Last night I attended a special screening of the Coen Brothers’ brilliant new flick, Hail Caesar. Ethan Coen was there for a Q&A following the film. What a gift. I love the Coen Brothers, whose films have included Barton Fink and Oh Brother Where Art Thou, True Grit and Fargo, to name a few. Their movies always serve up nostalgic charm laced with poetic/pathetic humor and philosophy. Hail Caesar certainly delivered. Set in the 50’s in a fictionalized movie studio, starring George Clooney, Josh Broden and Scarlett Johansen, Hail Caesar is a frivolous caper in which a pupu platter of Hollywood genres are joyously jumbled. Run to the theaters ASAP if you haven’t seen it already. If you loved Singing In The Rain, this movie is for you.
It is always great to hear an artist talk about process and the creative life. As Ethan was describing the nature of his collaboration, the inception of Hail Caesar, and how he and his brother had come up with the idea for the film, I had an epiphany for The Creative Hours: We back into our big ideas. Ethan and Joel had a funny image in their heads. A pleasing lark. A tickle, a spark. They imagined a dashing and bewildered guy in gladiator regalia, sitting in a swank mid century pad on the California Coast sipping a Mai Tai. That image, which made Ethan and Joel crack up, is the seed from which the film started. The Coen Brothers did not set out to make a profound movie about movies, or a philosophical comedy. They did not start with an outline or an agenda. They started with a nonsensical shard of an idea.
There are a lot of scientific methods out there on how to be creative. Creativity has become a business. However, in all the brainstorming, mind-mapping, Post-it™ laden pedantics, I have noticed a gulf between innovation strategies and how most artists arrive at great ideas and creations.
Creative people understand the wisdom of intuition. A million visions may appear each day, but occasionally one stands out. Why? It is hard to say…it just seems promising. It is what we are in the mood for–even if we have no idea what awaits. Trusting our senses, we follow the trail and let the map unfold as we go. Eventually the big idea makes itself known and in the end we arrive, surprised at how we got there.
We do not build our great ideas from the big idea up. Often stellar and complex ideas are backed into by trusting a spark of imagination. Let your mind wander, start small, trust the path, and go see Hail Caesar!
Interviews with the Coen Brothers, from the Conversations with Filmmakers series.