Several GITS readers sent me a link to this New Yorker article
about Hollywood therapist Barry Michels. Here’s how the piece starts:
The writer was in despair. For a year and a half, he had been trying to write a script that he owed to a studio, and had been unable to produce anything. Finally, he started seeing a therapist. The therapist, Barry Michels, told him to close his eyes and focus on the things he was grateful for. The first time he did this, in the therapist’s office, there was a long silence. “What about your dog?” Michels asked. “O.K. I’m grateful for my dog,” the writer said after a while. “The sun?” “Fine, the sun,” the writer said. “I’m grateful for sun. Sometimes.”
Michels also told the writer to get an egg timer. Following Michels’s instructions, every day he set it for one minute, knelt in front of his computer in a posture of prayer, and begged the universe to help him write the worst sentence ever written. When the timer dinged, he would start typing. He told Michels that the exercise was stupid, pointless, and embarrassing, and it didn’t work. Michels told him to keep doing it.
A few weeks later, the writer was startled from his sleep by a voice: it sounded like a woman talking at a dinner party. He went to his computer, which was on a folding table in a corner of the room, and began to write a scene. Six weeks later, he had a hundred-and-sixty-five-page script. Six months after that, the script was shot, and when the movie came out the writer won an Academy Award.
As far as I can tell, Michels and his mentor psychiatrist Phil Stutz combine Jungian theories and what read like EST-type practices to help creative types survive the sphincter tightening experience of working in Hollywood. Here are a few of their approaches detailed in the article:
* Pre-disppointment: “The tool for this, which Michels and Stutz teach to those who are hoping to win an award or who are about to submit a script for approval, involves imagining yourself falling backward into the sun, saying ‘I am willing to lose everything as you are consumed in a giant fireball, after which, transformed into a sunbeam, you profess, ‘I am infinite.’”
* Cosmic Rage: “Michels gave him [writer-producer Adam McKay] an index card bearing the mantra “YOU ARE MARKED TO BATTLE THE FORCES OF JUDGMENT” and one with a drawing of a stick figure radiating arrows to symbolize the internal seat of authority, which McKay keeps in the visor of his car. Michels taught him a tool called Cosmic Rage, which entailed his shouting ‘Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!’ in his head to a roomful of faceless critics. (Kelli Williams, a patient of Michels’s who plays a psychiatrist on the television show ‘Lie to Me,’ told me that when she does her version of Cosmic Rage she just pretends she’s running lines.) After McKay finished his next movie, “The Other Guys,” he said, ‘I decided, I’m going to do every bit of press on this. Fuck it.’ He visualized the worst-case scenario and told himself, If I get shaky, I get shaky, who the fuck cares. ‘I did Jimmy Fallon, the red carpet, all the press junkets where you’re filmed a hundred times, and I did great with it,’ he said.”
* 96 Hour Academy Awards Principle: “Stutz’s patients have won so many Oscars—twelve or thirteen, he told me, reluctantly—that he has developed a coping strategy he calls the Stutz 96-Hour Academy Awards Principle, which postulates that by Day Four life sucks again and no one knows who you are, so you might as well get over it now. His credo for writers is ‘KEEP WRITING SHIT, STUPID.’”
* Dust: “Then, there is Dust, a super-technique, good for the red carpet, auditions, and any situation in which you want to impress people. It involves pretending that your audience is covered from head to toe in dust—’a nice, thick, two-inch coat of dust, like you’re going up into an attic and everything is covered, it’s been up there for eight months,’ Stutz says.”
Perhaps the most important takeaway for writers is how Michels embraces Jung’s idea of the shadow:
At the center of Michels’s practice is the Jungian figure of the Shadow, the occult aspect of the personality that Jung defined as “the sum of all those unpleasant qualities we like to hide, together with the insufficiently developed functions and the contents of the personal unconscious.” In “Memories, Dreams, Reflections,” Jung describes a dream in which he was out on a windy night, cupping a tiny candle in his hand. “I looked back, and saw a gigantic black figure following me,” he writes. “When I awoke I realized at once that the figure was a ‘specter of the Brocken,’ my own shadow on the swirling mists, brought into being by the little light I was carrying.”
As the liaison to the unconscious, Michels says, the Shadow is the source of all creativity and agility in life, business, and art, which he calls “flow.” “If you can really know your own Shadow, you start to know the Shadows of everyone,” he says. “People who can write that way start to articulate universal themes, which not only makes them more successful on that level”—in other words, commercially—“but it’s a more gratifying endeavor.”
And how do they suggest writers deal with their own shadow?
To help a patient avoid freezing during a pitch—a problem that Michels attributes to trying to hide your Shadow from development executives—he’ll tell him to reassure his Shadow with the words “I love you and I care more about you than I do whether this pitch sells.” That is step one. Then he must invite the Shadow into the conference room, so that together they can address a silent scream—“Listen!”—to the assembled suits. “What it does is assert our—me and my Shadow’s—authority and right to have something to say,” Michels says. The third step takes place afterward, when, regardless of the outcome, the patient thanks the Shadow for its time, so that it knows the ego wasn’t just using it to get money. For writers, the analogy is clear: give the Shadow the respect you long for.
Here I’ve been working applying Jung’s theories about the shadow, individuation, archetypes and so on as they pertain to screenwriting theory. Perhaps I would have done better if I’d taken my Masters of Divinity degree, background in counseling, and studies in Carl Jung, and become a shrink to the stars!
For more of the New Yorker article, go here.
Thanks to everyone who sent me the link. Be advised there are two periodicals I read religiously: The New York Review of Books and the New Yorker, so I’ve got those covered.