Thursday, March 29, 2012

Is "Talent" A Myth?

I recently responded to newsletter from the Raindance Film Festival claiming that "talent" was a myth.

Here's the original article:

And here's my response:

Hi Elliott,

I appreciate receiving all of your Newsletters - they are always interesting and insightful. This time, however, I could not disagree with you more.

Merriam-Webster definition of "talent":

a: the natural endowments of a person; b: a special often athletic, creative, or artistic aptitude; general intelligence or mental power; ability

To say that everyone is born with equal talent is to say that everyone is born with equal intelligence - it just isn't true. Each person is born with a certain amount of talent/ability/intelligence and it is their own personal responsibility to build upon those natural gifts.

As a child I was given gifted tests in 2nd grade and 6th grade. It was determined that I was gifted in English, reading comprehension, visual memory/analysis, abstract problem-solving and sense of direction. I was not gifted in Math. My (much younger) cousin was gifted in Math. At 5 years old he could solve complex equations within seconds without the aid of a calculator. It was amazing. Could I do that? No. I didn't have that natural ability or talent. Could he draw like an adult, conceive an original story or comprehend Shakespeare? No. That was my talent. Could I learn to solve equations in my head like him some day? Maybe, but I doubt it. I have problems figuring out how much to tip at Denny's.

It's like saying that Steven Hawking and Jerry Rice were born with the same talents. Or that either one of them could direct a movie. It's fairly absurd.

The great thing about movies is that there are so many different aspects of filmmaking and therefore multiple jobs for various talents. Producers must be talented managers and organizers. Production accountants must have a talent for figures. Writers must be talented wordsmiths. Composers must be musically talented. Directors must be visually talented.

Even Brett Ratner admits that he's "not the most talented person" but he is one of the most driven. Will Brett Ratner ever be Stanley Kubrick? No. Never. He has lots of money, tools and talented people around him to help him make movies, but he wasn't born with Kubrick's talent.

I appreciate your attempt to encourage people who are insecure about their talent - it's very admirable - but it's a little misguided. I think your comment on passion is the most relavant. I think the message should really be: Don't worry so much about your talent - concentrate on your passion and you'll achieve great things.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to reading your next post!

All the Best,
-t. arthur cottam