Seeking Inspiration

Where do creatives find the stimulus for fresh ideas? In a feature that first appeared in EncoreMegan Reynolds looks for the source of inspiration.


Coming up with fresh ideas day after day is no easy task, particularly when you’re operating in an increasingly cluttered market where a unique voice is hard to find. For creatives working in the media, marketing and entertainment industries, constantly producing ideas requires an established set of skills and something else altogether: inspiration. It’s an elusive impulse experienced by some more than others. But is it something creatives can tap into more frequently if they put their minds to it?

Andy Flemming, creative director at M&C Saatchi in Sydney, says he finds his inspiration in everything, especially the internet. He starts the day by looking at a range of websites from art and science to news, videos, photography and technology. He also makes time to play video games, listen to music and discover new things.

Flemming says: “I’ve always said to be successful in this business you need to retain the wonder of a child. When you’re a kid you’ve got this innate wonder of everything – the stars, the planets, computers, music – everything just fills you with energy. And as you get older you kind of lose that, but you can’t lose it if you want to stay creative.”

When he sits down to crack a brief, Flemming says the combination of all of that input will form the basis of a fresh idea.

“The more weirdness you can get into your head the better; then sometimes your brain just starts throwing odd things together and great things happen,” he says.

Adam Elliot

Adam Elliot

Film-maker Adam Elliot, the creator of clay animation films including the Academy Award winning Harvie Krumpet, says he is inspired by the people in his life and the details he notices along the way.

“All of my scripts start with anger about a friend or relative who I feel is being misunderstood and there’s a degree of injustice in their life,” he says.

The character Max in the 2009 film Mary and Max, featuring the voice of Philip Seymour Hoffman, is based on his pen pal in New York, who has Asperger’s syndrome; and Harvie Krumpet is an amalgamation of people he has known – a Scout leader who had steel plate in his head, and the father of a woman he lived with who emigrated from Poland during the war and settled in Footscray, Victoria.

Elliot keeps detailed notes of things that interest him in a series of journals that serve as recipe books for his scripts.

“I start with the details first and then I work my way backwards,” he says. “I write a film and I say ‘I want there to be a chihuahua in there and a scene where a little boy gets chased by a crow’. They’re more little vignettes and moments that I want in the film somewhere. Then I work out a way to string them all together and get a rhythm happening, get a balance of comedy and tragedy and the pace right.”

Taking the creative process step by step is a common remedy for becoming overwhelmed by a particular project. The other approach is to take a step back.

Flemming says: “If you do find yourself stuck, and it has happened, then I find that just completely dropping that thinking process and going off and watching a movie, or listening to something, you come back to it and your brain is continuing to work on it.”

“Your brain works in funny ways. It has always got a problem to solve that it’s not always working on at the top of your mind, sometimes it’s solving it in the back of your head. You have to let it do its thing,” he says. “Sometimes you go back two hours later and something pops up, because you’ve given yourself a break. The worst thing you can do is put pressure on yourself and worry.”

Film-maker Scott Hicks agrees. Speaking at the Adelaide Film Festival earlier this month, the director of the feature film Shine likened creativity and the seeking of inspiration to a flowing stream. “Ideas are very evanescent, ephemeral, gossamer kind of things that drift in and out of your consciousness,” he said. “If you focus on something – like I focus every day on making a movie, and think how am I going to stage a scene if I haven’t planned everything already – sometimes you push too hard. If you worry at it and worry at it, it will not come. It just won’t.”

“You just have to back-brain it. You have to think about it, ponder it and put it to the back of your mind. And hopefully it will emerge.”

Al Crawford, executive planning director at Clemenger BBDO, says: “Alongside the interaction stuff you need incubation time, you do need to wander away from it and there will be periods where it feels like you’re getting nowhere and that’s where trying to accelerate these things stops you from thinking broadly about stuff.”

“Chat and time to reflect are two important elements and you need both of those. But there are moments where it’s bloody hard and increasingly in the world we live in where there’s so much competition, finding something new takes some real digging sometimes.”

In his experiences searching for the spark of inspiration, Crawford has found when he’s immersed in the realm of creativity he is more likely to strike gold.

“If you’re positive, you have a mindset of investigation, rather than running away; of broadening and building, rather than critiquing and analysing. You can see the opportunities and create more opportunities as a result. You cannot be creative unless you are processing it all the time,” he says. “Understanding your field is crucially important, and it’s a reason why advertising agencies throw ads around to each other – there’s a constant ongoing dialogue about the work, and it should be an eclectic group of people who have diverse interests.”

The weirder and more current the stimulus, the better the flow of ideas will be, says Flemming. Most of the good creatives he knows are a little bit eccentric, and inspired by many things.

“If you walk into any creative’s office you will see the room is speckled with things that inspire them,” he says.

“Pictures and images from photographers they like, or videos and books they love. In a funny sort of way it’s almost like a kid’s bedroom, filled with disparate objects, but they are all there for a reason. It’s because they inspire in one way, shape or form.”

And good creatives are often those who dare to be different and are not afraid to indulge in activities that could be perceived as childish says Flemming.

“Inspiration is everywhere. It’s can be found in enjoying what people are doing, seeing that and staying interested in stuff,” he says.

During his talk at the Adelaide Film Festival, Hicks relayed the story of how fellow film-maker Peter Weir was inspired to make his 1977 movie The Last Wave when he was walking through the desert in North Africa.

As the story goes, Weir had a feeling he was going to find something. He looked down and saw a stone on the ground. “He pulled it out and it was a carved head that had been lying there since time immemorial waiting for him to discover it,” Hicks said.

“And it was the seed, the progenitor, of the whole idea of The Last Wave. The fact that he believed that he was going to find something and so he did and out of that grew an entire movie.”

While a carved head in the North African desert might be out of reach for most creatives, the idea of seeking inspiration in the everyday as well as the most unlikely of places is more than just an elusive mirage.


Encore issue 36This feature first appeared in EncoreDownload it now on iPad, iPhone and Android tablet devices.



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