Consolidating the Online Content Experience

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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.

Service Beats the Hunt

We now live in a world where we can expect things to come to us directly. News, messages, deals, and ideas push their way to us instantaneously. To compete in today’s innovative world, you must play this game. You can no longer expect customers or users to come to you; you must find ways to reach them directly. In many ways, this has always been an issue for businesses. The challenge is not just getting people to come through your door, but to keep them coming back. In an era where infinite options compete for our attention, you must fight harder to stay relevant. The 24-hour news cycle is shriveling up. Windows for theatrical film releases are collapsing. Tweet trends often last less than an hour. Before long, consumers will miss you entirely.

If you want your brand or product to have a presence in your audience’s lives, you must find a way to remind them you exist. You must continuously roll out useful content to keep things fresh. And you must go out of your way to deliver it to them directly as soon as it becomes available. From here on out, most people will prefer services that bring to them what other services would expect them to hunt. If you want to stay alive in this feeding frenzy of a world, you must become your own paper boy.

Vision = Faith

You cannot call yourself a visionary if you need to see it to believe it. At that point, you’re just a spectator. Can you really see the possibilities? Do you really believe in it? It takes a lot of dedication and persistence to reach a point where you can qualify the vision. To get that far, the goal needs to be clear and indisputable to all parties invested. You need to understand the vision and believe wholeheartedly in it. You need to have faith that you are on the right path.

Protest

I keep my mouth shut and seldom declare my stance on tabled issues in public. I avoid stirring the pot for the sake of it and do what I can to preserve my nonpartisan relationships. But when it comes to legislation or executive decisions that may invariably keep my mouth shut against my will, I speak up.

I learned a lot from Hollywood in the five years that I studied and worked in Los Angeles. I respect and support the industry’s need to fight piracy. To produce and spread content on a sustainable scale requires considerable revenue chains that dare not waver. Due largely to the size of teams necessary to complete them, films will always be expensive to produce. Losing control of your content – and thereby losing the ability to recoup costs on your production – is a huge issue and must be curtailed.

That said, I do not respect Hollywood’s conservative grapple-hold on content in an antiquated scarcity model. While the studios contend that they make more by staggering the release of a film across all mediums, these rigid exhibition windows from theater to home regularly deprive hungry consumers of content they want to consume. The Hollywood release model is effectively inspiring piracy – not because people want to maliciously destroy the industry, but because people want to consume content and cannot do so when and where they want. Street vendors in the third world do not sell ripped DVDs as an attack on studios or because tickets are too expensive; they do it because Hollywood failed to make the content available in their market. Contemporary piracy stems more from accessibility issues than anything else. Hollywood is utterly failing to provide. By holding product close to the chest, the entertainment industry is failing to reach customers, scale brands at the contemporary pace necessary to survive, and collect the money of eager and willing fans. The media industry is killing itself. They need no help from pirates.

Out of desperation and a lazy aversion to change, entertainment turned to lobbyists to craft a bill that would effectively give our government the power to censor or shut down websites. There are constitutional ways to fight piracy; the Stop Online Piracy and Protect Intellectual Property Acts are not it. To learn more about the bills, I encourage you to watch this video.

Tomorrow between 5am and 5pm MST, I will join many Internet companies – including Wikipedia and Google – in protesting these bills by shutting down my site. You will not be able to read my blog.

Under the First Amendment, we have the right to contest any act abridging the freedom of speech. We have the freedom to protest and stand up for our rights. Do not dismiss protests as mass whining or vanity noise. Without protest and public forums for opinion, women would not have the right to vote and many of us would still own slaves. Do not take the freedom of expression lightly. Celebrate your voice at every possible turn. Use it when you can.

The Stakes of Live Performance

In a world showered with readily accessible recorded content, the cost and inconvenience of a live show leave many audiences at home. We often forget that live shows open a far greater threshold for surprise and magnetic energy than the recorded medium. Why? Because something might go wrong. The risk of failure is much greater on stage than in a recording. You cannot edit a live performance. If something breaks, thousands of people will be there to see it. As a live audience participant, you share in an exclusive opportunity to witness this single autonomous performance – never to be experienced the same way again. The pride in exclusivity, tension behind the stakes at hand, and energy through sharing it all with others make live performance more engaging, valuable, and expensive. More often than not, it’s worth it. And it may be the only thing that can keep the arts lucrative. But that’s another story.

My Ten Favorite Films of 2011

It’s that time of year again. Overall, a painfully disappointing year from Hollywood. Wrought with sequels and still choking from the wake of the 2007-2008 Writer’s Strike, 2011 may be the worst year for movies in my lifetime (certainly in the last decade since I’ve considered myself a connoisseur of such things). Notwithstanding Netflix or anything else, I don’t think I would go out of my way to buy or see many of these movies again. Underwhelming publicity campaigns and Rotten Tomatoes scores only pulled me out to see 36 titles. Having seen so few, I am certainly missing a handful that may find their way onto this list posthumously. We’ll see. I’ll recommend them as they come.

All negativity and pessimism aside, the following ten films made an impression on me and I recommend them. Cinephiles, please go out of your way to see my #1. In reverse order:

The Ugly Path to Beautiful Design

Design is difficult. Perfectionists want to nitpick until they are blue in the face. Most never finish satisfied. The few who feel they got it just right invariably get torn apart by the public or by passing time. Burdened by stress herein, many never finish at all.

Beautiful design seldom comes from a single stroke or first draft. It takes iteration upon iteration to arrive at success. The path to creating widely accepted design depends entirely on feedback. No single designer wields a universal sensibility, so each design must be put to the test.

No matter how focused or specific your target audience is, you have no way to inherently know how to approach the look and feel of your creation until you drop your pants and present it.

Put out something ugly first so people can call it ugly and help you define what pretty is. Listen to the criticism carefully and identify the common taste denominator woven throughout your core audience. Without compromising your vision, steer work in that direction. Before long, your audience, you, and your design may find common ground.