The Zack Braff Guide to Artistic Originality
Lessons learned from “Garden State”
All creativity begins with the moment of conception.
That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.
Based on my books in The Prolific Series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.
Today’s clip comes from the original moment scene from Garden State:
I champion any transformation of the self. Every time I watch this movie, I cry my eyes out. The soundtrack is perfect. The acting is amazing. The humor is clever. And the love story is touching. Not to mention, the movie premiered when I was in my mid twenties. Everything the characters were going through, I was going through too. Braff put it best when he said, your body goes through puberty in its teens, and the mind goes through puberty in your twenties. Proving, that people love to witness transformation. Nobody likes a story about continuity, about how someone has always been the same. In fact, that narrative is biologically impossible. Human cells regenerate every seven years. We literally can’t be the same as we used to be. McKee famously said that if the value charged condition of the character’s life stays unchanged from one end of a scene to the other, nothing meaningful happens. There needs to be an arc to the story. The great sweep of change that takes life from one condition at the opening to a changed condition at the end. That’s what I love most about coming of age films. They explore the transition from youth to adulthood. The hard core formative years of spiritual exploration, psychological realization and moral growth that foster dreams and lay the groundwork for years to come. What is still lethal inside of you that wants to be transformed?
Guardians of the infinite abyss. This movie is about reinvention and spontaneity and discovery. Trying to steal life whenever and wherever you can. And it’s reminiscent of the futurist’s manifesto, which reminds us to elevate all attempts at originality, however daring, however violent, bear bravely and proudly the smear of madness with which they try to gag all innovators, and sweep the whole field of art clean of all themes and subjects which have been used in the past. What’s crazy is, that manifesto was written over one hundred years ago. And yet, the painters of the day still knew that an artist’s greatest currency in this world was their originality. Samantha knows this, intuitively. That the experience of discovering something new, doing something that’s completely unique that’s never been done before, is the stuff that life is made of. And so, as dopey as her little exercise is, it still helps her develop the empowering habit of exercising the part of her brain that is most original. It still keeps her focused on the present moment, even if that means bearing bravely and proudly the smear of madness. Even if that giving herself utterly to the unknown. Whatever it takes replenish the deep wells of the absurd. Where are you currently compromising your originality?
Cynicism is easier than actually making something. The world doesn’t need another cynic. Our planet has enough pessimism to last a lifetime. That’s why it’s so important to be fundamentally affirmative, relentlessly encouraging and radically supportive towards one other. Because most people have already been discouraged, disenchanted and degraded enough. And the last thing they need is another scoffer to pour salt on their wounds. On the other hand, believing in people costs nothing. And it has the power to change everything. I remember when one of my musician friends went in the studio for the first time. After years of writing songs, she finally summoned the courage to put them on wax. Hallelujah! But once the album was done, she began to encounter resistance. Record producers, club owners, music critics and other industry professionals immediately shot her work down. Saying that the songs were uninspired, grating karaoke tunes at best. She was devastated. To the point that she went into music hibernation for almost a year. And so, when I ran into her at my songwriting circle, I asked her to share. And when she played the song, I remember thinking to myself, wow, this song is awesome. Not because it’s perfect, not because it’s catchy, and not because it’s radio friendly. But because it’s hers. Because it’s finished. Because she had the guts to sit down, slice open a vein, bleed her truth onto the page and share it with the world. That’s enough. That’s a win. And nobody can take that away from her. Are you trying to become best at what you do, or the best of who you are?
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