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Reflections: 2011 Edition

Back when I was in college, a good friend of mine was going through a difficult period of her life. She was depressed and unable to get motivated about basically anything. When she spoke with her father, he didn’t seem too concerned; he knew she was a hardy person, and she would survive this rough patch. But there is one thing he asked her that resonated with her, and with me:

“What happened to your dreams?”

Far more significant than temporary depression or the loss of motivation was the absence of dreams, of goals, of ambition. It is a lot less difficult to get through a trying time when you have a long-term end goal in mind, when your destination is in sight. Hope is easier.

For me, the past few years have been a story about falling into a deep pit, professionally and personally, and the journey that it has taken to climb my way out. I certainly had dreams and still have them, but maybe they have changed (dramatically) over time. Maybe they would no longer recognizable to a younger me. This makes me a little bit sad.

I’m grateful at what I’ve been able to accomplish a great deal with the generous resources I’ve been given. I’ve helped to grow two shows up from nothing, one of which is broadcast on one of the top public radio stations in the country. I’ve seen lots of movies, interviewed lots of heroes (save one), and written about things that I’m passionate about and gotten paid for it. All of these are things that I have enjoyed doing and been extraordinarily grateful for, but none of them are things I set out to do. As I look towards the horizon and see myself graduating from my Master’s program in six months, it is natural for me to reflect on my future, and the direction in which my life is headed.

One of Ira Glass’s quotes recently made its way around the internet (the quote was extracted from a video which is worth watching in its entirety):

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

The question I keep asking myself these days is: am I merely at the beginning of a long, fruitful career in being an online/media personality and broadcaster? Or am I already coming up to the end of it? Have I already completed most of my “character arc,” as it were?

One of my podcast inspirations, Shane Bettenhausen, once said (and I’m grossly paraphrasing here) that being an online entertainment journalist doesn’t cure cancer, doen’t solve world hunger, doesn’t change  the world in any radical way. He said this on a podcast guest appearance, months after he had left in the wake of that company’s acquisition by UGO.

It was an eye-opener from me. Bettenhausen and his brethren had a podcast that was listened to by over 50,000 people per week. When they did panels at events like PAX, hundreds if not thousands of people would line up for hours just to hear them speak live. Yet Bettenhausen walked away from “the life” to go into video game development (it should be noted that “the life” probably does not pay that well for most people, so such a move is understandable on those grounds alone). I surmise that it was probably relaxing to stop being a public personality and resume life as a “normal” person.

Let’s look at the converse of the equation. I’ve been very gratified to receive e-mails from people for whom our show has had a profound impact. I’ve also been the target of much criticism and hate. That’s what I have not been able to get used to; not the fact that people don’t like my work (this comes with the territory). It is the nature, character, and tactics of the hatred that have greatly discouraged me. Sure, people might not like what Filmspotting has to say, but you don’t see disgruntled listeners launching repeated attacks on those guys through a variety of different platforms. And that’s not even getting into the general toxicity of the community. The manner and extent through which people have chosen to make their attacks has truly taken my breath away and caused me to re-think my online presence. Maybe if it has done that much, they have already won.

It’s the paradox of creating any form of long-term, periodical media: people who praise you only feel the need to do so a few times (as well they should…it would be weird if someone e-mailed in every single week with praise), while people who hate you will renew their attacks. On a long enough timeline, the hatred drowns out the love. It’s exhausting enough that I frequently have to ask myself, “Is this worth it to me?”


One of the things I have found incredibly rewarding is my re-discovery of photography. I first studied photography at Amherst College under the tutelage of Justin Kimball, which is where I produced my first photo set. In the years since then, I let photography fall by the wayside, mostly because I was not able to produce images to the caliber that I desired, but also because I found carrying a DSLR everywhere to be a cumbersome proposition. Instead, I opted to take up iPhone photography, a legitimate art despite protestations to the contrary.

In February 2011, I acquired a new $120 lens and began playing around with depth-of-field more. Suddenly, I was producing images that I was actually pleased with, images that displayed actual technical proficiency. This led to the acquisition of a ton of new gear and several paying photography gigs. It’s been a fun ride, and one that I intend to continue for as long as I can.

I think one of the biggest tragedies is that there are so many beautiful people in the world (men and women) who don’t have a single decent photograph of themselves. My goal is to rectify this is frequently as I can. The moment when I hand or send someone a photograph of themselves and they see how nicely they can appear is a moment of pure joy for me. I hope to have many more of these moments in the years ahead.


Those of you who follow my audioblogs may have noticed that I have significantly cut down on the audioblogging in recent days. Most of that is because I have been crazily busy for the past nine months with classes, work, and podcasting (it is only with the end of the semester that I finally even have enough time to write this blog post). But I think it is also because that I have tried to spend more time enjoying my conversations rather than documenting them. I have tried to do more living rather than creating.

The results have been mixed – but mostly good. There have indeed been many instances where I’ve been sad to have missed documenting something and sharing it with the world. But there have been equally many times where I’ve just been happy to be in the moment, away from the online beast that threatens to consume all of my time, attention, and sanity.

All I can say is that I am extraordinarily grateful for those people who have helped me to live, those people in my life with whom I have shared the triumphs and the heartache. You have made this year a better one than the last. You know who you are.


  • Dave – things you have said/written have made me as happy and angered me as much as any of my closest friends. I have gone through bouts of endless hours of your podcasts consumption -to- "that's it! I am not following him anymore!"

    Of course, I come back. Anyways – your work is never appreciated enough. Happy birthday and thank you for being a part of my life.

  • Thank you for this post. The last year or so has been hard for me personally and professionally and I kind of being going through the motion with no goal in mind. The dreams I had for myself kinda just disappear. They didn’t seem attainable or my interest in them just faded. I have a lot of thinking to do. I have to find a new dream or try to reignite an old one.

    Also, the /filmcast has been one of the thing that has helped me a lot. It’s a sure fire way to get me in a better mood, to help me forget my troubles for a couple hours. I love movies but don’t have friends with whom to talk in details about them. And while I don’t always agree with you, I always enjoy hearing your opinions and commentaries.

    Your podcasts, your writing, your photos are all an important part of my Internet experience.

    Happy birthday!

  • Making a podcast listened to by 50000 people a week might not cure cancer, but it probably provides something for a lot of those people that they can't get anywhere else in their life. I know for me (and perhaps this is pathetic to admit), it's sort of like a vicarious friendship. My life is full of boring fucks, who have no opinions, and no ideas, that they would defend, discuss, muse upon etc. I feel like I would gone completely fucking insane if not for your podcast and others like it.

    I don't listen for 'Film News' or 'What we've been watching', I listen for David, Adam and Devindra. Three people talking about film. The format is neither here nor there. Same for some of my other favourites, Weekend Confirmed, and TRS.

  • I'm one of those silent fans that you haven't been able to hear over the haters. I discovered the /filmcast last year, just as I was beginning production on my first animated short film, and just as I became a stay-at-home father.

    Over the course of the last year, and two animated shorts, I've listened to every episode of the /filmcast and The Tobolowsky Files, often following along with whatever movies were mentioned. Not only were they massively helpful in forcing me to think critically about my own filmmaking, they were huge comfort to my adult-company-deprived brain. I spent most of my day with my lovey baby daughter, spent the evenings ignoring my family so I could work, and stayed up all night working on my animation, so I rarely had a chance for intellectually stimulating conversation outside of my occasional evenings at school. On top of that, I was pretty consistently exhausted to the point of depression and illness. You and your work helped keep me sane, in a very real way.

    Now, a year and two short films later, I'm almost done with school. I've done some freelance work in my industry. I get to spend time with my family and friends. And I think about film and art differently, thanks to you. I think about life differently, thanks to your work with Stephen Tobolowsky. That program is honestly one of the most genuinely beautiful things I have ever experienced. Wherever you go from here, I thank you deeply and sincerely for the work you've done up to this point. You've made my life a better life, and you've helped me learn how live it more fulfillingly by thinking about it thoroughly.

    P.S. As a Christian who's both interested in art and not a hypersensitive scaredy-cat, I really appreciate your willingness to discuss your faith and engage with your culture. You are truly courageous and inspirational.

  • Chen! Thanks for the moving portrait of the last year of life. Slashfilm cast was the very first "podcast" that I have ever listened to. I started with the first Indiana Jones episode in summer of 08 and I've been hooked ever since. The Tobolowsky files have inspired, moved me and literally changed my life.

    Losing you in the online world would be heartbreaking, because you were literally the first film show I've listened to and I was amazed that three normal guys can just shoot the shit and discuss their love of film. Your work has been very inspiring to me and I just wanted to say happy birthday and thank you for everything you do!

  • It is important to remember that this "hate" of which you speak stems not from your identity but from your words. What a welcome superficiality! Worry not of those strangers behind the veil, worry instead for those bonded to your heart. Being that these people for whom you have so much love reciprocate in kind should buoy your soul far above the undertow of emotionally disconnected denigration.

    And just to prove a point:

    "Words cannot describe my strong dislike of this so called 'Film' podcast. It's clear these guys aren't immersed in the history of film. Their personalities are about as exiting [sic] as watching Cspan. That Matty guy is more annoying than Glen Beck and Adam Carolla combined. While being snobby can be helpful, these clowns obviously don't understand what they're criticising. It sounds like they just try to point out the number of flawed elements in a film and not praise the film as a whole. These blokes are nothing but wannabe Film critics. Do yourself a favor and listen to Spill Movie Reviews or The /Filmcast."

    [recorded on Filmspotting's iTunes page by JustTellingtheTruth on August 23, 2010]

    People who cannot create will gladly tear down instead; and the bigger the construct, the bigger the hammer.

    Keep your chin up, Mr. Chen…and to you, the happiest of birthday wishes.

  • EDC

    happy bidet!