Training montage

May 18, 2010

First, read this article:

How ‘The Karate Kid’ Ruined the Modern World.

Yes, it’s on cracked.com. But this article is TOTALLY RIGHT ON in its worldview and also strangely poignant, basically positing that actually getting extremely good at something takes talent+many thousands of hours of extremely hard work, whereas training montages convince us all that if you JUST HAVE FAITH and also a STIRRING SOUNDTRACK you are destined to succeed.

That is so true! You know that thing about how it takes 10,000 hours to develop mastery of something? Once Naomi and I were walking down the street discussing this topic, and she said “What do you think you’ve spent 10,000 hours doing?” and without missing a beat, I said: “Looking at things on the internet.”

Yes. That is my skill, my kung fu: looking at things on the internet.

Part of that is useful – like I am actually quite good at delving into a subject I know nothing about and coming out the other end able to synthesize all that information into a few short paragraphs, like all the times I’ve gotten interested in fringe subjects like the male-dandy-blogger subculture or whatever-

…okay, that doesn’t SOUND that useful. But you know what I mean. If I were some kind of intelligence analyst, that skillset would totally come in handy. As it is, I’m just the person sitting across the room who can Google things marginally faster than you can.

YOU
Ugh, I’m supposed to download some updated driver for my phone. What does that even–

ME
GOT IT.

Anyway. I think this thing of TRAINING MONTAGES RUINED MY LIFE is pretty funny, because a) it’s true, and b) even writers of scripts that contain training montages are totally subject to this.

F’rinstance. So I just recently turned in a treatment to someone. I am not going to say that it was the best treatment in the history of the world or anything like that. But it was- workmanlike, you know? I am not embarrassed by it. If I were a carpenter and someone wanted me to make them a cabinet to fit in that corner over there, I feel like at this point, my cabinets would not be TERRIBLE.

(For many years, my cabinets have had interesting, attractive features, but have also been wobbly, with one leg shorter than the others. Also, after a couple of months some of the joints get loose, and you have to use some glue and one of those Ikea wrenches to jam them back together. (AM I PUSHING THIS METAPHOR TOO FAR?))

But I feel like now I am pretty much a journeyman cabinetmaker. I am not going to win any awards with my cabinets. Nobody is going to say “This cabinet! It is unmatched in the history of the world!”. But on the other hand, nobody is going to go “This doesn’t even look like a cabinet! And why does it have this stuffed raccoon mounted on one end?!?” – if somebody wants a cabinet, I CAN BUILD THEM A DAMN CABINET, etc.

You get where I’m going, here.

Anyway, training montages! I just think this is funny, because of how long it has taken me to become a journeyman-level writer – so much longer than I would have thought. If you had asked me last year, or the year before, I would have said: “Yes! Absolutely! I am totally ready. SEND ME TO THE SHOW.”

But I wasn’t. Not really.

(Because I have chosen to attempt to get a job in what is basically a high-risk, high-reward profession (see: the Freakonimics guys on “Why Drug Dealers Live With Their Moms”), that is of course still no guarantee that anyone is ever going to write me a check. I’m just saying: I think, at this point, that I have put in my some talent+10,000 hours, and I could do the job.)

Also, look at this excellent John August post about screenwriters and worst-case scenario thinking. Do you do this? I imagine you do. Are there people who DON’T do this? Because I know that whenever I’m in an airport, say, I have two tracks going in my mind at once:

“Okay, if a terrorist tried to take us down NOW, what would happen?”

and also

“If I were a terrorist, how would I smuggle bombs into the airport? I KNOW, I WOULD HIDE THEM IN THE LETTUCE ORDER FOR THE SANDWICH PLACE.”

(Of course, I try to keep my mouth shut about these musings – airport security people seem prone to humorlessness.)