Film School: The Super Degree

When I tell people I might take a break from the film industry to study the web, the first thing I’m asked is, “Didn’t you got to school for that? Why leave the business?”

I learned a hell of a lot more than just camerawork at film school. In what other degree do you learn to actively lead teams, coordinate logistics, start businesses, tell stories, embrace technology, manage budgets, engage in philosophy, write both fiction and non-fiction, design advertising campaigns, engineer software, study history, direct talent, interface with contemporary culture, carpenter sets, raise money, play with toys, draw pictures, play music, review law briefs, curate content, and express yourself? That’s right, I can’t think of another degree either.

Film school is an all-inclusive wrapper for a cumulative degree in storytelling, business, marketing, management, design, communication, technology, law, twentieth-century history, and cultural studies. In even the smallest film trade schools, you must learn to lead teams through creative and technical projects while coordinating schedules and money to do so. Few MBA programs I’ve heard of are half as hands-on.

At the University of Southern California‘s School of Cinematic Arts, I had the pleasure of studying under studio executives, A-list producers, active professionals, and trendsetting innovators; I produced over 280 minutes of content and coordinated more than a cumulative 200 students and professionals to do so; and I interfaced directly with current and impending trends in the film industry. I moved to Hollywood to study from within the belly of the beast and learned more than I could have ever imagined.

Am I bastardizing my cinema degree by jumping industries? Absolutely not. If anything, I am honoring it. And I would recommend it to absolutely anyone looking to master important entrepreneurial skills, engage his or her creative side, solve complicated human puzzles, and have some fun.

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LifeCal Schedule Button (Soft Launch)

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working with Mark Godwin to design and engineer a little web plugin tool we call a “Schedule Button.” Quite literally, it is a button that you can save event data to and embed into your own website. When your visitors click the button, they can schedule your event to their own calendars.

 

The potential use cases for this button are many: concerts, flights, movie showtimes, house parties, television premieres, conferences, conventions, and more. Business owners and hosts alike can use this tool to connect with their attendees and provide them with necessary details.

I have a hard time managing my time as it is, and existing digital calendars do not make it easier. Few people go to the trouble of typing out all of the event details for everything they do. We built this tool for event hosts to make it easier for potential event attendees to input the correct information into their calendars. The hope is that there will be higher attendance rates if your event is staring your attendees in the face from within their own calendars. Unlike Facebook events (which is exclusive to the Facebook platform), we are trying to make this an open plugin compatible with all calendars and available for embedding into all web sites.

We are soft-launching this button today at Lifecal.co to collect feedback from our closest friends and followers before we announce the tool wider this week. Please head over to our site and check it out! If you have any comments or suggests, identify any bugs, or can think of other great use cases I have not mentioned, please let us know! You can use the discussion board below or email me at craig@lifecal.co.

New Media: Interactivity? [Film Friday]

This is the fourth post in my series, “Understanding New Media.” 

Last week, I introduced commerce into the discussion of “New Media” and expanded our definition to cover “content financed, produced for, and released exclusively on the web that autonomously drives traffic or revenue online.”

But there is still one piece of the puzzle that is slowing me down. More and more motion picture entertainment is shifting to the Internet. Conversely, more and more Internet is slipping into our conventional viewing platforms. Some movie theaters now offer WiFi, and many televisions are being released with broadband connection. Before long, our living room television sets will only stream content from the Internet. All of our networks and shows will launch content on URLs rather than cable channels. Google TV is a first stab at this transition, and many companies are soon to follow. With the ease and frugality of Internet distribution, convergence of the web into all of our current platforms is inevitable.

Therefore, I don’t feel like the words “the web” or “online” in my definition are sufficiently future-proof in separating “New Media” from the other forms of entertainment. Besides, “the web” is a release platform – like a television set or cinema screen. Should our definition of “New Media” be based solely on the platform and delivery mechanism? Or should it be based on the type and structure of content? If everything will eventually be trafficked through the Internet, the only aspects that will separate television, feature films, and other forms of motion picture entertainment will be story length, screen size, and audience involvement.

Length is relevant in defining feature films (between 90-180 minutes), television episodes (half-hour sitcom or hour drama, etc.), and short films (usually less than 45 minutes). Length is a fair determiner for content type. Some stories can be told in 5 minutes, others 2 hours, and some in 100 hours. It makes sense to me to distinguish between a category of motion picture entertainment by duration. However, I think “New Media” has considerable flexibility. There is no proven ideal length for web content, no rules, and no time-slots to fill. The web is free territory for content producers, which is largely part of its appeal. That said, web audiences tend to be distracted easily and hold attention shorter than on other platforms. Therefore, it’s fair to note that “New Media” content tends to air on the shorter side. Nevertheless, there are exceptions to that trend, and I find duration largely irrelevant in defining “New Media.”

That leaves screen size and audience involvement. Screen size and involvement are directly related in that the size of the screen determines how far or near to the video a consumer can be. The bigger the screen, the farther back you need to sit to see everything. The smaller the screen, the closer you need to be. So if the Internet is converging into all viewing platforms, what then is the difference between television-broadcast video and browser-broadcast video? There is a huge difference. Televisions are on the other side of the room, whereas our computers and mobile devices are right in front of us at our fingertips. While this may seem like a small paradigm shift, it carries huge implications for audience interaction.

Herein lies the chief differentiation between all other forms of motion picture content: with consumption devices at our fingertips, “New Media” fosters an environment for active viewership versus other platforms otherwise experienced passively. The web is interactive. The way we engage with content while wielding a mouse, keyboard or touch screen is fundamentally different than the way we engage with content wielding a remote or ticket stub. “New Media” presents opportunities to involve audiences in the story. Integrated blogs, forums, social media, and games build audience community and curate return viewership. Technology like GPS tracking, near field communication, augmented reality, and touch will bring interactivity to a whole new level. With “New Media,” audiences can literally live your story – if you tell it well enough. That is huge.

Without some layer of audience involvement, web-launched motion picture entertainment is nothing more than online video. A feature, episodic series, or any kind of video does not deserve to be called “New Media” until it consciously invites audiences to engage.

Therefore, I leave you today with this updated “New Media” definition: “content financed, produced for, and released exclusively on active viewership platforms that autonomously drives traffic or revenue online.”

Stay tuned next week for some final thoughts on the subject.

New Media: Content Autonomy? [Film Friday]

This is the second post in my series, “Understanding New Media.”

Last week, I differentiated between “Casual Video” and “New Media.” We left off with the assumption that any content financed, produced for, and released exclusively on the web that only ever lives on the web could be dubbed “New Media.” But there are two big curve balls that sidetrack this definition: marketing content and spin-offs.

Releasing promotional content on the web is considerably cheaper nowadays than launching a campaign on television or billboards nationwide. Therefore, more and more companies are generating content tailored specifically for the web to promote their products. Commercials, movie trailers, and sponsored skits litter YouTube and the Internet beyond. These pieces are “financed, produced for, and released exclusively on the web.” So are they “New Media?” Or just advertisements released on the web? If you chose the ladder, you sit in the popular majority. Most would still call this “advertising.”

So, then, one would be inclined to append “narrative content” to my definition above. But we cannot be that myopic. There is plenty of non-narrative content online financed and produced for the web that drives considerable revenue. And some promotional skits or spots otherwise considered “marketing” are themselves “narrative,” so it would be far too general to affix a “New Media” definition with the word “narrative.”

What about spinoffs? Recently, several television shows and feature films have produced content for the web to build community, expand the scope of programming, and promote the source content. Ghost Whisperer is famous for this. Do these episodes constitute “New Media” or do they serve a greater marketing purpose? Very wide gray area. Expanding the canon of a larger body of work has been in practice for ages. I suppose it depends on, again, the producer’s original intent: was the content produced primarily to drive traffic to another program? Or was the content produced to expand the story or characters in a structure better-suited for the web?

I suppose one clear distinction between marketing or spin-offs and “New Media” is “autonomy” – whether or not the content online acts on its own, or serves a bigger product. The web series we produce are original intellectual property and do not play a role outside the web browser sandbox. They serve their own needs independently and do not require or serve content on other platforms. A movie trailer or blooper reel may air online, but they serve a bigger purpose beyond the Internet. Same could apply to a spin-off. What greater purpose does your content serve?

As it stands, our “New Media” definition goes a little something like this: “content financed, produced for, and released exclusively on the web that serves itself and no other.”

Next week, we’ll explore an industry-seeded counterpoint to content autonomy: what happens when a marketing promo or referential spin-off generates its own revenue online?

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:

5 Reasons to Leave Your Industry Hub and Move Elsewhere

Westward Expansion

Every industry has a central hub. New York for finance and marketing, Silicon Valley for tech, Hollywood for entertainment, etc. These “capitals” boast concentrated resources invaluable to companies on every level. While centralized talent and cash may be great for growing companies, it is not always beneficial for employees or startups. Competition can be fierce, even deadly. And you may be compromising your ideal quality of life by living there.

Friends know I am not a big proponent of the Hollywood community or life in Los Angeles. In fact, I would be happy to see Los Angeles crash and burn (but that’s a post for another day). Nevertheless, I appreciate the things I’ve learned, connections I’ve made and resources I have access to here. But while I support studying in the belly of the beast (I did so through USC Film School and continued employment in Hollywood), I think it may be to your advantage to take that knowledge elsewhere.

Below are five reasons why you should consider moving away and doing your own thing in another city:

  1. Less Competition. Fewer companies competing for business. Fewer qualifiers poaching jobs. Depending on the scope of your business or skill set, it will be far less difficult and expensive to stake a claim with your great idea or robust resume. There may be a smaller talent pool to recruit from and fewer jobs to step into, but you have a greater chance of standing out.
  1. Easier Press Attention. In fresh locales with less competition, you are the cool kid on the block. Almost everything you do can be newsworthy. It is exponentially easier to promote yourself and rise above the noise outside your industry hub. Do you think the Los Angeles Times gives a damn about film shoots anymore?
  1. Quality of Living. If you are liberated to live anywhere, live where you want to. The cost of living could be cheaper, the pursuit of recreation easier, the commute shorter, the schools better, the communities safer and the environment cleaner. Way waste your life accepting surroundings or a lifestyle that fails to enrich your soul?
  1. The Local Hook. You can sell your support for the community as well or better than you can sell your products or skills themselves. Every city is packed with patriots who will gladly help you out if you promote the local angle of your ambition. You may even be able to secure local investment from financiers who simply adore their home town, even if you are situated in a sector outside their expertise. And to differentiate yourself in the national and international market, you can embrace local themes and regional advantages through your marketing, sales and products (Denver is healthy, Detroit is rebooting, Hawaii is beautiful, etc.).
  1. Room for Growth. Industry hubs are wrought with history, tradition, bureaucracy and rules. Moving elsewhere makes it possible to start anew, break rules and bend the future as you see fit. Becoming a local industry expert or thought leader is much easier with less competition and accessible press. By earning that respect, you are better situated to shape the direction of the community at large and make a name for yourself. There is less ladder climbing and more real work being done.

Mark Suster wrote an insightful post this week about building tech communities outside Silicon Valley. For anyone interested in skipping town, I encourage you to read it (even if you are not in the tech industry).

The Difference Between Apps and Applications

The market is completely saturated with programs. Competition is thick, discoverability low, and redundancy rampant. Every fool and his grandmother are “building an app.” Companies scribble code together just to say they have one, too. I mean, seriously, why the flying hell would I need a Quiznos app?

The joke? “There is an app for that.” Not funny anymore. Why? Because apps like Virtual Lighter cramp valuable shelf space and bury applications that could otherwise have a profound impact on our culture and way of life. As a user and developer, I want to differentiate between “apps” and “applications” in hopes of quelling the former and promoting the latter:
 

  • Apps have narrow vision. Applications have boundless vision.
  • Apps tackle singular functions. Applications tackle multiple related functions.
  • Apps debug. Applications scale.
  • Apps live on devices. Applications live beyond devices.
  • Apps breathe task-based missions. Applications breathe mission-based tasks.
  • Apps are features in disguise. Applications are platforms for numerous integrated features.
  • App has three letters. Application has eleven.
  • Apps code quickly and can be completed. Applications continue to adapt and evolve.
  • Apps are popularized by mass use. Applications are commoditized by mass use.
  • Apps eat free time for breakfast. Applications eat apps for breakfast.
  • Apps are useful in defined use cases. Applications are useful in undefined use cases.
  • Apps are built by programmers and designers. Applications are built by communities.


Please contribute to the list and share it with your app junkie neighbor. Support the development of rich and meaningful applications.