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Brett Michael Innes on Adapting to Your Situation, the Power of Mentorship, and Not Giving it to Fear – Cracking Creativity Episode 84

Brett Michael Innes didn’t know if he would ever fulfill his dream of becoming a film maker. As a teenager, he knew he wanted to make movies but there were a few things that stood in the way of him accomplishing his dream.

During that time, his family went into debt, so he couldn’t afford to go to film school. He also had to work at a call center just to support himself.

After some introspective thinking, Brett decided he wanted to pursue his dream of film making. So he worked a year at the call center so he could afford to go to film school. With the help of his parents and a scholarship, he was able to finish with a degree in film production.

Although Brett wanted to major in directing, he was forced to get his degree in film production. This ended up being a stroke of luck because this experience with production helped him land a contract with M-Net, the HBO of South Africa.

With the help of M-Net, Brett was able to work on his novel, Rachel Weeping, and his movie Sink, at the same time. Both the novel and movie were met with critical acclaim, which has allowed him to continue work doing the thing he loves, making films

In this episode Brett talks about adapting to your situation, why mentorship is powerful, and not letting fear get the best of you.

Here are three things you can learn from Brett:

You Can Always Adapt

Many of us feel stuck in our jobs or our careers. We believe it’s way too late to change. Should haves flood our thoughts.

I should have started earlier. I should have taken a different path. I should have taken more chances.

If your mind is filled with should haves, I have good news for you. It’s not too late. Stop dwelling on the past. Everything you’ve done up to this point will help you moving forward.

“I think nothing is wasted. A lot of people may switch a degree or change jobs or careers in their forties and feel that everything that led up to that point now has been wasted because they take a sharp right, but actually, it all feeds into that thing that you’re doing. Now I’m appreciative of it, but when I was in the midst of it all, it completely overwhelmed me.”

The most important thing you have at your disposal is your ability to adapt. Human beings have adapted and evolved many times over millennia. Brett was able to adapt to his surroundings. You can too.

“I think if I look at myself, it’s that flexibility of not saying this is the only way it’s going to be done and if I don’t it won’t work out. If it doesn’t work out this way, it’s a failure. But to now see that as with water, I’ve just got to find the grooves that are in the landscape and the career landscape that’s happening around me, and just keep going at it.”

All you have to do is be like water. Even when things get in its way, water learns to maneuver through the gaps.

“Just keep being creative and to just move like water through that space. I’m able to find success and see something happen not according to my own plan.”

The Power of Mentorship

Artists often overlook one of the most beneficial relationships they can be a part of, mentorship. Before the industrial revolution, that’s how most occupations worked. You would work under the tutelage of a master. You learned directly from someone who was skilled in the craft.

Nowadays we try to do everything ourselves. We aren’t interested in learning from others. Brett believes we can greatly benefit from having a mentor.

“A lot of guys disregard what someone with thirty years of experience could teach them. And for me it’s that curiosity of learning from those who have gone before even though market is changing drastically and how we do things changes, there’s just something incredible about just the emotional intelligence of someone who’s done it before is able to impart to you.”

The only problem is mentors have to be willing to take you on. They must want to impart their wisdom on the upcoming generation.

“The reality is it comes from his side, someone who is older actually seeing that they want to father or mentor a younger creative. And it is as it is in life… Babies don’t bring themselves into existence… It’s the parents who make them and father them and choose to impart knowledge into their lives.”

Brett’s goal is to become skilled enough to impart his wisdom on others. He wants to pass down wisdom so future generations can find success like he has.

“Hopefully when I get to the point where I can teach someone something, I will see that that young filmmaker who just needs someone as a sounding board, to be there for them.”

Don’t Let Fear Hold You Back

One of the biggest reasons artists don’t have successful careers is that they let fear control them. Instead of going out and doing the things they dream of, they do nothing. They give in to insecurity and fear.

“If I look at a lot of my peers who are wanting to do stuff, who are single with nothing standing in their way, the biggest thing that holds them back is insecurity and fear, and I don’t have that side to myself when it comes to pursuing a career.”

Another problem many artists have is one or perfectionism. They wait for the right moment of perfect opportunity. But there’s no such thing as the perfect moment.

You can’t wait for permission. You can’t wait for some imaginary benevolent patron. You just have to go out and seize things yourself.

“I know a few artists who really, they don’t want to do anything because, if it can’t be done perfectly, they don’t want to attempt it at all, and I think that’s a mistake to make. It’s a thing of starting to do it and not waiting for someone to pay you to do it either… If you have a job that enables you to do the stuff that stuff for free, don’t try and make it so that you have to… make a career out of it. That can come later. Just do it on your own dollar.”

Stop waiting to be discovered. That rarely happens. Most artists who are discovered have worked many years at their craft. They worked relentlessly and with an obsessive passion.

“I think there’s a big discovery kind of fairy tale that’s fed by your idols or… if someone just discovers that I can tell or write a story and they’ll pay me to do it, then I’ll do it. That’s absolute B.S. Firstly those people who are discovered… have been doing it for years and it’s just the way these shows work… that’s not real. It’s a scene that we love because in our own heads it means that someone can wave a magic wand and our lives can be transformed in a creative lotto, where suddenly we get to do this. But some of the best artists in the world never received a dollar for the paintings that they made or the poems that they wrote. They were just obsessed with this thing and they did it. I think that’s a healthier approach to how we do things.”

Shownotes

  • about Brett
    • best-selling author of Rachel Weeping
      • writer and director of Sink – the  film based on the book
    • studied producing in film school
    • worked with non-profits as an editor
    • passion for filmmaking/fiction hit him
    • wrote novel and movie simultaneously
  • things he did as a kid
    • when you want to figure out what you should do, ask yourself what you did as a kid
    • couldn’t write, but created books for his parents
    • made movies with friends
    • passion for telling stories
  • stories he wrote
    • you write stories you’re exposed to
    • gravitated towards heady dramas
  • knowing if he wanted to be writer/filmmaker
    • had the desire as a teenager
    • deciding whether something is a pipe dream
    • events that happened at 19
      • family went into debt, so he couldn’t afford to go to university
      • had to work at a call center to support himself
    • struggle forces you to go to deeper places
    • being vulnerable while making his movie
    • Tom Hanks still feeling like an imposter
      • being in a constant state of humility
    • losing the wonder when you stop trying improve on your craft
    • Humans of New York
      • artist who felt something died in him when he saw a piece of work and couldn’t be enamored by it
    • never losing the wonder of watching a movie

9:25 “I think at the age of nineteen there was a watershed moment where you actually decide, is this a pipe dream or are you actually going to commit yourself to this?… I’d just done a year of travel after high school. I was in that space where you’re deciding what to do with the rest of your life. Do you do the practical degree or do you take this crazy passion that you have and try and find a way to make a career out of it?”

10:20 “It was actually quite a negative event which triggered this reflective moment of… ‘What are you going to do? Are you actually going to pursue this thing even in light of all the obstacles that are coming up against you? Or are you going to try and find a more practical way of living life?’ And the odds were stacked quite high… I couldn’t afford to actually go to film school.”

10:53 “It was actually out of a very negative, depressed place, where you’re forced to look at the desires of your heart, and is it actually worth pursuing.”

12:58 “You’re in this constant space as an artist of when are people finally going to see that you’re a fraud, that you shouldn’t be doing this thing, and you should go back to that call center. And even if you’ve had a successful film to your name, or whatever your craft is, and you look at that not as much as a skill, but as you got lucky, and this next one is the chance for you to actually screw up and they see that you shouldn’t be doing this thing. I mean, I’m not someone who’s racked with insecurity… but I can definitely say with making a movie… I really did find that that kept coming back. You’re not good enough to pull this thing off. Just because you want it doesn’t mean you’re actually good enough to make it happen, and you’re just so grateful when it works out in the end.”

14:30 “I don’t see it as a negative to feel that you’re not going to be able to pull it off or you’re a fraud because it keeps you in a constant state of humility, and I know those are the kind of people who I like working the most with because it’s all about serving the craft as opposed to showing how good you are.”

  • movies/tv that inspired him early on
  • non-profit film work
    • intense environments that shaped his world view
      • changes the way you view life, poverty, and storytelling
    • going from Sudan journey through war zones to your old routines
      • notice certain things that don’t make sense
      • not feeling like the same person after trips

19:32 “It’s almost like post natal depression you go in to, post travel. I think travel in general does that to you but when you go into places that really challenge your paradigms and when you see those kind of things that you would only perhaps see on television, it really does affect you in a deep way.”

  • how events affected his writing/film making
    • first film about a foreign national refugee trying to make it in a land that’s not her own
      • met many people who became that character
      • overcoming odds to get there
    • look at paradigms we sit and encouraging people to truly see each other
    • learning how to listen to find a story

21:45 “I found that by spending the years that I did in the documentary area, I learned how to listen better and hear other opinions and ways of doing stuff, and not censor myself in the stories that I would tell because I think to be a good storyteller, you have to know what a good story sounds like, and that comes from listening.”

  • studying storytelling
    • studied script writing in film school
    • no training in novel writing
    • would have benefited from a more literary approach
    • his stories are more action approached

23:26 “I think a lot of people want to do ten years of training before they ever do anything, and I’m very much of the approach of just go out and do it and learn while you’re on the job.”

  • difference between literary and action based writing
    • one page is one minute of screen time
      • films – you have to be reductionary so you have a pace that you would see on screen
      • novel – you can spend chapters in a five minute moment
      • different ways of expressing things
  • saving up to go to film school
    • worked for a year in call center
      • parents paid for half a year and he paid other half
    • went to National Film and Video Foundation and asked for a sholarship
      • they paid for his 2nd/3rd years
    • doesn’t think if he would have gone into debt to go to film school
    • taught himself editing/cutting  which he used after film school
    • he majored in producing which is how he was able to get the film off the ground
  • film producing
    • film produces are CEOs of the business
    • producers get oscar for best film not the director because they own the property
      • directors are hired and put onto the film
    • all aspects of the film that allow it to get made
    • end of second year in film school, he didn’t make the cut to get into director’s program
      • he fell back into the production program
    • ended up being only one of two in the program who got to direct
    • reading Memoirs of a Geisha
      • someone told the main character they saw water in her personality
        • water is able to move according to restrictions and maneuver around obstacles

28:39 “I think nothing is wasted. A lot of people may switch a degree or change jobs or careers in their forties and feel that everything that led up to that point now has been wasted because they take a sharp right, but actually, it all feeds into that thing that you’re doing. Now I’m appreciative of it, but when I was in the midst of it all, it completely overwhelmed me.”

30:00 “I think if I look at myself, it’s that flexibility of not saying this is the only way it’s going to be done and if I don’t it won’t work out. If it doesn’t work out this way, it’s a failure. But to now see that as with water, I’ve just got to find the grooves that are in the landscape and the career landscape that’s happening around me, and just keep going at it.”

30:40 “Just keep being creative and to just move like water through that space. I’m able to find success and see something happen not according to my own plan.”

  • overcoming obstacle
    • second film – ran into dead ends and financing fell apart
    • bank account was nearly empty
      • if he was still struggling in a year, he would find something else to do
      • can find joy in other places, denying himself experiences while trying to make it work
    • knowing when something is a failure
      • don’t go down with sinking ship
      • handed off first project to another director

31:52 “I think that was the part I wasn’t really prepared for in this journey was that, I’m prepared for the hard work and I was prepared for the sacrifice, but not the opportunities to travel and go and work on other projects. I was giving those up because I always thought production was going to come at this time, and I just saw how much of life is actually put on hold for this thing I was trying to do.”

32:42 “It’s amazing. These failures end up channeling you in a really good direction.”

33:16 “I think that a lot of creatives find it a failure perhaps if they have to do the job in another industry for a while that isn’t their art, and I don’t see it as that. If that creates a financial bubble where you are actually able to create freer, then go ahead and do it.

33:32I think we really idealize the person who throws their life away and pursues relentlessly a career, but there are other ways of doing that, and if it’s done with a purpose of supporting their goal, there’s no shame in that at all.”

34:20 “I think in my failure I really down scaled my life. I could live off what I earned in three days so that I could work for a month or the rest of the month and write, because I didn’t make money off the first film for the first three years I was working on it. So I had to find a way of living lightly.”

  • funding his film
    • M-Net – the HBO of South Africa
      • usually wait for film to be made before purchasing it
      • like to support local film-making, so they picked up the rights
      • 35% tax rebates for films made in the country
    • came about from three years of reaching out to the company
    • knowing how to package the film
    • forcing his way into the industry

36:58 “If I could only choose one out of either inherited wealth, natural incredible talent, or just unbridled tenacity, I would choose the tenacious choice because what I’ve seen is… there are people way more talented than me who have not done half the things I’ve been able to do, because when talent reaches its end, those people don’t know what to do next. They’re so used to always being able to rely on their talent, or those who come from inherited wealth, when they’re money stops, it doesn’t take them any further, they don’t know how to upscale. But the tenacious, they know that they can learn another skill. They’re adaptable. They’re like water… they force their way into stuff or find any way to get to their goal and I would love to be able to have all three in one space, but if you had to choose only one, I would go with the tenacious.”

  • relying on your talent
    • “An inheritance that is easily gained is easily lost.”
    • treating your project like a mother treats her baby
    • success is messy, painful, and gritty

38:32  If you don’t work for something or struggle for it or suffer for it, you don’t hold onto it as tightly. I often equate it to childbirth in cinema, it’s often the depiction of giving birth. The mom sweats for a bit and ten seconds later, there’s a three month old baby in her arms who looks perfect, and we kind of want our success to be like that. But the reality is messy, it’s painful, it’s gritting your teeth. But can I tell you that if anyone tries to take that baby out of that mother’s arms, she will shank someone before they can take it from her. That’s the kind of artist I like working with. They hold onto their craft in such a motherly way. It’s incredible”

  • forming the team for his movie
    • started with producers
      • met at social gatherings
      • lead actress came on board as a producer too
    • used Facebook to contact other team members
    • connecting through other people
    • having no shame in asking
  • importance of mentorship
    • arts come with ego/arrogance
    • worked as a stabilizing force
    • wasn’t a formal mentorship, but came about organically
    • someone older who wants to foster another creative
    • the informal relationship of mentorships

41:43 “A lot of guys disregard what someone with thirty years of experience could teach them. And for me it’s that curiosity of learning from those who have gone before even though market is changing drastically and how we do things changes, there’s just something incredible about just the emotional intelligence of someone who’s done it before is able to impart to you.”

41:40 “The reality is it comes from his side, someone who is older actually seeing that they want to father or mentor a younger creative. And it is as it is in life… Babies don’t bring themselves into existence… It’s the parents who make them and father them and choose to impart knowledge into their lives.”

43:06 “Hopefully when I get to the point where I can teach someone something, I will see that that young filmmaker who just needs someone as a sounding board, to be there for them.”

  • marketing/packaging his films
    • working with producers who will do it for him
    • treating him so well that he will never want to make a movie with anyone else
    • took him a while to trust in other people to produce his work
    • pitch his concepts, and they will decide whether it fits their company’s vision
    • different reward systems for each person
  • unexpected things that came about from the film
    • while filming one of the scenes, he became emotional
      • once it was filmed, that moment would be done
    • watching people feel and react to his work
      • the exhilaration of a connected response
      • chasing the same feeling in other projects
  • lessons he learned from creating film

48:45 “I felt his incredible pressure that I, as the director, had to be the originator of every good idea… we had an off day and I went to the cafe to decompress, and I just realized that if I was going to be the sole originator of everything, I was actually the bottleneck to the production, and I was failing the story because here I have this team of people who are way more talented in their department than I am. And I’m just here to create the space we create in. And if I can let go of the fact that maybe the DP (director of photography) is going to have a better shot choice… then the story will actually be served way better. And I love that the feedback at the end of shooting from the crew was that I trusted them in a way that they haven’t experienced with other directors.”

  • trusting people to do what they do best
    • the vision starts growing once people start coming in

50:30 “The best way of describing what directing is that you are standing in front of a blank canvas with fifteen HODs who each have a paint brush and  a color in their hand and you’re telling them where to put that color.”

  • working within limits
    • Robert Rodriguez on Tim Ferriss podcast talking about the importance of limitations
    • conversations with producers to re-make movie in LA
      • producer asked what he would do differently
      • only difference he would make would be time to rehearse

52:26 “So much of film-making is a compromise, especially if it’s an independent film. When it’s a big blockbuster, they’re just throwing money at any problem. Actually, that kills a lot of the creativity because often your limitations lead you to make creative choices which are actually quite innovative and fresh… Those restrictions really did help us, I feel, to create a strong product.”

  • storytelling in filmmaking
    • story is king
    • people are no longer blown away by special affects
    • if story isn’t there, people won’t be engaged
    • audiences are wanting more
  • about Sink
    • Sink movie trailer
    • immigrant worker deciding whether to stay or leave after death of child
    • three people navigating through loss/bitterness/reconciliation
    • universal story of foreign national worker in menial service position
  • difference between novel and screenplay
    • wrote first draft of screenplay first, then first draft of novel
    • cross-pollination through script/book editors
    • script was the backbone of the story
    • book allowed for more thoughts of the characters, screenplays are more lean
    • both benefit each other
    • always imagined the story as a film and novel
    • movies are more visceral, novel marinates more
  • advice for getting into film industry
    • assist on sets and move up
    • having respect for single moms like J.K. Rowling
    • don’t feel like your first project is going to be your voice and brilliance

1:01:07 “I think the biggest thing is people are scared and they don’t do it, but they’re also not willing to give up certain things, and I say that from quite a privileged place.”

1:01:32 “If I look at a lot of my peers who are wanting to do stuff, who are single with nothing standing in their way, the biggest thing that holds them back is insecurity and fear, and I don’t have that side to myself when it comes to pursuing a career.”

1:02:24 “I know a few artists who really, they don’t want to do anything because, if it can’t be done perfectly, they don’t want to attempt it at all, and I think that’s a mistake to make. It’s a thing of starting to do it and not waiting for someone to pay you to do it either… If you have a job that enables you to do the stuff that stuff for free, don’t try and make  it so that you have to… make a career out of it. That can come later. Just do it on your own dollar.”

1:03:16 “I think there’s a big discovery kind of fairy tale that’s fed by your idols or… if someone just discovers that I can tell or write a story and they’ll pay me to do it, then I’ll do it. That’s absolute B.S. Firstly those people who are discovered… have been doing it for years and it’s just the way these shows work… that’s not real. It’s a scene that we love because in our own heads it means that someone can wave a magic wand and our lives can be transformed in a creative lotto, where suddenly we get to do this. But some of the best artists in the world never received a dollar for the paintings that they made or the poems that they wrote. They were just obsessed with this thing and they did it. I think that’s a healthier approach to how we do things.”

  • favorite quote
    • “Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” ― David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas
    • nothing is truly original and there is no such thing as a lone genius
    • being influenced by other cultures

1:05:26 “We also like to think we are the originators of every brilliant thought that we have, but to see that actually we are part of this collective consciousness where the creative stuff that we are exploring is because of what people have done before us.”

1:14:15 “My definition or how I view creativity comes about has changed over time. I really used to believe that I was digging into myself the stories, the visuals, really like it’s coming from me almost like it was mine. But as I’ve done it more, really I’ve come to believe the complete opposite, that creativity can not exist in a vacuum, and it involves a lot of listening as opposed to introspection. Without it sounding a bit spiritual, I think I believe that stories, that creative ideas, they float around us in the collectiveness of humanity and they’re just looking for conduits to make them into flesh, and it is that kind of brute collective, ‘What are the conversations happening now? What are other artists exploring? What are the politicians saying and thought leaders talking about?’ It takes artists that are willing to listen… and just figure out how to say it.”

1:16:26 “Reminding yourself of other art, not from a point to copy paste but let it trigger something in you, and often when I’m feeling a bit distant creatively, I will go to a gallery or sit by… people because people are creation. And I find it triggers something in me, and then wait for it to happen.”

  • challenge
    • start a conversation with person next to you at coffee shop
      • create space for human interaction
      • talk about ideas and idea swapping
    • What are you working on that really has your attention?
    • telling people about his project gets ideas going

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