Filmmakers share thoughts on creativity and art amid pandemic

FF2 Media featured filmmakers, from documentarians to screenwriters and authors, share their thoughts on making art while staying at home, and how the state of the world during the coronavirus pandemic is affecting their work.

  1. How are you staying creative during quarantine? 

Amy Adrion is the director/producer of the 2018 documentary about women directors, Half the Picture: I directed/produced a short video right before we were required to socially distance in Los Angeles, so that was lucky timing.  I love editing and was thrilled to have that project to dive into at home. 

But – I do want to say that we all need to be gentle with ourselves right now. My two kids, 1st and 4th grade, are home, and I watch with envy from the sidelines as folks on social media post about binging this or that show when by the end of the day, after “distance learning,” working on my own projects and making sure the house isn’t a tsunami, I’m just done. We’re all doing the best we can.  The universe has handed us a bit of time and space to reflect, so let’s do that for a while without the guilt of having to be spectacularly productive.  

Katherine Center is the New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Husband, whose film adaptation was released in March. Her upcoming novel What You Wish For is out July 14: Ha! How am I not staying creative? Creativity is saving me! I am gardening, reading, journaling about what I’m reading, painting flowers on bookplates for the release of my next book in July, sewing masks for health care workers, painting rocks in the backyard, hanging up party decorations and twinkle lights to cheer our house up, doing embroidery, teaching myself new aspects of graphic design, making videos—and basically just doing creative things all day long.

Pamela Ribon is a screenwriter known for Moana, Smurfs: The Lost Village and the Oscar-nominated Ralph Breaks the Internet: I gave my first grader a pack of multi-colored sharpies and one blank wall of my office and said, “This is yours until we get out of here.” I’m sorry, were you asking about tips I use in order to get five minutes of creative work done in a day? This is all I have right now. I’m afraid of dolls, but they keep my kid from feeling like the only child in the world right now, so there are seven of them in my office and they watch me at night when I try to work, the one named Dylan moves half an inch closer whenever I turn back to face the computer screen.

  1. Does this unprecedented time make it easier or more difficult to be creative and make art? 

Amy Adrion: Both. Things have slowed down, which is conducive to tuning in creatively and there’s space for re-evaluation of what we want to spend our time doing.  So much of daily life runs on routine, that wave of obligations that keeps us spinning, and I appreciate taking a break from that, even though it’s an unprecedented health crisis that has gotten us here.  We also find ourselves in a state of heightened stress, confusion and financial anxiety, with no comfort or guidance from policy-makers, and that underlying stress takes a toll, making it harder to focus.  

Coming out of this though, I think we’ll be in a better place creatively (if not financially).  A global pandemic is a “disruptor,” as the business folks like to say, and so much of our economy, and certainly the dominant structures in entertainment, were not working for the vast majority of us anyway, so I’m confident that new systems and powerful art will emerge.

Katherine Center: I’m always happy when I’m making things and being creative, so creativity is easy. I can barely stop myself from making art. What’s much harder right now is forcing myself to do boring things like paying bills.The one exception to that is writing. I am hesitating starting to write my next book because I don’t think I can give it my full attention yet. Instead, I’m thinking about the story, and reading books on writing, and kind of letting the story marinate until I’m ready to go all-in in that sustained way that a long project like a novel requires.

Pamela Ribon: When I was a kid I used storytelling as a way to escape where and when I was, as a way to imagine a future. There are times when I’m writing now during this quarantine that feel less like a job and more like I’m using that coping mechanism again. It doesn’t feel like creativity, but I’m grateful for the skills I acquired when I was young and sad and scared of the dark. Sometimes I can still get lost in the work, in a space where I can move freely.

  1. What films/books/shows have been getting you through, if any? 

Amy Adrion: Jill Soloway’s book She Wanted It  – no surprise, it’s revealing, raw, transgressive, funny as hell and deeply inspiring.

Jim LeBrecht & Nicole Newnham’s Crip Camp – I’m embarrassed to say Crip Camp was a real education for me on the history of disability rights in this country, full of humor, outrage, and a long overdue celebration of the indomitable wills of people like activist Judy Heumann.

Nevertheless, Sarah Moshman’s new doc about sexual harassment in the workplace that makes you want to punch a wall and simultaneously marvel at the strength of people who shouldn’t have to be so strong.

Rachel Mason’s fantastic LGBTQ, Jewish, family doc Circus of Books about her parents’ ownership of a landmark gay porn store in West Hollywood for 30 years.

And my kids are obsessed with Bear Grylls’ Man vs. Wild, which is a decade old but we’ve only recently discovered and it’s been fun to watch a handsome British dude (dead ringer for Christian Bale) visit far-flung, extreme environments where he figures out how to “survive.”  We all need to escape a bit these days, you know?

Katherine Center: I have been binge-watching Korean dramas non-stop during the pandemic. They’re totally addictive and so swoony. It started with Crash Landing on You on Netflix, and it’s already one of the defining elements of the pandemic for me. I work in the mornings, do tons of laundry and dishes and mom-stuff in the afternoon, and then, after dinner, curl up with my laptop and just . . . get lost. It’s been an essential part of giving me something fun to look forward to all day, but I’m also studying those stories, so it’s making me a better writer, too.

Pamela Ribon: Late at night I savor episodes of Better Things. Thank you, Pamela Adlon, it’s just so great.

© Georgiana E. Presecky (5/27/20) FF2 Media

I gave my first grader a pack of multi-colored sharpies and one blank wall of my office and said, “This is yours until we get out of here.”

Photo courtesy of Pamela Ribon

Featured photo: PHOTO BY ASHLY COVINGTON – Director Amy Adrion and “Half the Picture” crew Ona Isart, Yamit Shimonovitz, and Soraya Selene.

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