CRAYON BOX 5: Creative Lessons from Michael Jackson

2 11 2009

No one struck by lightning expects to be struck by lightning, unless maybe they stand in the middle of an open area during a brewing storm holding a golf club. I had an idea for the Crayon Box 5, however I was struck by the unassuming creative lightning bolt today. I went with a group of friends to see This Is It, the movie documentary giving a sneak peak to Michael Jackson’s rehearsals for his final concert or what he called his “The last curtain call.”

Growing up I was always a fan of Michael’s music and his music videos. I use to watch the Thriller video over and over and over again until I think I wore the tape out. I will admit I was mostly drawn into the movie magic and makeup for the zombie/werewolf behind the scenes done by Rick Baker, none the less it was a full entertainment package.  Below are some of the amazing behind the scenes makeup FX of Thriller.

I use to lip sink into an MJ toy Microphone to his vinyl records. Yes for the young ones out there, real LP’s with the soft scratches and the wonderful pops!

My sister and I both had MJ figurines, and even the iconic sparkling glove. As I grew up I was never a die hard fan, but I did buy his music here and there and sing at the top of my lungs to his music wile driving in the magic car bubble where anyones vocals sound amazing.

Now we all know there has been harsh criticism of his personal life and many allegations, none of which have been proven. You might choose to believe or not believe in the allegations, but for a moment let us put all of that aside. As I sat in the theatre watching This Is It I was witness to something very special. Getting the chance to see behind the scenes into MJs creative process, leadership, innovation, storytelling, and humanity left me in awe.

We all know MJ was an amazing talent. What grabbed me however was watching him tweak, test and re-polish everything from lighting, to vocals, instrumentals, dance moves, staging and more. Michael had that ability to feel the moment then realize the vision both before and after trial runs. If the lighting or guitar came up too quick after a pause in his dance choreography, he would pause and calmly say something like, “No…no wait a bit, let it simmer, bam then bam, let the note simmer longer, get all of it then we BAM with the lights and second note” When they ran through it again, you could see how he was able to squeeze every drop out of a perfectly choreographed moment. That new refined moment brought me to chills even though I just saw the same sequence 1 minute earlier with little to no effect.

MJ had the Midas touch with his dancers as he polished off moves. He would push his guitarists to new levels by refining notes and beats. He would fix the temp simply by humming or beat boxing with his lips to the music director or musician. When they filmed special backdrop scenes he was there to plan out every step of the way. When something didn’t feel right, he would stop, and find away to do it better. Seeing a test run, and then what his tweaks did to improve every detail was again inspiring.

I started to realize he was more than a singer and dancer known as the King of Pop. Michael Jackson was a creative genius, innovator, and leader. Every time he had to stop his rehearsal, he would know exactly what was wrong, and push his team to do better. The amazing part, was he had no attitude about it. Michael would thank them for trying and teach them how to do it better. He would explain, apologize for miscommunication and thank them for their patience, a graciousness Im sure came with age. MJ often finished his corrections with, “…it’s all for love.” 

The preview of the movie below is the only one that shows enough to truly catch the essence of what I am trying to explain and I recommend watching it.  Pay attention to how he interacts with his cast, his voice overs as he speaks to his team, as well as the part where he is beat boxing to explain how he was the bass to sound.

We can learn a great deal from Michael Jackson and his creative process. As a creative we should always be pushing the boundaries and innovating. We should care about what we do, the message we are sending and make our teams a part of a creative family. We should teach and show people what we want instead of only demanding what we want. We should try our vision many times and refine it along the way, and when we are done do it all over again. Last but surely not the least, we should look to others for inspiration. Michael said it best “The greatest education in the world is watching the masters at work.” Thanks Michael.

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