Monday, July 23, 2007

The Future of Entertainment

I'm sure there are countless in-depth examples of how some innovative thinkers envision the future of how we consume entertainment, and when I come across them, I'll append this entry with links. But for now, I just want to ramble on for a while about the subject, so bear with me. Thanks in advance.

For the last few weeks, I've been utterly enamored with the entire Web 2.0 movement. The dynamic content and direct connections with so many people at the same time-- the possibilities are boggling my mind. The future can't get here fast enough.

You probably already use Web 2.0 and don't even know it. If you do anything with MySpace, YouTube, Wikipedia, Facebook, Flickr or any of the dozens of other sites that let you upload content and share it with your friends (or with the whole world), then you've dipped your feet into Web 2.0. These types of applications are moving from fun curiosities to becoming incomprehensibly useful. Take Google Earth/Maps. What started as a neat mapping program has evolved to where you can customize the Earth to what YOU want to use it for. Apartment listings, crime statistics, voting trends, your friends and family's locations, your business locations, restaurants in your area, and on and on and on and on. Anything that has any sort of location data in it can now be mashed up with Google Earth to create a custom overlay.

I subscribe to a blog called that tracks all the cool Web 2.0 stuff coming along, and it's an almost hourly stream of fresh news about new websites with names like,,,,,, and If it's a goofy sounding and spelled name, it's probably Web 2.0. What makes all of this stuff so exciting to me is that it's almost all designed to work together. You can use data from one site and use it to inform something on another site. Tell your genealogy website ( to use your Flickr photos in your family's photo album, and then use the location data entered on each individual to instantly create a custom Google map for you showing pins where everyone lives. The dates entered for birthdates and weddings and deaths can then be piped over to a custom timeline creation website ( and create a family timeline that updates itself whenever anyone adds or changes a date in any of the programs that access the data.

It doesn't end. Right now, people are creating custom website startups for every possible combination of datasets and/or hobbies or activities that two or more people might be interested in. Apparently there's a knitting social networking site that has hundreds of thousands of people already signed up for it when it goes live.

So what on earth does this have to do with the future of entertainment?

Indulge me for a bit as I flash back to circa 1993. CD-Roms were just starting to become available, and 'multi-media' was the new buzzword for computing. All sorts of things were starting to become interactive, such as encyclopedias, globes, and catalogs and phone books (remember, this was slightly before the internets burst on the scene). But the one thing that struck my fancy was the concept of interactive books. I was actually thinking in some depth about it already when I started hearing great reviews of one of the first interactive CD-Rom novels. I tracked it down at a books-on-tape bookstore in Houston that happened to have it, and excitedly brought it home for when I would one day HAVE a PC computer with a CD-Rom drive. That's how excited I was about this concept.

Finally, I DID buy a capable computer and loaded up this example of the future... and was disappointed beyond belief. It was crap. The story was crap, the ideas behind it were crap. It was something about the Song of Roland (okay, now I have to track it down... hold on a moment... my aplogies.. it's called The Madness Of Roland) and was hailed as groundbreaking. I didn't agree. The dream lived on.

There have been many attempts at creating this sort of interactive/multimedia novel experience, but nothing has quite matched what I saw in my mind's eye all those years ago. The closest anything has come are what are known as ARG's, or Alternate Reality Games, which attempt to create a network of real websites about make-believe organizations and personal web pages and real-world things like newspaper ads and physical gatherings in order to simulate a fictional world for the purposes of telling some sort of story. Often they are in conjunction with something like a movie or TV show, such as the Lost Experience and Nine Inch Nails latest musical project. All the websites continue or expand upon the world of the story, often making it appear to be seamless with real reality.

But even these ultimately fail, because they are most often about solving some sort of mystery with clues embedded in the website code or within images or videos on the sites. It's a gigantic puzzle and is quite cool. But once someone (or a group of someones) cracks the latest clue, it's shared with the rest of the community playing that ARG, and it takes most of the fun out of it for the vast majority of the people that didn't have the time or stamina to solve these often VERY complex puzzles. There always comes a point where you realize you are so hopelessly behind (and/or not smart enough) to ever contribute to the greater community and you just wait until it's over to see what it was all about.

These ARG's WANT to be about stories and immersing you in a world, but ultimately, they end up just being about solving the puzzle. Rarely are the stories themselves compelling enough to hold one's interest.

Coming at it from the other direction are virtual social worlds like Second Life, where it's almost entirely about atmosphere and interaction with others. There are entire sections of Second Life where diligent users have created replicas of fictional worlds like Star Trek and the TV show Firefly. You can dress like your favorite characters and engage in virtual roleplaying, not unlike Dungeons and Dragons (but without the dice)or put on virtual plays or create virtual games for visitors to solve.

These are all interesting, but even this isn't quite bringing it all together yet like I see it.

It's like the Devil's Tower image in Close Encounters. I can SEE this in my head and it haunts me, and I'll know it when I see it when it finally becomes a reality.

It's getting closer by the day.

This whole thing is top of mind because in the midst of all of this Web 2.0 goodness came the Harry Potter book seven storm this weekend. Apparently eight million or so people worldwide snatched up the book within the first day of its release. There's still an instinctive sort of desire within humanity to READ something, to let it play out at the pace WE want to experience it. We don't just want video games and movies and youtube videos.

So it occurs to me that the one thing that's missing from this whole equation is a compelling story for readers to immerse themselves into. It' has to be both a story and a world that's rich enough to facilitate exploration beyond just the main narrative.

What I see happening is a major author or creator, like J.K Rowling or George Lucas, using a virtual world or Web 2.0 site to release the next chapters of their universe's main narrative.

Imagine in a few years J.K. Rowling announcing that the next official story of the Harry Potter universe is going to be released exclusively within the framework of a Harry Potter online experience of some kind. The main narrative would be a linear text-based story, just like it's always been. But instead of it being released in one big chunk it one book every two or three years, it's instead doled out bit by bit over the course of three or four years. And it's not just straight text. It's a constantly updated and expanded upon world filled with mysteries to solve and locations to explore.

For example, much like comic books are published today, Rowling could publish one chapter per month until the book is finished. Paying members/subscribers of the website would get first crack at the latest chapter. But this chapter wouldn't be just text. It would be an interactive, Wiki-style experience. Every character and event would be linked to information that corresponds to to where in the narrative that character is. If you're only on chapter one, it only shows you information relevant and accurate to that character through chapter one. As you advance through the story, the cloud of information increases. Connections among characters and locations and events are easily checked. Every event is linked to a discussion forum, or it's discussed in a Second Life sort of virtual venue where everyone is a character in the Harry Potter universe.

Written into the narrative can be opportunities for user-generated official story content. Perhaps there is some sort of election set to occur in the Harry Potter world. An actual procedure for members to vote can be set up, with the outcome being represented in the story itself. This would make the readers INVESTED in the story. Perhaps there are contests for members to be included in the official story as background characters. Or maybe a virtual magazine could be created and 'published' by fans/members, and this paper can be mentioned within the story. Or how about virtual quidditch matches where the outcome becomes the official version used in the story. Or a character listens to a song that is composed by a member, and whenever the song is mentioned, a link to listen or download the song is available. Or artwork. The possibilities are endless.

Fans love creating fan artwork and films and stories. Create an official framework where members can submit their creations and have them be featured. People can create machinima recreations of the story as each chapter comes out.

With this concept, it allows fans to not just read the story, but experience it in a more fully immersive way and even affect the path and outcome of the story.

Also with a model like this, it allows an author to tell the story in whatever way they want. Maybe Rowling wants to take a while off from the main narrative and explore something from the distant past in her world. Maybe flesh out Harry's father or grandfather or write a full narrative about how his parents met.

OR, maybe it's not just text for some events. Say they decide to hold the virtual wedding of Harry Potter himself. The story proper could lead up to it as regular text, but the wedding itself can be inside a chatroom or virtual wedding chapel (as of this writing, there are still issues of how many people can be in one room/location at a time, and it usually tops out at about fifty to two hundred, depending on if they allow for a four corners sort of nexus point), and allow some avatars (official ones controlled by someone that works for company producing the website) to act out the wedding using Rowling's actual official words. Can you imagine the furor over being able to ATTEND Harry's wedding? Perhaps auction off seats at the wedding if there is a space limit. Or better yet, bring Daniel Radcliff back in a few years to perform as Harry just for events like this wedding. Instead of a virtual wedding, it would be a video simulcast with real people also getting to attend the 'real' wedding. It would be huge.

But everything in this world would be clickable and cross-referenceable. Family trees, videos, artwork, wiki entries, timelines, recipes, puzzles, discussions. The conversation would be constant. The story never-ending. Fans could be permitted to create apocryphal fan fiction that links directly off of the main narrative if you choose to display that layer of data.

It allows the reader/user/member to experience the story at their own pace, and get as immersed as they desire. If they just want to read the story as is, they can read each chapter as it comes out, bare-bones, and it will be a totally fulfilling experience, just like reading the book is right now.

Maybe you just want to wait until the chapters are all collected together into the next hard copy novel, and you can read it just like any other book.

Like an ARG, there are mysteries to be discovered, either narrative-only, or hidden within the world and network of websites. But because it's tied to a serialized linear narrative, you don't have to feel like you are being left behind. Each element will be self-contained to the chapter you are currently at. It might even be structured as a Chapter One zone and a Chapter Two zone. You stay in each zone as long as you want to before moving on to the next chapter, all the way until where the story currently is at.

I think this sort of model would be successful perpetually.

Of course, Harry Potter is just one example of how this can be done.

Take Star Wars. George Lucas is getting ready to produce a new Star Wars TV series. What if instead of just being a linear TV series it was set in a virtual world like outlined above? The TV show would be the skeleton that everything else would hang on. In addition to the TV show, tons of other video could be produced to enhance the experience. Or just prose stories could accompany the TV show. Or online comics.

Or take something like a pet project of mine- Buckaroo Banzai. This is an obscure movie from 1984 that has developed a cult following (of which I am a card-carrying member). This is a world that would totally support an online virtual world/ARG sort of experience. But even more than Star Wars or Harry Potter, Buckaroo Banzai would facilitate real world events. Each town could have a physical location that the members of that town's Blue Blaze Irregulars could meet at. Real world puzzles and mysteries could be conducted, spanning the real world and virtual worlds (how about an entire virtual 8th Dimension official story events could take place in. There could be real actors hired to be the characters, and they can physically travel the world, continuing the story. Meeting real world people, dropping in on real Blue Blaze Irregular clubhouses as part of the official narrative. Buckaroo Banzai also fronts a band called the Hong Kong Cavaliers, and these actors could also play gigs here and there in character. But all of this could be in service to the overall narrative.

Characters could upload video blogs from wherever they are. This would be a slightly different experience than Star Wars or Potter, but I think it would be even more immersive.

There's so many ways this can go. But just about every one of them I think needs to have a major user-created element that leads to official content.

Could a new fictional world be created from scratch to fill this niche? I don't think so. I think they need to already have a sort of built-in fan base that's already passionate about the world. Star Wars, Potter, Star Trek, Marvel and DC Comics, or maybe even soap operas for the less-geekily inclined. Something like Lost seems like a natural fit, but it really isn't, because the world is so self-contained, at least the part that the TV show characters inhabit.

It COULD maybe work with a TV show or movie or live action experience, but the most successful (both creatively and commercially) I think would be something book-based at its core. But outside of Harry Potter, I don't see anything out there that inspires even a fraction of the passion needed for a project like this. I imagine someone like Stephen King or George R.R. Martin or Michael Crichton could come up with something that could really take advantage of this format, but I don't think any of them have anything going right now that would be readily applicable. A Song of Ice and Fire, while brilliant, is too much of a book. And Martin is too slow of a writer to ever be able to pull off something like this. If he COULD write at the pace needed, I think Song of Ice and Fire would be an amazing world to apply this model to. But it won't happen so there's no point dwelling on it.

Most fantasy worlds I don't think would support this, because part of it I think needs to be something that blends in or connects organically with our real world. The Matrix would be perfect for this if it didn't completely destroy the story with the two sequels.

Anyway, I'm tired of typing. I don't even want to see how long this blog post is. I don't think anyone but me will ever read it, but here it is, for anyone to read for all eternity.

I can see this so so clearly. I know it would work. It's turning into an obsession with me. I don't just want to write a story or create a video. I want to create an entire constantly growing and evolving story world. I want it to be heavily user-influenced and for them to share in the creation of the story itself.

I just need to figure out how to make it happen. It's my new life's goal, creatively. I'm thisclose to making a giant mashed potato computer on my kitchen table. I need to get this out of my head and into reality.

Good night.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

On the Lot - Episode 2

Okay... for the 3rd week in a row, they've changed up the format of the show with no explanation (however, it's obvious that because of the disastrous ratings, they are going to continue to tweak the show until something hopefully clicks with the viewing public). So this week, instead of seeing a short film from each of the 15 remaining contestants, we are only going to see five, with one going home next week. I'm guessing they'll do this same format for the next two weeks, with five filmmakers getting put up for vote each week. I wouldn't be surprised to see the format change again three weeks from now.

Anyway, on to the films.

On the whole, the films were 1000% better than last week's efforts. Which is odd, because last time, they had a whole week to do a one minute film, and this week, they only had five days to produce a three minute film.

Film up was Sam with "Broken Pipe Dreams", a comedy about a guy who has to retrieve an engagement ring from the toilet where it had just fallen. It was okay, decently staged and shot. It didn't seem to know what kind of comedy it wanted to be, though. From that perspective, it was a bit aimless. I'd place it number three for the night, though.

Next was "Teri" by Trever. It was a typical blind date film where the guy's fears of who this person might turn out to be are manifested before him. Nothing at all original about this in any way. However, the lead actor is a British guy who could probably stand in as a young Christian Bale. I'd put it fourth for the night.

Poor Hilary. This show has been an absolute nightmare for her since the first episode. She can't do anything right. I'd be shocked if she doesn't go home this week, and I'd be even more shocked if she was just as relieved to go as the rest of America is to see her leave. The judges were again vicious about her film, and for good reason. "The First Time I Met the Finklesteins" was cliche, typical, boring, poorly acted, poorly written, poorly directed. She just doesn't get what connects with viewers.

"Dough:The Musical" was next in line, and it was the best of the night, in my opinion. It was a story about a man and a woman, both consumed with dough, she money, and he bread. The song was clever at times, and well-performed overall. The visuals were all relatively interesting (despite what guest judge Michael Bay had to say).

The final film of the night was a documentary by Shalini called "Laughing Out Loud: A Comic Journey" about a gay Indian (from India) comedian. It was a serious look at this person, and was well made overall. It's obvious that this is her comfort zone. I'd put this number two.

Overall, the one problem that each film had was that they were all too long. They each took every second of their three minute maximum time. As such, most of them dragged badly in places. If they had to fit the same films in a two minute span, I think they all would have benefited.

But as I said, much better this time around. If Hilary doesn't go home next week, then the voting system for this show is broken.

Monday, June 04, 2007

48 Hour Film Project 2007 - The Awards

The Judges Awards were handed out last night, and while we did win the Best Writing award, that's all we got. The film that won Houston's overall award, "Morning Sickness" by XLAJ (I'll post a link when one becomes available) was very well done, and very deserving of representing Houston nationally. I have no problem with losing to that film.


Many of the other individual awards, such as editing and cinematography, left us scratching our heads. After watching all of the other films, we're not sure how we didn't capture one or both of those awards (all humility aside). There were a couple of others that I wouldn't have minded losing those two awards to, but the ones that DID win weren't as deserving. And the award for best soundtrack (one we weren't expecting to be in the running for), went to a film who's entire soundtrack was a loud, three-note tone, repeated over and over.

Bottom line is, that it's driven home again how arbitrary and silly these sorts of contests are. We have no idea who the judges are or what their qualifications are for judging a contest such as this. In the past, after having lost at numerous advertising awards shows for a long time, then finally winning, I remember how pointless it was when we finally won. It was external validation for work we did that we knew was good before we entered it into this awards process. This is the first real experience with that sort of awards frustration in the Film Industry, and I'm having to relearn this all over again.

The result of this realization is that it's silly and pointless to enter these contests expecting or hoping to win. They don't allow for you to produce your best work, and in order to win, you have to appeal to a very narrow spectrum (i.e., the more disgusting your film, the more laughs it will get). The one important thing we all got out of the 48 Hour Film project (and entering any sort of contest like this) is validation that we CAN do this. We CAN make well-written, well-directed, good-looking films. We can do it in 48 Hours under amazing stress. And while we more or less like our films, we know that they have serious flaws that are entirely the result of only having one crack at writing, shooting and editing it. We can look at our films and we know what the problems were.

So what we need to do now is stop 'practicing' with contests such as this. It's time to just start making films where we can put the time and care into them that will allow us to (hopefully) avoid most of the problems experienced in those contests.

Ultimately, I think I'm glad that we didn't do better in the judging portion of this contest, as I think that would have encouraged us to continue to put our efforts into projects such as these contests, rather than into something more substantial.

We're ready.

Let's get busy.

Monday, May 28, 2007

On the Lot - Episode 1

Well, not episode one, but the first of the episodes where they show the contestants films in their entirety and viewers at home get to vote.

And after watching 18 of these short one-minute comedies.... enh.

There were only four of them that didn't fall totally flat for me. Will Bigham, Zach Lipovsky and Shira-Lee Shalit and Sam Friedlander. Of those, I'm voting for Will Bigham's "Lucky Penny" film which clearly was the best tonight. Zach "Special Effects guy" Lipovsky was technically the best.

Of course, as an aspiring filmmaker, I was watching these with a "could I have done better than these?", and the answer, at least tonight, was absolutely. I didn't enter this contest, partially because I thought I wouldn't be in the class of what they were looking for.

Oh well...

On to the individual films this week.

Dance Man - clever idea. I was mildly amused. Solid filmmaking overall.

Deliver Me - Shot interestingly, but a bit incoherent as to what the film was supposed to be about.

Spaced Out - Not bad. I wasn't as amused by the projectile puppet puke as some seem to be. But overall, well made.

Wack Alley Cab - ?????????? Bye bye Kenny... What a mess. What was he possibly thinking?

Bus #1 - I didn't get this. I got what the joke was supposed to be (urine smells bad! LOL!!) but I didn't get why she thought this would be a good idea to make a film out of. Still scratching my head.

The Big Bad Heist - The trailer was all imagery and no story. I agreed with the judges that he should have followed the rules and made a short FILM, not a trailer. When he said "I want to take risks.", I thought to myself, you mean like not following any of the rules of the contest? Good idea.

Lucky Penny - For me, this one was the best overall effort of the night. A coherent story from beginning to end. Interesting angles. Can't say it was that FUNNY, but I thought it was the most complete FILM. Nothing jumped out at me as wrong.

How to Screw in a Light Bulb - I didn't get this one at all. What was she thinking?

Soft - Interesting idea, but horribly executed. None of the camera angles matched, color-wise. The humor was way too obvious. Sorry, pal. I didn't like it.

Blind Date - Again...?????? What was she thinking? This was a total wreck.

Getta Rhoom - I totally agreed with the judges. The first thought was that this poor fellow had Downs Syndrome, and it turned from potentially amusing to uncomfortable. Even if that's not what he was intending, a good director would have recognized that the actor had drifted all the way over into Mentally Challenged, rather than Nerdy, and would have corrected it.

File Size - I get what he was trying to do, and appreciated the camera work, but overall, this was sloppily conceived and put together.

Danger Zone - While I didn't think it was all that FUNNY, it was clearly the most competently put together of all the films. While I didn't put Zach at the top this week, I think he is clearly going to win this competition. He's the one that most GETS what filmmaking and creativity is all about. Even if he doesn't win On the Lot, he'll win in the long run.

A Golf Story - Tried to hard to be clever, and in the end didn't do exactly what the judges were saying. It didn't have any mini-golf shots (which are funny in and of themselves) or anything that really played off of the silliness that a mini-golf championship should have had. Looked nice. But nice try, but sorry.

Love in 2007 - Again, another film that makes me question if this filmmaker has ever seen a film before, or any sort of narrative.

Please Hold - Could have been good, but totally went off the rails with that first shot of the girl doing her nails while waiting on 911. And I thought the whole 911 thing was great the first time I heard it... on the Simpsons back in 1994. "You have selected regicide! If you know the name of the king or queen being murdered, press one."

Check Out - I thought this was one of the better ones of the night. Well made all around. An actual beginning, middle and end.

Replication Theory - I put this one number four for the evening. Funny idea, and ambitiously shot (with a variety of locations and settings), but it wasn't pulled off as well as it could have been. It took me a while to figure out what the title (Replication Theory) had to do with anything. A better title would have done more to set up the joke a bit better. But overall a solid effort.

Overall, the show is an odd duck. On most of these reality shows, the person showing their talent actually gets to be the focus of the presentation, but with this, they are the behind the scenes people, so it's hard to really gauge their personalities. Perhaps they will show more making of stuff as the show progresses.

But after having done a couple of 48 Hour Film contests, the films that these people came up with (with significantly more than 48 Hours) weren't any better than the average 48 Hour Film (which isn't saying much). I was really expecting a lot better, especially since a vast majority of these filmmakers attended some sort of film school.

We'll see how the survivors of round one react to the comments their first films got and see if they were really that clueless, or if they were just a bit nervous.

Going home (three people) I predict will be Kenny, Jason, and Claudia.

Old Negro Space Program

Latest in a series of my favorite viral-ish videos. This is a parody of Ken Burns' style of documentaries. Warning: Near the end, it gets a bit Not Safe For Work.

Anyway, this is absolutely brilliant. Too many little details to single out one or two. But if I had to, I'd say that the line "In 1957, if you were black, and if you were an astronaut... you were outta work." was the highlight for me.

Titanic sequel

Here's the latest in my attempt to catalog all of my favorite viral videos. This is my favorite parody movie trailer. It's a sequel to Titanic. Again, I love all the little details. My favorite is the use of the dance version of "My Heart Will Go On."
Bonus points if you can name all the films that were used to create this trailer.

Cat Herders - My favorite commercial

You may remember this from the Superbowl a few years ago. It was for EDS, and was part of a trilogy of commercials. But Cat Herders was the greatest of these.

I love all the little details, like the guy rolling the ball of yarn, and the closeup of the cat fording the river. Brilliant. It's the level of detail I long to be able to include in commercials I work on (but never get to do)

This one is good, but not quite up to Cat Herders' standard.

Monday, May 21, 2007

48 Hour Film Project 2007


That's the only way to describe a 48 Hour Film Project weekend. And that's what this weekend was. My team, Irony Coast, came together again and worked non-stop to produce a short film in the span of 48 Hours. That's 48 hours to write, shoot, and edit a 5-7 minute film. We did it with 15 minutes to spare.

Our film this year? "Plan 48". The genre we pulled from a hat was 'buddy film'. Our required elements (that all participating teams must use in their films) were a character named Stan or Sarah Gibbs who is a communicable disease specialist, a big pink eraser, and the line of dialogue, "You want the truth? So do I".

As usual, we commenced the evening with a few rounds of brainstorming that included all team members. Out of all of that, two must-have elements emerged. One was that our film could be about a team of rogue CDC agents. The other (playing off of our permission to use the Cactus King location, a really cool mega-cactus seller with thousands of cacti of all kinds), was the creation of the new street drug known as "cractus". Using these two ideas come up with by different brainstorm groups, we then crafted the full script, finishing at 6am (with first call scheduled at 7:30am).

"Plan 48" is about how a rogue team of CDC agents deal with the growth of a new street drug called 'cractus' that's made from cactus plants. The unfortunate side effect of this drug is a rare disease called 'dermatitis cactosis'. A breakthrough leads the team to the source of cractus, a crimelord named Hector Pinchazo.

We shot all day on Saturday, finishing at 9pm. Thanks to one of our team members, Gary Denton, we were able to use a giant military truck for use in our film. As mentioned above, we were able to shoot at the amazingly cool "Cactus King" location, as well as at a diagnostic and imaging lab, and we found a bridge trestle that was just made for shooting a film at.

We had to scramble the last hour just to get the film finished in a state that would allow it to be eligible for judging. The direct result of that is that while we are happy with the product, we feel it's at best 80% of where it can and will be. Lots of music needs to be added, some animations we just didn't have time to produce, sound sweeting, color correction, gunfire visual effects... the list goes on. Plus, our very last line, written at 5:30am, just didn't work like we wanted. It looked okay on paper, but when produced, it lacks clarity. So we are going to rewrite and reshoot the ending very soon.

We think it turned out okay. It gets laughs when viewed, but aren't sure if it will really connect with audiences yet. We'll find out this Wednesday at the screening of all of this year's entries, and we'll find out who the judges selected. We did really well last year in the individual categories (directing, cinematography, script, sound, editing, use of line of dialogue), but didn't win the overall city prize. While we aren't happy with our final product, we know now from experience that none of the other teams are likely happy with their films, either, and have similar regrets about things that had to be abandoned due to running out of time. If I had to predict if we get an award, I'd predict editing, since we had a million edits in our film, with lots of very meticulous continuity that (I feel) was successfully maintained. On a purely technical level, the 'technical difficulty' of what we attempted this year was a 5 (on a 5 scale). On some of those counts, I think we succeeded.

One thing we did that we're all really proud of, is that we not only included this year's required elements, we also included LAST year's required prop, character, and line of dialogue. And we actually think we did a better at incorporating last year's elements this time than we did last year.

All in all it was another fantastic weekend, despite how grueling it was. In a few days, we'll all forget just how rough it was and start planning our next big shoot.

That's all for now. I'll post a link to the "theatrical version" of the film that will be showing at River Oaks Theater on Wednesday.

For now, enjoy!

Friday, April 06, 2007

[Television] I find this tv...acceptable

My new favorite TV show--

The above video is just one of nearly two dozen similarly brilliant short videos made for this new show.

It's a filmed-comedy-sketch show that premieres on VH1 every Friday night (9Central) and replays numerous times throughout the week and is also available on their website, (it's just, no dot com) What makes this show particularly interesting to me is that it's attempting to wrangle this viral video phase the world is going through and bring some order to it.

The premise of the show is that each week, they debut five short "pilots" for new continuing sketches, each one about two and a half minutes long. Of those, you can go to the website and vote for the two you like best, and new episodes of those will be filmed for the next week's episode.

These 'official' pilots are produced by the repertory company, but each week, they play one user-submitted video, also voted on by the website visitors (actually, you have to be a registered member to vote... it's free though).

It's a really neat concept, and so far I'm loving it. Of the skits that the official group have produced, I've really liked almost all of them. In fact, out of 21 current skits, there are only two that I'm lukewarm on.

The people behind this show are executive producer Jack Black, and the group from Channel101, the people that have been doing stuff like this before they started getting financed by VH1/Viacom. Previous Channel101 alums are the Lonely Island guys, of which three of them are now SNL writers/performers. They're living the dream all us video producers nurture.

I could tell you about the funniest videos, but thanks to embeddable flash video, I can just show you. There's a bunch of them, and they are all funny. Enjoy. And if you like these, there are many, many more at the official website.

Monday, April 02, 2007

[Movie Review] Curse of the Golden Flower

Curse of the Golden Flower may be the most beautiful movie I've ever seen. It's certainly not the best movie I've seen, and there's a lot about it that left me scratching my head afterwards, but one thing that's not in doubt is that you've never seen anything like this.

Like most movies in this genre ("Hero", "House of Flying Daggers", "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"), the movie itself had lots of inscrutable parts. In fact, I had trouble scruting most of the second half of the film. You think you have an idea of what's going on, but then people start flying and balancing on top of a flower, and armies start popping up out of nowhere and you realize you probably missed a key bit of explanation twenty minutes earlier. The plot of this movie concerned secrets and revenge and the repression of women in 10th century China, but none of that mattered.

No, all that matters is that from the first frame to the last, this movie is a feast for the eyes. The image included at the top of this post is just one example of the orchestra of color you will experience. At no point do you ever really feel that you are seeing something real, or that this is in any way a true representation of the period, but I'm sure it's exactly what that period FELT like.

Here's a link to a gallery of still photos from the movie, which really don't do any justice to seeing this stuff in motion.

I don't have an HDTV yet, but I may have to get one just to watch this film again, to see it in even richer detail.

"Curse of the Golden Flower" is Chinese director Yimou Zhang's third wire-fu, period film, coming on the heals of the almost-but-not-quite-as-beautiful films, "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers." After this unofficial trilogy, I'm not sure what ground is left for Zhang to cover in this genre. I'm sure there are hundreds of other Chinese legends yet to be filmed, but are any of them unique enough for him to spend his time on? Fortunately, he's just as well-known (in Asia) for his non-genre films, and I'm eager to check some of those out.

In addition to the stunning art design and cinematography, I have to also commend the acting in this (despite the sometimes bewildering directions the story would take). Gong Li and Chow Yun-Fat were both mesmerizing and prove once again that foreign actors and actresses should stick with films that allow them to speak their native language. Gong Li was forced to speak English in "Miami Vice", and as a result, her entire performance was awkward and stilted. In a similar vein, I've never liked Penelope Cruz, but I'm curious to check her out in "Volver" (for which she was nominated for Best Actress) since she speaks in Spanish in this movie, rather than English.

So, to sum up, Curse of the Golden Flower is a mesmerizing movie, beginning to end. If you're one of the lucky few that is able to follow the plots of these Chinese "Wuxia" legends, then you'll really like this movie. As it is, I'm looking forward to seeing this movie again, in the highest resolution possible.

Story: Five Teeth. Overall: Eight Teeth.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Getting into Gear 2007

So, thanks to the flurry of activity by the writing group I'm a part of, I'm re-inspired to get off my butt and get creative again. Even though my job actually requires me to be creative on a daily basis, it's not the sort of creativity that leaves me with any sort of satisfaction at the end of the day. Well, sometimes...

Anyway, I've ideas for countless screenplays, short films, novels, essays, graphic designs, photographic composites and artwork, etc etc etc. I just need to stop procrastinating and DO them. At least ONE, anyway.

So hopefully this blog will act as a sort of accountability partner for me. Something that will guilt me into increasing my creative output.

Next really big project coming up is 48 Hour Film Project 2007. We did really good last year (link to the video "Eternal" on our Irony Coast YouTube page should be on the sidebar on the right), and we have every intention and expectation to win this year... That's coming up the weekend of May 18th. Should be fun.

Still need to finish my NaNoWriMo novel. I'm only 17,000 words from reaching my target, and I still really like my story, so I have no excuse not to work on it.

I also need to pick which screenplay I want to work on. "Paper Heroes" has the most work done on it, and the one I think has the most potential to be made into a film. "Sword of Texas" has a lot of work done on it as well. "Camp David" is the one most easily filmable by my film group, and the one that has gotten the most positive feedback and requests that we actually produce. Plus, there are a few ideas I've come up with over the past month or two that are jumping up and down trying to get my attention. Tentative titles for these are "The Royal Family", "The Lion and the Lambs", plus my untitled Vegas heist film, and my untitled serial killer movie.

Plus, there's still the "Zombie Wrangler" short film that's percolating, and the "Flunkies" webisodes we need to produce before half of our cast moves away.

Lots to think about. Lots to do.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Iiiiiiit's Groundhog Day!

And by Groundhog Day, I of course mean the movie, not the day itself. I could care less about a rodent seeing its shadow. No, today is the day to celebrate the greatest American (or otherwise) comedy of the 20th century.

There are very few movies I can watch more than once (I've really only seen the Star Wars movies about ten times each, and only once each in the last decade), but Groundhog Day is the one movie I can watch again and again and never tire of. Which is ironic since the movie is essentially the same set of scenes played over and over again.

Groundhog Day remains my favorite comedy (it falls anywhere from number 3 to number 5 on my list of all-time favorite movies) fourteen years after having first seen it. It's exactly the kind of movie I like, and one I wish I could have made.

One one level, it's just a very funny movie. The jokes never drift into absurdity, always fitting the scene and moving the plot forward.

On the second level, it's the cleverest movie I've ever seen. More than any other movie with a gee-whiz idea, this movie takes it and explores it from every angle, really pushing the concept to its limit. What WOULD you do if you had to repeat the same day over and over again?

And if that's all the movie wanted to do, it would have been a comedy on a level with Ghostbusters. But Groundhog Day's launch into the comedy pantheon occurs because it seamlessly makes the movie ABOUT something deeper. It adds my personal favorite life-theme, redemption.

It's never too late to start appreciating the people around you and the things that happen to you and near you. Even if you've lived the same day over and over again for 10,000 years (as the filmmakers sometimes imply), you can still start fresh and make a change.

There's a lot more to it than that, of course, but that's what resonates so strongly within me. My life often feels like a Groundhog Day, with themes (rather than days) repeating over and over again. Every once in awhile I open my eyes and appreciate all the things around me, and/or learn from my mistakes, and then like Phil, I get to move on to the next great stage of my life.

There's a great article in New Republic (I don't read it, I found this online this morning) that discusses the enduring popularity of Groundhog Day (the movie) and its surprising cultural impact. Even though I've seen and read about the movie countless times, just like the movie, I was able to discover something new. Enjoy the article here.

So Happy Groundhog Day. And make sure you bundle up, cause it's cold out there.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Movie Review - Children of Men

Children of Men is one of those movies that could very easily have been a confusing mess, but fortunately, it successfully achieved my current movie criterion buzzword-- Clarity. A few times, the movie threatened to fall off the tracks of clarity, but each time, it managed to refresh me on the key points I needed to continue on.

The basic plot of Children of Men is that in the year 2027, the world is falling apart and women have been infertile for about 16 years. A young girl is discovered to be pregnant, and she needs to be delivered to a secret group of scientists dedicated to restoring worldwide fertility. However, there is a group that is pushing for an uprising and wants to use the existence of this baby as their rallying point. The movie is essentially a chase, with Clive Owen's character attempting to successfully deliver the pregnant girl to the scientists, avoiding the uprising people.

The movie does a great job of setting up the world through background images, such as TVs, newspapers and graffiti, rather than than an overabundance of expository babble.

The movie's been called a 21st century Blade Runner, and in a lot of ways it's pretty apt. The tone, the grittiness of the world, the bleakness of the story, the humanity of the main characters are all from the same DNA as Blade Runner.

But best of all, the movie achieves clarity at every point, allowing the full tension of each moment to effortlessly shine through without my having to wonder, "Now why is that guy shooting at them again??"

8.5 teeth out of ten.

Movie Review - Elektra

This was on the stack of "Movies that I want to watch that I know won't be any good, but I want to watch them so I can figure out why they didn't work."

I was only marginally impressed with Daredevil, and thought Jennifer Garner was miscast as Elektra. I wasn't looking forward to Elektra when it came out, and less so when almost all the reviews were harsh. But it popped up in the list of movies coming on HBO, so I went ahead and set it to record with my trusty Time Warner (soon to be Comcast) DVR. And there it was sitting in my recorded list as I sat down to eat some grub last night so I opted just to watch Elektra for as long as I could tolerate it.

Turns out I could tolerate the whole film. However, don't take that to mean I enjoyed it or give it a positive rating.

This falls in the category of movies that really didn't need to be made. It didn't bring anything to the action genre or the comic book genre. The story was basically a slight rehash of Terminator 2, where a villain must overcome their evil tendencies to help out a chosen one who has been marked for death. If you've seen a movie, you've seen Elektra. There weren't any surprises in this.

The best I can say about it was that I was never bored enough to stop watching. Some of the effects were neat. The characters were cardboard, but generally likeable. But surprisingly, there wasn't a whole lot of action, and only two scenes were Elektra worer her iconic red costume. There was a lot of talking and running.

Anyway, this movie would probably be better in a group setting with the intent being to ridicule the movie as it plays in the background.

5 teeth out of 10.

Movie Review - Series 7: The Contenders

Now this was a movie that I accidentally watched last night at about midnight. Granted, I had set it to record earlier in the evening, but it was as I was showing Tamara how to use some of the features of the new Time Warner DVR box that this movie started recording right in the middle of the lesson. We just started watching it and before long, we'd abandoned DVR lessons and settled in to finish watching.

The basic premise of this film is that we are watching the marathon of a reality TV show called "The Contenders, Series 7". This reality show randomly selects 6 people from a random town, gives them weapons, and forces them to hunt each other down until only one is left alive. This is apparently a government sanctioned and enforced TV show. So camera crews follow the various contenders around and presents their stories.

The film is shot and presented in video and looks like an authentic reality show. It's like a cross between Cops, Real World, and the Running Man.

What's most interesting about this is that this film was produced in 2001, predating (slightly) the success of Survivor. But it was prescient in its prediction of how reality shows would become more and more extreme. We haven't quite gotten to the point to where a deathmatch reality show is a, um, reality, but we're close.

The movie started off great and had our attention from the first moment. It didn't explain everything at first and just treated you basically as if you had just flipped the channel to a show that had already been on for years and you just hadn't ever seen it before. It seemed to have been done in a semi-improv style and this worked perfectly for most of the first part of the film.

It's only during the second half of the film when they had to steer the plot towards the more convoluted aspects of the story that it started to fall apart a bit. I find this is the case in most mockumentary-style shows is that the movement toward the pre-written story elements always come across as a bit clunky and forced. Such was the case with Series 7: The Contenders.

Overall, it was watchable, even during the contrived parts. An interesting experiment.

Final verdict: 6 and a half teeth

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

DVD Stack - Reds

Finally watched Warren Beatty's Reds. I have to admit that it wasn't at all what I was expecting. I knew it was about the Russian Revolution, but that's pretty much the extent. My assumption was that Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton played Russians caught up in the tides of the revolution. But I was completely wrong.

Instead, the movie is based on the lives of Jack Reed and Louise Bryant, two American socialist/communist activists/writers from the late 1910's who managed to be in Russia during the revolution and got caught up in it. It's really a love story between the two of them set against this backdrop.

I enjoyed it. It was suitably epic in its scope and intimate in its focus. What really added a lot to this film were contemporary (1981) interviews with people that actually knew Jack and Louise back in the day. It gave the film much more of a sense that this all really did happen, and made the dramatic parts seem more like these were the actual people.

Acting was superb throughout as was the cinematography. I'm sure as I watch (or re-watch) more period epics from the 70's and 80's I'll end up with similar opinions, but Reds felt like a movie that was produced within the last few years rather than 25 years ago.

I give it 9 teeth out of 10.

NaNoWriMo - Update

Okay. Here it is, mid-January. I got sidetracked in November by work and life in general, and am currently stalled out at 33,000 words. I hope to get it kick-started tonight or tomorrow and try to get to 50,000 by the end of the month. Not likely, but I'm going to go for it. In any event, I should be able to finish the rough draft of Word War III over the next month or so at the worst.

But before I do that, a couple of movie reviews.