I recommend that every artist listens to Louis CK’s recent conversation with Marc Maron four to five times, at minimum. Louis’ process of creating the show Horace and Pete brims with lessons in creative risk, authenticity, and honesty.
I want to highlight a few concepts that demonstrate how to take bold leaps of action. After all, the only actions worth taking, the only ideas worth risking your time and energy and genius for are the ones that also scare you into inaction.
Create painful stakes: we work harder to avoid losses than to receive rewards. You must create situations where failure is materially painful.
(11:58) Maron [to Louis]: “My first reaction, when I heard you got into debt and it was millions of dollars…I thought, this behavior is not unusual for Louis, [just that] the amount is different. This is how he creates. He needs to wipe the slate clean, be in complete financial fear, and then he’ll do something amazing.”
Set deadlines before you start: the amount of time it takes to complete a project expands to fit the amount of time we give ourselves to complete it. Set a deadline before you know the details.
(23:16) Louis: “I called my producer and said find out if the Penn hotel is available [for shooting] in January. She called back and said it is, but you’re gonna have to put a deposit down, it was $200,000. I was like, “do it”. I didn’t have anything written, I didn’t know who was in the show, nothing. I said, grab the studio.”
Put your own skin in the game: any time you risk other people’s time/money/reputation, you must also risk your own. Not doing so is not only unethical, but usually results in subpar results or catastrophic failure.
(12:15) Louis: “I wanted to play with my own money here. I didn’t want to mess around with other people’s money, because the things I was going to be doing were very extreme. Not only the way the story was going to be told but the was I was going to release it.”
Be honest: when you feel the call of inspiration, do not wait for permission, and do not deceive or surprise people who might be affected.
(45:44) Louis: “I have to make the fuckin’ show. And I have to make it this way. I have to make it and I’m not telling anybody. This is all the only way to do it. So I call [head of FX] John Landgraf and I said listen man, I’m about to sign this deal with you [to create more shows for FX] and make it final, but I need you to know about [Horace and Pete] before I sign the deal. I didn’t ask ‘can I make this,’ I said ‘I’m making this show.’ And I realize it’s really disruptive, but its creatively what I believe in. So I don’t have a choice. And I want it. I want to do this… I hope you decide to sign the deal. But I can’t have you sign it without knowing about this.”
The sum of these four lessons encompass what I consider ethical creativity.