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For Every Action: Shonda Rhimes and Veena Sud Demonstrate How Not To React

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Trade News | June 5, 2012 | Comments ()


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When you create art for public consumption, you open yourself up to the whimsy of a mob. It's a glorious thing when the consensus is in your favor, but dashing when the rough music begins to rumble through the crowd. Now, you can avoid this by just burying anything you create in a desk drawer, but that quite defeats the purpose of creation in the first place, not to mention means you have exactly zero chance of ever quitting that soul sucking day job. But once it's out there, once the sniping and griping start to take shots at your head, well, you can just bury your head in the sand in one way or another, or you can take the best shots they've got so that next time you do better.

Guess which route Shonda Rhimes of "Grey's Anatomy" and other lesser viewed offenses, and Veena Sud of "The Killing" decided to take?

Says Rhimes of Twitter: "It's sort of an exercise in torture. I sort of don't know why I get on there. It's a little like inviting people who hate you into your house to say mean things to you." (source: THR)

No, it's like inviting everyone who took the time to partake of your creation to whisper back to you. It's not just the people who hate you, it's also the people who love you. If all you're hearing is the hate, then either you have masochistically selective hearing, or what you've created isn't liked.

Says Sud of the tidal wave of criticism of "The Killing" at the end of its first season: "I was surprised initially and sad because we had planned from the very beginning to make this a two-season murder mystery. But, I mean, in a way it was a blessing not to be tweeting and e-mailing and all of that because I didn't actually have to read and hear the negativity in my face." (source: THR)

Oh, so the criticism that the show was dragging on with nothing being resolved wasn't justified because you planned on not resolving anything for two seasons? You'd think a show runner of a series about solving a murder would understand that intending to commit the crime is not a defense, it's a lack of one. You don't defend yourself from murder charges by saying, "oh no, it's cool, I planned from the very beginning to shoot this guy."

I know that Hollywood ends up being a weird cocoon for a lot of creative people, especially really successful ones. Success ends up being an insulator from any criticism. The fact that you've got a show on television proves that anyone criticizing it is wrong. But you need to hear that "negativity." It's the only thing that keeps you honest as an artist. There's an old saying that great writers have to be schizophrenic: simultaneously so arrogant as to believe that their words are so important that strangers need to pay to read them, and so neurotically lacking in confidence that they agonize over actually making the words that good.

Screening out the negativity is death to the creative process. It's supposed to burn like hell to have your work in front of the public, because that's the thing that drives you to make it better and better every time. If you're just going to screen out the negativity, you're not an artist anymore, you're just another anonymous suit. Your business might be art, but you're not an artist if you shut out your audience.







Are you following Pajiba on Facebook or Twitter? Every time you do, Bill Murray crashes a wedding.


Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • marya

    Steven, I appreciate your thoughtfulness, but I strongly disagree with your conclusion. Yes, creating art in tv or film is a highly collaborative process, but it is not the audience's role to provide that collaboration.  

    For one thing, whose voice do you listen to? Do you cherry pick the critiques you think have value? Do you average them out and make a choice somewhere in the middle? Do you go with majority rule? None of those options seem helpful in any way.  If these shows are artistic failures (sure sounds like it), it could be due to any number of factors - lack of vision, integrity, or skill, or the immense pressure to earn money for a parent company that overrides the creative impulse. The one thing I know for a fact is that it's not due to a lack of audience input.Please don't think I'm saying audiences shouldn't criticize the work they love (or hate). They absolutely should. But the artist has no responsibility to listen to that criticism.  An artist (and I think calling the average TV producer an "artist" is a stretch) must create the art that fulfills her vision, and hope that it finds a receptive audience. It will, or it won't, but it should be her own vision, otherwise what's the point? 

  • Inaras

    The point might be stronger if Shonda Rhimes hadn't been used as an example. She writes a soap opera. Fans are pretty intense in their love/hate relationship with soaps and complain any time their favorite character is "slighted" by the writers. I don't blame Rhimes (or any soap writer) for wanting to screen out the thousands of "u killd my fav charachter WAAAHHHH!" tweets. Ignoring constructive criticism is bad, but ignoring bellyaching is necessary if you want to get on with writing.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Simmer down there, SLW. For one thing this? masochistically selective hearing  This is everyone. It has been repeatedly shown that most people remember and feel criticism more than praise. If you asked everyone about high school, 90% will tell you about the time they were humiliated, rather than when they starred in the high school play and felt awesome.

    Secondly - you can screen out negative criticism. It's not all worthwhile, and not everyone will get you. And picking through a dozen morons to find one intelligent person offering a morsel of salient commentary is not worthwhile. 

  • googergieger

    Well some "artists" take the check and nod along to whatever is said about them as long as the check clears.

  • RhymesWithSilver

    This reminds me of some lady bloggers I was reading about who took down their blogs and withdrew from public life because of internet trolls. Internet trolls! They wrote about being empowered, serious women in their fields, and then they let their perfectly legitimate and much-needed voices be silenced by trolls. {Headdesk}

  • alwaysanswerb

     Depending on who you're talking about, you're potentially reducing some pretty serious and harmful threats to the trite-sounding "Internet trolls." Personally, if the flaming I received ever got so bad that people were stalking me and calling me and my family members at home, I'd call it quits too.

  • Phaedre

    In defense of Shonda: She did mention on twitter ironically that season 4 of Grey' sucked a while ago.

  • Cabanachat

    Sing it, sister.

  • Scully

    “I was surprised initially and sad because we had planned from the very beginning to make this a two-season murder mystery.”

     

    I smell bullshit. I don’t recall EVER hearing that the Rosie Larsen case would take two seasons to resolve. In fact, I do remember reading that the case would be resolved in one season. Then it was changed to the beginning to season two. Then it was the middle of season two. Now it’s two seasons? That’s some Damon Lindeloff shit right there. Thank Godtopus I tuned out after season 1.

  • Jezzer

    Maybe someone on set actually DID kill the actress playing Rosie Larsen, and they keep moving the resolution back because they still haven't figured out whodunnit.

  • dizzylucy

    I think it's important for someone in their position to read/listen to criticism and audience response (especially since both managed to mangle good shows very quickly), but I can't blame them for staying off twitter.  I think they'd be better off reading forums, blogs, and other discussion boards, where people are actually taking the time to express their response and discuss it with other viewers.

  • Fredo

    Veena Sud's attitude after Season 1 of "The Killing" was the final straw for me and I swore never to catch her shitty show ever again.  Glad to know I made the right choice.

    That said, I don't need every creator, writer, actor to be involved with their audience all the time.  While Twitter and Facebook and blogs make creators much more accessible, it doesn't mean that the criticism they receive is fair.  The Internet is full of people who are smarter, more creative (and better-looking) than you and they all want to tell you this.

  • space oddity

     Agreeing here. It was an interview with Alan Sepinwall she did right about the time of the first season finale where he raised all the of the many criticisms people had of the show and she was just like, yeah, well I can't be blamed if people have bad taste. Ugh. I swore off it, and am now happy to see that many others stopped watching as well - its ratings have been DISMAL.

  • lubeg

    Wednesday summed it up perfectly. All the red herrings and cop show tropes led to a really irritating "real" murder investigation. I wanted "The Killing" to be good. I loved the performances. But the content sucked.

  • lowercase_ryan

    I would disagree to some extent. You're argument is based on the assumption that every criticism directed at these two writers is a criticism of their creative endeavors, but we all know twitter doesn't work like that. People on twitter can be insane and and are legendary for the personal and abusive nature of their attacks. Just something to keep in mind, there's a huge difference between "I think the way you handled this season of (insert show name) was gd atrocious, wtf were you thinking?!?!?" and "2 seasons??? Fuck off and die you stupid hack bitch!!!"

  • branded_redux

    Screening out the negativity is death to the creative process. It’s
    supposed to burn like hell to have your work in front of the public,
    because that’s the thing that drives you to make it better and better
    every time.

    Like with all things, doesn't the solution lie somewhere in the middle? Certainly there are things to take from criticism in general, but is it hard to fault them from staying away from Twitter specifically? I recently listened to an interview with Vince Gilligan, who himself stays off Twitter and Facebook entirely, in which he talks about not preventing his writers from reading online feedback but highly discouraging them from responding to it. His reasoning, which I definitely agree with, is that if you don't communicate your message effectively via the original episode (or movie or article etc), then what's done is done and you'll never be able to satiate all criticisms. Just work on improving the process the next time.

  • Pajiba_Pragmatist

    First, there's a huge difference between critique and negativity.  What is profligate on twitter is not reasoned, thoughtful analysis based on experience.  Instead, twitter is a mix between "I Love you're [sic] show" and "you suck".  These are expressions of emotion (I'm happy, I'm angry), and while that's good for giving a snapshot of the impact of your work,  neither does a whole lot for improving the creative process.

    Critical comments that actually look at the final piece and comment on specific aspects of a work are often incredibly valuable.  These comments are most useful when they come from someone the individual respects, envies or fears.

    Beyond that, nearly all humans are much more heavily impacted by negative comments than positive ones.  I'd bet that most in the creative community are more skeptical of the positive comments, and yet even a single negative shot will be kept close, often festering inside.

    Pajiba may occasionally stray into nothing more than twitter style mudslinging (we can agree that Michael Bay probably doesn't get much valuable criticism here).  But overall, if a book or a movie puts forth some kind of real effort, a review here will actually have value.

    I think that artists will be deceived by their twitter feed more than rewarded by it.  The fact that the comments are usually so vapid will most often lead to artists doing safe, easily understood work that will generate more "I love you" remarks, because the "I hate you" comments only lead to self-flagellation, not self-improvement.

    I guess the only caveat is that twitter can give a little boost to the real risk takers who wonder if anyone is even listening, but again, that's not critique, just emotional cotton candy.

  • alwaysanswerb

     The Pajiba_Pragmatist, indeed.

  • Screening out the negativity is death to the creative process.

    This, a thousand times. People who can't take criticism, constructive or otherwise, need to find something else to do. Of course it hurts to put your creative content out there and have people dismiss or revile it. It's like showing the world your baby only to have a bunch of them tell you s/he's an ugly child. But without that, you won't see the flaws in your work and you won't be able to correct them or avoid them in the next thing you do. And if a little bit of crit is enough to make you crumble, then maybe entertainment is not your calling. It's not supposed to be entertaining for the creator (though it can be satisfying and fun at times.) If your audience tells you that something is broken, fix it. Don't bitch about how mean your audience is.

  • Wednesday

    I've watched every episode of The Killing.  If they planned to make it a two-season arc, then they planned wrong, and need to re-read the parable of the boy who cried wolf.  Keep throwing red herrings, and people are going to lose interest because it just makes the main characters seem stupid.  I've hung in there out of pure muleheadedness.  I've got a soft spot for main characters who persevere when everything is stacked against them but we have to understand WHY they keeping coming back for more.  Mireille Enos has tried her best, I think, but she's not been given much to work with.

  • I've long thought that "The Killing" had a chance to do something very interesting by working out how a drawn out murder investigation can be torture for the surviving family. You learn things you don't want to, you end up reexamining every interaction you had with the victim and the people around you, your memories are ripped to shreds and at the end what do you get? No answer is ever going to make it better, or let you unsee and unhear the things you had to see and hear about your loved one to get through the case. 

    But, you know, just throwing inane shit in the way of the investigation is interesting too, I guess.

  • PaddyDog

    The real issue, after watching all of season one of The Killing and suffering through season two just to torture myself, is that anyone who ever lets Veena Sud anywhere near a TV show again needs to be publicly disemboweled,

  • Neil

    Well, it's not a series for people looking for "bubblegum of the mind", but for viewers who love a good mystery and who understand the actual process of an investigation Veena nailed her intent. I was also a tad bit upset at the way the finale was handled in Season 1, but about 3 episodes in of Season 2, I finally got what she and her writers are trying to accomplish. This isn't Law and Order where the evidence to convict falls into their laps, and every 10 seconds someone is solving the situation for them. This is more of a character study which happens to have the setting of felony murder. This is the way a REAL investigation is conducted.
    If the activity was a walk in the park there would be no Cold Case files. Real cops know that real murder doesn't happen with someone signing their name to a confession and pinning it on the corpse.
    The intent of the series is to examine the effect that murder can have, not just on the family, but everyone in the victims life and community.
    It also presents the protagonists in a human form, and not Junior Sherlock Holmes characters.
    In a real murder investigation it takes hard work and a lot of disappointment to find the perp. They very seldom come in and confess.

  • Alex Hardy

    Actors are lesser artists since they re-create instead of regular-create. There are also issues of agents and commercial considerations which must be factored in. Also, the awareness that these actor-artists probably don't have the creative control to make the changes that may be needed.

  • AlabasterSalamander

    That's like saying novelists are unoriginal because they use a language that's already invented, you twit. 

  • KatSings

     Seriously?  Actors are "lesser" artists?  You do realize that some of the best material comes from collaborative efforts right?  That what is written on a page is not what always makes it to screen, and a lot of that has to do with what those "lesser" artists are contributing while they breathe life into a character.  It's insulting and short sighted to demean hard working performers like that.

  • pissant

    That was a colossally stupid thing for Alex Hardy to say, but I think he/she misinterpreted that the people saying these things were actors on those shows.  I mean, shit, I hope he/she did.  If not, they just have some strange vendetta against actors.

    Anywho, it's a flawed analogy, but you might as well say that painters are lesser artists because they simply use the paints and canvas, while the manufacturers create them.  But, hey, Alex, I'd love to read anything you write on re-create vs. regular-create.

  • Muhnah_Muhnah

    Word. 

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