Internet Memes Expand

22 06 2008

Earlier this month I talked about Internet memes (those virally popular Net phenomena like the Numa Numa guy, or the Star Wars kid).

Now comes evidence of the power of the memes.

In 2006, a guy named Matt Harding did a video called “Where In The Hell Is Matt?” which wasn’t a parody of the Where’s Waldo? books at all. Instead, it was a video of Matt, dancing/hopping up and down in the center of the frame (usually, more or less, the same size in each frame) in dozens of countries all across the world. The video, sponsored by Stride Gum, became an Internet sensation, spawning dozens of parodies. (You can see the videos at Matt’s site, or on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNF_P281Uu4)

Now, Matt is back with his 2008 (in HD) video of him dancing in yet more countries. But there’s a difference this time — in each video he is joined by people from the cities and towns he was visiting. In many cases, it is clear that Matt (using his web site) recruited the people to dance with him and, in cities all across the world, he was joined by enthusiastic people who, for the most part, clearly seems to be aware of this Matt phenomenon, and were all too happy to join in. He starts the video dancing alone and then, right before the chorus, cuts from city to city to city, as people stream into the frame and start to dance with him.

The video, which can be found on Matt’s site, or at this link in Vimeo, is actually oddly compelling in an incredibly sweet way. Whether the dancers are in Madagascar, California, Jordan, France, Antarctica (yep, even there!) or any number of other cities and countries (there are 63 listed in Matt’s blog) they all seem to be enjoying themselves tremendously. In many of the countries it is also clear that the people came to this location specifically to dance with Matt. There is even a place in Matt’s blog for dancers to comment on the postings that Matt puts up about his travels.

It’s actually a good example of the international power of social networking and Internet celebrity.  I won’t say that this is work on a shoestring (I can’t even imagine how expensive the travel costs are!!), but it is certainly something that I cannot imagine being imagined by anyone rather than a sole person, who had the audacity and insanity to pull it off.

Take a look and let me know what you think



How To Tell Really Good Stories

22 06 2008

[Title is intentionally cynical]

Fellini with Giuletta MassinaA piece in today’s New York Times “Low Cost Film With Friends in High Places,” talks about the first film from Cecilia Miniucchi. The film, which played at Sundance this year, is called EXPIRED and starts Samantha Morton, Jason Patric, and Teri Garr. It’s not her first film, though it is her fist narrative feature.

The article talks about how she used her connections, in particular with Lina Wertmüller, the Italian director (whose film SEVEN BEAUTIES is, in my opinion a must-see for anyone who wants to see what films are capable of) to help to cast and get her film above the radar in the development world. She had also worked with Fred Roos, whose long-term relationship with Francis Coppola has put him on the map as a producer. He agreed to work with Miniucchi as a producer on her film.

My favorite quote in the article comes from Wertmüller:

For Ms. Wertmüller being a storyteller is what’s important. “Fellini said, ‘When you are trying to direct, they will tell you there are a lot of rules,’ ” she said. “ ‘Of course these rules are important, but in reality the way to tell a story is the way you would tell it to your friends in a cafe. And if you have a talent as a narrator, you will tell this story well. Otherwise all the technique in the world will never help you.’ ”

Of course, many many many people can’t tell an entertaining story to their friends in a cafe.  I cringe whenever someone haltingly starts to tell a joke to me. You know they’re going to crash and burn.  I would rephrase Fellini’s point a bit, because the moral there is, to me “If you can tell a good story to someone in a cafe, then you can figure out how to tell one in a film.”

There is an endless discussion about whether visual effects have killed stories in film. I’m still, for instance, trying to figure out what the hell the story was in the latest Indiana Jones film.  Something about a search for an object, and a ton of chases. But, that’s like the guy in the cafe who keeps telling the same story over and over again. You begin to wonder what the point is. Technique (and that film was very well done) doesn’t outweigh good storytelling.

So, for those of you who don’t quite know yet how to tell a story (even if you think you do), study it at cafes and at school and in the movie theaters (and, plug plug plug, get ready to buy my book THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT when it comes out in December). Then, go back and study it again.  Maybe even from Fellini.



The Journal Just Doesn’t Get It

18 06 2008

Rupert Murdoch’s companies have, typically, been among the most forward thinking of the old media companies at getting the ideas of new media. People thought Fox was crazy when he plunked down almost $600 million for MySpace. That purchase now seems underpriced, given where Fox is taking the site — looking to expand it into music sales, film and television promotion, and a host of other social networking tools.

So it was a tad surprising to read in today’s Wall Street Journal, in an article by Rebecca Buckman about LinkedIn’s funding of $53 million by a a group of venture capital funds. In doing so, they gave the company a valuation of one billion dollars — not bad.

But here’s the quote that piqued my interest from the second paragraph.

The investment comes as rival Facebook Inc., a site that originally targeted college students, has been attracting older users, leading to speculation that Facebook — like LinkedIn — could become a destination for professionals hoping to make new contacts, recruit employees or find experts in certain fields.

I want to emphasize the word “could” in that graf.

I think that the transition has already happened. And though Facebook users may skew younger than LinkedIn’s (CPM Advisors reported in February that Facebook’s average age was about 23 — though that has probably risen, LinkedIn reports theirs as 41), who said that younger business people aren’t valuable as well. I don’t know anybody who’s gotten work as a result of a LinkedIn reference, I know many who get job offers from Facebook. Ironically, I know plenty of people who have accounts on both. Most of them use Facebook more often.

So, the idea that Facebook COULD become a place for business connections is already way out of date, and was probably out of date as soon as they opened up their membership to people outside of school. People use is for job hunting, house hunting, staying in touch, food hunting (though I prefer Yelp) and more.

Social networking does work. Online social networking does work. And, Facebook, way more so than MySpace, is providing value

[As an aside, I continue to use Digg and StumbleUpon and other bookmarking social networks to find connection. It’s a great way to see people with similar interests — not unlike the way Like works with music.]



Moving Backwards In Time

17 06 2008

Only in Hollywood.

The Hollywood Reporter, in an article by Shannon L. Bowen, called “What Women Want,” talks about the organization Women In Film, which is handing out awards this week for… well… great women in filmmaking.

But here was the leading paragraph, excerpted for my sanity:

“Of the 176 nominations for the 80th Annual Academy Awards, 43 (24%) went to women [Norman aside — presumably this includes the Best Actress]… Women In Film celebrated the accomplishments accordingly. [It] threw its first Oscar party in February.

Now, aside from the cliché if Hollywood throwing a party whenever someone sneezes, the truly astounding thing for me about the article is that an organization entitled Women In Film, which I assume represent the 50% of the American population with two X chromosomes, is happy when less than half of that percentage is given awards.

The truly scary thing is a study that accompanied the article, and which you can download from the website of TRACTION — which bills itself as “The magazine for and by women in the ‘industry’.” The study compares the percentage of women in various film professions over the last ten years.  The results are not good.

The chart, which you can see by clicking on its min-version up on the right-hand side of this post, shows that among the six categories — directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors and cinematographers — not a single one showed an increase in the percentage of women receiving credits on films since 1998. At this stage only 2% of cinematographers are women, 6% of directors, 10% writers, 17% editors, and 14% and 22% were executive producers and producers. This is down anywhere from two to four percent per category since 1998.

What the hell is going on here?

I’ve heard so much about the “democratization of the media” but that seems to be only for men, and white men at that.  In the Digital 100 in the Hollywood Reporter a few weeks ago, you had to dig down to number 20 or so before you found a woman.

Perhaps it is the sample that the Reporter uses — mainstream media (the study I mentioned analyzed crew lists from the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2007). And we shouldn’t be surprised that the mainstream is more sexist.

But, as small as the percentage is, it’s the downward trend that freaks me out.

I look around in the editing world and realize that I’m surrounded by mostly white males. Then I look at the student body at the USC film school which is about 40% women.  Where are they all going to do?  I have had hopes that they would begin to push up the employment numbers, but that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Three weeks ago, I ran a panel at the USC Women in Cinematic Arts on the future of media. One of the panelists mentioned that there are more women in the New York digital world than out here in California. Perhaps that is part of it. We can certainly point to great women editors — Margaret Booth and Dede Allen are legends in the field.  I’ve worked with Lynzee Klingman, an amazingly talented woman who cut HEARTS AND MINDS and a few of Milos Forman’s films. Anne Coates has cut LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and OUT OF SIGHT.  Sally Menke has cut all of Quentin Tarentino’s films, if I remember correctly.

There are a lot of women in television editing (which is not included in the report, consigning television, as well as women in television, to a back room). It doesn’t seem like editing would only have 17% women.  But, obviously, I’m wrong.

How can we move past this, in the political climate today, where people are losing jobs, not making them

I’d like to know.



My Favorite Worst Review EVER

17 06 2008

Roger Ebert with his director, Russ MeyerEditors almost NEVER get mentioned in film reviews, unless it’s a chase film with lots and lots of cuts. But allow me to tell you the story of when I got mentioned in a Roger Ebert review.

Yep, I’m practically famous.

Years ago, I worked on a movie called MAD DOG TIME, which was actually tons of fun, and a trip and a half to edit. It starred Jeff Goldblum as a laconic and top mob hit man who, while his mob boss Richard Dreyfuss is out of town (locked up in a funny bin) has to fend off hit man after hit man (including a delicious Gabriel Byrne) while balancing two girlfriends — Diane Lane and Ellen Barkin. It also had small roles by Burt Reynolds, Joey Bishop (the director’s dad), Kyle MacLachlan, Henry Silva, Michael J. Pollard, Billy Idol, and the amazing Gregory Hines.

When it came out it was, to put it kindly, pilloried by most critics, who felt it was too reverential to Tarentino, without having the talent or class of Tarentino.

Now, I have my own feelings about the film, which are far more positive than the reviews. But I did love the mention that I got from Ebert:

Mad Dog Time” is the first movie I have seen that does not improve on the sight of a blank screen viewed for the same length of time. Oh, I’ve seen bad movies before. But they usually made me care about how bad they were. Watching “Mad Dog Time” is like waiting for the bus in a city where you’re not sure they have a bus line. …

What were they thinking of? Dreyfuss is the executive producer. He’s been in some good movies. Did he think this was a script? The actors perform their lines like condemned prisoners. The most ethical guy on the production must have been Norman Hollyn, the editor, because he didn’t cut anybody out, and there must have been people willing to do him big favors to get out of this movie

“Mad Dog Time” should be cut into free ukulele picks for the poor.

Now that’s a review that I didn’t show up on my resume!



I’ll Be At LAFCPUG

15 06 2008

Whatever that means.

Actually, I’m assuming that most of you do. For those who don’t, it’s the Los Angeles Final Cut Pro Users Group, the largest users group in the world, as far as I know. It’s celebrating it’s 8th anniversary and I’ll be speaking there this coming Wednesday night, in my attempt to dampen the enthusiasm of these great users.

Not really. Mike Horton was kind enough, after my appearance on the show that he does with fellow LAFCPUG maven, Larry Jordan, to invite me to speak about the Craft of Editing. Here’s the general announcement (you can see it, and more details on all of the guests at the LAFCPUG Meeting Page.

Join us as we celebrate the eighth anniversary of the lafcpug. Scheduled to appear will be veteran film editor and Associate Professor and Head of the Editing Track at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, Norman Hollyn. Plus, the brand new soon to be shipping Video Recorder/D.264 encoder from BlackMagic Design will make it’s LA debut. Plus, the brand new Focus FS-5 Portable DTE Recorder from Focus Enhancements will wow all of you who hate tape. Plus the FCP Tip/Trick of the Month, Stump The Gurus, Show and Tells and, if budget allows, Balloons, Circus Clowns and Pony Rides. And of course, World Famous Raffle. And MORE!.

A $5.00 donation will be requested at the door. Doors open at 6PM. lafcpug meetings are open to the public. First come, best seat.

Here is their description of my talk:

9:00PM – 9:35PM – The Craft of Editing – Norman Hollyn
It isn’t enough to just know the tool. Anyone can learn Non Linear Editing tools. But can one learn the craft of editing? Can one be taught how to edit? Most editors when asked the question, “How do you edit” generally reply with the answer, “I dunno. I just uh, do it. When it feels right I make the cut.” Then there are the editors who can articulate the craft of editing.
Norman Hollyn is one of few editors who can do just that.

He is a long-time film, television and music editor (HEATHERS, THE COTTON CLUB, SOPHIE’S CHOICE, Oliver Stone’s WILD PALMS), and is Associate Professor and Head of the Editing Track at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. He is an author of nearly 100 articles and his book, THE FILM EDITING ROOM HANDBOOK, has been internationally translated. His new book, THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT, comes out from Peachpit Press/Pearson in December. lafcpug is honored to have him take the time to teach us a bit of what we need to know.

The good news if I have to finish by 9:35, so I can’t be too long winded, can I?



Measuring Viral Videos and Making Use of the Web

15 06 2008

So, do you know that seeding videos on the web can give you amazing brand recognition? Do you know that the Numa Numa video, for instance, as had over 19,000,000 views? Now, if only you could trap that magic, you could make some real money from it, eh? (or at least, according to the recent South Park episode, some Imaginary Dollars).

[Moving out of Heavy Irony Mode now.]

Well, not so fast. The real problem with monetizing all of that web activity is that you can’t reliably measure it yet. It’s easy to get clicks, sure. And it’s easy, if you are controlling things, to measure how many people are watching your video, how far they watched, and other data.

The problem is aggregating that data. As Ken Rutkowski is fond of saying, there are 3 M’s to web success — Move (that is, bringing people to your site), Measure and Monetize.

Well, Viral Video Chart, is a web site that is trying to do something about that.

From Viral Video ChartThis site is designed to monitor occurrences and viewings of videos on YouTube. At present it doesn’t check the other web sites, meaning that Viacom’s products won’t show up that much.

But what it does do so far is pretty interesting. For one thing it tracks the shape of viewer interest. So, for instance, on the Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal HD trailer page, you can see that viewing of the trailer peaked on May 21st, the day before the film opened (the chart to the left links to a blowup of that chart — I know that it’s hard to read here). By the following weekend, it had dropped to virtually nothing, and has been bouncing around on the low end of the scale since then — not too different from its box office numbers.

This data is not dissimilar to the numbers that Moviefone collects and sells, pegging potential box office to the number of people who call to get information on showtimes and people who do searches on the films on its website.

The possibilities are huge here, if you’re interested in making money. On today’s main page for Viral Video, you can see that three of the top four performers are I’m Voting Republican, Barack Obama’s Speech on Father’s Day and John McCain Debates Himself on Supporting Bush which certainly speaks to the way in which the public is getting information on the Presidential race today. It’s no secret that one of the reasons for Obama’s success this year has been his use of the Internet. This information just backs that up.

And that is the main point here. We are getting more and more sophisticated at turning the wild wild west of the web into something graspable, something marketable, and something comprehensible. Sure, it’s still possible to lose an entire morning going from one link to another. But social networking companies like StumbleUpon are attempting to bring some order to this. What good does it do to have a zillion videos on YouTube if you can’t find the one you want? How good is the web for research if you need to rely solely on Google to find information?

There will be some — myself included — who will mourn the disappearance of that wild web experience. But there will some — myself included — who will be happy to see just what we’re doing with it, when and how. That’s what measurement is going to do. And it’s only beginning.



Shooting… the Independent Way

14 06 2008

Stu Maschwitz, author of the great book, DV Rebel’s Guide and filmmaker, blogger (over at Pro Lost), techno geek, has a really interesting blog about “clipping.”  For those of you who know little but could care more, that term refers to the point when video (or audio) reaches a saturation point and can no longer take any more light.  Stu refers to it this way:

Throw enough light at a piece of color negative and eventually it stops being able to generate any more density. Clipping, i.e. exceeding the upper limits of a media’s ability to record light, happens with all image capture systems.

In the posting, titles “On Clipping, Part 1” Stu gets into quite a bit of detail about how our eyes perceive light, as oppose to our digital capture systems (read that as “cameras”) and, at times, it went clean over my head.

But he makes the good point that film treats clipping much more forgivingly than video and digital capture does.  DPs have learned to expose for the whitest whites as much as possible, and to let the color timing bring the image down to respectful levels. This approach works fine, according to Stu, but falls apart when images clip, because bringing down a clipped image leaves you open to many digital imperfections — including milkiness and noise.

Editors have dealt with this for years, especially as more and more of us are pushed into the realm of color correction (way beyond most of our skill sets, I should point out, and that’s a topic for another post). But Stu lays it out in a great way.  And, along that way, he points out that clipping isn’t always bad.

And that’s OK. While HDR enthusiasts might disagree, artful overexposure is as much a part of photography and cinematography as anything else. Everybody clips, even film, and some great films such as Road to PerditionMillion Dollar Baby and 2001: A Space Odyssey would be crippled without their consciously overexposed whites.

Go check out the posting, and while you’re at it, take a look at the other postings on Stu’s blog.  You’ll find it way worth your while.



Amazing Amazing Amazing

13 06 2008

If this is true then there is proof that there is a God.

Wes Plate, the innovative maven behind Automatic Duck, did a demo of the soon-to-released Pro Export FCP 4 (due, according to the video, sometime this summer). In the video, which you can see at the Film & Video web page where I found it, actually shows ProExport 4 changing FCP media into MXF files that the Avid can actually read. In addition, with the effects that are in the demo, the program translated the FCP effects into Avid effects, and translated an FCP marker into an Avid locator. This is in addition to the already valuable function that the program performs in version 3 of translating project files.

Once again, if this is true — there is a God. Or, at least, the Holy Grail. For years, that unattainable goal was to easily move a project and its media from FCP into Avid, because most people felt that the finishing tools there were better. Or, perhaps, you’re moving from one facility to another.

Wes Plate, you are a God!!



Marshall Herskovitz talks about “Quarterlife”

12 06 2008

For those of you who’ve been watching Big Time Movies instead, let me explain what Quarterlife is/was. Producers Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick created an Internet-only, self-referential series about a group of twenty-somethings who hang out and get crazy when one of them starts keeping a video blog on a website called “quarterlife.”

The series did well enough on YouTube that NBC phoned up the two producers. They knew their phone number because they had previously teamed on such mainstream television shows as “thirtysomething,” and “My So-Called Life.” So they weren’t exactly unknowns. Anyway, the show went on. They called it “Quarterlife” (no sense in screwing up a good thing, right?) and it lasted exactly one episode. And now Herskovitz talks about the process and what he’s learned in a long interview on Debra Kaufman’s new but increasingly valuable blog mobilized.tv. (As an aside, Debra is a journalist with years of experience in publications like The Hollywood Reporter, TV Week, Film & Video, Editor’s Guild
Magazine, Wired,
The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and American Cinematographer.)

When the show tanked there were tons of think pieces about how Internet content couldn’t move into mainstream media. Which, to me, sorta missed the point. Nobody ever said that Internet entertainment was the equivalent of mainstream entertainment. The translation from one to another isn’t just as simple as adding 19 minutes of running time. There is no real equivalent to the Numa Numa guy on network television, and there’s no real equivalent to the complexity of “Lost” on the Internet. There are some mobisode series that are interesting and plot-detailed, but the very nature of watching for three to five minutes and then going away for a week or two or three makes the type of twisted plot and timelines very hard to do. Lost actually has a pretty interesting web presence but it comes from doing added and different types of content, rather than trying to replicate their winning television formula.

And that’s the real thing that Quarterlife teaches us. Translation isn’t what new media platforms are all about. Addition is what makes sense. There are a lot of different types of screens out there. We need to take advantage of each in their own ways.