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

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.

Television – The Americans

(This is a post I wrote a year ago but for some reason did not share. I have since seen seasons one and two and think they are excellent but I like the simpler point made here by…me. What a guy!)

I would like to discuss the television show, The Americans. Now it may seem silly to try and discuss a show that has not finished and it will seem even sillier when I add that I have not finished the first season. So why discuss this show? Because it is one of a handful that gives the impression it was fully realized before they started making it.

This is a big claim and it is entirely possibly that the rest of season two might make what I am writing absurd. I will take that chance. In particular I want to say a little something about the pilot episode of The Americans.

What I feel sets a pilot episode like this apart from so many others is that you get the sense that they characters are fully formed. You meet your central characters, their relationship is not immediately explained and then through a series of events you come to know who they are. It is interesting and arresting television. The story is intriguing, it is engaging and what I enjoyed most is that the little details are simply put out there for viewers to either notice and understand or to be lost.

Making a show set in the early eighties that does not stop and point at each and every detail of clothing, hair, music etc., but rather attempts to recreate the world as it was without having a character stop and say, “Isn’t this earpiece absurdly large? We can’t hide the fact that we are wearing earpieces. If only someone would make them smaller.” allows the viewer to be swept up in the story being told. It is refreshing and rewarding to watch a show that does not call attention to itself, that does not feel the need to point and say, “Don’t you see now, thirty years on, that Regan was a bit of a …” but rather have the characters be as they should be and do as they do?

See it Again (reborn)

A few years ago I had the idea to try and create content specific for different social media sites. I had been paying attention to the online articles and advice columns that all said the same thing: if you want to be a successful X you have to use social media and use it well.

So here we are, a few years later, and I am not really using social media much, or well. The fault lies with me of course but also in the second, more important (and left unsaid) part of this advice – be yourself. I could quote Hamlet or 50 other well-known and somewhat pretentious sources to make my point but my guess is you already get it.

I have attempted to find people whose work I know and respect, filmmakers, writers, comedians, musicians, actresses and actors to follow on social media. By and large I have either quickly unfollowed these people because I dislike the way they use social media or I could not find them using these sites.

The reasons I stopped following people I am sure you are familiar with: either all they did was promote their work in a steady, uninteresting stream of posts or tweets or they shared personal information and images that I would have rather not seen.

What should they have been sharing? I am not sure. I follow Olivia Wilde on several sites and I generally likes what she posts, even though nearly everything fits into the two categories I listed above. Why do I still follow her?

I believe I still follow her because she is honest and truthful and (seemingly) not using social media to promote her “brand”. Perhaps she is and she is excellent at making self-marketing feel like personal interactions.

In either case, it works and that is what I wanted to get at here – authenticity. So much of what I have attempted to share has not been authentic, has not been me in most regards, because I don’t like the notion of sharing your personal life with strangers.

Have I posted pictures of my children on Instagram? I have and feel weird about it and writing it here makes me think I should take them down. Do I post one line movie reviews on Twitter? Yes and I feel dirty afterwords and often delete them.

Because what should I be sharing? This. Long, long posts where I share my thoughts and thought processes about things that interest and concern me. Or I write about things I love, or hate, in great detail. Because that is who I am, it is what I do and if it does not interest you then it would be best if we part ways.

I gave this post a title which most likely does not make sense. I created a category of posts called “See it Again” in which I write about a film that I feel people should give another chance despite poor reviews, low profits or just negative feelings overall. I added the reborn in parentheses because I want to start over with this category. Allow me to explain why.

I don’t care about box office returns and unless you stand to profit from a film, neither should you. This is some weird, oversharing, marketing technique to make people care or be interested in films simply because they are successful. It makes no sense. Just today I saw this article – How Avatar made $2.7 billion and garnered almost no fan base. Which I think sums up this point somewhat well.

Critics and their reviews of films I think are equally unimportant. They become exponentially less important when you lump them all together, give their scores a rating and then average these scores together. To not take into account who the critic is, what they like and dislike and what they actually said is to diminish an already marginally interesting and important activity into something of equal value with an infomercial. If a pretentious, literate, snobbish fop who only likes a fraction of high-brow art films reviews something like Mission Impossible and comes away with something positive to say, this is slightly interesting. To then take their B- grade and throw it in with the rest renders their review meaningless.

Finally I have no idea how you measure negative feelings, especially of the general population. As we are learning the Internet does not reflect the general attitude or mood of anything (other than the Internet). A strong online fan base for a filmmaker, who then creates a film based on their ravings and support does not mean that any of them will actually watch the finished product. The examples are endless and you know many yourself. So how do we measure this general attitude? We can’t. We can pay attention to the media, or advertising or the Internet or what people at work say. The truth is we don’t really know, which is why I am throwing this by the wayside.

So instead I will leave all of this off, the ratings and the earnings and the lack of awards (I forgot that one but then I think they are best forgotten) and just be using my own, strange internal criteria to determine the films I think you should give a chance (second or otherwise). And you, of course, are free to pay me no mind.

This strikes me as a much more rewarding system and one which I hope to make better, fuller use of.

Question of the Week #8

Question:

How do you use social media as a writer? It strikes me that those are not easy waters to navigate.

Answer:

I could not agree more. Everything that I do that is related to video is infinitely easier to adapt to social media. Why? Because you are either giving it away for free to begin with, or you can pare it down and make a teaser version of a video to share and that is generally accepted. It is difficult to share writing online without giving it away and I find writing to consume a great deal more time and energy than video-related projects. A short story takes me months to write and at the end of that the thought of just putting online is somewhat depressing. It also means I will never make money from that particular story, which would be a pretty nice thing to have happen.

That being said social media is supposed to be about interacting and sharing not just promoting your own work. So I have been earnestly attempting to do just this for a few years now. The results are lackluster. I find it difficult to engage most people online. One of my posts on this site recently had a comment that seemed like an excellent opportunity to engage someone in a debate. Only the comment was, like most of online comments, slightly off. I chose, perhaps wrongly, to not respond because I did not want to have to include a section that read, “If you refer back to what I originally wrote I addressed the point you made…” because 1) this comes off poorly and 2) it makes me sad. If you are going to bother to try and critique something someone has shared at least take a moment and read all of what they wrote. Then reread what you are writing to them and make sure you understand what you are saying. Or don’t, but then expect to get what you get in return.

This response has turned bitter, forgive me. Returning to the question, I have attempted to follow a number of writers on different social media platforms and what I have found is that none of them share much that interests me. Either they are simply promoting their work (and if I follow them on social media I usually know when their new works are published) or they post things that are personal/silly/political and not of interest to me. What should they be posting though? I feel that this is the problem with social media, what should any of us be posting? A link to the article that everyone else is posting? Photographs of us when we were six with some playful comment? Deeply held opinions that then taint our future works for the reader/viewer? For me this is the conundrum. I am unknown online and therefore I cannot imagine anyone is terribly interested in what I have to say.  Without one of my works being seen by many I am not sure how or why this would change.

Yet I keep plugging along with social media and now more with this site, in the hope that if I keep sharing and trying to put original works out into that endless data stream, that little by little this will change. So my current thought, and answer to this question is: I try and use this site to share writings that are not as labor intensive and to interact with others. My hope is that if some shorter piece I share here is of interest to someone that they may wish to read something else I have written. Or they may wish to share something with me. It is vague still as I think many of the goals of social media are but it is what I have.

Question of the Week #7

Question:

You are a writer and a filmmaker, so what’s up with writing about music once a week? Wouldn’t writing about writing or film on a weekly basis make more sense?

Answer:

It absolutely would. The not so clever answer as to why I am doing what I am doing is that I don’t pretend to have any knowledge or expertise regarding music. I listen to it, I like what I like and my goal with Music Mondays is to try and share this with other people.

Since I don’t have anything professionally invested in music I find it is easier and more freeing to try and write about the subject. If I were to try and offer up a book each week or even a film there would be pressure (applied only by me) to have each post really say something. To try and offer some deep analysis, or to dig up obscure works and try and offer something new about them.

It saddens me, but I have gone this route before, even with the See it Again section I have on this site. I have numerous drafts of films that I want to share but when I sit and try and write why I think you should give them another chance, unless I have some big, impressive point to make, it feels like I am failing.

Not so with music. I am not sure I said anything that pretends to be insight this week but that does not trouble me. As I have stated I listen to music and I enjoy it, that is where my relationship with music ends. I actively try and create stories and because of this I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the processes – even attempting to study how other people create, and this takes the fun out of trying to write something like a blog post about books or movies.

I plan to work on this though because I love to talk about both so the next logical step would be to try and write about them. As with everything I simply need to change my way of thinking about this matter and then everything will fall into place. This weekly thing might be a bit much though. We shall see.

Question of the Week #4

Question:

You seem to be interested in different kinds of writing. How does blogging fit into your mindset of being a writer?

Answer:

To be perfectly honest blogging feels a bit like cheating. I put thought into what I share on this site but nothing like what I would put into an essay or a story. That being said for a time I was attempting to do that with the pieces I wrote on this site. The tone was not conversational, I attempted to be (somewhat) formal and each item I published I tried to give a little nudge to make it slightly better than a piece of disposable writing. Did I succeed? I don’t know. Did I write much? As you can see I did not.

So now I am attempting to write more, in a style that is imperfect so I can relax a little bit and have some fun with blogging. My goal is to have this in addition to the other forms of writing. Much like in how I am attempting to use social media sites I want this site to have something unique, that my Tumblr does not. Blog posts.

So while this form of writing does not necessarily fill me with a great sense of accomplishment it also does not weigh me down and keep me from actually writing. My hope is that it is interesting for other people to read but you can never really know with such things.