Oct 24, 2006

Some stats and thoughts on the Milton Glaser and Paula Scher interviews:

7,949 total words transcribed -- 4,279 for the Paula Scher interview, 3,670 for Milton Glaser. Of those, 1,535 belong to me. If my math is right that means I was speaking approximately 19% of the time. I think that means I did something right.

There are entirely too many writers/journalists out there who approach interviews with the wrong mindset. They want to make themselves into a disproportionately large part of the story. If you have the talent of a Hunter Thompson or a Michael Herr you can do that. But chances are you do not have the talent of a Hunter Thompson or a Michael Herr. At least not yet. Instead, your job is to get the story, and the story, in nearly every case, is whatever your subject wants to say.

That means, basically, shut up. Let your subject speak. This takes a sacrifice of ego, but if your motives are correct then that shouldn't be a problem. The writer is rarely the story. Period.

Now, having said that, here's another taste (some of the language refers to context I'm not giving you here, but you can figure it out):
NS: Design, as such, seems to be a relatively new idea. Where’s the intersection for you between that art, and the idea now of design, as you said, working with people, solving problems. Is it different now? Is your conception of design as a field, as a discipline, is it different than it was then? Or do you still think of it just as art with a different goal?
Paula Scher: That’s an interesting question, actually, because it changed. Design really can be anything. What design is…it’s the art of planning, and it is the art of making things possible. Really, everything is designed. The table is designed, the chair you’re sitting on is designed, the shirt you’re wearing is designed, you look out the window at a park that was designed, the park’s got signage and an entryway that was designed, there’s a thing called Shake Shack in the park that was designed…
NS: Great design.
PS: Thank you.
NS: Was that you?
PS: Well I did do all of the typography.
NS: Ahhh…it’s gorgeous.
PS: The goal of design as it relates to visual things, to tangible things, is to raise the expectation of what something can be. It’s not just to…OK, you can say “I’ve got a problem. I’ve gotta build a hot dog stand in the park.” You can build an ordinary hot dog stand or you can build a spectacular one, and you can do it sometimes without that much difference in money – if somebody thinks about it. So what a designer does is he makes things possible that you didn’t imagine could exist before, and it makes the world a better place. You know, it’s a great thing to be doing. A fine artist does that, too, but they make the expression for themselves, not for others’ use. Design always has a purpose, art has no purpose. That’s really the difference between them. Do I think one is better than the other? Absolutely not. I think they both fulfill functions. But having no purpose is the function of art, so somebody else can look at it and ask a question. Design is different – you’re supposed to understand what’s going on. You can be delighted by it, intrigued by it, but you’re supposed to know it’s a hot dog stand.
I should note here that my approach to transcription -- and this goes back to my first published work -- is to transcribe the conversation as closely as is reasonably possible to what was actually said. It's admittedly imperfect, but nonetheless it's far better than if I were to try to impose written conventions at the expense of spoken rhythm.

Oct 23, 2006

Fewer posts, more content.

It’s an idea that’s been knocking around in my head the past few weeks. Now that I’m operating this, my personal site, and also The Loss Column, a site with multiple contributors and certain long-term goals, I find that I’m thinking not only as a content creator/provider but as a publisher. The two sites serve different purposes, but in each case I have a responsibility to provide content with some measure of value. Frequent and regular updates used to be the difference between a blog and a website. Now that the technology is stable and common what you have, in effect, is really just robust and free access to the means of assembling a publication. And in that, the blog is really no different than a newspaper or a magazine.

Blogs, as such, tend to suffer from “mile wide, inch deep” syndrome. I’m thinking of the various Gawker Media sites, of the Huffington Post, of Stereogum – I like all of them, but I might like them even more if they updated half as often and gave each post more gravity. And, in fact, I’d argue (and this is not a wholly original thought – others have expressed it in one form or another) that the proliferation of RSS and other syndication technologies has rendered frequent updates not only unnecessary, but potentially annoying. I could post five times a week here, but do you really care what I ate for dinner?

So I’ve been posting less but trying to make each post more worthwhile. You may not enjoy every one of them, but hopefully none feel like throwaways. With any luck, that mindset will become more common.

I'm making plenty of progress on the Milton Glaser/Paula Scher article. Much of what I have to say is written, and I'm finishing up the process of transcribing the interviews completely so that I can take a long view of what they had to say and pick the meatiest passages. I thought perhaps a teaser might be in order, so here you go:
NS: How do you feel about your work being borrowed, and more specifically when your work is redesigned. That’s a peculiar state for the designer to have to deal with.

Milton Glaser: It is a funny idea. On one hand you very much want to influence your time and people’s practice. After all, the whole reason for being published and having your work public is to produce an effect. And I like the fact that people are influenced. Influence is certainly a reason that I entered into the profession to begin with. What you don’t like is to be misunderstood. And so when you see bad knock-offs of what you do, which are not central to your intentions, that can be embarrassing and depressing. But I certainly don’t mind seeing my influence on my peers and another generation. That, to a large degree, is why I got into this business to begin with.

Oct 17, 2006

One should never need an excuse to enjoy a good horror movie, but they tend to go down particularly well when the weather turns cold and Halloween looms large on the calendar. And since I occasionally like the challenge of drafting a list, now seems like a good time to throw out a completely subjective rundown of Five Horror Movies You Must Own or Watch During the Halloween Season.

These aren't necessarily the five best horror movies ever made (though they might be), but they are five movies you absolutely should pop into your player over the next two weeks to truly maximize the joys of October.

In no particular order:

Friday the 13th Part Two
directed by Steve Miner, 1981
Certainly there are "better" horror movies out there. There are titles with better stories, better acting, better direction, better cinematography. And indeed, the rest of the moives on this list can claim all of the above. But part of this movie's greatness lies in the fact that it doesn't aspire to anything beyond what it is: a bloody piece of pure exploitation. Jason was at his creepiest when he was less than superhuman -- just a deranged manchild in a hood with a homemade shack and a perverted sense of justice. Had the series stopped here we wouldn't look at it as the joke it became.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
directed by Tobe Hooper, 1974
One of the most relentless, brutal films ever made. It stands strong not just as a horror movie but as a brilliant piece of 70s American filmmaking, something of a lowbrow companion piece to films like Taxi Driver. What more really needs to be said? It's essential.

Night of the Living Dead
directed by George Romero, 1968
Like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this is a great film that stands beyond its genre. The whole series is brilliant, but there's an edge to this first installment that can't be denied. The entire zombie genre, and much of the American horror tradition, owes its existence to this film. It's as amazing today as it was when it first came out, and it boasts a startlingly downbeat and thought-provoking ending.

directed by John Carpenter, 1978
More meditative and philosophical than it is gory, Halloween remains the gold standard for thoughtful horror. For all the credit it gets as the film that launched the "slasher" genre, it's more a mind fuck than anything else -- Michael Myers is a villain as well-considered as you'll ever encounter.

directed by Dario Argento, 1977
Enjoying Suspiria requires that you submit yourself to the world it creates. Once you do that, you're in for a hell of a ride. Argento's use of set pieces and music is unparalleled in the horror genre, and he is at his best here. The razor wire death scene may be the most horrifying thing ever put to film, despite the fact that it's not terribly graphic. It's a true masterpiece that remains criminally underappreciated.

Aside from the obvious elements, these films all share one thing in common: nobody wins. There's no redemption. One is left believing at the end that the brutality hasn't actually ended, but that you're simply not watching it anymore. That's the well from which true horror springs.

Turn out the lights, pour a glass (or four) of wine, and enjoy. Then thank me in November.

Also feel free to post your own top five in the comments. As always.

Oct 10, 2006

You might have missed it in the comments, but Bryan took up the challenge of the six word story (read that post to learn more). I liked his submission quite a bit:

He had it coming. Didn't he?

As for me, I offer the following:

One day, I swear we'll go.

I want to invite/ask all of you to try it, as well. I'm thinking in particular of the 20-30 of you who stop by regularly but have never commented. Now's the time. And if you've got a weblog/website of your own, pass this along and send folks here to participate. I think it's a fascinating exercise that could yield some interesting results. Hopefully, better ones than those at the site where I first found this.
You may recall that I participated, along with artist Ryan Brown, in the recent Image Comics anthology 24Seven. I stumbled across a review today that really pleased me:
I think my favorite story in this collection is "The Watchmaker" by Neal Shaffer and Ryan Brown, a clever tale about loneliness in the big city.