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Tag: Filmmaking

On the topic of creative goals

I am, without a doubt and as evidenced by this site’s content, a voracious consumer of media. There’s no question about that. But consumption has never been enough for me. When I read a book, I want to write one. When I listen to music, I want to play some. When I see a film, I want to make one. You get the idea. It isn’t about competing or some sense that what I would make is superior, but about this sense that making things is fun and rewarding and I would like to have fun and feel satisfied that I’ve made something cool, something that someone else will take pleasure in, no matter how small. It is not about fulfillment of my ego, but about sharing and inspiring and making people feel better and laugh and sing. That feeling is a driving force behind The Black Laser, for sure. When I see I am getting lots of hits, I am motivated to continue to share things. When someone comes up to me and says they read something I wrote here and they agreed or disagreed or had some thoughts or whatever, I feel encouraged to continue to put things up here. It is a self-fulfilling cycle. I am glad every day that 2 and a half years ago I put this site up as a place to share and vent and comment. It serves that purpose, but it is not my only creative outlet (nor should it be).

A few weeks ago, a friend and I were sitting at Rai Rai Ken in the East Village enjoying a wonderful, warming bowl of ramen after a long had day of museuming at the Met. As happens every time I go to a museum (without taking into account that we spent like 7 hours there), my brain was alight with creative thoughts and notions and directions, buzzing with possibilities as I slurped down my ramen. The conversation took a turn toward creative pursuits and I started going off on some of the things I would like to accomplish in the future, short-, medium-, and long-term. And I recognized that most of them are tied into how they make other people feel. I mean, what is the point of making things if you don’t share them and they don’t affect people?

And so my goals are, in no particular order…

I would like to write a record that makes people want to dance. – I love dancing. There’s no secret about that. I think it would be really fun for my work to be floating around, getting played in clubs or homes or schools or work places or cars, and making people want to shake their asses. It’s my contribution to the obesity epidemic: lose weight by shaking that corpulent rump. It’s good exercise and it’s fun. I’d like to inspire that.

I would like to write a song that people want to sing along to. – Have you ever hung out with me for longer than maybe like 15 minutes? And have you ever been around when a song I really like has come on the stereo/jukebox/whatever? Well, then you know I am almost definitely going to be singing along to it loudly. Very loudly in some cases. There are a lot of songs like that which have had real effects on my life in positive ways. For example, you want to make me feel better almost immediately? Put on Pulp’s This Is Hardcore and not only will I sing along to every single word, but my mood will lift demonstrably. I would like to help people feel the same way. To feel the same way I feel when I’m singing along to Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Two-Headed Boy” or The Magnetic Fields’ “Papa Was a Rodeo”.

I would like to write a collection of short stories. – I’m sort of on the way to this one. I bet that somewhere, buried in the archives of The Black Laser’s fiction section are the seeds of at least 12 decent short stories. I think 12 is a good place to start and then go from there. There’s nothing specific I want to accomplish with the short stories, but I’d like to use the whole collection to explore some themes I wrestle with regularly: loneliness, desperation, sadness, shame, regret. Cheery stuff mostly.

I would like to write a novel. – As long as I can remember, I’ve been a dedicated reader of novels. I love them. I love the challenge that a good novel presents, working to make sense of what the author has laid out on the page. If there’s anything I dislike about writing, it is when you are handed huge chunks of back story or motivations in expository passages. The worst. I like to have my brain engaged with making sense of the fiction I’m presented with, if it is science fiction, literature, fantasy, horror, whatever. I’d like to engage readers on this level too, to see if I can craft a puzzle that is finely crafted enough that the reader can eventually make sense of what I’ve tried to say while being entertained.

I would like to read books on tape. – Or books on MP3 or whatever the next delivery format for audiobooks will be. This just seems like a really fun thing to do and that’s about it. I love reading and I’ve got an all right voice, so why not?

I would like to edit a feature film professionally. – I’ve assisted on a feature film that did pretty well for itself and I’ve edited a feature film for my friend and I’ve edited a few other things both professionally and not, but I would really like to be paid to cut a feature film. This is a professional and creative goal, which, I guess, are the best kind, right?

I think that’s it. A lot of things there, but nothing that is out of reach. And though this post may seem megalomaniacal and self-absorbed, I really don’t think it is. It’s about creating and sharing and inspiring and being inspired. I think those things are important and I think they are things we need to actively engage. I know that I definitely need to engage them or I start to feel lost, floating, unproductive. Adrift. Being creative and productive, as Jesse and I discussed recently, is vital to feeling good about myself. Hell, in the end, it helps me sleep knowing that I’ve accomplished something, even if it is minor. I have something thoughts a’brewing about at least one of these goals, so keep your eyes on The Black Laser in the coming weeks for some new fun material.

Amortizing Creative Expenditures

I’ve long contended that for each dollar I spend on a particular piece of photographic equipment I must take at least one photograph with it. So, if I spend 1800 dollars on a Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS zoom lens, then I’d better well take 1800 photos with it. (note: I have. More than that, in fact.) It’s simple math, easily managed, and, most of all, it makes sense. I’ve written about it on here somewhere else before, I think, but I can’t find the post so you’ll have to just trust me. It has worked quite well for me as a guideline while informing new purchases and once I’ve purchased an item. Am I going to use x piece of equipment to take y number of photos or is it something I can live without? Now that I’ve purchased item z, I’d better throw it in my bag because there’s no way I’ve taken n photos with it yet. It has protected me from frivolous purchases in the past and made me think about using the tools I already have. It’s a good system. I recommend it to any photographers out there.

But photography is not my only artistic endeavor. I am also a writer (as you well know), a professional in the moving image field, and I dabble in songcraft. It occurred to me while I was walking to the Apple Store to purchase a laptop backpack—the current messenger style bag I use hurts my fucking back—that I don’t have a useful metric for justifying those purchases. No, “justify” is the wrong word. It makes it sound like I’m making an excuse for the purchase; I’m not. I don’t have a useful metric to ensure that I get my money’s worth out of an item. What sort of production quotas make sense to meet to make the expenditure, and thereby the time I’ve spent working to make that money, a fair trade? With the photography, it’s easy. I’m constantly producing. Look at my hard drives. They’ll tell you all about it. But that’s not necessarily true of video editing or music creation software. They are tools I use to create things but are not inherently productive in and of themselves. Music production software (Logic) can be used to make something from scratch. Editorial or VFX software is even more difficult because they are often just PARTS of the chain of production. Making beautiful photographs and making beautiful films are both difficult things, but photography is a much more solitary craft than filmmaking. A craftsman can make beautiful photographs all by himself, but good luck making a beautiful film all by yourself. It’s all but totally impossible.

But difficulty has nothing to do with it. The difficulty is just a challenge to the creator, a hurdle, a bump in the road.

Therefore, I propose this system to make my purchases of music and video tools feel reasonable. Consider it a challenge to myself to make the time I spend working, earning money to spend on tools, fruitful. To make the late nights and weekends at the office work toward making me a self-sufficient creator of things so that I can get myself to a point where all this dicking around IS THE JOB. Imagine that.

Guidelines for expenditures on video tools
For each hundred dollars spent on video tools, I must create at least one minute of finished footage. Dailies do not count. That’s absurd. Finished means that I’ve put time and thought into it. A finished piece is something I would not be embarrassed to show someone. I do not have to provide qualifications for rough bits in finished footage. 1 minute of footage per 100 dollars spent.

Guidelines for expenditures on audio tools
For each hundred dollars spent on audio tools, I must create at least one song or three minutes of mixed audio. Audio demands a higher creative price since I can sit and create without outside help. Audio also has two possible avenues for amortization since using audio software to mix for video is a perfectly valid use. A song is defined similarly to a piece of finished footage, that is, I’ve put thought and effort into it. I would not hesitate to post it here on The Black Laser. I do not need to qualify it in any way.

I think these are pretty useful guidelines, and will definitely help me focus my energies into short term, highly feasible goals. I’ve already mentioned plans to put together music videos, and many people know about the mystery that is Fantasies About Time Travel. I’ve also been thinking about dropping some choice Ghettotech beats under a pseudonym, like DJ Muad’Dib, MC Kwisatz Haderach, or Duncan Idaho. Bonus points for pinpointing how badly I just dorked out there.