Monthly Archives: May 2017

Paying the Writer

After last week’s post about being a self-sufficient artist who slices, dices –and probably self-publishes– I thought it was a good idea to look at the evergreen topic of creatives not getting paid.

Writers being undervalued and being underpaid is an oft-told tale — and not just because there are writers around to write about it.

Writer Matt Wallace created a freelance rebuttal guide that covers about just every usual reason given to not pay writers — or not pay them much.

It’s fantastic.

Read it. Absorb it. Make the answers your own. Get comfortable quoting rates that you know to be what the actual market finds fair.

Because while I’ve had the pleasure of working with some nice producers (and indeed, I try and be one of those nice producers), some people are horrible about trying to gaslight and guilt trip creatives. What I especially like about the rebuttal guide is that you can tailor it to a very neutral tone and make any issue just about the project at hand. Slimy producers and publishers show their hand when they try and make it all about you and won’t let your refusal to work at their rate go (producers who know you’re pricing yourself “out of your league” or their budget will simply wish you luck).

Recommended Reading: Artistry & Entrepreneurship

A certain cavegirl reminded me of a long article in The Atlantic by William Deresiewicz charting the evolution of “the artist.”

I first read it a couple years ago, but it remains quite relevant in 2017 — perhaps more so. It delves into what it means to be “a creative” in the world today and even touches on the commodification of “being creative.”

Commodification isn’t the only concept in the article that triggered memories of my anthropology studies. There’s also the whole aspect of how institutions have grown and changed in respect to supporting artists — or, perhaps it would be better characterized as how institutions and their support have both shrunken in respect to artists. They’re hardly the only group in our modern economy where that’s the case — though that is one of the reasons reading the article was so relevant. How does one make a living as an artist? What’s the new paradigm?

The safe, if selective, employment of artists and artisans by institutions (such as it was) is now all too clearly being replaced by entrepreneurship (again, not something unique to creatives and something people have noted for some time). So unless universal basic income becomes a reality (an unlikely event anytime soon), we all must become our own “brand ambassadors.” And chief cook and bottle washers.

And that’s something I’m not altogether happy with, not just because the term “brand ambassador” makes me mildly nauseous. I mean, it’s not like I’m not painfully aware that brand management is important (hello! you’re reading this on BjornMunson.com). However, the entrepreneurial vision pitched is that now we must all manage our own brands, pump our own gas, and possibly be our own tax attorneys. I’m not always happy about doing two out of three of those things — and I’m often concerned about getting it wrong… or not right enough.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy being a jack-of-all-trades. Anyone who’s spent enough time in filmmaking has learned you need to know at least a little about a lot of things. But I’ve been at this for a while. So although I’m by no means terrible at either camerawork or editing, I’d be a fool to ignore that some of my peers have done both of those tasks for a few thousand more hours than I. So just because one can do it all, maybe they shouldn’t. This is not to say you might not use a project to improve a particular skill (e.g., I’m going to edit my next project to maintain/improve my mad editing skillz). At the same time, if one wants to use a given project to improve, say, their camerawork, maybe they shouldn’t try and also improve their editing, directing, acting, and screenwriting on that same project.

So that brings us back to our networks of people. That’s the part of the equation no one writes articles about… or I’m missing them (feel free to put suggestions in the comments). Luckily, there are certainly organizations and sites where one can find networks. There’s TIVA and WIFV here in DC as well as Facebook-based groups. If there’s others, let me know.

In the meantime, I need to go clean out some bottles…

Conflict in a Cannes

Netflix, via its movie premieres at the celebrated Cannes Film Festival, has gotten a resounding, “Non!” (no) from the famously film-loving French. Well, at the very least there were boos.

Jordan Zakarin has a piece in Inverse from last Friday about how this really reflects on Hollywood more than Netflix. Essentially, Netflix is making a bet on films Hollywood no longer wants to (because they’re so enamored of franchises and tentpole films). Alissa Wilkinson has a piece in Vox from yesterday that explains the controversy in terms of competing film cultures… which also goes into how Netflix is filling a vacuum left by Hollywood.

I’ll be interested to see how this plays out, but as I noted back in February, when Netflix greenlit Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, I’m pleased to see the how they’re trying to make ducats and lots of content by letting known talents make films the studios no longer deem bankable.

The Absolutely Wurtz History of the World

I would be remiss in my duty to the Prime Directive of the Internet –that being to forward all time-sucking memes, videos, and articles t0 everyone I can– if I were not to make sure you knew about Bill Wurtz‘ latest project: a 20-minute entertainingly off-the-wall history of the entire world.

Be warned: the narrator is irreverent to all peoples, religions, and himself. He also tends to swear.

New Legal Precedent in Gerrymandering

As that rare group of regular readers knows, eliminating gerrymandering and related cockamamie contrivances to prevent people from voting is near and dear to my heart.

As explained by German Lopez in Vox, the Supreme Court has recently ruled in a redistricting case in North Carolina in a way that may help combat cockamamie efforts in the future.

The VHS Tapes We Left Behind

Growing up a cinemaniac, there are, quite naturally, a number of actors and directors and screenwriters I would like to meet. However, I daresay I would not shake the hand of any of them so vigorously as I would the hand of film historian and critic, Leonard Maltin.

Maltin’s indispensable and always entertaining movie guide was a fixture in our household. Not only did we get each annual edition, but we held on to the old ones, noting the films that were added and removed… and occasionally the edits to the various capsule reviews. Prior to the Internet, this was an invaluable resource for all sorts of films, including knowing whether they were available on VHS, DVD, or even laserdisc.

Time marches on, of course, and the guide bowed out in 2014, as the print reference guide just wasn’t the go-to reference for a generation raised on checking for info online. I made the switch too. So did Leonard Maltin: he’s found new ways to talk about films and introduce people to all sorts of cinema they might not otherwise learn about.

But it’s in that spirit of wistful remembrance that he writes about the energy put into various VHS movie collections… and how many of the offerings coming out on DVD or Blu-ray are not nearly as artful, comprehensive — or even exist!

I imagine many of us have a treasured film or series that has yet to make the leap to a more modern format.

Feel free to mention any collections of films you’d like to see break out of the “only available in VHS” in the comments.

What’s in a Name? (Internet Age Edition)

Any name factors into one’s identity whether it’s unusual or common. Not having visited Scandinavia, I’ve only ever met one other Bjorn in person. Names are fascinating, arbitrary things. So what do you make of someone who has the same name as you?

Julie Beck, the recipient of an uncommon yet not unique name, details her quest in The Atlantic to find all the other Julie Becks in the United States. Perhaps because a name is so personal by design, we always seek to find commonalities with someone with the same name — even if there are none. In many ways, I wouldn’t know: there’s too few of us Bjorns over here.

The article also introduced me to the site HowManyofMe, which –be warned– will occupy more than a few minutes of your time as you start plugging in names of family and friends. That inevitably lead to Google searches.

Therefore, I will soon inform various family members of their doppelgangers’ exploits. I may be the only Bjorn Munson in the U.S. though. I’m sure there’s more Munsons and, more properly, Amundsens, back in the old country.

And as it happens, I like Bjorn Amundsen’s cinematography.

Aubrey de Grey and the Efforts to Engineer Away Aging

Sean Illing has an interview in Vox with biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey about his work on tackling aging.

Aubrey de Grey, whose prodigious beard is dwarfed by his prodigious research ambitions, famously believes that combating aging is an engineering problem. In other words, medical therapies can be developed and can be worked on now given our current scientific understanding of aging damage.

I remember first learning about the work of Dr. de Grey when he and others set up the Methuselah Foundation a little over a decade ago. While Methuselah still continues its work, de Grey has since co-founded another research foundation. They are actively working on what they term seven different categories of aging “damage” presumably trying to mitigate or outright reverse what we know of as aging.

It’s hard not to read about these goals and think of the countless times aging and immortality have been brought up in works of fantasy and science fiction. Once again, we seem to be living in a science fiction future already — though the possibility of living in a dystopia or even a Robert Ludlum techno-thriller also seems to be in the cards (maybe linked to an international conspiracy dating back to World War II!).

I have to confess, one of the reasons I like to check back on the work of de Grey, et al –besides the fact that I find the prospects both fascinating and frightening– is that I can’t be ignorant of what science fiction is becoming science fact in this area. I mean, if I’m writing stories about future humans, it might be good to know how soon we may reasonably become post-human. One of the conceits in Rogue Tyger is that all the humans in the Imperium are, to a certain extent, transhuman. The idea is that we humans wouldn’t be able to regularly cross the big black of space without some improvements to combat cosmic radiation, prolonged weightlessness, and so on. Not coincidentally, this means that most of the humans age normally, but live well past 100 Earth years old. A 150-year old human would be viewed how we might view an 80-90 year old today.

Of course, the modest increases in human lifespans I was thinking of are nothing compared to what the SENS Research Foundation is after. And before we even get to reversing aging damage, there’s a host of other questions about genetic engineering that might be in our very near future. Check out this interview with Michael Bess in Vox — also by Sean Illing. I don’t know about you, but it’s enough to just explain to my kids about why the sky is blue, let alone potential massive changes in how humans love.

Guess I better get to writing that fiction while it’s still charming fiction.

Tuesday Tale of Terror: Living Without a Cell Phone!

I have a long, long list of articles I save to read later… and eventually, later becomes “now.”

Alan Levinovitz has a piece in Vox from March 2016 that is sure to chill certain technophiles to the bone: going through modern life without a cell phone.

Missing a friend’s birthday party was my final impetus to get a cell phone originally. My confusion about the location would have been solved with a two minute phone call or a couple of texts. Using a cell phone to actually alert emergency responders a few years later rather cemented its utility. And now, the smartphone is for me what it is for so many people: a handy pocket computer/digital assistant/reference guide.

What I like about Levinovitz’s article is that it is not a holier-than-thou screed against mobile phones, but a use case in how someone gets by in the modern world without a smartphone… or any cell phone at all. It makes one think about how much the normalization of cell phone use is really necessary.

And if that doesn’t work, you can always research if cell phones are going to kill you.

God Still Loves, Man Still Kills

Alex Abad-Santos has a couple of interviews in Vox with the creators of God Loves, Man Kills, the seminal X-Men graphic novel that debuted 35 years ago. For many avid comic readers at the time –including myself– this was an eye-opening paradigm shift in what stories “comics” could tell.

(For ardent comic/graphic novel historians raising their hands to point out the work of Will Eisner, I was too young to read A Contract with God when it came out in ’78 and only learned about it and its follow-ups in the 90s).

While I dislike the conceit of mixing the two interviews so they could be misconstrued as one joint interview –and I hope this doesn’t become a norm– both writer Chris Claremont and artist Brent Anderson have several great insights into the work and their approach to storytelling in general.

One of my favorite quotes:

“Comics produced through avoidance of the real world are hardly satisfactory on any meaningful artistic level.” ~Brent Anderson

The whole piece is well worth a read.