Archive for film promotion

Friday Links

I’m in the midst of transitioning from working on one article to starting work on another, so I’ve had a little more time this week to keep up with what’s happening online.  That’ll change soon, when I get my first set of papers, but for now, here are a few links:

  • Greg Gutfield mocks the “diversity police” for complaining about the lack of diversity among this year’s top nominees: no female director nominees, and all of the acting nominees are white.  Gutfield’s complaints are obviously meant to trivialize these complaints.  He jokes that a “diversity specialist” would cast a Korean lesbian to play Mark Zuckerberg, for example, but in doing so, he obscures the fact that a large percentage of the U.S. population rarely sees aspects of their daily experiences depicted onscreen.
  • Within the same context, Patrick Goldstein responds to readers who complained when Goldstein criticized the Oscars for a lack of diversity.  Goldstein’s key point is that there is a lack of diversity within “the Hollywood studio elite.”
  • Via Christine Becker, a discussion of Netflix’s latest PR strategy to combat increasing broadband costs.
  • Also via Christine, executives at Hulu are reconsidering their business model.
  • I missed Life in a Day when it premiered online earlier this week (and it appears that a second scheduled screening will not be available for U.S. audiences), but a number of other film critics and social media observers took a look.  Christopher Campell of Cinematical compares the film to Godfrey Regio’s Qatsi trilogy, but notes that rather than a collaborative project, the clips are subsumed under director Kevin MacDonald’s narrative vision.  Jason Silverman at Wired writes that he found the film to be “a groundbreaking piece of cinematic assemblage.” New Tee Vee offers some background on the filmmakers who were invited to attend the festival and reminds us that all of the footage has been compiled into a searchable channel on YouTube.
  • Jim Emerson responds to critics of Roger Ebert’s most recent article on 3-D cinema.  Probably Emerson’s most significant point is the degree to which many complaints descend into ad hominem attacks against Ebert rather than addressing his arguments.  I’m not particularly a fan of 3-D and I find it annoying that it has been used as an artificial tool for raising ticket prices (and, in some sense, getting audiences to help subsidize the conversion to digital projection in theaters).  But I’ll point out that Ebert and Murch likely underestimate the degree to which many audience members can (and have) adjusted to watching 3-D movies.  That doesn’t mean we necessarily prefer it.
  • Ted Hope has a post about the Kevin Smith “controversy,” reading his decision to self-distribute as reflective of indie cinema’s “refusal to ask others for permission.”  He also has a list, compiled by Orly Ravid, of all of the Sundance films that already have distribution deals.


Wednesday Links

I don’t have anything to say about Sundance or the Oscars that hasn’t already been said.  I liked The King’s Speech way more than I expected, so I’m happy to see it get multiple nominations.  Exit through the Gift Shop was fun and inventive, and I’d imagine that a Banksy Oscar reaction would be sort of fun.  It’s not terribly surprising that no women were nominated for director, I guess, now that Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar win has brought us to Hollywood gender utopia.  Otherwise I’ll be watching Oscar for the jokes.  So instead, here are some links:

  • Roger Ebert recently revived the talk about why 3-D will never work by posting a letter by Walter Murch.  The short version is that our eyes would have to eolve to accept current 3-D projection as natural.
  • Kristin Thomposon covers similar territory in a two-part series talking about some of the challenges of 3-D.  Thompson correctly highlights audience disaffection at the higher prices and the sloppiness of most 3-D conversions.  But the meat of her second post draws from James Cameron’s discussion of his plans to convert Titanic into 3-D, where he describes the process as a craft (and a highly subjective one at that).
  • Of course, domestic audience response to 3-D is only a small part of the equation.  As Patrick Goldstein points out, many films that fizzle in the U.S., including the Jack Black adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels, rake in the money overseas, thanks in part to the use of 3-D.  Goldstein adds that this overseas market may partially explain why studios have less interest in making dramas.
  • Google is buying Fflick, a tool that makes movie recommendations based on information in people’s Twitter feeds, illustrating the degree to which “content discovery” will be based upon targeted, individualized recommendation algorithms that draw drom data compiled from social media networks.  It’s tempting to read something like this as further evidence of the degree to which media conglomerates are involved a “programming of the self,” but I think these privacy dynamics are a bit more complicated (Jeff Rice has an engaging post on the complaints about Facebook’s privacy policies).
  • CNET has a brief discussion of Netflix’s plans to buy streaming rights to Warner Brothers films when their agreement with HBO expires in 2014.  Given the corporate ties between Warner and HBO, it seems unlikely to happen, but it’s a story worth watching none the less.
  • Ted Hope points out that Lance Weiler has infected Sundance with a Pandemic.
  • Some of the loudest buzz coming out of Sundance has been the reaction to Kevin Smith’s 26-minute discussion of his distribution plans for Red State.  Smith is planning to distribute the film on his own, a plan that may include a national screening tour.  Matt Singer at IFC praises Smith for his candid discussion of Hollywood economics while Patrick Goldstein suggests that Smith’s comments will make too many enemies, making it difficult for him to sustain an indie film career (at least within the indie industry).  Smith, of course, saves a little venom for the critics who have negatively reviewed many of his films.  Hoping to say more about Smith when I’ve had time to watch the video later this week.


Gabler, Elitism, Cultural Taste

I belatedly came across Neal Gabler’s frustrating Boston Globe editorial,”The End of Cultural Elitism,” via A.O. Scott’s response in the New York Times.  In essence, Gabler finally seems to wake up to the existence of Internet-based criticism, prompting him to make the argument that we have reached what he calls “the democratization of cultural influence.”  Thus, Internet-based critics now stand on a level playing field with high-brow tastemakers such as “media executives, academics, elite tastemakers, and of course critics.”  Gabler deftly avoids taking a qualitative stand on the implications of this shift.  The Internet enables word-of-mouth to circulate endlessly, allowing everyday people to counteract the imposed hierarchies of cultural taste.

It’s a nice story, I guess, but it’s also one that makes its arguments on the basis of some rather slippery generalizations.  First, as one of the commenters in this forum points out, Gabler conflates taste with popularity, in order to make his case that movie and TV audiences are ignoring the critics and other elite tastemakers.  In doing so, he offers two main examples that are worth considering.  First, he uses American Idol to make the case that musical taste has been democratized.  There is a partial point to be made here.  We can vote for Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, or Jennifer Hudson, but winning Idol has never been a guarantee of a successful musical career, and our tastes as viewers/voters are, in fact, deeply shaped by the comments of the critics who judge each performance.  Although voters may initially defy the pronouncements of the judges, they also participate in a highly-sponsored spectacle, one that depends on the marketability of young pop vocalists.

His second example, The Social Network is even more problematic in that, despite Gabler’s claims, the film has been relatively successful at the box office given that it is a drama targeted primarily toward an adult audience, one without any marketable stars.  But Gabler glosses the fact that word-of-mouth has generally been fairly positive when it comes to The Social Network.  We might also look at True Grit, a relatively low-budget Coen Brothers film that has achieved a combination of relative box office success and critical acclaim, both among the tastemakers and audiences.

But Gabler’s most questionable point, for me at least, was his claim that Rotten Tomates and Ain’t It Cool News represent the most powerful examples of this new form of democratization, opposing the influence of “the tonier critics” who no longer have the same influence.  Of course, Rotten Tomatoes (like IMDB and other movie sites) aggregates critical reviews, many of them by critics working for “elite” publications such as The New York Times.  And, although AICN started well outside of the power structures of the Hollywood studio system–Harry Knowles was quite literally the blogger in the basement–it is now firmly entrenched within those same institutions, getting access to early screenings and other promotional materials.  Gabler is careful enough to admit that cultural populism has always “fought” against top-down impositions of culture, but the suggestion of an antagonistic relationship between high and low culture obscures the overlap between the two.

With that in mind, I found A. O. Scott’s response somewhat refreshing, although a second look raises some questions.  First, I think Scott is correct to question how Gabler defines “the elite.”  Scott challenges the idea that critics are imposing cultural taste, instead arguing that it’s a media industry marketing machine that performs the imposition of culture.   And in some sense, I agree with Scott that culture industries manufacture hype that can be used to bring crowds into movie theaters and theme parks and to sell DVDs and cheap plastic toys.  But I think Scott may push his point a little far when suggests that the marketers “manipulate the habits and tastes of consumers.”  Such a claim implies that viewers have little to no agency in negotiating their relationship with culture or making choices about how they respond to the movies and TV shows they do consume. Scott’s argument builds to a conclusion that echoes traditional culture industry arguments in concluding that the marketing of Hollywood fare deceptively provides users with the illusion of choice and freedom and that the critic (or public intellectual more broadly) offers one of the only possible disruptions of this process.

Part of my hesitation is due to the fact that, in some cases, critics are in fact complicit in this process.  Critical acclaim for The Social Network, True Grit, or even Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight can, in some cases, fit within the network of hype that Scott seems to distance himself from.  This doesn’t mean that critics shouldn’t participate in this media ecosystem, and it certainly doesn’t mean that critics are irrelevant (as Gabler surmises).  Critics, many of them affiliated with what Gabler might describe as “elite” institutions, continue to play a vital cultural role in shaping and contributing to our conversations about culture.  And popular culture can often provide us with a powerful vocabulary for talking about other social and political issues.  But I think we lose quite a bit when some of those same critics make such sweeping historical and cultural generalizations that we lose out on the specificity and diversity of practices taking place within critical culture.

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More than Gift Shops

I’m winding down from a short trip to Orlando, where Andrea and I (along with her daughter) spent the New Years Eve weekend visiting the two halves of the Universal Studios theme park (by the way, we were actually in Islands of Adventure when a small fire broke out on one of the rides), followed by an evening trip to Downtown Disney (in what is now a tradition of fun New Year’s adventures).  It’s the first time I’ve been to an amusement park in (quite possibly) twenty years, and the first time since high school that I attended a theme park that is explicitly connected to a movie studio.  When visting Orlando (or Universal Studios in general), it’s easy to see why authors might be tempted to embrace Jean Baudrillard’s arguments about simulation: the parks and the city itself seem to be entirely populated with artificial representations.  The Harry Potter section of Islands of Adventure almost seamlessly simulates the powerful blend of past and present Britishness found in J.K. Rowling’s novels and in the movies.  Artificial snow drapes the rooftops of some of the shops (or shoppes); fake owls hover in one of the restaurants; and street vendors hawk (extremely tasty butter beer).  The ride simulations, especially The Mummy and Spider-Man, create the sensation of actually inhabiting the worlds of the movies and graphic novels, allowing riders to feel the effect of swinging from building to building or of descending deeper into the hidden chambers alongside of Brendan Fraser.

It’s also very easy to see how people can criticize these parks and the city as beacons of consumerism.  It’s easy to spend hundreds of dollars paying for park admission, parking, food (the meal pass appeared to be a good money saver, but it wasn’t really *that* helpful), and, of course, souvenirs.  In addition to the butter beer, one can also buy wizard wands, capes, and other foods related to the Harry Potter franchise.  And of course, almost every ride exits through the gift shop (to echo the title of a recent documentary), where you are presented with pictures of you and your family enjoying (or reacting to) the rides, presenting you with (a simulation of?) family enjoyment that you can also purchase.  Downtown Disney itself straddles this line.  It’s not part of the actual park, but it offers a kind of simulation of the public square where customers can walk along streets or sidewalks watching “street performers” and other activities that you might see in a “real” city.

But I think we lose quite a bit of specificity in viewing these spaces as mere simulations or as ideological ruses designed to lure in tourist dollars, especially the international tourists who filled our hotel to capacity (rather than visting other parts of the world).  After visiting the parks, I’m not quite sure I have a good  answer to that question.  Certainly I enjoyed the rides.  The Simpsons ride simulation managed to be both incredibly funny and a thoughtful engagement with the show. and the Terminator 3-D show provided an impressive visual spectacle, one that used 3-D relatively well.  Other sections creatively engage our interest in the ways in which cinematic illusions are created.  One of these shows, the Horror Makeup Show (in which Andrea “volunteered” to participate in a couple of stunts) demonstrates how some blood and guts effects are produced, providing viewers, participants, or visitors with a small degree of “insider knowledge” while also linking the park to Hollywood’s past (the show’s hosts make reference to Hitchcock and other Golden Age horror filmmakers).  Similarly, Disaster invites users to “star” in a disaster movie directed by a hologrammatic auteur played by Christopher Walken.  Volunteer “actors” from the crowd of various types are placed in basic costumes and shot in front of a green screen in order to create the effect of being in a disaster movie, allowing you (in the cheery rhetoric of the ride’s web page to make “your big screen debut!”  Again, it’s kind of a crash course in Filmmaking 101 and allows for some form of participation in and movement through a motion picture.

These “ride shows” make explicit something that is prevalent in many–though not all–of the rides and shows at Universal, a form of direct address to the consumer-visitor that is not quite as evident in the movies themselves.  While waiting for various rides, characters (or actors) will directly address the visitors, alerting them to safety rules and other aspects of park etiquette.  In fact, part of what made the Simpsons ride work so well is the fact that these “rules” could be seamlessly integrated with clips from past episodes of the show in which Homer and family visited the Krustyland amusement park, itself a sly parody of Disney World, one that allows Universal to claim a level of “edginess” ostensibly not present in their perpetually cheery rival.

Because I haven’t had a chance to visit them, I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about how theme parks fit within a wider entertainment culture, and after two days visiting Universal parks, I’m now curious to engage even further with the dynamics enacted within the park.  Yes, the parks do create some form of illusion.  Once the fire broke out, it was clear the spell was broken.  Although the fire was quickly contained and no one was hurt, the mere presence of black smoke was enough to drive people toward the park’s exit in a mass exodus.  And our ability to know how some effects are produced may not “inoculate” us against other ideologies produced by Hollywood.  However, it’s impossible to deny the pleasures of participation and engagement produced by the parks themselves.  I never felt like I was in Hogwarts while visiting the Harry Potter section.  My reaction was immediately “meta:” they did a good job of creating an illusion (a reaction that most reviews seem to express in one form or another).    In this sense, amusement parks extend the story in creative and engaging, if expensive, ways.

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Colombian Film Week

As I mentioned a couple of times, I recently had the opportunity to spend a few days in Bogota, Colombia, where I was invited to speak at the Semana del Cine Colombiano (Colombian Film Week), which gathered together a wide range of speakers who addressed some of the challenges facing filmmakers in Latin America who are seeking to gain wider distribution for their films. The symposium ended up being an incredibly thought-provoking experience, one that challenged me to rethink some of my assumptions about the role of digital distribution in reshaping the film market.  At the same time, I found myself drawing connections between the challenges that Latin American filmmakers face and the very similar challenges confronting independent filmmakers in the United States.  As a result, I am in the process of trying to think through some of these questions in what will hopefully be a more systematic fashion (perhaps in a journal article or something similar), but for now, here are some notes and other quick impressions that I was able to glean from my trip, which included attendance at the Premios Macundo, the Colombian Film Awards, designed to honor the best in Colombian filmmaking (for a basic overview of the Colombian film industry, Wikipedia offers at least a cursory discussion).

Perhaps the “meat” of the conference for me was getting a better sense of how film production and distribution works in Latin America.  Other speakers focused on the use of legal, economic, and ideological practices to sustain and encourage indigenous film production and consumption, and (as I’ll discuss in detail), it was impossible not to be impressed by some of the innovative practices that were being used to expand Latin American film culture.  The dominance of the Hollywood system around the globe is pretty well documented (see, for example, the book, Global Hollywood). But some numbers are worth mentioning here.  According to research presented by Paolo Goncalves, 8 of the top 10 highest-grossing films in Brazil came from the U.S. Similarly, 9 of the top 10 films in Argentina were U.S. films, while all of the top ten films in Mexico were made in the U.S.  In terms of shares of box office, Argentinian films constituted 16% of their country’s box office take, while Colombian films accounted for only about 4.8%, a problem that seems to have been exacerbated by attractions such as 3-D film.

One of the other challenges that speakers addressed was the small number of theaters available, especially outside of urban centers.  According to Goncalves, there is only one movie screen for every 91,000 residents of Brazil and one for every 81,000 Colombian, compared to a 1:8,000 ratio in the U.S. and a 1:10,000 in Ireland (a number that was relatively consistent across Europe).  Similarly, according to the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development, there are “only 19 movie theatres in Uruguay, of which 16 in Montevideo,” making access outside of urban centers extremely difficult, a point echoed in discussions of the Brazilian film industry (dozens of cities with over 100,000 residents in Brazil lack a single movie theater).  At the same time (or perhaps, in part, because of these limitations), piracy is rampant, with films circulating through unofficial channels, despite the somewhat incongruous presence of several Blockbuster Video stores throughout Bogota.

Although these numbers might be disheartening, especially for those of us seeking to foster a diverse audiovisual culture, I was impressed by the attempts to create alternative production, distribution, and exhibition practices that could provide greater access to Latin American films.  One compelling program was the Espacios INCAA, a program sponsored by the Argentinian government to encourage the construction of movie screens devoted exclusively to showing Argentinian films.  These screens are generally built near universities and in other city centers, offer lower ticket prices than theaters screening U.S. films, and seem designed to appeal to younger audiences who could, in theory, develop the habit of attending these films.  The program was successfully promoted on Twitter and Facebook and used social media to help build an audience for local films.  Although less focused on promoting local film, Brazil offers a similar incentive program to encourage building more movie theaters and expanding access to movie screenings.

One of the more commonly discussed practices was co-productions.  The most visible form of this activity was the Ibermedia Fund (English version), which is a joint project of 12 countries, including Spain, who all gave money to create a fund for which filmmakers could apply.  These projects would, if I understood correctly, have to be co-productions between two different countries.  One of the benefits, of course, is that filmmakers can draw from tax incentives from two different countries, while also allowing them to pool resources.  However, as a number of people observed, these co-productions are not always well-received for a number of reasons, in part because of the problems of incorporating creative personnel and/or settings from both countries into a single film.

Perhaps the most compelling attempt to rework film distribution was a Uruguayan initiative called Efecto Cine (official website) a traveling film exhibition series, which brought a series of ten Uruguayan films to the “outskirts of Montevideo and [to] 30 towns all over the country” using an inflatable screen (you can see some pictures of screenings and the set-up involved here).  These were free public screenings that anyone could attend–normally a ticket to a theater in Uruguay costs about $6.00 U.S.–and in just over four months, over 90,000 Uruguayans were able to attend a movie screening.

As an outsider, I was struck by the strong emphasis on theatrical distribution.  Given the increasing focus here on digital distribution, whether video-on-demand, Netflix, or iTunes, it would seem that digital technologies might provide an untapped resource, and to be fair, some panelists did address this potential, in particular, Steve Solot of Latin American Training Center, who pointed to the ongoing sense, in the United States at least, that the days of a “typical pipeline,” from theaters to cable and DVD, no longer exists.  Solot also noted that many distribution tools available in the U.S., such as iTunes, are not available in other countries, perhaps complicating the use of on-demand systems.  Still, Solot was especially attentive to the ways in which the challenges indie filmmakers face mirror those facing Latin American filmmakers (in fact, his organization works with the Independent Features Project).

Finally, the Colombian film awards, the Premois Macundo, served as yet another ideological approach for fostering Colombian film, in particular.  Because my Spanish is relatively weak, I was only able to get a partial understanding of what was happening at the Premios Macundo.  The awards, I learned later, were being run, for the first time, by the Colombian Academy of Motion Pictures, but it was interesting to see how the awards both corresponded to and diverged from ceremonies such as the Oscars.  The awards highlighted most of the familiar categories–best actor and actress, cinematographer, editing–but there were, if I understood correctly, three major film awards, one a kind of people’s choice award, another selected by the Academy, and a third selected by an international jury, with the latter award considered the most significant.  Although some might be tempted to lament the fact that the Colombian Awards seem to imitate the American awards, thus cementing them as a (good) model, I was struck by the ways in which the awards could function positively as means for promoting Colombian film, both within the country and abroad.  Both my fiancee and I were intrigued by a number of films, including Contracorriente (Undertow), and Los Viajes del viento (The Wind Journeys).

These comments risk scratching the surface of what is, in fact, a much more complicated set of industrial, governmental, and creative challenges and opportunities.  As usual, I was impressed not only by the vitality and creativity of the filmmakers but also of the people working to foster a vibrant Latin American film culture.

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Wednesday Links

Recovering from a cold, but hoping to put together a more substantial discussion of my trip to Bogota soon:

  • Jeff Deutchman’s crowdsourced documentary, 11/04/08, which assembles footage of people’s reactions to the election of Barack Obama as President, had a simultaneous premiere in approximately 20 cities the other day. The film will soon be available from Amazon, YouTube, and other online retailers.  Matt Dentler and Christopher Campbell have the details.  I missed the premiere because of travel, but I have to wonder how the documentary looks nearly two years after Election Day through the political lens of ongoing political and economic uncertainty.  Hoping to watch it soon.
  • Barack Obama joins Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project, addressing bullied and isolated gay teens with a message of comfort.
  • The LA Times has an interesting discussion of the reemergence of consumers choosing to rent rather than purchase movies on DVD (or in streaming formats).
  • David Poland cites the Kickstarter success story, Blue Like Jazz.  One of the commenters suggests that Jazz’s success may be tied to its appeal to Christian audiences.  No matter what, raising over $300,000 online for a movie is an impressive achievement.  Hoping to have more to say about this project soon.
  • Anthony Kaufman’s latest “Industry Beat” column discusses the ongoing indie crisis, with one indie producer, Michael London, suggesting that making independent “movies has become more a hobby than a livelihood.”
  • Fun video of the day: an indie director and Charlie Chaplin fan comes to the conclusion that he has spotted a time traveler on a cell phone at the premiere of one of Chaplin’s films.  Needless to say, commenters at Cinematical are skeptical.
  • Scary video of the day: Citizens Against Government Waste uses race-baiting fear tactics to persuade us that progressives are in the process of destroying the American economic empire.  The video plays like a cross between the Apple 1984 ad and the sequel to Red Dawn.
  • Netflix is investing bigtime in streaming content, with a tab that might exceed $2 billion (h/t Chris Becker).


Crowdfunding “An Affair”

A friend of mine (and a talented filmmaker), Chris Hansen (here are my reactions to his previous two films, Clean Freak and American Messiah), is currently planning his third feature-length film, An Affair, a drama that explores what happens when two married strangers meet up at a lonely motel and develop an instant attraction.  Like many indie filmmakers, Chris is seeking to raise support for the film through Kickstarter, a crowdfunding website, where filmmakers can pitch their ideas and seek donations from people who are interested in seeing the film get produced.  You can check out Chris’s pitch below.

According to Chris, An Affair was scripted in a highly-collaborative fashion with the two lead actors.  Also worth noting, the film itself will be produced in part by his students at Baylor University.  It looks like an engaging movie, and Chris has promised a number of gifts to thank you for your donation, so if you’re a fan of character-driven indie film, give Chris’s movie (or any number of Kickstarter projects) a look and consider supporting his film.

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Monday Links

What I’ve been watching, reading, and thinking about over the weekend:

  • Via Henry at Crooked Timber, Donald Duck Meets Glenn Beck, a brilliant remix of dozens of Disney cartoons from the 1930s to the ’60s.  Let’s hope Disney’s lawyers respect this as an example of a transformative work, one that falls well within the boundaries of fair use.
  • Since I haven’t had time to see the real “Facebook movie,” I thought I’d revisit the YouTube Movie trailer parody instead.
  • Spotted via Christine Becker’s News for TV Majors, Eric Deggans reflects on whether satire TV (of the Stewart-Colbert variety) can fix what ails our political system.
  • Hunter Weeks of 10 MPH discusses what he’s learned about DIY movie distribution.
  • With the planned release of 3D versions of Star Wars and Titanic, the LA TImes asks if studios are going too far with the gimmick.  Hollywood might just kill my desire to go to movie theaters after all.
  • The makers of the ElfQuest graphic novel have gotten behind a fan-produced and crowdfunded 1-3 minute internet trailer based on the novel (the rights to a film is currently held by Warner).  Not only have they given the filmmakers their blessing, they are donating artwork and promising personal phone calls to anyone who donates at the VIP level.


Friday Links

Here’s a wide range of reading and viewing for your early weekend pleasure:

  • The first part of a series of videos on remix culture called, aptly enough, “Everything is a Remix.”  One of the strengths of the video is the argument that remix practices have a much longer history (note the persistent recycling of the bass line from Chic’s “Good Times”).  This video is really good on how we evaluate the quality of remixes, so this is certainly a project that is well worth following (update: via Film Doctor).
  • Given some of my interests, I’m bummed that I haven’t come across Aina Abiodun’s Film Futurist blog sooner, but her recent discussion of three new movies that negatively depict social networking and/or the internet is well worth a read.
  • The Vulture has an interview with Werner Herzog about his new 3-D documentary about cave paintings (which I can’t wait to see).  Keep reading for the section where he explains his distaste for Avatar, in part because he is “allergic against group sessions of yoga.”  Speaking of 3-D: here is a little more skepticism about the appeal of 3-D storytelling, with Jeffrey Katzenberg calling for more films that “look good” in 3-D, while a DirecTV casts 3-D TV as a “niche” product for the foreseeable future.
  • Matt Dentler links to and analyzes a recent study that observes (among other things) that 37% of Netflix subscribers aged 25 to 34 use Netflix’s streaming service as a substitute for pay cable.
  • Here is an interesting documentary short about the success of Threadless Tees, the online T-shirt company that sells uniquely designed shirts.  It’s pretty celebratory, but the exploration of design culture is worth watching.
  • Via News for TV Majors, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are organizing rallies in Washington, DC.  Stewart’s rally is a Rally to Restore Sanity, while Colbert’s planning a March to Keep Fear Alive.  James Poniewozik and CNN have all the details. It may jut be time for a “research trip” to our nation’s capital.
  • The LA Times also has a discussion of the promotional plans for Paranormal Activity 2.


Next Saturday Links

Thanks to a much busier week than usual, I’m just now catching up with some of my online reading, but here are some worthwhile things I found over first two cups of coffee:

  • Fred Fox, Jr., author of the notorious “Jump the Shark” episode of Happy Days, defends himself against charges that the Fonz jumping the shark was the beginning of the end for that show, and describes his reaction to becoming one of the most notorious phrases in ad hoc TV criticism.
  • NewTeeVee asks whether smaller cable channels, such as The Hallmark Channel, might be squeezed out thanks to the recent negotiations over carriage fees between cable providers, such as Time Warner, and channels such as TNT and ESPN.  We have over 100 channels I’d never miss–The Military Channel, Hallmark, etc–so I understand the temptation to eliminate some, even if I’d like to see niche programming get more protection and support.
  • On a related note, NewTeeVee also explores the implications of cheap iTunes rentals of individual TV episodes for television.  They also offer an assessment of Hulu’s impact on broadcast TV.  Perhaps lost in all of this is the impact of box sets of TV series, which now seem almost transitional as we look at how audiences access TV now.
  • David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson have a compendium of useful essays from their blog that address topics covered in Introduction to Film classes.  These blog posts might serve as useful supplements to pretty much any Introduction to Film textbook and serve as a useful reminder of how the blogosphere is cultivating new forms of film criticism (rather than killing it as many critics have recently claimed–more on this in a longer blog post).
  • I’ve been following Scott Rosenberg’s series defending the practice of linking with quite a bit of enthusiasm.  He is responding to Nicholas Carr’s assertion that linking serves as a form of distraction, one that inhibits understanding, rather than aiding it.  Rosenberg’s third post is especially useful in that it provides a brief taxonomy of what kinds of textual effects links can have.  In general, links offer new, more visible and more immediate forms of engagement, allowing us to connect with others who have similar interests.
  • Interesting discussion with indie filmmaking expert Peter Broderick on the future of festivals and much more (via Documentary Tech).
  • Also from Documentary Tech, news that the Freakonomics documentary will be released via iTunes before coming to an art house theater near you.  To be honest, I’m not sure that this move is all that surprising or unusual for a film dedicated to such a specific (if relatively wide) niche.  The point, especially for indie films and documentaries, seems to be to provide multiple access points and to entice audiences to view the film on the platform of their choice.
  • Radiohead joins the Beastie Boys and Bon Jovi in turning their fans into amateur cinematographers.  Here’s the story: a group invited 50 concertgoers to record a live performance of the band using Flip video cameras that were then edited together into a concert video.  Kind of fun, right?  But what’s kind of cool here is the fact that Radiohead has given their Prague-based fans the actual soundboard recordings of the concert, turning what was originally an engaging amateur video into a band-endorsed concert film.  The DVD is available for free from the film’s website, with the band’s blessing.


Saturday Links

Now that the semester is a little over a week old, things have settled down a bit, and hopefully I’ll have time to blog more consistently.  Here are some of the things I’ve been reading, watching, and thinking about over the last few days:

  • Jonathan Gray has been blogging about the job search process for academics in media studies.  Thankfully, I’m not on the market this year, but I think this would have been incredibly useful for me when I was a graduate student.  His most recent post explains the very long and protracted time line for most searches, a process that almost makes electing a president seem efficient.  He introduces the series here.
  • I’m becoming increasingly fascinated and amused by the story about the Academy of Motion Pictures awarding Jean Luc Godard an honorary Oscar, alongside of Francis Ford Coppola (among others).  First, it’s nice to see Hollywood reward the director behind such challenging work, even when that work has often positioned itself in stark opposition to the Hollywood system.  But now that the news is out, the Academy can’t seem to find Godard, who has yet to comment on the recognition.  I can’t really imagine him actually attending the Oscars but will enjoy seeing this story play out.
  • Ralph Macchio (and others, including Molly Ringwald and Micheal Lerner) have fun with Macchio’s nice guy image in this Funny or Die video.  The “intervention” scene at the beginning is especially clever.
  • Cinematical has the latest on YouTube’s experiments with delivery of full length motion pictures.  The latest: it appears they are making more of an effort to enter into the Hulu model of “free” access to ad-supported movies.
  • On a related note, Anthony Kaufman announces a series of articles that will address whether new modes of delivery can save the mid-level indie film.  As Kaufman points out, there are no easy answers here.
  • Via Chris Becker’s indispensable “News for TV Majors,” Judy Shapiro’s discussion of our “six-screen” future, as screens multiply beyond today’s TVs, PCs, and mobile screens.
  • Anne Thompson passes along the very cool announcement of the launch of SnagLearning, a platform of approximately 125 documentaries for classroom use at the middle and high school level.  On a quick scroll through, many of these films are well-tailored to students and worth reviewing for teachers and others interested in education.
  • Thompson also mentions two other links that may be of interest: a short documentary on the future of digital distribution from Game Industry TV and a discussion of the rise (in the visibility of?) of non-profit micro-cinemas.  Hoping to review both of these in the future for a longer post.

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Scott Pilgrim Knows the Weather

I’m becoming increasingly engaged by the Scott Pilgrim hype, in part because of the self-aware nature of much of the promotional material, including the “interactive trailer” that I mentioned a few days ago.  What seems to work well, for me at least, is that the advertising seems especially adept at engaging multiple audiences–Michael Cera fans, nostaglic gamers, fans of the original comic book–in pretty creative ways.  But one of the oddest bits of promotion I’ve seen features Jason Schwartzman and Micheal Cera doing the weather forecast for Atlanta’s Fox affiliate.  It’s funny and just a little strange, especially for me, as a former Atlanta resident.

Although this promotional segment can’t be said to have been “authored” by the filmmakers behind Scott Pilgrim, it’s fun to watch Schwartzman and Cera playing with the relatively naturalized codes we associate with weather forecasting: reading high and low temperatures, detailing the five-day forecast, and standing by as busy, often surreal graphics play in the background, with the two of them having the most fun with a school bus that incongruously shoots past several times. In places, Cera seems a little lost, standing on the periphery of the screen, but it did make me laugh several times.


Sunday Links

Here’s what I’ve been reading and watching and playing over my Sunday morning coffee:

  • I’ll admit that I knew little about Scott Pilgrim comic book series before production on the film began, but now that it’s due to reach theaters, I’m intrigued by some of the clever marketing and promotional techniques they’re using.  The interactive trailer for the film seems to fit perfectly with Scott Pilgrim’s unapologetically geeky spirit.  What seems especially notable here is that much of the supplemental material that normally would have been put on the DVD (making-of documentaries, director’s remarks, cast interviews) is now being repurposed as promotional material (danger: you really could spend an afternoon playing with the interactive trailer).  NewTeeVee has an excellent discussion of how the interactive trailer was produced.  On a related note, these fictitious movie posters–based on the action-film career of one of the movie’s key characters–are also goofy fun.
  • Via Deadline Hollywood Daily, an interview with James Cameron about the Avatar sequels and about his process in producing some of the “extra” scenes for the Avatar DVD.
  • Cinematical also has a discussion of the trailer for “internet sensation” Fred Figglehorn (played by Lucas Cruikshank)  and the planned Nickelodeon movie, simply titled Fred: The Movie.  Fred’s videos receive millions of views on YouTube, which suggests this could turn into a sleeper hit.
  • Martin Scorsese discusses why he is doing more TV work, including directing episodes of a series for HBO.
  • Jim Emerson provides yet another overview of the responses to Christopher Nolan’s Inception.
  • Cinematical has a discussion of Fox’s decision to participate in BlogHer.  Money quote: Fox executive Mary Daily remarked that “”mommy bloggers are the most fertile marketing demo to come along since comic book geeks.”  Related: Steven Zeitchik discusses this week’s box office battle between Julia Roberts and Sylvester Stallone in terms of the genders of their target audiences.  Hoping to come back to this issue in a longer post later today.

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Friday Links

I finally caught Inception last night and may have more to say about it later.  My basic impression of the film was that it was more clever than good.  The dream sequences seemed far too linear and scripted and far too much like 1980s action movies–cue the snow chase scene with explosives–to be convincing as dreams, unless you’re Michael Bay, I guess.  Still, the concept of implanting thoughts in people’s dreams is an interesting one and  plays with some of the tropes of the conspiracy thriller.  More on that soon, but for now, here are some links:

  • Jason Sperb offers an excellent reading of the overuse of the word “maverick” when discussing independent filmmakers.  It echoes one of the beefs I have with defining “independence” as an intangible category, a la the Independent Spirit Awards, but he also points to the strengths of two recent studies of independent film production by James Mottram and Sharon Waxman.
  • Inside Redbox offers an interesting tidbit that actually offers me some encouragement: apparently public libraries lend more movies than either of their major competitors, Redbox or Netflix.  These numbers don’t include Netflix’s streaming service, which would change these overall numbers considerably (and I’m a little skeptical of their methods for counting the number of movie “rentals”), but it’s easy to forget that libraries are a major source of media content.
  • Speaking of Redbox, they are starting to move more assertively toward offering a small selection of Blu-Ray discs in their kiosks at a price of $1.50 per day, rather than the $1.00 price for normal DVDs.  Also related, more information on the cost differences between streaming video and mailing DVDs for Netflix (see also NewTeeVee).
  • Ted Hope has a thoughtful post weighing the “filter problem” that challenges both consumers and producers of independent film.  Hope’s central question is one that has haunted indie filmmakers for a while now: “when we all have over 1000 films on our To Watch list, how do we begin to make a choice?”  See also Hope’s Curator’s Note at In Media Res, which presents a short clip associated with Braden King’s transmedia project, Here.  The YouTube clip accompanying the note is engaging, and as Hope argues, it’s crucial to expand our definition of transmedia storytelling beyond the genre texts (The Matrix, etc), with which its typically associated.  Perhaps one (limited) answer to Hope’s question is that we all contribute to the process of finding, discussing, and curating the stories that interest us whenever possible.
  • Documentary Tech has a series of posts about what promises to be an intriguing documentary, Nathaniel Hansen’s The Elders.  The most recent post offers a flavor of the interviews Hansen has conducted, while an older post traces Hansen’s fund raising efforts through Kickstarter and the audience response to some of the interviews he had posted online.  But like many recent documentaries, Hansen seems to be succeeding in combining online and film content.
  • And in news that has my inner-documentary fanboy grinning, Helvetica and Objectified filmmaker Gary Hustwit has announced the third film in his “design trilogy,” Urbanized, a film focused on issues of urban design.

Update: I missed this before, but Cinematical has an article about SnagFilms’ second annual Summer Fest, an online program of new documentaries posted prior to their television or theatrical debuts.  The lead-off film, The Age of Stupid, did have a one-day event screening, a simultaneous premiere in dozens of cities across the US and beyond, but many of the planned films are relatively new, including Videocracy, a documentary I caught at this year’s Full Frame.

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Friday Links: YouTube, Netflix, Kickstarter

I’m now in serious countdown mode for our trip to Spain (just over two weeks to go), which is making it a little more difficult to focus on research stuff, but here are some of the film and media links I’ve been following over the last couple of days:

  • I missed it until now, Raymond De Felitta has been blogging the production of his film, City Island, for Salon and on his own personal blog, Movies Til Dawn.  The film stars Andy Garcia and Julianna Margulies, and I’m hoping to see it this weekend at our local art house.  Especially of interest, a post De Felitta made a few months ago when one of his producers compained about him posting “behind-the-scenes” footage from the set on his blog.  As he suggests, the producer’s concern about “bad” publicity is reasonable, but these clips (which would typically become DVD extras) can now serve as a means of building a connection with the moviegoing audience.  De Felitta’s honesty and thoughtfulness about this process is impressive, and the entire production blog is worth a read.
  • Ted Hope offers a pointer to a Coffee and Celluloid post by Joey Daoud on the positives and negatives of Kickstarter as a resource for crowdfunding movies.  Although Daoud recognizes the value of resources such as Kickstarter, he also points out that links and publicity didn’t always translate into donations.  He also points to a number of success stories, including Diaspora, a project focused on web privacy, which vastly exceeded their fundraising goal.
  • Via NewTeeVee, Netflix crunches the numbers on the future of video rental and concludes that DVD-by-mail will peak in 2013, when it will then be supplanted by streaming video, but what interests me is the fact that DVD-by-mail will remain a significant part of their business for the foreseeable future, at least until 2018 or so.  Still, they’re pushing the idea of streaming as the primary alternative really hard.  One other notable element that I missed: Netflix has plans to expand internationally starting in 2010 (scroll deep into the slide presentation, but apparently this has been on the horizon for a while).
  • Odd historical quirk of the day: the first megaplex built in the US, AMC The Grand 24, will be closing down after just fifteen years of operation.  The comments at The Hot Blog show how contested these sites are.  Although one commenter argues that the lack of any architectural creativity makes it impossible to lament the megaplex’s closure, others point out that the sentiment attached to the location may be associated with fondly remembered moviegoing experiences.
  • Via Documentary Tech, discussion of a recent report that shows that YouTube videos typically have half of their overall views within six days of being posted.  As the Documentary Tech writer speculates, this raises significant challenges for content creators interested in long-term engagement with their audiences, but it may also reflect a bias on YouTube toward current events and news commentary posted to the website.  It might also reflect the rising role of social media such as Twitter and Facebook in filtering and disseminating interesting, timely content (or that social media have a bias against older content in favor of being more timely).
  • The latest big-name director to step into the crowdsourcing fray: Luc Besson, according to The Hollywood Reporter.  Besson’s invites audiences to vote on all elements of the film from casting to script to music. Thriller? Comedy? You decide.