SFIF Post-Script: Musings on Creative Risk-Taking

This is my last of several blog posts about doing portraits at the San Francisco Improv Festival in August. But in case you are wondering if this is turning into an improv blog instead of a photography blog, this entry is really about pursuing personal projects (as a photographer or any sort of creative person).

I am passionate about photography, and about portraiture in particular. I am also passionate about improv theater. My Improvisors project was born out of a desire to combine my passions, and also do a personal project that gave back to the people I was photographing. (Many improvisors are struggling actors who desperately need professional-grade headshots.)

By the time the SFIF rolled around in August, my project was well under way, and I saw it as an opportunity to double-down on my win-win project idea. After all, the SFIF is organized by, of and for the improv community. Another win-win. It may seem, then, like the collaboration was a no-brainer and that it was destined to produce great results from the start.

Not so. There were lots of obstacles along the way.

Firstly, I was in the early stages of defining and executing my project concept when the SFIF appeared on the horizon. I had to really work to narrow the scope, create a presentation and make the appropriate contacts to pitch my idea. This wasn’t easy. On the other hand, it was a great motivator. Deadlines and a critical audience provide great incentive to work hard and get focused.

Secondly, the SFIF is an all-volunteer run event. By the time I came calling with my portrait idea, the unpaid producers of the event already had a long list of to-dos that were far more integral to the Fest than my project. To their credit, they made time to hear me out and bought into the idea, recognizing that it blended well with the mission of the Fest.

Even after everything was lined up in principle, schedules had to be made, event calendars had to be analyzed to see which dates would work best, tight schedules had to be made, then re-made as things changed, and headliners had to be found, contacted, and sold on participating during their very limited time in San Francisco (some folks had planes landing just hours before the went on stage!).

Finally, once all of the contacts got made, dates picked, schedules locked in, etc, I still had the task of executing the plan successfully. This was a personal project with no budget for crew. I would have 200+ lbs of equipment to pack, transport, move through a back entrance, and set up in a confined back-stage area. I had mere minutes to unpack and set up very complex lighting that had to perfectly match prior and later lighting set-ups. I would have to shoot quickly with no assistants to make lighting or tech adjustments, and then pack up and do everything in reverse less than 90 minutes after I arrived to let performers prepare for the arriving audience!

And then do it all again several more times during the week…

All the planning, selling the project, contacting prospective subjects, locking down schedules, packing, planning and executing had to get done quickly, AND there was no guarantee that anyone would show up!

Of course I had locked in a few people who were almost certain to be there. But schedules were shifting left and right until the last minute, and the bulk of the people I hoped to photograph (non-headliners, workshop participants, etc) weren’t locked in at all. I wasn’t sure if 1 person would show up, or 100. Or zero.

Here is where I get to the point of this blog post:

If you are a creative professional, identify what you are passionate about and create work that fulfills it. And take risks in pursuit of those goals. Fortune favors the bold, and you are likely to be rewarded for your efforts.

In my case, all of the above planning and execution paid off. I planned it all out and showed up each day with all that gear, set up and then waited. On the first day no one showed up until the last 20 minutes. But then I got an amazing set of portraits in that 20 minutes; more than I expected for the whole night!

Other days, I got tons of folks showing up to participate. People who had only seen a Facebook post or overheard through a friend showed up, got in line, and waited patiently to give of their time. Some of the headliners I most wanted to photograph were unconfirmed until the last moment. But in the end, I photographed every single person (except one) who I had on my wish list. Awesome.

I’m not wired to leap off cliffs without looking. There is a fine line between bold and crazy. But I lept with this project. And even though it goes against my nature, I’m smart enough to recognize that boldness/craziness is what art needs sometimes to succeed. It was a good lesson for me, and one I encourage other creative people to learn by doing as well.

Fortune favors the bold. Be bold.

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Full Disclosure: I did have the generous and MUCH APPRECIATED help of my girlfriend, Jacklyn, who came with me on several of the dates to watch/park my car during loading and unloading, and to provide general support. She also took some great behind-the-scenes photos (including the opening image at the top of this post, and in this earlier post). Here is Jacklyn sitting with David Razowsky (an avid photographer himself), looking through BTS photos: