Archive of posts about Category: filmmaking

How to remove VOCs from your home

I’ve spent the last two years dealing with mold toxicity from living in moldy buildings. In November 2022, I found (after much struggle that I’ll write about later) a mold-free apartment in a brand new building.

The good thing about moving into new construction is that it’s less likely to have mold1.

I quickly discovered the not good thing about new construction: volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

It’s common for people recovering from mold illness to be extra sensitive to chemicals and this manifests in all sorts of fun symptoms that vary by person. I my case, my face and tongue start tingling, my throat tightens, and I get fatigued and anxious. Not a pleasant feeling ever time you walk through your front door.

It took me a few weeks to figure out what was going on. Whenever I left the apartment, I felt better, and my symptoms would light up and then gradually increase the longer I was inside. And man, did it smell like chemicals.

So I went down the rabbit hole (i.e. Reddit) to see what I could do. What follows is a summary of the advice and techniques I discovered in about two weeks of research. I employed these to quickly lower the VOC levels in my indoor air and started feeling better almost immediately.

I’m posting them because most of the articles I’ve found online are not helpful, are missing some key factors of VOC control, or are just plain misleading. I have to give a ton of credit to the pseudonymous valpres on Reddit, Randy at Fike Analytical, one incredible PhD dissertation, and various internet anons.

I’m not a scientist or certified in any of this. I’m making that disclaimer not because I’m recommending anything dangerous, but because there is a possibility that the levels of VOCs are simply so high that it’s unsafe even with the remediation techniques I’m recommending or there’s something other than VOCs in your home that needs to be dealt with in another way — asbestos, radon, mold, a gas leak, carbon monoxide to name a few.

That being said, here’s what I did to get the VOCs under control and feel better within a couple weeks.

What are we dealing with?

VOCs are basically chemicals that are volatile at room temperature, meaning that they have a low boiling point and slowly evaporate into the air at room temperature. And then you breathe them in.

VOCs are in a lot of the things we use or interact with on a daily basis — paint, carpeting, sealants, lacquers, etc. New construction has a lot of them, as does new furniture, new mattresses, new cars, etc.

It’s pretty much impossible to completely avoid them altogether, unless you live in a tent in the woods. Just kidding, the tent has VOCs.

The good news is that they off-gas, or dissipate, meaning that eventually the new sofa you bought with a slightly chemical smell will eventually become less toxic over time as the VOCs evaporate and leave your home through a window, the HVAC system, or a carbon filter (more on filters below).

I’ve read that most VOCs dissipate within 3 to 24 months, depending on the chemical. Don’t quote me on that, but the thing to know is that eventually the VOCs in your home will dissipate on their own. It’s a downhill battle.

But you’re feeling bad now and don’t want to wait 3 to 24 months, so what can you do?

Fresh air

First, you want fresh air flowing into the house.

The easiest way you can open windows on opposite sides of the house to create a cross-breeze (if it’s not too cold where you are).

If you want to speed up the process, get a high-speed fan and have it blow out of one of the windows to increase airflow out.

Fresh air in, toxic air out. Pretty simple.


When I first tackled the problem, I went all-in on fresh air, with a high-speed fan blowing out one window and another blowing in another window. And I felt WAY worse.

Why? Well, when I was doing this in January, the humidity in LA was quite high, around 80% outside.2.

Some more research led me to read “Effect of Relative Humidity on Chemical Off-Gassing in Residences” by the chemical engineer Miriam Nchekwubechukwu Nnadili. Here’s an excerpt of her conclusion:

1. Transient increases in RH [relative humidity] can lead to large (factor of 5 or more) increases in the levels of thermally-stable organic compounds in indoor air. This is evident from the field experimental results for which 86% of the 78 bin analyses (13 events x 6 bins) showed an increase in abundance during humidification. This is consistent with results from the controlled chamber experiments, for which 92% of the bins had an increase in chemical abundance during

2. Off-gassing from household materials and desorption of previously sorbed species appear to be major contributors of chemical emissions during transient increases in RH.

She ran experiments in sealed chambers to detect the increase of VOCs in the air at different humidity levels and found that increased humidity can increase VOC release by a factor of 5 or more.

In other words, you want to keep the indoor humidity level low, unless your goal is to release the gasses as quickly as possible and create an ideal environment for mold.

I personally target an indoor humidity of around 35-40% with a dehumidifier. I bought one that has a pump with a tube that I can run out of a window so I don’t have to empty the bucket every time it fills up (or risk standing water sitting in a dark container when I’m away from home).

Carbon air filters

There’s a lot of confusion out there about air filters and VOCs. The truth, as far as my amateur understanding goes, is that your typical air filter, even one with a HEPA filter, will not do anything to trap and remove VOCs from the air (although they can be great for fine particulates, bacteria, viruses, mold spores, etc.).

To remove VOCs, you need a carbon filter.

There are some consumer-grade air filters that market themselves for VOC removal. Usually, they combine a HEPA filter with a small carbon filter. These devices don’t have enough carbon in them to move the needle — there’s not enough carbon to begin with and and carbon filters fill up very quickly in a high-VOC environment.

I initially experimented with a HealthMate Plus, which has a lot more carbon than a typical consumer air purifier. It did help, but only for a few weeks.

The problem is that carbon filters get saturated quickly and there are much more cost-effective options out there, thanks to the burgeoning cannabis industry.

I bought a TerraBloom 8″ filter + fan and I’ve been very happy with it. The VOC levels in my apartment declined noticeably after installing it, both subjectively in terms of odor and my symptoms my VOC monitor also showed an improvement (more on monitors below).

The aforementioned valpres also recommends Vortex filters.

These filters are marketed to industrial customers but they work just fine in the home and I think the TerraBloom actually looks pretty good, although it’s a bit loud. You can run it on a lower speed (it comes with a variable speed controller) to keep the noise down and extend the life of the filter.

I recommend running them in your bedroom while sleeping and then in whatever room you spend the most time in during the day.

Sometimes, when it’s warm enough to leave my windows open and not too humid, I run a regular fan out of one window to use the natural airflow method and then I just use the carbon filter at night when I want to close the windows.

Carbon filters fill up quickly

Carbon filters saturate very quickly in a high-VOC environment (my first TerraBloom filled up in about 2 weeks after running 24/7).

I admit that I don’t have a scientific way of knowing when a filter is saturated — I guess based on the relative VOC levels shown on my VOC monitor, the level of chemical odor in the apartment, and how I’m feeling.

When the filter saturates, you have two options: you can either replace the filter (the fan doesn’t need to be replaced) or you can try and regenerate the filter by letting it run outside.

I’ve only experimented with regeneration a bit and I don’t think it worked very well because the air was cool and humid when I tried, so I suspect that any off-gassing from the filter was canceled out by moisture capture, but see here for a good discussion of filter regeneration.

You can also extend the life of the filter by running it on a low speed or turning it off when you’re not home.

And the more I’ve employed these techniques, the less important they become — VOCs dissipate naturally and unlike mold, they don’t regenerate, so if you’re circulating fresh air and filtering, the ambient levels of VOCs will gradually go down to a point where I can forget to turn the filter on for a day and not even notice.

I filled up the my first TerraBloom very quickly because the VOCs were really high and I just wanted to get the levels down to something I could tolerate, but since then, I’ve run them at slower speeds. In a year, I expect that I’ll only need to run the filter occasionally or when I buy new furniture.

Keep in mind that high humidity also clogs up carbon filters so there’s another reason to control humidity.

Monitoring VOC levels

Normally, I’d put diagnostic stuff at the top, but the issue here is that consumer-grade VOC monitors aren’t very accurate and may only half a useful life of six months.

I bought a TemTop Air Quality Monitor and while I don’t think the readings are very accurate in absolute terms, I do think there’s some signal in terms of relative levels. That has helped me see if the VOC levels go up or down when I change a filter, open a window, etc.

If it’s scientific precision that you seek, then you can order an at-home test from Fike Analytical. I ordered a test kit from them. They sent me a little pump and a collection test tube, which I set up at home for a few hours and then shipped it off to a lab. When the results came in, the owner spent 45 minutes walking me through every chemical detected, where it might come from, and what to do about it.

Do you need this level of precision?

I think it depends on the situation. I wanted one partly because I wanted to make sure there wasn’t something really toxic that I should know about and partly because I’m just curious about this stuff.

Or maybe you live with someone who thinks your crazy when you say the paint in the house is making you sick and you need hard evidence.3

Reduce chemical exposure

Apart from building materials, there are two major ways you’re likely to bring new sources of VOCs into your home.

The first is furniture — new furniture tends to have paint, flame retardant, lacquers, etc. Some people recommend leaving their new furniture outside for a few days to let it off-gas outside before bringing it in.

I’ve mostly not done this when it’s humid outside because I worry about mold growing in humid conditions. Not sure if that’s a valid fear, but given the choice between mold and VOCs, I’ll always choose VOCs.

Another option is to leave the furniture in a room you don’t spend much time in for a week or two before moving it into your bedroom, living room, etc.

The other way you probably bring VOCs in is through personal care items and cleaning products. There’s a lot of toxic stuff out there and I don’t recommend applying it directly to your skin or spraying it all over your house.

For safe alternatives, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) provides databases of non-toxic personal care products and common household products.

Final thoughts

If you’re on a tight budget, maybe because you just threw out all your worldly possessions because they were contaminated with mycotoxins, you can start with the least expensive methods (opening windows) and then move on to more aggressive solutions as needed.

If you’re lucky enough to live in a low-humidity area, then opening a couple windows and creating a cross-breeze might be all you need.

And VOCs do go away eventually, so things will get better over time on their own. Air filters are expensive, but you might only need them for a few months, until the levels get down to a level where they’re not making you sick.

  1. Less likely, but not guaranteed! There are cases where mold grows in a building, especially in the HVAC system, during construction. 

  2. Most people think of LA as a really dry city because it hardly ever rains, this winter notwithstanding, but the average humidity in LA is 60%

  3. I’ve talked to a dozen people that live in my building and none of them noticed any kind of chemical odor in their apartments, so if you’re really sensitive, you’ll sense things that others don’t. 

Marketing indie films: marketing starts with the product

Epistemic status: These are UNTESTED and speculative assertions on my beliefs about how people choose what to watch, as I think through marketing my first feature film. Thoughtful feedback is welcome.Average films won’t break through.

You can’t out-average Netflix. They have a giant factory for making average films and TV that average people want.

The average person that is sitting at home with average wine mainlining average entertainment products into their eyeballs DOES NOT GIVE A FUCK about your indie movie, especially if it’s average.

So the product can’t be average. It has to be new or smart or different in some way so as to distinguish itself from the existing mass of movies. People who are looking for something new don’t want an average movie.

If you’re Hollywood, you can make a mediocre movie and spend $10-50 million marketing it and convince people to go to it (within limits of course).

Since you have almost no money for marketing, you cannot do this. The film itself must be compelling to generate word of mouth, to get people to share it with their friends.

Therefore, the your film must be remarkable in some way. It must be original or bold or daring or new, or it must have something to say about the culture (that isn’t being said elsewhere). It must be something that is hard to find elsewhere. It must be something that people will want to tell their friends about (see above).

Ideally, it will have some or all of the following:

  • Great writing.
  • Great story.
  • Great characters.
  • Something to say (about the culture or the world).
  • Saying it with style (voice).
  • Cinematography doesn’t matter, but images do.
  • Something new.

More on how to identify and reach an audience later. I invite you to contact me with thoughtful feedback or questions.

Marketing indie films: how do people choose which films to watch?

Epistemic status: These are UNTESTED and speculative assertions on my beliefs about how people choose what to watch, as I think through marketing my first feature film. Thoughtful feedback is welcome.

Most people want the average thing, they don’t want the new or good thing. If they want the new thing, it’s the average new thing, the kind of new thing they already like. They want a new flavor of Oreo, not a new paradigm for consuming flavor.

Most people have high opportunity costs when making entertainment decisions. Many alternatives exist: the known quantity sitcom that can be re-watched for the xth time, the new same safe content, video games, VR, sex1.

The algorithms will not save you.

Most people are not willing to make risky choices for high upside / high chance of failure entertainment decisions. These people, the masses, they’re not your market, ignore them completely.

Spontaneous discovery is almost impossible in a crowded field. Because of the higher time investment, it takes more work to overcome a potential movie viewer’s objections or resistance.

You need to target a smaller group of people. You can call them cinephiles or neophiles2.

People look for signals of quality in their buying/watching decisions:

  • Names involved (known actors or director). Occasionally a known distributor (A24).
  • Critical approval.
  • Festival/gatekeeper approval (must be a name-brand festival: Sundance, Toronto, SXSW, Cannes, Tribeca, Berlin).
  • Word of mouth.
  • Distribution platform***

These are all signals that can convince the right person to watch a film, if you can get in front of them. Signals may increase reach but they are not guaranteed to increase reach.

Names are the most powerful and often enough to sell a movie internationally.

Critical approval provides social proof and aids in the purchase decision, but probably isn’t powerful enough to overcome a bad trailer. Critics are only influential with a small group of movie-watchers.

Critics only mean something if they have an audience OR they write for a publication with brand equity.

Critics with large podcast or online audiences can be influential. Local critics for small publications might look good on the poster but are unlikely to send a lot of people to your movie.

Word of mouth means hearing good things about a movie from friends or people on Twitter or other sources that you trust (with movie recommendations). Word of mouth is essential because it’s free.

What you want: people to watch your film and think “holy fuck, my friends need to see this.”


If your film isn’t inspiring this kind of reaction, then either a) it’s not good enough to generate word of mouth or b) you’re not reaching the right people.

Word of mouth has to do with status and belonging.

When someone recommends something it can raise or lower their status. Recommendations have to do with taste and people who have taste in films recognize that their status is in play when they recommend something.

Word of mouth is also about belonging: people want to share cultural experiences with others. If your film makes people want to talk about the film, then your film will be better with others, i.e. more likely to be shared (“watch this so we can talk about it”).

If enough people within a subgroup are talking about something, a film can exponentially spread as everyone wants to be part of the conversation. When this happens on a nationwide level, you get Game of Thrones.

Focus on a small subgroup or subculture or a narrow audience band.

***Distribution. Distribution has lots of ***asterisks*** around it because it CAN be a signal of quality or it can be just a means of transmitting data. Filmmakers sometimes get confused and think that distribution is marketing and that’s why distribution is dangerous.

Most distributors do not do any marketing.

The distributors that do do marketing are not sitting around thinking about innovative ways to market your indie film. They are going through well-worn paths that sometimes work and sometimes don’t. They have a portfolio of films and they are playing the odds and hoping for a breakout.

That being said… A film landing on HBO is a signal of quality. A film landing on iTunes is not. Netflix is somewhere in the middle — it’s certainly prestigious but it’s not a guarantee that people will watch. The thing is, your microbudget indie isn’t getting onto a prestige platform unless it has a lot of the other quality signals already.

There’s another factor that’s a little different: genre.

Genre brings a set of expectations about the story/style/tone that certain audiences will immediately recognize and be interested in. Some neophiles are only looking for the new film within x genre (the new horror).

Horror is the genre with the most devoted and passionate fans and thus the easiest to work within. Pure drama (i.e. drama without any genre conventions) is the absolute hardest to market (even Hollywood has trouble doing it with huge names and huge budgets).3

Ideally, you would have all of these factors working in your favor.

I invite you to contact me with thoughtful feedback or questions.

  1. Just kidding, the only people who still have sex do it quickly to get it out of the way so they can go back to watching TV 

  2. Even these narrow bands should not be targeted en masse — the person looking for the new horror film is different from the one looking for the new comedy or doc, and even those genre-level bands are probably far too broad to target meaningfully. 

  3. Also, a lot of ‘dramas’ are quite boring and completely lacking in any actual theatrical drama. They’re just dramas in the sense that they’re not comedies or thrillers or whatever, and I’m sorry if you happen to spend 90 minutes with a dramaless ‘drama’ I feel your pain 

How much should indie films spend on marketing?

Most low-budget film producers, we typically reserve about $100 for marketing. In other words, whatever, if anything, is left over at the end.

It struck me the other day that a Hollywood film will probably spend 40-50% of the production budget on marketing.

So a $100 million movie will have $40-50 million spent on marketing. I don’t have actual figures so I might be well off but I think I’m in the ballpark there.

The equivalent would be a $100k indie film spending $40-50k on marketing. I don’t think anyone does that — maybe some distributors?

The marketing plan for most low-budget films seems to be:

  1. Get into a good festival
  2. Get a distributor
  3. Profit

The problem with this is that the distributor might not do any real marketing. They might not even know how to or they might just not care. We could argue about whether this is a good business strategy, but it’s almost certainly not a good strategy for the individual filmmaker.

The alternative, I think, is to do the marketing yourself. To figure out who will want to see your film and how to reach them and then how to create tension so that they want to pay money to watch your film.

I say “I think” because I haven’t done it yet, I haven’t tested it yet. I don’t know if it works. But I do know that spending a ton of money to reach a narrow audience is neither smart nor feasible.

So, how to spend $5k to get back $7.5k? And how to scale that to $50k or $100k?

If we can figure this out, we can make movies sustainably. We’ll see.

What is suspense?

Epistemic status: This is an attempt to write down what I think I know and understand about suspense — it’s a bit of a work in progress and I’ll update it as I think about it more. I’m writing it down and putting it out into the internet because it forces me to clarify and organize my thinking around this thing which I think is essential and yet often overlooked when it comes to how we talk about how to write.

For whatever reason, suspense seems to be thought of as a genre in of itself or a genre element reserved mainly for thrillers and mysteries.

For me, it’s an essential element of storytelling, something baked into the foundation of a good story — a prerequisite, a necessary condition.

Suspense is about keeping the reader wanting to keep on reading (or watching).

If boredom is the death of a story and interest is the opposite, then suspense is the emotional state of the interested reader or viewer.

Creating suspense means to put the audience in a suspended state, an incomplete state.

Human beings feel anxiety or tension when something is uncertain, undecided, or mysterious.

You can think of suspense as a kind of open loop. When you open the loop, the audience feels suspense that is not resolved until the loop is closed.

Suspense is an emotional state that can only be resolved by finding out what happens, by answering the question, by closing the loop.

Stories make a kind of promise.

When a loop is opened in a story, there’s an implicit promise that it will be closed by the end of the story. If you don’t close the loop, the audience will leave with unresolved tension, and possibly anger at being misled, or contempt at having the loop/promise closed in a way that is unsatisfying (deus ex machina or just shitty writing).

An unresolved loop can compel the audience to return next week (as in a cliffhanger) or just drive them nuts (as in an ending that doesn’t resolve enough).

Suspense is created by drawing the audience’s attention to something.

A woman looking at a tree feels nothing, but if you tell her that the tree could fall at any moment, she will be in a state of suspense: her mind will be focused on the possibility of the tree falling and the state will not be resolved until the tree falls or something happens to resolve her suspended state (e.g. convincing her that you were just kidding or that actually the tree won’t fall, of putting up a support to prevent the tree from falling).

To create suspense, you have to draw the audience’s attention to some uncertainty, mystery, or undecided outcome.

Two detectives looking at a dead body: one says that it’s on overdose. The other one says “no, I think it’s murder.”

Creating suspense similar to positioning in advertising or marketing, where you can change how someone feels about something just by pointing something out or posing them a question. Suspense has this in common with marketing: it’s about tension, tension that propels people towards action (buy this thing, keep reading, keep watching, etc.)

Sports have suspense built in naturally: who will win the game? Will the shot go into the goal?

But unlike stories, sports are only suspenseful in real time. If you know the outcome, watching a game is boring. How many people re-watch their favorite games vs. how many people re-watch their favorite movies?

[I’m still trying to figure out why stories are so different from sporting events when it comes to spoilers. People have been watching Hamlet for centuries and we all know what happens and how it happens, but there’s still something rewarding about going through it again.]

Sports are illustrative in another way: the uncertainty of an outcome isn’t enough to create suspense. You have to care who wins. The biggest, most improbably comeback in cricket is utterly boring to me. I can’t care about it, no matter how much I try. You couldn’t pay me to care about it.

So, stories need to open up a suspense loop, but they also need to make you care about what’s going to happen.

I think that people over-emphasize the role of character in how much we care. It’s not that character doesn’t matter, it’s just that it isn’t essential to creating a compelling story.

Certain story genres have suspense built in — mystery, thrillers, noirs. That’s why we associate suspense with those genres, but dramas and comedies and everything else need to keep the audience interested.

A body is found and the detective says it’s a murder but you don’t know who committed it.

But suspense isn’t confined to media — we use it all the time when we tell each other stories or gossip:

Someone says “did you hear about Jane?” or “did you hear about Jane’s relationship?” This can hook someone into a conversation or story much better than saying “Jane got divorced.”

A story about Jane’s divorce can have many suspense loops open.

The loops can be chained together or nested.

A chained loop goes like this:

  • Did you hear about Jane? [No, what happened?]
  • She got a divorce, but you won’t believe why. [Now I want to know why + the details].
  • Well it started when her husband found a box of fireworks in her garage. [Opens multiple new loops: why were there fireworks? Who put them there? How did her husband find them? How could this possibly lead to a divorce?]
  • And so on.

(a skilled storyteller brings a lot more than suspense — they omit superfluous details, they pace it well, they tell it with style, pick a good subject. etc.)

Some techniques for opening up a loop::

  • A question the audience wants answered (where’s he going, why is she in a hurry)
  • A puzzle.
  • A mystery.
  • Something unexplained (the ghost at the beginning of Hamlet).
  • An unexplained fact or phenomenon.
  • Any uncertain outcome.

A basic chain for a bank robbery story might look like this:

  1. Who is she?
  2. Why is she talking to this other woman?
  3. Why does she need to talk to her in private?
  4. Are they going to rob the bank?
  5. How are they going to get into the bank?
  6. How will they disable the security?
  7. How will they break into the vault?
  8. How will they get the money out?
  9. Will the police come?
  10. Will they escape the police?
  11. Will they get to keep the money?
  12. Will they still be friends after this?

Related: Editing and Forwards.

Deepfake casting

If you can create a deepfake of basically any actor, couldn’t you cast a film this way?

Instead of bringing actors in to read sides in an audition room, you could film a prototype of the scene with a random actor and then try out various different actors in the role, using AI to superimpose their faces and recreate their voices.

Then you could cast the best one.

Of course you could make a whole movie this way.

It’s not legal (or won’t be) but presumably you could get away with deepfake casting more easily than you could get away with making a whole movie this way, as it would never be released to the public.

I don’t know if I like that these things are possible, but they are interesting to think about.

Stories as maps

A story is like a map.

A map is not the territory and a story is not exactly what happened.

A map erases certain features to bring others into relief.

A story is condensed.

Because it’s condensed, it has a POV, a POV about what to include and what to elide.

A story creates meaning like a map, by picking the events, their order, and their connections, just like a cartographer chooses the scale, center, and what to include on a map.

A story starts somewhere and ends somewhere, and these are not arbitrary points.

A story can be true and a lie or it can be fiction and deeply true.

A good map helps us understand the territory at the level of detail that’s important to us.

A good story helps us understand humans, cultures, relationships, or societies at the level of detail that’s important to us.

Marketing, Drama, and Tension

Ever since reading This is Marketing by Seth Godin, I’ve been thinking a lot about the similarities between marketing and dramatic storytelling.

There’s a flatness to a lot of marketing. It doesn’t move anyone. It looks like marketing (or advertising), but it’s not really marketing. It’s not engaging. It fails to create tension.

(I’m distinguishing here between advertising, which is one form of delivering a marketing message and marketing, which is more akin to persuasion and not necessarily commercial in nature)

Stories can be this way too. Have you ever read a screenplay that just. feels. so. hard. to. get. through? It’s not just “I’m not enjoying this”, it’s “my brain does not want to keep reading and I don’t know why it’s so hard to just keep reading.”

If there’s no tension, then you don’t want to know what happens next. A story without tension, without forward motion, is worse than nothing at all. I’d rather stare up at the sky and watch the clouds pass by than sit through a movie with a story that I don’t care about.

Anyway, it feels like there is something important here, that stories and marketing both rely on the same mechanism to capture attention or to propel action.

Tension moves a story forward. It makes us want to turn the page. It makes us interested in the product or an idea, it makes us want to purchase something or learn more about a political candidate or change our mind about something.

And it feels like discovering a secret, because once I saw it, I could see something that had been hidden all along.

Marketers get caught up in tactics, without thinking about how to move people. Dramatic writers (i.e. screenwriters and playwrights) create series of events that may be connected, but have no propulsion. No reason to care, no reason to want to know what happens next.

So they look like a screenplay but they’re empty in a way. Just because there’s a series of scenes doesn’t mean there’s drama. Just because an ad is displayed on Facebook doesn’t mean it’s marketing.

But we don’t talk about how to create tension. Sometimes we talk about structure or acts, but rarely about “how do you keep someone interested?” (more on this later).

Tension is value-neutral, an essential component of these practices. It can be used to sell harmful products and it can be used to keep you watching an empty TV show.

We’ve all made a purchase we regretted or finished a TV show or movie or book and felt empty at the end, propelled by tension to an unsatisfying or cheap ending.

Reasons to watch movies

To go on an adventure (without personal risk).

To learn about a new culture or country; to see how other people live.

To have something to talk about with your friends.

To challenge your ideas or worldview, or to confirm it.

To laugh and have a good time.

To be scared.

To cry.

To feel understood.

To argue about something.

To escape the pain of your present life.

To participate in the culture, to be “in the know” or “in the conversation.”

To raise your status.

To develop taste.

To learn about fashion.

To rebel.

To be inspired.

To sit in an air-conditioned dark room for a while.

To distract yourself.

To share an experience with friends.

To have something to recommend to others (raise your status).

To be part of a group (“people like us watch movies like this”).

To connect with other humans.

To have something to talk about.

To have and accomplish a goal (“I’m going to watch all of the films of Ingmar Bergman.”)

To learn how to make your own movies.

To learn how not to make your own movies.

To find a new identity or a new way to live.

To watch an actor that you like watching.

To be completely engaged and lost in a story.

To remind ourselves to be more x or y.

To have something to hate or dislike or define ourselves against.

To critique or learn to be critical.

To give notes or help someone who is making the movie.

To understand someone else (through the movies they like).

To get turned on / in the mood for sex (alone or with partner(s)).


Drama / melodrama / comedy / farce

I love this definition of the big four genres, by Sidney Lumet in Making Movies:

In drama, the characters should determine the story.

In melodrama, the story determines the characters. Melodrama makes the story line its highest priority, and everything is subservient to story.

For me, farce is the comic equivalent of melodrama and comedy the comic equivalent of drama.

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