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American Masters: Creative Spark

Author: American Masters | PBS

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How do today’s masters create their art? American Masters: Creative Spark presents narrative interviews that go in-depth with an iconic artist about the creation of a single work. Each episode offers a unique window into the world of art and the creative process of artists and cultural icons across a wide range of disciplines, from music and comedy to poetry and film.

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70 Episodes
A compelling novel can transport us into worlds unknown. Novelist Jennifer Egan has mastered this inventiveness of fiction with her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "A Visit from the Goon Squad," and in her newest book,"The Candy House." In this episode, Egan breaks down her writing process behind "Lulu the Spy, 2032," a chapter from "The Candy House." She pulls from life experiences to deftly forge playful and imaginative stories that bend the formal limits of the novel. Ultimately, she reminds us why writing still matters, maybe more than ever before.
“Top Gun: Maverick” is filled with booming jet engines and layered sonic storytelling. Since this publication, it won the award for Best Sound at the Oscars, largely due to the work of Al Nelson, sound designer and supervising sound editor at Skywalker Sound. Hear how he and his team spent time on aircraft carriers to capture the film’s iconic sounds. Al Nelson may be known affectionately by some as the “dinosaurs and jets” guy for his work on “Jurassic World” and “Top Gun: Maverick,” but his 27-year body of work has touched all genres, including films like “Knives Out,” “Toy Story 2,” “20 Feet From Stardom,” “How to Train Your Dragon” and more. We visit Al Nelson at George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch to hear how he makes his art. Nelson discusses the influence of past sound designers on his creative process and the journey he has taken climbing the ranks at Skywalker Sound. He gives insight into the meticulous choices that are made in the edit room, choices that play a critical role in the storytelling process.
K-pop is a genre full of catchy music and elaborate choreography. It’s a natural fit for the Broadway stage. As a lifelong fan of K-pop, writer Jason Kim (“Girls,” “Barry,” and “Divorce”) was interested in the personal lives of the global superstars from Korean pop bands like BTS and BLACKPINK. How do these artists deal with the pressure of making music that represents not just your industry but your entire country?  In this episode, Jason Kim breaks down the creative process behind “KPOP The Musical.” He explains how he went from wearing out his K-pop cassette tapes as a kid growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, to staging the very first Broadway musical that tells a Korean story made by Korean American creators.
What does it mean to create futuristic costumes from the past? Oscar-winning costume designer Ruth E. Carter’s Afrofuturistic designs imagine the fictional African nation of Wakanda without the influence of colonialism. In “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” she takes this theory to another imagined world that draws on Mesoamerican history. In this episode, Carter breaks down the creative process behind her unique approach to costume design. Since this publication, Ruth E. Carter has won the award for Best Costume Design at the 95th Academy Awards for her work on “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” Watch and listen to more from American Masters.
John Waters loves to break the rules and make you laugh along the way. The iconoclast has been doing just that over the past six decades with provocative and perverse films like “Pink Flamingos,” “Hairspray,” and “Female Trouble.” Now enshrined as the king of transgressive cinema, Waters is taking on new challenges with his talents. In this episode, he breaks down the creative process behind his first novel, “Liarmouth: A Feel-Bad Romance.”   Watch and listen to more from American Masters. This episode includes derogatory epithets used in an artistic context. Listener discretion advised.
Actor John David Washington loves to talk about his craft. The star of films like “BlacKkKlansman,” “Tenet” and “Amsterdam” has now set his sights on Broadway with August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson.” Performing for the stage requires a different skill set from acting for film, and in this episode, Washington describes the intensive process he undertook for this new challenge. To add more layers to his performance, Washington explores the time he spent as a youth in North Carolina with his family, talks to a modern-day farmer, and applies skills from his days as a professional football player to meet the demands of an intense Broadway run. Watch and listen to more from American Masters.
How do the world’s finest artists – from actors to musicians and beyond – create work that moves audiences? What challenges do they overcome in their creative process? American Masters: Creative Spark explores what makes a master by interviewing diverse artists and cultural icons from the worlds of music, comedy, poetry, film, and more in a new season premiering January 12th, 2023. Each episode in the new season presents an interview that goes in-depth with a thought-provoking artist about the creation of a single work. Featured luminaries this season include actor John David Washington on his work preparing for his role in The Piano Lesson on Broadway; filmmaker John Waters on his debut novel, Liarmouth; filmmaker Kelly Reichardt on her next film, Showing Up; Pulitzer-winning writer Jennifer Egan on her crafting her most recent novel, The Candy House; and many more.  New episodes come out every other Thursday beginning January 12th, 2023.
Buffy Sainte-Marie is one of the most prolific singer-songwriters of the past century. For 60 years her music has quietly reverberated throughout pop culture, and provided a touchstone for Indigenous resistance. Buffy is a five-part series from CBC Podcasts hosted by Mohawk and Tuscarora writer Falen Johnson and explores how Buffy’s life and legacy is essential to understanding Indigenous resilience. We are proud to share this excerpt from that five-part series, which gives a glimpse into Buffy’s young life with tape from her first boyfriend. Thanks! More episodes are available at:
Buffy Sainte-Marie, a Cree musician, artist and activist, has always been ahead of the pack. For six decades, she has fought for Indigenous rights and visibility through her work. She spoke out against the Vietnam War with her song “Universal Soldier,” foresaw the opioid crisis with the eerily prescient “Cod’ine,” and wrote iconic love songs like “Until It’s Time for You to Go.” Her music is always doing something new and bending the limits of the form. In this episode, we talk with Sainte-Marie to learn more about her story and the creative process and inspiration behind her song, “Carry It On.” Watch and listen to more from American Masters.
Comedian Jo Firestone was leading a weekly remote comedy workshop with a group of senior citizens from New York’s Greenwich House when something magical happened. Through in-person sessions, one-on-one interviews and a live public performance, a documentary special emerged called "Good Timing." Join Firestone and her crew of funny seniors as they find joy in the creative act and show how important it is to “make each other laugh in a really scary time.”
Two-time Oscar-nominated animator, writer and filmmaker Don Hertzfeldt is considered one of the most influential figures in animation. In his first-ever formal podcast interview, he breaks down the long journey that went into making his 2012 feature film, “It’s Such a Beautiful Day.” The existential story at the heart of the film often mirrors many of the challenges Hertzfeldt faces as a fiercely independent animator with a do-it-yourself approach. His process is arduous, to say the least. The legacy of “It’s Such a Beautiful Day” and Hertzfeldt’s iconoclastic filmmaking technique continue to influence a whole new generation of animators to this day.
Comedian Atsuko Okatsuka does everything. The touring comic, actress, writer, dancehall dancer and podcast host is everywhere and works tirelessly. She even famously performed a stand-up set in the middle of an earthquake — and got lots of laughs. Okatsuka also just made her late night debut on “The Late Late Show with James Corden,” proving to a national audience that she is a rising star with her quick wit and off-kilter approach. Here she talks about what drives her to create and “nerds out” on how she writes jokes. Watch and Listen to more from American Masters.
Musician and artist Kim Gordon is known for being the coolest person in the room. She is one of the co-founders of Sonic Youth, the band that pioneered alternative rock for 30 years with albums like “Daydream Nation” (1988) and “Goo” (1990). Today, Gordon is focused on her solo work as well as new noisy and avant-garde collaborations. Here the music icon breaks down how she made the satirical song “Air BnB,” a single from her debut solo album “No Home Record,” in this rare glimpse into her creative process.  Watch and Listen to more from American Masters.
For decades, filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan has been telling original stories with movies like the Oscar-nominated hit, “The Sixth Sense” (1999), “Signs” (2002) and “Split” (2016). In today’s Hollywood system, this has turned Shyamalan into something of an iconoclast. Here he breaks down his independent approach to making his most recent thriller, “Old,” and how his deep love for moviegoing as a kid continues to drive the way he thinks about his craft. Watch and Listen to more from American Masters.
Poet Jericho Brown won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his collection “The Tradition.” The poems are vivid works of beauty and agony - each word delivered with a strong sense of urgency. Brown breaks down the process behind writing the collection’s titular poem, “The Tradition,” and the many layers of his ever-changing consciousness that inspired its creation. Watch and Listen to more from American Masters.
“A Strange Loop” has a lot to say in a one-act show. The metafictional musical is playwright, lyricist and composer Michael R. Jackson’s meditation on self-perception, race, sexuality, art, faith, identity and everything in between. The off-Broadway success of this ambitious work earned Jackson the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. He breaks down the emotional journey behind “Memory Song” - the first song he ever wrote music and lyrics to and the penultimate song in “A Strange Loop.” Watch and Listen to more from American Masters.
Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Morris broke open the documentary form with his early embrace of re-enactments and stylized lighting and music. His film, "The Thin Blue Line" (1988), put this reputation front and center, and his Oscar-winning film, "The Fog of War" (2003), cemented his legacy. He also has an irresistible attraction to controversial interview subjects - and "American Dharma" is no different. He breaks down the process behind this 2018 film on political strategist Steve Bannon and the controversy that came with it.   Watch and Listen to more from American Masters.
How do today’s masters create their art? American Masters: Creative Spark presents narrative interviews that go in-depth with one iconic artist about the creation of a single work. Whether it is Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Morris explaining the thinking behind a controversial film, comedian Atsuko Okatsuka sharing what makes a joke land, Pulitzer-winning poet Jericho Brown examining the rhythm of a poem, or filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan describing filming during the pandemic, each episode offers a unique window into the world of art and the creative process.  Hosted by Joe Skinner. New episodes come out on Thursdays starting October 7th.
Although he became famous for his work as an actor in films like “Clueless”, “The Princess Bride” and “Toy Story,” Wallace Shawn is also an Obie Award-winning playwright and author, known for his experimental and challenging writing on class politics and morality. Josh Hamilton talks with Shawn about this dichotomy, as the duo explore the ways in which we identify ourselves and find value in our work and life.
Musician Miles Davis

Musician Miles Davis


Miles Davis is widely regarded as one of the most innovative, influential and respected figures in music. To celebrate the new documentary on the jazz legend, American Masters - Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, filmmaker Stanley Nelson talks with Miles Davis’ nephew and drummer, Vince Wilburn, Jr.
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