The secret of how artists and creatives up their creativity & productivity

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Lemn Sissay and Mark Cousins

Jude had to say it again before it fully sunk in. Wow! I thought. So, I put the not so hypothetical question to you.

If you had the opportunity to share a space with someone you did not personally know, but whose work you greatly admired, who would that be?

Jude Kelly CBE was then the artistic director of the Southbank Centre — that venue alongside the Thames vibrant with culture, music and the arts. Today she runs WOW — a global network Women of the World.

It’s 2010 and Jude has just walked into the artists in residence room with Turner prize winner Jeremy Deller. We’re thinking of this thing called ‘Collision’, she says.

I won’t spoil it for you. Listen to Jude in her own words below. This is a shortened interview as I ask her how other industries might benefit. However, after you watch it, consider its impact in this covid-pandemic times and how it might, even remotely as we connect through multiple meetings, impact your life in ways you can’t yet imagine.

A summary of what Jude says goes like this.

  • You’re at a mid level in your profession or someone even considered an expert in your field.
  • You seek out someone from across the aisle, even in an unrelated discipline.
  • You take the risk of experimenting with your own profession via learning about your collider.
  • A third party, in this case, the Southbank brokers an introduction. The resources involve ensuring safe travel, putting up your collider in a hotel, and an itinerary that fosters creativity.

Off covent road in central London is a film book store. I’ve been stuck in this shop for more than I envisaged, because one book has me reading through with ideas ricocheting of my eyeballs.

The book is called The Story of Film. It’s a history, a revelatory personalised love letter to cinema. After many years in storytelling and just getting into my PhD in reshaping journalism, it’s speaking to me.

The author is Mark Cousins, whom I used to watch in the 90s as he interviewed exemplar filmmakers and Hollywood stars. After I buy the book, I buy another Widescreen — Watching real people else. It’s a series of essays.

I hear myself say to Jude, “Mark Cousins”. That’s who I would love to collide with. The Southbank contacts Mark, who is in the middle of an edit for a new film, so won’t be unable to stay the full fortnight, but he’s agreed to participate.

We’re briefed before hand. This is about giving. It’s about being selfless. Your collider may not be what you thought. He or she, and this goes for other artists, may not even get on with you. This is as much about relationship building as trying Spock’s mind meld.

To break the ice, all the artist have been asked to cook for their collider and about 80 guests. I am first. I plan Jollof rice, plantain, chicken and brown peas. This ‘magic’ will take place in the bowels of the Southbank centre, where fittingly I think it’s called the Den of chefs , or something like that —a massive kitchen.

Inside the kitchen lay industrial size pans. I have help for the chickens and jollof I will conjure up. Bad news. My sister who was going to help hasn’t arrived. I ring her. Help! She tells me she can’t make it. My nephew is being taken to hospital.

I am used to convenience store size cans. When the Southbank chef arrives with the ingredients, the tomato tin is so big I could fit in. Ignoring this trivial pursuit how on earth am I going to measure my ingredients? One of the chefs stays with me.

We’ve been in the kitchen for about four hours and now finally on the 7th floor it is time to serve and meet Mark. The food is a hit and Mark and I hit if off. Below is one of several freewheeling encounters, where we would agree to meet for a couple of hours and then go about our daily routines. The last thing you want to do is suffocate your collider.

I am enriched by the experience and in the video below it’s obvious when I am stuck for words. Mark generously has prepped something for our collision. I wanted a filmmaker to capture the whole of Collision and could think of no one better than Adam Westbrook. Westbrook is an alchemist experimenting with film. He will go on to blow the mind of his followers with films such as this Operation Infektion for the New York Times.

The film Mark is referring to by Director Mohsen Makhmalbaf is is “A Moment of Innocence”. As Mark says it features Makhmalbaf playing himself whilst , casting young actors to recreate what he did many years earlier attacking a police officer. This from Wikipedia

The production is nearly brought to a halt by the victimized police officer (Mir Hadi Tayebi), now working for Makhmalbaf, who tries to force his will on the production and threatens to leave the project every time he becomes frustrated.

Mark’s insights around the spontaneity of filmmaking appeals to me because I often don’t know what I’m doing until I get on location. I create a series of films for the Imagine (poetry) Festival , three in one day.

In this film, I arrive at the Southbank at about 12 and in 20 minutes Lemn Sissay is about to perform.

One of the Southbank producers tells me I shouldn’t go near him, he’s prepping. I ignore her and make this film thinking through the shots I need and where they’ll come from in real time.

After ten days colliding with Mark, what did I learn? Well a lot, but I don’t think you can quantify it like that. This isn’t brainstorming motivated by problem solving. This is a slow burning process where you continually draw on broader issues that come from talking.

For instance, my view on cinema was revised thanks to Mark. His knowledge of films spurned me on to learn more about cinema in its many guises. I see storytelling in a way of cinema and poetry.

On the final day I interviewed Mark. This is a snippet of what he said from our collision.

Above all too I feel like I made a friend. Occasionally I reach out on Twitter. That Collision continues to yield sparks as I interact with others, like atoms colliding with other atoms. This is one of the films I made four years later that bridges cinema and journalism in different ways, from presenting at Apple, and by then defending my PhD.

I created a website for the Southbank centre and a series of films, coupled with Adams. The site can be found here (you’ll need Flash in your browser)

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Written by

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.

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