Panel This Saturday

3 06 2008

USC’s film school has an extraordinary group of students attending. One group, the Women In Cinematic Arts, is holding a great conference this Saturday that is open to the public. It’s called the “WCA Industry Forum 2008: Making Your Vision A Reality.” It’s an all-day event and pretty cheap, even if you’re not a member. It will have panels on:

  • Creating and Delivering a Television Series
  • Navigating the Studio System
  • Independent Filmmaking
  • Preparing your Film for Film Festivals
  • Increasing Production Opportunities for Women, and
  • Trends in Alternative Media

I will be moderating the last panel, which is subtitled “From Your Cutting Room to YouTube” at 2:45. It’s going to be really interesting with these great panelists:

Kim Moses – Director: The Ghost Whisperer and principal in Sander/Moses Productions.
Fonda Berosini – Participant Media
Ken Rutkowski – KenRadio
Jesse Albert – Agent: New Media & Branded Entertainment, ICM

We’re going to be rambling over a range of topics from “What the hell is alternative media anyway?” to “How do I break into new media?” to “How can I get online distribution for my shorts?” It should be an interesting hour, and the rest of the day looks fabulous.

You can find more details about the program, and registration, at the Women In Cinematic Arts site.

News Gathering In The YouTube Age

13 05 2008

An article last month in WIRED online, by Dylan Tweney, is provocatively titled “Even With Spike Lee Directing, Cellphone Movies Will Still Suck.” It talks about Nokia’s deal with Spike Lee to make a short movie based on amateur cell phone videos. The film, according to Lee, will have three acts, up to five minutes in length each, with “the theme loosely based on the concept of humanity.”

Yeah, it sounds awfully general, but that’s what you have to expect when you don’t know what users are going to submit. But Tweney poses an interesting series of questions:

Why couldn’t the project involve user-submitted cellphone clips from post-Katrina New Orleans? Shots of urban street life and racial conflict in the Bronx? Rival fraternities at a historically-black college in the South? Or cellphone videos of bank robberies?

Tweney answers his own question by saying that those projects would be way to real for Nokia’s marketing department.

Could be, but it reminds me of a talk I gave last year to a group of newspaper editors at the Philadephia Inquirer. Like everyone else in the newspaper business, they were completely freaked about what to do in a world where their newsgathering budgets were decreasing, while they were being beseiged by demands to incorporate online in their news plans.

One of the things that I talked about was using the power of social networking to help their readers contribute local coverage that they could no longer afford to do. People could upload videos of local high school baseball games, or store closings, or snow banks that hadn’t been cleared away days after a blizzard. With some boldness in an editorial approach, they could encourage people to post their own “videos to the editor” that would, in a Wikipedia sort of way, become self-correcting and self-policing.

One year later, I don’t see much in the way of progress on this front — at the Inquirer or anywhere. Some local television stations are showing viewer mobile videos of tornadoes or arrests, since their reporters can’t be everywhere all the time. But the filter is way too fine grain right now. Everything is going through a layer of editors to make sure that the material is “station approved” and up to their standards (this will leave me wide open for a crack about the lack of real standards in local news — so, go ahead, and know that I agree with you).

Someone is going to have to let go of some of that control in order for this idea to catch fire and become a true local news reporting tool. It would be great to have people uploading videos like Tweney suggests? That is the real place for his short video suggestions. It could propel news gathering in new and very exciting ways.



After I posted the above entry, I stumbled across an entry by Colin Mulvany in his blog Mastering Multimedia, in which he talks about his career path in his job as a multimedia editor at a newspaper in Spokane, Washington.  Interestingly, he talks about a survey from the Newspaper Association of America, which (among other things) documents just who is shooting video for newspapers today.  The chart below tells the interesting story.

Less than half of the people making newspaper video are videographers.  The bulk of them are, as I mentioned above, people who happen to be doing other things at the paper — mostly photographers.  This means that, for those people, newspaper video is illustrative, not story telling.  I know that this is a broad generalization and not even I quite believe what I just said 100%.  But my point is that telling stories using multimedia isn’t the same as taking a news photo, or even the same as doing print reporting.  It’s a different breed altogether.  And we may not be doing it justice.

How Tivo Is Making Films Suck More

8 04 2008

I had an interesting experience this past Saturday as I was watching Martin Scorsese’s unfortunately tedious Rolling Stones film, SHINE A LIGHT.

At one point, as the film was heading into yet another song of Mick Jagger energetically strutting across the apron of the stage (the man has an awesome physique for someone his age, but I was completely over the Stones about 25 years ago), I arrived at the time when I would attempt to look at my watch to see if the film was really in its fifteenth hour.

However, instead of that, I got focussed on the editing — as I am wont to do when something is boring me to tears (I’ve done that innumerable times during HBO’s JOHN ADAMS, a show I am completely ready to stop watching for the rest of my life).  I began to look for the moments when cuts worked and when they didn’t.  And, as I am also wont to do when I’m watching a tedious film on my DVR (not a Tivo actually, since I have the version that the Dish Network allegedly stole from them), I reached for the DVR remote so I could rewind the film by a few seconds to re-look at the cut.

Let me repeat that — I went to reach for my remote.  In the Cinerama Dome Theatre in the middle of Hollywood.  Now, the Dome theater has a lot of cool amenities in it, ever since the Arclight took it over.  I can reserve my seats.  I can lean back and put my drink in a nifty cup holder at the side.  I can even sit back and listen to the desperately amusing ushers, who give a standup-style patter before the film runs.

But what I cannot do is to stop the film and go back three seconds using a Tivo-like remote.

My point is this.  I realized then that I am now beginning to look at media differently.  I assume that I have control over how I watch it.  I assume that I can rewind, fast forward and pause my media.

And if I’m doing that, I can only assume that others have that desire also.  Does that mean that movie theaters are at a disadvantage over the television/DVR experience?  And what does that mean for us as filmmakers?

Second Life as a Backlot

4 09 2007

File this into the “News only to those who haven’t been paying attention” category.

Reuters reports that HBO has bought the film “My Second Life: The video diaries of Molotov Alta”, a film about a man who has disappeared from California and is now filing dispatches from Second Life.

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, Second Life is the web site, run by Linden Labs, which is a web-based virtual world, in which many people create alternate world personae, who fly from one area to another, interacting in real time. Some Real World companies (I believe that Reuters may be one of them) have created spaces within SL, counting on the other members of that community to stop by and view content, which is wrapped around with ads.

The show, the introductory episode of which has already been seeded on YouTube, is actually fairly clever, if derivative of films like THE MATRIX and books like, oh, anything by Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, Rudy Rucker or John Shirley. Molotov Alta has, somehow, been sucked into Second Life and is now recording his experiences and memories.

What it looks like is a CAD program used to create storyboards for films. It is the roughest visuals imaginable applied to a film, completely justified by it being the experience of someone within the graphics engine used by Linden Labs for SL.

In fact, it is the cheapest animation possible because the producer/director (California media artist/photograph, Douglas Gayeton) is animating using the cheapest animation engine available — Linden Labs own Second Life. And it’s free.

It’s brilliant. It’s an entrancing concept. Now we just have to see if the scripts can be anything more than the Introduction’s, which was mostly a gee-whiz, this is what Second Life can do, sorta thing.

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Another Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Interactive Media bit of nuttiness

4 09 2007

Sonic Body Pong, is a game based on Atari’s old game Pong, minus the screen. I’ll let it’s creators describe it first:

Sonic Body Pong is based on Atari’s classic video game Pong, and takes place in real space, with the players using their bodies as paddles. The ball is experienced by the players purely through sound.

Fheck out the photos. You put on these helmets which have a huge green rectangular pillow on top of them (this is like the block that you slid horizontally in the Pong game). You’re wearing headphones which send sound signals to you showing where the “ball” is. You then move back and forth, trying to knock the “ball”back to your opponent, based solely on your perceived sense of where the ball is.

A video of the game, up on YouTube, doesn’t really show much about how the players “feel” the ball, much less how the observers knew who was winning and who was losing. They do clap at regular intervals though. And the video is kinda fascinating, in a deconstructivist sorta way.

The creators of the game, David Hindman, Spencer Kiser, and Tikva Morowati, must be high on something. But it’s completely cool.

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MobZombies Mobile

3 09 2007

Julian Bleeckr (who, wonderfully, spells his name like a Web 2.0 application) is one of the creative geniuses over at the Interactive Media department at USC Cinema. Here, he shows the world how geeky he really and truly is, by putting MobZombies on his freakin’ cel phone.

Nothing wrong with that, right?


For those of you who aren’t as geeky as Julian (which, by the way, certainly includes me) you should know that MobZombies is a mobile game in which you chase zombies around on your cel phone screen. But that sounds way more normal than it really is. The thing is, to play this game (not really out of testing yet, as far as I know) you strap a little gizmo around your waist or someplace. That gizmo detects your movements and you can control the direction and speed of your zombie chasing, but where and how fast you are really moving .

In Real Freakin’ Life.

In a nutshell, what this means is that if you are chasing a zombie on your mobile, and you need to turn left, you better turn left in Real Life, or that Zombie is going to get away

It’s a pretty fantastic forward-thinking application of Location Based Entertainment. The game doesn’t respond to where you are, but what you are doing in space. Sorta like a super-Wii.

The possibilities for theatres is amazing. They already are puttig arcade games inside their lobbies. Now, we can move that experience into the films themselves.