Sips from the Firehose
A blog that seeks to filter the internet into a refreshing, easily-gulped beverage


May 17

TV as We Know It is Dead: Shift to Web-based Video Costs Producers 88% of Ad Revenues

Posted: under Current Affairs, Film, journalism, music, New Media Strategery, newspaper crisis, Online (Multi)Media, television, Web/Tech.

Can you say “Doomed”?

Apparently, a report called “And Now for the News,” written by Craig Moffett of Bernstein Research, came out this week, and it’s got both Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, and, not coincidentally, HDNet, and the pundits at Digital Media Wire all atwitter over the stark economic realities.

Cuban made billions of dollars in the internet video game, and, while he’s acted the fool at various Maverick games over the years, nobody has ever accused him of either being stupid or lacking passion. So when he starts winding up the air-raid siren, it gets my attention.

From Cuban’s blog:

Starting with the disappointing but expected news that journalism is no
longer a service consumers desire to pay for, he moves on to the
problems facing Internet video.

(snip)

Five years into the video-over-the-Internet revolution, we have learned
two things. First; consumers won’t pay for content on the web, so it
will have to be ad supported. And second; it won’t be ad supported.

Oh, shit. (*stomach lurches*)

On the web, early evidence suggests that consumers will tune out –
click away – if they are forced to watch more than 30 seconds or so of
advertising up front, and maybe another 90 seconds of advertising over
the next thirty minutes. Hulu.com, for example, which has already been
lionized by many as the future of TV, serves two minutes of advertising
for every 22 minutes of programming(i.e. the programming duration of a
typical half hour show from television). Assuming identical CPMs for
web video and TV, and after accounting for lost affiliate fees, a 30
minute program on the web with two minutes of advertising yields
approximately 1/8th as much revenue per viewer.

Are content producers prepared to reduce production costs…by 88%?

In fact, the actual economics of web-based video are far, far worse than this.

Sweetie, can you get me a hemlock cocktail, please? Easy on the ice. And see if there are any razor blades in the junk drawer?

88%? Are you freakin’ kidding me? That kind of revenue restructuring would be in line with what newspapers have experienced since classified ads migrated to the web (i.e. the “Craigslist effect”). And yeah, I know, there are some shellshocked newspaper reporters/editors who will nod wearily, taking schadenfreude satisfaction that the arrogant pacotillos in local TV are about to take the bollocking that print has taken these last 10 years.


Over at Digital Media Wire, Paul Sweeting
explains the problem that video producers here in Hollywood face, seeing as how they’re making the same goddam mistakes that music labels made when the internet came calling:


There’s no reason to believe that video producers’ experience will be
any different. Like it or not, the web simply isn’t very kind to
publishers, packagers and distributors. It rewards enablers. Search is
an enabling technology–perhaps the ultimate enabling technology. And
as Google shareholders can tell you, it’s been rewarded. The challenge
for publishers is not to figure out how to force the web to reward
them. It’s to figure out how to capture the value created by enabling
technology.




In that sense, Cuban is right. It may not make sense for the networks
simply to make their schedules available for free on the Internet. That
doesn’t really create any new value; it mostly just drains value from
linear platforms.




What the networks need is to figure out how to capture the value
created by enabling consumers to access, select, aggregate, transform,
embed and share content–in a word, to use it. Anything else is just TV with buffering.


For scripted TV entertainment, well, I’m not sure what the survival strategy is yet. I do know that there is not much love in the ad world for a CPM rate hike for online video that would bridge that 88% gap. There’s just too much other product out there screaming for attention … not to mention the fact that the scripted TV content (and movie content, for that matter) is a melting sandcastle to the surging broadband tide. Trying to make back a $160 million budget from some exotic cocktail of online subscription, advertising and branded sponsorship … well, let’s just say that I’m glad I’m not writing the checks on that one. I don’t know how you can possibly monetize the budgets that Hollywood is used to.

And folks, we know – dammit, we know all too well – how the media megalopalies react to revenue reductions. For a time, they throw money at the problem. And then come the cutbacks. “We have to do more with less.”

It comes down to our old friends, supply and demand. If there is
demand for the kind of spectacle that you get in Iron Man or Raiders 4,
or whatever, there will be someone out there that will supply it …
but at the price point that the people on the demand side set.

Kiss those expense-account lunches at The Ivy goodbye. All the little perks that pampered writers, directors, producers and stars have gotten used to over the years. There is going to be a lot of screaming and whining hereabouts in the next decade or so.

I think that my clients over in newspapers have actually got a significant advantage in this arena. The future of video is going to be like the future of news: disaggregated and hyperlocal. Papers can do this. Papers ARE doing this.

I can’t figure out how to take a 2 1/2 hour piece of video – hell, video of any length, from a blipvert to the entire back catalog of the Museum of Radio and TV – and make it pay off a $320 million opening weekend return.

But I can teach you how to monetize short clips shot by reporters that go along with local news stories. That’s do-able.
One last thing: in the comments was this gem, sure to be included in my next series of trainings for newspapers migrating to video on the web:

I’ve never seen ABC.com and the rest put an RSS, Email, or text message subscribe/alert button on their video pages. Instead they want us all to *remember* show schedules, come back, and sit through ads. They’re blowing a huge chance to have a relationship with the audience. The sad truth is that TV networks don’t want a relationship. They want us all to sit around the glowing box together on *their* schedule as if it were 1966.

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Dec 11

Movies on computers at the same time as in theaters?

Posted: under Film, journalism, Online (Multi)Media, True Enough - TV Pilot, Web/Tech.

Seems that the landscape is changing on this – just a little bit at a time, but the fact that some people are daring enough to swim against the current seems to be paying off … admittedly, mainly in media coverage about how daring they are.

But as this article points out, that fawning media coverage also helps the bottom line:

Landmark’s highest-profile experiment with release windows took place earlier this year, with Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Bubble.’
The movie didn’t do well in theaters, but Landmark co-owner Todd Wagner
later told me that it more than covered its production costs in DVD
sales, thanks to the copious free publicity the movie received.

Now, the movie Ten Items or Less, made for less than $10 million, is going to be hitting various distribution platforms all at the same time.  None of this “theater first, DVD second, TV last” release schedule.  Which is going to really upset the apple cart … while putting more $$ into the Apple bank…

There’s a much longer, and larger post about the kinks that are getting worked out on digital distribution of HD content (and also about how Mark Cuban may not be sitting in such a high & mighty seat), but I am still fighting the bronchitis that has laid me low these last three weeks, and my head is stuffed with Sgt. Schultz’ favorite strudel…

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Nov 02

“The Wire” Moving to … uh … the wire?

Posted: under Film, Online (Multi)Media, Web/Tech, Weblogs.

HBO is finally "examining" putting its content onto the web … while many may jeer "Hey, about time," for HBO this is a more complicated Gordian Knot that it might seem.  And hey, it’s not like other major media companies all have well thought-out, coherent New Media strategies, either – especially now that it looks like News Corp’s much hyped MySpace purchase is turning into a white elephant.  PaidContent and BizWeek weigh in on this

The site design for HBO has always been gorgeous – and the stuff they offer, like the Tarot game for Carnevale, was great and I wish they’d do more of it.
Fategame01_252

However – one of the problems is that the I dunno if this is in line with the core marketing demo for HBO programming – most of the people who watch HBO do so in lieu of going out to the movies (or surfing the web). They have to be very careful not to give away for free that which they are charging for on the sat and cable distribution networks they’ve slaved so hard and so long to establish.   One of the closely guarded secrets of HBO is that they believe they are programming for the urban black male – thus the HBO Sports (boxing, Inside the NFL), and fare such as The Wire and The Sopranos and Oz, and documentaries like Taxicab Confessions and When the Levees Broke.  This is a pretty demanding, cutting-edge audience – and this content reflects that "pushing the envelope" sensibility.  It is also thought-provoking and some of the best TV ever aired. 

The HBO content that they’ve developed over the years represents some of the best art, and some of my all-time favorite moments – true cultural touchstones…
506x316_taxi_ny
…but any jackass can see now that traditional TV distrib models are crumbling like sandcastles at high tide, and they better start making the move now, lest they get totally swamped.  A good starting place would beto use the web as a sort of "minor leagues" where content that they want to play with but don’t yet want to commit to, gets a chance to find its legs and maybe move up to the majors …?

Here’s a snip:

An HBO spokesman told BW: “We’re examining various distribution
[possibilities], including broadband platforms, but have yet to
determine which is the best model for our business. … We’re having
conversations with cable affiliates as well as all of our distribution
partners, and together we will explore all of our opportunities in that
space.”

– Starz, with its Vongo download service, is offered up as a
possible case for HBO to study; the suggestion is that Starz suffered
by going out on its own and that its talking to cable operators now.
But HBO’s production of original signature content makes it a different
story.


– HBO has already ventured into the mobile video marketplace,
delivering full-length shows through Cingular for $4.99 a month, more
of an experiment and a publicity pop than anything.

My suggestion: let the audience start linking in and out of the discussion boards, using trackbacks and pings and all this new Web 2.0 functionality.  I’d like to see The Sopranos open up and integrate
Google Mapping into all its locations – or the same thing with The Wire or, hell, with that Hacking Democracy documentary Open up a new front – one that isn’t just marketing for the shows – but one in which the audience is invited in to start contributing more than just a comment or flame now & again.  The top-down info flow is on the wane…

Problem is – HBO and the corporate daddy, Time Warner are still making buttloads of cash by selling the DVDs of their series.  Putting their content out on the web to be pirated is just begging for the hackerazzi to pirate it even worse than it is now.

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    Aug 28

    Day 4 – Heat, Helicopters and Hubris

    Posted: under Film, Online (Multi)Media, television, True Enough - TV Pilot.

    The fourth day of shooting started with me driving the ‘Sclade to the alley behind Ted’s house – yes, that same Ted that appeared in Day 1.  He had generously offered to allow me to shoot in the alley behind his house, because it’s pretty photogenic – well, for an alley – and it has a slight incline and a leftward curve at the end of it that read well on camera. 

    Reflection_on_the_set_of_trash
    It allowed me to cheat my picture car at the end of the alley so that it matches up well with the footage that I shot on Day 3 in the alley by my house.  I had originally wanted to use an alley that I scouted that is just south of Pico Blvd., but that would have involved a helluva lot less time on set … if I had shot this project as originally envisioned, that wouldn’t have been such a big deal.  But the script was re-written at least twice in the week leading up to this shooting day (which apparently prepares me perfectly for working on higher-budget shoots … as below, so above, apparently).

    As I was driving west on the 10 freeway in the Escalade, tunes cranking, worrying about what shots I was going to try to get first, I had the compulsion to just keep driving past the Overland exit.  Do a Thelma&Louise … just keep going all the way to the Santa Monica pier, crashing through the steel safety grate in this unstoppable behemoth of a car, and then down the pier at 80 mph and finally off the end to hang in the air, suspended and being captured by thousands of tourists who packed their cameras for just such an occasion, before crashing into the ocean and blessed oblivion.
    The weight of anxiety was starting to get to me. 

    I felt that each day that I managed to survive in this Brynn_on_the_run
    production was some kind of a trick.  That I had somehow managed to fake it through to the end and safely escape … but then the next day, I would awake and find that I now had to add another deck to the house of cards that I was constructing.
    Add another deck, and then move everyone else in the cast and crew onto that flimsy waxed-paper flooring and move around and perform and do our thing. 

    All the while trying to banish from my mind the sheer certain knowledge that we were all standing on the flimsiest excuse for footing, and that it was sure to come down around my ears at any second.
    And yet.  And yet. It didn’t.
    Although the beginning to this day certainly seemed to augur that way.  I arrived on the set to find that not only were we totally socked in with clouds, but that it was beginning to drizzle.  I immediately saw the future – the storm would roll in off the Pacific, we would sit in the backs of our cars with the trunk gate open, chatting to kill the time, and every so often someone would stand up and shout out that they thought they saw a break in the clouds, and we’d all get excited for a minute … and then the rain would really start to pour down again. 

    Brynn_is_a_tough_chick
    Hey, I lived through a shoot like that – a Nissan shoot where they had a poor guy in an animatronic lion head costume in a tux, shooting on the Bel-Air mansion of the strange Persian family that owns the B____ chain of high-end fashion stores.  The rain kept pouring down, the Japanese video crew got desperate, so they sent the guy out there in costume, and the rain started shorting out the little motors that were supposed to move the eyebrows and mouth and started shocking the guy inside the suit, who started screaming as smoke began to pour out of the outfit and they tore at the buckles and belts to get it off his head before it electrocuted him…

    Meanwhile, the actresses were around the front side of the house (I hadn’t been able to put up the sign yet telling them to come around back) and calling the phone that I had forgotten back at my house in my rush to get out the door.
    Eventually, it lightened up a bit and I began by shooting the whole Jamie and Mandy get honest with each other scene. 

    This is a really intense bit of acting, because it is when the two women drop their pretenses and tell each other what’s really on their minds. This takes them from contempt to anger to shame to defiance to resolution.  And then at the end, the Jamie character is left amidst the garbage, with a Laughing_cast_frowning_director
    choice to make – whether she chooses to stay there amidst the place where her choices have led her or to make a new choice and try to get out.  And just as she’s come to a realization that she has to make a change in her life, that she can’t keep living this way, exploiting other people’s pain for money – that choice is taken out of her hands.
    No good deed goes unpunished. The one person in the story who makes a choice to live honestly and with integrity winds up being the one who gets screwed the hardest. 
    Hey, folks, it may be a comedy but it’s based on what I know and what I saw when I was working at the tabloids.  Virtue is punished. Sin is rewarded.  That’s the way it is.

    I ran through this scene a number of times, and let the actresses really feel it out for themselves.  Then I made a few suggestions – such as to Brynn that she would be trying to sneak away, and would have gotten away clean, except that she heard the two girls discussing their relationships in a way that just outraged her, so she had to stop and comment.  Like Hamlet not killing his uncle in the chapel when he had the chance, this pause was her fatal flaw. 

    OK, maybe not exactly like Hamlet … but you get the idea.

    I also cautioned them to really let things build a little more before they started screeching at each other.  And Kelly Kay Davis, as the neighbor/friend Rachel really did a lot with her role – she brought this whole “been there-did him” jadedness and yet smart and goofy sense of humor that fleshes out a role that could have been totally two-dimensional. 

    She was also patience itself – I used her in the first Is_this_the_side_we_point_at_the_actors_
    shots of the day and the last shots of the day, and in between, she had to do a whole lot of nothing, while I ran around fighting with the light and the noise.

    Ah yes.

    The light and the noise and the heat.

    Because, you see, about an hour into the filming, the sun started to come out.  Patchy clouds at first, but soon, the sun was just burning down relentlessly.  And all the nice even light that I was getting turned into patches of extreme brightness and dense shadows.  Good luck making that match with the footage I shot the day prior.  And then my actresses started getting sunburned from being out so long waiting for the light to get right.  Both Brynn and Erin are very fair – Erin started getting freckles on her face coming out and Brynn’s shoulders were lobstering.
    Meanwhile, every goddam plane at Santa Monica airport used the airspace overhead to take off, land and circle in.  The light and the noise worked hand-in-hand. 

    When the light was good, the noise was bad. When the plane went away, the clouds opened up and the sun burned down.  I couldn’t catch a break.

    The raw tape of this period has much cursing and waving of fists at the sky on my part.  I began to regret even bringing up the subject of Fitzcarraldo, because I felt I had jinxed the production. 

    So during lunch, I worked with the guys in the car.  I got Chris to run down the alley.  And again, as my other actors did, he managed to make what couldhave been a very flat scene into something interesting.  He ran and danced and bounced around like Jim Carrey.  Great physical comedy, very smart. At one point, he picked up a tree branch and carried it in front of him like camouflage.  And then at the wall he kicked his feet, scrabbled for purchase, and then upon hearing the Mandy scene from Day 2, began humping the concrete post.  Great stuff.

    It was after lunch that things really started to get away from me. It was getting hotter than hell, and I was unable to get the one shot that I wanted, because one of Ted’s neighbors had parked his pickup truck in the alley, pulled the whole freaking wheel off and was hammering on it.  Right in the middle of my shot.  So I had to try to improvise around it.

    Dancing_with_brynn_and_the_magic_trash_b
    Luckily, Jon showed extreme courage and trust.  He HUNG OUT THE SUNROOF OF A MOVING ESCALADE AND SHOT DOWN AT CHRIS AS HE GRABBED THE TRASH.

    If any one tiny thing had gone wrong – if Jay had twitched the wheel to send the car into a concrete wall, if Brynn had faltered and fell under the wheels, if a crazy kid had screeched into the alley from the other direction and caused a head-on crash that decapitated everyone …

    but it didn’t.

    Nothing went wrong.

    The footage looks fantastic.  Chris is triumphant.  Brynn dashed out again, and again into the street, stopping right on her mark and screaming “NO!” in desolation and despair into the camera.  Great stuff.
    I am still missing a couple of shots. I need to get the garbage truck coming closer.  I need to get a close-up of the bag o’ trash in Brynn’s hand. 

    And I’d like to get a shot of a garbageman laughing and smoking a stogie while operating the hoist.  But these can come later…
    At the end, sunburned to within an inch of my life, tired of chasing after my clipboard of shots, sleep deprived, I sagged into a chair. 

    Jon looked up at me – he was about to snap shut the lasTrash_nab_moment_of_trutht plastic lock on his big camera case.  When this last catch snaps home, we’re wrapped.  Last chance to get a shot in, he said. 

    I wearily shook my head no.

    I can’t think of anything, I said.

    He snapped it home, turned around and stuck out his hand. 

    “Good job. It was a pleasure working with you,” he said.

    Same here folks.  Same here.

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    Aug 25

    Day 3 – Paparazzi in the Pressure Cooker

    Posted: under Film, journalism, Online (Multi)Media, television, True Enough - TV Pilot, Web/Tech.

    The third day of shooting dawned
    with me already running behind. I was supposed to be using a borrowed Range
    Rover for the picture car. That had fallen through at the last moment. So at

    10 p.m.

    the night before, I was calling around
    to rental car agencies, trying to nail down a place that would rent me a
    big-ass SUV. I managed to find Budget
    Rent-a-Car in

    Beverly Hills

    – which
    was a real blastThe_sclade
    from the past for me, since back in the tabloid days, I had
    rented a Ferrari Mondiale from them and driven it to the Hotel del Coronado for
    a stakeout of Donald Trump. It was a
    blast going down, and then the weather changed – to the point where, when the
    photog and I were staking out the private airstrip that The Donald was using to
    ferry hoochies in and out, it actually started sleeting. Not exactly the weather for cruising up the
    PCH with the top down.

    Anyway. I awoke scrambling, with acid already in the
    pit of my stomach. I drove with Janine’s cousin to the Budget to pick up the
    car, and got my first nasty surprise of the day. Apparently, that Budget also rents the big
    U-Haul like trucks and Saturday is the day that everybody chooses to do their
    moving on. So the line was already out the door. It was a ½ hour wait to get to the counter,
    at which time the guy behind the counter had apparently had a car accident
    recently and gone through the windshield. He was not motivated in any real,
    appreciable way,
    and Chris_is_scary_1
    seemed to have problems focusing on anything other than
    the cleavage of the sweaty girl one station over.

    Meanwhile, the lighting fixtures
    in the ceiling were falling out unpredictably – the electrician had just been
    there and had “fixed” the lights, whilst being staggering drunk. 

    It would not have been out of
    place for me if at this point, Death Himself had shown up with a scythe and
    skeleton-raven on his shoulder, laughing at me. I was drumming my fingers on the counter like Keith Moon at his most
    deranged, when someone finally recognized that I was about 10 minutes from
    decapitating everyone on the premises and taking off with whatever cars I could
    get. They tried to pass off some shoddy
    mini-Lexus SUV on me. I held out for the Escalade. I knew that I was going to
    need as much space as I could. It cost
    me about 4 times as much as I had budgeted for this prop, but at last I got in
    the car and sped off.

    A side note here. If you ever get
    the chance to cruise through Beverly Hills on a Saturday morning behind the wheel
    Broiling_in_the_sunof a big black Escalade, pumping out heavy bass tunes – do it. You will feel like the star of your very own
    hip-hop video. I laughed because every
    damn station on the radio was tuned in to badass hip-hop music. I think I saw the glitter of an expended 9mm
    shell on the floor mats; or maybe that was a chip off some fool’s grill after
    one of Suge Knight’s boys had dribbled his face against the dashboard like
    Steve Francis pounding the ball on his crossover dribble.

    I got back to my house, which
    doubled as the set, and pulled the SUV into the alley. The crew was already there. Chris was late,
    because he had been out until

    4 a.m.


    with a bunch of Vivid Video girls. Or so he would have us believe.

    Jon looked up at the bright
    overcast sky and said, “As far as I’m concerned, we’re lit!” I guess the lighting conditions were actually
    rather fortuitous. I had been Chris_and_jay_make_outafraid that it was too dim – that I was going to
    have a problem matching the footage because it was dim and then would clear
    later – but that turned out to be a problem that only materialized the next
    day.

    Shooting outdoors proved to have
    its own challenges. Not the least of
    which was the sound – throughout the morning, helicopters kept passing overhead
    right when I was getting good performances out of Chris and Jay.

    Now for the complimentary
    stuff. I knew that I had made a right
    move when I cast two good improve stand-up comedians for these roles. I knew that I would need them to go off script
    a lot to make these roles come to life. And that turned out to be one of the better decisions I’ve made. They
    improv’d well, you could see that they actually liked each other and got along,
    and they made my movie funnier than it would have otherwise been. 

    So we shot them clowning and
    emoting in the alley next to my house, and by noon, my mother’s words about
    “getting the worst sunburns on overcast days” turned out to be, like most of
    the wisdom that my mom attempted to impart to me in my life, absolutely true
    and necessary. I had spent most of my
    time leaning over to Tired_and_scorched
    peer at the monitor stuffed into the back of the truck and
    thus the sun had baked the shit out of the back of my neck. Yes, I was, as I
    have been so many other times in my hick-goes-to-the-big-City-life, a genuine
    walking redneck. Yee-haw!

    When it came time for my actors to
    start driving around in the SUV, I gulped and said a quick prayer. I had tried
    and tried to get insurance through the Filmmaker’s

    Alliance


    program, only to find my calls and emails falling on deaf ears (eyes? Internal organs?). So I was flying naked. In the picture that you see of my running
    away down the alley in front of the car, I half wanted to just lie down in front
    of it and let it run me over. One wrong
    turn, one little old lady with a shopping cart or the car being backed up too
    far, too fast, and I turn into a guy with a bad moustache at the border
    crossing at TJ, lining up to work as an English teacher at the college of the
    Americas under the alias of Sven Nater.

    It was hot and sweaty out,
    although not as hot as it had been the previous weekend, when we had set
    all-time records for heat in

    California

    . If I’d been trying to film in that heat, we
    would all have been either dead, or very very dizzy. I had bought a giant
    canvas carport from Pep Boys two days before, and I expected that we were going
    to have to put it up and then use it as a sunshade and diffuser… but like I
    said, it was overcast and I got lucky.

    The most challenging shots both
    physically and acting-wise were the sJay_as_photog
    hots where Jay had to drive the ‘Sclade
    down

    Venice Blvd.

    at 50 mph
    and have a gradual, tearful breakdown. We had to cut for the lights, weave around slowpokes and give money to
    the withered crackhead stationed at the left-turn lane at La Brea and Venice
    (Jay gave her money and asked for a joke. She had none.) But still, Jay managed to break down
    repeatedly. He drove and just started
    crying – he changed the mood in the car. That was good stuff. We had six people
    crammed in there – my two actors, me, Jon the cameraman, Adam and the Brian laconic
    sound dude. Thank God and Sunny Jesus I went for the big SUV. The mini-Lexus
    would have been a disaster.

    Oh yeah – and all this took place
    on my birthday.

    So happy birthday to me. It’s the
    most expensive present I’ve ever given myself. I still don’t know whether it will ever turn into anything other than a
    testament to my own vanity or hubris or silly nostalgia. But I freakin’ shot
    this!

    Next up: the most difficult day was saved for last.

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    Aug 24

    Werner Herzog Accepts Vision Award From Filmmaker’s Alliance

    Posted: under Current Affairs, Film, journalism, Online (Multi)Media.

    On August 16, at the Filmmaker’s Alliance annual Vision Awards, the legendary director Werner Herzog got a lifetime achievement award.  He was introduced by writer Zak Penn, whose initial introduction was sarcastic and hilarious.  Although I don’t think he’ll be getting any Christmas cardsHerzog_gun
    from Brett Ratner … Jesus! What in hell happened between the two of them as to X-Men 3?  Gotta be some hard feelings there… or else they’re such close friends that Penn can pretty much call out Ratner as a spoiled hacky shitmeister without there being any hard feelings.  Or maybe there are. Whatever.

    Download werner_herzog_at_vision_awards_81606.WAV

    First: you gotta love that Herzog showed up even though he had been shot in the stomach during a BBC interview that week. OK, OK, it was just with a pellet gun.  But in true Herzogian (is that a word? it is now) fashion, he insisted that they continue with the interview.

    I’ve added "Burden of Dreams" to my netflix queue – the documentary about how he made "Fitzcarraldo" – a deeply flawed film, but still an awe-inspiring undertaking, and one of the greatest allegories ever for what it feels like to be a movie director.  The image of the boat being dragged uphill – the whole Sisyphean nature of it – really captures what it feels likeFitzcarraldo
    to roll out of bed in the morning, groaning with the weight of a film production on your shoulders.  A million things swirling around your head, worries, questions you can’t yet answer, concerns over all the squintillion things that you just KNOW are going to go wrong, already trying to come up with contingency plans for when the shot doesn’t come together, trying to figure out what else you know you can shoot so that in post you can cut around the looming disaster  … and then wondering what the day will hold after lunch.

    Yeah. And the Jesus/martyrdom complex. I’ll cop to that one as well.

    But Herzog has reached a place, I think, where a kind of holy calm has settled over him.  He spoke in a soft, kind voice, he was relaxed and self-deprecating.

    And he was filled with some kind of – I have to relate it to the kind of spirit that I’ve seen in people like my old friend from high school, Bill Cayley, who goes into the prisons in Ethiopia and Somalia and provides medical treatment to the political prisoners there.  I met Bill at my 20th high school reunion, and there was a sort of preternatural calm to him.  It was as if his feet no longer completely touched the earth. 

    Herzog had that.  I think it comes from surviving so much trauma, from seeing so many epically amazing things go so thoroughly wrong, and still managing to maintain your basic human optimism, rather than sinking into pessimism and drunkenness. Or if not optimism, then perhaps a kind of quiet strength that just exists and endures.

    His parting words were that because digital technology has made it possible for us to make movies on smaller budgets, as little as $10,000 for a feature, that there is no longer an excuse not to follow your dreams.  "There is no excuse anymore."  Hell, click on the link above and listen to the man.

    He may be calm, but he is not removed. Oh no. He is very much present still in this world and committed to achieving his art – and to inspiring other people to do so as well; and to do so with honesty and utter integrity.

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    Jul 26

    The Trash Don’t Lie

    Posted: under Books, Current Affairs, Film, journalism, Online (Multi)Media, television, Weblogs.

    Photos from Day 1 of the shoot:

    It has been damn near a month since I’ve written anything substantive on this blog,and the pictures below will tell the story of why.  I have undertaken the most ambitious, and most foolish endeavor of my writing/video career – I have written, produced and am directing the short film/pilot "Trash" based on the story of The Great Flying One-Handed Trash Nab pulled off by Roger Hitts and me back in 1991.

    Framing_the_shot

    This is from the shoot on Saturday, the hottest day in the history of the State of California.  Luckily, we were inside.  Not-so-luckily, the second we flipped on the big 1k floods, the temperature started climbing.  On the left is Ted, playing the maniacal tabloid bureau chief, and on the right is Gina, the mousy, ditzy assistant (with a secret).

    This was all shot on HD, by my Director of Photography/Camera operator Jon Bickford, using the brand-new Canon H1 camera.  I can’t wait to see what the footage looks like – and when I get some dailies, I’ll post some of the better clips.  The little back-and-forth between Ted and Gina (real name: Joey Jalalian) was absolutely hilarious.

    Giving_direction Somehow, it actually looks like I know what I’m doing in this shot … hey, I’m holding a script and an actor is looking at me as though I were actually saying something that made a modicum of sense.  Which seems unlikely, as I was in a complete stress/adrenaline daze the whole day, feeling like I was babbling like a loon and should probably just have been sedated, swathed in bubble wrap, and dropped off on the loading dock of Cedars-Sinai for a 72-hour psych hold.

    I know I made all sorts of mistakes, and I know that despite my best efforts at rationalizing them, they are going to dance and swirl around my head like the tweeting birds in a Tom & Jerry cartoon.

    Thru_the_viewfinder

    I look at this and I see that I had mostly a blank, featureless wall behind Ted for most of the shots from Gina’s POV and I just frickin’ cringe.  Still, there there was only so much that I could do, seeing as how I was the Writer, Director, Producer, Art Director, Set Dresser, PA and Transportation Coordinator.

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    Jun 06

    LA Home Electronics Show

    Posted: under Film, music, Online (Multi)Media, Web/Tech.

    La_home_electronics_show024
    The LA Home Electronics show is kinda like a CES-lite.  For all that, there were a lot of high-end gear manufacturers there, setting up their booths and blasting tunes to roomfuls of rapt audio nuts.  I wandered around with a mini-disk recorder (there were a few amused raised eyebrows at such niche audio gear – guess it didn’t have praesodymium-hafnium magnets in it, so it was obviously plebian) and a camera to record the fun.

    The main impression I came away with is that Sony is absolutely bathed in flopsweat: they are seriously clenched-jaw freeked at the thought that their Blu-Ray franchise is shaping up to be Betamax.  I’ve written about this before, and seen the stories that others have written about it.  But it was impressive to see Sony take over a theater room to project movies (sorry, couldn’t take pictures of a dim projected image) while also having a separate room to show off its monitors.

    To top it all off, at the end of the day, Sony arranged for a couple of busloads of people to get ferried over to the Sony lot to take in a gala demonstration of how gee-whiz wonderful the whole Blu-Ray standard is … or will be, once it actually hits the store shelves. La_home_electronics_show029

    Meanwhile, the digerati wandering the hallways with their bags of XM radio swag muttered darkly about how the new Sony disks would probably also put tracking viruses onto your hard drive.

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    May 28

    17-inch MacBook Pro and Tascam FW-1082 Board

    Posted: under Film.

    Continuing on with the cornucopia of cool stuff marketed at LAFCPUG – the head of the Final Cut Pro project came down from Cupertino to show off the MacBook Pro with the big 17-inch display.  There was an audible sigh in the audience when he clicked on Final Cut and it loaded up the workspace in about 5 seconds.  We really are a race of magpies, sometimes.

    "Steve" (again, can’t read the last name since my notes were scribbled in the semi-dark) then put the MacBook Pro through its paces, simultaneously capturing video, rendering video, editing video, and then layering on effect after effect – color correction, picture in picture … a voice from the audience called out "Push it, Steve!" – but it wasn’t until he jammed a fisheye perspective on the timeline that the Mac finally dropped a frame.

    Basically this thing lives up to the hype. It just burns through tasks that would make the computer I’m typing this on (cutting edge back in late 2002) curl up into a ball and suck its silicon thumb.

    Finally, came the Tascam FW-1082, which is an interesting meld of the digital and the tactile. It looks like an audio editing console, with the sliders and jog shuttle knob and all that.  But it’s got the software to allow it to work with and control video editing and motion graphics.

    Basically, you hook this up to a Mac, and you can save yourself hours and hours of slave sweat labor – the effect he showed was one where you can do color correction – to tweak the levels of red, blue and green to correct for exposure problems – in a real tactile way – with the sliders, so that you can adjust a whole bunch of things at once.  This appeals to me big-time.  So often, working on the computer, I miss the whole sense feedback thing – the one that I kinda miss still when doing editing.  Back when I started with this, I knew a story was too long when I unrolled the damn thing and it hit the floor.  No so much anymore, when you’re just scrolling through screen after screen after blah blah. 

    Anyway, the other thing that it does well is work with motion graphics (like Adobe Aftereffects or Flash) and does things like create keyframes on the fly.  So that, say you want the letters in a title to vibrate every time the kick drum hits, you don’t have to scroll and sync and then click and insert a keyframe and then make the effect and then go again.  This little board sells for about $600 and they gave one away in the raffle. Had I known how cool it was, I’da bought a buttload more tickets.

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    May 28

    The Red HD Camera: If It Ain’t Vaporware, It IS The Future

    Posted: under Film, journalism, Online (Multi)Media, Web/Tech.

    "Red renders obsolescene obsolete."

    Continuing on with what was clearly the star of the LAFCPUG show (what a jaw-breaking acronym, but then, these are video guys, not writers) – everyone in the audience clearly sat up and attached their drool cups in preparation for the presentation by Ted Schilowitz.  We were all hoping to be able to see and sniff and fondle the new Red camera.  Sadly, this mass almost-videographer-bukkake was not to be, as Ted didn’t bring even a mockup of the camera.  Dammit!

    Anyway, I have to say that Ted is about the happiest, most enthusiastic camera guy I’ve ever met. Unless he’s on horse pills full of Happy Juice, this guy is having a blast making this camera. He bounced around the stage, all grins and cracking jokes. He flew by his pants with his PowerPoint – showing us the slides of the NAB booth – they apparently didn’t decide until about the last minute to even try to do the show, and wound up being jammed into the very back of the cavernous space, in a tiny little tent which they threw together.  What a compelling, insurgent narrative.
    Red

    At 9 a.m. of the first day, there were only a couple of people hanging out – and they had fear flop sweat coating them.  Within a half hour, there was a crowd of about 100 all blocking the aisle (lucky for Red that they weren’t in a high-traffic area or they would’ve been hocked by the NAB coordinating weasels — who I swearta Gawd are the same at every event). 

    The phrase that struck me the most – hell, the concept that struck me the hardest was the subhead for this piece.

    "You all know what it feels like to buy a camera and have it be obsolete before you even walk out of the store," Schilowitz said. The audience all nodded in grim, pained agreement – these are all indie operators, for the most part, and they face real tough will-my-business die decisions as to what gear they plunk their coin down on. "Well, what we aim to do is to render obsolescence obsolete."

    Basically, the Red camera is going to be so flexible that you can strap on any imaginable storageRedlens
    system (tape, P2 card, Blu-ray or most likely, big-ass hard drive) as well as real live 35mm movie lenses.  The best (and most expensive) glass in the world.  Red is also venturing into that world – their first lends, a 300mm F2.8 is selling for $4800 or so.  Which made a couple of the vid guys in the audience come right through their pants. Hell, that’s a great price for a still camera 300 F2.8.

    Ted’s title – and he emphasized that his official title in the org chart – is "Leader of the Rebellion."  Jim, owner of Oakley, has the title of "Madman."  Which is so apropos for a couple of guys who aim to sell this camera, which will beat the pants off cameras costing in the $90,000-$250,000 range – for the low, low price of $17,000.

    Damn.

    Best of all – the heart of the camera is the "Mysterium" sensor – which is the CCD chip that will convert the image into digital information (for those non-tech reading this).  It takes the images of duckies and bunnies that come through the lens and turns it into 1s and 0s.  This thing is sick.

    Check out this chart. The resolution that this will allow you to get is astounding. The only thing that beats it is some wild-ass experiment by Hyundai (I think – can’t read my notes) which shoots in 8K line resolution, which requires a roomful of computers to make work right.  Basically it shoots in a resolution that’s about 4x better than HDTV. 

    That ain’t hay, folks.  That is gold.  Pure gold to a vid-head.

    Best of all, if in the future that sensor ain’t cutting it, you can ship the camera back to the Red factory and they will slamp out that old sensor and put in the new 8K or 16K or whatever absurd resolutution that thing will be in by then. Thus, the death of obsolescence.

    RedcageTo continue. They’ve also put a "cage" around the camera with holes drilled in it.  This allows you to hold and manipulate the camera. It protects the camera from being bounced, dropped or otherwise hammered.  It looks a little like something that you’d see on the body of the Terminator.

    Also, the holes will allow the cameraman to attach stuff to the camera – like mikes, mixers, lights, auxiliary power – without having to kludge up something with gaff tape and velcro.  Oh, will that ever be an advance.

    One of the best things that I heard Schilowitz say was that at the NAB show (where they won an award), employees of the other big camera companies (Sony, Canon, Panasonic) were coming up to him on the sly and thanking him. "You are scaring the shit out of our bosses, and for once, they’re actually listening to us, even asking us what we think the next cameras should do."

    This is the very definition of a disruptive technology – something that makes everyone else have to adjust, because when it comes out, everyone just says, "Oh yeah, of course. That makes sense."

    Love that. Dunno if I’ll ever be able to afford a Red camera (well at least not unless I either hit the Lotto or decide to do the videographer thing fulltime – or until a year or so on down the line, when economy of scale kicks in and the prices drop) – but I’ll be rooting for them.

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