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The Shallow End of the Screen Pool

Following up a bit on my thoughts about writer’s block from yesterday, an interesting notion occurred to me as I was writing it.

There’s this phenomenon in psychology called the Dunning-Kruger effect. This video goes into detail as to how it was observed and greater detail about it, but in essence the Dunning-Kruger effect is when one lacks competence in a given area, to the extent that he even lacks the level of competence that would be necessary to recognize his own lack of competence.

Too incompetent to know you’re incompetent, in other words.

This is not, it should be noted, the same as “too stupid to know you’re stupid.” Stupidity and incompetence are not the same. I fancy myself a fairly non-stupid fellow, but I would be a hopeless incompetent were I to attempt, say, glass-blowing. But the important point is that I know I would be incompetent, I have enough of an understanding of glass-blowing to know that it is out of my realm of understanding in any meaningful sense. I know what I don’t know.

But we’ve all seen the Dunning-Kruger effect in action. The video editor who talks about how great he is and barely knows how to work an NLE…the “handyman” acquaintaince who thinks he can fix your dryer better than the Maytag man, despite having never done so before…M. Night Shyamalan…they lack the competence not only to do the job, but also to understand even at the basic level that they’re doing anything wrong, let alone what it is.

Example I ran into many times myself — in the heyday of the Panasonic DVX100, I can’t tell you how many DV Rebels grabbed that bad boy, went out, shot with it, and cut it all together, and didn’t have the first clue what 3:2 pulldown was or why they got weird artifacting when they watched it anywhere but their TV screens.

I’m not going to get into it here, because it’s besides the point — suffice it to say that I would have to explain to technical details about how televisions display their images, how it differs from film, and how these technical details can be leveraged to convert a 24-frame-per-second film to a 30-frame-per-second video. I would have to explain this before it was possible to actually understand what 3:2 pulldown is, how it’s used, and what to do with it. That is, in its way, a small version of lacking the competence to comprehend a lack of competence.

That’s only part of the story, though. As opposed to simply being ignorant of information, the Dunning-Kruger effect refers to a paradoxical overconfidence as a result of said ignorance. Because you don’t know that there’s something you don’t know, you assume you know everything there is to know. Unaware you’re unaware.

As Charles Darwin said, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

It’s perhaps serendipitous that Darwin made such a statement. Recently, I’ve been re-reading Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, which has got me seeing everything through the lens of evolutionary pressures. In a system involving reproduction, strategies that work will flourish, and those that don’t will diminish and die off.

Seriously, I’m going somewhere with this.

I think writer’s block is a mélange of laziness and fear, specifically fear of failure. If you never write anything down, you can’t write the wrong thing. That perfect idea in your head will never be sullied by your shortcomings as a wordsmith.

But, as screenwriter Terry Rossio is credited with saying, “My lousy way of getting it done is better than your great way of not doing it.”

Now, I happen to think Mr. Rossio himself to be quite a bit better than lousy (some of his credited work notwithstanding), but he makes a good point here.

I may not, in principle, be able to run faster than you; but if you don’t run at all, I’ll win every race against you. And I may write a shitty script, but it’s better than the script you didn’t write by the mere fact of its existence.

A dubious cameo

I was watching a recent video about YouTube’s resident smugly ignorant, incorrigibly dishonest little whinge, VenomFangX. Dubbed the “Posterchild for Creationist Stupidity,” or PCS, by YouTube user Thunderf00t (whose series “Why do people laugh at creationists?” focuses on pointing out the sheer idiocy of claims made by PCS, as well as bigger fish in the creationist swamp such as Ken Ham and Kent Hovind), PCS has started running a clever money-making ploy while simultaneously pretending to care about sick children. 

Apparently, calling PCS on his bullshit has gotten user dprjones suspended from YouTube — because the dogmatist solution to disagreement is to silence it. But the freethought community of YouTube looks out for their own, and the video is now mirrored across multiple accounts. 

I don’t watch PCS’ channel, as I’m allergic to stupid; and when I’ve tried, I don’t read the comments because PCS institutes draconian moderation so that only those who agree most vehemently with him can post; no criticism at all (see previous paragraph).

Another user, VenomFongX, used to mirror PCS’ videos and leave the comments open to everyone — but that account, too, has been suspended (see two previous paragraphs). 

PCS has been debunked and/or smacked-down multiple times by multiple users. His own attempts to silence other channels led to the filing of a fraudulent DMCA claim against Thunderf00t which opened him up to federal charges of perjury and civil action, and only when PCS agreed to read a written statement apologizing to the internet were the charges dropped. 

I’d say I’m in the wrong business, but you know, I too hope to someday make money by telling people fantasy stories. The difference, of course, is that I acknowledge that they are fantasy, and don’t make empty threats toward those who don’t believe them.

Get a life

I’ve been meaning to write for a while about my opinions on film school

Neither Ryan nor I went to film school. Ryan began working as a professional effects artist straight out of high school, and though I went to a four-year university I did not major in film.

Here’s the thing — and this is just my opinion so take it as you will. The things that you dismiss as having “nothing to do” with your chosen career, could turn out to have a great deal to do with it. Anyone can learn how to frame a shot, how to direct an actor and how to use Final Cut Pro. You could learn these things from books you can pick up at Barnes & Noble, or even just trial and error on your own.

It’s easy to glean the technical knowledge you need to make a movie. What you can’t get from film school, or films, is something to say WITH that technical skill.

We could dismiss politics and sociology as having “nothing to do with” filmmaking, but if it weren’t for a study (and in this case, some firsthand experience) of apartheid, we wouldn’t have DISTRICT 9.

We could dismiss literature as being “irrelevant to filmmaking,” but without it we wouldn’t have LORD OF THE RINGS.

I could go on, but you get where I’m going with this. ANYTHING can be made to have “something to do with” filmmaking as long as it’s something that energizes your imagination.

I’m not saying you should focus on something you don’t like. I got my degree in English, and so in four years of study I never had a single math or science course. But I regret that a little bit now, particularly the science, as there are things in this universe that you and I literally could not have imagined. That’s the stuff of real inspiration.

Even while I was there, even with a focus on English and a career trajectory toward film, I took classes in linguistics. Today I read political and historical nonfiction as well as more entertainment-based fiction. I study religion and mythology, as well as martial arts. I keep up to date with technological breakthroughs as much as possible. I do still read books about films and filmmaking but I try very, very hard to stagger them among works with other focus.

The best advice I can give is to go to college, but not to film school. Find another subject that interests you — it’s not a betrayal of your passion for film to have other interests, even other passions. Your filmmaking talent will not pack its bags and leave out of jealousy. What will happen, instead, is that that interest will lead to other side interests and so on, until you’ve amassed a particular combination of skills and knowledge and opinions that form your personal perspective, and that will give your movies the unique voice that will make people want to watch them.

If nothing else, going to college is an invaluable source of life experiences that will inform the stories you tell and the way you tell them. Make some new friends from backgrounds different than yours and with opinions you don’t agree with. Do some stupid (but not illegal!) things while people will still excuse them because you’re young. Live off the screen so you’ll have something to put on it.

If all you know is movies, you will never have anything new to say. You’ll just be repeating what’s already been said. And then what’s the point?

At the Mountains of Masturbation

This post started as a comment on a Facebook post applauding Guillermo del Toro for sticking to his guns, demanding a hard “R” rating for his long-in-gestation adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, and walking away when the studio pushed for a PG-13. I had an unreasonable amount of things to say for a Facebook comment, so here we are.

Read more…

Movie Review: PHOENIX FORGOTTEN

I saw PHOENIX FORGOTTEN today at Beach Cities Arclight. It was about three teen people abduced by a UFO after seeing it over Phoenix, Arizona on March 13, 1997. It was called the “Phoenix Lights” and apparently really happened, although the three people who disappeared seem to just be a myth.

The screening is only one hour and twenty seven minutes, so it was pretty short, and not a lot of VFX in it, but still some. A good chunk of the movie was taken in 1997 by people searching for the Lights. The movie is much shorter because of this.

It also explains why there was not a lot of VFX in the movie, as most of it happens without the camera looking. When updated to the 2017 footage, the still aren’t a lot of VFX in the new stuff as nothing happens effects-wise in the modern age.

I only saw this movie because I assumed my mom wanted to come, but she didn’t. It was just me and Vanessa watching it. But we were there and saw everything happen (or not), and saw the movie from beginning to end.

Only near the end did we start to see the UFO’s kidnapping the kids, and that only after coming across another camera that they had with them when they got abducted.

The parents of Josh Bishop got a divorse after Josh disappeared,Ashley and Mark’s parents still seem to be together, but only we see the final tape of the abduction.

I saw and enjoyed it, and think it is worth checking out if you are interested in this movie at all.

Star Wars: The Alternate Prequels

I have written the alternate prequels to the first three Star Wars movies. You can read them here if you want to:

Star Wars: the Alternate Prequels

Movie Review: PASSENGERS

 

A few weeks ago PASSENGERS, starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. Pratt starred as Owen in JURASSIC WORLD and Lawrence as Katniss in THE HUNGER GAMES movies, so both were ready to put on the star role and hold a movie down. The film also starred Michael Sheen as Arthur and Laurence Fishburne as Officer Mancuso in smaller roles, but Chris and Jenifer were mostly the show on their own.

PASSENGERS starts with Chris Pratt as James “Jim” Pearston waking up after only 30 years of travel (in what is supposed to be a 120 year trip). He tries to go back to sleep but fails, and finally sees Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) in her bed and, after a year (plus several weeks) of being awake he decides to wake her, too. So he does, but does not tell her it was originally his idea, and together they go about the ship the only two people awake.

Jim throws Aurora a birthday party nearly a year later, in a pub manned by Arthur, who tells her that Jim is the reason she woke up. Jim thought he could trust Arthur with the information but discovers he can’t. So now Aurora spends her time mad at Jim (who is the only other person awake on the ship) until Officer Mancuso wakes up.

Mancuso tells Jim and Aurora to stop fighting and fix the ship. Finally he gets sick, and they find out after sticking him in an Autodoc for scanning that he has more than 600 thing wrong with him. The Autodoc tries to give him a few pills to regularly eat until he succumbs to what is wrong with him (which is only a few hours away now), but Mancuso refuses and leaves the bay. They later find him dressed very wisely in the bay where both of them usually drink whatever they can;t get from Arthur. He tells them he is alright, that he is ready to die, and that the two of them are all the ship has left now. He gives them his ID to fix the ship once he is gone.

Together they find out that the ship was hit two years ago by an asteroid chunk that damaged it and woke Jim up. Jim tries to fix things but in the end discovers he can only fix it by opening the door from outside. He does, taking a shield with him to prevent fire form raining down on him, and while he accomplishes fixing it his tarter break and he floats out to space. Lane barely has time to save him, and finally takes him to the Autodoc to save his life. At first it cannot help him, but she know about using Mancuso’s ID and repeating his catchphrase to get everything working again. She successfully wakes Jim up after telling the board to do everything it can think of to get him back.

Jim then finds out that you could use the Autodoc to put someone to sleep until they get to Homestead II, the planet they are going to, but Aurora knows that only she would be able to put Jim to sleep and live alone on the ship. 88 years later, the ship gets near Homestead II and the passengers and crew wake up to discover Aurora’s book and a tape she made to let people know that she had died, but was happy to have done so with Jim.

A lot of people were very negative about this movie but I honestly don’t see why. Yes it was a story about “Titanic in space”, but I do not think that is a bad thing. I see it as a present to the story being told, which would be hard to do without something happening underneath it.