26 April 2006

DEEP THOUGHTS . . . with Seth Godin

Seth writing positively about PROCESS, a.k.a. having and using standard actions, metrics, procedures, etc.

He says: "Process is your ace in the hole when your intuition stops working."

Artistically, nothing could be more true. You've heard of "writer's block" no doubt. The surest fix I know of is to just write. Write whatever. Write haiku in Klingon about boogers. Write an essay about what it was like growing up as a young girl during the Great Depression. Or go ahead and plow on further into your novel/play/screenplay/whatever, realizing that you very well may scrap every word you write later on. The Muse has a siphoning action; If you can get the ball rolling, it will soon snowball out of control!

Back to Seth: "If process makes you nervous, it's probably because it threatens your reliance on intuition. Get over it. The best processes leverage your intuition and give it room to thrive."

I couldn't agree more!

In her book "The Creative Habit"famed choreographer Twyla Tharp introduces the concept of "preparing to be creative". She may not have originated the idea, but she sure put it in easy to understand language. As I recall, the idea is to practice your technique and work towards perfecting it. It may seem tedious (say, practicing your grande jete over and over and over) but studious practice can spark off new ideas. At the very least it prepares you for when inspiration does take hold!

Torrid Affaire grew almost entirely out of process. I wrote up the plot on index cards, arranged them in an order that made sense, and wrote straight through using the cards as my guide. Occasionally, I'd skip a card and come back to it if I wasn't sure what to write. The point is, I used the process to leverage my intuition, and cranked out a fairly decent play in a couple of weeks.

I'm learning to not fear process now. One of my mentors once told me that talent will only take you so far. A competitor who has their technique down will easily pass you up on the road to success, if you depend on talent alone. But talent plus technique . . . that's unstoppable!

20 April 2006

Up To Drew
Originally uploaded by scrapsflippy.
Can you even "lead a horse to water" anymore?

I just don't know.

I work weekends at a coffee shop in Studio City. I got the job a couple of years ago when I was between gigs, and haven't had the heart to quit; I love the place, the customers, my co-workers, and my boss.

Anyway, every other Sunday for the past year and a half, I've posted a comic strip featuring an opinionated bat (it's cleverly titled "Up To Bat") at the register. At the register. This is PRIME real estate! Don't take my word for it, look at the picture! Last Sunday, I kept a mental tally, and of all the customers serviced during my shift, only about 10% of seemed to notice the strip, and of those about half actually read it.

This poses an interesting problem, particularly for one (me) who wishes to provide entertainment content on the "internets". If I can't get 90% of customers to notice something RIGHT NEXT to the "total due" display on the register, how do I get someone to notice my crappy little puppet videos?

Actually, it's a bit of a progressive problem:

1) How do you get someone to LOOK
2) How do you get them to stick around long enough to CONSUME the content
3) How do you get them to then TAKE ACTION of some sort of another

(By "Take Action" I mean anything like posting kudos [or even "you suck"] on a message board, buying merchandise, sending the link to a friend, etc.)

I really don't know! I understand the basic mechanics of marketing. I've read my Seth Godin.


To be continued, I guess.

13 April 2006

And now for the latest installment in the increasingly incorrectly titled series:
Tuesday's Artists I Love

Shelby and Shannon. (And by extension, Sound and Fury, although I haven't seen them perform yet as a troupe.)

So one day last winter I got a bad hankering for the Renaissance Faire experience. Mead, turkey legs, jousting . . . I'm sure you know what that craving feels like. Pamela and I went to Scarborough Faire twice in our youth and had an absolute blast (although the second trip involved me replacing the starter in our '78 Mustang II in a downpour). I Googled "Renaissance Faire" and "Los Angeles" and found The Renaissance Pleasure Faire at the picturesque Santa Fe Dam Recreational Facility.

Pamela and I made the jaunt out last Sunday (4/9/06) and had a goode olde tyme! It fills me with shivers of delight to reflect on how marvelous the whole Ren Faire scene is. I would like to be a part of that scene as a performer, but it occurs to me like any other venue, it helps to have at least a toe in the the scene. In other words, I don't know how likely it is a long-established Ren Faire is going to book "Sir Andrew and his Marvelous Punch and Judy Extravaganza!" for its worldwide debut. Maybe I'm wrong. Faire folk seem pretty easy going.

Anyway . . . We're on our way out (Pam had her pole class that night) but I don't want to leave just yet. I see this feisty dude yelling "Come see the best show in the Shire! Pyramus and Thisby, for your viewing enjoyment . . ." or something like that. I says to Pam "Hey, do you want to catch one last show before we head out?" She asks what show, I tell her it's "Pyramus and Thisby" and she says "Oh yeah. I wanted to see how they handle Shakespeare." We buy a cookie and take an aisle seat.

I have seen and participated in plenty of outdoor performances, many of them not that good. Amusement parks, Ren Faires, Zoos . . . these are not ideal venues. The environment is loud and chaotic. The audiences attach no value to the performances (they are essentially free performances), and so feel free to come and go during the shows. There are few things worse than a transient audience. Add to this scenario struggling artists who are perhaps a bit tired of doing the same shtick over and over and over, and you have a recipe for crappy theatre.

Ah . . . but every now and again something miraculous happens: An audience arrives eager audit, and the performers arrive eager to perform. Both sides of the equation are there to have a good time, and thus a good time is had by all! This was certainly the case on Sunday (although I believe that Shelby and Shannon could drag a good time out of the surliest of audiences.)

And so it was that our noble tespians preseted THE TRAGEDY OF PYRAMUS AND THISBY, the play-within-a-play from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Two star-crossed lovers speak back and forth through a hole in a wall, schedule a clandestine meeting, and wind up committing suicide. He thinks she was eaten by a lion, and so stabs himself. She finds his lifeless form and follows him to an untimely and tragic demise. (Stupid Shakespearean star-crossed set, skewering selves and slinging sentience southward to Styx.)

The performance was very energetic and engaging. The humor was bawdy and dirty in places, but in a good, old-fashioned "Looney Toons" kind of way (i.e. I'm certain the kids and the adults were laughing for different reasons at times.) Shelby and Shannon really involved the audience in the performance, which is so important. (Pamela was even enlisted to play the wall!) Our thespians were quite professional and pretty freaking polished for this style of theatre.

The larger group of which they are a part, Sound and Fury, is previewing Sherlock Holmes and the Saline Solution in L.A. this weekend. Pamela and I are planning on being there.

If you're in the area, you should be, too!

06 April 2006

Updated . . .

I passed the test . . . I got an "A"!

My "Understanding Motion Pictures" instructor, Prof. Joe Daccurso, is a very severe examiner yet a very humane grader. Clearly, the better one studies, the better one will do on the test. And believe me, this is not a test you can slide through like Gumby slides through books. I know quite a bit about this; I've ice skated through more than my fair share of tests. Yet it's comforting to know that you'd have to try really hard to totally bomb out.

Prof. Daccurso is not a sadist, despite the impression he tries to put over when it comes to the exam. He builds it up to be virtually Abu Ghraib-esque. It is, as I noted in the earlier posting on this subject, quite arduous. It's a marathon of a test! But for every yang there must be a yin, and Prof. Joe provides this yin in the form of very helpful study materials made available in the library and learning center. Prof. Joe is like a Dad who waits up by the front door for a curfew-breaking daughter, but leaves the back door unlocked. The key thing in a situation as benevolent as this is to not screw it up by abusing the benevolence. (This, by the way, is why benevolent governments and management structures hardly ever work. It only takes one person pissing in the pool to have the whole damn thing locked down. Why can't people just "be cool"?)

Something Prof. Daccurso said last night after passing out our grades really hit me right. He said that he's very interested in our conceptual understanding of the material, rather than rote regurgitation. Rote regurgitation is easy. Memorize some names and dates, spit it all out verbatim, and you pass! Yay! You can't remember it fifteen minutes later, but good on you anyway! Conceptual understanding though . . . ahhh. That's like changing your own personal mental "registry". Conceptual understanding affects how you think and perform. Rote regurgitation is good for a pat on the head and maybe a cookie. I am very pleased that Prof. Joe is the kind of teacher who teaches toward application rather than mere scholarship.

Well, I worked my ass off for this exam, and it shows. And now, to paraphrase Sun Ra, "What am I gonna do now I ain't got no ass?"

Study for the next one.

03 April 2006

Seth Godin's Blog & My Two Cents

Seth writes:

"The worst thing you can do is be boring and vague.
"The second worst thing you can do is be boring and verbose and obvious."

The third worst thing you can do is be hyperbolic yet oblivious.

Jim Henson used excessive hyperbole over and over and over as a source of comedy - Sam the Eagle's pronouncements, every Muppets Lab invention unveiled, etc. It's even in the theme song: "The Most Sensational, Inspirational, Celebrational, Muppetational . . ."

My favorite bit of hyperbole in the "real world" is when at this time of year movie studios release what they call "The most highly anticipated movie of the year." Dude. It's April.

Or how about "The New #1 Hit Show in America" that hasn't even premiered yet? I heard radio ads for Heist claiming this amazing ratings feat (which must somehow involve TiVo and a time machine) in the days leading up to its premiere.

Audiences aren't stupid. This isn't the 1950s. You can't tell us something is the best, most impressive, most eagerly anticipated, groundshaking, life-changing toothpaste (or whatever) and not expect a wry grin and a raised eyebrow. And maybe a chortle, suppressed of course so you don't know that we know that you're full of crapola.

There is a place for such exaggeration . . . when it's accurate. Of course then it wouldn't be hyperbolic, it'd just be descriptive ("The Most Watch Comedy In America" "The Safest Car on the Road".)

I wonder though . . . even if some huge claim turns out to be justified, do audiences even care?

"Honey, come quick! The New #1 Hit Show in America is on!"