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Why It's Useful to Fool Yourself

January 19, 2014, 6:00 AM
Penn_and_teller_fool_us

"Hang a lantern on it" is a writer’s term.  It means that if you have something that is a hole in your writing, lead with it, push with it, say it outright.  

My favorite example of this is "Die Hard 2." The big problem with that movie is stated very clearly by Bruce Willis's character.  He’s running through the airport and all of a sudden there is another group of bad guys and he’s now the one lone person against them.  And he’s just musing to himself and he says, “How can the same thing happen to the same guy again?” 

One has to wonder whether the people that Hitchcock called "the plausibles" in the audience are really going to believe this is happening to the same guy again. So Bruce Willis just states it.  And you go, "Oh, okay."  

I found that as far as I went in the ““Celebrity Apprentice All-Stars” that every time I would find something that I thought was a flaw, that we didn’t have time to fix, I would just underline it, blow it up and say that’s what we wanted.  I think of one of Teller’s definitions of art, and I think it’s applicable to all art. It’s certainly true for magic.  It may be the only secret of all of magic is making what you have to do look like what you wanted to do. 

If I have to steal a card out of my left pocket, the whole trick to that in terms of magic is to make it look like I wanted to reach in my pocket at that time.  I know I have to, make it look like I want to.  And when you have a scene that’s supposed to be shot at sunset and your crew isn’t ready and you arrive late and you miss the sunset, make that scene look like you wanted it to happen right after sunset.  Write everything around that to take what the thing you have to do is and make it into something you want to do. 

It's one of the reasons that the phrase "sour grapes" is usually used as a fable that shows a bad quality.  I think sour grapes is the greatest possible quality you can have.  When you can’t have something, when it’s not going to work out for you, find a way to not want it.  And when you have to do something, find a way to want it.  When they tell you that AMC is not going to show your movie, don’t go all political and complain about it. Instead say, "we’ve got a movie so heavy AMC won’t show it.  Wahoo!  Our goal in life was to make a movie so intense that AMC wouldn’t show it."  

Let me tell you something.  This movie has no depictions of violence, it has no depictions of sex, there’s no nudity, there’s no depictions of violence, and yet AMC won’t show it.  How heavy is that movie?  Do you know how hard we had to work to make a movie with no nudity and no depictions of violence that a whole movie chain wouldn’t show it?  Look how amazing we are! We were able to pull that off.  It’s a miracle.  Come see it, “The Aristocrats.”  AMC wouldn’t show it and we worked hard to make that happen.  

Make what you have to do into what you want to do.  Make what you can’t do into something you don’t want.  You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but hopefully, with luck, you can fool yourself every f**kin’ minute.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

 

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