As a screenwriter, our current situation reminds me of the end of Wreck-It-Ralph (I have young daughters, who like the movie almost as much as I do…). We were all focused on Vanellope winning the big race to reclaim her status in the game. But when we saw the Cy-Bugs taking over, literally eating the finish line along with everything else, we realized that something bigger was happening, and that there might not be a game at all. Just recently, we were all focused on the minutiae problems in our own lives. And then something bigger came along and reminded us that we’re small.
What I’d like to discuss today is how we, as artists, can continue to be productive in a time like this. To be frank, staying inside and obsessing over things isn’t that much of a departure for most creatives, only difference now is that it isn’t a choice anymore. And also, everyone else has to do it, too.
Arguably, this could be a productive time for us; a time to work on those ideas that have been brewing, that we’ve wanted to flesh out but haven’t had a chance to sit down and focus on. And sometimes a slight distraction – or in this case a full-blown crisis – is just the thing we need to give us perspective, and focus our expression. Plus, commute times are down. I’m from my bedroom to my basement office in under a minute, even with a little traffic on the stairs.
So, as I analyze our current situation and try to see any positives, I note the following that can be good for our collective creative process:
1. This Should Be Helping Our FOMO
As we all know, social media was invented so we could watch other people convey impossibly perfect versions of their lives and feel badly about ourselves for lying on the floor and staring at the ceiling. This, of course, is a distraction from getting things done. The thing about right now is – everyone’s lying on the floor and staring at the ceiling. So technically, our Fear Of Missing Out should be going away. No one is doing anything good right now, and if they are, they’re violating our government’s stay-put order and should be social-distanced out of a canon into a remote region of the Atlantic.
I always recall a family visit to the zoo with cousins and aunts and uncles a few years back. The kids were fighting, it rained every time we got outside, and a few of us got food poisoning. One of those days that do tend to happen (in real life, not on social). And then I saw one of the uncles’ Instagram stories. He’d found the only four pictures (out of hundreds) where it was sunny and people looked happy-ish, and had added the caption ‘Family Fun at the Zoo!’. “Lies!” I screamed, to no one in particular. We all know most of what we see on social media is blasphemous falsehood, but it still gets to us somehow. Right now, NO ONE should be posting anything good. Just the thought of it makes me calmer.
There may be some exceptions. A student once told me a story of a Friday night with an influencer-friend, when they were tired and didn’t want to go out. But before Netflix and Thai, the influencer created a tableau including a high heel, a bottle of wine, a rose and a party hat, then added the caption ‘Girls Night Out!’. I’m all for creative tableaus (even if for evil, jealousy-inducing purposes), but please don’t fall victim to anyone on social who looks to be having more fun than is legally possible. Our ability to focus on our art should be enhanced like never before.
2. We Have Some Time
The first thing I did when the school asked me to write this blog was – nothing. I sat on the task for a few days, just thought about it. I considered and threw away countless ideas. I thought of a heartfelt intro where I checked in with everybody to make sure they were okay, then subtly eased into the uplifting piece the school had requested. I couldn’t find a way to ‘ease’, so I did away with the heartfelt part and just tried to be tactful. (Hopefully I didn’t go too brash? The virus is terrible, I just don’t know I need to repeat all the ominous news we’re hearing about it all day, every day. And now maybe I’m obsessing…)
But all that said, I have time to obsess. I have time to consider, to weigh, to analyze – things I don’t think I do nearly enough with the current pace of business, life and leisure. As artists, maybe this lockdown period is a time to just think about the stories we want to tell. The truths we want to express. How the tales from our little corner of the world might resonate with everyone else, because our themes are universal. What’s honestly happening to us that others can relate to. I find I do far less ‘thinking’ as an artist these days, but I’m doing more right now, and I realize I miss it. And yes, I do most of it lying on the floor, staring at the ceiling.
3. Messy Lives Make For Good Stories
The other thing on social that gets me is – perfect lives are boring. We all know this, it’s in the first lecture of our Intro Screenwriting class. Interesting stories have conflict, tension, characters with a dramatic need that compels them to act. How bad would the original Star Wars have been if Luke had believed in himself right away, said “Yeah, I’m totally the Jedi-dude sent to save the universe”, then blown up the Death Star, killed Vader and gone to lunch at Terroni?
At this point, I think we all have to admit that life is messy. For some reason we don’t understand, we live on a giant rock spinning around a ball of energy. And now our rock has this crazy virus that comes from bats and these lizard-things. And also, I can’t find a decent pair of tapered sweats (I’m 6’5, it’s a thing). But maybe now’s a time to revel in that messiness.
As we’re taken off autopilot, maybe now is a time to explore the truths of our lives, what’s causing us anxiety, what isn’t working, what we’re struggling with. Maybe now more than ever is the time to try and be honest about these things. Our work/family/romantic/social foibles that are ugly, that we would never post on social for other people to see. But that are our truths. That might make for good stories. And that we could attribute to fictitious characters, so people don’t know it’s really us…
So that’s my two cents. To summarize: No one else can be doing anything that good to distract us, we have time to think, and the mess that is our lives might be something we want to consider exploring for artistic purposes as the world crumbles around us.
Take care TFS. And remember, 9 p.m. is a good time to change from your day pyjamas to your night pyjamas. Stay safe everyone.