As creators, we often wonder if our ideas have been done before. Are we reinventing the wheel, so to speak? Certainly, this is something to consider with copyright infringement laws and all of that. Nobody wants to be sued.
And, on one hand, it doesn’t hurt to ask yourself if you’ve seen this kind of thing before. I remember watching a made-for-TV film released by a well-known production company that shall remain nameless and I was like, seriously? This is Sister Act without the homicidal boyfriend. Maybe the writers were inspired by the hit movie. Maybe it was intended to be an “original” concept. I don’t know for sure and, hey, I don’t have a script in with a major production company so who am I to judge? But it would have been virtually impossible to not notice the similarities. And I can think of more than one songwriter who would have saved themselves a lot of trouble if they had taken a moment to ponder the question. I’m just saying.
Someone once said there’s nothing new under the sun. Now, I don’t believe that’s entirely true – there are truly ingenious, refreshing, new ideas that reveal themselves all the time – but I do think that we might want to be a little easier on ourselves if we are inspired by an existing idea or if our concept is not 100% revolutionary.
I mean, look at history. Back in the day, it was common place to try to paint exactly like your mentor. Composers took segments of other musical works and inserted them into their own – yes, sampling was happening in the 1800’s and earlier. Convention was so strong in some respects that there were only so many ways to structure a melodic phrase. I’ll admit I’ve heard a bit of classical music in my time but, even so, I can listen to a completely unfamiliar piece from certain periods and tell you pretty much how it’s going to end, because that’s simply how you ended things. And nobody had a problem with it.
And, when you think about it, there are common ideas in life so why should their not be common ideas in art? I mean, guys meet girls in bars all the time so if you see the scenario in a lot of movies, there might be a reason for it.
I’ve been thinking recently about how we all have our own gifts as artists. Some of us are the innovators who bring in the new techniques, the new future conventions, the iconic tales, and some of us take existing techniques and conventions and execute them brilliantly. When I was a composition student, I arrived at my lesson super excited because I was going to write a piece that used a scale of alternating whole tones and semitones. I thought I was brilliant! My teacher kindly pointed out that my concept was, in fact, the octatonic scale, which was already very much in existence. Now, I could have berated myself for not knowing about the scale already but I chose to see it as, hey, I invented a real scale! How cool is that? But perhaps I’m of the second type of artist?
Some years ago, there were two films about Snow White released in theatres at the same time. At first, you might say well, that’s kind of going overboard, isn’t it? Yes, it’s a popular tale but to have two major motion pictures come out at the same time? But they were completely different! The creators took entirely different approaches to the story and, while I’ll leave it up to the individual to determine which was the better film, having watched both, I personally didn’t have a feeling of repetition.
You see, the concept is only part of the equation. What’s just as important is how you take the idea in a unique direction. How do you make it yours and put your spin on it? I mean, someone could have written a really crappy story about a kid going to wizard school and then where would we all be?
So, my point is, craft is just as relevant as concept and, even if your story isn’t entirely revolutionary, your expression of that story is still worth telling, keeping in mind of course, that there are legal ramifications for intentionally ripping somebody else off. So let go of some of the pressure and just create already! 🙂