Thursday, January 14, 2016

The missing ingredient

I was thinking about movies that should be better than they are. You probably know the ones I'm talking about: they have a great cast, a good director, a solid premise. And they're terrible. Sometimes you catch them on late-night or weekend TV. Seeing the big names in the credits, you think, "Wow, why haven't I heard of this movie before?" And ten minutes in, you think: "Oh. This is why."

It reminds me that creative work isn't just a matter of formulas and recipes. There certainly are formulas if you want them. Often, they even work. And yet, these should-have-worked-but-didn't movies show that you can have all the right ingredients, and the product still doesn't work. You can follow the formula and find there's still something missing.

Years ago, I heard a radio story about some people who attempted to find a formula for hit songs. In the process, they also discovered what elements people hated in songs. They used this information to create two songs: one that sounded like a generic pop hit, the other a crazy mishmash of unpopular elements. And yet, the second song was more interesting.

There is some spark we look for in creative work, something difficult to define. Maybe it's passion, or belief, or honesty, or freshness. Maybe it's inexpressible.

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