Neil Drumming is a filmmaker, journalist, and pop culture critic. A former staff writer and editor at Entertainment Weekly, Drumming’s work has appeared in numerous publications including Wired, The Washington Post, Vibe, Rolling Stone, Essence and Vanity Fair. A Brooklynite, he’s excited about his latest project, Big Words, where he serves as writer and director. Big Words is a film about a once-promising hip-hop group, confronting regret and change on the eve of Obama’s historic election.
Do you most often actively seek inspiration or does it find you? Or is there a combination of the two?
I seek inspiration. More often I make sure to be in places where it is sure to find me.
What led you to art in general and to your art form(s) in particular?
I’ve always liked to create things. Writing and telling stories especially came to me at an early age.
Have you and your artistry ever been involved in traditional business? If so, how?
I worked as a magazine journalist for many years. I don’t know if you’d call that traditional though.
In addition to mastering their art, what other skill sets to you recommend that artists develop if they want to be successful?
It’s kind of cliché, but they always say you should attain some business knowledge. Note: here, I am not speaking from experience.
How do you stay at the leading edge of your craft?
I don’t really think about it. I just try to write what feels original, intriguing, and entertaining to me.
Do you think that there are any widely held misconceptions about art and/or artists?
If so, what are they and how do you work to dispel them? There probably are widely held misconceptions about art and/or artists, but I don’t work to dispel any of them. In many cases, I’m sure they are true.
How do you map out your goals? How do you measure your success?
I’m a one-step-at-a-time kind of guy. I begin something, finish it, and then try to start something better or more interesting to me in the moment.
Who do you consider to be your peers in your field? Who do you see/use as examples for you to emulate?
I guess my peers would be filmmakers like Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy) and my amazingly talented distributor Ava DuVernay. There are many filmmakers who I respect and admire like Alexander Payne and Richard Linklater – people who do the kind of work I aspire to do.
Name two of your top role models: one in the art world and one from outside of it.
Most of my role models are artists. But I can name one filmmaker — Sidney Lumet (R.I.P.) — and one author Douglas Adams (R.I.P.).
Name three books, works, performances or exhibits that changed how you view life and/or yourself.
I mentioned Douglas Adams; The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is probably my favorite book of all time and cemented my desire to write. De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising album validated me and changed my life. And, Bruce Willis in the first Die Hard is just freakin’ awesome.
Why do you consider continued learning important?
Speaking for myself mostly, knowledge feeds creation. If you want to make art you have to consume life, experience, information, etc.
What affirmations do you repeat to yourself that contribute to your success?
On particularly stressful days I mutter “FML” under my breath to no one in particular, but I wouldn’t consider that an affirmation.
What role does art have in the community? What role would you like to see art play in the community?
I like to see people of any community enjoying themselves. I like to see art broadening people’s perspectives.
What role does technology play in your day-to-day life? How do you utilize it?
I have a smartphone which I use to communicate, orient myself, find things, and most importantly, procrastinate. I write on a computer. I also like to write about technology in one form or another.
What software, app or other technological innovation has made the biggest difference in your life and/or career?
Final Draft. You can use it to write movies.
What is your favorite vacation destination and why?
I mean, it wouldn’t always be my first choice. But I have always been in love with Epcot Center in Walt Disney World Florida. It is the home of many a fond memory for me and symbolizes dreaming and hoping and looking optimistically toward the future.
If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
Hmm… has anyone drafted a plan for free global health care? Or how about just nobody gets sick ever?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would love to be more disciplined as a writer and less so as a person.
What does it take to be iconic? In your estimation, who has achieved that status?
I guess the right combination of longevity, innovation and popularity would make one an icon. Or you could just die early.