Giving, gratitude and karma

Puppet girl

A cherished symbol of appreciation and friendship

When someone contracts me to write or to develop marketing creative, I expect to be compensated. Most often, the compensation is money, but on occasion, it is a service-for-service barter.

But, as often as not, I voluntarily offer my creative services to friends and acquaintances who are pursuing passion projects or who are doing something about which I am passionate.

I’ve Tweeted and Facebooked madly about a nearby restaurant that specializes in bacon sandwiches.

I’ve created promotional posters for crowd-funding campaigns of a short film I would love to see made and a bizarre puppetry show at distant Fringe festivals.

Locked up

Their photo, my verbiage

And in other cases, I’ve merely retweeted and shared posts by favourite bloggers, artists and journalists.

Yet for all of this work—almost universally welcomed by the sources—I have never directly been compensated. And not only am I okay with that, I am actually pleased. Compensation was never my goal.

I’ve had a few friends who’ve witnessed my mania and offered feedback like:

They should be feeding you for free for all this work.

Or

I hope they appreciate what you’re doing for them.

And I smile and shrug, because again, that isn’t my purpose.

Instead, my goal is to apply my passions and skills to help others achieve theirs, even if unsolicited and unrecognized. The point is the doing, not the acknowledgement.

This isn’t to say that such recognition isn’t welcomed and received with gratitude. Pretty much everyone to whom I have offered my gift has expressed his or her joy and appreciation in receiving it. And in a few cases, I have even received wonderful gifts.

After psychotically promoting the anarchic puppet improv spectacle PuppetUp! through social media, the show’s co-creator Patrick Bristow gave me a souvenir puppet from the show to express his thanks. I was grateful for this gesture and cherish the puppet for the sentiment it represents. But the greater gifts I received in this effort were the friendships I formed with the co-creator and the puppeteers that we still maintain years later.

Ironically, if I have struggled of late, it is in the simple acceptance of acts of kindness from others, whether unsolicited or in response to acts on my part. As much as I eschew the same behaviour in those to whom I offer kindness, I feel like I should at least compensate people for theirs to me. Instead, I am making an effort to simply say thank you.

If nothing else, you’re setting up some good karma.

And I smile and shrug, because ultimately, I don’t think you can force karma in any direction.

To my mind, the very desire of and attempt to create good karma negates it. Doing so implies a need for compensation for kind deeds.

It must be enough for me to do the good deed. Karma will do what karma will do.

I used to dismiss my efforts with a waved hand and a quick: It’s nothing. I now realize that is a discredit to myself, to the gift, and to the recipient.

It is not nothing. It is decidedly something. But it is something that I wish to do and offer gladly.

It is, perhaps ironically, a symbol of my gratitude to the recipient.

Hockey calendar

Sharing a passion with fellow fans

[And now, to completely deflate the seriousness of my message, does anyone else hear the music to The Little Drummer Boy?]

Lessons from bad movies – The Canyons

canyons poster

I believe that you can learn something from every experience you have, and because I am trying to learn more about screenwriting and films, this means watching bad movies. Thus, I was intrigued when I saw Netflix was showing a film called The Canyons.

Written by Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho) and starring Lindsay Lohan and porn-star-going-legit James Deen, The Canyons shows the decay of Hollywood through the eyes of a struggling young actor who is still in love with his former girlfriend who is now the adornment of an unbalanced but oh-so-controlled producer on a trust fund. Paranoid from birth, the producer eventually learns of rekindled flames between the two and slowly his self-control ebbs. To tell you more would be to spoil the (complete lack of) surprise in this film.

Although the story was straightforward and highly predictable, I have to admit to being confused by one very big thing: I don’t know who the protagonist is. Through whose eyes is the audience supposed to see this story?

Lindsay Lohan’s Tara (the girlfriend) shares almost equal screen time with James Deen’s Christian (producer) and Nolan Gerard Funk’s Ryan (actor), and the story’s perspective seems to shift on a whim. If I go purely by a scale of which character left me feeling least icky in their behaviour, I would have to say Ryan was the protagonist. But he feels more like an unwitting pawn in this film.

Interestingly, however, if I was forced onto a limb, I would actually say Christian was the protagonist despite his antagonist schtick. As a character, he is reminiscent of American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman…possibly his baby brother…although there is no comparison between Christian Bale’s performance and James Deen’s.

Speaking of which, the wooden performances of the actors don’t help my quest for a protagonist. (At her best, Lohan’s glamour-gone-gory Tara was reminiscent of Ann-Margret’s characters in Carnal Knowledge and Tommy at their most strung out.) Without distinct emotive clues and any sense of subtext, I really have no clue what any of the characters hopes to accomplish…there simply aren’t any goals, again with the possible exception of Ryan.

Lohan-Margret

To continue piling on, I would be intrigued to find out what kind of movie director Paul Schrader thought he was making.

On the one hand, with rampant over-use of black & white images of derelict movie houses, it seemed Schrader was going for art-house film, using the photographic decay as a metaphor for the social decay of Hollywood (this is the man who wrote Taxi Driver and directed American Gigolo).

At the same time, his rampant insertion of lengthy scenes of graphic sex gave the film a B-movie, soft-core porn feel. Here, Schrader may have been going for a moral decadence metaphor, but if so, I think he failed terribly. Instead, we were left with a humping morass of buttocks and breasts that a 13-year-old boy couldn’t be bothered to whack off to.

the-canyons-04_article

But the one scene that truly grabbed my attention was a lunch conversation between Tara and Christian’s assistant Gina, played by Amanda Brooks. What caught my attention, however, was not the scintillating or captivating dialogue (there wasn’t any) or the repressed subtextual exchanges (they were incapable) but rather the fact that even the camera was unable to pay attention to the scene.

On either close up, the camera angle perpetually slid to the left or the right, and sometimes back again. Not panned to capture a background element. Slid, as if someone had forgotten to tighten the flange that holds the camera to the tripod. The camera literally nodded off.

So then, if this movie was so bad, how could I learn a lesson?

The lesson of The Canyons is that if you can get an actor of sufficient name recognition who is trying to prove something (e.g., I’m not washed up) interested in your script, you can get anything made.

 

Postscript:

As I looked up some background facts on this movie, I learned that The Canyons was the first film to be largely funded via crowd-sourcing. Given the performance of subsequent crowd-sourced films like Zach Braff’s Wish I Was Here (poor) and Kristen Bell’s Veronica Mars (modest), I am beginning to wonder if there isn’t some merit in studios having some influence on whether and how a film gets made.

Crowds are fickle beasts – Crowd-funding conundrum

I pledge: To stop whinging about or rolling my eyes at stories about some big film company or Hollywood star using crowd-funding to support their latest endeavours, whether in part or in whole (e.g., Veronica Mars movie, Zach Braff, Corner Gas movie).

Artistic life support

Although many of us probably assumed that crowd-funding was designed to give the little guy or gal a leg up in the pursuit of his or her dream, it is merely a vehicle for fundraising and gauging public interest in projects of any type. Period. Full stop.

Given the potential cash-cow it represents, companies and individuals of all stripes would be foolhardy not to take advantage of this opportunity.

I have heard and have argued that these mega-projects take attention and dollars away from smaller projects that might never otherwise see the light of day. There may be merit in this argument…but I don’t know that it matters.

The crowd-funding companies get a piece of the action, so you know they’re good with the big-ticket projects. They are not charities, despite being used by charities.

If the small independents want an exclusive, altruistic crowd-funding domain then they can start one and make up their own rules for which projects are allowed in and which ones aren’t.

The marketing angle is built in: Stick it to The Man, even if she’s The Woman. (Unless, of course, the crowd-funding site is dedicated to projects led exclusively by women.)

Crowdfunding

(Images are property of owners and are used here without permission because the post office was too crowded.)