It’s tough being creative in today’s world. With the ever pressing need for “productivity,” smaller budgets, and enormous distraction, people struggle to be successful as a professional writer, designer, filmmaker, musician, or other creative role. As a result, many give up too easily – especially when they experience conflict with an employer, client, studio, or funding source. But yesterday, I pulled a long quote I’ve kept for decades that reminded me of the real secret of being successful. It’s a quote from writer and director Ron Shelton – famous for a long list of movies like “Bull Durham,” “Tin Cup,” and “White Men Can’t Jump.” He was speaking about the movie business, but his philosophy applies to every area of creativity, and it’s worth reflecting on:
“I think people are naive about the movie business. The movie business is no different from any artistic medium in the history of the world. Pope Julius II was screaming at Michelangelo for four years; Velazquez painted for Phillip II, and the guy was an inbred lunatic. My models for screenwriting and for directing are the court painters of Europe: I need the king’s money to criticize the king. How can I get it without getting my head cut off?
That is the model.
In the fifteenth century a patron would come to a painter and say, I’d like to pay you to make a painting. I don’t care what your style is, I don’t care how you do it. There’s only one thing, and I’ll pay you well: Can you paint my family into the background?
And do you know what the good painters did? They said, No problem.
You know what the bad painters did? They said, I can’t compromise my vision.
Look at Velazquez’s Maids of Honor: He’s not only got everybody in it, he’s got himself in the damn thing. That’s the painting every screenwriter should look at. I mean if the people who painted paintings and made movies, saw eye to eye with their financiers, something would be wrong. And I don’t say that judgmentally. I think there’s a lot to be said for the conflict of the process. I really do.
To make a painting or the movie you want to make without getting your head cut off – that’s the trick. It has never been any different, it won’t ever be any different, and so be it.”
– Ron Shelton
(Photo by Wikimedia Commons)