The Most Frustrating Annual Ritual I Endure

Once a year, whether I need to or not, I invariably have to move all my files, fonts and programs to external hard drives and rebuild and reformat my primary computer. An entire day lost returning my system to operable standards.

This is inevitable result of being plagued by 365 days of infectious spam, fending off hackers, random viruses, the NSA, malware, spyware, and the never ending bombardment of undesired and invasive advertising… people I don’t even know trying to destroy my work, derail my momentum, and annoy me into buying worthless products and services. The slow attrition of morally bankrupt predators.

By design the Internet is neutral of regulation.

There is no better mirror in which we, as a culture, can see ourselves.

The fact is we probably deserve this world and everything we’ve done to it. We are no better, and so deserve no better.

This is frustrating because we’re talking around 7Tb of stuff.

Ever had to load 25,000 fonts?

Yeah, put on Cold Mountain, it’s going to take a while.

Faith Will Survive

Reading Richard Dawkin’s laughably errant work The God Delusion.

I will comment further once I have finished it, but if this is the best argument the atheistic community can marshal then religion will have a very long a prosperous future.

Ironically, I recommend The God Delusion to any person who believes that reality is more than a long line of chance configurations, quantum accidents, random dimensions and miraculously incarnated matter to strengthen your conviction.  Dawkin’s arguments against God are so desperate, so transparent and so…well…silly that they prove the low standards presently accepted at the University of Oxford, and the general degradation of critical thought in American and European universities.

This work is stuffed with accusations so gymnastic their credibility is at once betrayed.

Again, I will address this more fully in the future, but this work reminds of Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason, a work I also recently read.  To Paine’s credit, he showed great restraint and wisdom (initially) in waiting until his mature years before offering his comments on religion, particularly Christianity.

Likewise, I waited to read Age of Reason because I grew up hearing of the last few chapters, and their inescapable deconstruction of issues of faith. I was like “maybe this guy has the silver bullet that’s going to change my mind.”

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t resist having my mind changed, but my mind is a big place with lots of zip codes, so I don’t change whimsically or lightly.

So, governing my resolve, I bought Age of Reason, and with a deep shoring breath, began to read it. Mind you, only the end of the book was of particular interest to me.  Let me say I found Paine’s reasoning and wit wonderful and incisive and worthy to be added to anyone’s library.

Then I got to the end of the book and there they were: the diatribes, accusations and spiteful logic — all dripping off every word and sentence.

I read it and put it down.

Mystified, I read it again and put it down.

What was I missing? Where was the revolutionary wisdom that was the coup de grace to my reason? Did I miss it?  Surely, these silly arguments weren’t the vanguard of his counter-position.  In the end, Age of Reason didn’t shatter my faith — okay, it didn’t even dent it.

So I moved on to Bertrand Arthur William Russell’s Why I am not a Christian fully expecting this brilliant mathematician and world renown logician to skewer me and leave my reasoning in little bloody ribbons on the floor.

Rinse and repeat.

I laid down his pamphlet, not quite sure how anyone ever thought (in his century or mine) his philosophical surgery was anything more than a straw argument, and certainly not a formidable injury to anything I believed.

So, suddenly I felt a rush of validation: Thomas Paine and Bertrand Russell had taken their best shots and not only did they fall short, they fell tragically short.

Returning briefly to The God Delusion, as I said I have not finished it yet — I find the science and speculation fascinating and thoroughly enjoy the chemistry, biological strategy and theoretical models enormously. I re-read them over and over again as I am a fawning disciple of science too.

Dawkins latest book is harmless, ironically bolstering the very thing it tries to classify as a “delusion.” One of my favorite books and greatest boons to my personal faith is The Biochemical Basis of Neuropharmacology — 3rd Edition (1978) by Jack R. Cooper, Floyd E. Bloom and Robert H. Roth.  I read it when I was very young and it made an immense impression on me. The book only has 12 chapters that cover cellular foundations, metabolism, receptors, catecholamines, cyclic nucleotides, etc.) but by the time you get done reading it you are definitely not a skeptic.

I don’t believe in Intelligent Design.

It is far, far more than intelligent — it is brilliant.

Oh, if you really want to know about the Age of Reason you would do well to remember the last words of the man who wrote it, Thomas Paine:  “I would give worlds, if I had them, if ‘The Age of Reason’ had never been published. O Lord, help me! Christ, help me! Stay with me! It is hell to be left alone.”

Guillermo del Toro & Hellboy 2: The Golden Army

I am one of those people who has a very, very difficult time accepting the demoralizing fact the world—and all its attendant industries, endeavors, sciences, nations, and collective wisdom—is not farther along than it is.

I am also one of these people who has to continually exert energy to repel recurring pangs of anger and dismay when some movie (and other events and cultural phenomena, but I’ll focus on films) comes along that seems to captivate the world of entertainment.

At the moment, I am not referring to any movie, franchise or director in particular.

I am simply laying the framework for a rebuttal (to myself and you) to those people who froth at the mouth of such visionaries as Guillermo del Toro. Now, let me say that I like Guillermo del Toro’s work and I love his dedication to the artistic wealth of the story. His commitment to stunning imagery is refreshing…

But why should it be “refreshing?”

This is where I’d love to rip into a 32-paragraph diatribe about people being amazed about stunning imagery but I’ll keep it short.

Why have we had to wait this long for a Guillermo del Toro to bring the phantasmagoric to us?

Why have we had to wait 40 years—40 years!—for a Chris Nolan to give us a legitimate Dark Knight in Batman Returns?

How could the otherwise impeccable Bryan Singer reduce the Man of Steel into an effeminate, voyeuristic, dead-beat dad who can only summarize the fall of Kyrpton (that franchise’s greatest interstellar civilization) with the limp phrase “That place was a graveyard.”

Why did it take Mel Gibson investing his own money to make The Passion of the Christ? How could any sane Hollywood producer actually believe a reverent look at the final hours of that particular carpenter couldn’t be profitable?

Seriously, think about the staggering implications of that level of doubt: a scripturally accurate and a reverent account of the death of a man who is literally known around the planet.

On the low end of the scale you have people who think Jesus Christ was a great moral teacher and benevolent cultural revolutionary who conquered by love and acceptance, and on the high end you have billions of people who think he is God in flesh, Savior of mankind. We are talking about a world-wide brand unanimously held (aside from those men and institutions who have hijacked his name) in the highest esteem.

Make a brutally honest movie about that—and you think it wouldn’t sell?

Most of Hollywood is not intelligent enough to realize most of these things do not need to be modernized or “re-imagined” (the ridiculous new catch-word of the hour), they don’t need to be re-interpreted, they don’t need to be translated—they just need to be told. The great stories have merit unto themselves.

Final note: It used to bother me when producers would tell me “you have to write your script at an eighth grade level.” This is true, but only if you are sending your scripts to Hollywood executives—these men have the IQ of sand.

They deserve every failure they rack up. Hopefully, once enough studios collapse under the weight of their own stupidity, we can start being true to the great tales of our age, and those many ages that came before us. There is the good news, however: there remain a few solid producers and innovative studios who remain dedicated great movie making.

(checking heart rate)

Which brings me to my point: Hellboy 2: The Golden Army looks cool. It looks interesting. It looks like a true fantasy movie instead of the bait-and-switch (although still enjoyable) ruse we got on Pan’s Labyrinth—which I love (Actually, I think del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone is a stronger film).

I’ll see it opening day just to reward Guillermo’s vision.

Clear Your Frame

You would think this would be obvious.

You would think it wouldn’t have to be said: clear your frame.

That is Director-speak for “whatever is not supposed to be in the frame must be framed out, or removed.”

If, after having told any member of your camera crew repeatedly to check and clear their frame, they do not, then you are dealing with

  1. incompetence
  2. passive-aggressive behavior
  3. willful insubordination

None of these are acceptable. Remove them from set immediately.

It is essential for any filmmaker who is responsible for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars (and eventually millions of investor and studio dollars) to learn the power of dismissal.

Always be fair, but be firm.

Tyranny breeds rebellion, so you can’t be a tyrant. But you should be running a benevolent dictatorship, not a democracy.

Make the call. If you don’t have the answer, get a short list of options from people with opinions you trust. Then make the call, and politely demand everyone to comply.

But in the end, it doesn’t matter how pretty your shot is, how compelling the acting is, how gorgeous the art direction is—if Camera B is reflected in the mirror behind the actors you can’t use the shot. And forget “camera safe”—clear your frame edge to edge.

Be a professional. Clear your frame.

Style is a Noun

Dictionary.com defines style as:

(Def. 9.) a particular, distinctive, or characteristic mode or form of construction or execution in any art or work: Her painting is beginning to show a personal style.

Don’t worry about the previous eight definitions:  they are very close to this one.

First, you figure out what your style is. That’s easy, it’s what you like in the work of others. Start there, then add your own flourishes to it, make it your own.

Second, you find someone who thinks like you, sees things the way you see them. Find someone who shares your style. Now you have a team. Find a third person and your team is bigger.

Once you have the same language you can communicate directives to achieve your style in any part of your film making.

Do not make the mistake in believing everyone else sees what you see—they do not.

An invaluable part of pre-production is showing your camera operators and your lighting team the movies and the moves you like. Storyboards and pre-visualization is critical to getting your team thinking in the right direction.

I learned this the hard way.

If any person of your crew doesn’t understand what you want. Explain it to them, meticulously if necessary. Thereafter, if they are incapable or unwilling to give you what you want—replace them immediately. Find someone who can follow your orders. You do not want to start the editing process with shots that embarrass you, deconstruct pace and mood, and weaken the story.

I would spare you that pain.