For the film industry, is the glass half full or half empty?

beer2It all depends on who you ask. Just before I left for NAB I’d read two takes on the future of the motion picture industry. Though fast moving, the industry hasn’t had any tectonic shifts since early April, so these are still timely reads. The nature of a community so dependent on wildly creative storytelling is that hyperbole is the norm, so Lynda Obst‘s Sleepless in Hollywood: Tales from the New Abnormal in the Movie Business ought be taken with a grain of salt. Salon ran an excerpt here. Obst explains why we keep seeing the same Spiderman movie every ten years or so, and also explains why movies have been so blatantly dumbed down. It’s good context, but it doesn’t present much of a path forward. A lot of the standard culprits stand accused, piracy, the decline of DVD sales, and, of course, those dreaded, fast-growing international markets.

A pleasant counterweight to Obst’s state of the industry is presented in Brooks Barnes’ March 29 New York Times profile of Kevin Tsujihara, the CEO of Warner Brothers. Rather than fear Hollywood’s new rivals, Tshujihara embraces them. The Lego Movie was produced after Warner acquired the Lego video game maker. He’s increased Warner Bros. investment in reality television. And he’s emphasizing digital sales of movies to consumers – a business that could be far more profitable than the DVD business, which was largely based on the rental market. Sell the DVD once and Netflix mails it out dozens of times. Sell the digital version to all the end users, and the rental companies are disintermediated. It’s not a slam dunk, customers might just as well prefer streaming to owning, but there is an opportunity.

Tsujihara’s Warner Bros. is doubling down on the movie business. It’s releasing three more features this summer than it did last year, and only one, Godzilla is based on an existing franchise. Even when going with herd, Warner Bros. seems willing to buck trends. The theatrical release of the partially Kickstrater-funded Veronica Mars film in March coincided with on-demand release. It took a little bit of creativity to stay within the theater chains’ 90-day exclusivity window, but where there’s a will there’s a way.

I’m no better a prognosticator than a monkey with a handful of darts, but I have a hunch that things aren’t as bleak as Obst would have us believe.

Looking back on 2013

Facebook and Google+ bots each took a stab at defining my year in pictures and posts. Though they identified what got my friends and circles talking, they missed a lot of the good stuff. So I thought I’d give it a try.

Claudia graduates HS and heads to college

We knew going in that 2013 was going to be The Year of Claudia the way 2011 was The Year of Frank. The acceptance letters, scholarship offers, and awards came in fast and furious.

Claudia graduates

Frank wins MAC Athlete of the Week… Twice

It was hard to imagine Frank would top his Most Valuable Player award, but he found a way. A few sweeps of all his events got the conference’s attention.

Frank swimming

Claudia gets her own MVP

Since Claudia isn’t swimming in college, the MVP award for her undefeated swim team was a great way to end her athletic career.

Claudia and mom with awards

Willie comes to live with us

With Claudia heading off to college, she worried her beloved corgi Carson would be lonely. After much cajoling, we convinced mom to get Carson a companion. Meet Willie. Every bit as sweet as he looks.


I got to go to the All Star Game

For Father’s Day Frank bought us tickets to the All Star Game at Citi Field. It was an incredible day from the parade to the final pitch. Just awesome.


Where everybody knows your name

Totally the year of Sapporo for me and She Who Must Be Obeyed. It became our regular after-gym watering hole, and in the process became an ongoing joke with many of our Facebook friends who thought we were there just a little too often. Friends from as far as Montreal came to see what all the fuss was about.


Grumpy Cat

We acknowledge it’s not terribly cool to get fired up over an Internet meme, but Grumpy Cat is the one bit of pop culture She Who Must Be Obeyed and I both love. My love of Grumpy Cat has gotten me Grumpy Cat themed Christmas presents. Once I found this image on my whiteboard upon returning to the office after a trip.


The Red Sox are World Champions!

And I even got to go to the first game of the postseason. I told everyone at work I was going home sick to catch the afternoon game. Not such a good idea. I got a text message in the middle of the game from a colleague. “Don’t make any stupid faces. You’re on TV… a lot.” Shout out to my friend Nick for taking me to so many games.


Business travel

Lots of it. Dubai (pictured), Amsterdam (twice), London (three times), Germany, Montreal, LA (lost count), San Jose, NYC (lost count), Las Vegas, and I’m sure I missed a few. I hate airports.


Christmas by the Sea

We used to take the kids to this annual event in Camden, Maine nearly every year until high school swim season forced us to stop. This year She Who Must Be Obeyed and I had no high school swim meets, so we made the trip up. Just as great as I remembered it.


Light reading September 29, 2013

Articles of interests to techs, geeks, and capitalists.

It appears Android has overtaken iOS in unit numbers of, but declarations of the iOS demise would be premature. If Apple spun out its iPhone business it alone would be ranked 10th based on revenue in the S&P 500. Bloomberg has compiled a slew of other iPhone fun facts.

This would be humorous if it wasn’t so creepy. The NSA can scan our social network, phone, email, and travel itineraries, but a federal judge allows a class action suit against Google to proceed because Gmail’s ad serving technology might violate federal wiretapping laws.

As baseball’s regular season winds down, Jonathan Mahler of the New York Times asks why such a wildly successful enterprise like Major League Baseball feels so irrelevant. Could it be that TV killed baseball? Is the Game Over?

And finally, the obligatory Breaking Bad reference. This Economist column favorably compares the lessons learned from Walter White to a Harvard B-school MBA.

In Praise of Kitchy

Way back in the early days of non-linear editing, one could sit in front of the television and figure out the model and version of NLE used to cut the program. Each time a new effect was introduced it was quickly overused. Editors could play drinking games. Versions of After Effects and popular plug-ins were as easily identifiable. It wasn’t that editors were less creative or took more shortcuts 20 years ago. It was the novelty of being able to do something previously difficult or expensive. Eventually the novelty passed.

Manhattan from Times Square

Shot with an iPhone 4S using Hipstamatic

Today technology has advanced to the point that consumers fall prey to the same creative tendencies editors and designers did two decades ago. Instagram, Hipstamatic, and a bevy of other mobile photo apps allow users to apply all sorts of retro filters to give their snapshots an air of sentimentality with a twist of grunge. Professional photographers and videographers cringe. It’s artificial. It degrades the image. The same effect can be achieved more authentically in Photoshop.

But the fact is that few are going master Photoshop or After Effects. Few editors took up After Effects. Good enough is good enough for most.

Rather than turn our professional noses up at these apps, let’s give them their due. They make image creation and sharing fun. In doing so they encourage some to take visual design to the next level. Even more gain a greater appreciation for photography. Many looked over their reading glasses and down their noses at Harry Potter and the Hunger Games, but educators loved the books. Anything to get kids reading.

We should embrace Cinemagram and Flickr filters. Not because they help create high art, but because they help people develop their eye. I love to send students out with Hipstamatic. It teaches them to look at a scene critically and determine in real-time what lens and film combination will accentuate the emotions they want to elicit from the viewer. They don’t get to fix it in post. Like acid washed jeans and Oasis, these apps and their kitchy effects won’t have a great shelf life. But we should enjoy them while they last.

MacFarlane Redux

I didn’t watch the Oscars. I wasn’t in the mood to see the creator of Family Guy’s take on 2012’s best films. Not that I’m above crude humor. I wish I was, but I’ve come to believe laughing at poop jokes becomes involuntary in the presence of the Y chromosome. It’s something I live with… in moderation.

My reason for not watching was simple. If a night is to be a celebration of the craft of filmmaking, it should be hosted by someone who has demonstrated even the slightest understanding of that craft. MacFarlane is not that person. Someone’s who’s greatest contribution to the public discourse is sneaking Urban Dictionary references into a second rate, sophomoric cartoon series isn’t someone I want to spend an evening in my living room.

Now post-Oscars I learn I missed a real treat. I missed the validation of sexism as viable form of entertainment. Imagine if we replaced every sexist joke or skit with a racist joke or skit. MacFarlane’s career would be over.

Hollywood’s not much better than society at large in its treatment of women, but I’ve always taken pride in the role women have been allowed to play in my original craft, editing. Granted, it was only because early 20th century filmmakers thought of editing as a small step up from clerical work. By the time they realized editing was a specialized craft, women had established themselves.

Articles in the New Yorker

The Academy is supposedly a trade group, and yet it devoted its opening number to degrading a good part of its membership.

…and Salon put a proper spin on MacFarlane’s shameful performance.

Four of the films MacFarlane crooned about featured nudity during or immediately following violent depictions of rape and sexual assault, stripped of their context and played for laughs.

So what did I do Sunday night? I watched Raging Bull, edited by Thelma Shoonmaker. I wish I could say it was purposefully symbolic, but it was just a coincidence.

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