Articles in the Essays Category

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July 18th, 2018 | Comments Off on Burn the Script: We Need More Voices | Category: Essays
Burn the Script: We Need More Voices

After a successful run of movies in the 1980s, Spike Lee used to say “Make Black Film” like a mantra, and we saw it in the 1990s with Matty Rich, the Hughes Brothers, John Singleton, and Lee himself. It looks like it’s in effect again with boundary-bombing work by Ava DuVernay, Ryan Coogler, Arthur Jafa, Donald Glover, Jordan Peele, and Boots Riley. The latter’s Sorry to Bother You is not just the movie of the moment, it’s a statement, a stance, and a hopeful catalyst for change.
Like any worthwhile project, …

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February 02nd, 2018 | Comments Off on The Ends Against the Middle | Category: Essays
The Ends Against the Middle

To point out changes in the media landscape is to recite clichés. Everything is different, and nothing has changed.
Those two forces are flipping our media environment inside out. On one end, broadcasting became narrowcasting, and has now become microcasting. Advertisers and politicians are able to send ever-more targeted messages to smaller and smaller groups, moving from the broadcast model of one-to-many to something ever-closer to one-to-one. This shift has allowed an entity to tell one person one thing and then next person something possibly contradictory and gain the support of …

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January 10th, 2018 | Comments Off on Coming to Terms with Dave Chappelle | Category: Essays
Coming to Terms with Dave Chappelle

There is an aspect of speculative design sometimes called “design fiction,” sometimes called “critical design.” Its practitioners basically set out to challenge the hegemony of the present way of thinking about things—buildings, gadgets, objects, whatever. Instead of reifying the currently held ideas, critical design imagines a different way of doing or seeing things.
I distinctly remember the only issue of Blender Magazine that I ever read (August, 2004) had Dave Chappelle on the cover. The mid-00s were the print-magazine format’s last peak, and there were so many of them, newsstands stretching …

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December 31st, 2017 | Comments Off on Decaf or Rehab? Quitting Clarity | Category: Essays
Decaf or Rehab? Quitting Clarity

I started drinking coffee in kindergarten. I wanted to be more grown-up, and with enough cream and sugar, I could.
I didn’t realize I was addicted to the stuff in elementary school until I tried to quit many years later. The headaches that follow depriving your brain of caffeine are a special kind of pain. When I made my first effort to quit in my late 20s, I recognized that pain. My head had been through that before.
I thought back and realized that my first sleepovers with friends were fraught with …

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August 11th, 2017 | Comments Off on In Praise of Pulling Back | Category: Essays
In Praise of Pulling Back

In the creative process, constraints are often seen as burdens. Budgets are too small, locations inaccessible, resources unavailable. Sometimes, though, the opposite is true. Sometimes, a multiplicity of options can be the burden. “In my experience,” writes Brian Eno, “the instruments and tools that endure… have limited options.” Working with less forces us to find better, more creative ways to accomplish our goals. As sprawling and sometimes unwieldy as movies can be, low-budget and purposefully limited projects provide excellent examples of doing more with less.
Like many of us, James Wan …

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April 16th, 2017 | Comments Off on Pick Your Path | Category: Essays
Pick Your Path

The journey of a thousand whatevers doesn’t start with a single step, it starts with a decision.

Decisions are powerful things, but we have to get them out of the way if we are to move forward. Perpetually keeping your options open leaves you with nothing but options. If you’ve ever known anyone who truly lives in the moment, nothing matters except that moment. Things only have value over time, and that value starts with choosing one thing over another.
In an excerpt from his AMA, writer and producer Dan Harmon tackles …

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December 29th, 2016 | Comments Off on Firing the Canon: Read This, Not That! | Category: Essays, Reviews
Firing the Canon: Read This, Not That!

I know you have your giftcards handy, and you’re looking for something new to read. In these times, I often think about books everyone’s supposed to read. I’ve read some of them. Many are damn good and on the list for a reason, but some need to be avoided like carbs or fat or sugar. So, in the tradition of Eat This, Not That!, here are a few of my recommendations:
Instead of the whiney tedium of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig (William Morrow, 1974), read …

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November 09th, 2016 | Comments Off on Divine and Conquer | Category: Essays
Divine and Conquer

Upon his frustration with the usefulness of social media, specifically Twitter, a friend of mine wrote a few weeks ago, “Either my patience is thinner or there are just more and more people for whom the medium is less about bridging the gaps and more about staking out ground.” He acknowledged the foulness of the current political air, but also stated that none of that was likely to change any time soon.
More prescient he could not have been.

Tucked away in the alleys and valleys of our own interests, we stay …

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September 23rd, 2016 | Comments Off on My Two Days in Television | Category: Essays
My Two Days in Television

Two clichés describe the experience of making television shows fairly accurately: It’s always “hurry up and wait” for people on both sides of the camera, and the production side is always “herding cats.” Hundreds of people of different backgrounds and skill-sets have to coordinate their efforts and come together in precisely the same moment — over and over again. There are so many junctures at which mistakes and frustration could take over, so many opportunities for things to go completely wrong.

Based on the original 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty …

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December 20th, 2015 | Comments Off on Cultural Scripts: Now or Narrow | Category: Essays
Cultural Scripts: Now or Narrow

A couple of years ago I wrote a piece about the death of the mainstream in which I quote my friend Mark Wieman describing the long tail as longer and fatter than ever. In that same piece I state, “…what happens when we don’t share any of it anymore? Narrowcasting and narrowcatching, as each of us burrows further down into our own interests, we have less of them in common as a whole. The mainstream has become less of a stream and more of a mist.” As this creeping fragmentation continues, …