Damn Good Advice


I’ve had a few new screenplay ideas swimming around in my head and I’ve decided that April will be the month to tackle one of them.  While my beloved Script Frenzy is no longer in existence, there’s nothing to keep me from attempting to write 100 script pages in 30 days.  Have concept, will write.

The idea I’m gravitating toward will be my darkest one to date.  Maybe it’s all of the SONS OF ANARCHY I’ve been watching (only one more season to go and then I’m all caught up!), but I want to explore themes of violence, vengeance, and those pivotal moments when compassion enters the equation.  This weekend I watched two great films back-to-back to get me in the zone: SHANE and SLING BLADE.  While one is a 1953 western and the other is a 1996 independent drama, both feature a man with a dark past coming into a small town and influencing and changing those he encounters, for better and for worse.  The movies provided a helpful backdrop to my own film idea.  Scenes are starting to take shape and characters are starting to raise their voices.  I figure if I draw up a solid outline in the next couple of weeks, I’ll be ready to fire up Final Draft come April 1st.

And yet, on top of simply churning out a new screenplay (which ain’t necessarily all that simple), there’s the added pressure to hone my “voice” and strive for distinction in my writing.  I alluded to it in my last post and plenty of other posts before that one: it’s not enough to be a good screenwriter to get recognized – you have to be great.  Memorable and magnificent.  So I turned to a book given to me this past Christmas by my good friend and perpetual cheerleader, JF, figuring it might provide inspiration over how to approach this new idea in a new way.  The book is aptly titled Damn Good Advice (for people with talent!) and it’s by George Lois, a pioneer in the advertising industry.

It’s a quick read filled with 120 tips on which Lois elaborates to varying degrees about how to unleash your creative potential.  He offers his advice through the lens of having worked in advertising, but his guidance is applicable to any creative pursuit.  It all comes down to The Big Idea.

Here are a few of the gems Lois shares that resonated with me:

  • Always go for The Big Idea.
  • Work is worship.
  • You can be Cautious or you can be Creative (but there’s no such thing as a Cautious Creative).
  • Any great creative idea should stun momentarily – it should seem to be outrageous.
  • To constantly inspire breakthrough conceptual thinking, I go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, religiously, every Sunday.
  • Energy begets energy.
  • Make your surroundings a metaphor for who you are.

And in an industry where screenwriters often seem to be chasing the market (or are encouraged to do so), whether it be vampires or zombies or fairy tales, I particularly loved Lois’s mantra: A trend is a trap.  As he so articulately puts it: Because advertising and marketing is an art, the solution to each new problem or challenge should begin with a blank canvas and an open mind, not with the nervous borrowings of other people’s mediocrities.  In any creative industry, the fact that others are moving in a certain direction is always proof positive, at least to me, that a new direction is the only direction.

Hopefully, I’ll discover that new direction through my next script.

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