Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, there was Uncreative Writing.
So, this weekend has been a long weekend here, in Argentina. I took advantage of it in several ways: did a lot of exercise and I took a lot of long rides in my bike. Before the pandemic, I used to travel the crowded, difficult to navigate by car or public transport downtown Buenos Aires by riding my bike. I used to do 20-30 miles a day, on weekdays. But it seems almost in another life; for the last year and a half, my daily commute is from my bedroom to my living.
I also read a book that was recommended to me: the novelization of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood https://www.amazon.com/Once-Upon-Time-Hollywood-Novel-ebook/dp/B08NL69YYT/ref=sr_1_4?crid=3SSYJO3FOQX10&dchild=1&keywords=once+upon+a+time+in+hollywood&qid=1626034904&sprefix=once+upon+a+time+in+holy%2Caps%2C314&sr=8-4 , the 2019 film by its own creator, Quentin Tarantino. This novel was…very surprising for me. Not only because of what Tarantino wrote, but because of how he wrote it. I’m going to very briefly go into it, so SPOILERS ahead.
What Tarantino does is not so much a novelization of his movie, but rather a re-edit and remix which only works juxtaposed the actual film itself. In the book:
- We learned that Brad Pitt’s character, Cliff Booth, killed his wife. Not only that, but he got away with murder three times and was planning on either killing or crippling Bruce Lee. He fantasizes on starting a cult like Manson and constantly treats women like disposable objects. We forget it when we look at Brad Pitt’s genial smiling face, but the book does not shy away from the fact that the character himself is a psychopath who just hasn’t been caught.
- He expands the story of the cowboy show where Leonardo Di Caprio’s Rick Dalton is working, and he uses to self-insert into their universe.
- But the most impactful change is the ending. Remember the flamethrower scene? How the Mason family attacked the protagonists? Well, here it’s broached, out of time and sequence, in two paragraphs towards the first quarter of the novella, as something that will happen later on, in relationship to one of the protagonists’ wife. With that scene and that build up no longer there, the novel is an entirely different beast that the film.
This has been received with criticism across the internets. Blogs accuse Tarantino from being non-creative, derivate, just writing a script in novel form. But to my eyes, what Tarantino’s doing here is another kind of art, something that we do almost all the time, as consultants.
He is being UNcreative.
The poet and literary critic Kenneth Goldsmith defined Uncreative Writing as that writing that doesn’t produce new content by writing new material, but by remixing, re-matching existing materials and shining a light on some previous parts that weren’t in focus before. Now, this might require you to write some more detail, but it should be done in a way that does not contradict the previous material. So, Tarantino’s greater detail on Cliff Booth’s murdering ways, while (in my personal opinion) wasn’t very present in the movie in the book it doesn’t derail or contradict the character. But most of the new effect of the novel is done by remixing and rearranging focuses on characters, expanding and shrinking time on the spotlight, or introducing details that illuminate but do not contradict.
This, is effect, requires the existence of the film itself. While you might theoretically read the book by itself, with no prior knowledge, Tarantino has very astutely played for his audience, who probably by now (two years after it is debut) have seen it. In a scene, he shows the power that Roman Polanski has as a director to influence the way the audience thinks. I think he is aiming for the same here with his book.
(That he feels no compunction in making Polansky one of the more admired characters is in my opinion, either the most Tarantinesque virtue or his tacit admission that movies, for him, are the only thing that matters)
Whatever his aims, what Tarantino does is, in my opinion, a form of art. But a form of art which is much maligned, yet vital. The capacity to not be creative when you can be, when you are expected to be is a virtue that is very much absent in most of us, but, at the same time: how many consultants are creative? By “creative” I mean creating frameworks all the time, new concepts, new ways of working, etc.
I would think that most of us do that creative part of work not that much. Most of our work is Uncreative Writing. And that is ok. That is more than ok: the worst epoch in the Agile World, at least according to me, was the long stretch from 2008 to circa 2014, where everyone and their mothers had their own Scrum, their own way of doing Agile.
Wanted to do a Sprint Review? Sorry mate, these are called “group expositions” now and they are done via PowerPoint. Doing a daily? We do not do that, we do “chat-attack” via slack, but you need to upload topics via mail. And so on, ad infinitum.
It was such a relief when the Scrum Guide took over. Now we could agree at least on the basics of it and focus on what we wanted to emphasize. We looked at it Un-creatively and we made it work.
This is the kind of approach that, I think benefits our clients the most. We should focus on how to highlight and be artful in the way to combine previous, standard material. Bear in mind that every time we create something ad hoc for the client, this is something that must be factored in the training time of every single person who starts there. Time that, blown up to the level of even small corporations, adds up. Time that is not spent creating value for their clients, but rather in simply basic training to function. We should not only stop insisting that there’s more value in originality, but we should actually focus on the Uncreative skills that we use all the time. I think we are doing this already, without any reason or rhyme. How many of us are reusing templates, remixing presentations, jury-rigging Murals or Miro’s?
I would love a course on Uncreative Writing for consultants. I’ll look for it, and if I can’t find it, I’ll write it myself.
But only if I cannot find it first someplace.