Book Review: Creativity, Inc

 

Every once in a while you come across a book you would never attempt to read but for some stupid reason you do, and you are so thankful you did. This is one of those times.

While researching material on writing, I came across a recommendation for a book, and I kind of scratched my head. This was a book on business, and there was just no way I would read a book on business – my eyes would glaze in the first page, the same way they do if someone is talking actuarial tables or student loan forms. What could such a book have to do with writing? It just so happened the library had a copy I was able to grab. And that book, despite being a couple of years old (2014), is the best book I have read so far this year.

Creativity, Inc. is written by Ed Catmull,  who was part of the driving force behind Pixar Studios, the film company known for making ground-breaking and award-winning (and record-breaking, with more than 14 Billion dollars in revenue) animated films, such as Toy Story, Monsters,Inc, A Bug’s Life, and more. When Pixar and Disney merged in 2006, he applied his same priciples to the flagging animation department at Disney, who hadn’t had a hit in 16 years. Disney shot right back up with films like Wall-E, Cars, Incredibles, Coco, Brave, etc. To read this book is to relive the last 30 years of animated film making. If it’s not a walk down memory lane for your childhood, it is a reminder of all the wonderful films you saw with your children. If you haven’t enjoyed any of them, run and grab one today. 

What is Catmull’s secret? Of course a strong bottom line is what investors want, and Catmull agrees, but he refuses to allow the creativity of the artists to be stymied in any way. There are no superstars – not even preferred parking. Everyone from the janitor to the lunch lady to the writer is allowed equal – respected – input. Employees are encouraged to do what it takes to keep happy and relaxed, because happy employees are productive employees. They are encouraged to take time for classes offered at work – art, archery, whatever. If they are producing a film in Africa, a team of writers and artists will take a field trip to Africa and experience what they are trying to portray. Films, from first idea pitch to final cut – are brought up for constant, honest review, where the ensemble team toss ideas off each other about the work, good or bad, and the film may take a twist for the better from it. Every artist is respected every step of the way. Written into the contracts is a proviso that if a film reaches a certain amount of return, a portion of that is given to the employees as a bonus.

Needless to say, Pixar and Disney Animation staff are  happy to go to work. 

So, how did that all relate to writing?

Remember that movies start as stories. Someone has to write them before they can be filmed. By keeping an atmosphere that encourages creativity, no matter how odd (come on – talking cars? Emotions? Bugs? A rat who likes to cook? ), by immersing yourself in a creative environment, by learning to take constructive criticism without imploding, you become a better writer. A writer needs feedback as they develop ideas, as they write the ideas, as they polish their ideas into a final copy.  

This book was a joy to read. Grab it, read it, whether you’re looking for a business model to follow, as a manager looking to improve productivity, as an artist looking for appreciation, as a movie person wanting to know more about Pixar and Disney films. It’s all there. 

Be amazed at the process, and then check out one of the masterpieces Catmull’s presided over. Wall-E, Coco and Up are perfect for adults!

The Incredibles   –  Ratatouille  –  Cars  –  Shorts Finding Dory  –  Wall-E   

Inside Out –  Brave  –  Monsters, Inc  –  Toy Story  –  Coco  –  Up

More Than Oprah

Many people are aware that Oprah Winfrey is the richest black woman in America, with a net worth of more than 2.8 billion dollars (which still doesn’t put her in the top 10 richest American women). She is, however, in the top 10 richest self-made billionaire American woman – and the only African-American woman to make the cut. But long before Oprah, there was Sarah Breedlove.

Success Started Early

Breedlove was America’s first self-made female millionaire. Born in 1867, she was an orphan by the age of 7, a domestic by the age of ten, and married her way out at 14. After several marriages that ended in widowhood or divorce, in 1905 Breedlove began her own line of beauty and hair care products for African American women (under the name Madame C.J. Walker), many of whom were going bald because of the harsh lye soaps of the era. The need was great, her products worked, and she went on to become an American philanthropist.

To a degree. Marjorie Joyner was one of her employees. Marjorie became the first African American woman to be issued a patent – for the first machine to permanently wave hair (no Toni kits back then!). However, she never saw a dime for her creation – the royalties and rights went to Madame C.J. Walker! Next time you go to a salon or use a home perm kit, remember to think of Marjorie Joyner.

When we think of African-American women in history, we seem to get stuck on Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth, and Coretta Scott King, but they are just the very tip of the iceberg.

The Long Hard Climb for Recognition

It’s been a slow, hard climb for African-American women. While Hattie McDaniel won a Best-Supporting Actress Oscar for Gone With the Wind in 1939 (the first African American to do so), a Best Actress award didn’t come until Halle Berry won in 2001 for Monster’s Ball. That’s a long wait. While the first white woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature was in 1909, the first African-American woman wasn’t until the great Toni Morrison won in 1993. Although actress Nichelle Nichols of Star Trek fame showed African-American women as educated members of space crews in 1966 (and gave television’s first interracial kiss), Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman astronaut, didn’t make it to space until 1992. To this day, African American women are disproportionately victims of more violent crimes than any other group of women – by more than double. While more African-American women are enrolled in college than any other group (9.7%), they make up only 8% of the workforce, and earn only 64¢ on the dollar compared to 78¢ for white women; 21% of African-American women live in poverty, compared to just 9% of white women. Only now, decades later, are we beginning to appreciate the remarkable contributions of African-American women in the fields of science and math, such as Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, who helped launch NASA’s space program by doing the math in their heads.

Making Strides

While there is still so far to go in equalizing opportunities for minority women, the 21st century has shown remarkable gains, with not only Condoleeza Rice becoming National Security Advisor and then Secretary General under President Bush, but with Michelle Obama becoming the First Lady of the United States.  African-American women continue to enter politics, with record wins in 2018, including the first African-American women elected to Congress from Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. So grab a novel, a biography, a great DVD on the lives and achievements of African American women, and catch up on some of the great history you never learned about in school.

 

         

  

             

Presidential Books and Movies

Today’s blog post is by Bill Basel, Head of Adult Services.

The month of February includes Presidents’ Day – which honors two great U.S. presidents – Washington and Lincoln.

 

From Abraham Lincoln to Zachary Taylor, CPL has loads of books, videos and downloadables about the men (and first ladies) in the White House who have influenced the U.S. for 230 years.  As you can imagine there is lots of material on all the head honchos from Saintly Abe and Father of Our Country George to the oft defiled James Buchanan (who dodged the slavery question as the Union was falling apart).

From POTUS to FLOTUS, we’ve got the best of and worst of, those who have made Pennsylvania Avenue their home in fiction, non-fiction and biography – in print, audio and video:

41 : A Portrait of My Father by George W. Bush.

Becoming by Michele Obama.

The First Lady by James Patterson and Brendan DuBois.

First Ladies : Presidential Historians on the Lives of 45 Iconic American Women by Susan Swain and C-SPAN.

Lincoln starring Daniel Day Lewis (DVD and Blu-ray), based on the book Team of Rivals : the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Jackie starring Natalie Portman  (DVD and Blu-ray).

The Roosevelts : an Intimate History a film by Ken Burns (DVD).

Childhood Horrors

Sometime ago in the mists of the last century, there were only three TV networks. On holidays, you usually had the choice of a football game, a different football game, or the longest movies the network could find – usually Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Sound of Music.  Chitty, an overly technicolor musical, scared the daylights out of me. As soon as that Childcatcher came prowling, I was behind the sofa holding my breath. Today’s kids would just send his photo to Instagram and beat him up.

Children see things differently. Some are easily spooked, some are skeptical from birth. Kids misunderstand and misinterpret things, and that alone can create unfounded horror.

Obviously, most children’s films try to avoid horror, but what’s marketed to kids is not always Barney and Big Bird – few Grimm’s Fairy Tales end happily ever after. Poltergeist –  ghosts, demons, peeling faces, and evil clowns in child-swallowing glowing closets – was only rated PG. PG, because PG-13 hadn’t been invented yet.

Young Sherlock Holmes (the food nightmare) scarred one of my children; to this day she won’t eat cream puffs. Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! and its disembodied heads was another. Another didn’t trust Nazgûl (nor should you), and was terrified by Matilda. The 1971 Alastair Sim animated A Christmas Carol, with its writhing starving waifs and the faceless, voiceless Ghost of Christmas Future taints every incarnation I’ve seen since.

If your child likes spooky things and wants to be a part of the Addams family, here’s a list of kid’s films – honest! – that just might give your kid the shivers. If you have a child with a more sensitive nature, you might want to wait a few years on these:

Toy Story – Oh, doll-headed spider and hook-bodied Barbie, how we hate you! You may be Pixar, but you’re scary!

Coraline – Creepy button-eyed fake parents trying to steal a child?  Hmm….

Labyrinth – Sure, we adore Bowie, but these are Muppets who steal babies, chase girls with drill bits with intent to kill, and drop people into pits lined with talking disembodied hands. ‘Nuff said.

Something Wicked This Way Comes – Disney likes to whistle and pretend this isn’t theirs, but Ray Bradbury didn’t edit the scariness out of his novel of two boys and an evil carnival run by Mr. Dark, complete with electrocutions and freakshow.

Who Framed Roger RabbitBut this is a comedy! you cry – and it is, until crying Toons get faced with The Dip. Be prepared for a talk on death.

Return to Oz – if the flying monkeys didn’t scare you, perhaps Dorothy’s electroshock treatments will.

Jumanji – sure, it’s a game, but a deadly one. Floors that swallow people are just some of the issues; the intensity and situations may be too much entirely for young viewers.

Harry Potter series – yes, the first one is a charming tale of an orphan boy who learns he’s a wizard, but the stories get darker, and major beloved characters start dying. By the third film, Voldemort is embodied evil and believably out to get Muggles. Like your child.

The Dark CrystalFraggle Rock it’s not. It’s a dark Muppet film with lots of dark themes. Preteens maybe, but there’s no Elmo to lighten it for the little kids.

Gremlins – another movie made before PG-13, so it was stuck with PG. Gremlins are cute little things until you feed them, and then they become psychopathic demons out to harm and kill.  If preteen horror films was a separate genre, this would be one of their cornerstones, along with perhaps The Witches, Watcher in the Woods, and Jaws (which is also only PG).

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – let’s face it, Roald Dahl is almost never nice to children. Here alone, he sucks them up pipes, dumps them down garbage chutes, and has them cornered by very scary men in dark alleys asking them to sell their souls for money. But the crowning touch cited by many critics is the boat ride  scene, all psychedelic and threatening – but that’s the way it is in the book, too – a disorienting journey where everyone believes Wonka’s looney.

Every parent knows their child best. Some kids like a scary movie, some kids will wind up sleeping in your bed for a week with all the lights on. If your kid shows interest in scary movies, these might be a gentler introduction over, say, The Exorcist. Just be aware that even a seemingly wholesome, kid-marketed movie can have some really scary moments when you least expect it.

How to Cut the Cord

Say “Goodbye!” to the Cable Guy!

What does it mean to “cut the cord” and why is everyone doing it? Should you cut your cord, too, assuming you know what it means?

The answer depends.

Cutting the cord means dropping traditional cable television subscriptions in favor of inexpensive streaming services. With cable bills rising to over $100 per month on many providers, more people are choosing to say goodbye to cable.

What do you need to cut the cord?

1.  Wifi
Wifi is wireless high-speed internet access. Most streaming devices connect with wifi, although some may still have a traditional ethernet port for plugging in a cord. You will need high-speed internet access to play streaming content, and it will probably need to be wireless unless you have a cable modem and an ethernet cord close to your streaming device.

2.  A streaming content device
Streaming content devices vary widely in price, size, and functionality. The most popular streaming content devices are Roku, AppleTV, and the Amazon Fire Stick. Smart TVs also have the ability to stream from a variety of content providers, but their interfaces are not as user-friendly, so I recommend getting a dedicated streaming device. Many video gaming systems like Xbox and Playstation can also play streaming content. You don’t have to spend much money to get started: the base model Roku retails for only $30.

3.  A streaming content Service Provider
There are a variety of streaming content service providers. Here are the most popular:

Netflix
On-demand movies, TV shows, documentaries, and Netflix-only content.
Netflix has a variety of “Netflix-only” series like Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. Netflix also has a giant collection of movies and many seasons of popular TV shows. Be aware, current TV shows are usually 1 season behind, so if you want to see the latest episode of Chopped or This Is Us, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
Cost: $9.99/month to watch on 2 streaming devices at once, or $11.99/month for 4 devices.

Hulu
On-demand Movies, TV shows, Documentaries, and Hulu-only content.
Taking a page from the Netflix playbook, Hulu now offers many “Hulu-only” series like The Handmaid’s Tale and 11.22.63. Unlike Netflix, Hulu focuses on the latest TV shows, typically airing new episodes a day after they air on cable TV. If you like to discuss the latest episodes of your favorite cable TV shows, Hulu is for you. Hulu also has a “commercial free” option, meaning you can watch Guy’s Grocery Games all day long without a single commercial. Hurray!
Cost: $7.99/month to watch on 1 device, or $11.99/month for commercial free.
Hulu is also now experimenting with providing Live TV, offering a Live TV beta for $39.99/month. Expect this to become more popular and widespread as content service providers try to knock the expensive cable TV companies out of the market altogether.

Amazon Prime Video
On-demand Movies, TV shows, Documentaries, and Amazon-only content.
Amazon Prime video is similar to Netflix, although some might argue it doesn’t offer as much quality content. Like both Netflix and Hulu, Amazon has “Amazon-only” series like Transparent, Sneaky Pete, and The Man in the High Castle.
Cost: Amazon Prime Video is free with your Amazon Prime account ($99/year) or you can purchase a monthly membership for $8.99/month if you do not wish to purchase a year of Prime membership.

Other options exist for getting your favorite shows:

HBO Now – For $15/month, you can watch every series that ever aired on HBO, including the latest releases merely minutes after they air Live. HBO Now also has a backlog of many popular movies, comedy specials, and documentaries. If you need your Game of Thrones fix, this is for you.

Showtime Anytime – Showtime has a similar service to HBO offering the latest in Showtime series and movies for $11/month.

YouTube Live TV – For $35/month, you can now watch Live TV streaming from ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, and popular cable networks on up to 6 devices at a time. This is a new service from YouTube and one to keep your eye on.

iTunes – With an Apple TV, iOS device, or computer, you can purchase TV shows and Movies directly from the iTunes store. Hate monthly subscription fees? Just buy the shows and movies you want to watch or rent them for 24 hours at a lower price.

Amazon Video – Without Amazon Prime Video, you can purchase or rent the shows and movies you’d like to watch through Amazon Video.

Sling TV – Sling TV is a new service to the streaming industry. It offers streaming Live TV, not on-demand. There are mixed reviews about its quality and reliability, but this is sure to be a service to keep your eye on in the coming months. It can only improve, and the demand for this type of Live TV service is very high.

We have walls and walls of DVDs and Blurays!

Your Public Library – Last but never least, keep in mind the many movies, TV shows, documentaries, musicals, foreign films and more that are available from your local public library. Cheshire Public Library has a wide selection of popular “Quik Fliks” if you’re looking for the latest movies, not to mention a huuuge collection of DVDs, Blurays, and downloadable and streaming content. Best of all? They’re all FREE to borrow, and nothing beats free! 🙂


Technology Help – Need device advice? Come to Drop-in Tech Help. No appointment necessary. We provide help with smartphones, laptops, tablets, ereaders, email, Facebook, social media, cutting the cord questions and more! Check out the calendar for our next session.