Book Review: Creativity, Inc

 

Every once in a while you come across a book you would never attempt to read but for some stupid reason you do, and you are so thankful you did. This is one of those times.

While researching material on writing, I came across a recommendation for a book, and I kind of scratched my head. This was a book on business, and there was just no way I would read a book on business – my eyes would glaze in the first page, the same way they do if someone is talking actuarial tables or student loan forms. What could such a book have to do with writing? It just so happened the library had a copy I was able to grab. And that book, despite being a couple of years old (2014), is the best book I have read so far this year.

Creativity, Inc. is written by Ed Catmull,  who was part of the driving force behind Pixar Studios, the film company known for making ground-breaking and award-winning (and record-breaking, with more than 14 Billion dollars in revenue) animated films, such as Toy Story, Monsters,Inc, A Bug’s Life, and more. When Pixar and Disney merged in 2006, he applied his same priciples to the flagging animation department at Disney, who hadn’t had a hit in 16 years. Disney shot right back up with films like Wall-E, Cars, Incredibles, Coco, Brave, etc. To read this book is to relive the last 30 years of animated film making. If it’s not a walk down memory lane for your childhood, it is a reminder of all the wonderful films you saw with your children. If you haven’t enjoyed any of them, run and grab one today. 

What is Catmull’s secret? Of course a strong bottom line is what investors want, and Catmull agrees, but he refuses to allow the creativity of the artists to be stymied in any way. There are no superstars – not even preferred parking. Everyone from the janitor to the lunch lady to the writer is allowed equal – respected – input. Employees are encouraged to do what it takes to keep happy and relaxed, because happy employees are productive employees. They are encouraged to take time for classes offered at work – art, archery, whatever. If they are producing a film in Africa, a team of writers and artists will take a field trip to Africa and experience what they are trying to portray. Films, from first idea pitch to final cut – are brought up for constant, honest review, where the ensemble team toss ideas off each other about the work, good or bad, and the film may take a twist for the better from it. Every artist is respected every step of the way. Written into the contracts is a proviso that if a film reaches a certain amount of return, a portion of that is given to the employees as a bonus.

Needless to say, Pixar and Disney Animation staff are  happy to go to work. 

So, how did that all relate to writing?

Remember that movies start as stories. Someone has to write them before they can be filmed. By keeping an atmosphere that encourages creativity, no matter how odd (come on – talking cars? Emotions? Bugs? A rat who likes to cook? ), by immersing yourself in a creative environment, by learning to take constructive criticism without imploding, you become a better writer. A writer needs feedback as they develop ideas, as they write the ideas, as they polish their ideas into a final copy.  

This book was a joy to read. Grab it, read it, whether you’re looking for a business model to follow, as a manager looking to improve productivity, as an artist looking for appreciation, as a movie person wanting to know more about Pixar and Disney films. It’s all there. 

Be amazed at the process, and then check out one of the masterpieces Catmull’s presided over. Wall-E, Coco and Up are perfect for adults!

The Incredibles   –  Ratatouille  –  Cars  –  Shorts Finding Dory  –  Wall-E   

Inside Out –  Brave  –  Monsters, Inc  –  Toy Story  –  Coco  –  Up

Unusual Sports Movies

There are only two days a year when no major sports games are held: the day before baseball’s Major League All-Star Game, and the day after.  On every other day of the year, a major sporting event occurs somewhere in the country. Indeed, there are only 26 days a year when the PGA is not on tour, 51 days without tennis, and 95 days without a NASCAR event. Many sport seasons overlap – baseball ends long after football starts, basketball begins during football, and hockey runs long after baseball starts.

I’m not a huge sports fan. Sure, I grew up watching Wide World of Sports, but our family sport was Indy car racing, and if you practice that, police get annoyed. I earned an inter-dorm basketball championship shirt in college, but that was because we won three games by default, and yes, I watch two full weeks of the Olympics each time.

But for some unknown reason, I do like movies about sports. And there are a plethora of really good ones. Every sport has a loyal following, and some sports are more of a specialty than others (there aren’t many mainstream martial arts films beyond The Karate Kid,  and when I thought of skiing movies and thought of The Other Side of the Mountain (yeah, I’m old) and Eddie the Eagle real skiers have movies no one in the average  theater knows of), but no matter what the sport, there’s at least one film about it (Cool Runnings not withstanding).

Best of the Best

Ten films are on almost every Best Sports Movie list available. They’re grade-A movies that can make even the non-sportsman cheer for the underdog:
Hoop DreamsField of Dreams   / Moneyball  /  Bull Durham  /  Rocky   Rudy  /  Caddyshack   / 
Raging Bull  /  Tin Cup  /   Million Dollar Baby

Wider World of Sports

Yes, you say, but three of those are boxing movies. I’m a competitive swimmer. Then check out The Swimmer, with Burt Lancaster. If you want a top-rated movie for a sport without a weekday TV contract, try:

Golf: Caddyshack (no matter what list you look at, golfers insist this is THE best golf movie, but check out Tin Cup or The Legend of Bagger Vance for something more serious).
Tennis: Borg vs. McEnroe Battle of the Sexes
RunningJericho Mile, Chariots of Fire   

Skiing: Deep and Light
Martial Arts: Drunken Master II (Jackie Chan)
Auto racing: Days of Thunder,  Rush

Soccer: Pele: Birth of a Legend, Bend it Like Beckham
Billiards: The Hustler
Ice Skating: The Cutting Edge,  Ice Castles I, Tonya

Hockey:  Miracle, Slap Shot, Mystery Alaska
Surfing: Soul Surfer, Blue Crush

Horseracing: Seabiscuit
Weightlifting: Pumping Iron (the absolute classic!)
Rodeo: The Electric Horseman 8 Seconds  

Killer Roller Skating: Rollerball Whip It
Dodgeball: Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story  
Apocalyptic ManhuntingThe Running Man,  The Hunger Games

Always Broom for One More

And Quidditch? Yes, that crazy game from Harry Potter is a real modern-day Muggle sport. Quidditch was first played on the campus of Middlebury College in 2005, with actual world championships (but no flying on the brooms), and there is still a push to make Quidditch an Olympic sport. Or you can follow Connecticut Quidditch teams at Yale, UConn, or Quinnipiac to watch live action on the pitch.  (Yes, I’m serious. My daughter’s team ranked 22nd in the world).

Don’t pay those exorbitant stadium prices or suffer through repetitive commercials! Grab your beer or bottled water, your popcorn or your Ball Park Frank, and cheer for your favorite sport with one of these awesome sports films!

Hometown Famous

Whether you’ve lived here a short time or half a century, Cheshire can seem like a sleepy, quiet little town, without much going for it beyond being close to most of the state’s highways. Settled in 1694 as part of Wallingford, Cheshire broke away to become a separate town in 1780 – eight years before Connecticut would ratify the Constitution to become the fifth state of a brand-new nation. Between the Grange Fair, Strawberry Festival, and the annual Memorial Day Parade, sometimes it feels like we haven’t changed much since then. We’re a small town that doesn’t attract a lot of attention.

Or do we? Little Cheshire seems to be a hotbed for creating artists, writers, actors, athletes, celebrities, and more.

If you read the signs as you pass in and out of town, you’ll know that we’re the “Bedding Plant Capital of Connecticut” – our multiple large farms and greenhouses grow and distribute flower-bed plants to stores and markets throughout the state. You’ve probably passed by the Foote House on West Main Street – Samuel Foote was the 28th Governor of Connecticut, born the year Cheshire became a town. In 1823, Amos B. Alcott, born in Wolcott, became a teacher in Cheshire – his daughter Louisa May would go on to find greater fame.

Yeah, yeah, but those aren’t people *I* would know.

Then let’s look at some of our locals and graduates whose names are known not just in town. You have certainly heard of some of them! I know I’ve gone to school with a few, or their siblings.

     – as well as several scientists and economists and inventors. With such a rich, diverse list of accomplished graduates and residents, remember to support educational opportunities in town, especially arts and sports! Even if all you do is look at a school art show, or check a book out from the library.  Take an art class. Take a writing class. Check out the wide range of programs at the library or Adult Education. It’s never too late to start. You never know when the next star will appear!

If I’ve missed you, I apologize, our space is limited, and there are MULTITUDE of artists and authors in Cheshire!

 

Upcoming Books-to-Movies

Not every book becomes a movie; not every movie started out as a book, but the two feed off each other like peanut butter and chocolate. Many of the top Oscar-winning films started out as books (The Godfather, Lord of the Rings, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, No Country for Old Men, Schindler’s List, and more). Some movies were better films than their book (in my opinion, Planet of the Apes, Poseidon Adventure, and Casino Royale are three). Some people want to read a book before they see a film adaption, while others see a great film and want to read the book to see if any good bits were left out.

If you’re of the group that prefers to read the book first, better get started! A whole new wave of book adaptions is readying for the coming year. Here’s a peek at some of them:

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats – that’s the collection of T.S. Elliott’s poem collection that became the musical CATS. Whether this is a filmed “stage” production or a cohesive musical film remains to be seen, but it stars Judi Dench and Ian McKellan, no theater slouches. Look for it at Christmas.

Death on the Nile – Kenneth Brannaugh’s second attempt to capture Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot in a mystery due out in October of 2020. It also stars Gal Godot of Wonder Woman fame.

Doctor Sleep – Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining stars Ewan McGregor as the adult Danny Torrence, due out in November 2019.

Dune – Yet another attempt to harness Frank Herbert’s cornerstone classic, most assuredly without the winged underwear. Although it bears an all-star cast, I loved the deep details of the novel, and I have a special affinity for the admitted mess of the 1984 Lynch adaption. Like Batman, all the reboots get tedious after a while. Sometimes you can’t capture greatness.

The Goldfinch Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel hits theaters in September of 2019. It has promised to be faithful to the book, a coming of age story of a boy whose life changes in an instant.

The Turning – A modern adaption of Henry James’s Turn of the Screw, it’s produced by Stephen Spielberg. Spielberg’s track record isn’t perfect, but still one of the best in Hollywood. The story is the one of the classic horrors of literature. Due out in January of 2020.

Little Women – The long-time classic of girl literature by Louisa May Alcott, it was first adapted for film in 1933, and most recently in 1994. A very strong cast (Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Timothée Chalamet, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, the list goes on) has given this move a lot of buzz. Now’s the time to catch up on the classic story you may have missed (it’s not as bad as you fear). Look for it at Christmas, 2019.

 

The Good Liar – Nicholas Searle’s novel will star Helen Mirren and Ian McKellan as a con man trying to steal from a widow who has more than one trick up her sleeve. Look for it in November of 2019.

The Woman in the Window – A.J. Finn’s #1 thriller of a woman who witnesses a crime will star Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, and Gary Oldman. Since Disney acquired 20th Century Fox, it’s technically a Disney film (with no princesses, no mermaids, and no singing), due out in October of 2019.

Bond 25: Ian Fleming wrote only 12 Bond novels, and two collections of short stories. The films have now exceeded the original material. The movie has been through a long list of issues from a revolving door of writers and directors to explosions on set, and the working title of Bond 25 gives away no details about the story, but you can get your fill on the original novels. The movie, purportedly the last for Daniel Craig, is set for April of 2020.

Deadpool 3, Black Panther 2, Black Widow, Wonder Woman 1984 : 2020’s crop of Comic-book Hero films, from Marvel and DC. Most of them still have current story lines, or track down the older versions online or in graphic novel compilations.

Motherless Brooklyn – Jonathan Lethem’s novel of a detective with Tourette’s Syndrome searching for the killer of his best friend won multiple awards for fiction and crime fiction. The all-star cast is headed by Ed Norton, who stars, directed, produced, and wrote the script. During filming, a set caught fire and a fireman died during the response, fueling accusations and lawsuits. It’s due out in November of 2019.

Happy Parents, Happy Kids

Perhaps one of the fastest ways to pick a fight with a stranger is to comment on their parenting style. Around the country, let alone around the world, each culture or region is convinced only their way is right. Yet, American education has been in decline for years, currently ranking 27th in the world.  On the world happiness index, the US only ranks 18th. How do we, as parents, raise happy, healthy, well-adjusted and productive children? Let’s take a look at a few approaches to child-rearing from beyond our shores…

Strict Helicopter

Parenting books number nearly as high as the number of parents, but several have made headlines. At one end is Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua.  China, with more than a billion people vying for jobs, education, and housing, is perhaps the most cut-throat parenting system of all: children seen with potential are removed from homes as young as three, and raised by the state to become champion athletes, mathematicians, scientists. Parents are relentless in ensuring their child’s excellence, demanding study or practice eighteen or more hours a day in a method most Americans would label sheer abuse. Imagine the pressure on an entire class where being #2 is not an option. Chua has no qualms about pushing her daughters into being virtuosos and Ivy League scholars.

Don’t Bug Me, Kid

Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman focuses on the ways the French raise their 

children. “The result of raising children French style, Druckerman writes, is “a fully functioning society of good little sleepers, gourmet eaters and reasonably relaxed parents.””  French parents have a me-first attitude – if the baby won’t sleep through the night by four months, let him cry. They don’t like to breastfeed, because it interferes with intimacy. They don’t speak to their infants in baby talk, treat patience and waiting as the highest virtue after social manners, and feed their infants table food, resulting in children who like to eat normal food. Are French children perfect? Bien sȗr, non, but they seem to have far fewer struggles than Americans.

One Big Happy

The Danish Way of Parenting, by Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Dissing Sandahl may just have a little more power behind it. The Danes often score #1 on the list of Happiest Country in the World. They have high taxes, but they get free education, healthcare, paid maternity leave, and more – those things that are crushing us. To discuss Denmark (and many of the Scandinavian countries), one has to first understand the concept of Hygge, which rules everything the Danish do: Hygge (pronounced hue-guh or hoo-guh) is that warm, huggy feeling of comfort you get when you’re doing something with your family: sitting by the fire drinking cocoa, playing a board game, or maybe decorating cookies together, in one of those commercial-like scenarios where everyone is happy and the kids aren’t fighting and the dog isn’t chewing the game pieces – except, in Denmark, this is actually reality. It’s the land where Norman Rockwell must have taken notes.

The Danes rear their children with this mindset, which transforms them into happy adults. In (very) short:

  1. Don’t overpraise. Find something specific and praise that one thing instead. “What a nice, straight line!” Encourage growth; don’t let your child think s/he’s perfect.
  2. Let your child play. Play. With sticks, rocks, toys, not electronics. Play builds thinking skills, motor skills, social skills, and spatial relations a child needs for education.
  3. Promote togetherness. Family game nights, dinner, movies, puzzles, walks or sports or just playing in the park. Do it together, or with friends. This promotes strong social ties and models appropriate behavior. 40% of American families eat dinner together less than three times a week – 10% never do.
  4. Reframe negative thinking. Dwell on good things, not bad. If your child says they hate school, remind them of the things they do like.
  5. Practice empathy and compassion. Talk about emotions, and help your child learn to recognize them in themselves and others. Compassion for people and animals makes for a caring society.
  6. Let children figure things out for themselves. Don’t hover. Let preschoolers settle their own squabbles (within reason. If Agatha is beating Bjorn with a shovel, you might want to step in). 

There are no absolutes to child rearing. Some children are just darling; others seem to come out of the womb looking for trouble. But in a time when Americans are fracturing at the seams from stress, when schools are failing, children are parenting themselves, and society itself seems to be tearing apart, perhaps it’s time to look elsewhere for advice. Considering the Danes were terrorized by two World Wars and are still the happiest people on Earth, maybe we should listen.

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