That thing that everyone keeps talking about — The creative fuel for your creative fire? Where exactly does that come from? If you're looking for the short and sweet answer, it comes from wherever the hell you want it to. It comes from music, movies, television, books, nature, cities, and the people all around you. It comes from the weirdest and most random places. Sometimes it hits you like a truck and you know right away; “Holy shit, I just got inspired!” Other times it's much more subtle and you don't realize for a few days or weeks, maybe even months that something happened and you've got your creative wheels spinning.
Let's break this down to a single example that has me wondering about my own sources of inspiration lately. There is this new movie coming out soon called "The Dark Tower," it's based on a book series by Stephen King. To be totally honest, I don't know anything about the movie or the books other than what I've seen in the trailer (below). I have heard friends casually mention the series before but I don't know the plot, the characters, or anything important to the story. Everything I know about this new movie comes from the three-minute trailer.
For the last few weeks, ever since I first saw the teaser, there is a single solitary frame that I can't get out of my mind. It's a close-up shot of Matthew McConaughey and it's burned into my mind. The kid, played by Tom Taylor, is walking through a field with a guy called the gunslinger, played by Idris Elba. Whatever the conversation leading up to this moment, the kid says, “...he's like the devil, isn't he?” to which Elba replies, “No, he's worse.” The scene cuts to McConaughey kneeling down and we see nothing but the texture of his face and his eyes, illuminated by something in front of him, some kind of flames maybe?
What's my point? What makes that frame of McConaughey's eyes so important or inspiring? I have no idea, but I recognize that the image is, for reasons I don't really understand, speaking to the artist in me. It might be the colors of the scene, or maybe the lines and texture in his face. Maybe it's the catch lights and reflections playing in his eyes. The point is now I'm wondering about the scene and what's going on. What's the context? How did they shoot that scene? What about the color grading? What if I tried to do a similar shot? I think I'd want a macro lens and I'd need to learn some more about dramatic portraiture. Who do I know who has a really weathered and distinguished face that might be willing to model for me? Could I use real flames for catch lights? These are all questions that I've been asking myself and they all stem from that one shot.
Recognizing that creativity and inspiration can come from literally anywhere and being able to find the moment that you are driven to create, or even the moment that you begin to wonder about creating, is an incredibly useful skill. It keeps you wondering about the things you see and hear, always on the hunt for anything that plants a new seed in your mind. Sometimes it's more useful to recognize in yourself when you've been inspired than to actually understand what is inspiring you.