Control, Victimhood, and Strategy

Fail to plan, plan to fail, they say.  This goes for a responsible creative process but it can also be a toxic plotting in society overall. Some people will say to a movie director don’t storyboard because there are so many other angles to notice. James Mangold gave a long interview where he mentioned receiving photos from the stills department and thinking their images were better than what he had planned and shot, but then a stills photographer doesn’t have to worry about things cutting together and context and one person crouching for a low angle is easier than a full crew trying to achieve the same thing for what might just seem like a showy image.  Sometimes even storyboarding what seem to be bland shots in a sequence is better than just showing up and winging it when under the gun there will always be pressure to do the simple or standard thing for time. And storyboarding allows you to anticipate equipment needed to achieve a shot or how much vertical or horizontal information or depth you need in the physical space and how various colors or textures of costume and background will come together.  Knowing the relationship between those things is a measure of movie making skill.  To not care about that would make moviemaking drudgery and something worse – fraudulent posing: a status instead of a craft.  Better to think of the art you love and obsess over that than be drawn into the controversies of the moment.  There are plenty of booby traps.

It may be left out of the popular narrative today, but there is a history of survivors or victims of trauma or abuse eventually acting out against others and also a history of people who have felt restrained or confined exerting control over others. If this principle is kept in the back of your mind, much of what we see on the internet reads differently. Talk of de-platforming and smash the patriarchy and the death of the old guard has both specific worthy targets and a lot of collateral damage.
Pushing back against this one post at a time, one issue at a time, one person at a time is impractical. There is the threat of emotional blackmail, rejection as a person over an opinion, and implied (at least attempted) ostracism from a circle of friends, community or peer group involving your vocation. Any interjection which questions a presented view is not going to be assessed for its own reason but instead it will be categorized as to whether it indicates which imaginary oversimplified “side” the speaker must be on, it becomes about personalities involved and not principles. It is a binary, digital way of thinking, ones and zeros; you are part of the in group or an infiltrator from the out group.  If you post on a dissenting view on someone’s Facebook, they can easily curate their page and delete the remark.  If instead they choose to scold you and threaten un-friending,  they likely don’t value, care about you, in the first place. Don’t delete your post; just wait for her or him to unfriend you and then you should BLOCK the person so there won’t be interjections elsewhere. Also, this person will suddenly see that your controversial posts are now invisible to them.  Interesting to find this Russell Brand comment that “I am not my thoughts.”  Especially when people will hate or discard you for an idea shared.

Control tools used are terms meant to throw shade on a given input. Mansplain, whitesplain, check your priviledge, sexism, racism, global judgements of character based on the verbal DNA of a word or opinion you have presented. The natural impulse might be to flail and object with evidence that is already so commonly cited that it is deemed false in advance, like, “I’m not bigoted, I work with or have a friend or family member who belongs to that oversimplified category.” Defend a celebrity who is accused of something bad, and this will be played up as outrageous indifference to the alleged victims even if it is in fact a respect for getting to the truth. On-line, if someone is perpetuating a false narrative against Woody Allen the response can be a link to any of Robert B. Weide’s fact-checking articles about the case. But in person it means a lot of paraphrasing and repetition. Too much effort. You can end up fighting fans of Oprah and her friend Gayle King. And you don’t want to piss up that rope.
The endgame just might be something intolerable. It becomes clear that someone’s goal for example may not be to promote a system of equality but to invert the system – a process that is already well in progress – where your perceived advantage will work against you. A diversity of ideas may not be welcome but a statistical and superficial inclusion of skin tones or cultural affiliations and genders may help the metrics of public relations. If you love english word play of witty comebacks this compels casting people who are comfortable with speaking the language and won’t have cause the audience to strain through a strong accent. The same principle would exist in each language or culture around the world. Nobody wants an english-speaking actor butchering their home grown prose.
Some well intended movies get a sarcastic moniker, the “white saviour” trope. This despite the implied call for sacrifice in telling someone to “check his/her priviledge.” Or worse, to just step aside and not take up so much space in the discourse or in leadership or status regardless of your own perceived gifts or qualifications because you are somehow to blame for others who shared your complexion or gender did years ago. This is where some use the term “white guilt” which is not an obligation even if the spin suggests that it should be. Should all successful applicants for a job or grant or investment carry the stigma of affirmative action just because they belong to a supposed critic proof permanent victim class? And should all who are deemed  privileged suppose they are being magnanimous by choosing to work with someone from the underdog varieties of the moment?
If you are making a film, for example, and an actor or crew member may be a load bearing pillar of the project it is incumbent upon you to choose a reliable team. You can be raised in a mostly white small down and it is assumed that most of your family and friends are the same colour, same basic religion, and speaking the same language but also your criminals and bullies also share the same colour, claim similar supposed beliefs and speak a fashion of the same language. Even living in a multicultural city, if I were to make up a Homer Simpson revenge list the names on it would be people who have the same language and complexion.
If you are a straight white male, especially over age 30, don’t bother taking a film directing course. Too many people are interested in that vocation for the status and without an eye for ideally how to direct the audience with use of the frame. In Canada especially, there will be an ostensibly progressive prejudice that favours what are called “new voices,” in other words diverse or female, even though it could be expected that voices come from the writers more than the directors. To truly infuse cinema with new voices and discoveries would mean to grade screenplays and stories entirely on the written work so that it could come from any place and not require a writer to also be a strong producer or director or to move to a large city. A movie director should have a knack for using the frame for psychological impact and to support the moment or state of characters. This might not be a skill of a writer who might be more introverted.
A professional director who knows how to hustle and play the game but may not be especially talented with the direction itself may claim that every talent but direction is necessary to be a success – and they may prove it.

A director who climbed the ladder from Assistant Director work most often will sound like an Assistant Director, or Stage Manager, efficient and practical. They may enforce the rule that you must climb the union ladder. If that person is a musician or stand up comic, he or she will claim that in order to direct you must be a musician and a stand-up comic. They will have stories of undeserving hacks who got hired because a friend owed them a favor, which in turn helps justify the narrative that – as goes the pitch for some workshops – “You don’t need talent to be a director.” Or the most basic instruction, “Are you covered?” which just means that if you record a scene from every angle top to bottom any edit can be made and your lack of talent will not be an obstacle. If someone says that belief in the motivated camera decision and the motivated frame makes you a sucker, they in tern are selling something.
That example is meant to show how people will build traps to support whatever gives them an advantage. Proving that someone’s argument is false or flawed will not get a thankful response. An instructor may say the success of a film is all about the pitch and then give the example of Jaws – a shark torments a beach community – and I’m in!! Except that the same premise and title was used with less success following that film because the original director was a genius. The direction is a star of Jaws as much as any other element. Today some studios and filmmakers are believing the Twitter activist spin so strongly that it is as if they believe the star ingredient of a new movie is its political posturing and gender flipping. A star of Terminator: Dark Fate remarked, “There is no trace of the male gaze in this movie.” This may have been reassuring to someone but it translates as, “throw a potato sack over any attractive woman, lest she be photogenic.”

When colleges began initiating their own rules regarding safe spaces, it seemed laughable but it is also a method of shutting down the competing voice. When they started saying enthusiastic consent is necessary and not merely the legal requirement of simple consent for sex to not be deemed rape, this could have been shrugged off as a minor distinction. There would be little point in debating it. Some argue that it is another step toward matriarchy in led by the woman’s libido and not a man’s, which would be bad news for those of us who are not the “bad boy” or giant male specimens. But in any case, these are issues between individuals in relationships and the broad strokes are a distraction. It is not worth taking the bait. Colleges will constantly try to cover themselves from lawsuits. Nonsense is to be expected. But it is worth just being aware that some of the issues are not abstractions but threats to your survival.

The challenge therefore isn’t to ingratiate ourselves to people who don’t share our priorities but to recognize that people who start each day googling their trigger words to see what blogs will educate them are frequently engaged in a pathology and strategy about how to gain advantage, and those of us who are not competitive and merely want to communicate and be understood can be steam-rolled. Better to discover who likes what you like and has the same priorities and compatible goals. No point in a tug of war where you have left a page full of argument fragments with your name on it for people to spam. There is that Polonius advice, “Give everyone your ear but few your voice.” Honour what you have to say, or “your truth” if you can stand calling it that. But make sure the seed falls on good soil and not rocks.

Working with Murphy: Volunteering B

What can go wrong will go wrong, but it will be in that blind spot where it is unthinkable that the best intentions could pave the road to hell.

Working as continuity on someone’s film, I saw a couple of jovial crew guys proudly demonstrate how they had used the UHF dial of a television in a hotel room to watch the signal of the video tap for a nude scene in the next room.  I spoke to the hair and make-up guy who had no problem looking into it and scolding the problem away.  That kept the director and the producer out of the loop and nobody got fired. But the day had just begun.  The lead actress was in the make-up room for touch ups at one point and the make-up guy (he had a great name but I don’t want to tip off which production this was) asked what I think (of how the actress looks).  I quipped, “Great, you can’t see any mustache.” I got a scolding from him for saying, “the wrong thing.” I fully expected her to laugh, because it was outlandish to say that she would have that problem.  But you never know. Later, an actor was killing time waiting around and the actress joined us in chit-chat.  The actor suggested a game of “pick-up lines” which she could judge.  I had nothing.  I don’t believe ice-breakers are anything more than that.  I started to make fun of the politeness or vulgarity of one when it was my turn and chickened out half way through uttering my proposition.   The actor understood and didn’t help relieve the awkwardness.  I shouldn’t have participated.  I could have begged off and left.  Well, the director moments later took me outside and said, “You’re not helping me out if you’re saying disturbing things to the actress.”  I told him the context but he had to be concerned for how the young woman felt and so I spent the afternoon catching a matinee of U.S. Marshals.  Years later, the director would describe that actress as a psycho, but there is an art to walking on eggshells and I was naive at the time.

***

In more recent years, I found myself with down time and noticed a Facebook post asking for volunteers to help with a project that seemed to involve holograms or lighting illusions. I e-mailed and volunteered to bring a camera and this person listed me as being there to document.  So my contribution would not have been the load bearing pillar of the project, if logic means anything.  I had known this woman from play readings years before and almost being in one of my short films but I had only interacted on FB lately so I thought may as well be of use.  I decided to bring two cameras, the first for said documentation, the second maybe as back up but I hadn’t used it for a while despite being expensive.  It recorded on HDV tapes at 1080p but had to have its footage captured in real time onto the computer.  It was good for long, unbroken takes.  At the home of the hostess/producer, I shot images of her other volunteers setting up support posts related to the technology she wanted to demonstrate.  But she then mentioned that her own camera had a problem with shooting long takes (or some other issue) and suggested using the second camera for three hour-long takes looking at the back yard. I let her place and frame the camera each time and we let it record on three separate tapes. After the shooting was done and volunteering was winding down, it was easy enough to transfer images from my Canon Rebel card to her laptop, and then I had to delete my own personal pix that had to be copied, including some tests with action figures that fully proved my nerd-hood.

Capturing the video from a Canon HX-A1 tape was more of a challenge.  Now it turns out that she did not have a capture card or firewire and we were stalled for a while.  She suggested I leave the camera and tapes there and maybe by the next day she would have figured it out.  So my camera, stock, and tripod stayed there overnight and when I returned the following day nothing had been solved so I brought it home and spend another three or four hours trying to capture and then burn onto disc material from those three hour-long shots. I discovered that there was some pixellation flashes in the footage meaning that my camera heads might need cleaning. As well, the shape of HD-shot material on a regular DVD burn gave it a bit of a curve that had to be recorded.  I also had trouble with the third disc.  The first two were fine. I decided the expedient thing would be to make high-speed five-minute files of all three and post them on youtube so the footage could be viewed in HD and decided upon.  As well, I noted that I could be seen conspicuously walking around the yard to document which might spoil the effect. I sent a text to this effect, as well as e-mail, voice-mail, and facebook.  I also sent links to the three youtube uploads.  I noticed that at least two of them were actually watched or got a click despite not being shared elsewhere but I got no feedback or instruction as to the next step.  I figured I had sent a number of messages and so I should wait to hear back.  She didn’t even ask for the two discs that worked.   The date of the demonstration must have come and gone and no reminder or update or concern from this person.

Two weeks later I did finally get through apart from voice mails and she picked up.  I asked what happened and she said, “You have strange timing.”  I misinterpreted that and said I’d call again later and she said okay.  Voice-mail and… nothing.  Eventually, I wondered did she build up a specific date for demonstration and then blame me for not delivering the material?  She couldn’t possibly mean I waited too long to call — I had immediately done hours of capturing and disc burning the day after the shoot and updated her via text, phone (which went to voice mail), e-mail, and Facebook. How much more communication could I have contributed on my end?  I don’t know.

Months later, I see a post on FB about her having gone out west to recover from a project that apparently went wrong.  Still no communication though if she harbored anything against me.  I’m still looking at discs she never asked for and I was wondering if I should delete the youtube clips. I saw another FB post this time about the Wackowski series Sense8 and I only chimed in the same opinion as another person there – that I like their directing but I expect the show to be too preachy. More months pass.  Then I comment some quip under a link she posted about The Male Gaze in photography.

There was some back and forth and she seemed to have an edge far beyond the issues being talked about.  I pointed out that the blog she linked used as its three examples Fifty Shades of Grey, directed by the woman who shot the International Women’s Day PSA a few years back, and Avengers: Age of Ultron directed by a vocal feminist, and as its example of a movie that manages to avoid the male gaze toxin Mad Max: Fury Road which the article bent over backwards to claim had some “scientific” framing plan that forced women to the center and….. all the while ignoring that the movie was shot for shot the product of George Millers Seventy-Year-old Male Gaze and that if you liked Imperiator Furiosa she was his creation. This discussion (which I lightly engaged in while watching a movie at home) deteriorated into minor debate of the announced 2016 Ghostbusters remake and in hindsight I should have left one comment and unfollowed rather than be strung along and appear “sexist” by challenging the narrative. A fellow I had unfriended the year before chimed in.  I should have thought to block him.  He helped throw shade on me and provoke more back and forth despite my detached politeness.  Someone sent a few screen shots of the guy’s page and some hostile things said or intended to lure further fighting. Also a scene from Robocop where the villain tells women to leave the room before he assassinates one of Robo’s creators – to demonstrate the kind of hostility he had.

I complained on my page about the toxic person chiming in – leaving out names – and the woman I had helped build that up and put fuel to the fire.  I saw the next day that a direct message to her was not answered, and that she just wanted to have this open flame war so I removed my posts. (Should have saved a screen shot first) and the next day she was posting about it.  She tagged me over and over as she tried to paraphrase the discussion or argument about (for me) movies but for her maybe other things.  Her goal was to make sure others on my facebook were drawn to this and for her to play victim. She then tried to draw me into a confrontation with the guy I blocked.  I finally unfollowed her so I wouldn’t be provoked by any more of her time-wasting “woke” posts. Next day, I was going to check that mess of re-telling she posted and she had unfriended me.  So I remarked at least that is some kind of answer to my message thread after radio silence.  We had some back and forth of her characterization of me and her errant memory of a project from the year 2000.  She didn’t like being told her history was incorrect and was demanding some sort of apology for….. arguing about movies on her wall?  Anyway, she ended with “do not contact me again.”  So I blocked her and that should have been the end of it.

Very few people had the e-mail address I used when replying to her call for volunteers. So when I started getting alerts for Instagram profiles made in my name and Facebook accounts using that address, it narrowed down who might do that: one person. When I posted a commentary track on youtube about a guerrilla short from 2000, part of the account was about an actress who showed up and walked in protest despite knowing the script was about “women fight over an abandoned cigarette.” It was about the silliness of cigarette addiction.  Well this is the woman who walked and whatever she told herself I was still able to make my movie thanks to another actress stepping in.  So I had not harbored resentment over that, only caution.  Maybe not enough caution.  On that hardly used e-mail account I got a notice for a false profile with a message that said, “I have a podcast” or something to that sarcastic effect.  Granted, the first time I tried to record my commentary about that short I did a poor job lighting myself against a greenscreen and my face was dark and the sound was muddy.

That was likely the version she saw (monitoring my youtube after unfriending me). I deleted that and put up a better version but the second time I could not find a prop VHS tape that was part of my comment on the protest-minded woman.  She thought the girls fighting was sexist as a concept, and I brought up (this once) having set my VHS to record a movie she had been in where she went topless for a second. I said, “‘I’ll show you the shot,” and then opened the tape guard and pointed to the physical tape.  End of joke.  Not showing an image of nudity, only the plastic. The next time I attempted the commentary I had misplaced the tape so without that visual joke I didn’t bother.  While it might seem unusual to keep that tape, when DVD took over a lot of us got stuck with tapes we stored without ever watching them again, let alone taping over them.  And it had been recorded in the first place because of news that, hey, a “friend” was in a movie!  But I later learned that even that element of the feud resulted in open badmouthing and spin about my even mentioning a flash of chest in a low-budget movie to someone so political about the Male Gaze these days.  I know that at least one friend and his wife ghosted me after that, which I admit makes me sad.

On a personal level, I may have let myself waste a lot of time better spent on creative output sorting through some of the abuse from all that.  What can start as a harmless, helpful gesture of volunteerism can result in someone’s undisclosed expectations building into something super toxic.

***

To top it all off, I had to take my Canon HX-A1 in to Mississauga’s Canon tech office to get the lens and heads cleaned – and clearly stated that over the phone and at the intake desk – only to have an over three-hundred dollar deposit enforced and an equal charge on top of that because likely they would not make money simply cleaning the heads and lens.  Lots of life-wasting back and forth. And then I had to journey to a FedEx to pick it up. They had sneakily put more on the form than the straightforward question of what was being asked for.  They got people to agree to an overall diagnostics of the whole camera, which gave them an excuse to supposedly replace the main guts of the camera.  Like taking your car in for an oil change and having the transmission replaced. I looked for the Better Business Bureau and another intermediary and the dropped the additional $300 + but kept my deposit of the same amount.

A fool and his money.  A fool and his time.