The Apple Store Event

13 02 2009

I’m going to speaking at the San Francisco Apple store on April 4 at 12noon. Not sure what I’ll be talking about, but it will be referencing my book THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT, which has been getting some awesome reviews, even the ones that my mother didn’t write.

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Edit Fest is August 8th and 9th

22 07 2008

A.C.E. (the American Cinema Editors organization — there the three letters you see after the names of a lot of editors out there) is running what looking like an incredible event on the second Friday and Saturday in August. Its called EditFest and will give you an opportunity to “Learn about the craft of editing from the working experts.” It start on Friday evening with a welcome reception at Universal Studios with the ACE board members and ACE Interns. The next day is split between Saturday morning, where top television editors will be on a two-hour panel, and the afternoon, where there are three events — Editors of Summer Blockbusters, Animation Editing, and Cutting for Comedy.

It looks like an amazing event. “Tuition” is $349 and looks well worth it.

You can see a few more details, including contact information, by downloading this postcard or going to the ACE website.





Should We Make Media?

15 07 2008

Daisy Whitney, in a posting over at TV Week, says “Just Because Everyone Can Do a Video Doesn’t Mean Everyone Should” and it’s an interesting statement. And one which I’m of two minds about.

First, as a filmmaker and teacher, it makes me insane that people make media who have absolutely nothing to say, other than “Hey, I can make media.” I cannot read blogs and tweets which contribute nothing to world except the user’s location and food ingestion. Likewise, I can’t take it when people makes “hilarious” videos that do nothing for the world except add to the amount of bandwidth waster on cute pets.

Yet, as a filmmaker and teacher, I am also completely aware that not everyone has access to teachers and facilities like we have at USC. In fact, having worked in lesser advantaged areas of this country and the world, I’m aware that most people don’t have access to people who can help them get a leg up on the thought process of media creation. For them, getting a cheap camera or cell phone and shooting material is the only way to learn.

Daisy had a slightly different point, though:

Doyle Albee, president of the firm Metzger Associates, told me that he has explored whether it makes sense for his company to produce some sort of weekly webcast or Web series, sort of a “Metzger Minute.” It’s an interesting idea, he said, but right now it’s not in the cards. And that’s because there isn’t a reason to do one at the moment, he said.

I liked his response because it recognizes that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Or that you need to. Sometimes a blog is enough. Sometime a Web site is enough. And sometimes even just a phone call, memo or e-mail can convey the same point.

She makes alot of sense here (for more of Daisy’s thoughts, check out her occasional visits to the This Week In Media podcast). The real issue is not grabbing bandwidth, or people’s time. It’s about learning, however we can, which media is appropriate for each of our messages. Not everybody should be doing a podcast, and for those who are, not every issue needs to be podcast. That’s one of the issues I have with regular podcasts. While I acknowledge that regularity builds viewers and listeners — that’s a marketing idea. In terms of content, I much prefer the podcasts and blogs that publish when there is something to say. I would offer the opinion that some of the reason why I often skip over large parts of the content in some of Leo Laporte‘s podcasts nowadays (which I never would do, even six months ago) is that there is a sense of “filling up time”. The last TWiT ran almost two hours long, and it seemed that a large percentage of it was redundant jabbering, even from someone as consistently fascinating as Merlin Mann.

The great thing about the web is that, until recently, we didn’t feel that we had to create anything regularly. So readers/listeners/viewers like me didn’t get the feeling that I sometimes get on the New York Times Op-Ed pages — that the columnist had to write something, so he or she went fishing.

So, to answer Daisy Whitney’s question: no, we don’t have to make videos if we have nothing to say. But if we do it for the learning first, then we can do what we have our film students here — we don’t send those early learning attempts out into the world.

[Disclaimers: I should point out that I do a weekly column for Film Industry Bloggers, and that Daisy’s podcast New Media Minute is not scheduled — in other words, when she wants to publish it.]





Film School Diaries

11 07 2008

No, it’s not the hot and steamy version. From what my students tell me, that’s pretty much not possible (One of my students told me that she just couldn’t date while in school because she didn’t have any time to meet anyone who wasn’t at the school, and dating film school guys was just, well, in her words “Yuck!”).

No, I’m talking about a weekly podcast and blog that I’ve been following for a while now (It’s been going on since the beginning of January 2007). It’s called Video StudentGuy and it’s put together by Paul Lyzun.

Paul is a guy who has a day job working video production but, on evenings and weekends, is taking a two-year program in Boston all about Video Production. This year has has been working on two films of his own (as well as working on a slew of other people’s projects — very much like our students at USC). His final film, which he’s working on now (and which will not be done by the time he graduates — but that’s common too), is a documentary about the value of craftmaking in this era of mass-produced items.

The thing that I really like about about Paul’s podcasts (I subscribe via iTunes, but it’s also available at Libsyn) is that he’s completely honest about what he knows and doesn’t know, and how he makes mistakes. You can also see him struggling to get to the real breakthroughs which, in my humble opinion, are about how to better tell a story, not how to operate the equipment. It’s been fantastic watch him work through his thoughts about what his documentary is really about.

Along the way he talks about his abilities and his learning with the cameras (including scheduling), the editing systems, the bureaucracy of his school, the difficulties of production scheduling and commitments, as well as personal boundaries — such as when he realized that he couldn’t always say “yes” to helping out others, if it meant that his own project was going to suffer.

His latest podcast is about learning DVD Authoring.  I haven’t listened to it yet, but I just put it on my iPod and it’s going to be in my rotation for this weekend’s trips to the gym.

It’s a great listen for anyone who is trying to power through in this industry.





The World Really IS Flat

10 07 2008
The World is Flat

The World is Flat according to Thomas Friedman, Thomas Ryan, Ken Rutkowski, Fred Wilson and me.

A recent post by VC (Venture Capital) blogger Fred Wilson reinforces Thomas Friedman’s 2005 book/theory that globalization has completely changed the way we do business, in general, and entrepeneurship, in specific. That, combined with a discussion on a recent KenRadio show (I believe by Thomas Ryan and Ken) reveals much about where our expectations should be in the 21st century.

For those of you not familiar with Friedman’s book (available from Amazon, and from Audible as an audiobook), he takes the position that technology and our new mindset have leveled the playing field so that there is no real difference between countries anymore. It’s a philosophy I first heard expressed in the mid-seventies when Paddy Chayefsky had one of his characters in the film NETWORK proclaim that “There are no more countries of the world. There are only ATT and Exxon and…” [he went on and on from there]

On KenRadio, Ryan and Rutkowski were talking about the dearth of new American ideas in tech startups and discussing whether Americans were being “dumbed down.’ Ryan’s comment was that it wasn’t so much that Americans were getting dumber, as that the rest of the world was getting smarter and Americans were sorta standing still. In my opinion they’re dead on here. As both a teacher and technologist, I can’t say that I have seen my students or the startups in this country to have fallen off in any way. My students at USC are still as challenging, bright and motivated as ever. It’s what keeps me in an industry (education) that forced me to take a huge paycut when I joined it seven years ago.

However, because of that very thing (educators being paid less) as well as government support of education and technology waning, other countries have been able to boost their status quite well.

And this leads me back to the first paragraph of this posting — Fred Wilson’s blog from today entitled “Taking Stock of Tech Startups in Paris.” (Fred’s blog, by the way, is one of the most informative and consistently interesting blogs about venture capitalism around. You should definitely check it out.)

There, Fred talks about a meeting he attended in Paris called Open Coffee in Paris, which is a weekly Thursday get-together of technology business people held every Thursday in Paris (open to everybody, so if you’re in Paris and you’re interested, check out their Facebook page from the link above). He also attended a “speed dating” event for Parisian entrepreneurs. There Wilson met, in his words:

 [T]he entrepreneurs I met yesterday were very typical of the people I meet every day in our business. And they are working on exactly the same problems/opportunities that startups in the US are working on.

He then goes on to detail the companies that he talked to at the event. Here is his scorecard, listing the industry they were in, the number of companies in each market space, and whether his own VC company is currently investigating companies in the same space in the US:

Entertainment ratings/reviews – one company – current
Mobile banking – one company – current
P2P lending – one company – current
Interactive/Internet TV – two companies – current
Sentiment analysis/tracking – one company – current
Stock footage – one company – current
Mobile gaming – two companies – current
Mobile RSS – one company – current
iPhone apps – one company – current
Prediction markets – one company – current
Virtual worlds – one company – current
Video ad creation – one company – current
Mobile/web integration – one company – current
Career/Jobs web service –one company – current

Here’s the interesting thing to me about this. Every single one of the categories has stateside equivalents that his VC company is currently investigating. In other words, the industries that we are developing here in the US are not ours alone. They are worldwide industries. Wilson’s conclusion:

Don’t think that the most interesting mobile games or iPhone apps will be built in Silcon Valley or even the US. Some will. Many won’t be.

This is what globalization is all about and it is further evidence that we are in a changing world. Those of us who create content would be foolish to ignore this. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. If you think that the ultimate goal for your content is a big screen (cinema) or small screen (television) then your train has already left the station and you’re not on it.

You are going to have to think globally — global stories, global collaborative ventures, global financing, global production and post-production, and global distribution. That’s the train you want to be on if you want to be around and thriving in the year 2020.





I’m Writing A New Blog — Too

4 07 2008

Film Industry BloggersA few weeks ago, I started posting a weekly column on Richard Janes’ new blog, Film Industry Bloogers. It’s a pretty cool concept, just in its germinating stages, where filmmaking professionals from across a wide spectrum publish their thoughts, on a more or less weekly schedule. Each Friday, my musings go up — along with those of the following:

The Animation Prod. Coordinator – Christine Deitner
The Documentary Producer – Amy Janes
The Editor – Norman Hollyn
The Reality TV Producer – Top Secret
The Web Producer –Chad Williams

Each day, Monday through Saturday, a different assortment of writers takes their crack at explaining just what their lives are like including people like Noah Kadner (the “Digital Expert”), Jen McGowan, an independent filmmaker, Brian Trenchard Smith (a genre director), and many many more.

Surf on over there and check it out. And give us feedback. We can use it.





George Orwell’s Rules For Writers

4 06 2008

George OrwellCrawling around in my old computer files the other day I came across this list of six rules for writers which, sad to say, no longer seem to be on the site from which I stole them (CCSN in Nevada). I reprint them here because the more people who see this, the better place the world will be:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive [voice] where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Aside from the fact that I have probably violated all six of these rules during my blogging and writing career, it occurs to me that most of these rules have their equivalent in film and video work (gotta find a better term for what we do) since they basically boil down to this “Treat the reader like an adult and don’t talk down to them.” I find, both at school and professionally, that there is a terrible tendency to over explain or over obfuscate. I know those sound contradictory, but they’re not. I find shots held on way past the point where they’re giving any new information because “the audience needs to get it.” I’ve also found director being deliberately obscure because “I don’t want to pander to common sensibilities.”

Most student movies tend to be too long (I should know, mine were and are, thankfully, not available on the Web — you should see my version of an unproduced Antonin Artaud script) and, often, too obscure. It’s as if the filmmakers were deliberately challenging the audience to be engaged. And, if my own experience is any judge, that is often just what they are doing — saying that “You should come to me, not the other way around.”

Needless to say, I now totally disagree with my earlier self on this. If I have anything at all to say to an audience, I need to make them understand it. Otherwise, why would I even show the film to anyone else other than myself. For me, and for most filmmakers, our works exist as a way to touch other people. Of course, we are constantly struggling with how much to reveal, how clear to be, and how to explain ourselves. But, ultimately, we want to explain ourselves to others.

And so, with apologies to George Orwell, I present my version of his six rules:

  1. Never use a filmic device that has been so overused that it is instantly identifiable.
  2. Never hold on longer on a shot or a scene than you need to in order to deliver its point.
  3. If you don’t need a shot, a line of dialogue, or a scene, always cut it out.
  4. Never use objective shots where you can use subjective ones.
  5. Never be deliberately obscure with a script point, unless you plan to reveal its meaning later (and keeping its meaning to your audience is important to your story telling).
  6. Don’t do anything obnoxiously obvious, garish or horrifying.

Somehow, I don’t expect these rules to go down in history (or even to appear on the CCSN website, like Orwell’s did. But I do think that they’re a start to a discussion about the audience/filmmaker balance.