In early 1997, Liz Smith entered the Rag Time Thrift in Mountain View, California and discovered a Thomas Hardy poem about the Titanic.
The 17-year-old had been on the hunt for books that could inspire guitar songs. An episode of “The Convergence of the Twain” made a special impact on her: “And as the smart ship grew / in stature, grace and hue, / in shady distant silence, the iceberg also grew.”
Smith liked going to local theater and was a member of the Shakespeare Club. Suddenly, thanks to Hardy’s three lines, she had the starting point, not for a song, but an entirely own play. She decided to write about a wealthy boy and a poor girl who fell in love aboard the Titanic. The love story would be doomed, of course, the audience well aware of the fate that befell the ship. In Smith’s version, inspired by Romeo and Juliet, both lovers would eventually die and perish with the boat while the scene was illuminated with the blue hue of a moonless sky.
About six months after Smith read the poem, she gave up her play when a certain movie happened to come out: James Camerons Titanic.
The similarities shocked Smith. The stories shared several scenes and the class divide between the two lovers, but the similarity was completely random. She adored Titanic, especially its historical accuracy. “There was probably a touch of ‘Oh no!'”, She says Vise versa, but since she was not a working screenwriter, she found the parallels intriguing rather than heartbreaking. Her script and James Cameron’s were like the Iceberg and the Titanic, on independent paths, but destined to collide.
“We tell the same stories over and over and over again,” says Smith, who later, due to fate, ended up working for Robert Ballard, the man who found the wreck of Titanic. “But sometimes certain lofty concepts can not be done again. Romeo and Juliet, you can do a million times, however Romeo and Juliet on the Titanic? That idea is now burned. You can not do that again. “
“Romeo and Juliet on the Titanic? You can not do that again. “
Writers need to have similar ideas. No concept is so original that no one else will ever think of yours. But how does it feel when you have poured your heart into a story, only to see that someone else had the same brain wave? How are you doing when all your hard work is wasted? Five screenwriters tell Vise versa all about this specific pain.
Not the right time
During his screenwriting program, Michael Winn Johnson was mockingly known as “Mikey Hollywood” because he was about blockbusters. In 2001, he began developing a script called The watchmen.
Primitive men was the story of supernatural beings carrying out a plan dictated by time, an almighty figure representing God. Each morning, Time would slide a file down a huge table for the two primitive men, and they would visit Earth to ensure that different events in different time periods took place according to the predetermined plan. A primitive man who questions the plan creates serious problems as he falls in love with a human being.
Johnson knew exactly what his story was going to look like. Influenced by the 1998 Alex Proyas film Dark City, he imagined the ancient men wearing trench coats and fedoras. Loans from Beetlejuice, he made them draw a door in the air when they had to change epoch. By 2003, he had written the full script and began pitching it around Hollywood.
Many studies were interested, but none were engaged. Eventually, Johnson quit. Five years later, he was at home in Canada when he saw a trailer. It was for a movie starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt.
Plotted by The customization agency is almost identical to The watchmen. The titular bureau ensures that an accurate “Plan” is carried out, and its trench coat and fedora-clad agents correspond to one called the chairman. They can travel instantly between locations using a simple door, and as Matt Damon’s character tries to pursue a woman he has fallen for, the Bureau puts obstacles in the way of preventing him from falling out of step with the sacred plan. .
The customization agency is based on the Philip K. Dick short story “Adjustment Team,” but Johnson had never read Dick’s work. “When I first saw the trailer, I became more angry with myself,” he says. He has never felt that Universal, which he remembers having the pitch idea for, stole the concept from him.
“Nothing is 100% original.”
“I’ve seen enough films to understand that people are still inspired and borrow from other films. Nothing is 100% original, but it was only when I saw it and I realized the level of specificity and the level of comparison that I said, “Wow, that’s really weird.”
says Johnson The customization agency “wiped out” any lingering hope of getting his film made. The film looked so visual that he could not do what he wanted with the aesthetics The watchmen.
Sometimes two people working separately have similar ideas and the world just rolls with it. In Hollywood, the phenomenon is known as “twin movies”. Deep impact, a film about a comet hitting Earth, was released in May 1998, while Armageddon, a movie about one asteroid hits Earth, was released in July. In January 2011 came No strings attached, a rom-com about two friends who have casual sex but end up falling in love. Six months later, Friends with benefits was released. You can probably guess what it was all about.
As Liz Smith points out, this is also happening in other areas. In science, the phenomenon of different people independently reaching the same conclusion is called “multiple discovery”. A good example is calculus, which was developed by both Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz. Sometimes an inventor is doomed to obscurity – who remembers that Joseph Swan also invented the light bulb? On the subject, his more well-known counterpart Thomas Edison said: “My so-called inventions already existed in the environment – I took them out, I have not created anything. No one does.”
But in the field of entertainment, two ideas are sometimes just too specific to coexist, especially if one is written by an amateur screenwriter. Takeo Hori was fresh out of film school at New York University when he came up with the plot for The closed door. A man sees a woman being shot near a telephone box. After the body disappears, he realizes he can see the booth from his apartment, so he sets up a camera to film it. As he passes by shortly after, he picks up the phone that rings inside and a sniper threatens to shoot him, just as he shot the woman.
Shortly after, Telephone box come out.
“I just dropped it,” Hori says. He was really sorry, but “it was like a tree falling in the woods.” Ideas can not be copyrighted and no one knew who Hori was, so he had no choice but to move on to another idea. Now he says he does a thorough search before writing a manuscript to make sure he does not get burned again.
Few people have been burned more than David Stokes, a screenwriter in his 40s who has realized at least three times that someone managed to steal his thunder. In 2016, he watched Shark Week with his then-wife and thought a movie about two people trapped in a shark cage at the bottom of the ocean would be an ingenious premise. “It was an idea that just wouldn’t go away,” he says.
About four months later and 40 pages inside, he checked empire website and felt his heart sink to his knees. He watched the trailer 47 meters down, a film about two people trapped in a shark cage at the bottom of the sea. He still can not make himself see it.
The same thing happened in 2014, when one learned about the horror film Ouija stopped Stokes’ work on a similar ouija-centered manuscript. But the worst was in 2008. Stokes had been through the hassle of writing the first draft of a two-and-a-half-hour script about a retired wrestler named Sick Mick. Then he learned about The wrestler.
“It’s great,” Stokes’ agent said of his manuscript, “but if [The Wrestler] turns out to be massive, you have no chance. “Mickey Rourke won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar.
If there is any consolation here, it is that if your idea has been turned into a multimillion-dollar movie, then you are thinking in the right lanes for a screenwriter. “I obviously came up with ideas that were made into movies,” Stokes says. “I just hope it never happens again.”
What these screenwriters are going through can be considered a form of grief, according to Sue Morris, director of grief services at Dana-Farber / Brigham and the Women’s Cancer Center. What makes it even harder is the unusual nature of the loss.
“It’s a loss that’s a little invisible to others,” Morris says. “And I think that’s hard, right? It’s a very isolating loss because no one else experiences it the same way you do.”
Morris calls this grief “the loss of a future self.” Writers may feel guilty and worry about how they could have done things differently. “Some people might say, ‘Well, this fits in a bit with the territory,’ but some people might say, ‘I’m crushed, I feel like I’m a real failure.’
She recommends recognizing that the loss is real and allows for a period of grief. She also highlights the importance of getting back into a routine, taking care of yourself with exercise and healthy food, and connecting with people who are empathetic, rather than people who want to “fix you.”
“It’s a loss that is a little invisible to others.”
Just like friends assure you after a breakup that there are other people out there, “Mikey Hollywood” Johnson says there will always be more ideas. Since replacing screenwriting with teaching, he has come to believe in fate. “Something will happen, and it was always meant to happen, and the things that have happened to you led you to it.”
You might even recognize that your life would not necessarily have been happier if it had been your name on the big screen. It’s an idea Johnson managed to make peace with. “Maybe I did not make millions of dollars on a Matt Damon movie,” he says, “but I live a pretty blessed life.”