In-Between Your Creative Vision

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I’ve been thinking about that place in-between. In-between your creative vision and your reality.

The thing about in-between is that you can see potential as easily as you can see failure. And perhaps most of all, you can see the status quo just continuing. This sense that you will spend a lifetime trying the same things and achieving the same mediocre results.

This is my desk in my studio:
Dan Blank

On the wall across from it, I hung photos of successful creators. These are writers, artists, and visionaries. I tried to choose photos of moments in-between. Moments when their greatness was still uncertain. Moments when they may have felt vulnerable or unsure.

Here is Fred Rogers in his college yearbook photo, and one of my favorite quotes from him:

Here is J.K. Rowling writing Harry Potter in a cafe:

Here is Walt Disney when he served in the Red Cross in 1918:

Here is designer Ray Eames working on one of her projects. So much of her process was about play as a part of finding solutions:

Then there is this article from 1974:

Why was the concert cancelled? It was going to be at a high school, but most of the students preferred to go to the beach that weekend. It’s easy to think that success for someone such as Springsteen is destiny. But that weekend in 1974, his show was cancelled because people weren’t interested.

Achieving greatness for each of these people was about showing up each day and giving it their best, even when it may have seemed like that wouldn’t be enough.

That is why I hung these photos in a place where I can look at them every day. So I can remember to focus on craft first. To have clarity in my creative vision. To work through the in-between.

The in-between can seem to last forever. For one of my friends, this week had nothing to do with in-between. Last Fall I wrote about my friend Jason Liles who is an actor. This week his new movie opens: Rampage, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Jason plays George, the white albino gorilla who appears in all the movie posters, and who in the movie is The Rock’s best friend. Jason had to study with primatologists and he performed through motion capture. Here they are the other day at the premiere:

Jason Liles and The Rock

When I interviewed Jason (listen to the whole interview here!) he told me about the challenges he overcame and how he broke into Hollywood. Highlights from the interview include:

  • He dealt with anxiety and panic attacks in middle school, high school and college. He actually had to leave college because of the the anxiety. Seeing how his entire line of work is about performing in front of an audience, this is astounding to me.
  • When he was just starting out, the director of theater program at a big school told Jason flat out, “You are too tall for film. Forget about it.” Jason is 6′ 9″ tall. How did he move ahead after such bad advice? He went to Broadway shows, waited outside the stage door and ask world famous actors such as Jame Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Geoffrey Rush, Jeff Daniels, and others: “Am I too tall for film?” Every one of them said, “Not at all. Just do it.” As it turns out, Jason’s height is a primary factor that is getting him so many of his roles.
  • He has this uncanny ability to spot and approach famous actors on the street and ask them for advice. An example, “Bryan Cranston talked for about 20 minutes giving me advice when I bumped into him in Central Park with his wife, because he knew I was a young actor.” He has done this with Michael Fassbender, Daniel Day Lewis, and others as well. To me, this was a reminder to use the opportunities that are all around you. Jason didn’t have any special access, and he didn’t let himself be constrained by perceived “rules” that you can’t approach people and ask them a question.
  • His first job was as a stand-in. Later on this, same company got him his his spot in Men in Black III as well as his first commercial. I can imagine Jason saying “no” to a stand-in role because it is too small. But if he had, he never would have gotten Men in Black III, never would have established his relationships with people who were critical to future roles in his career.
  • How he developed relationships in the film industry with this strategy: “I would do anything to get experience: student films, non-paying plays — anything.”
  • The thing that made all the difference for him: “The biggest thing that I did was to get to know people in the creature shops. Sometimes, the creature shops would be responsible for identifying the actor to play specific roles. Getting to know them, I can bypass producers, casting directors, and others. I learned who all the shops are, and keep in touch with them.” He encourages more people need to get involved in the business side of their creative profession. How, in his field, you can be an amazing actor who never gets work, because you never learn about how to make the right connections. Or vice versa, you can be a mediocre actor who always gets work because you understand how the business operates.
  • He got a recent big movie role by cold calling a “creature shop” in Hollywood. He tells the story: “They said they were too busy, call back in a couple months. Then the next week, on a Saturday, they called and asked what my availability was for the next four months, and if I could come in Monday morning. They had no idea who I was the week before. I said I was definitely free, because I was working at Outback Steakhouse full time when this happened.”

Jason reminds me that success often comes from a mixture of craft and gumption. He created opportunities for himself by picking up the phone, saying ‘yes’ to small jobs, and by simply caring about those around him.

If you are in-between and could use any kind of support or advice, email me and let me know how I can help. I know that sometimes, the difference between feeling lost and found can depend on just a few encouraging words of advice.