Knowing the rules, before you break them

Producing your first project is hard enough. You have to put a team together, raise finance, make the work and hope nothing goes terribly wrong, all before you take it to the marketplace to see if anyone even cares enough to see it. 

With all these obstacles to overcome, why make things even more difficult by trying to break the rules of your craft on your first go?

One way to increase the chance of success is to set a traditional foundation for your project. For film, that might be a hero’s journey over a three-act structure. For painters, it might be starting with portraits or landscapes. Now if you think that sounds boring then take the opportunity to find originality within your restraints. Don't underestimate the credibility you will build by executing a less original concept well, rather than an original concept badly. 

By doing this you are also avoiding the trap of trying to create a completely ‘unique’ piece of art, which sometimes is a sign that the artist does not have a full understanding of the basic rules and principles of the craft.

The best example of this is an artist that shattered the rules of painting: Pablo Picasso.

Picasso's father, Ruiz, was a painter who specialized in naturalistic depictions of birds and other game. His son had shown a passion and a skill for drawing from an early age, so Ruiz decided that the proper training for Picasso to receive required disciplined copying of the masters, and drawing the human body from plaster casts and live models. This became Pablo’s obsession.

It is said that by the time Pablo reached thirteen years of age, Ruiz felt that his son had surpassed him and vowed to give up painting. But the training didn’t end there. For seventeen years Pablo painted landscapes and portraits, honing his craft, showing in galleries, experimenting with different colour palates, before he started to break the rules.

It was seventeen years in total, from 1890 – 1907, before Pablo starting experimenting with a style that would ultimately be known as ‘Cubism’.

Are there exceptions to this rule? Of course there are. David Lynch is a great example of a filmmaker who broke (or bent) the rules from the get go. His debut feature film Eraserhead is a film that is unrelenting in its style and is bursting with originality. It’s also worth noting that it was made ten years and seven short films after his first short film. And he continued to develop his style which led to masterpieces like Mulholland Drive.

You will have enough on your plate to produce your work at a high level without trying to break the rules of on your first go.

You should learn the rules before you break them. But once you do, don’t hold back.