The Blessing of Finite Resources

I’m a huge fan of the HBO drama “Succession.” The third season ended last month, and I’ve been reading articles and listening to podcasts about the writers, the actors, the showrunner, and the rest of the creative team.

In one interview, Mark Mylod, the director of many of the episodes, spoke about the decision that was made  to shoot the series on film rather than digitally. He explains: “The discipline of having a 1,000- or 400-foot roll of film that limits how long you can go focuses everything…It gives us a structure we really need.”

Why would this be? Why might it actually help the creative process to have less time to film, not more? Aren’t boundaries and limits the enemy of creativity?

More and more, I feel like the opposite is true. Parameters hone our impulses, give our minds a target. Here’s an experiment: 

In the next ten minutes, please write a short story. You can choose between these two prompts: 

1) Write a short story

2) Write a short story that includes a dead battery, a raccoon, and a trip to the carwash.

Which prompt would you choose?

Almost everyone would rather use the prompt that gives them something to work with. The story elements help you focus your creative mind and cobble together a quick tale. Without this anchor your mind spins, trying to determine the “right” story, beginning and rejecting a hundred ideas.

It can feel like it’s obviously better to have more—more time, more money, more space. But limits drive our ingenuity, whether we’re directing a TV show or telling a silly story. 

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