"I didn't want the film to be making any sort of judgment..." gravida REVIEWED, plus a talk with writer-director LUCAS McNELLY
It’s easy to imagine the basic situation in Lucas McNelly’s fine, patiently observed short film gravida if it had been directed by, say, the chat-happy Richard Linklater as a domesticated, working-class Before Sunrise-- a young receptionist with a secret (Rachel Shaw) contrives a stay-at-home dinner date with an amiable bicycle delivery man (Adam Kukic), the conversation turning from awkward beginnings to heavy small talk as the evening logorrheically glides toward its downbeat conclusion. One might also, if one was feeling somewhat ungenerous, be able to mentally refigure gravida as the centerpiece of a typically egocentric episode of Ally McBeal-- Ally gulps and gawks and tilts her head through another squirm-inducing date, while intrusive and obvious visual metaphors crash through her apartment walls, Vonda Shepard underlines the direction of the scene in chalk-on-blackboard vocals, and Ally bulges her eyes and waxes adorably indecisive about whether or not to tell the guy about that bump in her belly.
Fortunately, though the situation may seem common enough for various, possibly vulgar visualizations, McNelly grounds his story in a patient, European-style contemplative mode that belies his uncertainty with the two actors together but stands him in good stead when it’s just him, his lovely lead actress and a cat alone together in the candle-lit apartment where this young woman finally begins to face a very particular fear of the unknown. There is a lovely sequence of shots that opens the film—Shaw, as Kristin, the film’s protagonist, awakens, each stage of the rising punctuated by brief dissolves to black and the plaintive strains of Ilona V’s “Good Morning,” used here to faintly ironic effect. Kristin rustles in bed, reluctantly rises, entertains her cat on the kitchen table while perfunctorily eating from a bowl of cereal, and then the sequence’s crowning bit of magic—the lap dissolve from that kitchen table scene to the cat poised in the hallway, alone, its head pressed to what surely is a door on the other side of which is his human. By intimating the needfulness of the animal, McNelly masterfully suggests the hunger for companionship of this young woman and pricks up our senses for the impending shot of the woman massaging her midsection with lotion in front of her bathroom mirror. From some, it will look like she’s just been away from the gym too long. Others will know right away the purpose of hydrating and softening this belly. Either way, Kristin’s secret (or the fact that she has one) has been revealed.
Unfortunately, while the scenes with Shaw and Kukic together suggest the very real awkwardness of a first-date situation, they also hint that the director-writer is less sure of his footing here. McNelly’s visual strength, his ability to poeticize the frame and bring out meaning by simple observation, is more subdued in this section. You can feel him nudging the actors into groping around some facile conversation, into the dinner date that Kristin suggests (as a way, we suspect, not of satisfying some promiscuous carnal desire, but to provide her with the simple companionship she knows she’s going to need in the coming months), and finally toward some groping of the other, more intimate kind. But his touch is much less assured once the date begins, and you keep hoping he’ll be able to make up for the diminished visual assurance with at least some good dinner conversation.
Alas, the dinner, though most certainly well cooked and satisfying for the characters, is less so for the audience, its apparent small talk muffled under the blanket of Amy Crawford’s bright and illustrative tune “All I Want.” The tune itself is rather lovely, but it’s not what I wanted to hear at this point. I wanted to hear the ways these two either talk intelligently or fumble around their own defenses; I wanted to hear how they finally come to realize that there is no real reason to resist the development of their flirtation into something more passionate. Instead, the sequence comes off more like a commercial for itself, the promise of insight packaged into a slightly hackneyed romantic comedy montage.
Fortunately, for us, when McNelly moves into the third act, when Kristin can no longer hide what it is she has decided will be an insurmountable obstacle in her pursuit of companionship, the movie regains its power, again through the quite alchemic collaboration of this young director and his female star. gravida, in its final sequences, is about one woman’s dawning realization of the gravity of her situation, but it’s also about nothing less than Shaw’s deceptively blank face, a mask of serene, porcelain beauty that cannot hide or contain the roiling fear and uncertainty underneath. As she rubs her belly again near the film’s conclusion, book-ending the seemingly innocuous gesture of morning prep from the beginning, Shaw cuts through any remaining reticence, belonging to either the character or to herself, and taps into an electric vein of empathy for the beleaguered Kristin. gravida leaves her tearfully face to face with an entirely new kind of intimacy waiting to replace that terrifying loneliness with which she is already familiar. Shaw reveals to us the degree to which Kristin is not lonely so much as truly alone and soon to be never alone. It’s the emotional high point of gravida, and one that McNelly should prize in his young career, this darkened sequence which closes out the movie, when he and Shaw effortlessly illustrate the moment when she grasps the temporal fleetingness of this comfortable, familiar sort of pain and longing, which is about to become but a wistful memory. In the end, the movie slips through our fingers, like a memory itself, which is, as it turns out, its most impressionable, poetic quality. gravida marks the first sure steps in what one hopes will be a long and fruitful filmmaking career for its director.
The DVD package on which gravida is the centerpiece also features two earlier films by Lucas McNelly-- L’Attente (2006), a four-minute, one-joke swipe at French New Wave conventions which details one man’s search for a cup of coffee, and the altogether charming and disarming Guard Duty (2005), a chip off of Errol Morris’ old block in which McNelly sets his home video recorder on the jocular efforts of two engineers to cook up some potatoes for a camp of hunters; pleasantly disorienting and amiable antics ensue (or not). You can purchase the gravida DVD here, and if you like what you see and want to turn yourself into a walking billboard for Pittsburgh independent film, you can pick up a DPress Productions t-shirt and show your support for Lucas’ efforts sartorially as well.
Already no stranger to the realities of getting the word out about a new film, Lucas McNelly agreed to sit down with me and talk about gravida, the Pittsburgh film scene and, of course, how blogging fits into his plan for world domination. Unfortunately, he’s on the East Coast and I’m on the West Coast, so the sit-down took place in front of our respective laptops, where we e-mailed back and forth over the last week. What follows, then, is a series of exchanges that, though originating in an electronically one-sided process, have been arranged and edited to resemble a conversation as much as possible. I think you’ll find Lucas an engaging, thoughtful and articulate interview subject, even though we never did get around to steering the conversation toward Lindsay Lohan, cheap beer or some of his more outrageous responses to Mr. Shoop’s recent summer school quiz. (If you haven’t yet participated yourself, read this interview and then click here.)
(Please be aware that, after reviewing the movie with some sensitivity toward preserving the central secret of the main character, Lucas and I dive headlong into SPOILER TERRITORY with the first question. If you are of the inclination to be bothered by revelations of this nature, consider yourself warned.)
DC: How did the idea for gravida come about? Did you have to look for a pregnant actress? Or did the actresses' pregnancy inform the concept of the film from the start? (By the way, as the father of two, I very much appreciate, in a non-salacious way, your visual sensitivity to the particular beauty of a pregnant woman's body.)
gravida writer director Lucas McNelly
LM: The idea for gravida, like most of my good ideas, came from a night of insomnia where I couldn't shake this image out of my head of the back of a topless woman with her head looking to the side. And while I couldn't figure out where the image came from, I knew it looked a lot like those early photos of nude models, so I started searching and found this bit of 19th century French erotica. The idea then became, what if this serene, somewhat erotic, image was the only moment in that scene that looked that way? What if this was one serene instant following an emotional breakdown? For at least the first 5 drafts, the film was actually about the nature of photography. The character wasn't pregnant and I was trying to find ways to realistically get her alone in her bedroom, topless and crying, but that was proving difficult.
At the same time, I was looking for an actress who had the ability to pull the role off, but at the same time was "classically beautiful" enough to look like a model, as I really wanted to sell the erotic Maxim magazine look and then subvert it. One of the first people I thought of was Rachel Shaw, who's actually a good friend of mine, but being pregnant, that wouldn't work. It was Rachel who first floated the idea of the character being pregnant, and once I got my head around that, it became pretty clear that a pregnant woman would be a lot more hormonal, and thereby more likely prone to crying. It cleaned up a lot of the logistical problems with the script.
Of course, being a single guy with no kids, I know almost nothing about pregnant women, so there was a long process (probably a month) of Rachel and I emailing back and forth trying to hammer out all the details of the script and, more importantly, the various emotions her character would be going through. All the while, I'm reading
everything I can find on Wikipedia about pregnancy. Believe me, that part was not fun, but I knew that if the film was going to have any credibility at all, I was going to really have to know what I was talking about.
DC: It’s not surprising to hear that the movie has its origins in still photography. The movie has a visual and poetic spareness and patience, qualities you share with another talented young filmmaker, David Lowery, which this old fart finds really refreshing, especially in an independent cinema that seems so much to be geared as a jittery calling card to Hollywood.
LM: A lot of the films I really love are older films that work on a different pacing than what you see today. Something as simple as Annie Hall that has an average shot length of something like 14 seconds rings more true to me than, say, a Michael Bay movie. Whenever I watch a great film where the director is content just let his camera film something without the need to chop it all up with a hundred
different angles, I almost always come away with the feeling that the director has a real confidence in his story's ability to get the job done. There's no need to distract the audience or do something flashy simply to keep them interested. So I probably gravitate toward that as a rule.
DC: There's something terribly moving about the lap dissolve from the still shot of Kristin (Rachel Shaw) playing with the cat who is sitting on the kitchen table, to a long shot of a quiet hallway, the cat pressed up against what surely must be a doorway. The cat seeks the company of her loved one, in much the same way as Kristin will reach out in a groping, trembling way to this young man in hopes of temporarily distracting her from the new, frightening intimacy in her life. As a young filmmaker, over the course of three films, you've established a comfort with holding long (or longish) shots. Do you feel a stylistic connection or commitment to the stillness of your camera? Do you have a desire to tell the kind of stories in film that would necessitate a different approach?
LM:I'm not a big fan of telling the audience over and over what's going on. I prefer to let the images and words do that subtly. One of my big worries about gravida was that parts of it might be too subtle, that things like the image of the cat in the hallway (a shot that took forever, by the way) or the photos of the ex-lover (played by yours truly) would go unnoticed and people would be left trying to figure out what the hell is going on. I'm still not sure how many people have picked up on the significance of the stuff she rubs on her stomach, for example.
As for the different approach, one of my favorite things to say is that art does not work for us; we work for the art. That is, a lot of filmmakers, both indie and Hollywood, get an idea in their head that they want to make a movie that looks like [insert famous movie] and they go about trying to shoehorn a story into those constraints. I try to do the exact opposite. I find a story that I feel is compelling and interesting on its own merits and then go about trying to find the best way to tell that story. So gravida works with color and specific framing and has a very passive, detached look where the camera almost never moves, because I didn't want the film to be making any sort of judgment about this woman and her actions. She's so very much on the fence as to whether or not you can support her morally that I didn't want the camera to be pushing the audience in either
direction. So it mostly just observes her and lets the audience decide for themselves what they think of her.
Conversely, L'Attente is a French New Wave film not because I thought it would be fun to make one (although it was), but because an hour or two before filming I realized that the only way I could effectively pull off a story so slight, so inconsequential, was to go with the French New Wave. So to an outside observer it might seem as if it "unintentionally belittles the film movement he intends to honor via homage by responding to the French New Wave on only the most superficial level", as Andy Horbal argues (and I'm not disagreeing with him—it’s definitely a valid point), I tend to feel that making it a New Wave film out of necessity is perhaps the greatest compliment. There was no other way I could think that it could work, and that's a lot of what the French New Wave stood for.
DC: Rachel Shaw has a strong presence in the role, which is fortunate because the entire movie seems to be, in retrospect as well as in the moment, about her face. In fact, the simple scenes of her being with herself, encouraging the audience to the kind of interior contemplation that is ringing unmercifully between her ears, are tenderly effective. Were you more comfortable with those scenes that with the set piece involving the dinner in the apartment and the first-date fumbling?
LM: I was, if for no other reason than Rachel and I had worked so hard to figure out what would be going through her mind that it really took very little direction. Mostly, I'd sit down with her just before the scene and we'd talk about where she is emotionally at that moment and we'd run it 6 or 7 times and that'd be it.
The first date fumbling was a little trickier because Adam Kukic was a late addition to the film and we only had a couple of hours of rehearsal to work everything out, so there was more of a feeling of flying without a net than there was in Rachel's solo scenes. Add to that the fact that I intentionally wanted the opening date interactions to be awkward and directed them to both take liberties with the script when needed and you've got a pretty high likelihood of it not working at all. Even deep into editing I wasn't sure the dialogue scenes were going to work as well as I wanted and I was tweaking the office scene all the way until the day before the premiere. Actually, if it weren't for the premiere, I'd probably still be tweaking it.
Your observation about her face is a good one. So much of the film relies on Rachel's ability to convey emotion through little more than her eyes. Fortunately, she was able to do that, not that I was all that worried about her.
DC: The reason I asked the previous question is mainly because I found the second song intrusive. The first song was effective as a way of setting the tone and easing the audience into the setting. But I wanted to hear their conversation (assuming it was all small talk). I wanted that conversation to offer us some clues to her psychological struggle that the song just couldn't mine.
LM: The conversation was all small talk. The original idea was to have less music there and sort of weave in and out of the dialogue, but it became apparent pretty quickly that it wasn't going to work. The over-lapping dialogue wasn't working in conjunction with the images and it was really at odds with the sparseness of the rest of the film. It was, in short, just a little too jumbled and messy, so I scrapped it.
DC: Was the song ready and waiting to be plugged in to the scene then?
LM: Amy Crawford's song (which I love, by the way) was a very late addition to the film. We didn't get full clearance for it until 3 days before the premiere, which incidentally was around the time I was having panic attacks. In the end, it was really a question of since the dialogue didn't work, and we didn't have the option of re-shooting anything, we had to go with a song montage. With a bigger budget, there might have been other options available, such as some more scoring by the Futility Parade, but I think given the circumstances, the Amy Crawford song was the best options. And that's nothing against Amy, who is uber-talented and was generous enough to let us use her song.
DC: Having made the observation about the intrusiveness of the song, I loved what follows-- the opening shot of the two of them on the couch, facing the (unseen) TV. There's a fleetingly comic awkwardness communicated there that reminded me a little of early De Palma. Who were the filmmakers you were thinking of when you conceived the film? Were they different ones from the ones you were thinking of when you directed it?
LM: The biggest single influence here isn't a filmmaker at all, but the short story writer Andre Dubus, who wrote "We Don't Live Here Anymore", "Adultery & Other Choices", and "The Killings", which became In the Bedroom. Dubus has this ability to create characters over the course of a story and then destroy their emotional core in one sentence. I loaned one of his books to a friend of mine who was about to get married and she said it terrified her. She couldn't finish it.
In terms of filmmakers, I was really thinking more about Kieslowski than anyone else. I had Rachel watch Blue and I brushed up on some of Dekalog. Early in the going, when the male character was written a lot younger, I was watching Jiri Menzel's Ostre sledovanй vlaky (Closely Watched Trains), but once we cast Adam, that got lost pretty quickly. There was also a bit of Claude Lelouch's Un homme et une femme in the beginnings of the date. During filming, it became pretty clear to me that I was treading pretty close to Bergman territory, especially that final scene. Overall, though, there's a definite Eastern European influence, but hopefully not one that's painfully obvious.
DC: Talk about the character's predicament. Andy Horbal observed about the film that it was "less 'a study of loneliness' than an observation from a distance of a day in the life of a lonely person." I didn't feel the distance from the character that Andy did, but maybe that phrase was employed because he found the behavior displayed in this "day in the life" somewhat generic. Whereas for me, especially the second time through, the movie seemed very much about this woman's trepidation at the prospect of trading in a familiar kind of loneliness for a new form of intimacy looming on the horizon that she fears will replace solitude (which she may on some level enjoy) with an ever-present responsibility that will leave her feeling not lonely, but truly alone.
LM: The phrase "a study in loneliness" was initially designed primarily as
a promotional means of keeping people unsure as to what the film is really about, as I was trying to keep the story of the film under wraps until the premiere, thinking the less information people had, the more powerful the end would be. I didn't want people to know it was about a pregnant woman or anything like that (although, based on the title and the first teaser, one could figure out the entire film if they felt so inclined, but no one really did). I didn't expect the loneliness phrase to catch on as much as it has, but oh well.
For me, the loneliness simply the motivating factor that pushes her into action. It gives her a desperation that causes her to engineer a delivery to the office in the hope that it might lead to a date and, later, causes her to seduce this guy--a high risk move that assures this won't be a long-term relationship. Ultimately she's not looking for a baby daddy or anything like that. All she wants is some companionship, someone to fill that space in her bed, that space you see in the frame during the opening scenes. Honestly, I don't think she cares about the sex at all, but sees the sex as a means to get him to spend the night. Ultimately, though, this is the first time she's hit with the realization that she's actually carrying a child. After he leaves and she's rubbing that oil stuff on her stomach there's a realization that what she had been treating as simply routine is of great consequence. Her eyes have that "Oh, my god, what did I almost do?" moment which, to me, is the moment she becomes a mother to that child. Up until that point, it was something to hide, something she had to deal with, instead of a responsibility that she had to care for. So while it may seem that nothing has been accomplished (she is, after all, still lonely), there's a rather large jump in maturity for Kristin.
DC: I watched gravida the first time on my big-screen TV, the second time on my laptop, and the intimacy of the smaller screen really seemed to suit the film (and it corrected some of the video resolution problems I was able to detect in some of the shots). How did gravida feel to you in a theater?
LM: It felt weird to me in the theatre, but then again, all my films feel weird to me in the theatre. L'Attente probably works the best on the big screen, because there isn't any resolution to lose, I've already added enough grain that it looks the same blown-up (or even better). The Hollywood Theatre has a brand-new high-def projector, so gravida looked pretty good up there, even though it was shot in standard def. Essentially, the projector prevented a lot of the resolution problems inherent in seeing DV so big.
DC: Do you find, especially working in video, you're thinking about alternative avenues, at the production level, for audiences to approach your films as new technological options arise?
LM: I don't know that when I'm working on something there's a voice in the
back of my head going, "Gee, I wonder how this will look on someone's iPod" because I'm spending all my efforts trying to make it work as effectively as possible in conjunction with the story. But if I'm aiming for one method of viewing it, I'd probably say it's for a 30-inch TV, as that's about the point that DV starts looking bad. But the monitor I edit on is pretty small (17 inches?), so that's got to be a factor as well.
DC: What is the back story of the gents from Guard Duty? This is the kind of simple comedy of observation where I feel like knowing too much about the background of the characters would undermine the sort of found humor of the piece. I like the sense of disorientation that you get from jumping into it midstream.
LM: George Peters and Bob Buric (the two gents) are both friends of my father, both highly intelligent, successful engineers who certainly are smart enough to cook something simple. The film actually came about from me playing around with my brother's cheap digital 8 camera he bought at Wal-Mart and just randomly taping the preparations for a meal at our family's hunting camp in the Maine woods. About half-way through I started to realize there was some real potential there and actually got up from where I was sitting and bothered to frame a shot. George and Bob were mostly unaware the camera was even there. It's very much the accidental film it appears to be. There's also a 15-minute version that feels a bit bloated and the only reason Guard Duty is 4 minutes long is because I decided to enter it in some local contest where it could only be 4 minutes (adding some nice humor to the line, "four minutes, I don't know..."). I knew it needed to be shorter, I just needed an excuse to re-edit it.
DC: L'Attente feels like a lark, but gravida does not. Yet I felt the titles at the end kind of undercut the seriousness of your intent, or acted as a defense mechanism, as if to say, if it didn't work for you, that's okay—we're not taking ourselves too seriously here anyway. (Among the end credits are title cards which read "D Press Productions does not condone getting pregnant, leaving your pregnant girlfriend, or seducing some poor guy you haven't yet told, just because you happen to be lonely" and "A deer was harmed in the making of this film, but not on purpose"). Yet you are—the movie is not pitched toward parody, certainly.
LM: Yeah, Gravida is definitely not a parody in any way. Hell, there's almost no humor in it. The titles (which several people have pointed out as being at odds with the rest of the film) come partly from a concern during filming that it might seem as if the film is condoning Kristin's actions, so I wanted to put in some sort of disclaimer and it kind of just snowballed a little bit. In retrospect, it may have been a little much, but at the same time it gives the audience something of a release before the lights come up. But I can certainly see the argument that the disclaimer shouldn't be there.
DC: How did the recent screening of the film in Pittsburgh go?
LM:In terms of people showing up and us making back the rental costs, it went okay. We were five people short of breaking even in that regard and a lot of people who said they'd show up didn't. But, you'll have that. More importantly, the reaction from the people who were there was great. Jerome Wincek played a wonderful set (with help from Nate Custer), and the audience was willing to engage all three of the films, which isn't always the case. There was a lot of positive reaction to David Lowery's Some Analog Lines, there was laughter during L'Attente, and there was utter silence during the final third of gravida, which I take as a good sign. Overall, the feeling I got from people (and this could just be people being nice) was one of surprise that a night of local film didn't feature slapstick comedy or zombies or horror, that instead what they got was a serious drama. People seemed to find that refreshing on some level. And I know a lot of people were impressed with the venue, which may just be the best kept secret in Pittsburgh film.
DC: What is going on with the Pittsburgh film scene? Does it have a
vitality you can tap into like, say, Austin does?
LM: Pittsburgh, it seems, has something of an inferiority complex in regards to the film scene, so there's a lot of navel gazing and complaining that we all don't live somewhere else, conveniently forgetting that you can do good work anywhere. I know there have been some attempts to enhance the social networking aspect of the city, but nothing's really come of it. If I had to pin it down, I'd say what we've got is some crew people that work for a number of different people, but the directors and production groups are scattered around the city, doing their own thing. Some of them are willing to expand into other areas and others are not. But there isn't a vitality that's even close to Austin or any of the other cities, and ultimately that may take me out of the city within the next year or two, but that's all in the air, of course.
DC: How's George A. Romero doing these days?
LM: You know, I could have sworn I saw George A. Romero like a year ago,
but I can't be sure.
DC: Is Romero’s a legacy in Pittsburgh film that still carries weight, as either legend or something young filmmakers aspire to?
LM: Honestly, in regards to Romero I'm a bad person to ask as I'm not fond
of horror (I have a weak stomach for such things), nor am I originally from Pittsburgh. Romero, therefore, means very little to me and I don't tend to pay any extra attention to conversations that involve him. But if I had to guess, I'd say he's a guy that still has a lot of influence in the local horror circles, obviously, but probably not significantly more than anywhere else. Everyone is aware of him, sure, but aren't they aware of him everywhere? I know it's not something I aspire to or even think about.
I also have the dual problem where I'm terrible at both networking and remembering people's names (those are probably related issues, I imagine), so I tend to be bad at the "recommend local filmmakers questions". I know there's a lot of good buzz around the new Encyclopedia Destructica DVD, which is now available for purchase, and Lift, a short by Hugues Dalton and Jeff Garton that starred Dominique Pinon. Other than that, all of the names I can think of are either people who have moved out of the city (like Rue Snider, who I thought was really close to doing some interesting work) or have shown work that's been underwhelming, to put it nicely.
That doesn't mean there aren't good ones, though, so I emailed Andy Horbal, who had this to say: "Justin Crimone (doing interesting things with horror, though he still has a long way to go), Jessica Fenlon (ambitious, experimental, used to organize Viewer Discretion), Ben Hernstrom (smart guy, in charge of ambulantic), Jesse McLean (widely regarded as *the* best local filmmaker, she won a prize at the Black Maria Film Festival a few years ago , unfortunately she's leaving town for grad school), Gordon Nelson (he's one of the guys who does Jefferson Presents, but I don't know his work well), and Ross Nugent (my favorite local filmmaker, also experimental, his work looks a bit like Jordan Belson's, though Ross claims he isn't a conscious influence)."
DC: How long have you been blogging? What do you find to be your main focus
with that form?
LM: According to Blogger, it's been since around September/October of 2005, so almost two years. For me, the main focus is that writing about film forces me to look at it critically in a way I wouldn't otherwise. It's one thing to watch a film and say, "Yeah, I kind of liked it." It's another thing to sit down and write 800 words on why. It forces me to dig deeper and really try and figure out what does and does not work. That translates to my own work in obvious ways, as I can use those same techniques on my own work. Essentially, it keeps me sharp.
And since it doesn't really matter what I'm reviewing and writing about, it seemed pretty logical to use that space and whatever number of readers I've accumulated to do some good for fellow filmmakers by way of the uber-indie project, which gives no-budget filmmakers both the exposure and the constructive criticism that so many of us crave. Not everyone sees the value in what often comes off as harsh criticism, but I'm of the belief that it's better for me to say your film has fundamental problems now, so you can work on that going forward, than to have Roger Ebert say it on national TV after you've maxed out all your credit cards. At the no-budget stage of filmmaking no one (myself included) is a finished product, but it's so easy to find friends and relatives who will tell you how brilliant you are, and while that's nice, it doesn't really help you improve as a filmmaker. It just inflates your ego. If you're clearly already brilliant, why should you bother to improve?