At this year’s WonderCon, Impact24 PR brought together a talented group of directors, writers, producers, and showrunners to discuss their professional experiences bringing stories to life. While the panelists’ previous projects encompassed a diverse range of mediums, including films, television series, and podcasts, everyone shared a clear commitment to storytelling and creativity.
The panelists included Raul Vega (Podcast Creator/Showrunner at Phantom Ape Productions), Harold Moss (Founder/Creative Director of FlickerLab), Jason Michael Primrose (Chief Creative Officer, “Lost Children of Andromeda”), Stephen Anderson (Director/Writer, “Meet the Robinsons”; “Monsters at Work”), Ben Simms (Director/Executive Producer, “You vs. Wild”), J.P. Buck (Former Supervising Producer, “Conan”), Aparna Brielle (Actress/Producer, “Swiss & Lali Hijack Hollywood”), and Kristin Couture (Actress/Executive Producer, “Swiss & Lali Hijack Hollywood”).
Following the informative and inspiring panel, Blast Magazine had the opportunity to participate in a virtual press room with the panelists where they shared their techniques for overcoming creative roadblocks and the best advice they’ve received during their careers.
For Raul Vega, sleep is often the best technique to overcoming a creative roadblock. “I’m a very strong believer that sometimes the subconscious will figure out a lot of the problems for you.” While it can be easy to believe the only solution to creative fatigue is completing more work, through Vega’s career, he has come to learn that this is counter-productive and often leads to burnout and a sub-par work performance. “We’re all such highly motivated people that we don’t really know how to turn it off sometimes, but you realize that if you keep doing that, you’re only going to drain yourself. It affects the project, and it affects your collaborators.”
Ben Simms echoed Vega’s sentiments of taking time to rest to prevent future creative burn out. “There’s such an engrained hustler culture now with the idea of grind, grind, grind, and there certainly is a time for that. However, if you’re not being efficient, you’re just going to burn yourself out later.” Simms expressed the importance of understanding that taking a break is not equivalent to quitting on yourself or the project. “You’re not giving up. You’re just being smart and calculated. If you can get yourself to a point where you can understand how to schedule your own time and creativity around whatever your deadline is, I think you’re going to get a much better return.”
While sleep may be beneficial for some creatives, others have found solace in physical movement. Jason Michael Primrose relies on one simple tool to combat his creative challenges: dancing. “I’ll dance in a room, on the street, wherever.” Dancing provides Primrose with the opportunity to find the fun and play in his storytelling, something that is often forgotten by creative professionals. “I think we take things too seriously. We’re talking about deadlines, structure, and success. But where is the fun? Bringing back the fun brings back the inspiration.”
Harold Moss shares Primrose’s dependence on physical movement when faced with creative challenges. “Motion is very critical. For me, it’s taking my three dogs out through the woods.” Moss then explained some of the scientific reasons physical movement can be so beneficial. “Getting up and moving actually breaks out of the way you are thinking, causes your neurons to fire in different ways, and gets different parts of your brain active.” Moss also noted the importance of having time to be bored in order to ultimately be more creative. “Boredom is very hard these days, particularly for people in hustle industries. Bored time is actually incredibly creative time, but we can often go long stretches where our down time is to be entertained and then our up time is to create entertainment.” Moss recognizes that everyone may have their own tips and techniques for overcoming these hurdles and encourages people to “find the healthiest, most productive way to get out of that spot.”
According to Stephen Anderson, the first step to overcoming a creative block is recognizing the conflict between the creative and critical parts of your brain. “Both of those voices are incredibly important. You need to be able to have pure creative time and you also need to be able to step back and evaluate your work. I find that when I’m listening to both of those voices at the same time though, that’s when I get paralyzed.” Anderson recognizes that finding that balance can be challenging, but insists it is crucial for creative storytelling. “It’s about finding a way to use both sides of your brain and make it a relationship as opposed to a fight. Invite the creator in and excuse them when the creation is done. Then, invite the critic to come in, evaluate your work, and excuse them. Then, bring the creator back in, and so on and so forth.”
Great career advice can come from anywhere. For Raul Vega, that advice came from his current boss, who once told him: “Playing leads to discovery.” During his tenure at the film music studio where he is employed, Vega has come to recognize the importance of remaining flexible and playful in his storytelling process. “Everything I’ve done on every score that I’ve worked on has come from experimenting. You have to play around. Even though the playground may be a little chaotic and reckless sometimes, if you still remember to have fun with it, that will lead you to new paths and directions you may never have been able to discover otherwise.”
Stephen Anderson further noted that his best career advice came from a fellow storyboard artist at Disney Features, who had worked in the industry far longer than Anderson: “You have to take pleasure in the process. If you look for your reward to be the final product, oftentimes you will be disappointed. There will always be concessions and compromises you have to make and if you’re looking for the final product to be the trophy at the end of the race, you’re probably going to be disappointed.” As the completed project may not be the best metric of success, Anderson shared what creatives should instead focus their energy on. “What you can always rely on is the people that you’re working with and the experience of working with those people. I remind myself on some of those darker days that I’m getting to create and work with these talented individuals, and that is what I should enjoy.”
Harold Moss’ best creative advice similarly stems from the importance of focusing your energy only on what is within your control: “Don’t hinge your satisfaction on the final product or the reception the world shall give it.” Moss has found that changing your definition of success can allow for surprising personal and professional growth. “You can have a really joyful life even if you’ve never had success in a traditional sense. The impacts you have may be a lot different than what you thought they were going to be, but they also may be profound in ways that you didn’t see coming. It’s about recognizing that I shall be in this world according to my terms, not the terms that have been laid out for me.”
While it is critical for creatives not to tie their self-worth to the finished product, Ben Simms also recognizes the importance of always producing the best work possible, regardless of whose concept the project is based on. “Disagree but then commit. There are so many times that you have to make a creative compromise and if it doesn’t fall your way, that’s fine. But you then need to commit to making that idea the best it can possibly be. If you don’t, you do yourself and the project a disservice.”
Surprisingly, Kristin Couture’s best career advice came from a source outside the world of storytelling: a race car driver she met when she was younger. “You are the sum of the people you surround yourself with,” shared Couture, “if you surround yourself with positive, creative, hardworking people, it will start reflecting in your own life as well.”
For those who are new to the entertainment industry, it can feel especially discouraging to not immediately find yourself in the career you’ve dreamed of. While these early projects may not be the work you hope to be remembered for in the future, J.P. Buck still believes there are lessons to be taken from these experiences: “I have plenty of projects that I’m not proud of but through those projects, I met somebody, I learned something, or I gained a new skill, and ultimately, I’m a better person for it. The hope is always that you can take something from it.”
It can also be difficult to look at someone else’s credits or upcoming projects and not feel discouraged by your own accomplishments. For those situations, Aparna Brielle has an important piece of advice: “Focus on your own place and remember that comparison is the thief of joy.” Brielle recognizes that while it may be difficult to understand the importance of taking pride in your unique journey, it is necessary for both your professional and personal success. “As soon as I really understood what it meant to not try to make my life or career anyone else’s, and just to follow my own path, that was the moment I was able to let go and find success. When you stop comparing yourself to others, you can really be your best self creatively and otherwise.”
Special thanks to Impact24 PR for organizing a great WonderCon panel and wonderful virtual press room!