Creators Are Consumers
At the end of the year, Oscar-winning Director Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s 11, Traffic, Contagion) publishes a list of every TV show, movie, and book he watched or read in the calendar year.
In 2019, Soderbergh watched well over 200 movies and episodes of television. And read several dozen books and plays.
I foolishly tried to get an exact count, but gave up halfway. To those brave enough for the task, you can find Soderbergh’s full list here.
Soderbergh is not the only example of this. In an interview on the Tim Ferriss Podcast, Director Robert Rodriguez talks about keeping a similar list in his journal.
One might accuse Soderbergh of dawdling, or trying to shirk his own creative responsibilities by devouring books and television shows. I was tempted to make this assumption… perhaps to justify my own (often unhealthy) consumption habits.
But for Steven Soderbergh this is not the case. 2019 was a prodigious year in which he directed two feature films, a short film, and served as either the producer or executive producer on four television series.
This reveals many things — notably the director’s productivity and stamina — but to me it is evidence that to be a creator of great art you must also be a consumer of great art.
No one makes art in a vacuum. Creators must look to both the past and present for inspiration. The past: so their work rhymes with what came before it. The present: to remain up to date with the current creative dialogue.
This requires an avid consumption of work old and new. And within and outside your medium (Soderbergh makes movies but still takes time to read novels and plays)
But in many ways, consumption is still a secondary step. First, you must be a fan.
In a 2013 panel discussion, an interviewer asked Leonardo DiCaprio how Director Martin Scorsese continues to make great movies in his 60s. DiCarprio explains:
“If I were to answer that question in all honesty, I would say that it is because he is such an immense fan of film and film-making.”
The artistic process exhausts even the greats. To keep going, you need a passionate endurance that only comes through fandom. After all, didn’t we all start out as fans? Were we not, at first, fueled by seeing magic come to life on screen or canvas.
Remain a fan. Stay a consumer. Continue to seek out work that emboldens your own.
Greatness begets greatness. Step in and be part of the chain!