Stories, Musings & The Vision Thing

Tag: collaboration

Ed Sheeran & Friends Shape a Song

Shaping the Creative Process

The creative process fascinates me – how artists and musicians can start with a blank slate and then make something out of nothing. Usually, all we get to see or hear is the finished piece and, if it’s good, it glows like a polished gem.

But creators shape their work bit by bit. As it flows, the creative process brings together many little moments of inspiration and discovery. Some pieces fit easily like hand in glove, others fall away to be replaced by something better. How it all comes together often remains a mystery.

So, I was excited to see a NYT video that takes us behind the scenes to explore how singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran and his music collaborators created what would become the biggest pop song of 2017.

Ed Sheeran performs “Shape of You” at the 2017 Grammy Awards (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

From a NYT article describing the Shape of You recording session:

“Shape of You” was written in a brainstorming session where ideas are developed or discarded fast, with computers and instruments close at hand and recorders running. “The best songs that I’ve ever written, I don’t really remember writing,” Mr. Sheeran said. “They take like 20 minutes and then they’re just done. And then you move on to the next thing.”

Visualizing Creativity

What makes the NYT video unusual is how it uses music, graphic imagery and text to enhance the interviews. It helps us visualize all the little moments of discovery and inspiration that were pieced together to create the song. The graphics not only give the video a unique look, they also help tie everything together.

As the musicians play a little music riff or talk about working together to build the song,  you’ll see visual representations of the music’s rhythm, its melodic ramblings and little word bubbles mirroring the birth of lyrics.

The graphic elements kick your understanding up to the next level, as the musicians’ sensitivity to each other, their creative energy and the music’s pulse all beat together in delicious harmony.

Here’s the video. I apologize for the ad at the beginning. When it finishes playing you’ll need to click the pause button or else it will continue playing other random videos. 

(If the video doesn’t display correctly, you can click on this link)

Putting the Pieces Together

On the face of it, the video seems fairly simple, like the song. Bring the musicians into the studio, interview them individually, shoot them in black and white against a white background, edit and shape their comments and, seemingly, you’re done. But, adding the music and graphics makes the presentation much more fun and engaging.

The music riffs in the background add energy and help illustrate and counterpoint the commentary. The graphic touches – a music bar that pulses with the beat, dots of melody or rhythm that come and go, little graphic grids to breakup the visual space, text bubbles with lyrics and comments, all hold up a mirror to the creative process.

from the NYT video

The result is a complex, carefully-timed and layered video inspired by a complex, carefully-timed and layered song.

I know from my own experience, when creativity flows, you’re totally present within the moments of inspiration. Time disappears, it’s an exhilarating, empowering feeling. It’s nice to see how much of that was captured in the video.

You can read the NYT article about the making of the song here. You can poke around animator Taylor Beldy’s site here.

So, did you like the video as much as I did? Is the creative process the same for a pop singer/songwriter as with any other artist? What’s your take away? Please leave a comment and let me know.

Capturing Moments

You might say the creative process is built on capturing moments. Certainly in the visual realms I’ve explored, whether photography or documentaries, “moments” catch our eye and often our emotions. They offer insight… make us stop and reflect… feel empathy or something deeper.  That’s what inspires me to write about the work of people like street fashion photographer Scott Schuman

Street Style photography by Scott Schuman

Street Style photography by Scott Schuman

street photographers Nina Berman and Henri Cartier-Bresson

Screen shot 2013-05-26 at 4.50.05 PM

photo by Nina Berman


photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson

and even the formal portraits of crumbling WWII ruins brilliantly captured by Marc Wilson in The Last Stand.

Cramond Island, Firth of Forth, Scotland. 2012

photo by Marc Wilson

While a photograph holds its moment forever, in video moments are fleeting. Like memory….  there and gone in the blink of an eye. Even so, they contain within them a certain power.


Elle Fanning from “First Stars I See Tonight”

As a writer and editor of documentaries I was always on the lookout for those little snips of time when everything comes together. It could be a glance, a smile, a few words well spoken. While a moment might be captured in the raw video, more likely I’d use whatever tricks I could muster to raise one up Lazarus-like from otherwise lifeless footage. I’d use that moment to grab your attention, mark a punch line to a scene or otherwise help the work resonate on a deeper level.


Elle Fanning

Drama, however,  is a different genre all together.  Telling a dramatic story starts with words – the script. The script has to conjure its own moments of imagination and insight, but ultimately it’s just a guide to shaping a deeper experience. A colleague, Tim Lorenz, pointed me to a great example of all this in the short video First Stars I See Tonight. The piece was crafted by Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s hitRECord, a social media collaborative production company. I’ve written about Gordon-Levitt’s experiment in collaborative creation in an earlier post on TheVisionThing. He’s recently expanded the site’s efforts and it’s worth taking another look.


Joseph Gordon-Levitt, from his website

First Stars I See Tonight was submitted to the site as a short essay/story by Roswell Gray you can find here. The essay is heartfelt but filled with detail and too many words. Still, it describes a powerful moment and with some elegant editing, Roswell’s words became the core of  a compelling short video.


Elle Fanning from “First Stars I See Tonight”

That script was realized with a well-spoken narration, music and artful images. The result is a beautifully captured moment, featuring Elle Fanning.

I like the simplicity of the story and the intimate feeling created by the narration. The fanciful line drawings work well too – at once strange and familiar, they suggest a childlike innocence as they frame this tale of wide-eyed wonder. There are plenty of nice, small touches that bring First Stars to life and it’s one of the best pieces to come out of hitRECord.

If you want to watch the complete launch of hitRECord on TV’s maiden voyage you can watch it here. I found it a mixed bag, with Gordon-Levitt acting as ringmaster, huckster and prime egoist. Still, it’s also quite inventive as it plays with point-of-view and celebrates the interactive process of collaboration.

Since the work primarily comes from talented amateurs, it has that random, “whatever” feel and many segments come across as semi-realized sketches.


Talking about sketches brings me to another site that’s well worth visiting, called Urban Sketchers. Here you can “see the world, one drawing at a time.”


This site has its own collaborative vision – featuring sketches from artists out to capture scenes they encounter in their worldly wanderings.


Thanks to John Hardgrove for telling me about the site, it’s a wonderful location for arm-chair travelers.  Urban Sketchers mission is to

“raise the artistic, storytelling and educational value of location drawing, promoting its practice and connecting people around the world who draw on location.”


You never know what you’ll find on the site, but there will definitely be little intimate moments rendered in watercolor, pen or pencil.


Along with their sketches, the artists often write about the experiences they set off to capture. That makes it almost as good as being there yourself as they offer up work that engages your imagination.

Last Door-Lo

Thinking about it, these sites show two different approaches to the collaborative process. HitRECord is most successful when there’s a strong guiding vision and firm hand steering the ship. It needs that effort to unify the disparate voices as they come together to make a piece. Urban Sketchers is a compilation of individual efforts, yet it’s a rich experience due to the creative talent of the many artists exhibiting on the site. In this case, they’re able to retain their style and personality as they contribute to a unified theme as urban sketchers.

While my work as a writer, editor or producer found me collaborating with others on a project, I’m also a great believer in finding and expressing your own voice – that’s one of the reason’s I write TheVisionThing.

So what are your thoughts about collaboration and/or the moments that make the creative process so compelling? Leave a comment and let me know.