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Thursday Links

Or, yikes, it’s almost August!  Fall semester is on the horizon, which will give me yet another ball to juggle, but here are some new film and media links:

  • Mary Madden has a new report for the Pew Internet & American Life Project reporting that online video consumption has increased dramatically over the last two years.  Some quick notes: 62% of adult internet users have now watched an internet video, nearly doubling the percentage from December 2006, while “89% of internet users ages 18-29 watch content on video sharing sites.” These claims seem to echo research by Forrester that discovered that approximately 25% of web users watch some TV online, although only 13% watched TV online “at least once per month.”
  • It’s still somewhat unclear, however, how “ancillary” content, such as webisodes, plays into fan experiences of TV shows.  In an (admittedly unscientific) survey at ComicCon, one NewTeeVee reporter found that many of the Lost Super-Fans she polled watched these episodes infrequently or not at all.
  • “Daily” blogger David Hudson has found a new home with and a slightly newer format with The Auteurs, one of the more compelling movie portals offering free classic and independent films in a quality streaming format.  Instead of David’s usual extended links posts, he is now doing quick links on Twitter supplemented by a daily recap of the most important or engaging film reads of the day.
  • Speaking of The Auteurs, I’m strongly considering the possibility of assigning films exclusively or semi-exclusively from their catalog.  Because there isn’t an easy way for me to requite students to watch films uring a lab or at a university screening, having something like The Auteurs available might make it easier to ensure that students can find the movies I want to teach.   Skimming the first couple of pages of their catalog, I can see at least three films–Citizen Kane, Blade Runner, and Breathless–that I normally teach.  At the very least, it looks like a great resource for the teaching of (classical Hollywood and European, especially) film.
  • Patrick Goldestein has an interesting report on a failed viral marketing effort by Fox to promote their teen romantic comedy, I Love You Beth Cooper, in which the film company paid Kenya Mejia $1800 to end her valedictory address with the declaration, “I love you Jack Minor!”  The video features the usual shaky camera and other markers of autehnticity (including a fake narrative in the video’s description), but it all just comes across as clumsy and forced, in part, I think, because of Mejia’s discomfort in delivering the line.  And it had the overall effect of making me less interested in seeing Beth Cooper, if that’s possible.  The Wall Street Journal–significantly another News Corp property–got to the story first.

Update: Via Michael Newman on Twitter: the Outlet Wall is a brilliant solution to your “cord clutter.” The comments are recommended.

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Tuesday Links

Blogging from the Java Divine coffeehouse in Holly Springs while waiting for my girlfriend.  I’ve been planning some longer posts about some of my summer research projects, but will start with a few links:

  • I continue to be interested in watching how film and music festivals are adapting to the emergence of online video.  Via the editor’s blog at Film in Focus, I’ve just learned that Sundance will be hosting a virtual screening room of original short films by Sundance Directors Lab alumni, including Ryan Fleck, Anna Boden, and Tamara Jenkins. Sundance, of course, is now much more than a festival and is, instead, a cable channel, a trining ground, and even an institution responsible for participating in the ongoing redefinition of “independent” filmmaking.  Worth noting: the Sunance Institute defines the Screening Room in pedagogical terms, with Director of the Feature Film Program at the Michelle Satter emphasizing that she hopes the YouTube videos will “provide a window into the creative process of our new discoveries and showcase the early work of leading independent filmmakers who have emerged from the Labs in previous years.”
  • Via Matt Dentler, I learned about Jim Killeen’s documentary, Google Me, which uses the hook of vanity Googling to explore the significance of sharing a name with another human being, possibly someone on the other side of the world.  All of the Jim Killeens (including the film’s director) featured in the film are charming, interesting guys, but I’m not sure that Google Me covered any ground that wasn’t already addressed in Alan Berliner’s superior The Sweetest Sound.  Although the latter was made before Google became such a ubiquitous part of contemporary culture, Berliner’s film seemed more adept at navigating the relationship between names and identity.  That being said, Killeen’s film does gesture toward the ways in which Google functions to help us imagine a global “community.”
  • One of the richest texts I’ve encountered in a while is the video of Michael Wesch’s Personal Democracy Forum lecture, “Toward a New Theory of…Whatever.”  In addition to tracing shifts in the linguistic uses of “whatever,” Wesch offers a useful theory of community as it plays out on YouTube, including the impediments to true community, and the structurings of community through direct address of an implied audience (the idea that although YouTube vloggers often refer to their potentially universal audience, they speak to an essentially lifeless camera, often in an otherwise empty room).  I feel like I need to watch the lecture again to tease out all of the key details, but Wesch’s video is well worth the time.
  • I’ve been trying to squeeze in some time to read Scott Rosenberg’s Say Everything, his astutely titled book that sounds like an important contribution to the literature on blogging, but for now, here’s a quick pointer to his recent blog entry on how Twitter makes blogging “smarter.”  I tend to agree that Twitter’s focus on the immediate has led to fewer “link and (no) comment” posts on blogs, such as quick links to viral videos.  Of course, given that Twitter’s archives are often hard to search, I still tend to use these short links posts as a quick “first draft” for thinking about ideas I want to address either in essays or other longer texts.

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Wednesday Links

More film and media links to brighten a summer afternoon:

  • Lots of other film bloggers have mentioned it, but there’s a new issue of Senses of Cinema out.  As usual, a number of articles, festival reviews, and book reviews worth your time.
  • Salon and The Big Think have a nice little interview with Lizz Winstead, creator of The Daily Show.  Winstead talks about the origins of the show, which are tied to the first Gulf War in the 1990s and whether Stewart has more influence than other broadcast journalists, a question she takes apart by pointing out that mostcable news broadcasters generally engage in commentary rather than journalism.
  • Another video, this one a fake trailer for Roland Emmerich’s upcoming movie 2012, one that mocks the explosion-porn that has been dominating multiplexes in recent months.  Dennis, riffing off a comment from Drew McWeeny, speculates that the fake trailer, which is intended to parody action-film conventions, may actually have succeeded in further hyping the film and possibly increasing its opening-day box office.  I’m inclined to agree somewhat in that the parody my actually succeed in creating greater awareness of the film (which I knew nothing about).  And I think you can enjoy the parody here while still enjoying the explosions.
  • More video fun via Anne Thompson: a reminder that “The Beatles Were Terrifying.”
  • Also via Anne, a link to Flickchart, a new website that promises a better way to rate movies.  Instead of asking views to rank movies using 0-5 stars (or something similar), Flickchart “asks you to pick one movie over another.”  As you choose between two movies, a general ranking system emerges.  Hopefully I’ll have more to say soon when I can check out the site in further detail.  You can learn more about the website via the Flickchart blog.
  • Ted Hope joins the debate about Chris Anderson’s “Free” thesis, in part by calling for a more careful definition of what “free” really means. Still waiting for Anderson’s book to arrive in the mail,which I’m hoping to read during an upcoming plane trip.
  • Also worth checking out: a new report from the Center for Social Media that “traces how a committed group of volunteers harnessed the micro-blogging tool Twitter to create innovative public media 2.0 experiments.”  Again, I’ll try to provide a closer read soon, but given the contested role of Twitter in recent political discourse, this looks like an interesting read.

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Rethinking Indie

As I was wrapping up the semi-final draft of the book last summer, I began finding myself increasingly drawn to the ongoing debates about the future of independent movies in the age of digital media.  I addressed these issues briefly in a guest post published over at Big Screen Little Screen and managed to work some of these ideas into the conclusion of the book.  My post–and much of what I’ve written about the topic–was informed by Mark Gill’s keynote address at the 2008 Los Angeles Film Festival, in which Gill worried that the “digital revolution” would do irreparable damage to independent cinema.  Gill pointed to the closure of a number of major indie studios as a sign that the sky was (or is) falling, and the speech sparked an energetic debate about what counts as “independent cinema” and how digital distribution tools, in particular, were changing things.  Although these changes seem significant, a number of observers, including “Bob,” writing at the Indiepix blog, argued that these changes did not signify the end of indie cinema but merely pointed to a changing business model, one that is more dependent upon digital distribution practices such as video-on-demand and iTunes.

These issues were recently revisited, thanks in part to James D. Stern’s 2009 address at the Los Angeles Film Festival.  Given the ongoing economic turbulence and the notoreity of Gill’s 2008 speech, it’s probably inevitable that these questions remain at the forefront of conversations about independent cinema.  The financial crisis has been especially difficult for indie distributors and financiers, and the theatrical market for independent films continues to wither.  Stern makes the basic argument that making independent films will continue to be a challenge but that for filmmakers who wish to remain independent, the non-monetary pleasures (the “eggs,” to use his extended metaphor) are worth it.  But, as Stern hastens to add, digital distribution, including streaming video, may help soften these blows and evenprovide some alternatives, especially as apporaches such asNetflix, Hulu, and others continue to mature: “With streaming, we’ll all have the biggest video store imaginable, crammed into our little TV remotes, enticing us every time we turn on the set to make an impulse buy.”

That all sounds reasonable to me.  The internet has increasingly become a highly-efficient marketing (and vending) machine, anticipating our needs often well before we know we even have them, and in the case of Netflix’s finely-tuned, almost uncanny, recommendation algorithm, both anticipating and shaping our desires for entertainment.  And given Netflix’s vast database of movies available at a single click of the mouse, there are always more movies to recommend.  Those tools may do little to balance out the sheer number of movies and other forms of visual narrative being produced, but they can help shape groups of viewers around shared tastes and interests.

But what I’ve found interesting about the reception of Stern’s speech isn’t the question of whether these new models will work (although I think that’s an interesting, if loaded, question).  Instead, I’ve been intrigued to see how Stern’s speech has sparked a return to the debate about where independent films fit within the nexus of art and commerce.  These issues were originally raised by Eugene Hernandez, who was responding to both Stern’s address and the news that David Hudson would be leaving his post as author of the IFC Daily.  Eugene adds that indieWIRE has been receiving some criticism for spending so much space covering industry issues before pointing out the crucial role that David’s daily columns have served in fostering community within the film blog world.  Thus, although the commerce questions are important, I think Eugene is right to read indie film culture as an “artform” of sorts, one that produces a non-monetary value (the “eggs” Stern mentioned, maybe) for the people who participate in it.

Bob at the IndiePix blog tackles these questions more directly, essentially arguing that independent film is inseparable from commercial interests, even adding a third (possibly redundant) term, financing, to the balance.  To some extent, Bob is no doubt right.  Independent films, like any other form of “art,” cannot operate easily outside of commerce.  As Fellini stated in an oft-cited dictum, “When there is no money left, the film will be finished” (see, for example, this debate about Deleuze’s cinema books).  But I think that we’re also facing new challenges in thinking about how “independent cinema” is defined, especially as these new distribution tools, which were based in part on the model of a scarcity of theatrical screens, emerge.  Certainly terms like community are important, as Eugene observes, and there are a number of social tools–blogs, Twitter, Facebook–that help to perpetuate a certain version of indie culture, especially when financial or economic defintions of indpendent film remain cloudy.

I’m still in the early stages of thinking about some of these ideas, but I think the questions raised by Stern’s address are worth considering, especially as they help us to consider the tricky question of what it means to be “independent” in the age of social media.

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Marketing Etiquette in the Age of Social Media

Over at Crooked Timber, John Holbo has a question that is pertinent to my own experiences as a newly-published academic author.  Holbo, who has a co-authored (with Belle Waring) book on Plato coming out soon, asks about the thin line between marketing and spamming in the era of social media.  This is a concern of mine on a number of levels.  First, as someone who writes about digital cinema and the use of social media to distribute and promote independently-made films, I’m aware of the challenges that these filmmakers face in finding an audience for their films, and I try to review most of the DVD screeners I receive in a timely fashion.  I don’t always succeed, given the demands of teaching and research, but a polite, semi-original email doesn’t bother me at all, and I’ll at least consider writing a review.  The benefit for me is the opportunity to learn more about various forms of digital cinema and to see some interesting films that I might otherwise miss.

But now with my own book soon to appear in print–my author’s copies are stacked neatly on a table just a few feet from my computer–I find myself in the uneasy position of thinking about my own role as a marketer and what Holbo calls “the line between marketing and spamming.”  When I first mentioned that I had a book coming out, one (former) colleague suggested that I send a mass email to department chairs and others introducing myself in my book.  I immediately cringed at the idea, regarding that as a form of spam, one that would likely annoy potential future collaborators and colleagues.  But like Holbo, given that academic presses face tight budgets and difficult economic models, I do feel some obligation to support the marketing of the book.  This tension inspires Holbo to pose the question of what a theory of “just marketing” might look like when it comes to academic texts.

As one of the Crooked Timber commenters recommends, I’ve started a Facebook group for my book although I’m not yet sure what role the “group” will serve (a question that seems to haunt other academic authors who have started Facebook groups for their books).  So far, I’ve only invited people who are already listed as “friends” to join the group and I’ve seen some ripple effect where friends of friends have joined.  This approach seems relatively fair in that it allows people to opt-in.  Ignore or block the initial invitation and you won’t continue getting emails.  A blog, much like Matt Kirschenbaum’s for his book, Mechanisms, also seems like a useful way of promoting the book.  So this raises some questions: first, how has the marketing of academic books changed in the eraof Twitter, Facebook, and blogs? To what extent should academics market or promote their work? What’s the line between marketing and spam?  Some of the answers over at Crooked Timber have been enlightening, but I’d enjoy hearing from others on this issue.

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Friday Links

As many of my readers will likely know, David Hudson, one of the most prolific, attentive, and eclectic film bloggers out there is discontinuing his “Daily” blog, an indispensable resource where David would aggregate, and often comment on, the day’s most significant film links.  In doing research for my book and tracking resources for the classroom, David’s work, both at his old GreenCine blog and more recently at the IFC website, has been incredibly valuable.  David promises, in his final entry, to return soon to the film blogosphere, and although I’m enthusiastic about this new direction, I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that his work on the “Daily” will be missed.  Here are a few other links:

  • Chris Anderson, author of Free: The Future of a Radical Price, responds to Malcolm Gladwell’s critical review of his new book.  I’m still generally convinced by many of Gladwell’s reservations about Anderson’s argument (at least as it is articulated in Anderson’s Wired article from a few months ago).
  • Lance Weiler has a PowerPoint presentation on the film resource site, The Workbook Project, where he offers an overview of how filmmakers and others can use social media to “extend a story and generate a conversation around their work.”  The slideshow focuses on such case studies as Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, the Brave New Films website, and the expanded online world of the TV show Mad Men (which included characters from the show posting on Twitter).  Lance also has some useful numbers on the demographics of users of social media.
  • The Film Blog Calendar looks like a valuable resource, one that will hopefully help to aggregate special events, such as blogathons and themed weeks, making them more accessible for film blog readers and writers.
  • Adrian Martin has an intriguing editorial/rant about the popular bias built into IMDB.com (the Internet Movie Database, for those who dont know it).  Martin acknowledges that, for better or for worse, IMDB is probably going to be a major resource for film scholars, consumers, and cinephiles for some time before pointing out its maddening gaps, especially when it comes to independent, non-U.S., and avant-garde films.  This popular bias is, no doubt, informed by the fact that the site blurs the line between being a source of information and a location for the intense promotion of Hollywood films.  I do think that IMDB users can alleviate these biases to some extent by contributing to the site (whether by posting reviews or by aletring the site’s editors to omissions or errors), but Martin’s read is a good one.

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The Movie Book Meme, Part II

Here is the second half of my response to the book meme (here’s Part I in case you missed it).  Thanks again to The Film Doctor for tagging me and to Movieman0283 for suggesting such a productive meme.

  1. One of the books that I found myself constantly revisiting when writing the book was Barbara Klinger’s Beyond the Multiplex, one of the best books out there on the implications of watching movies at home. Klinger looks at a variety of phenomena including home theater systems, DVD collecting, repeat film viewing, and online videos shorts to consider shifts in viewing practices as movie watching increasingly migrates into the home.  In a similar context, I found myself learning a lot from Anna McCarthy’s Ambient Television, especially in her discussion of how TV, typically associated with the home, “shapes and often dominates public spaces.”  Although McCarthy primarily addresses television as a medium, her book helped me to make sense of the increasing significance of mobile devices (such as iPods) in accessing movie content.
  2. Another book that came to me as I was finishing Reinventing Cinema was John Thornton Caldwell’s Production Culture, which examines the “cultural practices and belief systems of Los Angeles–based film and video production workers.”  In particular, I found Caldwell’s analysis of “industrial self-reflexivity,” especially as it is expressed in DVD commentary tracks, making-of documentaries, promotional texts, and user-generated content, to be incredibly helpful.
  3. In addition to the many scholarly books that have been important to me, I’d also like to list some books that capture, at least in part, the pleasures of movie watching.  Few recent books on film are more readable than Mark Harris’s Pictures at a Revolution, a history of the five films nominated for Best Picture Oscars in 1968, a pivotal year not only in the history of Hollywood but in the larger political world. As a fan of Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate, two of the nominated films, I love the behind-the-scenes narratives that Harris masterfully weaves together.  As someone interested in the history of Hollywood, I find it an immensely readable resource.  Finally, Harris quietly captures the social and political change taking place while these films were being made.
  4. Although it’s a slightly flawed and clunky book, I’ve always liked Alberto Fuguet’s novel, The Movies of My Life, in which the protagonist, seismologist Beltran Soler, narrates the story of his life in relationship to movies that were important to him, both during his years living in the U.S. and his life in Chile.  Beltran starts his memoirs during a layover in a Los Angeles hotel room, a setting that seems apt for thinking about film’s powerful influence in our lives.
  5. Another book that taps into both my cinephilia and my appreciation of those who have written so eloquently about film is Philip Lopate’s indispensible collection, American Movie Critics: From Silents Until Now, a collection of film reviews dating from the earliest days of the genre to the present, at a moment when film criticism is itself rapidly transforming as some of our most insightful critics write not for newspapers and magazines but for blogs and other websites. The book is a great resource for tracing the debates about ongoing, but ever-changing, role of movies in our daily lives, as they played out on the pages of local and national newspapers and magazines.

I’m supposed to tag five other people, but I’m always hesitant to do that, so consider this an open invitation to join the meme.  When you do, be sure to link back to the origins of the meme at The Dancing Image.

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Tuesday Links

I’ve been out of the loop for the last few days thanks to a wonderful long weekend with Andrea in Atlanta, which included a Braves-Sox game, tours of the CNN Center and Coke Museum, and a sentimental trip to some favorite restaurants and hangouts.  If you’re ever in Atlanta, the CNN tour is probably worth checking out, although I was a little disappointed by its relative brevity.  Still, spotting Ali Velshi working the newsroom on his way to the anchor’s desk was sort of fun.  I’ve got a couple of other entries lined up, so hopefully, I’ll have some new (and substantive) content soon.  Now, for some links:

  • Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker review of Chris Anderson’s latest book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price, captures many of the reservations I’ve had about Anderson’s argument when I first encountered it in a Wired Magazine article a few months ago.  Essentially, Anderson argues that as bandwidth and server space becomes less expensive content creators can profit from giving away some of their content for free.  Gladwell, in his review, challenges a number of key assumptions in Anderson’s “technological utopian” argument, in part by deconstructing one of Anderson’s key case studies, YouTube, which still hasn’t shown a profit despite Google’s investment, and showing how giving content away for free often masks other costs.  I’ll try to write up a full review of the book when it comes out in July.
  • In the most recent issue of FlowTV, Ted Friedman offers a welcome corrective to some of the technological utopianism that has been swirling around the events in Iran in recent weeks, a celebration of Twitter and YouTube that sometimes swept me up in its massive scope.  However, as Frieman points out, there are only a small number of Twitter users among the thousands of protestors in Iran, and the cyberutopian rhetoric often obscures what supporters of Ahmadinejad may be doing with these social networks.  Finally, it has the potential to obscure some of the genuine, on-the-ground activity that may be taking place in the protests on behlaf of Mousavi.
  • One of the case studies I address in the book is the contest sponsored by Netflix, in which the video rental service invited people to create a better recommednation algorithm than their current version.  According to Cinematical, Netflix is ready to declare a winner of the $1 million prize.  Wired Magazine also discusses the contest, reporting that two front-running teams, Team Pragmatic Theory and Team Bellkor in Chaos, joined forces to create the winning algorithm.
  • The Scholarly Kitchen has an interesting discussion of the Impact Factor, a tool used to determine how much impact a sholarly book or journal has based on the number of citations in peer-reviewed journals.  The Schoarly Kitchen argues that such rubrics are now obsolete, given that citations can now appear anywhere, including tweets, blog posts, and Facebook status updates.  While these citations may not be equivalent with a mention in a peer-reviewed journal, theyoften do come from peers in the field.  This is something we’ve been talking about for a long time now at MediaCommons, but I think it is worth highlighting othes who are thinking about the ways in which digital media are enmeshed with questions of scholarly impact.
  • Finally, I’ll go on the record, about a week too late to matter, in saying that expanding the number of Best Picture nominees may do a little to open up a usually restrictive category to some non-traditional nominees.  As a number of people have noted, having ten nominees last year likely would have allowed popular and critical favorites, The Dark Knight and Wall-E, to get nominations.  This year, a successful, if overrated comedy such as The Hangover, could even be nominated, as Patrick Goldstein speculates in his analysis of the Oscar news.  The move might also allow documentaries and forign films to get nominated.  I’ll add that I’m not that concerned abut watering down the significance of a nomination (which seems like a relatively trivial issue for the most part), but it does have an intriguing marketing twist that allows five more films to use the little gold statuette in advertising and promotions.  For a low-budget indie or documentary, something like that could be pretty significant.

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Thursday Film Links

Ted Hope has a short, pointed response to MovieMaker Magazine’s list of 50 Best Websites for Moviemakers 2009. The list includes a number of terrific resources, although the list seems uneven, especially when it comes to naming Hollywood journalists.  Nikki Finke’s Deadline Hollywood Daily is fine, I suppose, but there are several other journalists and observers (Anne Thompson, Dave Poland, etc) I’d rather read.  Obviously, as Hope points out, some of this is the politics of competition, but Hope’s response to the omission of his own blog, Truly Free Film, a blog that consistently helps me think through the challenges and possibilities of digital cinema, opens up some of the questions that I have about these top ten or top fifty lists and the criteria behind them.

Because The Karate Kid was the first movie my family ever owned on VHS (and because it is, in fact, a hugely entertaining and well-made movie), my sister and I wore our copy out to the point that it was virtually unviewable, something beyond grainy.  With that in mind, I really enjoyed Craig Simpson’s blog essay about the film on The House Next Door (part of a longer series on films from the summer of 1984).  The essay succeeded in evoking my nostalgia for the film and even helped me to see it slightly differently.  And Simpson also points out what I regarded, even as a neophyte cinephile, as a couple of the key gaps in the film’s storytelling logic.  It’s a fun little diversion, even if I don’t quite feel the need to see KK again (while also reminding me of why I’ll skip the planned Jackie Chan remake).

David Poland offers a welcome corrective to the hype over the new independent production company, DF Indie.  I didn’t mention it in yesterday’s post, but the launch seemed a little hollow to me, and Poland offers a clear diagnosis for why something like DF Indie is so enticing for those of us who like smart, engaging films: “Because everyone is drooling over the possibility that someone somewhere has The Answer. And so false prophets are made real overnight, as the industry prays that its savior has arrived.” It’s in my nature to be cautiously optimistic about the possibility of a more vibrant indie film culture, and DF Indie simply represents the newest, shiniest possibility for that, but Poland’s right to call for some skepticism.

Scott Kirsner has links to two LA Times articles about what he calls the “digital media future.” First, a report that Hollywood has “hit the stop button” on investment in “high-profile” web video, complete with a sidebar story on web video businesses that have failed.  Second, Scott links to his own op-ed, in which he discusses potential business models for the web.  Scott sensibly compares the current economic crisis, in which revenue models remain hazy, to past crises, including the introduction of of television in the 1950s, and cites a couple of web-based success stories, such as Lance Weiler and Robert Greenwald and the guys at Jib Jab.  But I think he overstates his case a bit when he concludes, “Business models for content on the Internet are still evolving. But it’s already becoming clear that $100-million movies like “Land of the Lost,” or even $10-million independent films, may not represent the future of the industry. And new technologies like YouTube, the iPhone and next-generation gaming consoles are opening up all sorts of new, creative possibilities.”  I think he’s completely right to point to all of the new storytelling models that web video, iPhones, and their techy friends open up, but it’s hard not to see Weiler, Greenwald, and a few others as exceptions sometimes (or else these lists would be a lot longer).  I think it also underestimates how integrated the $100 million transmedia spectacle (like Land of the Lost) already is within these web video networks.  In fact, if anything, web video makes it easier for studios to immerse fans in the expanded worlds created by the major studios.

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Wednesday Links

A lot of offline activity at the home office of The Chutry Experiment this week, so many of these links are probably old news for some readers.  Still, as I mentioned in my previous post, blogging links helps me to think through ideas for longer projects.  Hopefully I’ll be a more diligent blogger soon.

One of the stories I’ve been following is the introduction of Movie Review Intelligence, a new film review aggregator along the lines of Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes.  Anne Thompson has agood discussion of the niche that MRI is trying to serve, pointing out that the site bills itself as giving more weight to prominent film critics such as Roger Ebert.  She also points out that many consumers of film reviews also now give more weight to aggregate scores rather than the reviews of one or two individual critics, which seems about right to me.  Even more significant, as this column by Thompson from a year ago suggests, many younger film fans are turning to studio-friendly sites for their information about what to watch.

Many of my readers have probably already seen the teaser for Michael Moore’s new documentary, a parody public service announcement in which Moore asks viewers to donate money to “Save our CEOs.” Although the teaser offers little specific detail about the new film, it seems like Moore at his populist best, fighting against the absurdities of the intersections between power and money and how they’ve played out during the bank bailout.  According to The Wrap, at the New York premiere of the teaser, Moore had “ushers representing Moore’s satirical organization” collect donations, which were then given to a local food bank.  Christopher Campbell has a nice roundup of links to articles talking about the teaser.  A nice bonus: Moore has also posted a video documenting the reaction of a NYC theater audience to the teaser.

Via NewTeeVee, a discussion of the fact that Netflix doesn’t offer subtitles or closed captions for their streaming videos, a problem that apparently affects web video in general.   Apparently, Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) introduced legislation that would require that web video be accessible to people with disabilities, but so far it has not been signed into law.  Neil Hunt, the Chief Production Officer at Netflix, explains why making streams with closed captions is somewhat difficult, and estimates that they will have closed captiona available, hopefully by 2010.

Scott Kirsner has two recent posts that have a number of useful links about digital cinema.  The first mentions the new indie start-up, DF Indie Studios, headed by Mary Dickinson and Charlene Fisher.  Here’s the NYT on the new indie studio, and as usual, Anne Thompson has an insightful take (as well as the full text of the press release announcing the DFIS launch).  Scott also points to a WSJ article about Alec Duffy who won the rights to an unreleased Sufjan Stevens song and decided that rather than making the song available online, he would require fans to come to his apartment to hear it with the hope of building a shared community around music.

NewTeeVee also discusses the idea of a “Watch Later” queue proposed by venture capitalist Fred Wilson.  Essentially, the queue would be a DVR for web video, allowing viewers to save videos for later viewing.  I already do this implicitly by saving videos on delicious or emailing them to myself (or, more rarely, adding them to my favorites on YouTube), so I’ll be interested to see if it works out.  My sense is that it may not be necessary in that most people who watch web video already have cobbled together solutions for bookmarking videos they want to watch later. But I could be wrong. Still, given the “Watch Now” and “Broadcast Yourself” rhetoric that bounces around in the land of web video, the idea of “Watching Later” is kind of cool.

Finally (for now), Andrew O’Hehir has an excellent overview of some of the recent changes in the digital cinema distribution landscape, focusing on some of the major players and how they are carving out niches (or not) for reaching online movie and TV audiences, with a special focus on indie films.  My impressions about digital cinema are similar to his, especially on one key point: “no single device or delivery mechanism is likely to dominate the others, at least for the foreseeable future. Individual films will be made available in multiple ways, either consecutively or all at the same time.”

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Blogging Toward the Book

In a recent exchange on Twitter, @mattthomas expressed interest in reading “a blog post about how your link posts inform your longer written work.”  I’ve been entertaining the idea of writing such a post for a while now, so Matt’s request seems like a good excuse to spell out exactly how those ephemeral, often very brief, posts ended up feeding into the book.

I think the short answer is that my blog serves as what Matt Kirschenbaum, several years ago, called a “public workbench.”  Matt’s comments about the role of blogging were, however consciously on my part, an important influence, especially as I was recasting the frame and scope of my first book, which evolved from a dissertation on time-travel movies to a more productive exploration of emerging forms of digital cinema.  Part of this process, for me, was the relatively obvious benefit of being able to work through ideas in a public format (more on that in a minute), but I think blogging also helped me to see what direction my interests were taking.  In The Weblog Handbook, Rebecca Blood made a passing comment about how blogging helped her to identify interests she hadn’t previously recognized, and I think blogging had a similar effect for me and helped me to see that the time-travel film project, in its current form, wasn’t working.  It’s impossible, of course, to know what direction my research would have taken without the blog, but when I began to realize that my posts on topics such as digital cinema and documentary were becoming more commonplace, I knew that was a direction I needed to take.

In terms of the link posts themselves, I think there have been several benefits.  First, it’s worth noting that my usual practice for the last two years has been to skim my RSS feeds for interesting blog posts and articles, which I will then bookmark on the social bookmarking service, delicious, so that I can reference them later.  Although I rarely annotate my delicious links, the mere fact of categorizing these posts becomes an early form of thinking about or processing the ideas in the posts.  Thus, the links posts themselves become a slightly deeper form of freewriting, an early attempt to work through some of the questions that I see as worth writing about.  It’s not a perfect example, but my “Blogger Critics Redux” post was one site where I was able to move toward some of the questions about blogging that I address in the book while also helping me to keep track of sources that I might want to address as case studies.  Similarly, even a fleeting post, such as this “Monday Morning Links” post discussing a few articles on the newspaper critics crisis helped me (at the very last second, in fact) to slightly reframe my arguments about the relationship between newspapers and blogging.  Often, for a post like this one, I’d write the post itself in the morning over my first cup of coffee (or, maybe, my second–I was drinking a lot of coffee last summer) and then, later that day, over my fifth or sixth cup, I’d turn to the manuscript itself, revising that section or adding new details or case studies that I hadn’t previously addressed.

But the other major component of blogging, of course, is that it is public (as Matt K’s “public workbench” implies), and even though my links posts may receive fewer comments than longer-form posts such as film reviews, I was conscious that these posts would be read and felt obligated to do more than merely point to a website or video without any comment.  And after a while, I began receiving suggested links by email, though delicious, and in the comments, which were incredibly helpful.  But in many cases, commenters, some of whom might not have access to my academic articles, could challenge me to rethink ideas or help me to see that something was working, and quite often those conversations would spill over into RL discussions at conferences and film festivals (and, as a result, many of my readers get a mention in my acknowledgments).  This experience probably isn’t that unusual.  Chris Anderson has made a similar point about his blog feeding into the publication of The Long Tail, but in my case, I’ve certainly found it to be true.

It’s pretty rare for me to directly lift language from the blog itself in the book, but as a first rough draft of the ideas I wanted to address, the blog has been indispensable, and I’m very grateful for all of the conversations, suggestions, and recommendations I’ve been given along the way.

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Wednesday Links

It’s the first full day of summer vacation here at Fayetteville State University and the home office of The Chutry Experiment is now in full swing (which essentially means that the pot of coffee is warm, KEXP is playing in the background, and piles of unread or reread journal articles are stacked on the floor).  I’m about to dive into a couple of shorter writing projects, so here are some quick links:

  • Harry Tuttle has already offered his annotations of a recent interview between Chris Fujiwara and Gerald Peary, who recently directed For the Love of Movies, a documentary history of American film criticism.  The depiction of a divide between traditional or print-based film criticism and its blogging, Twittering rival now seems pretty tedious to me (Karina captures that tedium rather well).  Harry Knowles has been reviewing films online for about a decade now (maybe longer?), and there are a number of other online film critics who have been working for a long time, both in blogs and in print publications.  Certainly the structural place of the professional film critic, supported by a major newspaper, is changing, and to Peary’s credit, he is attentive to the fact that online critics are often serving the same function that past generations of critics such as Sarris, Kael, and others did: championing the films and filmmakers they admire and getting conversations going about films and film culture.
  • IndieWIRE has the scoop on plans for Sally Potter’s film, Rage, to use an alternative distribution strategy, in which “Babelgum will be releasing the film as a series of episodes, timed to coincide with the film’s release in each territory.”  Rage, according to the article (I haven’t seen it yet), focuses on a series of interviews conducted at a fashion show that appear to have been shot by a cameraphone, so this new hypermobile, fragmented distribution strategy makes a lot of sense, a point that David Hudson made in his February review of the film after seeing it in Berlin (IndieWIRE article also via David).
  • Jessica Clark points to two articles discussing the state of journalism, one an older article by Eric Alterman characterizing Jon Stewart as a modern-day Eward R. Murrow.  I don’t know whether Stewartholds the same structural place as Murrow did–Stewart’s status as an outsider to both politics and journalism offers him a slightly different rhetorical position–but through his position as a news satirist, he has been able to perform some of the most vital media criticism of the last few years.  Clark also points to a recent Frank Rich column that makes a similar point.  Both are good reads.

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Film Criticism in the Internet Age

This is a response to Reid Gershbein’s call for contributions to a roundtable titled, “Film Criticism: Evolution and Importance In the Digital Age,” part of The Two Week Film Collective project, in which Reid has invited filmmakers to make a film in two weeks, with the participating films to be screened in several cities in the United States and abroad.  Because these are issues I’ve explored briefly in my forthcoming book, Reinventing Cinema, I couldn’t resist revisiting them here.

In his call for participants in the “Two Week Film Collective,” Reid Gershbein also asks for volunteers to review the films and to participate in a series of panels, the first, fittingly enough, focused on “Film Criticism: Evolution and Importance In the Digital Age” (itself an implicit response to Alejandro Adams’ recent roundtable on self-distribution).  The question of the role of film criticism has been widely debated over the last several years as new modes of production and distribution have emerged, challenging, even upending, the traditional independent film distribution models that have operated for the last several decades.  At the same time, the traditional sites where indie filmmakers could get reviews, alternative weeklies and even major dailies, have been cutting back on the number of reviewers, a concession to plummeting advertising revenue and a struggling economy.  Instead we witness the proliferation of unaffiliated or semi-affiliated, blog-based critics (or, in many cases, reviewers), who can help to establish word-of-mouth about a new film.  So what happens to the role of the film critic here?  This is a somewhat tentative, roundabout attempt to answer that question.

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Reading Together, Reading Alone

Steven Berlin Johnson’s recent Wall Street Journal article on how the e-book will change reading practices had me racing to my blog before I’d even finished it.  Building from a moment of recognition (an “aha moment”) in an Austin coffeehouse, in which he “put down” the nonfiction book he was reading on his Kindle to purchase and start reading a novel.  Within minutes, Johnson had started reading Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, “shelving” the other book.

As my use of scare-quotes illustrates, the Kindle may very well change the metaphors we use to describe shifting our attention from one text to another.  If I switch books on a Kindle, am I really “putting something down?” More to the point, Johnson interprets this moment as a model for the new ways of reading that may be on the verge of taking place in the era of Google Books and the Amazon Kindle, and I think–at least on an impressionistic level–Johnson’s argument has a number of strengths (note: I still haven’t had an opportunity to test-drive a Kindle or iPhone).  He’s certainly right to observe that the ability to search our libraries will affect how we do research.  I’ve already found myself using a quick Google Book or Google Scholar search to track down certain concepts.  More often, I’ve used delicious or some other tool to manage ideas or articles that I want to revisit, but having access to books as well, via search tools or some other mechanism, would change even further how I write and research.

But the claim that sent me scurrying to read Johnson’s article, which I can’t recommend enough, is the idea that reading will be transformed from a fundamentally private activity to a more public one:

Think of it as a permanent, global book club. As you read, you will know that at any given moment, a conversation is available about the paragraph or even sentence you are reading. Nobody will read alone anymore. Reading books will go from being a fundamentally private activity — a direct exchange between author and reader — to a community event, with every isolated paragraph the launching pad for a conversation with strangers around the world.

Johnson compares the act of reading on a Kindle to the “public” practices of blogging, where bloggers read, annotate, and mull over the writing of others.  There’s something incredibly enticing here, at least for me.  While Johnson speculates that our attention to any single linear narrative might wane (a debatable claim), the engaged audience he imagines here would seem ideal for scholarly readers and writers.  And as the book itself is reimagined as an object to be cited and circulated online, it potentially creates room for new forms of scholarship and writing.

But I do find myself puzzling over his claim that reading currently is a “fundamentally private activity.”  In fact, reading as I have experienced it, has always been a complex interweaving of public and private tendencies, never fully reaching either extreme.  In my literature classes, my students and I read passages aloud in the classroom.  Once we’ve read a couple of stories or poems, the classroom reading practices inform how my students prepare. Discussions with scholars at academic conferences shape my own reading habits. Book clubs, virtual and physical, mix up the public/private distinction as well.  Yes, the novel has typically been associated with solitude, but even when we read alone, we do so through the lenses of others.  And, given that I could now “find” books from my laptop, the physical–presumably semi-public–activity of going to the library seemingly becomes less necessary.

Johnson also sees changes in how books are authored, organized, indexed, and sold.  I think he’s right that some books may be sold on a per chapter basis (maybe along the lines of an iTunes model) and that authors may write with search engines in mind (and Alex Halavais’s cautions about the emerging “search engine society” are crucial here), that citations will serve as a form of currency. These issues are certainly central to some of the conversations that have been taking place in the last couple of years at scholarly resources such as MediaCommons (where I’m an advisory board member), so Johnson’s comments are useful.

In general, Johnson’s article puts together some useful questions about the future of the book.  It’s not difficult for me to imagine that my second book will be significantly different stucturally than my first one, in part thanks to these new digital tools.

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Friday Links

I’m going to try to put together at least two more Full Frame posts later this weekend, one a series of shorter reviews for a few other documentaries I liked but won’t have time to review at length and a post inspired by some of the panels I attended.  For now, a few quick links:

  • I’ve been trying to avoid mentioing it before, but it appears that Ali Larter is, hmm, Obsessed with me. To be honest, I’d heard nothing about this film until I saw the viral video in my Twitter feeds, so the video has succeeded at least on that level, while providing at least some information about the film itself.  Unfortunately, Obsessed also looks like one of those generic scary stalker-chick in the workplace movies a la Fatal Attraction, so I’m not that interested.  And I’m not really interested in giving a film studio my phone number (as the video requests at the end).  I like Ali Larter well enough, though, so I’m willing to be convinced otherwise.
  • Sujewa pointed out these fake Mumblecore movie trailers available on Chris Holland’s blog. They’re pretty funny, especially if you’ve seen a few Joe Swanberg films.
  • Speaking of Mumblecore, I finally watched the Duplass Brothers’ Baghead, their follow-up to The Puffy Chair, which is still one of my favorite recent indie films.  Baghead follows four filmmaking wannabes to a cabin in the woods where they hope to write a successful screenplay starring themselves.  I think the film works well as a commentary on the desires for indie stardom (and works somewhat well as a parody of the Blair Witch phenomenon, even while having some vaguely scary moments).
  • Videomaker has a roundup of a discussion on whether “digital distribution” is useless.  Until we begin figuring out the most effective models for distributing movies and filters for helping viewers find it, digital distribution may not appear promising, but it is important to remember that it’s still very early in the history of accessible digital video on the web (and to remember that a large percentage of people in the US don’t have broadband internet or, in some cases, access to it).

Finally, just a blanket note to some of the people who have sent me screeners.  I’m working on getting to them, but may not be able to watch all (or any) of them until the semester ends in three weeks.  Which gives me an excuse to (belatedly) link to story about the independent filmmakers who posted an ad on Craigslist offering to buy a quote from someone who “calls” himself or herself a film reviewer (here’s the actual ad, soon to expire, I’d imagine).

Update: Just wanted to mention this TV Week column on the online campaign to save the NBC series, Chuck, one of the funnier and more clever shows out there right now (and I’d say that even if I didn’t share a name with eponymous main character and leaders of the Nerd Herd).  The column suggests that the networked nature of Twitter and the use of reputable TV critics to promote “Chuck Week” represents something slightly different.  No matter what, it’s good to know that there are so many “pro-Chuck” messages circling throughout Twitterland.

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