Thursday, December 20, 2007
In my cover letter, I explicitly stated that I need at least 40 thousand dollars a year to take a salaried position. In the case of Stiletto, the salary is nearly that plus since there's so much travel, most of my food & entertainment expenses are covered so it certainly would work out that way.
Apparently to most people in the film industry, $24,000 dollars a year is enough to buy 100% of my time 12+ hours per day 7 days a week. Oh, but Jim will pay for my lunch?
Look kids, here's a lesson for you - learn how to do math. If you learn how to do math, then when someone in Hollywood offers you 24K and no benefits of any kind to give up your entire life to work as a low-level technical assistant to a composer (even one whose work you like), you can say... Wait a tick, that's less than 6 dollars an hour in a state with a minimum wage of $8. Wait a tick, with overtime, the minimum you'd need to pay me is over $40K per year. AND lastly, wait a tick! I went to fucking graduate school at New York University and shouldn't be fucking making fucking 8 goddamn fucking dollars an hour anyway!!!
This get's really ridiculous... If I've learned anything about Hollywood so far, it's this:
Ya know how everytime you see a business man - they're always presented as evil guys who would kill their employees just so they could have something to walk on if there was a puddle in the street and a nickle on the other side?
The film industry presents such people like that because that is the reality of the entertainment business. If they only knew that all the people I know who work in other industries - the "evil" ones you always see in the movies... I've got friends who work for software giants, railroads like Union Pacific, gigantic book publishers like McGraw-Hill, enormous land development and construction contractors for example... and all those people make real wages, get benefits, bonuses and by and large get treated with respect by their employers. The truth of the matter is, it's just the entertainment industry that harbors those types of tycoons... and they're not guys wearing fancy suits... they're patchouli douchebags wearing sandals and sunglasses.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
In no particular order, here are at least 10 very good reasons to watch:
1: The music is fantastic! Composed by veteran (of mostly video games like the SOCOM series) Jim Dooley, Pushing Daisies sports a melodic, romantic-fantasy musical language that blends cinematic elements with the mixed-pop musical timing. Not only that, in a rare twist for the continuing trend of poorer quality music and production values being scrapped for the bottom-line benefits that pre-recorded "tracks" bring to most modern television programming, Dooley's weekly scores are recorded by a full orchestra.
2: Executive Producer & Director: Barry Sonnenfeld. Contributing immensely to Pushing Daisies' feeling more like a series of 45 minute films than a television series, the director of Men in Black (I & II), the Addam's Family Values and the grossly under-rated live action version of The Tick starring Patrick Warburton brings this magical universe to life. Often compared stylistically to Tim Burton, one would be remiss to ignore Sonnenfeld's clearly established style as both a director and producer and though, yes, it's similar to Burton in that it often revolves around macabre fantasy, Sonnenfeld uses much brighter colors, themes and opts for comedy over tragedy in a way that Burton's aesthetic has just never been able to handle. If you're watching carefully, you (as my dad astutely did) will see much more of Sonnenfeld's Lemony Snicket's: A Series of Unfortunate Events in this show than you will even Big Fish.
3: Michael's Wylie and Weaver round out the visual aesthetic as Production Designer and Cinematographer respectively. Vivid colors and excellent, motion-picture-style cinematography result in Pushing Daisies being one of the most attractive shows ever broadcast on network television.
4: THE WRITING! Of course I've spent the first three reasons talking about technical issues and the beauty of this series is really in it's heartbreaking romantic streak. The show, for those who don't already know is about a pie-maker named Ned, gifted with the ability to bring the dead back to life - but only for a minute. Any longer than a minute and someone else (in relative proximity and of more-or-less "equal" value) has to die. Unfortunately, even after a minute, Ned's touch will permanently "re-dead" any one or anything he's brought back... And thus the rub.
You see, Ned has brought the love of his life from the age of 9, Charlotte Charles aka "Chuck", back to life. Though the couple (played by Lee Pace and Anna Friel) have phenomenal on-screen chemistry and clearly love each other, they cannot touch lest Chuck dies for good. Add to this the supporting characters Emerson Cod - Private Detective and partner of Ned's who solves murders by having Ned re-animate the dead and asking them who their killers were, Chuck's two aunts (or are they both aunts?) - synchronized swimming duo "The Darling Mermaid Darlings", and Olive Snook - waitress for Ned's pie shop, "The Pie-hole" and not-so-secretly in love with Ned herself, and you have a story ripe for all kinds of twists, turns and surprises.
And I haven't even mentioned guest characters played by Paul Reubens, Mike White, or Molly Shannon yet...
Pushing Daisies has almost unlimited potential as a story because the characters are so well defined and so interesting, yet it enjoys the possibility of a weekly format like any detective show and a romantic entanglement impossible to extricate it's characters from and impossible to consummate. It's heartbreaking and lovely all at the same time. I dare you to watch Ned & Chuck hold their own hands pretending they were holding each other's and not feel something.
5: The casting. Lee Pace and Anna Friel work together perfectly - but it's the stellar supporting cast that really makes the show what it is. Starting with the wry and very-funny Chi McBride as Emerson and moving directly on to Wicked's Kristin Chenoweth as Olive. Chenoweth isn't the only Broadway singer to make an appearance though, Ellen Greene (who you may remember from Little Shop of Horrors) as Chuck's aunt Vivian and Raul Esparza as travelling salesman Alfredo Aldarisio who is not-so-secretly in love with Olive also have excellent musical chops. Though we haven't seen Esparza break out into song yet, it's only a matter of time. Beyond that, with guest stars like Paul Reubens as an olfactory scientist who lives in the sewer and Molly Shannon as a ruthlessly aggressive small business owner, how can you possibly go wrong?
6: It has a very strong likelihood of making you cry out of a mixture of love, happiness and tragedy. I view this as a very good thing - especially for TV which is ordinarily filled with trash.
7: If you care about such things, it's already been nominated for several Golden Globes and it's getting great reviews by people (not unlike myself) who spend a lot of time watching and analyzing the celluloid artform. Basically, what I'm saying is that in case you don't believe I know what I'm talking about what with my masters degree in film scoring and my extensive study of aesthetics and all, I'm not the only one.
8: Jim Dale narrates. If you don't know who Jim Dale is, listen to the Harry Potter series' audiobooks - he's a fabulously proper older English gentleman and you simply can't find a better narrator for a fantasy of this type.
9: There's no excuse not to watch it - if you miss its regular Wednesday night showing, www.abc.com is the best of any of the networks at providing a free online viewing option. If you have high-speed internet (and let's be honest, who doesn't anymore?) then you're good to go and can watch the show at any time.
10: And this one I just found out about (well after I started writing this promotional diatribe), I *might* get to replace a friend of mine as Jim Dooley's assistant and actually WORK on the music for the show! My brain has exploded...
Seriously. Go watch it, you'll be glad you did! And wish me luck ;)
Friday, December 7, 2007
I had however, heard and read a bunch of nonsense recently from Christian groups wanting to boycott the film because of the book's supposedly anti-Christian properties. Every time this happens, I find myself often chuckling at the absurd catch 22 that the religious find themselves in. In order to boycott an artwork because they believe the ideas expressed in that artwork will lead people to evil, hell, Satan, etc., they must themselves avoid any firsthand experience of the art. Of course, when you avoid experiencing the artwork your boycotts are fueled only by rumor - and everybody with half a brain realizes this. Such is certainly the case with The Golden Compass and fortunately, the splashes being made by religious groups will serve only to bring the film a larger audience.
Before I get to the film itself, I also would like to mention that on the other side of the religious boycotts are plenty of fans, atheists and other groups crying "censorship!" This is a ridiculous and depressingly common inaccuracy which reduces the debate to a very stupid level. Censorship requires authority and the legitimized use of force - government book burning for example. A religious group calling for private citizens to boycott a film or any artwork in order to express their views is a fabulous way of expressing disagreement. In a free society, people must be free to make the films they want, free to see them, free to not see them, and yes; free to convince others not to see them as well. To everyone contributing to the hooplah surrounding this thing: Relax.
Now. About the film:
The basic structure of The Golden Compass follows a kind of underlying mythology found throughout the world. There's the youthful hero Lyra Belacqua, a tomboyish orphaned girl of 11 years old who knows little of her past or her future, but gets unwittingly swept into a larger universe. She must grow up of course, but the transformation isn't without its adventure. Lyra has a beloved and very mysterious adventurer uncle named Lord Asriel, an armored polar bear friend and protector named Iorek Byrnison, and most important of all in her world, people's souls reside in animal form outside their bodies and Lyra's is a shape-shifting little mink named Pan. There are the motherly figures, the wise-old men who act as guides - including Lyra's headmaster and a pilot/cowboy played by Sam Elliott known as Lee Scoresby - and the grand struggles not only between good and evil, freedom and control, thought and dogma, but the internal battles of a girl growing up. In a strange way, Lyra's story is more that of the ritualistic rights of passage boys undergo in their transformation to become men than the story of a girl becoming a woman (please see Joseph Campbell for that reference prior to calling me sexist).
Finally, like The Force in another ubiquitous mythology, all things in this universe are connected by a magical ether simply referred to as "Dust". And it is Dust that sparks all of the controversy...
Lord Asriel's research into the properties of Dust ruffles the feathers of The Magisterium, which as I understand it in the book is synonymous with religion and the church, but in the film is more of an authoritarian government... Not that there is much of a difference between the two... Ultimately, it is Asriel's blasphemy that sends the Magisterium into action.
One of the representatives of the Magisterium is Marisa Coulter (though we don't know that right away), who seems nice enough at first and asks Lyra to join her for an exciting adventure to the North. Lyra is excited to get away from her formal education and her orphan home - excited at the prospect of doing anything like her uncle Asriel. Just before Lyra and Ms. Coulter embark on their journey the headmaster of Lyra's school gives her a compass-like device called an Alethiometer. The golden compass will show the user "the truth" in any situation. A dozen exist, but all but the one Lyra now possesses have been confiscated by the Magisterium. The metaphor is certainly not lost here: The government (and religion) must be in control of the truth to maintain their dominance of the universe.
Another way the Magisterium is attempting to maintain control is through the creation of a sort of metaphysical surgery which separates the soul-animals of children from the children themselves - thus rendering them easily manageable and highly obedient. Many of Lyra's friends have been abducted by agents known as "Gobblers" and among her many adventures; she must rescue them as well.
As for the technical merits of the film in question, The Golden Compass has a few minor flaws from an effects perspective... In one sequence, there's a particularly obnoxious (to me) computer generated lens-flare that simply should have been left out. The acting is generally superb, as one might expect from a cast including Sirs Ian McKellen & Christopher Lee (briefly), Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig and my personal favorite - Sam Elliott. As typecast as the man is, there will simply never be a better mustachioed cowboy in film. The film clocks in just shy of two hours, and to be honest, I could have used an extra 20 minutes or so to bolster the affect of the conclusion. Having since read the Wikipedia entries on the plot of the original novel, I certainly think the end of the first act as written by Pullman would have been a much better end to the film, but I won't go into that here.
Going in as ignorant of the source material as I was, I expected a complete film - however, The Golden Compass is merely the opening chapter to a much larger saga involving the battle between authority and free will played out on a marvelously fantastical scale. I am a bit reluctant to give a specific rating for this film as I have really only seen the first act, but if all goes well, I hope to see the rest of this story unfold. This film (and the series overall) deals with a much more serious and substantial set of intellectual issues than many of its counterparts. The underlying message of the film is fabulously pro-thought and pro-freedom, and personally, I am basking in the glorious irony that a film that takes on the issue of free-thought vs. authoritarian state/religious control - even in the watered-down, commercialized form presented here - has its metaphors played out literally in the asinine, manufactured controversy it has caused.
Looking forward to the next installment!
The Golden Compass:
THE MUSIC REVIEW: Alexandre Desplat has composed a score for The Golden Compass which may skirt the boundaries a bit too close to fantasy-genre cliches, but for me sets an excellent tone and shows a lot of nuance and compositional skill. I recently complained somewhat about Alan Silvestri's score to Beowulf which seemed to me to be holding back a lot for a film and subject matter which was excitingly over-the-top. Desplat's work for this film is in a lot of ways what I wish Silvestri had done. The orchestral scale and intensity of scoring really fit the scope of The Golden Compass and did so in such a way which reflected both the childish and adult characteristics at play on screen. That is not to say that it is entirely without some problems. For example, the opening sequence seemed to me to be a bit derivative of Howard Shore's lighthearted "Shire" cues in the Lord of the Rings - and if not that then perhaps Edvard Grieg's "Morning Mood". Those comparisons might be a bit extreme, but the opening certainly played up this extremely innocent, childish and folksy quality which really didn't exist in the context of the film at large - although what music was there, was well written. I would have liked to have heard more leitmotif development up front and the establishment of an alternate-dimension time and place - more magic. Beyond that, the cliche that bugged me might very well be a pet peeve that only applies to me, but in the first sequence of Lyra and Ms. Coulter leaving the port in her sky-ship, Desplat touches on an alternating 5th, minor 6th interval in the horns over a sustained major chord - ultimately an inversion of an augmented triad with an added major 7th which I (and you all) have heard in virtually every fantasy film score ever written. This may seem like nitpicking, but it would be quite obvious to you if I pointed it out and as far as I'm concerned could have been more creatively avoided. With all that in mind however, speaking as a composer, all of my beefs with the score smack of heavy-handed director involvement - though I would have to check out more of Desplat's scores to be sure. All in all, the score to The Golden Compass was handled very well and I look forward to hearing more from Alexandre Desplat in the future.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
You too could enjoy a fabulous 3D experience if you go see Beowulf 3D!
If in fact you do go to see Beowulf 3D, you can expect a number of interesting things. First, unlike virtually any other "3D" movie I've ever seen, it's stereoscopic the entire movie. Considering how incredibly distracting it is to have to constantly put glasses on, then take them off, then on again - not to mention the irritating icons that pop up and interrupt the movie to tell you to do so, this is a fabulous improvement. The cool thing about a movie that's entirely in 3D is that eventually you forget about the glasses and just get into the film... until you get a spear shoved in your face! It really screws with your perception when that happens, I'm here to tell ya.
As I'm sure you know, Beowulf is the oldest surviving piece of English literature and is one of the most epic stories imaginable. Naturally, Zemeckis takes some liberties with the story, but considering it's a multi-millennia-old viking epic poem I'm really not going to get bent out of shape about that. For the uninitiated, Beowulf is a mighty warrior who travels with a small group of heroes seeking glory through great battles with monsters and demonstrations of skill. In the saga, as in the film, Beowulf has answered the call of King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) to help defeat the disturbing creature called Grendel.
Grendel is a huge beast who for no apparent reason enjoys dismembering people and eating parts of their bodies - especially when good times are being enjoyed by all. It comes as no surprise when Beowulf defeats him (though why he must remove his clothes to do this is a bit of a mystery) and proves himself the worthy hero. Unfortunately - Hrothgar's kingdom is far from out of the proverbial woods. Grendel, though certainly a problem, is nothing compared to his demoness mother... as portrayed (through remarkable motion capture animation technology) by a "close enough to naked for 12 year-old Roger Ebert", Angelina Jolie. Should I be embarrassed that I'm turned on by her slithery tail and high-heeled feet? ...Nah!
This is where the plot (written by one of my personal favorites, Neil Gaiman & Roger Avary) goes on an interesting departure from the saga, but upon some reflection, the twist actually makes a lot of sense - at least if you're a guy.
There are some fine performances by Hopkins and his young wife played by Robin Wright Penn, but as per usz, the most attention grabbing work is done by a slimy, cowardly, but yet somehow not altogether bad John Malkovich as Unferth, Hrothgar's "trusted advisor". Ray Winstone is fine as Beowulf, but let's be honest, the vast majority of his lines are spent either stating his own name or shouting at people... and also grunting. A whole lot of grunting happens too.
If you want a pretty kickass action movie done up in an animation style that unabashedly stomps all over the uncanny valley line - I'd definitely recommend Beowulf 3D. And hey - who doesn't want an illusory spear in the face?!
**(Though I've only seen the 3D version, I have serious doubts that the animation would be particularly enjoyable without the stereoscopic component - the movie was designed for the glasses, so if you do go, spend the extra buck and do the 3D experience.)
I suppose this is the part where I create an arbitrary rating system isn't it? Hmm... ok, I think I've got an idea! Out of a possible 5 reels...
THE MUSIC REVIEW: I'm not going to spend a ton of time on this score because honestly, it wasn't that memorable to me and it's been about 10 days now. Alan Silvestri has worked with Robert Zemeckis for a bazillion years now and they certainly seem to sync up nicely, but this wasn't Silvestri's best work. Now, there's nothing "wrong with it" per se - what emotional scenes were present were certainly appropriately handled, and as always, Silvestri's action writing is ballsy and epic. However, if you were to compare the score for Beowulf up against one of Silvestri's earlier over-the-top epics; Van Helsing, you'd find that the themes are bolder, the orchestration more outrageous and in general the whole scale more epic. In some ways, I think he treated Beowulf more seriously than the story itself really warrants. It may just be one composer's opinion, but I always say - if you're going to go over-the-top, go with gusto!
Arbitrary rating for the music (also out of 5):
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Government representatives and full-time scientist members of the panel first write and approve a rough idea of all the topics to be covered in the specific report to be published. Ostensibly this step is only there so that the report can have a theme, but whenever you write an outline in advance of the data you're researching, you have already committed to a series of assumptions about the data you're going to find. Imagine if I were doing a double blind study of a new cancer treatment and I'd written the outline of my findings prior to even doing the testing? Then I proceed to step two... the cherry-picking stage.
Step 2: Governments, Organizations Nominate Experts
Now that we know what we want to say this is the part where the government officials on the IPCC get to decide which scientists they will be using to make their case. Also... a great opportunity for bias to influence the overall results. We do this all the time as ordinary individuals of course, and I'm fine with that in general, but I don't have the power to force someone else to agree with me whereas the IPCC ultimately will in many ways. So... good times here as well.
Step 3: Bureaucrats pick the specific authors
So - NOW that we've already chosen the group of scientists we'd like to use to support the outline we already wrote for the report, now we should choose the specific scientists we'd like to have author the report itself.
Does anyone else not see a bit of a pattern here? Government officials - non-scientists - have an amazingly large amount of control over the way this report comes out simply by being in control of the level of diversity of opinion represented.
So... Skipping ahead a bit, we find that after one round of purely expert (peer) review - we get a 2nd Draft written by the selected authors...
Step 7: Government & Experts Review Draft
Out of curiosity - why exactly would the governments represented by the IPCC need to verify a scientific report?
Perhaps they need to make sure it conforms to their original outline... Just a thought.
Now, this goes through a few other government review steps, and that's all well and good, but then the government officials on the panel get to write the Policy Summary...
This is what (as I'm sure many have noticed) really chaps my ass. Because at this point, the politicians can monolithically make sweeping recommendations about what new laws to write, new programs to invent and new tariffs & taxes to pay for it.
So, just to review:
1. The policy makers write an outline.
2. The policy makers nominate scientists to write a report based on said outline.
3. The policy makers pick the specific scientists from their pre-selected pool to write the actual text of the sections of the report again based on said outline.
4-5. Draft 1, peer-reviewed (GOOD!)
6-7. Draft 2, government (and peer) reviewed... what!?
8-9. Final draft, government reviewed... what1?X10
10. Panel approves the report and publishes to the world.
And bonus step 11: IPCC gets to make authoritative recommendations of policy.
Anyone ever heard the term "selection bias"? For some strange reason, it keeps popping up in my mind.
Now, to be clear, I don't think the scientists are purposefully doing bad research! I think people who need backing for policy positions are put in a very easy position to generate reports and authority through selecting the people who are likely to represent their views. And just to be sure, they get to write the outline in advance.
Where did I get all this you might ask!?
Oh yes, the IPCC website itself.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Tonight, there's going to be a news segment about "The Great Fast Food Deception".
It's really not going to end is it? The mainstream media and virtually every politician on the planet are absolutely convinced that we are all a bunch of retards, aren't they?
First they tell me that "NO one knew that smoking was bad for their health!" Which might have been true 100 years ago, but considering it's a habit that makes you cough most of the times you use it I kind of doubt even that. Besides which, many studies had shown adverse affects by the 1950's and far more have been written since. But wake up news people! No one who starts smoking in 2007 is "deceived" by Big Tobacco
Now I'm being told that fast food, foie gras, and trans-fats are tricky little deceits too!?
Are you kidding me!? NEWS FLASH: Fatty foods make you fat! How dumb do you people think we are? I don't need any help from the government or from media blowhards to figure out how to count calories or to make sure I go to the gym. And if I don't go to the gym - it's none of their damn business anyway.'
There's really two separate problems here unfortunately...
1. Mainstream media's annoying tendency to condescend and treat us like morons who aren't capable of making our own choices... oh no, everything is some conspiracy assuredly cooked up by "Big Business".
2. Government - which is significantly worse - uses its (unconstitutional) "authority" to force us all to make what they consider to be the right choices about our health and well-being.
Who else is just sick of it? My weight, blood pressure, level of stress, eating habits, exercises routines, whether or not I drink or smoke or do anything else to myself has to do with me and no one else. Furthermore, FREEDOM means nothing if people aren't allowed to make choices other people consider stupid. Perhaps the joy I get from the occasional double bacon-cheeseburger is more valuable to me than the time I'll have to spend at the gym working off the 1000 calories.
Eating right is a great idea... of course it's better for us if we try to stay healthy - but since when did we decide that government and national news reporters can do a better job than we can as individuals knowing what that means?
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Yes... they really do...
Writers barely get paid compared to directors, producers and even actors and quite often, don't even get a share of residual royalties.
That said... Here's a great article explaining the current WGA contract rights:
According to the current union contract, as a WGA writer on a prime-time television series, you would make over $30,823 per episode and an additional 8,634 for each rewrite. Conservatively, (very conservatively!) lets say writers only have to do 1 rewrite per episode, that means they are getting paid $39,457 per episode. A full season of TV is now around 22 episodes... Most shows have teams of writers and not everyone is credited on all the episodes, so generously, lets say this hypothetical writer only gets credit on 17 of the 22.
That's $670,769 for the year! (And that's just for the per episode payments, NOT including their monthly or week-to-week salaries and a whole host of other built in fees, or royalties!)
By contrast... the Median income of the United States is about $50,000.
Soooooooooooo... I don't know about anyone else, but I don't feel that bad for them. Especially considering I'm a highly trained, experienced and (not to be immodest) quite talented composer with a masters from a highly respectable university and my income is definitely not yet anything close to that range... Hell, it's not even at the "average" American range yet either!
But this isn't about me and I have absolutely no grudge against people who provide a product millions of people want getting filthy rich...
This is about the 90-95% of people who work in entertainment and are making $20-40,000 a year on either part-time hourly wages or working 14+ hours a week on salary. Because every time one of the bloated Hollywood unions strikes it's not the $200,000 or $1,000,000+ a year writers, directors or actors who gets hurt, it's EVERYONE ELSE!
One of my best friends is a costume designer and wardrobe supervisor. She recently complained about Katherine Heigl bringing food to the picketing writers. "Where are my donuts Ms. Heigl?" She quipped.
Where indeed? As we approach Christmas time and the other winter holidays, you can rest assured that Tina Fey and her family will have enough to eat, fun times, possibly a nice vacation in a beach-house and assuredly presents for all. The same cannot necessarily be said for all those who really make her show and all the others run. In a previous Variety article, one of the crew members on NBC's "The Office" made note that while there are 12 writers on the show, there are well over 100 other members of the production staff - and she didn't include post production people like editors, music supervisors or (yes) composers! ALL of whom are out of work.
This whole thing doesn't just affect the writers and the management, it affects everyone. And because of the economic structure of the entertainment industry, even if the writers win this battle - everyone else loses. Including the average viewer!
Let me explain:
Say writers get a salary bump to $40,000 per episode, $10,000 per rewrite, some sort of royalty agreement that generates residual income for them including the big money issue du jour, internet revenue. (Which by the way, is way better than they will be able to do in reality!)
Where does that money come from?
Well - maybe we should first ask; where won't the money becoming from?
Since directors and actors have extremely powerful unions and have the most clout due to the nature of "name brand" recognition, we can rest assured that none of them will be taking a cut (they make vastly more than writers per episode already). We might also assume that if writers get residuals from internet broadcasts as they want, directors are probably not too far behind and eventually actors will gorge at that delicious trough as well. It might as well go unsaid that the executives at the major networks aren't going to be seeing a reduction in pay either. In addition, it's probably safe to assume that no money will be taken out of advertising budgets, since when the writers return, the entire industry will desperately need viewers filling every theatre seat and watching every prime time sitcom available.
We also know two fun financial facts:
1. any time there's a major strike the entertainment industry takes an enormous hit - last time the WGA writers went on strike in 1988, the industry as a whole took a 500 million dollar loss.
2. The internet has radically changed the way media is distributed and a wider variety of options have already meant significant financial problems for Hollywood.
So again, you have to ask, how will studios pay for all this?
Well, my guess is that the money is going to come from two places:
First, it's going to come out of budgets set aside for the development of new programming. This is assuredly a bad call from a long-term stand point, but then, when does the entertainment industry think long term? What that really means is that if you think TV is a waste of time now, just wait a year or two! Furthermore, what new shows will be developed are probably going to be as cheap to produce as is humanly possible......... thus - you guessed it - MORE REALITY SHOWS!! YAY!
Secondly, a reduced budget in this regard also means that existing shows are going to have to make some cuts across the board. What this most likely will mean is this: the $20-40,000 a year crew I referred to earlier won't be getting raises or bonuses, and the fact that their salaries have not remotely kept up with inflation as it is will only get worse. It also means that shows will start opting for other cheaper means of production - this might include reductions in wardrobe budgets (more costume pulling from existing greenrooms and less buying and probably zero actual costume design or fabrication), reductions in budgets for special effects and props, reductions in staff, more obsiquious unpaid interns, and the one that most concerns me directly; reductions in the music budget.
Music in television programming is already shit.Absolute garbage.
To dispel any illusions held by those who think they know how this works, the majority of music you hear on TV anymore was not composed specifically for that project but rather came out of a "license library". The market has been flooded recently with companies offering to get "placement" in film and TV for unsigned bands and "producers" of crap. And they work because they offer music to people who know nothing about music or the interaction of music with film for much cheaper than anyone like me can legitimately provide and still afford to eat. Expertise doesn't come cheap afterall... The bands and "producers" (the reason I am putting producers in quotations is a blog in and of itself...) get a couple hundred bucks at best for their songs and the slim chance that one day their band will be known outside the world of myspace. The library companies make a few thousand on a temporary, non-exclusive license or maybe $10,000 on exclusive rights for a year or two (after which time the music just goes back into the pool). No composer has to be paid, no director has to have the unpleasant experience of working completely out of his element and putting his trust in another artists expertise, and a moderately shitty soundtrack can be inserted at (comparative to the rest of the process) almost no cost! Sounds good... only, it actually sounds like crap.
A reduction in music budgets mean fewer composing gigs and perpetually worse music in entertainment. So that's my specific complaint...
Now, apply that complaint to any skilled artisan and multiply by 50 and you start to see the magnitude of the problem in priorities.
Yes, writers are extremely important to the process, and are the architects behind all of the rest of us having jobs in some ways. For that they deserve just compensation (which they are really not getting at the moment). But for entertainment to work, a well-oiled and highly complex machine with lots of gears must move smoothly. Most of those gears aren't writers, or directors, producers or actors. Most of them are on-set costumers who make sure the actors fit their parts and look great, gaffers who use light to make the clothes look great on camera, cinematographers who get interesting shots and keep our eyes on the screen never missing an important moment, sound recordists who make sure the actors can be heard.......... and literally a hundred other people on even the smallest shows. Most of these people are no less talented at what they do than WGA writers are. In fact, many, like myself, have even studied longer, trained more and developed more expertise and skill. It is not an easy undertaking to learn the skillset it takes to be a competent film maker - writing may be important, but in many ways, it's the "easy part".
The WGA strike is bad news for everyone. Unfortunately, if they're successful, everyone else except a tiny few are still radically underpaid and because the revenue is simply not going to increase by $100,000 or more per union writer, everyone else is going to suffer. The crew, the PAs, the staff, the post-production staff, the music, the overall quality of production...
...and most of all, the viewer.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Examining our Premises
The Importance of Clearly Defining “God”:
It is an imperative first step in any argument or debate to first clearly define all of the major terms to be used in the discussion. Though it may seem obvious, this step is one often overlooked in religious debate and subsequently allows the debaters excellent means of avoidance simply by claiming to have been referring to a different definition of “God”.
For an example of this; check out Christopher Hitchens’ debate with Rev. Al Sharpton – towards the end of this debate, Sharpton shifts the definition of God away from the traditional Christian conception (which Hitchens clearly believed he was discussing) to one much more nebulous and limited. Essentially he changed the debate mid-stream by first using the standard conception of God “the Father” then morphing it into God “the Holy Spirit”.
For the purposes of this discussion, I am hereby defining God in the most commonly used sense in the United States and around the world. That is to say, the God of the Q’uran and the Bible (in its various incarnations) – this god has many names; Jehovah, Yahweh, Allah, God, Jesus, even Haille Selassie according to some, but in each representation, this god has the same basic characteristics. Thus, any use of the term “God” shall be furthermore interchangeable with the following attributes:
- Omnipotence: God can (literally) do anything. He is the “all-powerful” creator of the universe – there is nothing beyond his ability to create, materialize, or invent. It is crucial that this be fully understood as part of the intrinsic definition of God. There are no limits to his power. Any and all laws of physics or generalized rules of nature that humanity has discovered within its entire history do not apply to God.
- Omniscience: God knows everything that has ever been, is now and will ever be. He knows what every living creature in the universe is thinking and feeling simultaneously.
- Omnipresence: God exists everywhere simultaneously, or at the very least can be anywhere in the universe instantly. Omnipresence is in a sense a result of the combination of being all-powerful and all-knowing in that God exists above and outside the laws of physics such a complete extent that time and space have no meaning. As such, God is by definition immortal as well.
- Omnibenevolent: God is all “good” or all-loving. This is much harder to define, but presumably it means that God’s primary motives all fall into the category of outwardly beneficial to the other life-forms in the universe he created.
The first three traits are the basic defining characteristics of any all-powerful supernatural being. In tandem, this means that God has ultimate understanding of everything that is (and everything that exists only in the imaginations of anything that can possibly imagine), the power to mold the universe into whatever shape he deems best and the ability to do and know anything simultaneously. The final trait is the most crucial component to the vast majority of religious thinking because it is this single characteristic that provides the positive incentive to believe, to worship, to follow and to obey.
Consider the idea of an all-powerful – omnimalevolent (all-evil) God for a moment:
What would the world of an all-evil creator look like? What type of people would populate such a universe? What would this mean to us?
Many philosophers have postulated this idea while observing perceived “evil” in the world and attempting to reconcile various atrocities with the assumption of a creator who (1) Is aware of the atrocities as any all-knowing being would have to be, and, (2) has the power to stop any and all atrocities effortlessly as any all-powerful being would be able to do and the fact that any all-loving creator would take action to correct things like war, suffering, disease, murder, and anything else that is commonly thought to be bad. The conclusion by some philosophers, like Calvin or Hobbes (I just couldn’t resist), is essentially that we are predestined to exist in a world which is essentially evil and God alone decides our fate in the afterlife (at birth) – at which point we will either continue as eternally damned in hell or be elevated to a non-evil plane of existence called heaven. Other, much older philosophers believed similar things – for example Greek, Roman & Norse gods are all petty, and vindictive creatures who toy with humanity primarily out of amusement. These gods are not all-evil by any means, but they rule purely out of fear – and eventually fell out of favor for a god which presents more positive incentives for worship.
Omnimalevolence is an interesting topic to discuss to be sure, however, it provides no incentives to the religious for belief – only the most masochistic and sadistic of individuals would be remotely interested in that type of existence or God, and even then, they wouldn’t benefit either.
So, I am going to deal exclusively with the idea of an omnibenevolent creator.
There is significance in this exact a definition (as opposed to the one Sharpton slid into at the end of the Hitchens debate) because it distinguishes God – as a supernatural being not bound by any physical laws – from a highly advanced “Intelligence” or alien. (Note: The “Intelligent Design” hypothesis will be discussed at a later point in some detail.)
If one takes a more loose definition of God – the “personal” type of deity that many sensible Americans believe in instead of an active all-powerful one – what results is that “God” becomes effectively no different than an extremely technologically advanced alien species would be. At that stage, the very concept of God shifts from being super or supranatural, to being bound by the same laws of physics that govern human existence.
And at that point, we move into a scientific and secularly philosophical (rather than theological) discussion and are no longer talking about the same God described by nearly every religious text in the world.
So, to reiterate: God, for the purposes of all further discussion in this essay, is hereby defined as being omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and omnibenevolent.Supremely powerful & supremely good.
And yet - that is an impossibility. Let’s actually examine our premises.
Omnipotence - The Basic Paradox:
Can an all-powerful God create a rock so large he himself cannot lift it?
Well… No.I know that this argument appears to be set up as a straw-man, but the truth is, most people’s conception of the Judeo-Christian/Muslim God (and many others!) is that of supreme immutable power and thus it is important to examine.
The problem lies in the initial premise that anything could be “all-powerful”. By simple reasoning alone, anyone can come up with a number of intrinsically impossible paradoxes like the question at the outset of this segment.
Thus the mere existence of paradoxes forces omnipotence into the impossibility category.
Again, according to the very definition of omnipotence, NOTHING is beyond the ability of an omnipotent being – yet, there are only two ways to answer a paradox such as “Can an all-powerful God create a rock so large he himself cannot lift it?”, and because there are two aspects to the question that are irreconcilable, either answer results in the omnipotent being failing to do in some way.
1. God can lift any object regardless of its mass, volume, size, scale, etc. – thus resulting in a no to the question of whether or not God can create such a rock.
2. God can create anything, including a rock he can’t lift – thus resulting in a God which is unable to lift an object.
In either case, God cannot do something.
But it’s not “God’s” fault! The premise that omnipotence can exist at all is completely fallacious due to these types of paradoxes. No being can do “anything”! The whole idea is really just an over simplification, quite likely created as an explanation for another premise: God created the universe.
If God created the universe, it’s logical to ask the question, “How did God create the universe?” To which the first and most basic answer is very likely; “God is all-powerful and is capable of any feat, regardless of how inconceivable it is to humanity.”
Unfortunately, this over simplification has perpetuated and grown over the ensuing centuries and the concept that God is all-powerful gives rise to many false conclusions – one of the most essential ingredients to fundamentalist zealotry is the belief that one’s own interpretation of God is completely infallible (as any all-powerful/all-knowing being would have to be) and thus, the way you believe is absolute truth. Of course, many theologians will take issue with that statement as a human problem rather than one with God, but the overall point is that omnipotence cannot exist. In and of itself, it is paradoxical and thus to base any belief on the premise of an omnipotent God will result in flawed conclusions.
Remember; even the most rational conclusion based on a false premise is still going to be wrong!
Omnipotence & The All-Good Dilemma:
Though omnipotence can be clearly established to be an impossible paradox, assuming that it was possible for a being to be all-powerful for the sake of argument, and also assuming that said being is all-loving or omnibenevolent, what would our world look like?
Certainly there are things that happen in the world at large that the vast majority of people would unanimously consider as, “bad”. Three of the major ones in general are 1. Theft, 2. Rape, and 3. Murder. These respectively violate our right to be secure in property, our right to be secure in person (and to have our decisions respected) and lastly our most essential right to exist.
However, thefts, rapes and murders happen every day!
So do countless other types of atrocities… and not just isolated cases, but in simply absurd proportions! There is genocide happening currently in Darfur and other parts of Africa. In fact, the 20th Century alone has seen dozens of mass murders from fabulous dictators such as Kim Il Sung, Mao Ze-Dong, Jozef Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Che Guevara, to Fidel Castro, and on and on…
As obvious as this is, if we assume God is “all-good” and that he is “all-powrful”, and we agree that genocide is not good at all, the question must be asked: Why would God not stop genocide?
If God were both omnipotent & omnibenevolent, it is only reasonable to conclude that he/she would stop the terrible atrocities that happen every day. There is an alternative of course – that God has a much larger, all-good purpose for which genocide is a key component. But that requires us to assume a large number of premises that have absolutely no supporting evidence, for the sole purpose of being able to maintain those premises – which is all quite circular, and extremely flawed logic.
Omniscience – Conflict with Omnipotence and the Free Will Dilemma:
Though there is no direct conflict, in that if any being was all-powerful it would inherently also be all-knowing, the concept of omnipotence has a flaw.
To know all is for everything to be complete and unchanging. In a strange way this does present a problem for an omnipotent being because nothing would be created that wasn’t already known. This isn’t necessarily a problem for the supreme being if one accepts that even an all-powerful God cannot generate or create any idea or thing which he did not already know he would have. Which means that omniscience (though an inherent component to the concept of omnipotence) actually negates the possibility of omnipotence.
The whole concept is definitely a bit of a brain twister… So, to clarify:
1. Definition of Terms: Omniscience means knowing all ideas, actions, feelings, events, etc. from all times past, present & future.
a. That would necessarily include all ideas, actions and feelings past, present & future that were experienced by the all-knowing being (God) in addition to those of every other sentient creature
b. Omnipotence means being able to do, create, alter any reality to any other reality at will – to be able to do anything with no limits.
2. Thus, an omnipotent being cannot be omniscient as it would render the being incapable of producing a thought or action that was previously unknown.
Essentially, this is just another way of pointing out that omnipotence is a completely impossible and paradoxical concept.
But again – for the sake of debate - assuming that omnipotence was possible and by extension, omniscience, this does present an enormous problem to the concept of free-will among those of us who are not the all-powerful God.
At this point, we have to come back to the real issue of omniscience – which is that for a creature of any kind, even a God, to know everything, than everything that was, is and ever will be is completely unchangeable.
An Analogy: Say you have just finished reading your favorite novel, perhaps the book is “Sock”, by Penn Jillette. As you’ve completed the entire text, you now ostensibly know everything there is to know about the text of that book – you’ve read and understood every word. You are now “all-knowing” on the subject of the book, Sock. But you are only all-knowing so long as the text doesn’t change. But perhaps let’s say that Penn decides to write a new edition of the book and change a few chapters. When the book has been rewritten, you are no longer all-knowing about the book until you read the updated version. Penn’s free-will and ability to change the text rendered your knowledge of the book incomplete whereas without change, your omniscience in this microcosm could continue. Ultimately, it must also be noted that if you had supreme knowledge of the past, present and future, you would have also known the text of the updated version – which in essence renders the author powerless against fate.
This understanding has led many philosophers to believe (rightly so given the premise) that the existence of humanity has been entirely predetermined by God. If God already knows all that can be, then the future has ostensibly already been written and humans have no legitimate control over their own destiny.
Fate and free-will are mutually exclusive concepts.
At this point, we come to a philosophical crossroads: If God is omniscient, then fate (or specifically all life being managed by God) is in play. In this event, human existence is predetermined entirely by God – so we can now decide whether we believe that this is the best of all possible worlds, or the worst? In other words, good and bad are completely out of humanity’s control, so it’s up to God to decide which to provide in which situations and to whom. In the past, certain philosophers have chosen to believe that God controls everyone’s destiny and the result is the best of all possible things, and some have chosen to believe that God is more vindictive and the result is the worst of all possible things. Ironically, in either case, the belief in fate or God’s plan for human existence would mean that whether or not an individual was optimistic or pessimistic, God (and not the individual) made that choice.
As a bit of an aside, if we all can agree that our lives aren’t perfect and there is a mixture of good and bad in every-day life then we are going to have some difficulty taking the position that God, who is in control of our destiny, is “all-good” or “all-bad”. However, that would contradict God as omnibenevolent and also would suddenly open up a Pandora’s Box of mystery as to God’s intentions.
Note: Shifting back down for a second… This is a very complicated issue precisely because religious philosophy over-complicates itself as a result of accepting ridiculous root premises. In order to successfully maintain the axioms that it holds true at the most basic levels – e.g. the existence of an all-loving, all-knowing and all-powerful creator – it paints itself into an intellectual corner that can only be escaped by avoiding dealing with the issues that it raises. The theologians of centuries past did not always shy away from these issues, and as a result, entire movements of religious thought realized that to account for some people who are accepted as good and some who are accepted as bad while also maintaining that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, God must favor some people over others by predetermining who enjoys the good and who suffers the bad. And while that might account for why there is a mixture of good and bad in the world, it certainly wouldn’t explain why an all-good God would allow any non-good to exist in the first place. In either case, humans have no control over their actions – and all because of an exceedingly complex set of philosophies that are based on premises that defy reason.
"All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the right one." (Occam’s Razor)
We need to ask ourselves – is it more likely that an all-powerful being mysteriously controls our every action in completely intangible ways and although he is ostensibly all-good, actively promotes horrific atrocities perpetrated by a select group of people he has chosen to act out in violent, murderous ways as a means of creating ultimate good on Earth, and that because all that was, is and ever will be is already known beyond all doubt by this being, people’s behavior, morals, social values and the entire future of humanity is already predetermined and completely impossible to change…
Is it more likely that people aren’t being unwittingly controlled by a magical being but instead are simply freely thinking animals capable of making their own decisions and with that freedom comes good or bad choices as a result of fallible senses and limited intelligence?
Besides which, again it bears reminding that we’re only delving into this topic as a hypothetical exercise… Omnipotence is a paradox in and of itself and cannot exist – and neither can omniscience.
Omnipresence – Proving a Negative:
In this one instance, after having established that nothing can be either Omnipotent nor Omniscient, we are still left with a common feature of most Gods, which is Omnipresence – or the ability to be in all places at once.
Ironically, since it is impossible to prove a negative (i.e. that God “doesn’t exist”), it’s also impossible to prove that God doesn’t exist everywhere at once. It is important to note that this is only true if we accept that God takes no active role in shaping the universe or our lives, for the alternative would necessarily provide us with ample evidence of his omnipresence. Unfortunately, there is no such evidence.
Notes & Conclusions:
Understand that because it is impossible to disprove the existence of any God, no rational person can, in good conscience, entirely rule out the possibility – provided that the God people refer to is highly limited in his abilities and not of the hyperbolic nature most average people attribute to him.
With that in mind, let it be stated that if God did exist and was omnipresent, he would be relegated entirely to a clawless, toothless being that in essence only had the power to observe and not alter the universe directly in anyway – OR – if God did exist and was not omnipresent, he could have some mysterious powers to alter time and space, but not by any means would he know everything or be able to do anything, in essence, he would be much more like the Gods of Greek or Roman mythology. Powerful in certain ways, but certainly not all powerful… not even the Titans were truly immortal.
But, to paraphrase Richard Dawkins, how many of us believe in Zeus? Odin? Saturn? The Sun-god? Sun Wukong, the Chinese Monkey-god?
We’ve long discarded the concept of specific, petty and highly anthropomorphic Gods of our ancient history. We don’t sacrifice virgin girls to the sun each night in order to ensure the morning light. And we no longer believe that a drought will be in any way ended if only we dance and chant.
But I would certainly contend that the modern, all-powerful version of God is filled with the same level of silliness as any of those ideas! And assuming that there is a God who has some limited powers, but is not magically (paradoxically) all-powerful brings us all the way back to the beginning of this segment in that such a being would be indistinguishable from a technologically advanced alien.
Again, for a God to be supernatural, he must operate outside of the laws of physics. An advanced alien might be inconceivable to humans and be mistaken for a God, but that creature would definitely not be supernatural. However, though the definition of God as all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving certainly makes God quite different from some curious alien species interested in genetic tampering, it has a problem… It just can’t work!
The default position needs to be skepticism (not cynicism!), and extraordinary claims of supernatural beings who have vast powers actively employed to alter the universe into whatever shape suits the whims of said being should be backed with extraordinary evidence of that claim. Logically, the burden of proof has to be on the claimant – if a person walks up to you and says, “There is an invisible fire-breathing dragon standing next to me”, then that person says, “prove that I’m lying”, you will find it impossible to do so no matter how ridiculous that idea might be because you cannot prove a negative. The same applies to God – it is absolutely not enough to say, “An anthropomorphic, omnipotent being created the entire universe instantly, and actively controls the fate of mankind although one cannot hear, see, smell, touch, taste or measure his existence in anyway – prove that he doesn’t exist.”
I can’t. No one can… but do not ever make the mistake of thinking that lack of a disproof is remotely the equivalent of a proof, much less even a reasoned argument. Proofs are positive things that demonstrate an idea clearly and directly and are precisely what faithful believers are missing. So just because I am logically responsible in not claiming to “disprove” God entirely, that does not endorse the likelihood of a God in any way.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
To recap our re-examined premises:
- God is omnipotent:
- Entirely paradoxical and simply cannot happen due to the existence of mutually exclusive (oppositional) objects & ideas
- Would present enormous problems to also viewing God as all-good since he has the power to make everything in the world “perfect” and doesn’t
- God is omniscient:
- If God cannot be all-powerful, he cannot be all knowing, as at least some forces outside his control would be acting upon the universe
- If God were all-knowing, that would indicate that all events, thoughts, feelings, actions, and every single atom of the universe was able to be accounted for from the beginning of time to the end of time – which would mean that no one, including God, has the power to alter their existence in any unexpected way. In addition, even if people don’t know that it is God’s divine decision to create their lives exactly as they are would not change the fact that those lives are controlled by God/fate
- This leads to a number of depressing philosophies: Determinism, Calvinism, “original sin”
- Absolves any human (or animal, etc.) from any responsibility for their action
- Since an all-knowing God would need to be an all-powerful God, and yet humanity regularly experiences violent evil, there would be no evidence-based way to suggest that God was also all-loving
- God is omnipresent: Since there is no evidence to support an active God, it is possible, however extremely unlikely, that there is a relatively powerless being floating invisibly among all life in the universe
- God is omnibenevolent
- If we assume God is all-powerful & all-knowing, we cannot reasonably conclude that he is also all-loving, as there is no correlation between religious belief and susceptibility to disease and perhaps more obviously because multiple tribes who even believe in and worship the same concept of God routinely kill each other, none of whom are magically protected by having pleased the right deity.
- If we assume God is not particularly powerful, but is perhaps omnipresent, God could also be all-loving. However, since that God would have almost no power to do anything to help or change human existence, it really is an academic point then.
When we break down the premises on top of which people build entire religions and life-guiding philosophy, we find a crumbling foundation not fit to stand on, much less build empires with. From those bad premises onward, we have to start making wild assumptions about the world in which we live and operate under the solipsistic notion that we can consciously understand what God says or believes while simultaneously explaining that he is beyond our understanding as a species. The whole thing leads to innumerable contradictions and overly complex circular philosophies. Yet…
“Contradictions do not exist. Every time you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises, one of them is likely to be false.” – Ayn Rand
The concept of God is built on premises that fail the most basic inductive logical scrutiny – and that’s before taking into account the utter lack of empirical evidence related to the subject matter, which only serves to make the whole idea more suspect. People are often content with this however, I imagine, due to their desire for simplistic aphorisms and feel-good platitudes. It’s really nice to think that there is a plan for your life that will all be for the best and that we as a species exist because a grand creator placed us deliberately in his universe. We are cosmically loved, and if that weren’t enough, when we die, we’re actually immortal and get to spend eternity in paradise! Yes, that sounds good, but only works so long as we avoid taking a deeper look at what it all really means and so long as we can remain ethnocentrically positioned to assume that no one outside of our group has access to God - for the success of another group who also claims the favor and good-willed platitudes of being loved by God, if conceptualized even slightly differently, would mean that there is a chance that God might favor the other group! That idea of course, has lead to countless on-going wars and many of the previously mentioned mass-murders. This isn’t good.
Critical thinking is man’s greatest tool for advancement in a rough universe and we need to apply it to our core beliefs if we hope to truly live up to our potential. Beliefs based on nonsense can only lead us astray, no matter how benign people wish them to be. That is why it is imperative that everyone understand this first concept:
"...otherwise logical arguments do not create true conclusions from false premises, regardless of how frequently or confidently they are repeated."
If the belief in God itself is based on false premises, it doesn’t matter how many conclusions about the nature of God people would like to draw – they are all going to be wrong. The very definition of God is impossible, and anything short of that definition is less than godlike.
Our core beliefs are what guide us and what help us deal with the universe. Therefore, it is absolutely crucial to operate with beliefs that represent the universe as it truly is. But when we adopt fundamental principles that are flawed at their very core, we have no chance of seeing the world accurately – and in turn, we destroy our ability to exist in it at our fullest potential. So check your premises!