Do We Really Want To OWN Our Media?

7 04 2012
I spent some time, this morning, at the TRANSMEDIA:HOLLYWOOD conference, which is a joint conference between USC and UCLA now in its third year.

Transmedia (which you can read about on Henry Jenkins’ blog or on Wikipedia — since Jenkins is the man who came up with the term you might want to start there) is basically the idea that you can create a world with many different stories coming from it — and that those stories can exist in all sorts of media.  Films and television are only two of them, but if you think about having the characters in those works also tweeting as if they were real, or exploring other characters from those worlds in a graphic novel or short story, or any of a dozen other forms of media (think songs, think fan fiction, and then keep thinking).  I have been telling anyone who will listen that transmedia storytelling is the way that we’re going to survive in the future media/content creation world.  Wouldn’t it be cool if we could present ourselves, not as editors of films, but as editors of the XYZ franchise?  Yep, I know the world and the characters in XYZ world so well, that you want to hire me for all of the manifestations of that world.  The same with writers, directors, actors, etc.

So the conference was interesting. But something that one of the participants said really piqued my interest. Jennifer Holt, who was the sole academic on the panel and who runs the Media Industries Project at UC Santa Barbara, said the following fascinating thing. “People don’t want to own media anymore.” People, she said, want to view (and, I assume, rent), not own.

This flies in the face of the prevailing wisdom of only two years ago, which said that people wanted to hold onto their media, that they would rather download music and films than stream them. But that is clearly no longer the case.  I prefer to listen to music on Spotify, rather than download it to my iTunes library. I prefer to watch movies on Netflix rather than buy the DVD or download. So it’s not only physical media that is dying, but bits and bytes on my drives.  Yeah, I like to download things on occasion, or for my classroom use, but I confess that I’m an outlier. The DVD of Matrix that I lent my daughter is still sitting in her internal DVD drive.  Not only does that mean that I don’t need it to watch, but it also means that she doesn’t have the need of her DVD drive. Mix CDs are gone.  Playlists are in.

And, old industry distribution models — buh bye.

How Can Filmmakers Avoid The Music Industry Debacle?

21 10 2010

I had an interesting conversation with a few editors a week or so ago. As is our wont, we were complaining about Things In The Industry — shorter schedules, lower budgets, having to do color, VFX and sound work in the editing room to a much greater degree than ever before. Then I brought up my favorite New Thing.

The film that I’m supposed to start working on soon was shot on the Canon 7DMkII.  No big deal there. It wouldn’t surprise me if more than half of you are working with HDSLRs right now. But what disheartening to these editors is that I was working long distance — the producer and director are in different cities on the East Coast of the US, and I’m sitting here in my lonely little office in the city of Angels (Hollywood in California).

Now, I’ve talked about this before.  I like working this way. It enables me to work with people who I could never work with otherwise. It allows me to work more on my schedule (on weekends and evenings, when I’m not teaching) which, in turn, means that I can charge a bit less for my editing.

You would have thought that i was preparing to kill these editors’ first born children. I was accused of devaluing the concept of face-to-face interaction (I wasn’t. That’s always preferable, but that would never have happened on these types of projects.) and of lowering pay scales for all editors. These editors aren’t Old Fogey Types, by the way. They are very happy to try out the latest technology, leapt into the digital editing world, and continue to stay active. They know one plug-in from another.

But I couldn’t help but think of the music industry’s demise after I thought through this conversation. Not too long ago, digital visionaries like Michael Robertson (at and Sean Fanning and Sean Parker (at Napster) used the digital technology that was becoming available in the music industry to change the distribution model of music. All of a sudden, it was much easier to copy music at high quality than ever before. That made it easier, of course, to copy and give music to your friends, or to download it for free off of the Net.

Music distribution exploded (though much of it was free music, I’d venture a guess that more music was distributed through ICQ and peer-to-peer than had been distributed through the Big Music Companies the year before. That is a distribution explosion.

The record industry’s reaction was slow in coming but when it finally did, it took the tack of lots of lawyers in suits (both the clothing kind and the legal kind). The first round of suits were filed in September of 2003 and reached their peak in 2005, when nearly 6000 suits were filed (according to this article in Wired). Though the RIAA, which is the trade association representing the Big Four music companies and the source of the lawsuits, has since backed off on suing individuals, I can’t say that I’ve noticed any appreciable affect on music downloading. In fact, the biggest effect of the lawsuits has been to alienate RIAA’s users (that is, music listeners and consumers) from the music of the major labels.

Rather than take the opportunity to change the way they did business, the RIAA spent tons of time and money investigating new and pricey DRM strategies. It’s only recently, with the arrival of digital “lockers” and the music industry’s dreaded nemesis — Apple and their iTunes product — that many listeners have started to see the value of legal music. In some ways, it’s easier to listen to Pandora, a semi-curated music service, not unlike a radio station on steroids, and purchase just the songs that you want, than it is to troll on peer-to-peer BirTorrent-y sites.

But even more importantly, the music industry has started to move away from the idea that their sole income needs to be from selling bits and bytes of music (or pieces of plastic, to be old fashioned). It’s in booking concerts, supplying music to other areas like film, television, ringtones, etc. (for awhile, the Universal Music Publishing Group — where I worked about ten years ago in Web Development — was a better earner for Universal than the label business). In short, it’s in the many things outside of what they thought their business was.

Film production and post-production is at the same crossroads, in a smaller way.  The hardest places to be right now, are in high-end post production finishing houses. What used to be a $600/hour business can now be done by a talented person at one-sixth of that price. And while you may not want to finish your 100 million dollar feature in someone’s garage on Color, there are more web, corporate and wedding/event videos out there that never leave their editor’s workstations. Low budget films are shooting HDSLR and editing and finishing using Avid, Apple or Adobe software, right in their editor’s living rooms.

I am not advocating that every editor needs to do all of this.  My wife thinks I’m color blind, so a producer would be a moron asking to do final color correction. But if you’re a talented editor with story and can do color correction, that would be attractive to many people at the edge of their budgets (and who isn’t, truthfully?).

The very things that we editors were complaining about (shorter schedules, lower budgets, having to do color, VFX and sound work in the editing room) are the realities of our world today. And that includes lower salaries. The days of editors making $15,000 a week, and doing very little except story structure are G-O-N-E.  Except for one or two superstars, the highest paid editors will be the ones who bring the most value to the storytelling process, and that includes the ability to work faster, with more tools and at lower budget ranges. Most producers would rather pay an editor $2000 more, if they know that they won’t have to hire a person to do temp VFX and color correction and a music editor and a temp sound editor. I read that some of the simpler VFX shots in THE SOCIAL NETWORK were done by Angus Wall’s and Kirk Baxter’s assistants using Adobe After Effects. Think about that. The amount of money and time saved here must have been substantial. In addition, it means that the editors could see the results of their creative thought processes much faster than if they had to send everything out to a VFX house.

So, what’s my point?

The world of editing is at the brink, like the music business was a decade ago. Technology has changed how we can do things. We can choose to embrace a selected subset of that technology (“I’m going to accept audio filters, but ignore color correction.”) like the music industry did (“We’re going to embrace digital production because it’s cheaper, but not digital distribution.”). And we’ll all end up standing outside the local supermarker begging for people to drop quarters into the spiffy coffee mugs that we got for free when we used to work at that spiffy post production house that went out of business.

The biggest favor we can do for ourselves — and this applies to production as well as to post — is to admit that we don’t know where our world is going to end up. And that we need to be as open as possible to changing our own business model, give up our second homes (well, I don’t have a second home, but never mind that) and our extra cars, and hunker down for the ride. It is going to be very worthwhile in the end if we do.

Why Jobs’ Intro of the new Apple TV is Bull

8 09 2010

Sue Huang USC Presentation conclusion

I’m not saying that the Apple TV is bull, mind you. I’m talking about one or two of the points in the presentation.

But let me backtrack for a second. You’re going to have to bear with me for several paragraphs here, as I meander to my point.

It all started earlier tonight when I was down at USC (the University of Southern  California, for those of you who aren’t sure) watching a fascinating presentation by artist Sue Huang of the collective knifeandfork, which is doing some really fascinating interactive installation pieces which are site and audience specific.

Huang was showing samples of her work and discussing her influences using a PowerPoint (nope, not Keynote, but what are you going  to do?) presentation.  At the end, running out of time, she quickly put up a number of slides which discussed the various roles that different factors played in their work. One of them, at the left, was the “Role of the Audience” which was fascinating and very dense.  I reached for my iPhone (I was taking notes on it) and snapped the picture you see.

Now that I’m back home I can check out what I didn’t have time to read then.

Pretty obvious, right?  Pretty easy, right?

Well, then, why was the woman four people to my left frantically typing away on her iPad, taking the notes so she could read them at home?  My guess is because the freakin’ iPad doesn’t have a camera in it! I’m sure that some day that God-like device will have a camera in it — and then I’ll buy one — but for now, it’s one of the many things that it doesn’t have. Why? Because Apple decided that the public didn’t want a camera on this sleek, incredible, God-given device.

Uh, right. It would  look stupid, holding an iPad up to take pictures of Mom, Dad and your dog. Correct?

So, let’s leap back a few days. Last week, Steve Jobs introduced the new Apple TV (see this MacRumors report, one of about eight zillion stories written about it) by saying that they had listened to what their customers had said they wanted and they didn’t want. They wanted “Hollywood movies and TV shows whenever they want them.” — check!  Makes sense. They wanted “everything in HD” — uh,  okay.  Check, maybe.  My Mom still can’t tell the difference between SD and HD, but let’s give this one to Steve since given a choice, everyone wants something better quality, so long as they don’t have to pay for it.

What else?  “They like to pay lower prices for content.” – check!  Makes sense.  Cheap is better than expensive.  So, score another one for the Steverino.

Next two? “They don’t want a computer on their TV.” and “They don’t want to manage storage.” — check.  We don’t like things that are complex. I get that. (though one could argue that people do rather well managing their music storage on something called iTunes, which Jobs managed to introduce a new version of just twenty minutes earlier). So what did Apple do?  They took out the hard drive and made the device completely streaming. Check!  Makes sense .. uh no. Wait a minute.

Wait a minute.

I get the “no hard drive” part. It makes it too much like a computer. And people don’t want that, right?

Maybe. But let’s phrase the question differently. Would you like to watch anything that you have on your hard drive, whenever you want to? I’ll bet you do. And you’d  like to watch things that might not be available from the few partners that Apple has lined up for the Apple TV, right?  You might like to watch something from the Net that isn’t on YouTube or Netflix, wouldn’t you? I bet you would.  But Steve Jobs doesn’t think so. If it ain’t on Netflix, YouTube, your MobileMe account (hah!) or Flickr, then you’d better stream it over their own proprietary Airplay connection from your computer.

Wait a minute!  Your computer!?  The one with a hard drive in it? Doesn’t that make it hard?

So, what’s my point here?  It’s easy to knock any shipping product for what it doesn’t have.  Almost every product has things missing that would be on your “Must Have” list.  That’s  simply a reality of the design process. You need to compromise. But the desire to dress up these missing items in a ball gown and call them God’s gift to Prince Charming is  laughable.

In fact, it’s almost as laughable as filmmakers that I’ve seen look out at an audience that fails to laugh at a joke that has been planted in a film, and chalk it up to audience stupidity. Just as it’s easy to tell everybody that they should run out and see CATS AND DOGS IV because it’s in 3D!! Because you really really want 3D, don’t you?

It’s very easy in our business (as well as technology, I suppose) to get caught up in our thoughts, reactions and desires and ascribe them to everybody. If we feel that something is necessary, than everybody must feel that way, right?

One of the greatest talents that a filmmaker can possess is the ability to step outside of his or her own reality and question themselves. It’s hard, and it’s rare as a result.

“They don’t want to sync to a computer.”

Panel This Saturday

3 06 2008

USC’s film school has an extraordinary group of students attending. One group, the Women In Cinematic Arts, is holding a great conference this Saturday that is open to the public. It’s called the “WCA Industry Forum 2008: Making Your Vision A Reality.” It’s an all-day event and pretty cheap, even if you’re not a member. It will have panels on:

  • Creating and Delivering a Television Series
  • Navigating the Studio System
  • Independent Filmmaking
  • Preparing your Film for Film Festivals
  • Increasing Production Opportunities for Women, and
  • Trends in Alternative Media

I will be moderating the last panel, which is subtitled “From Your Cutting Room to YouTube” at 2:45. It’s going to be really interesting with these great panelists:

Kim Moses – Director: The Ghost Whisperer and principal in Sander/Moses Productions.
Fonda Berosini – Participant Media
Ken Rutkowski – KenRadio
Jesse Albert – Agent: New Media & Branded Entertainment, ICM

We’re going to be rambling over a range of topics from “What the hell is alternative media anyway?” to “How do I break into new media?” to “How can I get online distribution for my shorts?” It should be an interesting hour, and the rest of the day looks fabulous.

You can find more details about the program, and registration, at the Women In Cinematic Arts site.

News Gathering In The YouTube Age

13 05 2008

An article last month in WIRED online, by Dylan Tweney, is provocatively titled “Even With Spike Lee Directing, Cellphone Movies Will Still Suck.” It talks about Nokia’s deal with Spike Lee to make a short movie based on amateur cell phone videos. The film, according to Lee, will have three acts, up to five minutes in length each, with “the theme loosely based on the concept of humanity.”

Yeah, it sounds awfully general, but that’s what you have to expect when you don’t know what users are going to submit. But Tweney poses an interesting series of questions:

Why couldn’t the project involve user-submitted cellphone clips from post-Katrina New Orleans? Shots of urban street life and racial conflict in the Bronx? Rival fraternities at a historically-black college in the South? Or cellphone videos of bank robberies?

Tweney answers his own question by saying that those projects would be way to real for Nokia’s marketing department.

Could be, but it reminds me of a talk I gave last year to a group of newspaper editors at the Philadephia Inquirer. Like everyone else in the newspaper business, they were completely freaked about what to do in a world where their newsgathering budgets were decreasing, while they were being beseiged by demands to incorporate online in their news plans.

One of the things that I talked about was using the power of social networking to help their readers contribute local coverage that they could no longer afford to do. People could upload videos of local high school baseball games, or store closings, or snow banks that hadn’t been cleared away days after a blizzard. With some boldness in an editorial approach, they could encourage people to post their own “videos to the editor” that would, in a Wikipedia sort of way, become self-correcting and self-policing.

One year later, I don’t see much in the way of progress on this front — at the Inquirer or anywhere. Some local television stations are showing viewer mobile videos of tornadoes or arrests, since their reporters can’t be everywhere all the time. But the filter is way too fine grain right now. Everything is going through a layer of editors to make sure that the material is “station approved” and up to their standards (this will leave me wide open for a crack about the lack of real standards in local news — so, go ahead, and know that I agree with you).

Someone is going to have to let go of some of that control in order for this idea to catch fire and become a true local news reporting tool. It would be great to have people uploading videos like Tweney suggests? That is the real place for his short video suggestions. It could propel news gathering in new and very exciting ways.



After I posted the above entry, I stumbled across an entry by Colin Mulvany in his blog Mastering Multimedia, in which he talks about his career path in his job as a multimedia editor at a newspaper in Spokane, Washington.  Interestingly, he talks about a survey from the Newspaper Association of America, which (among other things) documents just who is shooting video for newspapers today.  The chart below tells the interesting story.

Less than half of the people making newspaper video are videographers.  The bulk of them are, as I mentioned above, people who happen to be doing other things at the paper — mostly photographers.  This means that, for those people, newspaper video is illustrative, not story telling.  I know that this is a broad generalization and not even I quite believe what I just said 100%.  But my point is that telling stories using multimedia isn’t the same as taking a news photo, or even the same as doing print reporting.  It’s a different breed altogether.  And we may not be doing it justice.

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?

Second Life as a Backlot

4 09 2007

File this into the “News only to those who haven’t been paying attention” category.

Reuters reports that HBO has bought the film “My Second Life: The video diaries of Molotov Alta”, a film about a man who has disappeared from California and is now filing dispatches from Second Life.

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, Second Life is the web site, run by Linden Labs, which is a web-based virtual world, in which many people create alternate world personae, who fly from one area to another, interacting in real time. Some Real World companies (I believe that Reuters may be one of them) have created spaces within SL, counting on the other members of that community to stop by and view content, which is wrapped around with ads.

The show, the introductory episode of which has already been seeded on YouTube, is actually fairly clever, if derivative of films like THE MATRIX and books like, oh, anything by Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, Rudy Rucker or John Shirley. Molotov Alta has, somehow, been sucked into Second Life and is now recording his experiences and memories.

What it looks like is a CAD program used to create storyboards for films. It is the roughest visuals imaginable applied to a film, completely justified by it being the experience of someone within the graphics engine used by Linden Labs for SL.

In fact, it is the cheapest animation possible because the producer/director (California media artist/photograph, Douglas Gayeton) is animating using the cheapest animation engine available — Linden Labs own Second Life. And it’s free.

It’s brilliant. It’s an entrancing concept. Now we just have to see if the scripts can be anything more than the Introduction’s, which was mostly a gee-whiz, this is what Second Life can do, sorta thing.

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Another Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Interactive Media bit of nuttiness

4 09 2007

Sonic Body Pong, is a game based on Atari’s old game Pong, minus the screen. I’ll let it’s creators describe it first:

Sonic Body Pong is based on Atari’s classic video game Pong, and takes place in real space, with the players using their bodies as paddles. The ball is experienced by the players purely through sound.

Fheck out the photos. You put on these helmets which have a huge green rectangular pillow on top of them (this is like the block that you slid horizontally in the Pong game). You’re wearing headphones which send sound signals to you showing where the “ball” is. You then move back and forth, trying to knock the “ball”back to your opponent, based solely on your perceived sense of where the ball is.

A video of the game, up on YouTube, doesn’t really show much about how the players “feel” the ball, much less how the observers knew who was winning and who was losing. They do clap at regular intervals though. And the video is kinda fascinating, in a deconstructivist sorta way.

The creators of the game, David Hindman, Spencer Kiser, and Tikva Morowati, must be high on something. But it’s completely cool.

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MobZombies Mobile

3 09 2007

Julian Bleeckr (who, wonderfully, spells his name like a Web 2.0 application) is one of the creative geniuses over at the Interactive Media department at USC Cinema. Here, he shows the world how geeky he really and truly is, by putting MobZombies on his freakin’ cel phone.

Nothing wrong with that, right?


For those of you who aren’t as geeky as Julian (which, by the way, certainly includes me) you should know that MobZombies is a mobile game in which you chase zombies around on your cel phone screen. But that sounds way more normal than it really is. The thing is, to play this game (not really out of testing yet, as far as I know) you strap a little gizmo around your waist or someplace. That gizmo detects your movements and you can control the direction and speed of your zombie chasing, but where and how fast you are really moving .

In Real Freakin’ Life.

In a nutshell, what this means is that if you are chasing a zombie on your mobile, and you need to turn left, you better turn left in Real Life, or that Zombie is going to get away

It’s a pretty fantastic forward-thinking application of Location Based Entertainment. The game doesn’t respond to where you are, but what you are doing in space. Sorta like a super-Wii.

The possibilities for theatres is amazing. They already are puttig arcade games inside their lobbies. Now, we can move that experience into the films themselves.