Have you ever met an artist or creator you really admire and wondered where and how everything started for them? There's magic in beginnings - that moment when you haven't defined yourself yet, have no idea of what's to come, but know, deep down, the creative path is the one you're meant to follow. 

When we created Sony Talent League by THU, our vision was to be a landmark at the beginning of a creator's journey. A chapter of the story of how they grew into a version of themselves that would make their inner child proud. And that vision is still a leading light today. 

We talked to our Sony Talent League Mentors Jinko Gotoh (Oscar-nominated producer and consultant), Scott Stafford (Composer, Sound Supervisor and Director ), Daryl Clewlow (Director of Clewlow Creative), and Sally Slade (Co-Founder and Chief Technical Officer at Voltaku Studios), and they gave us a sneak peek into how everything started. 

"Someone snapped this photo of me while I was an intern at Digital Domain in 2007. Great memories!" - Sally Slade

What made you give that first step into your first project?

Scot Stafford: Fear, hunger, and humble opportunities from unlikely places.  In my 20's, after several years of relying on music for all my income (recording, performing, teaching music, building pipe organs...), I took a break and got a "real job." I oversaw sales of a music catalog for a large retailer. After less than a year, the company was dismantled and I was let go. It would take years to rebuild my freelance business if I went back to the same life as before. I knew an office job wasn't for me, so with support from my then fiancée, I decided to go on unemployment and learn how to score films.  Because I knew I needed to understand how films are made, and work with editors and constantly changing cuts,I enrolled in film editing and production classes at a community college in Oakland. A friend convinced me to compose ringtones for a Japanese company, which seemed completely insane to me. But I realized that the software I needed to learn to write for 8-bit mobile chips was actually the same I needed to score films, so I leapt at the chance. Around the same time, a friend asked me to compose a score for his first short film, and soon after, another for a grad film student at University of Miami. All of this happened within a month, and by the end of that year, I'd made a humble living as a full time composer- something I never thought possible outside of academia. 10,000 hours later, I got to score a Pixar short film, but that's another story.

Sally Slade: The first project I recall completing was a mixed reality game for HoloLens called "The Floor is Lava". My friends and I took this project on because we had a burning question of "can we successfully use this new medium for Play?". When it comes to emerging technologies, we love to twist and contort them to be used for whimsical and artistic usage, rather than bland corporate purposes. Punk energy!

Jinko Gotoh: My first personal project was "China: Mao to Now," my MFA thesis film. It was a feature-length documentary film shot with a tri-lateral crew of Americans, Japanese and Chinese. At the time, my father was a visiting professor at the Fudan University in Shanghai and also had access to a Japanese network crew and foundation money for me to complete the project.

Daryl Clewlow: I honestly can’t remember my very ‘first’ project as I’ve always been creative. I guess I was compelled to create, in my early years nothing ‘made’ me have a first step, it was just something I did, daily. Art for me was consuming, it was my passion, voice and my identity. Once I left education things changed, my projects were for professional studios which had predefined briefs and deadlines. Art was now my job, so I needed to learn and create a repeatable framework so each piece of work would hit quality and delivery. A big learning curve and something I coach and mentor others on to this day!

"This one is from 2012, my first meeting at Motorola HQ with Jan Pinkava (L) and Doug Sweetland (R) to discuss what would become the first Google Spotlight Story, "Windy Day." Jan had previously created Ratatouille and the Oscar-winning Pixar short "Geri's Game", and Doug had previously directed the Oscar-nominated Pixar short "Presto" and was then directing the WB animated movie, Storks." - Scot Stafford

What are the most common mistakes when facing a project for the first time?

Daryl Clewlow: Mistakes are common for first timers and those with experience alike. It’s easy to get super passionate about a project and lose judgment. Focussing too closely on detail without taking time to look holistically at a project and see if what you are doing is achievable, matches the original direction and engages your audience creates avoidable challenges.

  • Know your audience
  • Set a vision early
  • Find your hooks
  • Scope to the size of your team and timeline
  • Plan with achievable milestones to guide production
  • Regularly look holistically at the project

Jinko Gotoh: I was inquisitive about the cultural revolution's impact on the Chinese people, especially how the families had to pick up their lives and build their futures. Curiosity is critical, but what's essential is you need to find ways to make it your story. My film was factual and informative but lacked the emotional storytelling that great films all have in common. 

Sally Slade: A common mistake when facing a project for the first time is: Know when the project is complete. When you begin a project, define what the 'minimum viable product' is. When you've hit that criteria, you are done! If a project increases in scope during execution, question if new features could be better expressed as follow-up projects. If you find yourself polishing the project for too long, remember that 'perfect is the enemy of good' and move on.

Scot Stafford: A common mistake is trying to do everything yourself, and trying to achieve (or impersonate) expertise in every aspect of your project. Another is expecting the process to be linear and conveniently designed to support your individual process; and disoriented and annoyed when it isn't either.

"Me in Tanzania" - Jinko Gotoh

If you had to give one piece of advice for those preparing a submission, what would it be?

Jinko Gotoh: Why do you want to tell this story? Let it come from a personal place and how you believe your project will impact the audience. 

Scot Stafford: Try to find people to challenge you with a different perspective. Pitch your idea to them before it's neat and ready. They might have good ideas and feedback, or you might disagree with them; both equally help strengthen your idea and focus your vision.

Daryl Clewlow: Don’t do any of the common mistakes listed in the above question! Step back, look at the project holistically and get clarity regularly. As a rule small and beautiful is better than large and average. 

Sally Slade: Have a clear goal, and measurable values you can use to determine when you have hit that goal. For example, "I would like to illustrate a ten page comic book sample and print 100 copies" is superior to "I want to make a comic". By defining the scope of the project using clearly written goal statements, mentors can better determine how best they can contribute: "Can we help this person on their journey?" is a big factor!

Having access to funding, and dedicated mentors who can guide you, among other perks, is a great head start for young creators. The application deadline is December 9, so remember to submit while you can

"These are pretty old. One is from film (Event Horizon)"- Daryl Clewlow