On creative focus

From a really excellent AMA by Werner Herzog, in response to the question “Is there any method or practice you use to help get focused on one idea to pursue for a picture?” —

[–]Werner-Herzog[S] 1012 points 2 months ago

That’s hard to answer, because I do not follow ideas; I stumble into stories, or I stumble into people who all of the sudden, the situation makes it clear that this is so big, I have to make a film. Very often, films come with uninvited guests, I keep saying like burglars in the middle of the night. They’re in your kitchen, something is stirring, you wake up at 3 AM and all of the sudden they come wildly swinging at you.

So, I try to–it’s not focusing on ideas, but I know exactly what the problem this is. Once you have an idea, it wouldn’t help to sit down and keep brooding, brooding, brooding…just live on but keep it in the back of your mind all the time. Keep connecting little bits and pieces that belong to it. Sometimes it’s only a word, sometimes half a line of dialogue, sometimes an image that you squiggle down. And when it kind of in this way materializes, then press yourself with urgency.

When I write a screenplay, I write it when I have a whole film in front of my eyes, and it’s very easy for me, and I can write very, very fast. It’s almost like copying. But of course sometimes I push myself; I read myself into a frenzy of poetry, reading Chinese poets of the 8th and 9th century, reading old Icelandic poetry, reading some of the finest German poets like Hölderlin. All of this has absolutely nothing to do with the idea of my film, but I work myself up into this kind of frenzy of high-caliber language and concepts and beauty.

And then sometimes I push myself by playing music; in my place it would be, for example, a piano concerto, and I play it and I type on my laptop furiously. But all of it is not a real answer, how do you focus on single idea; I think you have to depart sometimes, and keep it all the time alive somehow.

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On updates

In the world post-thesis (!!), updates are coming to this site. Watch this space!

On attention and activism

I came across a recent interview of Rachel Maddow over at Lenny and her comment about what makes for successful activism caught my attention —

RM: Yes. I did my doctoral dissertation on social movements around prison reform, AIDS, and health reform. One of the things that I wrote about is that there are some political issues where mainstream press attention only hurts. We think about activism as being this generic model of consciousness-raising, then hopefully media attention, attraction of new people to your cause, building public support for your cause, then decision-makers reacting to that change in public opinion. That’s true for some types of activism, but it is not true for all of them.

If you’re working on better conditions for prisoners, if you make that a popular issue and you invite mainstream media to weigh in on that subject, you’re going to end up with a much more regressive public-policy environment than if you approach it in a quieter way. It’s not because the public is stupid, it’s just that people with only a cursory interest in something are going to have a knee-jerk reaction to it. That’s impossible to explain in a cable-news media … it doesn’t make sense.

[emphasis added]

Parallels to migration issues? Perhaps. See also: her fascinating conversation with Ezra Klein

On Super Tuesday

A ways back, I was deeply involved in an American student anti-genocide campaign, specifically responsible for education programming. I eventually came to the belief that the organization’s time and energy was best spent educating Americans on global issues, certainly, but to also pay a large amount of attention to issues closer to home. I didn’t have the language at the time to express my feelings convincingly, but seeing the news about Trump’s dominance in the polls made me revisit those discussions once again —

On girl crushes

Three lovely bits from a recent conversation with bell hooks and Emma Watson in Paper Mag:

[bell] hooks: …I have an overall obsession in my life with beauty. I’m always wanting to surround myself with the kind of beauty that uplifts you, that runs counter to some of the stereotypes of feminist women.

[Emma] Watson: Yes, yes. In Feminism is for Everybody I found a reminder of just what you were saying, “To critique sexist images without offering alternatives is an incomplete intervention. Critique in and of itself does not lead to change.”

hooks: I was thinking about what you were saying earlier — that I am funny. A lot of people think I am, but most people don’t. [Laughs] I was telling you that when we first met. That’s a pretty big stereotype about feminists, that we’re not fun, that we don’t have a sense of humor and that everything is so serious and politically correct. Humor is essential to working with difficult subjects: race, gender, class, sexuality. If you can’t laugh at yourself and be with others in laughter, you really cannot create meaningful social change.