My new life motto and guideline for creating is: If you think you have an original idea, Google it.
I’m glad we have the internet to connect us to people and ideas but sometimes it can be disheartening to realize that your original idea, while original to you, has already been thought of…possibly several times.
John and I recently decided we wanted to explore the story of Ruth Handler, the inventor of Barbie and founder of Mattel. Her life is fascinating and inspiring and she created an icon. We were so excited, but I thought to myself, Barbie is very popular, I bet someone has thought of this before. A quick Google search and we saw that Reese Witherspoon had announced a similar film only a month prior to us thinking of it.
I believe this has caused two trends in creativity.
One is obsession with owning all your creative ideas. There has been a lot of buzz lately with Taylor Swift trademarking some of her lyrics including things like, “I’ll write your name.” The Fine Brothers trademarked “reaction videos” for their YouTube channel. It hasn’t worked out so well for them so far as they’re losing subscribers by the 100 thousands. My friend Devin recently got hit with a lawsuit for using the phrase “People are Awesome” from a YouTube channel that has used his videos without permission. This is the kind of stuff that makes me roll my eyes. I understand wanting to protect your creative ideas, especially when it is your livelihood, but what is the criteria for handing out these trademarks?
Where do we draw the line there? If we over copyright people are afraid of making new things that might be based off someone else’s ideas. If we don’t have copyrights people have no ownership over their own ideas and creating seems pointless. I try really hard not to let the fear of getting sued or having to sue to keep me from creating because it’s a taxing thought. But it’s something real, so I can’t wait until I can just hire a lawyer to worry about these thing for me. For now I just do a Google search and if nothing comes up I figure I’m good.
The second trend in creativity is not bothering to come up with an original idea. On Broadway right now are mostly revivals or musicals based on movies or books. It’s similar in Hollywood. I didn’t realize until doing a bit of research just how unique it is that John and I wrote a musical based off nothing but the brains of people who helped create it. Which is sort of cool, but also makes it a lot harder to sell, because people love what they love already and take a little more convincing to try something new.
This idea of originality is part of what’s so charming about Sundance. For good or bad most of the films are pretty original. We saw films that were original creations of the writer’s brain. Maybe based on their own life or stories of people they knew or from history, but still things that had never been seen before.
Think about Star Wars. It was original. After watching Birth of a Nation yesterday, I read this article. In it Nate Parker mentions his conversation with George Lucas.
I often mention George Lucas — when we made Red Tails together, we talked often about Star Wars and how it wasn’t a slam dunk, and so many people were in opposition to what he wanted to do. And it made him really soul search and think about what he was doing, and it made him stand firmer in his desire to make his film. And he said, “I learned something: When people tell you it can’t be done, that’s how you know you’re on the right track.”
I love movies based on books, if they are good books. I have a small stack of books I would love to adapt into films. I also love stories based off things in history. I think we need to tell these stories so we can remember where we’ve come from. We need to remember the heroes in the past and also the wrongs that were committed so we don’t make the same mistakes.
We also need original ideas and we need to protect creativity. We need to tell our personal stories because the stories of an individual become universal when they are shared. I don’t hate sequels or prequels or reboots but those of us who create need to make sure those aren’t the only stories we are telling or we’ll miss out on what could become classics.
An exception is, of course, if you’ve seen someone do something but you’re pretty sure you can do it better. 😉