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My Lecture, If I Could Give One...

Two things were brought to my attention in the last couple of days and that led to this thinkpost.

The first was that the LJ community that follows the television show, "Lost" had someone point to a "TED" lecture given by J.J. Abrams which took place last March but only was posted online a few days ago. Now, I really could and maybe should do a whole post about this lecture, where Abrams jokes, emotes, and explains his obsession with "mystery" and displays a box of magic that he bought, presumably as a kid, where you get 50 dollars of tricks for 15.

I will take a little detour here to talk about Abrams, because this lecture demonstrates exactly what I detest about him. Because to him, "mystery" is everything. It's the mystery that drives the story, Abrams is basically saying. But you know, mystery ISN'T everything. In fact, if the mystery is never solved, there is no resolution. That may be charming for certain elements of a life, but when it comes to storytelling, it means you don't have an ending. It's a hack move. And it explains how his shows "Alias" and "Lost" got ruined.

On "Alias," we had this mythic figure "Rambaldi," who had all sorts of various artifacts that collectively pointed to some larger thing, scattered all over the globe. It was exciting for a time, but then there were more and more and more artifacts, more mystery without resolution, more unexplained actions and eventually, people just stopped caring. By the time we got a resolution, it didn't really matter.

Similarly, on "Lost," we had a mysterious island with a lot of various people and places that were not what they seemed. But the more we learned about this island, the more mysteries came forward. In fact there was this Top 50 "Lost" Loose Ends, which is good to refer back to as the show's WGA shortened season is just two weeks away.

The TED lecture also demonstrated Abrams' glibness about what he does; the way he started with some kind of chemistry lecture humor seemed strained. And then when he talked about his grandfather, making like he was going to cry at some point? I wasn't buying what he was selling.

"Cloverfield," the latest film in which NYC gets destroyed, again deals with a mystery. Where did this monster come from? Really, I only have one question for Abrams when it comes to this film: What's the point? I read the script and I have to say maybe the film will be of interest just for the concept and effects, but the heart, the feelings, the characters? To me, that's where a story begins and I am not getting that.

I guess I'm just angry that someone is destroying my favorite city and doesn't even seem to have a purpose. Maybe that's what this rant is about.

Ok. The second thing that came to my attention was Oprah welcomed some of the creatives from the movie "Juno," to her show. One of these was the screenwriter, the infamous Diablo Cody. And there is a link to an article about her, titled simply: Diablo Cody's Tips for Blogging Your Way to Hollywood Success, which I shouldn't blame ENTIRELY on her, since she didn't write the piece, but these "how to" missives really sort of piss me off.

So the combo of these two made me think about giving a lecture of my own, related to the same topic.

So, the most important topic that needs to be sledgehammered in place is simply this:


And you know what, I'm going to repeat that and bold it, just for me.


Why is that?

Simple. You cannot simulate, emulate, copy, mimic, duplicate, follow in the footsteps of or retrace the career of any successful artistic person. The process that they followed to get to where they were was because of the life they had led, the experiences they had, and the way they processed that material that converted whatever those things were into the product of their careers. It was also rooted in the era in which they lived, the place where they experienced it, the events that surrounded them and how they negotiated those elements.

So if you think you can go to a lecture, read a book, take a course or somehow learn some method that will permit you to achieve the same things that someone else has done, you're delusional.

The only thing you can do, when it comes to some sort of creative process, is do what feels right to you.

Now, on the other hand, once you have produced some sort of creative thing, a song, a work of art, a design, then there are things that you can and should do. And that element is what people confuse with "learning" the "method." It's the BUSINESS part of the equation that not only can be planned and executed, but MUST be planned and executed in order to achieve success. But even there, you have a number of different approaches and the idea is to select the one that works best for your personality.

Now, nothing will matter if you don't have anything worth selling to begin and that is the great challenge. How do you know if something you're doing would be of interest to anyone else? If you see any of the auditioners for "American Idol," you'll know that many people don't! But even the bad get celebrated here, so there's no censoring. William Hung now and forever has a Top 40 Album. Try and duplicate THAT! Or better yet, don't.

But the point is trying to contribute something worthwhile, something useful. A mystery can be fun, but if it has no meaning, then it was just a waste of time.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 17th, 2008 01:55 pm (UTC)
I just happened to watch Oprah yesterday (very unusual for me now) and I did catch that interview with Diablo.

I'm still not at all clear how she went from being an erotic dancer to a successful screenwriter but I do remember that Jennifer Garner very pointedly said something like, "But you know, that really doesn't happen for most people."

I'm sure the "educational value" of Ms. Cody's experience is exceptionally limited...
Jan. 17th, 2008 09:28 pm (UTC)
Heh. Yes... the important keystone to the story is always conveniently left out. But ya. Being a stripper in Minnesota probably isn't the most obvious preparation for success... and yet it was for her!

It seems the point of spilling the guts of your life can be good as well. Maybe talk_show can help launch some careers also! :oP
Jan. 17th, 2008 06:27 pm (UTC)
Thank you for so clearly delineating what annoys me about J.J. Abrams as well. I applaud you and completely agree.
Jan. 17th, 2008 09:34 pm (UTC)
Ha! Thanks.

I hope he doesn't destroy the Star Trek franchise... I'm hoping that the film this December will be good, but he will probably have some sort of mysterious element that needs a sequel to answer it. And I'm guessing that's where everything will start sucking.
Jan. 17th, 2008 07:47 pm (UTC)
Fuck JJ
yes there is a formula for success, it's called a story arch. You know a beginning, a middle, an ending..maybe some closure, a bad guy dies, a good guy lives and has babies, the end.

just because he's a lazy writer and is just pulling ideas out of his ass (usually from some Asian movie he saw, hoping the rest of the audience hasn't seen it) and way the hell over-rated doesn't mean making something people like will be an impossible proposal...maybe in his little world he can't understand why people hate his shows. But I could probably write a book on how many ways he sucks..., he's the Michael Bay of TV!

There, I said it!

Jan. 17th, 2008 09:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Fuck JJ
Well, yes, ok. The standard structure of a screenplay is a sort of formula way of working, but that's so open, it really could be a lot of different things.

But yeah. He doesn't seem too interested in "endings." His talk all about that "mystery" really made me want to take a box cutter to that magic box and spill all the stuff inside it onto the floor right in front of him.

Don't insult Michael Bay! At least his stuff has an ending.
Jan. 17th, 2008 09:45 pm (UTC)
Re: Fuck JJ
the only genre of film that can get away from the plot structure (and still be good) are comedies...all other genres require some sort of logic with modern audiences...it's why musicals always bomb these days, watching characters spontaneously burst into song jusrt seems illogical and goofy. but I digress...

now if you're talking about the indie audience, you have to take into account the indie folk have seen every movie ever made, so everything is derivative to them...average Person Q. Public is happy with a rehashing of independance day and catchy one liners said by funny negros....

...sorry to come off on a rant here, I feel like the whole world has been taking crazy pills, and I've been missing out. This cloverfield thing promises to be this years "Snakes on a plane", except it will suck.

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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