To New Graduates, Especially the Artists

[Warning: Bad Words, but hey, we’re talking to artists, aren’t we?]

Most graduation speeches are optimistic, painfully so, because graduation is terrifying. You are moving into another stage of your life. The next, precarious stage. That one that doesn’t end until you have kids. And a house. And life insurance. And cable. The order is up to you. I’d go with cable though. You’re going to need a distraction.

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On Writing

(There are some bad words here. Apologies for the language. *curtsies*)

There are times when writing is like trying to catch lightning bugs. It’s fun until it’s frustrating but it’s still a warm, beautiful night.

There are times when writing is like trying to catch a fish with your hands. There’s so much flowing through your fingers that all you can do is grasp and hope you got what you needed.

There are times when writing is like trying to dredge a pond. You find sludge and sludge and nothing and nothing and then suddenly you find treasure. Or a dead body. Whatever it is it’s fantastically interesting and it consumes you for days on end.

And there are times when writing is like trying to take a shit when you’re really, really constipated. It hurts and it’s not very dignified and your face is all scrunchy but you need to get this out NOW. NOW because it’s convenient and there’s a deadline and you should have thought to eat some prunes but you didn’t and now you need to shit before this meeting or you will have to shit during the whole meeting and you will lose your job because you’re focusing on your sphincter and not the task at hand.

And so you’ve forced this stuff out of your ass (because yes, you’re creatively constipated. That is what it is.) and you take a look at it.

And is it good?

You just shat it out. Why would it be?

This is why deadlines can be a pain in the butt. Literally. Err…figuratively. This is why setting several little deadlines for yourself can be much more useful than one big whomping spectre of a deadline that always looms in the distance and then pops up when you least expected it. (Despite you knowing exactly when it is.) That way you get into the habit of creating rather than the panic of “need to get this done.” Or just find a way to love yourself and your own work enough that you always want to sit down to write. Easier said than done, I know.

And remember, every single word you write adds to that stack of experience that makes you better in the long run. One of the speakers at my school, an acclaimed TV writer, said that he had an interview with a showrunner when he had just graduated film school. The showrunner asked him how high his pile was. The writer blinked. What? “Your pile. If all your finished work was in a pile, how tall would it be?” The writer shrugged, placed his hand perpendicular to his knee. “Come back when it’s above your waist.” the showrunner said. “We’ll talk.”

Feel free to substitute “creating art” for “writing.” Being a director, I tend to think of creating art as collaboration, so that has its own challenges and many, many joys, chief among them being that you can look to someone else to blame / inspire. They often overlap after all.

(Cross posted at the Lillian Lemoning Tumblr.)

“Girls” vs. “One Girl”: Moviefone, Tokenism, “The Avengers,” and the “Fake Geek Girl”

Yesterday around noon, something happened that happens every single day. A woman said something disparaging about other women* in order to ingratiate herself to men*. Or perhaps to convince herself that she is not as worthless as her lesser female* counterparts. Either way she saw fit to explain to us, her fellow penis enviers, how to talk about Joss Whedon’s The Avengers. The original title of the article was “Girls’ Guide to ‘The Avengers’.” It’s now been changed to “One Girl’s Guide To ‘The Avengers’: What You Need to Know If You Know Nothing,” but it’s still really, really marginalizing and offensive.

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“I am the son of a glove maker.” or How I Nearly Punched a Stranger Over a Stupid Period Film

I have very few deal breakers in my life. Racism, homophobia, sexism, classism, all the usual ones. Also, anti-Stratfordians. Seriously. F*ck those guys.

Damn those ruffians.

If you’re a frequent reader, you know it’s not often that I drop the f bomb in a column. This is why I need you to fully understand how serious I am about hating anti-Stratfordians.

What is an anti-Strafordian, you say? Well, when a snooty, elitist academic and a conspiracy theorist love each other very much and really need tenure — You know what? Just watch this trailer for Anonymous.

The anti-Stratfordians believe that William Shakespeare, the son of a Catholic glove maker, wasn’t educated or rich enough to write what are pretty much the greatest works in the English canon. Continue reading

Lillian Explains the Nielsen Ratings (Or How You Too Can Play “Charlie”)

At an industry panel at Carnegie Mellon, just before we graduated, someone asked why shows like The Beverly Hillbillies, American Idol, and Two and a Half Men remain on the air while more adventurous and artistic fare (anthologies, Pushing Daisies, Better Off Ted, etc.)  gets slowly shunted to the side and eventually canceled. The magic answer, folks, is advertising money, or rather, how those advertisers choose the shows they back: the Nielsen Ratings.

How It Works

You’ve probably heard the term “Nielsen Ratings” flung around at some point. It’s how networks claim the “#1 Drama on Television” “#1 Comedy Block on the Air,” etc. The Nielsen households are a set of about 25,000 homes throughout the nation that have “Set Meters” attached to their televisions. These Set Meters record what is watched by the household and send that data through the phonelines to the Nielsen company, an advertising consulting firm.

Not everyone has Set Meters. You would know if you did. When the Nielsen Company calls, the first thing they’ll ask is if you have a family member in the entertainment industry. They don’t want your family ties contaminating their data. Yet, even if you don’t have an uncle who’s a grip for Jerry Springer, think about how being a Nielsen household might affect your viewing habits. Compare how you watch television with your parents vs. how you watch when you’re alone. (They know you watch 90210 guys. Really they do.) Though there are lots of measures in place to try to keep Nielsen households from undue pressure, you behave differently when you know someone cares about what you watch. From an ion article about the Nielsens:

We weren’t to tell people or accept gifts or otherwise be persuaded to watch a certain show… We did make sure to watch Buffy and Angel in syndicated repeats, and made a special effort to watch the first season of the Venture Bros, which did need just another household or two to put it over the top. And it worked.

A partisan Nielsen voter? WHA?!?

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How to Prevent Piracy (or What the MPAA Can Learn from Commodore Norrington)

I love Hulu. LOVE Hulu. I love the interactive ads and the recommendations. I even tolerate the freezes and the delays after broadcast. Which is why I facepalm in response to the current piracy laws in the United States and the way that they are enforced. The most public and political pirate sites like Ninjavideo were shut down just over a year ago now, and the entertainment industry still hasn’t learned its lesson: you have to win the PR war before you can beat the pirates.

You Think You’re John Wayne, But You Look Like Prince John

Do you remember those high stakes ads that used to run at the front of feature films that compared downloading films to stealing a car?

It’s understandable that companies are frustrated. The MarkMonitor report has pointed out that the top three pirate websites (rapidshare, megavideo,and megaupload) get more than 21 million views per year, and that is only the tip of the iceberg. As one of the founders of Ninjavideo, Phara said in the circulated Ninjavideo Manifesto, every pirate will be replaced by another. For the younger generations, pirating is a way of life, talked about with the casual tenor that older people reserve for jaywalking. This is the generation that grew up with the hyperbolic ad above. They will not be guilted and they see through scare tactics like lawsuits against individual users. So the next choice was to change the way young people thought about intellectual property.

You can’t share something that’s not yours. But how do you explain to a teenager that they don’t own that Justin Bieber CD that they bought? Or rather that they own the physical disc, but not the data on it? Or they do own the data on it, and can load it into their iTunes, move it from that CD to iPhone, iPad, iPod, iwhatever format you want just not a file sharing website pleasegodplease?  Continue reading

Subversion in the Mainstream and James Bond in a Dress

Ready to have your life changed? James Bond just became a feminist.

Today is International Women’s Day. In fact, it’s the 100th International Women’s Day. 100 years ago, women’s rights leaders joined together in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and Denmark to campaign for their rights in a concentrated effort, demanding the right to work, to vote, to be educated and trained, to hold public (and private) office, and to end discrimination and victimization in the public and private spheres. (You can learn more about International Women’s Day and historical feminist activism here.) What does this have to do with Daniel Craig in drag?

Well, director Sam Taylor-Wood and writer Jane Goldman have given us a short film where the bravest, most daring, most dashing person in the world has found one mission he doesn’t want to take on: being a woman. I could pontificate on the power of seeing one of the manliest British actors in relatively convincing drag or the subversive nature of Dame Judi Dench’s authoritative narration, so different from the voiceovers that we usually hear from female actors. I could rant about the frustrating fact that despite a woman’s first Oscar win for Best Director was for an action film, this two-minute short is the first Bond film directed by a woman, despite the success of Bond producer Barbara Broccoli.

Maybe that’s an unfair complaint. Kathryn Bigelow only won the Oscar a year ago, and the successes of the short’s writer Jane Goldman (StardustKick-Ass, and Kick-Ass 2) are heartening for women who want to make action movies or other “masculine” genres. The success of Tina Fey’s 30 Rock and Diablo Cody’s Juno are helping women carve a place in the world of comedy.  (Although I’m sure Fey’s new book is going to point out how far we need to go on that front too.)

Women aren’t making Bond films, but Bond films have changed to reflect this new world M references in the PSA. There are lots of interesting feminist moments in Casino Royale, but the littlest one, and possibly my favorite, is around 7:30 in this clip. Bond is kissing Vesper and then she starts saying “No. Stop. Stop it.” In a Sean Connery Bond film this moment would be when he kisses her harder, and then she reveals that she likes it, that no means yes. In Casino Royale, Bond stops. Immediately. And he doesn’t get resentful or scary, or share a sad look with the camera. He’s always looking at her, and he doesn’t resist her paying her share. This Bond is a different kind of Neanderthal, not a perfect feminist partner, but certainly not the paragon of male chauvinism we see in the Ian Fleming novels and 60s and 70s films.

Contrast the dynamic between Vesper and Craig’s Bond and Honey (Ursula Andress) and Sean Connery’s Bond:

“Are you looking for shells?”

“No. Just looking.”

And see the tables turn in Vesper and Bond’s first meeting, where she calls him on his character’s chauvinist legacy:

It is Craig’s portrayal of Bond that makes the PSA so powerful. Continue reading

The Casting Couch and Where Does Chauvinism Come From?

So my lovely friend Elize’s blog seems to have infected me lately. Over at Female Gazing she celebrates our need to objectify and subverts Laura Mulvey’s observation of the “male gaze” in media with a gaze of her own.

Here’s an excerpt from a lovely post in which she explicates the concept:

Objectification of women will never end.  Women are beautiful and sexy.  We have soft curvy bodies which attract attention.  I don’t want to ask men to stop looking at me and my sisters.  I want to ask them to do it respectfully, remembering that I have as many opinions and feelings as they do.

I consider it my job, nay! my duty to gaze at men.  To make them ever so slightly uncomfortable, to turn my head when they jog past.  To hug one whenever I feel like it.  To have friends who are male and tell them what I think and feel without fear of being considered too girly, vain, or sensitive.

So please don’t feel threatened (for as a woman I’m taught that the last thing a man wants is a woman who is threatening) and join me.  Enjoy bodies (consensually!)  Gaze respectfully.  Gaze with love and responsibility.  Honor people’s feelings, his, hers, your own.

(If you like that also check out my favorite post so far, about one of my favorite guilty pleasures, the remake of Universal Pictures’ The Mummy starring Brendan Fraser.)

The blog is filled with pictures of gorgeous men (and women) who know they’re sexy and don’t apologize, and Elize helps you feel that way too. It’s a great mission but when I’m in one of my over sharing hormonal places it can be a little dangerous.

How you ask? Well, directing requires a certain level a maturity and sensitivity because you’re in a position of power. The clichés about the casting couch exist because they are based in fact. (Contemporary fact, if Megan Fox is to be believed.) That is a really depressing thing. And it goes both ways. As women become more powerful in Hollywood they develop the same power that was exploited by the cigar chewing male producers we see in the movies. Exploitation goes all kinds of ways: straight, queer, male, female, everything in between and outside. It is the person in power’s responsibility to not exploit, not the potential victim’s responsibility to speak up, which is why people in positions of power have to be very careful.

I go to the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama. It is filled with gorgeous, gorgeous, talented people. Like the way TV is filled with really, really ridiculously good-looking people who never have to go to work or take a bathroom break. And you know how when you’re watching TV you find yourself saying things that you wouldn’t say if the person was in the room?

For example:

Yes, darling, they're still there. But you should check again in five seconds, just to make sure.

Oh, just makeout already.

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Me Be Pretty One Day

When I was little, my favorite movie was Aladdin. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe because it had more action than most Disney films and had more of an ensemble feel to it. (The Genie had his own separate storyline and the carpet was sort of like the Mad Murdock of the group. I dunno. I liked it.) And every Halloween, when I was choosing a costume, my first thought went to Jasmine.

I don’t know exactly what it was about her that made me want to be her. Maybe her temper. (“I am not a prize to be won! *stomps off*) Maybe her pet tiger. Either way, little elementary school me knew that she was everything I wasn’t. Her skin was this beautiful cappuccino color. Mine was so pale you could see the veins. Her hair was this mysterious jet black. Mine was this mousey sometimes vaguely red but not really brown. Her hands were dainty and delicate. Mine were peasant’s hands: thick, short fingers, dirty nails. Oh, and her waist. Oh, Jasmine’s impossibly tiny waist. My waist was…well, not tiny. Ever. Continue reading

On Death, Alcestis, and Hiatuses

Hey Nerds! Very long time, no see. Some of the delays have been the good kind: opening Alcestis, workshopping my dear friend Olivia’s new play Those Whom the Gods Love, and enjoying my last few days in New York. Some of the delays were bad: preparing to leave the city and dealing with a family member’s health crisis, as well as some tragedies in my own friends’ lives.

Ideally I wanted this post to be an Alcestis post-mortem, but I think I’m going to wait for our pictures to come through and for a time when I don’t feel like I’m living in the play. (And Death is not nearly as kind and funny as our wonderful Holly Kay Roberts. Or as anthropomorphized.)

Holly is more awesome than this. Really.

So I thought I’d give you a brief glimpse into some things I’ve realized as a result of working on this play while confronting Death in my family and friends’ lives. So this is a change of pace from my usual pop culture reference, feminist-y self. Apologies.

The first and most obvious thing I’ve begun to accept is that we do stupid things when people die, or are dying. We lose control. We rage. We freeze. We feel nothing. This is not because the deceased was nothing to us, but because it hurts too much to feel. Or maybe, we really do feel nothing for them. What is worse?

It has all happened before. There is nothing new in this. But that fact doesn’t help the pain. In fact, it makes it worse because we begin to beat ourselves up for thinking we were special. That we’d escape or that our suffering is somehow profound or meaningful. And yet it is meaningful because it is universal. Because we are joined in our ignorance, our failure to deal with mortality in some hypothetical, unattainable “healthy” way.

No one knows what to say, how to act. “My condolences.” “When I lost my…” The words begin to bleed together into a big sad late Monet painting, all reds and greens, the subject indiscernible until the words, the hugs, the cards mean nothing.

This was a footbridge once…

That doesn’t mean that we should stop giving them. But once you’ve lost someone, you know that those gestures are Spongebob band-aids at the doctor’s. It’s kind of you to give them out but it doesn’t make the shot hurt less. It’s being there that matters, if at all.  Continue reading