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.