Whatever else happens, you made a movie… Nobody can take that away. A hundred years from now, when we're all dead and gone, people will be watching this fucking thing.
– Tony Soprano to his nephew (whom he murders over this movie in a few episodes)
So I made a 90-second animated, um, I guess it's a blog post. I don't know about a hundred years from now, but I proudly invite you to watch the fucking thing right now:
I hear that it's considered classy for animators, filmmakers and such to let their work stand on its own, either refraining from commentary or making it vague. However, anxious to secure my spot in eternity, I decided to rush my immortal masterpiece out the door, so I cut everything I could.
I then realized that I left out a delicate point which, despite my embarrassment, I must mention. Luckily, typing is much easier than animating, so the following afterthought was quick to put down . Here goes.
The short isn't exactly a documentary, but real-life me did switch to a part-time job to free some time for animating, drawing, etc. I figured this mundane little step was a good topic for a starting filmmaker because it turned out to be surprisingly controversial. Here are some of the reactions I received:
- "So you finally got fed up with the job?"
- "Part-time? But everyone here needs you!"
- "Wow, I'm jealous! I want to work less, too. They pay you the same, right?" No, they pay less, I said. "Oh. Ha-ha. Work less, get less. Interesting!"
- "You should really work more, not less, while you're young. Futurists predict a huge global pension crisis, so save for your retirement!"
- "I doubt this will fly with the big deadline coming. Who's gonna do all the work? Not me!" (This guy works part-time himself – very productively.)
- "Doesn't your wife object?" (Actually, my light table is Rachel's gift. I don't know when/if I'd ever get one on my own.)
These comments suggest that many people want to work less, but something is keeping them from doing it. I can certainly relate to that. It took me 10 years to decide to work part-time – and then 5 more years to actually do it.
Why is it so hard?
My own reasons mostly revolve around money. Where I live, money is much easier to make programming than animating (good luck even finding a half-stable job working on animated features.)
Hence "I went into programming for the money", as I said in the short – as I always say. And initially I figured I'd work all I can and retire early – the opposite of working part-time and animating in my spare time ("settling for a fraction of the dream"). And you've just seen how I changed my mind.
But there's another thing, which I usually don't say and which I must reluctantly admit. You see, I came for the money, and then I started liking the getting paid part.
What's the difference between money and getting paid? There's a world of difference!
Winning a lottery is a way to obtain money without getting paid for a service. And spending your wage on designer clothes is a way to get paid without having any money left. The difference is this:
- Money lets you buy things – food, living space, spare time, etc. It's about options.
- Getting paid tells you the value of your service to whoever paid you. It's about achievement.
I like getting paid, I must admit despite the embarrassment.
Note that I'm not ashamed in the slightest to like money (options) and to have chosen a profession with the sole purpose of maximizing income.
Some people believe that you can't be happy doing something you don't love – and that you can't be any good at it, hence you won't make that much money, either. I disagree.
I'll tell you who my role model is, as a computer programmer. It's neither Bill Gates nor Richard Stallman. My role model is Alec Guinness, whom you probably remember as Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars. Wikipedia says:
In letters to his friends, Guinness described the film as "fairy tale rubbish" <…>
He was one of the few cast members who believed that the film would be a box office hit; he negotiated a deal for 2% of the gross royalties <…>
Lucas and fellow cast members … have spoken highly of his courtesy and professionalism, both on and off the set. Lucas <said> that Guinness contributed significantly to achieving completion of the filming.
Here's a man working on something he disliked because it paid – and delighting his target audience and colleagues alike. To me it shows that "extrinsic motivation" – money – is a perfectly good primary motivation, contrary to some researchers' conclusions.
I'm in it for the money – hence, I'll never get bored and lose interest, as long as there's money to be made. I'll dutifully work on the unpleasant parts necessary to get things actually done (and get paid). Not liking programming that much, I try to keep my programs short and easy to maintain and extend – so I can program less.
These are all desirable traits – and not everyone genuinely loving programming has them. Think about it. Who's the better henchman – the psychopath murdering for the thrill, or the coldblooded killer who's in it for an early retirement? Same thing here.
I'm your perfect henchman. Pay me, give me some time alone with your computers, and when you come back, you'll find them doing your bidding. Of this I am not ashamed.
Recently, however, I noticed that I'm no longer the coldblooded henchman I used to be, that I started to enjoy the thrill of the kill for its own sake. And this I cannot admit without blushing.
That's what getting paid does to the weak-minded. It warped my value system. The phases of my transition – or should I say my moral decay – went something like this:
- I program because they pay me.
- Programming is good because they pay me.
- Programming is good.
- Programming is good! I think I'll go program right now. Or read about it. Or write something about it. All in my spare time.
And there you have it. "Achievement" has been redefined to mean "that thing you get paid for".
This is how I ended up with a website dedicated largely to programming. Then a programming blog on the site and a similar blog elsewhere. Then came the ultimate downfall: open-source programs on GitHub, written during evenings and weekends.
And I don't regret the writing. Keeping readers' attention on my very dry programming-related subjects is a worthy challenge for any starting storyteller.
But programming for free? Me? If you're good at something, never do it for free! Oh, how the weak-minded have fallen.
Sometimes you need to hit rock bottom to begin rising. So it was with me. Realizing that I've just programmed for free for several weekends in a row made me think. Hard.
"I can't believe you," I said to myself. "All this money-chasing at least made some sense. But programming for free? Why not draw in your spare time instead? What's wrong with you?"
"Not so fast," said self. "For free or not, at least here you are doing something you're good at. You know you're good – you get paid for it! Would they pay you for drawing? Not so soon. Maybe never. Even if you're any good. In fact you'll never know if you're any good. Not if you're never paid. Nor if you're paid badly, which happens all the time in those arty parts of the world, even to the best. Why not stick to things you're good at – that you know you're good at?"
Could you believe this guy? Well, I wouldn't have any of that.
"You shameless, hypocritical, baiting-and-switching COWARD," I screamed at self at the top of my lungs. "You always said programming was for the money – to buy time, to buy that bloody creative freedom you kept chattering about! And now you say I should keep programming because I got good at it? But of course I got good – I've been doing it all this time! I could have gotten just as good at drawing – I still can – if I have the time!"
"And you say that now when I can afford some spare time," I went on, "I should regardless stick to what I'm good at, which by now is programming? Are you hinting that I won't ever draw very well? Is that why you suggested a career in programming in the first place – because you didn't believe I could draw? Was that chanting about needing money one big lie all along? Tell me, you lying bastard! I'm gonna -"
"OK, OK, chill, man, CHILL!" Self looked scared and unsettled. He clearly didn't see it coming. Now he was looking for some way to appease me. "You know," said self, "maybe you're right. Remember how you're always proud of taking a long-term view? Of how you care today about things 5, even 10 years ahead?"
I smiled smugly. Indeed I was proud of my long-term-centered, strategic thinking. Bob Colwell – the legendary computer architect – once said that it's the architect's duty to think about the long term, because nobody else will. I so identified with that. (Colwell and I are both computer architects, you see – just, um, of different calibers.)
"Well," said self, "you should be proud. Too many lose sight of the future because of today's small but pressing worries!"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah." I was losing my patience. "Thanks but no thanks for your brown-nosing. Listen, are you playing bait and switch on me again? What does this have to do with drawing?"
"But that's the point – it's the same thing," self exclaimed, "it's about long-term thinking! Sure, in the short term, maybe you're better at programming than drawing. But keep practicing and yes, of course you'll get good at drawing! Use your favorite superpower – your ability to imagine the future vividly, to practically live there – to overcome the temptation to stick to your comfort zone! Secure a better future today! Be the shrewd guy investing in a little unknown startup – yourself the would-be animator – to reap great benefits down the road! Be -"
"I get it. That's what I said though, isn't it? Let's practice – let's draw in the spare time."
"Sure. Sure! You're right," said self submissively. "I'm actually helping you, see? I'm telling you how to use your strengths to take the plunge!"
"Thaaaanks. You know what? We'll work 20% less hours every week to get some more spare time."
"What?! But, the money -"
"SHUT UP. Shut up for your own good. I made you enough money."
"How much is enough?" asked self.
Now he really got me worked up.
"How much is enough, he dares to ask?! How come you never told me? I was toiling for you year after year. When did you plan to give me some rest?"
"Well…" mumbled self. Obviously he had no answer. I should have known all along!
"Nothing is ever enough for you, isn't it?.. Well, listen up. We'll work 20% less hours every week. And every time you whine about the money, which you will, I'll say – sure, that spare time was an expensive present. Indeed we shouldn't waste it idly surfing the net. Let's draw! See? I'll use your bitching and complaining about the money to get myself to draw!" – I shrieked and cackled evilly.
"That's it," self whispered, "he lost his marbles. Talking to himself, too. Oh my oh my oh -"
"Shut your lying mouth. I'm not done. You'll find us a weekly drawing class. Also we're going to the zoo every week. I'll draw animals, and if you say nasty things about my drawings, we'll keep going anyway. Don't count on my tendency to follow inspiration rather than routine. I know how you can keep killing inspiration for months on end with your snarky remarks. Guess what – I'll still go. And -"
"OK, OK. OK! We'll go, we'll spend 20% of your salary so you can draw those bloody animals. Just calm down already. Sheesh!"
And thus my self unconditionally capitulated, and we lived happily ever after. Thus ends my treatment of that delicate point – the difference between wanting money and wanting to get paid.
Is the spare time – the most expensive gift I ever got myself – worth its price? You bet!
 When I say this was "quick to put down", I mean that it took hours, and pages upon pages of words written to be thrown away. (I accidentally published a draft showing all that wasted effort.) It's still way quicker than animating…