A curious case of horror, drama, The Office, category busting & why you need to rethink your approach creativity.
I turned to you and said ‘John really loves his children.’
I was watching an interview with Stephen Colbert on The Late Show, where John Krasinski shared a unique approach to creating his horror blockbuster movie “A Quiet Place 2”. Colbert describes the film as terrifying, admitting that him and his wife “may have watched some of it with the sound off” (the films sound effects, and no sound at all, is regularly referenced as one of it’s most notable features). He followed this admission with an observation: “This film has heart, [while terrifying] it is actually a deeply moving story at the same time.”
Stephen followed with the question: “How do you mesh those two I don’t usually associate ‘deeply moving human story’ and horror.”
John’s answer holds a lesson for us who create things for a living…
An insight on how we can combine the seemingly incompatible into something new and unique; something that uses the power of one to enhance an element of the another. This concept flits with both what we’d call Category Busting in the realm of innovation, and Genre Busting in the world of literature, film, and music.
John answered with a story, a lesson he learned from famed producer and director Greg Daniels during his time on The Office.
“It was like three weeks into shooting and I was so nervous for a scene. And he [Greg] asked: ‘You okay?’ And I said yes… this is my favorite joke in the script and I want to make sure I deliver it really funny…”
“And he said: ‘Whoa, you don’t deliver anything funny. You just deliver it and let people decide whether it’s funny or not… you just do the character, and if they fall in love with you, they’ll go on any ride.'”
John continued: “I thought of him when they said direct a horror movie. I don’t know how to do a horror movie, so instead I just did a family drama and Trojan horsed it as a horror movie. I thought… you’ll be more scared If you fall in love with these characters.“
Category Busting is a classic innovation generation strategy, a process for innovative product or idea development. Much like a eureka moment it can happen on purpose, but more often happens on accident or born of necessity, as was the case for John. He didn’t know how to do horror, but he did know how to do family drama.
“Family drama?” You may rightfully wonder. But think about it, was “The Office” really a mockumentary (itself a type of category busting) comedy? Or was it secret a “family drama”? Anyone who knows and loves the show (diehard fan myself) knows it’s incredibly funny; but upon reflection it truly is a drama about a ‘family’ born not from birth but from circumstance and all the complications that come with it. A family whether they liked it (Michael) or not (Stanley). It’s torn apart, it’s reforged in new ways, it’s messy, it’s beautiful, it’s a love story, and it’s often times simply hilarious. A hilarity born out of “wow that’s so true” as much as Michael Scott’s antics. Perhaps John wasn’t thinking that in-depth about it at the moment he shared that thought with Stephen & his wife on the tonight show, but I’m sure he’d mostly agree with that conclusion.
“You’ll be more scared if you fall in love with these characters.” Yes, John knows where authentic horror stems from, a fact that many horror movies miss. It comes from falling in love with the characters. So he focused on that, a fact that is made quite clear by a powerful deduction shared by Evie, Stephens wife who was joining them in the interview…
Stephen: “What did you say after there’s a critical moment when the children do things… Near the end of the film… And what did you say to me after that great moment?”
Evie: “I turned to you and said ‘John really loves his children.'”
I’ll admit, I haven’t seen the first or the second Quiet Place, not because I didn’t think they’d be great movies; but for a reason I’m only now understanding. I have a young son of my own, and I distinctly remember seeing the first trailer, I saw a the father and son on the bridge and a looming dread. I felt the tension and knew the implications. A younger me would have revealed in the suspense, but now I just see a kind of horror I would never want to face; fictional or otherwise.
Nonetheless, I found that John’s answers and Stephen’s and Evie’s observations in this interview stuck with me. I love to listen to people discuss creative processes, and to try and glean notes that I can apply to my own. You see most people approach creativity as something that “finds you”, when in reality it’s, at least in part, a process of searching for ways to combine the things you already have with things you’re curious about. Smashing them together and observing how the pieces interact. Layering them. Slowly taking them apart and combining them in unique and different ways. It’s often call it “category busting” or “genre busting” but I think from now on I’m going to think of it as “the horror movie born from a family drama called The Office”.