IT’S IN THE AIR
Hey, that was my idea!
Pamela Jaye Smith
Great minds think alike.
Or so they say.
Is it so? And if so, why is it so?
How many times have you seen your great idea (which you did not reveal to anybody) suddenly appear on screen, as someone else’s movie?
How many times have your brilliant plot-lines devised over endless writers’ meetings and vats of coffee ended up scooped on the evening news?
Have you ever seen a movie and then watched in awe as the supposedly fictional concept played out in reality?
How about China Syndrome and Three Mile Island?
Or the movie Wag the Dog and the Lewinski scandal coupled with the African Embassy retaliation strikes which some pundits claimed were a wag-the-dog act?
How about Tom Clancy’s novel Debt of Honor about a Japanese pilot still upset about WWII crashing a 747 into the U.S. Capitol building?
Recall that a couple of films (including Collateral Damage) were held back from distribution after 9-11 because they had similar “story lines”.
In 2007 both films You Kill Me and Mr. Brooks deal with killers in A.A.
Or how about those films and TV movies about child-napping and the gruesome news about same? Robin Williams in One Hour Photo hit theatres just as a real-life little girl had been kidnapped and slain and paedophillia exposures and busts were making the rounds in the Catholic Church and on the internet.
Two recent non-Hollywood clients of mine were disappointed to find that the scripts they had been working on, supposedly in secret, were scooped — one by a film debuting just as he completed his script and the other by an announcement that a major studio was going to do “his” revisionist history story.
As writers, filmmakers and generally observant people this happens enough to catch your notice, I should think.
Notice also how when a movie is successful a flurry of lawsuits arise with people saying, “Hey, that was my idea!”? This happened with both Star Wars and E.T., as well as with some of the Gilligan’s Island spin-offs and many many more. Just ask an entertainment attorney about this retrospective evidence of simultaneous creation. Also note how production companies, to cover this very problem, require releases before they’ll even look at your property.
Along these same lines, how about that phenomenon of how almost every year in Hollywood two (or more) movies on the same subject come out about same time? Think of Deep Impact/Armageddon, Volcano/Dante’s Peak, Saving Private Ryan/Thin Red Line, The Crying Game/M. Butterfly, Rob Roy/Braveheart, A Bug’s Life/Antz, Finding Nemo/Shark’s Tale. Now baring the incestuous and hyper-competitive nature of Hollywood, again, how does this seeming copy-cat situation come about?
How does this stuff work — the creative mind coming up with stuff before it happens in the so-called real world? Or two or more unrelated minds in different places coming up with the same idea? And not just similar stories: it’s said that at the US Patent Office very similar patent applications will arrive on the very same day from people who didn’t know each other even existed. And on that same vein, how often has your own life resembled your creative projects? If you’re an artist, probably a lot.
We’ll look at some explanations of how this spontaneous generation of similar works works, the nature of twins, how you as an artist can you keep your ideas safe in the brain bank until you’re ready to put them out into the creative atmosphere and then once there, how can you ensure you don’t get swamped by other similar tales?
Part of the Great Minds Think Alike syndrome is just simple physics. Reality works from subtle-to-dense we’re told in the physics of metaphysics. Basically you can think of subtle-to-dense as plasma-to-gas-to-liquid-to-solid. Most creation myths have reality starting as an idea, an emotion, a mist, a spoken word, blood, sweat, tears or sometimes other more exotic bodily fluids. Then you get down to the serious business of earth and rocks and mountains and such.
In other words, in a Platonic sort of way, things begin in the world of ideals or ideas and then precipitate down into the world of reality. According to the Greek philosopher Plato [427?-347 B.C.E.], reality in the three-dimensional world only occurs because there are the patterns of that reality existing in the higher planes. Think of it as the blueprints for a house occurring before the house is built. The script occurring (ideally) before the movie is shot.
It is in the nature of being an artist that you reach up into the realm of Ideals and Inspiration and bring down for the rest of us those abstract concepts that may eventually become new ideas and then if all goes well, actual things and events, like movies and TV shows and books and games.
The way the artist’s brain is wired guarantees that you will snag the freshest ideas, will be able to net the newest butterflies, will attract with the strength of your magnetic mind power if you will, the concepts that are just hovering up there in the so-called “plane of ideas” just waiting to find a chute down which to slide in order to become real.
It is the job of the artist, the inventor, the thinker, to be receptive to those higher realities and then causative to the lower realities. Artist Wassily Kandinski writes cogently about this in his book Concerning the Spiritual in Art.
So, a bit more about how it all works.
Think if you will of an upside-down pyramid divided into four layers. The lowest, smallest layer is the Physical dense world. The next one up and the one which greatly influences the physical world is the Emotional plane. That it influences the physical is very obvious when you think of how many physical actions are impelled by such emotions as love, hate, jealousy, ambition, greed, loyalty, etc.
Above those two is the Mental plane, that intellectual level where ideas live. Here you find critical thinking, analytical thinking, projection of the results of action into 2nd, 3rd and 4th level consequences, like in chess or some PC games. This is the place of the head in the head-vs.-heart conflicts. People working on the Mental plane could be for instance: advertisers manipulating people’s emotions to get them to perform some specific physical actions like buying a product, filmmakers or media producers using colours, sounds and the composition of shots, the sound designer using music and effects, the editors using speed of the cuts all to elicit a specific emotional response. It could also be propagandists compelling people to rebel, or charismatic leaders manipulating a cult. This is how people operating on the Mental plane affect the Emotional and Physical planes.
The highest level in the four-part pyramid is the plane of Inspiration. This is where concepts occur, where abstract art and ideas float about, where your highest ideals live in their purest form. This area is made up in part of what Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung called the Collective Unconscious — mental and psychological patterns shared by all people in a culture or all people universally.
Needless to say the dangerous part of Collective Unconscious is “Collective”. Unlike our physical bodies which belong to us alone, unless you’re talking slavery or demonic possession, we share emotional and mental and creative bodies with the rest of humanity, in varying degrees. Anyone then can access that higher plane information, that idea, that concept. Well, as long as they are able to tune in to higher ideas, to recognize innovation when it flits across the mind, to seize the light of inspiration as it illuminates the heart. Too often we are not tuned or do not welcome new ideas; too often they are oppressed by the status quo or simply go begging for want of sign-on.
But the point is that if you were able to pick up a new idea, you’re probably not the only one to do so. People on a spiritual path are often told not to worry if they don’t seem to be succeeding in bringing in a concept, the universe spreads out the mission so it doesn’t depend on just one person. Of course, most of our problems about that are personal because we want it to be us who does it, and not someone else, which is the whole annoyance on which this article turns. But anyway,
“An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.”
Victor Hugo [1802-1885]
IDEAS INTO ACTION
What you often see is that the visionaries first get the ideas and try to bring them down into the real world. Sometimes their ideas are immediately accepted, but most often they are not.
How many of you have heard in seminars or read in books that Hollywood wants something “New, exciting, unique”? Only to hear in the next phrase, “But you have to tell us what it’s like”, or “That’s too far out there, it’d never fly”, or “…what…?!”
History is littered, or glittered if you will, with the first glimmerings of ideas that were presented too soon to the general public. Think of Leonardo da Vinci’s ideas about flight that weren’t able to become realized until hundreds of years later.
Nikola Tesla’s ideas about alternating and direct current are still under debate as various versions play out in real life.
Much of the planet these days is snarled in a frenzy over differing versions of a monotheistic “religion of the book”, be it Judaism, Christianity or Islam.
The rebel Egyptian Pharaoh Akenaten was practically wiped off the historical hieroglyphs for setting up a monotheism, moving the capital city from Thebes to Karnak and pooh-poohing the traditional multitude of other gods and goddesses into second class citizens. Yet most Egyptians today, a couple thousand years later, are monotheists worshiping Allah of the Koran or God of the Bible.
As soon as an innovative movie becomes a hit there are many more that attempt to follow its formula, whether it’s a Reservoir Dogs or a Blair Witch Project, a Being John Malkovitch or a Scream. A recent newscast noted that seven films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were either on screen or in production.
Sociology divides the process of the discovering and implementation of creativity into four phases. It goes something like this: there are the “innovators” who come up with the ideas, the “early adapters” like those cool kids who take up the latest fads, the mainstream who eventually pick it up years down the line, and the laggards who never do. In the vernacular it goes something like 1) “What are you, nuts?”, 2) “We could think about this”, 3) “What a great idea”, and finally, in a move that irks the innovator when the former nay Sayers sign on, 4) “It was my idea all along”.
As an artist, it’s your honour, privilege and duty to precipitate new ideas down from what the Yaqui Indians call the “Raincloud of Knowable Things”. This brings up an interesting parallel from Sufism, the mystic branch of Islam. You may know that the word Sophia means wisdom. The cosmos is said to be divided into three parts: soph = the known, ain soph = the unknown, and ain soph aur = the unknowable.
In the category of the Known, some writer/producers and most people in development scour history and the news to find story ideas. We’ve all seen (and sometimes we wish we had not) those quickie spin-off made-for-TV movies based on “real events”, be they a daring commando raid in the desert (the trend-setting Raid on Entebbe), the teen darling of a married man (Long Island Lolita and it’s kin), or the recent recounting of the miners trapped in a cave-in. The Law and Order series blatantly advises and advertises that its stories are “ripped from the headlines”.
You might consider astrophysics’ dark matter and next year’s Oscar nominations among the currently Unknown things.
Unknowables are how many angels can dance on the head of a pin and whether or not Gary Cooper would have made a better Rick in Casablanca.
Though many of us deplore the redundant copy-catism prevalent on screens big and small, many creative types really are dedicated to exploring the Unknown and they are the ones who give us the marvelous movies that stretch our imaginations and lift our hearts.
The Unknowable… well, sometimes don’t you just walk out of a movie shaking your head and thinking, “What the heck was that about…?!”
So keep in mind as you are presenting your new ideas that they’re likely to be met by these various stages of resistance and adaptation. And try not to get shunted aside in the process. I know we’re supposed to graciously give our best for the greater good but it’s much better to actually receive the recognition and rewards yourself than to watch others gain glory from your efforts.
THE NATURE OF TWINS
Back to the idea of “Great Minds Think Alike”, there’s a fascinating concept at work in the simultaneous appearance of two films on the same storyline. Yes, there is that competitive copy-cat mechanism in Hollywood, but that aside there’s another principle at work here that’s explained in the Wisdom teachings as the Solar Plexus Split.
Those of you who’ve read my book INNER DRIVES, taken MYTHWORKS seminars, had a story consultation, or been to the classes will recall that in the more esoteric system of the chakras the Solar Plexus has two parts. [Most initial chakra teachings don’t get into this but it’s really fascinating and worth the more in-depth study.]
A quick review: Chakra is a Sanskrit word meaning wheel. The chakras are bundles of nerves along the spinal column that relate to various endocrine glands and have influence on hormones and thus on emotions and as we’ve seen above in the upside-down-pyramid, on actions. In many systems the chakras are seen as paradigms for physical, psychological and philosophical expression.
The Lower Solar Plexus is said to express as personal power, individualism and often on the down side, greed, separatism and combativeness. The Upper Solar Plexus is said to express as inclusiveness, aspiration, peacemaking.
It’s a given in the progress of a body of any sort, be it an individual or an organization, a company, a state, or an idea, that there will be at some point a so-called Solar Plexus Split wherein part will want to move on to a higher focus of expression, to expand and include others. Another part will want to hold onto the status quo, will become more separatist and exclusive. One is lower, one is higher. One is selfish, the other altruistic. One is greedy, the other generous. One is separatist, the other inclusive.
You can see this reflected in politics around the world, with progressive democratic parties versus repressive conservative parties, in social systems that promote inclusiveness versus exclusive (think of the conflict over opening the Atlanta Open Golf Tournament to women). You can also see this effect in romance when at the beginning the two people are in love-jail and no one sees or hears from them for weeks at a time. Then eventually they begin to expand their circle and include others, though one of the partners usually doesn’t want to do it yet, if at all. One of the most common discussions in any club is whether or not and how to expand the membership. The mere fact that it causes debate illustrates the mechanism of the Solar Plexus Split. A movie example is the pairing of Saving Private Ryan which is brutal and short-sighted versus Thin Red Line which is poetic and universal.
See what pairings you can come up with and see how well they follow this pattern.
THE BRAIN SAFE
So let’s say you’ve got this great idea. If it came from your higher creative mind then there’s a really good chance it came from Jung’s collective unconscious, from the Creative Plane, from Plato’s world of Ideals. The good news is, you got it. The bad news is, so can anyone else.
How do you guard the idea until you can secure your hold on it? Certainly there are systems in place to help accomplish this, such as copyright law, Writers Guild registration, patent law, trademark, etc.
But another way to protect your ideas is not to talk about them. That seems fairly obvious, but few creative people have the discipline to keep their ideas secret for very long. It’s so exciting, after all. Your impulse is to jump out of bed after that nifty dream and tell all about it. Or as soon as you pull into work you want to corral your partner with the details of this fantastic idea you had while driving in through morning traffic. Don’t.
The principle here is Occult Silence (occult simply means “hidden”, not dark or cult-like) and it’s about keeping your ideas secret until they have time to mature. It’s the same principle as planting a seed and leaving it alone to grow as it will as opposed to pulling up the poor little seedling every day to see how it’s doing and show it off to your neighbors.
It’s also like boiling water in a tea kettle. It happens faster if you keep the lid on. And it’s like an engine in that if you don’t contain the explosions you don’t get any power.
Certainly if you write with partners you will talk about your idea, but don’t tell anyone else. Let the power build up around the concept. Let its natural magnetic power draw in other ideas and supporting materials. Let it take on its own life and develop in a safe enclosure. Wear a lead helmet so that great idea can’t escape. Or put the magical Cone of Silence around your work space. (The jokiness of Get Smart aside, the ancient concept supposedly worked for the British magicians working on the higher planes to swamp the Spanish Armada in a freak sea storm and to turn Hitler back from crossing the Channel during WWII. It’s a fun and fascinating myth to explore.)
One of the best reasons for doing this is that as soon as you expose your idea all sorts of icky things will come along and try to slay it. That’s just natural, too, but how often have you sat in a meeting and heard what seemed like a brilliant idea get shot down and given up. Let the brilliant idea hold its brilliance for long enough to anchor it.
Shhhhhh, mum’s the word.
KEEPING YOURSELF SPECIAL
An exercise writing teachers often use is to assign a story-line and have each person write their own version. Take a simple boy-meets-girl format and look how different these movies are: Body Heat, Romeo and Juliet, Bonnie and Clyde, Natural Born Killers, Romancing the Stone, The English Patient, Pocahontas.
To stay special what you need to keep in mind is not the story-line, the plot points, the theme, etc. but your own particular tone, your own individual style. I mean, you must admit there is a significant stylistic difference between Ron Howard and Quentin Tarantino. And not that you would always hold the same style throughout your creative career (Picasso had his ‘blue period’ after all), but it’s about putting your unique spin on the same old stories. We want to see/hear your individual version of the timeless tales as seen through the lens of your personal history, tastes, experiences, tragedies, triumphs, desires.
That way you needn’t be too concerned about whether or not your storyline is “in”, or how many supposedly like it have been done in the last few years. Certainly there are fads and fashions in marketing films and TV shows, but think of those really unique ones… If you just heard “western” would you have wanted to see Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven or 3:10 to Yuma? Would “gangster film” have drawn you to Pulp Fiction or The Departed?
Needless to say this flies in the face of the somewhat formulaic script-crafting popular in some screenwriting seminars and books. What?! Go your own way? But how would any development person understand what you’re trying to say? For goodness’s sake, if you’re telling a good story with a powerful personal point of view, don’t worry, we’ll get it whether you put your inciting incident on page one or page one hundred. Yes, undeniably it’s a craft, but mostly it’s an art.
Take a look at the movies that are making the most buzz and where mainstream Hollywood is going these days for its newest projects — away from the mainstream and into the quirky and sometimes foreign backwaters where the real, personal stories live.
So yeah, your idea probably isn’t unique. But you are.
And yeah, there may be a whole plethora of stories just like yours out in the marketplace these days. So how is yours different? Whatever gives you your unique perspective on life can and should be folded into your story. Maybe it’s a character, or some lines, or a scene sequence. Secondary and tertiary characters are great carriers of philosophical concepts. Recall how the General in Apocalypse Now who gives Captain Willard his assignment states the whole philosophy of the movie and of Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, from which writer John Milius took the story.
“…there’s a conflict in every human heart between the rational and the irrational, between good and evil, and good does not always triumph. Sometimes the dark side overcomes what Lincoln called ‘the better angels of our nature’. Every man has got a breaking point.”
You can take advantage of the Solar Plexus Split concept and infuse your story with those higher philosophical and universal ideas and emotions.
In closing, here is an example from Enemy at the Gates.
“Here the men’s only choice is between German bullets and ours. There’s another way. The way of courage. The way of love of the Motherland. We must publish the Army newspaper again. We must tell magnificent stories. Stories that exalt sacrifice, bravery. We must make them believe in the victory. We must give them hope, pride, a desire to fight. Yes, we need to make examples. But examples to follow. We need… our heroes.”
Enemy at the Gates
for more information on this topic buy the seminar CDs “From Plato to Pla-Doh”
for consultation for you and/or your organization Alpha Babe Academy – Hire Wisdom
for consultation on your story — to give it a mythic difference while holding it on a mythic theme
for intellectual rights cases, Pamela Jaye Smith can bring the insights of comparative mythology to your research
[First published on the Hollywood Film Festival website.]