Why "DIY or die" may not cut it anymore.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/03/28 10:00
From the comments section of All Content Creators Should Watch Porn - The Illusion of More (don't worry, the article itself is SFW):
... a glut of supply in a time of reduced demand drives prices down – or, in other words, that all producers are worse off in this situation.
It gets even better (worse): the big guys are actually at an advantage here. The sheer amount of music being put out there means that potential customers (fans) have no way of sorting through it all and making an informed decision. At this point, standing out above the crowd becomes paramount and the big players are in a much stronger position to do so, because they have the promotional budgets and media connections. You might argue that this can be offset by “guerilla marketing” tactics, but – frankly – that’s an illusion. Oversupply gets you here too, I’m afraid. Someone who has been spammed to death by legions of hopefuls with no talent simply isn’t going to be receptive to even well-meant attempts at self-promotion by yet another artist they’ve never heard of. At this point, you really need to have a trusted taste-maker plugging you or you will be dismissed as yet another crappy, self-published act, which are legion.
Most of us turn to reliable sources -- a person we trust, a taste-making platform, an institution we associate with quality (publishing house, record label, hot-shot director) -- when we want to find out what else is out there. Those who have the cash on hand to buy attention always win -- not because such an arrangement is corrupt, but simply because there are that many more ways to get people's attention when you have money, then there are when you don't.
Why never to say something can't win Best Picture. Or shouldn't.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/03/27 10:00
... if you’re making a big pop movie you’re not going to be engaged with in any real way; there’s an early sense of dismissiveness to how critics approach the work. What’s interesting is that it’s going in an exactly opposite way in the world of music; if you wrote an essay decrying Beyonce you had best be ready to defend yourself not just from fans but from music critics, but writing the 10,000th “Hollywood is making too many superhero movies” piece is a rite of film criticism passage.
I agree with Devin's core point: the more of a sense of history we have about the permeable membrane between "art" and "pop", the more suspicious we should be of our own willingness to segregate things merely based on their lineage, and the sillier it is to dismiss out-of-hand any claim of greatness for something because it comes from the wrong side of the aisle. (Silence of the Lambs, best picture, 1991; case rested.)
As for the too-many-superheroes thing, this is a line of argument I'm preparing to retire entirely myself. Not because I don't think there's a problem there -- it's not the problem you think it is, more on that in a moment -- but because all of the answers I have heard proposed for that problem do not take into account its real nature.
Why numbers make us numb(er).By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/03/24 19:00
One of the biggest dangers in tech is if you focus just on metrics, that might be all you get.
It isn't just tech where that risk rears its ever-so-sleek head, of course, although that's where I hear about the most ostensibly practical majority of it. "Data-driven" this and "test-driven" that; after a while, it ceases to sound like good practice or common sense, and becomes just another item on the Mindless Buzzword Roster. Not because of what it is, but how it's approached -- like a magic pill, and not like a tool in the box. (Ask some folks just now crawling out of the trenches of software development if they can hear the words "scrum" and "agile" and not feel a shudder spring from their marrow.)
But go outside of tech, and you'll find people going data- and metrics-happy -- and have been for a long time, even if not in those precise terms. The hitmakers responsible for calibrating the loudness of the records we listen to down to the last decimal point, or the studio heads who natter incessantly over whether or not the latest blockbuster has enough cross-quadrant demographic appeal -- none of this stuff is new. The professional side of the creative world has been infested with quantimania for decades, and only here and there do people either employ it intelligently or free themselves of it entirely. Consider an outfit like Dark Horse -- I don't believe for a second they don't do market research of some kind, but they are consistently behind some of the most inventive, diverse, and downright excellent comics in the market these days.
Part of me feels bad for making The Quants sound like inhuman bodysnatchers from beyond, because I'm not trying to demonize people who are good at math. They're far, far better than I will be at it in any number of lifetimes, that's for sure -- and the number of positive, constructive applications for such work is still pleasingly large. Too bad it's more profitable to put that talent to use conjuring money out of thin air, or figuring out ways to pay less attention to the content and more attention to the delivery.
You always write the first one to throw it out.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/03/19 16:00
Most living writers will tell you to complete a full first draft before reworking anything, but I'm incapable. I always worry over the first stretch, scrapping an entire book's worth of first scenes before I find an acceptable point of entry. By now, I'm in no hurry. This sucker will gel when it gels. I've learned to enjoy the delays.
... I used to bemoan the months-long wait between polishing a piece and learning whether it was rejected or accepted. These days I'm happy to have the time to cool off, because the work my brain does when I'm not watching it is far more impressive than the stuff it comes up with on demand.
That sounded familiar, I thought. Then I realized, this scrap-the-start business was precisely how I threw myself at Flight of the Vajra. It took almost twelve years from the original idea -- which, in the end, didn't resemble the completed product in the slightest -- before I could even start writing it. And when I did start writing it, I went though (as Gabe put it) a whole book's worth of first scenes before finally finding the groove.
SF's sparks of crazy in the '60s and '70s were a market condition, not an innovation.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/03/18 10:00
Earlier my friend Steven Savage and I were reminiscing about the way literary SF in the 60s and 70s had enjoyed a burst of maverick creativity. I felt the reason why written science fiction was such a bowl of gorp* at the time revolved around a few things. Most of them were market conditions.
After stuff like 2001 came and went, it started to become clear to publishers that there were tons of young people with tons of disposable income who wanted to read science fiction, so they started putting out most anything that fit the bill. After Star Wars, the dam really burst, but even before then there was the sense of an unmet need.
Forget about the ridiculous premise, if you can; Luc Besson's latest gets major props for sheer audacity.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/03/18 10:00
Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way: Lucy isn’t science fiction. It’s science foolishness. It relies on one of the most egregious misstatements of scientific fact—that human beings only use ten percent of their brainpower—as the linchpin for a movie so enjoyably bonkers that in the end it doesn’t really matter how dumb its core premise is. This movie is the cinematic incarnation of the old cliché, “Dance like nobody’s watching.” This one breakdances.
The premise is simple; what becomes derived from that premise, not so simple. Lucy (Scarlett Johannson), a woman living and studying in Taiwan, gets tricked by her sleazy boyfriend into delivering a case to some Korean mobster types led by the sinister Mr. Jang (an underused Choi Min-sik, the original Oldboy). The case contains some new, experimental drug soon to be flooding the streets. She's just won the drug-mule lottery, and so a terrified Lucy gets to have a packet of the stuff sewn into her guts. At one point she’s manhandled by one of her minders, and the packet bursts over and begins leaking. The drug turns Lucy into, well, super-Lucy.
I'm trying to solve my problems, not create new ones. Honest.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/03/17 19:00
Not a whole lot of blogging going on lately -- various kinds of work have occupied my time and attention. Mainly, I'm neck deep in the slow and difficult process of building a complete replacement for Movable Type (in a fit of tongue-in-cheek, I called it "MeTal"). I am not the best programmer in the world, but I am a bloody stubborn one, and I absolutely refuse to let go of a problem once I latch my teeth around its ankle.
It's time we stopped using the computer like a glorified typewriter -- and many other things.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/03/15 10:00
There is a book on programming called Oh! Pascal!, one of the first college-level texts on programming I ever encountered, and its first edition begins with an exhortation that seems to have been lost somewhere along the way: "It's time we stopped treating the computer like a glorified typewriter." (The second edition seems to have excised this part, which I do miss.)
Twenty-odd years later, the computer has become split along roughly two paths. In one, it is -- as someone else once put it wonderfully -- an amplifier for human thought, a utility that allows unprecedented freedom of transformation and transmutation. In the other, it is a glorified typewriter -- and a glorified camera, tape recorder, walkie-talkie, pager, etc., etc.
All entertainment is art, whether or not we know it, and all art is propaganda. Therefore ...By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/03/09 10:00
And now, the part where I either offend the majority of you or have you all nodding. Either one has its risks, as you can imagine. At least the people you tick off can awaken you as to how you've strayed off the road and plowed into the impact attenuators; your yes-men will never be your teachers.
All art is propaganda, as George Orwell once claimed. I believe him, but not in the way most people might think.
You are, in fact, a special and unique snowflake. And this should terrify you.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/03/03 10:00
The other night I was talking to a close friend about a whole passel of issues involving creativity, and one of the things that popped out was how easy it is to start second-guessing yourself -- how easy it is to start contorting yourself into the position where you give people what you think they want (easy [allegedly]), instead of trying to figure out how to make them interested in what you do (much harder).
I put it like this: "When you give yourself creative freedom that doesn't think much about pleasing people, you learn that much more how to please yourself -- and you also have that much more freedom to find an accommodation between pleasing yourself and pleasing others. If you start from the assumption that you have to please others first and foremost, you make yourself miserable and you produce trash to boot."
Nothing too special there, if you ask me. But what I came out with next stuck with both of us: "I wish more people were that much more thoroughly in touch with their irreplaceability."
Publishing's got a brand new bag of author exploitation.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/03/02 10:00
... corporations like CBS (and News Corp, which owns HarperCollins and Zondervan) want to exploit from the bottom up. So imagine that a writer writes a lovely book that has pieces which might make a good TV show or a nice addition to the YouTube Channel. If the contract between the writer and publisher are written correctly from the point of view of the parent corporation, then the exploitable content becomes a profit center for the corporation with very little creator expense. In other words, the corporation won’t have to pay six to seven figures to get a TV or film license from the author. The corporation already licensed (or bought!) those rights in the publishing contract, for a fraction of what the writer would normally get. ...
[F}ifteen years ago, books would go out of print, and then the contract would end. Now, books don’t go out of print.
Science fiction, rebooted.