“Won’t You Be My Neighbor” has earned its spot as a possible Oscar-contender and caused flooding and increased Kleenex sales everywhere. We love this film. We can’t say enough good things about it, in fact. Even if you did not grow up whistling the tune to “It’s a Beautiful Day in This Neighborhood,” it’s hard to watch this film without experiencing change, or at least learning something new, whether we choose to apply it or not.
Obviously, everyone can learn from what Fred Rogers taught day-in and day-out on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” but we thought his teachings had incredible implications for today’s filmmakers as well.
Here are five lessons we’ve learned about life and filmmaking from Mister Rogers.
More conflict doesn’t always equate to better storytelling.
Film students and aspiring screenwriters everywhere are bombarded by teachers and textbooks telling them to escalate the conflict in every scene. “This scene is cute, but where’s the drama?” Sometimes, the world just needs cute. If the purpose behind storytelling is to reveal truth and expand hope, we should make it hard on our hero, but not impossible. Our hero must face the same problems and inner turmoil that the people he is saving faces on a daily basis, but ultimately he succeeds. I have heard people respond to this with, “It’s just not real life.” Sure. Sometimes it’s just not real life. But don’t we always want it to be?
Be true to yourself.
The pressure within the arts and entertainment space is similar to what happens when a Mentos is mixed with Coke. You know, right before it explodes and the bottle is irreparable and the coke undrinkable. The world is going to ask you to compromise in order to appeal to the masses but, the chances are, the story you have to tell is the story that someone needs to hear. Don’t compromise. Don’t be a Coke.
Human dignity is and should always be a core belief.
“You don’t have to do anything sensational for people to love you.” One of the driving forces for Fred Rogers to dedicate his life to his show was to educate anyone and everyone about just how important they are. Relationships have this way of feeling transactional, making us feel uneasy, uncertain, and insecure. What we do and who we are is never enough. We feel this way naturally; we do not need film and television supporting it. Instead, Let’s create films that inspire conversations around hard topics and inspire change. Let’s create art that lifts up our neighbors, that instills the belief that they do matter, just because they exist.
It’s okay to slow down.
When I was younger, I would come home from school and change clothes and shoes the way Mr. Rogers did. I was fascinated by his routine. These days, I’m lucky if I remember to take my shoes off before jumping into bed and starting my day all over again. Mr. Rogers was intentional about slowing down, giving the impression that he was comfortable spending time doing something that our world today might deem unproductive or inefficient. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is essentially the antithesis of our 2018 attention spans, calendars, and to-do lists. We don’t appreciate films that include stillness because we are so uncomfortable with it ourselves. Stillness might not be what we want right now, but it might be what we need.
Art is meant to be restorative.
I admit that I tend to be more critical and analytical with film and television than some of my less introspective friends (they just call themselves normal, but that’s a debate for another time), but if I walk away from the credits of a film no-more knowledgeable or less hopeful than I was during the opening scene, I can pretty much guarantee that I won’t watch that film again. Life is messy. We all learn that along the way. Sometimes, what we need help learning is that it’s okay to be messy. It’s okay to be a train wreck and—just because that’s how life is right now—it doesn’t mean it will always be that way.
Jason Jones, comedian and actor, said this: “I look for three things. Number One is does the film promote the beauty and dignity of the human person? Number Two is does this film promote the transcendent moral order? And three, does it promote natural affection?” Let’s create films that answer with a resounding “Yes!”