Most people who know me generally observe I’m pretty darn busy which is one of the reasons that I feel the need to carve out time that is entirely not productive.
It’s hard in today’s “make every job a gig and make every gig a hustle” economy — and heaven help you if you want to do something creative for money yet want to do something else creative as a hobby — but I’ve become convinced carving out time for non-productive hobbies is a must.
So I enjoyed reading this piece by Hope Reese in Vox about tips for picking a hobby. I especially liked how to avoid some philosophical traps in the choice of hobby. And, yes, I’m writing this while staring at a screen and you’re almost certainly reading it on a screen, but I really like the idea of taking these hobbies and pastimes analog and offline wherever possible.
One great example of going analog is Inktober, a month-long exercise in drawing every day based on prompts. I’ve done this with my kids for a couple of years and we really got into this year (one of my kids was very into drawing and then coloring, which added a whole new delightful aspect to the activity). In fact, I went so far as to post my drawings to friends on Facebook (analog back to digital).
I was inspired to share in part because a college friend was sharing their Inktober drawings (and they draw hands far better than I). This included all the days, including the drawings which were really bad. But that was, I hope, encouragement to others to try their own hand at Inktober or something similar. Per Reese’s article above, doing something where you’re not going to excel or have an expectation to monetize it is ideal.
I finished up my rewatch of seasons 1-3 of The Expanse this past weekend and it was just as good the second time.
If you don’t know this hard sci-fi series, the original trailer isn’t a bad way to gauge whether you’re interested or not:
There is a running theory that SyFy will cancel any series you love, like Lucy pulling away the football from Charlie Brown. SyFy did not disappoint, even as The Expanse got to be bigger and bolder and beloved by audiences, so they canceled it at the end of the third season. I mean, in fairness, it can’t have been cheap to produce, but perhaps Syfy resents spending more on something than Sharknado.
I loved the show since its slow-burning first season and continue to enjoy how they’ve layered in more complexity and world-building. That a big chunk of the show is the small-crew-in-lone-ship-encountering-adventure sub-genre certainly doesn’t hurt (as regular readers may recall, I like that sci-fi sub-genre so much, that’s the basis of my own not-nearly-as-hard-sci-fi show).
The Expanse is frequently compared to Game of Thrones for its multi-character storytelling and far-reaching world-building. I’d also point out that many of the characters and situations can feel very, very real even as they deal with fantastical occurrences. This is hard sci-fi, but with some of the Arthur C. Clarke-style sufficiently-advanced-technology-indistinguishable-from-magic.
Earlier this week, an under two-minute short film hit YouTube that takes the humble snowball fight and amps it up to 11.
It should not surprise anyone that this is directed by an action film veteran, David Leitch, whose name may be familiar to those who’ve seen John Wick (he was the uncredited co-director). He’s gone on to direct additional action movies and he brings substantial experience as a stunt performer and coordinator to those film… and to this one. Just check out the behind-the-scenes spot they did as well:
As you might expect. Discussion of this short has spiked among many of us indie filmmakers — and after the initial amazement, some do grumble that the film an anything-but-low-budget product from a full film crew, including an experienced stunt team, that’s training these child actors. Oh, and it’s all a big commercial for this iPhone too. (Spoiler alert: all those fancy camera rigs you saw them slip the iPhone into cost extra!)
I get it. This wasn’t an indie effort. And those corporate resources are definitely something to consider if one is trying to shoot a similar looking project. But what are some of the coolest things about the short film? For me, it’s the story, that simple concept of taking a snowball fight and making it an epic battle — because don’t many of us remember the snowball fights of our youth as such? And think of how much drama is imbued with every clearly thought out shot!
So, yes, I get that this is a commercial ploy to want us to go get this latest iPhone, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t motivational. Because a lot of filmmaking ingenuity is in the planning. True, execution is hard and can be made easier by big budgets and crews, but none of that is insurmountable. And for stunt coordinators? I might know some people.
This past weekend, I was talking about the National Theater Institute of which I am quite a happy alumnus. They practice a maxim of “Risk. Fail. Risk again” which is kind of like the positive spin of the War Boys’ outlook in Mad Max: Fury Road. Same flamethrower guitars (metaphorically), less desolation.
Fast forward (though not supersonically so) to 2019 and Boom has been busy. They’ve been rolling out the PR and getting reactions from the press. James Wynbrandt in a piece for AIN Online this past June adds some numbers to get a better idea of Boom’s business model and timeline.
More recently, Rohit Jaggi over at the Robb Report gives a summary of where Boom and other companies (including Lockheed Martin) are in working to get supersonic transport revived again.
People are always writing to ask me my opinion of the latest blockbuster movie release. I’ll save you the trouble: I probably haven’t seen it and might not for some time. Sometimes, that’s because nothing I know about the film attracts me to it. Sometimes, I’m just busy and going to see a movie is one of the few things I can postpone for a long time and then experience.
A big reason for this is an aspect of modern movie-watching he expands on. If I want to watch a movie, there is rarely a need to see it right now except for the worry of spoilers. For example, we planned to see Avengers: Endgame shortly after it opened. However, Kenneth Branagh’s take on Murder on the Orient Express? It was a couple years before we checked that out.
With so many events and activities having little-to-no flexibility, this relatively newfound flexibility in film-watching has been welcome… even though I adore seeing a film in a theater (it is, after all, how I grew up and how I came to love movies so much). It also cuts down on how many new films get folded into my Favorite Film rankings.
In the meantime however, I am seeing a lot of films (and a whole lot more TV) on streaming services. And I’ve got a big backlog. I mean, I haven’t even finished Breaking Bad yet! So when I say “I haven’t seen [film],” know that there’s a queue.
I appreciate him taking the time to explain his viewpoint. He’s eloquent, passionate, and has an absolute love of film. If you’ve seen him in interviews and especially from some of his segments on Turner Classic Movies, this man loves cinema — all types of cinema — and I don’t think it’s at all controversial to opine that he’s contributed greatly to cinema through his films.
But while I agree with many of his observations, I don’t agree with the breadth of his conclusions.
Films are made more by committee these days. They are tested and –more likely than not– drained of anything that might be “controversial” as the studios continue to be risk averse in a way that really doesn’t avoid risk (see the box office disappointment of the latest Terminator film). Filmmakers who want to find a voice, tell a singular story, or otherwise be unexpected do find an uphill battle in the face of the studios near monolithic insistence on their vision. And I don’t doubt that the majority of filmmakers would love to make films for the sizable silver screen versus streaming.
But I feel Scorsese is conflating this studio stubbornness and corporate zeal to eliminate “art as risk” with its current method of promoting this blandness: superhero movies.
And there’s a lot of nuance in here, because he clearly understands and loves all sorts of movies. He identifies Hitchcock films as the thrill rides of his day, but I think he discounts the character, craft, and sheer enjoyment one finds in superhero movies. He’s entirely fine to say, as he does, that superhero movies are not to his taste — I just don’t think it’s fair to say superhero movies are in poor taste.
To give an example using the rough equivalent of the “superhero” film of his time growing up: imagine if Studios not only favored Westerns, but they insisted on franchises of Westerns and any new idea was met with, “But can it be a Western?” I can’t imagine Scorsese would enjoy this state of affairs any more than the state of affairs with superhero films — and he’d probably say some of the same things.
And you know what? He’d be right that the studios are too dismissive of anything done for art’s sake. He’d be right that many a Western is weighed down with hoary tropes and is more of a thrill ride that a film that engages you on all levels, but he would not be right that westerns are second-class films as a genre or type by virtue of being Westerns. Amid the slickly produced, forgettable ones, there’s early classics like “Stagecoach” and more meditative affairs like “High Noon,” character-driven action like “Winchester ’73,” and operatic takes like “Once Upon a Time in the West.”
Likewise, he’s missing all the character and nuance that you find in films like “Captain America: Winter Soldier” and “Black Panther.” Action sequences don’t take away from the tale of a man who dedicated his life to serve finding the institution he served has been betrayed from within. CGI armored rhinos don’t negate the nuance of a son coming to terms with things his father never told him as he tries to find a way to lead his people. I get that superhero films are thrill rides –the comics they’re based on have fight scenes and action sequences more often than not– but just like the Hitchcock films and Westerns of old, they’re not uniformly disposable trifles.
I suspect it’s hard not to conflate studio attitudes with superhero films because Scorsese is such a phenomenal, singular filmmaker. The studios are playing their superhero-franchise-over-everything-else card and that’s an impediment to precisely what Scorsese longs to do, (and what he’s done very well doing). He wants to make art. He understands that it’s show business, but he’s knows there’s art in the show and he’s presented with a bunch of drudges who feel showing art is bad.
And I bet if he was able to make all the films he pleased, he’d still be sad on behalf of the next generation of filmmakers.
For anyone who dreams of making movies or who is just starting out, the situation at this moment is brutal and inhospitable to art. And the act of simply writing those words fills me with terrible sadness.
Like I said above, this guy loves art. Think of his appearance as Van Gogh in Dreams: he’s a painter who wants you to paint. He implores you to paint for the sheer joy of painting. I think he’s just forgetting there’s other paintings that are artful, even when they’re paintings the studios are trying to mass produce.
But wait, what is ranked choice voting anyway? Well, here’s a fun video by CGP Grey to illustrate it with animals.
As you might have gleaned above, I’m in favor of the expanded use of ranked choice voting aka “the alternative vote.” I believe it will lead to more voter engagement which, again, I’m quite biased here, I think is crucial to a well-functioning democracy (or republic or democratic republic, etc.).