I see something — a music video, a paragraph describing a museum exhibit, a paint swatch— and it reminds me that an unrealized idea I had belongs in this world.
The next question I ask myself is, “Why hasn’t this idea made it?”
In general, for an artist, why is a good question to ask. I once helped to create a music video for a singer. She told me she was open to anything, but didn’t want to lip sync in the video.
Eager to please, I unconditionally accepted her condition.
We were both happy with the final product, but to this day I still don’t know why she didn’t want to lip sync. I don’t know now, the exact same thing I didn’t know then. That’s a bummer.
If I had asked, it could have opened a door to someplace interesting. Say, she thought lip syncing was cheesy. Then I know the real issue is she wants to appear authentic. So, wonder if we shoot it in a karaoke bar with other people singing her song? Maybe she gets up with them… you see where I’m going?
Artists needs material to create. In the case of a music video, this material is both physical—locations, equipment, bodies, and conceptual— dreams, themes and schemes. Filmmakers understandably focus on the physical material needed to create our work, assuming the conceptual material can be acquired at any time.
Conceptual material, when strong, can make a piece of art lacking physical material worth watching though. The reverse is not true.
Asking why is one of the best ways to acquire more conceptual material. After this question has been asked and answered, the next best question is how?
Today Ning Ning and I watched half of the Lemonade visual album. We paused after Daddy Issues to eat dinner and walk the dog. The visual album inspired a couple of strong reactions in me. 1. The editing, especially early on, is so impressionistic, so personal that I know they were working with plenty of strong conceptual material in addition to having some badass physical material to work with. 2. Beyoncé was robbed at The Grammys. I suspected this already, but now I understand the scale of the heist. 3. Watching and listening to Daddy Issues, I remembered an idea I had for a black cowboy who takes justice into his own hands, John Wayne style. As I watched, I felt strongly that this idea needs to be out in the world. And yet, it’s not.
Because it hasn’t been written.
I continue onto the next question– How can I help it get written?
Write it, convince someone else to write or convince someone else to write it with me.
Pick one, and go back to why or stick with how. (Note: This dance between why and how never stops.)
Example 1: Why not write it myself? Don’t have time.
Example 2: How do I go about finding a writing partner? Post on Craigslist.
Example 3: Why don’t I make a list of people I know who might be interested instead? Can’t think of anyone I already know who has the characteristics I would want.
And so on, and so forth.
There are other questions to ask, but for now we’re binary. Why leads us to the conceptual material and how takes us to the physical material.
Don’t be afraid to ask two questions at once and see which one takes the lead.