LIVE on the Digital Production Buzz

29 12 2008
Larry Jordan will be interviewing me on this weeks Digital Production Buzz

Larry Jordan will be interviewing me this Thursday night on his radio show, THE DIGITAL PRODUCTION BUZZ, a podcast/show devoted to all things digital media. You can get details about this week’s show on Larry’s site, or download the show from iTunes or your favorite podcatcher software.



Social Networking — Does It Network?

28 12 2008
Twitter

One of the hardest things to teach people involved in the arts is how important connections are to their success. Hell, if I’d have learned that way back when you might have heard about me way before now — like when I accepted an Oscar or gave a speech at the White House. But networking is hard, especially for people in the arts. I find that many of us can’t speak proudly of work that we’ve done without being prompted.  It feels too much like boasting. So what takes its place — among us socially inept people?

Networking.

They say that, in Hollywood (and, by that, they mean Big Filmmaking), it’s who you know that helps you get ahead. And while I’ve seen too many well connected people who don’t get work because they can’t do the work when they do get it, it is true that having connections is better than not having them. The way that I describe it is that, since there are 100 people out there for every job, you have to differentiate yourself from the next person. That could be that you’ve won an Oscar — that’s different. Or it could be that you speak Swahili and the film has a section in Swahili — that makes you different.

Or it could be that one of your parents is head of post production for a major studio. That also makes you different.

But most of us don’t have parents who are highly connected like that, so what we have to do is to win an Oscar, learn Swahili or find someone who can help us in lieu of the Influential Parent thing.

That’s where networking comes in, and it’s the positive side of the “it’s-who-youy-know” coin.

Filmmaking is hard hard hard work. It’s not easy being trapped in a small editing room for five months with someone if you don’t really like spending time with them. So, honestly, one of the requirements of a good editor (or of any crucial job on a film — and most of them are critical)  is the ability to get a long with people. And that’s really hard to judge in a 30 minute interview.  So that’s why it’s a great idea to get to know someone in another setting before you have to meet them in an interview. Now, this kind of thing can’t be forced. It doesn’t do any good to attend parties, hoping to meet that director who you’d like to work with. But I’ve met some amazing people in social situations, a few of whom turned out to be working buddies later. I met them at soccer games (well… my daughter’s soccer games to be honest), museum functions, book groups and — now — online. Anyone who doesn’t have a Facebook account in 2009 might as well retire from the industry right now, before we reach 2009 (if you’re reading this after 2008 went away, well… sorry about that, give up now).

These thoughts came to mind after listening to a recent podcast of Net at Night, from Leo Laporte and Amber MacArthur, where they interviewed Ming Yeow Ng, one of the founders of a service called Mr. Tweet. Mr. Tweet is an identity on Twitter, the microblogging service which is better defined in Wikipedia than on their own site, as a web and cel phone text messaging site which “allows its users to send and read other users’ updates (otherwise known as tweets), which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length.” For those of you who aren’t on the service (and there’s really no pressing need for many of you to get on right now, I’m sure) the idea is that you post short messages which go out to everyone who has chosen to “follow” you. Initially, these messages tended to be stupefyingly dull (“I”m driving over to Joe’s house now.”). At SxSW last year, however, people started to use it as a meet-up tool (“I’m in the back of so-and-so’s panel where he’s talking complete gibberish. Who else is here?”). It has now evolved to a rather interesting means of passing information along. People like Guy Kawasaki, Robert Scoble, and Ken Rutkowski use it to push out information and links for items that they find interesting. And because each of those three people are interesting, the links are worth following.

So, it’d be great to find people who can help you learn new things about the world, and the industry, in which we live and work. The question is — how do you find them?

Enter Mr. Tweet. This service takes a look at the people who are in your circle of followers (that is, the people who you follow and the people who follow you — those don’t have to be the same) and figures out the people who you are NOT following who you should be following. Mr. Tweet (no word on whether there is a Ms. Tweet as well) divides them into two groups — the people who follow you, and the people who are not in your circle at all. The algorithm that they use to do this isn’t easy, and Leo, Amber and Ming discussed this a bit in Net at Nite (it is further discussed on the site’s blog) but it basically takes a look at how much respected bloggers respect your tweets (which are what your individual twitter postings would be called if you actually did them). The definition of “respected” seems to come from how valued your own tweets are to large groups of people.  Obviously, the more people in the system, the better this system works — you join the system by following “mrtweet” on Twitter. (As an aside, the two founders of Mr. Tweet, have put together an interesting PowerPoint entitled “Discovery Is The New Cocaine” which gives a lot of the basis for the reasons behind social networking usefulness. It’s worth a look at Slideshare.)

But this leads to a great conclusion about social networking in general — how can you find intriguing, interesting and valuable people with who you can network. One bit of advice that I got seveal years ago from Mark Hortsman and Michael Auzenne over at Manager Tools (a great site and fascinating podcast for those of you who want to learn how to manage) is to never volunteer for something expecting to get something in return. The best way to be helped by people, is to help them out selflessly. That means opening up your rolodex when it’s appropriate. That means answering emails from people you don’t know, even if it’s just a short response, to answer their questions. That means volunteering on a project without expecting a trade. And it means prying ourselves out of our shells a little more than we may be comfortable doing.

Knowing the latest cameras and editing software is important in the new world of work in our industries, but so is knowing how to make contacts in that world so you and your work can get out there. It goes beyond cocktail parties, through the world of user groups and emails, and into many of the social networking tools. Putting your films out on YouTube doesn’t do you a bit of good if you can’t get anyone to watch them. So, one more skill that we need to acquire today, is the ability to use the social networking tools of the time.

Now, you can go out and join Twitter.

By the way, if you’d like to follow me on Twitter (and I’m just learning how to do it right, you can click the Twitter logo at the top of this post).



I’ll Be Up At Macworld

23 12 2008

Im speaking at next months Macworld, up in San Francisco

I'm speaking at next month's Macworld, up in San Francisco

Macworld is the annual get together that is held up in San Francisco. While it’s been rocked by Apple’s announcement two weeks ago that not only would Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, not deliver his customary keynote address at the show and that Apple would pull out as an on-the-floor exhibitor beginning in 2010, it’s still a collection of some really interesting people.

Because Final Cut is a large part of the Mac experience, the publisher of my new book, Peachpit Press, has an exhibit on the floor at which a number of their authors will be giving talks about Final Cut, Photoshop, visual effects and (if I have anything to say about) storytelling. So, for those of you who are planning on attending the show and who would like to hear some people talk about subjects that they are very passionate about, please stop by the Peachpit booth.

I’ll be talking about THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT — a book about how to shape your storytelling abilities through writing, directing, cinematography, editing, production design, sound and music — on Thursday, January 8th, from 12noon until 12:45.  I’ll also be signing books afterwards. Preceding me will be Mark Christiansen, whose knowledge and expertise with visual effects continually stuns me.  I hope to see you there.

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I am also going to take the Macworld opportunity to stop in on my first LAFCPUG Supermeet. For any of you who are interested in filmmaking, in general, and editing in particular, the LA Final Cut Pro Users Group is a great organization with an amazingly deep website, and monthly meetings that attract some of the most interesting and talented FCP users and gurus (such as Larry Jordan, Ken Stone and Phil Hodgetts). Their annual Supermeets are huge affairs, with tons of speakers, raffle prizes, and knowledge.  This year, LAFCPUG head Mike Horton promises the following at this Wednesday night event:

Apple: The latest on Final Cut Studio – JVC: Craig Yanagi of JVC will announce the world’s first acquisition product developed especially for Final Cut post production. Come and be a part of this historic event.

BlackMagic Design presents M. Dot Strange.

Bruce Nazarian: Blu-Ray on the Cheap. How to build a compatible Blu-Ray Disk and burn it on DVD-R media without a Blu-Ray burner.

Christine Steele: FCP Tips and Tricks

Eric Escobar: “Plug-Ins Won’t Save You” A plug-in package alone won’t create the “look” of your movie. A “look” is a combination of preproduction, design, performance, camera work and post wizardry. Eric will show us how to deconstruct a “look” from a TV show or movie, and reconstruct it on-the-cheap.

Yun Suh: Clips from the documentary film “City of Borders” (Show and Tell)

Rounding out the evening will be the always raucous “World Famous Raffle” with over $40,000.00 worth of prizes to be handed out to several lucky winners. 300 “SuperBag” Goodie Bags filled with over $200.00 worth of learning resources will be handed to the first 300 people through the door. Food (snacks) and drinks will be available throughout the evening.

For complete details on the SuperMeet including driving and transit directions and instructions, a current list of raffle prizes and a link to where to buy tickets, visit the Los Angeles Final Cut Pro (lafcpug) web site.



The Music Industry Giveth and Taketh Away

23 12 2008

Two high profile articles in today’s newsfeeds demonstrate just how the music industry is finally evolving — not in any way that’s going to help them in a year or two, but at least in the near term.

In one development, the RIAA (the Recording Industry Association of America), which has been busy over the last few years, suing the ass off of anyone who they’ve caught downloading pirated music, decided to stop using their own lawyers to fight the dastardly crime of IP piracy, and to count on the ISPs to use their lawyers. As the blog TechnologyExpert describes it, the RIAA will send a note to the ISPs (the “parents”) asking them to send it to their customers (the “errant children”):

Depending on the agreement, the ISP will either forward the note to customers, or alert customers that they appear to be uploading music illegally, and ask them to stop. If the customers continue the file-sharing, they will get one or two more emails, perhaps accompanied by slower service from the provider. Finally, the ISP may cut off their access altogether.

Computerworld describes this as the RIAA “giving up on finding a competitor to iTunes.” Seth Weintraub there says that “they have effectively stopped trying to put up walls around music.”  In general, the press has correctly seen this as the RIAA admitting that their tactic of suing end-users is about as effective as the government trying to stop prostitution or drugs by throwing the johns or pot smokers into jail. In other words — completely useless.

In another development, Warner Music decided to remove all videos on YouTube that have any of their music in them. So, officially created advertising videos, as well as the countless user generated videos of Madonna, Metallica and other Warners acts, will slowly disappear from Google’s massive video site.

It’s hard to know what to make of these two stories except to say that the music industry may finally be coming to its senses.

The background for the Warners story, as reported in the New York Times, is that Warner Music Group, one of the Big Four music companies worldwide, has been negotiating with Google, for some fair licensing arrangement for use of its music and videos. You know this was going to happen as soon as Google started to put their marketing muscle inside of the video service — as discussed on a recent podcast from (if I remember correctly) Daisy Whitney, people who are beginning to get greater and greater downloads (and are Google/YouTube partners) are now seeing ads inserted into their video streams.

So, Google is going to making some money, and a few of their selected partners will be also.  Why not Warner Music, since it’s their music that will be driving some of the content?

Hard to disagree with that.  As someone who creates content for a living (AD!  AD!  AD! — My new book, THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT, will be out in just a week.  Buy early and buy often.) and who has to pay the rents they charge in Los Angeles, it doesn’t make much sense to continually be creating work and not getting paid for it. So, I’m with Warners up to a certain point.

The really interesting thing for me, however, in the juxtaposition of these two news stories, is that (however slow on the uptake the music companies are) they seem to finally be getting the idea that their core business is distributing content, not lawsuits. If the major music companies decide to stop suing their users (and make no mistake about it, there is no difference between the RIAA and the major music companies) and start experimenting with distribution, this is all going to be for the good of the consumer. If Warner decides that withholding their product is the smarter business move — as opposed to giving it away for publicity — then they’ll let the market decide if that’s a boneheaded move or not. And while I would take the position that it is incredibly boneheaded (I’ve long felt that they’d be much more successful as marketing and distribution companies than as music creation companies), it is a great step in the right direction for them to allow them to test their strategies in the marketplace rather than in the courts.

Today is a good day.

==================  UPDATE ===================

An article in Ars Technica, mentions an ISP that is complaining to the RIAA that, if they want to push P2P enforcement onto the ISPs, then they should be prepared to pay for the privilege of not paying for their own lawsuits. The owner of this particular ISP, Jerry Scroggin of BIC in Louisiana, notes that:

In the case of RIAA notices, however, there is a lack of information to work from, but significant expense is involved when trying to track down a user who may not be doing anything wrong… Spending long hours to stop what may not even be a crime, only to pick up the tab in full, is simply not within a small ISP’s budget.

ISPs aren’t excited about bearing some of the costs of the RIAA’s copyright enforcement efforts, and it may be one reason why Verizon isn’t going along with the labels’ new enforcement initiative.

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Test Screenings

15 12 2008

John August, the screenwriter and blogger who is an incredible resource to the online film community, has a post about putting together a test screening questionnaire. I’ll let you go away and read it.

My response:

Three caveats on the questionnaire:

  1. First, don’t be surprised when the scenes that appear on the “scenes I liked most” list, also show up on the “scenes I liked least” list. It happens every time and, in a funny sort of way, means that you’re pushing some buttons. Not a bad thing.
  2. Second, be very very careful how you ask the question about things that concern you (this is especially true in the those awful focus groups after the screenings). As soon as you ask whether the audience had a problem with something, you’ve called it out to them and they start responding to perceived problems, even if they didn’t feel them. If you have an issue with the music in your film, don’t ask about the music, ask if there were things that contributed to the audience’s enjoyment or lack of enjoyment of the film.  You get the idea. As soon as you give them a pencil, they all think they’re Roger Ebert.
  3. And, finally, be very very careful about what changes you make as a result of the questionnaires. Too many people use it to justify something they’ve wanted to do all along, and others use it as a cudgel to beat someone over the head. Each audience is different and each person in each audience is different. Take everything as information, not as marching orders.

That having been said, I’ve often learned a lot about the films I’ve worked on through test screenings.  There was a screening of the film HAIR, on which I was an assistant editor and assistant music editor to the incredibly talented John Strauss, for which we got a comment that the viewer “liked the scene with Claude’s sister.” The problem was that the John Savage character didn’t have a sister in the film — the person was referring to Beverly D’Angelo’s character, Sheila.

What was obvious to us at that point was that at least one person hadn’t realized the relationship that these people really had in the film. And that was important to us.

So, we did a few questions in that focus group trying to discover if others had that perception — asking who else liked his sister, how they felt about his sister, did they like what happened to his sister at the end (well, we didn’t do it that obviously, but you get the idea). And, lo and behold, we found that most people understood that the two weren’t related but a few didn’t.

We fixed it in the next cut.