Creativity…I kinda got me some

At the end 2012 I made the bold decision to focus on being creative for a year…so as I round out the year, I thought I’d have a look to see what worked and what didn’t…and to see if it made any difference to my life.

2 Degrees of Melbourne videos

One of my goals was to shoot and edit some videos of local Melbourne people who I think reflect what a great city Melbourne is. On the plus side, I got three of these done…and I was really happy with them (Andy White, Mick Thomas, Geraldine Quinn). On the downside…I only got three of these done over the course of an entire year, it’s not like I’m creating episodes of Sherlock FFS!
But on the whole I think that this was a triumph for creativity…they pushed me out of my comfort zone in terms of asking relative strangers to come and do something for nothing…and definitely out of my technical comfort zone as I tried to be interviewer, sound guy, camera man, lighting dude and editor, all on very basic equipment. But if the essence of creativity is doing a whole lot of work and not getting paid anything for it, then this was an unparalleled success. Plus I got to have Andy, Mick and Geraldine just hangout for a coffee and chat in our kitchen…and that is freaking priceless.


Another goal was to get some singing lessons and possibly sing in public. This was also a success. I did singing lessons with the amazing Emily Hayes (if you’re in Melbourne and want to learn to sing I cannot recommend her highly enough) and that lead to joining a choir called the Septemberists (we sang an entire Decemberists album…in September). Getting to rehearse and then perform with a group was an amazing experience, and getting to sing with Katie Hull-Brown and Emily during my singing lessons was again a great opportunity to push myself well beyond my comfort zone. It also got me back to playing a bit of guitar. But most of all it made me realise that there are few sounds more captivating than voices singing in harmony.


I really wanted to push myself with my photography this year as well. One of my goals was to do a masterclass with Veeral Patel, but my moving house…and his heading off to shoot the Tour de France made it impossible to lock in a time that worked. But I will do this…oh yes, I will do this (or possibly hide myself in his luggage and head over for next year’s tour!) I did manage to do some long exposure photography that I was really happy with,

ISO 400, 28mm, f11 & 30 second exposure
St Kilda pier
ISO 6400, 17mm, f2.8, 30 Seconds
A shack just outside of Foster

and took some portraits that I thought really captured the subject as a person rather than just an image.

Geraldine Quinn


I tend to put the lens cap in my mouth when I use the camera...Xavier clearly likes the look
I tend to put the lens cap in my mouth when I use the camera…Xavier clearly likes the look

But at the same time, I didn’t spend nearly enough time using the ‘manual’ setting on the camera…and relied on Lightroom to make the images really work, so there is still a lot of work to be done.
Also, 90% of taking a great photo is actually being there to take the shot…an average photographer who is actually there, has a much better chance of taking a great shot, than a brilliant photographer who isn’t there. So one of my big aims for this year was to get out and about to take more photos. But with three young kids and a house renovation to keep me busy, I only managed to head out for a dedicated photo session 3 times for the year. Which is pretty shitfull…but leaves a lot of room for improvement!

Surprising synergies

Not only was this the title of my highly unsuccessful 2002 business/management book, but it was also one of the big things that my year of creativity taught me; creativity in one area opens up creative options in others. If you go to a gig and ask if you can just stroll up on stage and take a photo, you will most likely be politely told to sod off. But if you’re there to sing…then you have full access to stage and can take shots like this with impunity.

Rock n Roller_sml-2Rock n Roller_sml-3Rock n Roller_sml-6

And if you walk up to Mick Thomas and ask to take a quick portrait shot of him, he may explain that he has better things to do with his time…but if you’ve just filmed an interview with him, he might let you take a shot like this.Mick Thomas-1

And if you shoot a video with Andy, you might be asked to ruin breakfasts around Melbourne by appearing as a page 3 boy in the Sunday Age.

So in conclusion…

While I certainly didn’t dedicate sufficient time to being creative, the benefits I got from the time I did put in were fantastic. My videos and photography for my day job came ahead in leaps and bounds, I got to meet and work with some people who I really admire and I had some experiences that I’ll remember and draw upon for the rest of my life. The challenge will be maintaining it next year when so much of my focus will be on getting physically ready for a tilt at the Melbourne Ironman in 2015…and of course not thinking to myself every time we visit someone out of Melbourne “I wonder if I could get any good photos there”.

2 Degrees of Melbourne – Episode 2 : Mick Thomas

Given the number of times I’ve looked up on a stage and seen Mick Thomas singing or telling a story…it was a tad surreal to see him standing in my kitchen chatting about the real life person that Dickens’ ‘Fagin’ was based upon. But when you bite the bullet and decide to put some energy into being creative for a year…these sorts of things start to happen.

A bit of background

For those who don’t know, Mick Thomas is a Melbourne based singer songwriter. He is probably best known for his work with ‘Wedding’s, Parties Anything’, but has also released numerous albums as both a solo performer and with ‘Mick Thomas and the sure thing’…and has written soundtracks and theater productions.
While I had always been vaguely aware of ‘Weddings, Parties, Anything’ (it’s a memorable band name…and their constant touring meant I saw a lot of their posters around) it wasn’t until a friend of mine (Dave Walsh) brought a song of theirs in to play on my student radio show. The song was ‘A tale they won’t believe’ and basically tells the true story of a group of convicts escaping from a prison on Tasmania, and eventually resorting to cannibalism. As far as songs about cannibalism go, it was pretty awesome.
I bought a couple of albums and was hooked. Having been raised on a pretty strong diet of Irish folk music and occasional ‘Bushwackers’ dances…I recognised the sound and the energy of the music…but suddenly it had lyrics about Australian history, or the trials of being in a relationship and working different hours, or being mistaken for Jack Jones. Most importantly a lot of the songs were about life in Melbourne.
So when I came up with the idea of doing short videos on people who I thought were an integral part of Melbourne…Mick Thomas was one of my ‘must haves’.
Flushed with the success of the Andy White video (over 2,500 views on Vimeo!), I just decided to try my luck and simply sent Mick an email via his website explaining what I was looking to do…and in a rare display of poor judgement…he agreed to take part!

Preparing for the interview

I love listening to interviews by Mark Colvin and Jesse Thorn…if for no other reason, than that wonderful moment you can almost hear the guest think ‘Oh wow…this guy has really done his research’. There is a near-tangible change in the way the interviewee responds to the questions, because they realise that they aren’t going to be asked the same questions they’ve been asked before, by someone who is contractually obliged to talk to them….they are talking to someone who has put in some effort, has some great questions and the mental agility to respond to anything they say.
Clearly I wasn’t looking to achieve these lofty standards…but I wanted to be closer to them, than to Richard Wilkins on the red carpet asking ‘So who are you wearing?’
So I did as much internet research as I could…which proved to be a good idea, because one my questions was going to be about the brilliant lyrics in one song he sings…which research revealed to be a cover he does. Nothing makes a songwriter happier than having someone praise a song they sing that they didn’t write.

The interview

One thing I’ve learnt over the course of the two interviews is that when you’re by yourself and filming on one main camera, and filming on a second camera (my phone), and monitoring audio, and asking the questions, and actively listening to the responses and framing your next question, and doing your best to make sure your interviewee is comfortable…you tend to get to the end of the interview and think ‘Well that seemed to go well…but I’ve got no idea if it’s going to work as a five minute video?’
But I think it does…and so here is Mick Thomas

2 Degrees of Melbourne – Mick Thomas from 2 Degrees of Separation on Vimeo.

In conclusion

The music I wrote for Andy’s video just didn’t work with Mick’s…so I had to write something else (and by ‘write’ I clearly mean ‘stick together a series of samples in Garageband’). But I’m really glad I did. I also had to call an end to the interview a little earlier than I would have liked because the the camera was starting to overheat…and I ran out of memory on the card (shooting at 50fps is all well and good to get nice slow motion…but it chews through the memory!)…and editing in 1.5 hour blocks between putting the kids to bed and going to bed myself was less than ideal.
But I can live with all of these little issues, the one thing I’m still annoyed with myself about is that with Mick standing right there in my kitchen I didn’t have the guts to tell him that I think that he is one of the best singer/songwriters that Australia has ever produced…and certainly my favourite. And that Melbourne is so lucky to have someone to immortalise it in song. So I’ll just write it here instead, and pretend that this somehow makes up for it.
But if you’d like to make up for my inadequacy, then I heartily suggest that you all ‘do yourself a favour’ and go out and buy a ‘Weddings, Parties Anything’ album or a ‘Mick Thomas and the Sure Thing’ album, or head to Tassie and check out ‘Vandemonian Lags‘…or just visit Mick’s site and see when he’s performing next.
You won’t regret it.