Build or Kill Creativity

By Tim Hopwood

Creativity is a funny thing. Some people can sit down with a pad and pen and “decide” to be creative. Soon after their pen touches the paper, they have the makings of a great spot. I have worked with many production talents who can work in this magnificent manner. I have often wondered what makes these guys different from the guys who constantly run into creative roadblocks. Do they think differently? Did they inherit a “creative gene” that others were not fortunate enough to endure? Wait a minute…maybe they ate their vegetables as a child—instead of secretly slipping them to Duke, the family dog. Everyone thinks differently, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be creative—even if it doesn’t come when you call for it.

Let’s analyze this one piece at a time. What kind of atmosphere do you work in? I once worked at a radio station in Paducah, Kentucky—it was the number one station. Working for the number one station was a great feeling. But…that was it. It was just a feeling. Everyone was on his or her own team. Each air talent felt so threatened by the very existence of the other, it was officially designated as a war zone. Instead of getting together stimulating ideas and bouncing off one another, everyone stayed quiet—each thinking they were better than the other. After this station had moved into the number one slot and stayed there for years, management forgot how to run a radio station—how to compete if you will. Now, due to the egotistical attitudes of the air-staff and the idiotic decisions from management, the station is now warming up another ranking slot. An atmosphere such as this can kill motivation, love for the business, and yes, creativity. But atmosphere does not have to dictate “state of mind.”

At this particular station, there were four different stations in one building and only two production rooms. Most saw this as a problem when it should have never been an issue. You see, before you go into the production room you should have that “general idea.” I admit that some of my best pieces ended up with a sound that I didn’t first hear or anticipate—but it worked, and sometimes worked well. The bottom line is that most of us need more inspiration than sitting in a small closed-in room with headphones on.

You may currently work for a company that has more than one station in one building. This doesn’t have to be a problem. Instead of beating on the door and yelling, find something else to do with your time while you wait. It is so important to utilize your time. Why? How and where you spend your time not only develops your personality, but your creativity as well. Example: ever notice when you’re in the bathroom you seem to think about people you haven’t talked to in years? Okay, so I’m not suggesting you spend more time on the toilet, but I am trying to get you to realize how important “time” is—and more importantly, where you spend it. Don’t force it! The best ideas will come to you when you’re not prepared for them.

Start carrying a pocket notebook. When a thought comes into your mind, write it down. Some of my best ideas have come to me while I was out with the family in the car, walking, cleaning house, cooking dinner and even sleeping. The human brain processes so much information that it is impossible to simply remember every thought. In fact, you think so many thoughts that a good 40% of them you’ll only think once in a lifetime. The key to successful creative production is collecting ideas as they come, not forcing them.

STAY OUT of the production room until you know what you want to do! Even if your first idea isn’t what you end up with! Why do I stress this? Remember earlier when I spoke of the creative geniuses that could come up with any idea at any place or any time? Most of us are not like that. In most situations when an order for a spot comes in that needs to start immediately, we end up with commercials that sound closer to straight-reads than anything else. But wait! Don’t be too hard on yourself.

Doing a straight read spot is not a bad thing. In fact, it could be just what the doctor ordered to stimulate future projects. What? Let me explain. When your “creative gene” is not forced, most of the time you’ll overflow with ideas. When a script comes along that you have read over and over again, and there’s nothing creative you can do with it, don’t force it. Get the essential information across and do it the best way you can. Now, when I say don’t force it and it will come, I don’t necessarily mean that it will come for that particular project, but it will come.

Being a creative producer does not mean producing masterpieces every time you step into the production room. A good producer is never far from a pen and pad—and knows some of the best ideas come when you’re sitting on the toilet.

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