Bottom-Up Creativity vs. Top-Down


In my years of creative / business work, I’ve noticed there are two broad “techniques” to use while building a project. Bottom-Up and Top-Down.

This concept is nothing new, and the last thing I want to do here is spread more “I like making things and stuff” pseudo-philosophical fun-corporate nerdy blogger bullshit.

So here’s how I’ve seen it work…

Bottom-Up: Collecting a number of concrete objects / colors / shapes / sounds / words (usually at random) and sticking them together — maybe (but rarely) hoping they end up meaning something (or at least being somehow enjoyable as a whole). Example… Mike Patton’s Adult Themes for Voice. As Wikipedia describes it: Shouting, screaming, clapping, squeaking, and moaning.

Top-Down: Starting with a GOAL, such as “compose, record, and deliver the film score for The Empire Strikes Back.”

Consider how much more discipline it requires to begin with the large concept / container, and then design each individual piece to serve the greater purpose. Every part in the machine must work, everything must be appropriate! While there is a time for experimentation along the way (would it have more impact during this scene to bring in the strings, or should we use only the piano, or should we leave stark silence?), there is no room for “messing around” a.k.a. musical masturbation.

Conversely, I have seen creators who get trapped in Top-Down Mode. I’ve had video production clients who will provide me with a specific script, and then not allow “creative wiggle room” for organic serendipity during the production process. The plan in their head is more important than the “magic” that can be generated by an injection of some Bottom-Up from the actors and editors. And their project suffers.

I would be stumbling into Rationalism (in the Objectivist terminology) if I were to claim that these are two processes that can actually be 100% separated. I’m also not going to claim one process is superior to the other, but that they should ideally intertwine. Each serves its own purpose in creation.

Of course, I thought incoherent noises released as “albums” were great — at 20 years old, when I was looking for ways to use up my excess young-person energy. But as I get older I crave something else. Something more impressive and deserving of respect — like the live musical theater production of Wicked. It’s complex: the composition, performance, actors, sound, lights, set designs, props, story all work together. In other words, they are Integrated. (Thanks, Schlegel.)

But I will end this by saying… that to exclusively glorify Bottom-Up is a cop-out, because it requires no conceptual work — and conceptual work is the most difficult.


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A Creepy Story About Ziltoid and Zoltan


Back at the end of 2005, after the success of How To Sell… I decided I wanted to take Sir Millard Mulch to the next level.

I came up with the name Dr. Zoltan Øbelisk (named after the Zebulon Obelisk in downtown Asheville, NC) and bought

I experimented with the concept for the next year, trying to make him into an animated Flash character, or just me in an elaborate costume with a giant beard. I went back and forth and couldn’t get anywhere because I had no resources. I was miserable and poor. Zoltan was to be “a mighty demon” who possessed Sir Millard Mulch (as explained in a 90-minute documentary Matt DeJonge and I shot in 2005 and never finished) manifesting as a time-traveling, inter-dimensional alien anti-pop-culture TV show host / cult leader that orbited the Earth in a space station. Maybe a little too complicated.

I hoped to play a separate “character.” I was having a lot of personality problems and wanted to stop being Sir Millard Mulch, because it was too close to really being me. I had a split life of Carl and Millard, and it was really messing me up. I figured inventing a third one that even I knew was fake would help. That’s a long story.

In late 2006 I moved to Los Angeles (Culver City to be exact) where I rented a room from a guy named Eric. Eric was never home (none of his many housemates ever were, except the unemployed me) so I went into his back yard with my laptop and recorded several cheap webcam videos as Dr. Zoltan. It was a lame attempt — I had no money to buy a costume (the best I could do at one point was a long haired wig), knew nothing about video, and ended up just making a lot of people mad on YouTube by making fun of popular bands. I would start each “broadcast” with “Attention, All Humans” and referred to the viewer from an alien standpoint. I tried to talk in a deep voice, but I’ve never been good at it, so in later versions I just pitched it down digitally.

In Early 2007, I auditioned for Steve Vai and failed. Out of sour grapes, I moved into John La Grou’s studio for a month (thank you again, John) and set out to record the debut album. I found out about software called Drumkit From Hell and decided to feature it on the album, hoping to be the first to show off its capabilities with my complex sci-fi rock programming.

While in the process of recording, I came across Devin Townsend’s first press release about something he was calling Ziltoid — an alien TV show host alter-ego making an album featuring Drumkit From Hell.

Punch me in the brain.

I was, of course, horrified that Devin had come up with a parallel idea (I make no petty or delusional accusation that he copied me), and would no doubt beat me to it publicly. He even created a mock radio show hosted by Ziltoid, making fun of popular bands! But I didn’t let it stop me.

When I returned to my room in Culver City, I borrowed a camera from Zeke Piestrup and shot 3 video episodes of The Dr. Zoltan Show, with a rotation Ø in the corner. I was trying to do a V From Vendetta “reveal-the-truth political broadcast” and continue to make fun of some bands while I was at it. More negative reactions from the internet. I was getting so much hate mail, I eventually just deleted the videos. I was afraid the anger I was channeling was doing physical damage to myself and others.

Seven years later, I’ve only sold 50 copies of the Zoltan CD (I gave the other 50 away at the Toontrack booth in NAMM 2010) — and Devin has just released Ziltoid The Omniscient Episode 2 — which is everything I had hoped Dr. Zoltan would become.

Congratulations to Devin for the excellent work and making it happen!


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Music of John Williams Performed On Piano!

Enguerrand-Friedrich Lühl-Dolgorukiy

You’ve got to check out this French pianist named Enguerrand-Friedrich Lühl-Dolgorukiy.

He has an album on iTunes called John Williams – Piano and a few others, including long-form works for TWO pianos! I’ve been listening to it and am blown away — it gives me that vibe from Steve Vai Piano Reductions by Mike Keneally. Except this is of course very famous musical cues from Star Wars, Indiana Jones, E.T., etc. It is quite detailed.

His stuff is also on Amazon. You can preview it on this iTunes player:

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Kicking My Ass: Rolf Dobelli’s “The Art of Thinking Clearly”

Thinking Clearly

[ Disclaimer: There is evidence that Rolf Dobelli plagiarized many ideas from Nassim Taleb’s published books and unpublished manuscripts. You can read about that at Fooled by Randomness. ]

Now I know what to buy everyone I know for Christmas. Sorry to ruin the surprise.

But seriously: I read this book in two days and I have to admit I’m not intellectually competent enough to retain any of it. So I’m going to read it again. And again. I’ve promised myself to keep it around at all times until I’m less stupid.

The good news? It’s easy to read. Broken up into little pieces, well-organized. Like Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut.

The Art of Thinking Clearly contains 99 ways my thinking is not clear. Cognitive biases, etc. Exactly what I need. I found it at a book store in Santa Barbara (Chaucers) after asking if they had anything about “logic” and “thinking.” I want to become a better decision maker, and this is how I plan to do it.

Plenty of references inside to Charlie Munger, too. And the Cialdini book. Except this one isn’t blatantly about how to trick people.

Here it is on Amazon.

I think it’s the most valuable book I’ve read since The Outsider by Colin Wilson.


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Updated: My Cinematography Reel

Or is it a Videography Reel? Either way, here it is:

Best viewed on Safari if you’re using a Mac. Chrome does weird stuff to the gamma / brightness.

Interview, Behind-The-Scenes, and Commercial / Promo Projects I’ve shot around Los Angeles, using Canon C100 and Canon 5Dmkiii. Thanks to Mandee Pro (Camera Assistant, Lighting), Mike Keneally for the song ( Subjects include Andre Jevnik, Chris Coleman, Dennis Sands, Millennia Media, Ronda Rousey, The Reverend Shawn Amos, Eden Passante, Mark Borchardt, Stephen Chesney, Octopotamus, Virgil Donati, Doug Shreeve, Dave Elitch, Stanton Moore, Anthony Crawford, Artyom Manukyan, Mike Stone / Demise O, Douglas Showalter, Thomas Lang and Big Drum Bonanza, Dweezil Zappa, GuitarTricks,, Los Lobos, and Otherworldly Toy.


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Podcast Episode 013: Son Of Monsterpalooza 2014 Statues!

Monsterpalooza 2014

[ Clockwise from Top Right: Demon by Anthony Watkins, Bride of Frankenstein by Blackheart Models, Creature by Monster Caeser, and Sideshow Collectibles. ]

Son of Monsterpalooza 2014

[ Clockwise from Top Right: Andrew Martin of Monster Caesar Studios, Nathan Mansfield of Sideshow Collectibles, Anthony Watkins, and George Stephenson of Blackheart Enterprises. ]

I visited Son of Monsterpalooza 2014 in Burbank, CA and interviewed sculptors: George Stephenson of Blackheart Enterprises, Andrew Martin of Monster Caesar Studios, Anthony Watkins of AW Sculpture, Nathan Mansfield of Sideshow Collectibles.

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Thoughts on Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy

Saw Guardians of the Galaxy last night and loved it. Hey, here’s a numbered list (don’t worry, no spoilers) :

1.) Congratulations to Marvel / Disney for their huge success with a film that isn’t a “remake.” (Even though it is technically based on pre-existing characters from an old comic book that mainstream audiences have never heard of.) What I mean is, it’s not a remake of an ’80s movie updated with forced “gansta culture” and an obnoxious rap soundtrack.
2.) Speaking of the Soundtrack: it was totally “out of left field” — who would think to put a bunch of ’70s soft rock ballads in a sci-fi adventure movie? It was a brave choice, and worked well!
3.) The humor was awkward and tense, just the sort of thing I like.
4.) It’s easy to impress me with exotic characters in body paint, because I’m a sucker for saturation.
5.) I’m a camera geek, but I was so sucked into the story that I don’t remember anything about the cinematography. (Except for that shot of young Star-Lord in the field, towards the beginning of the movie. Nice!) I suppose this is a good thing?
6.) I will probably see it in the theater a second time.
7.) I own Disney stock, so this all works out well for me!


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Morgan Ågren Blu-Ray Update

Morgan Ågren Blu-Ray

Hello! Carl King here.

1.) I wanted to let all you backers know that I am — right now — working on authoring the Blu-Ray of Morgan Ågren’s Conundrum. I’m in the process of adding all the chapter markers, etc. After that, I will do some final testing on various platforms and order them. I had been delaying the authoring because I was worried about my master files not looking appropriate for an HD release, and considered re-grading them. That turned into a bunch of extra work and trying to get the files out of FCP7 and into Premiere and re-applying all my filters from scratch, and fixing any weird translation errors, and needing to worry about lots of little things. But after a bunch of back and forth, I decided to go with the same grade I used on the DVD. So — same exact edit / master files, but exporting full-resolution instead of 480i. Blah, blah, blah.

2.) We now have THREE HOURS of deleted scenes edited, but they WILL NOT appear on the Blu-Ray. They’ll be available as a separate download for purchase through Vimeo-On-Demand. HOWEVER, if you pledged for the Blu-Ray version, you’ll get that extra download (in HD) for FREE, because you were probably expecting all that material to be included. If we were to include that footage on the Blu-Ray along with the movie, it would just compress the material too much — and I’d prefer to save that bandwidth for higher quality.

3.) For those geeks who care, the Blu-Ray will be in 24p — instead of the original 30p that appeared on the DVD. 30p looks weird to me these days, so I converted it. I think there is one long panning shot that looks jumpy, due to the loss of frames. But that’s OK!

4.) Kickstarter T-Shirts will be shipping around the same time as the Blu-Rays.

5.) I just ordered the James Pitts Autographed Headshots today. Those will ship out along with the complete Carl King Care Package (books, et cetera) as soon as I get the autographs back from James Pitts himself.

6.) If you pledged for a DVD and have not received it, please send a message — and either I or Morgan will ship you one, depending on which continent you inhabit.

7.) The final bit of good news is that Morgan and I are, as of last month, finally making a profit on the movie. It’s small, but we’re in the black. We actually spent more than the Kickstarter funds on producing the movie, so it took a while to earn that back. I’ll actually be sending Morgan his first check for DVD / Vimeo Sales very soon — so hopefully Alvin is still young enough to enjoy a mountain of Legos by then.

Thank you very much for your continued support of this movie, and be sure to follow Morgan’s new musical projects. (

Carl King

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Project Management, Personality Types, And Peter Pan Syndrome

Peter Pan Syndrome

[ Image by julesrizz ]

This isn’t going to be a scientific exploration of various Myers-Briggs results and how they correlate to workplace productivity. This is a handy list of “filters” I use to avoid Bad People. (Bad People are the ones that use up all my energy that I could spend on Good People. Good People are, in this case, people I want to work with.) And yes, you might end up throwing away some Good People, too, but it’s worth it!

1.) Avoid people who don’t write things down. Example: a show-off waiter who thinks he can commit your order to his short-term memory. He’s too cool for school, bro. Surprise! Your order comes back wrong. Now imagine that same guy trying to produce a movie. No thanks…

2.) Avoid people who prefer to talk on the god damned phone. It means they didn’t write things down. If they did, they could email it to you, couldn’t they? (Text messages don’t count, and are annoying.)

3.) Avoid people who respond to business emails from their iPhone. Example: you send four very specific questions in a numbered list regarding an active project and they reply with a single sentence fragment containing no punctuation. They couldn’t even type a period at the end. And of course, none of the questions have been answered.

4.) Avoid people who are afraid of “real world, adult responsibilities.” It’s a sign that they don’t have much experience with really making things work. Beware those who don’t have some sort of “tether” (kids, marriage, house, pets, bank accounts, long-term job). They most likely don’t understand the concept of “I want to do that but I CAN’T.”

5.) Avoid people who refuse to accept the limitations of their “personality types.” I’ll be honest: I’m no good at math. I think I have some sort of learning disability. Failed Algebra 3 times. My mind doesn’t want to go to and stay in “the math place.” I easily get confused when it comes to numerals — it’s like I have some kind of number dyslexia. 9 may as well be 4 or 7. That’s why I use spreadsheets every day, for keeping track of things that I’d otherwise screw up. I let my wife do the personal bookkeeping, and I have an accountant AND a bookkeeper for my business. I pay them, but it’s cheaper than the financial disaster I’d cause. Beware of those “right brained idiots” who are always late, always lost, always broke, and don’t even have enough sense to say “PLEASE take over and keep me from RUINING this.”

Of course, this kind of nonsense permeates the Entertainment Industry. But most people don’t get into the Entertainment Industry because they want to work and be organized, do they?


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Thoughts On Anger

Alex Jones

[ Above photo / text by unknown. I found it online somewhere. ]

I could write a whole book about my experience with anger. It’s the emotion most accessible to me, and it’s safe to bet I’ve felt it more than anything else in my life. Much of my “creative career” was motivated by it. (While a lot of my Sir Millard Mulch music seemed very “goofy” I assure you I was not in a good mood while making it. At one point I remember calling that process “Artistic Fury.”)

I’m almost 39 years old now — and even though the specific number doesn’t matter — it’s a reminder that I’ve been around for while, and that I might want to re-evaluate my behavior.

On a mechanical level it seems anger is a response to threat — a survival mechanism. With that in mind, I must feel threatened by people who darken their car windows, add custom black rims, and park backwards. (Those three elements tend to group themselves together in parking lots, if you haven’t noticed.) I’ve called it “The Holy Trinity of The Lower Class” and also “Batmanism.” I’ve spent some time giggling and collecting photographs of this phenomenon.

While the relationship between a dude and his cheap car has no direct impact on my life (the car isn’t physically attacking me), I DO feel threatened. It’s my old friend, social alienation. The feeling that “he belongs here and I don’t.” It’s a reminder that I’ve always leaned towards Autism. There are so many behaviors in other people that I just don’t “get.” And as I said, a lot of my creative process of making music was a self-administered (and sometimes) therapeutic method to express that. But often it only made me feel worse.

People wonder why I stopped making music, and my answer is pretty much: “It made me unhappy.”

This is also why I got rid of my Facebook profile, and why I’ve stopped reading comments.

Being pissed-off might not seem like a big deal when you’re a teenager or mid-20s — and if you’re pretending to be a mysterious artist / musician you can make the excuse that it somehow helps. But anger is just not physically healthy in the long term. Stress takes its toll, and when you’re past 30 it’s a killer. (When your organs suddenly stop working, don’t be surprised.)

Anyway, alienation has always been a problem for me. In Kindergarten, when “playtime” started, I’d run to the teacher and cry: “No one wants to play with me!” Never failed. Boo-hoo. And here I am, 35-ish years later, and feeling like that every time I go out in public. It’s not that I don’t have good friends (mostly online, unfortunately) — it’s just that I look around and am overwhelmed with how much I don’t relate. The organism is threatened!

And then the fear becomes anger. But it’s not a strength, it’s just covering a weakness.

Same thing my dog does: she barks when a stranger comes in the house. She’s just afraid. Fight or Flight, eh? In my case, this mechanism is hyperactive. I can manage to turn most daily situations into some sort of inappropriate fight or flight.

I’ve only recently developed some skills for coping with this:

1.) Don’t look at / listen to stuff that makes me mad. The world is a big enough place that I can avoid most of the things that bother me if I just ignore them. I’m not talking about real problems that I can potentially address and solve. I mean, for example, the awful journalism on the CNN website. The events themselves don’t bother me (the death, the violence, the disasters) — it’s the way they’re reported. I could devote a parallel-universe-career dissecting the logical fallacies in those articles. It pushes my buttons, and I can’t resist. The problem is, I don’t think it would do any good (I probably wouldn’t defeat CNN), and I’d just be more angry. So, I try to stick to problems I CAN solve, like cleaning up after my pets.

2.) Accept that I live in a world full of people that are not only motivated primarily by emotions, but are also anti-intellectual! Hollywood (which has several good vegan restaurants), with its delusional promise of “being in the right place at the right time” is a place that attracts the irrational: those “dreamers” who don’t bother to get their shit together, and bumble through life expecting everything to work out (while someone else fixes their mistakes). According to Myers-Briggs (the third continuum) those people would be the “F” or Feeling element vs. “T” or Thinking. I am an INTJ, which basically means I shouldn’t go to lunch in Hollywood unless I want to be in a bad mood. But if I do, I can do my best to remember the T/F continuum.

As simple and obvious as these are, they’re not easy for me to put into practice. My trained reaction is to explode (I mean raising my voice and complaining and banging my hands on a horizontal surface like Alex Jones) — but that’s getting old, and it annoys my wife.

So: I will go forward and attempt to apply these two ideas. Best of luck to me!


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