What motivated you to make a documentary on creativity?
Well, it’s like I say in the movie: I made a documentary asking the question how can an artist grow creatively, because I want to know! It’s an extension of many conversations over many coffees I’ve had with artist-friends and mentors. We’d get together in a café and talk about life and art and philosophy, why things happen the way they do, why people are the way they are, and, of course, how we could achieve our dreams!
It’s greatly inspired by Louis Malle’s work, especially Place de la République and God’s Country, and also Jon Fauer’s Cinematographer Style.
To be honest, doing something educational like this also comes from a growing dissatisfaction I’ve had for many years about society. We as Americans have so much potential to be the kind of people and to be the kind of country our Founders had in mind, conceptually speaking. But in my opinion there is so much holding us back, so much mediocrity and superficial sensationalism. Our national priorities seem backwards to me. We mock what is sweet and genuine and celebrate that which is cynical and crass.
We’re filling up on junk food. I wanted to produce something intellectually healthy.
The movie’s tagline is “An Artist’s Journey”. Can you tell us a little more about the journey you were on?
I really just wanted to participate in a high-minded discussion about ideas; ideas that help us grow and develop in ways that uplift us all. It sounds lofty, I know, and I don’t mean it to sound so pretentious. But I really think there are a lot of people out there looking for answers to the kind of questions we explore in Old School New School. And this movie, by the way, offers no answers. But what we do is contribute to an audience’s inner dialogue and maybe even confirm things most of us have already discovered or considered. Old School New School gets people thinking deeply and, hopefully, if the person applies this dialogue to their own personal journey, they will lead themselves to their own answers.
One book I read religiously is Philosophies of Art & Beauty. This book collects the great thinkers answering the question: What is art? And of course there are many answers, but one that resonates with me is that art is truth. The journey I’m on in the movie is a journey in search of truth, in a sense. I’m going out in search of an answer to the question: How can someone be the most creative he can be? How do I tap into my full creative power? So I go on a quest in search of Masters to help answer the question.
It’s educational, but it’s not academic. It is an education in a part of life I think is essential. Don’t you want to grow? Don’t you want to advance? I’m not talking about advancing in your career. I’m talking about advancing as a person. Because the minute we grow and advance to our next level, we then help other people help themselves to their next level. It’s a cycle, and frankly, it’s a responsibility we each have if we’re to contribute to society.
It’s one of the first lessons I learned from my mentor, Steve Melendez. Steve and his father Bill made all the Charlie Brown animated specials like A Charlie Brown Christmas. I was living in London. I was 19 and trying to sell ideas I had for animated movies and TV shows. Steve took a liking to the Steve & Bluey cartoons and took me under his wing. That was my introduction to the animation industry. And one of the first things he taught me was that life in our business is like a series of rings inside themselves, like a bull’s eye. At the center is your dream, the goal you’re trying to reach. When we start in this business we are outside of the rings. It takes someone going round that outer ring to bring us in. And when that person does he or she advances to the next ring one step closer to their goal. And on and on it goes like that. We all need to help each other, and by doing so we help ourselves. It sounds selfless and self-serving all at once, but maybe it’s just a matter of perspective. But at any rate, this is the philosophy behind Old School New School.
What other philosophies or themes are in Old School New School? What is the central theme?
The central theme is honesty. Truth, if you want to use that word. But for me it’s honesty. I wanted to present a real and honest conversation. That’s why we only shot with available light. We shot it professionally, but minimally using only what the location offered us. I didn’t want to make this a full production because I didn’t want the subject on-camera to put on a facade that some people tend to put on. They go into interview mode and sometimes give responses that are formatted or rehearsed. What I wanted to do was cut through all of that as best I could and simply have a real conversation about real things that matter.
We had three really terrific guys serving as Director of Photography: Scott Uhlfelder in Los Angeles, Chris Cassidy in New York, and Phil Rosensteel in Baltimore. When I say we shot it professionally but minimally I mean that we may have just sat down with a camera on Phil’s lap, but we also used our combined knowledge and skills to make use of the best light at the location and put strict attention on composition and framing and camera control. In a lot of ways it was the ultimate challenge for us, making the most out of the least. What’s the old test in art class? You’re given a circle, a square, and a triangle and told to create an aesthetically pleasing image using only those three objects. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
We are planning to tour with the movie and panel discussions on the nature of creativity. Ideally, I would love to present the movie and a discussion at universities, conservatories, industry seminars, conventions, and at any organization dealing with arts education. We’re looking for an audience of college students, young professionals, and anyone interested in creative self-development. I’d love to fill each panel with Master storytellers from whatever region we are in and give audiences the chance to speak directly to them about how we can reach our full creative potential and be the best we can be, and how we can all achieve our dreams.
But like everything else, it takes money. So if anyone knows of a group or a company that would like to sponsor or host an event let me know!
Make sure to check out Steven’s profile in The Reel Spotlight too.