Hollywood, California. I’m in the home of William Fraker, the six-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer of such legendary movies as Rosemary’s Baby, Bullitt, and WarGames. Our crew is shooting a conversation for Old School New School, a documentary I am making on the nature of creativity. I am midway on a journey crisscrossing the US in search of master storytellers. During a tape change Mr. Fraker asks me pointedly, “Why are you doing this?”
Why am I exploring creativity? Good question. Old School New School is an extension of many coffees taken with artist-friends over the years, dreamy afternoons in the local café talking about life, art, philosophy, and the mystery of creativity. They were stimulating discussions that ultimately segued to the obligatory question all serious artists eventually examine: how do we grow?
Nursing our coffees my friends and I pondered this endlessly, carefully studying the early assents of our cinematic heroes. A friend and I experimented with the idea of videotaping one of our high-minded conversations. The recording showed promise and I next brought a professional crew to the home of my mentor, acclaimed Irish playwright Sam McCready. “What is success?” I asked him. For Mr. McCready success has to do with realizing one’s potential, being happy and feeling fulfilled. Adding poignantly, “You are the one who determines success, not society.”
From his Beverly Hills home, the acclaimed poet James Ragan told me that early in his career, driving west across country, he made an adventure of it, pulling off at random, pitching camp, cooking out, and enjoying the journey. While I admit that sounded fun, it also seemed scary. What about money? It seemed… risky.
It is risky, and taking risk is an inevitable part of one’s development. “It’s the Odyssey,” the Scottish actor Brian Cox said as we sat at a wood picnic table in his back garden. “I think that’s what I’ve been doing all my life, finding the place where I feel this is where I should be.” Finding your place in the world. “But then you realize that home is in the heart.”
But what we often do, dance artist Kirstie Simson adds, sagely, is “run for safety and security and lock ourselves into images of ourselves.”
Tomas Arana chimes in from a loft in New York City. “The difference is how much you push yourself. If the person in [some small town] pushes himself to the max, he can push himself further than the kid trying to be the funky artist in New York.”
“You can’t be like everyone else,” Mr. Fraker advises. “You have to be an individual.”
What does it take to be an individual? Be honest with yourself.
A simple question about personal creative development over a cup of coffee led to a four-year journey of enlightenment, an exploration that uncovered insights about success, risk, individuality and so much more. It took me into the lives of some of America’s most illuminated artists, for which I am forever changed and forever grateful.
So, in answer to Mr. Fraker’s original question, I made Old School New School because I wanted to learn.
Old School New School runs 33 minutes and can be seen for free on SnagFilms.* In addition to the above-mentioned artists, other luminaries who graciously contributed their time are Tony® Award-winning producer Emanuel Azenberg (Rent, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Lost in Yonkers), Grammy®-winning jazz pianist McCoy Tyner (“Illuminations,” “The Turning Point,” “Journey,” “Infinity”), renowned cinematographer John Bailey, ASC (American Gigolo, Ordinary People, The Big Chill, The Accidental Tourist, In the Line of Fire), and actor-turned-Congressman Ben Jones (Dukes of Hazzard).
Steven Fischer is a two-time Emmy® nominated filmmaker based in Chicago. He presents Fostering Creativity: How we tap into our full creative potential at Mindcamp 2013.
*Note: SnagFilms has a login wall: it’s still free, but you can’t view anything without registering and creating a password. If you don’t want to do this, you can view the film without logging in to anything via this page on Indiewire.