On Sunday, specifically Easter Sunday, Mad Men returned for its final stretch of episodes. I sat captivated, with my parents, in awe of one of the most original pieces of storytelling to come through our lives in the past decade. After watching, I had two distinct thoughts in my head
1. I will be sad to see this show end.
2. I wonder how I can steal what I just saw.
Yes. I’ll admit it. I’m a thief.
In my efforts to write original work and begin to define what “Andrew Terrance Kaberline’s Voice,” sounds like, I begin by looking at what I like. It might seem dirty, but it’s what must happen. There are only so many kinds of stories that you can tell; the real question is how you tell it. In today’s world of prequels, sequels, reboots, reimagining’s, and companion pieces galore, the need for originality grows. And original thoughts can and still are being produced, but even those need to steal to see the light of day.
There is a major difference between stealing context and content. There are characters that we loved and grew up on and are tempting to write for, but it doesn’t justify having three variations on Spider-Man in the span of one decade. Maybe the reason you love Spider-Man though, is because it is a story of a truly normal person doing something extraordinary. That’s a great thing to identify in yourself. Now steal it.
I do this every episode of The Grayscale. Anyone who has spent either New Year’s or Fourth of July with me knows that my love for The Twilight Zone runs deep, and I look to it to inform our little podcast. Take for instance, our second episode The Effect of Fog at the Overlook. I previously had watched the Twilight Zone episode “Walking Distance.” The two episodes, in a sentence, are different stories, but my episode is structured on what I found of value in Rod Serling’s work. In Walking Distance I was struck by the danger of nostalgia being personified by the main character’s newfound limp. Looking into the past can be so dangerous that it will change your life now in ways you can never have back. That previous sentence also boils down to what made Fog interesting to me, yet there are no real scenes or beats that are similar between the two. This is stealing I can get behind.
I will be ever more shameless. I think it’s fine to steal visual effects. When I was finishing up my first draft of what eventually became A List of Irrational Fears for Future Leaders of the World, I was struggling mightily with the ending. I didn’t know where the characters were going or where they needed to go. I decided to put down the script and go watch a production of Chekhov’s The Vagabond. In this particular production, the director created a beautiful ending sequence where a long runway of construction paper that had been the primary stage, was violently torn up in a loud chase of the titular Vagabond until he had been engulfed by the very ground that he stood on. It was a moment that demanded attention. It surely grabbed mine. From that moment forth I knew that Fears would end with Kenrick drowning in a sea of paper.
Did I steal this idea? Yes. Is it still an original thought? I’d argue yes. There were staging differences yes, but that’s enough to make them different. Why I stand by my original thought argument is because I was able to take a highly effective device and give it a different context. In the Vagabond, the character drowns in the world he has occupied because he was fated to do so. That world had decided it was his time. While in Fears, Kenrick goes under from the literal weight of keeping up with the contextualizing of his reality. They represent two different endings, but both work because the initial visual is compelling.
Maybe you’re not convinced by my argument. Maybe you think that they are still too similar and that I’m a hack who can’t come up with anything on my own. That’s fair. But If I’m that way, then so is everyone else. And I’m fine with that.
We can’t all be Matthew Weiner. And some would even claim he’s just a two bit David Chase.