If you care about something deeply it will pull you in different directions emotionally. To get an important creative project off the ground is not for the faint of heart. The creative put themselves into what they do, their fears, passions, worries and obsessions. Therefore their failures are more crushing and their successes more rewarding. If you care about something, you pour your emotions into it, get excited, frustrated, disappointed, delighted and exhausted. It is ultimately more fulfilling than a safe but uncreative existence.
When film director Stephen Spielberg began the landmark movie Jaws, he was in for an emotional roller coaster.
High: Universal Studios asked Spielberg to direct Jaws. It was a proper, big budget movie—an opportunity to show his true potential.
Low: Spielberg felt there were problems with the book and script. He felt the reader was on the side of the shark. He felt that people only got truly involved in a film if there were people to root for. There were many rewrites by many different writers but they started the film without a viable script.
High: Spielberg took his friends Martin Scorsese and George Lucas to see the mechanical shark in a hangar in North Hollywood. Lucas looked at the storyboard, looked at the shark and said to Spielberg, ‘If you can get half of this on film you’re gonna have the biggest hit of all time.’
Low: After six months spent on preproduction, Spielberg tried to pull out. He felt the movie would not be taken seriously. He asked Universal to release him from his contract. He said ‘let me out of this film.’ But they convinced him it was his big chance and not to blow it.
Low: Spielberg insisted on filming in the ocean rather than in a tank. A tank would have been cheaper and more manageable but he wanted realism. The crew nicknamed the film Flaws because one of the mechanical sharks sank and the other two rarely worked properly. They needed constant repairs and production had to be shut down frequently.
High: Because there was so much wasted time, sitting around waiting for the sharks to be repaired, Spielberg and the actors had lots of time to improvise and improve their lines and scenes.
Low: During filming the author of the Jaws novel, Peter Benchley, criticized him in the Los Angeles Times. Saying of Spielberg, ‘He has no knowledge of reality but the movies. He is B-movie literate…’
Low: Richard Dreyfuss, a struggling actor, turned down the role he’d been offered three times. He didn’t like the script and didn’t like his character because he had the role of dispensing an endless stream of shark facts
High: Dreyfuss’s latest film was released and was a flop. He suddenly changed his mind about Jaws. He was worried he’d never get another role. He had huge reservations though and said ‘We started the film without a script, without a cast and without a shark.’
Low: Spielberg ran 300% over budget and the footage was a mess. The 55 day schedule turned into 159. He was in trouble. On film the shark looked ridiculous. He had to cut most of the footage of the shark and suggest it rather than show it.
High: Having to cut the footage of the mechanical shark made the suspense greater and gave the film more impact.
High: Jaws changed the movie business forever and made motion picture history. Spielberg soaked up the admiration of his phenomenal hit.
Low: Spielberg’s friends didn’t react to Jaws success in the way he expected. Many of his friends were disparaging and scoffed at his success. They told him it was a fluke, he happened to be in the right place at the right time and he’d never repeat the trick.
Low: Everyone, including Spielberg took it for granted he’d be nominated for an Academy Award for best director. He invited a TV camera crew to his office so that they could capture his reaction to the good news on film. He wanted the world to see. The Academy slighted him. He didn’t receive a nomination. He couldn’t hide his disappointment. He was filmed with his head in his hands saying, ‘I can’t believe it.’
High: He began preproduction on Close Encounters.
If you are being creative, highs and lows are impossible to avoid. Any creative project will repeatedly take you on an exhilarating ride to the top of a mountain and then repeatedly throw you off.
Many of the sources in this article are from the fascinating book by Peter Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.
Rod Judkins MA RCA is an artist, writer, and professional public speaker, delivering lectures and workshops that explain the creative process and help individuals and businesses to be more inspired in their lives and work. He is author of the international bestseller, Change Your Mind: 57 Ways to Unlock Your Creative Self.