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  • Jason Eaken

Technical Difficulties

I have a long-held belief that a great novel is the most difficult individual artistic achievement in the world. The corresponding, inverse belief is that a great film is the most difficult collective artistic achievement in the world.


Of course, an argument could be made that the above statements are much more “opinion” than “belief,” since there’s no way to scientifically gauge the effort of an artist - and even if there was, the act of recording it would change the creation of art into a performance of the creation of art, and that’s just too much of a knot to even try to untangle right now.


Also, I recognize the inherent silliness (at best; at worst, stupidity or pointlessness) of the addition of the adverb “most.” All great writing is difficult to achieve. All great art is, in fact (and let’s go further - even bad art isn’t easy. Especially when there is real artistic desire to explore something or work the soil of the soul. How sad when that doesn’t work out). How to determine what is the MOST difficult? What about the second most difficult? So, sure, the whole discussion is kind of all semantics. But the point is more the ideas than the conclusion.


A painter friend of mine has a quotation from Michelangelo above her easel. It says: “If you knew how much work went into it, you wouldn’t call it genius.”


The difference between writing a novel and making a movie is a chasm not just of artistry, but of technical knowledge. And it’s that chasm that I’ve been trying to leap across these past couple weeks.


I’m a writer and director by nature. But necessity (especially in lower-budget projects) often means that the director also the cinematographer, lighting technician, sound technician, camera operator, and, of course…editor. And editor has quickly come to mean editor+colorist+sound designer+motion graphic artist.

This is not a drill. Literally today, I saw a job posting for a Video Producer that was everything I listed in this paragraph, rolled into one. And they want it to be part-time. #FFS


Anyway. I’ve been working as my church’s editor for a couple weeks, for their weekly livestream of the Sunday morning service (it’s pre-recorded) while the regular guy was on vacation.


No sweat! I was excited for the opportunity. I got to work primarily with the team of musicians who led the service. And there is genuine artistry to editing, in particular, to creating the mood and tone that the service warranted. I’m so proud of the work I did on the two services I edited.


Typically the editor’s job is over when the video is exported and sent to the client. Not this time. I was also in charge of streaming the service, through a complicated setup involving lots of cables, two different hosting services (one to transmit the video, one to send that transmitted video OUT to people live).


Leaving aside the fact that something went wrong with the exporting, which ended up being a nine-hour ordeal of try/fail/review/research online solutions/re-try/fail again/call my editor friends/try again and again/finally succeed, there ended up being a major problem on Sunday morning with the livestream.


The video - not the audio, ONLY the video - would “blink.” Meaning, it would cut to black for an instant and then return. It didn’t do that in my test run, which I did two hours ahead of time. And it didn’t do it for the first 25 minutes of the program. But then it did it constantly - over 100 times - over the course of the following 30 minutes.


It was a waking nightmare.


Because there was nothing I could do to stop it. I checked all of the livestream settings, checked the internet speed, checked every cable I had connected (I even held the cables in place to see if that helped). Nothing I did resolved it.


Which left me with a choice. Leave it like it is or stop the service altogether and TRY to figure it out. That’s barely a choice at all. I left it alone.


And I felt like garbage the rest of the day. I felt the weight of the mistake constantly. I felt like I had let down everyone: the church, the guy who hired me, the band who had worked SO HARD only to be undercut by some know-nothing technician, and myself.

This is my whole point. None of the issues were artistic. They were purely technical; more accurately, technological. My artistry wasn’t my problem. It was how to (literally) DELIVER that art I had helped create that was the issue. It was tangential to my art.


And that feels like the story of my life.

It’s all the tangential stuff that saps my energy and holds me back. In college, I wrote constantly. One semester I was in high-level fiction writing, playwriting, and screenwriting classes, as well as both plays that semester. It was the best.


But I had a problem: I never took the initiative to mount one of my plays or one-acts in my theatre program’s Black Box theatre. It was available to me. All I had to do was do it. But I didn’t. Because it was technical “non-art-creation” and I didn’t want to learn how to do it.

In a very different way, I wasted YEARS of time in L.A. because I was afraid to network. Why? Because I was afraid I’d be labeled a fraud. For not going to film-school. Or not knowing about camera lenses. Or working cheap and not having the right kind of gaffer - or not, at that time, knowing what in the holy hell a gaffer even was. And so I wrote and wrote and wrote and amassed lots of projects that went absolutely nowhere except into a drawer.


Two things helped change that for me. Having a child and getting fired from my day-job (both huge huge blessings that nonetheless come with about a million difficulties). I’m still a bit ashamed, honestly that it took those drastic things to focus my attention. But I could see time running out, and the feeling was now-or-never.


So, what did I do to resolve my “blinking” issue with the livestream video? A LOT.


First, I reached out to all the tech support for both systems involved and figured out that the issue was (likely, not for sure) an encoding issue between when the video went from my computer to this thing called a Sling Studio Hub. Then, since one of the tech support’s was absolutely pathetic, I went over to their Facebook group of users and checked there.

Then, I went back and forth with several people and learned that I could do the entire livestream a different way. I figured out that way, and the next week, I did that.


Are your eyes glazing over? Mine are, and I’m writing it. Because nothing I’m describing is creating art. It’s just…work. Oh, it’s work in the service of art. But I don’t get the same feeling talking about codec settings that I do talking about a script.


I admire the hell out of people who can move seamlessly between the art and the work around the art. And networking is still a little bit difficult for me. But now I simply pretend that I have no choice. I think of going back to the non-artistic day-job. Now there’s some motivation.


Here’s a nice little meta-touch to end on. Once I finish these next few sentences, and this blog is done, I will still need to put it up on my website, format it, find a good picture, come up with a title, etc. It could take 45 minutes or so.

Earlier in my life, it could take a few days to post it, just because I didn’t want to spend that 45 minutes. Now? I’m challenging myself to get it done before dinner is ready. It’s not only because I want to have it done, though there is that. The other, wonderfully surprising thing is: I have so many other things to do, I just don’t have time to waste not-doing something.


A video producer recently said to something that stuck with me: “If you want something to get done, give it to someone who’s busy.”