Tag Archives: hollywood

Thoughts on Writers Guild of America Strike

This strike is a big deal, but it’s much bigger deal for Hollywood, the producers and writers than for the rest of us. I think they are facing some specific dangers that they had better think about before they drag on too long. The actual points the union and producers are arguing about are probably valid, some on both sides, but whatever–that’s irrelevant for my point. For the viewing public–I don’t think we’ll notice or care as much.

I’m thinking about hockey–they used to be the #4 sport, then they had a strike. Now, more people watch POKER on ESPN than hockey.

And airlines–when their workers go on strike, I think it definitely hurts the airline as a whole, because in the end we the people don’t get our service. We choose something else. And we might not come back.

I think Hollywood needs to examine some facts: TV viewership is going down, way down. There are only a handful of shows that really do well. The 90% of the others will be what’s hurt by this strike. People will come back to Leno, the Daily Show, The Office, and the Simpsons, etc. The other ones are in danger. TV has very stiff competition from the Internet, DVDs, video games (video game industry is MUCH larger than Hollywood), satellite radio, YouTube, ipods, and tons of other little distractions. Sure, lots of online content is derived from traditional content, which comes from Hollywood, but much of it is user-generated or at least independent. If TV goes out, it’s so easy for people to find other avenues for entertainment. I wonder if the same writers that are striking will lose their jobs a week after they get back to work when their shows are canceled because nobody’s watching them anymore. (Of course, they’ll just move on to the next project, but it’s still disruptive.)

I’m also curious (with any union)–how many of the members are really happy with how the union does things. I really don’t have any idea–but at some point a union might not be the best way to do business, especially in today’s global economy.

The strike by itself isn’t anywhere close to enough to doom the TV/movie industry, but put together with all of these other forces, they could be in real trouble. Meanwhile, we’ll just look for the next big star on YouTube rather than Hollywood… (more people watch Ask a Ninja than some TV shows, after all)

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Infinite Enjoyment with Finite Resources

Have you ever thought about the miracle of music? OK, some might object to the world miracle, but I’m talking about music, something where transcendental terminology is appropriate.

On a piano you have 88 keys. Instruments can go higher (violin) or lower (organ), but with the same repeated 12-note octave everything in western music is created.

Thing about that. 12 notes, repeated over and over, at higher and lower frequencies. It’s such a small working set! How many melodies can you create in one octave?

More importantly, how many beautiful melodies can you create? Thousands of composers over thousands of years have proven that there is no limit to the originality possible with these limited tools. Of course, there are accompanying tools: instruments, rhythm, and personal style. But always with the same 12 notes.

And an infinity of beauty is possible because of it. Granted, our notions of what art is beautiful change over time, but who denies the beauty of War and Peace, Les Misérables, The Last Supper, Intermezzo from Cavelleria Rusticana, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, Pachelbel’s Canon in D, or anything by Rembrandt? Beauty grows, never shrinks.

Now imagine if there were infinite numbers of keys–how would that change things? What if we doubled the resolution of the notion of half-step (F toF#, for example) to a quarter step?* 8th step? 16th step? I don’t think this will inspire more creativity (at least not creativity that produces beautiful works of art). Too many options will spoil the landscape–clutter it up so much that not only can we not understand music produced like this, but creating it becomes onerous–there are way too many possibilities. The mathematical framework of music forces us to contain our creativity within bounds of structure that “make sense” to our minds, that allow us to understand, dissect, and enjoy.

The modern notion that lack of constraints promotes creativity is a false one. No constraints means less thought and feeling has to be put into work.

I hand you a canvas and tell you to paint your best work ever. What will you do?

You might ask–“What is the subject of the painting?” I respond–“Anything.”

You can’t work like that. Of course, you might come up with a theme yourself, but now you’re constraining yourself along a certain path.

Another example: in the 20’s Hollywood had no movie-making constraints. There were no censors. Do you remember many movies from the 20’s? In the 30’s, constraints were imposed by the government, forcing Hollywood to clean up its act. How many movies are memorable from the 30’s onward? A lot, even to my young mind. I think a case could be made that dissapearing constraints now is creating the same dull period in Hollywood that existed back in the 20’s. Sure, you can make anything you want, but who is actually going to care deeply about it?

Software development thrives under these conditions. Software developed with no or few constraints quickly looks like garbage and is much less useful. Impose coding constraints, design constraints, interface constraints–all these RULES you have to obey–and your code will become artful. Look in all the books on the subject of turning average programming into craftsmen, artists, what-you-will–the books mostly teach you RULES to follow, lines to stay within.

Coloring outside the lines is fun every so often, but you rarely frame it and call it art.

* Of course, continuous instruments such as strings can do this, but it’s not standard musical technique.