a sleep trance, a dream dance


Almost three years ago I told a brushstroke story about how two of my favorite screenplay ideas had been scooped: first “Sliding Doors” in the late ’90s (which I actually liked) and then “The Butterfly Effect” in 2003, a movie so embarrassing that it might be Required Renting for macabre purposes. The ending is so insane that, well, describing it here wouldn’t do it justice.

My original screenplay, one that I finished in 1998 and tinkered with for years, was basically a time travel mystery with a unique twist. The basic idea still remains intact and unassailable, but “Butterfly Effect” did temporarily ruin my chances at being taken seriously, especially when their protagonist’s mode of time travel was vaguely close to mine.

I haven’t mentioned what happens at the end of my script to anybody, because it turned out I was scooped by nature itself. In my screenplay, Hurricane Helen, a category 4 storm, blazes into New Orleans and drowns the Ninth Ward, uptown, and the garden district. Seven years after I wrote it, Hurricane Katrina did just that, only sparing the Garden District (and the house the script is based on).

Not to be outdone, I got scooped by the NOAA’s National Hurricane Center, as Hurricane Helene churned through the Atlantic this week, a name that didn’t even exist for hurricanes in 1998. It won’t threaten New Orleans, but it still seems bizarre.

Oh, and the hero of the screenplay? A little girl named Lucy. Written two years before Tessa and I began dating.

I’ve discussed my definition of “cognitive resonance” on here before, but briefly, it states that the second you have an idea, someone else in the universe has the same idea, and from that moment on, it’s a race to the finish line. In scientific circles, it’s referred to as the Hundredth Monkey effect, which tries to explain why monkeys on isolated islands suddenly learn things taught to other monkeys hundreds of miles away.

Sitting here on our computers, dreaming of worlds that don’t exist, we are those monkeys. Maybe that crossword is easier for you in the afternoon because so many of your fellow monkeys did it in the morning, even though they were thousands of miles away. I do indeed dig on the spiritus mundi of it all, but it can be real hell on your scriptwriting.

0 thoughts on “a sleep trance, a dream dance

  1. CL

    It’s a writer’s worst nightmare. In this week’s New Yorker, there’s a story about a new movie coming out about Truman Capote. The screenwriter almost had a heart attack a few years ago when he found out that someone else had just delivered a Capote script just before his own was delivered to his producer. Now his is coming out, but it’s coming on the heels of the one that won an Academy Award.
    There are shows in the new fall TV season that have similar elements to novels I’ve been working on. There is one novel that I’ve been working on for more than five years. Every time something happens on the news that is similar to plot elements in it, it punches me in the heart.
    Sometimes you just have to plow on anyway, though. People quickly forgot the pig movie “Gordy,” and then “Babe” came out about a month or two later and captured the public’s hearts.
    On another note: Commenters, did you see that today’s People Magazine are saying the only drug that Anna Nicole Smith’s son was on was Lexapro? Uh oh. ;)

  2. Beth

    Ooooooh! Starting from the reference to Lucy through to the end, I got waves of chills down my spine. I’d planned to make banana muffins this morning for my aunt, who just got out of the hospital. Anyone else have that idea?
    In all seriousness, I’ve been working on a novel for several years whose very title has been used more than once, as a song title. It hasn’t yet been used for a book, but I do a little anxious search of Amazon every now and again, and I hold my breath when I read lists of new acquistions from Publishers Weekly.
    I wonder why it is that only geniuses seem to have totally original ideas, and those so few and far between. But maybe they just beat everybody else to the punch.

  3. Laurie from Manly Dorm

    CL — my mom called me yesterday to ask, “What is that drug you are on? Is it the same one that Daniel took? You need to get off it!” I had to talk her down from the ledge. Funny — she never really accepted my diagnosis of clinical depression and she avoids the topic completely, but when the Anna Nicole – Lexapro connection hit the news, Mom was all in my business, shall we say!
    I heart my Lexapro. I am not sure what happened to Daniel, but Lexapro seems very mild.
    My only cognitive resonance occurred years ago. I saw a movie with Paul Newman — the Verdict maybe? — and there was a witness named Kaitlin Costello Price. I was probably in middle school. I never heard the name Kaitlin before, loved it instantly and I stored it in my memory banks as a name for a future daughter. By the time I married and was thinking about kids, every other girl born was named Kaitlin! I just couldn’t use the name. . . .

  4. emma

    LFMD – And as it turns out, you didn’t choose Kaitlin, but chose Helen, the same name as Ian’s hurricane in the screenplay. How’s that for cognitive resonance? Isn’t Helen about the same age as the screenplay? The phrase great minds thing alike seems like it flows out of this theory.

  5. Lee

    So I saw on ET last night that Daniel had heart problems and had seen a doctor as recently as a month before he died b/c of the heart problems.

  6. tregen

    The two ends of the string, on opposite sides of the universe change direction simutaneously without seeming to be connected.

  7. kent williams

    So here’s what I don’t get about Lexapro — when I tried to go on it, a couple years ago, I experienced about 2 weeks of feeling like I was hung over from too many bong hits the night before. I also wanted to sleep from 9PM to 8AM every day, and take a nice afternoon nap.
    After that — and after Prozac stopped doing anything, positive or negative — I switched to the occasional beer for self medication, and I’m doing well.
    So the question is, did Lexapro just not agree with my brain chemistry, or does everyone have that experience? If you stuck with it until your brain adjusts, do you arrive at a new nominal state of being that’s an improvement on facing life un-cushioned?

  8. LFMD

    Kent, in the past 7 years, I have taken Serzone, Zoloft, Paxil, Wellbutrin, and Lexapro. Each reacted differently with my system, and it has been my experience that if a drug works, after about a year or so, it stops working as well as before. Then, on to the next med! Sad, but true.
    So far, Lexapro keeps me balanced. I don’t have the same reaction as you. I liked Wellbutrin, but after a year, it was like taking a placebo. Paxil made me edgy, which is strange because it is suppose to counter anxiety. Zoloft was OK, but I gained 20 lbs on it, which left me, well, a little depressed! What’s that Jefferson Airplane song . . . White Rabbit? That’s me.
    It is all a little bit like going to the voodoo doctor. If the occasional beer works for you, you found your magic potion!

  9. CL

    Supposedly, all the antidepressants affect people differently. So, who knows.
    I agree that Lexapro seems pretty mild. I think it had as much chance of killing Daniel as John Mark Karr had.
    LFMD, that always happens to me with baby names. Drat.

  10. xuxE

    i have that experience all the time with song remix ideas. i thought i had a brilliant one around 1992 to redo ‘killing me softly’ and shortly after i heard the fugees version and was totally vexed.
    the thing about baby names *i* think is that it’s much easier for the mom to intuit what the baby’s name is just before it’s born. at least, that’s how i picked. that way, if the name becomes popular or whatever, it’s not picked on a purely asthetic basis, it’s picked on a deeper more spiritual basis so it’s always *right*.
    then again, my son’s names are Rock and Zen, and that is precisely how that happened. people always say their names are so perfect for them and ask me how i picked them and i can kind of had very little to do with it…

  11. salem's little sister

    We picked Ben’s first name on feel and Wicker as his midde name for my late father. Ben Miller is the guy you can always call, who will bail you out of jail and buy you a beer. So far, his name seems to fit. I thought about “naming” all day and how marking it is. Am I perky and positive due to being named Katie or would I be that way regardless. I mean who has ever heard of a negative
    Katie? We are cursed/blessed to be the cheerleaders through life. If my parents had gone with Kathryn as my “every day” name, would I be more polished and less enthusiastic?

  12. Herman

    Everybody has ideas. The thing is to make them work. Hundreds of thousands of people are writing novels, poems, movie scripts etc, and many of these people will say “oh no, look: that’s my idea out there on the Times bestseller list, on NBC or whatever.”
    What this proves is that there is no such thing is an original idea. Look back in time and you’ll see you don’t need original ideas to make a great work of art. The other thing it proves is there’s no preempting ideas. Look at the two Truman Capote movies. Or look at the way movie ideas usually are pitched: “Titanic” meets “Snowwhite” etc. No publisher or studio will reject an idea because it’s already been done. On the contrary.
    What strikes me about your story is you were first writing this time travel screenplay; then you moved on to writing a novel. What happened to the novel? What happened to the screenplay? How can expect ideas not to be “scooped” if you don’t move beyond the tinkering stage?

  13. oliver

    Aren’t these the best of times to be scooped as a screenwriter? I mean, so long as you’re scooped by a blockbuster? And in that case it’s more impressive and creative-seeming, in a way, when you turn out a pleasing creation. Of course, for me personally being scooped used to kill my will to live. I wasn’t on drugs though. I think bad stories must be like Tolstoy’s unhappy families (all different), and so it’s your most satisfying story idea that’s most likely to be scooped. It’s a reverse Tolstoy effect.


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