For over 120 years, the world we inhabit has been graced by the power of the moving image. We created an art form that has single-handedly changed the world, culture, and events in our history. It’s been estimated that since the creation of this medium, we have approximately 500,000 feature length films alone in this world.
That isn’t counting short films, commercials, music videos, PSAs, and everything else that falls into the “motion picture” spectrum. That’s a tremendous amount of content and so much of it is where I get my inspiration.
“As a filmmaker, you need to be inspired by something.”
At some point in our lives, we all decided to take on this crazy lifestyle because an idea blossomed in our minds and hearts. Whether it’s because of that first movie theater experience, a specific scene in a movie, or even down to a line of dialogue, our love for this craft came from an impression left by filmmakers before us.
For me, it was watching movies like “The Deer Hunter” and seeing such grandiose filmmaking unfold before me. I never saw storytelling like that before, and it really blew me away.
So, I want to spend some time discussing our inspiration and how that translates over to our work.
Since the time the film industry started until now, we have seen some of the greatest filmmakers craft their work. Filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick, Andrei Tarkovsky, Lynne Ramsay, Michael Cimino, Michael Ballhaus, Conrad Hall, Vilmos Zsigmond, Jane Campion, Bong-Joon Ho, Ingmar Bergman, Wim Wenders, Terrence Malick, Olivier Assayas, and the list goes on and on… These people have tried new methods in the medium, tested the waters, and have sculpted film into what it is today. An amazing thing about them is that they needed inspiration, just like us.
“No one in this world has ever created anything brilliant without studying and observing the world around us.”
The world is an art-form in itself and as an artist, you need to take that in. Just like the great filmmakers, it’s absolutely essential to soak it all in like a sponge and to understand “why” they made those decisions.
When I’m getting ready to create, I personally spend a lot of time hunkered down in my reference books. Still photography has been a big inspiration and influence on how I craft my look. I’ve always loved the idea of all my movies just being a series of stills and that at any moment, you can pause the movie and see a story within that single frame. To me, if you can reach that level of filmmaking, you have excelled at being a storyteller. Everything after that is trying to make your film better!
So with that being said, a personal favorite of mine is stopping by Hennessey + Ingalls Visual Bookstore once I know the project I’m doing. This place has it all –from architecture, modeling photography, landscape photography, specific periods in history, and really anything a creative would need to blossom those ideas.
These reference books have guided me through every music video, feature film, and commercial I’ve embarked on in my career. They’ve helped give me the foundation for what I need to run off and create my own style.
As Pablo Picasso would say, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”
While that is true, make sure to learn from the great creators around us. Make those stolen ideas your own and make it your voice. Never steal without adding “your” twist to it.
Here are some of my favorite pictures ever taken:
In the video essay below, documentarian Kerby Ferguson breaks down the approach that “Everything is a Remix.” He goes through the music industry, the movie industry, patent wars, and anything you can think of to show you how creators have been inspired by others throughout history.
It’s acceptable to put yourself in the footsteps of others. So, go out there and look at paintings, sculptures, national preserves, memorials, movies, photos — whatever will make you envision that final product.
Take hold of that inspiration and run with it! If that’s one thing I can share with everyone, it is to not avoid what makes you tick as a filmmaker. That soul and essence will be what carries you to greater levels, not conforming to what everyone else wants in the moment, or looks for you to be. Stay true to your style, your passions, and what you want to get out of this industry.
Best of wishes,
-Shane Hurlbut, ASC