Tom Cawley’s “Something” is Anything but “Nothing”

Tim Cawley’s ‘Something’ is anything but ‘Nothing’

Reviewed & Photographed by Tyler Dean


OCMA Facebook | Orange County Museum of Art

850 San Clemente Drive | Newport Beach CA | 92660


Cue film.

A young man with ruffled hair, the color of chocolate, sits at a laptop and presses seven keys. At once, those notes  elicit piano notes from an unseen speaker. The desk at which this chocolate haired young man sits is surrounded by a clutter of accoutrements – a shirt, a pair of shoes; what looks to be a poster.

“And from those seven notes, I get this,” says, savant composer Jay Greenberg, pressing a button on another part of the computer’s keyboard. This time a symphony emerges. Greenberg lets the musical notes pool onto the floor, plaster themselves against the four walls of his bedroom, and induce a minor fit of perturbations before he stops the recording. A voice off-screen, the audience hears the director chime in:

“That was from seven notes?”

Everyone has ideas. But where do they come from? This is the question posited by writer and director Tim Cawley, in his documentary From Nothing, Something. Interviews conducted between Cawley and a bevy of inspired and inspirational individuals – from fashion designers Flora Gill and Alexa Adams (Ohne Titel), to creature artist Neville Page (“Cloverfield”, “Star Trek”, 2009), to cancer researchers Moungi Bawendi and W. David Lee – reveal that innovative success and its rewards are not the by-product of something as stagnant as the family you were born into, or where you live, but rather what you decide to do with something as simple as a spark of intuition.

Accompanied by an appropriately upbeat and eclectic soundtrack composed by Conan Skyrme, From Nothing, Something is something of a unique pallor when compared to past documentaries of similar constitution. While higher-budgeted docs filled with even bigger names might elicit the awe of that Hollywood intangibility, Cawley’s down-to-earth subject matter, and even the subjects themselves, bring us into the story of our own lives. We don’t want to be the people on-screen, these celebrities of sight and sound and tactile surfaces, but rather we wish to paint the stars of our respective destinies with the footnotes of these men and women’s successes, failures, moments of elation, and of suffocating despair. They are, in a word, human.

From Nothing, Something reveals a level of candidness that you could never find in a million years with big-budgeted, big star-laden films of similar anatomy. Concerning the latter, there is only ever an element of “us” and “them”, a gaping fissure if you will, with two sides: self-deprecating and perverted fanaticism, or basking in the blind fury of one’s own fame. Cawley throws this tightrope out the window, bringing everyone down to the same level and into a conversation with one another; an equal playing field. It becomes evident very early on in the film that these successful people are just like you and I, except these men and women saw an opportunity, saw that silver lining of revelatory excess, and went after it. Cawley is saying: “What about you, what are you going to do?” Compounding further this idea of a conversation is one memorable moment during the film’s “Inspiration: Dancing with the Sound Off” chapter. One of the interviewees mentions that you don’t always have to know where inspiration is going to come from, or where it will even take you.

Somewhere behind me, a low male voice responds out loud: “Oh, definitely.”″>button
Perhaps what was most inspiring about From Nothing, Something was that Cawley expertly weaves its concept down to the very fiber of the celluloid onto which it is printed. According to the Q&A following the screening, the film had been, from the very beginning, a “labor of love.” Watching his film, I found it very hard to believe when I checked IMDB that Cawley, a creative director at Hill Holiday (a “top 20” advertising agency), had in fact only ever done two films before the 80-minute From Nothing, Something. And they were shorts.

In his attempt to capture a story, Cawley captures life in full blossom. During the Q&A, there was something that Skyrme had mentioned that really resonated, I felt, with the film’s overall message. Going into the production process, Cawley had planned to just wing his questions and hope for the best. Sure, he would try to direct the conversation, but for the most part he found himself just letting the camera roll. With hours upon hours of footage, and no real “direction”, you could say that he had a pretty big pile of nothing. But then, as it so happens, inspiration kicked in and he began to see the chapters, the focus, the theme. The blueprint for a documentary, one which talked with its viewers instead of to or at, began to take form. And thus, From Nothing [came] Something.

Walking out of the screening and to the parking lot, I asked the guest I had brought with me what she thought about the film. Without hesitating, skipping a beat, or wavering: “I want to change the world!”

(ATOD Editor: A Message A Taste Of Dawn was bread from. What good is this world if not to hope and work to leave it more beautiful? To bridge the divide. To make a difference. To share this sort of moving truth with the rest of those in existence?)

“Everyone has ideas. But what where do they come from? And what ensures they keep coming? How do you sort the genius ideas from the useless ones? Why invest all this hope and energy into making things in the first place? ‘From Nothing, Something’ profiles creative thinkers across a spectrum of disciplines and finds the methods, habits, beliefs and neuroses that lead to breakthrough ideas. This is a thoughtful, intimate, often funny look at the creative process – straight from the brains of some of our culture’s most accomplished and inspiring talents.” []

The Orange County Museum of Art is located in Newport Beach, near Fashion Island, at 850 San Clemente Dr., Newport Beach, CA 92660. Hours for the museum are: MON-TUES, closed; WED-SUN, 11:00am-5:00pm; THUR, 11:00am-8:00pm.

Now in its ninth season celebrating the cinematic works and of emerging and established independent filmmakers, OCMA and the Newport Beach Film Festival present the 2013 Cinema Orange film series. Films will explore art, design and cultural icons. Interactive question and answer sessions with filmmakers will follow select screenings. Cinema Orange is organized by Leslie Feibleman, director of special programs and community cinema, Newport Beach Film Festival. The