Heroes vs. Influences


I’ve come to believe that thinking too much about where your own creative impulses come from, whose shoulders they stand on — ie, who your “influences” are — is detrimental to actually acting on those creative impulses. Who the hell cares where your ideas come from, as long as you do stuff with them. Let future critics of your genius body of work figure out who “influenced” you.

I like to think about who my heroes are instead. It’s more aspirational — about where you want to go, versus looking backwards and constantly analyzing, as if you’re talking to James Lipton, where you came from.

Tomato, tomahtoe, I know. But it makes sense to me. So for a pre-Thanksgiving post for all of my 2.5 readers who care, here’s a short list of my creative heroes — each of whom I’m thankful to, for inspiring me.

As a writer, I actually don’t really have any heroes. Not sure why. I guess if I really think hard I’d say someone like John McPhee, just because he’s so mindwarpingly amazing as a science journalist and nonfiction storyteller. But truthfully, that’s a stretch.

As a filmmaker, on the other hand, I’ve got heroes up the wazoo. Not sure why about that, either. I nowhere near embody all the ideals these folks stand for, but I’d like to. Here they are:

Werner Herzog and Claire Denis, for ecstatic truth and images above words. (Very hard to come by in science media.)

Spike Jonze and Christopher Nolan, for physical authenticity and process value.

Stanley Kubrick and David Fincher, for precision design and atomic attention to detail.

Steven Soderbergh and Paul Thomas Anderson, for fearless genre experimentation without being pretentious. (Mostly. I’m looking at you, Paul.)

And the big three:

Michael Mann, for embodying all of the above at once, and being from Chicago like me;
James Cameron, for never not aiming for awesome, and being a sci-tech geek like me;
and Steven Spielberg, goshdarnit, for the sheer wonder, joy, and palpable “holy shit I get paid to do this?”ness in all his work. (And for indirectly inspiring 10-year-old me to imagine tracking shots, whip pans, and slow motion closeups in my head as I played with my G.I. Joes.)

Thanks, y’all!


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