Motivation in Filmmaking by Zach Golden

December 15, 2006

Independent filmmakers in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2006, who take on some intrinsically motivated projects with no deadlines or creative restraint, during the course of the numerous extrinsically motivated projects they must take on to survive, better solve the problem of translating their thoughts and ideas into a tangible product than a filmmaker only pursuing extrinsically motivated projects. To be motivated intrinsically means that your motivation is derived purely internally, that the motivation to do a task is for the sake of personal enjoyment and that no external factors impact the motivation. When outside factors help derive motivation, it is known as extrinsic motivation. These factors are infinite, but in relation to filmmaking, most notably would be: money, prestige, fame, awards, resume building, and experience.

Deci and Ryan's research on motivation shows “…that emotions including interest-excitement and joy are the basis of intrinsically motivated behavior.” (Deci and Ryan, 1) Their research concludes that tasks that are undertaken with intrinsic motivation yield not only greater success, but also greater joy and excitement during the process of completing the task. It also shows that performance is greatest in any given task when the motivation is purely intrinsic; when a reward is introduced, changing the motivation to extrinsic, the performance peaks, but when the reward is taken away, the performance drastically reduces. This is due to the deemed value of the task; during the intrinsic stage, the task is deemed enjoyable and fulfilling; when a reward is introduced, the task still seems fulfilling, but with a greater value added to completing the task; finally when the extrinsic motivation is taken away, the task seems to lose value to the participant, becomes undesirable, and performance falls greatly. Deci and Ryan's case study on this subject focused on primates; they were given the task of completing a small puzzle; the control group did not have any external rewards, so the motivation to complete the puzzle was intrinsic, while the variable group was given food upon completion of the puzzle, creating extrinsic motivation. The control group's results showed consistency in performance, as well as interest. The variable group's performance peaked when food was introduced, but then the primates grew bored of the puzzle once the food reward was taken away (Deci and Ryan, 48).

The results from this case study can be applied to filmmaking; when creating films with intrinsic motivation, the performance and interest in the film will be constant and consistent, but when extrinsic factors are introduced, the films become a medium to attain a reward, and not a medium of self expression and creativity.

Filmmaking, in its simplest form, is problem solving. The problem is the same for all filmmakers, and the difference lies in how they overcome it. Filmmakers have thoughts and ideas in their head, and they must somehow transfer those things to film and create a cohesive final product that ideally satisfies both the filmmaker and the client. The process filmmakers go through to solve this problem is ever changing, and is drastically different for each project; some take years to even get started, while some have the whole process finished in a matter of days. Every film is a new occurrence of the problem and presents its own unique challenges along the way.

Extrinsic motivations such as money, fame, and awards come with an asterisk attached to them, the giving away of total creative control. To get money invested in a film, it has to be finished by a certain date, to get widespread recognition you have to include certain people, to be eligible for an award you have to make a film in a certain genre and so on and so forth. These extrinsic motivators can be a detriment to a film, and often force filmmakers to compromise their vision or the integrity of the film to fulfill the external factors.

Filmmaking is primarily a visual art, and like most art, the most creative and ambitious pieces are created by artist inspiration, a vision, so to speak; when an external party, whether a studio or a client, has some control of the creative process, the inspiration of the original vision changes and is forced to conform to something other than the desired final product. During extrinsically motivated projects, the giving up of creative control is often necessary; extrinsic projects often focus on mass market appeal, so having studios and clients guiding the filmmaking process helps tailor the film to achieve the goals of every party involved in the film. Because intrinsically motivated films don't rely on mass market appeal, the total creative control by the filmmaker allows for the greatest artistic expression.

Time ties into this as well; while deadlines can be an extremely effective way to organize what needs to be done, they act as a deterrent during intrinsically motivated projects because the nature of these films involve a lengthy revision process that is sometimes ongoing over a long period. There is never enough time during the filmmaking process; even films with strict shooting schedules often deviate from the desired plan, but the very idea of having no deadlines or time constraints is very comforting to filmmakers, and allows them to work more freely and creatively, to work when inspired. This freedom from deadlines is often not apparent in the actual making of the film; intrinsically motivated filmmakers don't generally have the freedom to create many intrinsic projects, so the excitement level often results in bursts of hard work in short periods of time.

Filmmakers create intrinsically motivated films because they are the purest type of film to fulfill the need for creative, artistic expression. Filmmaking, like any visual art is an artist's medium to communicate ideas or inspirations to others. “Only through art can we emerge from ourselves and know what another person sees” (Proust, 1). Proust's quote is quite relative to filmmaking because filmmakers use their films to tell stories, act as a commentary of sorts, and to show the visual, kinesthetic and auditory beauty in everyday life; this medium allows for a mass communication of thoughts and ideas, which allows viewers of the film to gain insight into what the filmmaker is trying to convey in their message, the audience is able to see the world through the eyes of the filmmaker.

Filmmakers face numerous challenges in the process of trying to translate their thoughts and ideas into a tangible film; filmmakers working on intrinsically motivated projects display characteristics of meeting these challenges head-on, and enjoying the problem solving process. Intrinsic motivation often results in attainable goals being set, so the filmmaker has a definite goal to work towards. In contrast, extrinsic motivation often yields a path of least resistance strategy, without the development of definite goals along the way.

Imagination is an integral thing for a filmmaker to possess; to be able to dream ideas that are “out there,” and produce unique works is what keeps film new and fresh. “Intrinsic motivation is the innate, natural propensity to engage one's interest and exercise one's capacities, and in doing so, to seek and conquer optimal challenges.” (Deci and Ryan, 43) Intrinsic motivations yield greater sensory and cognitive development by creating an atmosphere of desired adversity; this creates a situation where an individual plans for, and enjoys the emergence of new challenges, as they experience satisfaction in overcoming the obstacles.

Filmmaking forces cognitive development. Many filmmakers have a strong visual cognitive domain; they are able to visualize goals and solutions to problems. While this is highly beneficial to the creativity of films, it also forces many filmmakers to develop their other cognitive skills to solve problems that require conceptual solutions, or solutions that can't be solved in a visual way. Salt Lake City based, independent filmmaker Chris Thompson says that his work is often motivated by “a spontaneous sighting of something that just 'looks cool', or a random thought or idea that comes to me and I have a desire to put into a visual form”(Chris Thompson 10/14). These motivators are intrinsic, because they derive from his internal motivation to create, and not from any outside source. Studies have shown that intrinsically motivated people have more capability to create mental images of ideas and thoughts. This is an extremely important step in filmmaking, being able to “see” what you want your product to look like; this allows the filmmaker to more effectively translate thoughts to actual film, and gives more direction to the project.

Since filmmaking has high sensory importance, the filmmaker can create a product that is truer to their initial internal idea, an idea that was inspiring enough to result in production. The ability to visualize a final product gives the filmmaker a better point of reference, instead of looking at a “good” product, they can compare the film to their initial ideas, and make adjustments from there. During the filmmaking process, the original vision should remain a guide to the film; because so much new is learned during making of a film, the original vision will be improved upon, until the final product is the fruition of the initial vision, with the improvements that arise with creative freedom.

Filmmaking is expensive. Since most people don't have a never-ending flow of income, creating only intrinsically motivated films would likely lead to poverty. There are many solutions to this problem; one is choosing another career and having filmmaking as an avocation; without the dependence on filmmaking for one's livelihood, that person would be free to create intrinsically motivated projects in their spare time, and wouldn't need to worry about the distractions of making a living. Nick Russell, a Salt Lake City based filmmaker, is such a person, one who shudders at the thought of creating a commercial product filled with extrinsic motivations. Nick Russell is a friend with whom I became acquainted through our close geographic proximity, as well as our mutual love for film; he is a purely intrinsically motivated filmmaker; a filmmaker by passion, but not by profession. Nick is someone whose love is so pure that doing what he is passionate about for a living would only taint it and dilute his love for film.

I asked Nick, when you go into a project with the motivation for doing it purely for fun and enjoyment, do you have an easier time visualizing how you want things to look? Nick took little time, and appeared to have little trouble answering this; “I try to visualize the entire project before I even start it. This helps me in every step of the film making process to help me reach my goal of what I want the end product to look like.” (Nick Russell, 10/30) Nick, like many filmmakers during intrinsic projects, uses his visual cognitive domain to help smooth the filmmaking process and create a well-defined and attainable goal. Nick's choice to create only intrinsically motivated projects is very bold, and he realizes that he can not make a viable living doing this, so he chooses work that allows him to use his free time to do what at he loves. “It is definitely more satisfying if I am making a film just for fun. I am doing it because I want to do it, not because I have to. The end product of a project for fun is way more satisfying rather than if I had to make that film for any reason.” (Nick Russell, 10/30) Because of Nick's complete creative freedom, he visibly grows uncomfortable when talking about deadlines and other extrinsic factors, which seem to clog his brain; when asked how operating under a deadline would effect his work, Nick, visibly annoyed at the thought of the travesty, replied “Any film that I have a deadline on, doesn't come out the way that I want it to…When I don't have anything to worry about, other than having fun making the movie and making the film creative and interesting... I work way harder…since there are no deadlines or restrictions, I just revise and revise until I feel that it is perfect.” (Nick Russell, 10/30) Not being a filmmaker for a living has been a viable way for Nick to do what he loves with no economic repercussions; but what about those who still wish to make filmmaking a career they can live off?

There are few filmmakers who have achieved such a high level of success that even the most intrinsically motivated projects, ones that seem so far out and away from convention, get giant budgets and outside support. Two such filmmakers are Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen; Scorsese is thought of as one of the premiere modern American filmmakers, while Allen, known mostly for his eccentric, self-loathing public image, is also a filmmaker who takes on projects with a very unique, yet still very Woody Allen-esque type of intrinsic motivation. "It's a distraction for me, I make them because if I don't make them, then I don't have anything to distract me at the moment, as I am constantly fighting depression and terror and anxiety. I find like a mental patient in an institution, if they keep the patient busy with finger painting and basket's therapeutic for me. It's not habitual and it's not for the money, I do it for myself" (Cannes Report, 1). Allen's intrinsic motivation is so severe that filmmaking is what keeps him sane and in essence, alive. This powerful intrinsic motivation could be a good indication of why he has been so successful and achieved the fame and prestige he has.

Similarly, Martin Scorsese has been described as a filmmaker who creates for himself, not for the mass markets, although his films have often been huge hits. ''…his restlessness, his devotion to film, his dissatisfaction with himself, always pushing himself. That's always been his way" (Jay Cocks, 1). This description of Scorsese by screenwriter Jay Cocks is a testament to the intrinsically motivated revision process, the need to make everything better, and the constant need for improvement. Scorsese, much like Woody Allen, is extreme in his intrinsic motivation; for Scorsese, the motivation lies in constantly pushing himself to become better, and to know that no matter how successful his past works have been, his future works need to outdo them.

Neither Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese achieved prestige by creating only self pleasing, intrinsic projects; both worked on sets not as a principal director or writer, and both have surely had to compromise their visions to get paid. The extrinsically motivated projects they worked on allowed them to gain prestige, reputation, and trust of those who make filmmaking possible, namely the people who sign the checks that fund the projects. These great filmmakers, through time and earned reputation, became elevated to a level high enough that their judgment and discretion in films is considered moneymaking, so they are able to create more intrinsic projects.

For most filmmakers, a level of Allen or Scorsese isn't going to be attained, but something can still be learned from their career paths. Filmmakers must be willing to take on projects that pay the bills, so to speak. These extrinsically motivated projects will help fund the few intrinsically motivated projects that the filmmakers can pour their hearts into; because of the hard work on the projects that help the filmmaker make a living, they will eventually have the time and money to focus on a project that doesn't need to make a dollar or please anybody in the world other than its creator to be great. The intrinsic projects act as a purification of filmmaking, and act as a medium of self expression that can remind filmmakers why they started creating in the first place.

Chris Thompson feels that when extrinsic motivators are the basis for his work, “…My own desires and opinions about the project get tossed aside, and those of the assignment get put in the foresight of my mind” (Chris Thompson, 10/14). He feels that working within the parameters of a given assignment limits the creative freedom of a filmmaker, and in turn, limits the enjoyment and satisfaction, both intrinsic motivators, that the person feels as well. Chris does however, recognize the importance of extrinsic motivators on a basis of financial survival, saying that without the extrinsically motivated projects, he would be making only personally satisfying pieces with little mass market appeal; these extrinsically motivated pieces allow him the financial freedom to pursue the intrinsically motivated projects that are more self- satisfying.

In my personal experience as a filmmaker, projects for which I have been intrinsically motivated have definite differences from those in which my motivations were extrinsic. In my work, the most satisfying and polished pieces have come from projects where my motivation stemmed from enjoying the process; projects where I had no thoughts of money or contracts or distribution, but rather of revision and the personal attainment of near perfection. These few projects were a creative release from the hard work on projects about which I didn't feel as passionate.

My own inspiration and intrinsic motivation in filmmaking derives from showing the enormous visual beauty in ordinary, everyday things. I choose to focus on the sensory aspects of film as a communicator; when motivated intrinsically, I choose to create films that tell a story through the visual beauty, rather than through dialogue and scripting.

An example of a film for which I was intrinsically motivated is entitled “Stream.” The film idea was sparked by sensory curiosity while hiking; From afar, the sounds of a mighty river, flowing powerfully radiated throughout the canyon, drawing everyone to the seemingly out of place sound. I noticed a small, fast flowing stream that my friends and I were forced to cross; the stream swept a friend off his normally sure-footed feet as it flowed against its intruders. The little stream seemed to flow downhill, to gain momentum after every inch; little pockets of white water formed over the slick rocks that dotted the surface of the water, making the stream look like a mighty, fast flowing river from afar. The stream was lined with red and orange sun burnt rocks, rigid and sharp, holding the heat of summer, that gave such an odd juxtaposition to the frigid, glacial run off stream, and the opposite bank lined with snow. The amazing sensory beauty and power of this seemingly insignificant body of water stuck with me, and was enough inspiration to make a film with no boundaries or directions. The film was already developed in my mind long before it was even shot, and I would work on this film tirelessly, with no deadlines or schedule, to produce my original vision.

The film sensory experience consists of sight, sound and movement. While film has an extremely high visual importance, the sound and movement are equally important. Movement is what sets film apart from photography; instead of capturing the beauty of one frame, film captures the movement twenty-four times per second; it stresses the importance of motion, not just still life. Similarly, the auditory experience in film creates a more cohesive sensory experience, by further adding significance to moving images. Using “Stream” as an example, the sounds of the rushing water acted as the initial sensory inspiration, while the motion of fast flowing water was able to be translated into the film, and the amazing still beauty of the surrounding aspects of the stream provided the final inspiration by creating a scene of incredible visual beauty.

The amazing sensory inspiration the stream provided drastically changed the filmmaking process; instead of the classic, Aristotelian process which first develops the story and organizes and sequences it, and lastly focuses on the sensory aspects, the images and sounds. The sensory inspiration of the stream changed the process to instead start with the sensory aspects, and use them to form the story. The movement of the stream provided an inspiration to personify the stream as a character, one that was characterized by the properties of the stream itself: secluded, powerful, and angry. The sensory inspiration created a new way to undertake creating a film, a breaking away from the traditional style that allowed me to use sensory inspiration as the basis of my work. This can be extremely beneficial to all filmmakers; instead of following the typical filmmaking process, using whatever sensory experience as the basis of a work is not only fresh and challenging, but also allows the filmmaker to focus on the things that are most inspiring and important to them personally. This modified filmmaking process, although purifying and inspirational, isn't appropriate for all projects, namely extrinsically motivated ones or longer projects because of the lack of initial orginization. During the few intrinsic projects a filmmaker can take on, the different process allows for inspiration to be the basis of the film rather than the somewhat forced sensory inspiration of the Aristotelian process.

In comparison, a short film in which my motivation was extrinsic was a commercial for Gordini, an outdoor sports company. This idea originated through a marketing department which allowed me to have some creative freedom, but because my motivation for completing this project lay in the paycheck, I had trouble forming a mental image of what I needed to achieve. This project, unlike “Stream,” had paycheck attached to it, a lingering reminder to finish on time. After the initial shooting, I had a one-week timeline to do all postproduction work. The external motivations forced me to finish earlier than I would have wanted, and compromise the final product, a final product that was by no means satisfying to me, but had a higher market appeal than “Stream.” This project followed the classic Aristotelian filmmaking process of starting first with the idea, and later developing the sensory experience. The deadline was by no means a burden because it was too much work in too little time; quite the contrary. I used only a small portion of the one week to finish the product. The burden was not being able to work on the project when I felt up to it. Much as some painters can't paint without inspiration or the proper mood, the same applies to filmmaking. I need to be inspired and motivated to create, and the external pressures and motivations do not allow for that. The Operant Conditioning theory can be applied to this principle; the theory states, “… behavior is followed by a consequence, and the nature of the consequence modifies the organism's tendency to repeat the behavior in the future.” (Boeree, 3) To relate this to motivation and filmmaking, theoretically, a filmmaker finds that they do their best work when they are motivated to create; the consequence of this action results in the filmmaker creating their best work, one that makes them feel elated with themselves, so it is a favorable consequence. The opposite may be true for some filmmakers as well; extrinsic motivations are for some, a better, more efficient motivator to create their best work, but the interest in creating in this type of filmmaker is likely to fade with the prolonged absence of intrinsic motivation.

Many filmmakers are inspired and intrinsically motivated by character development and storylines, as opposed to visuals. These filmmakers benefit greatly from undertaking intrinsically motivated projects as well; the constant revision process, similar to that of Martin Scorsese's, allows this type of filmmaker to create screenplays that are much more intricate and ornate, and that more accurately follow their original idea of the storyline. Much like filmmakers focusing on the sensory experience, those focusing on the story can use a modified filmmaking process to elaborate their ideas. As previously mentioned, the Aristotelian process starts with idea formation, sequencing and organizing, and ends with the specific ideas. To modify that process for filmmakers inspired by the story and characters, the process starts with an inspiration; a person on the street who sparks interest in the filmmaker, or the reading of a book that must be elaborated on, these things would begin the process. Much like filmmakers whose inspirations come from the sensory experiences, these filmmakers would start the process with the inspiration, the specific ideas that are the heart and soul of the film.

Psychological researcher Stephen Reiss claims that intrinsic motivation doesn't really exist. According to Reiss, “There is no reason that money can't be an effective motivator, or that grades can't motivate students in school, it's all a matter of individual differences.” (Ohio State University, 1) While it is true that each individual's motivation, intrinsic or extrinsic, derives from a unique source, it has been proven empirically that people attempt to pursue things that create enjoyment for themselves with no thought of external ramifications. Maslow's hierarchy proves this, the top level being self-actualization or growth motivation, the attainment of personal goals and the development of one's full potential. Self-actualization is only to be attained by those who have satisfied their physiological needs, need for safety, the need for love and belongingness, and the need for esteem. Maslow described self-actualization as “{what someone was} born to do… A musician must make music, an artist must paint, and a poet must write…” (Simmons, 2). Maslow often cites artists of all kinds in his examples of self-actualization; this is due to the fact that self-actualization is the highest development of emotional, cognitive, and visual experiences. As it relates to filmmaking, creating a film on the basis of intrinsic motivation, a film of high visual beauty or creative self-expression, would be examples of self-actualized filmmaking. Self-actualization is very much related to intrinsic motivation; both focus on doing things that create personal enjoyment, cognitive, visual and emotional development, and the creation of something an artist was “meant” to create. While extrinsic motivations can be a viable basis for creating a film, the most fulfilling to the individual filmmaker come from creating films based on intrinsic motivation.

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