most interesting way of creating art.

6. Breaking limits makes progress.

I was absolutely inspired by the avant-gardists this fall. For the most part, they break conventions and rules in order to push film past its limits, especially on a technical level. It can also create stunning images and moments commercial cinema rarely embraces. Some are deep with meaning and others are strictly formal; some are good and others are problematic; but the freedom of the avant-gardists and their willingness to fail--to ignore fear--reinvigorated me.

7. Just do something.

This should be the mantra of every creative. Pastor Erwin McManus had a whole sermon on it and wrote the book. A pastor friend of mine passed it on to me and energized me. It's the idea behind 31Create's theme of Momentum! All the people we see who are recognized did something. All the people that mean something to us did something. We won't get anywhere standing still. For me, in a college environment, this is the time for experimentation (within moral boundaries, of course)! I won't learn, and we won't learn, unless we do something, something at all!

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