Monkey Motivation March 31st, 2008

Once again the question comes from Al, our friend the farmer/writer/philosopher from Wisconsin.  “Do you draw inspiration from books or films?” he asks.  This is a nice but not a burning question, and I suspect that Al is cleverly trying to reengage me in my blog.  Thank you, Al.  This is very kind of you. 

It has in fact been difficult these past few weeks for me to prioritize blog-time alongside my need to complete a screenplay, move to Boston, and prepare for new classes I will be teaching in the fall.  But I like writing these things and swapping ideas with fellow writers and thinkers, so I expect my blog entries will return to regularity in the same manner as the bumpy uncertain fits and starts of spring.  Anyhow, I’ll try.

Inspiration?  This is an interesting concept.   First you don’t know what to write about, then you do.  Or, perhaps, first you aren’t writing, then you are.  Is inspiration the thing that happens in between?

That second aspect of inspiration – not-writing and then writing – is motivation.  What motivates me to actually write a screenplay?

I can get motivated by financial panic (that’s a good one); by existential panic (I am a writer; if I’m not writing, I’m not anything); by a need for completion (“starting” a screenplay, sketching out ideas, bulleting out a story – these lead to the same dramatic need for completion in a writer as they would in the movie audience: we also want to know what happens next).  There is also deadline panic, which includes a desire to meet obligations, to be a professional, and on some level, to be loved. 

At best I am motivated by the process, by sitting down each day and solving puzzles, creating entertaining moments, amusing myself, and feeling proud of my cleverness.  I am motivated to write because writing screenplays is fun and satisfying – except when it’s not.

And yes, books and movies can both be good motivators.  Seeing a lousy movie, for instance, or a movie with a terrific premise squandered through poor and unimaginative execution, that can get me writing.  Partially it’s an ego thing, believing that I hold the answers that seem to be so elusive to everyone else.  Ego, yes, but it’s not just me.  Haven’t you ever come out of a movie theater thinking, “I could have written that!”  or “My pet monkey could have written that!”  Me, too.  I frequently start writing with monkey-motivation, the simple desire to elevate myself among the apes.

In addition to bad movies, particularly good movies also inspire me.  After seeing a terrific movie I want to renew my membership in the good movie writers club.  In fact, I never had the goal simply to write movies. My only goal was to write good movies.   Watching good movies reminds me that they are still possible.   I am motivated by hope.

Furthermore, great books and movies make me happy to be alive.  They inspire me to do with increased joy and gusto all of the things alive people do.  For me that includes writing movies. 

A good book can easily lead me to think about the film adaptation of that book – how it would work, what would stay and what would go were the book to become a movie.  This kind of thinking is exactly the type of distraction that pulls me out of books in general and makes me a slow and unfocused reader.  But I do get great ideas for movie adaptations.

Good books and movies – and sometimes bad ones – frequently get me thinking about whatever it is they are actually about, and those thoughts become playthings in my mind.   This is how civilization is supposed to work.

In a manner of speaking, my “inspiration” for Groundhog Day came from a book: Interview With The Vampire, by Anne Rice.   One of the things she dealt with in that book series was the immortality of Vampires, the fact that some of them lived a very long time.  From that idea I began to think about how people change as they age, and whether being immortal would take that any further – if a person could live long enough, would he change fundamentally?    I didn’t get MOTIVATED to write the story until I got the next idea, the one about immortality taking place on the same repeating day.   From there I could see many dramatic, comedic, and thematic possibilities.  It all felt naturally fun and original and exciting, and to do anything but to write it down was not an issue.  It was the only choice.  

Perhaps the best inspiration of all is the really good idea, and that can come from absolutely anywhere. 


Comment by christopher
2008-03-31 17:59:32

it still says URI… :-p

my short film screened last saturday at lacma along with seven other short films and we filmmakers were q&a’d afterwards. at the reception following i had more than one person come up to me and thank me for saying my short film was designed as a calling-card. the idea being that obviously everyone hopes their short is, but few will admit to that hope.

so thank you for your spot on honesty about motivation for writing, esp. phrases like “amusing myself, and feeling proud of my cleverness,” and “on some level, to be loved.” i often consider these aspects of my desire to create and it’s nice to see them acknowledged by another writer.

fascinated by the anne rice motivation. i fell in love with ‘interview’ when i was introduced to it in college. amazing that would lead to gd. i love random connections like that.

looking forward to more frequent entries for this blog!

Comment by E.C. Henry
2008-04-02 18:27:47

LOVE hearing your inspiration for writing one of the classic romantic comedies of all time came from a “vampire” book! It’s strange how the writer’s mind work. (That’s stange was meant in good way)

Love rom-com genre. The classics I go to when looking for inspiration are: “13 Going on 30,” “How to Loose a Guy in 10 Days,” “While You Were Sleeping,” and occassionally “Sleepless in Seattle.” Have only seen “Groundhog Day” once or twice, but visiting here and reading Billy Mernit’s glowing praise of it MAY push me over the edge to finally buy it.

Moving to Boston? I’m soooo jealous of you. That area is so rich in history. Maybe you’ll pick up some of that Steven King bug, and find that history seeping its way into your writing. Anyway, hope the change of scenery brings with it a fresh wave of inspriration, Danny.

– E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

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