Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Learn Math Today!

Here's the thing... Math is important. Also, most people are horrendous at it.

I've always been a little bit insecure about my math skills, owing in part due to having some remarkably mediocre math teachers all throughout school (including in college). That said, I still took AP Calculus in High School and unnecessarily tried to take a full-on Calculus course in college. Admittedly, I ended up dropping the college calculus halfway into the semester as it was not required and I was already in 11 classes/ensembles, including marching - which monopolized my time from 7am-10am every morning, and from 7pm-10pm on Wednesday nights for extra drumline rehearsals - and the math class only met on Mondays... No good.

Plus, my brother's an engineer, so his advanced math skills put mine to shame. And one of my best friends has dual Physics & Math degrees... I'm way out-gunned by a lot of my friends in that department. So I've never thought I was a math-whiz by any stretch of the imagination.

But apparently, by the standards of the entertainment industry, I'm John Nash.

I've been debating whether or not to write out the full tale on the blog here, and I think I will not out of respect for those involved, however let me just note that the other night I found myself in a production meeting being the only one of 10 individuals with satisfactory multiplication skills. As a result, when estimating the amount of revenue to be generated per month by ad sales on an online music web-magazine, an error of approximately $20,000 was made... By which I mean, the revenue based on even the most pie-in-the-sky projections would not top $2,000 and the projections (based on faulty math) were 10 times that amount per month. What's more, the "goal" is for 40 times that amount at $80,000 a month. Said error has lead about 20 people into believing that they will (eventually) get paid for devoting a significant chunk of their lives to producing a weekly web-TV show.

Hopefully, with my help, they've been dispelled of that particular illusion, but I am rather concerned even still. My friend is arranging his life around a series of projects which have absolutely no chance of becoming profitable. As a result, he's either going to throw money into the black hole perpetually (that is, until he runs out of money and creditors willing to loan him money) or he's just going to become homeless waiting for impossible revenue to start materializing.

None of these people (including myself) will get paid. Gobs of resources will be blown on a losing proposition, and many people will persist in the delusion that it's possible to earn a living on this project. So what will happen - as happens regularly - is that these 20 people (including myself, though only for personal reasons) will work on the first installment of the WebTV series. Then they will realize that it's taken up 50% of their available time. Then, they will realize that they have to keep working full time on other projects to make a living, in order to pay their bills, and the remainder of their available non-sleeping time they are going to want to put into more personally fulfilling pursuits - such as dating girls or playing X-Box. At that point (and I give it about 1 month total), everyone will be asking why they aren't getting paid.

Then things will implode, and one by one, each person involved will drop out of any further projects. The order that this will happen will be based on a relatively simple formula expressing the ratio of time spent working, with respect to their affection for the man running the show. Since this is a math blog, I'll use math to show this formula now:
T=Time (hours per week)
F=Friendship (measured subjectively on a scale of 1-10)

Formula: N = T/F
Where those with the highest "N" drop out of the project first...

For example, I am not very close friends with the person in question, but my roommate is. I'll put myself at F=3, and my roommate at F=8, let's say.

Likewise, I won't spend too much time on the project, as a sound recordist, but my roommate - as a producer/director & eventually editor will spend quite a bit of time. So let's say that I'll spend 14 hours per week (one production meeting + 1 full day recording audio + quick audio edit/mixing), whereas my roommate could easily find himself spending 30 hours per week (multiple production meetings + 1 full day of being on-set, filming + editing). Now we just plug these figures into my simple, hypothetical formula...
N(me) = 14/3, or 4.66

N(roommate) = 30/8, or 3.75
Now, on the other hand, let's take one of the unpaid "writers", who might very likely be looking at spending 30-35 hours per week, between multiple 5-8 hour writing sessions, hanging around on-set, being called and nagged all the time, and meeting deadlines... And who don't really know the guy they're working for all that well or care too much about him. In that instance, you might get...
N(writer) = 35/2, or 17.5
So if my ridiculous little formula is right (and yes, it's highly over simplified, but it is close enough for my point), the order of drop-out will be as follows:
  1. Writers
  2. Me
  3. Roommate
And guess what... Some writers have already bailed. More will be soon enough... And as long as my time doesn't get monopolized, I will do about 1 more of these things for free. Though, naturally, there's a piece of the formula missing which is "personal benefit" for which I can't necessarily account. In my case I'll get to play around with my brand new Tascam DR-100 field recorder... Which I'm excited about and was looking for a real test opportunity in any case - this project is as good as any for me (but once I've performed my requisite tests, the utility of this work as a vehicle for that end is gone, and so am I).

So ok, enough of the fictitious formulas. Subjective valuations of friendship and personal utility aren't measurable in a sense that's actually meaningful, but it does work as far as a predictive estimate is concerned. Point is, as usual, opportunity cost....

Problem is, when people can't do math and have poor reasoning skills, opportunities (eg: "Make $1500 a week, working from home!") seem better than they really are.

Bad math on the part of the leadership of this project has lead them to put out a completely fabricated "carrot" which is dangling in front of everyone on this project right now. This particular carrot is a running gag in the entertainment industry, and it's called, "Do this for me, and I promise, on the next one you'll get paid cause we'll be famous and have made a billion dollars by then!" It works so well that about 90% of the people "employed" in the entertainment industry appear to be unpaid "interns" getting "college credit" or DVD copies for their "reel".

In this case, everyone's eyes have got dollar signs in them because people don't realize that the carrot is an illusion. Not even a 10th of the $20,000 projected in the first month is even remotely possible to achieve (and I'd be surprised if they broke even a couple hundred dollars in ad sales for this project), and there is no business plan. So....... These poor saps are giving up their time and intellectual & physical resources for nothing.

(The joke is that the bag seen above is filled with rocks... Sucker!)

MAYBE, at the end, they'll have one example of a product to show for themselves... But knowing how these plans usually go (i.e. nowhere), we may not even wind up with that.

It's depressingly common within this industry. People's reasoning skills tend to be grossly sub-par, and as a result they fail at economics & frequently have no basic business acumen. Unfortunately, it seems that there's little to be done about this. So I'm more or less stuck in an industry full of people who are completely incompetent at evaluating reality - perhaps this is a good thing from an artistic point of view, but it's absolutely useless if you're hoping to make a living working with anyone in the entertainment industry.

So seriously people, it's time to learn how to do math. It's pretty easy. It's just logic, and logic is actually pretty easy, and the only real way to train your mind to function properly... Which is a good thing! Anyway, my brain is continually fried by my interactions with people in my industry, and it positively explodes whenever I have the occasion to watch actors, directors and musicians wax philosophical about their various pet causes. From Bono to Gwyneth Paltrow, to James Cameron, and a thousand people in between, most people in Hollywood are complete idiots. They tend to be uneducated in the true sense of the word - high school drop outs who've never managed to even become autodidacts. And why shouldn't they be? Their job, by and large is to make stuff up!! So no one should be surprised that most of the nonsense that fills their brains is whatever happens to make a good story - not whatever happens to be the truth.

But all this is frustrating as all hell, when I watch ordinary people taking their social and intellectual cues from these very same people. What's ridiculous is that you can always get people to admit, rationally, that most people in the entertainment industry are buffoons who haven't a functioning synapse in their brains - and I've got hundreds of personal, real-world examples of exactly this... This mathematics fail from the other night is just a representative sample. Yet, people still watch CSI and think it's real science, and watch movies like Avatar and think it's actually espousing some deep truth about technology & commerce.

Personally, I'm just sick of being surrounded by intellectual failure. I need to escape to a secluded mountain somewhere... Hopefully, I will do exactly that once I have determined exactly how to keep my income steady purely by remote work.

Anyway... Where's my Field's Medal?


As of about 2 days after the original posting, the project has fallen apart partially as a result of my pointing out the math fail. I guess that's good? What would be way better is if people actually figured out how to come up with profitable projects to begin with, so that we all don't spin our wheels forever.

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