Grow, evolve, or die.

In essence, that’s perhaps the most important thing I learned from my first three Industry Insider story coach phone sessions (see prior post), in relation to writing better screenplays. But as I was reading a book my consultant had highly recommended — “Inside Story” by Dara Marks — I realized her observations of what makes for a compelling movie character, also applies to ourselves on a personal and professional level. Without getting into all the technical and esoteric details, it boils down to this: when people are in “stasis,” they stop growing. Once you stop growing, you are in a state of decay. Dying.

That goes for everything — love, relationships, work, hobbies, writing or art. It’s why we so often hit a wall when outwardly things appear pretty good, or at least normal, while inside there’s a gnawing dissatisfaction with the state of our life, career or significant other. Sometimes it’s the other person in a relationship who feels that way toward us, and we can’t understand why because we think: well, I haven’t changed, so what’s the problem? Of course, that’s the problem — maybe we haven’t continued to evolve and grow as a person or artist. Subconsciously, we detect that state of decay and it scares us to think we’re hanging on to something that is dying.

Which is why an affair or doing something risky, no matter how stupid or dangerous, makes us feel more alive for awhile. When we stop taking risks and “stasis” becomes the norm, we’re really avoiding the things that test who we are — the challenges that make us stronger even when we fail. It’s what make us heroes in our own personal stories. Sure, each of us has our flaws. But rising above those flaws is what gives us a sense of self-respect and makes others respect or love us.

Coincidentally (or not if you subscribe to Jung’s theories), I just saw the movie HER by Spike Jonze and the documentary TIM’S VERMEER this week courtesy of Netflix, while reading “Inside Story” and felt inspired by both, even though they are completely different in terms of story, medium, characters, and goals. Then again, perhaps not so different in some ways. In the end analysis, both are about the illusion of what is real and what is artifice.

In HER, a sensitive guy who dictates “beautifully handwritten letters” for other people is in stasis because his wife has left him, and he can’t seem to connect with anyone… until he falls in love with his new computer Operating System (OS). Scarlett Johansson is wonderful as the disembodied voice that blurs the lines between artificial intelligence and what seems like genuine human emotion. Joaquin Phoenix is terrific too in portraying a man who overcomes his fear of attachment because of being abandoned by his wife, and risks being branded a fool for professing his love for a computer OS.  But he is brought back to life by Samantha because she’s excited about seeing what it is to be alive through his eyes — or lens of his smart phone, to be more precise. Isn’t that what we love about being in love during the early stages of romance?

Anyhow, as much as I’d love to discuss HER more, I want you to get “Inside Story” and read that as a companion piece. Doesn’t matter what kind of stuff you write, it will make you a better, more thoughtful artist — and person. A lot of it will seem familiar at first, because she’s talking about basic elements of story-telling and why we connect to certain characters and their fates. And when you compare some of her statements to lines in HER about learning to “trust” in relation to love, you’ll swear Spike Jonze must have read the Dara Marks book. The further you get into her book, the more you’ll see how to integrate the “inner” character with the outer goals in your stories.

As for TIM’S VERMEER, it’s about a successful inventor’s quest to figure out how the great artist, Vermeer, may have painted his photo-realistic, richly detailed paintings. The idiosyncratic entrepreneur, Tim Jenison, made lots of money from creating video hardware — not exactly computer engineering stuff, but close enough for my HER comparisons. Others before him, such as artist David Hockney, speculated that Vermeer may have used some version of a camera obscura to recreate scenes on canvas… except there are logistical problems in matching colors. Tim had an idea that using a mirror in conjunction with the camera obscura could solve the problem. And it worked. He was able to recreate a Vermeer masterpiece, using this painstaking, time consuming process he came up with, even though he had never painted anything in his life and didn’t profess to have any artistic talent whatsoever.

Yet, just because he could duplicate the masterpiece, does Tim’s painting deserve to be called a work of art too? I don’t think so. Vermeer composed the scene, chose the models, the props, positioned them just so to get the desired lighting effect. That takes a true artist’s eye. I mean, Warhol wasn’t exactly creating his art from scratch either, and employed things like photography and silk screening. It’s not the “how” necessarily that makes something art, or the technique. It’s the effect that’s achieved through the thoughtful arrangement of elements to elicit a feeling… an emotion in the viewer, which makes it real. Even if it is all artifice and slight of hand, or the work of a hundred computer software engineers.


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2 Comments on “HER and TIM’S VERMEER”

  1. Wow! Very thought provoking. I just saw the Repetitions Van Gogh exhibit where he kept reworking the same paintings over and over again. He was considered a failure in his lifetime and it must be only because he saw himself as a failure. The art world, and the world in general can beat people down an artists seem most susceptible. I, for one, will be getting a copy of “Inside Story.”

  2. richfigel Says:

    LL – I highly recommend the book. In your own blog, you wrote about achieving “clarity” and that’s what Inside Story helps the writer do. A lot of times we start out with a strong idea who our protag or hero is, but the problem is we don’t give them a clear flaw or fear at the beginning for them to overcome… sometimes they’re too clearly formed in our heads so they don’t have room to grow and evolve.

    As for Van Gogh, I have a book of letters he wrote to his brother, which are really moving and show his growth as an artist. He kept evolving up to the end. He overcame what he perceived as stasis in art, and took huge risks that didn’t pay off financially in his lifetime… but I guess you could say it allowed him to keep “living” even after death since we still remember and admire Van Gogh for what he did.

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