Monday, December 31, 2007

Interpersonal Internet Communication or the Good Thing about Flame Wars

I studied interpersonal communication in grad school along with mass communication and communication theory, the three majors areas of study in my major. One of the tenets of interpersonal communication is feedback. Interpersonal communication is a two way street. We say something and a listener responds to it. But there are steps along the way. The listener has to first hear and listen to what is said, then process the information, and this gets into perception and a number of other big words. All that is more communication theory, my weakest area. I was most interested in mass communication having been a filmmaker.

On internet message boards we have flame wars, the heated arguments that get out of hand between people who post messages and disagree, sometimes on the most trivial points. To me this is interpersonal communication. Yet it's mass communication. Well which is it? This question, I think, could be at the heart of why we have flame wars. When we read stuff in a magazine, newspaper, or see it on TV, we come to believe whatever it is is mostly true or at least has been well researched by the writer. When we read stuff on a message board posted by anyone who happens to me a member, we should expect their words to be any more researched thane we would the words exchanged at a dinner conversation with an acquaintance we've met for the first time. Yet, I think board readers expect what they read to be reliable and when they detect that this isn't so they lash out with name calling or citing references to belittle the message poster.

People wouldn't do that at a dinner table. For one thing they have to face the respondent in person, as well an anyone else present. But this is also true on a message board. The people reading just aren't in person. So somehow we feel we can get away with making verbal attacks that we'd never do in person.

But what I really want to get at is the whole feedback cycle of interpersonal communication. It is a cycle. Person A says something to person B who processes the information and then responds with feedback to person A. Person A may then respond with a updated version of their original statement revised perhaps upon being enlightened by feedback from person B. Or person A may rephrase their statement to better clarify for person B what it is they meant.

The whole cycle breaks down in flame wars because we have person B telling person A how it is, not giving person A a chance to process their feedback and perhaps revise the original statement. We might have person A come back with a restatement to clarify their meaning and then person B will respond with charges of person A being a liar or phony because they change their meaning to fit the responses. Well that's what interpersonal communication is. If you can't understand this the don't ever bother getting married. It won't work out.

Something else I learned in class was that the concept of 'not' is exclusively human. That is to say animals and other creatures can't understand 'not'. They do know what not being hungry is. They don't know what not being loved is. They may want. But that is a positive concept. Only humans can put together that when you want something it means there is 'not' something there. What does this have to do with interpersonal communication?

Well, especially on message board debates, you get people taking stands and saying what something is while someone else says what it is not. So the 'not' concept is alive and thriving in debates and certainly on internet message boards, and this is a good thing. Debate is a great thing. It's a human thing. It's a freedom of speech thing. A freedom people have died for. So we should welcome debates and those who have their 'not' points of views. Flame wars are not pretty. But they are a symptom of a healthy society and we should condemn them and be too quick to ban people for getting into them. The internet is a new thing and we aren't used to it or fully understand what it is.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Youth Without Youth: Understood

Dana Stevens, a screenwriter and reviewer seems to be spot on when she cites that Coppola is emulating his own mentors, like Bertolucci. Here's a excerpt from the review:

All this mystical ooglety-booglety is handled straightforwardly and completely without camp. It's difficult to describe the tone of Youth Without Youth, which is based on a novella by Romanian philosopher of religion Mircea Eliade (who was a bit of a Nazi himself, but that's another story). Despite scene after scene of maddeningly arcane dialogue ("In metaphysical antinomies, empirical proofs lose their value," Dominic's double tells him solemnly), the movie remains lyrical, emotionally engaging, and a pleasure to watch. You can laugh at Coppola's pretensions, but he's clearly in dialogue (however haltingly) with directors like Bertolucci, Visconti, and Tarkovsky, who saw no reason that film shouldn't take on the big questions right alongside literature and philosophy. Even Alexandra Maria Lara's sad-eyed, gazellelike beauty recalls that of an actress from the heyday of European art film—Monica Vitti or Dominique Sanda.

On my first (and only so far) viewing of Youth Without Youth, I didn't like it too much. it was bogged down and seemed overly cerebral to me without meaningful heart or emotional provocation. But the more I think about it, the more I want to see it again. This kind of film has so much in deep references to philosophical questions that it hard enough just to try and follow it. But having done that now, I think I could enjoy it much more.

By the way, Bertolucci also took a long hiatus from making films, like Copolla, and came back with his recent The Dreamers, a beautiful film.

Scape: My New Film

My new film, Scape, is in post and will be something different with Amanda Carneiro and Kristen Hepinstall.

Writer's Strike: Age Old Issues come to Light

The writer's strike has brought to light some very interesting issues. Though these issues have been plaguing filmmakers since the start of the industry. You can boil this down to the age old debate about whether film is a business or film is an art. Producers generally treat it as a business, while writers and other creative contributors treat is as an art. They have to. Otherwise what you get is crappy films, which may account for the other age old debate about how so many films are trash. Even the producers will tell you that 98% of the stuff produced doesn't turn a profit. But then there are those corrupt accounting practices that make every expense imaginable part of a film budget, probably including the studio execs' nooners.

The ultimate idiocracy is the perpetual sequels and parodies, obviously based on a simple retarded business logic that if a certain film production was successful all you need to do is make the thing over again with new packaging. Duh.

Don't work too hard there, studio execs. We don't want you to break a sweat or anything over having to take a risk on something too original.

But hey, isn't art supposed to be original? Isn't that pretty much necessary? I think it's something like this, to put into simple studio-exec-ease. When you make cars they have to have wheels and roll down the road. When you make art it has to be original. O-RIG-IN-AL. Sound it out. Lots of syllables there. I know it's a big word with lots of implications. But look it up. Add it to your vocabulary. It can make you money! $$$$$

Historically we had Chaplin splinter off from studio control to form United Artists. Now Cruise is rejuvenating that entity. Coppola and Lucas formed American Zoetrope, and along with numerous other great filmmakers, went to northern California's bay area to escape the Hollywood rat race. They all have the same complaint. Studio execs get into creative control over the art they know nothing about.

Now we see some WGA writers and colleagues, out of work over the strike, forming up their own new media companies based on the United Artists model. Way to go WGA.

There's no argument that great artists are great because of their unique talent. So then why must studio execs take creative control or impose upon artists to bend to their business logic based on marketing concerns? They're not the ones with the talent. Why do this, especially when we see that the results are this 98% failure rate in the industry. Even if it's not 98%, it's not better than 50%. Just look at For 2007 you see 200 to 300 films making over one million USD, out of a total of over 700 films. Making a broad assumption that a film needs to make at least one million to be profitable, you can see that much less than 50% are successful.

So clearly, the business people don't know what they're doing. But most of us have known that, since, like forever.

You can't sell art by having business people control it based on marketing strategy. You have to first allow artists to do what they do, on their own, with full creative control. Then when they have a product, you sell it. If you go with the conventional business model that business people apply across the board to any industry you end up with cheap crappy films that amount to what MacDonald's does in the food industry. Coppola, Lucas, Chaplin and most any artist won't be happy in that world, no more than Wolfgang Puck would be content running a MacDonald's chain. It's just good business sense.

Why is this so hard to fathom?

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