05 June 2009

Morning Announcements

Good morning, readers.

We have a couple of brief announcements before today's Words of Wisdom. First of all, we would like to congratulate the truly independent film Fairview Street on winning Best Feature Film at the Muskegon Film Festival. The black and white, noir-influenced drama was written and directed by Michael McCallum, with a gifted young actor by the name of Justin Muschong appearing in the small yet pivotal and memorable role of Craig Trask. We recommend that one and all purchase the DVD for watching at home, or remain alert for future festival showings of Fairview Street.

In related news, Mr. McCallum will be holding a fundraiser to complete his second feature film, Handlebar, a criminal comedy with a dynamic cast. If you are in the Lansing, Michigan area on Sunday, June 14th, please report to Brannigan Brothers at or around 6:00 pm for good beer, good food, good friends, and, uh...good times.

Also related, Mr. Muschong's short film, The Last Time We Met, created in collaboration with local actor phenom Chris Kapcia, was awarded Best Director at The Sparrow 3 Cubed Film Festival last week. The Last Time We Met, in the words of the completely impartial filmmaker Anthony E. Griffin, has "more story, character and heart than other films 100 times as long." Watch the newly released director's cut, different only in that it has end credits, today.

With that, we now ask you to provide your attention to today's Words of Wisdom.

[General feedback. Random popping noises.]

Ahem. Thank you, Walter. Hello, readers. This is Justin Muschong here to give you some thoughts on making the most out of your day.

Recently, my short film, The Last Time We Met, competed in a film festival. I'm sure you heard all about it. One of my best friends, an Internet warrior who goes by many noms de guerre, created a blog post providing his honest thoughts on my opponents' films. Most of them he found lacking, and did not couch his language or opinions in any way. Somewhat regrettably, and yet also somewhat hilariously, these disparaged filmmakers discovered his words on their films, and offered him some feedback of their own.

The incident led me to consider the feedback I myself have been provided my entire life, and I realized that, at every moment, I have been fortunate enough to have friends and family who are not in the least way sheepish about ripping into anything I create. You see, many people, upon witnessing a work of art created by someone they know, will blindly say "I loved it" or "It was very interesting," or "You did a great job," no matter how much of an unbearable abomination it was to sit through. I have never had this, at least not from anyone whose opinion I trust or care about. Rather, I am constantly confronted by their upfront, honest, unflinching comments. It's been hell on my ego, perhaps, but it's also made me a stronger writer and filmmaker in every way.

The very first script I ever wrote was a Western, the same glorified variation on The Good, the Bad and the Ugly that just about every post-pubescent male envisions at one time or another. The second script, however, was a comedy about college, a slice-of-life, "into the night" film about the various adventures of a group of friends, largely cribbed off the stories of other people and one or two of my own experiences and/or inventions. When it was completed, I eagerly saved it onto multiple floppy disks (yes, it was that long ago) and gave each of my closest friends a copy and awaited their thoughts. This was a film I wanted to make so, so badly, and I did not want to waste any time in doing so.

Most of them never read it. Those who did, shrugged. One piece of criticism I remember particularly well was that, despite the young, ostensibly knowledgable characters, there weren't a lot of pop culture references in it (pop culture references being, at the time, just about the hippest fucking thing on the planet). Following this debacle, I more or less abandoned the script. But I did not give up on writing. I vowed to become better, to create something that would knock them all on their asses. Although I did stop sharing my scripts with so large a group of people.

Less than a year later, I began working on a film project with a friend of mine - a film that would actually get made. I wrote a script for this and then, based on additional ideas and feedback from another party, I wrote a second draft that was an entirely different film, and was the version we would go on to shoot. I shared both versions with one of my best friends and, for some reason unfathomable to me today, my mother. Once again, they shrugged, stating that they liked the first version better, although it still wasn't that great, and the feeling they got was that it was the work of someone who would one day write something great, but this was not it.

Not even my own mother would blow smoke up my ass.

There is a third instance that sticks out in my mind. A short film I wrote and acted in was shown in public in Lansing. I was there, and the feedback and audience response was positive, and we even got some attention from the local media. Then, in private, I showed the film to friends and family. The feedback this time was mostly negative. My parents pointed out that, in my scene, they could tell I wanted to laugh despite the seriousness of it. My friends found the whole thing too melodramatic. My brother dismissed the film altogether, not bothering to make any finer distinctions within the whole (I probably shouldn't have shown it to him after a night at the bar).

In telling you this, I don't want you to feel sorry for me. Rather, I want you to be envious. The people I am closest to refuse to coddle me, and because of that, I have been forced to constantly improve and get better at just about everything. Part of this wasn't my choice - I feel some sort of sick craving to write and create, and no matter how much disparagement my creations will suffer, I must continue to crank them out. Why not share them with people who will punch them in the gut? But, as I prefer it when people enjoy my work in one way or another, I have learned to accept and listen to good criticism, and to make changes as necessary. The more criticism I hear, the more I anticipate others' reactions, and the better my first drafts get.

How do I know what is good criticism and what is bad? It's a feeling. Good criticism has a familiarity to it - the critic is finding things I knew weren't quite right, or that felt off to me, and he or she is confirming my suspicions. Other times, they point things out that I didn't realize or think about, and yet I can see where they are coming from, and can agree (sometimes this is good, like when they find a theme you had no idea was there, but will gladly take credit for anyway).

Over time, I've learned to build something of a protective shell around my inner gut instincts. When making a film, or writing a script, I know what I like, and I know what I want, and there's something in me that says "This is right, and people will respond to it." Of course, not everybody is going to agree, and no matter how broad or mainstream you make the final product, there will still be someone shitting all over it. That's fine. It's a matter of recognizing what works for you and what doesn't, and good criticism can highlight the differences between the two, and help you get closer to the former.

My shell might be too built up, though. Recently, my mother was talking to me about The Last Time We Met. She said, as gently as possible for her, that perhaps we could make a couple of editing changes that would make it clearer that my character committed suicide. I said no and left it at that. I understand where she's coming from, and I acknowledge that the film is a bit oblique. But I also think that is one of its strengths, and making it any more obvious will shatter its tenuous tone. My gut says "It's fine the way it is."

Also, I'm stubborn. Fuck y'all.

Make it a great day. Or not. The choice...is yours.


  1. Wait, so Chute didn't come up with Words of Wisdom himself? Everyday, I find out another aspect of my childhood was a sham. Were we ever truly innocent?

  2. Hey, I really liked Money,Guns & Coffee. But I wanted some things changed like in the beginning...I wanted more from that actor. Anyway since you represent the family we will always be honest with you. Like you said it only makes you stronger and more creative. I do love to critique your writing. Where might you have gotten that stubborness from?

  3. Hey bro...I'm assuming you are referring to Lucky 7. I didn't summarily dismiss it altogether. Given my inebriated condition and hearing the banal line of "in it to win it" set me off for some reason. Overall, a decent effort. Your recent efforts with your roommate have been really good. Keep it up.

  4. Actually, I was referring to another film. But I appreciate feedback of any nature. :)

  5. When I first watched THE LAST TIME WE MET, I thought that Kapcia's character had killed your character and chopped you to pieces in the tub. Second time I watched it, I picked up that it was a suicide. I think my first thought arose from your matter-of-fact, assholish speech to Chris.

  6. My mother said something similar. Perhaps I am not giving enough weight to my own prickishness.