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It’s dawning on me, as I am diving into screenwriting, that I’ve always been a ‘what if’ kid. Not a ‘oh, but what if this will happen’ in a fearful sort of way, but more in the imaginative way, what if he or she will do this or what if this will happen, how will he/she respond then? I call it the ‘always searching for solutions and alternatives’ way of thinking. Of course it has a downside as well, as one often wonders what would’ve happened had one taken another route or made another choice. Also the topic of many a movie. Sliding Doors (1998) with Gwyneth Paltrow comes to mind, where Gwyneth’s character catches the subway on her way home in one scenario and misses that subway in another scenario.
I’m applying it to baking now too. Somehow, no matter how good and delicious a recipe is that I’ve discovered and tried out, immediately my mind is going ‘what if I add more of this or leave this out’. To tweak it. Make it more my own. No recipe is exactly to the taste of all. It’s also my drive that I’ve always had to want to elevate things to a higher platform, so to speak. Not that there is anything wrong with it per se, but I just want to see how much further you can take it. To bring out the best in it. Funny how I am just realizing these things, connecting them, as I am writing this.
There is a downside to this as well, of course. Because it’s often on the brink of perfectionism. Which I used to be very familiar with. I can now say that since many years I strive for excellence instead of perfectionism. The difference being that with perfectionism you mainly focus on the 2% that is not the way you want and can’t be happy about the 98% that is correct and with excellence you do your very best and give it all you got, but can be happy with the results. And yes, there are situations in which you want a perfectionist doing the job, but there are many more in which it’s not necessary. The world will not fall apart and people will still like you and you should like yourself as well when you’re not perfect all the time, doing everything right the way it is desired, usually by yourself. Other people aren’t that way either, so why should you be so strict with yourself and punishing yourself when you don’t, have dropped 2%. Something I learned the hard way. Because eventually you will break down trying to hold up that perfectionism, being so hard on yourself. Trust me. I’ve been there. I love not being so strict anymore, the freedom it brings, I still do my very best, but I am no longer so unforgiving to myself when things aren’t exactly how I had them in my mind and have lowered my expectations as well. It’s ok this way too. And at some occasions I do dive into the details more, going the extra mile, but I’m learning the difference now when to and when not to. But I digress.
Another downside is that you can keep on ‘what-if-ing’ too. There are millions of options and if you keep on wondering ‘what if’, you will never make a choice and not get anywhere, afraid you’ll miss the other options or that they are better. Not a good thing to have in this business. Because every story can have a thousand directions. And a thousand choices. And when you choose a direction, which you will have to, you won’t go in the other directions. Something you do see a lot as well in some movies, they’re trying to put too much in it, afraid to make a choice and think the more the merrier. Not so. Kill your darlings. Not just in the editing room. This starts in the writing room. Again like with recipes, something chef Gordon Ramsay stresses, keep it simple, especially with the amount of ingredients. Less is often better. The ingredients will come out better, you will taste them better and they won’t be snowed under by too many other flavours.
What if…we keep it simple. And let the audience enjoy something deeper and more intense and let the story be integrated more and remembered more instead of trying to put in too much, leaving the audience overwhelmed not knowing what to remember. It is proven psychologically that the fewer options we are presented with, the more we will take in.
Did you know that Pixar, the animation studio that made Toy Story, Finding Nemo and all the other wonderful animated movies, dared to start all of over with the story of Ratatouille (2007) 8 months into the project? And why? Because there was simply too much in it. They were trying to put too many stories in the story. As you know with animation the process of production is different than live action, they write the story, make the storyboards, edit the storyboards and then, when they’re sure of every shot and scene, then the real animation process starts. It’s simply too much work and money to waste any animated scene if not correct for the story. And that is what makes them great. They always will focus on the story itself, that is the most important part. And that needs to work. They follow Gordon’s philosophy in that sense, keep it simple. Don’t throw too many ingredients in it, it will drown the story you want to tell. And isn’t that what it’s all about? That the story comes across?
Boy. So, less is better. Good reminder. As the screenplay I am working on was getting too many what if’s in it. Getting too complicated. Putting too many factors in it. Back to the drawing board.