kortina.nyc / notes / devlog
2 Jan 2024 | by kortina

Recap 2023 // In Circles... Maybe Even Backwards

This was a year of grand plans that I spent going in circles… maybe even backwards.

yellow leaves Fallen leaves.

Essays / Talks

I wrote two new essays this year (both prepared for and delivered as talks for different MIT student groups).

Another Day in Paradise. I personally liked this one better. It’s a collection of thoughts about “pragmatic optimism” I’ve been collecting for a while and finally got around to writing.

another day in paradise Job site in DUMBO.

The T-Shirt Shop at the End of the World. Other people seemed to respond to this one better. I wrote it as a follow-up to Another Day in Paradise after I observed that one didn’t seem to land quite as I intended. This essay is more about the creative process / where I’ve been getting stuck / where I’ve been getting things done this year.

the t-shirt shop at the end of the world Honey, no one ever paid to see under the top. – Joel Schumacher.

I’ve also just finished a draft of a third essay on the technological sublime in Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises. I’ll publish that early next year. There’s a chance I do it as a live talk somewhere first. And there’s a chance I publish it as a film essay, not a written one.

we are not arms merchants. we just want to build good aircraft The Wind Rises (2013).


Whenever I spend time with college students – doing talks, mentoring at student hackathons, organizing seminars MIT’s IAP program – I love it. So, one of my side goals for 2023 was to figure out how to adjunct teach an undergraduate class (ideally a creative writing workshop) at one of the CUNY community colleges.

So far, figuring out how to do this has been trickier than I anticipated. I’ve been watching openings on the cuny.jobs board. I’ve sent a few emails to random English and faculty email addresses that have “black holed.”

I have had a few productive conversations with friends of friends affiliated with CUNY. In one of these I heard that – even for an adjunct role – one of the first filters for even looking at an application is having a PhD or Masters in the field you want to teach. If you don’t (like me), it’s hard to even get considered unless you are well-published in that field.

I’m continuing to plug away at this and hoping to figure it out in 2024. So, if you know anyone that might be helpful to talk to about this, please lmk!


What’s the most important thing in the film business?

… an indie doc producer I met this year was telling me this story about some of the best advice he ever got.


… his tentative answer. Wrong.


It made sense in the way any generic business advice makes sense when he told me the story back in Feb.

But since then, I’ve had the opportunity to live it.

In Jan I had a screenplay I was ready to shoot. I decided to make a few “final tweaks” and… well, that’s what The T-Shirt Shop at the End of the World is all about…

Going in circles on that screenplay did at least motivate me to get some other things done, I guess.


Telling Mattresses Stories. I missed my 2022 goal of completing this short film, but Rob and I finished it this year ✅. It’s in film-festival-submission-purgatory right now, and I’m planning to put it public on Vimeo in 2024.

telling mattresses stories Telling Mattresses Stories.

Lost Gloves. A short, experimental film about my old neighbor and friend from Oakland – John – and the cosmic significance of our text message exchange of photos of lost gloves. Also in purgatory, also going public on Vimeo next year.

lost gloves Lost Gloves.

Friends + Family Screening RSVP.

I’m planning to do a private friends + family screening of Lost Gloves and Telling Mattresses Stories in NYC on Fri 12 Jan 2024.

RSVP here if you’re interested in coming.

The Woman in the Sauna Hat. Back when I lived in Oakland, I did The 48 Hour Film Project a few times, and I’ve been waiting for them to do a competition open to New Yorkers since I moved back. They finally hosted one – open to anyone in the world – the Four Points Film Project.

Rob and I made a fun little short for it.

the woman in the sauna hat The Woman in the Sauna Hat.

Super Diva! It’s been some time since I heard back from the last of the in-person festivals I submitted to, but I just got lazy sitting on this most of the year, telling myself for months, “I’ll post to an online film festival.” Unsurprisingly (to me at least) I dragged my feet on this all year… but writing this 2023 recap motivated me to finally do it! As soon as I hear back either way, I’ll put this public on Vimeo.

super diva Super Diva!

Dérive. Lianne – a friend I met a screenwriting class way back in Jan 2021 – shot her short film Dérive this year. I PA-ed for the 4-day Brooklyn shoot, met a ton of great people, and learned about the “joys” of production in NYC. I’m really proud to have been part of her film, and I’m looking forward to seeing this on the big screen once it gets out of purgatory!

CCFY Promo. Jon, the AD on Dérive, invited me to PA for a 1-day shoot of a promotional video for CCFY, a youth organization based in the Bronx. It was a very lean crew and another fun day of learning.

A/V Retro and Goals

I’m happy to have PA-ed for a few shorts this past year, and that is something I would love to do more of in 2024.

Feature script. I’m not thrilled that I didn’t hit my primary goal of shooting a feature film this year. And while I’d love to shot a feature next year, it’s tough to set that as a goal given that I’m not even beginning the year with a script I want to shoot.

Realistically, shooting a feature in 2024 is a stretch goal, and I’ll be happy if I get back to a script I feel is ready to shoot.

I have some ideas for another story – one that has a bit of a Grinch Stole Christmas vibe to it – and I think I might get more energized working on something new rather than returning to the story I spent the last year going in circles on, so it’s possible the script I land on will be a new story altogether.

We’ll see. I’m just going to try to follow the momentum ;)

grinch Staring down from his cave with a sour, Grinchy frown / At the warm lighted windows below in their town.

Paying the Rent. In 2024, I also want to figure out how to start making and releasing smaller things in a way that can start paying some of the rent.

Very unlikely that this will be commercial or traditional Hollywood industry type work.

More likely, it will be very scrappy / indie / low-budget / no-budget stuff, distributed directly to the internet, involving YouTube or Patreon or Substack or some combination of these.


Last year, I wanted to get on a more regular cadence of publishing what I’m learning on the devlog section of this site. I wouldn’t say I nailed this, but I did start a few more pages:

film devlog #3 // Speed Boosters, Image Sensor Crop Factor, FOV, F-stop, and Focal Length. A handy spreadsheet I put together to make sense of focal length conversions for my bmpcc4k camera.

film devlog #4 // Shooting with Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Cameras. Running log of tips about shooting with the bmpcc4k, the Black Magic Camera iOS app, and the native iOS video camera app.

film devlog #5 // Shot Notes. Running list of shots that catch my eye and why I like them.


Documentary Editing Fundamentals // Jacob Bricca // May 2023

A 3h Sundance Collab “masterclass.”

Key tips:

Screenwriting: Rewriting Your Feature // Jessica Sharzer // Jun 2023

Second time I’ve done this class. I signed up mostly because I wanted a deadline for finishing and then feedback on a new revision, but I gotta say Jessica’s lectures were great.

Key tips:

Directing: How to Effectively Collaborate with Your Cinematographer // Tal Lazar // Jul 2023

A follow-up to the Sundance Collab Visual Storytelling class. My favorite moment was when Tal said:

As a cinematographer, I would rather me make ugly, impactful movies than beautiful, empty movies.

Sounds like something out of my favorite Charlie Kaufman speech.

Another favorite exercise in this class – Tal asked us to write down all of the things that happen in this story:

A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream. The scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog replies, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion says, “Because if I do, I will die too.”

The frog is satisfied, and they set out. In midstream the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the pain and starts to sink, but has enough time to gasp “Why?”

Replies the scorpion: “It’s my nature…”

Then he asked, what are the most important moments in the scene. Tal’s list:

These moments are the subtext, the things that make this story different from every other story, the CLOSE UPS, the STORY.

Everything else is behavior, visual, action, the PLOT.

Unearthing the Media Archives // DCTV F23 // Sheila Maniar // Nov 2023

A workshop I did at DCTV, a pretty cool indie doc theatre that opened in Soho last year.

Key tips:

The Art of Documentary

I’ve been watching Mark Bone’s YouTube for a while now, and he’s constantly mentioning the online Art of Documentary academy he and Michael Del Monte run, so when they had a Black Friday Bundle sale, I bought a few of the courses:

One of the things I love about these guys is how many low-budget / no-budget / minimal-crew films they have done.

I’m making my way through Module 2 right now and it’s quite good. Expect to see all of these classes in my recap next year.

The Go-To Editor Course // This Guy Edits

Another Black Friday Sale purchase from another YouTube channel I have been following for a while, This Guy Edits.

One of the things that excites me about this course is that it’s taught using DaVinci Resolve, which I use for everything (editing, sound, color, delivery) even though it’s really only industry standard for color (most professionals use Avid or Premiere to edit).

Herzog Teaches Filmmaking // Masterclass

OK, I did this Herzog class in 2018, but recently re-stumbled across it and decided to log it here since I don’t have a 2018 recap.

I also went to a live q&a with Herzog this year at Pioneer Works that was pretty unbearable (ego). The masterclass was far better than the q&a. And despite the ego, I can’t just can’t dispute the quality of the films he makes.

Mamet Teaches Dramatic Writing // Masterclass

This Mamet class is another oldie I’m throwing in for posterity. The only note I dug up checks out:



OK, not something I wrote, but…

Large Language Models (like OpenAI’s ChatGPT) hit the mainstream this year, and I gotta say these things are simply amazing if you are curious and love to learn about the world (like I do).

NB1: Advertising and Intellectual Property. One of the best things about the LLM interface if you hate ads (like I do) is that there are no ads.

Great as a user, that is, but less so for someone that depends on ads for income.

The NYT just filed a copyright violation against OpenAI and Microsoft – and I think they have a pretty legitimate case, at least according to the way intellectual property law currently works.

Many smart people who like the way IP law works argue that the only way new knowledge will ever get produced is to allow people to hold monopoly rights over intellectual property which creates a market for the sale of publication and distribution rights.

I remain unconvinced that this is the only viable system for funding the production of new knowledge, however.

I could imagine – as one example – a world where you have people spend some percentage of their time creating new knowledge, contributing this knowledge to the public domain, and then earning their living through some other means, such as teaching.

Of course, you’d need to have mechanisms for preventing from profits to accrue to distributors under such a scheme, but this seems like a tractable problem.

That said, I DO think fact checking attribution, and citing sources are important, and there’s lots of work to do to get LLMs doing a better job of this.

NB2: Curiosity. Using LLMs to learn all sorts of interesting things about the world got me really appreciating curiosity – both in general and in myself. It’s one of my favorite things.


When I first started messing around with ChatGPT, I was pretty frustrated by the web version – the UI is kind of underwhelming, and it used to constantly log you out. So I made this little command line cli – ai-python – for interacting with it. I still use it most of the time for my ChatGPT queries, cause it’s a bit faster for me than going to the web UI.

Aside: Speaking of frustrating UI, has anyone else noticed the tap targets on the send button for the ChatGPT iOS app are way too small and impossible to hit?

what is the air speed velocity of a swallow What is the air speed velocity of a swallow?


I used to do my story outlining with Figma, but (1) I ran into some issues with huge boards and (2) I didn’t love the fact that you had to have a live internet connection to use it, so I switched all of my outlining over to using the excalidraw extension for VS Code. It has as similar interface to Figma, but stores everything locally as json files.

excalidraw sequence diagram Sequence diagrams in Excalidraw.

Health / Fitness


This is the second year I’ve been using the simple Serene fasting tracker iOS app. Pretty comparable to last year (except for the max multi-day fast):

Year Num Avg Hours Max Hours Num 20+ Hour
2022 320 17.1 113.8 58
2023 332 16.8 50.5 44

A nutrition goal last year was to eat raw / fresh salad more often for dinner. I didn’t really do this, so I’m going to carry over this goal. I also want to get my avg fast back over 17h and do a 24+ hour fast once per month.

NB for next year: export data from Serene, convert to csv, import into this spreadsheet.


Another drop in mileage and count this year, but I chalk that up to some injuries that sidelined me for almost all of Sep and Oct.

Next year I want to get this mileage back up to the 700s-800s for both rides and runs.

Activity Num Miles Hours
Ride 65 662 33
Run 127 632 78
Workout 15 0 4
Yoga 51 0 20

This is only the stuff I logged in strava (which I have auto-importing rides, yoga, strength workouts, etc from Peloton).

NB for next year: download data from the strava download/delete web page, import activities.csv into this spreadsheet, update pivot table in 2nd tab.

Morning Routine. Not logged in strava, I also added a daily PT / strength routine that I do as soon as I get out of bed every morning. Currently consists of:


When I was injured in Sep / Oct this year, I was unable to do any sort of sweat or vigorous exercise and barely leaving my house.

This got me to REALLY internalize a few things I already sensed about myself.

Sweat Therapy. Exercise and sunshine are some of the only things in life that consistently feel good to me. I’ve always used exercise – and in particular, vigorous exercise – as a sort of therapy. Very rarely will I miss a day, no matter how shitty I’m feeling, and even more rarely will I regret exercising once I’ve done it.

Sunshine. I tend to prefer getting outdoors for exercise over going to the gym – the fresh air and sunshine are invigorating, and this is another easy way to lift my mood.

Substitutes. I did manage to find some decent substitutes that I think I would have been in a really bad place without. I got my sweat on by going to the sauna way more than usual. And I did more frequent and longer outdoor walks than usual to get my fix of fresh air and sunshine and some (not-so-vigorous) movement.

Being an Introvert is Complicated. One of the things I love about NYC is how easy it is to get together with other people – you can basically get anywhere and see anyone in under an hour.

This low-barrier to social activity really works for me. When I live places where there’s more friction to seeing friends, I quickly revert to my natural tendency of being a hermit.

The flip side – and another great thing for introverts – is there’s also a very low-barrier to exiting a social situation, and I’m a master of the Irish-goodbye =P

So while I was injured, I was just sitting at home for a few months, and a lot of people came to visit, to just sit and chit-chat.

On the one hand, I was really grateful that I have people in my life who care enough to do this.

On the other hand, it was A LOT more sitting around chit-chatting than I’m used to, and it got to be pretty draining after a while.

I think I tend to socialize better over an activity – doing something active, playing a sport or game, cooking, or working on some sort of project together. And I prefer to take slower, more meditative downtime alone.

Massage. OK, this is not so much something I learned about myself so much as a discovery that came out of the injury. For the twenty-ish years I’ve lived in NYC, I’ve been searching for THE MASSAGE and I think I finally it. A Chinese body work place in the West Village – similar to Suchada Thai but you’re on a table, not on the floor. Better than almost any other massage I have had in NYC, and the price is right: $65 for 90 minutes! This has really been helping with a hamstring injury that’s been plaguing me for years.


I read about 35 books this year. One improvement here is I got much better about abandoning books I was not loving.

The definitive highlight was a deep dive on Cormac McCarthy – inspired by his passing this summer. I read 8 of his books this fall. The best of these were Stella Maris and The Passenger.

I also read all the interviews I could find with McCarthy – there aren’t many. I loved this bit from a 2009 WSJ interview:

WSJ: How does that ticking clock affect your work? Does it make you want to write more shorter pieces, or to cap things with a large, all-encompassing work?

CM: I’m not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn’t take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.


Some other books worthy of mention:

New Media

New section this year – cause don’t really watch TV (and I don’t even watch that many movies, considering I’m learning filmmaking).

Most of what I watch is on YouTube, and a lot of what I read is published straight to the internet. I guess you could say I’m mostly a consumer of the “creator economy.”

As a creator, I feel like direct distribution is more my “style” than than traditional channels, so I also like to keep an eye on how it’s working for other people – particularly for people who publish less frequently than once per week (which seems to get you points with “the algorithm” but imo is not as compelling as publishing more polished things every few months).

So, where it’s possible / makes sense below, I’ve included subscriber stats.

Be good

On EconTalk, Adam Mastroianni argues that some wisdom can only be gained through experience – not through telling – and he reminisces about his grandmother’s go to farewell:

“Be good.”

Simple to say and hear, but profound to do. Mastroianni remembers fondly how clearly his grandmother lived these words in her every action.

Russ says his dad used the same farewell and wonders if his dad meant to say “be well” instead of be good – which is also a common farewell, what you would say if you were wishing someone good health.

Hearing the two phrases juxtaposed got me thinking how much I love the “be good” version. It’s not just wishing someone good health. It’s far more opinionated, far more profound – it’s a moral imperative, which (I believe) if followed, will lead to a far better life than one of mere good health.

I love it.

Above and Beyond Kindness

Another EconTalk – Alexandra Hudson tells a story from her book on civility about a woman whose “above and beyond” hospitality illustrates Adam Smith’s two types of civility: justice – the bare minimum of civility required for a society to survive; and beneficence – a proactive, supererogatory, “above and beyond” level of kindness.

Russ responds:

And, when you can go above and beyond – the trivial way we describe it is: it makes your day. It makes someone’s day.

But it’s so much more than that. It revives your faith in humanity. It’s just a wonderful thing. When you’re obligated to do something by a social norm but you go beyond the norm – to meet the norm is a high level, because the self-love wants you to free-ride on it – but to go beyond that – and to not just meet it, but exceed it – is such a nice thing. And it’s relatively easy to do.

It is easy to do, and it is a wonderful thing.

Like the other EconTalk episode that made my day, I found it so refreshing to hear genuine praise for kindness – which all too often gets ignored, or laughed at, or dismissed as naive these days.

It’s a little corny…

Speaking of kindness, Nam just sent me this 2013 George Saunders convocation address where he’s saying the same thing:

So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.

Maybe (to Saunders’ point) I’m just getting older and my self will is diminishing and being replaced by love, but I’m really feeling this kindness stuff this year.

Story Club

114k subs. Saunders’ excellent substack on writing.


507 paid patrons. One of the best things I encountered this year was Bartosz Ciechanowski’s deep (deep, deep) dive on how a Bicycle works.

It’s wonderful, and you should read it.

Down the Rabbit Hole

1.25M subs, 1.1k paid patrons. I am kind of a sucker for anything to do with cults – I added a “TV” section to the 2022 recap just so I had a place to put Q: Into the Storm and The Vow. Wild Wild Country also comes to mind…

Down the Rabbithole is a YouTube channel that does docs on fringe stuff, cults, and outsider characters. The logline for an episode on TempleOS will give you a sense:

In the late 2000s, a man begins relentlessly sharing his custom operating system, but when people take notice of the man’s strange behavior, they become witness to the degradation of his mental state.

Atrocity Guide

485k subs, 369 paid patrons. Atrocity Guide is a another YouTube channel on fringe characters that I discovered this year.

Ian Hubert

692k subs, 4.6k paid patrons. Ian Hubert is making a cyberpunk film called DYNAMO DREAM. He shoots live action / green screen, uses Blender for VFX.

His work is ridiculously impressive. Each episode clearly takes an enormous amount of work, so they drop pretty infrequently.

Hubert also has a patreon where he more regularly posts screen share tutorials of how to use Blender. I’m not even trying to learn Blender and I find this entertaining, I guess maybe in the same way I imagine you might watch The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross.

Like Stories of Old

671k subs, 700 paid patrons. I watch a fair number of film essays on YouTube, and Like Stories of Old consistently puts out the some of the best ones. His essays always have deep, original theses that expand far beyond the bounds of the films they feature, unlike essays on other channels, which often feel more confined to the bounds of the films they feature.

Thomas Flight

946k subs, 224 paid patrons. Thomas Flight produces another of the better film essay channels that I follow.


236k subs, no patreon. Dodford is one of the more exciting YouTube discoveries I’ve made in a while. I found him via the How to Edit Documentaries like Dodford episode of The Editing Podcast (also quite a good channel, btw).

Dodford started out doing short form on TikTok / Instagram and more recently began doing longer stuff on YouTube.

His most recent videos use exclusively film, TV, and archival interview footage – there’s no reliance on voiceover commentary from Dodford himself. This is a dramatic restriction to place on yourself when you’re trying to develop an original thesis – essentially you’re using all first hand quotes with no original exposition – but the episodes I’ve seen have been really compelling and original nonetheless.

Aside: I went to the premiere of Time Bomb Y2K at DCTV this year. A great film that used purely archival footage, but in the q&a one of the directors said something to the effect of, “most people look back on this now and thing it was a bunch of worrying over nothing, but the only reason it was nothing was that a lot of people did a lot of work to ensure nothing broke.” I was surprised to hear this, because this sentiment was not obvious to me in the film I had just watched. It struck me as evidence of how hard can be to convey a simple (and crucial) point like this without any voiceover, and how relatively easy it is to say it in a single sentence. If I hadn’t been at the q&a, I would have still been under the impression Y2K was no big deal…

Kagami // VR by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Tin Drum

Before this year, I wasn’t that excited about VR. But this VR exhibit at The Shed completely changed my mind about it.

It was basically a solo piano performance by Ryuichi Sakamoto. You could see “through” other audience members with your VR glasses. And you could wander around – even right up to Sakamoto, where you could look right over his shoulder and watch him play individual notes and chords. There was no bad “seat” in the house, and the view was better than you would get anywhere but a private living room concert.

The music was extremely minimal. The visuals were totally stripped down. So, human and poignant.

I went twice. It was incredibly beautiful.

Set list: Before Long, Aoneko no Torso, Andata, Energy Flow, MUJI2020, The Seed and The Sower, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, Aqua, The Last Emperor, BB.

TV / Film

For the sake of emphasis, I’m only listing one thing here this year:

Users. An absolutely wonderful film from Natalia Almada.

Long, meditative shots of computers, machines, waves, and fires reminded me of Koyaanisqatsi. But, in my opinion, Users is like a better version of Koyaanisqatsi because it’s more personal – it takes the form of a letter from a mother to her children, speculating on the world they will inherit.

… OK, I lied, I need to also mention…

Past Lives, because it’s amazing.

And Werckmeister Harmonies, which I happened to catch at Lincoln Center. Bela Tarr makes exactly the kind of film I usually find way too “art-house” (ie pretentious), but I find Tarr’s films absolutely riveting.

The Turin Horse

Speaking of Bela Tarr, I also saw his film The Turin Horse this year. Not as good as Werckmeister Harmonies or Satantango imo, but it did turn me on to this apocryphal story about Nietzsche that immediately became part of my “personal canon” of references:

On January 3, 1889, in an outburst, Nietzsche left the home of his hosts in the Italian city to witness a scene which irreversibly touched his soul: a horse being whipped by the driver of a chariot. Seeing this, Nietzsche threw himself onto the neck of the animal to defend him from the blows. He immediately burst into tears. That same day, he was almost arrested for rioting, but was saved by his Italian host and taken home. The episode, hovering somewhere between legend and reality, marks the beginning of the madness which was to last 11 years until the very day of Nietzsche’s death.

Roger Corman

Roger Corman is a legend of low-budget indie filmmaking who directed 55 movies and produced 385 of them. He only lost money on one of these.

He’s an inspiration.

This year, I watched a doc about him – Corman’s World – and I just love this moment where he talks about the “obscene” cost of Hollywood movies:

N: When you read that a picture cost $35 million to make, what do you think of that cost?

RC: Actually I think it’s wrong. I think the artist should be able to express himself for less money than that. And the businessman should be able to invest his money better. I think from both an artistic and a commercial standpoint, it is wrong to spend that much money. And in addition, I think there are better things to do with the money in our society. You could – for $30 million or $40 million, which is what some of these films are costing – you could rebuild a portion of the slums of a city, just as one example.

N: So you think it’s obscene to spend that much money.

RC: Yes, I would use that word.



Thank-You Letters. Something I noticed about the things I actually managed to finish this year – Telling Mattresses Stories, Lost Gloves, even the talks I did at MIT to a certain extent – was they were about people or things that inspired me. Working on them sort of felt like writing thank-you letters. This made it easy to find energy to work late or for long stretches on them.

Nothing is easier to write than a thank-you letter, I think.

Eccentricity. Like curiosity, eccentricity is something I rediscovered gratitude for this year. I’m not sure my friends and family would say they appreciate my eccentricity as much as I do – but I kind of think it’s what they love about me… or at least, that’s what I like to tell myself.

So, this year I’m making it a life goal to get monotonically more eccentric every year I live ;)


It was a frustrating year…

But I did manage to finish a few pieces of work I’m proud of.

There were lots of people, sentiments, and ideas I was inspired by.

And doing this annual recap always reminds me how lucky I am to have wonderful and supportive friends, family,and collaborators.

Ultimately even the frustration just leaves me extremely motivated to get to work next year.


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