I’m back in New York sitting by the Hudson River looking out at the water. This summer I find that I prefer looking at the water to watching TV, seeing movies or reading. In fact, I prefer looking at water to pretty much anything. I think it’s because my days have become so crowded with e-mails, approvals and meetings that there is simply no time in my workday to pause. And for me the water is all pause.
After work I usually take a run along the promenade that hugs the Hudson River just outside my home in lower Manhattan. Then I find a bench and I look out at the sailboats, at Ellis Island and at the Statue of Liberty. I let my mind drift away from the burdens of running a production company. And, for a few happy moments, I forget about preschool television.
My mind often takes me back to a time when my creative work wasn’t dependent on pitching, financing or a broadcaster. I spent much of my adolescence juggling and writing poems in Washington Square Park in New York’s Greenwich Village. On weekend nights my friends and I would sneak beer into the park and light up our torches and juggle fire. I remember how great it felt to perform like this just for the raw thrill of it, not looking for anyone’s approval or permission.
Last week I was at a great company called ScrollMotion, meeting with one of the owners, also named Josh. We were discussing an iPhone application that we’re making based on my new show, Small Potatoes. I said to Josh that what I love about working with him is that, between us, we can write, design, publish and profit from the iPhone application all by ourselves. There is no network to pitch and there are no notes. Josh just smiled knowingly and said, “Independence.” For a brief moment I felt the same thrill I felt juggling fire in Washington Square Park.
Most of us on the indie side of things live our lives waiting for a response to a pitch we made months ago. Or getting beaten to a pulp in negotiations. Or finding out that everyone made a profit on a show we created except us. In short, most of us live in a state of utter dependency. And it’s not healthy. It breeds bitterness and in fighting among the indies and arrogance and ingratitude on the part of the networks.
But what can be done? If your goal is to make big budget projects that will travel the globe, then perhaps not much. You will always need someone’s money for those kinds of shows and when you take someone’s money, you become the child in that relationship. But there are many things you can make that do not require very much money that can have great influence both in your own country and around the world.
One of my favorite pieces of television ever is the Brazilian masterpiece, “The Boy, the Slum, and the Pan Lids.” If you haven’t seen this, please do. It’s a five-minute live-action film by the director Cao Hamburger and it is more memorable than most features. It was produced as part of Ragdoll’s “Open a Door” series and it is a work of art for television.
Films like this remind me that there are many ways to make a contribution in this world. Bigness is not always an advantage. In fact, it is usually the enemy of quality and independence. Because wherever money goes, notes follow. And, as most of us have learned, bigness is not for the sensitive or faint-hearted. This is unfortunate because almost everyone I know who is any good at making preschool TV shows is quite sensitive and faint-hearted. Including me.
Which brings us to smallness. I happen to love smallness. Small gestures. Small gifts. Small gatherings of good friends. And I can’t describe smallness any better than Erik Bruhwiler did in the comments section of last week’s blog:
“I had a dream last night that I could fly (i.e. float at will). I flew over a pool party of medical patients, and, using my compelling performance to deliver a message to the captivated audience, I cited with passion:
‘Life is about Love. Live.
Breathe the air,
Feel the Earth,
Understand the Sky’
I overheard a young lady on the ground respond softly, ‘Awesome, awesome.’ The message reaching even just one person meant I succeeded.”
Yes, I like that very much. Thanks, Erik. You did succeed. And you reminded me that everything important that happens in this life happens to just one person at a time.
PS: By the time you all read this I will be in South Korea for the DICON digital content conference. If anyone knows any good restaurants in Seoul, please let me know. Thanks!