Don’t Hate the Copy Cat

I’ve struggled over the years with artists who steal from other artists and purport to call their work original. I will never endorse people who steal ideas from other people and turn a profit. The age of piracy and duplication concerns me.

As the original author of a piece of work, you feel robbed. And you should. But that’s the glass half empty view. If people are copying you, that means you’re worth copying. Take pride in that. Many of my wisest mentors always carried a delicate smile when they declared piracy of their IP because it affirmed that people care. If your work is being stolen, find a way to take advantage of that. Other people are marketing your work for you. That’s a good thing. Use it.

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10 Worst Movies I’ve Ever Seen

Spent some time cleaning up my movie lists today and thought I’d share the ten movies I’ve seen in the past decade that made me scratch my head. Ever since Rotten Tomatoes came out, I’ve had better judgement. In no particular order:

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Bitch Slap
Atlas Shrugged: Part I
Jennifer’s Body
Crank: High Voltage
You Don’t Mess With the Zohan
The Brothers Grimm
Hannibal
The Mexican
Wild Things

Broadcast Contracts Will Kill Hollywood

It does not surprise me that Game of Thrones is the most pirated show on television. Without cable, I have no way to watch it. I’d happily pay $20 per month if HBO GO was open to people without cable subscriptions. Unfortunately, that’s not that case. None of HBO’s shows are available on iTunes, Netflix, Hulu or Amazon. I have no way to watch any of HBO’s shows except pay a $75 per month cable subscription for a television I don’t have, wait for them to come out on DVD, or pirate them. I’m a good boy with little expendable time, so I avoid Game of Thrones altogether. But 25 million people have not been angels and found the show through whatever means necessary. Who knows how many more people opt out entirely and forever pass the show by?

I’ve said before that Hollywood should concern themselves less with piracy and more with audience access. Simple supply and demand metrics – audiences demand content and providers are failing to supply to increasingly popular internet channels. It’s the whole industry’s fault for inciting piracy. They are missing out on an expanding margin of customers. In defense of HBO and others, production companies have entangled themselves in lucrative and restricting contracts with cable partners. To offer direct-to-consumer digital distribution would breach their contracts and deprive them of their single strongest revenue source. For most companies like HBO, that may never happen – at least not until everyone has internet televisions or the cable providers themselves die.

Broadcast contracts may be a reasonable excuse for holding content back from web distribution. But if companies plan to stand behind that excuse, they need to stop making such a big deal about piracy. By threatening or incriminating millions of people who cannot access your primary distribution method, you are alienating potential evangelists of your content and failing to understand the trajectory of your market. Web television is not a trend. In five years, most motion picture content will be consumed online – on connected televisions, game consoles, mobile devices or computers. To fight or deny this is foolish and egoistic.

I left Hollywood because no companies were willing to put the engineering muscle behind personal distribution channels. Beyond sheer web design and database builds, online services require customer service and billing infrastructure that can cost a lot of money. Fortunately, these things are getting easier and cheaper. An independent production company with enough content to leverage could easily set up shop on the web with a very controllable investment and small handful of people on the tech side.

If you want a sustainable career in the movie business, start or work for a company with full digital rights. Careful signing onto productions with traditional broadcast contracts and no digital rights – these opportunities, no matter how lucrative, are sinking ships. If they cannot find a way to breach contracts soon, they may not survive the next wave of liberated web-savvy competitors.

Consolidating the Online Content Experience

Image representing Netflix as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Marvel’s The Avengers raking in a $200M+ opening weekend leaves little room to tell Hollywood that they are doing it wrong. The 40-year old blockbuster model continues to pay for the movie business. In the early days, the cinema experience was not far removed from attending a Broadway show: dressing up and cozying into ornate movie palaces staffed by ushers and orchestras. To expand the experience, multiplexes cropped up everywhere. To augment the experience further, Hollywood learned to tentpole a film, merchandise it and open theme park rides. The cinema experience is larger than life.

While all of that may work for three or four titles, hundreds of motion pictures barely scrape by each year. The internet and a proliferation of choice in the new millennium continues to threaten the sustainability of the movie business. The entertainment industry as a whole keeps falling behind the times. They still depend on Nielsen‘s myopic ratings and surveys to make strategic market decisions. They collect little to no data on their viewers to leverage repeat conversions. They build no intimate relationships with their customers and create few opportunities outside the theater to communitize their content. They embrace an antiquated scarcity model by rolling content out onto different platforms across rigid windows weeks and months apart, thereby eliciting content access demand and piracy. Merchandise still sits on retail shelves or on random websites online, far from the experience of seeing the movie itself. Without update, these practices may be fatal. While box office may be up (due largely to increased ticket prices and 3D or IMAX premiums), attendance is down – even more painful when considering population growth.

All of these issues could be solved by incorporating a thicker web layer into and consolidating the filmgoing experience under one roof – literally and figuratively. By converging merchandise, community and content into a digital or real world platform, Hollywood could make all facets of their business more accessible and leverage entire catalogs toward a more scalable, niche-friendly or cost-effective practice. Loved the movie you just saw? The theaters should make it as easy as possible to leave the theater and impulse buy a plush or action figure of your favorite character. Imagine if you could buy merchandise from and connect with other fans on a movie’s page in Netflix? Organize public screenings or petition for a sequel with the masses online? The community layer would add to the consumer experience and give filmmakers a platform to understand how people engage with their work.

I love the movies. I love the theater. I want the industry to succeed. These issues are reparable. If the industry can recruit key talent from the web tech sector, surrender a century’s worth of logic around brick and mortar business practices, build relationships with consumers online and put storytelling first, there may be a glimmer of stability and hope for film professionals and moviegoers alike. We’ve got work to do. There’s plenty of stories to tell and opportunities to make a living by producing great content.

Double Check

It can’t hurt to guarantee that you have all of your ducks in a row. Checking twice or more can help ensure that nothing is out of line. It might feel like nagging to ask the same question more than once, but the annoyance here will hurt much less than the alternative. No matter whose fault it is, you’ll end up feeling like an ass for not making sure. Don’t be that person. Double check instead.

12 Tips for a Successful Film Reel

We’re hiring right now and I’ve spent more than half my life watching film reels. Mildly put, I’ve seen a lot of donkey crap. For those of you looking to solicit work in the film or media industry, here are 12 tips to consider when editing your reel:

1. Make it short. Like one to two minutes short. I don’t have 8 minutes in my day for a hundred different people I don’t know. Convince me in less than two minutes to beg you for more. A reel 15 minutes or longer is borderline insulting.

2. Cut everything together. I will only watch one video per person (unless you impress me). A list of separate clips does not count as a reel. If you are interviewing as a director or editor, I will specifically request longer clips to see how you structure scenes.

3. Use your own voice. Do not imitate or parody movie trailers or other popular videos. No matter how flashy or technically proficient the reel may be, a ripoff reel proves only one thing to me: you are a ripoff.

4. Focus the viewer. Title your reel with the skill you wish to highlight (e.g. “camera operating,” “hair styling,” “lighting,” “visual effects,” etc.). I may enjoy qualities of the production you had nothing to do with – a recipe for awkwardness in interviews. Tell me what to pay attention to in advance.

5. No repetition. Don’t show me the same shot over and over. Don’t even show it to me twice. I will start thinking that’s all you’ve done.

6. Not overly dramatic. You don’t have time to be taken seriously in two minutes. Watching a grown man cry or woman getting raped while I drink tea and check my morning office email is simply uncomfortable.

7. Keep it current. If your reel is from a VHS transfer, unlit basement production or freehand miniDV, I will assume you failed film school or predate colored television. Show me only the latest and greatest. Your sentimental first film means nothing to me.

8. No movie scores. I don’t care how obscure you think the piece of music is. I am a film score connoisseur by trade (and so are most producers in the business); misusing a recognizable piece of music may distract or offend me. If I hear Clint Mansell in a reel one more time, I will adopt heroin and blame you.

9. No popular songs. Unless you worked with Led Zeppelin or Coldplay personally, your reel does not deserve to be tracked with their music. If you try to get away with it, viewers may stop paying attention when your music selection brings them back to high school slumber parties or the junior prom.

10. Easily accessible. Broken links are dead ends. Always make your reel available and never make me ask for it (“upon request” is not considerate, it’s lazy). Make sure your link is easy to find in your email and at the top of your résumé.

11. Stream it. Do not ask me to download a file. That will add at least two unnecessary steps and pollute my hard drive.

12. Vimeo. A poorly designed personal website will distract me and hurt you. Unless your site is a work of art, let Vimeo or YouTube make the first impression. If you feel compelled to host your work on your own site, enable the compression setting “fast start” or “compressed header” so I do not have to wait for the entire clip to buffer before playing (this is one of my biggest and most repairable pet peeves).

12 Most Anticipated Films of 2012

2011 was an embarrassing year for movies. Fortunately, 2012’s lineup promises to recover from the wake of the writer’s strike and trump the decade with a vengeance. I had a difficult time narrowing down over two dozen movies I am eager to see. Without further adieu, my twelve most anticipated films of 2012:

  1. Skyfall – A dream-team collaboration with Sam Mendes in the chair, Roger Deakins behind the lens and Thomas Newman at the piano. With Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench and Albert Finney reading scripts, this may be the most resonate and award-saturated package of the year. Did I mention that it’s a James Bond film?
  2. The Dark Knight Rises – The film that needs no introduction, Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to The Dark Knight.
  3. Moonrise Kingdom – The world can always use a little Wes Anderson snark. This one looks like a charm.
  4. Cogan’s Trade – One of my favorite films of 2007 was The Assassination of Jesse James. Cogan marks the five year reunion between director Andrew Dominik and Brad Pitt.
  5. Wettest Country – Excited to see if John Hillcoat can pull off prohibition bootlegging with Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman and Guy Pearce.
  6. Lincoln – I’ve been waiting years for this and Steven Spielberg has, too. Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln. Need I say more?
  7. Only God Forgives – One of last year’s saving graces was Drive. Director Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling re-team this year in the world of Thai boxing.
  8. Prometheus – Director Ridley Scott back to his roots with a reboot / prequel to the original Alien.
  9. Brave – A Pixar movie. Bam.
  10. The Gangster Squad – A gangster film with Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Nick Nolte and Emma Stone? Yes, please!
  11. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Looks and smells like The Lord of the Rings.
  12. Gravity – Been hearing about this one for a while; George Clooney and Sandra Bullock – in space. Alfonso Cuarón’s last film, Children of Men, was a daring jump into the sci-fi genre and I’m curious to see him do it again.