Curiosity Did Not Kill the Cat: Can New Story Ideas Thrive?

Curiosity didn’t kill the cat.

…it made it buy a movie ticket!

Hollywood Studios seem trapped between two goals: replicating their franchises and creating clones of other studios’ hits.

As I am writing this we are in the Twilight Zone (not Rod Serling’s, but Summit’s).  I get the sense that the studios are all trying to find the next Twilight.  A relatively cheap teen franchise that powers a giant audience response.  It is the mood of the moment.  Even we at Trilogy find ourselves guilty of using the word Twilight when selling some of our projects. It gets executives’ attention.

But how does this fit with an audience’s real desires? And your hope to create unique and powerful stories from your own, artistic voice?

When I first came to Hollywood, I was very lucky; Norman Jewison mentored me and the Canadian Government paid my way.

John Watson also joined me here to found Trilogy.  And thanks to Norman’s status we were given access to high-level people at the studios.  We had our own natural curiosity – how do you create a hit?

We were consulting for Sylvester Stallone on one of his features at Universal – when we discovered they had marketing analysis people.  (At that time these were Willette Klausner and Richard Del Belso.)  We persuaded them to come to lunch and popped our burning question. “Considering you guys test the audiences’ reactions to every movie that gets made here — what works?”

Their answer was simple; the audience wants to see movies that are  – “New, interesting, and different.”

Their testing systems told them that communicating novelty and creating curiosity was a major component in bringing an audience to a movie.  Their testing proved audiences crave originality.

And I think this applies not just in movies.

Why do we feel obliged to wrap Christmas, birthday, wedding gifts etc. in a shield of expensive gift paper?

Novelty and anticipated intrigue.  An intrigue that can only be solved by unwrapping and experiencing a discovery.  Unwrapping gifts, unveiling statues, pulling back theater curtains to reveal the stage – keeping a guest off stage until we have announced them… these all show how important discovery and novelty is.  Steven Jobs and Apple are the masters of exploiting this.

Neurobiologists have peeked inside our brains with MRI’s and have discovered that novelty is a fantastically powerful stimulus, and the more novelty, the more we seek to explore it as a reward in it self.

The intrigue of the unknown, the mystery of what might be, pulls us in… we love it.

And as writers that’s where we fit in.  While the grand pooh-bahs of Hollywood are scared to gamble on the new and different — they will have to!

Making movies that are clones of other movies mean diminishing returns.  It is tough to create excitement, and reward the novelty experience with movie ideas that have been run round the track a dozen times and are so threadbare the only way to excite an audience is to throw money at them.

We humans like to see fashions change. There would be no book or music best seller charts if people just read the same book over and over. Change is inevitable. It is the regeneration of life.  Who wants to write with a quill pen? Ride a horse to work.  Sail for weeks to reach Europe?  Humans love to explore and make discoveries  — frankly, we are designed that way!

The studios may be trying to repeat history.  But we creators are the future. Repeating the past is awfully close to that oft-used definition of insanity.  But aiming to create the future is a noble endeavor. An endeavor worthy of our efforts, whether the studios recognize it right away or not.  So my advice is write from the heart.  Write what moves you – be as original as you dare. Have faith that your fresh ideas – your novel and original stories – will eventually be in demand.

The Studios are the dinosaurs.

And we?  We may be the spark-eyed, curious mammals who will survive beyond them.

Kind of like cats — I hope.

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2 thoughts on “Curiosity Did Not Kill the Cat: Can New Story Ideas Thrive?

  1. Leona Heraty

    Great article, Pen! Keep up the splendid work! 🙂

    Yes, we must write with our hearts, and give all we can of ourselves. Here are two great quotes from famous authors, telling us to write from our hearts, to touch the hearts of our readers:

    “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”
    William Wordsworth

    “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy. …this book…is a permission slip: you can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”

    Stephen King, On Writing

  2. Tarl

    Personally, I think that Oz is the next phase in Hollywood and pop culture. We’ve had Star Wars, Harry Potter, Twilight, what’s next? Consider, Disney has a Wizard of Oz prequel movie in March 2013. There is another movie (Dorothy of Oz) sometime soon. Warner Brothers is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz in 2014. If you look around, Oz is here. It will be here for the next two years.
    Everybody knows the story, so new twists on Dorothy’s story are going to be all the rage very soon.
    Everyone can twist a story, but it takes keen eyes to see the story behind the story. Perhaps a little digging to find the Hidden History of Oz. One book down, six to go. Dig a little on Amazon if you wish to see just how much Oz is powered by human dreams.

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