In the Air
Last fall something remarkable happened here in the Greater 310.
In the same week, four top screenwriters went out with pitches they had come up with independently — and guess what?
4 pitches: All the exact same idea.
I won’t reveal the pitch. But know that two versions sold, to two different studios.
Yet the “poster” and premise were identical for all four writers.
This phenomenon is not unique. In Save the Cat! I tell of my saga of co-writing a script titled Really Mean Girls, but not quick enough to beat Mean Girls from getting bought and greenlit first. In that case, the topic was based on an article in the N.Y. Times that thousands of people read, and a concept fostered by a great book, Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman, identifying the “mean girl” phenomenon.
And all that example proves is I should have been a faster typer.
Whenever I come up with a movie idea that someone scoops me on, instead of getting mad (or taking pride in my “golden gut”) I say: it was something “in the air.” Except in the case that occurred this fall, no such article, trend, or trigger caused the simultaneous eruption on the part of each writer.
It just… happened.
What I’m talking about here isn’t about “the business”; it’s about the collective unconscious. That’s the term C.G. Jung used to describe the deep well of images we know at a subterranean level. And from its depths all kinds of images bubble up with a regularity that make us believe in more than coincidence.
The simultaneous idea phenomenon dovetails with a recent scientific study authored by Christopher C. Davoli and Richard A. Abrams at Washington University in St. Louis that proves for the first time the power of the imagination. In the experiment, subjects were asked to concretize actions they saw in their minds, and seems to confirm that thoughts are things, and anchored in a more primal benefit.
Titled “Reaching Out With The Imagination,” the study hints that capitalizing on what’s “in the air” leads to survival. Being better able to bring our imagination to life leads to greater mastery of the world.
But where does the imaginary world leave off and the concrete world begin?
In emailing with Chris, I mentioned not only my example about the quadruple pitch here in Hollywood, but the idea that creativity often leads to pre-cognition, too. I cite the author who wrote about the great ship, the Titan, which on its fictional maiden voyage strikes an iceberg (Iceberg! Iceberg!) and sinks — except it was written in 1895, long before plans were on the drawing board for the real ship of the almost same name. My other favorite example is the English crossword puzzle writer who in June 1944 got a visit from British Intelligence wondering how his latest puzzle used all the code words for the secret, and yet to unfold, Normandy invasion. But those word clues: Utah, Gold, Sword, and Juno were just a coincidence.
Being the creative people that we are, we are more in touch with our subconscious than most — or at least more interested in actively trying to tap into it. But what are we tapping in to? Food for thought or thought for food, our mission may be greater than just telling stories, it may be our role in reporting from the front lines of a powerful source of turning the imaginary into the real.
- George Thomas Jr.
This has happened to me a few times already and it sucks because they were among my favorite ideas: “Swing Vote” and “Balls of Fury.” The resulting emotion is one of validation and self-pity! Keep writing, folks!
- Carl Thoren
It’s happened to me too — and to validation and self-pity, I’d add frustration. Frustrated with myself that I didn’t work on my story about a “30 year old virgin,” for example, simply because I thought it would be too weird or maybe wasn’t a very compelling idea. The validation aspect is wonderful, though. Seeing similar ideas made into a successful movie is very encouraging, and a good lesson in how it’s best to just take what’s “in the air” as a gift and then get to work.
- Sarah Beach
It used to drive me up the wall when I was in junior high. At that time, my ambition was fashion design, and I’d work on ideas — and then a few months later, they’d be showing up from major designers. Frustrated the heck out of me. I don’t mind it so much in the writing arena, since we are all unique and our own take on a story will be different – we have more options, as it were.
- Mike Rinaldi
Probably like a lot of writers, I periodically tune in to the radio show “Coast to Coast AM.” Art, Ian, and the two Georges. One of the more popular recurring topics lately is synchronicity. And isn’t it interesting that George Noory was talking about synchronicity just the other night and then you go and post this blog. It must be in the airwaves.
- Arlene Paige
“Artists are the antennae of the race.” I think it was Ezra Pound who came up with that, many decades ago.
I’ve never noticed this concept neatly presented like this on the net, so thanks! It’s comforting.
In this city, there seems to be a psychic phenomenon raging, but on most levels it’s not anything anyone wants to contemplate.
Sounds like a case of ‘morphic resonance’ – the theory developed by a guy called Rupert Sheldrake to explain phenomena such as:
> Rats of a certain breed learning a new trick in a laboratory in Harvard, and then rats of that breed learning the same trick faster all over the world;
> Sheep on one side of Australia learning to roll over cattle grids and, after a short while, the same behaviour being seen in sheep on the other side of Australia;
> A flock of Japanese crows learning to crush walnuts by placing them in the path of oncoming cars – and Californian crows learning the exact same thing a few months later.
Sounds dubious, but then ‘spooky action at a distance’ is central to that most stringent of sciences, quantum mechanics… so who knows??
- James Harbinson
Waaaaait a second.
I was just working on a story where a crossword puzzle writer meets four mean girls on the Titanic.
Seriously though, I think we’ve all had this happen. One of my ideas was about a guy who accidentally altered his blood so that it could cure disease, and then I was flipping through the channels one day and happened to catch an episode of Heroes… gahhhhhh
Fortunately it was on my “B” list of ideas, and so I was only mildly irked.
So does this explain the rash of movies starring the uptight white cop teamed with the hip visible minority cop as they take on the international gang of drug smugglers?
I can’t wait for “Men in Black that carry Lethal Weapons and have 48hrs to to finish their Training Day in Beverly Hills”.
I think it’s got “Blockbuster” written all over it!!
- Bob Bier
This has happened to me a few times to. A few years ago, I began working on a story about a dorky bounced-out-of-the-academy cop who ends of working as a mallcop …. and saves the day from hip terrorists …. needless to say I was happy and horrified when Paul Blart hit theaters. I guess next time I listen to my muse, I should ask her who else she’s been inspiring.
- Joe Whyte
It just happened to me – I was going to make the exact same joke that James made until I scrolled down and read his entry. But it brings to mind something that happened on the very first evening you came over here to Disney to run your class – you handed out the “sample” pages of loglines you were working with – and you had your logline for “Emerald City” – the story about the murder investigation in Iraq – and my brother-in-law and I had just started working on the same story – only mirrored – a few weeks before then. You made a great point then – you said we should absolutely write it! Because it would be totally different from what you would write. And this goes also to your point about people’s fear of sharing their ideas and/or loglines with others. So what if someone hears your idea – the chances of them actually writing a script, and selling it, based on hearing your logline are very very slim, and the value of getting feedback on your ideas early on in their development is so much more valuable than hiding them for fear of losing them – Blake tells a great story about how he had a “great idea” that he kept to himself and when he finally revealed it to his agent, he was shocked at how bad the idea really was.
- Demetria Dixon
Exceptional blog entry Blake. Explains a lot.
- Amber Scott
I read the post and immediately thought, synchronicity! Then I read the comments and saw it. Now, I don’t feel nearly so peeved that I keep getting whiffs of this phenomena in my work. Maybe I won’t ditch the manuscript I just titled Lie to Me after all.
Many Thanks, Mr. Snyder!
- Simon Maxwell
Excellent Blog Blake!
When I was 13 (28 years ago), I used to write in my bedroom and I developed a short story that resembled “Land Before Time”.
When I saw it … I wasn’t bitter, just validated in knowing that I am connected to THE substance that flows to and through me, inspiring possible stories.
This was pure GOLD : our mission may be greater than just telling stories, it may be our role in reporting from the front lines of a powerful source of turning the imaginary into the real.
Often, I want to believe that there is more to telling my stories than the goofy humor that I see the world in … this helps me focus my mission.
- Captain Perry
Creativity comes from God . He made man in his own image to amuse himself , so I’m also very sure that he also likes good movies . God puts the vibes out every day that will save the world and the cat and end the movie just right . All we have to do is have faith and listen .
Although incredible coincidences might have a power to amaze us and appear inexplicable, in fact there’s nothing mysterious about them. The law of large numbers explains them all saying that any given event, however unlikely may it seem, is inevitably going to happen if the number of interactions/trials is high enough.
We can’t deny that our world, with over six billion people in it, is a one gigantic melting pot of interactions, can we?
Trick here is that from individual point of view a highly improbable event may look like a miracle but from the wide prospective it’s just a random luck (or bad luck.) Lotto winner may consider the prize as a gift from God but probability calculus says that if the number of trials is appropriate somebody just has to hit (and wonder “why me?” later.)
Unfortunately for us, screenwriters, the LLN also leads to a quite disturbing conclusion. Taking into account the number of people having new movie ideas every single day, probability of simultaneous creation of even truly unique concepts at any given period is rather high (not to mention the simple ones or those inspired by events widely existing in collective consciousness.) So many writers interact with the same world on a daily basis that any particular script simply must have some clones somewhere there.
Now, because majority of scripts (ideas) never sell, we can all go through our lives not knowing about each other, not realizing how many attempts to sell the same thing there actually were.
And how does it happen that if we have a sell, suddenly a few analogical scripts surface in the Hollywood inner circle?
Screenplays that sell are generally based on a really good ideas. If other writers came up with similar stuff, and more likely they did, they naturally had a bigger chance to stand out of the crowd and be considered as well. So when one of those scripts sells, the others floating around immediately get noticed, much to unlucky writer’s consternation.
We can’t beat the LLN but we shouldn’t worry too much about it, either. Blake is right again — let’s delve into our subconsciousness, pull out every matter that means to us the most and tell the world about it.
Who knows where it can lead us to.
- Karel Segers
My latest short film production premieres at the St Kilda Film Festival, a respected Australian fest.
Here’s what they put in their press blurb:
“Before Nemo and Wall-E there was Tin Can Heart, be mesmerised by the exceptional animation of Aussie filmmaker Rodney March.”
I co-wrote the story with Rodney back in 2006 and it is indeed so similar to Wall-E that a friend urged me to sue Pixar over it.
No need, because I know we independently came up with the idea years before both films were completed.
Because of the similarity, we’re finding it hard to get into festivals. But it doesn’t bother me a bit. The fact that we came up with a story similar to Pixar’s gives me a great deal of confidence that we’re doing the right thing…
Leave a Reply Cancel reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.
My mother, who studied this effect her whole life, chocked it up to this: Creative ideas are “seeded” to many minds at the same moment, and it is up to the individual to act on the “inspirations” in the form of free will. So, if the muse bites your ear – – don’t sit on your rear. Unless you want to read about the great concept that the infamous “Other Person” must have stolen from the idea pool that you think is all yours.
See you at Pitchfest, Blake.