In Defense of TikTok from an Old Who's Never Had One
I hate TikTok.
Not your typical opening remark in a defense argument, but the dancing and lip-syncing sends me over the edge.
Yes, TikTok can sometimes be funny or educational or a valuable news source, but I have it in my head that it’s dumb, and I will not be convinced otherwise. In fact, I got into a heated argument the other day because I don’t know about BINGBONG. It was in a video, I guess, and now I gotta be demeaned in my own home for being uncool. I shouldn’t have to finagle my precious, limited brain space to accommodate useless information in order to defend myself against my peers. BINGBONG might replace something crucial in my head—like my pin number or the baseball verse in “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.”
But believe it or not, I’m here to defend BINGBONG, because the truth is, TikTok is where modern creativity lives. Where originality lives. There are brilliant creators and comedians and editors and directors and writers and actors on there, who exist exclusively within the confines of the medium. Admittedly, my knee-jerk reaction is always: what happened to craft? To trying and failing in the shadows before something beautiful can explode forth? But there is a craft to creating viral content; the honing just takes place in public.
We all know that social media is a complicated beast. It is both helpful and harmful. Limiting and expansive. It can make you rich, or it can make you a fool. And listen, I’ve tried to capitalize—I want nothing more than to author a viral Twitter thread and get a three-picture deal. I am objectively hilarious, and I’ve posted some real zingers in my time, always garnering the same result: I get a few likes from my friends, and the attention stops there. Is it because I’m not actually that funny? Absolutely not, don’t be ridiculous. It’s because I don’t know how to play the social-media game.
I recently worked with an Office Production Assistant on his first-ever job on a television show. He was a TikTok star before he even started the job and began featuring the show in his videos. Now, one year later, he’s in the writers’ room. He has mastered the game.
If you’re not in this rare position, don’t panic. I believe competitions are still the best bet for an unknown writer or filmmaker in West Butthole, Nowhere. I’m from East Butthole, so I can say that. But even those are limiting, as you’re at the mercy of unknowable tastes and practices on the receiving end. Plus, you usually have to pay a submission fee and, after a while, those add up. For me, at this point in my life and career, I’ve resigned myself to the old-fashioned route: work your way up, write on the side, call in favors when you’re ready. I’ve never written a pitch deck, never submitted a spec, never shot a sizzle. But I have made shorts, assisted directors, won festivals.
There is no one way to come up.
In my senior year of college, I moved to Los Angeles. I thought this was it. I was never coming home, I’d see my parents twice a year, my friends would forget my name. I wept at my birthday party, embarrassingly hard, and almost broke the dog’s neck hugging her goodbye. I was stepping into the rest of my life. This was a fact. I saw the smog from the plane, and my heart pounded.
Here I come, Hollywood.
OK well, that lasted for six months so it certainly wasn’t the rest of my life. I had an internship at GhostCorp—Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters-themed offshoot of his Montecito Picture Company. And before you ask … I never even spoke to the guy. My beef is not with him. My beef is that my job was to be a script reader. That is, when I wasn’t fetching pastrami sandwiches for the producers. I was supposed to be the first gatekeeper blocking all the shit scripts from getting any extra attention and championing the great ones. And I had wanted to do work like this since I was 10. Problem is, I didn’t read one script in the six months I was there. I was reading and writing coverage all day long, don’t get me wrong, but only novels. Which I didn’t mind, I love books, it just seemed … off.
At the end of the run, when I came home to New York with my tail between my legs, having to look my birthday party guests in the eyes again, I hadn’t read one professional screenplay. I could tell you the difference between a good book and a bad book, but my learning ended there. (FYI—a bad book is set in 1910 San Francisco, with cellphones, half-written in Japanese with no translation.) When I asked why novels and not screenplays, I was met with, “We’re only looking for existing IPs that have a built-in fan base. We don’t want to take the risk on an original idea.”
WE. DON’T. WANT. TO. TAKE. THE. RISK. ON. AN. ORIGINAL. IDEA.
OK, ouch? Then what the fuck am I doing here, in another time-zone, busting my ass and smelling like pastrami all the time? So you can make a stale movie?
Unfortunately, this is the general consensus in Hollywood. There is just too much money at stake to gamble on a project that won’t hit its return. I am currently working on a $90m Netflix film. The cost to crew the set for one day is $240K—just in labor. Not including equipment, actors, location fees, etc. So I guess I get it, you know?
Studios can’t take the risk.
But do they realize that there is a universe of cheap, quality content with a “built-in fan base” living in a silly little app called TikTok? And again, I hate Tiktok. But it might be the saving grace for the future of the feature.
Some TikTok’s have high production value, and they fall squarely into the category of filmmaking. But what about screenwriting? Will sketches ever graduate into feature-length content? Maybe not. But will future humans even have the attention span for a feature film? We’ve already whittled down television seasons from 22 episodes to six. And even so, I bet you watched all of The White Lotus with your nose in the phone, watching other content.
Scrolling through TikTok, maybe.
So, FINE—TikTok ain’t that bad. I’m just jealous, of course. Jealous that I work like a yak for minimum wage while a teen farting on his mom gets a couple million. Jealous that these kids live in multi-million-dollar content houses and don’t have to go to school.
But mostly jealous that they have autonomy.
There are no pastrami-stained graybeards guarding the door to this new industry; it’s led by young kids who’ve grown up with the world on fire, quite literally, who are saying, “Fuck it. I’m gonna make what I like.”
I’ll BINGBONG to that.
*Feature photo by Inga Seliverstova (Pexels)