Don’t Be a Sell Out: What the Modern Entertainment Industry Can Teach Us About Creativity

Growing up, I remember watching the Star Wars movies. I remember how I saw the first one and really didn’t think much of it at the time. As a 7 year old, I saw it as another action flick – boring when people talked, but cool when they shot at each other!

Like most kids at my age, we were too young to have seen the movies in the theatres. Instead we got to see them when they came on at night on the main network’s movie nights. I remember my mom telling me I just had had to watch them. In fact, I think one of the first movies that we ever recorded with our VCR was Star Wars: Return of the Jedi… or least attempted to. (I’m guessing somewhere in 1987 – 1989.)

As time went on, I became more and more of a action and sci-fi geek. That was probably one of the reasons that the Ninja Turtles stuck with me as much as they did. But, I also remember really getting into science as well. Seeing all those planets in the shows really made me interested in Astronomy.

By the mid 90’s, I had finally saw all of the Back to the Future movies. Sci-Fi series that I watched at the time included all the Star Trek shows including syndicated episodes of TNG. In fact, along with the X-Files, I remember Voyager being the shows I looked forward to that would literally help me get through the week. In today’s world, I realize how silly this sounds, especially in an age where so many people use their DVR to watch their shows. But it was the truth back then before everything was On Demand.

Needless to say I was definitely hooked on my sci-fi shows and movies.

 

The Best Summer Ever?

I remember the summer of 1996 as if it was last year. This was the summer after I got back from my 8th grade trip to Washington D.C.. During the trip, I was exposed a ton to what my peers listened to as far as music. Really, up until that point, when I heard music, it was my mom listening to her oldies music, or what I heard in school for band and music class. I really hadn’t developed an interest in it.

Nope, I was too involved in video games, TV, and, movies to care about music.

Well, when I got back from the trip. Things were different. In fact, it wasn’t very long at all before I signed up for what was called BMG Music Service. And, you might remember, back then being able to get 10 relatively new CD’s for a third of the price was awesome! Especially if you just had to have certain songs you wanted to hear over and over.

Well, again, being fairly new to the music scene, I didn’t really have any preference to what I was listening to. It was all new to me. So what I ended up doing was ordering a ton of soundtracks because they gave me a good sampling of what was popular. I felt that I had my own radio station.

I remember that in one particular catalog, it mentioned some of new releases which were going to be coming out in the next month. One of those was the soundtrack to Independence Day. I didn’t know much about the movie at the time, other than Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum were both going to be in it.

Will had just gotten off of Fresh Prince not too long before and had some success with Bad Boys. Jeff had already been in Jurassic Park, so I knew who both actors were.

Up until the movie came out, I knew it was going to be about aliens invading Earth and the military. I guess I just figured it was going to be something similar to Stargate (the movie) which I loved as well.

So, all of these parts coming together AND having seen a little bit in the making of, I knew that it was going to be a great flick.

That being the case, I ordered the soundtrack along with a few other CDs. I figured, “hell, if this is as good as any of my other soundtracks (especially Batman Forever), then it should be a great album!”

So, July 3rd comes around and I see the movie. I was blown away. (I think I ended up seeing it in theaters two other times – which is actually saying something for me.)

Shortly after, I get my soundtrack and pop it in a CD player and…

Disappointment.

Here I was hoping for the songs from the movie and I get the score. I didn’t realize what scores were until this point. But, you know what? Even though I was disappointed the first couple of times I played it through, the score started growing on me – especially as I saw the movie a couple of more times.

From there on, while I continued to order soundtracks from BMG, at least I paid more attention to what I was ordering.

 

Nice Story down Memory Lane, JC, but So What?

This past weekend, on July 3rd, 20 years later, I saw the sequel of ID4, Independence Day: Resurrection (does that make it ID4:2?).

For the most part, I enjoyed it. It was fun. I didn’t expect too much going in, because I knew Will Smith wasn’t going to be in it. It was interesting to see how they approached the story 20 years later.

As I was leaving the theatre, though, things didn’t sit with me right. There seemed to be something missing from my experience. A sense of awe that the first one left me with.

To be honest with you, a lot of blockbusters that have been coming out in the last few years – I’ve gone in thinking this might be the one where I get a sense of awe again.

Nope. No such luck.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until I searched on reddit for the discussion of the movie. And then it hit me. ID4:2 was a shell of itself. The franchise had sold out.

Perhaps I’m using too aggressive of a term here. I mean, isn’t that what Hollywood is all about? Going mainstream? Isn’t part of going mainstream trying to appeal to more of the masses?

I tried to rationalize what I was feeling…

It might simply be the fact that I’m older and I’ve seen everything you can do in a movie. That might be it. Because there have been only a few movies recently which were such an experience that after watching it I’m like, “That was cool!”.

Two of them have been animations: Wreck It Ralph and Big Hero 6 were pretty cool. Live action ones included The Martian and Interstellar. Those were pretty awesome. If we went a little further back, the first Iron Man movie was cool. So was the first couple of Spiderman movies.

As far as EPICNESS goes, nothing beats the Matrix or The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

However, I’ve still not gotten any big “Woah!” moments for a very long time.

Has Hollywood in itself sold out even more than what I remember of it in the 90’s?

 

Finding the Woah!:

A big part of the reason that I think that I haven’t gotten any woah moments recently is because I end up seeing movies that are formulaic. I’m seeing most of the blockbusters – and while these are neat, cool, and have great visuals, they just don’t seem as intimate or real as those that I remember from the 90’s.

Just an example: when you think of the Turtles from the 90’s, they sure aren’t the same guys from the most recent movies. The most recent movies just seem more fake to me.

One thing I’ve thought that it might be is all the CGI. Perhaps, I HAVE become a little too accustomed to all these special effects or maybe it’s that the writing is so much more predictable compared to when I was growing up. It’s hard to tell.

But, one thing’s for certain, it doesn’t just plague movies. There’s formulas for what sells in TV, video games, and especially in music. Everything seems to be a copy of each other.

But just because things sell over and over again does it mean it’s good? Obviously the answer is no. The entertainment industry is giving us very high filler and very low content.

Going back to ID4:2, I really think that’s why I felt something was missing. I didn’t have much connection with the characters. And what connection I did have from the first movie was all but taken out – if not from this movie, then definitely from the next. (Yes, there’s going to be another one.)

So what is Woah! when it comes to storytelling? I think it’s all about having deep connections with the characters, having amazing and out of the ordinary things happening to those people, while at the same time making sense (no plot holes).

When you think of movies like Jurassic Park, the original ID4, The Matrix, and even The Lord of the Ring Trilogy, and even as far back to the Wizard of Oz. What was so mesmerizing about these movies? It was that we, as the audience, felt that we were connected to the characters in the movie. Things started out normal, but when things started to pick up, we were in those experiences with them. And, we weren’t left in the dust to try to figure out how they got from Point A to Point B.

 

How this All Applies to Us as Creators:

When we’re building our creative business, we need to make sure that those that are from the beginning feel like they’re part of what we’re building. We need to build relationships and engage with as many potential fans of our work as possible.

When we start having success and reaching higher and higher levels of it, don’t forget those who were there in the beginning. If treated right, these can become your biggest fans and help you grow larger and larger.

If you don’t treat these folks right and just try to sell to them and keep stringing them along, then you might regret that in the long run. You might have your own success, but you won’t be seen as some epic people mover.

Also, make sure you’re showing who you are. There’s already a Gary V., a Pat Flynn, and a John Maxwell. Learn to understand and embrace yourself, and your story, like they have. The continuing of that story is what makes you original.

 

Action Steps:

As your working this week, realize that your story is original. Don’t try to be like someone else out there. It’s not going to work. Even if you’re just starting off on your journey, embrace the moment. Pull it all in. In the future as you meet more and more people, they’re going to wonder how you got started. Telling them that you put one foot in front of the other might help, but being able to give them exact examples will be even better.

Also, don’t be afraid to be authentic. Whether that’s through LIVE streaming apps or simply by writing your blog in a journalistic way. The more authenticity you have, the more people you’ll attract.

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