Friday, September 05, 2014

Moments of Conception 091 -- The Bigger Boat Scene from Jaws

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.

And so, in this new blog 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 bigger boat scene from Jaws:

What can we learn?

Don’t be stopped by not knowing how. Brody’s expression in this scene is priceless. I remember the first time I looked into the eyes of that shark. I was horrified. You're definitely gonna need a bigger boat. What’s interesting is, that particular line wasn’t part of the original script. Schieder improvised it on set, and it became one of the most iconic quips in the history of film. Creativity is like that, though. From a neuroscientific perspective, acting in the face of uncertainty lights up the amygdala, the brain’s center of fear and anxiety. It sends a surge of chemicals through our bodies that triggers the flight response. Uncertainty literally makes us want to run away. And yet, not knowing doesn’t have to imprison the artistic spirit. In fact, it can set it free. Because once we admit that not everything can be resolved, once we make peace with the uncertain beating of our wings, we can stop wasting energy trying to find answers and start enjoying the questions. Keats called this negative capability. It’s the skill of being in uncertainties, living with mysteries and dwelling in doubts, without reaching after fact and reason. It’s the capacity of human beings to transcend and revise their contexts. And the more of this negative capability we can develop, the easier it becomes to navigate the choppy, chummy waters of the creative process. Are you converting uncertainty into fear or increased aliveness and alertness?

We are obliged to carve our own paths. Spielberg actually thinks of himself as a nervous wreck. During a recent television interview, he said that it didn’t stem from fear, but more of anticipation of the unknown. A level of anxiety about not being able to write his life as well as he can write his movies. Jesus. Maybe he doesn’t need a bigger boat, but a stronger one. Creators, after all, pay a hefty toll for their impulse to originate. The greater desire they have to create, the greater uncertainty they have to confront. The deeper their need to represent, the deeper their need to be resilient. And so, once someone gets a look at their own great white for the first time, and once they accept the nature of the beast they’re up against, victory is a matter of securing a strong foundation through constants. These are internal anchors of stability. Repeated daily experiences that allow creators to stand on firm ground. Whether they’re places to return to, rituals to abide by, people to confide in, practices to rely on and structures to lean against, these constants are what keep a person’s creative life stable and fruitful during times of uncertainty. They help them secure a measure of control in a world of chaos. They build the proverbial bigger boat. Have you built a repertoire of faithful forces?

Ambition can get expensive. Approximately three hundred million kernels of popcorn fell to the theater floor when this scene first appeared in the seventies. Cinema doesn’t get much better. And yet, as I rewatched this scene a few times, a revelation occurred to me. Sometimes we don’t need a bigger boat. Sometimes we need to turn the damn boat around, dock it, go home and get on with our lives. Verey famously wrote about this lack of negative capability. He talked about a man who would rather walk in false lights than in mystery, someone who preferred the imposing completeness of a delusion rather than the broken fragments of truth. Quint’s character is the prime example. He’s become so enmeshed in his own survival agenda, so entombed in his complacency, and so identified with his own toughguy war hero persona, that he fails to comprehend the tangible consequences of his careless ignorance. It’s not wonder the shark swallowed his ass whole. Are you throwing a life jacket to something that’s already sunk to the bottom of the ocean, or finding a new place to swim?

What did you learn?

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author. Speaker. Strategist. Filmmaker. Publisher. Songwriter.

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