I’m fascinated by Steven Soderbergh’s year-end Seen, Read list. The director’s started each new year since 2017 with a day-by-day record of everything he watched, read, and listened to in the previous year. Soderbergh recently unveiled 2019’s list, and it shows that he began the year watching a documentary on Area 51 and ended the year with an obscure ’40s film noir. And judging from everything in between, his media intake is constant and all over the place.
You may wonder how a busy film director and producer has all this leisure time. But is it leisure time? Here’s author and music critic Ted Gioia on the Conversations With Tyler podcast:
In your life, you will be evaluated on your output. Your boss will evaluate you on our output. If you’re a writer like me, the audience will evaluate you on your output. But your input is just as important. If you don’t have good input you cannot maintain good output… I know for a fact I could not do what I do if I was not zealous in managing high quality inputs into my mind every day of my life… This is the reason why I’m able to do this, because I have constant, good quality input, that is the only reason why I can maintain the output.
If you work in a creative field, then you need to have a firehose of input. And that input will directly influence and guide your output. The input isn’t material to copy but is there to provide steady inspiration, affecting creativity’s mental space.
Steven Soderbergh’s media diet is unguided and seemingly unfocused, which opens him to surprises and unexpected creative inspirations. And, in response, his output jumps around genres and styles. There’s not a typical Soderbergh film though there are common threads and themes.
One can also guide the input to focus the output. I remember reading an interview years ago with Robert Smith of The Cure about his creative process. He explained that before recording an album, he selects a playlist of songs that conveys the mood he’s hoping to capture. Then he listens to nothing else but these songs for the entire time that he’s working on the record. That helps him maintain the mindset he’s after, shaping the tone of the album. This practice might be dangerous now that inspiration’s sometimes interpreted as theft, but I believe it’s a great idea to lay these creative foundations. Artists are always collaborating with ghosts, after all. It’s good to curate which ones you let through the door.