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.

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.


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

What Does An Editor Do?

22 02 2008

Mark Helfrich, an accomplished editor himself (X-Men: The Last Stand , Rush Hour 2, Red Dragon, Scary Movie, etc.), does a video for Slate Magazine, which talks about what makes the five nominees for this Sunday’s Best Film Editing Oscar worth looking at. Those of you who edit for a living won’t find anything surprising here, but for those who don’t work in editing, or in the film business at all, will find some of this discussion quite interesting.

Of THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, Helfrich takes a scene where Jean-Do, the paralyzed lead of the film, is watching a speech therapist. Because the film is shot, at that point, from the point of view of Jean-Do’s only good eye, every time the character blinks, the screen goes dark for a half a second. Helfrich notes that this enables the editor, Juliette Welfling, to cut from one take of this camera set-up to another (enabling her to stitch together the best complete performance from a number of performances) as well as to cut from one size shot to a tighter one.

There are some editors who believe that it is best to try and preserve one entire performance/take from a character. These editors will try and avoid editing from one performance to another. For other editors, myself included, all that we want is to preserve the feeling of a continuous performance. I don’t care if the performances come from 12 different takes, so long as they combine into one fluid performance. In fact, I assume that if the director printed a take, that it’s fair game for me to use.

I’ve worked with actors whose performance doesn’t vary from take to take, and others who tried something different each time, and all of the variations in between. As an editor, we are always trying to get a performance to tell a story, and these variations are sometimes helpful and sometimes unhelpful. Regardless of where Helfrich falls on the one performance/one take question, his discussion of what the five nominated films have done in their approaches to editing is informative and well worth a viewing.

Best Gazillion Movies of All Time

18 02 2008

I mentioned this back a hundred years ago, in the first incarnation this blog, but I thought it deserved another mention.

USC apparently sends a list of movies that they would like incoming students to have seen and Mike Gerber published the list. It’s actually a pretty impressive list and I wondered how many all of you have seen. As for me, I’ve seen many of them (the films I haven’t seen are in italics — go ahead, razz me now):

A Hard Day’s Night
African Queen
Alice in the Cities
All About Eve
American Friend, The
American Grafitti
Annie Hall
Apartment, The
Apocalype Now
Apu Trilogy, The
Band of Outsiders
Band Wagon, The
Barton Fink
Battle of Algiers
Being John Malkovich
Bicycle Thief, The
Big Lebowski, The
Black Orpheus
Blade Runner
Blue Velvet
Bob le Flambeur
Bonnie and Clyde
Boyz ‘n the Hood
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Read the rest of this entry »

The Middle East GETS It

21 09 2007

The Middle East International Film Festival is running from October 14-19th in Abu Dhabi and I wish I could go, but (alas) that simply won’t be possible/affordable this year.

However, there is a really interesting sidebar festival going on, called the Hayah Film Competition. It is designed, according to the site, to “encourage innovation and creativity from filmmakers throughout the UAE and Middle East region.”

Here’s what’s cool about it, according to a note on the MEIFF’s site:

Filmmakers will submit projects, less than 5 minutes in length that will be viewed on iPods and on the Festival website throughout the world.

There are three categories — students, professional, amateur. (For more information, go to the Hayah website right here)

It’s not that there aren’t plenty of films that people can view on their iPods right now (the new iPhone/iPod with YouTube connection guarantees that). But I’m excited that a film festival is creating an integrated event honoring them.  I’m excited but not too surprised that it’s happening in the Middle East.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time in the Middle East, teaching film in Jordan. Though I haven’t traveled extensively outside of Jordan, the film scene there struck me as incredibly vibrant and at the beginning stages. (The first feature created by Jordanians and shot, CAPTAIN ABU RAED, isn’t out of editing yet but the early cut that I saw is absolutely stunning in its storytelling and filmmaking abilities). It is an incredibly exciting time to be in the area, filmmaking-wise (one of my workshop students, has posted pictures of him shooting a film in Iraq,) and every single one of the filmmakers I met there was incredibly aware of the power of the growing Internet presence.

it bodes really well for film’s future and I’m thrilled to be even the tiniest part of the rebirth.

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Media Literacy

13 09 2007

Two of the complaints that I constantly hear from my fellow oldsters is that “kids just don’t read anymore,” and “They just aren’t literate.”

Well, it depends what you mean by literacy.

We swim in a world of multimedia. We thrive in a world of visual and aural stimuli, delivered through digital processes as well as the traditional analog sensory ones. As Elizabeth Daley, Dean of the School of Cinema at USC, has said:

No longer can students be considered truly educated by mastering reading and writing alone. The ability to negotiate through life by combining words with pictures with audio with video to express thoughts will be the mark of the educated student.

In an interview in the LA Times she further explains:

We’re not attacking the text. We really like texts. It’s just that with multimedia, you’re penetrating things at so many layers and levels that you can’t with just text.

This means that not only will the educated student in any discipline need to be able to create media (whether it is uploading a video, writing a blog, or creating a film/Powerpoint for their non-media work), but they must be able to understand when they are being manipulated by someone else’s media, and how.

These thoughts come up because I am in Albuquerque for a few days where I am a “Key Mentor” for a conference entitled “Cinematic Arts and Literacy: Solutions for a Changing World” (how come all academic books and conferences need to have a phrase, after the colon, explaining what the title was before the colon??). One interesting thing that comes up in any debate on media literacy is how much it overlaps with the acquisition of information. Years ago that meant “book learning” or, in broader terms, the acquisition of information using printed and aural input. Today, that is increasingly an outmoded way of looking at things. Yet the goals are still the same. Here is a quote from the organization ETS, about their iSkills Assessment Tool:

In today’s information-driven academic environment, students need to know how to find, use, manage, evaluate, and convey information efficiently and effectively. As a comprehensive test of Information and Communication Technology proficiency, [the iSkills test] presents real-time, scenario-based tasks to assess the cognitive and technical skills required of today’s higher education students. The assessment provides support for institutional ICT literacy initiatives, guides curricula innovations, informs articulation and progress standings, and assesses individual student proficiency.

Perhaps a bit self-serving, and definitely full of jargon. But it is (I think) a great indicator of what is interesting about working in film education today. It’s no longer just about teaching filmmakers. It has grown into a position which is about teaching everyone how film and other moving media influences everything they do.

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Power Point and the death of teaching

3 09 2007

I’ve often made the point that Power Point has contributed to the death of actual presentation, because so many people just don’t do it right at all.  I’ve been to teacher conferences where the professors droned on endlessly in front of Power Point slides that said (in tiny tiny type) exactly what they were saying out loud.  It made me despair for teaching, in general.

In my other life, as a web analyst, I’ve seen the same thing — people who stand in front of badly structured PowerPoints (complete with horrifying audio and video transitions) and read everything that is up on screen.  If I wanted to have someone read to me, I would have stayed a four-year old, in my parents’ house

Now, there are a few sites that talk about how to better your presentations.  Now, WIRED Magazine has an article on Pecha Kucha, which means “chatter” in Japanese.  Two Tokyo based architects, Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein, have started a meeting for Japanese architects who have never had a place to display and talk about their work.  But here is what the two of them do that makes this meeting so cool — speakers can show no more than 20 slides, and each slide can last no longer than 20 seconds.  That is 400 seconds altogether, which comes out to six minutes and 40 seconds.  That Is It.

It’s brilliant.

In my editing classes, we work on loglines for scenes that we will be editing.  The key there is to be able to describe an entire movie in no more than two sentences.  Students have to really think about the films they describe, since simple plot descriptions are usually inadequate to describe the film.

What I find is that filmmakers who can succinctly describe their film, can usually more effectively direct and create all of the disparate elements involved in making it work.  KNowing what your film is about at its basic core, can help the filmmaker out of all sorts of production problems.

By the same token, being able to describe your concepts in 6:40 must make for some compelling speeches.  And will also help to separate the people who are just blowing smoke, from those who have something legitimate to say.

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In FRONT of a camera

15 08 2007

I got interviewed today for a short film that the USC School is doing for potential freshman and found myself answering a number of questions about what an editor does and what collaboration is like.

Since I spent last week at the UFVA Conference talking mostly about collaboration, it was fairly easy to get up on my high horse and proclaim that collaboration is the best thing since sliced bread and all of the students need to learn it before the train runs off the rails and the ship runs aground.

I got to thinking afterwards, as I was driving home, that collaboration is one of the most difficult skills to learn.  It’s all well and good to say that we need to collaborate, but there are times when you want to throttle the other person and collaboration be damned. However, like anything that’s worthwhile, I’ve always found that if you stick with it, you come out the other end feeling way better. Some of the most difficult collaborative experiences for me have come when I wasn’t being particularly collaborative. That’s not to say that it is always the editor’s responsibility to collaborate — in fact, I feel that it is the leader/s who have that greatest responsibility.

Still, my experiences tend to show me that it is way easier to derail collaboration than it is to make it work. And, like difficult sessions in therapy, that’s when things are getting more productive.

Top Ten Things Every Indie Filmmaker Should Know Before They Start

9 08 2007

I figured I’d use the same title as Mike Curtis did on his blog posting today.

I’ve been on a few panels here at the UFVA Conference in Denton, Texas including a fantastic interview session with keynoter Steven Cohen on Tuesday night, but this one was really interesting. The stated topic was “10 Things Every Indie Filmmaker Should Know Before Making Their Movie. A guide to making a great film on a budget — and doing it right!” (you can see why I abbreviated it in the title of this post). It was moderated by Ashley Kennedy from Avid, Mike Curtis from HDForIndies, ad John Sterneman from Dragonslayer Post in Burbank, a facility that offers complete post services for the indie filmmaker.

Last night we all went out to dinner to talk about the panel. We had previously had one long phone conversation so we could get the ten points together, but now we wanted to get to know each other.

The top of my head exploded.

These two guys know so much about the technical world of post production that I felt like an idiot. I was worried that I’d be completely out of my depth. But those of you who know me, also know that I fight gallantly to put the storytelling aspect of film front and center. And that is what I wanted to make sure we included.

I needn’t have worried. I’ll reproduce the ten talking points below (as copied from Mike’s blog), but we ended up talking about many of them (thanks to Ashley to keeping us on track) set within the framework of collaboration and advance planning. Sure, there are ten points here, but they really all boiled down to these two. Put together the right team and let them advise you (and listen to them — don’t be an asshole) to create a thorough game plan for the entire process — from pre-production through distribution and exhibition.

  1. Put together the right team. Be sure you have the right members involved at the right time. For instance, the editor should be involved in pre-production and the producer should be involved in post. This was a far flung and all encompasing topic – this also includes getting the right team that knows the nitty gritty of their jobs and will see to all the granular implementation details to make sure stuff goes right. By default, the right team will include folks to steer you clear of certain pitfalls, warn you of expensive or limiting choices, and be able to think on their feet when contingencies are needed to be invented on the spot.
  2. Work backwards and know what you want to deliver before you start shooting. Plan your post workflow (i.e. deliver on film? HD?).
    I say this all the time to clients when they start asking about what to shoot on – I say STOP – what do you want to end up with at the end of the day? Work from there.
  3. In pre-production know what budget is for post and stick to it! Perhaps even account for more $$ in POST. Many producers end up
    spending 3x the money in post because they didn’t plan accordingly. This folds into a saying I’ve come up with – “Most indies would rather save a nickel on Friday that costs the $20 on Monday…and even if they knew they were doing it, many still would, because they didn’t have the nickel on Friday.”
  4. Don’t just try to piece the workflow together. Make sure your NLE (Non Linear Editor — like Avid or Final Cut Pro) supports your camera and the formats that you are shooting in. Be sure that your offline edit will seamless make it to the online. Know how to get final product out of the system. This one
    was all me – for a good example, see the post from a couple of days ago about Pull Trigger, Then Aim (link to follow).
  5. Have a realistic schedule from the get go. Based on your budget – know how many days you will need to shoot, weeks you’ll need to edit, etc. Many have unrealistic post schedules. As an add-on to that, just because you only have enough money for a 6 not 12 week creative edit DOES NOT MEAN that you’ll get it done in that timeframe.
  6. With so many choices – be smart about what you choose for technology, talent, location, etc. Overprepare and execute. Small projects can take the same or more amount of prep as larger projects. Small budget = use every penny wisely.
  7. Know your story! If changes need to be made – make them on set, not in post. Plot point vs character point. If the story isn’t coming together based on the shots – it can cause 2-3x increase in post production.
  8. Producers need a better grasp on the distribution process – particularly for indie film. Understand the requirements that distributors have. Avoid getting a 20 page document after QC of what needs to be “fixed” before the film is ready for distribution.
  9. Understand how to appeal to distributors. It’s always about the best story. Know whether to spend funds on name power vs. technology. Discern hype from reality – when It comes to vendor marketing. Know how to get your “name” out there.
  10. No role is unimportant in film. Even if tools have a color application – you still need a “real” colorist to do the job. Best use what tools you have (media management.)

Mike promises to go back up and go into detail on the points, so you should loop back there periodically over the next day or so. But all in all it was a great experience.

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