In with the Old… Oscar Recap 2012

 

“He’s baaaaack!” Billy Crystal attempted to bring back his classic style of class and humor in his ninth turn hosting the 84th Annual Academy Awards. Mimicking, and at times poking fun of, himself the show opened with a classic Crystal film and musical montage. Billy, even asked the audience, “did you really think I wasn’t going to do this?” Despite his efforts, Crystal’s methods fit in with a night paying tribute to a bygone era of Hollywood.

 

Tinseltown seemed to be at a loss of its own identity last night. The show was clearly designed to look back at the glory days including an ever-changing art deco set on stage complete with old-fashioned marquee, ticket booth, and even usherettes strolling the aisles of the Kodak Theatre. Amongst tribute after tribute to what Hollywood has been, Crystal quipped about changes in the industry including mocking Kodak for recently filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

 

“… back when movies were actually made on film,” Crystal quipped at one point, both as a stab to Kodak and to point out the digital evolution of cinema. “People now watch movies on their cell phones,” he added. “I much prefer the big screen… my iPad.” While these may have been meant in a humorous fashion, it further added to the overall feeling that the LA-based industry is feeling sorry for itself at the evolution it itself created.

 

Numerous times it was mentioned that movies are about “going to the theatre” and “sitting in a darkened room” with others sharing in the experience of a story playing out before you.  To further this point, modern actors were shown, appropriately enough against a black background, talking about their favorite past experiences going to the movies. As one last death-rattle of self-defeat, The Academy nominated for best picture a tribute to the films of George Melies and a black-and-white silent film. The Academy president, Tom Sherak, came out for an obligatory short-but-sweet, and completely emotionless speech, of thanks and hope for the industry.  But even this seemed forced; almost as though the burden of a dying industry was on his shoulders alone.

 

Ironically appropriate then that this night also celebrated the first-ever Oscar win for Christopher Plummer at 82-years old, the oldest Oscar recipient. Also the third win for Meryl Streep on her record-setting 17th nomination, and a writing award for Woody Allen. It was clear that this was a night for reflection and honoring the old-guard, while still trying to encourage a new generation with a nomination for some newcomers in the writing and acting areas and statuettes for the international contingent and up-and-comers in the short-film categories.

 

This year’s Oscar telecast said more about the state of the industry than it did about honoring those who are the best in their profession. It’s sad to see such passionate patrons come together for a pity party. But, Hollywood, you created this mess. The demand for more money, new formats to exploit your content, new ways to shove product at the oversaturated consumer, you created home theater. Don’t complain now that there is no one going to see movies in the theater because they can do so from the comfort of their home for less. You created that mess. If you want change, give us a reason to go back to the movies.

 

This year, we went back. We went back to silent film. We went back to George Melies. We went back to Billy. If you still believe in Hollywood, it’s going to take more than a few wishful audience members clapping their hands to save the movies before its projection-light goes out. 

Published in: on March 1, 2012 at 7:25 pm  Comments (1)  

The YouTube/Hollywood Copyright Battle

A new ruling came down this week allowing the Google owned YouTube to continue its practice of removing copyrighted content upon receiving notification by the dissatisfied copyright holder. Viacom, the plaintiff in this case, along with many in the Hollywood community seem to be upset by this ruling. However, this ruling follows to the letter the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) of which Hollywood was so fond.

Technically speaking, those who create content own the copyright. Therefore, everything on YouTube is potentially copyright protected by someone. Many use their YouTube channel to promote, to educate, to inform, and to entertain. This was the purpose of YouTube when it started, and still is to this day. And there are benefits to this system. A good video on YouTube, the first place many go for video on the web, is an excellent promotional tool. There is room to capitalize on this. But that’s not the issue.

The issue in this current case is the ability of a non-controlling party (someone who does not own the copyright) to post a clip of someone else’s content. According to the infamous Napster case, as long as the service is not promoting itself as a safe-haven for illegal activity and not encouraging it’s users to infringe, then it is not liable for damage caused by users. This was expended upon in the DMCA, and both have been upheld with this ruling. This was the right ruling in this particular case.

What can be done to protect copyrighted content from illegal use? In today’s technological society, not a ton. But just like the RIAA went after Napster users, Hollywood needs to start going after YouTube infringers. Those who post the content are the ones at fault. Not the service which is there for a public good. Is it ethical to post someone else’s content online? Only with their permission – or in other “fair use” ways. But who is responsible for monitoring those ethics?

Who polices the internet? No one. And no one should. That’s why the internet is a wonderful thing. If there is something out there that is dissatisfying, be it a blog comment, a copyright infringing post to a website, or scandalous photographs, it falls to you to work it out. Take it up with the webmaster, inform the host of some infringement, sue the user, there are many things you can do. But what you can’t do is prevent the actions of every person in an open world-wide-web.

It’s a tough battle, but a never-ending one. Until we all learn to play fair, this will continue to be a struggle. A court ruling locking down the internet is the last thing we need. Sure it’s frustrating to see others using your content, but on the plus side, it is free publicity, and others wanting to share your content shows that you do have a product that people love!

The New Game of Hollywood Investing

In the beginning there was film. Then sound. Then color. And everyone jumped on the bandwagon to make a profit. In the modern era, first there were adaptations. Then along came CGI. Then came the sequels. Then the remakes. Followed closely by the current techno-boom of 3D. Now the box office is down and Hollywood is reportedly scrambling to gobble up original material. This is the old game of grasping at straws; an act of desperation.

I’m no master when it comes to business. My investment portfolio will inspire no one. But I’m sure the Warren Buffett’s of the world will agree that this frantic method is no way to invest millions of dollars. And, let’s face it, for producers and for studios that’s exactly what movies are: an investment.

 It takes time and money to make a film. It takes clever marketing to get people to see it. But more than that, it takes quality material to generate word-of-mouth and positive internet buzz, which in this day and age, is what sells a film as much as a cool trailer.

Quality material, that’s the key.

There doesn’t need to be this frantic grasping at straws. There doesn’t need to be this constant guessing game to stay one step ahead of the curve. Think back; Go back to the roots: A good story well told. Invest the time and generate a quality film. That’s what will sell. Quality products generate repeat business.

There was a time when you could go to a Warner Bros. film and know that you would see quality, and some of your favorite actors. You could go to an MGM movie and know that you would be transported to a different world. The studio brand was almost as important as the film, but when you went to see a film you knew the level of quality you were buying.

You have to know your audience. They drill it into your head in film school. You have to know your audience and understand audience behavior. Movie tickets have become expensive. Audiences now invest not only their time in a film, but also a significant chunk of money for a night out. Gone are the days of the 50-cent drive-in. It’s now a $20 night out, not including popcorn. For the general populous that is an investment.

What will attract the audience to invest in a film? The same thing that will drive a company to invest in a new product: the bottom line. Ask yourself, is this film going to be worth 2 hours of my life? Is watching this movie going to be worth my hard-earned money? If yes, then they will come. If not, why make the movie?

Everything is a risk, and risk in business is what it takes to succeed. But everyone in Hollywood seems to be grasping at straws looking for the next sure thing. There is no sure thing… except telling a good story.

Published in: on June 17, 2010 at 1:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“And the Winner Is…”? (2009 Oscar Review)

It’s no longer a wonder why the television ratings of the Academy Awards have been so low the past few years. This year’s annual telecast of Hollywood’s biggest night reached a new record of boredom. It wasn’t that the night didn’t have its moments, but those moments came few and far between; and even then those moments crossed between dragging and sharing.

The evening started out on a slow note with the famous Red Carpet dragging, in more ways than one. Introducing everyone from the Best Actress category all at once started off the evening of attention-deficit. No one person was given enough time to answer one a question, let alone focus on what they were saying. But what kept their time so short? It seemed as though the hosts were constantly looking for who was next (or who was better) rather than focusing on the talented celebrity before them.

The traditional tired question of “who are your wearing” even ran thin. Not one interviewee seemed to care whose design they were wearing, and many almost seemed annoyed that they had to stop and ask questions at all. It didn’t help that their interviewer didn’t pay them much attention, let alone respect. With eyes and heads constantly darting around like an addict searching for their next score, co-hosts Jess Cagle, Kathy Ireland and Sherri Shepherd were clearly there with one directive, “get as many celebrities as you can in a half-hour.” But this hectic motive didn’t translate into a positive, excited energy. Rather this energy clearly rubbed off on the stars and started the evening with an attitude of “no one cares”.

The drag of the red carpet flowed into the Kodak Theatre for the telecast as well. The evening began with a slow and oddly somber introduction, by name only, of each of the Best Actor/Actress nominees. While this did get every one of them up on stage, something most would not be repeating throughout the evening, it seemed to show no purpose and only conveyed a message of desperation and lack of a creative opening.

However, the show did have a creative opening, a song-and-dance number by the energetic Neil Patrick Harris. What was he doing there, besides poking fun at films, himself, and the celebrities in the crowd? That is a mystery. He had no other tie-in to the show. He wasn’t hosting, he wasn’t presenting, and unless this was his audition as host for next year (which, after his excellent stint hosting the Emmy’s this year, would be a grand idea) his presence on stage felt completely out of place. There was nothing else lyrical to this show, nor did anything else in the evening present the energy of Neil Patrick Harris and his Busby Berkley number. While it was a welcome piece, reminiscent of the Billy Crystal days, in this telecast it was a piece to a different puzzle.

The roasting attitude the song-and-dance instilled carried over into the lethargic hosts, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin. While each on his own if often hilarious, their play off of one another seemed to slow the both down. Their roasting of the nominees seemed unwelcome at first as the crowd took a long time to warm up. Clearly the song-and-dance set an incorrect tone and served as a poor opening act for these co-hosting headliners.

It wasn’t as though the jocular material wasn’t good or creative, but it wasn’t appreciated by the audience in the room. Jokes like, “there’s that damn Helen Mirren. No, no, that’s Dame Helen Mirren,” fell completely flat, despite smiles from Helen Mirren herself. Even the normally jovial George Clooney seemed preoccupied. When angry glances were made from the hosts in his direction, he glared right back – clearly this was part of a predetermined act, but he never really cracked a smile to suggest that it was all in good fun. Despite the laughs this kind of roasting may have received by the home viewers, after a long, slow warm-up that is, the phrase that best came to mind to describe the response to these comedic hosts was, “tough room.”

This is kind of a sad statement. In years past, those in the film industry have often been the first to poke fun at themselves. Woody Allen makes films based on this fact. The Friar’s have an annual roast for just this purpose. But last night’s telecast didn’t seem to appreciate the good humor of being able to laugh at one’s self and the industry in which they work. Sacha Baron Cohen, for example, was to be part of an act roasting the biggest film of all time and last night’s Best Picture nominee, Avatar. But this act was pulled, thought to be in poor taste and might offend creator James Cameron. Instead this act became a solo presentation by Ben Stiller, dressed as a blue Na’vi character from Avatar, to present the Best Make-Up award. This was a disappointing fact. Not only would Baron Cohen have been great at poking fun at such a monumental achievement like Avatar, but James Cameron, in years past, would have been the type to appreciate such humor.

What does this say about today’s Hollywood? The ability to laugh at the absurd nature of the creative industry is waning. In previous telecasts this has been a celebrated part of the awards. Jack Palance did push-ups upon receiving an Oscar, Roberto Benigni climbed over the backs of other audience members making his way to the stage, and James Cameron outstretched his arms and proclaimed himself “king of the world” references/mocking his own Titanic. These moments are what used to make watching the Oscars entertaining. Where was this fun? Where was this attitude acknowledging that everyone in Hollywood gets to play for a living? Last night it was noticeably lacking; everyone seemed to take their work very seriously, which made for an evening much like watching a board meeting rather than an awards show.

Gone seem to be the days of class and humor of the Academy Awards. Despite the tuxedos and fancy designer dresses, last night’s awards were rushed and classless. No longer do we recognize “Outstanding Achievement in…” whatever category may be up next, instead this was replaced by “Best…” whatever. When did the Academy become so secular? “Best…” is how the audience and the media refer to the categories as a way to conserve words. The Academy itself has always been very clear not to speak in singular terms, aside from the Best Picture category of course, but to appreciate the achievement of all its nominees and to award the most “Outstanding Achievement in” a specified area. How do legends like Meryl Streep and Dame Helen Mirren feel when Sandra Bullock is awarded not “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role” but fully “Best Actress” (seemingly of the year)? Does not this distinction put Sandra Bullock herself on the pedestal and in the spotlight rather than her work and her performance in The Blind Side? While I don’t doubt that it was a much-deserved recognition for her performance, I certainly wouldn’t put her talents on the same level as either Ms. Streep or Ms. Mirren, but that is precisely what happened last evening.

Similarly, each category, save one, was never presented with an Oscar. That is not to say that statuettes were not handed out, but like awarding the “Best…” instead of appreciating an achievement, every category was read, “and the winner is…” Only the ever-classy Kate Winslet presented the award for Best Actor – or should I say “Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role”… no, she too presented “Best Actor” – by reciting the classic, and far more appropriate, “and the Oscar goes to…” This was not only appropriate for a winning actor who has been nominated in the industry for over thirty years, but for Jeff Bridges whose comes from a classic Hollywood family.

What has happened to the Academy? Does tradition not matter anymore? Does the secular ineptitudes of modern society really need to intrude on the classic traditions of the black-tie affair that is the Academy Awards? In a world where a society does not frown on wearing jeans to the theatre and beer and hamburgers and common film concessions, cannot the Academy Awards maintain their red-carpet and tuxedo-clad dignity? They are trying to hold on, but the cracks are beginning to show.

Few moments of last night’s telecast seemed both to fit the elegance of the Awards and make for a fresh and exciting broadcast. In became evident early on that the producers were trying to keep the show “short and sweet.” Exit music came in early and stepped on just about everyone’s biggest career moment. This clearly frustrated everyone who was on stage to accept an award. This hurried tempo seemed to create chaos, but then there were moments that attempted to slow things down entirely.

A special tribute to the late John Hughes, separate from the traditional “In Memoriam” tribute, ran almost 5 full minutes and included on-stage testimonials from some of his beloved actors like Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Macauley Culkin, Jon Cryer, Anthony Michael Hall, and Matthew Broderick. While this was a nice sentiment, as Mr. Hughes was a filmmaker that defined a generation, one was left with the impression only that the producers of the telecast were Hughes fans and since they had the reigns they were going to pay tribute as they pleased.

Additionally a 3-minute genre tribute to Horror was presented, seemingly out of nowhere. While it was fairly well put together, it served no purpose other than to slow down the show. It was not an orchestral feature as part of the nominated scores, nor was it part of a larger work featuring many different genres of film. It just was, and it felt extremely out of place. Why, if time is so precious (no pun intended) that everything has to be rushed, must we stop and feature a genre?

Nominee Morgan Freeman narrated a video segment showcasing the art of sound mixing and editing. This clarified for the audience, as well as many viewers at home, what these specialized categories entail. Unlike most other video segments, this was presented in an entertaining and informational fashion that fit perfectly with the tone the moment it was presented. In was one of only a few such moments of the evening.

In the Best Actor and Actress categories, each nominee had a representative on stage, either a fellow actor or previous collaborator to introduce and applaud the nominee with a stirring emotional tribute. Seeming to be off-the-cuff, many of these sentiments came across as very heartfelt, for the first time showing some caring and compassion for a fellow creative professional. It was some heart in an otherwise heartless evening.

Perhaps the highlight of the evening, aside from the editors of ultimately Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker accepting the award for Best Editing and thanking the Academy for allowing them the freedom from interference so they could “make the movie they wanted to make,” was Oprah Winfrey’s introduction to Best Actress nominee Gabourey Sidibe. The first time nominee couldn’t contain her tears of joy than not only being nominated for such an award but that she was being lauded by such an industry icon. Of all the celebrities that evening, the wide-eyed wonder of Gabourey Sidibe, who had the biggest smile, the best sense of humor, the most enjoyment of every moment, was a reminder for us all of what the Oscar telecast is supposed to be.

The Oscars lost something this year. They have become complacent being self-fulfilling. They have lost the notion of what it means to work in the entertainment industry. But a wide-eyed newcomer, an everyman, a first time actress and Best Actress nominee may be just what the Academy need to remember what it takes to be classy and a winner.

Montage of Films of the 2000s

the films of the 2000s from Paul Proulx on Vimeo.

A Beautiful Montage of films from the last decade.
What a decade it has been!

Published in: on February 10, 2010 at 2:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Running the “Blade” of History

Inspired by a prompt:

http://goseetalk.com/2009/07/02/does-nostalgia-make-a-movie-better-than-it-is/

“Does nostalgia make a movie better than it is???”

Nostalgia is all there is. A film, like any other intellectual property, only really exists in the mind.

Does looking back on that memory of experiencing a film make it better? It can but also it can detract from it. Viewing a film can be about the entire experience, where you sit, what you smell, what else is going on in your life at the time. Remembering a film along with its individual and subjective “personal-life-context” can make it a more powerful experience. Other films that strike you at the wrong moment, or without personal-life-context can become lost in time, forgotten, left behind as just another movie.

Additionally, films are often best viewed in respect to their original place in time, their historical-context. Remember that “Blade Runner” was released in 1982. Sci-Fi was big that year with “E.T.,” Ben Kingsley won the Oscar for “Ghandi” and Wolfgang Petersen gave us “Das Boot.” Coming after “Star Wars” and “Alien”, this was an attempt at combining Sci-Fi (which was big at the time) with Film Noir (at that point almost a forgotten genre). But, in my opinion, this combination did work better as a novel than a film. Spielberg tried this same combo with “Minority Report” in 2002, and Alex Proyas again tried in 2004 with “I, Robot.” Both, in my opinion, worked better than “Blade Runner,” but in the historical context you can easily argue that without “Blade Runner” neither of these films would have turned out as they did.

In the context of history, “Blade Runner” was a big career move for Harrison Ford, getting him away from “Star Wars” and helping him develop stronger acting chops. It inspired Ridley Scott to keep the downtrodden feeling of a disillusioned future for his famous “1984” Apple ad, and in inspired the aforementioned “Sci-Noir” films (to turn a phrase) that came after.

All this is part of the historical-context of a film. To truly appreciate it this has to be taken into account. Even the immortal Shakespeare agrees, “what’s past is prologue.”

Does “Blade Runner” hold up to today’s films? Look at the personal-life-context in which it is viewed; in my opinion, no, it does not. But in historical-context it stands as a prophetic work upon which others have drawn inspiration.

So, does nostalgia make a movie better than it is? Like the personal-life-context in which a work of art is viewed, that answer can only be left to the viewer.

The Trouble with Current Hollywood, Branded Entertainment

In response to an article by John Horn, Ben Fritz, and Rachel Abramowitz on latimes.com
http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-et-moviebiz6-2009oct06,0,702751.story

I am not in Hollywood. I am in Cleveland. But movies have always been a dream, an aspiration, a passion of mine. I studied Film production in college, I began my own thriving small-scale video production company, and have been passionate about the interworkings of Hollwood ever since. But I continue to look at it from the outside, from a fan’s point of view, from the angle of a prospective consumer, but also as someone who cares about film from deep within my heart.

With all the financial upheaval in this country, it is no wonder that even Hollywood is beginning to panic about the loss of revenue. Times, they are a-changing. It is time to asjust, things are going to be different and change is never easy, but in times like these it is a necessity. Everyone is feeling it. I’m no economist, and even I have been effected by this recent recession, but I know that I have to adapt to this changing economy.  I haven’t been hit has hard as most, but I too must evolve my business model to cope in this new world. Now, I’m not saying I have all or any of the answers for the higher-ups in Hollyood, but sometimes, when panic sets in, it helps to look to an objective outside opinion.

DVD sales can no longer be Hollywood’s main source of revenue. It has been counted on as being as much as 50% of the profit for a film over the last few years as well as a major source of revenue generated from releasing library titles onto the new format. Of course DVD sales have declined over time. Many studios have exhausted their library releasing sometimes as many a 4 different editions of a film (not including anniversary editions). Consumers snatched them up to bring their home video collection into the new millennium. But now that everyone has rebuilt their collection after the death of VHS, why is Hollywood surprised that DVD sales are in decline?

Blu-Ray discs came along at the wrong time. Sure the initial feud with HD-DVD didn’t help while everyone was waiting for a definitive format winner so they could begin building a high-def home video collection, but by the time a victor was determined, the economy was beginning to decline. Blu-Ray players are just now, 2 years later, starting to become affordable for the average home viewer. Blu-Ray discs are still fairly expensive for consumers who recently purchased their favorite films on DVD. Blu-Ray came out too soon after DVD took off to be a “must have”. Blu-Ray ended up essentially competing with DVD and DVD was far more affordable, and in a declining economy affordable will win.

Then again, DVD sales are down even on new release titles. Of course they are. This again makes sense. DVD titles are now being released within 3 months of a theatrical release. The market knows this, the people know this. Many opt to wait for a $5 DVD rental (or even $1 through RedBox, thank you NetFlix) over paying $20 for a theatrical viewing. Again, affordable will win. Others don’t see the need to purchase a $25 DVD of a movie they feel they “just saw,” especially when the average movie-goer seems to feel that current movies are (of lesser quality and) nothing but a way for studios to make a buck.

I have a friend who refuses to go to theaters because A) he can’t smoke in the theater but can in his own home, B) he can pause the film if he needs to leave, and C) because he doesn’t have to deal with the distraction of other people talking or using their cell phones during the movie. While the public atmosphere of movie-going is part of the experience, the cell phones are a nuisance, but that’s a rant for another time.   

So the income model of the film market is changing. So DVDs (and home video – including downloads and VideoOnDemand) cannot be counted on as your primary source of income. Yeah, that’s too bad. But there was a time when it wasn’t the primary source of income. There was a different model that worked once upon a time. Theatrical releases used to be the primary source of income. This could happen again, but this too has changed: the scourge of cell phones, the outrageous ticket prices, the rude audience, and the abundance of expensive food (whatever happened to a simple popcorn and soda??) have driven, rather than attracted, movie-goers back to their homes where their big-scree high-def TVs and (and soon 3D capable monitors) let them enjoy similar entertainment experiences to the theater but in more comfortable surroundings (again, a rant for another time). Hollywood has always competed with Television. Home video was a concession and it worked well. It will continue to work well in our convenience-driven, sloth-like society.  But now, until Blu-Ray, or the next format, becomes an affordable “must-have” it is not a viable source of primary income.

So returning to the theatrical release as a primary source, what is to be done to drive people out of their homes and back into the theaters?

In a scramble, studios are tossing out old guard management and bringing in new up-and-comers with hopes that they will be able to generate new income for the studios. So their solution seems to be this thing called “branded entertainment” – taking an already existing market and making a film to add another layer of revenue for the successful brand. Is this a boom for the film studios or for the companies on whose products the movies are based? Who wins with a Transformers movie? Does Hasbro win by selling more toys? Does Dreamworks and Paramount win by creating the film? The answer: those who own the rights will win. Hasbro owns the characters. Hasbro wins. A movie may be exciting and drive fans of the toys to the theater, but the overall market of the characters is where the profit lies. A studio licensing characters from a toy company can make a good movie, maybe even two (or one good one and one bad one), but will it become a reliable source of renewable income for the studio? No.

Older Hollywood models of profit were based on studios having ownership of their content and profiting from selling the license to those characters. Disney made a mint on Mickey Mouse and even had copyright limitations extended to protect its investment. Leon Schlesinger did the same with the Looney Tunes characters. Paramount did well rebooting Star Trek because A) it was an exciting film and B) it owns the property.

“Branded entertainment” property (intellectual property, that is) that is owned by someone else can make a good rescue move. It is a temporary fix. It is not a solution. But, even “branded entertainment” needs to be good quality to drive people to spend their money. Word of mouth is still the best marketing in Hollywood. A good trailer can give you a good opening weekend. Good word of mouth can give you repeat business, a longer theatrical run, a must-have home video and, “Titanic” income.

A quality film can become a franchise; a successful film can warrant spending more money for a more lucrative sequel. But planning a franchise based on zero experience with the property is unwise. Even time-tested material doesn’t always stand the test of time. Casablanca is an amazing work. It still holds up today. Turning Casablanca into a remake (or a TV show) doesn’t work. I was amazed at Peter Jackson’s King Kong. Here was a true fan-made film. It even works; it’s emotional and the special effects are amazing. But given the choice, which Kong will I watch? I opt for the 1933 original. We’ve all heard bad cover songs, and we’ve all seen bad remakes. Sometimes a classic is best left alone. But likewise, some material is best to be re-explored; but it is best explored because the material works for the current audience, or the story has a message that applies to current times. It is not best to explore old material simply to remake it. Don’t cover a song that already works unless you have a new take on it. And don’t remake a film just because you can! The results are rarely successful.

A planned franchise is a poor idea. Unless you have a team (and financial backers) 100% committed to a great endeavor, come hell or high water, it simply won’t work. Remember that Battlefield Earth was a planned franchise. So planning a franchise based around “branded entertainment” like a toy line, is a quick-fix. It’s not reliable income merely to put butts in the seats on a single Friday night, that’s like putting a band-aid on a gushing open wound. Hollywood is bleeding and we keep handing out band-aids. This financial trauma needs surgery: a new plan.

Change is scary. I am phobic of it. I am terrified to take steps off of dead center. So I am the last one to be saying this, but it takes guts to face change and to be patient through the transition. Wise investors know and believe that over time most investments will make money. It’s hard to see the forest through the trees. It’s a big risk. But it can pay off. Take Cleveland sports teams for example. Every year we struggle. The Indians are the worst team in baseball, again (and yes, they even made a movie (no, two!) about how bad the Indians have been). The Cleveland Browns, well, you know. Every year in Cleveland we optimistically say the same thing, “maybe this is our year!” And then a few weeks later in Cleveland we optimistically say the same thing, “maybe next year.” And this year, maybe this is our year… The Cleveland Cavaliers have superstars LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal (“Kazaam” himself). There is lots of hype about a championship, a first in franchise history. This change has been a long time coming. It’s taken a lot of work, a lot of patience, and a lot of negotiations. But this year, maybe finally it will all pay off. In Cleveland we are patient. In Hollywood, we can’t be impulsive.

So what needs to change? Almost everything. This goes against much of current Hollywood financial advice, but the Old Hollywood System needs to make a come-back.

Studios need to own their own content so that they can stretch any “brand” across multiple markets: toys, clothes, DVDs, spin-offs, etc. Actors need to partner with studios rather than be their competitors. Studios can’t make films without actors. Actors realistically can’t work without big studio films (independents and theatre are again a rant for another time). Actors need to take greater profit participation deals rather than huge up-front salaries. Someone with something to lose will work harder than someone with nothing to lose – currently all of the financial risk lies with the studios and producers – this kind of deal paid off in spades for Jack Nicholson on Batman. Hard work does pay. And an attractive and lucrative deal will likely lead to another, much as a successful film now almost automatically leads to a franchise. 

Additionally, franchises need to be based on more than profit. A good film, no matter if it was made now or in the past, has always been measured by how good the story is. And we’re not talking the latest Michael Bay flash-in-the-pan special effects driven high-opening-weekend-box-office good. I mean a movie that people will love and cherish and want to view again and again. Casablanca, Titanic, and Star Wars have good stories, great ideas and compelling characters. This is what makes a film good. This is what makes a franchise viable. Making a million dollars doesn’t automatically give you the same return on investment for a sequel.  A franchise needs to be based on compelling characters that can drive a continuing story. Do we care what happens to Rick after Casablanca ends? We can assume he went on with his life and we can be content with that. Do we need to see what happens to Luke and Darth Vader? No, but we sure as hell want to!

Films show us characters we would like to know. They hold a mirror up to life for us and we begin to relate to them. Over the course of a story (in a sitcom, a play, a television drama, a radio show or a film) we begin to care about them as they take us on their journey. When the journey ends either we can make our peace with the outcome and let a story live by itself, or we can be compelled to want to relate to those characters again and again, as in the case of television shows. It is this type of compelling story that needs to drive a franchise. Stories shouldn’t be made just to fill a void. Stories should exist because they need to, because an idea or need or viewpoint is out there and needs to be expressed. Characters in film need to drive the story, their story. We get to spend 2, sometimes 3 hours with them, but ultimately and subconsciously it is the story that compels us to stay in our seats. It is fine to spend an hour with the cast of ER, for example, or a half-hour with The Simpsons, because the characters are hollow enough to be a way to tell a story, not enough to drive one. Nor is the story compelling enough to keep us engrossed. This is the trouble with “branded entertainment,” it exists to fill its own need; it’s not necessarily designed to drive a 6 hour film franchise.

Franchise films and “branded entertainment” are instant gratification tactics, a product of, and fuel for, this instant gratification society. They are the band-aid, not the solution. They are the quick fix and the problem. Films are magical; they whisk us away in realistic ways that otherwise we could only dream about. But our dreams are becoming tainted by the bottom line. Do we want dreams and the rewards that come with a restful night or do we want to knock ourselves out with sleeping pills? What are the dreams worth?

Be patient. Change is coming. Evolution happens naturally and organically, much like a film develops from the imagination of a writer with a compelling idea. I hope these seeds can help. I believe in Hollywood. It still allows me to dream.

Evolution in 3D

In response to: http://www.fuelyourmotionography.com/3d-movies-the-good-the-bad-the-future/

 

I’ve been on both sides of this issue. I’ve hated the new 3D and I’ve loved it.

 When the resurgence of 3D first came back, I ventured out to see “My Bloody Valentine 3D”. I was impressed with the technology, but it was a little nauseating (the 3D, not the content) and difficult to focus during camera moves. The edges were just too blurry when the camera was panning, and handheld was a joke. What I was most impressed with was the dimensionality of the images. Sure they had the occasional gimmicky object popping through the screen, but overall, the benefit of this new technology was that images seemed more realistic through the separation of planar spaces.

 Last week I went to see “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” in 3D. After watching this evolution from the reissue of “Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Beowulf,” “Up,” and “Monsters vs. Aliens,” it is clear that the technology has grown exponentially, as has the expertise of the people using it. The motion of “Cloudy” was clear. The focus was where it should be. There were no schlocky moments of things needlessly popping out of the screen to call attention to the technology. And after a while I became so adjusted to the image quality that the 3D technology became transparent and I found myself being caught up in the story. This is precisely the point of any new technology in an artistic field, to become a tool to better tell the story or convey a message. The technology is there to enhance the message, not to be the message.

 But there still appear to be gimmicks on the horizon. Disney and ImageMovers “A Christmas Carol” coming out this Christmas season seemed like a take-it-or-leave-it film when I saw the trailer in 2D. In 3D, however, it looks like a must-see film. What I gained from that impression is that, at least with this example, is that the film exists to service the technology and not the other way around.

 While this is a little disappointing, it is part of the evolution process. There have always been projects that experiment with the technology in order to help the technology evolve to a place where it becomes more of a tool and less of a gimmick. “Tron” was noted for its use of CG, and now CG is virtually invisible and being used to enhance the story as much as to tell it. Even sound was accused of being a gimmick with “The Jazz Singer,” as was color, and now we can’t imagine a film without them.

 This evolution process indicates that in the near future we will see many poor films designed just so people can play with and experiment on the new technology. But in the future, we will see 3D become so commonplace that a world of 2D film may go the way of the black-and-white silent film.

Published in: on October 1, 2009 at 1:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Killed by the Internet

Inspired by my sister, and
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/6133903/50-things-that-are-being-killed-by-the-internet.html

 

The internet has definitely changed things, I don’t think anyone would argue that. It ushered in the Information Age. It has changed the way we interact as a society. But, like the article hints at early on, it has only only begun to degrade our social manners both on and off the net, but it is decreasing our intellect as well.

Reliable information is getting harder to come by in an age where even CNN is so desperate to break the story they don’t check their sources first. Grammar and proper punctuation are almost non-existent online. And the social delicacies, the art of conversation is quickly becoming a dying art… especially when the goal has become to explain everything in 140 characters or less.

Is this advancement in the name of convenience a good thing? I think we have become so wrapped up in our tools, so blinded by the glitz and glamour of cyberspace that we have forgotten that the real world, the tangible, physical world, happens when we unplug. We’re living in a world of Star Trek, the technology is almost indistinguishable from magic. And we’re so enraptured by it that we’ve lost sight of what is real.

The internet is no longer the tool it was designed to be, it is now a lifestyle. And this story never ends well: We’ve entered the Matrix (The Matrix), Buy ‘n Large is taking over (Wall-E), we’ve become hooked on the box (Batman Forever), and Cyberdyne is not too far off (Terminator). So we have to ask ourselves, who is really in control of society? Have we become a collective mind, establishing protocol for real-world interaction by what’s acceptable in a land where “no one knows you’re a dog”, an early internet axiom? Have we allowed our individuality to become lost behind usernames and facebook friends? Or is there still a shred of humanity left in the world where we aren’t plugged in and can act like civilized biological entities?

Are we still in control of the machines, or are they now controlling us?

Published in: on September 21, 2009 at 1:24 pm  Comments (1)  
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Tabula Rasa

There can be nothing scarier than a blank page.
In the emptiness there is vast potential; an infinite string of possibilities.
Demolishing this potential instills fear; absolute terror.
What if I fail? What if something great was meant to be, but I interefere?
The fear of failure, of ruining something so perfect in its purity, can stop an artist in his tracks.

But of course keeping the page pure and perfect leaves it empty.
Nothing gets created. No great work comes forth.
The potential is never realized, never even attempted.
Is it better to try and fail than to never even attempt to realize the inner potential… of you, or of your blank page?

Be it a canvas color,
a page for words,
a slide for photographs,
a tape for video,
or any number of virtual media,
blank is pure; blank is innocent; blank is unspoiled; but blank is unrealized.

Should life be pure and unspoiled? Or should life be realized?

 

 

I am new to this world of blogging, but I figured I would try my hand at it. I frequently suffer from creative blocks and leave my pages blank. I hope this can become an outlet for my inner thoughts and ramblings, and if I get some feedback that’s great. I am a lost soul with a creative spirit. I write (occasionally), I draw (sometimes), I edit video (professionally), love to learn new things (always), and I search for meaning in life. I philosophize and listen. I am an emotional support for my friends and family. I am customer-service oriented and try to be as helpful as I can. I enjoy movies and television and books and music. I try to be classy and dignified, but I slouch. I create when I am motivated, but I often lack inspiration. I seek my muse, my inspiration, my purpose. I hope that along this journey someday I may find it.

Published in: on September 16, 2009 at 2:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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