Time is NOT on your side

I got a problem with Social Media. It’s designed to eat your time. This post was inspired by a  book I’ve heard about recently called Hooked: How to build habit forming products by Nir Eyaol. There’s a deeper discussion on a podcast you can find here. (45 minutes)

How is this relevant to the creative / filmmaker? A) Social media can eat up your time. Especially if you have a family and a day job, your creative time is precious. B) Social media is junk food. C) Stories and characters come from real life D) Boredom is the creative well.

Let me be clear, I don’t like social media. My ‘distractions’ of choice are podcasts, film and TV but I think these things are helpful to my craft. Facebook might be helpful for distribution, but it’s not going to help you make a dynamic body of work. So I’ll try to acknowledge the benefits… but I don’t like these products / platforms. So this is a biased discussion.

A) Time is not on your side.
If you’ve ever made a movie, written a book, painted a wall, cooked a dinner or ‘created’ anything, you are aware how unfare the ratio of ‘creation to consumption’ is. I’ve seen a birthday cake that took an hour to mix and bake, and another hour to decorate and ice be destroyed by a pack of teenagers in a matter of minutes. How long does it take to produce a few minutes of video entertainment? From concept to upload? Yeah, it can be ridiculous. So if this is what you say you want to do, why did you give more hours to retweeting and reposting than writing another draft of your script? Than cleaning up the sound in your edit? Even if you have all day, time is never on your side when it comes to being creative.

As a creative, you have to manage your diet of creation and consumption. otherwise nothing will get done with any deliberate purpose. It constantly amazes me how much more content I created after I got married than before, when I had, ‘all the time in the world.’ After i had my kid, my free time got sliced in half, because a job is required, and I actually enjoy racing dinosaurs, legos and trucks across the floor with that little guy. And that’s when I ‘found time’ to write, shoot and complete my first feature film. The truth is you can’t do it all, you have to have your priorities in place. So where does social media fit in? Televised sports? keeping up with the Kardashian-Wests? They don’t. I learned late in life that I couldn’t hang out with all my homies all the time and still pay my rent. Time management and money management are critical to success. And you can make more money, time is just gone.

B) Social media is junk food
I’ve heard about a lot of people finding stories on Social media, and my problem is, as a news junkie… I know these stories have already been reported. Social media is ‘crowd funded.’ People put stuff on social media as a sort of reporting. And because they’ve reported it, they kind of ‘own’ the story. and if they put it on Facebook, Facebook kinds of owns the story too. So you can take the story of a messy child custody case, change the names to protect the innocent… and someone can come after you for ‘stealing’ their story.’ Maybe.

It’s true good artists borrow and great artist steal. But good luck going to court and saying, “I totally thought that up on my own” when Facebook has record of your likes, plays, views and shares.

Information on social media is like junk food. It’s already been processed. It’s like eating food someone else chewed. yes, it’s a vein of tons of ideas, but they’re all used ideas. Are news papers the same? If they don’t have comments, yes. Are biographies the same? Sure, if they’re of popular people, their activities are part of the public interest. So it’s totally reasonable if you have a Steve Job’s type character in your film. But if he or she quips something you read on twitter… you better hope that person doesn’t notice when you’re trying to get people to see your movie.

Yes there’s nothing new under the sun. But are you a creator or a ‘sourcer.’

C) Stories come from life.
We’ve all been to the movies and come away having seen different actors do what we’ve seen other actors do before. The same set pieces, the same ‘Oner’ the same editing technique, explosion stock footage, magic negro, pixie dream girl, lesbian who dies horribly, plug in Hollywood cliche. With all the tutorials and cheap film making equipment, free editing software, it’s easier than ever to mechanically make a film. But there’s no promise anyone will want to see it. The secret sauce… the magic dust of it all is life and the lived experience you and your team put into your film. The more specific, the more transcendent.

The problem is, life isn’t on Social media. We all know someone who’s posted smiley fun pictures who’s life was falling apart. They haven’t changed their status, but they’re lawyerd up for the divorce, or just lost their jobs, or they’re broke and they just talked to you about how they don’t know what to do next. But they’re putting up a good front on Facebook. And those are your closest friends. Those folks who you’ve never met, who are guaranteed to like you social justice posts but live in another state or country? You don’t know what’s going on with those people. Its’ been said ad infinitum – your ‘friends’ aren’t your friends. You might get a nugget of a story off of Facebook, but it’s a desert compared to the Garden of Eden out their called real life. I’ve gotten more stories ear hustling at Starbucks for an hour than I’ve gotten on Facebook in a week. I get more characters riding public transit than I ever see on twitter. In any country.

Farmer’s markets, swap meets, grocery stores, bar’s restaurants with open seating plans… anywhere that people are, you’ll find stories. And you don’t have to read people correctly. The lady who’s trying to use social media to distract her from the fact that her date is late… might be on her lunch break in reality, but you’ve got a story there. write it down, run with it. The guy in the hipster outfit walking down the street with the woman in a power suit.. what are they doing together. Watch homeless people; they’re usually ‘invisibly’ and they live in a totally different world right next to our own.

D) Boredom is good
I became a writer in math class. I got a decent grade in the end, but that time of boredom is where i began to transform my unleashed imagination into words on the page. Here’s where I begin to sound like a crotchety old man: in the good old days, you spent time with yourself until the work got finished.

OK, in reality, there are tons of productivity apps that can help you be more efficient in your creativity. My experience is, they all have learning curves and limitations, which is not a reason to learn how to use them, but which is a lot of time spent away from being creative. You already have to learn new cameras, new recorders, new lights, and new editing software/ features. I’m sure there’s an effective line graph that shows where productivity and productivity tools work out, but we know what pencil and paper or laptop and word will get you.

But you need some time for it to ‘come to you.’ Time away from monitors, possibly involving exercise out in the world. Not thumbing, viewing, liking or selfie-ing. The benefits of exercise to a creative life are real, but not for this post. I don’t know if it’s meditation or what, but you’ve got find a way to quiet your mind and find your zones. There’s the sit down and do work zone which isn’t helped by people talking about politics, sports or who just died on Facebook, and then there’s the zone to conceive and figure things out, which isn’t helped by the pre-roll ad’s on Youtube. Sure, you can get inspired by the social soup on Instagram, but just as quickly as it comes, the next ‘gram can send you off on a tangent. I’m just speaking for myself, but the writing, the shot list, the edit, the compositing doesn’t get done if I don’t unplug and do it.

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One Response to “Time is NOT on your side”

  1. Andrew Long says:

    I have noticed a trend on social media that I haven’t decided is horrifying or hilarious: friends will complain if someone shares a story they posted without attributing it to them. But that complainer didn’t produce the content, they just hit “share” or copy and pasted a link from somewhere else. People are very concerned about getting credit for doing nothing these days. Meanwhile, if I post something about the book I wrote those same friends will “like” it but never in a million years read the book.

    Years ago people were ashamed of being a “middle man.” Now you’re perceived as foolish to be anything else.

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