Not long ago I was jawing with a story artist at a great metropolitan animation studio. He talked to me about the frustrations of being a long time on a project:
"We've been kind of meandering through the woods for awhile, trying different things. Management wasn't really paying close attention because we didn't have any looming deadlines.
"But now other projects are out of the way and they're focused on us. And they're asking: 'What are you guys doing? We've got a deadline now. You've got to stop the exploring and do the story the right way.' See, they're kind of nervous. They want a hit, and they think there's one right way to do the story, and we've got to do it the single right way."
As he talked, I thought about what animator Charlie Downs had once told me about Ward Kimball's view of this right way thing. Mr. Kimball didn't think there was a "right way," but rather "ways that worked" ...
"I showed Ward a scene I had animated. He said, "Not the way I'd do it," then he looked at me and said, 'That doesn't mean anything. Five guys will do the scene five different ways, and they'll all work.'"
Which is another way of saying that art is not science, and there is no single, correct approach. Or single solution. You can take five creative roads and all the roads can get you to a good artistic place. Or otherwise.
When a production has a lot of time and there's no deadline looming, creators tend to dawdle. Explore. Travel down side alleys. As C. Northcote Parkinson wrote long ago: "Work expands to fill the alotted time." If you've got five weeks to pull the movie together, you take five weeks. If it's five months, then five months is how long you spend. (Sixteen years ago, Jeffrey Katzenberg gave a Disney story crew three weeks to overhaul the middle of Aladdin. They did.)
And then there's science fiction writer Robert Heinlein's dictum: Write it, and write it right the first time. How often does that happen? Like hardly never..
The above is, I guess, a long-winded way of saying that there's never a single, correct way to go with anything, but only better solutions and worse solutions. The bitch of it is, even worse solutions can, on occasion, lead to big box office results.
How big of a bitch is that?