Screens, Screens, Screens

5 07 2008

Gas Station ScreensStop me if I’ve mentioned this before, but I think that filmmakers who think that the only way to reach people is on the big screen (film theatres) or small screen (television) are so 20th century.

Uh, okay, so I have said it before. Often. Very often. And again and again. But you can’t stop me now.

In any case, at the recent WCA conference panel that I hosted, we ended up talking about thinking of distribution as a multi-faceted hydra and woe to the filmmaker who ignores that fact. I forget if it was Ken Rutkowski or I who said this, but someone said that it’s all about screens, and there are a multitude of new ones out there — try waiting in line at your local chain supermarket, or drive into a gas station. Some phenomenal percentage of South Korean users of cel phones actually watch media on their phones (I think Ken said it was 85%, if I’m not mistaken).

Now, in the latest issue (July/August) of FAST COMPANY, there’s an article called “Can’t-Escape TV” and it outlines five places where these new screens are becoming even more ubiquitous. They talk about five places:

  1. Big-box stores. Places like Costco and Best Buy. They have tons of screens on display, but obviously can’t take the chance of showing regular programming where ads for their competitors might show up. So they contract with various programmers (big player – PRN) to provide content into which are slipped very specific commercials. Which, of course, they can get paid for. Genius. The content, however, is mostly reculed from cable networks.
  2. Gas stations. reports that 84% of all people who pumped said they’d view or listen to GSTV on their next fill ‘er up. Frankly, I find the content unbelievably bland, created by CBS-TV in 4-1/2 minute blocks.
  3. Grocery stores. You got your basic captive audience here — a tedious wait for the person in front of you to count out all of his/her pennies, right before they run back to the deli counter for that order that they forgot to get (“Could you please hold my place for a minute?”). Once again, CBS seems to dominate this market (a division called “CBS Outerreach” — which is actually a pretty cool name). The article notes that screens at the deli and meat counter lines can be used to promote store items before the customers get to the checkout. Hopefully the content starts to get better than the bland E! type stuff I’ve seen so far.
  4. Doctors’ offices. Wow, speaking of captive audiences. As the health care system degenerates even further, the waits get longer and longer. CNN and others design programming for us poor schmucks who don’t want to read last year’s copy of Family Circle Magazine. I haven’t seen this yet (I really must get to the doctor soon!)
  5. The proverbial “third place”. This includes places like Borders, Jack in the Box, Coffee Bean, et al. The content, which is a live feed created by companies such as Ripple, consists (according to the article, I haven’t witnessed this yet) of Retuers, E! Entertainment (ho-hum), New York Times, Yahoo, CBS (again!!) and Clear Channel. Coolest of all, though, is that customers can buy — for a buck — “ShoutOuts” which will be broadcast in the store with content of their own choosing. Presumably we will soon see marriage proposals in Borders soon. [Preferred to the Jack.]

So, for content creators, here’s the $64,000 question. Just what do you notice all four of these sites have in common.

I’ll let you think about this for a minute. And… the … answer … is … crappy, unimaginative, repurposed content (with the exception of the ShoutOuts, which are pretty cool).

If you are smart content creator/filmmaker/digital artist, I think you’d do yourself some good if you’d hang out in front of these screens for a while and figure out just what  you can do that will fit onto these screens and more. You are all creative people. Why not give these captive audiences something more for their time, something that they’d like to see.

Once again, those of you who see the big screen and the be-all, had better start sharpening your burger-flipping skills.

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.

Whither Hollywood? Various size frogs in ponds

4 07 2008

Being a frog in a pondHaving grown up in the film industry in New York, I always had a low opinion of “those Hollywood types.” I felt more like Woody Allen than Woody Allen did, I suppose.

At a certain point in my career, however, I found that I was traveling out to LA a lot to work here. I’d be on a film that shot and edited in New York but was finishing in Hollywood. There was one film (HAIR) that shot both in New York and in LA area, returned to NY to edit, but did all of its sound and completion work our in LA. There was even one film (FAME) that shot in New York, edited in London (where I did not go), returned to New York to do its music finishing work, and then mixed out in LA.

And the more I worked out here, the more I liked it. There were a lot of people out here who really knew what they were doing. So many projects (both film and television) were done here that there was a wealth of experience for me to sop up.

Of course, eventually, I moved out here and it’s been fun ever since. (Well, not all the time, but…)

Now, of course, sometimes I wonder what use Hollywood has. I know that it still is the corporate center of many of the major entertainment companies — though if you take a look at the percentage that those companies contribute to their parents’ bottom lines, I wonder if it will stay that way. Sure, there are a whole bunch of lots out here (a few less after Sunday’s fire) but there are more and more opening all across the globe now. In fact, as we build new facilities at USC, some of our advisors are telling us that the days of big studios are over — thanks to mocap and visual effects shooting (as well as location work). Then there is the ubiquitous “democratization of the media” (about which I’ve talked all too much) which is spreading shooting all over the world, in much cheaper venues than ever before.

Then there is this article from today’s Los Angeles Times – “New York’s film, TV incentives could tax L.A.’s economy” which talks about how many states, including New York, are now offering huge tax incentives for shooting (New York’s tax rebate is 30%; in New York City that rises to 35% of the below-the-line budget). Meanwhile, the California legislature spent weeks, in the last session, arguing over taxing the porn industry.

It’s my guess that you only call it “runaway production” when it’s running away from you, not towards you. But it seems to me that, in a world where media production doesn’t have to be centered around one locale anymore, that you’d do your best (if you were a state official) to make sure that your industries stayed in the state, rather than driving them away. It’s pretty exciting that someone in Michigan can pick up a camera and start creating content, without having to fly to Hollywood for all of the talent, but that’s not so great for people who are living in Hollywood.

I am often asked if it’s important to come to Hollywood to “make it in the business.” I usually stammer out an answer that is something like “It depends what business you want to be in.” If you want to make Hollywood films there are only a few cities you can live in to be a success — Los Angeles, New York, and perhaps London, Paris and Mumbai (I know I’ve left out a few — please submit your nominations below). The reality is that it is a lot easier to get films made if you’re in the middle of the action — the business is social above most everything else. If you want to write for films, it helps to be where the buyers are.

But it is also true that there are a lot more movies being made than Hollywood films (read “Bigger budgets, with bigger stars and other talent”). It’s not a big frog in a small pond kind of thing, it’s that there are a lot of desirable ponds.

Still, I wonder why the California Legislature is out fishing when it comes to their pond.

Working for Work

3 07 2008
Hudson Coffee Shop

I’ve been out of town, gadding about the Hudson Valley in New York. But the amazing thing about being 3000 miles from home (in that bucolic setting) is that our world continually follows you.  A spate of technology articles, a plethora of people talking about the latest dancing Matt videos, and loads of discussion about iPhone and PDA screens for films — it’s not easy to duck the fact that we live in an age where we are surrounded by media.

This should be an awesome time, therefore, for people who are working in media (or who want to work in the field).  And, if you ask me, it is. The students at USC who graduated last month (at least the ones who I talked to) are  both excited and petrified of what is to come. What, they wonder, should they do when they get out of school?

So, this morning, I read an op/ed piece in the New York Times by Nicholas D. Kristof called “The Luckiest Girl”. The piece isn’t about media, exactly, and it isn’t about working, but it was appropriate nonetheless.

The piece talked about Beatrice, a young girl from an impoverished family in Uganda, whose family got a donation of a goat from a group of children in Niantic, Connecticut. The donation was small ($120), but the family was able to sell the milk from the goat and started saving money. Eventually, they sent Beatrice to school — an unheard of opportunity before the donation — and she eventually was able to go to a prep school in the United States. She’s just graduated from Connecticut College (a great little college on the Long Island Sound, with foliage that looks like the Hudson Valley that I just came back from).

One of the points of the piece was that this success story was started by a tiny (in the overall scheme of things) donation of $120. Kristof points out that it is often easy to be daunted by the immensity of a problem (poverty) or a goal (giving education to the poor), but taking small steps towards the solution can often bring large results.

A few years ago, Beatrice spoke at a Heifer event attended by Jeffrey Sachs, the economist. Mr. Sachs was impressed and devised what he jokingly called the “Beatrice Theorem” of development economics: small inputs can lead to large outcomes.

So, at last, we come back to looking for work in the modern age. It is often too difficult to “look for work” since that it is a goal which is too broad and immense. It is much better to take the small steps towards that goal. In other words, break down your goal into a lot of little steps. It is probably too hard to “look for work” but you can certainly “Look through the Hollywood Creative Directory” and make a list of places and people you should contact. Then it should be possible to divide that list into the places that suit your goals and are likely to respond to you. After that, it should be possible to call 20 of them on Monday, 20 on Tuesday, and 15 on Wednesday.

As an aside, Merlin Mann, who (coincidentally) is one of the funniest people of the web today, also runs a blog called 43 Folders, which “writes about modest ways to make your life a little better.” By that, he means helping to organize your thoughts, your work and your life into a form that works best for you. The name of the blog comes from the work of David Allen, who has written a book called Getting Things Done, which talks about organization. One of the tenets of his teaching, is that you cannot accomplish a large task, but you can easily do a series of smaller ones.

Sometimes, making one phone call, or giving your business card to one person at a user group meeting, or volunteering to work on one short 48-hour film festival, will lead to many other things. Mark Horstman and Michael Auzenne, over at the Manager Tools podcast, have often said that you should give advice and help to people without expecting anything in return. I agree completely with that, even though it sometimes tend to be more work than if you stayed at home and didn’t.

And that, I suppose, is what I’m driving at. If you want to have a successful job search you need to be with people. That is the first step. And it could lead to much bigger ones.