The Miracle of Movies (and Everything Else)

So much about movies is miraculous. They tell stories that can make you weep, portray ideas in ways that words alone could never hope to display, and they can even transport you to another world. Just as miraculous is the hundreds and often thousands of people that must work in concert in order to realize a film. An army of people, each with their own purpose, working to make the film a reality. The biggest miracle of all this is that you, the moviegoer, have access to the millions of man-hours that went into creating it for as little as the cost of a matinee ticket.

It’s not just movies that are miraculous. Behind almost everything we use there is an unseen army of people, and machines working to bring you value. Leonard Read demonstrated this with a simple example; the pencil. With only 4 component parts; cedar wood, graphite, an eraser, and a bit of metal (called a ferrule) a pencil is one of the simplest products we use. Despite its simplicity there is an enormously large amount of work that goes into creating a pencil. Cedar must be harvested from the Pacific Northwest, which means loggers (and lodging, food, and other comforts for them), machines to cut down the trees, trucks to haul the timber, factories to process the raw timber into usable wood. The graphite is mined from the ground in India or Sri Lanka, processed, and shipped, all requiring, miners, trucks, boats, and other machines. The story is similar for the brass or aluminum that the ferrule is made of. The eraser also has a myriad of laborers, machines, and transporters creating them. Despite the immense amount of effort and expense that went into making your pencil it doesn’t cost more than a dollar or so.


Simple pencils have immensely complicated origins, and so does everything else we use to make our lives easier. Thousands of hours of labor goes into almost everything we touch, including the clothes on our backs, the cars we drive, the phones we use, the food we eat, the electricity we use, the houses we live in etc. I work 8 hours 5 days a week. What do I get in return for my contribution? Countless hours of people growing and transporting food, light bulbs and electricity to light my home, un-consumable amounts of information accessible through my computer, millions of hours of entertainment from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon et al., physical books that arrive directly at my door 2 days later, or digital books that arrive instantly, whichever I prefer, music, toasters, tables, a car, gasoline, all of which take thousands of people working to produce. The list is endless and the expense that goes into making each one of these is tremendous, but I use all of these things without contributing nearly the same quantity of work.

Next time you go to a movie, stay for the credits. Scrolling up you will see hundreds, maybe thousands of people who worked to bring the movie to life; writers, directors, actors, producers, grips, gaffers, best boys, special effects artists, stuntmen, lighting technicians, crane operators, cameramen, set builders, composers, musicians, caterers, the list goes on and on and on. All of those people worked countless hours to bring you movie magic, and you get all of it all for the simple price of a movie ticket. That is the real miracle.

If you’d like to learn more about the Leonard Reed’s work “I, Pencil” you can get it by clicking here. There is also a marvelous book for children based on Leonard Reed’s work called “The Tuttle Twins and the Miraculous Pencil” It’s beautifully illustrated by Elijah Stanfield and written by Connor Boyack, and it’s a fun way to explain to kids how delightfully complex are the processes that make almost everything we use.

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