A Creative Life

Every life is a creative life because how could it not be?  We are literally creating every moment we live based on what we do or don’t do.   

Each minor or major or in-between choice leads to another, and then another, until before you know it decades have gone by.  The very act of living means we are making something that has never existed before.

Us.

Whoa Chairy

That was not meant to reek of new ageism, even though it does.

And no, we are not in an episode of This Is Us, now in its final season in case you have somehow managed to not be assaulted by NBC/Universal’s currently relentless marketing blitz.

I will miss Milo and his denim jacket

It is merely to state, and own, that we humans are ALL creative beings.   That is to say every one of us, according to the latter’s dictionary definition, has an imagination and an original idea(s).

Which has nothing to do with what is commonly referred to as talent. 

I’m reminded of this with each hour I’ve spent watching Peter Jackson’s irresistible Get Back, an eight-hour documentary of the documentary that chronicled the 1969 Beatles’ creation of their iconic Let It Be album (Note:  Somehow now weirdly being streamed only on Disney Plus).

Does this make them Disney… princes?

It also tugs massively at the heart with the passing of international screen icon and humanitarian, Sidney Poitier this week.

Just as it nostalgically takes us back to any number of seminal artistic triumphs we’ve enjoyed that were created by people like film director Peter Bogdanovich and songwriter Marilyn Bergman.

Thanks 2022. 

And no, it doesn’t matter that the combined ages of the last three is 268.  Or that it we added in Betty White last week we’d be at 367. 

A tough week!

Not to mention where we’d be at if we included the two long-deceased Beatles.

Talent is a natural aptitude or skill in a certain area that, in its extreme form, gets developed far beyond an ability to just merely do something well. 

Cultivated in the right way and at the right time it can transform our way of thinking, entertain us beyond belief and, in rare circumstances, change the world. 

Often for the good and, sometimes, even for the bad.

… and whatever this is

Jeopardy’s current $1,000,000 champ Amy Schneider, a trans woman, has begun to change our perception of who becomes a champion, and not only on a game show.

Our most recent former president, leading a movement that’s huckster-ized fantasy into fact and earned him more than a billion dollars in donations, leads the most anti-Democratic movement in the history of the U.S.

Dark vs. light.  Light vs. Dark.  

And who said the Marvel Universe isn’t relevant?  (Note:  Okay, I have).

… and don’t ask this guy. #ImwithMarty

But let’s stay with the light for now.

Watching The Beatles in their messy creative space amid all that footage, as any aspiring artist should, the level and ease of their talent is their least surprising quality.  In fact, it’s a given.

What’s more fascinating is observing just how young, goofy and utterly, humanly flawed each one of them are.

– Paul’s smart, boundlessly creative and so up it’s annoying. 

– John broods, cuts through the bullshit, does weird voices and likes very much to do drugs. 

– George, the youngest and perhaps wisest, desperately wants to be heard but seldom is.

– Ringo, loyal and unfazed by everyone, is up for anything except for all the unnecessary drama.  When that happens he clandestinely exits the room.   

Ringo (and his shirt) is just here for a good time!

Watching them you think, is that… it???  They remind me of my high school or college friends but with more colorful clothing. (Note:  I’d buy a copy of any one of their shirts off the rack and wear them tomorrow if only someone had the brains or talent to reproduce them.  And so would you).

This, of course, is the point.

My experience with the uber talented is not only are they all quite human, both good and bad, but that in real life, they can be so down to earth, surprisingly normal (or expectedly, abnormally normal) that, frankly, it’s shocking.

Sometimes it works!

I was fortunate to meet Sidney Poitier some years ago at restaurant because a friend knew him and he invited us to sit down at a large table of his family and friends.

I figured to myself, Oh Steve, (Note: This was before my Chair days), don’t say anything stupid and DO NOT, under ANY circumstances, react to how handsome you think this 80 year-old man is.

Well, before I could process all that and several minutes into various smaller conversations around the table, Sidney suddenly puts a hand on my shoulder, looks me in the eye and says, So Steve, what do you do?

Me, trying to keep my cool.

I mean, it’s like he was interested.  Though, wouldn’t any stranger at a table be if he was seated next to you and there was a lull in the conversation?

Actually, not necessarily, which is part of what made him who he was.  He was just a guy with extraordinary talents.  He knew it, I knew.  That was a given.  But he also was a mensch, had a life and was a lot more than that.

As for Bogdanovich, I decades ago I worked on his movie, Mask.  To this day, he knew more about film than any one I’ve ever met and was not shy about proving it in every conversation.

Plus so many neckerchiefs (and only he could pull them off!)

That and his toweringly intellectual way of speaking could come off as high-fallutin’ and rarified.  Yet get him on the topic of his late, murdered girlfriend, Dorothy Stratten, whom he’d just written a book about, and he was no different than any grieving uncle who’d just lost the love of his life.

It wasn’t affectation.  It wasn’t a pose.  It was simply a truly messed up guy who had been through it and would never be the same.

None of which changed the effete public persona he liked to present to the world and came so naturally to him.  When I ran into him some years later in Westwood on my way to a movie he’d just seen, he greeted me with a huge hello and called from across the street:  I’m doing a picture at Metro!  Give me a call!

Um… what?

Metro, I thought?  Metro?  This was the late eighties. MGM hadn’t been Metro in, um….well…forever?  Nevertheless it was as real and as human and inviting as a guy like him could ever be.  That is, happily greeting a young man he had formerly employed by name and publicly inviting him to come see him at… Metro! 

What you learn about talent over the years is that it doesn’t replace anyone’s humanity or raise it to a different level.  It is only one more characteristic for a person to create a life that reflects who they are based on the choices they have made and will make.

Choosing wisely, or more to the point, authentically, is the key.

Lulu – “To Sir, with love”

It’s Brutal Out There

What is that key 18-24 year-old demographic thinking about?  

Well, I’ll tell you.  Mostly they’re thinking they don’t want to be in 2021.  And, well, who can blame them? 

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate?

To mask, or not to mask?

These should not be the questions. 

And why are those questions even up for debate?

Have I been quiet lately?

Once we lived in a world where science ruled; where political leaders understood they needed to agree to disagree in order to govern; and where actual news footage of hundreds of rioters storming the Capitol building, destroying property and killing cops was at the very least seen as a…well…riot .

Yet today’s 2021 has become one big mass of illogical conclusions.  A literal Alice In Wonderland where up IS down and down IS up.

That is if we could even agree on the definitions of DOWN and UP.

Nope. Na-ah. I’m going back to bed.

No wonder our young people want nothing to do with it, or us.

Every spring I teach a class for college writing majors called Thesis Writing For Screen Media.  In it, graduating seniors develop and write either an original screenplay or TV series pilot and first season episode guide.

It’s not an exact science but what I have come to see annually after reading their work over the years is a cross-section of what’s going through the minds of those with far less experience but far more guile and energy than myself and those of my peers.

Not at all what I look like while grading these scripts

What I get is a brief but fleeting glance of what they see as…the future.  And given their age and the fact that they will soon be taking over the reigns of this, ahem, Wonderland, their perceptions are far more relevant than mine.  Or, likely, yours.

Some years the stories are mostly pure escapist and other times they veer towards the deadly depressing in a way you can only pull off when you’re in college.  One year there were far too many scripts centered around technology (Note: At least for my tastes, which means more than three) and in another a decade back I wanted to shoot myself in the head when I had four or five (though it felt like ten) leaning heavily towards relentless versions of Lord of the Rings/Harry Potter sword and sorcery.

My notes. #igiveup

Of course, mixed into these are always, always, ALWAYS takes on love, injustice and outrageous coming of age, buddy, love stories in the contemporary world. 

Not much like that this year.

Of the twelve scripts I read, only ONE took place in 2021.  That means ELEVEN of them were set in the past, the future or, in one case, in an alternate animated universe that has never existed but you sure wish could exist.  Particularly in these days.

OK but not THIS alternate reality

I’ve got stories in the roaring twenties and depression era New York City.  I’ve got one that takes place in 18th century West Asia, two others set in the intolerant post Civil War west of the 1800s, and another in a literal ghost town not of this earth.

There is one that takes place far in the future on various planets, a second set in ancient Greek mythology (Note: Gods and all) and a third set only five years ago in a pre-pandemic restaurant.

I can’t wait to erase this from my memory

The sole story that takes place in our contemporary world is about three people, two of whom are on the spectrum, and all of whom pretty much live in their own worlds and mostly try to ignore ours.

It doesn’t take an analyst to understand what these writers are doing, and if you guessed taking the easy way out you would be incorrect.

We can intellectualize all we like – we baby boomers and we Gen Xers – but it seems clear that the reality we’ve rendered for the next generation has become pretty much incomprehensible to understand, that is with any real insight, without stepping out of our time period.

Gen Z edition

You can’t make sense of the illogical.  You can’t write about a world where there are no basic truths or rules the vast majority can agree upon.  If you want to answer real questions of faith or humanity you have to go back at least five years or more (Note: Preferably more) or move ahead some indeterminate amount of time (Note: Preferably A LOT more than five years).

Normally I tell young writers who are stumped or shy or reticent, if you merely look around your house or your neighborhood you will discover far more stories than you could possibly tell in a lifetime, much less a semester.

Me when I see that there is a screenwriting professor in the script

Choose what you can’t get off your mind, what fascinates you and go ALL IN.  Use all of YOUR creativity, YOUR craft and YOUR mind to recount to us one of those and you have the best chance of hooking us.  Not to mention, you’ll be amazed at how writing about what you care about in the here and now makes us exponentially care about it, too.

I gave that same min-speech this year but the result was like nothing in the past.

It’s not like there weren’t thematic personal truths to the stories they were telling.  We still got the love stories, the tales of deep hurt (Note: Sometimes even peppered with wry comedy) and the rite of passage journeys.  There were also those of war, of survival and even of government corruption that included people of all races, colors and sexual persuasions.

But in none of them, not a one, was there a literal evocation of 2021 as we know it.

Yep, this… entirely.

In reflection, this was a wise decision.

How can these young people, or any of us, write about something with any meaning that we can’t, at present, even begin to understand?

Olivia Rodrigo – “brutal”