A Common Process: An Interview with Tim Cawley

April 13, 2013   |   posted in Filmmakers


Tim Cawley works as the creative director at a large U.S. advertising agency. He has written and directed two short films, “Big Day of Fishing” and “Well-Founded Concerns.” His feature documentary, “From Nothing, Something,” explores the creative process through interviews with creative people in many different fields.

Cleveland International Film Festival: Where did your creative inspiration come from to create “From Nothing, Something”?

Tim Cawley: My day job is in advertising. I was having a beer with my dad who is a chemical salesperson. My dad was saying how a deal he was working on was just like thinking up and an ad. At first, I bristled at that. But he walked me through his logic: He has to conceive the deal. Sell it through. Revise it. Get people to buy in. Execute it properly. Keep people from screwing it up. I thought that was interesting and it got me thinking: If there were similarities for a Salesman and a Creative Director, would there be overlap for a comedian and a novelist? A choreographer and chef? A musician and a scientist? My filmmaker brain kicked into gear immediately. That was the unofficial kickoff. Production was underway.

CIFF: How did you select the subjects that appear in the film?

TC: I created a "draft board" by category: musicians, scientists, artists, writers, designers, etc. I tried to avoid overlap in the disciplines. Then I just did a bunch of Googling and pursued the folks whose work I most admired in each category. Tom Perrotta is my favorite author. Tegan & Sara were atop my list. I was dogged. Everyone on our team pitched in with every connection they had. It was downright thrilling getting those email responses back and filling out or cast, one by one, by one.

CIFF: Which of your subjects' creative processes do you most identify with?

TC: As I mentioned, my day job is in advertising. So Steve Breen's job as an editorial cartoonist at the newspaper seemed very familiar. Short deadlines, concept, layout, approval, and then on to the next project immediately. We had a very easy rapport.

CIFF: This year's theme is "Be The Applause." What aspect of your film do you hope will inspire the applause of CIFF audiences?

TC: The thing about the audience reaction that has surprised me is how personal the issue of creativity is for people. I thought we'd made an entertaining, uplifting, inspiring film. But a lot of the feedback I've gotten has been deeply emotional as well. People want to express themselves, but they worry they won't be able to survive financially or be taken seriously by their peers. It's something people wrestle with. This film isn't just a biopic of creative geniuses. Its broadly applicable to anyone who has a creative project in mind…which is just about everybody, whether you're pursuing a career path, playing an instrument, getting a tattoo, planting a garden, writing a blog, whatever. This material connects to the audience in a personal way.

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Related Screenings:
04/12/13 @ 5:15 PM – From Nothing, Something
04/13/13 @ 6:50 PM – From Nothing, Something
04/14/13 @ 2:45 PM – From Nothing, Something

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