All creativity begins with the moment of conception.
That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.
And so, in this blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.
Today's clip comes from the Johnny B. Goode scene in Back to the Future:
What can we learn?
Develop deeper trust in your own instincts. Marty initially auditions this song at the battle of the bands. But when he gets kicked off stage by the conservative judges, he starts to lose faith in his own abilities. He locks into the pessimistic narrative that he’s no good, that he’s got no future, and that he’s not cut our for music. Which is totally normal. Because in the early stages of the creative process, there’s a very real hunger for feedback on our art. It’s human nature. We’re pining for validation and encouragement to help move the work forward. But something we learn after shipping a few dozen projects is, most feedback is overrated. It rarely reflects who we are as an artist. And more often than not, feedback is just projection of the insecure concerns and character flaws of the individual providing it. In fact, if we’re not careful, an overabundance of feedback can start to bounce us around like a pinball. And we can get so overwhelmed by everyone else’s opinion of our work that the creative momentum fizzles. Marty, had he continued listening to wrong voices, might have given up on music for good. But traveling back in time gave him one final opportunity trust his instincts and play the music he wanted to play. So he did. And he blew people away. Even if they weren’t ready for it yet. Are you giving people’s opinions more weight than they deserve?
Never underestimate the audience of one. I’ve been listening to this fascinating podcast about the business of show business. During one particular episode, the guest was an accomplished writer, producer and network sitcom runner. When the host asked what his advice to young creators was, he said, just do the show you want to do, because they’re going to cancel it anyway. Wow. There isn’t an artist alive who can’t understand that. Even outside of show business, it’s still applicable. Consider the book industry. Over a million new titles are published every year. Which means, mathematically, most books will be ignored. Most books will fail. So why not write the one you want to write? May as well make art you want to see in the world, since most of the world isn’t going to see it anyway. Marty, then, represents the power of the tiny audience. Because his sole purpose in playing this song is to get two people together. That’s it. Even if the band thinks he’s on drugs, even if the rest of the audience think he’s crazy, as long as his parents are slow dancing the night away, the song has done its job. What hidden audience are you playing for?
If size mattered, dinosaurs would still be around. Marty is convinced that he’s never going to get the chance to play in front of anybody. Like so many young musicians, he struggles with the universal artistic quandary, the longing to be heard. What he doesn’t realize, though, is that life is only limited by our own prejudices. Once we destroy them and cease to be at the mercy of ourselves, it’s amazing how many creative doors fly open. What’s interesting is, had this movie been made more recently, his posture and context and strategy would be completely inverted. Marty wouldn’t be give record labels a second thought. He wouldn’t waste his time competing in battle of the bands. And he certainly wouldn’t struggle to find an audience for his work. He would have created his own leverage and built his own stage and manufactured his own opportunities. Because the modern creator doesn’t need tickets for the starving artist lottery. They no longer have to wait for some invisible jury to stamp their creative passport and tell them their art is okay. They go out and create a market for what they love. Not matter how small that market is. Because if size mattered, the dinosaurs would still be around. When will you voluntarily opt out of the mainstream?
What did you learn?
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That Guy with the Nametag
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