Ravaged Heads for Everyone, or, The Alchemy of Expectations

The live-reading of Sophia The Great went extremely well. Much like our experience producing Multiverse, the end-result exceeded expectations. I could get used to this.

Before I move on to sharing some notes about the experience, a word (or a thousand) about this same topic: expectation.

Historically, I have had an unhealthy relationship with expectation. Even still now, I periodically need a metaphorical slap in the face (self-inflicted, or inflicted by Rebecca) when it comes to tempering my expectations for…a certain project, a certain phase of a certain project, a certain step towards a certain phase of a certain project. I go into so much detail because…I believe the relationship between action and expectation has a particular sort of significance for an artist — though the lessons I have learned (and continue to learn) about maintaining a healthy balance, in these terms, probably translate to matters of day-to-day life as well.

To be clearer: I think my work has started to sometimes exceed my expectations because…I’ve lowered my expectations. To a degree.

To anyone waiting to pounce on such an idea (pounce away, ideas don’t feel pain, idiot) this may seem a sign of weakness. To such a person, lowered expectations might mean compromise. A lessening of The Vision. What I’m describing…it may sound like acquiescence.

And it is. I have begun to more regularly acquiesce to that voice I’ve made reference to before, that says: “You can’t do it.” Because that voice is right. None of us will ever be able to “do it” in quite the way we imagined. A lot of people are okay with this (as they should be). Too many people, probably, are too okay with this (they could try a little harder to form better expectations for themselves). But all of us, to a degree, struggle to reconcile our part in such daily transactions — between what we expect for ourselves and what we are able to realistically do. It may even be a particularly American problem, or an acutely generational one, in the terms I’m so far using. When we expect the reality of The Screen, and instead get reality itself (which, worse than failing to be clean and/or glamorous, is plagued by manmade unfairness and these days seems often arrested in a state of depressed, perpetual stasis)…the loser, in the end, is us.

Obviously, I’ve walked this road. Seemingly, I’ve decided to abandon it. So. Why and how?

Again, it’s a delicate dance. Especially for an artist. As a filmmaker in particular, I need my lofty expectations. They drive two of the most basic tools a filmmaker/artist needs in order to succeed. They provide you with enough Crazy to think that it makes sense to struggle for years for the right to enlist others to help create and/or spread your vision — that this is a reasonable idea (most times, it’s not). Additionally, high expectations can push you at times when nothing or no one else can. In independent film, especially at the level I’m at, this is almost all the time. But the idea becomes more tactile as you progress through a production, for instance — all the way to the end of the finished product, which in my case is a film. I expect this essentially false, moving snapshot I’ve created with the help of all these people — to momentarily replace reality in the minds of the audience. It’s a contradictory notion, in terms of expectation. Because for this to happen, everything needs to be perfect.

And that’s the trouble spot, when it comes to expectations. That’s where we come back around to the necessity of responsibly dealing with the inevitable letdown that comes from riding them as far as they’ll take us before we inevitably get bucked. Expectations always represent a losing hand. It’s part of the deal. Expectations aren’t human, they never tire, they rarely stop. We are human, we do tire, and we must stop — occasionally. All we can do, in the face of these truths, is learn to know our limits (after we’ve found them) and keep showing patience, as we work “tirelessly,” “endlessly,” in pursuit of a finish line we can always see, always feel, but never reach.

So, there it is. That’s where I’m at lately. To succeed in any way, we have to first admit defeat. It will never go as perfectly as you imagined.

And as long as this realization isn’t repurposed as an excuse (don’t do that), the knowledge can become liberating. I don’t know that it’s something that can really be taught, so much as understood, perhaps after a series of “failures,” but I thought this was worth mentioning. Because it’s important to me that readers understand what I also have to continually force myself to accept — that when I say my expectations were exceeded because they were lower, what I really mean to say is that my expectation that everything would go perfectly, right away, was lowered to a more healthy (but still appropriately crazy) expectation that everything go extremely well, and land in a satisfactorily elevated place, as I chase perfection during any one step, of any one phase, of any one production. Eventually. When and where it ultimately counts.

One more important point to all this is the importance of asking for and getting help. From family, friends, co-conspirators, collaborators — whoever.

The formula for an expectation, when broken down in its simplest form, is comprised of some admixture of elements from within yourself, combined chemically by you only in the abstract. To be made energetic, it must necessarily be broken back down into the stuff that makes up your expectation, so that these elements may be distributed through the world around you that are seeking to affect (whatever size that world may be). This requires you to take measure of that world, so that you know exactly how much energy to exert and how to appropriately handle it and when.

To do this, you need help. In externalizing our expectations, if we ever do, we are opened up. The aforementioned process necessitates this vulnerability, just as the unbearable complexity and exhaustiveness of it necessitates assistance.

The alchemy of creating an external event that elicits an emotional response (I’m still speaking mostly in artistic terms, so let’s say we’re talking about a shot, a scene, a film) is too monumental a task for an individual. Distributing its parts, after the idea has been formed within you, so that they may be turned tactile and enter the world, assembling those parts once this is accomplished — all of this represents an overwhelmingly heavy and complex set of tasks. It’s too much for one person, or a handful of people, to accomplish on their own. Not to mention the fact that an expectation is built from ideas, which have a habit of acting less like puzzle pieces and more like viruses once they’re passed around — if they’re strong ideas. Strong ideas breed more (sometimes loftier) expectations. This is how it should be.

Finally, to “complete” the process, you must recombine the ideas that formed the expectation that spawned more ideas that together became The Task. I’ve tried handling this step (mostly) alone before. It doesn’t work. I tried it, and it unhinged me. For years. The work also suffered. Which made the failure all the more devastating.

Bringing the discussion back onto the ground level, I’d like to thank Rebecca, for co-producing the reading of Sophia The Great in her spare time, at the same time that she was taking Sophia as a character very seriously in preparation for the event itself (and Sophia The Character is not a wee little bunny). I’d like to thank all the actors and audience members who donated their time to help us pursue perfection with this script and project. Perhaps you had no idea that the aforementioned process had already ravaged my head. That we were taking it so very seriously. Or perhaps a similar process was ravaging your head. I hope so. This is why we do it. The goal is more ravaged heads. Ravaged heads for everyone.

So, finally, the important question. What did we learn?

  • I learned that I am better at receiving notes and taking feedback than I have ever been in my entire life. I pat myself on the back for this. Not only was I able to listen to critiques of certain aspects/elements of the script, I was able to parse such feedback in such a way as to separate notes into three piles: 1) THANK YOU, BUT THAT IS GOING TO STAY THE SAME, 2) YOU’RE RIGHT, THAT NEEDS ATTENTION, 3) YOU’RE NOT RIGHT, BUT YOU’RE NOT WRONG, THAT NEEDS ATTENTION. From what I can tell from the testimony of other professional writers: this is crucial. Glad to have finally gotten to this point. “It was not easy,” says my ego. Then my ego goes back to his whiskey corner. Or he doesn’t get any supper.
  • I learned that my fears about how the content of the script might be received, were exaggerated by my head and at least partially unfounded. Of course, we only had a small crowd. Counting the actors (who always give useful feedback, in the questions they ask while attempting to get into character, and then frequently after the fact as audience members as well) and the number of invited audience members who showed up, I think we had about 20 people in attendance. I was pretty focused on the actors for most of the reading, but there were more than a few moments when I felt like everyone was paying Very Close Attention. We also got quite a few laughs, which was encouraging. It’s not that I don’t think parts of the script are funny, it’s just that they come from the side of funny that lives on the border of Sad Town. Not only did all this feel great, because many parts of the script seemed to be working, but it was great seeing the actors make the words their own. Something I didn’t anticipate happening (because I was too busy in the leading weeks to think about it) was that, unlike on a shoot (where I am responsible for everything, for every second of every day), at the reading, once it all started — I was able to sit back and be a part of the audience. Valuable stuff.
  • I need help. We (Rebecca and I) need help. As indicated by the paragraphs above, we have learned this lesson already. Still, in the indie game, especially after you’ve been doing it awhile, and more so because of the urgency tasks take on when you’re juggling them between day jobs and regular life — it gets easy to forget. That we all need help. That it’s okay, and often necessary, to ask for help. Suffice to say, it was a little exhausting getting the reading set up. It was exhausting because we’re still working on Multiverse. It was exhausting because we’re also in the early stages of figuring out how to get Sophia The Production kicked off at the same time. It was exhausting because it took writing this post to remind me that everything I wrote about in the paragraphs above…that these lessons need to be constantly considered and learned from…not just recognized on one happy occasion and put away in a drawer. So this becomes our next and newest task, on a couple of fronts. I will be going it alone for a bit longer, with some help from Rebecca, while we prep the next draft of the script. Then we call for help. Oh, but if you have some help laying around, let us know.
  • I learned that I am on the right track. Artistically. More work needs to be done, much more work. But, as I mentioned, there were a few moments during the reading where our actors took over The Words and gave them life and then…the room went still. Quiet. We were arrested — me along with everyone else. There’s no greater feeling in the world. I’ve only ever felt it a few times before, for a few beautiful moments, when Sex and Justice was playing on the big screen and The Drama was coming and people were still and attentive and they cared. Again…this is why we do it.
  • I learned, with stunning clarity and finality, what I have long suspected but could never quite fully believe until now — that I can’t do anything but this. Months upon years of expectation, hard work, collaboration, alchemy. For the privilege of a just a few transcendent moments. That is what we’re chasing. This, as crazy as that sounds, is how it has to be.

This is why we do it.

What I Liked This Week: 3/16/13

I am in the unusual position of having to really dig for the fury this morning, friends — at least initially. The combination of the first real full day off with the missus in quite a while yesterday, the ten-day break from The Day Job (and The Night Job as well, depending on how well I’m able to succeed at that), and visions of imminent beach time — it’s all got me feeling a little mellow.

On a similar note, I didn’t take a whole lot of time to like and dislike things this week. I was busy, and at the same time I was pretty relaxed (this rarely happens outside of when I’m on set, so I went with it).

The biggest thing I liked was our reading of Sophia The Great, which went very well. I’m working on the follow-up post I promised I’d write after the reading. Didn’t finish it yet because something I didn’t like this week intervened, which ended up spawning a lengthy post of its own on Thursday night, which you should check out if you’re interested. That post is my personal response to the “debate” over the significance of the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign, mostly in terms of what it may or may not mean for “the industry.”

So, onwards.

The first official item I liked this week, about something I didn’t like, gets its own series of paragraphs. Buckle up. I dosed on The News, and now the fury rises.

I liked this article, from The Atlantic, about the government budget proposed by former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan. I don’t like the budget proposed by former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Not only does it provide a reminder that this oblivious, heartless man could have been one Caviar Choking Death Accident away from The Presidency — it shows why such an outcome would have been so devastating, for a national economy that is just barely chugging along still, in the face of rampant obstructionist meddling, on the political side, and persistent inaction on the front of corporate investment and hiring. It’s no surprise that Ryan and the majority of the rest of our Congressional Republicans want to fix the budget deficit by sacrificing the poor and the barely-getting-by at the altar of the rich, but it’s “nice” to get these recurring reminders about just how little our representatives care about the majority of us.

I’ve said plenty, and plenty more has been said, about the sheer injustice of the political situation we’ve been in since the House fell under the control of this particular version of the Republican party. So, instead of banging my bruised and bleeding head against the wall yet again, look at it this way…

The majority of the “savings” from Ryan’s budget come from gutting the Affordable Care Act. I call it the Affordable Care Act, rather than Obamacare, because it’s called the Affordable Care Act. The word Obamacare was created by the right wing of the political establishment to serve as some sort of derogatory term for legislation they disagreed with but that was fought for and enacted (despite fierce opposition from them), in order to help us (us being the majority of Americans struggling with access to quality health care and ever-rising health care costs). It continues to boggle my mind every time an allegedly legitimate journalist co-opts the term or gives-in to its usage out of either laziness or acquiescence.

I digress. The point is that the battle over this legislation has been fought, and the Republicans lost. Ryan’s ticket also lost the election, for many reasons but mostly because The People have (finally) started sniffing the bullshit. So does Ryan — does the Republican right — lick their wounds, do some soul-searching, and get to work admitting defeat and learning from it and bettering themselves and their policies as a result? Do they act like real men? No. They act like spoiled children, by repeatedly refusing to listen to Our Voice. They act like puppets, repeatedly catering to what the super-rich want rather than what the rest of us have shown we need. They act inhuman. “No,” they say. It doesn’t matter how many times they are proven wrong or told they aren’t going to get what they want. “No. No. No. No.” Your tax dollars at work, citizens. Your votes, if you voted Republican, being used to repeatedly say “no” — to everything. Damn respect, decency, maturity. Especially damn the consequences — for everyone except the super-rich and the people who live in their pockets.

On to less-infuriating things…

  • I like this HitFlix interview with Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas, which fills in some of the details missing from the discussion about his Kickstarter campaign for the film version of his cult TV show. As my post on this subject opines, some of these details probably should have been more readily available within the architecture of the campaign — or more clearly stated — to temper some of the concerns of some of the rest of us “in the industry” (as well as some consumers). However, for the most part, this interview made me feel with more certainty that It’s All Going To Be Okay. Which I knew, but…reading this, for me, helped reinforce the idea that this is a better thing for movies and entertainment than it is a bad thing. Thomas is a talent with a distinct vision. He’s had trouble finding a greater audience, and/or getting opportunities to put his vision forward. Now he gets to go back to the well.
  • On that note, I also liked Scott Beggs’s article on the Film School Rejects site (about the same subject). Readers of my (lengthier) post might remember I quoted Scott while spouting my own opinion(s). There’s a link to his work there, but here it is again. It’s more succinct than mine, but feeds off the same idea that “everyone needs to chill.”
  • Finally, I liked this week’s confirmation that a particle thought to be the Higgs boson…has been confirmed to be the Higgs boson. Or a Higgs boson. My scientist hat is made out of old newspaper, but I seem to remember that this is big news. I also remember reading about some of the amazing practical applications this discovery may someday spawn, but this particular article from NBC News focuses on the primary significance that the existence of the boson holds for Life As We Know It. Basically, it’s evidence that, in billions of years, all this could implode upon us, before our cyborg robot progeny of our progeny to the Nth…has a chance to say: “Zweeborg kaploot!” Which for some reason filled me with anxiety and dread. We’re all going to die in billions of years! Fuck.

The beach sounds like a good idea, about now. Have a good week, mad lovers.

Why Filmmakers Need To Stop Freaking Out About The Veronica Mars Movie

On all sides of life, people often make the decision — however consciously — to ignore certain parts of reality, in order to better serve their anger and provide themselves with fuel for rationalizing their fears. This statement can be applied broadly to huge swaths of our population at the moment, unfortunately, but for today I want to focus a particular discussion, that starts from this place, on myself and my fellow band of merry misfits. All of this comes with the caveat that I’ve Been There.

So.

Dear Other Filmmakers:

Please do not freak out (or stop freaking out) about the existence/success of The Veronica Mars Movie on Kickstarter. You’re making yourselves, and our profession, look bad. I will explain.

– The Furious Romantic

First, before I say anything else about the subject, I want to make it clear that I understand your frustration and your reservations. It’s hard, seeing people you perceive as “already successful” leveraging an innovative new platform to accomplish something that, on the surface of things, they “should have done” within the parameters that are already established for all other “already successful” people who want to make movies, especially those that include studio involvement. Add to this, the uncomfortable fact that can’t be argued with at the end of the day — that, in this case, a film is being funded By The People despite the fact that it will continue to be owned by The Man (a major studio), in perpetuity, and that all profits (except perhaps for some backend points and typical union contract revenue-sharing that will go to the filmmakers and talent) will also go to said studio  — and you have more than a few good reasons for being upset. The Furious Romantic will never tell you not to be upset by a perceived injustice. Feel your feelings, angry people, but them come back to the ground and…stop freaking out.

I will leave the task of providing a measured, reasonable perspective on this topic to Scott Beggs at Film School Rejects, who succinctly stated almost all of the same “defenses” of the project that I poured into a Facebook conversation yesterday. Here are his main talking points, copied verbatim, for the sake of argument:

  1.  Veronica Mars is an ultra rare phenomenon. It’s a cult television show whose passionate fans persisted despite low ratings. They’ve called out for its return for years, and its creator has had countless phone calls and meetings trying to make something happen again. With Arrested Development taken care of by Netflix, you can count on one hand the properties that match Mars on these fronts, and even though studios are taking notice this morning, it’s highly unlikely that there’ll be a massive flood of studio projects hitting Kickstarter tomorrow.
  2. Even if there are, even if we reach a point where studios are collectively putting up dozens of big movies on Kickstarter, the market will absolutely take care of itself. There will be a bigger backlash against the practice if it gets out of hand, and if there isn’t, who is any single person to tell fans what they should give their money to? If someone has waited a decade for a new Firefly series, isn’t $35 for a t-shirt and digital download a steal at twice the price?
  3. It’s also pretty ridiculous to think that Veronica Mars‘ success is taking away anything demonstrable from any of the indie projects on the site. No one was on the cusp of donating $10 to a promising video artist’s stop-motion project when their Twitter feed lit up with the news.
  4. And, if anything, there’s a higher probability that the high profile and larger buzz brought more attention to what Kickstarter is doing, which is a win for everyone.
  5. Speaking of which, it’s a good time to remember that Kickstarter is a rising tide that lifts all boats. It’s not like the service has been fundamentally altered simply because a giant company discovered a use for it. They’re not making it exclusive to studio use or anything.
  6. Oh, and if you’re still concerned about how the fabric of indie filmmaking has been altered here, you certainly don’t have to donate anything.

Item 1 summarizes the main point of all this (which many other reasonable people have noted as well). If you asked 100 Veronica Mars fans if they wanted this movie, 120 would say yes. Because this is 2013, and in the time you took to answer the question 20 of those fans turned their friends/partners/spouses/etc. onto Veronica Mars on Netflix streaming. Because it’s a good television show that “died” young. That HAS to be the very first takeaway from this debate. A film will now exist that people wanted but that otherwise would not be getting if not for this Kickstarter campaign.

Item 2 looks at The Worse Case Scenario and confirms the likely truth: It won’t be that bad.

One of the biggest recent takeaways I’ve gotten in listening to the Scriptnotes podcast by John August and Craig Mazin, is that there’s a disconnect within the film industry that has perhaps “always been there” but is right now worse than ever before. In John’s expert opinion (paraphrasing) studios are not investing enough in Research and Development these days. Which is to say, they aren’t taking enough smart, calculated risks, by developing fresh material or identifying material that people want, choosing instead to play it safe, and/or play to the mean rather than risk too much of a loss on their investment. The result has been too many movies that are too mediocre, amidst a smattering of successful tent pole blockbusters from known commodities (big name writers and/or directors), and too few dollars and hours spent vetting and developing projects that people might want to see but studios are afraid to make. Craig, similarly (I hope I’m remembering this right, or he might get mad), has reflected on the increasing difficulty of getting projects made in the Hollywood low-budget range that I am going to inexpertly determine (or inaccurately remember) lands between $15 million and $35 million. Again, studios aren’t rolling the dice on slates of projects at this budget level. They’d rather just be certain that known commodities (adaptations and other properties with built-in brand recognition) can be made to deliver a substantial ROI if enough money is spent making those commodities into something big and broad and loud and then marketing them like crazy. On top of all this, the small independent labels that knew how to make and market films at the budget level of The Veronica Mars Movie…are mostly all gone, having been swallowed up by DVD shrinking revenues, the recession, deliberate contraction, etc.

So, my further question, reflecting on the second item on Scott’s list, is: Why should we be mad that a studio is not saying no to allowing a $2 million movie with a rabid, yearning fan base to get made? When they weren’t going to do it before — because it’s not big enough of an establish commodity?

Well, there are a few reasons, which need to be discussed before we move on to the rest of the reasons why overall, I think this development is good for all of us. They revolve around the budget. John August confirmed on Twitter last night that he and Mazin will be discussing this situation on Scriptnotes next week. I figured as much. I have some ideas about what I think/hope they’re going to talk about (aforementioned issues of R&D, smaller budget studio productions, etc.). One of the things I’m wondering is how they’re going to react…not to the existence of the Kickstarter campaign itself, or even the studio’s involvement in the whole affair, but the budget. The question of budget, in the case of this project, brings up a couple of concerns that I think need to be vetted before filmmakers decide if We Should Be Angry.

I’ve already established that I believe it’s a legitimate concern, upon first glance, to worry about what a studio-backed film, financed by an audience that assumes “all the risk” might mean for the industry. However, again, most of these fears aren’t (entirely) founded. Apart from the fact that all of the success of the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign depends on that audience’s existence in the first place (Rob Thomas and Kristen bell aren’t crowd-raising $2 million for a movie without their track record and their prior-work already behind them), it seems a lot of people “in the industry” are failing to take a step back and look at this from the top level.

Here’s how I see it, as a filmmaker. Excuse the reductiveness of what’s about to follow. But…okay. I want to make a film. I have a script, and I know I have the expertise and the ability and the work ethic to pull it off (these are important points, remember them for later). To make the film, though, I need money. I need money because a film is a product, that takes time and money to craft, and, related to that, I need money to pay people because making film is also a job. So there’s (basically) two ways to go. Some entity (a studio) can give me money in exchange for the right to recoup that investment and a return (otherwise they are not going to give me money) by distributing the film to as large an audience as possible, or I figure out how to get the money myself and then hope to sell the right to distribute my film to a widespread audience to another entity (let’s say a studio, again, to keep it simple). In each way, ideally, everyone gets what they want. I make my film, my audience gets to see a film they like, the studio gets money. Everyone’s happy.

Obviously, things don’t always work out this way. All sorts of factors screw with the balance and/or the successful implementation of this simple formula. A film’s a product, but it’s also a piece of art, and a piece of art that’s uniquely dependent on hoards of people working in imperfect unison towards the impossible goal of achieving a perfect vision that, at the end of the day, exists in some guy or gal’s head (even if others work to stuff toilet paper into that head along the way). Also, the film industry as a whole is in flux. Not only are we navigating the studio-level issues outlined by above, and not only have mid-range “independent” films disappeared, but the true, low-budget independent sphere “tasked” with leading the way in terms of innovative funding strategies in a depressed market…we’re just starting to figure out how things like crowd-funding and audience building work and what these things mean for the future of production and distribution.

At first glance, it’s easy for the independent filmmaker to get pissed off about the success of the Veronica Mars campaign. Here comes a bunch of successful people, and a studio that could come up with $2 million dollars by passing a hat during an executive lunch meeting, and now they’re creeping in on Our Salvation Platform and raising the full coupla mill in one day and THEY’RE GOING TO RUIN EVERYTHING. From the point of view of established working artists, though, this is a different question. I have to prognosticate a little, because I am not established, but…back to the budget issue.

Two million dollars is not a lot of money to make a feature film, especially not of the scope that this film would have to be, at minimum. Thomas has to spend around what he used to spend for two episodes of the show, let’s say, adjusted for inflation. They also no longer have a production office, and would have to set up and staff that. They also have to go at least “a little big” because the movie is always bigger and sleeker than the TV show. Also, fans have been waiting. Expectations are going to be high. No matter where the money comes from, or how quickly it comes together, by my rough estimates, this budget it seems a fairly legitimate minimum amount. This seems like a true independent production. Just because these people used to have a TV show (which was backed by a studio, which isn’t helping with production this time), and just because they’re more successful than most of the rest of us who turn to Kickstarter and other sites, just because they have to go through the studio in some way (because of a prior and valid legal agreement) if they want to make the film at all…doesn’t make this untrue.

I know it’s a lot of money, taken at face value. I know it’s a lot of money to most filmmakers who have turned to crowd-funding. I’m developing my first feature right now, and would love to have a quarter of what the Veronica Mars team raised (I’d take an eighth). But I haven’t earned that amount (not yet), and most likely, unless you’re a slumming showrunner or established industry vet reading this, neither have you.

The last flick I shot (and am still editing) is about 8 mins long, and it cost about $8,000 to make. Except that almost everyone worked for free or for vastly reduced rates (as is often the case), plus we were lucky enough to get some key locations for free, plus now, in post, people continue to work for free. All things told, that film’s end cost should be (I’m spit-balling) about $20,000 to $30,000. Still, we never would have been able to make it without that $8,000 (much of it obtained through crowd-funding), because some costs (food, travel, insurance) can’t be ignored. The feature I’m developing now? Ideally, we’ll be able to get at least a few hundred grand, to make it right. If we have to, we’ll find a way to make it for a fraction of that cost. My point is that I could look at that $2 million dollar amount and get angry. I could get angry that people I perceive as successful and monied (in particular, the studio) have taken money from The People that they should have got from their money trees instead. And I could get angry that they took the platform that was there for me to get money and…oh. They just used it the way it’s meant to be used.

Scott Beggs is right about Item 3 on his list. The success of the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign isn’t taking money or anything else away from independents. As he notes in Items 4 and 5, if anything, it’s giving money to us. It’s further legitimizing a growing means of funding films outside of the studio system. Aside from the source of the production money, there’s no difference between The Veronica Mars Movie, and any other independently financed $2 million movie with name talent and pre-arranged distribution. Yes, the difference is that the studio can see a return on an investment we made for them, but this is a special, different situation.

First, it’s different because — to finish off Scott’s list — we could have chosen not to donate. I didn’t, because as much of a fan I am of the show, I’d rather let everyone else pay for it and then catch Veronica once she hits Netflix or iTunes (thanks, suckas). But people donated. In droves. Because they wanted this movie and because they could. And this movie was only going to exist, because the studio was not going to hand the rights back to Thomas, if he and Bell decided to go small with it (including taking pay cuts, probably down to scale) and could prove interest (which they have emphatically done). Lost in all this though, is the symbolism of that sacrifice. What does it mean, in the larger context of the industry?

This is where I am curious to hear how the conversation plays out in next week’s Scriptnotes. August and Mazin always provide a thoughtful perspective to the business side of the industry. A lot of times, because they’re smart and experienced and open, their insights expand beyond the scope of the writer’s sole perspective. I’d like to hear what they think about the studio’s involvement in this affair, and what the success of the Veronica Mars campaign may or may not mean for the studio system and the industry as a whole. Beyond that, I’d like to hear their perspective on the budget, and whether or not this development is another bad sign in terms of shrinking budgets and tougher environments for getting things made (and in terms of artists getting their fair share of wages and/or revenue). Specifically, is it worrisome that a studio is going to potentially profit from a project where the budget is being artificially depressed by “necessity” in the first place (because of their refusal to invest their own millions and/or hand over the rights), and then replaced by the donations of Regular Citizens, who won’t see any return other than the joy of seeing the film they wanted made? Or does it not matter, because of the unique case of this particular project, and because, in donating, we (you) accepted the terms of the arrangement? Are we being played, on the consumer side? Are we playing ourselves, on the filmmaker side?

Here’s what I think, for what it’s worth:

  1. I think the issue of the studio benefiting from the return on The People’s Investment, in this case, is okay. First, I think it’s okay because they are going to allow the film to happen, whereas they weren’t before. Call me an idealist, but that looks more like a shaft of light to me than a warning shot. I think The People’s ROI, in this case, is the life of the film. Further, while I would have handled it a bit differently (tilting the exchange more favorably towards the consumer), most people who donated to the Veronica Mars campaign had the option of choosing to receive a copy of the movie. That’s product for your money, which you would have handed over anyway if the studio had financed it. Supposing, on the basis of Thomas’s track record, that there won’t be a huge quality loss in moving from the TV series to the film, when all is said and done, the barter exchange that usually occurs when a film is made and distributed remains intact in this case, even if parts of the process were reshuffled. On the side of the producers, I would have included a way to view the film at any/all price points. On the consumer side, since they didn’t — I would have only donated at a level where I could make that happen.
  2. I think this can be looked at in another way. I think this shows studios, in some small way, that The People Mean Business. Regardless of what you think about the rest of the situation, a film that was clamored for was finally offered, and we showed we wanted it and had the power to get it. That can be thrilling and a good sign, if you allow yourself to look at it that way (at least initially).
  3. Most important, out of everything, this provides a mass-incentive to push for equity crowd-funding. Basically, what this means is, if you’re upset about the studio-ROI issue with this project, aim that ire where it belongs: in the face of legislators who aren’t prioritizing equity crowd-funding laws that would allow The People to invest in a movie, and see ROI from that investment  through an equity stake if there are returns. I’m not completely read-up on this yet, but I learned what I learned from Michael Barnard’s excellent (and exhaustive) post on this and other funding topics.
  4. Studios will not begin pushing investment risk on consumers in any major or significant way because of this project. First, again, $2 million dollars is lunch-time pass-the-hat change to them. While we in the independent sphere or in the outer circles of the industry obsess over What It All Means, they’re shrugging and saying, “Hmmph. I guess we’ll keep an eye on that,” while stroking their evil cat and drinking caviar martinis. Which, to me, is a good thing. A better thing than no thing. Because they weren’t keeping an eye on that before. Assuming we stay vigilant in terms of our concerns, and/or continue to support innovation and legislation that’s fairer for artists and consumers, perhaps something like this could help hasten a return, if not to that $15-35 million “small budget” range of films…something that’s close enough for now (and better than nothing). Further, those same lessons being learned, and those same protections being assumed, maybe it’s a new way for studios (if they notice the shaft of light and are willing to invest in at least the cost of a hammer to make the hole a bit bigger) to return to a place where they do more Research and Development. Finally, studios depend on their large, high-risk investments. It’s the source of much of their leverage in the industry. Apart from the fact that Kickstarter campaigns won’t work for many other studio-owned properties, because the budgets for those properties would be too large to crowd-fund without equity investments added to the equation. It’s just not going to happen.
  5. From the indie perspective, I think Scott Beggs is right. The Mars project not only brings more eyeballs to Kickstarter (which helps us), it brings added legitimacy to the site and to crowd-funding as well. At the end of the day, all of these campaigns come down to the same thing: audience size and content. But bringing a studio into the equation makes things more interesting. They can learn from us, and we can sure learn from them. Again, I don’t expect studios to rush to the crowd-funding table, but neither should we pretend there isn’t something to be gained from cooperating with studios, especially in terms of distribution. It has to be done carefully, to protect the films, but doesn’t something like this give us more credibility in that area? Doesn’t it open up the possibility that, down the line, we might gain some of the leverage we lost, from situations like this? Wouldn’t things seem more balanced if The Veronica Mars Movie succeeds, Thomas and Bell come up with another idea in a few years, and they return to Kickstarter for another $1 million and the full rights to distribute the film, to leverage as they please? What possibilities does that open up? What happens after that project? Does an impressed studio begin warming up again, to the idea of giving someone like Thomas $15 million, for a chance to “do it the old fashioned way”?
  6. The Veronica Mars campaign erred in a few significant, but (obviously) not damning ways. First, they could/should have paid more attention to the issue of the studio’s involvement. I don’t pretend to know the details of why they came to which decisions and how, in terms of engineering the campaign, but two “errors” stand out for me. I would have made it more of a straight shot in terms of “donate and you get the movie.” This treats the transaction more like the pre-sale that it is, and it’s what Rebecca and I did/are doing for our crowd-funded short (every donation, from $5 and up, gets you preview access to the flick before anyone else). In the defense of the producers, they’re not distributors, and aren’t used to being distributors, and…further…the scale of the endeavor complicates things quite a bit. Still, I think a standalone DVD reward at the price point of a DVD, and a standalone digital download reward at the price point of a digital download — would have been a better idea. I guess they can still do this. Additionally, I think more transparency about their budget, and/or more information on the story of their budget, would have helped. Not that the vocal minority of detractors on Twitter or Facebook is anything to worry about in this case, but people would have less to complain or worry about if more information were available (even via a link buried somewhere on the campaign page) on why some of the talent (Kristen Bell) isn’t executive producing (I’m not judging) and just how much of that budget represents minimums that professionals are taking for a chance to make something they believe in and that The People want.

Lastly — and then, I swear, I’m done — I think a lot of the criticism and anger is coming from the usual place: outright jealousy and bitterness. This happened. It might happen again. Get over it. Focus on the good. Take note of the bad, and do something about it if it’s so important to you and such a threat to the industry and your present or future place within it. Stop complaining. Get to work making movies. If you’re an indie, or simply on the outside looking in, make a $5,000 film and make it look like a $10,000 film, by pursuing the task with ingenuity, hard work, and patience. Crowd-fund if you need or want to, but work at it, and do not waste time comparing yourself to a team of people who worked successfully together for years building a product that spawned a passionate fan base. If you have a film with a bigger budget that you want to make, try to make it if that’s what you feel you need to do. But if you can’t, make a smaller one first. Do it again and again, if you’re serious. If you aren’t serious, stop trying to bring down people who are trying to make things happen. Stop poisoning the discourse.

Take it from a former Angry Person, and a fan of Veronica Mars. Again, as many others have said — it’s good that this movie exists now. This wouldn’t have happened a few years ago. Whatever you think about the situation, start from there. Change is rising. It’s a good thing.

What I Liked This Week: 3/9/13

Kids. I’m so tired. Sophia is already tapping us out. I’m pretty late with this post, and I neglected to slap you with a post earlier this week, but there was quite a bit that I liked this week (or didn’t like, as usual) so I still wanted to make sure not to leave all ten of you in the lurch. With no further doo-doo:

  • Filed under “Things I Liked That I Actually Loathed,” is this video, (which has gone viral) and which succinctly outlines, in easy-to-digest graphical forms, just how out-of-control wealth inequality is in America. Look upon it, and get angry.
  • For different reasons, I liked this video, wherein President Obama answers a biased non-question from a “reporter,” by asking his own question about what she thinks he should do, in the face of yet another example of Republican obstructionism. HINT: She doesn’t have a reply. Because you can’t negotiate with a wall. And the current Republican majority in the House is just that, a wall of opposition. To progress, to change, to fairness. To anything that does anything to combat or ameliorate the inequality illustrated in the previous video. Because they are not on your side. Because you’re not an old rich white dude. Are you?
  • Primer, by Shane Carruth. Many people have already seen this brilliant low-budget sci-fi film (from 2004). I had been meaning to watch it for years, and finally did after a friend (and trusted connoisseur of fine films) spoke about it recently. Also, Carruth reappeared this year at Sundance (after “disappearing” for ten years) with Upstream Color, his latest. Upstream looks very interesting, and some smart interesting people who have seen it seem to have enjoyed it. The short of it: Primer, for me, was everything it was cracked up to be and more. I loved it. Smart, clever, thoughtful, and brilliantly crafted in defiance of its budget. Watching the film made me feel like I have to work harder (and I work pretty hard). Free to watch on Netflix instant.
  • This video, in which Sam Seder reports on how a conversation about income inequality became “taboo” at this year’s TED conference. The point (as far as I see it): the unwillingness of certain (too many) “liberals” or “intellectuals” to confront this issue squarely and honestly, and/or to take their share of responsibility for admitting and confronting the problem, is almost as ultimately damning as efforts on the far right of the political spectrum to subvert and/or manipulate the truth in the interest of maintaining rampant inequality as “the norm.” You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Sometimes you have to spit out the cake. And then spank the baker. Spank the banker. Glad you’re all with me.
  • This article about a surprise strike by Guest Workers at a Pennsylvania McDonald’s. This is not the first time I’ve read about employers abusing this “cultural exchange program,” and it probably won’t be the last. The short of it: this program — and the lack of an effective way to police it — “allows” employers to treat foreign exchange workers quite literally like indentured servants, under the auspices of providing them with relevant work experience and cultural exposure. And, in a way, unfortunately, ironically, that’s almost what’s going here. Maybe this sort of abuse doesn’t happen all the time, maybe there are examples of employers using the program correctly — but this shouldn’t happen. We were supposed to have learned this lesson before. When we treat our own citizens this way (which we practically often do, if/when you break things down in terms of how employment works for most people today), it’s shameful and wrong. When we treat visitors from other countries this way, pretending all the while that such an experience is “good for them,” we send them home with valid reasons to resent or hate us. That’s not an anti-American statement. It’s the truth about one particular way in which we, in terms of how our companies treat workers, just may be responsible for creating anti-Americans.

On that note, I need to get some rest, so I can start fresh with tomorrow’s battle. Let’s all try to do a better job at trying to make things better this week.

Till we meet again, fellow furious ones.

What I Liked This Week: 3/2/13

Greetings, dear readers. And thanks to those of you who made The Furious Romantic feel a little less furious this week, not only through the birthday wishes but the “good lucks” with Sophia.

  • The first thing I liked this week was this article about a team of physicists who created the first multiverse in a lab. It’s cute, that they think they were first. IT WAS ALREADY CREATED IN THE LAB OF MY MIND. If you haven’t “Liked” our short film #Multiverse on Facebook already, click that link and get on it (please). For anyone who doesn’t know or is wondering, #Multiverse is currently in the late stages of post-production.
  • This progressive deficit reduction plan, by Senator Bernie Sanders. Because it focuses on reducing the deficit by introducing more equality-based legislative measures into the politics that currently keep our economy weighted in favor of the wealthy. Few, if any, of these measures will see the light of day — at least not for a long time — but I like them anyway. I like that someone is trying.
  • This ScriptMag column by Clive Frayne, titled: “You Are Not Tarantino or Kevin Smith,” which is itself a response to this blog post by Bitter Script Reader, titled “You Are Not Tarantino.” Because they make me feel even more certain a shift is on the horizon, and that my impulse to craft my version of an anti-film…has me on the right track.
  • The fundraiser I went to this week for OnTheRoad Rep. It’s never not fun, drinking and carousing with actors. OnTheRoad has been doing great work, with more to come. Keep an eye out for future shows, NYCers. Disclaimer: I’m in love with one of their awesomely talented members.

Have a good week, my furiously romantic friends.

Introducing: Sophia The Great

It’s sort of a special feeling, knowing something must be done. At least, it’s special when you’re able to look at it that way. Remind me that I said this when I’m crying alone in the corner of a darkened room several months from now, because…well, that’s what indie film does to you sometimes. I think? Am I doing this wrong?!

Hah. Enough evasion. I said it a few weeks ago, and now, since I said it, I have to back it up. Though Multiverse is still in post, and despite the fact that just exactly how we’re going to do this (and do it right) is still unknown at this point  — Rebecca and I have started developing our next project. It’s called Sophia The Great, it’s a feature, and we’re making it in an effort to push back at all the things I’ve been throwing in front of The Fury, over the past two months on this site, and probably also over the past several years of my life as well.

So, the obvious question: What’s it about? Well, the script continues to evolve (more on this later), however it’s plenty far enough along for me to at least share the current logline.

A depressed underground blogger, fresh off a bad breakup and increasingly frustrated by a mundane day job, bands together with her friends and starts a podcast in her living room with the goal of identifying and discussing the seven deadly sins of modern American life.

So, the next question: How are we going to do this? Well, we’re working on Multiverse, and hope to be able to gain entrance to a few film festivals once it’s done, and we’ll have Sophia with us in case anyone becomes interested in taking a look at her. We’re also already in the process of seeking additional support in the eventual production of the film, at the same time that we’re working on a plan for getting it made at the micro-budget level if that becomes necessary.

Why are we announcing Sophia The Great now? When all we have is a script and Our Resolve? Well, first, it’s because this is how it starts. All kidding aside, and in full recognition of the fact that much more will be needed in the coming months and years — I believe it has to start here. That’s how it’s worked for me, up till now, at least. I’ve had a very good reason for choosing to make every film I’ve made. I have had good reasons for not making many others. The reasons I have for making this one seem to me the best and biggest yet.

Also, in the spirit of Reaching Out Through The Screen, I want to embrace the power of the internet (where I learned half of what I learned about filmmaking), and of social networks and crowd-sourcing sites in particular, while developing and growing Sophia The Great.

In so many words, I’d like to use this forum (which will remain dedicated primarily to an ongoing discussion of our culture, even if this discussion incrementally overlaps with a discussion of my filmmaking) as an occasional means of communicating our progress and interacting with you (our tiny, foundational audience) as we proceed to serve Sophia. Also, until we have the time and money to give Sophia her own forum, The Furious Romantic Returns will be the place to go to for information on say, the live-reading of the script that we’re going to be conducting in a few weeks.

Hah! So! Here’s the deal. We’re conducting a live-reading in a few weeks. The primary reason for this is to see how our (talky) script plays out when performed by professional actors. The (perhaps obvious) ancillary goal is to see if there’s anything that’s not working quite right, so that any lingering issues can be ironed out before we start sharing the script in any major way. Also, we’re interested in getting some feedback, and a reading is an easy way to do that.

I will be sure to check in on this again after the smoke has cleared, if for no other reason than to report in on the results and the experience so that others may learn from it as well.

Additionally! I have had a wonderful time interacting with other writers and filmmakers on The Twitter over these past several months. It’s been so wonderful, that I would like to officially invite any NYC-area writers and filmmakers who follow me on The Twitter, to send me a DM if you’re interested in attending the reading (it’s on March 10th in Manhattan).

We’ll be holding a few spots open for this purpose. Depending on the level of interest and/or availability, we’ll add more spots if we’re able. Please feel free get in touch if you’re curious about the story, have a fair amount of experience in writing/directing/producing, and don’t mind providing feedback.

Thanks, as always, for reading. Hit me up anytime with questions or comments, and…wish us luck.

What I Liked This Week: 2/23/13

Hello fellow romantics. First, I apologize for failing to slap you with a post earlier this week. There’s something in the crucible but I wasn’t able to give it the time it deserves to get it up to snuff and yet get my necessary minimum of sleep this week.

Here’s what I liked this week. As is often the case, I didn’t like a lot of it. Exactly.

  • This article from Salon, about how cuts in programs meant to protect our most vulnerable citizens from wage abuses (or the full disbanding of said programs), is leaving more of your fellow American citizens scrambling to get paid for their work. I didn’t like this. This is unconscionable, and it’s a searing reminder of just how wrongheaded and cruel it is to be prioritizing budget cuts and advocating for a smaller government at a time when so many of our citizens are still struggling. Thanks to Jonathan Mills for linking via Twitter.
  • This story, about a Texas city that plans on charging people for the cost of first responders when they get into an auto accident. Because you’re on your fucking own. I don’t like this. It’s almost as bad as making it illegal to feed homeless people. Give us your tired, and your poor, and your hungry, right? Oh, but not that many of your hungry. I loathe this. How do these awful things even become ideas? Well…
  • This article by Paul Buchheit, titled “5 Signs Extreme Wealth Deadens the ‘Empathy’ and ‘Honesty’ Parts of the Brain.” I don’t like this topic (because it’s true, and has deadly consequences) but I like that Mr. Buchheit provides links to scientific studies about it, and then focuses most of his article on evidence and consequences. This is what we are contending with. It accomplished little when you rage against the masters of the machine, fellow furious friends. We have to change the minds of the masters of the machine. Additionally, this MUST be done peaceably. That’s why you won’t see me write a word analyzing the actions of someone like Christopher Dorner.
  • This brilliant video poem, in which a bunch of talented people collaborate as adults to tell (raw) stories about when they were bullied as children, and how it has affected them throughout their lives. That description doesn’t do it justice. I have been bullied and, to be honest, I was a bully a few times during my childhood. This video brought some complicated feelings to the surface when I watched it. Which is fine, because I want to feel empathy and I want honesty. Too often, too many of us miss empathy and honesty, when we shy from our own pain. This is understandable, but we should also understand that pain shied away from doesn’t go away. It curdles and it poisons, over time, if you continue to ignore it. And then, one day, maybe, it takes you over completely. Maybe this is where bullies come from in the first place, huh? If you click on any of these links, click this one.
  • This in-depth Vanity Fair article on the making of Pulp Fiction. Enthralling read that was passed around quite a bit this week already. Definitely worth a read for artists, and/or anyone interested in seeing just how much alchemy has to go right for such a brilliant achievement as this to see the light and day and then flourish.
  • It rained fire on the sun. Remember this video, and think of the sheer awesome power of the universe, and the relative insignificance of man, the next time you’re upset by a person or incident that really, really doesn’t matter. Q: Can you believe so-and-so said this and that? A: Can you believe it rained fire on the sun? Crazy, right?!

Have a good week. Hit me up anytime. Get angry and speak up.

What I Liked This Week: 2/16/13

I didn’t like much this week — until yesterday rolled around.

To tell the truth, I had a sneakily busy week between re-writes, other filmmaking duties, day job, etc. Most of my energy went to all that (and this, which I know you’ve read already).

I burned out a little, to be honest, not only getting it all done but keeping it all together, a task that becomes an increasingly taller order as the beginning of the week bleeds into the middle of the week which invariably (finally), gives way to The End of The Week. But we made it.

I liked quite a bit at The End of The Week. Even if, as is sometimes the case, some of what I liked was more “abstract” than not. Which is fine.

  • I liked the Web 2.0. In the ever-shifting, ever-accelerating language of the internet, this term is probably nearing obsolescence (even if it isn’t). I did a bit of searching and didn’t come up immediately with any evidence that the reference is WRONG, but if it is — don’t care! What I mean to say is that I liked seeing clear evidence of the widening use of and acceptance of networked technologies and networking technologies (social networks, CMSs, crowd-sourcing sites, etc.). This week, in particular, a friend reminded me of Tugg, which recently became a partner of Sundance Institute Artist Services, along with VHX (new to me, very interesting) and Vimeo (long-time fan/user). Also, The Black List‘s new site/service entered into a separate agreement with Sundance, which allows writers uploading their scripts into their new system to opt in if they’d like to be considered for the Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab. All this is likable. Lovable, even. And all this news was pumped into my head through The Twitter. My wife thinks Twitter is giving me the migraines.
  • The trailer for Iron Man 3. I hadn’t watched it yet. I watched it. I liked it. I dig Shane Black’s writing (not alone, I know). I loved Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang. I love that Black and Downey Jr. are re-teaming. My heart hopes the film will end up as one of the few memorable second sequels in a long line of less-than-great second sequels. Most second sequels are so bad that I’m avoiding saying “third film” because of the awful stink that often comes to mind when we say that. I liked Back to the Future III.
  • I liked being at a neighborhood cafe last night (working on the new script) and realizing the place was full of smart, interesting, nice people. Not always the case in neighborhood cafes in Brooklyn. This probably happened because it was late on a Friday, and because there weren’t many people hanging out. The only thing more bitter than the house brew in a lot of those places (most of the time) are the entitled/self-obsessed men and women who cram inside to jostle for position in the race to…what? Where you going, people? What are you doing? Chill out and grow up.
  • Magic Mike. Steven Soderbergh’s direction/cinematography is so fantastic, and so fantastically locked-in all the time, that when I watch his films I become alternately invigorated and depressed. This experience was made more interesting while viewing a well-made title about male strippers. The real winner of the night was my wife, who after two hours spent watching the chiseled bodies of Tatum and McConaughey and pals writhe on screen — was then treated to 6 seconds of inspired imitation on my part. Let’s just say you aren’t ready. Also, interesting point of interest for my fellow straight male readers: Magic Mike did not make me gay!

May you have a good week — all the way through.

Why Artists Need to Lead The Charge For Equality and Justice

There’s an ultimate point to most of the posts that I’ve written here so far, apart from what is already outlined on the “What?” and “Why?” pages linked to above. That point? Well…

It should be clear by now to anyone who’s been reading that I am pretty damn fed up with the rampant social injustices that pervade our society here and now. I am even more fed up with the too-major majority of people who refuse to admit just how much is wrong with how we view ourselves, in the face of clear evidence of this injustice (if we do any real viewing at all). And I am completely done remaining silent about all this.

Again, maybe that’s obvious to those of you who have been reading so far. This site offers me, and hopefully you as well, an opportunity to explore some specific examples of what’s wrong with American society, as well as (again, hopefully) some ideas as to what we can do to begin righting what’s wrong. In the same way, though, I’ve also started looking at what I write here as a gauge of where I am at, at any given time in my personal journey to accomplish this as an artist.

Which is all a very long way of saying that I don’t write these missives only as a means of pissing on the fire as the house burns down. Because pissing on a burning house accomplishes nothing. Everything still comes down in the end and if you aren’t careful you might also singe your delicates in the process.

So, why all the hours spent: 1) Identifying the main impediments to social repair and progress (IMHO), 2) Identifying the means and method of delivering what’s needed to initiate such processes, 3) Exploring severe examples of our dysfunction, and, lastly, 4) Advocating a solution.

Well, I’m doing it, as I just said, to check my progress. Also, probably, to keep me sane. Finally, though, I’m injecting myself purposefully into the experiment. I want a record of this to be available, for myself as much as others, in case some part of this works (it will work).

And, when I say “this,” I mean my films, my writing — all of it, from this day forward. I want a trail behind me, as a sort of precaution, for helping me stay honest in a world where honesty is more often avoided and punished than welcomed and appreciated. In a way, ideally (admittedly), I want to keep you honest too.

Sometime soon, I’m going to get around to announcing my next film, which my wife and I are going to drag kicking and screaming into existence, because fuck this.

Two months ago, 20 children were gunned down in an elementary school. Five years before that, the global economy nearly collapsed, due not only to a series of widespread con-jobs perpetrated by immoral power brokers but also the ignorance (however forgivable, in certain respects) on the part of almost everyone, to the delicacy of the increasingly complex (overly complex) connections and compacts that sustain our collective lives. And, since then, and still now, the American cultural dialogue has been overwhelmingly focused on the past and present — even as democracies old and new, worldwide, continue to pass us by in terms of recognizing and advocating equality, securing justice for all citizens, and, quite simply, working to provide a framework for an all-around better life (and a better chance at a good life) for their entire citizenry.

As a person who is still younger than he is old — and a person whose life has already been greatly affected by all of the above — I am not okay with this. Are you?

I’ve struggled to “succeed” over the past ten or so years, partially because it’s what you do when you’re an artist, but partially also because I’ve said no. To the status quo. To doing what you’d otherwise have to do, in terms of compromising the honesty required of any worthwhile artistic career or endeavor, in order to make art and also “make money.” I’ve also said no, more times than I can count, to the voice that lives insides many of our heads that seems to constantly whisper: You can’t do it. Fuck that voice, too, while we’re fucking things.

I’ve also said no, as long as I could (because it’s painful, and I just wasn’t ready) to taking a long hard (full) look at the above sad truths of life in America. Why? Because I am and have been a complicit agent in this mess in many ways. Sometimes this was because it seemed necessary to play by certain rules, so that I could strengthen and prepare myself to the point of being adequate to the task of finally jumping into “the good fight.” Sometimes it was because I was afraid. I’m still afraid.

But it doesn’t matter. I’ve been working hard to hone my skills as a filmmaker and a writer for a long time now. I’ll continue to do that, but now that I’ve also come to terms with what has to be done (what we all have to do), I want to lead by example (with help, of course). In the spirit of sharing everything I’ve shared here so far, I also want to outline why I believe more of our artists (as they often do — and many artists more talented than me are already doing this) need to take the lead in the charge for a better America.

First, I believe artists are (as usual — this is nothing new) uniquely positioned to form creative solutions to the issue of sparking a greater cultural dialogue. Most of us, at least those of us who aren’t born fortunate enough to get started early and easily (and many of this type end up excluded from the discussion, at least initially, simply by virtue of being unable to gain the proper perspective on things like inequality and injustice) — we’re desperate. We’re in the strange position of having a lot to say about what’s wrong but also having, at the same time, too small or insignificant a voice (at least until we put in the time and develop the skills necessary to earn the right to a greater say) to make much of a difference. When the work has been done and the skills are far enough along, then we are (or should be) compelled to seek solutions where there were none before, as much as we are able. Of course, as far as our conscience allows us (and this is sometimes possible), we also have the option of chasing success through proven methods. Far too many of those methods, however, require more of a compromise than we should be ready to make. Again — not all. But too many. This is all changing, in any event, because…

Second, we already are forming creative solutions to the issues of the day — with the assistance and support of some smart and forward-thinking entrepreneurs, particularly in the realm of technology and social networking. I won’t be so bold as to lump myself in with some of the artists who have succeeded in taking more control, for themselves and their careers and their work, by turning to the internet to build and sustain an audience (and to deliver directly to that audience with fewer middle-men edging in on either side of the transaction). But, yes, it’s getting better. I believe that. You’ve always had to be good, and to an extent of course you have to continue “doing the work.” Increasingly, however, if you’re good and do the work on your own, you’re able to remain honest and go after the heart of it at the same time that you’re keeping “their” hands off the heart of it. It’s also worth mentioning that such a trail was blazed by countless relatively nameless experimenters and early-adopters who, yes, did it before that much more famous person who just got more press from his or her success story because he or she is famous — which is fine. Just my way of saying thanks to the unsung heroes of the budding framework for artistic self-actualization that we’re beginning to see hit its crest.

Third, we have perspective. Perspective is expensive. Since things are as bad as they are in America, it becomes necessary for the true artist to repeatedly reject everything (or as much of everything as he or she can handle or is able to handle) that cannot be honestly adhered to as we go about attempting to first wrap our heads around the mess, and then work to change it in a meaningful way. I already talked a little about this, but it bears repeating. You can’t fix what you can’t admit is broken — because you haven’t looked at the pieces to see how they fit back together. Whether the true artistic point of view comes first, or whether it only arrives after it causes you to suffer awhile — that’s a chicken and egg question. Like the chicken and egg question, however, there’s a little-discussed real answer to it: it doesn’t matter. Both need the other, in perpetuity, for the question itself to even have any relevance. And art can only be relevant if its perspective is true. It can only succeed in a widespread way if its filtered perspective is an appropriate tonic to the polluted perspective of the day. Artists, real artists, are uniquely qualified to engage with issues of inequality and injustice because, in repeatedly saying no to all things polluted, they become marginalized. And it’s on the margins of life where we always find the human consequences of our societies’ darkest secrets. If that all sounds romantic, it shouldn’t. Also, a caveat: there are many artists out there much braver than me in terms of exemplifying the necessary perspective. But we all do what we can.

Fourth, we need each other. This last reason may be colored slightly by my “chosen” calling as a filmmaker, but still I think it applies across the board. Especially now, when Americans are so much more isolated than every before — and so mistrusting of each other in the ways that count — it’s worth it to think about the value of cooperation and community. Keeping the example going, however: I just recently completed my third film. It’s my best work to date. Do you know why it’s my best work? Partially, it’s because I took everything I learned over the past five years and put it into the production of a five page script. Partially it’s because I recently began descending into a more honest place as a writer and a person. Mostly, though, it’s because I tamped down my fears and anxieties enough to repeatedly ask for more help, more often. And because I worked hard to collaborate more with talented people. Maybe this example speaks more of my own issues with fear, anxiety, egotism, etc. than anything else. However, if you looked at me for most of my life, in most ways you could call me an average American male. Average height. Average build. Grew up middle class in the suburbs. Did well in school, went to college, got a job (because that’s what people do).

Except much of what I came to believe about myself as an average American male ended up being built upon lies. I will continue to be of average height and average build (hooray?). But the middle class? It’s dying. The suburbs — shining example of American social mobility, land of pretty houses and happy childhoods? Well, a lot of those houses got taken away, or were never “owned” by anyone to begin with. Further, there’s a difference between happiness (which is elusive enough as it is in the most basic of terms) and the illusion of happiness. Real happiness doesn’t cost nearly as much as so many of us pay, in human terms, as we pursue it in increasingly problematic ways, and, in language unfortunately appropriate to the time, in exchange for increasingly meager returns.

Much needs to change. The old ways don’t work anymore. We can’t hide from ourselves any longer. The injustices need to stop. Equality, real equality, in all senses of the word, needs to be our primary goal. But things won’t truly begin to get better until most people take an honest look at the state we’re in and agree that it’s bad.

So. Artists. Let’s get to work.