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.





LIVE on the Digital Production Buzz

28 12 2008
Larry Jordan will be interviewing me on this weeks Digital Production Buzz

Larry Jordan will be interviewing me this Thursday night on his radio show, THE DIGITAL PRODUCTION BUZZ, a podcast/show devoted to all things digital media. You can get details about this week’s show at the LiveThisWeek page on Larry’s site, or download the show from iTunes or your favorite podcatcher software.





Jury Duty, iPhones and Personal TV Programming

10 08 2008
My book, The Lean Forward Moment, coming in December (this is not the real cover, its only a mockup)

My book, The Lean Forward Moment, coming in December (this is not the real cover, it's only a mockup)

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been on the blog, an absence caused primarily by an upcoming deadline on my December book THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT, editing a documentary called RIVERS, and posting on another blog, Film Industry Bloggers. But two recent events, as well as a comment on the podcast Slate’s Political Gabfest, have combined to prod me into some thoughts about where we’re moving towards as media makers and consumers.

I recently sat on a preliminary panel for jury duty selection at my local courthouse in Los Angeles (a courthouse that was so satellite, so small, that it didn’t have a place to eat, if you didn’t count the hallway by the vending machine).

I never got onto a jury — they just didn’t need anyone that day — but I noticed something interesting in the waiting room. Lined up along one wall were a series of computers which were, we were told, put there so we could “play on the web” while we passed the time waiting to not be called onto a jury.  Now, that’s interesting in and of itself, since I remember when they could not have cared less if you were bored to tears.  (“Bring a book or a newspaper and read ferchrissakes!”). So, we can chalk one up for government advancement into the 21st century.

Of importance to this story was that fact that each and every one of the computers was broken. Every one (there were three or four) had a sign on its monitor explaining that the computer wasn’t working and “We apologize for any inconvenience.” So we can erase the chalk mark that I gave government for its 21st century advancement.

But what was really interesting to me is that not a single one of the 40 or so people in the room cared one bit about not being able to get onto the computers. Not one person complained.

You can ascribe that to several reasons. First, there were two people there who had brought their own laptops and were typing away the entire day. But that’s only two people. Second, you could say that most people aren’t Internet savvy enough to care, and they were perfectly happy to read their books or papers.

However, when I looked around the room, it became obvious to me that the largest reason why people didn’t care if the computers worked or not was that they were connecting online anyway. They were just doing it on their cell phones.

Nearly every single person in the room was texting, or surfing or listening to their iPods. Ironically, I was one of the few people actually reading a book (I didn’t bring my laptop for various reasons and my Treo was just a completely painful experience for surfing online).

No one cared about the broken computers because they already had all the computer they needed in a tiny little package in their purses or their pockets.

Then, a few weeks later, when my Treo 650 stopped being able to email anyone, I finally caved in and joined the second week line at the local Apple Store and got myself an iPhone 3G. Now, I live in Los Angeles where there is a lot of 3G service available (except, ironically, in a number of rooms in my house) so my experience might differ from yours. But this phone has drastically transformed the way I connect online. It is now as easy to go onto a webpage on my phone (though somewhat slower) as it is when I’m sitting in front of my computer.

The repercussions of this are huge. In the first few weeks of owning my iPhone, I’ve used it for maps, movie times, restaurant recommendations, playing Sudoku, reading the New York Times, getting weather and sports scores, and much more — all without going into the Safari browser that comes built into the phone. With Apple’s App Store for the iPhone selling and giving away a ton of separate appplications for the “Jesus Phone”, it has not only gotten possible to surf the web easily on your phone, but to do it with separate apps, something that doesn’t exist as ubiquitously on your very own computer where most applications are built to run inside your web browser (Firefox, Opera, Safari or — gasp — Internet Explorer).

This isn’t a small paradigm shift for us here in the United States. In much of the rest of the world, in places that aren’t hamstrung by conflicting cell phone standards, consumers are already using the web on their portable devices (usually cel phones) and are using it for more things as each month goes on. It’s great for the users and a bonanza for those smart and well-connected enough to provide the content.

John Dickerson, on Slates Political Gabest this week talked about the Olympics and the web.

John Dickerson, on Slate's Political Gabest this week, talked about the Olympics and the web.

Then, there was an interesting comment on this week’s Slate’s Political Gabfest, Slate Magazine’s always interesting three-person podcast examining political issues of the week.  John Dickerson, asked for  comments about the start of the Beijing Olympics, made the statement that with the 302 events being run this year, he felt that this event was ideally suited for the web. His implication was that it was no longer necessary for him to watch endless hours of television to get to the three or four events that he was interested in.

True that.

For all of you who aren’t as interested in archery as you are in kayaking, this is a godsend. (By the way, the kayak competitions start on August 11th and run through the 17th, but NBC won’t tell you just when that sport is on — it’s jumbled together with the rest of its coverage on its website) It is now possible to hone in on just what interests you in the events, and to surf around the rest of them if you want to discover other fun things.

Dickerson, however, missed the larger implications of his statement because he is a political analyst and not a techie hack like me. The brilliance of this thought process comes when NBC starts to deliver the content that you want directly to you (not at this Olympics, sadly). If you like kayaking, you’ll click on that select box and get news, audio and video of those events sent to you in discrete packages. And get charged a small amount for it.

This is the kind of programming that companies like U-Verse (the AT&T computer Video on Demand service), and set top boxes like the Apple TV, are just poised to deliver.

I’ve often said that services like Tivo have blown away the concept of television networks. Most people who have services like these can program their boxes to find the content they like and play it back for them whenever they want without every knowing where and when it originally “aired”. Except for the station ID bug down in the bottom right of the screen and the few commercials for other network programming that we don’t skip over, most of us have no idea what network the show was originally broadcast on and even less sense of when it ran. This is breaking down the concept of network loyalty.

The concept of personal delivery of sports (and other) events takes it one step further. Not only will you not care where and when the event originally ran, but you won’t give a rat’s behind about any of the surrounding events unless you want to care. You’ll get more complete coverage of the events that matter to you, rather than smaller bites of all of the events.

The idea of smorgasboard programming, where cable users can select just what channels they want rather than buy into packages, scares the hell out of most cable operators and small channel providers. They correctly assume that, in this model, many of the smaller stations would lose most of their perceived viewers and shrivel up and die. I don’t disagree with this except to note that this is going to happen anyway. Cable networks can already determine which channels you are watching and which you aren’t. Services like U-Verse are only exacerbating that. How long will it be before those networks that don’t attract many viewers are faced with the same fate, as programmers realize that they’re carrying a network that attracts only six model airplane builders?

But, I’d gladly pay for channels that come with the programming that I want. And, to take this back to its starting point, I’d gladly pay for that to come to me on my iPhone. I already receive sports score on my phone now — Sportacular is a great application. If developer Jeff Hamilton isn’t already working on business partnerships that will enable the user to connect that to video playback of the events, then he’s dumber than a brick. It is a completely directed, niche, market.

Total Personal Programming. That’s where you should invest your venture capital money everyone, okay?





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.





Self-Serving Announcement

18 05 2008

Digital Production BuzzYou’ve heard me talk about Larry Jordan and Mike Horton’s Digital Production Buzz radio show/podcast (actually, I’ve never heard it on the radio in real time; I listen to it every week in my car driving to or from work — thanks to the podcast version of the show).

Well, this week Larry and Mike are interviewing me on the show. I’m not quite sure just what they’ll find so interesting, but I know I can trust them to do it. For those of you who are interested in what I sound like with a cold, tune in on Thursday from 6-7 Pacific time (you can hear it live on their site right here). And just to make it even more interesting for you, they also promise to interview Patrick Nugent from Roxio about the new Toast, and editor Michael Jones. That interview is described thusly on their web site:

Michael Jones was the editor for the revival of “Banana Splits” for Warner Brothers. Shot in Australia, Michael developed an intriguing on-set editing workflow using Final Cut Pro and it’s multicam feature to show the director what they shot almost as soon as the scene was over. Listen as he describes his new workflow.

Listen early and listen often.


UPDATE.

To listen to the finished show, go to this archive page for the Buzz May 22nd show.





Shaping Scenes — even if by accident

10 02 2008

Cristian Mungiu directed the Cannes sensation 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS. This is a film that had me scratching my head during most of it. The direction is so formalist (virtually every scene is done in a single shot master) that, for me, it undercut the emotion of the characters. Many critics disagreed with me though, oddly, the Foreign Film Branch of the Academy pointedly omitted the film from its list of nominees this year.

Despite the rigidity of the direction, however, a great example of editing did come through and Sean Axmaker, in an interview with Mungiu on his blog, highlights it in a very interesting way.

There’s one scene in particular that stick out stylistically, with the two girls talking to Bebe in the hotel room, which is the only scene where you actually cut in the middle of a scene. You cut from the two-shot of Otilia and Bebe to a close-up of Gabita, where she realizes the gravity of the situation and what’s really at stake for Otilia and she tries, late as it is, to take the responsibility upon herself.

Honestly, you are the first person to identify something which is a mistake in the film. That was not supposed to be like that, I can’t claim that I have an explanation for this. It only happened because I changed the dialogue that Bebe had to say and I needed to have it off-camera, that’s all. I don’t have an explanation for this. It doesn’t make sense, it shouldn’t happen like this.

So, in order to solve a storytelling problem he chose to break his formalistic structure. That happens all the time. I don’t think I’ve ever worked on a film where we could afford to be dogmatic and rigid in our structure (is that where they got the term Dogme for that filmmaking manifesto?) (and that’s a joke, by the way)

However, the next question and answer is particularly revealing.

I feel that, because it’s the only time you cut in the middle of a scene, and it abruptly jumps into a big close-up, it brings the scene to her in a very powerful way.

This is why I hope that this is why I decided that I will change the dialogue and go for this, but this is not what triggered the decision. What I wanted to do was to make sure that I never make a formal decision belonging to me as an author and not divide from what the characters do in the shot. If you watch the film from this perspective, you will see that there is no pan in the film unless there is a line by some other character or there is a movement in the shot triggering the camera into a specific direction. We were very much following what was happening in the scene, except in this scene.

In other words, despite his claim that he would never make a formalistic decision separate from what the characters would do, if it wasn’t for the fact that he had to cut to her in order to change the dialogue, he would have blown off the possibility of emphasizing her emotion in that moment.

I understand that there are many ways of emphasizing character and plot moments beside editing. In fact, my upcoming book, THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT, is all about that. So I don’t think that he needed to make a cut all of the time. But this is a perfect example of form leading function, and it seems wrong in my mind. It also drives home, perhaps, why I didn’t respond to the film — since the decisions seems to be based on form rather than the individual storytelling needs of a moment.