Thursday, June 25, 2009

Rossio's Million Moments or Why You Must Have Absurdly High Standards in Life

I really thought today was going to be my day off. My mind needs a break, I thought. Five straight days of writing is ENOUGH.

Well, so much for that. It'll happen, just not today. I've already had two more ideas for posts, and that was before Michael Jackson died...

Not going to linger here, but quickly - yes, I guess it's sad Jackson's dead. I don't know, I more think it's sad he was a raging chi-mo (child molester) who went insane. But more importantly, here goes the media. Prepare to hear about this story for the next forever. It'll start with the - "Oh my god, he was so great, we're so sad!", quickly turn into the - "Wow, what a tortured soul, poor man", then head into the - "Well, he made those decisions, he's was pretty fucked up, so let's all take a moment before we deify him", then finish with the - "Ah, but life goes on, and new people will replace him! Let's move forward everyone!" There will be slews of commentary, anecdotes, and tributes until they've sold every last newspaper (I think we need a new phrase - greatly increased their website hits counter?), and milked the loss for all it's worth.

I'm sick of it already. It'll get in the way of important news and CURRENT events. Because, his death is no longer current. It was current this morning. Now, it's over. More things are happening CURRENTLY, at every moment of every day, that need to be talked about.

And all I can say for Farrah Fawcett! ZINGA! (not 'cause she's dead, you know, just 'cause no one'll remember this day for her death...I'm going to hell...)

ANYWAY, onto today's post.

Terry Rossio is a Hollywood screenwriter. You just might have seen some movies he and his writing partner have written (Shrek, Pirates of The Caribbean, Alladin, and others)...let's just say he's had some hits. He also writes a website:, a fantastic resource for young screenwriters, and it is clear that he is both an extraordinarily smart man, and a person who cares deeply for artistic quality. Though some of his movies are pretty shitty (Godzilla, Treasure Planet), he does a pretty good job of explaining why. It's an important lesson to aspiring screenwriters: if you're working with the studios, you don't get artistic control. The suits do, and they want to sell tickets, not make great movies.

One of Rossio's columns is a list of thoughts about life, aphorisms that he himself has written. A lot of them are pretty great, but one stood out in particular...I hope good old Terry is all right with me using it here:

"Each experience comes at the expense of a billon simultaneous others, so thank goodness we lack the imagination to have a clue as to the enormity of what we miss.”

I will refer to this as "Rossio's Million Moments." I understand neither the world "million" or "moment" appears in this aphorism, but it sounds better than "Rossio's Billion Experiences"... if it bothers you, you can munch on a nice steaming plate of my ballsack.

At first I just liked Rossio's Million Moments at face value. Presenting life as not a series of things we do, but things we don't do, unimaginable other experiences. But after letting it fester in my head brain, some pretty big ramifications from this sentence presented themselves to me.

Rossio, I believe, is lying. He is playing with his audience (maybe even with himself) and either on purpose, or inadvertantly, handing a writer the single best advice they can be given. Let me explain...

Rossio claims we don't have the imagination. But I think he thinks we actually do. We're humans, we have the power to choose one thing instead of many other things. It's how we're different than other animals. And these choices are not created equal...they have different ramifications for everyone involved. If I buy a Bowflex, I will get a bill in the mail and I can pay it or not. These are two simultaneous moments to choose from. If I don't pay it, I will probably lose my Bowflex, but I'll have money for other things. If I pay it, I'll have less money, but get to work on my chiseled physique. Because presumably that's why I bought the thing! I wanted IT! Therefore paying for it, to me, is the better option. (Ok, that was a sloppy example, but I hope you get my point...some decisions are better than others...:)

This basic decision making applies to EVERYTHING (suprisingly, many people are piss poor at it for some crazy reason...another post), but I will start by applying it to two of my favorite things, art and humans. This is where the second part of the title comes into play, because I believe that by heeding Rossio's words, it's not that one SHOULD make the best choice, it's that one MUST DEMAND the best choice be made.

ART: When a writer sets out to write a movie, he must come up with beats, or moments that will play out in his story. Scenes where characters do or say things, and things happen to them. When a painter paints, he must decide what to paint, etc. Composers, poets, whatever, anyone who creates...

Now, when one starts trying to create great art, they find out that they must work hard. That they may be talented, able to come up with some decent things right out of the gun, draw pretty well. Create things people like with little to no effort. However, you quickly learn that you have limitations, habits, and pitfalls, and that you need to set yourself up for greatness, that it won't just find you.

So you find out you need to re-write. Or re-draw. You need to go through what you've made, and decide if there's a better MOMENT, or character, or picture, or idea. Rossio said that every moment comes at the expense of a billion others. So as an artist, you must find the best moment. This means you must try things, tens of things, hundreds or thousands of things if need be. Because you can. Because there are limitless options for every moment. In this way, you will create greatness.

Example: Up vs. The Hangover. (Sorry if you've haven't seen them...if you haven't, just insert any two movies that are popular, one that's actually good, one that isn't.) Two big movies this summer, enjoyed by lots of people. I saw both, and I think they exemplify this idea. Up has found moment after moment, and drawn fascinating connections between them (the old man has tennis balls on his walker that later get used to ward off dogs). They clearly took the time to try many different things for each beat in the story and only settled on the right moment when it was pretty unanimously decided to be great, thus creating a very good to great story. Because this is what happens in great art. This is what seperates the Beatles and Radioheads from, well, shitty music. They aren't happy to just have a "good" song. They pour everything into every moment of every composition, making sure they're extraordinary.

Now, The Hangover was a very "funny" summer movie. I laughed. Hard at times. But it was just too fucking easy. To me, it was clear they settled on quick ideas, didn't do their homework, didn't allow time to really find the best moment. It's a Vegas comedy, you better bring something new to the table...Is Mike Tyson truly the funniest thing you could think of? The movie reeked of cheap laughs...easy comedy like a "scary tiger" or "crazy police" (It also had one of my worst enemies...what I like to call, the "Uber Moron". One character - Zack Galifanakis here - is designed to be unnaturally stupid so that when he says ridiculous things, the other guys make fun of him, and we laugh as an audience because we agree, what he's saying is stupid! Unfortunately, that's actually just the writers writing idiotic dialogue...the character isn't truthful, he doesn't exist.) By allowing a mediocre product to go to theatres, the makers of this movie said, "As long as people come through the door and laugh, it's ok to be lazy, because greatness isn't what we're after, it's the dollars!" They could have made something special and illuminating, historically funny, but couldn't have cared less.


HUMANS - Ever wonder why you like some people and not other people? Why that one guy is so annoying, but that other friend is really cool? Here's my theory. People that you like pick better moments. This is an active choice. When we're presented with a situation, we can act differently. There is a reason why some people are well liked and others are not. Well liked people actively pick make better decisions on how to act, pick better moments. They don't just go with their instinct, they stop and decide their next course of action. By surrounding yourself with people who choose moments that agree with your sense of right and wrong, sense of what's cool and what's shitty, you are saying that that person is a better moment chooser.

So what does this all mean? It means, you must have absurdly high standards for the choices being made around you. For your paintings, politicians, movies, music, beer, cleaning supplies, EVERYTHING. Because everything is not created equal. You have one chance to live life, to surround yourself with objects, people, and ideas, they might as well be the best ones. Some things are created by those with willingness to imagine better options, and those things are better. Don't be satisfied if that person is "nice enough", or that movie is "funny enough", or you're "happy enough". You are a human, you are the first species to have the power to do what Rossio says you can't: Imagine the choices you're not making. You have control, the power to make different choices, and if you start imagining and making better ones, you will be happier and have better people around you. They'll be happier, because you're cooler, it's one big contagious happy disease, and everyone wins.

Because the point is, after all, for us to maximize the happiness. Kudos to Rossio.


Aaron Sydney Golden


  1. So, hard hitting question of the day:

    As a funk enthusiast (or perhaps, just a guy who likes funk music but doesn't want to be known as a funk enthusiast), how do you feel about Michael Jackson's music? Does it meet the expectations of high-quality you've expressed in this post?

  2. Love it. Mad funky. I've always been down with his music...I just thought he was a lady growing up...

  3. the choices...ohhh the choices of every moment, brilliant and true that each, you hope, is the best choice of moment, and brilliant. surround yourself by other excellent chooser non-settling sorts. however, tomorrow i shall delve more into my instinctual choice self...meisner class. will be interesting. sweet blog.