Throughout this resource, I’ve often spoken about the importance of staying fresh and creative. I truly believe that trying things is more important than knowing things. In the entry Stream Before You’re Ready, I talked about the idea of stacking knowledge between real experiences, rather than simply stockpiling lessons learned from reading, watching or listening. And since we’ve been talking a lot about movies recently, let’s jump once more into cinematic art. This time we’ll look at one of the best case studies for my ‘knowledge is not required’ philosophy. Specifically, how did a first-time movie director somehow spearhead what is generally considered to be the greatest film of all time?
Even if you’ve never seen it, I’m sure you’ve at least heard of Citizen Kane. It’s become a synonym in colloquial English for the idea of a ‘great movie.’ If you say “This movie is no Citizen Kane,” everyone knows what you mean. But when conceptualizing that project in 1940, Orson Welles, the film’s director, had never made a movie before. And not only that, he specifically nurtured his ignorance of the filmmaking practices. By using this cultivated ignorance to his advantage, he pushed his team past their creative limits into totally new territory. He simply didn’t know what couldn’t be done, which allowed him to achieve the impossible. And I think that a Twitch streamer of any skill level could learn a lot of lessons from this mindset.
➢ KNOWING YOUR WEAKNESSES
The film Mank is an excellent look into
the messy process behind Kane's writing.
Citizen Kane may have been made by a first-time movie director, but it’s no accident how it got to be so great. Welles knew where he needed help, and he attracted a dream team of some of the best technicians and artists in the business to work on his film. First, the screenplay was penned by Herman J. Mankiewicz, who had helped to shape the previous decade of cinematic language. You can glimpse his brilliance, along with many of his other complexities, in the recent David Fincher biopic Mank. Next, Welles had cinematographer Greg Toland, nominated for six Academy Awards throughout his life, and described by Welles as “just then, the number-one cameraman in the world.”
Editor on Citizen Kane was Robert Wise, who would go on to become a legendary director himself, winning multiple Academy Awards for West Side Story and The Sound of Music. Creating the soundtrack for Kane was Bernard Hermann, who with later credits like Psycho, North by Northwest and Taxi Driver has gone on to be widely recognized as one of the greatest film composers of all time. And on post-production effects duty was Linwood G. Dunn. You may not realize it, but a large part of Citizen Kane’s brilliance lies in its heavy use of special effects. If you get a chance to visit the Academy Awards Museum in Los Angeles, you can see breakdowns and cels from the film’s various visual tricks- it’s said that over 50% of the film features visual effects in one way or another. Dunn was willing to try every trick in the book (and invent quite a few of his own) to bring Welles’ vision to life.
So Welles clearly had an incredible, all-star collection of talent behind the camera at every stage of production. But we’ve all seen films with great teams that still turn out to be duds. How was Orson Welles, a cinematic amateur, able to wrangle all these departments and emerge with such a monumental achievement? Mostly, it was because he was a cinematic amateur.
➢ GOING SEMI-PRO
Welles' radio play made some people
really believe that aliens were invading.
Despite being new to Hollywood, Orson Welles was far from being new to the arts. By the time of Citizen Kane’s production, he had already become a successful figure in theater, and most of us have heard of his infamous War of the Worlds radio hoax. He used his past experiences to his advantage though, taking in sensibilities from radio and stage production to enhance his filmmaking. This understanding of drama from his previous background, combined with a general ignorance of what movies were ‘supposed to’ be like, allowed him to be extremely inventive within this new medium. Placements of the camera, creative editing and cutting-edge special effects permeated the entire film. At every step, Welles challenged his team to think outside the box, and reach new creative heights. And these creators behind the scenes, tired of a Hollywood run by a drab clockwork system, were glad to be outside their comfort zone. On his first first visit to Hollywood, he called movie studios, “the greatest electric train set a boy ever had.” And he seemed to keep that mindset at the forefront throughout production. Welles acted as a constant creative spark, which helped to ignite the creativity of every department on his film.
We all have this kind of overflowing creative energy within us. The problem is, we eventually grow up. Think back to when you were a small child. What did you want to be when you were older? When we’re children, our dreams are totally uninhibited. A child has no conception of how difficult it is to become an astronaut, or a firefighter, or an Olympic athlete. But that doesn’t stop them from believing that it will come true. There are a select few of those children who are able to follow those dreams throughout their lives and make them into reality. Welles, as a young adult, was able to tap into this childlike superpower to create a legendary work of art. And you can use that same ability to build an incredible Twitch stream.
➢ ONE-PERSON CREW
The nice thing about streaming is that you aren’t creating a single finished product, like a movie. There’s no point where the whole thing is ‘done,’ it’s a constant work in progress. And as you keep going live and honing the stream, you hone your abilities as well. You don’t need the equivalent of Linwood G. Dunn to design your graphics, or Greg Toland to operate your Logitech webcam. As you improve your streaming skills, you will become those people. By gaining more experience and applying yourself to various disciplines, you will continually gain the wisdom and know-how for streaming that those legends knew about their departments when making movies.
But most importantly, never let go of the Orson Welles inside your heart. Don’t come back down to earth. Challenge the jaded and realistic side of yourself to act on your biggest ideas, your weirdest visual concepts, the things you’ve always wanted to do on your channel but have never seen anyone else doing. As Charles Foster Kane says in the film when questioned about his journalism practices, “I don't know how to run a newspaper, Mr. Thatcher; I just try everything I can think of.” That perfectly summarizes his character, as well as Orson Welles’ mindset when creating the film itself. In my own projects, I try to tap into that magic whenever I can. Give it a shot yourself- try thinking so far outside the box that you’re in a class of your own. That’s what Orson Welles did for cinema. And when you know what not to know about streaming, you can do the same on Twitch.