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Idea generation! Writer’s block! Rejection! If you’re the creative type, you’ve suffered all these cranial indignities. But fear not, as B&T delves into the cortex of some of Australia’s most creative brains in search of answers…
Chanteuse and total Australian music legend
My entire career the writing process has always been a bit idiosyncratic. And it changes as you get older. As a teenager there’s the ingénue factor. In your 20s there’s the pressures of fame and the complexities of romance. In your 30s there comes different sorts of insecurities, many of them quite disturbing. In your 40s it changes again. Yes, writing music can be formulaic, but I’ve never written like that.
Writing music is a highly indulgent thing to do anyway and it’s a very singular thing to do. But that said, once you’ve got the melody that’s when you bring in the whole team, the band, and create the sound and just gangbang it. Where do I find the inspiration? It’s always from great songs. The first ever singles I owned were Elton John’s Rocketman and Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights and to me it was just such great storytelling; both very private and intimate to them and they were opening their hearts for me to read. I remember thinking how great is this? To be able to go and provoke that sort of emotion in people with something that is so personal and private.
The best way to fuck-up a person’s tennis game is to ask them how they hold their racquets. And it’s the same with song writing; soon as someone asks you how you do it you’re gone. Whenever you get stuck, you just need to change direction. For me, cinema has always been a huge inspiration in my song writing. Most musicians collect vinyl, but I collect cinema. As a teenager, watching midday movies, I remember the soundtracks used to make me very emotional. Everyone needs a soundtrack to their lives; it helps you identify who you are, what you’re doing in your life and what your purpose is.
Seventeen-year-old musical prodigy, ARIA Award winner and owner of three songs in this year’s triple J Hottest 100
Does the writing process just come to me? I keep a notebook of random thoughts and ideas, which I use in writing sessions. Some days I’ll be feeling more inspired than others so it can come way easier. Most of my songs start with a chord or a beat, followed by concept, melody and finally lyrics. I’ve never really suffered from writer’s block. I always feel like there’s always something to write about. You just have to dig deeper on those rough days. There’s no template to it [song writing], it’s almost impossible to guarantee a hit because of how much that goes into it and what needs to happen behind the scenes in order for people to hear it.
There’s a structure and a length many songs fall into, but I’ve always tried to avoid writing to a formula. When it comes to making music there’s so many different people involved that you have to take a collaborative approach. When it comes to inspiration, it can come from anything or anywhere or wherever you let it. It’s all about finding new ways to write and sing about certain topics.
I’m still young so my life experiences are pretty limited, so I often find myself drawing on movies and universal stories. For sure, a lot of the stuff I write never even sees the light of day. I’d say probably 60 to 70 per cent never gets past my notebook. I only release what I truly, truly love. As a musician you get constantly critiqued and if it’s constructive then I listen and take it in. Often it’s just trolls and then you just have to see the funny side to it. Do I ever suffer self-doubt? Not really, because I never release a song that I don’t like.
Comedic genius and host of Hughesy, We Have A Problem
When it comes to coming up with the ideas I have a team, so we all pitch in and help each other out, basically. It’s corny to say, but you just have to take it a day at a time, but I’d say don’t say it too seriously. It’s comedy! When am I most creative? It’s usually when things go wrong. A lot of material I get is when I have angst and then I turn that into a comedy; that’s the whole premise of Hughesy, We Have A Problem – making comedy out of problems. Sometimes it just comes to you naturally and other times you have to sit down and nut it out.
I’ll be driving along and have an idea and then, shit, I really shouldn’t look at my phone right now, but it can hit any time and I want to get it down. The notes section of my iPhone gets a good workout though and I could be anywhere when it happens. If I have fun doing it, then I think it’s good. What other people think is up to them, but I’m very confident that I produce quality work. Sometimes I’ll test a joke first before going public. Sometimes I might tell a story to a friend and they laugh and you think that’ll go in an act or a new show, but other times I just want it to be fresh. I think I must just have a sense for what’s funny.
Big thinker, DDB Sydney’s chief creative officer
Panic is never a good way to handle any pitch. How do I start? You have to have a certain amount of confidence the ‘big idea’ will come, even if it doesn’t come straight away. So, the best place to start is without fear. Do I think there are too many people in the creative process? Yes, probably. Ultimately, it’s much better when you’ve got fewer people involved and just one person in charge. You have to be collaborative and that’s about having people around you who have slightly different skills and points of views and backgrounds and experiences than you do and that will most likely get you to a better place.
But in the end, ultimately someone has to make the decision about what you’re doing. When it comes to the client intervening in the process, I think the best thing you can do is ensure you have the best relationship with them that you can. Ultimately, they’re paying the bills; it’s not art, it is commerce plus art! How do I get my creative juices flowing? It’s not by sitting at my desk. Usually it comes to you when you’re in the car or walking my dogs. People think that creatives get all their ideas from watching other ads, but I get far more ideas from my own experiences. It’s like Cannes, every year they release a trends report, but I’m of the view that’s what happened last year. Sure, you need to be ahead of the zeitgeist, but you also need to try play in a space that no-one else is. If you’re drawing on other ads, then you’re putting your hand in the same bucket. You also need to be across your client’s business and know what their competitors are doing.
Industry sage, Thinkerbell chief thinker, author of Stop Listening To The Customer… Try Hearing Your Brand Instead
Whenever there’s a problem to solve I always ask who’s best to solve it? And that’s invariably a collective of people and it’s about getting the right people around the problem and they most likely reside in the agency, but if they reside outside then we’ll bring them in too. Look, I don’t even pretend I don’t meddle because I meddle the whole way through. But I want people to meddle; I think that, done constructively, meddling can really solve a lot of problems.
Meddling’s great, because meddling’s curiosity and given the right attitude, it can really build on an idea. The problem in the creative process is often there are just so many stakeholders and they all want to have an opinion and that’s something that does need to be managed in a way that’s different to say an artist who just creates on their own. You need to have the right balance of enthusiasm and support to make the idea as big and powerful as possible but you also have to have the right level of cynicism so you don’t get lost in something that’s crap. I don’t get writer’s block.
I think if you come up with one idea and you stick with that idea and from there I get a lot of different connections in my head and it’s about keeping those connections loose. And I think that’s what makes a good creative – someone with a loose brain and a good memory then there’s lots of different opportunities to form connections in interesting ways. Do I look at a lot of other ads for inspiration? I’m interested in advertising and marketing, but I don’t know if it makes me a better or worse (creative). What I hate is how derivative our industry is. I hate how all ads look the same with this slightly washed-out hipster aesthetic and everyone seems to be referencing the same material.
Creative director at Leo Burnett Melbourne, playwright, documentary filmmaker, radio host
When any brief lands you kind of get this fear that you immediately have to come up with some magical solution to the problem. I put a timer on and I give myself seven minutes to get everything out of my head and down on a page. I think the [creative] block comes when you re-edit and before you even have an idea you’re already doubting it. So, I just let all the nonsense come out and see where any of that takes me. Ultimately advertising is about problem solving and you’re not always emotionally invested in the product even though you can get very deeply involved in the product’s story.
How do I get my creative juices flowing? I know what time of the day when I work best. When the brief first comes in you spend a lot of time talking to the rest of the team and then you go away and work on it; we’ve all got our favourite little rituals. Like, I’ll come up with an initial idea and then I leave it for a while, let it percolate and then I’ll go back and attack it. Going online and just Googling it can also be really helpful. No, I don’t look at other ads for inspiration because that can you just stick in your head, but I definitely look at ads just to stay on top of what is happening, see where the real innovation is or what’s emerging.
For any pitch I just think what’s the truth in this? What’s the kernel that’s going to resonate? And what’s the best story telling device to use along the way? And, yes, your ideas get rejected. And when you first start out that’s absolutely crushing. But you’ll never have a career unless you believe in what you’re creating. But no work is wasted, your creative muscle gets better and better and better with every challenge you solve.
Chaser comic, author, Triple M host, Alan Jones nemesis
When you do a daily radio show you just don’t have time to have writer’s block. What I do is just start writing, putting the ideas down and even if you know it’s shit you just keep writing. Inevitably you end up finding something surprising and interesting lurking in there. I tend to work solo but if I’m ever stuck for an idea you can rely on Dom (Knight) or anyone to at least give you half an idea. But when I write longer form stuff you’ve got more time, you can get in the zone and the hours fly by. I think any creative person gets racked with self-doubt, the whole, “Is this any good?” thing.
You just have to keep ploughing through and then go back and fix it. You just have to start and the creativity tends to follow. Do I do anything to get the creative juices flowing? I could never write on alcohol. Soon as I have a drink I want to stop writing and start drinking. But coffee, definitely, I drink so much coffee. I’ve always found it’s a terrible idea to test the premise of a creative idea on someone. If people don’t like the premise then you can kinda become resentful and the idea – which is possibly a good one – goes nowhere.
Then it can go the other way – they love the premise but the final sketch fails to meet their expectations. So I tend to keep things to myself until they’re a more free-formed idea. As a comic, I know where the line is drawn in what you can and can’t do and if you cross that line you’re very quickly unemployed. Go over the line on Twitter and see what happens! It’s a complete catastrophe. On radio you can push the boundaries more because it’s so disposable and it’s hard to rally a mob against you if you push it too far. But that’s the great thing about comedy; it allows you to tackle issues that most other mediums can’t.
Total TV addict, script writing genius and Home And Away’s series script executive
The problem with TV is you write six months in advance of an episode going to air so there’s this constant thing of “will this be relevant?” You really have to trust your instincts and know who your audience are and take a gamble; everyone needs to hold hands and take the leap. In TV, by the time you get any feedback that horse has bolted. Home And Away has the most diverse audience imaginable. We’ve got the 70-year-olds who’ve watched the show for 30 years right through to mums and dads watching with kids and then there are all the teenagers.
It’s so fast-paced there’s just no time for writer’s block, the machine just needs to be fed every single minute of every single day or it all grinds to halt. Sure, there’s days when you’re not as inspired but ultimately I love telling these stories so it’s not hard to get past a momentary lapse. And, yes, most of my best ideas come to me in the middle of the night. But scriptwriting is a discipline, you have to be able to sit in a writer’s room at 10am on a Monday and tell a story and if you don’t you’ve soon got a whole sea of faces staring at you waiting for you to come up with something.
I watch a lot of TV, I devour television, but that’s not to say that’s necessarily where my inspiration comes from. Home And Away has the recurring themes of love and family and community, but that said it’s ever evolving and that means there are no rules either. I’ve always tried to have good social messaging in the stories. In the last 12 months we’ve touched on online grooming, medicinal marijuana; we’ve done male depression, IVF and fertility stories, and I’m very aware that there’s a changing society out there and that the characters reflect the audience.
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