Sunday, March 11, 2018

The one word to look out for

Now with YouTube, everybody makes videos. HD cameras are so inexpensive that full-length films can be produced on a shoestring budget. Recording an album no longer requires a million bucks. You can do all the engineering and processing on your iMac Mini.

But what the new technology still can’t do is provide feedback.

You still have to show it to your friends and get their reactions. But rarely, if ever, are you going to get an honest appraisal. They’re not going to insult you. They’re going to be very diplomatic. You have to learn to read between the lines.

Here’s what people say when they really hate something.

“That was really fun.”

If you hear “fun” you’re doomed.

It used to be “Well, you did it!” or “How did you do it?” or “That was something else!” but those are so old school. “That was really fun” is both a veiled compliment and right up to date.

My favorite left-handed compliment came the night of the big industry screening for VOLUNTEERS, the Tom Hanks/John Candy movie that David Isaacs and I wrote. We’re standing in the lobby receiving guests. It’s me, David, and to my right – Walter Parkes, one of the producers.

People are coming up congratulating us until one woman took our Walter's hands in hers, looked him straight into the eye with a pained expression, and said, “Oh Walter, we love you anyway.”

Ouch!

I laughed so hard I almost fell over.

We live in a time of superlatives. Awesome now means okay, perfect means acceptable, and epic means it will be remembered for four hours.  So "fun" has been elevated to where it now means sucks. 

Oh, for those days when people were honest and told you “I never knew you had it in ya.”  So beware of false flattery. 

I know what you're thinking.  You want to go to the comments section and respond to this post by saying "that was fun."  I'm ahead of you.   You'll have to be more creative. 

Note: For those new to the blog -- whenever I can't find an appropriate photo to go along with the subject matter I post a picture of Natalie Wood.  And the investigation has been re-opened, ya know?

40 comments :

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if this is true, but I love it anyway. W.S. Gilbert once attended a play, and when he went backstage afterward, was asked by one of the actors what he thought. "Oh, my boy," the playwright responded, "good is not the word!"

Matthew E said...

I’m a comic book fan, and have a bit of a different take on the word “fun”. I can remember quite a few comics that have been described as “fun” and failed, many of which I agree were fun and liked them a lot on that basis. The problem wasn’t that “fun” was an indicator of lack of quality; it’s that it suggested that it wasn’t serious or gritty or substantial enough for readers to bother with. Which I think is the wrong attitude. But there we are.

Dixon Steele said...

I'm a long time reader and fan, but I've gotta ask:

How does your wife feel about your Natalie obsession?

slgc said...

Eek - I don't generally speak in the superlative, so when I say that something is fun I really mean it. Especially when it makes me laugh.


And if I told you that "The Hook Up" was fun, I really meant that it was fabulous!

jfancherla said...

I usually go for "The makeup was incredible" or "the costumes were spectacular". "How did you memorize all those lines" I reserve for the actors.

VP81955 said...

Dixon, since Natalie has about as much chance of entering Ken's life as the lady in my avatar has of entering mine, I'm certain Mrs. Levine is reassured.

Kim T. Bené said...

Nice point by the comicbook fellow. I get his point completely. "Fun" can be a good and accurate description
, too.

RSaunders said...

Uh oh, beware of creating a digital paper trail for an idiot police force pull a "Making a Murderer" on you. :)

Glenn said...

Man, that lighting was just awesome!

Bryan said...

That was something.

VincentS said...

Being left-handed - and on behalf of fellow lefties like Reggie Jackson, Julia Roberts and Barack Obama - I object to the use of "left-handed" in negative way. As to the subject, what ever happened to good old cleverness that could be taken either way like, "I've never seen anything like that?"

Dr Loser said...

Partly age-related, of course.

Not that I have ever been offered such a compliment, but if I were told that my work was "so gay!" or "really bad, man!" ... I'd still have no idea how well I'd done.

Steve McLean said...

A woman who would have to face her actor friends after a bad show would, upon seeing them, throw open her arms with a big smile and say, “Let me kiss the star!”

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Yes! Thank you, Ken!!!

As someone who's been struggling on YouTube for just a little over ten years now, it's so damn hard to get any actual feedback on my original work! I blame this almost entirely on YouTube itself though. Ever since Google bought YouTube, they've been going out of their way to posture the bigger channels as much as they can, while the little guys like me are constantly swept under the rug. What really hurt the most was when they redesigned and overhauled the homepage in 2013, putting a greater emphasis on trending and viral videos, as opposed to our subscriptions, and as such, a number of people have told be over the years since then they weren't even aware I was still creating/producing new content because they didn't see them in their subscriptions feed. The biggest problem now is their search algorithm: even though you can still add keyword tags to your video uploads, YouTube actually revealed that they only work for the bigger channels, so it doesn't matter what tags you add to your uploads, if you're not a big channel, your videos won't appear in search results. Not only does this make it difficult for potential new subscribers to find your work, but YouTube will actually punish you if you try to work around it . . . case in point, I figured out to place my tags in the video description instead, and as such, my videos were actually appearing in search results again, and other smaller YouTubers began doing the same, and it worked well for them . . . then YouTube caught onto the this, and declared it as a form of spam and clickbait, and if they caught you doing this, they would terminate your channel; that's like punishing the kid being bullied in the playground instead of the bully.

Prior to Google taking over YouTube, back then it wasn't unusual for me to get up to 100 views and maybe 10-15 legit comments within 24 hours of uploading a new video . . . since then, however, I'm lucky if I can get 20 views, and maybe one or two of those generic, "That's funny," comments within a week of uploading a new video. And what really hurts is I've improved so much since my old days, when my only tool was a camcorder that shot on videotape, and Movie Maker was a piece of crap, so my older works were almost dogma-esque simplistic. Since then, I've got Adobe Premiere, I have an HD camera, I put so much work and effort into what I put together, and nobody is even aware of this.

It also doesn't help that YouTube caters less and less to originality now, and focuses more on whatever the zeitgeist is, and more often than not, that's usually vlogs, reviews, top 10s, make-up tutorials, etc. Nostalgia Critic (whom I'm actually a fan of, even though I don't care for the new format of adding sketches and additional castmembers to his reviews) is an internet example of the trope Seinfeld Is Unfunny. It's not like the days of James Rolfe and people like him who could use the internet as a tool to gain exposure for their original work - now it's more about making big celebrities out of creepy people who just sit around and whine about their lives.

Finally, one last point I want to throw out is I see no hope for the future of YouTube for people like me now that YouTube is going the Hulu route of producing and streaming their own big-budget in-house shows and movies . . . that defeats the purpose of YouTube altogether!

I'm really sorry for the long-winded rant, but it's just really frustrating that the internet went from being a great tool for the little guys out there to share their work with the rest of the world that would otherwise go unseen, to basically being unseen in a sea of vloggers and reviewers and now shows and movies that could just as easily be broadcasted on cable outlets like HBO.

Robert Forman said...

There was an episode of All in the Family I remember. Archie upsets Edith by calling her a “nothing”. In the end she asks him to admit she is “something”. Archie says “Edith, you’re something else”.

Pat Reeder said...

My favorite diplomatic backhanded compliment is one I found in researching my book "Hollywood Hi-Fi." It came from Cary Grant, who was a friend of Cole Porter's and played him in "Night and Day." When pressed for a quote for the jacket of Cybill Shepherd's first album, "Cybill Does It...To Cole Porter," Grant provided this: "I only wish Cole could have heard it."

And that's why he was Cary Grant and we're not.

Buttermilk Sky said...

I have a friend who sees all the newest movies. When she calls something "odd" (most recently GET OUT), I know to approach with caution.

Breadbaker said...

"No problem" has replaced "you're welcome" to the point where it has lost all meaning. More like "it may or may not have been a problem but I'm not going to ask for your gratitude if it did."

VP81955 said...

After the lady in my avatar made "Fools For Scandal," arguably her worst starring vehicle, in 1938 (it was made at Warners, a studio which, post-Code, had no feel whatsoever for screwball comedy), Carole Lombard said she knew it was a flop when people told her how beautiful she looked in it.

The critical failure of "Fools" led Lombard to change her career course from comedy to drama for the next two years, not returning to comedy until her next-to-last film, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" (1941, directed by her good friend Alfred Hitchcock of all people, and completely unrelated to the 2005 Pitt-Jolie film with the same title).

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I saw Jack Lemmon tell a great story in an interview. I forget which movie it was, but at the screening everyone knew it was just a godawful dud. Up comes Walter Matthau, "my brother", Lemmon said, and Lemmon steeled himself to ask what he thought. "Get out of it," Matthau advised him.

Personally, I was always taught that "interesting" was the sign that they really hated it.

wg

MikeN said...

Joe Scarborough, you need to use Twitter to link to your videos.

Youtube is making a series Cobra Kai that will star Ralph Macchio and Zabka in the same roles.

Greg Ehrbar said...

I remember Milton Berle telling another comedian, "You were never better."

Cap'n Bob said...

My older relatives would always bring me down with two words added to any compliment. "That's very good, FOR YOU."

Loosehead said...

My particular favourite is variants on "No expense spared". No, literally, no expense was spared on that.

Mike Bloodworth said...

My least favorite reaction is, "It was... 'nice.'" That's the show business equivalent of, "I just want to be friends/I like you like a brother." To digress slightly: Its ironic, but with all of the negative reactions to the so called INTERNET TROLLS I personally feel that they're closer to real life than polite commenters. Why do you think so many polls, surveys and questioners are taken anonymously? Because the experts know that you're far more likely to get an honest opinion if the person doesn't have to give his or her name. Although that doesn't really apply here. As regular readers of Ken's blog know he's had his share of negative, even hostile comments from people who leave their names. And while he allows "anonymous" replies they usually aren't that bad. I'm just curious about what the deleted comments had to say.
M.B.
P.S. I'm really looking forward to Ken's next FUN play. I hope its really FUN! I can't wait to tell him how FUN it was. Yes, I'm an a-hole.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@MikeN I do. And Facebook as well. Don't help much, honestly.

Wally said...

Aside (sotto)
Ted Danson is on tomorrow's Marc Maron /WTF podcast

Ok, not properly 'labeled' but you get the point.

Covarr said...

Maybe I'm alone in this, but I far prefer constructive negative feedback to diplomatic pseudo-positive feedback. Whether I'm acting, directing, writing, or some combination of the three, I always want to do my best; I have far more room to improve when people tell me what they didn't like than when they try to spare my feelings.

Of course, if their feedback is just plain wrong, I still reserve the right to discard it.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

As far as back-handed/left-handed, diplomatic feedback and what have, I remember always rolling my eyes at a line from the SANFORD AND SON episode in which Lamont enrolled in an acting class, but wanted to keep it a secret from Fred because he knew Fred would just dismiss it as nonsense; his acting coach insisted Fred see him act, saying, "Your friends and family are your toughest critics. If you can please them, you can please anybody." Please, unless your friends or family happen to be straightup jerkasses, of course they're not going to say anything critical.

DetroitGuy said...

In the early ‘90s my brother-in-law decided to fulfill his dream to write, direct and star in movies. He had a non-creative but well-paying job so he decided to make his own film, using about $500,000 of his own money. He took acting classes, talked to film production people and began writing a script. When he was happy with his script he asked me to read it and give him my honest feedback. “Be brutally honest!,” he told me.

While I thought he had the germ of a possibly good idea, I thought the whole thing was a mess. I made pages and pages of notes to discuss with him and called him up. Every question or suggestion I had was met with “Well, I like it the way it is.” An hour later my sister calls back angry at me for my feedback. So much for being honest.

Cut to two years later. The film is finished (my brother in law hasn’t said one word to me about it since the call) and he rents a big, old theater to hold the world premiere About 500 friends and family members are in attendance. I arrive straight from the airport to find he has reserved the seat to his right for me. A friend from high school and college sat to my right. The movie began. After 90 minutes of shear torture, while the end credits roll, my friend, who had been whispering “This is awful, this is awful” the entire movie, asked me, “What are you gonna say to him?”

I don’t know where it came from but when the credits ended and the lights came up, I stood up, shook his hand and said, “I can’t believe you did it!” 25 years later, he still thinks I loved it.

alan0825 said...

My mom always used to say "Well, that was different."

Joseph Scarbrough said...

One other thing I will add regarding family members and relatives is it's also just as bothersome when they feel as though simply because they're related to you, that they're entitled to have their input worked into your project, and then take it personally when you don't.

cadavra said...

A few I like:

"I just can't find the words."
"I've seen a lot of movies this year, and this is certainly one of them."
"I think it's gonna do a lot of business."
and my favorite:
"You're the only one who could have made this."

Liggie said...

I never found "fun" pejorative for movies. Some films you watch for artistic merit or action thrills, others you watch to laugh a lot with. I just saw the new teams"Jumanji", and though there were no philosophical or artistic points to hammer home, it was a hoot and lot of fun at the theater.

Speaking of "Jumanji", it gave me some potential Friday Questions. 1) Karen Gillan said she knew she needed to hit the gym and hire a trainer when she saw the skimpy "costume" of her Ruby Roundhouse character. When actors need training for a role, like boxing if they're playing a prize fighter, firearms training if they're playing soldiers, or even just toning their bodies like Gillan, do the actors pay for the skill coaches, or do the studios pick up the tab? 2) Like many films since the Jason Bourne trilogy, "Jumanji" just showed the movie's title at the start, and didn't list the actors, director, producers and writers until after the end. What's the reason for hiding all that info until the end titles? I'd personally like to have an idea of the Key players and production leaders early on, and saving them for the end drives me crazy.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I have a rule that if someone asks what I think of something I assess whether there's time to make changes. If there's not and they're about to go on stage, nothing but support. If there is, they get the truth. *However*, that doesn't mean doling out truth by the truckload. My preferred approach if there's a thousand things is to pick a few that are relatively easy fixes and see how the person responds. If they get defensive and insist it can't be changed, then the conversation is over.

Sometimes the response you get to major fixes is, "Yes, I know you're right, but I don't want to spend the time and effort for the total rewrite this would call for." Then you know the person is not - and not ever going to be - a professional, but in some contexts (amateur theater) that may be a perfectly reasonable approach.

The last thing I wrote attracted wildly different assessments of what was wrong with it from the group of people who saw it. Their ideas conflicted enough that they couldn't all be right...and I eventually concluded that the problem was a layer down from where they were all looking, a fundamental flaw they hadn't understood, which was a character whose motives *I* don't understand (the idea was based on something that happened to a friend, and none of us have ever understood why).

wg

Mike Barer said...

The oldest euphemism, "interesting"

Neal Grinnell said...

At least you can say you tried. :)

Donald Benson said...

In my youth there were always the people who never went near live theater unless a relative forced them to see another relative onstage. They often expressed delighted surprise that it wasn't as dire as they clearly expected. "Almost professional" was offered as sincere, unironic praise.

stephen catron said...

My favorite 'praise' for a friends show was one I came up with on the spot. At least I think I originated it:
No one liked it more than me.

Joe Blow said...

Joseph S.
You shouldn’t apologize for your rant. It was very interesting, and many of us had no idea how it worked. It’s so unfortunate that these changes have occurred—they seem to make it very difficult for the people who would much prefer to see the work of individuals like you to actually find you. It seems as if a whole new venue is needed, and YouTube needs to be left to the large enterprises that they seem only to be interested in now. I wish you good luck, however!