All singing! All dancing! All 40+ minutes of my feature-film-in-progress, Seder-Masochism! This is not the finished movie, but the core musical scenes animated in Flash. While I take a production break to learn new software to make the rest of the film, let’s watch all these crazy scenes together in a theater. Featuring:
Unsubtle phallic imagery!
Big thanks to my friends at GKIDS for making this happen.
Through this cinéma vérité documentary, you too can experience what it’s like to be a nobody on the red (actually blue) carpet, navigate ridiculous security theater, shake the hands of countless strangers, smile nervously, and above all, lose.
Featuring Nina Paley, Alistair Milne, Steven Beer, and dozens of celebrities and/or nobodies whose names I forget and whose permission I don’t have, so sue me. Camera: Nina Paley, with Steven Beer. Edited by Nina Paley in 2011.
Today I viewed a small art quilt show. Many of the quilts were quite beautiful. Still, it took my friend and I less than half an hour to view everything, on two floors. We spent no more than a few minutes contemplating each one, lingering longest on the ones we liked most, less on the ones we liked least. We weren’t in a hurry; a few minutes of attention was all we needed to spend to be satiated (I would have spent a bit more if touching the quilts was appropriate, but that seemed like a no-no).
These quilts took countless hours to make. I’d estimate about 20 hours for each piece, though that may be conservative (they were all smallish wall hangings – no bed-size quilts here, which take much longer). All those hours, so someone could look at it for a minute or two. How many people would have to attend to a quilt to “break even” the attention the artist put into it?
That I even frame a question like this means I’m thinking about attention economics. I ruminated on this concept a lot (before I knew there was a name for it) while working on Sita Sings the Blues. Usually the only investment in films people recognize is money. SSTB was ultra-low budget money-wise, but I gave it 3 years of near-constant attention. Every day I asked myself if “enough” people would view the finished product. My reckoning went something like this:
Finished film is 82 minutes long; add a few extra attention minutes to learn about before/discuss after rounds up to 90 minutes = 1.5 hours
9,360 attention-hours / 1.5 hrs attending time = 6,240 pairs of eyeballs
Therefore the film would need 6,240 viewers for me to “break even” on my attention investment. Today millions of people have seen SSTB, but at the time, 6,240 was a reasonable goal. Because of all the views of the film, I’ve turned a very large attention profit.
My daily comic strip, Mimi & Eunice, currently has about 1,200 subscribers (yay!). It takes me about 1/2 hour to produce a Mimi & Eunice strip; there’s also organizing them on my hard drive, uploading and scheduling them, and thinking about them for whatever reason. So I’ll err on the high side: 1 hour of my attention per strip. Let’s say the average viewer spends .5 minutes (30 seconds) attending to that day’s comic. 1,200 x .5 = 600 minutes = 10 hours. I’m getting a whopping 10-to-one attention profit on Mimi & Eunice! I’m rich!
Even if subscribers only attend for 15 seconds, I’m still getting back 5 times the attention I put into it. That’s a lot of profit!
Back to the quilts. An art quilt that takes 20 hours to make needs 1,200 people to view it for 1 minute each to break even. Of course, some individuals may spend much longer attending to a finished quilt – 10 minutes, say – while others will breeze past, barely glancing at it. I wonder what the attention profit margin is of the art quilts I saw today?
My own large art quilts are taking about 60 to 80 hours each to design and make. They’re currently running an attention deficit. But I have a plan….
Here’s my first quilt ( a small one, 29″ x 17.5″) which I finished last night. It’s for my Momz, who requested “a nude with all the bells and whistles.”
Everything I learned from teh interwebs, which is full of quilting information and many good videos. I especially like the web site & videos of Leah Day, who makes free motion quilting look much easier than it is. Leah shares her videos and knowledge freely, which works – I’m a fan now, and spent over $250 at her online quilting store. It’s a business model I’m familiar with.
Speaking of business models, there’s an argument made by copyright advocates that no one would do anything creative without monetary (or monopoly) incentives:
My past few weeks exploring quilting confirms this is absolutely not true. In less than a month of getting myself set up with a sewing machine, fabric, threads, and other supplies, I’ve probably shelled out $1,000. It started with an inexpensive sewing machine ($250), but then I needed special feet for it, and cutters, and an iron, and pins, and threads, and batting, and fabric, and a sewing table, and IKEA drawers to hold all this stuff, and on and on. And that was being budget-conscious; I could easily spend a lot more. In fact I really, really want a longer machine with more space under the arm; unfortunately those cost about $3,000.
I’m not alone: tens if not hundreds of thousands of Americans pay for the privilege to create, not the other way around. Most quilters are not paid; most actually give their work away, to family, friends and charities. That’s folk art, people: it’s not done for money. And yes, it is art.
It’s very much like filmmaking, which is now a folk art.
“The film business has never been a business. It’s always been a hobby.” –someone whose name I don’t remember at a film conference I attended last year
Even setting aside independent film productions, which are hobbies in business clothing, most people spend more on video cameras and computers than they’ll ever get back selling their work. With the spread of cheap animation software, animation is now a folk art too. With the rise of print-on-demand self-publishing, novel-writing is also becoming folk art (Pirates of Savannah by Tarrin Lupo is what I’d call a folk art novel). All the super-elite arts of the 20th Century are becoming folk art.
Would I still like to make money with this? Yes, I would. But I’ve already spent plenty of money with no promise of monetary return. It’s been worth it so far, because learning has been exhilarating. Hopefully traditional folk arts, like quilting, will continue to gain respect as “real” art, even as “real” arts are adopted by the masses. I confess I would like to sell original pieces, if I keep making them. It’s really up to my Muse.
After the jump are some pictures of the making of “Eve,” which took 3 days (4 if you include the day I designed it):
Boy have I been remiss in posting news. First item: I spent last weekend in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, attending the Betty Boop Festival.
There I learned about the fascinating subculture of Betty Boop collectors. Betty was big in Japan in the 1930’s – I had no idea. I wish there were pictures of Japanese Betty collectibles online I could share with you, but there aren’t; maybe Betty collectors are all cagey due to the intense licensing restrictions that surround the character.
I also learned more about animation legend Grim Natwick, who grew up in Wisconsin Rapids before moving to LA and changing cultural history.
Yesterday I attended a film conference. I found myself at a talk in which filmmakers were advised how to negotiate deals.
I felt sick listening, and wondered why. Monopolies were an unquestioned, underlying assumption. When the time came for audience comments and questions, I said that rights were monopolies, that monopolies prevent the market from functioning, that distributors can be great if they’re not granted monopolies, and that it’s up to us artists to not grant those monopolies in the first place.
Naturally, the speaker wasn’t too thrilled with my comment.
If filmmakers realized monopolies don’t serve them, he’d be out of a job (he’s one of the many professionals who “help” artists by “protecting” them). Later, I came up with a metaphor (or meat-aphor) that helped explain my feelings: being a Free Culture advocate at a film conference is like being a vegetarian at a butchers’ seminar.
As a vegetarian I’ve learned better than to discuss dietary habits with the many carnivores who are my friends and loved ones. So I’m questioning what I’m doing at these conferences. I wouldn’t walk into a butchers’ conference and advocate vegetarianism. But what would I do if I were invited, because some of the butchers wanted to learn about vegetarianism, if only to marvel at its freakishness?
People seem to want to believe that just freeing works is some magic recipe for success. It isn’t. But since people crave simple business models, I came up with one this morning:
Any Two = success
A very good (Quality) film can succeed if it is Free (Freedom) OR has a big promotional budget (Money). A Free film can succeed if it is very good (Quality) or, if it’s not so good, it has lots of paid promotion (Money, because if it’s not good people won’t promote it on their own initiative). A film with lots of Money will succeed if it’s good (Quality) or if it’s Free. Imagine how much further a crap film could go if it’s not only heavily advertised, but Free to share too.
With only one of these properties, a film is unlikely to succeed. If a film is very good but neither Free nor Moneyed, no one will hear about it and it won’t have a chance to become popular. A Free film that sucks won’t go far. A Moneyed film will garner attention only as long as it’s being promoted; once ad spending stops, audience attention goes away.
With all three of these elements, you’ll have a success the likes of which the world has never seen. Moneyed productions have yet to be Free, but maybe someday, for some reason, someone will pour tons of cash into promoting a Free, Quality production. Of course if it fails, that will be due to insufficient Quality, which can’t really be measured and for which no one wants to take responsibility. If someone wants to try this experiment with Sita Sings the Blues, which is already considered “good” and is forever “free,” be my guest!
Given the financial dire straits of the independent film industry, filmmakers should really be looking at Free, because they’re unlikely to have Money. And everyone, always, should be focused on Quality, no matter what business model they prefer. Except Quality is a mystery, and worrying about it does not lead to better Art. But if you happen to luck into some Quality, you know what to do now.
I miss San Francisco, my former home! But not so much I’m willing to go through airport security. Those of you who are lucky enough to live in the Bay Area may enjoy Sita Sings the Blues on the big screen at the Red Vic:
The Red Vic Movie House is located on 1727 Haight Street (map),between Cole and Shrader, just a block and a half east from Golden Gate Park. The Red Vic is also served directly by MUNI routes: 7,33,37,43, & 71.MUNI route 6 & N-Judah come within a few blocks.
I will be doing Q and A’s after all shows. Notice there are two screenings on Valentine’s Day, because what better to show on the evilest holiday ever devised than the Greatest Break-Up Story Ever Told? It’s the perfect non-date movie!
It suspenseful and watchable from beginning to end. It has life and soul. It’s interactive – the audience knows they’re looking through the film’s surface when they engage with the story. I laughed a lot, but it’s not a comedy.
Zack did a post-screening Q and A, and sounded uncannily like myself (“I didn’t choose the book; the book chose me”). Like Sita, Flooding With Love was not storyboarded or carefully planned; it relied on the source text for structure. The contrasts between the films are notable too: Sita is a “feminine” story, from a woman’s point of view, made almost entirely by one woman; Flooding With Love is a masculine, one-man action story. If you miss all the battle scenes I omitted from Sita, all the warrior issues and male bonding that take up most Ramayana texts, you may find satisfaction in Flooding With Love. There are many other reasons to watch it; it’s a singular achievement, I can almost guarantee you’ve never seen anything like it before.
Hopefully it will screen again soon. It’s not yet available online, but it should be.