Scratch the Productivity Itch

All too often I find it difficult to thoroughly engage in entertainment, conversation or recreation if I jump in having left active tasks incomplete. You cannot always push plans back to make room for completing the task, but it can make a big difference in helping you enjoy yourself if you find extra time to get the job done. Better in most scenarios to show up late and fully connect with the moment than stick to the calendar with a head full of unsolved problems. Fight the habit of tardiness and never accept it as a personal trend, but forgive yourself if it means victory, understanding on the part of the people you keep waiting, and an untarnished engagement. After all, your original plans can double as a celebration if you complete the task at hand. Get it done and go have a good time.

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.

Work Hard, Play Hard, Rest Hard

Most people don’t mention the third part. You need to be vigilant about rest if you’re going to maintain a work hard play hard lifestyle. All three forces need to balance out for you to sustain a productive, fruitful and healthy life. Let me say that again: keep work, play and rest in balance in your life. Bedtime is a magical thing if you observe it regularly. Scheduled playtime and vacations really wake you up. Don’t let work suck you away. Save an equal amount of time and energy to live the good life and recharge your batteries while still getting things done.

Culture Is More Important Than Product

People want to be a part of something and have a good time. That’s why fancy restaurants make the big bucks. Product is important and the focal point of a solid business foundation. But the atmosphere around a product is the key differentiator. If you can build culture around a product, it’s like having an open front door to a raging house party. Something people want to be a part of. The most successful restaurants on a block are packed with people having a good time. Music helps. Alcohol helps. Great service helps. But without those things, great food means very little next to the fun house party. The aura you build around your brand makes a huge difference. Spend as much time developing your cultural recipes as you spend on your product recipes.

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.

If You’re Going to Spend The Money…

Don’t regret it. Just put the money down, enjoy or learn from the investment, and move on. Cut your losses and figure out how to move forward. There’s no point at all in tarnishing a good evening by despairing about dollars and cents. Live the good life.

Iterate Your Voice

The most successful comedians usually come from stand-up. On small stages in trashy dive bars, aspiring entertainers have a relatively consequence-free opportunity to put their act and endurance to the test. With enough 5-minute open mic opportunities, the smartest performers learn what works and what does not. Over time and through plenty of failure, artists refine an authentic routine and stand out against the noise. They find their voice. When it comes to successful entertainment, original voice is everything.

If you dream of entertaining, embrace the small venue. Find a small stage through which you can practice and refine your voice. The Internet counts.

Involve Your Audience

Building an audience can be a long and humbling process. Extreme networking in disguise. Every little thing counts. Every smile, every gift, every anecdote. It all builds to a greater public image with richer public value. As if offering something of value isn’t hard enough, you must befriend hundreds of thousands of random strangers along the way.

Successful performers form an intimate relationship with their audience. Like building trust with a friend, an entertainer must build rapport and loyalty with his or her fans. Something as big as inviting a fan to guest star or as small as retweeting a post can win you a fan for life. Even little acknowledgements can make a person’s day. Invite fans to be a part of what you’re trying to accomplish. Encourage them to join the conversation – and be sure to respond. Never be too proud to ask your audience questions, for feedback, or to help you out. Encourage a two-way street between you and them – and hold up your end of the bargain.

Bootlegging Yourself (Marketing Controversy 101)

A few days ago, a bootlegged version of a red band trailer for David Fincher’s latest film, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, hit YouTube with a vengeance. Before Sony Pictures pulled it for “a copyright claim,” the video had nearly 2 million hits after only two days. There is speculation that Sony launched the trailer themselves to kick-start a viral marketing campaign. Whether or not this is true, the video’s premature release certainly did not hurt Sony or the film. The leak was awarded widespread coverage in press and online. If audiences were not aware the hit novel trilogy was being adapted for the American screen, they definitely are now.

I find the entertainment industry’s preoccupation with piracy amusing. Sure, I am a filmmaker and can appreciate revenue lost to piracy. But as veteran studio executive Bill Mechanic once pointed out to me, “Pirating means that people want to see your movie.” As I see it, stolen entertainment media suggests one of two things: your content is not good enough to pay for or too difficult for the average consumer to find. Both problems are your fault and worth solving. iTunes rivaled music piracy by promoting easier access to music: it became easier to buy a song on iTunes than steal it from a torrenting site. With bandwidth evolving and platforms like Netflix and YouTube on the rise, movie studios are running out of excuses not to open their libraries. Simple: help audiences consume the entertainment they want to consume. Most people will gladly pay for that. And pirates will help spread the word in the meantime.

But I digress. In a world saturated by media noise, it has become necessary for marketing materials to have unique stories wrapped around them. The Dragon Tattoo leak promoted three levels of discussion: the bootlegging of the trailer in the first place, whether or not Sony released it on purpose, and finally the irresistible quality of the content presented. Trailer discussion spread the word and inadvertently spread the message: “She’s coming.”

Movie studios should bootleg themselves more often. And you should too.

Understanding New Media [Film Friday]

Few people inside or outside the movie business can really explain the “New Media” trend. The term “web series” has developed an underestimated connotation, suggesting handicam YouTube videos, goofball kids, and poor craft. While a large share of the 3 billion videos uploaded daily are casual video, the professional web video industry has exploded. Many companies (including the one I work for) are spending millions and millions of dollars to produce for the Internet, embracing gear and talent normally resident to major motion pictures. The web is the new frontier and everyone is boarding the train.

Producing video for the web does not necessarily make it “New Media.” If that were true, all movie trailers, skits, and press material released online would qualify. But we often separate this type of material into “marketing” or “publicity.” So where do you draw the line? Having worked in “New Media” for over a year now, I feel safe taking a crack at it.

I am going to spend the next several Fridays exploring this topic. I will take cases I have heard and wrestle with them. With any luck, we will come up with a suitable definition for “New Media” in a few weeks.

Tune in next week for a debate about “producer’s intent.”

Table of Contents for this series: