The Trap of Perfection and Being Ready

The number of projects I have not begun, have begun but not completed or have nearly finished but essentially abandoned is large. When my defenses are working properly there are many wonderful reasons for all of this unfinished work. None of them are terribly original or interesting. In nearly every case the actual reason is the same: what is/was in my head did not/will not be as good when I make it. Perfection is a trap.

Today I was looking through the folders on my computer, for what I no longer remember, and I stumbled down a rabbit hole of past projects and memories that lead me, much like Alice, on a strange and mysterious journey. The journey concluded when I went to my YouTube page and saw that the last video I uploaded was two years ago.

Now, to be fair, YouTube for me is an afterthought. If I make something and want to share it I use Vimeo. The lack of commercials and the overall straightforward nature of the site is why it has become the place where I publish video content. Yet I do try and publish on YouTube because I can use all the views I can get. I am unknown and would like to change that.

Now before you start following links or Googling me the sad truth is I have made very little content to share with the world. Largely it is because I am a stay-at-home dad who mostly shoots videos of his children. I share these videos with family members who say they watch them.

So why am I writing all of this? Where is the bit about perfection?

I came across a video I made in 2007 today. It is called Marty. I am embedding it below. It is less than two minutes long and it would make me happy if you watched it now.

I’ve shared it on this site before but since I had forgotten about it, I am sure you did, too. Now, this is a very short film with almost no story that I made when I knew much less about how to make short films. Yet, it is one of a handful of short films I have made. And I think it is okay. Not amazing but not terrible either.

This past year I have gone to a number of film screenings in Vermont and I’ve connected with numerous filmmakers and watched their work online. What I have taken away from these experiences is fairly simple – it is better to make something and have it be “okay” than to make nothing. Pretty standard stuff, I know. Yet, how many of us are not making things, not sharing things because we feel it isn’t good enough? How many times have you sat down to write but stared at the wall, picked up your guitar only to put it down again, or closed your NLE because you felt your project wasn’t good enough.

I’m not a self help guy and I certainly spend more time feeling like a failure than a success. But, if I have learned one thing in the past year it’s this – people are winning awards making things I would be embarrassed to share. Don’t take this as me being snobbish or looking down my nose at others. Take this for what it is – these people are getting recognition and awards for doing – while I am forgetting videos I’ve made and staring at the wall.

“Write it. Shoot it. Publish it. Crochet it, sauté it, whatever. MAKE.”
Joss Whedon

Favorite Film

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If there is one question I have struggled with it is, “What is your favorite film?” Granted, this question is nowhere near as important as: “How do we achieve world peace?” or “How do we stop global warming?” but then people never seem to ask me either of these.

So recognizing the proper ranking of the importance of this question let me now try and address some of the assumptions being made regarding movies.

First – that all movies are alike and are comparable. I touched on this briefly in another post when I mentioned comparing Cliffhanger to Citizen Kane. What I was attempting to show with this comparison isn’t that one film is lesser but that different films are made to satisfy different conditions. Cliffhanger needs to be exciting in order to be successful as an action film. The stakes in a film like Cliffhanger are life and death and therefore the story being told has to make the audience care whether the characters live or die. We need to worry when they are in peril, cheer if they manage to evade death and feel satisfaction when the villain (unless it is the Earth which is tricky) gets his due.

The same isn’t true for Citizen Kane. I don’t need to spell it out, different kinds of films have different rules, have different problems and different goals. So while we can attempt to compare them in terms of the overall experience there are still many cases where this is a fruitless exercise.

So in thinking about awards like Best Picture and answering the question of “what is your favorite movie?” I cannot help but dwell on these differences because they do matter.

Take for instance the different between comedy and drama. Forget subcategories for the moment. The comedy wants to make you laugh. It wants to make you happy. The drama usually wants to make you feel some deep emotion like sadness or longing or ennui or some other wonderful thing. I am being unfair but the truth is not far off. Comedy seeks to entertain you and make you happy, the drama usually attempts to make you experience some unpleasant emotions, possibly entertains you or it tries to teach you something.

This distinction is important and why you rarely see a comedy being nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. For some reason we have decided that this is okay. That Comedy as a category does not compete in the same realm as Drama. Okay.

Yet, if you were to poll most people concerning their favorite film many would name a comedy. So what gives? The second distinction: is this a film you watch once in your life or never again?

We have all seen amazing, life-changing films that have moved us in ways words cannot properly express. Yet once seen we have no desire to ever see these movies again. Not in a Usual Suspects kind of way where once you know the story watching the film becomes less interesting. This is more that you have had an incredible experience and are glad to have had it but the thought of going through it again, even if it were somewhat lesser holds no appeal for you. A good example of this is Schindler’s List.

Then we have the other category, the film you can watch repeatedly and it is always enjoyable. The film that when you are sad or sick or just looking for a nice night on the couch you know will give you what you need. These films are usually comedies of some sort. For me the best example is The Philadelphia Story but I could list dozens that fit this bill.

So we have comedies and dramas. We have one-offs and we have endlessly watchable films. With just these four categories I find myself at a loss. How do I pick a favorite? What are we talking about? Pure entertainment? Something that helped shape who I am today? It becomes impossible for me to make any kind of choice because I need to explain the criteria involved in making that choice.

So, yes, this is not the most important decision a person will ever face. In fact, it is somewhat silly. Yet, and this is why I bothered to write all of this out: when I try and pose these questions to others I always find them puzzled at my response. “Why can’t you just pick one?” I can’t help but feel that when it comes to the awards that are given out that this must be the attitude of many who do the voting. Something must be chosen, so just pick one. They are only movies, so what does it matter.

Computers, Technology and Hoopla

I would like to be a tech savvy person. I would like to sit down at a computer, any computer, and immediately be able to do all the tasks I wish to do and never need to touch the mouse. I would like to pick up a digital camera and effortlessly navigate the menus in order to arrange all of the settings and presets so that my pictures rival anything out there.

I would like this and it will never, ever happen. My experience with technology is, I think, much like everyone else’s: a big game of catch up. Whatever the piece of technology is I am attempting to figure out the “right” way to be using it. Which is to say I figure things out, mostly, but there is usually something I am not doing quite right. Even if I do not know that I am doing something incorrectly.

Which brings me to one of my many current technology related problems – iPhoto. A while back I bought a DSLR (technically a DSLM but that really is being pretty picky) and I started taking pictures. A lot of pictures. Everything I have read about being a “real” photographer (who is shooting digitally, because there still seems to be a pretty big debate over film vs digital and “realness”) told me that I should be shooting in the RAW format. Yes, you have to write RAW in all caps for some reason. I have heard it and I have forgotten the reason and so should you. Just write the word in caps.

Anyway I have done this and I have then used iPhoto to try and store and manipulate these photos. Which has caused near exponential growth in the size of my iPhoto storage. Which has caused all kinds of computer problems. Which has lead to me playing catch up as to what is going on and how I can fix it.

As far as I can tell I can’t really fix the problem. Or I can but it would involve deleting most of the photos, which isn’t really a solution in my book. So I have begun looking at alternative programs to replace iPhoto. And I have found them. They just cost money and I am adverse to spending money I do not have to on computer programs. Call me cheap. That’s fine. I can take it.

Anyway, I do a fair bit of video work on my computer and now time lapse photography, which is where I ran into trouble with my hard drive space. So the reason I have written this long and not terribly exciting account of my photo woes is that even when a cheap person like myself finds solutions, which I have (Darktable is a free, RAW image editor) it seems you simply replace one set of problems for another.

So I spend three days trying to find an iPhoto solution that does not involve me deleting all of my photos and it leads to a new program. I use the new program and can find no way to make it pull photos off of my external hard drive. Now the point of this rant, if there is one, is when does it end? At each step of trying to do something (because believe it or not I am sparing you the video component of the time lapse saga that goes hand-in-hand with this) there are more obstacles, more problems you did not know existed to then find solutions and encounter a new set of problems.

Which is really another way of saying – I am tired of working for my technology. We all take pictures now and lots of them. Our old system was imperfect but the storage of the photos was rather simple. If we printed the pictures we then stuck them in an album. We kept the negatives in something or other and pretended that twenty years later we were going to find those negatives and do something with them. Maybe we made a large print of a picture we liked and put it in a frame. That was it. You found a place to put your albums and then every once in a while you took them out flipped through the pages and then put them away.

Now I have three external hard drives on my desk and slow desktop because I tend to dip below the recommended level of storage on my internal hard drive and this is a no-no. My photos are now technically stored in the “cloud” so that they take up less space and I can access them on all of my devices that I have linked to the “cloud”. This is also supposed to be a safer way to keep them should anything happen.

Now I will end here but I want to share my silver lining to this problem and my working through this problem. I started writing this post a year ago. I stopped did other things and came back at various points. In that time I glommed onto this idea of how things used to be. I watched a film called Side by Side which talked about the perils of digital and chemical process filmmaking. And something clicked for me.

At the moment the only future-proof format that motion picture films (Hollywood, baby) have is film. Analog. You put it into canisters and store them in those climate controlled dust free something or others. There is a system, we don’t really know what it is but people do and you do it. And then, you can play it on any device that plays that format of film. Even if that particular piece of machinery is already 100 years old.

So how does this relate to my pictures? I spent about three days, sifted through 20,000 digital photos and chose about 900 I cannot lose. I then order 4×6 prints of each picture bought some albums and put them on my shelf. They had been there for about six months now and already I have sat down with my five year old daughter several times and flipped through them, like I used to do with my parents. And I know, if there were some catastrophe and I had time to rescue something from my home I would not try and grab my iMac, I would grab these albums of pictures and run outside.

A weekend of watching.

A month ago I watched Under the Skin, Enemy and Prisoners on the same weekend. I attempted to watch another film but gave up because I was fully sated.

Under the Skin and Prisoners are excellent independent films. The structure, subject matter – even the looks of the films are singular enough to clue in the viewer that anything goes. It is a freeing sensation and most likely these films will annoy more than they will entertain. Which is a shame. Each has its merits as well as its shortcomings but their existence, that they were made at all, is reassuring. In this time when directors are opting out of filmmaking, when critics and Internet commentators bemoan the death of the auteur and original films, I take comfort in proof to the contrary. In fact a quick look at all of the films A24 is involved with is enough to soften even the toughest of cynics -good things are going on.

The final film I watched was Prisoners. I was hesitant due to the subject of the film, now that I have young children of my own such storylines are of little interest to me for entertainment purposes. After seeing Enemy I felt I could trust the director and I am happy to report I was not wrong. The film is perfectly executed, immaculately lit and filled with wonderful performances. This may in fact be the performance of Hugh Jackman’s career. You hardly notice how little the other, exceptional, actors are given to do because Prisoners truly is Mr. Jackman’s film.

Next up is Incendies, a film I have been putting off seeing despite hearing wonderful things about. Denis Villeneuve you have a new admirer. Thank you for the wonderful films.