Learn By Doing, Not By Dreaming: A Project-Oriented Approach

By Jeff Feuerhaken

As elusive as it can be, inspiration is often the easy part of the creative process. Sometimes all it takes is a trip to the movie theater (or turning on Netflix) to have an experience that makes you say “Damn, I wanna make something like that!” It happens to me all the time.  I’ll see a cool visual effect in a sci-fi action film, or I’ll be taken for a loop by some unforeseen plot twist in a drama series, and it makes me want to create something that incorporates a similar element in my own work.

The problem a lot of people have is that this is as far as they get. The dreaming is easy, but the doing can be overwhelming. There are tons of “idea people” out there who have all these amazing ideas, but lack the drive to make them a reality. Unfortunately, until those ideas can be brought to life, they’re null and void. Meaningless. Inspiration without execution=zero. Nothing.

Don’t get too bummed, though, idea people. A simple adjustment to your creative approach can make all the difference between dreaming and doing. And it’s really just a matter of scale. Instead of spending all your time thinking about that epic feature film that will one day change the face of cinema, the one that you’ll eventually make when you can finally get the millions in funding and convince Leo to sign on, instead try considering a project-oriented approach. What I mean by project-oriented approach is to take that one element you just saw that inspired you, and build a project around the execution of that one element.

I’ll give you a little example. When I first saw Sin City, I was blown away by its crazy unique visual style.  I watched every special feature on the disc, learning about how the filmmakers used various green screen compositing techniques to achieve the final look. At that moment, I felt a burning drive to throw up a green screen and create my own Sin City opus. Of course, I didn’t have access to all the necessary resources, so Sin City 2, directed by Jeff Feuerhaken, clearly wasn’t in the cards.

But what I  was able to do is acquire a green screen. And a DSLR camera. And some lights. And some friends who wanted to help. Of course I knew a full-length feature was out of the question, but why not a short? Or a music video? Any project that could allow me to work with some footage to attempt to mimic that Sin City style. I had a goal: to learn those composting techniques. That’s it. No big action budget needed.

So I made a music video. I shot all of the action with stationary cars against a green screen and created moving backgrounds in post. I color graded it by desaturating the color (sometimes leaving accents, such as the model’s red lips) and upping the contrast to emulate the look in Sin City. I added some motion and camera shake to sell the feeling of movement. All the editing took a bit of time, but by thinking realistically and using a project-oriented approach, I achieved my goal of learning some cool new compositing techiques, and ended up with a fun little video to add to my reel.

Inspired by prompt: https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/apply-yourself/

Error Of My Ways - Rockets Dead Glare Jeff Feuerhaken Nick Nicioli Dustin Keeney

Using a project-oriented approach can be a great way to learn new techniques, such as the compositing and color grading in this music video.

5 thoughts on “Learn By Doing, Not By Dreaming: A Project-Oriented Approach

  1. MeilaniM

    Great post, but darn it you left me wanting to see your video, and no video link was included. You’re such a tease. 😛 :)

    • Haha, awww…well the video hasn’t premiered yet so I can’t show it as of now. Maybe I’ll post a link once the full vid is up :)

  2. You are so right. Sounds like you’re on the right path to making your dreams a reality, simply DOING. It’s hard to get that ball rolling but once you do, you want to make more and more. I’m sure your video is amazing and good luck!

    • It’s just that if you can just focus on getting the ball rolling, then you’re not overwhelmed by everything that comes after. Thanks for the awesome feedback!

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