Creation part two: tight control or let the magic happen?

Here’s another lesson from the great TV showrunners: make sure every single element of the creative process is under your control.

Or don’t.

Many of them wanted to make sure they steered each and every element of the production to the screen. Mathew Wiener of Mad Men was particularly obsessive, making sure all the period pieces were perfect, but also maintaining a tight rein on the characters (he admonished one of the writer producers for allowing Don to brush the dust of his jacket sleeve in a certain way). I guess this makes perfect sense: if you have conceived of a vision for a story and all its constituent parts then you’d probably like to make sure all those parts turn out as close to that vision as possible. In the position of showrunner you have one of the few modern opportunities outside of a Woody Allen film to make this happen.

But most artistic endeavours are collaborative processes, and you could look at that collaboration as either a help or a hindrance; a series of improving contributions or a damaging chain of dilution. And the truth is either way is possible depending on how good you are at selecting the contributors and how adept you are at getting the best from them. So the questions are: how much control are you prepared to concede, and how good can you make the parts you have to let go?

This is an interesting question in advertising where you can certainly have total control over a press ad (client input notwithstanding), but if that works for you, how comfortable would you be when a director, DP, music composer and set designer turn up to demonstrate the extent to which your vision chimes with theirs?

From a personal point of view I like spending my spare time as a novelist because I can control every part of the final work. Sure, I’ll take suggestions, but it’s up to me to incorporate or decline them. Then the book succeeds or fails almost entirely because of me. Does that make me a megalomaniac? To a certain extent I suppose it does, but more often than not I’ve been disappointed with the contributions of collaborators (that doesn’t mean they were bad; I just wanted to see how a closer approximation of my original vision would have turned out).

So maybe the grip, maybe the freedom. But whichever you end up choosing, the fun part is that you’ll never know what the alternative would have been.