Just Because It’s On the Cutting Room Floor Doesn’t Mean It’s Gone Forever

Death is about the end of a cycle and the beginning of a new one.

Remember DVD extras? The deleted scenes, director commentaries, and other extras that didn’t make it into the final, theatrical release. I never watched them back in the DVD era, so how would I have known they didn’t make the jump to streaming services? Apparently, they died along with the DVD.

Maybe I didn’t notice, but some aspiring filmmakers certainly have (from the NYT):

“Greg Oxenberg, 28, a film student at New York University, said he loved Criterion titles, but was not drawn to streaming. ‘I use the New York Public Library a lot because they have tons of different locations and you can order the DVDs you’re looking for online,’ said the self-described film nerd, who likes dissecting director commentaries to hone his screenwriting skills.”

For some reason, I’m enchanted by this image of the DVD die-hard. I mean, It makes perfect sense. DVD extras—director commentaries, deleted scenes, behind the scenes featurettes—are valuable peeks behind the curtain, revealing movie-making secrets to amateurs. Those pieces, chopped up and abandoned on the cutting room floor, can actually be more valuable than the movie itself to someone trying to learn the craft.

common place book
My commonplace book full of ideas—used and unused.

But it’s not just movies that have extras and deleted scenes. Every piece of art has its own backstory, it’s own deleted bits that never made it into the final version. I have extras of my own—quotes that didn’t make it into an article, ideas that never turned into blog posts. Normally, those bits and bobs die a lonely death on some notecard or buried in a digital file. But today, I wanted to turn the trash can upside down. I wanted to share some scraps from the cutting room floor along with a bit of director commentary.

First, two quotes that were cut from last week’s article about ideas and routine:

“Each thought that is welcomed and recorded is a nest egg, by the side of which more will be laid. Thoughts accidentally thrown together become a frame in which more may be developed and exhibited.”—Henry David Thoreau (via Austin Kleon)


“By jotting down each idea and putting them in one place, I can see which ones are ripening. That is, which idea I am returning to again and again, and fleshing out. This helps me recognize which ideas have legs, and which ones are passing fancies that won’t hold my attention”—Jocelyn K. Glei

I love both of these quotes because they’re so evocative and rich with imagery. Sadly, I’d said as much in fewer words, so I didn’t need them in the final article.

Next up, an interesting idea that I don’t think I’ll ever find a home for:

“In chess, there is a concept known as ‘zugzwang,’ or ‘compulsion to move.’ It’s used to describe the position of a player with no good options who would prefer to do nothing at all. That’s not a possibility in chess, so the unfortunate player faces a situation in which all roads involved a deterioration of his position.”—Tyler Cowan

I’d be lying if I said I’d never experienced zugzwang before. I’m sure the same is true for you. We all have periods when we feel trapped, as if any move we make is the wrong one. Giving that concept a name doesn’t make it feel any better when we’re in a state of zugzwang, but it is a good reminder that we all go through it, that you’re not alone.

Photo by Javier Grixo on Unsplash

I recently zeroed in on these two sentences in a post titled What I Wish I’d Known Before Starting Design*Sponge:

“I thought to myself, ‘well, wallpaper never saved anyone’s life’ and fell into a spiral of thinking I needed to change careers and fields if I wanted to contribute something substantial to the world…I wish I had known that it would be my duty and  my to work on finding those connections…between design and world issues to find an entirely new love and joy for the work I am fortunate to do every day.”—Grace Bonney

I remember late 2016/early 2017, when I felt that I had to change my writing, change the focus of my work, to make an impact on the world. I learned that hard way that that wasn’t true. If only I’d had Grace Bonney’s words to save me the trouble back then.

In publishing this article, I was reminded of a similar piece of writing I posted in April of 2016 called “Spring Cleaning.” Just like in this post, I had shared a few small ideas that never turned into full articles of their own. I went searching for it, but couldn’t find it on my website. As it turns out, that post ended up on the cutting room floor. I never published it. It’s still in my drafts folder today.

I guess the universe was trying to tell me something—that sometimes, even if an idea ends up in the trash can, it may eventually get its day in the sun. Perhaps these extras will too one day.

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