Mr. Self Destruct on his Creative Process

With Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Ren Klyce

On Sunday, I was fortunate to have an invitation to a screening of The Social Network, followed by a Q&A with the guys most responsible for the film’s amazing soundtrack—composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, along with supervising sound editor Ren Klyce.

If you haven’t seen the film, you should. The excellent score plays a huge role in establishing the mood and giving a driving force to what could otherwise be a pretty dull topic.

During the Q&A, Reznor talked some about the creative process. When director David Fincher asked him to do the music for the film, Reznor said his first instinct was to start watching a lot of films and study what the composers did, how’d they’d approached the projects. He’d never composed a film score before. Then he changed his mind. “We decided to just do what we do. David came to us for a reason. He wanted us.”

So he and Ross got to work. The first task, after seeing some early footage of the film, was to generate a bunch of directional tracks, 17 or so “sketches” to send to Fincher and see what was working for him and what he was digging. Reznor articulated how critical it is in the first part of the process (divergence) to not edit or be self-critical.

“I used to get hung up because with each project I wanted to do the best thing I’d ever done. That’s a recipe for a blank page and suicidal thoughts.”

In other words, at this point you’re going for quantity. This is something I emphasize to my students. I’m a huge fan of the “wall approach” early on. Every idea you have, spend some time exploring it, then write it down and put it on the wall. Throw it out there, then throw it up there. Do not kill anything. That comes later.

Reznor said, “The process should be fun. It should be filled with momentum.”

I love that phrase. Filled with momentum. Go as fast as you can. Just get it down. Keep moving. Don’t stop.

This quarter, I’m teaching a copywriting class, and one of my assignments will utilize The thing I like about this site is that it encourages you to write fast. It doesn’t matter what you’re writing or how you’re writing. It measures your work in quantity. It helps eliminate all the things that kill creativity, that kill momentum. The client won’t like this…the budget won’t cover that…this is off brief…

After the screening, a friend of mine was talking about barriers in her creative writing class that kill momentum. One of her classmates has trouble because she has an education in creative writing, so she feels like her stuff should be good. The instructor tells the class to write freely, but then adds that they might share what they’ve written with the rest of the class. These things invite the judge into the room. There should be no judging. Just go.

Here’s more on the sound of The Social Network.

“The Social Network” Sound for Film Profile from Michael Coleman on Vimeo.


2 thoughts on “Mr. Self Destruct on his Creative Process

  1. I'm a recently graduated portfolio student (Art Director) from Minneapolis, and I just wanted to say I love your blog and read it every day, but also wanted to point out that Atticus Finch was the father in To Kill a Mockingbird. The guy who worked on The Social Network was named Atticus Ross. Just sayin'.


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