Collaborations: Creativity Can’t Exist in a Vacuum


Once you start thinking about “Up,” it’s hard to stop. I saw it for a third time, this time in 3D, which was different and good and interesting. There is so much to take in that the movie felt just as fresh as the other times.

It’s so well crafted, so flawlessly executed, I just want to bask in it! Think about the details of the movie, the way the wallpaper looks on Carl’s walls; the back of the junk mail brochure for the retirement home; the way Carl’s arms move. There’s a scene where he is sitting, holds up the brochure with his hand, then turns it over to look at the other side. Most movies would just have him hold up one side. Easier. Or, if he’s going to look at two sides, he will use two hands. Instead, his hand twists back on itself to turn it over. It is a tiny, minute detail, but it rings of life, and it shows that the makers understand the movement of life. How bodies work. They are meticulous in their observation.

I was listening to an episode of “The Treatment,” a film podcast, and the guest was “Up” co-director Pete Doctor. He explained that the movie was a five-year process, of which three were spent purely on story. He took us through the early drafts of the script, which didn’t contain the young boy scout, Russell. Because of the tone they wanted for the story, Doctor brought in writer/director Tom McCarthy, who shares a “Story by” credit and whose two films are “The Station Agent” and last year’s “The Visitor.” His films are about loners, people who have lost something or someone, and the new makeshift families that bring them back and restructure the way they see themselves and how they view life. It’s no surprise that Russell was his contribution, and Doctor explained how Russell not only serves as the catalyst for Carl’s change, but also how the growth of their relationship becomes the gauge for where he is at the beginning and the end.

The more I think about it, the more I see Carl as a similar character to Richard Jenkins in “The Visitor,” so I wonder how much McCarthy’s involvement in this film (since he would have worked on it a few years ago) informed his writing process on “The Visitor.” Did the idea, in some way, stem from Carl? The films couldn’t be any different in terms of style, but their main character and that character’s personal arc are nearly identical. I smell double feature. It’s revelations like that that set Pixar apart. You don’t see DreamWorks Animation calling up Michael Winterbottom or Sony tapping Paul Haggis to come workshop their scripts. It shows once again how important story is to Pixar. It also demonstrates the way ideas work, how working on one thing leads to another, how creativity can’t exist in a vacuum and how you have to choose the right people for the right projects.

I’ve been writing something since about the time I was in the eighth grade. That was when I wrote my first screenplay. On white, lined paper, it was a horror movie whose villain was a scarecrow. Lots of people died, anyway, that’s another story, but I’ve written two full screenplays, short plays, scenes, short films, short stories, essays, reviews, on and on and on. Almost always I’ve written by myself, but now here I have essentially a writing and directing partner. We have completely different styles and interests in terms of story and character and scope; even the way we think to frame shots is often different. But our working relationship is fantastic. Because we use a lot of common language to describe art and discuss it, we can combine our abilities and create something that is apart from the work I do on my own and apart from the work he does on his own. The question isn’t, am I better with or without him, or is he better … it’s is this particular project better with the two of us, and the answer is yes. The two of us wouldn’t enhance the things I write by myself, and I’d be no help to him with his own stuff. However, just like Tom McCarthy being (I’m all but assuming, at this point) influenced by Pete Doctor, Adam and I are more creative for working together.

When the collaboration is a good one, it expands the creative abilities of both (or all) individuals as well as the group. We’ll discuss ideas for other scripts, and we’ll talk about whether it is something we should work on together, or if it is better to be taken on individually. If nothing else, it creates an interesting creative tangent. It’s as simple as personal and group projects. One isn’t better than the other; they serve different creative purposes and cover different artistic ground, or at least cover it in a new way. Both are valid and both are vital.

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1 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Mo GB #

    Very nice piece. Although, I must say, I have watched “Up” multiple times and I tend to check out halfway through. Once they get to the destination, basically. But the beginning is epically amazing (and, yes, I cried).

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