The surprise hit movie of the summer has got to be the sci-fi thriller District 9. The film is produced by Peter Jackson and conceived and directed by a 29 year old South African named Neill Blomkamp. There are some wonderful lessons to be learned from the story of this very talented artist who began his career as a 3-D animator. Though his family relocated to Canada when Neill was 18, he never forgot the South Africa of his youth, an area ravaged by the effects of apartheid. It is the application of allegory, brought about by Blomkamp’s South African upbringing, that gives District 9 real authenticity and relevance that connects with audiences in in a relatable way. In other words, it is born from the truth of experience.
Blomkamp attended the prestigious Vancouver Film School and worked as a 3-D animator on projects like Stargate SG-1 and Smallville. As a rising young star he directed, wrote, and produced a small short film in 2005 called Alive in Joburg. The clip below is his original film that was to become District 9.
Blomkamp was tapped by Peter Jackson to direct a movie based on the popular video game Halo. When the deal to complete the film fell through, Jackson felt compelled to allow Blomkamp to direct a larger version of Alive in Joburg. Jackson arranged the financing to back the film for $30 million, a tiny budget compared to, say, Transformers 2 which cost in excess of $300 million. And District 9 is far and away a better film. Here’s a link to the trailer of District 9.
Here are 5 things that we can learn from the creative process of Neill Blomkamp.
1. Create from the core of you. This single factor is what sets Blomkamp apart from so many young creators ( and old ones as well) and why his movie is so fresh and feels so original. He incorporated his own personal reflections of the environment he grew up in and translated it into a new story arch. He not only wrote what he knew and what he had experienced but found the right kind of story to share those experiences.
2.Follow your bliss. Blomkamp combined his love for science fiction, his affinity for video games, his talent and background in special effects together with his own life experience to create something real.
3. Let your influences inspire, not conspire. Blomkamp’s creative influences are apparent in District 9. The basic premise for the movie is taken from 1988’s Alien Nation, as well as other science fiction classics like The Day the Earth Stood Still and Independence Day. Even his love of the game Halo is a part of the making of this film. But Blomkamp puts a fresh, new original spin on the genre, and makes it his own. Though the influences are there, they are part of the creative process, not than the creative outcome. It takes creative confidence to achieve that, one that is born from a lot of experience. Sure, Blomkamp is only 29, but he started as a 3-D animator at 16. He listened to that internal voice to create from. The inspirations were only a part of the mix.
4. Give the process time. The gestation period for creative projects varies, but it is often years in the subconscious before it comes to the forefront. I’ve read stories about creators who work amazingly fast (John Hughes, for instance, in one our previous blog posts), but rest assured the seeds for stories, paintings, songs, comics, and screenwriting are planted long before they blossom. Blomkamps short film Alive in Joburg was done in 2005, but it’s story was conceived in the miind of the creator years before it came to the big screen as District 9 in August 2009.
5. Don’t let a defeat dictate your destiny. Creativity of any kind faces obstacles. The moment that Blomkamp learned that the film he was supposed to direct ,“Halo”, had been shelved, my guess is he probably didn’t consider it one of the greatest days of his life. But it was. He went on to direct District 9, a more original film, one that will better position him to achieve more as a director and creator. Every act of creativity takes courage. The road is never easy. In 1982, I had a newspaper editor tell me that I had absolutely no talent, and that I needed to get out of the cartooning business. Rather than let it defeat me, I used it as a driving force to land a cartooning job for a paper in Colorado. It kept me motivated during my 26 year career there (the paper folded in February 2009) and still pushes me to continue to create in new ways as I continue my career. So standing firm in the face of adversity, believing in your creative product and persevering until it comes alive makes the outcome so much sweeter.
Remember: Be Fearless. Create Boldly.