Writer | Director | Producer | Editor
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Lux Veritas

"In the cinema we do not think, we are thought." Jean Luc Godard

Discussing the cinema, my experiences in it, and my ideas about it.

Ten Lessons from 2012 – Seven: “Intuition as a Creative Force.”

This year was the year that I pushed myself to take on projects of a difficulty level that I’d never quite faced before.  At the beginning of the year I set out to tackle a script that I’d been writing and rewriting for about a year.  To me, it was the glass ceiling that I needed to break through in order to achieve greater heights as a storyteller.  That film was “Kid Picasso.”

Whenever faced with a creative decision in the process of making that film – I attempted to use strict principles I’d learned in order to come to my final decisions.  I was attempting to use an entirely hyper rationalistic design methodology that ultimately left little room for things like intuition.  Ultimately, we succeeded in making the film.  While I’m proud of the film and everything that it represents – one of the greatest things that I learned in the process of making it was that a methodology built on reason alone is not sufficient for the storytelling process.  I began to turn away from books on filmmaking and toward Jungian psychology for answers to this problem.

I was engrossed in several books on myth and mytho-poetic analysis.  The nature of archetypal symbols embedded into the oldest of stories was becoming clearer and clearer to me as months began to pass.  An important turning point was the consideration of the obvious fact that these storytellers were unaware of the manipulation of symbol and theme that they were engaging in.  While some of the great works of myth remain the most powerful examples of these elements in their rawest form, the storytellers who first conceived them were working largely in the process of ritual use of intuition.  In my own experimenting with writing, I began to discover that when I allowed my mind to move forward one step at a time – without rigorous rationalistic methodology – I was stumbling upon greater and greater depths of symbol, theme, and subtext.  Of course developing stories in this way is essentially incomplete.  I maintain a rationalistic analytic methodology is important for looking back at the story – identifying dramatic problems – and developing congruent solutions.

Through the process of experimenting with writing – I developed a story about a professional killer who was determined to adopt a new life, only to realize that this was much harder than he had anticipated.  The script was called “Inertia.”  Analyzing it after having completed it – I identified the dramatic idea that was most appealing to me. “Choices become habits, habits become character, character becomes destiny – Inertia.”

In the spring, it was time to direct this project.  Months of pre-production finally came to fruition.  We arrived on set.  All the elements were in play.  I had prepared my normal intense process of rationalistic shot-design, blocking charts, emotional mapping, and dramaturgical analysis before-hand.  However, when I arrived on the set that first day of shooting, though I didn’t understand it then – I realize now – I had been changed by my experiments in spontaneous writing.  Suddenly, the frame was not just a canvas to design – but a dialectic.  As ridiculously strange as it sounds, it felt as if the story itself was communicating its intent and desires to myself and my cinematographer.

What do I mean by that?  Well, the only way I can explain it rationally is that – more aware of our intuition than we were before – and with a more refined set of tastes than we’d ever had before – an inner voice began to make itself known about relating the material we were working with to the wellspring of things we’d admired, things, solutions to similar problems we had observed, and to the general collected unconsciousness of symbols and themes that is inside all of us.  These impulses were always there – but in all our past filmmaking adventures they had been so much easier to ignore.  They had been easier to ignore because we had falsely believed that the only way one could come to a solution to any given problem was through the application of filmmaking principle.  This is perhaps the most reliable and essential way to solve problems, but it must be held in tandem with the power of our native intuitions.

As a result – the shot design, blocking, direction of the actors, and overall design for the film had to be greatly revised as we went along with the project on the set.  At first this caused me great anxiety.  Well actually, the whole way through this caused me great anxiety.  But there were other moments as well.  Moments of exhilaration.  We were filming in a forest.  I’d designed the scene to have six shots.  Watching the scene in the wide shot, I was incredibly moved.  Every impulse of my intuition demanded that the scene remain in that wide shot.  We reduced the scene to just the three shots – an opening close up, the wide shot for the scene, a dolly pull back for our exit out of the scene.  Today it is still one of my favorite scenes that I’ve directed.  Had I rushed through all six shots I would have either ended up with a cut that included unnecessary material or I would have had to cut them out of the film later on anyway.

I’ve found, ever since embracing intuition in one major avenue of my life – that I’ve begun to be unafraid of trusting it in many other areas.  In my studies of philosophy, history, and economics I’ve begun to feel certain intuitive connections to thinkers and ideas.  What I’ve realized is that these connections are subtle identifications of the intellectual traditions these ideas emerged from.  For example, I might be reading about a particular economist who recommends a policy I’d never heard of.  Still, my gut tells me that he is connected to Keynesianism.  As I continue reading I discover that I am correct that his principles come from this intellectual tradition.

It is important to emphasize that intuition is a tool.  It is not the thing which final judgments should be made.  It can never ultimately replace reason or principle.  It is to be used in tandem with all other tools.  Ultimately, we cannot know all things at one time.  We must make decisions with the limited information that we have.  We must draw connections between the things we know and the things we do not fully understand.  Intuition is the human being’s most basic instrument for drawing those connections when there is a deficit of time or information in order to come to a more through intellectually guided answer.

As I’ve been reading Robert Greene’s new book “Mastery” this month, it has been interesting to see his emphasis on masters utilizing their craft – their principles – and then ultimately moving toward the use of instinct and intuition as well.

As human beings we have access to an inner maturity and depth – a wellspring of ancient knowledge and insight.  It might sound ridiculous, but in the hands of someone informed in their craft, this power can be used to it’s fullest ability.  I hope to someday be able to integrate intuition at greater and greater levels in unity with principle as a part of the overall methodology of my craft.

Travis Ratcliff