I’ve always been jealous of creative duos. Especially those who are also related; The Duplass Brothers, The Coen Brothers, The Dardenne Brothers. It must be an amazing thing to have a collaborator who you trust completely and who understands you on a creative AND personal level. I only have one sister and she has zero interest in pursuing a career in the arts (smart move, sis!). And since I haven’t been lucky enough to find my creative soulmate outside my own family unit, I’ve often felt lost when it comes to seeking feedback on my creative work.
A few months ago I made a short film that was very different from any work I have previously created. I was curious to hear what others thought of it, so I asked several colleagues and friends in the industry to take a look at my first rough cut. The feedback I got was so inconsistent that I was left feeling completely confused. Some thought it was the best film I’d ever made. Others thought it was the worst.
That got me thinking – What had I hoped to gain by asking for this feedback? I guess I wanted opinions – But then why should anyone else’s opinion matter more than my own? I hadn’t used anyone else’s money to make the film. In fact, I’d shot it for just a few hundred bucks with spare cash I’d saved over the weekend working extra shifts at my day job.
Now, if you’re creating work with other people’s money, that’s a different story. Whoever is forking out the cash for the project will most likely have opinions that you will generally have to listen to and change the work accordingly – whether you like it or not. But while you’re funding your own projects you don’t really have anyone to answer to but yourself, so you might as well make whatever the hell you want.
I do think that seeking out feedback can be useful sometimes – but only when you’re asking something very specific to the right person. For example, if you’re writing a screenplay about sumo wrestlers and you want feedback on how authentic the sumo training sequence you’ve written is – you could ask a few sumo wrestlers to read the scene and see if it rang true to them. What I’ve learned never to do again though, is ask for someone’s general opinion as to whether or not they like my work – because that is completely subjective.
I believe the same rules should apply when it comes to giving feedback. If someone asks me to give feedback on a project they are working on I usually ask them to be very specific about what they want to know. Do they want to know if their female character seems three dimensional? – Sure, I can tell them what I think. Do they want to know if I understood the plot twist at the end? – I can definitely let them know if it went over my head. But if they ask “Do you like it?”, that’s a question I don’t want to have to answer.
I think that ultimately, the reason I kept asking for “feedback” on my work was because I was looking for validation. Because I don’t have that creative soul mate or collaborator to reassure me that what we are making is worthwhile. I’m out there on my own. So I wanted people to tell me they liked what I’d made and that I wasn’t wasting my time.
But I’ve come to realize that I’m okay with making stuff that people don’t like. I make a lot of stuff that even I, myself don’t like. But I should never look at that work as a waste of time. It’s experimentation, which is part of being an artist. Trusting your instincts and experimenting is the only way to find your creative voice. And if you are trying to make something to please the masses, chances are you will be too afraid to take any risks and your work will wind up dull and boring.
Allow yourself to take risks with your work and if you put it out there and you get haters, embrace them! All the greats have haters! Some of my favorite films have just as many haters as they do fans; Todd Solondz’ Happiness, David Lynch’s Mullholland Drive and Jill Soloway’s Afternoon Delight. Part of the reason these films spawned so many haters is that they were made by filmmakers who each have an incredibly strong creative voice.
To wrap this up, I’d like to make a suggestion; If you find a piece of art that you love; a painting, a book, a song, a film, whatever it may be – Go out of your way to let the creator know that you appreciate what they have made. Many of us artists are insecure and fragile beings who spend a good part of our time doubting ourselves. So, while asking for feedback can be very dangerous territory for us, the small, unexpected validations can really keep us going through the dark times.
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