Selling It!

10_percent_Happier_Dan_HarrisI recently finished reading a book, 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-help That Actually Works : A True Story, written by television news anchor Dan Harris. It’s the tale of Harris’ spiritual journey, from a boy whose parents told him in one breath that Santa Claus and God did not exist to covering the religion beat for ABC News to the Buddhist, meditation devotee he is now. It’s informative and entertaining, and compelling because it’s coming from someone you would never expect to embrace  self-help or spirituality, no less write a book about those things.

Enough with the synopsis and endorsement. I came across this paragraph which has very little to do with his journey. Let me set it up. Harris is repeatedly asked by skeptical friends, colleagues, and family what meditation does for him. He can’t seem to find the right words until one day he blurts out, “It makes me 10% happier.”

My new slogan also jibed nicely with a major behind-the-scenes ethos in TV news: reporters, it was believed, should try never to oversell their stories. You don’t want to go around telling the people who run the various shows that you’ve got the most amazing material in the world, and then leave them underwhelmed. They’ll never put you on the air again. Always best to provide room for upside surprise. (Of course, you’d never know this by watching our product. On the air, we believe in the opposite of underselling; we slap “exclusive” labels on everything.”)

I’ve experienced this first hand when I’ve tried to “sell” A Life’s Work to producer- and money-types vs. a non-industry person. So, here’s my question: Why is this so? Why must an audience be oversold a story and the insiders undersold the same story? With all of this information constantly streaming our way, aren’t we all jaded insiders now?


What’s the Filmmaker Reading? A Book About DARPA

The Department of Mad Scientists: How DARPA Is Remaking Our World, from the Internet to Artificial Limbs by Michael Belfiore, a book loaned to me by filmmaker and friend Daria Price.

In the book, Belfiore discusses the birth of DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), an agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technology for use by the military, but technologies that have effected civilian life in a big way. GPS? The Internet? Thank DARPA. Here’s how DARPA came into being.

Sputnik 1

It’s fall, 1957 and Eisenhower is president. The Soviet Union has launched the first satellite into orbit, Sputnik, and there is concern about a science, technology, and missile gap between the USA and the USSR. Eisenhower meets with his Science Advisory Committee.

Was the United States devoting sufficient resources to science and technology development to keep its edge? Or would it steadily lose ground in the face of relentless progress by Soviet scientists born into a culture that treated science and engineering as a “kind of social passion.” That kind of passion for problem-solving was “missing in American life,” committee chairman Isidor Rabit lamented. “When I was growing up, all the boys wanted to play first base. Now most of them seem content to sit in the bleachers.”

Eisenhower wasn’t so sure about that… Eisenhower told the committee that he’d do what he could to inspire the nation’s young people to get excited about science and technology. “The people,” he said, “were alarmed and thinking about science and education,” and that should be enough, with just gentle prodding, to keep kids inspired all on their own.

There was one kid who was inspired to be an engineer before Sputnik beeped its way around the planet, Jill Tarter. But the little Soviet satellite would also play a big part in her future. More on that here.

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What’s A Life’s Work about? It’s a documentary about people engaged in projects they won’t see completed in their lifetimes. You can find out more on this page.

We recently ran a crowdfunding campaign and raised enough to pay an animator and license half of the archival footage the film requires. We need just a bit more to pay for licensing the other half of the archival footage, sound mixing, color correction, E&O insurance and a bunch of smaller things. When that’s done, the film is done! It’s really very VERY close!

So here’s how you can help get this film out to the world. It’s very simple: click the button…

Donate Now!

… and enter the amount you want to contribute (as little as $5, as much as $50,000) and the other specifics. That’s it. No login or registration required. Your contribution does not line my pocket; because the film is fiscally sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts, all money given this way is overseen by them and is guaranteed to go toward the completion of this film. Being fiscally sponsored also means that your contribution is tax-deductible. So why not do it? The amount doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you’re helping to bring a work of art into the world. And that, I think, is really exciting!

Questions? Email me at d a v i d ( aT } b l o o d o r a n g e f i l m s {d o t] c o m[/color-box]

“Everything about a movie … is who you are and where you are when you saw it.”

Cross-posted on

On 7/25/11, I’ll be giving away a copy of The Film That Changed My Life to one lucky subscriber to this blog. So if you haven’t already, subscribe now. And remember you haven’t subscribed until you confirm via the confirmation e-mail, so check your bulk mail folder.

Robert K. Elder had a brilliant if somewhat sadistic idea: sit down with 30 filmmakers and ask them to name the ONE film that changed their lives. And hold them to it, interview them in a knowledgeable, professional and persistent way, let the filmmaker veer off momentarily, talk about how that film found its way into their work, but bring them back to that one film. (Elder lets two of the 30 choose two films, so clearly, he’s not a total fascist.)

You can win this book! But first, you have to subscribe to the blog.

The result is an entertaining and enlightening book, The Film that Changed My Life: 30 Directors on Their Epiphanies in the Dark. Here we have John Waters on The Wizard of Oz, Frank Oz on Touch of Evil, Bill Condon on Bonnie and Clyde, Peter Bogdanovich on Citizen Kane (no surprise there), George A. Romero on The Tales of Hoffman (big surprise there). Apparently, several filmmakers vied for what is arguably the best film about being a director, 8 1/2, but Henry Jaglom won because he called first dibs. Though I’m not a Jaglom fan, it’s fitting and he speaks intelligently about the film.

The interviews are arranged alphabetically by film, which makes for some nice juxtapositions. One of the more interesting is Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (the film that changed John Landis’ life) and Slacker (Kevin Smith). Landis talks about seeing the Harryhausen film as an eight-year-old boy at the Crest Theatre in Los Angeles, getting swept up in its stop-motion magic and realizing at that moment that he wanted make films. Kevin Smith treks in from New Jersey to see Slacker at the Angelica Theatre in Manhattan on his 21st birthday, is bowled over by the radical lack of plot and low-budgetness, and realizes he can make films. In fact, you could just about break these filmmakers into two camps, those who saw their life-changers as pre-adolescents or early adolescents and those who saw them in their twenties. Both ages seem to be highly receptive times for recognizing your life’s path.

In addition to age, context plays a big part in the power these films have over these filmmakers. Just as where you are in your life determines what you’re creating, so to where you are in life determines how you respond to a work of art. Hence the title of this post, a John Landis quote from his interview. This book proves that in spades. The first time Richard Linklater sees Raging Bull he relates to it because he’s an athlete and admires and understands the discipline exhibited by DeNiro’s Jake LaMotta. Later, when Linklater is no longer an athlete, his perception of the character changes, deepens, matures. Linklater the artist begins to see a multilayered film and not just a boxing movie. Arthur Hiller tells the most harrowing of the context stories. Assigned to a bomber during World War II, Hiller was miles above the destruction happening on Europe. After the war he returns to Toronto and sees Open City. Rome, devastated, truly devastated, is on the screen. Hiller, like a good filmmaker, doesn’t tell us what he thought or how he felt, but he set the scenario perfectly and we are left to imagine the rest. Open City must have hit him more powerfully than words can express.

I could go on and on, but really, it’s better if you just pick it up. It’s a quick, delightful read, perfect for anyone who loves movies. And the length of the interviews is just right (an average of 10 pages each, though I could have read 90 pages of Atom Egoyan on Persona), so, if you get a little impatient with Brian Herzlinger gushing about E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, you need only hang in there because before you know it, you’ll come to Alex Gibney speaking eloquently about the mystery of The Exterminating Angel. Of course you could jump around, but that’s not how I roll.

I would love to see a sequel. 30 more filmmakers, but also 30 playwrights on the plays that changed their lives, 30 painters on the paintings that changed their lives, etc. Reading what artists have to say about their moments of transcendence is endlessly fascinating.

Make sure to check out my previous post on Extracriticum, A Bit of the Old Ultra-violence, which features an excerpt from the book–John Dahl on A Clockwork Orange.


See also:
Five Documentaries That Influenced A Life’s Work

NARRATIVE Films that Influenced A Life’s Work