Late one night, a 12 year old me who should have been sleeping, turned on the television and sat for two hours, eyes glued to the screen. I was mesmerized by the vibrant and captivating world that was painted for me by Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now.
After that late-night viewing it was seared into my 12-year-old brain and for days and weeks after I couldn't shake the feeling it left within me. How was it possible to write, film, act, and create such a masterpiece? I ached to know how such a thing could be made.
A year or so later the internet finally arrived in my home and I had the opportunity to start investigating the making of my beloved Apocalypse Now. I discovered a story that was as fantastical as the movie itself:
"There were too many of us, we had access to too much equipment, too much money, and little by little we went insane." - Francis Ford Coppola.
It was an incredible world of telling stories on celluloid and I wanted in.
I kept watching films, devouring everything produced in the ‘60s and ‘70s by Coppola and Martin Scorsese. I couldn't get enough, not only of the film’s stories themselves, but of learning about the stories behind the stories.
Inspired, I decided to make a film, ready to turn my dreams into reality. With a cheap camcorder and a few friends, and no idea what the plan was, we filmed our classmate Kevin doing karate kicks in a park.
No plot, no narrative, no dialogue. No idea.
The editing was messy to say the least. This was in the mid-1990s, it wasn’t easy to edit video. We used the school’s editing deck, which was in essence a dial which could slowly wind VHS tape back and forth to help you record from one tape to another. If you made a mistake you simply had to start over. It was painful.
And the result? Probably not ready for the big screen, or any small screen for that matter. And that was ok. I was learning, and that very amateur first attempt connected me a little more to the majestic Apocalypse Now.
Practicing without knowing
We jump ahead 13 years to 2009: I'm sitting in the video editing room at Greenpeace International, after hours. I had waited for the office to empty of my colleagues so I could play around in the editing suite. Again: no plan, no idea.
I sat there and began mixing Greenpeace’s footage with YouTube clips I had downloaded, crudely splicing footage of deforestation with Dorito adverts, creating an abstract montage in an attempt to create some meaningful and jarring effect.
I felt like I was on to something, but didn't take it much further. That evening a senior video producer came into the room and asked what I was working on. His condescending, albeit well-meaning, pat on my back after viewing it was enough to kill my confidence.
Today, video production has evolved into a different beast, and what I was creating in that late night editing room in 2009 would be less strange in 2020. From Aljazeera’s AJ+ news updates, to 13-year-old TikTokers, professional-grade video editing is now accessible to almost anyone with an internet connection, pushing creative imagination, conventions, and boundaries to new heights.
Honing your craft
Looking back, I can see my fascination was with the craft of video production. From my movie-watching to reading behind-the-scenes stories about the process of making them, to trying to produce and edit my own short films, I was on a path of learning without feeling like I was learning. The ideal school.
This is what craft is: the process of creating the building blocks of any skill. The best way to start building (to learn) is by deconstructing how something works.
The skill can be anything, from writing to cooking, filmmaking or running. It could even be more than one thing. Honing your craft is adding new blocks to expand your knowledge, skills, confidence and, ultimately, your creativity.
The process of honing your craft takes time and can’t be rushed. It’s iterating, exploring and testing ideas over and over. It’s uncovering principles, it’s getting your hands dirty, and it’s making mistakes.
When I was editing in that room, I lost my confidence to explore. But I see now that had I pushed on, there’s a chance I may have created something original, and I’d have learned and developed by testing it out.
Whether it would go on to be a success or not doesn’t really matter - it’s the process of honing your craft that matters. The people who built things I admire likely built a lot of terrible things first - their own karate kicking in the park videos.
The difference is the masters push on, undeterred. And when that happens, slowly the building blocks stack up, one by one, giving them an unbreakable foundation to start creating content that moves people. The sense of self and the creative voice entwine to create something that feels true.
“Often the difference between a successful person and a failure is not that one has better abilities or ideas, but the courage that one has to bet on one’s ideas, to take a calculated risk – and to act.” - Andrea Malraux
This is a very all a very long winded way to explain what my idea is here. As a communications professional I want to take a step back from the day-to-day and take some time to dive down into the timeless lessons of what makes communications content work.
Thank you for visiting.