June 11, 2010
Israel Film Festival: What We Can ExpectLast week at The Israel Conference, I interviewed Meir Feningstein about this year's Israel Film Festival, coming to Los Angeles from October 20 to November 4, 2010 and New York from December 2-16, 2010. They'll also be holding one in Miami in February 8-17, 2011. We learn about some of the highlights and what you can expect. Join us.
June 10, 2010
The Operating Room: Bringing Israel Film & TV Talent to AmericaI chatted with Oded Turgeman and David Israel from the Operating Room last week in Los Angeles. The Operating Room is a production company set in Hollywood, a few miles away from the corner courtyard where we hung out in for the day at the Luxe Hotel. They recently opened up an office in Tel Aviv to explore the untapped innovation and talent in Israel. Their goal is to bring over some Israel programs and films in the near future - have a listen.
June 09, 2010
James Cameron: Scientist, Creator, Artist & VisionaryI had the fortune of seeing and hearing Canadian-born James Cameron speak at the D: All Things Digital Conference, last week in southern California.
Not only is the man a director, producer, editor, inventor and screenwriter, but an award-winning one who is also known for co-developing the 3-D Fusion Camera System. He says 3-D is on the rise and studios are telling people to make their films in 3-D, not an easy or inexpensive endeavor if you don't have the weight and resources of James Cameron. That said, he brought Avatar to the screen and I thought about its magical impact weeks after seeing it.
Below are some images I captured on-site which are accompanied by some pithy things Cameron had to share with the D8 audience. I loved his energy on and off the stage, where he graciously took questions and engaged one-on-one before heading out.
"There's something to be said about working with people who know the system and how it works."
"Asset management is a huge huge deal."
"I like a certain amount of autonomy in a production so we can go to a number of vendors and it can work seamlessly on other platforms."
"For 3-D, you can put the left and right image on top of each other at the same time - you couldn't do that before."
"Every breakthrough comes with a breakthrough for the pirates. You have to come up with a time synched image and transfer it over - it's harder."
"The more that things change, the more things remain the same."
"Augmented reality is a great bag of tricks but its still something that is on the side."
"Movies are a passive experience. Games are where you lead."
"I want to merge games and movies in a way that support each other."
"At the end of the day, it's still about taking you outside of yourself."
On Microsoft: "They approached us to be part of a 3-D project."
"Studios want to see more films in 3-D. They're asking people for it."
On Avatar being his closest connection of all his movies: "I always liked nature as a child."
"It's still all about the story at the end of the day."
June 04, 2010
NPR's Vivian Schiller on the Future of MediaPresident and CEO of NPR Vivian Schiller, the only female interview on the D Conference stage (D: All Things Digital Conference) this year, was both articulate and refreshing about her views on where the media industry is heading. She says that the broadcast side of the house at NPR isn't being cannibalized - digital content is all supplemental for them and it's obviously growing.
NPR has been tapping into the developer community more and more and plans to expand their API in the near future. They apparently get over a billion requests for the API and the hope is that by extending it, it will lead to more creative forms of expression and distribution.
Says Vivian, "The sky is the limit. You can imagine combining stories from NPR with information from stations who have data and then creating some kind of news product that tracks trends, such as the flu epidemic or the oil spill. We don't know what will be created but we know that mashups will lead to more innovation and creative content for consumers.
There are guidelines of course. For example, they don't want their content to be used to support a cause nor do they want the meaning of their content to be fundamentally changed. What they do want however, is to harness the intelligence of their audience.
Vivian says, "Our fundamental business is audio and programming and making the migration to other platforms. The broadcast tower will be gone in the next 5-10 years. Internet Radio will replace it. Mobile is the second coming of radio. On your mobile devices, you can listen to anything you want."
"The power of what we have is the combination of national and local. And, we are free. As web traffic becomes more substantial, then we can figure out a business model that makes sense such as a licensing fee," adds Vivian.
She reinforces that they don't plan on charging the end-consumer. She feels that it's important to separate the issues of whether people in large numbers are willing to pay and whether publishers need to make money from a fee.
Kara Swisher who is interviewing Schiller asks, "How do you look at the overall news business right now and the challenges they face?" "We're in the midst of creative destruction," responds Schiller, who says she loves that phrase. "All the new online organizations are sprouting up. Traditional journalists are starting start-ups, such as the Texas Tribune and San Diego Tribune. They're now online and some of them are not-for-profits."
The biggest problem is aggregating the content. She says, "we have a huge megaphone so its critical to have even more content than ever before." Because of that, the notion of partnering with others is the way to go for NPR right now. They're not trying to create a mega-portal but a mega-network, a community. She makes an important distinction that the partnerships she is referring to are not acquisitions but arrangements with regional sites so they can provide really great local content to their audience.
"Is this where journalism is going?" asks Kara.
Schiller feels that the business model for public radio is more suited to commercial media than traditional media today. She says, "we have five revenue streams. When we get hit with one, the other revenue streams can sustain us so, even when we had a blow, it wasn't a failed blow."
"Where will people be consuming information?" asks Kara. Schiller touches on both the iTouch (which she wonders if it will be obsolete very soon) and the iPad, which she claims has been extremely successful for them.
They have had about 300,000 downloads on the iPad. She says, "what we have on the iPad is suited for that form factor - it doesn't look anything like what you'll from us find online. You can listen to it, you can touch content, you can be moved by it from interactive text -- whatever the best form of media is right to share the story is what we offer." She adds with conviction, "our purpose is to serve our audience." Love that word serve when it comes to customer service. People who 'get' that always succeed in the long run.
May 30, 2010
Taj Mahal LIVES the BluesInternationally recognized blue musician Taj Mahal (stage name for Henry Saint Clair Fredericks) played at the Santa Cruz Blues Festival this weekend. His stage name apparently came to him in a dream about Gandhi and India.
Winner of two Grammy Awards, Taj played up a storm with guitar, banjo and keyboard and while he didn't play the harmonica yesterday, it is yet another instrument in his bag of tricks.
Every Blues festival needs performers like Taj Mahal, who sounds as though he's played the music every day for as long as he has lived. He had a set-long conversation with his guitar, mostly about women and lovin', and he welcomed us to listen in.
With passion and humor, he fuses sounds from Africa, the South Pacific, the Caribbean and traditional American blues to get his audience moving. He asks the girls to scream and the guys to hollar. He then asks all of us to shout and adds a bit of relationship advice for all the men in the audience - "men, do yourself a favor, learn how to dance and you won't have any more problems."
Below, Taj's bass player Bill Rich
What I loved most about his candid style was not just the fact that his music was all blues, but his raw authenticity, his quiet energy and his ability to make you smile with every note he hit on his guitar.....simultaneously he adds witty words of wisdom into the mix.
He has played with Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Buddy Guy, Ry Cooder and Lightnin' Hopkins as well as in the legendary Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. Critics describe his voice as "gruff, gritty, smooth and sultry" all at the same time.
Emphasizing dance more than once on stage, Taj is a musician who wants his audience to move and I might add: move as if you mean it. And believe me, I did and loved every minute of it.
May 29, 2010
Santa Cruz Blues Festival: Authentic & IntimateBrad Kava, co-owner of the Santa Cruz Blues Festival talks about this year's Blues Festival which is being held this weekend at Aptos Village Park.
The event drew more than 2,000 people today who threw down blankets and beach chairs and took in New Orleans style pork and ribs, draft beer and music from the likes of Ben Harper & Relentless7, Taj Mahal, Joseph Arthur, Eric Lindell and Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk. Sunday is sold out but those lucky enough to have purchased a ticket in advance will be able to take in Buddy Guy, Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi Band, Eric Burdon & The Animals, and Coco Montoya Was (Not Was).
May 23, 2010
The Final 24 Countdown for 24
America's autonomic fight-or-flight response gets a rest this week. After eight day-years the clock on "24" is going to stop ticking, with a two-hour finale Monday on FOX. Millions of viewers will be coming down off adrenaline and heading directly for PTSD.
I didn't follow the show in real time. I stressed my way through season one and have watched 18 hours of the next.
Now when I leave home I tell everyone I love them and that I may not be back. When I see blond teenage girls I worry about their choices and for their safety. I trust no one.
Many who have followed the show from the beginning believe the first few seasons were the best, so I'm going to consider myself qualified to talk about it.
Watching the show is like eating a bouillon cube instead of making soup out of it. 24 is filmed in real time, standing on its head the traditional expectations of story compression and narrative flow. This is interesting, for awhile. But it presents two problems.
First, the suspension of disbelief is, as Twain would say, thrown down and danced upon. The show's assault on credibility is almost as severe as that on our stress receptors. Soldiers, firefighters, cops and others whose work puts them in danger will tell you that their days alternate between extended periods of boredom and moments of excruciating intensity. In a traditional visual narrative the boredom is excised and the story is compressed to account for this.
24's writers don't have that tool, and we don't want to watch people doing nothing, so we end up following Teri and Kim and Jack as they move from one near-death experience to the next, with no time to freshen up or pay some bills. At the beginning this is exciting. By the 17th hour it's "oh come on." Even when you take into account the multiple story lines it loses its credibility.
Second, this method of story-telling results in a mandatory relentlessness, which means that the emotional range, while at a high pitch, is limited. The show stimulates the adrenal glands, not the mind. Not once in 42 hours has anything funny happened. No release of dramatic tension, no physical comedy, no irony in the service of humor, no gallows humor. George Mason's attitude towards Jack I think comes closest to humor - the "How Do We Solve a Problem Like Maria" problem.
There usually isn't time for emotions that aren't instantaneous. The end of the first season, which has heroism and victory and tragedy as you would expect, left me in a collapse consisting of relief (we can all go use the bathroom now) and a numb confusion. Good art lingers, and I do remember feeling sad in the days after when I thought about what happened (I'm trying hard here to not give things away too much for anyone else who hasn't watched) but the pacing robbed the tragedy of its full meaning. This is unsatisfying, and it also detracts from the realism of the show.
Music is written in time, with a certain number of beats per measure. There is a practice called "rubato" in which when performing you shift the time values assigned to each note a little bit, stealing here and adding there. It gives the music a breathing, natural quality. There is no rubato in 24. It is forever prestissimo and motoric.
Often you will find a moment of relief smashed into the next moment of danger. The Bauers hug each other in a reunion and there isn't even time for that. At one point they're all hiding behind a van that is being pummeled by automatic weapons fire and they're having a conversation that in some ways resembles a family argument in the van when dad has gotten lost. It should be funny, or profound. But it's not, it's just rushed and anxious, with no sense of irony or metaphor.
Can you imagine living in Jack Bauer's neighborhood? You're in the grocery store when he comes to pick up some dessert on the way home.
"PUT.....THE CRACKERS...DOWN!!!.....NOW!!!!" Where's the manager? Sir, I don't have time to explain to you how I know this so you're simply going to have to trust me. If you don't find some kind of meat alternative that has an acceptable taste and texture at a reasonable price-point then everything and everyone you know and love will die. Please. There is a display case of large-curd cottage cheese that is going to go off in five minutes. You need to tell me where the dairy section is."
In the second season one of the characters is poisoned in a manner that will kill him before the day is over. This, for me, was the only time the writers were able to push the essential truths of the human condition through the restrictions imposed on them by the storytelling device. You can actually imagine this being true. In the scenes where he stands alone or shares his predicament with the other characters time, for once, slows and expands to accept the emotions that we feel when we look at him. In his final scene he challenges the way Jack has chosen to live his life since the end of the first season. It's a powerful scene and it moves in real real-time. The show could have used more of it.
I'm weary of the impossible plot twists that are necessary to keep the story going. I capitulated in a recent episode of season two. Kim, Jack's daughter, has in the space of a few real-time moments gone from an overturned state trooper's car on a Los Angeles highway to being trapped in a hunter's snare with a mountain lion approaching. Extraterrestrials are sure to follow, or perhaps the lion is the current manifestation of Teri, her dead mother. A different kind of cougar.
I've given up hope that Kim will supplement her resilience with a St. Christopher's medal and a chaperone for her brain's judgment center. Kim moves from one imminent and often self-generated catastrophe to the next, with equal amounts of absurdly good and bad fortune. She's like a reincarnation of Job who's trying to win the Darwin Awards.
It's because her character isn't intended to be a real person. The characters do not change or grow. They are devices to take us to the next crisis, to push the story and your buttons. I watched many episodes with someone who would start hurling invective at the screen whenever Nina or Sherry or Kim would appear.
I would argue that even Jack's character doesn't really change. He drops out of the program and grows a beard in the first off-season, his response to the personal trauma of the first 24 hours. But this takes place outside of the script and by the end of the first episode of season 2 Jack's back.
Jack Bauer does offer a model of devotion, heroism, duty and masculine energy. The tension in his choices, many of which cross acceptable boundaries, remains interesting after most of the other devices get tired. We ask ourselves what we would do in the same situation.
Kiefer Sutherland is pretty great. They showed him in the stands at a hockey game the other night and I was proud to be a fellow citizen and grateful for his service.
Even in the super-concentrated story format he is able to bring us true, breathable moments of action or emotion - such as the way he eats (I think it's the only meal consumed by any character in the show) in the interrogation room before he's questioned by Roberta.
Much has been written about the show's fondness of torture scenes. It seems to me that the show doesn't work without them. If your goal is to create a story that makes everyone anxious, fearful, primal, retributive, reflexively patriotic, etc. then I think it's an appropriate tool. Besides, why should the military and its contractors get to have all the fun.
Compared to the unimaginative programming that makes up most of television (and film) it was an exciting experiment, with good production and commitment from the actors and superior execution of the story ideas.
If you can adjust your expectation from a TV action drama to a non-animated dramatic video game in which you don't get a joystick then maybe it could be sustainable enjoyment. But when people say the show is addictive, I think it's more Pavlovian -- it hits the brain at an even lower level of development. Which means, of course, I'll be barking my way through the rest of season two.
May 08, 2010
Playing Around with Photos & VoicePlaying around with Fotobabble at the Technologizer event this past week (Web 2.0 Expo). Below, Patrick Houston, Renee Blodgett and Cathy Brooks. This was taken on an iPhone in a couple of seconds and voice was added in less than a minute.
The result? A talking photo, which can be embedded in a blog post (below), sent to friends via email, Twitter or Facebook. It's a fun way to express yourself and share that expression quickly. Adding emotion to a photo is a lot more interesting than a static photo with no energy at all.
April 21, 2010
Flex Mathews & Kosha Dillz Free Style using Corporate & Personal BrandsFlex Mathews and Kosha Dillz perform for the 140 Conference audience. They took cards, names and badges to incorporate into their 'free style' rap on the fly in front of the audience today. See if you can identify the companies and brands you can hear? Traveling Geeks and Answers.com are two of them - see if you can hear the others.
Interacting with Television in Real TimeIn the interacting with television in real time session at 140 Character Conference, Steve Garfield (@stevegarfield) chats with CBS Backstage LIVE Producer Rick Borutta (@CBSborutta) and NBC's Gavin Purcell (@gavinpurcell).