Breaking through the lens
How to deal with the ‘blank canvas’ syndrome in video production
I’ve recently started working on a new project: doing my own documentary film. It’s too early to share the idea or any details with you, but what’s essential for this blog post is that shooting a doco is something I’ve never done before. This is my ‘unicorn project’ and its intent is to learn new things and challenge myself creatively. That got me thinking about how difficult the creative process can sometimes be and how often the beginnings are soaked in the fear of a ‘blank canvas’. It doesn’t really matter if I work on a new video for a client, for myself or create something else - like music - I tend to have a moment of a teeny-tiny panic attack when I sit down with - almost literally - a blank canvas. The ‘creative block’ seems to be a common issue among fellow filmmakers and other creatives, but luckily, there are ways to deal with that rather unpleasant feeling. So let’s dive into an exploration of strategies to overcome the ‘fear of blank canvas’ in the video production process.
What is the 'blank canvas' syndrome?
As much as this term is common within the creative sectors, it might need some explanation for those who are not familiar with it, and to better understand the issue we often struggle with. Disclaimer: fear of a blank canvas does not always have to relate to the creative process per se, defined as creating a form of art. I’ll explain what I exactly mean later.
The ‘fear of blank canvas’ can be also called the ‘blank canvas syndrome’ or simply a ‘creative block’. It is a phenomenon often experienced by artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers and all kinds of other creative individuals and it’s a feeling of apprehension and anxiety that shows up when starting a project and facing an empty page, canvas, screen etc. In the case of videographers or filmmakers, it can be an empty script, empty shot list template, starting the production planning or even editing or colour-grading. As I noted above, when we think about the ‘creative block’ we often go straight to artists or other creative individuals and we tend to think that it only relates to creating. But in the world of video production, I’ve observed that it can relate to many other things, like production logistics, time management, budget planning etc. I often get anxious when going from the writing to the production phase, cause it’s “creating” all over again, and even though you know what the script is and you already have a story, you have to plan the whole production, which at the beginning is basically a blank canvas too! To show examples from other industries, let’s rewind back to the day when I was an event manager. Every new event idea started with a blank canvas, and hey, all those situations can be really scary! So I think that many people working on various projects can relate. But let’s go back to video production, let’s think about what causes the ‘blank canvas syndrome’ and…
...why is it such a b****?!
Most of my daily tasks and running a business these days are related to video production. When I first reflected on the blank canvas syndrome, I wanted to dig deeper into the reasons why video production can potentially cause fear and anxiety if it comes to the process. And another disclaimer here: please don’t get me wrong and don’t read this as whining about how stressful video production is. I love what we do at Noisy Creations and it’s one of the most rewarding things. I’m just saying that - like any other industry - it has its challenges and difficulties. Now, back on track! One of the main reasons we experience the fear of a blank canvas is that video production is pretty complex. It not only involves a lot of creativity but has many steps on the way. As I said before, sometimes you might experience a block when writing, but sometimes you might struggle to come up with ideas for colour-grading or planning the set. When we start working on a video, there’s nothing but an idea or client’s vision and it hits you right away how much has to be taken care of. Obviously, it’s a process and as professionals we have it planned and know how to tackle each production. Sometimes though, we might experience a simple lack of inspiration that leads us to a scary question “What if it never comes to you”? And when you think about it for a while, it’s nothing else than a good, old overthinking! When your ‘piece of paper’ is empty, even before you start, your mind can sometimes go to thinking about “what happens if I don’t deliver”? Now, I’m sure that we all know that only a small percentage of the negative scenarios we play in our heads actually come to life. However, the fear of failure when it comes to video production can be serious sometimes because of the high stakes, unforgiving schedules, demanding clients and budgets. The pressure to deliver outstanding results looms large and it can easily intensify the blank canvas fear. Overcoming overthinking is then crucial to dealing with the fear and calmly seeing that there is always a way! Yet, there’s one more thing to deal with, and it’s called perfectionism. When writing, filming or editing, I often tend to try to make everything excellent and think about the “perfect” results from the beginning, rather than just enjoying the process. A while back, I reposted an article on Linkedin that said that there’s no such thing as perfect, and instead of procrastinating and trying to be flawless, we should just act, embrace the process, and just put the things out there! Brilliant words and an idea worth learning and implementing in the video production process.
Even though it looks like there are quite a few reasons why we experience the blank canvas syndrome, I think that at the end of the day, it comes down to overthinking in the first place. For many people, the reasons might be different though. The bottom line is to look at what’s happening in your head and understand that it’s probably happening only there and not in real life. And now the best part - there are many ways to fight the block, and let your talent and expertise do their work!
Strategies to overcome the 'creative block'
First of all, take it easy, mate! There is no need to panic. Those of you who know me probably would go like “Hello, Kettle? You’re black!”. But seriously, have you ever experienced a situation, when your worst scenario actually happened, and you couldn’t find a good solution? Most of the difficulties, fears and blocks are just in our heads. When I’m stressed about production, I like to take a moment to remember that I always end up delivering. It really is a good start!
What then? Don’t be afraid to be chaotic and let your creative process be random at first. This is usually how we start every new video project with our clients - we go random and map all the ideas on a chaotic mood board. Very often, the structure starts to build itself and even if not, you already have a lot of dots that are just waiting to be connected! What works for me in most stressful beginnings is to start with what I’m sure of. I try to find all the given data, information, details or ideas I have on hand right away. I do that, and with a blink of an eye, my canvas is not blank anymore! Consistency, working step by step, but without forcing yourself to create seems to be a really good approach to deal with blocking thoughts. The potentially overwhelming complexity of video production can be killed by planning and dividing every phase into smaller tasks with the big picture in mind. I’ll be honest with you: every time I’m writing these blog posts, I obviously have to start with a blank document and writing is one of those things I tend to procrastinate on because I’m scared there’s nothing there! But it stops being so frightening the minute I map my ideas, divide the structure into smaller pieces and write them step by step. The same thing applies to writing scripts, storyboards, shot lists and tackling video production.
Sometimes though, we might experience that there’s literally nothing there in our heads. Creativity can be a tricky thing, and as I said - sometimes you just can’t force yourself. But there are many things you can do to stay in the loop and simply train your creativity, just like a muscle. The more we create, the more confident we feel about approaching the next project. One of the things that really helps me is writing a little bit in a notebook every day in the morning (by the way I need to get back to doing that regularly!). Again, it can be chaotic, these can be random thoughts, ideas, or observations. You never know where the inspiration comes from, so we have to be open to everyday life and every small or big thing around us. Good ideas often come from unrelated industries!
Another helpful thing to do is to manage your clients’ expectations. To me, it means transparent communication, clearly defined goals and producing videos that are aligned with their strategies. When everything is clear from the very beginning, there’s only a little risk of surprises and problems.
Remember that technology is your friend and it can really be of help if it comes to the creative process. Not only is the video gear constantly getting better and more advanced, giving us more possibilities, but there are heaps of other online tools that can help you organise your workflow and boost creative ideas. Some of the awesome tools I use working on every project are Milanote and Shot Deck. Milanote covers collaboration with the client and team, it’s a great tool for brainstorming, storyboarding and gradually helps you with transitioning from the chaotic pre-production phase to structured production and post-production. Shot Deck is a great tool to get inspired by the best-looking film productions and develop colour-grading skills.
People around you are a priceless source of inspiration too. Your team, collaborators and clients are the people you should go to for feedback, to brainstorm and to solve problems. Surround yourself with a network of peers, mentors, and friends, who can provide encouragement and constructive advice. They can also help you to understand any mistakes which are obviously an integral part of the creative process. Every misstep is a chance to learn, grow, and improve. What is creativity about, if not about growing, improving, and discovering new things?
One of our latest productions for Notes of Love
Embracing the journey
And that is the beauty of creating something on a blank canvas that definitely overtakes and makes up for any obstacles and constraints on the way! It’s worth remembering that the journey, in a way, can be a destination at the same time. It is embracing the uncertainty and experimenting, mixed with fresh ideas, determination and resilience that are the source of the creative energy that turns a blank canvas into a new creation. As video production professionals, we are the creators of stories, the architects of emotions and wizards of the visual realm. As a persistent visitor, let the blank canvas syndrome be a reminder of the endless potential that is ingrained in every new project.
We’d love to learn more about you and your company to design your video strategy with you. Noisy Cretaions is your one-stop-shop for video production excellence, and we specialise in creating videos that don't just look great but drive real results for your business. Book a call and let’s make some noise for your not-just-another video production!