Limitations are not a bad thing, in both faith and film making.
In the great book on independent film making by Robert Rodriguez called Rebel Without a Crew he illustrates that when you have no money you have to become creative. From a film making perspective, one only has to look at the films of directors AFTER they’ve had a big hit to show that, without limitations, indulgences become distractions to good story telling.
Just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD do something. From a faith perspective, we have to fight that battle all the time as well.
Let’s look at a couple of examples of film directors who, after making very successful films, followed them up with bad ones, primarily because they were allowed to do whatever they wanted…
- Steven Spielberg: Success (Close Encounters) Follow Up Failure (1941)
- George Lucas: Success (Star Wars) Follow Up Failure (Howard the Duck)
- Barry Levinson: Success (Bugsy) Follow Up Failure (Toys)
- Michael Cimino: Success (Deer Hunter) Follow Up Failure (Heaven’s Gate)
- Gore Verbinksi: Success (Pirates 1) Follow Up Failure (Pirates 2 & 3)
- Michael Bay: Success (The Rock) Follow Up Failure (Armageddon)
- Michal Bay Part 2: Success (Transformers) Follow Up Failure (Transformers 2)
Did some of those movies make money? Yes. Are they good films. Lord, no.
Part of the problem is that it is just plain difficult to make a good film.
However, the primary culprit in these examples is that we, by human nature, when given the opportunity to indulge, will do so, even if the outcome is not a good one.
Look at the obesity epidemic in this country. Just because you can eat at restaurants with a drive-thru everyday of the week doesn’t mean you should. Or teen pregnancy/abortions. Just because you can sleep with someone doesn’t mean you should.
We are starting to turn into an “anything goes” society. Such an approach can only end up in anarchy, with everyone following their own personal versions of right and wrong. The truth of the matter is that we actually need more limitations in our lives. Limitations require discipline and foster innovative approaches.
In the Hollywood studio system, a lot of people were frustrated by the limitations imposed by the Production Code, which had strict guidelines about the type of behavior that would be allowed in films made in this country.
However, the really great directors used creative ways to get around it. Case and point, the Production Code stated that people couldn’t kiss for more than a few seconds at a time. Hitchcock, in Notorious, got around this by having Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman kiss while he’s trying to talk on the phone. They kissed repeatedly and often, but not longer than a few seconds at a time. That creative solution is one of the reasons the scene is so memorable instead of gratuitous.
Limitations when it comes to language and comedy are desperately needed today. Bill Cosby, one of the cleanest and funniest comedians, once had a routine about growing up and his Mom wanting him to put on clean underwear before going places. He stated that it was unnecessary because one time, when he was about to get into a head-on collision with a semi-truck, he joked “first I said it, then I did it.” A clever, memorable way of getting around using a curse word. If he had used the S-word there, I am certain that I wouldn’t remember his punchline some 30 years later.
Today, creative artists are in desperate need of limitations.
Note to Hollywood… Sexual innuendos are NOT creative or clever. They’re easy and lazy. Whenever I watch a commercial that relies on sexual innuendo, I just shake my head and think “that doesn’t take any talent.”
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. Its rated G. There is no sex jokes or crude humor. Its funny because the writers, director and cast are exceptionally talented people that developed and performed uniquely humorous lines and sight gags. They were actually clever and inventive.
In comparison, I watched I Love You Man the other night. It has truly talented, funny people in it. Unfortunately, the legitimately clever and funny moments of the film are constantly buffeted by completely unnecessary and unfunny jokes about sex and illicit behavior.
The end result is now we have humor and movies geared to the lowest common denominator. They may make money (Superbad), but they are examples of talented people making talentless products.
I don’t know, maybe I’m just an old man. Maybe 14 year-olds are giggling uncontrollably at jokes about sex acts.
I do know that 14-year olds laugh uncontrollably at universally funny movies like Mad World too. So, it’s not that you can’t make a clean movie that 14-year olds will love. It’s just a LOT harder.
I encourage you to take this challenge… if you’re writing a screenplay and you’re going to use a punchline that includes a sexual innuendo, don’t. Come up with something funnier. If you’re going to write a sentence with a curse word, don’t. Come up with something far more memorable.
Limitations are not necessarily bad things. They’re like the speed limit on the highway. They don’t keep you from getting where you want to go, they just force you to take the limitation into effect when deciding your journey.
The same is true with our faith. The 10 Commandments are limitations to human behavior. Church doctrines are often limitations to human behavior. They are not limitations to ALL human behavior, just SOME of it…
God wants us to limit our selfishness and augment our selflessness.
That doesn’t mean we’re being less than human. It means we’re being creative in overcoming our humanity on our path toward holiness.
Jesus expects great and holy things from us.
Those in human history that have forged such holy journeys, like the Saints, are the ones that stand out. They are the ones we should look to for successfully converting a limitation into something memorable and inspiring.
We should all try, both in our faith and in our storytelling, to do the same.