Blog Stats and You

11 04 2008

Blog Stats are pretty interesting, all in all (well, only if you don’t have anything else going on in your life). I don’t mean the number of hits — I’ve never been able to figure out quite what they really refer to (I feel the same way about those silly preview cards that we always hand out at screenings, but that’s a whole separate blog post). But as a general trend, or for loose interpretation, they can be interesting.

Broswer Usage

I was surfing around the Sitemaster stats for Hollyn-wood, and found some cool “facts.” For one thing, about half as many of you are using Firefox (29.3%) as are using Internet Explorer (51.5%). Safari is down around 18.2%. That means a sizable percentage of you, more than half, are still on IE.

OS Usage

Combine that with the second chart — 68% of my readers are on PC platforms, and 31% are on Mac — and it’s clear that a large group of Mac users are not using Safari at all, but are on Firefox, since the total number of Mac users (31%) is almost double the Safari percentage (18.2%). Compare that to the PC/IE combination — 68% are PC People, and 51.5% are on IE. That means that, of my readers, brand loyalty is much lower on the Mac than on the PC.

There are those who would say, quite properly, that the Mac users might be more tech savvy on this forum, and therefore willing to try something that doesn’t come right on the box. In fact, there may be something to this, because my other statistic, is that the largest number of people come to this site searching on terms like “cell phones” or “pink cell phones” or “small phones” and get my post about a survey which showed that more and more people were giving up their land lines in favor of cell phones, and what that implied for distribution of content. The post, entitled, “Why It Would Be Good to Own Stock In Mobile Content Companies” continually gets the most hits on my site and, I presume, are responsible for the number of people who click onto the site and immediately click away (average reaction time — 1.6 seconds).

Still, I am intrigued by the Safari numbers. Personally, I almost never use Safari. I find Firefox more reliable at reading websites. Combine that with this news item from CNet about a contest in which the Macbook Air was hacked faster than a Windows or Ubuntu machine thanks to a security hole in Safari. Nope, I’ll stay away from Safari.

And so do a large number of Mac users, at least on my site.



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?



Stabs At New Distribution

8 04 2008

Arin Crumley, who has created (with a few others) From Here To Awesome, has a video out which talks about what is wrong with the present distribution models. This video, which is available here from Arin’s site or on YouTube, uses panels from the last Sundance Film Festival to prove the point about why film festivals just don’t work.

Only about 2% of the film’s getting made get into the festivals.

Then he discusses what the distribution deals are like — how they take worldwide rights for 22 years and promise nothing in return.

His solution is From Here To Awesome, an alternative distribution site, in which people can post their own films and raise awareness for them. While many of the film clips on this site are, frankly, not very watchable (translation — not my type of filmmaking), it’s a start in the quest to figure out just what the hell the democratization of media production is doing to the realities of marketing and distribution.

[Thanks to Adam Martin over at The Interactor, for cluing me into Arin’s video.]



How Do YOU Decide What Movies To See?

6 04 2008

Anne Thompson, in last week’s Daily Variety, has a column about the recent spate of firings of newspaper and magazine film critics. She makes some valuable points about how her students at USC can’t name any film critics besides Roger Ebert (thanks to his television show). Contrast that with the era when names like Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris were known for their reviews and their theories.

While I don’t disagree with her facts (and, as a former film reviewer, I have a certain sympathy for those people who have to sit through five or six horrible films a week and then write about them) I find her conclusions both obvious and unregrettable.

Younger moviegoers are fickle; they’re just as likely to play Guitar Hero or download episodes of “The Office” from iTunes. And the studios, for the most part, continue to bank on short-term, wide-release youth movies vs. riskier, execution-dependent movies for adults.

Thus, as boomers age and their subscriptions expire, the increasingly desperate economics of newspaper publishing are forcing aging movie critics out the door. And younger ones too.

We hear the same lament from studio heads and a plethora of old media types. The democratization of the media also applies to critics as well.

These students — and today’s youth auds in general — more often get their movie info straight from the studio marketing departments, who couldn’t be happier. These kids go to YouTube, Yahoo Movies and Apple to find trailers. As they surf the Web, bits of movie flotsam and visuals planted by the studios on MSN Movies or IGN or JoBlo eventually cross their eyeballs. But they also listen to their friends more than any authority figures, and distrust obvious studio hype.

I don’t know about you, but I find that holding up Sarris and Kael as examples of all film critics is like pointing to Hank Aaron and Mikey Mantle as examples of all baseball players — both major and minor leagues. In fact, I’ve only once found a daily film critic who could tell me anything about a film that was illuminating — and Art Murphy is no longer with us. I also find Elvis Mitchell’s interviews/critiques of films on his KCRW show “The Treatment” to be amazingly insightful and educational. Most film critics are really no more than reviewers, rehashers of basic plot and opiners on whether they liked performances, cinematography or direction.

I’m not saying that I don’t like reading newspaper and magazine critiques of films. In rare cases, I can also use them for viewing decisions. But, in general, I have never used reviews (printed or otherwise) as a guide to help me decide whether I should see a film or not. I didn’t when I was 18 and I don’t now that I’m 108.

So, how do we decide what we want to see?

If you’re like me, it’s a combination a number of factors — subject matter, my mood at the time, the proximity of the theater, the creative factors behind the film (I’ll go see most any movie that Scott Rudin, Sam Mendes or Robert DeNiro is involved in), and how well the film’s and my schedule overlap. And, perhaps most importantly, what my friends and colleagues are saying about it.

I will sometimes see a movie before any of my friends, and then the other factors become prominent. But the so-called water cooler effect (in which a group of office buddies grouped around the water cooler creates buzz about any particular subject) is biggest in my mind. For years, publicity departments at the studios, have spent millions of dollars trying to create that water cooler buzz, to greater or lesser impact. I remember that buzz boosting BORAT but look what it did to THE POSTMAN.

The obvious point here is that the Internet, in general, and social networking, in particular, has become this decade’s water cooler. Reviews of films that I used to get from my neighbor, have now moved onto Facebook and Rotten Tomatoes. That’s no different than it used to be, it’s just larger and more ubilquitous.

Thompson makes two very cogent, and somewhat depressing points, later in the article.

Over the years, critics helped audiences appreciate the likes of Orson Welles‘ “Citizen Kane,” Alfred Hitchcock‘s “Psycho,” Stanley Kubrick‘s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Arthur Penn‘s “Bonnie and Clyde,” Bernardo Bertolucci‘s “Last Tango in Paris,” Brian De Palma‘s “Dressed to Kill,” Robert Altman‘s “The Player,” the Coens’ “No Country for Old Men” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood.” Where would we have been without them? It will soon be up to Pajiba or Cinematical Indie to influence readers to seek out small releases once heralded by critics.

and

There’s hope for critics at well-funded magazines: John Powers soldiers on at Vogue, Anthony Lane and David Denby compete for space at the New Yorker, Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum are well-read at EW, and David Edelstein writes and blogs at New York Magazine, which has invested heavily in an improved — and well-trafficked — website.

So, the issue of the problems of distribution of independent films, off-the-beaten track films, small niche films, continues to raise its ugly head. Now that we’ve got YouTube, how do those films get noticed? And, now that we’ve got the “thumbs-up, thumbs-down” philosophy, how do those films get reliably reviewed?

Of course, it’s all well and good to note that Thompson talks about mainstream films. Virtually no larger circulation newspapers reviewed Stan Brakhage films that I’m aware of.

But, in my mind, what Thompson is talking about, fits squarely in the middle of the same argument that we’ve all been having — how are the Internet and socialized media changing the world of old media, and what can old media do to keep relevant in this new world.



South Park and the Internet

4 04 2008

This is so completely NOT a serious post that I hesitate even talking about this but…

On this week’s SOUTH PARK episode, the series took potshots at Internet Instant Celebrities (let’s call them IIC). I remember in 2001 when the video “All Your Base Are Belong To Us” became an Internet hit. This was, at the time, much harder than it is today, now that we’ve got YouTube et al to help distribute silly videos. The video, which took the fractured English translation in the Sega video game Zero Wing, and turned it into a music video, spread so far and so ubiquitously (is there such a word?) that even staid newspapers reported on it.

Now that we’ve got YouTube all over the damn place, we’ve also got a new IIC every month. Think the Numa Numa Guy, the Coke and Mentos videos, and Bree (lonelygirl15).

Now, the Internet Instant Celebrity craze has gone full circle. The South Park video parodied the phenomenon as only they can. In it, the boys, in an attempt to get Canada to stop running repeats of the Terrence and Phillip Show, create their own IIC (Butters, doing a brilliant version of Samwell’s “What, What (In The Butt)“) and then try and cash in at an Internet Celebrity Bank (and, in the process, manage to take on the recent WGA strike). While in the waiting room they witness a celebrity shootout, in which a host of IICs end up killing each other over whose celebrity is more… well… celebritacious.

You can see the section from the show at South Park’s own site. See if you can spot the celebs, among them:

  • The Chocolate Rain Guy
  • Star Wars Kid
  • Laughing Baby
  • Afro Ninja
  • Sneezing Panda (actually, though they call it that, it’s not, but never mind that…)
  • Leave Brittney Alone Guy
  • The Numa Numa Guy

and more.

It’s fascinating when a mainstream show like South Park (who have, admittedly, often bit ahead of the rest of the mainstream media) picks up the memes of the web.



Here’s Looking At You!

4 04 2008

Right now I’m involved in an international project called RIVERS, which is one of the more interesting films I’ve edited in the last buncha years.

The premise is this — five film crews, from five different cities, will each shoot and create one short film about the people who live and work around their rivers: the Danube, Mississippi, Rio Grande, Amazon and the Ganges. As they are shooting (on the Panasonic AVX200, using P2 capture technology) they are also sending the footage back to me in Los Angeles so that I can create a “meta movie” with all five rivers. This film will highlight the similarities and differences among the lives of the people who live around the five rivers, as well (I hope) give some personality to the rivers themselves.

It’s a great project, but here’s the other interesting thing — virtually everyone who I’m working with on this project is in a different city. I’m crafting a film without the ability to look into the eyes of my collaborators. I’ve often said that more than 50% of what I do as an editor has nothing to do with my ability to make a cut. Most of it revolves around my ability to let my collaborators know that the film that I’m making is the same one that they want to make. It’s about looking into each others’ eyes and knowing that we have each others’ backs.

And that’s much harder to do when we can’t see each other.

Last year I worked on a film called JACK IN THE BOX, about which I’ve spoken in the past. What I didn’t mention in those earlier posts was that the film was cut long distance, with my co-editor and director on the East Coast, while I was cutting away here in the city of Lost Angels. We were quite successful (thanks to the talents of Michael Phillips) at exchanging edits and material so that we could keep current on each other’s work. What was much harder was the experience I get from sitting next to my director and feeling how he or she feels about the work that we are doing together. I often describe my job as “crawling up inside the head of my director,” something which is really necessary if I’m going to be editing long distance.

I think that we’re going to be seeing this more and more as we move content distribution to the web. I’m not saying that companies will be outsourcing their editing, but we’re going to seeing more situations where the director wants to work with a particular editor who may not be in the same city. Even here in Los Angeles, with traffic so horrible that it can take me an hour to drive five miles, there will be advantages to, occasionally, allowing the director or producer to view and collaborate from a different part of town.

As soon as non-linear editing came along, I found that I was taking advantage of my ability to output a cut of a scene or sequence and bring it down to the director on set while he or she was shooting. We’d sit in the trailer and watch the cut, and I’d watch his or her face to get their first reactions. It was a great way to climb inside the director’s head, and I’m glad I could do it that way.

Now, with digital dailies being streamed to offices and homes using Internet or off-Internet technologies, the number of films that have nightly screenings of their dailies is getting perilously low. So, how can I communicate with you, without looking at you.

One technology that I’m going to try on this film is SyncVue, a program which sits on top of Skype and allows up to ten people to view and control a Quicktime movie, as well as to carry on a Skype conversation at the same time.  Combine that with a program such as Audio Hijack Pro, which would allow me to record the conversation for later playback, and I’ve got some tools to start learning about how my collaborators view each part of each version of their film.  Many films use iChat Video to collaborate, though it doesn’t have the control and commenting features of SyncVue.

The point is this: we are increasingly going to be working at distances — whether that is the distance from one continent to another, or from a shooting stage to an editing room.  We may be working crosstown or cross-continent.  Right now, the ability to replicate human interaction is horrifyingly bad.  And while I don’t think that we’re ever going to get to the place where remote access to another human will completely replicate immediate visual access, the advances in bandwidth and display technology are going to narrow that gap appreciably.

This is one of the reasons why I was enthusiastic about Avid’s new CEO — Garry Greenfield.  He comes from companies who have done long distance server technology.  The people and companies who move rapidly and enthusiastically into this “space space” are going to lead us into the real possibilities for a connected world.