J BUSH

Ask Forgiveness, Not Permission

Internet thinking and money is infiltrating Hollywood.

I found Venture Hacks’s advice for startups applicable to filmmaking — particularly the idea of giving team members freedom and responsibility over what they make. The idea is to let every person ship their work as fast as possible, then figure out what’s wrong and how to fix it with the feedback of initial users. Instead of getting stuck in internal review processes that result in layers of overview and never sending anything to market.

Freedom

  1. Ask forgiveness, not permission
  2. Do what you think is right (and be right)
  3. S/he who codes, rules

Responsibility

  1. You break it, you bought it
  2. Sweat the details and corner cases
  3. Be real
  4. Own the result

Replace “codes” for “writes” or “directs” above, and I think this is a pretty good prescription for filmmaking. In filmmaking, there are plenty of reasons why some people may not be given freedom and responsibility that does not reflect on them. But I believe if you hire the right people, give them freedom and responsibility (or let them take it), the greatest results are possible.

All of these dictums are variations on freedom and responsibility. Netflix has a great presentation on the topic. So does ValvePeter Drucker probably wrote about it 50 years ago. 

Great Ideas Look Like Bad Ideas

If you come up with a new idea and you tell your agents and managers about it, or some executives or producers you know, or your friends, and everyone loves it, that’s a bad sign. That means it’s not fresh enough. That means it’s sitting too close to the surface, too obvious, too similar to what’s already happening in the zeitgeist, in the culture.

Your reps’ jobs are to hate your really great ideas. Because they are focused on what’s selling right now and what they predict might sell tomorrow based on that — in other words, yesterday’s great ideas.

But if your ideas are really good, they’re not going to look good to anyone at first. And that’s the magic window where — if you have the courage to follow your instincts and your gut — you can capitalize on the lag time between the moment that you know it’s good and the day the rest of the world wakes up to it.

Your job isn’t to follow the zeitgeist, it’s to make it.

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Peter Thiel basically says the same thing in his class on startups:

“3. Secrets exist.

People don’t really believe in secrets anymore. But secrets exist. It’s just a matter of learning how to find them.

Risk aversion and complacency discourage people from thinking about secrets. Existing conventions are much more comfortable. But secret truths can be incredibly valuable. Importantly, they are discoverable; by definition, any answers to the questions in Lesson 2 above are secrets. Perhaps the biggest secret of all is that there are many more secrets in the world that are waiting to be found. The question of how many secrets exist in our world is roughly equivalent to how many startups people should start. From a business perspective, then, there are many great companies that could still be—indeed,are waiting to be—started.”

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Seth Godin says the same thing:

“All good ideas are terrible

Until people realize they are obvious.

If you’re not willing to live through the terrible stage, you’ll never get to the obvious part.”

Every Artist Deserves Hope (and Everyone Is An Artist)

I had a really interesting conversation the other day with a guy who said: “Everyone is an artist.”

I had a twitter conversation last night with a lit manager that started cuz I was trying to warn newer writers away from paying for notes. Especially paying outrageous sums like $600 and up – which is a scam plain and simple. Like another twitter friend (hi Hisel!) pointed out: “Literally no one’s opinion is worth $600.”

Yes notes can be valuable, especially when you’re starting out. But the feedback you get from each other and from mentors who are a few steps ahead of you in the process are far more valuable than anything you could get by paying for it.

Where do you meet people who can give you notes? Everywhere. Coffee shops where writers hang out. If you live in a place where there aren’t a lot of writers, meet them online. On twitter, on forums and in the comments sections of blogs and video sites where writers hang. I live in the middle of Los Angeles, writer central, and I still meet most of my friends online. Maybe that’s due to my, er, personality.

Once you’ve figured your voice out, notes become less valuable and can even become counter-productive. Don’t get me wrong – notes are always part of the process in a professional setting, and I am grateful for sharp notes. But an experienced notes-giver will know how to give you feedback that heightens your intention, your voice, without diluting you. This is very hard to do. If you find a person who gives you these kinds of notes, stick to them like the ALIEN.

So in the twitter conversation last night, my lit manager friend’s point was that he doesn’t like the scammy notes-givers cuz he thinks they give people false hope. His business is deluged with bad material, and they don’t need to be encouraged by these one-man operations.

My point was: every artist deserves hope. And what all the reps and execs don’t realize is – they get their hands on artists after they’ve spent their entire lives developing their instruments. But if they had met them even a few years before that point, they would have dismissed them as another of the unwashed masses, with scorn and ridicule, the way I see them do.

And that is wrong.

Because while we are all born with talent (everyone is an artist) – no one is born knowing how to use that talent –

All artists deserve to be encouraged and nurtured. They deserve to be safe doing so. They deserve to not be preyed on, by the likes of bloggers trying to charge them $600 for their bullshit notes, the equivalent of which they could get from anyone they meet in the comments section on the same sites. Most of all they deserve to be protected and safe, not ridiculed by the very people making their living off them after they have devoted their entire lives to developing their instruments.

All artists deserve hope. Every great artist you can think of looked talentless to someone at some point. They just weren’t successfully dissuaded from continuing.

And by the way, the second part of this idea – that everyone is an artist? My friend’s point was that no matter what your vocation – you can practice it with art – with love – with intention.

You deserve to make art. And you deserve to be protected and safe so that you can continue.

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How to Break Out of a Creative Rut
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Why Hollywood Is So Dumb About Piracy (Part 2)

Hollywood © by Cynthia_x

A few people seemed confused by my last post on why Hollywood is wrong about piracy, so I wanted to clarify a bit.

I’m not suggesting anyone get rid of distribution. I am suggesting that piracy is not the threat Hollywood is making it out to be.

It’s best practices in many industries to give away a certain number of copies of your books or songs or images for free – because the more eyeballs that see it (or ears that hear it) – the more money it makes in the long run. This might appear counterintuitive to the kind of corporate executive who manages intellectual properties like commodities – who believes that media should be sold and managed like the goods on the shelves at Walmart. Reduce shrinkage. Prosecute shoplifters. Spend a fortune on traditional advertising, but show no one the actual product til they buy.

However, selling TV and movies is very different from selling a 24-pack of toilet paper. People are going to talk only so much about consumer goods like toilet paper – in person or online – no matter how good your marketing is. But people want to talk about culture. That’s one of the main things we talk about – we identify with what we like, we reference culture to signal we’re part of the gang who likes Bon Iver and Game of Thrones and Annie Hall, we use stories we saw in movies, TV or books to help us make sense of the chaotic mess that surrounds us in our own lives – we enjoy telling each other about what we’ve seen. It’s part of the fun of being human.

And Hollywood wants us talking about their shit. Because out of ten people – if two of them are talking about a movie they saw, the chances are far greater that the other eight may go buy a ticket. Or pay somewhere else down the revenue stream.

But to get more people talking about it, you have to seed the storm cloud a bit. They’re starting to catch on – like when they put Portlandia’s season premiere online before it aired and ratings in key demos jumped 81%. But that kind of thinking needs to extend across the entire industry, not just TV, which is used to giving its shit away for free.

Piracy achieves the same effect, though less formally. If Hollywood were to formalize the practice – legitimize piracy, make downloading titles fast and easy and inexpensive, none of this would be a problem. And yeah, certain distribution arms might have to change to accommodate this, but distribution always has to change to accommodate new technology. Outdated industry models will wither and die in the face of new technology and new consumer preferences. This is what market pricing is all about – letting consumer demand set prices. And if that’s readjusting prices downward, resetting what could be seen as a speculative bubble so that inflated movie budgets have to go away and huge marketing campaigns are replaced by good word-of-mouth buzz, then so be it. The industry will be healthier for it.

Why Hollywood Is So Dumb About Piracy

Fireman Trying to Turn Off Broken Hydrant Under the Hollywood Sign, LA, 2006 © by exposo

Hollywood is always behind the times – whether being the last to know “oh no you didn’t” is not funny or the loudest objectors to new technologies (which they always say is going to decrease their profit, even though it always increases it) .

Most hilarious, though, is the way Hollywood is always first to pat themselves on the back for being cool, forward-looking, innovative, young (that just means they’re quick to hire young sociopath-douchebags with no track record then throw up their hands when they have no idea why the stuff they produce is such shit) –

But the fact remains, Hollywood is one of the oldest, whitest, crankiest-old-man businesses around.

The huge studios (which are all owned by enormous multinational corporations) are up in arms about piracy because they see themselves as the “authors” of their films and TV shows and think that anyone “stealing” their films and TV shows by downloading them illegally represents a dangerous threat to their bottom line. Or at least to the capitalist law and order system that has allowed their parent companies to rape and pillage our economies and natural resources for hundreds of years.

The biggest flaw in this logic is the idea that *money* is the greatest resource an audience can trade to the author of a film in exchange for the privilege of seeing that film. (That a corporation can be the “author” of a film is a debate for another day.)

Attention is a far more valuable commodity – one that Hollywood sometimes spends more money to acquire than they reap in money in return.

Which would you rather have:

– A movie that cost you $5 million to make and grossed $10 million, but that no one heard of, no one talked about, no one cared about, or –

– A movie that cost you $5 million to make and grossed $5 million, but that everyone heard of, everyone’s talking about, everyone cares about?

I would rather the second. Because in the former case, you have a commodity with a limited afterlife. In the latter case, you have a commodity with a far greater afterlife, both financially and culturally. Benefits accrue to the studio and the creative professionals involved in the film that are not measured in money but rather in terms of how much impact a project has – how many people saw it?

During awards season, important people (people who might be voting in the big awards) receive free screeners of anything that stands a chance of getting an award. Studios want to make sure the important people – the tastemakers – have seen their stuff. Considering it costs nothing to allow important people to download video for free – why not let the important people’s families also have access? They probably have a lot of important friends who vote too. And they probably spend a lot of time talking about this stuff at boring holiday parties. And if we’re expanding the circle of who is important, why not make it certain zip codes, because I think we can all agree that most taste is made in a few central taste zones in Brooklyn and Los Feliz.

My point is this: everyone is important. Everyone is a tastemaker. Do I want some kid in a village in India to be able to watch my movie for free because he downloaded it illegally? Fuck yeah. Because that kid is important. And getting my movie in the hands of that kid is more important than the pennies I/we could make off him. Pennies we no doubt would never make because he would have never made it to the theatre.

A huge part of a movie or TV show’s budget – sometimes WAY more than the costs of production – is marketing and advertising. Imagine there was a system where the youngest, most independent-minded, most hooked-in online could access and see movies and TV (sometimes before they’re even released) and spread word early whether something needs to be seen to be part of the conversation or not. We have that system in place and that’s piracy – and it’s the fairness at its heart – the fact that Hollywood can’t just throw a ton of plastic Happy Meal toys in our landfills to make us see their stupid movies – that they hate. It means quality stands on its own, and that getting firehosed in the face with marketing campaigns won’t blind us to the shitstorm you just made.

The bottom line is this: Hollywood spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year on marketing to get people to see their stuff, trying to get them to talk about it – when the best marketing is and always has been – make something great and put it where people can see it.

Right now there is tension in the market between the way consumers want to consume their movies and T.V. – in my living room, with my twitter friends – and the way Hollywood wants us to consume it – in theaters, on the day and time they specify, on approved devices. However, it doesn’t serve them to continue resisting their own customers’ preferences. Just as the music industry no longer found piracy to be a major problem once digital downloads were widely available at the right price, so will Hollywood find this “problem” will go away once they get their heads out of their asses and wake up to the world we now live in.

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Hypocrisy in Hollywood
Created by: Paralegal

Cults, Community, and The Heidi & Frank Show

The roar of my neighbor’s un-mufflered pick-up greeted me in the carport. She got out and told me she was going to a live broadcast of her favorite pirated internet radio show – The Heidi & Frank Show – at the Hooter’s in North Hollywood. She strongly encouraged me to come.

As appealing as that sounded, I had to regretfully decline. However, I was struck by her zeal in proselytizing on behalf of Heidi and/or Frank. I’m from the rural South, so I’ve been on the receiving end of my share of well-meaning invitations to church suppers, youth groups, baptismal founts and lock-ins.

It wasn’t till a while later when her truck roared up – backwards (she always backs in) – when I noticed a giant “Heidi & Frank Show” banner covering the entire back of her truck gate – that I realized the full extent of her Heidi & Frank conversion.

“Where’d you get that banner?” I asked.

“I had it made,” she said. “To support the show.”

This was like lightning striking me dumb, the idea that anyone could care so much about Heidi & Frank – who, from what I’ve gathered online appear to be a couple of profane idiot-whisperers (“Topics discussed on today’s After Hours: tweets out of context, downs, swollen lady bits, fly hair quests, and lit hickeys… it’s radio worth watching!”) who specialize in the kind of community-building first espoused by the Hitler Youth.

I was blown away by my neighbor’s banner – by the idea that anyone could care so much about a show, feel so identified with and invested in a *money-making corporate enterprise* as to spend her own money to help advertise for them – till she drove up a while later with her new Heidi & Frank mudflaps.

That’s when I realized – isn’t this a goal of anyone who makes stuff, who tells stories for a living and depends on the enthusiasm and support of others to help spread those stories around? Don’t we all want our listeners, our blog readers, our T.V. show watchers or movie watchers or novel readers to feel so invested in and identified with our stories they create their own mudflaps on their trucks, to extend those myths those mud-encrusted-rubber couple inches further into the world?

I guess we can all learn a think or two from Heidi & Frank, and not just about swollen lady bits.

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I’ve spent all of 60 seconds studying this Heidi & Frank, but seems like they’re following the cult leader’s handbook:

  1. People are put in physical or emotionally distressing situations [Hooter’s in North Hollywood]
  2. Their problems are reduced to one simple explanation, which is repeatedly emphasized [I’m listening to Heidi & Frank.]
  3. They receive what seems to be unconditional love, acceptance, and attention from a charismatic leader or group [this is the logline of any radio show]
  4. They get a new identity based on the group [my neighbor feels so identified with the show she used her own money to make a banner for her truck to advertise for them]
  5. They are subject to entrapment (isolation from friends, relatives and the mainstream culture) and their access to information is severely controlled. [the more they listen to Heidi & Frank, the less contact they have with the outside world]

 

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I’m reading

 

See Your Own Trouble Reflected

lynda barry card w/ purple paint spatters © by xinem

… [Lynda Barry] told a story about the neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran, who helps patients experiencing phantom-limb pain. Barry discussed one patient who felt that his missing left hand was clenched in a fist and could never shake the discomfort — could never “unclench” it.

So Ramachandran used a mirror box — a compartment into which the patient could insert his right hand and see it reflected at the end of his left arm. “And Ramachandran said, ‘Open your hands.’ And the patient saw this” — Barry opened two clenched fists in unison. “That’s what I think images do.

“I think that in the course of human life,” she continued softly, “we have events that cause” — she clenched her fist and held it up, inspecting it from all angles. “Losing your parents might cause it. Or a war. Or things going bad in a family.”

The only way to open that fist, she said, is to see your own trouble reflected in an image, as the patient saw his hand reflected in a mirror. It might be a story you write, or a book you read, or a song that means the world to you. “And then?” She opened her hand and waved.

I read this article about Lynda Barry – who became a writing and creativity teacher when the market for her comic strips dried up.

I was pretty troubled in college – and whenever people (people like the other girls in my eating disorders recovery group, for instance) would suggest to me that writing was therapeutic for me – I thought this idea was bullshit at best.

However, I do think writing has a cathartic quality – not in a confessional, I’m-making-my-audience-my-therapists! way. Rather, in the way Barry describes above.

If something has caused you to close, cave in, get smaller – writing about it, creating around it, reflecting it in the world again and again – gets you bigger again.

via Cartoonist Lynda Barry Will Make You Believe In Yourself – NYTimes.com.

Don’t Stare At One Thing For Too Long

I took this pic yesterday while writing at a Soho pub. This image feels so London.

One of the many bad habits I have is I tend to spend too much time staring at one thing.

I’m thinking of scripts and novels right now, but I’m also thinking of life.

I freeze. I hesitate. I spend way, way too long staring at the same thing – when I should just keep moving the minute I realize I don’t know what to do.

Because doing nothing is almost always worse than doing anything at all. When you’re moving, you may be moving in the wrong direction – but it’s easier to figure that out when you’re doing something, when you’re in motion. Because when you freeze, you stop course-correcting, you lose any sense of your bearings. You forget where you are.

Worst of all, when you freeze you send yourself and the world the message that yeah, you shouldn’t be going anywhere. This spot right here feels safer and less uncertain than any random direction you might pick. And since staying in one place is far less anxiety-provoking than moving, you feel a sense of relief. But it’s illusory relief, akin to the relief you may feel when you refuse to get out of bed in the morning. Yes it feels better in the moment, but as your life and your work grind to a halt, your losses far outweigh the temporary comfort.

It’s the same with staring at the same beat in a script for too long – or staying at the wrong job or relationship or whatever it is – it feels better in the moment, but it can be subtly, silently devastating.

Any moment in your writing (or job or relationship or whatever) requires some thought, yes. But you know when you’ve paused too long. And when you do, make yourself go somewhere else, try a different spot. You’ll have a million excuses for why you can’t or don’t want to, but also you can just try it and see how it feels.

This is the outside of the pub pictured above. I'm in love with all the window boxes and hanging plants everywhere in London.

 

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I’m reading Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox. It’s an entertaining ethnographic study of what makes the English tick – the perfect thing for my hostess to give me to read during my first visit here in London.

Story By vs. Written By

Questioned Proposal © by Eleaf

 

Someone asked me to answer this question on Quora, so I thought I may as well throw it up here:

Question:

What is the difference between story writing and screenplay writing for movies?

My answer:

There is no difference.

People who don’t know what they’re doing or are not particularly confident in their screenwriting will go on and on about structure and formulas and hitting this goalpost at that mark and blah blah but the fact remains –

A screenplay is a story told visually (and with some dialogue). There is absolutely no other difference. It’s just a different style of telling a story (through pictures, sounds and spoken words rather than written words).

The more you focus on telling a story (rather than hitting all the goalposts the books talk about) – the better off you will be.

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I would also like to recommend this answer to the same question by Mark Hughes. He gets more into the nitty-gritty of the “story by” vs. “written by” credits.

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Today’s “What I’m Reading” is a “What I’m Listening To” –

I really love podcasts. There’s a handful that I listen to every episode they do. I’ll try to post about all of my favorites, but today’s favorite is “Extra Hot Great” – a podcast by three true lovers of T.V. and movies and all things pop culture. (They are Tara Ariano, David T. Cole and Joe Reid). They’re funny, insightful, and best of all they infect you with their love and sense of ownership over wonderful (and some terrible) things to watch.

 

Every Dialogue Line Is A Punchline

 

Project 4(Barbara Kruger) by KelsIZbwnage

I want every line of dialogue I write to land like a punchline.

Even in the most serious, least funny stuff I write — I still strive for that rhythm. Each line sets up the next. And each line has to land. And if it doesn’t, you tighten it (by cutting off the top of the line, the first half of the sentence, which the eye skips over anyway) — or you cut filler words — or you reorder the line so that the highest-impact word falls last. Or conversely — you reorder the line so that it falls away, it’s a throwaway, the intensity and conviction of the words and the speaker drop from the start of the line till the end. And this is a kind of punchline too, where we suddenly look at the speaker, knowing there’s a story there. He’s the butt of the joke. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s not.

What we’re talking about is a way to make your dialogue rhythmic, musical and responsive. Just make each line feel like the punchline to the joke that was the last line. I’m not saying make it funny — I did this in death scenes in my Iraq pilot. Ok maybe there was a little humor there, I don’t remember.

Just make it punchy.

 

 

 

 

 

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