A Monk for Art

THE SINGLE MOTHER
    My neighbor is a single mother of two children. Last night she told me how she has to hold two part-time jobs and a full-time job just to make ends meet. And how she’s nearly at the end of herself.
    To me, she’s as heroic as anyone gets.
    She is also an aspiring professional photographer.
    She asked me, “How did you figure out that you could give your movie away and still make money? Why didn’t you sell it?”
    I told her, “I’ve eliminated everything that’s in the way. I’ve optimized for my dreams.”

THE POWER OF THE JESTER
    In medieval times, a king would have a man in the court whose job it was to make people laugh at banquets. That person was called a Jester. But, the Jester’s real job was to talk about current affairs not just in a humorous light, but a different light. He was the only one who could speak the truth without getting sent to the stockades, or the executioner.
    How often the King/Duke/etc. listened to the Jester may be up for debate, but that’s how it was.

A MONK FOR ART
    At the beginning of this year I had a U.S. political candidate I liked. I voted for that person in the primary elections.
    I’m not going to say who it is here because, as it shall soon be clear, it’s beside the point.
    I’ve been practicing meditation for years. This has allowed me to be in the present, striving for what Zen calls Satori, a perfect awareness of my surroundings, what I’m feeling, and being able to choose, knowing my choices and their possible implications.
    As I allowed myself to hope in a Presidential candidate, I noticed something I didn’t like. I began to become very angry at the other candidates… and their supporters. As I mentioned in a previous essay, strong emotions severely limit our ability to think rationally, to live in the moment and see things as they are.
    And so, as much as I consider it my civic duty to protect the world, to save it from nuclear holocaust or xenophobic police state, being in that machine broke my ability to sympathize with all sides. As such, I consider it my artistic duty to not take sides in a debate. I can no longer vote, not because everyone is evil, but because by doing so, I would be choosing blindness.
    The idea of “civic duty” presupposes that whatever society in which I happened to be born is somehow morally superior. I can’t say that. Not anymore. I’ve seen too much of too many different ways of life to be that way. I can’t call that perspective arrogant either, because I know why some need to believe it.

PLATO AND MORALITY
    Plato wrote (I’m paraphrasing) that everyone acts according to their own conscience. No one wakes up in the morning and acts contrary to what they believe to be right. Everyone does what they believe to be right. 
    Yes, even Hitler was doing what he believed to be right. History has viewed his motives and conclusions as wrong, but he, and most of the Nazi leaders believed in what they were doing.

SEEING
    While writing ALGORITHM I started out siding with the hackers. I saw freedom as unlimited and something that should be pursued without restraint. I saw that the future I want is one where people have complete freedom to do or pursue whatever they want, within certain social framework. 
    More on that later.
    I also saw that hackers are the most powerful people in the world right now.
    A top-tier hacker could bring JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command (SEAL Team Six (the most elite U.S. Special Forces unit))) to its knees in a matter of hours. There is no border hackers can’t cross, no wall they can’t bypass, no agency they can’t penetrate, and since Stuxnet, no infrastructure they can’t destroy.

BALANCED ON THE HEAD OF A PIN
    I was sitting in my car in line at In-N-Out (the lines are usually long so I had some time) looking around. I saw how the road was made of concrete, the building had steel infrastructure (probably from Japan or China), the wireless intercom system had computer chips (probably built in China/Korea/Indonesia/Philippines), the burgers were from cows (probably from the Central Valley) and the people were from Costa Mesa. 
    I was sitting in a Scion, (probably designed in Tokyo and built in more rural Japan) my clothes were from Korea, my shoes had rubber from the Amazon rain forest.
    All of it, every single piece had to be where it was from and it all had to work together in order for me to be able to drive through the drive-thru and get my burger. If any part failed, the entire system failed.

A PORTRAIT OF CATASTROPHE
    There’s a word for systems failing because of a single part failing. It’s called cascade failure. Like a waterfall. And, like a waterfall, it’s usually unstoppable once it starts.
    Let’s say there’s a county-wide power outage in Los Angeles.
    There will be no running water; water flows because its pumped and those pumps run on electricity. There will be no sewage because that requires running water.
    There will be no Internet because the routers that make the Internet work require electricity to run and more electricity to keep cool. There will be no cell phones because the cell towers require electricity to run and to stay cool and they require the Internet.
    The gas pumps won’t work because they require electricity. And even if they didn’t, our payments require the Internet.
    Within a matter of days all of L.A. would be in total chaos. Riots. Looting. Murders. All on a scale that is hard for U.S. citizens who don’t travel abroad to imagine.
    L.A. would be cancelled. Maybe forever.
    Now, admittedly, electricity is a fairly major and critical piece to remove. But, there are many, many pieces of the modern-life-machine that are equally critical, and some are far more fragile.

MONEY IS AN IDEA
    The dollar is a thing. I mean a physical dollar is actually a piece of cloth/paper and ink. But, that’s not why we work hard to get it or we’d be working much harder to get books since they have more of both.
    The reason people work hard to get dollars is because we believe they have value. And dollars do, but only so long as we keep believing that they do. The moment we don’t, the dollar is worthless.
    That happens a lot all over the world. As Serbia collapsed, their currency plummeted in value. I once had my hands on a 5,000,000,000 Denar bill.

CRYSTALLINE WORLD
    My point here isn’t to scare. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s to reveal the true nature of things. As an artist, a Jester, I don’t get to look away. I don’t get to pretend Trump is evil and Clinton is good and Sanders is a saint. They are all people. They all wake up in the morning and act in whatever way their conscience dictates.
    As an artist I have to see them as they are.
    Back to ALGORITHM.
    After I had seen the power of the hackers and the fragility of the world, I sympathized with the governments and their responses to hackers. I don’t agree or disagree with either side. I understand them, where they’re coming from, what their goals are and why they do what they do.
    And then, as an artist, I made a movie about that reality. In ALGORITHM, N.S.A. isn’t evil and the hackers aren’t good. Will isn’t a hero and he’s not a villain. He’s a portrait of a truth in an unblinking picture of the world.

FOCUS AND DISCIPLINE
    My wife, who pays our rent and buys our food makes about as much as my aforementioned neighbor. I make movies.  The only reason I can make movies is because of the standard of living I choose. If my wife chose not to pay the rent, I would pay it myself and live more simply.
    The reason is, I’ve optimized for my dreams. I’ve cut out everything that isn’t required for me to do what I do. Any amenities you see, should you ever visit my home, are either directly related to my work, or the direct result of making my wife comfortable or being hospitable toward guests. And, to my wife’s credit, she too has very simple needs.
    I’m a director/writer/producer and I often drive to and work in Hollywood. I drive a Scion Xb. It’s dirty right now because I don’t feel I can spend money at an environmentally friendly car wash, and I can’t spend the water I would use to do it myself because California is in a catastrophic drought. So, my car is dirty until it rains.
    I often eat re-heated meals or make meals that are very inexpensive. We have the money to go out to eat often, but then I couldn’t afford to drive to L.A. as often as I need to, or buy movies to study my craft, or pay for Internet which I require to stay informed and connected to the people who like my stuff.
    I have a Kindle because I can’t afford the space in my apartment for bookshelves and still have the room I need for a good cinematic experience, which I need for my craft.
    I don’t have an assistant, not because I couldn’t use one, but because the money’s not there. Any Blu-ray anyone orders, I pull from my closet, I pack it in a padded envelope, and I take it to the post office. Me. Not someone else. The postal employees know me. I go there often enough.
    For that same reason, my wife and I have chosen to not have children. They would get in the way of what we do, in the way of our missions. Kids take time. Kids take energy. We would rather spend that energy/time/money on our vocations. We choose to miss out on that joy, and many others, because we have to stay focused.

LOSING A FRIEND
    I had a friend named H (I’ve redacted his full name because despite the following, I would gladly welcome the return of his friendship). He was an actor. He was friends with a lot of people in L.A. I asked H to help me produce The Root Kit (an early form of ALGORITHM). We were meeting people and figuring things out.
    One night,H called me and let me know he thought he would be great for the role of Will.
    H’s problem, why he didn’t get much work as an actor was because he was in love with the idea of being an actor, of being on-set and of going to parties, launch parties, wrap parties, after parties, Oscar parties. But, he didn’t love the work. He didn’t commit to doing the work. And because of that, he would never be a good actor. 
    H may have changed since un-friending me. I don’t know.
    During that call I told him that he didn’t commit. I said, “If you want to be an actor, you should move to L.A. Go to auditions. Take more classes. Be in plays.”
    He gave me an excuse.
    I said, “H, there will always be really good reason to not follow your dreams. You have to chose.”
    That was the last time we ever spoke.
    I texted him a few times asking if we were still friends.
    I never got a response.

CUTTING OUT THE FAT
    I didn’t write the above to gripe about how little I have. I’m not complaining at all. I love my life! I couldn’t imagine it being any better than it is. 
    But, to do it, to say “Yes!” to my dream, to try and change the world, I have to say “No” to anything that’s not my dream. I don’t get to be a part of the world in the same way most people do. I stand outside it.
    Never Cry Wolf (one of my favorite movies) put it in a way that always achingly expresses what I’m getting at, “I wonder when I became a watcher of things, always looking on while others did things I wouldn’t or couldn’t do myself.”
    I’m able to take bigger risks with what I do because I’m not afraid of losing what I have to possibly achieve something great. I’ve been homeless. I’ve lived on friends’ couches and in their garages. I’ve been had all my worldly possessions in a large backpack. I’ve had no money and no way to get money.
    And I’m alive. I survived. I’ve seen how bad the world can get and it’s not that bad because I didn’t die. Even death doesn’t frighten me. But, that’s another topic for another essay.
    There are two thing that stop most people from pursuing their dreams. 
1. They want something else more.
2. They’re afraid of failing.

    Both of those problems are real. Both of them must be answered, and realistically. Because pursuing dreams is scary. It’s hard. There are a lot of fatalities, both metaphorically and physically. I melted several times while making ALGORITHM. I’ll probably melt several times while making Intelligent Design. It may even kill me. But if it works, if it works like ALGORITHM is working? Then I’ll have done something worth doing… maybe even something great!
    I end this essay with another quote from another of my favorite movies. Equilibrium. “A heavy cost. I pay it gladly.”