February 16, 2016

SUSSER | Making Something Out of Nothing

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Having grown up in New York City, where supermarkets are sized proportionally to the apartments they aim to stock, I am always overwhelmed by mega-stores such as Wegmans. These interminable warehouses are large and disorienting in their ambitious goal to meet the complete needs of the shopper. They test my self-control. I’d like to think of myself as a fairly financially prudent person. But sometimes, my shopping cart is stocked with food and drinks I hadn’t dreamed of purchasing before stepping foot into this fruit-bearing maze. Why get Kraft, when there is a whole section of delicious imported cheese from across the Atlantic? They make Hot Pockets with Philly Cheese Steaks inside of them?

It only takes a few frivolous trips and a phone call from the recipient of a hefty credit card statement to economize.

We often are forced to make difficult purchasing choices given a limited budget. And every day, we make consequential life decisions with our personal bottom line in mind. While we all may come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, both the wealthiest and neediest individuals alike confront such realities frequently. How we act and adapt to such limitations is both telling of character and ingenuity.

The rich and famous are symbols of excess and limitless consumption. But we easily forget about the humble origins of the most lucrative of artists and performers. The old “starving artist” stereotype applies equally to both the eventual winners and failures in the art world. Their challenges mirror the difficult daily trade-offs we make as undergraduates. Just as we may need to efficiently ration our time, energy and efforts on campus, the most effective and powerful of artists have done so with their careers and futures on the line.

In 1998, a young British filmmaker, Christopher Nolan, who would go on to direct Inception and The Dark Knight trilogy embarked on his first feature, Following, with a mere $6,000 budget. Practically nothing. Shot in a black-and-white film-noir style and following a non-chronological sequence, the movie told the story of a loner/stalker who falls upon an unfortunate set of criminal circumstances.

Grossing $240,000 and claiming many festival awards, Following was a hit. But its pecuniary success and accolades were really secondary components to Nolan’s memorable career inflection point. In this case, Nolan’s creativity in the filmmaking process is what will be remembered. The launching pad to his renowned career was nuanced and thoughtful. Calculated and measured.

Nolan was extremely resourceful. The black-and-white was as much style as it was deception. In this case, a movement away from color gave greater opportunity for him to hide shortcomings in the set and lighting. He also told actors to rehearse frequently in order to limit the number of takes and conserve film stock — an obsolete measure in today’s digital world. Finally, the actors in the film were, for the most part hardly even professional actors. Most had to coordinate full-time jobs with the filming. The fact that the majority of their careers were highlighted by their roles in Following is a testament to Nolan’s ability to bring out the talent in others.

We are the generation of the creative and ingenious. It’s ironic to generalize a generation that prides itself for individuality. But there are unprecedented amounts of young, recent college graduates that want something to call their own. In a recent survey, 67 percent of millennials stated that they intended on starting their own business. No matter one’s future goals, an ability to succeed today surely hinges on grit and resourcefulness. For every Christopher Nolan, there are thousands of aspiring filmmakers sticking to conventional thought, and failing to cut the fat from their productions. It’s important to economize regardless of where you come from. To truly achieve individuality, finding your voice and mission with the fewest possible resources will speak louder than embracing the excess. Less is more.

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