Post by Trai
As writers, we all want that big idea, the sure fire ride to the big time. And we’re afraid that once we hit on that golden ticket, someone is going to take it from us. In Hollywood, there are thousands of screenwriters breaking a sweat to break in, and over the years we’ve developed a superstitious behavior: we tell no one what we’re working on. In the novel-writing world, that tendency seems to be about “retaining the writerly energy” so we can finish our marathon run to the final page.
In Hollywood, it’s about not launching our million dollar idea into the zeitgeist to be poached by another.
Here’s what I mean: a fun experiment was tried by some bored MIT students. They got several thousand NY Times crossword puzzlers to agree to work on a puzzle at a specific time that day and track the results. Those in the morning took as long as they always seemed to; those working at lunch completed it faster than usual, and so on and so forth until those in the late evening zoomed through the puzzle – with almost all right answers.
According to the MIT students, the late-night puzzlers were able to solve it the faster and easier because they were tapping into the psychic energy already generated by the previous puzzlers. The answers were “out there” … these folks merely plugged in to that mental dimension and plucked them out.
Hokum? Maybe. But go ask a Buddhist what “om” is about on a global scale, and they’ll give you an answer that might rock your boat.
After reading scripts for HBO for eight years, I noticed some patterns. For example, one person would submit a screenplay about, say, the very first computer hacker to be put to work by the FBI. Within six months, four or five more scripts about that topic would cross my desk. The very same topic!
Had that first writer flapped his lips at the wrong cocktail party and got his brilliant idea passed around town like news of Paris Hilton’s latest boytoy?
No way. It was in the zeitgeist, man. One writer starts thinking about it, and somehow, some way, some of the 25,000 other writers constantly reaching out for ideas, thinking really hard about ideas, arrived at the same concept.
It’s pretty cool, actually, and it happens all the time.
It doesn’t seem to happen in the novel-writing world unless everyone’s just chasing a trend (and good on trends – they keep the lights on at the publishing houses). I think it happens in LA so much because we all live in the same physical space, generating all that creative force. Even if we never spoke to a soul about our ideas… they are still out there.
But here’s the good news: every one of those scripts about the very first computer hacker working for the FBI were completely different. Different sensibilities, different voices, different genres. Which is what I tell my students: don’t sweat getting ripped off; get your copyright registration and that’s that.
If a mystery thief should take your idea, he’s going to come up with a take completely different from yours; all you have to do is write yours better. And secondly, if that other script ends up getting made and yours doesn’t – well, that’s a free paycheck. Hollywood is wildly creative and apparently somewhat psychic (we have to be – have you seen us drive??). But we are above all else litigious.
And that’s the real reason no one steals in LA.