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Bouncing back from Creative Burnout

A look at the Softspoken Campaign

We're going to dive into the Softspoken campaign we produced in 2020 and the obstacles and rewards we found in the project. Producing music videos are a lot of fun and a ton of hard work, and over time we start feeling pretty drain. Being on the grind, sometimes with tight budgets and big ideas, you realize it can be difficult to bear. Inevitably you hit walls and start burning out for one reason or another. Leading up to the Softspoken project, we ran on fumes and felt like our work was getting stale and predictable, so we made a change.

2020 was the year of scaling down but trying to maintain creative freedom and expression. That, paired with the difficulty of setting creative sessions together, made for quite the challenges and lack of synchronism between Ross and me. A few weeks before the shoot, Ross and I had a heart-to-heart about not loving certain things and feeling very limited recently. We had a breakthrough and started sharing our limiting beliefs. An hour later, we had strengthened our creative while sticking within budget and time constraints. That feeling was the recharge we needed, but more importantly, we realize we need to set times aside for, regardless of other limiting factors. I think it safe to say 2020 threw us all for a loop, and we've all had to adapt or even re-learn good behaviors.

For Softspoken, we wanted to make a big splash and support their upcoming release cycle for "Where the Heart Belongs." We landed at our Weekender package with a few tweaks to produce two story-driven music videos and supporting content, totaling 202 deliverables. We took a day shooting performances for the project, a few in-studio story-lines knocking out "The Road" band shots, and all of the concept for "Sleight of Hand," and impressively enough, we finished with time left over. The following day we took actor Justin Rose through a post-apocalyptic adventure and started the morning with flashback shots of a previous life featuring my son Locke. In general, this is the project, but getting here was what made it special.

Music videos are getting harder and harder to make them pay off. Rightfully so, I think bands should be careful with their spending. With Softspoken, we started as we do, asking why they wanted the video, their core values, and what upcoming plans they had, which landed us at a package with these deliverables. Taking this approach allowed them to pace their release, keep their audience engaged, and genuinely get an ROI for the project. Once we landed at the needs, we started diving into creative and how important, and close to the heart "The Road" was and how "Sleight of Hand" was a bit more sleek and modern. With this in mind, we aimed The Road to be more story-driven and less reliant on cool production tricks with Sleight of Hand all in-studio, metaphoric, and utilizing lighting, blocking, and framing to build the film. We used red as a prominent color to marry these videos together and match the upcoming album artwork, giving everything a uniform feeling.

When we pitch creative, it typically starts with color, formats, what we want the audience to take away, and within budget parameters. We had some ambitious goals that initially we were excited about but weren't quite sure how to make our full version. As we led up, we shifted away from the lighting and started focusing on physical props and more minor details we feel we lose sight of often.

Within that brainstorming session, we chatted about locations to visit for the post-apocalyptic creative, ways we could see the feeling through attire, make-up, and props, and where the story ends, conflict rises and ends. For the band shots, we brought a bunch of dirt, palettes, and fencing into Ohio HD's studio and added make-up to the Softspoken guy's attire and skin for a "dirty" look, as they existed in the post-apocalyptic world. This helped us bridge the story and band shots together, and we created different lighting designs and motions for each member. Taking this approach slowed down our typical production speed but gave us the edge we wanted. It also was nice not to focus so much on the gear side and cool production gear to make our creativity shine.

For the next day, we decided to shoot at four primary locations to complete the story. We shot the flashback scenes at my house and a nearby park with my son to keep it simple, as these were rapid shots, and we took a more voyeuristic viewpoint mixed with some POV to nail down the feeling in the edit. For Justin's shots in the world, we shot at a nearby, overgrown warehouse location and a friend's woods. We felt these locations could make a world that appeared of the past and survivor-driven. Our team even stepped in for a handful of shots to double as extras for Justin to avoid. For Justin, we distressed his clothing through tea bagging, food coloring, and stressing the clothing with a steak knife, giving the appearance of age, weathering, and dirty, without being too uncomfortable. This process took a lot of time but was again the tiny touches we wanted. We borrowed an older rifle from my father and hunting knives to give the character some extra selling points. The make-up and wardrobe bring us the most joy from this film in conjunction with it being fun to watch. The Road is by far the best project we've produced in years, and we can't wait to keep heading projects in these directions.

For Sleight of Hand, it's pretty cut and dry as a studio video, but we aimed to use a mixture of lighting combos and props with red to keep it as a consistent piece. This video's benefit was that we could squeeze it into the entire day and have time for the more detailed shots with The Road, all while still making something professional. With a more conservative budget, we know we can't have talent for the whole day, so this format allowed us to use Gerald and Anna for a short block of the day and make it a win for all involved.

We kept the band shots as the core focus and wanted to arrange them in a way that felt less traditional and more organic. In placement, we built a shot-list to shoot through with all clean lighting and then hit the two breakdowns in full red lighting to make those shots stand out. With the story, we build four scenes to match and mean various things. The yarn stands crossing and going around was a concept that we knew would look interesting and symbolized how connected we all are how our actions affect others, meaning we have a choice to influence the world positively or negatively. In the second scene, we wanted a bit wide and more vulnerable with a fall-off in lighting and overhead red lighting washing Gerald and Anna. The red brought things together, but these shots allowed them more freedom with hand gestures and space, hoping to communicate how alone and hidden we can often feel as individuals. For the third arrangement, we washed the back wall white and covered their faces with red cloth, showing that you should judge others by their internal character and not self-image. In the last arrangement, we wanted to place both the characters together and create a mixture of reflection and mimicking actions. We often mindlessly imitate the majority, but we as people can influence others too.

This project was more run-of-the-mill for us, but we did feel we had more time to focus on giving Ann and Gerald specific actions we felt would make for a more intentional edit. It was also lovely giving more attention to a particular color, but through props over lighting only. Even in editing, it took very little time to reach a film we loved.

In this project, we spent a bit more time planning and thinking through ways we could be creative, but having that slow down allowed us to enjoy what we were making and Softspoken happy and keep ourselves fulfilled in the process. It's easy to catch a groove making things for others and not recognize you need something different. It may just be what you need to counter those early burnout feelings.

For us, this project not only turned out beautifully and one we are proud of, but it forced us to look at different areas we could be creative in with time or resources. You can easily get caught in go-mode or a groove and not innovate. Creative discipline is something you have to work towards, but it does have great pay-offs for your clients and your mental health. While it's easy to want more or more extensive projects, sometimes they are just fuel to the fire you need to fight. Find the issues, face them, and then things grow so much easier and naturally. We all face creative burnout, and it sucks, but knowing you have some control is very comforting.



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