Something Writers Can Look Forward To ... No One Knows Anything
If 2022 proved anything about the entertainment world, it was just how few "sure things" there are these days. Why, if Dwayne Johnson, one of the biggest stars on the planet, cannot be guaranteed a place in the DC Universe, then everyone else shouldn’t be too certain about anything anywhere else either.
Hollywood has always been an unpredictable town, and every show, movie, or album is, no matter what one thinks, a legitimate gamble. You never know what’s going to stick to the wall, grab an audience, or play. 2022 was so full of uncertainty, that the many rug pulls which occurred in the industry caught prognosticators more off-guard than most guests on Maury. I mean, who’d have imagined that Wednesday, the umpteenth iteration of The Addams Family, would become Netflix’s new record-holder for most hours viewed of an English-language TV series in one week. And did any crystal ball gazer think that Everything Everywhere All at Once, starring Michelle Yeoh, would become the frontrunner for Oscar’s Best Picture? Who saw Charli D’Amelio becoming a multimillionaire for her amateur videos on TikTok? And would anyone ever imagine that Top Gun: Maverick, a sequel 36 years late, would become a $700 million box-office smash worldwide?
Who knew? Damn few.
As Socrates grew older, he exclaimed that which made him wise was reckoning how little he actually knew. The late, great screenwriter William Goldman called it similarly, too. He once wrote, “Nobody knows anything (in Hollywood). What worked then may not work now.”
Goldman and Socrates, two smart old guys after my own heart.
Truly, they should be heroes to all of us in the creative arts because no one knows for sure what will sell and what will become a hit, so such knowledge is freedom, right? Nothing is certain, so why not take the risk and be as bold or unusual or as personal as we want to be in whatever we are creating?
It’s all the more liberating because unlocking your creative juices, without editing or even self-sabotage, can be one of the hardest things for an artist to contend with as they create. Almost every writer I know jots down a few paragraphs and immediately starts to edit. Every artist starts erasing his lines almost as soon as they sketch them on paper, trying to be more accurate in the truth of the drawing. Music writing is lots of fits and starts, working out chords, rhymes, structure … it’s practically math.
It’s these senses of perfectionism that make a good artist great, but too often such disciplines occur far too early in the process. Often times, these edits turn into slamming doors, shutting off creativity before it’s even had a chance to escape the brain.
Why do we stifle our creativity so?
Simple. Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. A lifetime of being told no and that we’re not good enough is enough to kill anyone’s buzz. It starts with our parents, then teachers, bosses, friends, spouses, critics, studio readers … you name it. The list goes on and on of people who have slammed a door in our face.
The truth is, very few people can say “yes” in the creative world. So, we all get used to a cacophony of negatives and start to attack our own creativity in a similar way before a lot of thought even has time to percolate. No wonder so much product in the entertainment industry feels so safe.
Risk-taking is a tricky business and it starts to die with a creative person’s own self-editing instincts. But doesn’t the world need more muses and less handcuffs? Shouldn’t the word stop be banned from brainstorming?
Quite often, the entertainment that stands out in the world showcases those who through their creativity, willpower, or a “glass is always half-full” attitude, led them to reject the rejectors.
Take Guillermo del Toro, for instance. Did he tell himself, “You know, there have been so many versions of Pinocchio already, why should I bother? Who wants to see another one, even if it’s mine?” No, he kicked his nagging doubt to the curb and approached the age-old tale with a gutsy new take on the material. He thought of a new approach, one that gave the oft-told tale some genuine novelty.
Del Toro told his story more from Gepetto’s perspective, that of a father grieving the loss of a child. In mourning such a devastating loss and trying to recreate his boy, the story increased its relatability and singularity. At times, del Toro’s treatment brushed upon Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein more than that of author Carlo Collodi’s original 1883 story. But that’s what made this 2022 screen version all the more successful. And after Disney bombed in the same year with their live-action production, who thought del Toro’s would make such an impact?
Of course, I’m not suggesting that anyone stifle their inner critic, the one that helps you rewrite, redraw, or redo to make things better. But separate improving from stifling. Stop suppressing your crazier ideas. Stop writing what sold last year. Stop putting all your eggs in one contest’s basket. So, you didn’t win that screenplay contest in Phoenix. What about the one coming up in Philadelphia? Oh, and that reader whose notes showed how he despised your writing—what was his problem? Doesn’t such viciousness say more about them than you?
Take criticism with a grain of salt. Cull what you can. Then get back on the horse.
A true artist knows they are their own best critic, and more importantly, their own best muse.
So, as we start 2023, throw off the shackles because no one knows what will capture the zeitgeist. That’s what made 2022 so unusual—what prevailed often came completely out of left field. Take Wednesday Addams for example. How did she become such a big deal after 70 years in the public and all kinds of versions of her story had been done to (ahem) death on stage, screen, and so on. To put it kindly, Wednesday was so last Thursday.
But series creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, along with producer/director Tim Burton, didn’t listen to such negative thoughts and found a new way in. They didn’t do a sitcom or a farce, like the TV and film versions; they did a serious detective story with Wednesday channeling Nancy Drew as much as anything Grand Guignol.
Most importantly, they added heart. Not heart, in an Edgar Allan Poe tell-tale way, but rather, in how they treated the teenage version of Wednesday. Despite all of breakout star Jenna Ortega’s superb rendering of cold stares, deadpan deliveries, and spooky vibe, traces of Wednesday’s heart came through just as much. This Wednesday cared about others, was quite moral, and even embraced her roomie Enid in the finale. The teen smiled gleefully when Fester showed up for a visit. And cried when she thought Thing was a goner. Wednesday even chose her friendship with Enid over any potential male lover at the end.
Somewhere along the line, the creators of this show decided to zig where others had zagged. They listened to their inner muses and turned Wednesday into not just a Gen Zer, but one who cares despites appearances. This Goth girl wore a heart on her sleeve, her own. And surprise, surprise, that made her a monster hit.
The creators of Wednesday truly stuck to their unique vision. Such a success at the end of 2022 is all we need to know as we enter 2023, as a creative person or simply a human being.
Don’t be afraid to be different.
Share your vision, not others. And let your freaky flag fly. My guess is that that which is unique will prove to be wholly universal. And you’ve got all year to prove it.