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On camcorders, creativity, and play

If you are of a certain age, chances are you were in a camcorder home. Or knew someone who lived in a camcorder home.

For those born after 1980, there was a moment in time where the height of home entertainment was a VCR, or video cassette recorder. This device allowed people to record live TV and rent movies. It also lead to the invention of a camcorder, a handheld camera that allowed you to record birthdays, weddings, recitals and other monumental events to a video cassette. You could then relive these memories, or at least display them on a shelving unit in the basement.

It was the first time for many people that the art of making TV and movies were literally in the palm of our hands. We now know this as a Smartphone. But for camcorder families, this opened up a whole new world of creative possibilities.

Wedding videography became a new business for creative entrepreneurs.

My father spent a European vacation taking video of medieval toilets. So many zooms.

And for theatre nerds like me and my friends, we got to play at making movies.

We had no idea what we were doing. Not only was this before smartphones. This was also before Google. If you wanted to learn how to do something, you needed to go to the library and read it in a book. 

Or, you hit record and started experimenting.

Here’s the thing: we knew we were not creating great art. There were no expectations that anyone outside our friend group would actually watch this stuff.

But man alive was it fun to play around!

The more I create content for McEwen Media and the more I create content with clients, the more I see we’ve lost sight of how fun it is to make stuff from our imagination.

We weigh ourselves down with expectations. 

On social media, every post has to go viral. Or at least get some likes. Maybe just a share?

In TV, a show has to be a hit in its first episode, otherwise it won’t get a second season.

Movies have to hit big. Beyonce can’t just release a new song, she has to “break the internet”.

Recently I listened to an interview with Tina Fey on the podcast “Good Americans”. It’s hosted by Bowen Yang and Matt Rogers - all professional creators (acting, writing, singing). They touched on the pressure many writers and actors are now under to create hits and only hits.

Tina shared a revolutionary idea she and her colleagues now use in their approach to creative work: just get it made. Focus only on making the thing. On hitting the record button. Playing a scene. Redoing a scene when someone messes up. Then recording the next scene. Repeat until it’s done.

It sounds so simple, and yet we’ve lost touch with “just make the thing”.

Make the thing then let it do its thing. Celebrate the successes, learn from the failures, and wait for a surprise sleeper to find its audience.

When you lead with expectations, you’re not giving yourself creative breathing room. You choke the possibility of new ideas and risks.

When you just make the thing, it takes the pressure off. New ideas come to you, faster and with more ease. 

And the best part? It becomes fun again.


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