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On June 26, 2014, I had Mark Borchardt over to my studio. I pummeled him with questions based on the concepts from my book “So, You’re A Creative Genius… Now What?” 8 years later, I popped open the footage and was blown away by how powerful his answers were. If you’re a creative person, or want to be one, I hope this inspires and motivates you.
Dedicated to Mark’s pal, Mike Schank.
NOTES / LINKS
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MB: Write, write, write. You know, just write, write, write. Do, do, do. Create, create, create, man. Just keep doing it, man. You have to push into life. You have to push through life.
Well, I can see you’re loaded with questions.
CK: I’d like to start out by asking you, how do you maintain your work ethic?
MB: Well, who says I do? No. It’s in me. It’s who I am. There’s really nothing to maintain. In fact, on the way over here, I was … I have a review due of a particular film, and a normal person would sit down at the typewriter, and when I mean typewriter, laptop, word processor, whatever, and do it in one session of maybe an hour and a half, and maybe have some further thoughts and go back and polish it. And my mentality doesn’t work that way. I do it in maybe an essential, rough thing, and then in bits and pieces, inspiring sentences along the way, write it down on the legal pad and then cobble it altogether, reformulate it and ultimately polish and send it off.
So, I don’t get into chit-chat, small stuff, and so I’d be driving in a car, so I’m writing my review as we drive, or if I’m at dinner, which I’m not, but if there’s a business thing and people are having dinner and they’re talking about this and that, I sit there with my notebook and whatever work is due or I need to accomplish or whatever I feel inspired by, I’ll be writing. Now, should I be looking at you or the camera? At you, okay. So all that’s for naught now.
MB: Oh man.
CK: You seem to write everywhere you go. How do you organize all of it?
MB: Well, one thing I know, if I don’t write the address down where I’m at or something like that, there’s no way I’m going to remember all of these addresses, all these locations, all of these events or anything like that. It’s important because everyone has their own individual life, and if you don’t write it down, you’re going to have no idea of what happened, ultimately. And since this is a magical journey and I can look back now with some reference points in these notebooks and then re-conjure all of the events, the people, the circumstances, the feelings, the ambitions, the actual experiences, et cetera.
I keep a journal. I’ve been doing that the majority of my life, man. Like I say, you’re 88 and in the rocking chair and everything’s just like, “What the hell happened, man?” Well, again, you have this reference and once you read these writings, these syntaxes of wonderment, inside of you, inside of the history, your memory, all of these things will come back. Now, all of these memories can only be sparked if there is some sort of milestone you’ve apprehended and put down on record.
CK: How can a creative person deal with people who are discouraging?
MB: Oh yeah, yeah. I didn’t grow up here in Los Angeles nor New York City or anything like that, where the culture of culture is far more … well, permeates the culture, for that matter, and so I grew up in a situation, man, where there’s not much … there was no abstract thinking going on or anything like that. I was the odd many out, and that’s the way it is, but screw ‘em … Can I swear? Fuck ‘em. It’s not their life and so on and so forth. I don’t mean to swear, but I’m only using it to emphasize a particular sentiment.
Hell no, man. There was no encouragement. Really, no nothing. No anything, for that matter, so no talent was really recognized in any empirical way, any hands-on way, as in, “Let’s get the job done, let’s move this thinking forward,” or something like that. So, no, I’m very blessed to be alive and have my health and all of that stuff, so I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing, man. Fuck ‘em.
CK: You ever deal with self-doubt?
MB: Absolutely. I deal with doubt, I deal with uncertainty, but it’s also tempered by earned confidence. It’s tempered by necessity. There’s no way that I cannot do my thing each and every day. There’s no way that I cannot indulge my work at all times. I have to do what I have to do to remain happy. Now, doubt and uncertainty, you have that perfectionism problem which a lot of people don’t have because they just go ahead and do something, they do shit half-assed. Even in construction work, you can see it when they build things.
It’s like, “Oh man,” because I can cut wood straight, man, fit it in together, and you see other motherfucker, man, it’s like they’re getting paid for it but it just ain’t up to speed, man, because their mind ain’t into it, man. Their mind is having a drink after they clock out or something like that.
But there’s a lot of great craftsmen and so on and so forth, but just because you’re doing it doesn’t make you such. If you’re thinking about that drink afterward like I said, then your thoughts may be elsewhere.
CK: How do you balance your creative work with freelance projects?
MB: Well, this is crazy. Right now we’re barnstorming for bucks and you’ve become part of the process, man. I’m not here picking lilies, man. You know? I’m here getting the job done. In fact, in my notebook, I want to do a t-shirt and distribute it to people at the end of the month when rent is looming large like the Goodyear Blimp, man, and to have a … Well, I’m not going to explain it because you’re going to have it on camera, but it would be a Barnstorming for Bucks t-shirt for those facing the hand of fiscal doom toward month’s end.
But you had a valid question in there in that kind of ambitious answer. How do I balance stuff? Well, I do this stuff all the time, so one minute I might be writing my stuff, one minute I might be writing for one of the entities that I work for, so again, like I say, I don’t have that mentality where I just sit down and do something in a very blockaded form, but rather it’s this existential wandering through the waking hours of the day where all points can be administered if necessary throughout the course of those many minutes we’re given before the sun goes down.
CK: So you don’t divide your day into creative time and other tasks?
MB: No, not really. No, not really, because there’s … The way my psychology works, I’m always thinking. I’m thinking about what my desire is, I’m thinking about my obligations, my responsibilities, so on and so forth. So it’s just this admixture of everything, so there’s no 7:30 to 9:30 or anything like that.
CK: Are you the kind of person that will stay up working all night on a project until it’s done?
MB: Heck no, dude. I go to sleep early, I wake up early, man. I admire those people that can stay up at night. I just start fading out. Sometimes I could go to bed at 8:00. I don’t, but man, I could just lay down at 8:00 and that’d be it.
CK: Is there a type of person that an artist should avoid?
MB: Well, actually, that’s an interesting question. Yeah. Most people are down-home and good of nature and honest of intent, and there’s some situations that are … where a person only has … personality has that sense of detachment, kind of like that veneer of calcified Hollywoodism. That, you kind of want to stay away from, because that’s going to lead to no good. Unless they can cut you a check up front and you know what’s what, to get into the netherworld of those dealings, I would say stay away from, but I always work with down-home people who will get the job done, but like I say, those abstract tangents of what could happen, this, that, the other thing … And they’re actually careerists without your best interests in mind.
But we’re biological creatures. We’ve been around for hundreds of thousands of years and we can essentially sense what’s right and wrong. We have that survival instinct not only in the physical sense but in the intellectual sense as well, knowing what’s what.
CK: Can you elaborate on Hollywoodism?
MB: Hollywood is made up of many, many great people, many, many down-home types obviously. We’re in the midst of a few of them right now, so it’s very unfair to petrify Los Angeles as a stereotype. That’s not good because that would disown the majority of the good, good people who live here. Again, but you want me to clarify potentially who to avoid, and that would be the stereotypical Hollywood types that would use you, demean your singularity. They would say, “Hey,” as if you were an object that could be routed along their industrious misadventures, because rarely would you be the bearer of good fortune at the end of the road. Only they would.
CK: How do you draw creative energy from both the light and dark sides of yourself?
MB: Oh, another great question. How do you reconcile the dark and the bright side of one’s psychology, of one’s existence? Well, again you have to deal with both and I think both are useful to the creative endeavor. Of course, the dark side is a little bit more useful because you’re less distracted by the outside world and you turn toward your interior and say, “Well, why am I feeling this way? Why am I depressed?” That’s when you get into this particular analysis and then analysis by its very nature brings out the creative instinct because you’re creating answers, you’re searching for something, whereas on the bright side you might want to walk out with a jug of moonshine and dance in the streets, and then that would just be externally creative as everyone clapped and you did the jig or something like that. You seem to have got a kick out of that answer.
CK: Speaking of the dark side, what do you think of artists or bands who seek to upset the audience?
MB: What are you talking about, GG Allin, man? No? Yeah, which could have been probably upsetting for some people though, some of the stuff that he did onstage, obviously, bless his heart. So you’re asking me a question, what about a band who kind of provokes the audience in a negative reaction. I would say that’s very bizarre. I think the manager would be bewildered at that point because one of the earmarks of being in a band beyond the love of music is the commercial viability and potential that they would encounter. So to negatively connect with the audience would be a bizarre act and I almost find it a bizarre question. It’s a very idiosyncratic question that only can come from the depths of your own imaginings, Carl.
CK: But what about art that challenges the listener, like adding some hot sauce to food?
MB: Well, I mean, it’s a crazy question but ultimately it’s an interesting question. The dude uses hot sauce. On one end of it, you’re talking about accessible art. On the other, you’re talking about hyper-abstract forms and so on and so forth. I mean, musically, on one end you have what would appear on a pop radio station, which is that the melodies are simple, very accessible. They go out to millions of people. They end up humming it because there’s these simple … the simple mathematical architecture of notes and so on and so forth that people can immediately sync into, whereas there’s more complex forms of music and not only the complex forms of lyric and so forth that’s abstract and not “I love you” or “I miss you” but just deals with metaphor and double meanings and so on and so forth.
And the dude says, “How do I deal with it?” Well, I deal with whatever I like, man, so … I mean, unless you, of course, as the bearer of these questions can further elaborate or get to a specific corner that you want me to turn the flashlight on.
CK: Do you try to challenge your audience?
MB: That’s an interesting question. It’s actually the question for the ages because do you want to indulge your own idiosyncrasies and lose the audience? Because these people like you. Or do you want to engage the audience and sacrifice your specifics of your art? So that’s kind of this balancing act, and you don’t … I mean, there’s people like Godard who obviously are very famous and historically have been bestowed knighthood in cinema and so on and so forth who he had produced very inaccessible works to the general populous but there was a lot of people that … a number of intellects who, “Hey, man, this is great stuff. I love Godard.”
I love pretentious films. I’m not off-put by them. Some people are. They’re actually offended, man, by pretentious films or pretentious works. I think it’s great. I’m smart, doesn’t offend me or whatever, so yeah, Godard is a classic example of where it’s a crap shoot. You’re going to lose the majority of the proletariat, the majority of the populous and just have these elite few that really dig it, but for him, it worked. He maintained and still maintains his career.
Yeah, I mean, yeah, you get an audience of 500-600 people watching your film and it’s like, “Man, do I want to lose them with concepts that some of them are just not going to grasp?” It’s another interesting thing, too, even with the rhythm of editing with film, for the most part, the conventional template … Film has its own rhythm, man. There’s no doubt about it, and each scene within a film has its own rhythm, and you’re subservient to that, and if you have other people’s money, the producers are looking at the script, they’re going to let you know if you’re out of rhythm or whatever, and the audience is definitely going to know. And in fact, if you hold a shot for 10 minutes, someone’s going to say, “Well you’re not really making a real film because …” “Well, what do you mean?” “Well, a real film kind of goes to these closeups and reversals and two-shots and begins with an establishing shot and ends with either a dramatic closeup or back to the establishing shot.”
There’s a language that people are paying to see. There’s some sort of kind of unwritten expectation, so if you do one film in one take, they’re going to say, “Hey, you didn’t make a real film,” even though it could be a real work of art. So again, you have that bizarre balancing act, man. So it depends which route you want to go. It’s a very fascinating premise though. Very fascinating question.
CK: What do you think about the works of David Lynch? Some people might get too uncomfortable with those long living room shots in Lost Highway.
MB: I’ve seen all of his commercial features, or feature-length films. I can see the interior of the living room. Lynch can get away with it because that’s what he was known for from the get-go. He wasn’t switching gears midstream or anything like that. And again, in the iconic stratosphere, we can allow so many people to do that. There can be a number of women as talented as Britney Spears but only a few of them we can regale with notoriety and fame because we can’t pay for 10 different concerts. We have to choose only a few people to be our heroes because the working population cannot afford to support hundreds or thousands of heroes, so we have to pick and choose. There’s many guitarists that are as great as Jimi Hendrix, even far more that are technically far more adept with far more years of experience. They may not have been as flamboyant or as innovative, but nonetheless thousands reside as guitar gods known only to a few.
But again, like I say, we can only run so many posters, so many books of so many particular people. I mean, the working man would go broke trying to support 1,100 Britney Spears or something like that. We can’t afford it. But that doesn’t mean that the other 1,100 aren’t as talented as her. We just can’t foot the bill.
CK: Do you think our society should elevate some people and treat them as heroes?
MB: Dude, it’s been around since the caveman time. First of all, it’s physical act heroism and also a psychological one. I mean, someone had to be physically strong enough to kill the bear, someone had to be psychologically motivated enough to go over the hill into the dark, into the unknown, where others had to maintain the fire back there and keep everyone else protected at home, so then when he comes back with the food so everyone can eat, he becomes a hero. And when they need to send someone out again, they will choose that person because he’s now set a historical precedent that he can do the job and then when he dies, they kind of put his visage on the cave wall and there he becomes deified ultimately through the exchanges of myths throughout the generations, and that’s how we have those heroes.
You might want to ask Joseph Campbell about all this stuff. These heroes are made. It’s done in offices but it’s also done in the heart too. They genuinely might have great music and great films and it’s being recognized by people till it forms a critical mass too, so I’m not saying it’s this genuinely superficial act. I think it’s a combination of elements. It might be people genuinely liking these people and then, of course, it’s being commodified at the same time. So you have this symbiotic process between fandom and commercialization.
CK: And so do you consider artists to be heroes?
MB: Well, artists, as with anyone else, there are … some people will admire other people because, “Hey, I want to do this, this person’s doing it, this person is doing what I want to do,” so their works or their act of working becomes a heroic work because that’s something that they would ascribe to and potentially ascend to. So, like I say, we put posters on the wall, we take photos, and, “Gee, I want to be like him or her. I want to do what he or she does,” and so on and so forth. So these are goals that we set, and we all have goals. I mean, we have to eat three times a day, so we have to set a goal and then we have to bring variants to those goals. We can’t be at Murder Burger three times a day because then we would … it would be an act of self-destruction. After a while you’ve got to eat carrots and tomatoes and raw spinach and apples and prunes and raisins and apricots and peaches and all of that stuff to balance that.
CK: What do you think about artists who say they don’t want to learn technique?
MB: Well, there’s nothing wrong with that. Technique can kill you, but I love technique. I’ve been killed by technique, been killed by perfectionism. It’s probably how we ended up having this conversation in Santa Clarita in 2014 here because of technique. Technique brandished is an awesome and infinitely sharp sword, and it’s like, “Oh man …”
Now, specifically, let’s take editing a film. If you get caught up in the whirls of immaculate continuity and everything must match, you’re probably never going to get out of that film alive. Film, the presentation of a film, is a psychological presentation, so there’s … Film is not reality. In major films, probably half the dialogue being spoken is not dialogue … Half of it’s probably ADR’d in very cleverly and all of … majority of footsteps are fake in everything and people would be aghast. They think something’s real and it’s all … it’s not so. It’s all conjured. It’s a fantasy that takes on the guise of reality.
So it’s heartbreaking when you do notice continuity errors in your film and there’s nothing you can do about it. I mean, in the most major Hollywood films with the most amount of money are some of the most heinous continuity errors of all time. So if you’re an aware filmmaker, you want to pay attention to what you’re doing and really … because the only problem with continuity is that if it becomes an actual distraction and becomes something to laugh at, because we’re also smart, we’re also aware of a lot of things that are going around us and when we watch a film, we become preternaturally aware sometimes, instinctively, to look out for these continuity errors and so forth.
I never did it. I’d get Première magazine … I mean, I don’t want to … That was a very romantic thing to do, but I dig … my main stuff is like Film Comment, Cineaste, CinemaScope and all that stuff, but I’m using Première as an example because they would have continuity errors each month, but I never … I said, “Oh man, I can’t spot that stuff. Those are for people that are …” like I say, that have these preternatural observational faculties, man. I just can’t do that.
But I did an experiment. One time recently I had watched a Hollywood film, because it was about the film industry, and so I watched at a particular scene where two guys were sitting there between a desk and there was a contract or something involving something that had to be written down. So I said, “You know what? I’m just going to watch the pen this time and see what happens,” and you wouldn’t believe it, Ben. There’s a guy with a pen, a blue pen. He was handing the guy the pen and then they cut to the reverse shot and I kid you not, when the guy took the pen, it turned into a yellow pencil and it made my night, man. I was like, “Wow, man, now I’ve done something that a lot of people have done all along,” and I caught something like consciously, took the effort to examine something and caught it. So that was a very proud moment in my life, man.
CK: What do you think about sometimes choosing to do work for free?
MB: Well, it’s not a choice, dude. The people that can choose to do work for free, how did they do it? By saying no. “Hey, you want to do this for free?” Hell no. So then they would get their money stockpiled and then in turn, then they can do it for free. But you do stuff for free sometimes, you’re going to be out on the curb, you’re going to be living the high life recording all these bands, recording these interviews, and then the person you’re interviewing for free is out on the curb saying, “Damn, man, why didn’t I charge that dude?” So unless you respect the symbiotic process of everyone involved, someone will get the short end, man, and people … the rich hold these charity events. Why? Because they’re rich. They can afford … Sure, I’ll do everything for free once I can afford to do it for free, but I’m not going to go in the poor house or even deeper by doing that. Then you’re a stone-cold fool, man.
Hell yeah, dude. Come on. You’ve got Bill Gates. He’s giving money away for free left and right. Actually, that’s his job, is a philanthropist. But wait, he had to accumulate tens of billions of dollars by charging everyone to get to this point. Then he says, “Well …” And the people that you charge, you’re not charging some dude sleeping on a bench, man. I’ll put it to you that way. Again, you’re in this fiscal ecosystem where, “Oh, well, do I got to pay to …” Well, yes you do, man, because ultimately you can afford it. You’re in a better place than I am, so on and so forth. I need to start to equalize the playing field by these particular tactics and say, “No, dude, no.”
Because I’ll tell you, dude, you can get railroaded left and right and you’re going to be left high and dry, man. Is that a pretty good answer?
MB: Cool. You took it pretty seriously.
CK: I’ve sometimes gotten conned into doing BS projects that go nowhere and I never get paid. Do you have experience with that?
MB: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m the perpetrator of that, because I had a lot of fine people help me for free and … But before I even get into it, prior to this stuff, I’ve always helped people for free. And I’m also the guy that comes out, like I said, fixes your flat tire, jumpstarts your car, helps you move. I would never dream of … Hell no, man. That’s all out of goodwill, or helping with films, this or that, man, absolutely. But at some point it had to turn into a profession, because you want to be in my shoes and have the sleepless nights that I have over money, believe me, your thinking will radically change. I’ve done my duty now.
Yes, I have very big dreams and a lot of very fine people have put an immense amount of time to help me and what I should forewarn people is your payment is your satisfaction in helping out, and if you can’t live with that, then don’t even go on the set, man, because you probably ain’t going to see a dime. And like I said, I have a lot of fine people help me out and that, and I’m just inspired and very thankful for them.
I remembered helping people out where they would actually complete the film and we would do it on schedule, work for them on free and the payment was just like, hey, if you’re a director of photography, the payment was the credit, the payment was the experience, and it was just such a neat … it was an opportunity to do things like that, and that’s great. And again, though, there’s a time when you’ve got to cut that off. Like I say, unless you’re being financed by some invisible benevolent society, you’ve got to cut that stuff out, man, and that’s the way you’ve got to create an income.
CK: What’s your take on creative people who romanticize failure?
MB: Oh yeah. See, I have nothing to gain by calling you a genius, Carl, and you keep picking up this book, but it’s not a crutch, and I don’t even know if you’re even asking questions from the book. Maybe you’re a mastermind so much so that I don’t even know, but whatever it is, you’re on the money. Yeah, it’s tragic to romanticize failure. It’s crazy, man.
There’s no good in that at all. That’s just crazy, man. I mean, there’s unfinished films that actually could be finished with … you could use part of the narrative and then have a documentary interlaced with it as to why it wasn’t finished and that itself becomes the successful work and so on and so forth. To romanticize failure is to kind of cop out from success. There’s a fear of success or there’s a fear of accomplishment. There’s nothing wrong with it, because there’s a fear of jumping out of an airplane, and you’ve got to get used to it. “Oh, the parachute will open.”
So it’s a understandable fear, and to romanticize failure is to kind of … You know, color the fear in an aesthetic way, but you should never … It’s okay to fail in a sense or however, but I think the only failure as … I mean, it’s quotidian at this time because everyone knows it, but the only failure is not to attempt something, obviously, so that’s that.
CK: What would you say to a young artist who says, “Well, I’m just going to be broke for the rest of my life and I’m fine with that.”
MB: Oh, totally cool. I mean, if they’re fine with it and they’ve got that regimen down where they can spent 10 bucks a week on food and cobble together 40 bucks a week on a weekly rental and they’re fine with it, they’ve won the game, man. But if you want to succeed and … You know, it should take about … you know, within 10 years, I think most people can succeed within five as long as they focus and so forth on anything. The guitar might take 10 years or filmmaking might take five, six, seven years, but you should be able to earn a livable income within a decade, at least 20, and by 30 you should have it.
And if you don’t, then you’re just psychologically not attune to doing that. You’re being distracted by too many things, whether it’s internally or externally. You’re just not fit for the game.
CK: Well, the problem is as an artist gets older, their energy and health are going to deteriorate and then they’re going to need some way to retire.
MB: Right, exactly. Well, yeah, you want to have something set up … Different people have different systems in their body and their mind. There are some people that are fraught with health issues throughout the entirety of their life. Others have never been to a doctor in their life and one day they’re at 90, they just go without so much as a cold or something like that. So we’re all different, but you’re absolutely right. You are afforded in youth that flamboyant time of dreams, or not … or dreams, desperation, experience, failure, all of that stuff, because you can take it. It’s like a kid, man. You can jump off a hill, roll down and you’re good to go. You stand right back up. So, you do want to definitely think about the future, and at times, for some people, yes, that ambition can wane, and boy, then you’re screwed if you ain’t got any dough and on low, man, like that.
But there’s also people like Warhol and that where the ambition never wanes and there’s lots of people, writers and so on and so forth do it till their dying day. Others, they just kind of retire from the whole thing. It depends what you have in your blood. It’s what you have in your soul. It’s different per person definitely. But again, like I say, one of the things is to … That’s why I’m always blown away by you guys, because you surround yourselves with like-minded people who do the work, and I, being where I’m from, it wasn’t so much the case. So I do a lot of saying no, and when I come back from experiences like this, it makes me more adamant about sticking to the craft and telling people straight up, “Hey man, do what you want to do, but I ain’t doing that because you’re not going to get anywhere. And it’s not a judgment call but you’re not going to bring me down.”
Now, in the milieu you guys got set up, man, I’d be rocking and rolling every day and you guys would be like the wind in the sails taking us to the promised shores without any unnecessary turbulence.
CK: Do you think it’s a mistake to want to be famous?
MB: No. Hell no. I admire Madonna. She’s working in Michigan, working at McDonald’s, practice her singing, her dance steps, all of that stuff, becomes extraordinarily famous and then recedes, of course, as anyone does … I mean, not to the extent of Howard Hughes certainly and gets holed up in some hotel in Vegas or something like that never to return again, but yes, some people need fame and it’s good for them, and other people, it’s just kind of like this inherent bugaboo that allies itself with them because of the nature of their work.
It has its pros and cons. I mean, for a brief time you’re treated well by people psychologically because of conditional regard, and as long as you don’t buy into it as manifest destiny or anything like that and you realize that it’s a very superficial and fleeting thing and as long as you have your feet on the ground, keep your nose to the grindstone and eyes on the prize, you’ll be good.
CK: And what are your thoughts on people who are famous for being famous?
MB: First of all, technically I’m chewing on this mint. Second of all, your question about people who get famous for doing nothing or whatever? Hey man, more power to them. They’re doing nothing wrong. They’re getting what they want. Hey, God bless them, and if somebody finds fault in it, the only person at fault is the person finding fault with it, because they’re empowering them. They’re in the electronic universe and you’re visiting their situation and they have millions of people visiting their situation, well you’re the contributor, not me. I ain’t doing it, dude. Hell no. I don’t even watch TV, man. Yeah, no, anyone famous for doing nothing, bless their heart, man. I’m sure God’s smiling all the way.
CK: Do you have any advice for creative people who might get distracted by other things?
MB: Well, absolutely, but here’s the deal. There’s seven billion of us and we’re all just people, and there’s people who’ve managed their lives well, that can have … or have just fallen into situations where they cruise the high seas in yachts, have boisterous SUVs and have houses on the hill. More power to them, man, because trust me, man, the guy on the curb wants to be right where they … he’d be there just with them if he had the opportunity. You do not … What you have to do is find a balance, and this takes strength, because usually we’re creatures of habit. We start going out with our friends. We remain going out with our friends and we actually increasingly spend time going out with our friends because, again, we get habituated to it and culturated to that particular milieu of doing those particular things.
Now, if you’re going to be an artist, you can’t sit at home crying at your desk as the last remnants of the sun work their way mysteriously through your windowpane and shed or glow upon your as of yet blank notebook while your friends frolic in the burgeoning realm of the night. So, every once in a while you want to say this. “Hey, you know what? There will be a night, maybe Thursday night or whatever, I’ll go out with my friends, have fun.” Now, what they’re going to do is this. They’re going to say, “Hey, what are you doing on Saturday?” Now this is where I’m going to have to differentiate myself. You tell those friends, “Actually on Saturday I’m shooting a film. Would you fellows like to help out?” And there will be this bewildered silence and they, themselves, now, it’s upon them to choose their particular route in life because they were going to go to this barbecue out in the fields of green glory where the beer would run like rivers of gold, until you lay flat on your back gasping for air.
So, that’s what you do. Go out, “Hey, yeah, okay, let’s have fun Thursday night.” “What are you doing Friday?” “Well actually I’m writing.” “Well what are you writing?” “Well I’m writing a scene that I’m shooting on Saturday.” And you begin to set precedent. So, yeah, it’s horrifying. You go to work at a job, you’re surrounded by these people, and everybody, “Hey, man, let’s go out and have a drink,” and you become ensconced in this world of ultimate nothingness. Yes, they’re there if you need to move, they’ll help you, and, “Oh my God, I need a ride to the airport.”
They’re there for you, so you want to have that tapestry of friendship that, when times are needed and so on and so forth but you don’t want to give out all your energy to that foolishness about all of that going out and talking stupid and killing time and so on and so forth.
So yeah, again, my advice would be enjoy your friends but limit it, and find those few friends that will go your way and do constructive things, and you will find other friends along the way who are also like-minded like you and also will help out. So you form a new tapestry of friendships and you lose some and it’s a necessary loss to empower your own vision. So just think all this stuff out, man.
CK: As an unusual person, have you ever felt anger about being different?
MB: The only anger that I would have is toward myself for betraying myself, because I usually just tell people straight out what’s what, and this is a good system because if you withhold that anger, obviously, it surmounts, it builds in mass, until you keel over dead from some health impediment, right? Or you do something nutty. So when you deal with friction on a daily basis and deal with that friction instead of withholding dealing from that friction, you’re good to go. Like I have to shoot this, then I have to go somewhere else, and it’s like, “Oh man, I can’t be watching a film tonight.” I would never dream of watching a film at night but it’s part of the business, so I just go along with it. Then I’ve got to get on a plane in the morning, so on and so forth. I’m not going to get angry about all of this stuff, it’s just part of the business. I allow for it, but boy, when I get back, man, hell no, I don’t get involved.
So then that’s … and you talk about being different and so on and so forth. Well, you can find people that go along with your thinking. There’s plenty of them and so on and so forth, and you don’t want to be insulting the people, because I’m not a consumer. There’s a lot of people that are consumers, that all they do are go to events and they wouldn’t know how to play guitar or write a book if their life depended on it, you know what I’m saying? So, I know how to not answer the phone. There’s no ringer or anything. I just do what I want, man, dude, so I don’t have that being different type thing. I have enough people that I know that go along with what’s happening and again, like I say, man, some people say, “Hey, you want to hang out?” I’ll say, “Well, I’m not going to sit around with my thumb up my ass, man, doing nothing, talking foolish and so forth.” You don’t want to be specific to any one person. You want to keep it a generalized concept, but yeah, whatever you do with your time is fine.
It’s like with films too. Don’t even bother recommending films to me because I’m in the New York Times without a doubt every Friday, like I said, Film Comment. These people are on the cutting edge. They’re in the film world, and I study all my books on film and so on and so forth. So, someone recommending a film, it’s just worthless. Now, a few have … Someone had mentioned a documentary shot on film about country singers in the late ’70s, early ’80s. I’d never heard of it. I’m on that, man. I’ll be checking that out. So there are some films that people have brought to my attention that are definitely worthy, but it’s not out of arrogance, but it’s like, dude, man, I do my research on a daily basis. I don’t need your input.
Again, like I say, it’s not out of any cockiness or that but it’s just kind of like … it’s like if you go into a financial advisor, you start telling him what’s what and he’s doing it 24 hours a day, you’re wasting his time, man. Again, he’s not being arrogant, he’s just saying, “Listen, dude. This is what I do for a living. I do my homework. Thanks but no thanks.” And yeah, if you do have a valuable suggestion, you do have a valuable insight, absolutely, I want to hear it, but 99% chance that it’s going to be of no value to me. And again, that’s not a matter of right or wrong, that’s just science, dude. That’s just math. Because I’m hundreds of films behind on my own agenda, so what is someone else going to contribute? And if they do, and do make a valuable suggestion, I’m forever thankful.
CK: If someone walked up to you and said, “Hey, I’ve never been creative and I want to start,” what would you tell them?
MB: How do you be creative? Well, like I said, man, I think I maybe told you or whatever, man, I said, “You can create happiness like a cupcake, man. You can create a cupcake. It’s just a formula.” Scientifically, I mean, you can get happy, you can get sad, you can do whatever. Now you’re asking about this process of getting creative. Well, I think creativity comes from inspiration, so it’s how do you inspire yourself? Do you look at the New York Times Magazine? Do you look at those beautiful apartments and the inherent symmetry within those apartments and the lighting and the symmetrical furniture? Can you relate to a university campus and the outlay of the buildings and the mystery of the hallways and so on and so forth? All of a sudden you become inspired.
Well, what happens in these apartments? What happens in these hallways? How can these particular places be filmically composed and what would the montage sequence be like? So, through inspiration comes creativity.
CK: Do you think that art should be a way to make a statement to the world?
MB: That’s interesting. That’s for other people. There’s great people who can say great things, who can change the world, and that’s their job. That’s their instinct in life. So we have many voices for better or worse that inform the world how to think and open their eyes up to new things and they’re very good at it and they reach an extraordinary amount of people. So more power to them on the good side.
CK: I’m curious if you’ve ever had a personal mentor.
MB: Yeah, no, I’ve never had any mentor or anything like that. I think that a lot of people have. They might come from a background where they might encounter a guidance counselor or an older brother or some role model or a surrogate father or this or a that where there’s actually a hands-on mentor and so on and so forth. I’ve never had that experience, but I think role models are good. It’s not that you’re weak and that you fall subservient to someone else and you’re lower and they’re higher or something like that, but if you have trouble with identifying role models for positive effect, it’s foolish because if you don’t stand for something, you’re going to fall for anything, because believe it or not, you have role models every day. You’re watching everyone, what they’re doing, how they’re crossing the street. Are they waiting for the walk sign or do they cross at the “don’t walk”? Your brain’s taking this in all the time, so you’re being exposed to good role models, bad role models, so there’s nothing wrong with consciously adhering your thinking to good role models.
Again, like I say, it doesn’t make you weak or like, “Oh my God, I don’t know what to do, please help me,” but rather, “Hey man, I’m going to align my thinking to this particular thinking because it makes sense to me and it empowers me.”
CK: Do you think it could be inspiring for a creative person to live in a small town rather than a big city?
MB: I wouldn’t know. I live in a big city, so I’ve never had the experience of a small town. I dream about small towns, and I think there’s around 10,000 small towns and oh my God in Iowa, Indiana, on sunlit evenings and all of these lives we’ll never even know about, man. It just breaks my heart. And the diners and the older gentleman reading the newspapers and comment on the local political and social scene. It breaks my heart in a million pieces that I will never know these people or these situations, or in the ’70s with the muscle cars roaming around gravely Iowa roads. Oh my God, man. God help me.
CK: Are talent and craft equally important?
MB: Talent and craft. Well, what can one say? Some people are born talented, whether it’s physically or mentally. They might be quite coordinated and can perform athletic events like none other, and then other people develop a craft, a musical instrument. You do have to learn, whether you’re musically inclined or not, there’s some scientific methodology that you have to embrace if you can advance further. That certainly then becomes craft via practice. So, I mean, you ask me what do I think? I mean, like I say, some people are born with talent, it’s never nurtured. Other people are born with little talent but they nurture their craft and they’re immensely successful, so it’s all what’s ticking up there in the brain.
CK: Do you recommend that creators branch out and be willing to learn other skills?
MB: No. I mean, people should do what makes them happy as long as it’s not to the harm of anyone else. I mean, I’m telling you, dude, you’re around 80, 90 years and then it’s over, and the older you get, the quicker it goes. So, I understand what you’re talking about, this balancing. Yeah, if your electricity gets cut off, yeah, you better find some greater equilibrium between art and reality, man. So, obviously there’s that, but a person doesn’t have to do anything except wake up and have some water and eat an orange and make a sandwich or something like that, and then it’s a crap shoot from there.
CK: I saw a photo of you somewhere giving a speech while eating a sandwich.
CK: What was that all about?
MB: Yeah. The only reason why I probably would have done that, wherever that had occurred is that I feel that things become a parody and that if you go on stage and you’re serious and you’re humorous and this, that, that it’s just like there’s nothing new happening. If you happen to have a sandwich, well, that’s a tad avant garde. When you’re speaking with people and so on and so forth, it kind of offsets the normality of the situation, because again, it’s, again, like we put on … every day we put on a particular costume, we go through these facades of continences, whether it’s a smile or a serious look. It’s all just a stage act, dude, man. So, that’s all it is.
CK: What do you mean by a stage act?
MB: Well, dude, first of all, me and you are both wearing shorts right now. This wouldn’t be occurring if we were a bank teller. We’d have to put on a different costume, but we are in very informal surroundings, so we can dress, we can choose our … And now we’re … I am here for a specific reason, so I have to make sure that my syntax is compelling to a degree, that my language is understandable to a degree. We’re having a very formal exchange right now for very formal purposes. It’s not as if we were at taco night or something like that and you were talking to me and I was staring out the window, because we then would have no obligations or responsibilities to each other, so we’ve created this stage, we’ve set up the lighting, we have the sound gear, we’re recording it. We’re doing this particular stage work for an hour, hour and a half, or whatever it is. And I’d asked you how you were shooting me, because otherwise I was going to put on long pants and so on and so forth. You’ve said, “Well, that’s not necessary.” So, like I said, we both have shorts on.
Then ultimately we both stand up, we both silently think, “Man, it’s good to stand up,” shake hands, I’ll give you a hug. I might be more forthcoming in the hug than you receiving it. Then you do your thing at night, I go ahead and do mine, I get ready for the next performance at a theater where we’ll go to dinner and then I’d have to guide the questions because I don’t want to talk about minutiae and hopefully … because you’re a fascinating guy, dude. I’d have no trouble … You don’t bore me, and boredom can come from being assaulted with commonalities, being assaulted by the prosaic, the expected. Oh my gosh, no, no, no. But one thing, too, is if you had … I was thinking about this for some other thing, let’s say, that you engage with someone in a professional realm and it’s like a podcast or something, and every … This you can edit and that you can edit, but if it was live, every second would be valuable and it’s not good to have obviously long silences or repetitious tracks of thinking and so forth. You want to keep moving ahead, and the voice, the pitch can increase in your voice. The pitch of your voice can become more high-frequency because you’re a little bit more excited, a little bit more compelled to create this performance.
But then, like a jet airliner does, it puts on its reverse thrusters. If you would go out to dinner afterward, you wouldn’t want to keep talking like this. You would want to slow down, you want to change subjects, you want to get into a whole different biosphere of exchanges and so on and so forth. I mean, a concert lasts for an hour and a half. A motion picture lasts for an hour and a half. We have about a 90-minute … in general, a 90-minute tolerance for something before we go on break, then we go on break. Then we have a cigarette on the outside of the stage door and then we go and engage into our next thing.
CK: Do you think it’s a good idea to go to school for the arts?
MB: I’d say hell yeah, do it, man, of course, because you’re in an environment that’s encouraging you to do this, and most teachers are teachers because they want to be teachers. Most teachers are teachers because they’re good teachers. Somebody said to me, “Hey, man, I want to learn guitar and go to a music school.” I said, “More power to you.” Next dude says, “Man, I ain’t going to step food in no classroom. I’d be playing six, eight hours a day and no one’s going to stop me,” and I say, “Bless your heart, man. Never walk through that door because you’ve got it made in the shade right where you’re sitting, man.” So again, it’s per individual.
CK: To wrap this up, do you have a message for every creative person out there?
MB: Oh, yeah, definitely. As a young creative, you’ve got to believe in yourself. You’ve got to, and if you’re getting any outside pressure not to be who you are, just pick up a book, look at a film. Look at all of these people who are doing, who have done and are doing what you want to do. Get into that world, man, and that’s what I did, man. Especially now if you’re older, you know that time is going to go by quick and I would think about that immediately, and that probably gets your workday situation going a lot better. If you’re young, your life’s an open canvas, but don’t get too giddy about that, that you’ve got days and weeks and months, because those days, weeks and months can turn to years and all of sudden you’re going to live a life unlived. That’s no good.
You have to believe in yourself and sometimes you have to create that belief, because there’s going to be so many daily elements that are going to … that process of silent attrition that wears down who you are as an individual. Fight that by all means. Fight it every day. Read books every day. Watch films. Listen to music. Play music. Make films. Write novels, scripts, plays, stories, poems, whatever. Keep doing it. If you feel alone, if you feel isolated, there’s many, many colleagues out there. They might be invisible to you at first but seek them out because they are there. You’re not alone on an island, man. You certainly are not.
And try to empower yourself each day. Stay healthy. Go take a walk. Clear your mind. Get away from the rot of television. It’s a horrible psychological drug. Get away from the internet. Get away from all that. It’s no good. I mean, some people know how to use it, man. It’s like a drug dealer. They don’t do their own drugs, and the people working for them, they don’t do it either. They’d get killed, man, because that would interfere with the focus, the mindset, you know? So why do yourself wrong? Why sit in front of the TV? Why knowingly take the drug? Why sit in front of the internet, take the drug? Don’t do it. It’s no good. I mean, again, if you’re making money off of it or somehow it serves your art, absolutely, and if it’s a necessity, go for it, but if it’s not, you’re killing yourself. You’re killing your time. It’s no good. Same with idol socialization. You’re conducting violence against your own self-potential.
So, mornings are usually the best for most people because the day hasn’t been poisoned yet with the minutiae of the everyday. That stuff knocks you dead by high noon, man. So in the morning, in the silences of your life, go for it, man. Don’t fall in with the crowd. Don’t let the collective diminish your individuality. Write, write, write. Just write, write, write. Do, do, do. Create, create, create, man. Just keep doing it, man. You have to push into life. You have to push through life, and you’ve just got to be in rhythm with your soul, man. I’m not going to talk a person’s ear off if they’re not interested. I’m just wasting energy, man. I want to be writing, figuring stuff out.
Again, I don’t mean to conjure up obscenities but I feel it’s necessary. “Hey, Mark, let’s go waste some time.” Well, fuck you, man. You’re not wasting my time. And again, I don’t mean that to be disrespectful to your camera or to you as an individual. I just mean it to make a point, that’s all. Get into your creative world. You might do a little bit of suffering and there might be melancholy and solitude and tracks of despair and uncertainty without a doubt, and doubt, but you just have to see that through, and also you have to impose yourself on life, because when you’re a little bit different, you’re going to get a lot of flack from other people because they’re insecure and they want to know why you’re not thinking like they are.
And you’ve got to stand up for yourself, and if you keep standing tall, you’re going to find some people start coming over to your side because, you know what? Actually they were thinking like you all along but they were too scared to make any noise about it. But you always see that, man, where there becomes a falling out from the collective and they want to get together with the people who they are really like. So stand tall in your creative ambitions. It’s the only life you have to live and, man, believe me, once you get to that other side, you will be so happy you followed your own individual pursuits.
CK: Anything else you’d like to say?
MB: Not a damn thing.
You’re a hard guy to read, Carl. Every time I look at you, I think, “Man, is this dude serious or is this all … What’s this guy up to, man?” I mean, we encountered again this very premise last night. Yeah, I don’t know. That’s crazy, man.