Do an Artists Transgressions Ruin Their Art?

I saw this morning that Dustin Hoffman has been accused of some pretty ugly things. Yesterday, I skimmed an article about Marion Zimmer Bradley. Over the past several months we’ve seen on some levels the implosion of our pop culture as a lot of ugly truth has come to light. I want to be careful here, because while I’m generally swayed by the individual accounts, my look at history suggests that a large group of angry people rarely yields justice.

What does all this mean? Should we never again watch a movie that was made under the Miramax label, because in so doing we support Harvey Weinstein? Should Netflix deep-six House of Cards because of Kevin Spacey’s horrible behavior offscreen?

In fairness, I should probably note, I’ve never seen an episode of House of Cards nor have I ever watched the Graduate (as a film buff can I confess that on the internet?). I’ve never read any of Bradley’s books. I still think Shakespear in Love is a great movie, no matter what happened offscreen when they made it.

This cognitive dissonance isn’t new for me. I’ve long known that Bing Crosby was probably a terrible person, but that has had very little to do with my appreciation of his incredible voice or my enjoyment of films like White Christmas or Holiday Inn. I think Frank Sinatra was an incredible musician, and I love listening to his work. That doesn’t excuse all of his affairs.

I think there’s value in separating the work of an artist from their conduct. In truth, no matter what they’ve done, or how terribly they’ve behaved, it has no real bearing on the aesthetic or cultural or moral value of their creation. Their dark character may well cause them to create things which have a poor moral character, or are of little cultural value. But that isn’t always the case.

That said, I don’t have any problem with punishing bad behavior. If we can’t see justice done in the courts, why not at the box office? I certainly would not support Netflix continuing to employ Kevin Spacey as though nothing happened. I’m perfectly fine with boycotting any future Weinstein productions… but I’m leery of trying to excise what has already come.

What do you think? How should we handle artists credibly accused of bad behavior? And how do we decide which accusations are credible and what behavior is bad?




Writing Tips: Bring Your Villain to Life

I was having a hard time figuring out what to write about tonight, when I pulled up this old post from the Blacklist in my saved notes. The whole thing is worth a read, but it was actually number 7 that inspired this post.

I already shared my sometimes extreme tendency to emote with my characters. I think most writers grow attached to our protagonists and their friends pretty easily. I even shared with you about my first novel that I never finished. Part way through the writing of that, I determined that in order for it to be emotionally real, one of my heroes needed to die. I couldn’t imagine bumping off any of the incredible characters I’d grown so attached to, so I wrote in a new character, so that I could kill him later. The trouble was, as I continued writing, he just got more and more awesome. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I stopped writing that novel when I got to the part where he was supposed to die.

That attachment to our characters is part of the reason it’s so hard to write a good villain. It doesn’t matter how badly I behave, I’ve always got an excuse. I’m not a bad person… really! If you just understood it from my perspective… And that’s the secret to writing a great villain. Often times, we want to push our villains to be really extreme. What’s the most terrible thing they could do to our main character? What horrible thing can they be contemplating? Something so terrible that the hero has to stop them at all costs!

That level of intensity in the conflict is good, but it can easily create a really two dimensional and cartoony antagonist. So, once you’ve figured out all the terrible awfulness that your villain is about, here’s a trick to make them human again:

Write a chapter in their voice and from their perspective.

You don’t have to keep it in your novel, this is an exercise to help you understand them. Be sure you bring them face to face with their terrible choices and give them a chance to explain to someone who’s opinion matters to them: a love interest, a child, their mother, etc. Make them as human as you possibly can. Really get inside their head and figure out what it is that’s brought them to this place, because that’s the secret. No one becomes a monster over night. And even the most terrible monster doesn’t think they’re a monster.

When you’re done, if you don’t have deep compassion for your villain, you probably did it wrong. 🙂 Give it another try. It may require an uncomfortable level of introspection, but coming to grips with the humanity of your villain will strengthen your story significantly.

If you decide to write a villain chapter, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment or send me a note on twitter and let me know how it worked for you.

Giving Opportunity: New Editor

I started this series of posts a couple of days ago, sharing ways you can give. If you’re interested in reading a bit more about why, you can find the original post here.

Today, I thought I’d share something a bit different, and instead of sharing an opportunity to give to us personally, I’d instead share an opportunity to give materially to the work of the film team I lead.

When it comes to 1080p footage, our editor is amazing. It knifes through difficult edits like Jet-Li on wires. But we’ve been originating our footage in 4K since 2015, and… that’s a problem. I jokingly tucked the infamous OS X beachball into the R.I.P. above in place of periods, but we’re literally waiting at a beach ball on almost every move of the mouse.

The good news is, since our Giving Tuesday newsletter, this project is 33% funded! So, the need has grown substantially smaller. Can you help put this over the line?

As I said in an earlier giving post, I know not everyone can give, but sharing costs you nothing. Would you share it on your Facebook or other social media and encourage your friends to give?

Giving Opportunity: Travel Costs

Several years ago, I flew to Lesvos to film refugees arriving and put together a short promotional video for the work GEM was doing there. That trip changed my life in a lot of ways. You can read a little bit about it here.

For the last several years, the vast majority of my work has revolved around refugees, both producing materials for them, and sharing their stories with others who want to understand a bit more about what they’re experiencing.

I need to make a trip to Lesvos early in 2018 in preparation for a the big film project I’m working on.  I’ve trimmed my expenses on that trip down to the bare minimum, but I still need some help to make it happen. If you’d like to give toward that, click the image above, of follow this link.

Giving Opportunity: Ted and Brandy

Over the next several days, as we head toward the Christmas holiday, I thought I would share with you some key ways that you could impact our work through giving.

Brandy and I don’t have any sort of conventional salary. All of our funds come from the generous donations of people just like you. So, I hope you’ll consider us if you’re making year end in contributions.

We greatly appreciate your prayers and gifts as we continue our work: Brandy, caring for the medical and health needs of missionary kids at Black Forest Academy, and me, making challenging, culturally appropriate films which point people toward Jesus.

Of course, we understand not everyone can pledge money. We also covet your prayer commitments, and with the growing importance of social media — your willingness to share.

Click here to make a year-end gift, or a new monthly support pledge. If you’d like to commit to praying for us, or to share our posts and materials, let us know in the comments.

God bless!

Ted and Brandy

Other posts in this series:

Travel Costs

New Editor