The hosts of one of my favorite film podcasts, Battleship Pretension, recently addressed an intriguing bit of negative listener feedback on the show. I forget his specific grievance, but the guy writing in took issue with the number of major films Tyler and David regularly admit to not having seen. A fair point, but, as Tyler and David replied, you’ll always leave certain movies unseen no matter how hard you watch, and unlike them, you probably didn’t go to film school. Plus, there are social lives to be had, beers to be drunk, pizzas to be eaten, etc.
Yet I kept thinking about the complainer’s core concern. On the surface, he seemed to claim Tyler and David hadn’t seen enough movies to have earned the authority to talk about the form itself. Down below, the complaint echoed a demand I feel myself having of anybody I listen to talk about anything, whether they’re talking about film, music, literature, visual art: how do I know you’re experiencing, exploring, and thinking about this stuff even when you don’t want to? I happen, for example, to have two tabs open with two different James Wood articles. His reviews instill in me confidence that he doesn’t read and analyze novels just when he feels like it; he goes to work. I wouldn’t trust his judgment if he didn’t.
Needless to say, “going to work” doesn’t necessarily mean turning up to an office every day — and, for most interesting crafts, rarely if ever does — but it shares an element with that. I sometimes think about this as habit, asking myself, “Does this creator do this work habitually?” I sometimes think about it as a system, as in, “Does this creator do this work systematically?” I need to know a creator is giving me only the tip of an iceberg built with great working regularity.
Unlike that one dude, I don’t think Tyler and David fail to go to work with Battleship Pretension. They record and release a show per week, almost like clockwork. They don’t seem to take “me” days. I realize, though, that the complainer objected to their film viewing, not their film discussion; while the show’s regularity makes clear that they must discuss films even when they don’t want to, I admit to having no way of knowing whether they watch them regularly, even when they don’t want to.
So if you want to make a life of some craft, it makes sense to institute a system, a schedule — no matter how basic — as soon as possible. Sure, I’ve conducted 150-some-odd Marketplace of Ideas interviews, but interviewing only becomes what I do to the extent that I do it regularly — which, pretty much, I have. I’ve been writing longer, but I’ve done it much less regularly; some of my print stuff and online columns run on a schedule, but the rest I’ve too often foolishly chained to the petulant beast of “what I feel like.” Filmmaking I’ve done least regularly of all, choosing so far to rely on the vanishingly rare fuel of inspiration. No surprise that I’ve done it the least. Unsustainable practice, as the enviros would say.
This looks the same from the consumer’s side as it does from the creator's. I respect most the work of creators who, broadly speaking, do what they want to do — especially when they don’t want to do it. Whatever you or I do whether or not we feel like it, that’s what we capital-D Do. (On reflection, you might find this is painting; you might also find it’s slinging macchiatos.) This remains only a suspicion, but I’ve come to think that I only really do what I do every day. Anybody I’d presume to consider an audience likely believes that about me anyway, so I think I’ll go ahead and get it tattooed on my wrist now.