All creativity begins with the moment of conception.
That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.
And so, in this new blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.
Today’s clip comes from the Dracula scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall:
What can we learn?
Paint yourself into an accountable corner. Rachel forces her lovelorn friend to perform a song from his unfinished rock opera, right there, on the spot, in front of dozens of strangers. Peter is given no choice. He has to get up there. There’s too much build up and too much social pressure to back down now. You can see it in his eyes. He just wants to run away. It’s an awful feeling. But what he doesn’t realize is that having an audience changes the way you experience your art. He’s been working on his musical for five years, but now he’s finally given the chance to see it through other people’s eyes. Even if it’s just scattered applause or sporadic laughter or a few heads nodding in the distance, he’s still receiving witness to his work. And that’s all he really needs. Rachel, the real hero of this scene, has createD something called a momentum device. It’s an elegant excuse, physical tool or memorable experience that builds confidence, reinstates commitment and reinforces competence. It’s a powerful practice for any artist looking to generate real movement in their work. Where do you need to plant the seeds of momentum?
Art is subordinate to life. Peter has been on a downward spiral ever since he met his last girlfriend. And now that they’ve broken up after five years, he’s really hit rock bottom. His apartment has become disgusting, his diet has become pathetic, his attitude has become hopeless and his personal appearance has reached an all time low. For god’s sake, the man wore sweatpants every day for a week. Is it any surprise, then, that his creativity has plummeted too? Of course not. Every artist draws a line from their life to their art. Whether they know it or not. And so, the real job is working on the project of building a life. Otherwise there will never be a self to express. This situation, known as artist debt, is a common struggle among creators. It’s when we become disconnected from our primary creative joys, failing to achieve our quota of artistic usefulness. And unless we start depositing credits back into our account, creativity atrophies. What does it take for you to be optimally creative?
Be a surprise, not an expectation. Peter has an idea for a rock opera. It features sad vampires who smother the women they care about with love, and it’s performed with puppets. Huh? Even he admits, the idea is dark and weird and emotionally overwhelming for most people. And yet, when he shares it with the patrons in the bar, the audience can’t help from laughing. The song is strange, but also funny and cute. And in this moment, a light switches on inside of him. Peter realizes that his musical is actually comedy. And that opens the whole project up. Who knew eternal love could be so hysterical? It’s a good reminder that the human brain loves surprises. Surprises set off chemical cascades that rearrange our inner landscapes, affecting our view of ourselves and of the world around us. In fact, the word surprise originated six hundred years ago, stemming from the verb surprendre, meaning, overcome with emotion. And so, the element of surprise is an asset. It’s the art of doing what nobody expects, but everybody remembers. What could you do in your work that would be a welcome surprise to your audience?
What’s your favorite movie moment of conception?