I know there are some food folks out there in the Snarkmatrix, so I want to make sure you know about Eat Retreat, an event happening near San Francisco in late October with the enviable tagline: “Summer camp meets the farmers market.” My girlfriend Kathryn is one of the co-founders as well as this year’s organizer, and I have just been super impressed with the way it’s been coming together (across the kitchen table). Honestly I sort of wish I could attend. I’m not sure they’d accept me though.
Anisse Gross had a long, thoughtful conversation with Francis Ford Coppola. Two parts stuck out at me. The first comes here—after he’s had a huge success with The Godfather and its sequel, then gone hugely into debt with One from the Heart, then spent a decade (!) paying off that debt, and then finally:
Rumpus: When you returned, you developed a new set of rules for your filmmaking process – that they be based on your own original screenplays, involve a personal component, and be self-financed. How did you arrive at this set of rules and what have been its challenges and rewards?
Coppola: I wanted a clean slate so I decided to embark on a series of “student films” for myself to begin anew. I thought, “How do you be like a student?” Easy, you have no money. If you have no money to pay for everything, that’s when things get interesting. The films I make now have to be inexpensive enough that I can finance them myself. This was how I made a new beginning for myself. There’s a scene in a Kurosawa movie where they get this guy, and they practically kill him, and he’s in a box. He just has this knife, and these leaves are blowing, and he throws the knife and tries to get the knife to go through a leaf, and that’s how he builds himself up. I had to do that: be broken in a box and have a second life. To do that I needed to be a student. I thought I should try to make movies with nothing. No money, just whatever I have. […]
The second part comes here, at the very end:
Rumpus: Are you afraid of dying?
Coppola: I have no fear of death whatsoever. I used to do a little experiment for the fun of it in my elevator here, when I go down to the first floor. I can control the elevator so when I go in, I shut out the lights and I’m in total darkness. I think, when I get to the first floor that I’m going to be dead. As I go down, I think, I had such an interesting life, I got to be a movie director, have a wife and children, had so much fun with them, got to be in the wine business, go through everything, and as I’m lost in all these interesting thoughts, the door opens on the first floor and I’m not dead. I walk out.
Sometimes I’ll do something similar with crosswalks. As I cross, I match my pace to the orange numbers counting down and I pretend that when they reach zero, when I reach the curb, I’ll die. I think this version might be even more potent than Coppola’s because you’re walking, not waiting—you move forward to confront the idea. But any sort of exercise like this can be really healthy and helpful, I think. It’s amazing how much you can realize about your own life, about what you care about and what you don’t, in 10 or 15 seconds.
There’s lots more in the interview. Well worth a read this weekend.
I saw Beasts of the Southern Wild this week and absolutely loved it. It’s easily the best movie I’ve seen all year, maybe in many years. I mean: definitely weird! Definitely a little “huh?” in parts! But certainly no more so than The Dark Knight Rises, and if we’re willing to suspend disbelief for Christopher Nolan, then certainly we can extend that suspension to this handcrafted gem. I highly, highly recommend it. And I went in knowing almost nothing about the plot, so I’ll pass along almost nothing here.
I’ll post instead about this bit, which is entirely behind the scenes, and entirely delightful. From an interview with the movie’s director and special effects coordinator:
[Director Benh] Zeitlin mentioned Cinefex when we spoke to him. Can you talk about the magazine’s influence on your work?
[Special effects coordinator Ray] Tintori: I have this collection of Cinefex magazines that are all out of print, and they’re from the 80s to the early 90s. It’s completely my secret weapon. They’re magazines I had when I was a little kid that I would obsessively look over before I could even read. I would obsessively look at these pictures and think, this was a still from a film and this was the crazy contraption they had to build in order to pull off that image. But as I got older and learned how to read, the actual articles themselves are just incredibly dense, they go through every single shot in a film like Ghostbusters, or like Indiana Jones 2, Tron… every single effects film that came out in the 80s. There is an incredibly detailed, meticulous, clinical description of how they pulled off that shot, and almost as importantly, everything they did that didn’t work.
Back in those days, every effects shot was like a puzzle. You really needed to figure out how to do it. It wasn’t like, “Oh, we’ll just use this plugin, we’ll use this render farm.” You had to start from scratch every time. They were constantly trying to outdo each other. So every time we approached a shot in this film, it was like, let’s just scour through this stack of Cinefex and just see how they approached similar things. There are techniques we used in Beasts that were taken from so many different kinds of films. Like, there’s this one scene where there’s a very low-hanging sun in the back, and I got that from the sequel to Space Odyssey. They described that they had made a painted backdrop, cut a hole in it, and put a light source behind it, and that was a sunlight source.
I’m not going to link back to the source interview, because it contains spoiler-esque pictures of the movie’s monsters. You can obviously find it easily with Google if you really want to, but since I had such a wonderful time seeing this gem of a movie—this crazy contraption made from old Cinefex spreads—without any preconceptions at all, I’ll encourage you to do the same.
This isn’t brand new, but worth reading if you’re into comics, web comics, and what either or both might become: Warren Ellis muses on an emerging aspect ratio for webcomics—one perhaps reminiscent of those weird old newspaper adventure strips.
I was in a diner the other day and picked up a printed newspaper. To be precise, I picked up the comics section. The thought that occurred to me was: Now this, here, is a fully dead format. But what fun, while it lived! The comics page! Shouldn’t there be some new-school version of this? Some webcomic aggregator that pulls a bunch of the best together and lays them out in a great big liquid wall to fit phones and tablets and big broad monitors alike? And pays a bit back to each creator?
It’s fun and strange to remember that drawing a syndicated newspaper comic strip used to be—no kidding—a path to riches. I mean, if you got your drawings in front of the right people at Universal Press Syndicate, and they liked it, and the salespeople pitched your strip and a bunch of papers picked it up… you had it made! I mean sure, you then had to draw a comic every day for the rest of your life. But even so. I drew a few editorial cartoons for MSU’s student paper, and I will admit to dreaming the dream of daily comics, and of syndication. I thought, very briefly, that there might be no life better than the life of, say, the guy who made Get Fuzzy.
Anyway: Why isn’t this a thing? Is it in fact a thing and I just haven’t seen it yet?
Well: They’ve done it.
I saw one of the Little Printers in person at BERG’s office in London not so long ago, and it is a beauty. No—not a beauty, exactly. A cutie? Whatever sort of thing compels you to murmur, “Well hi there, fella,” that’s what it is. And it’s a bit bigger than it tends to look in photos—more of a presence in the room, I’d say. I can’t wait to get my hands on one, and begin to experiment.
Sarah Werner says that to understand this history of bookmaking, you have to understand folding. This was high technology, remember, and a big part of it was all the ways that broad sheets of paper could be made into smaller pages of various sizes. This is where the fancy terminology you’ve heard comes from: folio (folded once), quarto (folded twice), octavo (folded three times), and so on. Anyway, to really impress this upon her students, Sarah decided to present her syllabus as… a quarto.
I wish I had more time to do a thorough blogging and blockquoting of this, but alas: I’ll just say that this long post from Valve’s in-house economist is well worth your time if you’re interested in ways people work together—or ways they could work together—in the 21st century. (For the uninitiated: Valve is a hugely successful video game company that is increasingly well-known for its nonhierarchical, almost anarchist management structure.)
In particular, pay attention to the part where Yanis Varoufakis, the author, mentions
the Coase theorem Ronald Coase’s theory of the firm. (Thanks, Mintie.) In short, Coase says: We establish firms to create zones where negotiation is no longer necessary. Or, in more technical language: …where transaction costs are lower. Imagine you want 1,000 quantum coils attached to 1,000 Zebulon drives. Instead of going through a whole market-based process and like, selecting the independent coil-attachment specialist with the lowest bid… you could just… tell someone who works for you to attach the coils to the drives. It’s easier. It’s faster. There’s less friction.
But the internet, broadly speaking, lowers transaction costs, right? Suddenly you’ve got CoilZone.com, this super-efficient real-time market for coil-attachment services, and it’s like, you sign up and click two buttons and somebody’s coming over on a moped to attach all those coils and you don’t even have to worry about health insurance. That’s awesome, and thus your negotiation-free zone, your little island, gets smaller. This has been happening, over the past few decades, to all companies everywhere—even the very biggest. It’s not just the web that’s small pieces, loosely joined; it’s the whole economy.
There are just tons and tons of internet-based B2B (oh yeah I just typed that) market-makers that are hugely profitable precisely because of Coase’s theory of the firm—because they found a way to lower some transaction cost and shrink the size of those zones, in essence claiming some of that territory for themselves.
But even beyond that, there are ways to lower transaction costs inside a company, too—think of Microsoft Exchange and assure yourself that yes, there are still transaction costs here—and it turns out that’s one of the most interesting implications of Valve’s anarchy. I might write more about this later… in the meantime, read the piece.