February 21, 2011
Originality vs Focus

What makes a great movie is not its originality, but its razor sharp focus.

Take The King’s Speech. It’s about a King who overcomes his fear of public speaking to deliver a wartime speech to his citizens. It is a great movie.

But at the core, it is saying nothing new. Overcoming fear is a theme of numerous self help books and movies. I won’t bother to name all the books and movies that try to address this issue.

Here’s examples of other movies that are unoriginal:

Psycho is about a transvestite killer. It contains one of Hitchcock’s most memorable scenes and many people think of it as original. But if you wiki it, you’ll find that it is based on a play by Josef Stefano, who adapted it from a novel, which is actually based on true events of actual crimes committed by a Wisconsin serial killer.

Dial M For Murder is another Hitchcock thriller based on a play. Yet another one is Rope.

What differentiates The King’s Speech from its competition is its focus, not its originality. Every scene served the story. Remember, the movie is about a prince who overcomes his fear of public speaking. Well, the very first scene is of the prince absolutely bombing a public speech.

Well, duh. Isn’t this obvious? Yes it is. Obvious and unoriginal. So obvious it was overlooked. Overlooked as a story, overlooked by Hollywood and overlooked by moviegoers until now.

The King’s Speech is spot on. Every scene had to do with Albert’s fear of public speaking. There were no wasted shots. They make it look easy, but if it really is easy then there should be dozens of movies this year with the same kind of focus as The King’s Speech. Well, there isn’t.

Almost all movies try to be original, but they somehow always end up having the same corny special effects, the same bad guys, the same hot girl, one of ghosts, aliens, or robots, or all three.

Meanwhile, not many movies actually know what it is trying to say.

It’s okay to drive home an old point, as long as you are focused.

January 18, 2011

I believe the key to creativity is to not think too hard.

Whenever I hear someone say, “let’s think outside the box,” I know that they’re trying too hard to be creative or original. My response whenever I hear someone say that is, what box?

When you try too hard, you stifle yourself.

Examples of trying too hard abound. Just two days ago I was working with a coder who thought too hard. When I offered a simple solution to our problem she rejected it because it seemed too easy to her. Artists love to be creative/original. How many creative people do you know who would talk about an amazing idea they have, then consciously shy away from making that thing in their heads because in their words, “it has already been done”? It could be anything from a novel, a song, or a photograph.

Whenever someone says that, I know that they are imagining themselves as famous artists, trotting down the red carpet before fawning fans. They love the reward of their work more than the work itself…and they think that doing something completely new is the path to that imagined fame.

What they forget is that their work—whether it’s programming or art—belongs to a larger craft, and that like all crafts, one must learn its rules. Imagine trying to become a famous pianist without ever playing something that was “already done before.” Yet that is what many people do who try too hard to be creative.

Everybody starts off playing the piano by doing some version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Stars.” Why would it be any different if your craft is programming, or novel-writing, or drawing? Would you try to take a picture of something “completely new” if you were a beginning photographer, or learn from the masters first?

Don’t waste your brainpower trying to come up with “something totally new” or think outside the box. There’s nothing new. And there is no box.

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” ~ Charles Mingus

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