Friday, May 07, 2010

Too Many Cooks?

I had a lengthy meeting yesterday regarding my latest professional writing gig, and I found there was a bit of a disagreement between me and the producer over what direction to take the story. It wasn't major, but he had a couple of conflicting ideas about the villain and the big confrontation I had envisioned at the end. We're only in story mode right now (rather than script mode or pre-production), so the time to make changes, the big kind, is now.

Collaboration has always been a difficult concept for me, and I suppose that all partnerships are going to come into conflict from time to time. But I'm not good with conflict. Either I tend to shrink back and just say "forget it," or I become really rigid and reactionary (much more so than the argument deserves). In the producer's defense, he did listen to my ideas before overruling them, and complimented the aspects that he liked. But I couldn't get over the thought that this story would be a lot better if I didn't have another cook throwing in or taking out ingredients, or fiddling with the recipe before the oven's turned on.

Whether I'm a talented writer or not, I think I have a very good grasp on story structure, and can see what works and doesn't work in the stories that I read and watch. For pretty much my adult life, I imagined that everybody was like that, that people just naturally, innately understand how stories work and appreciate good talespinning when they see it, but I've recently discovered that to be untrue. Some people plain don't have it or don't appreciate it. I guess it's something you have to practice, just like anything else, and think about. And who wants to think when you can just hit the Snooze button on your brain?

I thought my ideas were pretty good, and that the ones that were overruled were not replaced by superior ones. And as I said before, my inclination is to think that I could create a much better story if left to my own devices and imagination, rather than have to jump through (write through) hoops and second-guess myself. But perhaps that's just arrogance on my part. Isn't the point of collaboration that each person has a unique perspective, thinking of things the other hasn't, drawing on experiences that shade things differently, and that you end up creating something together that you wouldn't have managed on your own?

I guess so, but the whole too many cooks ruin the stew saying has to come from somewhere. We've all seen those big studio movies where we realize that the script was written by committee, and anything unique or clever or atypically interesting has been removed and replaced by cliche and blandness and the noun that means playing-it-safe. And while my cousin Ryan will certainly buy the DVD of such a movie, I often bewail the suspicion that a really good movie was hiding in that mediocre one, but there were too many voices shouting to "improve" it for that movie to show its furry little head.

Something I proposed at our meeting inspired the film's producer to say that he'd seen that in a thousand other movies. I didn't really think about what he meant by that except to wonder if there's anything I've seen in a full thousand movies, except for:

1) Kissing,
2) Punching,
3) Slow-motion,
4) A cat jumping out with a loud "mreeeow!" sound,
5) People fighting over a gun and it goes off,
6) Somebody sitting up in bed after a bad dream, and
7) A black guy who makes wisecracks all the time.

A thousand is a big number.

Anyway, I don't know if I'm wrong or he was wrong, or we both share some of the wrongness (and by the same token, rightness). This ends up being sort of a rhetorical blog post. I'm not sure there is an actual answer, but it's possible I'm missing something or need to rack up a little more experience before I can find the answer on my own. Damn.

Rish Longfellow Outfield

1 comment:

Big Anklevich said...

There's the possibility that the other person might have something worthwhile to add. Remember that one time that I insisted on the musical number to finish off that one film. You thought it was pure idiocy, but later grudgingly admitted that it was funny and it worked.

Now, this other guy is probably not nearly as talented as I am though, so there's that.