We had the pleasure of having Maxim Jago present at LAPPG and found that not only is he a sensational presenter, but a fascinating human being as well! So, we wanted to explore not only what advice he has for filmmakers and content creators but also what life is like for this busy multi-hyphanate. We were also curious about the motivation was behind his upcoming The Creativity Conference and how he sees the future of media and work.
Los Angeles Post Production Group: As a filmmaker, futurist, author, and media technology expert, I see you as a modern-day Renaissance man. Is there one aspect of your professional life that takes center stage?
Maxim Jago: It is so kind of you to say it this way, though I sometimes wonder if I ought to pick one thing! I am just in love with the universe and want to understand how everything works – and to celebrate it all! There’s this absolutely amazing thing that happens when you, even temporarily, put aside value judgements. Rather than fearing what might come next, how someone might behave, or what you might get right or wrong, you become fascinated by all possibilities.
I share time and energy between perhaps 15 projects but right now, I’m mainly writing books on Futurism, film editing, and philosophy, consulting, editing the film I directed last year, speaking at conferences, and have set up The Creativity Conference – a new global meeting of minds to explore the quintessential essence of creativity. We will be running an in-person event in August 2021 and there’s a completely free taste of things to come in January.
The Creativity Conference is at the heart of my attention these days – it is growing into becoming a truly amazing event.
LAPPG: Can you share how you got started in the film industry?
MJ: It started out as an experiment when I was 15. I’d been taking photos for a couple of years and someone wise recommended that I try making films. I didn’t know what I was doing but was instantly transfixed by this incredible medium. I won’t get into it now, but I have a theory that film is the closest thing we have to real experience being the medium. True VR takes this even further.
I started out making as many short films as I could, went to two film schools, made even more films, and along the way learned some valuable technical skills. I always wanted to be either an actor or a director. I realized early on that if you focus on wanting to do something, then “wanting to do it” is what you get; you have to focus on just doing it, knowing that you will fail, fall, and pick yourself up again to do it again. Almost all change is, really, iterative, not some major switch to a new situation.
Along the way, I started teaching post-production skills, and I suppose I’m best known as the British voice behind quite a lot of tutorials on video editing.
My journey into the industry was a mixture of technical and creative work. My advice for newcomers is to just produce as much content as you can, and don’t hold off production because you don’t have an ideal budget. There’s a myth in the major production industry that you can finance a film if you have a great idea and a great screenplay. This isn’t true – you need an internationally recognizable cast to be able to estimate sales and fulfil the needs of the business aspect of the movie business.
However, what you CAN do is produce amazing low-budget content that will get you noticed as a filmmaker. I doubt anyone checking out your reel will worry too much about whether you used the best possible camera or grip equipment. They just want to know that you have a recognizable flair in your chosen occupation.
I started out in the film industry by making films. I had to work to live while working on projects, so I developed a parallel IT career, and this slowed down development. At the time I found it frustrating and would sometimes judge myself harshly for not making more progress. This, eventually, taught me an important lesson: If you are going to judge at all, be as realistic and precise as you can be about what you are judging. We tend to judge ourselves much too harshly – and if we were realistic about the burden we carry, the strength we have, our commitments, needs, fears, skills, expectations, and experience, we would probably be kinder to ourselves!
LAPPG: Was there a particular event or a series of events that led up to you studying the future and being a futurist?
MJ: It was a mixture of experiences. I paid my way through film school by giving tech support on behalf of Microsoft – a job I got thanks to one of my Tai Chi students at the time. By the time I graduated, I had a healthy IT resume. My passion for understanding everything led me to explore a wide range of topics – not in any formal way but just deeply enough to get the gist and begin to detect some underlying patterns across most technologies, philosophies, organizational systems.
I began contributing to technology steering groups because of my experience that bridged media production and technology. These, in turn, led to increasingly complex technology-based and education-centric organizations inviting me to contribute ideas and forecasts for novel technologies and services.
My job as a futurist is simple to define but a little complex to describe. I estimate what will happen, and when… These forecasts are always contextual. It’s not a general look at everything in the future but rather looking at one or other aspect of the human condition in a particular context or scenario.
For example, when exploring the impact of Virtual Reality, I might look at technical limitations (like often needing to connect a headset to a computer) or creative opportunities (like the audience being free to move in three-dimensional space).
My work is always centered on human nature, which is universal and hasn’t changed much in hundreds of thousands of years.
One feature of the universality of the human condition that I love is that all the evidence so far suggests that we are not-only related to all other human beings but also to every living thing on the planet.
LAPPG: Overall in terms of media, what is your feeling about the future of media?
MJ: I think the future is incredibly bright. We are approaching the limits of human perception, in terms of acquisition and delivery. The development of compelling virtual reality and augmented reality experiences is a natural progression, and I anticipate future visual storytellers will have even more extraordinary tools available as we move towards real-time photorealistic virtual production, artificial characters producing natural speech procedurally, and meaningfully creative artificial intelligence.
There is a threat though, to our perception of reality itself. As a species, we are not very good at telling the difference between something that is compelling and something that is true. There are solid evolutionary benefits to be had from trusting the strongly held opinions of others – particularly where there are many others who hold the same strongly held opinion. The challenge we face is that our media creators are becoming exceptionally efficient at giving the impression that something is both “true” and the “strongly held opinion of many people”. This is a combination that we are very poor at defending against, to remain reasonable and pragmatic. In fact, in any given example, neither of these two things may be the case – appearances are so easy to fake now.
Without a clear independent and objective reference to measure evidence against, it becomes difficult to differentiate between proof and conjecture. We are lazy thinkers too, and so we either tend to accept the most violently expressed view or disengage from a topic that we find to be too much work to navigate intellectually. This tendency to disengage or agree on emotional, rather than rational grounds is a vulnerability that is exploited by our media – and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
The issue is that our media is becoming even more precise and targeted when it comes to analyzing our behaviors and characteristics. This analysis (increasingly assisted by AI) allows them to present information that appears neutral, though it is not. Our laziness when it comes to thinking means we tend to interpret neutral seeming information as truth. Knowing this, the media finds it relatively straightforward to sway opinions – and those opinions can lead to real world consequences.
In the 1950’s, cigarette manufacturers were still producing ads with doctors announcing that smoking was good for you. This was a rather blunt attempt to add emphasis through authority. Now, advertising companies show that your friends like a product – an even more compelling reason to like it too.
There are enormous risks ahead from fake news (which isn’t actually news at all, it’s a fictional narrative made to look news-like), and from deep fakes. Deep fakes are fake videos of famous people and political figures that give the impression that they have said or done things that they have never said nor done. Deep fakes are so convincing, and people check the facts so rarely, that we are likely to see serious legislation limiting their use.
The good news is that there is a positive way forward. Major organizations are gradually restricting access to the data necessary to perform the most precise analysis of our activities, and limiting tracking in general. We are developing ways to verify content, so that deep fakes don’t matter anymore (because they won’t be ‘certified’).
Also, these tools for analysis have incredibly potential for good. Imagine if your computer could analyze your use of language, heart rate, pupil dilation, breathing rate, and sub-vocal stresses to gauge your mood and give meaningful, helpful feedback to guide you towards a positive mental and emotional state.
We have that technology today – and it’s going to become more ubiquitous. The opportunities for improved health, communication skills, relationships, education, and personal development are enormous – and they are all connected to our media.
LAPPG: What would be your best advice for people wanting to be media makers in this day and age?
MJ: Ultimately media production is all about distribution. Any work that is created to be experienced must be distributed in some way for that experience to occur. If you paint a picture, you need people to see it. If you record a song, you need people to hear it.
The internet provides the most extraordinary opportunity ever to provide access to your created work. New models for monetizing content mean that you no-longer need to wait for that studio deal or agent to earn a living by producing media content.
Start making media, start distributing it, learn how the new platforms work, learn how you can monetize your content, and you are a media maker.
This new development, in which it’s possible for most people to create content and earn a living from it is amazing – but not necessarily easy.
In many ways, the rest of the media production world hasn’t changed in many years – the studio system is still the studio system, and television shows still need to be made. Right now, we’re in the midst of a global pandemic and many people are concerned this might be a new normal. We’ll mostly go back to the way things were when we overcome the impacts of the Coronavirus because nothing else has changed. People still want to go to theatres to see movies, they want to grab food with friends to talk about what they just saw, and they want to learn by experiencing stories with characters onscreen.
LAPPG: How have you kept yourself busy during this pandemic?
MJ: It has actually been a wildly busy time – my work hasn’t changed all that much. When people ask me where I live, I usually say, ‘a window seat’ and a huge part of my work is meeting with and working with friends and colleagues in person. Still, the core effort is usually me with a laptop writing, designing, planning. I work from ‘wherever’ and that happens to be home at the moment. I’m one of the lucky ones that can continue to work without going out, and I’m constantly reminded of how fortunate I am.
My usual days are a blend of emails, consultancy analysis and documentation, film editing, creative and professional design projects, learning (as much as possible), and coffee. Just yesterday, I realized that the number of emails I’d flagged to deal with had topped 1,100 – sorry if I owe anyone an email!
I’m also still speaking at conferences (Adobe Video World, Post-Production World, Horasis, The Bermudian Government Education Summit), albeit remotely, and those speaking sessions take just as long to prepare for as in-person sessions.
LAPPG: So it sounds like you certainly know your way around large events. What was the impetus for creating The Creativity Conference?
MJ: The genesis for The Creativity Conference was that I had been speaking for audiences for about 20 years and I was
wondering, one day, what kind of conference I would wish attend to learn and grow into my creative work. The Creativity Conference is the result of that thought experiment; a global meeting of minds to cross boundaries, with a focus on personal, professional, and creative growth.
It’s an opportunity for people all over the world to connect on a subject that lies at the heart of our nature – to feel human with people and learn ways that others have explored this vital path. The more people I discussed the idea with, the more excited I became – and now we have a really focused team and an event that is growing quickly – with such a wide range of topics, from drone cinematography to parenting and beyond. It’s wonderful. We see the conference as a creative ‘vitamin shot’ for the start of 2021. It’s an opportunity for creatives to connect with one another and build a community.
LAPPG: Is creativity something that can be taught?
MJ: I don’t think so but only because it does not need to be learned. It is intrinsic to every decision you make. Every choice, every thought, every time you phrase something to communicate it, note down words to remember it, or even imagine something – all of these things are creative. To be alive is to be creative.
There are specific skills one can learn, and there are natural aptitudes people have for particular forms of creative expression – some people are amazing singers, for example, and perhaps have a genetic predisposition to ‘feeling’ the music.
But I would argue that creativity is a state of mind that anyone can choose to focus on. Every time you move your body or express yourself intentionally, you are creating. It is an absolutely beautiful and fundamental aspect of being alive.
LAPPG: The Creativity Conference is set for January 22-24, 2021. Who is this conference designed for and what will people be able to take away from it?
MJ: Anyone with an interest in the arts, or in human nature, will benefit from attending the conference. We are recording all the sessions, so nobody will miss out – we have 5 concurrent sessions, 6 times a day – 90 sessions in total plus 3 keynotes.
The goal is that everyone attending is inspired and re-invigorated in their creative practice. We hope that attendees will attend presentations by speakers from beyond their usual creative focus, to expand their sense of what they can do and see and experience things in new ways. There is only a little focus on technique – the focus is on being inspired and inspiring others. It’s an opportunity to learn new approaches to creativity and to living a creative life – to being a change-maker.
LAPPG: How did you choose the topics and presenters for the conference?
MJ: Initially I reached out to speakers I was privileged to know from my travels and broad professional experience. I have been so fortunate to know such insightful and capable professional creatives. Any by ‘creative’, I don’t necessarily mean the commonly expected types of creativity. We have the CEO of a bank and an expert on creative parenting alongside performance poets, fine artists, and singers.
My goal is for the conference to be so broad in its reach that it might become possible to see the universal themes that drive and accommodate creative thinking, so that we can all be more attentive to it.
It is humbling and exciting to see the incredible individuals willing to give up their time and share their experience with the world.
The conference is completely free to attend, thanks to our sponsors – thank you Dell, Nvidia, and Intel – and is supported by our brilliant partners – Artists United, Raindance, Adobe, and Blackmagic Design.
Rather than charge for tickets, we are encouraging attendees to check out charities that have a creative focus, and consider making a donation. So far we are supporting Artists United and Awareness Ties – two charities that focus on the Arts as a means to improving the lives of countless people. We’ll be announcing more charities very soon.
LAPPG: Many of our members and readers are filmmakers. Can you tell us about the One Minute Creative Film Competition?
MJ: This is just wonderful – you can submit any genre, any theme, documentary, fiction, or animation – anything at all, as long as the entire experience is under one minute (excluding closing titles). We have a list of prizes from our partners, including One Year Adobe Creative Cloud Licenses, and a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera.
Entry is completely free, and the winners will be chosen by Raindance, Filmdoo.com, and our guest judge, Vashi Nedomansky!
If you produce any other kind of art, watch this space as we will be announcing our open creativity competition very soon – with the same rule, that it must be possible to experience your creative work in under a minute – whether it is a poem, a song, a short story, a painting or a photograph.
LAPPG: I saw a great video of you from Lunch with Philip and Greg and I was fascinated about the living for free work as an option theory! Can you share a bit about your thoughts on the future of work?
MJ: They [Philip Hodgetts and Greg Clarke] are both so fascinating to speak to because they have a deep understanding of the creative process and getting things done!
Yes, we are moving inexorably towards the post-scarcity society – one in which work is optional, thanks to (initially) universal basic income and (ultimately) the completely free economy.
Money works very well as an upgrade on the barter system but it’s time to upgrade again. The combination of the cryptocurrencies, smart contracts, blockchain, and sovereign identity concepts and supporting technologies, along with major improvements in autonomous robotic automation and artificial intelligence will open up new ways to live.
This is not to say that people will not work – most people will – but now they will be working because they choose to. The impact on quality of life, emotional and biological wellbeing, global security, and even lifespan is significant.
None of these changes are likely to happen overnight but along with us taking responsibility for establishing a symbiotic relationship with Nature (in place of our current parasitic abuse of Nature), we are on track to establish healthier relationships with each other and with ourselves.
It’s time for us to take care of ourselves and everything and everyone around us – I think Kindness is an important key… But could speak about this all night!
LAPPG: When will be seeing you on the big screen for your James Bond debut?
MJ: You are an angel for asking… My door is open if Barbara Broccoli wants to visit!
I do have a martini named after me…