Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Genius, Guns and 4G Media...

I've been thinking a lot about Good Film v. Great Film and Good TV v. Great TV and it appears that I am not the only one, especially in light of the whole Sopranos ending. How and why some (most) media is mediocre and some of it is great has been debated on and off for quite some time. I think a lot of it can be boiled down in this quote by Judd Apatow in his interview in this week's LA Weekly:

Of his subsequent adventures in the small-screen trade, Apatow is scarcely more charitable, and it is one of the ironies of his career that this former wunderkind of that supposed “writer’s medium” has found far greater creative freedom in the movies. “You don’t really have any freedom on television, because you make television with a gun to your head,” he says. “You write a script, and then they say, ‘If you don’t make these changes, we won’t make your pilot.’ Then, after you make your pilot, they say, ‘We will not pick it up as a series unless you get rid of this actor or make these other changes.’ And then, when you’re on the air, they say, ‘We can cancel you at any moment if you disagree with us about anything.’ It’s just a terrible process that makes garbage unless you luck out and find an executive who really understands what you do and has some respect for the way that you work.”


I think it's fairly safe to say that for the most part, the best movies and television come from a singular, uncompromising vision. That's not to say that a lot of voices and sweat and blood and tears from a lot of different sources don't contribute to that vision, but rather they serve that vision. That is, Director Vincent Van Patten and actor James Gandolfini serve the vision of The Sopranos set forth by creator David Chase (as does everyone else involved in the show).

I think it's also safe to say that a show like The Sopranos would never have survived the network television process. It survived (and flourished) because it was on a "non-network" like HBO. As I sit here I can imagine the notes Chase would have received from The CW:

Executive: Can we make him younger?
Chase: He's a man with a wife and two teenage kids...
Executive: Thinner perhaps...with more hair?
2nd Executive: And does he have to be so mean all the time?
Chase: He's a New Jersey mobster...I don't know if you've ever been introduced to one, but they're not all that... "huggable."

And so on...until David Chase is convicted for a mass slaying at the CW offices.
(See the exclusive footage only on Entertainment Tonight!)

It was to HBO's (and our) benefit that they got out of Chase's way and let him tell the story he wanted to tell. All he had to be was good, which evidenced by the DVD sales, the ratings and the number of Emmys on his shelf - he was.

So what's all this have to do with you, me and the rest of the community trying to peddle our entertainment wares?

It means that part of the formula for your storytelling success means that you have to have a vision for your story - how it looks, feels, smells, tastes - and how it makes others feel. If you can't see it, they ain't gonna believe it.

It also means that, thanks to that little thing called the internet, it's getting easier and easier to get your singular vision out there to the masses. What used to take massive amounts of time and PR dollars has been compressed into some software you get for free. Software you are encouraged to use and share your vision with others.

It also means that you don't necessarily have to feel the cold steel of a gun barrel to your temple when you're writing, or directing or producing your story. You don't have to hesitate or second guess yourself when you make your lead character someone who's not too likeable.

It means you can, if you want, do-it-yourself.
Case in point: These folks here.

So if this is what you want to do with your life - make media that is - then you can.
No excuses.
It's been laid out before you - the tech, the marketing, the distribution.

All you have to be is good. (no pressure)

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