Creating by numbers

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Cary Fukunaga is certainly making a name for himself following his barn-storming first season of True Detective. He’s just been named the next director of Bond, James Bond and is the creator of Netflix’s latest it show, Maniac. While I have yet to dip my toes into the strange wonders of Maniac with the likes of Ozark, Kim’s Convenience and American Vandal competing for my attention. Fukunagas latest has already made an impact on me following his incredible interview with GQ. Amongst the many splendid ramblings and speculations about Bond, IT, True Detective and what it all means in Maniac. Fukunaga also delved into the process of what its like to work for Netflix and it is safe to say his words caused quite a stir.

Back when I was at film school in Brighton we all had to pitch for the chance to make our final graduation films. We would be shooting on 16mm stock. Throughout my time there I had pitched various shorts and ideas that I had written and wished to direct. Usually they concerned a handful of teens who through a series of events came to understand the world around them for the better. It was all standard coming of age stuff peppered with pop cultural references and filtered through an Anderson-Coppola (Sofia) prism. Every single one to this liking my tutor hated. More than anything though I wanted to direct that final project on 16mm, I wanted to make my graduation film rather than being relegated to the sidelines on another persons project. I had to direct it and the only way to secure such a coveted position was if my project got chosen. So I made sure mine got picked. I wrote something I knew my tutor would love, something that would hit every note and each one of his sensibilities. So that’s what I did and he loved it but I hated it. It wasn’t me, it wasn’t mine, only the opening scene had hints of the me, it was all someone else’s idea of a good drama, of a good film. For years I have hated that project and swearing to only ever to write for myself and not for someone else.

Netflix is a data company, it is built on algorithms. Every time you search for something, like or dislike something or add it to your list a building block is put in place. The algorithm begins to understand those likes of yours, those wants, those viewing habits. So in reality it was somewhat unsurprising when Fukunaga explained his experience of working with Netflix as; “they know exactly how their viewers watch things. So they can look at something your writing and say; we know based on our data that if you do this, we will lose this many viewers.” My instinctive initial reaction, as a creative, as someone who wants to make, was one of outrage and shock. Creativity is dead. We are allowing data to rule over our creative decisions!

This though is nothing new, creativity especially in the realms of film, TV and music has been a battle of creative integrity verses popularity, profit and of curating an audience. Netflix aren’t doing anything new, they aren’t re-inventing the wheel they’re just perfecting it. True creativity free of commercialism and even capitalism is an often rare beast to encounter. Something can start with the purest intentions but once it gains an audience, when it becomes viable some of that innocence is chipped away. I’m not saying creativity is all money and fame but we can not continue to ignore the fact that mainstream art or creativity in general isn’t so intwined with commercialism, the pair are so succinct. So much so that it surprises me when I and even we are surprised or taken aback when words like Fukunagas’ are spoken.

I hated that script I wrote, I felt like I had dirtied the little creative integrity I had but in reality it was one of my greatest learning curves. It taught me to write for an audience, to know what others liked, I obviously went to the extreme but because of that ‘disaster’ I have been able to find a comfortable middle ground. It allowed me to understand that strange fine line between creativity and commercial value and that is all Fukunaga is addressing. We create in order to cross that line in search of an audience to share our creativity with while equally trying to retain it’s artistic integrity by getting as far away from the line as possible. The greatest piece of advice you’ll often hear spouted by a writer is; write that that you would love to read. Right there, you’re writing for a built in audience, the like minded. Creativity at least in a commercial sense has been a long tale of integrity and creation versus commercialism and of finding an audience, of finding acceptance. It is a careful and deliberate balancing act and Netflixs’ algorithm may be making it easier. They know exactly what is needed, what the potential consequences maybe etc. now it’s our turn to mine that same algorithm for it’s creative worth, to work around it and with it. To allow it to help and improve our creative works. There’s no point going to the extreme like I did we just need to find that happy middle ground. Where we can create and collaborate and enjoy just like we hope our intended audiences will along with the unintended. We create to reach people, to share our ideas, so why should we ever let anything limit us when we can make it work for us. Ironically we just have to get creative. Nothing will stop or control creativity unless we let it, so a long answer made short don’t, use it, re-work it, collaborate with it, learn from it and create.

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