Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Making of a Molehill

For a good part of my life, I have pursued the more massive of media, film and then the most massive, television. I’ve produced, mainly on the development side of the business, but have also written screenplays. I spent four years at a small television production company in Studio City, California trying to get our own movies-of-the-week (MOWs) into production. Everyday, our agent, ICM, would fax over the numbers, the estimated share of viewers for a given night. We would hover around them to see how the previous night's shows did, but these numbers were most important whenever one of our movies aired. We wanted, rather needed, the largest number of people we could get to tune in and then, over the course of the story watching a Tori Spelling or a Cybill Shepherd go undercover to save a one-time straight-A-daughter from a life of prostitution, stay tuned. We needed millions and millions of viewers or we were nothing.

That was the world of broadcast media.

Prior to that I spent many years dedicated to getting as many butts into the 20 to 40 seats of the black box theaters where I produced my own plays. In retrospect, this was some of the most rewarding creative work I’ve done. A small room full of thirty attentive people is electric, the pinnacle of live performance. Still, at the time, my sights were set on getting my work into bigger houses, such as Seattle’s ACT, Intiman and LA’s Mark Taper, and in the many theaters of New York. I also had apprehensions that despite how thriving and creative, such work would never bring me a meeting in Hollywood, wouldn't get me that two-picture deal, nor would it - dare I utter the words - get me that beach house on the Oregon Coast.

The family into which I was born was made up of self-made men, Horatio Alger’s that I trusted, respected and loved. From my grandfather, who was a world renowned heart specialist in his day, to uncles who created great businesses without much formal education. Suffice it to say that, as someone who has pursued the arts, it has taken considerable effort to get beyond the notion that success of a piece is determined by something other than the monetary value designated to it by its distributor. Even when I know it in my heart of hearts. Over a pint of beer, I can easily disparage Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad’s statement that (and I paraphrase) any idea that does not have cash value has no real value at all.

Still, there is a cavern of my mind that continues to echo Mr. Kamprad's words, loudly, with authority, as though the voice of God, a place where I submit myself prostrate in shame.

There is a healing for this shame, however. Hope on the horizon. It's quite possible I might find influence in the future of media and relinquish the appetence to find my way to the large audience. It is here right now, with this blog entry. It is with my book. It is with most of the fruit of my creative labors. By way of Fish or Cut Bait, and then through High Low & In Between, I was led to a survey on modern media written by Andreas Kluth of The Economist. His premise is that there is evidence in everything from blogs to independent music that the small, specific audience is becoming a force to be reckoned with. The trend is called Participatory Media; it puts the paintbrush into everyone’s hand, telling them to have fun. No worries about getting into that gallery, getting airplay, finding that production budget. Just create and share and smell the roses along the way. A long awaited freedom from the approving nod of distribution moguls and critics.

You should read it. Survey: New Media. Please, take the time necessary. Don’t try to read it in one sitting. It is one of the most comprehensive surveys I've seen on the current state of media, discussing not only the influence of interactivity over media, but also the look and feel of future media. And the fun part? The enigma it presents to the media giants of the last century.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jonathan,

I ran across a quote from Annie Dillard that I think is a well written poetic perspective on the key issue that you bring up here - namely, is the value of our creative work determined by famous critics or how many dollars are generated? I think it's a good counterpoint to Ingvar Kamprad’s isometric view that value is measured soley on a financial yardstick.

There are many things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside by a generous hand. But- and this is the point- who gets excited by a mere penny? If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremulous ripple thrill on the water and are rewarded by the sight of a muskrat paddling from its den, will you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go on your rueful way? It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won't stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.

Annie Dillard
from "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek."

November 04, 2006 2:47 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Foster said...

This is a beautiful quote and quite appropriate to how I feel much of the time. I wish I could value pennies more.

I love Annie Dillard.

November 13, 2006 5:53 AM  

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