Sunday, July 15, 2007

Simplicity = Conceit

I spent most of Friday returning gear to various places around San Francisco. I'm not sure what resonated about this Talk of the Nation broadcast about simplicity, but I'd imagine it had something to do with the painful irony lodged in my lower back after returning two 300 lb. generators and thousands of watts worth of lights I'd used to capture images of an elderly woman walking down a hallway and sitting on a couch.

John Maeda wrote a book laying out ten rules of simplicity. While I think true simplicity would probably imply less than ten rules, he was nevertheless spot on about what makes an object successful, workable, and a joy to use. I think it's also what makes a movie enjoyable, and what makes a production smooth. It's an invaluable perspective for a screenwriter. There are almost always simpler, cleaner, more effective ways to do things. Almost all the rules of screenwriting (and good writing generally) boil down to the beauty of economy sooner or later.

When the call-ins started, much of the conversation of simplicity turned to discussions of Apple, and I was reminded of my posting about conceit. Conceit is what makes a work instantly recognizable. It's what makes a work unique. A strong conceit makes a script high concept. And what makes a conceit strong?

Simplicity. As writers, we gravitate to the subtle. We underestimate the brilliance of a concept that states itself as clearly as, say, "a giant shark terrorizes a beach town." But it's the simplicity that allows a writer to make the impression.

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