September 11, 2023

Redundant, irrelevant, unnecessary and ridiculous

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When in doubt, add more constraints.

Reduce the number of variables you have to work with. Identify all of your limitations, decide how to exploit them, and then restructure everything in the system around it.

This will prevent over thinking, remove decision fatigue, make problem solving easier, streamline your workflow, and free up your mind to focus on solid execution.

How soothing does that sound?

When I first decided to make a silent western film, I knew it would be a daunting task. Because unlike my previous film projects, this movie, I planned to shoot, direct and edit myself.

Now, that’s a heavy lift from a technical standpoint.

Because what the do I know about shooting in the desert? How do I decide what to point the camera at? And what would I do with the footage once it’s done?

The short answer to all of these questions was, by process of elimination. Add enough constraints, and the solution will present itself. Like a bubble rising to the surface of a lake.

Let me share my list. 

First, my movie was going to have no script, no actors, no plot, no crew, no budget and no props. I had two cameras, and only two weeks to shoot the entire project. Everything was filmed in black and white. Using only daytime shots, no humans, only landscapes and manmade features, and one location.

Whatever footage I get, that’s the footage I use. No coming back for pickups.

These constraints gave me solid boundaries to lean against. They freed me from the burden of doubts and anxieties that otherwise would have plagued my mind. These limits also quieted the critical voices telling me that I looked foolish, and that this was a pretentious vanity project.

Which enabled me go to the edge and focus on the real work, which was searching for beautiful and interesting moments to capture.

It was such a uniquely gratifying experience. Figuring out how to hack my creative routine within the constraints of the situation, that turned out to be as fulfilling as the shooting itself. And that was only during the production phase.

Once principal photography was done, next I introduced even more constraints.

While compiling and editing the footage, there would be no digital effects and no convoluted transitions. Absolutely no stock footage. The only audio track would be my own original compositions. I wrote thirteen songs, all in minor keys. Recorded starkly with nothing but vocals, acoustic guitar, tambourine and trumpet.

Lyrics appearing on screen would be rendered in all caps and blood red. I would edit one chapter a week until it was done. And then share it with the world. Done. (Here’s the final film!)

Isn’t process of elimination magical?

In a world where we have more and more choices by the day, we owe it to our minds to reduce the number of variables we have to work with.

To quote one of my favorite indie filmmakers, the beauty of low budget movies is, they put a wall in front of you, and only creativity will allow you to figure out how to get around it. The less resources you have, the more you are forced to be creative.

What are your constraints? What limits could you exploit in the service of your projects?

It’s funny, because so many people get trapped in this identity narrative about what they’re not. They say things like:

Well, I don’t really think of myself as a writer. I’m not a real filmmaker. I wouldn’t call myself a real actor, it’s just something I do for un.

But none of those stories are relevant. Labels are fables. Hell, there are plenty of people who fancy themselves as writers, but they haven’t put a single word on paper in years. Meanwhile, there are people who would never consider themselves to be artists, and yet they spend a good chunk of their time making beautiful things for others. Clearly, labels aren’t what motivate action. Constraints are.

If you’re struggling to build momentum and tackle your next creative project, career transition, or recreational activity, use your limitations as a starting point. Restructure everything in the system around constraints.

If you want to raise the level of happiness you experience, start by reducing the number of variables you have to work with.

More constraints equals more fulfillment available.

What limits could you exploit in the service of your projects?

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