When I finished college and needed work there weren’t a lot of full time, salaried positions with benefits in media production, at least not in Alabama. And I needed the security of a regular paycheck to make sure I could pay back my student loans. Luckily, I landed a job with a retail sporting goods chain doing internal training and product knowledge videos for store employees. I was happy to be employed and there are aspects of this gig I've since come to appreciate deeply, but creating this type of content was not artistically rewarding.
The videos I made were the moving image extension of rules and policies. Being good at this job meant getting familiar with what executives expected from their troops and not deviating from the corporate bible. I made the tapes or DVDs you are forced to watch when starting a job that you don’t expect to be in for long. And producing something people are forced to watch didn't make me feel good. Being a one-man-show, producing, directing, shooting, editing, printing and burning DVDs, then packaging and shipping them to over 900 stores, was often a long, tedious, and lonely effort.
But in spare moments I would spend time thinking about projects I could initiate outside of work that would scratch my creative itch. Only, nothing seemed like enough.
Working full time as a “lone wolf”, “one-man-show” or “preditor” takes a lot out of you mentally. These terms just mean “we have the budget for one video person so you have to be able to do all of the things all of the time”. And when one does all of the things all of the time there’s not much energy left for creative experimentation. If I was going to make something outside of work hours I wanted it to be amazing. I didn’t have time to play, or dabble. This was not a game. It was serious. I had this idea in my head that the next thing I created had to show everyone just how great I was and lead me to new and exciting opportunities. Except, I really wasn’t that great and I didn’t have any ideas. I had some ideas, I just thought that none of them were worth the time investment.
There are so many things now. So many TV shows, movies, podcasts and YouTube vlogs begging for everyone’s eyes, ears and dollars. I was waiting on some magical, inspirational idea to pop into my head, an idea that could cut through all of the noise and put at least some eyes on my thing. My big, cool thing. So I waited.
I waited for so long that I lost most of the confidence I had in myself as a creative person. I became depressed. But there was something that I’d started to have fun with outside of my job, and that was cooking with my wife, Emily.
Emily had worked in the food industry a bit during college and was teaching me some cool techniques in the kitchen. We were cooking at home because we had to, and when you must cook your own meals every day the menu expands out of necessity. No one wants to eat spaghetti everyday. After viewing cooking tutorials on YouTube and many lazy Saturdays spent watching America’s Test Kitchen, I decided I’d try to film us cooking and turn it into a YouTube series. It wouldn’t be groundbreaking, original content creation, but it would be something. And it would be fun, a project to get me moving and thinking creatively again. The series was called “New Recipe To Me”.
Most of the episodes are a tired husband and wife, at night, after work, bumbling through making food on camera and trying to crack jokes along the way. It wasn't shot beautifully. There are production flaws, recipes we did wrong, and episodes that drag on and on by today’s fast paced “hands and pans” standards. But for almost 6 months I tried to do an episode per week. I got better at editing, cutting out verbal stalls and attempting to make us look funnier than we are. We had a small audience of friends who enjoyed hanging out with us as we cooked food for ourselves on camera.
We didn’t really cut through the noise and all eyes were not on this show I made. But I finally made something. And during that time I really needed to make anything to pull me out of my funk. It was the forward momentum from “New Recipe To Me” that helped me move on to the next, slightly bigger thing.
As creative people, how often do we delay getting started because we think our ideas aren’t good enough, or big enough? Do all of our projects have to be big, or can they just be ours and for ourselves? It’s disheartening to pour everything into a creative endeavor, send it out into the world, then have no one notice, or worse. It can be soul crushing to upload a video you spent days, weeks, or in some cases years on and then watch a view counter barely creep past 100. But the thing to remember, that’s so hard to keep in mind, is that it was never about view counts, subscriber numbers, likes and follows. An audience is wonderful. Having people view and appreciate your work is one of the rewards. But if no one ever saw any of your work ever again, never clicked a like button, never shared it on social media, would you stop creating it?
Do we create solely for other people, or do we create because we have to?
I want to live in the place where I remember that not everyone will love what I create, but I keep creating because I love.
At least it’s something.