Script Frenzy: FTW

At the beginning of April I wrote that I was starting Script Frenzy: a challenge to write a 100 page script in the month of April. Well the month is almost over, and — as you can see on Author's Page — I did indeed complete the task. Officially, I completed 103 pages (although it ended up a little longer when I tweaked the formatting.)

The story flowed pretty easily, and I had no problem sticking to my original "plan". In fact, I really didn't do much coercion (except for introducing the plausible-but-a-little-hokey cell-phone failure.) For the most part, the story just moved along of its own accord.

I re-read most of it and it seems pretty good. I did notice a few typos (like when Bob the waiter just drives off in their car, apparently) and sometimes I'd introduce a character or a place and a couple pages later the name would inexplicably change. But I noticed that the things I cringed at when I was writing — just to keep the flow going — don't seem nearly as out-of-place and absurd as I thought.

Not to brag too much, but I was impressed at the multi-faceted story arc, like the way the scenery changes with the organic changes in the characters. That was kind of a surprise.

I mentioned in the post introducing this that one of the things I learned from my NaNoWriMo experience was that I really needed to keep tabs on my characters. I made a separate document with the names of characters and any things I said about them, or about their past. It helped a lot. Plus, I only had two central characters, so keeping track of them was much easier.

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The Rochester Improvement Society and the Rochester Young Democrats at RoCo

A while back I got involved with a small group called The Rochester Improvement Society. We basically meet once a month, really informally, and just shoot ideas around. Simple as that.

This month, the "instigators" of our group got together with the The Monroe County Young Democrats and decided to meet at The Rochester Contemporary Art Gallery (137 East Ave.) The idea was to "make art" for the upcoming 6x6x2012 show, to talk about art and the community, and to chat with councilmember Dr. Elaine Spaull, Ph. D..

Right off the bat, I was a bit puzzled to see "Sam's Choice" soda and cookies which come from Walmart or Sam's Club. I wondered if I was a the right event — our Improvement Society always meets at a locally-owned business, so I kept looking at the cookie boxes to see which local bakery they came from, only to find they didn't. Well, okay …

Then it came around to art in the community. It's obvious that nobody in the room knew what art was. Here we were ostensibly creating 6×6 works as a fundraiser for RoCo, and the goal was to bang something out in an hour with arts-and-crafts tools (e.g. non-toxic markers, glue, magazines for collages). I just did a little abstract piece which really was very lousy, but I felt guilty just throwing it out so I submitted it.

I just kind of listened.

Elaine Spaull spoke a bit on the topic at hand. She mentioned the bus garage and how it was controversial, but failed to see why: that it does not improve bus service, that it will be (as a friend pointed out) essentially a quonset hut that will be loud as hell and reek of diesel exhaust, and that it should be built as an intermodal station supporting train service. Instead she kind of shrugged it off and touted that it will have art in it.

She then talked about improving neighborhoods with art. She made a point of mentioning that the goal was to remove graffiti and to install art in its place. Now, graffiti comes in two forms: tagging and street-art, both on their own spectrum of quality. Tagging is a call for attention, filling a need to have a voice and a place in a community. Street-art is a desperate outlet for creativity: lacking a legal outlet for their voice, the street-artist turns to graffiti. Removing graffiti and installing art from somewhere else is just a big "fuck you" to the local community, reinforcing isolation.

I gathered that what she meant by "art" is "pretty things", specifically to differentiate from "practical things" like factories and office buildings. But factories and buildings can look good and be integrated into the urban landscape, fulfilling the need for "pretty things". Art  is more about communicating a message: the story arc of creating, presenting, observing, and interpreting. Especially interpreting: that's really important in art.

The young democrats hungrily consumed her words. If they disagreed at all, I couldn't sense it. All these bright young faces, excited to be part of making a better tomorrow, and all absolutely clueless. It was incredibly disheartening.

And then I understood what it was that bugged me about the outsourced refreshments: it was an incredibly shallow understanding of community. The family who runs Genesee Bakery (1677 Mount Hope Ave.) are my neighbors. By visiting them, I'm visiting my neighbors. And by spending my money there, I keep it in the community — and that's important because it's the transfer of money that is an economy, so sending it away stalls the economy.

So the money they saved with the cheaper snacks was really a burden they placed on  their community, their neighbors, their family, and ultimately themselves.

But they could only see the numbers on the receipt.

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The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs at the MuCCC

I was tired of running all around and today I had a full afternoon and evening of events to try and attend — heck, it's Sunday and I don't feel like leaving the house. Alas, I did go to just one thing: I headed to The Multi-Use Community Cultural Center (MuCCC) (142 Atlantic Ave.) for a reading of The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. I really didn't have much background (despite curating the events calendar on this site, I don't actually read much into descriptions) and I only recalled a passing interest in attending.

It is a monologue written by Mike Daisey and performed/read by Spencer T. Christiano which is a first-person account of how a fan of technology (and especially products of Apple) became disillusioned by visiting a factory in China. Christiano did a fantastic job voicing Daisey, who interweaves three tales: one is his own, personal relationship with technology, the second is the story of Apple, and the third is the story of his visit to Shenzhen, China. I found his style fantastically conversational and personal. The way he writes about technology demonstrates a deep understanding, and he genuinely seems like an eyes-wide-open kind of guy who is willing to lay any judgmental views right in the open.

But you don't have to take my word for it: you can go to his site and download the whole monologue as a PDF and read it for yourself (it's licensed with his unique open-source-like agreement).

I was drawn in to the story quickly. I grok the lust for technology, and his description of that experience fits with my own (for an example, one of the things he loved about his first computer — an Apple IIc — was that the keyboard was in Garamond; if that makes no sense to you, then you might not fully appreciate his geekery.) I have a fairly good understanding of the origins of Apple, and Daisey's details fully corroborated my own. And when he began describing the "retail" side of Shenzen, it fit with what I had heard, such as when SparkFun visited there (although I far more appreciate his description, "Shenzhen looks like Blade Runner threw up on itself. LEDs, neon, and fifteen-story-high video walls covered in shitty Chinese advertising: it’s everything they promised us the future would be.")

So when he started talking about what the "manufacturing" side of Shenzen was like, I could only assume it was just as accurate. I realize it's a logical fallacy — a twist on the "ad hominem" fallacy — where I believe a fact to be true solely because I found other facts true.

He then outlined the conditions in the factories which were different from, and, by my gauge, worse than what I had envisioned. I had an impression of workers on an assembly-line putting together and testing electronics.

But I didn't expect it to be in gigantic rooms where absolute silence is enforced. I didn't expect such a lack of machinery (it's cheaper to pay a Chinese worker to install a screw than to make a machine to do it, presumably until some astonishingly large scale.) I didn't expect there to be suicide nets on the outside of the building. I didn't expect regular working hours to be so extreme (although the government-approved union-busting and blacklisting would naturally make that so). I certainly didn't expect these factories to employ the "best and the brightest" — a college education in China gets you a job assembling iPhones.

But then, like I say, you can read all about this yourself in a far more engaging and entertaining form.

So stepping out of the writing, and stepping out of the monologue and the performance, there's an interesting twist to the story. NPR radio show This American Life had Daisey perform an abbreviated form of the monologue for the January 6, 2012 show. But then they did something unprecedented: on their March 16, 2012 show, they retracted the episode, claiming that Daisey lied.

Now this is unique, first because it's the first time This American Life actually retracted an episode. But more important, it's not a retraction because the facts of the account are false, it's because they didn't happen to Daisey personally as he had claimed. According to the after-performance discussion with Spencer T. Christiano, producer John W. Borek, and director Kelly Webster, Daisey does not dispute the fabrications and says it is a work of theater, not journalism. On the Star Wars Modern blog titled What Mike Daisey Did Wasn't Fair – It Was Right., John Powers puts it better than I can: "when did Ira Glass graduate from being a talk radio Casey Kasem to NPR's Dan Rather?"

I'll briefly mention that there's a flurry of activity about this. My take [I'd add, "as if you care", but you, dear reader, are indeed reading this, so I'll meta-self-referentially say it parenthetically] is that journalists like to believe the rules of journalism produce a work that is closest to reality. The truth is, no writing is remotely close to the truth. No account of any event — be it written, photographed, filmed, or recorded — has ever been an adequate substitute for reality. However, it is a new truth, just as this blog entry is a new essay that's about a new performance of a new monologue by Mike Daisey which is a new transcript based on new performances of Daisey which is a new account … umm … etcetera.

But what I think is so valuable about The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs is the way it paints a picture of the hierarchy that exists. A journalist could play by-the-book and quote a business person, and a worker, and a technology geek, and a Foxconn liaison, and Steve Jobs — and they could never manage to put it together to describe the chain of events. For instance, here's an attempt to explain the hierarchy I'm talking about:

  • An evangelical Apple geek eagerly awaits the newest product from (although having never met the man)
  • … Steve Jobs whose staff designs a new version of their latest product and sends a representative to Foxconn in Shenzen, China to meet (a group of strangers, both in relation and in culture)
  • … the representatives at Foxconn and they all go to dinner and mingle and go to the shiny factory meeting room and discuss the product when the Apple representative asks to see the factory floor, so the Foxconn people make a call to (knowing they should show an idealized version)
  • … the factory manager who sets up (not wanting to lose work and get fired)
  • … a mock factory — well, a real factory floor with real products, but with the child labor replaced by their oldest workers who (desperate for employment)
  • … go along with the charade and work hard and say all the right things so the representative can report back about the great working conditions (all the while wondering why American workers can't be so happy for work).

So go back in that list and find the bad guy — find the person who caused the dangerous working conditions, or the child labor. This is where journalism falls down: there is no person who is at fault.

Those parenthetical phrases are key: they describe the gaps that are filled in by the systems we have. Ergo, it is the system itself that is the problem. The system rewards people for making small lies to preserve its own profitability and we humans have created this new life form.

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The Decay of Fiction and Bedwin Hacker at UofR

I have been attending University of Rochester's OnFilm's (also facebook) Community OnFilm screenings the past couple weeks. Last week I got to see In film nist (This is Not a Film) and Stellet licht (Silent Light). This is Not a Film documents a day-in-the-life of Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi after he was arrested, jailed, and censored from making films for 20 years. It's sad, hopeful, tense, and powerful. Silent Light is unique in that it is Mexico's first film not in Spanish — rather in Plautdietsch, a dialect spoken by the Russian Mennonites who also star in the film. It follows one farmer's test of faith in a beautifully meditative way.

So this week they screened The Decay of Fiction, and Bedwin Hacker. The Decay of Fiction is an experimental film that uses optical overlay of characters onto still or time-lapse images of the decaying Ambassador in Los Angeles — once a grand hotel (site of the Academy Awards in the 1930's and, as history would have it, the assassination of Robert Kennedy) that closed in 1989 and had gradually been falling apart ever since. It sort of follows ghostly figures from movies (or lives?) past as they appear and disappear in the halls, all while seeming to believe in the continuity of their existence. The work does not let on what must have been a quite large budget to handle all the overlaid shots with their respective crews, and the elaborate special effects that allow all of it to appear so magically seamless (or not, as the art dictated.) My mind fell into dream-logic trying to understand the jumbled stories, and my logic kept popping up to theorize how the shots were constructed.

As for Bedwin Hackers, let me start by getting my sexist comments out of the way: you had me at "gorgeous bi-sexual female hackers."

Okay. Enough of that now.

I have long theorized how interesting it would be if all the roles in the film were cast against stereotype (e.g. women computer geeks, men as pawns and eye-candy) and this film fully accomplished that end. It is ultimately a cat-and-mouse game between two top computer hackers — at stake is control of satellite TV transmissions. The underdog hackers terrify TV operators by feeding taunting messages over the usual propaganda; and worse, by capturing the imagination of the populace.

Oh, and it's set in Tunisia and France with a bilingual Arabic and French dialog (subtitled in English for monolingual slobs like me.)

(And one final perk: refreshments have included coffee in the 96-ounce to-go bag-in-box containers I have been asking for on Craigslist for some time.)

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Tom Richards Budget Cuts "Voice of the Customer"

Today in Lake Riley Lodge at Cobb's Hill Park (Norris Dr. at Culver Rd., although the City claims it is at 100 Norris), Mayor Thomas S. Richards was on hand to discuss the City budget and take requests to cover a deficit at Voice of the Customer 2012 meeting with for the Southeast portion of the city. I had trouble getting Tieson to behave so I left late, then went to the wrong lodge, and finally arrived a bit late. And then I had to leave early on top of it! But at least I got to say my piece — whether it's heard or not is out of my hands.

Richards and his staff outlined the situation and attempted to lead the audience to avoid cuts to police (e.g., paraphrasing, "the school budget is out of our hands, and many people say, 'don't cut the police force' so we can consider those two biggest bars on the graph off-the-table.") He also avoided mentioning the millions of dollars of tax exemptions on certain commercial properties in the city — but thankfully Alex White was there with a brochure describing exactly that. Relatedly, there didn't seem to be line items for equipment costs for the police (e.g. how much does a patrol car cost for a year?) except for the mounted patrol which, I guess Richards wants to eliminate. I also noted that there was a budget item for the pension fund in addition to paying for pensions in the cost of individual employees.

So I migrated to the Public Safety table and made suggestions that the extreme surplus of police officers should be reduced. I attempted to outline a system that used conviction rates as a benchmark: officers who arrest people who are then convicted of those crimes are "good cops" (who we should keep) and officers who, say, arrest people in a park illegally and don't get convictions are "bad cops" (who we should let go). Another person at the table brought up the security cameras, and I dovetailed jeir suggestion that we eliminate them unless there is proof they work (specifically: being admitted as evidence in court, since we were sold them on the claim that if someone commits a crime, jeir face is on camera and jee can be arrested.)

But my genius suggestion was that we could create a health plan that any city resident can buy into (expanding from all city employees) which, since it's a larger pool of participants, will further reduce costs. And it will provide a valuable service to citizens (and particularly small-business owners in the city) as an inexpensive, quality health plan.

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Script Frenzy for April

A few years ago, I completed the National Novel Writing Month challenge, writing 50,000 words in the month of November. (I ended up with about 60,000 words then stalled with my characters in a place I didn't care about.) Well, NaNoWriMo has a spin-off project called Script Frenzy. The challenge is to write a 100 page script in the month of April.

Well I love movies, and I have an idea kicking around that touches on a number of topics dear to me along with some interesting personal anecdotes I always thought would make a good movie, so I decided to take up the challenge and write a screenplay. You can track my Author's Page here to see how I'm doing — I got about 4 pages done today so that's pretty good. I'd much rather start out ahead of the curve (for teh math-challenged, I need to average 3 1/3 pages a day to succeed.)

I won't give too much away until I get something more concrete in place, but suffice it to say it's a modern cross-country road trip that'll require the venerable CB radio.

What I learned from my NaNoWriMo experience was that I really needed to keep tabs on my characters since halfway through I couldn't tell one minor character from another. I also felt like that was a freshman effort that can safely be hidden away forever. I don't think it's bad, per se, but it probably has more to do with personal therapy than anything worthwhile to read.

Hopefully I'll see this one through and make something of it.

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