I just returned from a great vacation. A few days before leaving I got my Cinema Editor publication ("The Television Issue") in the mail, so I stuffed it in my carry-on. I wanted something interesting to read on the flight. Instead I spent the entire air time absorbed in bad movies because the in-flight video players had a selection of schlock to choose from. I happily settled in and watched films I would never normally pay my hard earned 12 or 15 bucks to see at the theater while I loaded up on rubbery plane food and a couple cheap single serving wine bottles. On my way home from vacation, however, I took the high road. Well, I did watch a couple silly movies, but in between I took time to read. When I get my Cinema Editor magazine, I usually start from page one and read it through from cover to cover over the course of multiple subway rides. Since I had hours to burn in this particular situation, I ended up reading most of it in one sitting. In this edition, the article that gave me the most food for thought was Vincent LoBrutto's (writer and EditFest NY moderator!) Boxed In or How the DVD-TV Boxed Set Liberated Viewers from Designated Time Slots and Electronic Taping Systems, But Trapped Them into a Marathon Weekend Screening an Entire Season of a Network or Cable Series. The article is about just that, but also addressed much more. (a good read outside of my sidetracked blog here which doesn't cover the main subject his article)
Mr. LoBrutto writes, "In the seminal years of television part of the intensity of the viewing experience was the awareness that the viewing public had one opportunity to watch a given show. It was possible to see a show again (or for the first time) in summer reruns if the networks re-aired the program." Considering how much of my time is spent attending screenings, watching DVDs, downloading episodes and just generally sitting in front of a screen like I am now, Mr. LuBrotto's statement gave me something to think about.
As a kid I remember intense anticipation and viewing experiences of certain television programming. It was an especially important aspect of the holidays. I usually caught the standard classics such as The Wizard of Oz and A Wonderful Life and kitch favorites like the Rankin/Bass stop motion animated productions of Year Without a Santa Claus, Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer and The Little Drummer Boy. Naturally later in life when those movies and beloved nostalgic shows like this came out on DVD, I ordered them immediately with ideas of how great it will be to have these gems at my finger tips. Couldn't be more wrong. I did watch Year Without a Santa Claus over the holidays the first year I had it. Haven't watched the others. I have a special collectors DVD with booklet and fancy cardboard box for The Wizard of Oz. I have yet to put it in the player. Haven't even looked at the booklet. I rarely schedule time to sit down for a television show either. I have followed Damages, Lost, Breaking Bad, Weeds, Mad Men and more, but have no idea when any of those shows air. I download all of them from iTunes. Figuring out when they're on and carving out a specific time period to devote to watching television requires too much advanced planning and commitment anymore... apparently.
I have come to the conclusion that knowing I have this media waiting for me on the closet shelf or just a download away actually makes me less likely to ever watch it or watch with full focus. Even when I've come across the wonderful land of Oz on television I cruise right on by. Since I have it on DVD, I can watch it any old time, so I should look to view something I don't have in the home movie collection. Every once in awhile I'll take out a DVD or (gasp) a VHS to enjoy, but find if I'm watching it by myself I have to make a concerted effort to sit down and watch it from beginning to end without breaking to multi-task. After all I can re-watch or return to it any old time. The curse of living in today's world, I suppose. Obviously when I attend a movie theater, the film has my full attention, but when at home, I might be on the computer while half watching something from Netflix or I might be on the elliptical at the gym catching an episode of Mad Men that I downloaded onto my iPhone. Sometimes I'll even opt for crap programming because I know it doesn't require real attention. If I miss some of it, no loss really. But what does that say about my current attention span? I doubt it's aiding it any.
I am a traditionalist at heart, but modern times has resulted in modern focus, which isn't what it used to be I'm afraid. In my copious in-flight reading (between crappy movies I fell asleep to) I also came across an article in USA Today about Alzheimer's Disease, by Sharon Jayson, and what contributes to memory issues. According to Ms. Jayson the contributors to retention problems are aging, stress, lack of sleep, distractions, inattention and disease. I fall into more of those categories than not. I imagine most people could and distractions and inattention are the big ones in my case. And if I'm going to admit to inattention, I'd have to admit that it's not just a lack of focus on media. Life in general is full of multi-tasking and fractions of what has the potential to be complete thoughts. I mean I don't think I'm dealing with ADD, but I am more distracted by life's daily activities than ever. I do sit by myself and watch or read something all the way through in one sitting. It's just that before the World Wide Web and all these choices, I would more often than not focus on one thing at a time. Of course, I still get into my work and loose track of time because I like what I do, but I'm addressing viewing time outside of my job for the most part.
That's why vacations are vital, especially if done right. By right I mean giving downtime a little focus. Vacations are great for getting away from it all, learning about other cultures and also great for relaxing. Relaxing as in not thinking about the list of things that need to get done. By not checking email or the cell phone every day. By giving full attention to the moment at hand and the people who inhabit it. Avoiding multi-tasking and half-assed listening is key to this relaxing activity.
Maybe an editor shouldn't admit to feeling good about dropping out of the electronic world for a couple weeks (okay, I did check my email and cell phone twice) and focusing on the real one, but I consider it a good thing nonetheless. Besides focusing on one thing at a time is a good exercise for avoiding forgetfulness. It said so in the article. I remember. Also, it has been said that art imitates life and life imitates art. If that's the case and you happen work in the business of telling stories, it seems essential to be an active participant in the real life world (hint: that's the one that exists outside the virtual and digital one) or there's a risk of loosing touch and thereby loosing the ability to translate life into human-to-human connectable and intimate stories. That is a fate no editor wishes for. Vacationing highly recommended.