Reading List 10

October, 2015

The Souls of Black Folk (W.E.B. Du Bois) - A quote from Craig Mod sums up how I feel after approaching this book for the first time: "To read a book once is to know it in passing. To read it over and over is to become confidants."

Citizen: An American Lyric (Claudia Rankine) - Beautiful and devastating. You can feel your throat close as if you are experiencing those moments in real time.

Eileen (Ottessa Moshfegh) - An unlikable narrator is usually a showstopper, but I still found myself quickly drawn into and finishing this book.

The Rover (Drew Magary) - A fun little story that toes the line between delusion and wanting to believe.

We Should All Be Feminists (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) - Essential reading on the importance of gender equality and why we're not there yet.

Imitation (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) - While I enjoyed parts, overall it fell a little flat. For a short story, some parts seemed long.

Currently reading

A Little Life (Hanya Yanagihara) - I looove this book so far, but it's long. Once I finish I'll have more thoughts.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory (Caitlin Doughty)


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Reading List 9

September, 2015

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking (Susan Cain) - As an introvert myself, I found this book incredibly powerful. I want to buy copies for every single person I've ever met.

The Chef (Andy Weir) - Ah, there's the writing from The Martian that I didn't particularly care for. It tries to be clever, but comes off like a poor man's short story version of Shutter Island.

The World According to Mister Rogers (Fred Rogers) - Hardly a sentence left unhighlighted in this book.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (Elizabeth Gilbert) - Some nuggets of wisdom; the anecdotes and stories are its strong point. Like the subtitle says, it's directed towards people whose biggest roadblock to creating is fear, so don't expect too many revelations.

Currently reading

A Little Life (Hanya Yanagihara)


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Reading List 8

August, 2015

Creative Confidence (Tom Kelley & David Kelley) - Though at times it reads like one part text book and another part advertisement for the authors' business ventures, there are good lessons and great stories inside.

Jab, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook (Gary Vaynerchuk) - It's more polished than his previous book, The Thank You Economy, but it's much less impactful (a bit ironic given the name). I just wasn't really into it.

The Customer Support Handbook (Sarah Hatter) - It has some rough edges and makes a couple points I disagree with, but that's not a bad thing. This is pretty close to being an essential read, not only for people working in support, but all of tech.

The Crossroads of Should and Must (Elle Luna) - A well-written, beautifully illustrated book on pursuing the work you must do to live your best life.

The Fishermen (Chigozie Obioma) - I really tried to like this book, but I had to put it down. There's some beautiful writing within, but it meanders too much for me. Maybe I'll try it again one day.

The Egg (Andy Weir) - A beautiful, thought-provoking short story. I love this kind of writing.

Currently reading

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking (Susan Cain)


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Q&A: Communicating your vision in a screenplay

I'm concerned about being able to communicate my vision as a writer/director to potential producers and investors. Should I really spell it out in the script and include camera directions, notes for actors and crew, and other specific details, or should I let the writing speak for itself? It seems like screenplay rules say that you shouldn't include direction, but I'm not sure if I'm including enough information in my screenplay.

Or put more simply: How much direction is too much direction in my first script?

I think you're getting a little ahead of yourself.

Finding a producer and making a film is very hard even if you have some level of professional experience. The question you should be asking is this: How do I write a great story that a producer (and cinematographer, actors, etc) wants to help me make? How do I write a story that people want to give me money to make?

That's where your original question is misguided. Every day great scripts break one or two "rules." Your job as a writer (and director) is to tell the best story. Communicating your vision coherently is exactly what a writer does, and it's one of the reasons it's so hard to do well. But including a ton of camera directions or other unnecessary details will distract from that. I'll explain more in a minute. But first, a side note.

Producers aren't going to tell you to change a shot or a line of dialogue. They may give you notes and advice, especially if they're experienced, but at the level you'll be making films for the next ten years (or more) when you're just starting out, even that basic level of involvement will probably be more limited.

Here's why you don't want to include unnecessary direction or make it read like an instruction manual:

First, it may distract from the reading experience. If you send the script to a rich dentist in hopes of getting financing, she doesn't care about a dolly shot this or move the camera on that. She wants to know if she likes the story and likes you. To some degree, the same goes for actors, set designers, costume designers, and everyone else.

Second, what makes the filmmaking process great is that you get an amazing group of people together to do things they're really good at and work as a team. You may be an incredible writer and director, but I doubt you're also a world class cinematographer or production designer. Predetermining too much stuff in your script (and being too stubborn to change it if someone else suggests otherwise) takes away the job these people are paid to do. If you need to include a shot direction to communicate something effectively, then do it. But don't use it as a crutch because you can't find interesting and diverse ways to state a line of action.

It's easy to fall in love with things in your script. It's even harder than you think to cut them when you don't have people telling you no. Go ahead and fall in love with that witty line of dialogue you wrote. But is it really worth it to fall in love with the idea that a shot is a medium shot instead of a wide shot?

The Amazon thing

On Saturday, The New York Times published a piece by Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld titled, “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace.” Maybe the most critical line of the whole story comes near the end:

Noelle Barnes, who worked in marketing for Amazon for nine years, repeated a saying around campus: “Amazon is where overachievers go to feel bad about themselves.”

To say there’s been a big reaction to the article would be an understatement.

One of the primary criticisms seems to be that the piece isn’t balanced and that it’s overly negative. I don’t wholly disagree with that reaction. It does feel like the reporters had their conclusion very early on and used their reporting to write the piece they wanted. Is it wrong to take that decisionaway from the reader?

Whatever your stance, it shouldn’t be very surprising that a company whose mission is to figure out how to deliver orders in under an hour would have harsh working conditions. Let’s hear more stories from the warehouse workers.

But here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter if the piece was overly negative, or even a little unfair. A number of people were interviewed by the Times, and I simply won’t discount their experiences or their truth. This story matters not just in the context of Amazon, but also in the context of addressing technology’s diversity issues.

With that in mind, David of 37Signals has the best take I’ve read on this situation, the report, and Amazon’s response:

How you respond to a red flag is what matters. You can deny its very existence. You can argue that it’s not really red, but more of an orange pink. You can argue that the people holding the flag aren’t true Amazonians. You can argue that the people who caused the red flags to fly were rogue actors, going against the intentions of the company. Or you can simply just claim that since you hadn’t personally seen any of the incidents, the flags are illegitimate on their face.
But the bottom line is that culture is what culture does. Culture isn’t what you intend it to be. It’s not what you hope or aspire for it to be. It’s what you do. There’s no way to discredit, deflect, or diffuse that basic truth.

We wonder why technology isn’t diverse, and yet when people speak up, even anonymously, the first reaction of many is to discredit the source.

I don’t care if each experience reported in the Times story was an isolated incident. It’s still important. These pieces add up. They build a narrative of unfair treatment and bias. The initial reaction shouldn’t be to say these stories aren’t true, or that they’re unfair. The initial reaction should be to press Amazon, a 20-year-old company and one of the most successful in the world, to do better.