I have often heard that you should seek out feedback on creative projects you are working on. I have just as often heard you should ignore what everyone else says and just do what your gut says is right. What’s a creative person to do?
“If I am creating for an audience, shouldn’t I listen to that audience?”
“Hey, whoa, I am the creative person here. I know what’s best for
Confronting criticism is one of the hardest things for us creative types to deal with (initially at least). Whether it be a script, a short film, or a musical composition; it’s something that you’ve probably been laboring over for weeks before letting someone else in on it. It can be very disheartening when you finally show something to someone and instead of glowing accolades and a pat on the back, you get hesitation and suggestions for improvement.
It sucks, but it doesn’t have to.
Feedback is one of the most valuable tools you can use to hone your craft. It can point out things you may have never noticed, or worse, noticed too late. But it can also be a poisonous tar pit of despair. Ok, that sounded a little scary… but it’s true.
Like any good tool, you need to know how to use criticism to make your project better. The first step in coming to grips with this new found tool is understanding the difference between criticism and cynicism. Knowing which to use and which to toss out is probably the most important skill a filmmaker can possess.
Let’s break it down.
Criticism is doubt informed in curiosity or a deep knowledge of the subject or discipline in question. Often times it comes in the form of insights such as, “The lighting here is a little flat and makes her face look a little wide,” or “It’s a little long, you may lose your audience.” Whether it is constructive or destructive, it comes from knowledge.
Cynicism is a state of mind that is often rooted in ignorance and antiquated ways. Many times in the film industry, experts will often shun new technologies because it doesn’t fit within the workflow they have settled into over the years. This type of behavior is a handicap and barricades you into the good-ole-days. A large percentage of Youtube comments are often written by cynics looking to knife creatives with their keyboards for no other reason except the joy of the troll.
Know the difference
Feedback is gold to a creative person, and you’re guaranteed to get your fair share. Requested or not. Understanding how to pan the good stuff out of the Ganges River of Opinion can be tricky. As storytellers we need to harness the ability to discern thoughtful criticism from short-sighted cynicism.
Here are some thoughts to help you separate the gold from the mud:
Consider the credibility of the source: Who is giving this “advice”? Is it someone with little to no experience. Does this person legitimately desire to see you prosper? Do they have years of experience in this situation. It may not always be a black or white situation. Many times it will be someone that actually knows what they’re talking about, but sucks at being gentle when telling you. It might be a well-meaning parent that has no idea why Mr. Spock needs pointy ears. It’s up to you to decipher whether or not the person dealing out the criticism is qualified to do so. If not, patiently await the end of the verbal vomit and walk away from the steaming heap. You’re not a dog, so leave it alone. If they are qualified, then get a spoon and eat it up.
Remove fear and ego from the situation: This can oftentimes be the hardest part to spot and deal with. Typically when someone offers up criticism our defenses go on high alert. We begin loading the “yeah buts” into the chamber ready to fire off why it wasn’t our fault and “the lights, and the lens, and those lazy grips…” Criticism does not explicitly equal failure, and even when it does, failure is only a bad thing if you stop there. Being able to pull back and remove your ego from the situation will allow you to properly judge the critic’s motives and the true value of said criticism.
Learn to handle scrutiny. What good is feedback if you get all worked up because of it. If you want to grow as a filmmaker or storyteller, you absolutely need to embrace and take advantage of real criticism. After all, you want to write and film stories meant to be shown to large groups of people. What else do you think is going to happen, standing ovations every time? Not likely, at least not initially. It takes a lot of work and refinement to get to those standing O’s. That means you need to be willing to be refined.
“Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” ~Aristotle