Greg Gunn


Free Yourself From Creative Control


Over the years, I’ve received a lot of questions about the business of creativity. No matter what form the question takes, it usually boils down to the same concept: perceived creative control. 

These inquiries are usually from students and aimed at the motion design industry, but I feel that they’re ubiquitous in a lot of creative fields. As such, I’d like to share the three most commonly asked ones and impart my thoughts on them.

Before we get too deep into it, let me state—and really emphasize—that these responses are written in the context of creative commerce. Meaning, there is a client with a budget and a problem that they need solved.

And now, a bold quote from the song Kreative Kontrol:

I’d give up sex for creative control!
— Hot Snakes, Kreative Control

How do I keep the client from messing up my project?

A common theme I’ve found with us creative souls is this burning desire to control a project’s outcome. It’s as if we know the answer before we hear the question.

I spent years struggling with this concept until I came to an important realization: it doesn’t matter how strongly I feel about something or even if I’m right; at the end of the day it is not my project to control. Even if I am the creative director who pitched the initial idea, the end product does not belong to me. It’s not my baby, I’m just here to deliver it.

In creative business we tend to fall in love with our own ideas. When a client doesn’t like our idea, we take it personally or become frustrated—maybe even angry—that they don’t “get it.” The quality of my work (and life) drastically improved after grasping this concept. And I’m not talking about giving in to demands or watering-down an idea, I’m talking about truly understanding what your client’s needs are and why. My job is to do my absolute best within the parameters I am given.

Let's put this idea in terms of something easy to understand: hamburgers. If you have a client that wants a hamburger, you’d make them the juiciest, meatiest most delicious burger you know how to make with the ingredients you have. You wouldn’t make them a sizzling vegetable lasagna because you felt like a pasta casserole.


2. How do I become Creative Director/Art Director/etc.?

Start by asking yourself a different question: Why do I want to become Creative Director/Art Director/etc.? Having a goal is important, but knowing why and what that goal means will set you free.

Lets face it, everyone is a director. Or a creative director. Or an art director. All you have to do say so, right? Fake it ‘til you make. Though that holds some truth, I suspect few people really understand what that role entails. Dan Mall wrote a great article defining creative direction that I recommend everyone read. It highlights the differences (and overlap) between what a designer, art director, and creative director do. The results might surprise you.

Instead of aspiring for a title, I dare you to spend a few minutes and think about what you imagine yourself doing every day. Now take those thoughts and write them down in quantifiable, plain english that your mom will understand.

Whether it aligns with the dream title you seek or not, at least you’ll know what it means and that it will make you happy if you’re able to achieve it.

During my junior year at Otis College of Art + Design I formed a filmmaking collective with two friends. We made a handful of films for fun, for school, and for no reason. And we submitted them everywhere we could to be seen online and in festivals (’twas the pre-youtube era).

As it turned out, someone saw value in what we were making and emailed us asking if we wanted to direct commercials. That was when we formed our animation studio, Three Legged Legs.

I didn’t aspire to be a commercial director or creative director. All I wanted (and still do) is to make fun films with people I like, constantly try new techniques and tell lots of different stories. What I do day-to-day supports that 100%.

3. Do you have any advice for an aspiring (insert creative occupation here)?

This is the most frequently asked question and it’s quite difficult to answer. It’s too open-ended and there are a myriad of replies. When confronted with this one, I like to share the most important concept I’ve gained from work and life experience. It’s something that anyone can learn to do and applies to everyone.


Become a great listener.


By a great listener I mean turn everything else off—especially your inner monologue—and really pay attention. If you do it right, you’ll realize how difficult it is to do at all. 

Listening is exhausting and requires a tremendous amount of focus. But if you learn to really listen to others (e.g. clients, bosses, girlfriends, yourself) you will gain a better understanding of empathy. In my opinion, empathy is the cornerstone to communication and clear communication is the key to finding one’s voice and place in this world.

By mastering the art of listening each decision you make—creative or otherwise—will be a meaningful response and should bring you closer to achieving what you’re ultimately after on this planet.