Prince has died.
In 2010, Prince was listed in TIME magazine’s annual ranking of the “100 Most Influential People in the World“. Filmmakers and music lovers alike are mourning the passing of one of the world’s most creative and influential musicians of his generation.
Self-taught, spurned by record labels at the start of his career, Prince was a master of invention, a bona-fide creator and master of publicity.
These traits and the significant achievements in his career hold valuable lessons for filmmakers.
1. Prince was an innovator
Prince understood the changes in music distribution. When he started his career in 1980, music was sold on vinyl. In the 1990’s Napster and online distribution changed the way people bought music. It was ten years (2005) before Youtube was launched changing the way films were distributed.
Prince adapted quickly to the the new medium.
On June 12, 2006, Prince received a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his “visionary” use of the Internet. Prince was the first major artist to release an entire album, 1997’s Crystal Ball, exclusively on the Internet.
This really random collection of videos – no two songs the same- demonstrated again how he morphed and changed his musical styles over the course of his glittering career.
2. He rejected rejection
Self-taught and self-made Prince knew how to make music on his own. Working with a small band of collaborators his brand new sound was rejected by the record labels.
From Prince’s first TV appearance where he played what was going to become his hit single – Girl I Want to be Your Lover – he wrote, composed and played the entire album. Of course when that song became a hit, Warner Bros quickly changed their tune and signed him.
Had he crumbled at those early rejections he would not have had the same career.
Artists in the creative industries need to realise, as Prince did, that rejection is part of the deal. It’s like getting callouses if you are a carpenter. Accept and deal with rejection. Don’t take it personally.
3. Prince created his own unique sound
One is never sure how rationally Prince analysed the contemporary music scene when he started. He managed to create his own distinctive sound, dubbed the Minneapolis Sound. No one else had made music that combined sounds and melody the way he did.
Filmmakers too – writers, directors, actors, editors, camera operators – need to develop their own unique style, as surely as now when we see a script, or a scene from a movie we go ‘that must be a Ken Loach or a Quentin Tarantino’.
4. He started young and was prolific
I am going to say something controversial here. Prince didn’t have talent. Sure, he had aptitude. What he did do was work his butt off from the age of six. When we watch him play and sing we are awed by his craft and skill. He played and sang like that because he worked and worked and worked.
Filmmakers need to debunk the ‘talent myth‘. Take yourself seriously. Work at your craft. You might then get known as the so-called overnight success.
5. Prince had a great producer
Creatives need strong guidance. Gertrude Stein was the American art dealer who found Picasso painting by candle light in a tiny Parisian studio. It was she who took his first paintings to New York where he was discovered. When Picasso thanked her publicly, she turned to him and said “Every vine needs a wall to grow on.”
Prince’s early work was created under the guidance of manager Owen Husney. He started working with the 17 year old Prince. Here’s a interview Owen Husney did on the day of Prince’s death. Husney then negotiated Prince’s deal with Warner Bros.
The film business is exactly that – a business. Creatives need to find someone who not only oversees the creative process (as Husney did) but who manages the commercial battles – again as Husney did.
6. He was a master of genre
Prince created a whole series of different sounds as he moved through his career. He compulsively wrote music throughout his entire life and explored as a performer and creator through many genres.
Funk, pop, rock, R&B, new wave… they all were up his alley. He moved swiftly and expertly between them, the New York Times even branding him “a master architect” of these genres.
Filmmakers need to master genre. Horror is perfect for indie films. Every genre has its own rules and guidelines, its own architecture.
You can even be so bold as to create your own personal genre. This doesn’t depend on the budget, only on creativity, resourcefulness and innovation.
7. Prince had great production design
The symbol became so important that Warner Bros had to create a whole new font and ship it to all the musical press so it could be used on artwork and images for Prince’s music.
A filmmaker’s vision needs a band of creatives to realise the movie. Having a great production designer and art director on board keeps you looking sharp and focused, no matter what the budget.
My favourite low budget film art direction was The Blair Witch Project. Remember the symbol used on their marketing campaign?
Prince also pioneered artists’ rights and fought for the protection and monetisation of the IP (Intellectual Property) he created. He refused to bend to the corporations who were demanding rights he knew were his. And he won – a David and Goliath battle.
Us filmmakers face Goliath every single day.
Finally, let’s not forget the true basis of Prince’s success: He created bold, fresh, original and dynamic content.