Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Smart and gets things done

My buddy Joe McReynolds is a talented filmmaker (writer/director/editor/producer), who is about to lock picture on last year's feature film The Vern, in which I play- wait for it- the villain.

Joe and I are dead-friggin'-serious about making more films on our own, now that I'll be here a while longer. He just started, but he's got a great eye, and, more importantly, Joe gets things done. I love working with people like that. In fact, I refuse to work anymore with people who are not like that. I need to be more like that.

So, I'm getting off my butt, and trying to put together both a short film for me to produce/write/shoot/direct/edit, and a feature that Joe and I can work together on, along with some of our friends and professionals that we have met on the ATX scene.

If you have any advice, ideas, or suggestions, though, I would love to hear them. I'm new at this, but learning fast.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Bailout Ad

Props to Gregg Yows for sending this around:

Spot on, man.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

That's a wrap!

Director Kat Candler declared a wrap on the shooting of Ninja James & The Beast Boy yesterday, and producer Leslie Langee celebrates here by popping open champagne (a surprise gift from Scott Colquitt).

The day started cold as Hades, about 30' Farenheit, from the 6 a.m. call time until about 8 a.m. But by noon it was a beautiful, cool, sunny, fall day, perfect for filming. The sun fell pretty quickly starting about 4:00 p.m., but by that time, we were all done except for some quick audio and close-ups of Savanah's character, my wife "Jane".  The cast and crew have been absolutely fabulous. Everybody worked so hard to make this a success.  

There is still the grueling post-production 
remaining, but from my vantage point, it 
was waaaaay smooth. I am sure that it was not that smooth from Kat and Leslie's view, but that's what makes them pros: they kept all that hidden from us meat puppets. 

There was absolutely no whining on this set at all (except maybe by me, when I was freezing my nipples off!). It was a wonderful esprit de corps, and my hat is off to the entire cast and crew, 
starting with Kat.
I hope to work with these talented filmmakers again.

Photo by Larry Furnace

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Is that thing loaded?

Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail, and editor of Wired Magazine, wrote a terrific article on how shooting digitally affects the performance of actors.

Big-name directors that Anderson spoke with, such as Tony Bill (Flyboys, Untamed Heart) explained that shooting digitally eliminates the actors' fear that every take was costing hundreds or thousands of dollars of film, and thus put the actor more at ease.

Photo by Larry Furnace

It also allowed directors to eliminate rehearsals and roll on every take:
It's "the difference between pointing a loaded gun at someone and a toy gun. You point a loaded gun at them and they're going to act different. A film camera is a loaded gun. Digital is not."
--Tony Bill
Having shot on both multi-camera 35mm sets and indie digital sets of various sizes, I have to disagree just a bit. It is true that film is expensive. For an indie filmmaker with a nano-budget, shooting even 16mm is often prohibitive. Robert Rodriguez' book Rebel without a Crew explains this well.

However, there are usually other factors at work that are even more prohibitive than the cost of film, such as crew costs, limited location availability, daylight, and the number of takes an actor (or director) has in them. Actors are like racehorses who wait, wait, wait, in their stalls, while the crew dresses a set, makes up the actors, rigs the lighting, sets the props, and grabs focus. By the time the director yells "Action!", the actors are often emotionally spent. It's like war: hours of boredom punctuated by minutes of sheer terror.

In the still shot above, for example, I am freezing my nips off on a 40' F morning, with a 30' wind chill, while pretending that it is 90' outside. [Photo by professional set photog, industrial videographer, and all-around mechanical genius Larry Furnace.]  But when director Kat Candler called action, we all had to be ready to go, knowing that we had limited time and resources for getting this shoot wrapped.

Even in my former life as a musician, digital media did not change the economics of hourly studio rental and producer fees.  When we rolled, uh, RAM... it was much the same as rolling expensive 2" tape:  time is money.  Time is always money.  Maybe not yours, but somebody's.  And if you are a professional, you appreciate other people's time, and do not waste it.

Digital definitely allows long tail movie-making. But it does not preclude common sense and pre-planning in the process.

Happy Thanksgiving- we're on strike?

Looks like SAG president Alan Rosenberg (pictured) is pushing for an actor's strike authorization. The threat of a work stoppage from one of the major artistic groups has put a crimp in productions for the last nine months, causing networks and studios to rush-release the properties they already have developed, and to hold off launching into any new productions.

A friend of mine is a 30-year veteran Hollywood costume and set designer, and has been suffering through the squeeze this past year by taking on jobs for Ringling Bros. and other clients. But his bread-and-butter business of TV and film costuming has been hurt by AMPTP fears that, once pilots and films are in the middle of production, actors will walk off the set, and have the producers by the short hairs.

I am not yet a SAG member; merely SAG-eligible. Living in Texas and shooting indies, it has not made sense to me to join SAG until I move to Hollywood.

Looks like we picked a good time to postpone our L.A. trip.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bambino #2 on the way

Mary is pregnant!! Yea!!!

We were really hoping for two kids, but felt so blessed just to get one beautiful baby, Danielle, that we thought we were really pushing it to hope for two. We are thrilled. Danielle will make a great big sister, I know.

As for L.A., well... we are going to wait for another year. Again! Kind of ironic, since having a baby was what stalled our plans the first time. But not going enabled me to be here in Austin when I landed the Living and Dying and Prison Break roles (and a shot at a good role in Microwave Park), so, nobody knows anything, really. We are just happy to have another bambino on the way.

Currently scrambling to find a house and set up shop. We'll keep y'all posted!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I'd like to thank the Academy...

Dan Eggleston, of Zombie Musical fame, sent me a very nice little congratulatory note for making #25 on IMDB's Top 100 Texas Actors List.   Whoo-hoo!

I am glad Dan pointed this out to me.  I didn't even know the list existed!  Better start doing my research.  Thanks, Dan!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Shooting the Ninja

This is me running full-speed through a gaggle of school children on the set of Kat Candler's "Ninja James and the Beastman". I was so nervous that somebody would get knocked down! Short steps, quick-moving feet is the key.

Kat runs a smooth set. This was the first time I have worked with Kat in any significant role, and I was very impressed. She is relaxed, laid back, and perpetually sunny, much like my friend director Jon Keeyes. That attitude pervades the set. We got lots of coverage, and still finished early both days. Now that is cool.

Kat is one of the select Austin filmmakers that Get Things Done. She gets films written, made, distributed, and promoted. And that's why I wanted to work with her.

It's been fun so far, and I look forward to the next two weekends.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Nobody knows anything

Why is it that nobody knows anything?  William Goldman couldn't have been more correct when he said it, but why was he so right?

I am a business and marketing information addcit.  Been doing it since I was 13 years old.  Read Positioning when I was 15 years old.  I have been marketing myself and other businesses, large and small, on three continents for years.  I have even assembled business and marketing plans for movies and production studios.  Many others, way smarter and more experienced than I, have been doing it even longer.  So how come nobody knows anything yet?

Because: Art is not repeatable.  That's why.

Oh, a nicely-assembled marketing binder will give you the impression that it is, but don't be fooled.  They'll say this new movie has all the same winning elements as the latest Oscar-winner, or mega-blockbuster, and therefore, is guaranteed (pretty much) to be a success.  
Past performance is no indication of future results.

Science is, by definition, repeatable.  Everything else is a guess.  Wall Street types call it speculation.  In Vegas, baby, they call it gambling.  But every piece of art is unique in some way.  Any movie (whether or not you consider it art) is different from any other movie:  the director, stars, writer, producers, crew, budget, effects, storyline, locations, marketing, timeline, release date, and process of making the movie may all be different.  Sometimes only one or two elements seem different.  But there are always differences, and they are not easily isolated, or repeatable differences.

Movies are not creations that you can assemble or dissect on a lab counter and run through a spectragraph, even though there are many books, workshops, and studio executives who believe that you can. Movies are unknown, risky ventures.  There is absolutely no way that you can know in advance if your movie will succeed; you can only speculate- take the risk.

The very best thing you can do is to make what you believe in your heart and soul to be a good movie, and do your best to get it seen by as many people, as quickly as possible, so that it builds a rolling buzz, which hopefully snowballs into a "sleeper", which snowballs into a cult hit, which snowballs into a must-see, which snowballs into critical darling, which snowballs into a commercials success, which hopefully rolls the last mile into an Oscar winner.

Many people will tell you what is a good movie, and why yours is not.  Absorb what is useful, but trust your instincts, stick to your guns.  

After all, nobody knows anything.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


In her excellent book How to Sell Yourself as an Actor, K. Callan extracted this gem from Andre Braugher, speaking with the L.A. Times:
This business is not going to keep me warm. This business is not a priority. My priority is being a husband, a father, a son, a brother, and a citizen. I am not an actor. I am a man who acts. Everything that is important to me is about being a man.
Well said. I'll try to keep that foremost in mind.

Danielle does Disneyland


Danielle, Mommy, and Daddy took a whirlwind tour of Los Angeles, which served as a business trip, vacation, catch-up time with old friends and new, and a recon mission to see where (and if) we might want to live in L.A.

We answered the "if": the answer is yes, we're going, barring serious unforeseen disaster. Nevermind the foreseen disaster. Life is short, and we've been broke before, so there ya go.

As for the "where", we got lots of help from old friends, and new friends, like Dad's friend Cliff. In order of preference, it looks like:
  1. Santa Monica
  2. West or North Hollywood
  3. Burbank
  4. Glendale
  5. Sherman Oaks
  6. Silverlake
  7. Eagle Rock.

Meanwhile, Danielle's new favorite uncle and Disney Benefactor, Reagan Brown, scored us free admission to the Magic Kingdom. Danielle wasn't quite sure what was going on, but she was out of her mind with joy. I was amazed at the logistical precision of the place. Danielle was amazed at how many kids there are in this place!

I've created a photo album of some of our favorite pics here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Starz exec Rob Markovich reception

The Austin Screenwriters Group held a pretty swanky reception tonight for Rob Markovich, Director of Original Programming for the Starz movie channel network. Rob has been the driving force behind such Starz series as Crash, Head Case, and Hollywood Residential.

At the ASG meeting, he talked about where his network, and the industry in general are heading (episodic TV, not movies), and how aspiring writers could get their scripts read. He was a great guest, very informative and gracious with his time, and I really appreciate him speaking to ASG.

I pitched Rob some of my own TV and film ideas, and he liked them. Hopefully we can discuss them more when I'm in L.A. In the meantime, I'm going to try and connect him with my friend Mike Alvarez, who might have an animation co-production deal that Rob would like.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Nimble DV

HBO's Director of Digital Content, Adam Wolman, interviewed on On the Page, says that HBO is implementing new models for their Webisodes. Wolman directed the ABC's Micro Mini-Series one-minute, interstitial episodes, which aired during the commercial time (technially, after the scene-outs) of other broadcast shows. They were serialized, with cliffhanger endings, and there were several of them. They didn't fare too well.

Now HBO is trying the same thing, with a slight modification: they will start with 3-6 minute Webisodes, which can then be stiched together into a 30-minute or 60-minute episode and delivered via HBO On Demand's download service. If a series gets really popular, it might be re-shot and delivered on HBOs core channels.

In effect, HBO and ABC were using these short-format videos to test pilot new shows. It's a reasonable idea, and has the benefit of being quantifiable. But it does not tell the execs what kind of legs the show will have if and when it gets picked up, which makes it hard to decide how much production money it needs, and (consequently) how to price the advertising.

As I have said many times here, the television industry is looking more and more like the music industry circa 1998. As bands started selling direct to fans, they relied more on grassroots support from live shows (a concert is a small "test market group"), until they zeroed in on their most popular songs, style, and fans.

For those of us indie filmsters who can make quality stories for less than a gazillion dollars, this is good news. We don't have to compromise art in order to sell advertising; we just have to make good art- granted, easier said than done. But we can employ the same method HBO and ABC are: start a project, see how it does, put more time and money behind it if it takes off, and drop it if not. But like guerillas, we can move a lot faster, working together with other indie writers, crew, actors, and producers than the sluggish armies of the Big Studios.

So be quick, be creative, be nimble. Let's go make some movies.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Be informed! Be very informed!! Bwahahahahaha!

A Fed, a TED, and a LIBOR walk into a bar...

If you are as confused about this whole financial crisis as I am, you will really enjoy NPR's excellent Planet Money podcast, which breaks it down into layman's terms, and delivers timely news on a daily basis.

I highly recommend that you start with two most enlightening 'casts from Ira Glass' This American Life series:
They are about 45 minutes each, and are well worth your time.

New blog! I started a new blog to chronicle the current eco-storm for my daughter.

I'm not sure how this will affect the film markets, but let's hope cinemas give us a "hardship discount" on those $8.00 tubs of popcorn.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Curtis the Ninja

Hiitenge- jabun henja menjae ridooru!

I am pleased as punch to be working with Kat Candler on her new short film, Ninja James and the Beast Man. I guess that I'll be playing, uh... Ninja James? I'm not sure, because my script said "Mr. Smith." But it's all good.

As always, Kat has assembled a great team of people around her, and not just the actors. I look forward to working with all of Alicia, Leslie, Scott, and the whole cast and crew. Especially Sam, the young lead actor, to whom I will be arranging the marriage of my two-year old daughter soon. Too cute!

Moshi, moshi!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Lion's Share of Viewers

"How do I make any money at this?"  is the constant refrain of indie filmmakers, including myself.  Increasingly, I am finding the answer is:  YOU DON'T.   At least, not from the movie itself.

This is no surprise.  I watched the same thing happen in the music industry, where opportunities to thrive still exist, but are largely limited to touring revenues, for true independent musicians, and up-front signing bonuses for "ready-made" acts, like the Amercian Idol gang.

Similarly, with indie films- er, videos; do indies shoot on film anymore? Ever?-   most New Media Moguls are making their short movies, features, mash-ups, and music videos, just because they can, and they love it.  They use these works as calling cards, like PinktheSeries.com.  The payoff, if there is one,  comes on the back end.  

The latest such YouTube sensation appears (I haven't fact-checked it) to be a true story about two men and a resuced lion cub.  I'm not sure there is enough meat here for a 90-minute movie; the 90-second YouTube video pretty well gets to the essence.  But the rumor is that Sony Films sat up and took notice when the video hit 14 million views. 

Deciding what does and does not get made into a film simply by using the YouTube metric may seem crass and unartistic.  But I kind of like the idea.  It is what bands do when they tour the dive bar circuit and self-release home recordings on home-burned CDs.  In other words, these movies are building a fan base.  When they hit critical mass, the majors sit up and take notice.  Occassionally, the big studios may snatch them up just before the story suffers YouTube burnout.  But at least the public has already voted with their eyeballs.  

That way, studio execs can focus on more pressing matters, like whether to stock Bling or Cloud Juice at the daily staff meetings.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Silver Bullets

A guest on one of my favorite weekly podcasts about filmmaking and new media commented that people were always asking him what software he was using for this, and what camera he was using for that.  In other words, what tools he employed to produce his films and videos.   "They think that there's some magic tricks that they don't have access to yet,"  he said.  Once they get hold of those tricks, then everything will go faster, cost less, look fantastic, and of course, garner awards and major studio offers.

Um, no.

Making a movie is hard work, and it can go right- or horribly, horribly wrong- for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with whether you edited on Sony Vegas or Final Cut Pro, or whether you shot on a Red Camera, or a Flip Video

I have noticed the same search for a silver bullet in many other areas of life.  In the field of personal development/self-help, people always seem to look for a particular guru or philosophy. Dr. Wayne Dyer and Deepak Chopra are leaders in the "personal zen" arena.  Suzie Orman and Dave Ramsey are at the forefront of the personal financial advice field.  The career field used to be dominated by What Color is Your Parachute in the 1980s.  This week's flavor of the month is Tim Ferriss' 4 Hour Work Week.  

Even within the walls of Corporate America, leaders still look for a single magic bullet:  the perfect software package, the perfect project management methodology; the perfect marketing strategy.  In most cases, they would be better served to try many things, understanding that you cannot know until you try, and see what blossoms.  As the Japanese say, "Let a thousand flowers bloom."

The latest silver bullet search, though, is happening on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., as lawmakers search for the perfect, painless solution to a massive financial crisis.  What this means for Hollywood and for the film industry in general is uncertain at this time.  The Great Depression of the 1930s was actually considered Hollywood's Golden Age!  But things may be different this time.  

I personally think that big-budget Hollywood escapist fare will do very well during hard times, but that does not mean prosperous times for struggling actors, writers, directors, and crew.  At $300 million per film, Hollywood can't make many of those blockbusters each year.

As with filmmaking, weight loss, career planning, and personal saving, there is no easy solution, no silver bullet.  One can only make a best guess, take action, repeat.  Hopefully, we learn something along the way.

Friday, September 5, 2008

And the other shoe drops...

It's official: movies are free.

Napster ruined the Big Corporate Music Model by setting the expectation among fans that music can and should be free to acquire. Many musicians disagreed, but many accepted the new order, and found other ways to make money in the music biz.

Bittorrent technology did for movie piracy what Napster did for music piracy, making it easier to download huge files over the Internet.

I have long contended that the same thing is happening with the movie industry, and eventually, even big filmmakers will give over to the "free" model, just the way big musicians like Trent Reznor, Radiohead, and others, have.

Now it has happened. Michael Moore will release his latest movie (I keep wanting to call them "films", kind of like I keep referring to "albums") for FREE. Like Radiohead, he is only releasing it for a limited time as a free download, and fans can buy the value-added DVD if they want.

This, combined with the legal Web distribution of movies, TV shows, and Web-based content, means that the film business is following exactly the same path, albeit slower, as the music business. What does this mean for actors?

It means that it will probably be harder to earn a living. Why? Because free or cheap Web-based distribution opens the floodgates to amateur filmmakers who compete with big studios, and because there are no existing mechanisms for making big money from Web video... yet. This means that studios will want to drive down their costs as much as possible, as they throw a bunch of spaghetti at the wall, and see what sticks.

Now, I do not pretend to know this for sure; it's just my guess, based on experience in the music industry and as a small business owner. The analog to live music is live theater, not film. You can't pirate a live theater show experience. So, as musicians now give away music and sell concert tickets, so, too, must actors- particularly film and television actors- find other ways of capitalizing on the shows they create.

Shows which are now free.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

RED Rocks

skate - shot on red - 120 fps from opus magnum prod. on Vimeo.

If you are not yet hip to the RED Camera buzz, you've been living under a rock. Film is great, yes, yes. So were fresh, hot-off-the-presses vinyl records. Until you played them once and the diamond needle forever deflowered them. You think the film print you see in your local megaplex is pristine? It's already been digitized twice (at least) by the time you see it, and scratched up by shipping, and running through the mechanical projector five times a day.

Who even gets to see that pristine, high-contrast celluloid?  The developer, maybe.  

Film is great, but film is dead.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"Long Tail? WTF?!"

Dude, sell your Blockbuster stock.

If you haven't already. Which you probably have.

PGA's answer to SAG

For actors who thought that only auto plant workers and computer programmers were getting their jobs outsourced, this is food for thought. Here is the Producers Guild of America's (PGA) answer to the next Screen Actors Guild (SAG) strike threat: http://tinyurl.com/6pedl7

Also, eerie Tron-Pr0n.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Back to Shreveport

Drove 7 hours, all of it in a heavy rain, from Austin, Texas to Shreveport, Louisiana on Monday to audition for the new Edward Norton film Leaves of Grass. It was good to get back there, and enjoyed staying in one of the cool casino/hotels on the Boardwalk.

It was scary to see six (!) car accidents on the way up, most of them people driving stupidly in the rain. Conjured up images from my family blog post a few months back.

I stunk up my last audition in S'port, which was a cool role nailed by fellow Austinite Luis Rolon. I'm happy that Luis got the part. He's a good guy, and fellow TAGer. I think I acquitted myself on this go-round. Even though we never know, I was happy with my work, and that's all I can ask.

But man, it's a long drive for a 5-minute audition...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What's fair?

Life, and Hollywood, are not fair; but is anything? In this book geek-y post from Oxford's Future of Humanity Institute (FoHI), Eliezer Yudkowsky contends that "fairness" is all in the eyes of the beholder.

Think about that after your next audition. :-)

Monday, August 11, 2008

No server for you!

BSOD sighting in the wild:

I guess $1.5 billion was not enough for a Microsoft support contract. :-)

Fortress of Solitude - For Sale

Mary and I are selling our Austin-cool loft home in the country, complete with 1/2 acre of land. *Sigh.*

I really wanted to keep this, and add an addition, but alas, it did not happen. Still, the house has been great for us, and we've enjoyed living there. But the time has come to move on, and long-distance property management seems like it would be more hassle than it's worth. So we're selling.

Any takers?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Are iFriends worth the trouble?

I hate MySpace.

There, I've said it. It's ugly, even with the redesign. And what's more it's yesterday's news.

I know that I am old, and late to the game. But I have long wondered about the actual value of many social networking sites: MySpace, Facebook, even LinkedIn, the business-focused equivalent, or most recently, Twitter. Recently, I opened a Facebook account, and I was surprised to see just how many people I knew that were on that site. But other than sending the occassional "hello" by writing on their wall or sending a proprietary FB mail message, I am just not sure how I or they are benefiting.

If there is interesting stuff happening in either my personal or professional life, it is on my blog (I have a personal blog for close friends and family). I have a hosted Web site with subdomains and all that, but find that most people visit Web sites regularly only if they are frequently updated; hence, the blog-focused site. If people want to interact with me, they can easily do it via the comments or forums on the blog, or e-mail, if they want a more personalized interaction. Or, heaven forfend, an actual face-to-face conversation over coffee.

I know how to build Web sites that look and function better than Facebook (at least the stuff I need), so I'm not sure what the real utility of social network sites is other than this: to introduce myself to otherwise complete strangers, i..e, a friend-of-a-friend. I guess this is helpful if you want to hook up with some hot guy/girl you spotted in the Photos section of one of your friends' pages, or to get a job. LinkedIn is probably best at this, though it feels kinda cynical, knowing that the main reason someone pings you out of the blue is to hit you up for a job (or vice-versa).

The connections on these sites tend to be extremely superficial. This may be good, from a Tipping Point perspective. Gladwell emphasizes the power of the "loose connection" when it comes to spreading ideas (memes). They usually devolve into a competition for "iFriends." Such activity does not scale.

These sites distract me from doing the important creative work that I is my main job. Creativity takes time. Long, uninterrupted blocks of time, which is the complete antithesis of Internet social communication. IM, e-mail, SMS, Twittering, and mini-posting are all what I call fidget talk, something you can do between thinking blocks, but not a way to have meaningful discussion.

Merlin Mann of 43Folders has an excellent 3-part article which discusses this at length with other artsits:

The power of connecting with people in an authentic way (no, not in that cheesy, half-assed, internet “friends” way) falls apart at the point where its resource consumption curtails your ability to keep making new stuff. [I]t’s be a little like the Beatles skipping the writing and recording of Rubber Soul in order to catch up on 1964’s fan mail.

Put plainer, my sense is that western culture would be a damn sight poorer today if John Lennon had been forced to carry a goddamn BlackBerry.

So please forgive me if I am not a good Facebooker or Twitterer (er?). If you haven't heard from me, it is because I am working on my next book, screenplay, or film.

Erm, as soon as I publish this blog post...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Show me the iMoney

The 2008 LATV Festival, presented by National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) wrapped up last week, and the news was (surprise!) good for Old Media companies.

The Big 4 television studios and Big 6 (5? 4?) movie studios are feeling the pinch from online "new" media, such as Webisodes, podcasts, and videocasts. However, the reports of Old Media's demise were greatly exaggerated, according to Howard Hononoff, who heads the media advisory board at PricewaterhouseCoopers, at a panel covered by TV Week.

Despite growing advertiser skepticism about television's actual reach and effectiveness, TV advertising will grow about 5% per year, to $90 billion by 2012, claims Homonoff. It is difficult to know how many advertising dollars Web content is generating, because there is not yet any organization that accurately collects those figures, partially because Web advertising varies so widely. There are banner ads, referrals, pay-per-click, flat-fee, and CPM (cost per thousand) advertising on many Web shows, but no one has a good handle on how much money actually changes hands.

More concretely, though, Mr. Homonoff noted that Disney made less on all of it's iTunes Music Store downloads in eighteen months ($48 million) than “Desperate Housewives” alone generated on-air in a single season. Well, yeah. When you can sell 30-second spots for about $400,000, it is hard to compete.

For actors, this is a big deal. Literally.

Yes, while we can make movies in our backyards with $50 cameras and free software, the question is, can we monetize them? For most, the answer is "no." At best, our DIY efforts will serve as calling cards.

But to make a living as an actor, you still have to be where the money is. And, like it or not, the money is (still) in unionized productions. The money is still with the Old Media model, particularly television.

And, sad as I will be to leave my beloved Austin, that is why I am moving to L.A.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Post partum

Directing buddy Jon Keeyes has released the trailer for his new feature film project, Angela's Body. Jon directed me in Living and Dying, and is currently enjoying the mild summers in Colorado, instead of the 40 days of 100+ temperatures here in the ATX. Coward!

Check out the movie's MySpace page, or download the trailer directly:

For Windows: http://www.highlandmyst.com/ABpromo.wmv
For Mac: http://www.highlandmyst.com/ABpromo.mov

Excelsior, Jon!

Talk amongst yerselves

Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours with our very own, Emmy Award-winning casting director Beth Sepko. It was a very informal and informative session with about 15 other local actors, all sitting around a table at the Austin Studios, inside the Austin Film Society's office.

Beth had some great stories for us all, graciously answered any and all questions, and even provided feedback on a couple of demo reels (including mine!).

What was most fun was catching up with Beth and several other acting friends, like Donnie Blanz, and meeting some new ones. The one key thing I took away from the session was how much fun and how laid back Beth really is. She is just a down-to-earth, cool person, full stop. So if you ever think you have pissed her off, or blew an audition and that she'll never call you again, well, you're probably wrong. I am proud to have worked with Beth, and wish her continued success in this crazy business.

Beth, many congratulations on the Emmy(s)!!!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Dark Knight RAWKS! (for 2 hours, then...)

Saw "The Dark Knight" today. It was waaaaay cool... for the first 2 hours. I'd say the movie was 3 great acts, and 2 short, superfluous ones.

Now, Heath Ledger was excellent. Maggie Gyllenhall was really as interesting as she could be with the "damsel in distress but not really" role- much better than her predecessors in this series. Christian Bale was kind of annoying, but not enough to ruin anything. I got tired of the forced-whisper-through-gritted-teeth-thing. Gary Oldman was typically great, if understated. Did I mention that Heath Ledger was excellent?

The only thing missing was a truly hot, half-naked woman. IMHO. Where, I ask, was the gratuitous nudity?!

The actors' voices were low and buried in the sound mix, but that seems common these days, even on the most big-budget movies. And the editing was so fast-paced (particularly in the last two mini-acts) that it was hard to follow all the details.

The Nolan Brothers have done some good work, and this was right up there with the "Memento". It just went on too long. The "x-ray phone" thing was a bit too much of a stretch.

OK, so the "Twoface" origin story and makeup was INCREDIBLE, but that little mini-story could have been a whole other movie, and should have been, in my opinion. But they didn't ask me.

They should have.

Did I mention that Heath Ledger was excellent?

Friday, July 25, 2008

The importance of being earnest

Sometimes acting feels like a vain, superfluous exercise, of no importance in a world troubled with poverty, slavery, genocide, famine, flooding, global warming, noxious pollution, rain forest devastation, corporate greed, and children who can't read.

"Why bother?", I often ask. Do I, a simple storyteller, add any value to the world?

David Mamet, award-winning playwright, director, and screenwriter, answers in his book True and False:

Actors used to be buried at a crossroads with a stake through the heart... [their] performances so troubled the onlookers that they feared their ghosts. An awesome compliment.

Those players moved the audience not such that they were admitted to a graduate school, or received a complimentary review, but such that the audience feared for their soul. Now that seems to me something to aim for.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mad, Bad, & Dangerous to Know

The latest feature from my friend Jon Keeyes has just hit the shelves at Blockbuster, and other retail outlets. It's called Mad Bad, a play on the quote about Lord Byron, written by one of his lovers, Lady Caroline Lamb.

Not to be confused with the British pop band, Jon's new movie is the tale of "an ex-con who attempts to rebuild his life, but is drawn into the same circumstances that led to his demise."

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival, this film sports a rocking soundtrack.

Check it out!!!

Monday, July 14, 2008

You're in the Movies! (Sort of)

A new game called You're in the Movies was previewed at the 2008 E3 , which allows players to star in "movies" on the XBox console. The game has been dubbed "cheesy" by some hard-core gamers, but I was fascinated by one key aspect of it's technology: instant green screen.

Now, this is seriously cool stuff.

There are lots of existing software programs that enable even the weekend hobbyist to do their own green screen CGI effects. But, as this video tutorial demonstrates, there is a considerable PITA factor involved. One must set up a green (or blue, or red) backdrop, light the scene, shoot the scene, then transfer it onto a computer, then identify the chroma key color to drop out, acquire and select the static backdrop to replace it with, then render the "new" version. Oh, and you have to repeat some or all of the process every time your backdrop changes. And that's just for a static backdrop. If you want the backdrop to move (to be, say, a video of a street scene), that's a whole separate PITA.

What the game-heads who panned YITM did not take into account was just how quickly and easily green-screen technology is implemented, using the included Web-cam attached to the XBox. Sure, it's not perfect, but it's pretty damn good, all things considered.

Why is this important for filmmakers?

One of the cool things about video games is their interactivity. They allow players (the audience) to take an active part in shaping the story. YITM lets the players be the movie. A cheesy movie, sure. But that's still a big deal. And this is just Version 1. Check back in 3 years, and see how cheesy it looks then.

The game comes with pre-selected genres, scripts, and sequences of scenes. I anticipate that the game will eventually let players author their own movie, perhaps by selecting from hundreds or thousands of scene building-blocks (scriptwriters will be familiar with these plot-building blocks), or perhaps some clever software authoring (scripting) language that more technical users can write themselves, using the game's graphics engine to render the final output. Other sites on the Web do this already.

As major studios move away from character-driven films to focus on blockbusters like Iron Man, indie filmmakers, writers, and even computer coders will look for new ways to make their own low-budget action fare.

The new breed of low-budget filmmaker is here. And it's you!

Friday, July 11, 2008

MIT Professor predicts the future

Hollywood could learn a lot from ex-MIT professor Philip Greenspun.

In 1997, Greenspun wrote a book (actually two), that predicted how important data mobility would be in all facets of business. Here's a lengthy excerpt from one chapter:

The late Ken Phillips, a professor at New York University, figured this out in the late 1970s when he set up a massive computer network for Citibank. He would ask folks what they thought AT&T's most valuable asset was. People would try to estimate the cost of undersea cables versus the fiber links that crisscross the continent. Ken laughed.

"AT&T gives you long distance service so they know which companies you call and how long you spend on the phone with each one. AT&T gives you a credit card so they know what you buy. AT&T owns Cellular One so, if you have a cell phone, they know where you drive and where you walk. By combining these data, AT&T can go to a travel agency and say ‘For $100 each, we can give you the names of people who drive by your office every day, who've called airline 800 numbers more than three times in the last month, who have not called any other travel agencies, and who have spent more than $10,000 on travel in the last year.'"

Ken was ahead of his time.
Indeed he was.

Corporations call this mix-and-matching of data "business intelligence."

Omnifocus just released task management software that uses the iPhone's built-in GPS tracking to show you tasks relevant to where you are. Near the grocery store? Don't forget to pick up these items on your shopping list. Near the bank? Don't forget to make that deposit.

How can filmmakers, both Hollywood studios and indie producers, use such technology? How about by letting people know when they are near the site of a screening? How about letting people know when they are near the location where you filmed a scene? How about observing the geographic traffic patterns of your target audience to determine the best venue for a screening? I don't know. There are probably lots of cool ideas that I can't even imagine. Remember Minority Report's constant retinal scans and personalized advertising? Spooky.

Greenspun would say that this technology is long overdue, and set to take personalization to new levels. What do you think? Post a comment below, and share your ideas!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Hollywood's only competitive advantage

I finally cut my hair, after 13 years. But, despite urging from my wife, agent, acting coaches, and even casting directors, I stuck with my ponytail and "mean" head shot for years, because it gave me a unique competitive position- The Villain. Hollywood needs it's own unique position, now, too. Mid-budget films are dead-ends for major studios, regardless of star power.

Consolidation will change the movie industry, probably similar to how major label consolidation changed the music industry. I think that Hollywood will produce fewer films, and most all of them will be $100 million+ projects. Current estimates from industry sources are that it takes $15-30 million dollars in marketing and advertising expense to properly "open" a film in a wide number of theaters.

The argument is that, less than that, and you'll end up with a mediocre-performing film that does not get opening weekend "buzz", and ends up languishing, probably losing money, or not making enough to justify the risk and expense. Most films these days make 70-90% of their theater revenues in the first week or two, and most of that in the opening weekend, especially for "popcorn films".

But Hollywood makes blockbusters really well, all things considered. In fact, ONLY Hollywood makes blockbusters like "Iron Man" and "Batman: The Dark Knight". But many producers worldwide make low to medium budget, character-driven films. Hollywood really doesn't have much competitive advantage there, except money for stars, which, as we've seen, is no guarantee of success.

So, in long-tail fashion, I think Hollywood will migrate more and more towards blockbusters, while indie producers make ultra-low, low, and medium-budget films. Stars will work for scale, lending their star power to quality scripts and vanity projects.

Hollywood will eventually figure out that even a 72-inch screen home theater doesn't compete with an actual theater experience (especially IMAX). Studios will make films for the BIG screen, because that is their real competitive advantage, possibly their only one. In the absence of such a film, here are ways other films and theaters are enticing people to come to the movies. They need to make it an event that we'll come out for.

That's my prediction, anyway. But as Bill Goldman said, "No one knows anything."

Making money with movies

In a post last week, I discussed the cloudy future of big-budget Hollywood movies. As movies move inevitably towards free, how will filmmakers, and cinemas, make money? Austin's Alamo Drafthouse has one answer: The Team America Sing-Along.

The feature film showing was more than your usual cinema fare. It was a combination movie and comedy club, and drunken frat party. Well, not quite that radical (it was the 7 p.m. showing, after all), but it was value-added interactive entertainment. It was... an event.

My wife Mary and our friends Robert and Sherri Dugan were handed a goodie-bag of American flags, glow sticks, balloons, poppers, and sparklers. After the customized patrio-parody opening trailer collage, a live host laid down the ground rules for the film, which included speaking and singing along to the "Fuck yeah!" choruses, standing and cheering, tossing streamers and balloons, and then following the host down 6th Street after the show, waving our sparklers and singing the Team America theme song acapella, as a group, er, mob.

Did I mention that the Drafthouse serves food and alchohol?

If I wanted to just watch a movie, I can do that quite well in the comfort of my own home, thank you very much. Big screen, hi-def home theater has never been so affordable, and movies were never so cheap and easy to get.

No, what I want is an experience, a reason to get off the couch and go sit in a room with a bunch of like-minded instant friends and have a trascendent experience. In short, I want an event.

And this July 4th weekend at the Alamo's Team America Sing-along, that's what I got.

Fuck, yeah.

P.S. - Thanks to Beth Burroughs for learnin' me 'bout this here event.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Curtain call

The final performance of Shards concluded on Saturday evening, May 29. Several friends came out to the show, and we had a great after-party over the weekend, at the conclusion of Kuka, one of the other plays in The Love Sonatas series of plays by Manuel Zarate.

I had a great time doing the play, and really enjoyed the character of Rololpho. Pictured above are the four actors who played Rodolpho in the various plays. I hope to work with these great folks again sometime.

Many, many hugs and thanks to:
Liz Atherton (for the call), Paula Russell, Beth Burroughs, Jon Boatwright, Christina Childress, Chase Wooldridge, Chris Doubek, Bethany Perkins, Amanda Garfield, Glenda Barnes, and all the other wonderful cast and crew of The Love Sonatas, plus all of my friends who came out to support me, including Vicki, Shirley, Russell Harding, Bob Russell, Cynthia Gonzales, and many others.

Much love, y'all!!! See you on Broadway.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Are big movies extinct?

Do movies matter? Perhaps not, in the long run.

In an earlier post, I summarized some of the difficulties faced by filmmakers in the Long Tail Era. Musicians, the first caste of artists to be blind-sided by the economics of free, actually have it better than actors and filmmakers, in this regard. I know, 'cause I are one. We musos can actually sell not just CDs from the stage and stores, but also live concert tickets, the bread-and-butter of most acts, and of course, the ubiquitous T-shirt. Much harder to do with films.

But what if Hollywood blockbusters and millionaire movie stars were to be replaced with, say, piano-playing cats or skateboarding dogs, filmed on low-res camera phones by high schoolers? What if the next great art form is YouTube?

Paul Oskar Kristeller published an article in the Journal of the History of Ideas in 1952, explaining that other forms of "high art" had come and gone: opera, canvas painting, bas relief, book illustration, instrumental music, epic and sonnet poetry, gardening, tapestry, pottery, sculpture, and many more artistic mediums once considered the epitome of sophistication, and whose masters were wealthy artisans in their day, have all but disappeared, relegated to a small subset of the arts, or even "hobbies". Are movies next?

The money-machines of Hollywood studios are keeping a death-grip on their old business model, built on artificial scarcity, but it's too late- the horse has bolted. Just like the music, movies will be free in the near future, like it or not. The question is not if, but when? After that, the question is, "What is the T-shirt equivalent that filmmakers will sell, when they are not selling plastic discs (DVDs)?"

Or perhaps, like opera and other dinosaur arts, the Hollywood blockbuster's time has come and gone. I wonder what the next visual "high art form" will look like?

Please add your thoughts and comments on this blog!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

U.S. - German rapprochment

About 10 years ago, I did my first 35mm film project for German director David Jazay, who was attending the UK's Northern School for Film and Television (now renamed). The film screened at the prestigious Leeds Film Festival, David graduated, and I went on to pursue a life in music. Several folks who worked on the movie have gone on to do some pretty cool things, including cinematographer Gay Hian Teoh, and composer Jaro Messerschmidt.

I later tried to track down David, without success, although I saw from IMDB and other places that he was still directing film and television. So I posted a comment on one of his movie pages on IMDB two years ago.

Out of the blue, David hit me back this weekend! He's alive and kicking, living in Berlin, and has been making cool films with guys like Shai Levy. He also makes music. One day, maybe David and I will be on the same continent again, and we'll make some movies.

Keep up the good fight, David!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Good eats

Chuck's Deli and Coffeehouse, 12115 Manchaca Road, Austin, TX 78748. Highly recommended.

Cheddar biscuits. 'Nuff said.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

My good friend Neil Atkinson's new band, Mosaicist, has a new CD out, and are beginning to tour the UK.

Neil is the mop-haired lad standing just behind the group's lovely lead singer Vic. He lives in Leeds, England.

Back in the day, Neil and I used to play in a band together, and performed at the BBC Radio One Annual Music Festival.

I'm anxious to hear their new stuff! He said it's kind of prog-rock-dance stuff, no doubt with blazing guitars and smart drumming. Cruise over to their Web site, sample some songs, and let him know what you think!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Davi Jay rocks The Big Easy

Brother Dave rocked the house as Roy DeLaCroix in the movie Streets of Blood, with Sharon Stone, Val Kilmer, and 50 Cent. His girl Jenn sent the following e-mail update:

Well, Dave and I are in Louisianna this week while he films for the movie "Streets of Blood" w/ Sharon Stone, Val Kilmer and 50 Cent. They picked him up last night from the hotel at 8:00 pm and dropped him back off this morning at 6:00 am. He had a lot of fun....they put him in make up and costume (see photo below) to the play the role of Ray DelaCroix, who to me looks more like Ali G! :-) Costume included sweatsuit, big diamond earing studs, tatoo of dice on his neck, hat, sunglasses, and sprayed on freckels! They pimped him out then had him in a pimped out Green (yes bright green) Caprice Classic. He got to perform his own stunts - which he was very excited about - which included racing down an alley in the car, spinning out, jumping the curb and hitting a set of trash cans. They told him he did such a good job at it they suspected he must drive like that all the time! Anyway he came home (well to our hotel) very excited, not to mention the fact that they used powdered B12 for him to snort to look like he was snorting Cocaine - so he came back w/ plenty of energy after such a long night of shooting and lots of great stories. I just wanted to share this update with each of you as I know this is an exciting experience for Dave and I, but it is nice to share with all of you as you all have been great in supporting us with your enthusiasm for Dave's career and well, now you can say you know a Movie Star (regardless of how much it embarrasses Dave!)

Good on ya, Davi. Represent.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Whoo-hoo! My friend and all-around good person, C.C. Stinson rocks the doc scene with her latest opus, Light, Bright, Damn Near White.

The film will air on TVOne, satellite cable TV channel 157 here in Austin. Check their Web site for your local channel.

C.C. is another alum of the ATX Bentley Mitchum acting class, along with Rich MacDonald, Frank Brantley, and yours truly.

She's a terrific actress, too, not to mention a screenwriter/producer/director. C.C. quit her day job in the corporate world to pursue her passion, which is a real inspiration to me.

We talked about collaborating on a project last year, but life got in the way. This year, I'm hoping that I can sit her down for an interview for my books and accompanying Web sites.

I'm sooo proud of you, C.C.! Keep up the great work.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

What Chris Anderson missed

The Long Tail is upon us, and it's great for digital content aggregators, such as iTunes, Rhapsody, Amazon, CDBaby, and Netflix. How great is it for artists?

Authors and pundits like Chris Anderson (author of the watershed book The Long Tail), and Michael Masnick of Techdirt.com proclaim that the revolution is here. Music moguls and Hollywood fat cats are running for the hills, as their kingdoms built on artificial scarcity of goods crumble around them.

The premise of "Long Tail Economics" is that, beyond the normal hits in any content industry- books, music, movies- there are thousands, even millions more sales of non-hit titles. These may be obscure foreign films, unknown garage bands, or self-published novels. Alone, they may sell only a few copies per year. But aggregated by a major supplier like Amazon or iTunes, these millions of one-off sales add up to 15 or 20% of an aggregator's business. With the additional costs of distributing digital goods being next to nothing, this amounts to found money, providing a significant competitive advantage for the e-tailer over brick-and-mortar retailers.

But what of the artists? You know, the writers, actors, musicians, and directors who spend their lives in pursuit of that brass ring- fame and fortune, Hollywood Superstardom. Well, for them, the news is less stellar.

True, the barriers to entry have been demolished. Musicians can (and do) make hit albums from their garage. Student filmmakers can make the next Sundance Festival winner with a handheld camera from Best Buy. But, just like their major-label superstar idols of yesteryear, they are the exception. Most people producing films, music, or books (even good ones) are not benefiting from the Long Tail phenomenon.

Filmmakers, for example, who now compete with cell phone videos of skateboarding dogs, piano-playing cats, homemade "Jackass" stunts, and the like, find it hard to rise above the noise. Without a budget or marketing expertise, it's hard to get decent numbers of viewers, even for free. Even someone who might have made the grade into the traditional system in years past may be lost in the ether. Just because they can sell 10 copies of their film, CD, or book to fans in France or China doesn't mean that they can make a living that way.

Does that mean the Long Tail is a bad thing for artists?

No. But it does mean that artists have to recognize that they are no longer in the business of selling music.

"Wha-wha-what???" I hear you say. It's true. Music is their loss leader to sell other things, mostly live performances, and sometimes licensing rights, endorsements, and other merch. And yes, T-shirts.

It means that content producers have more competition. But now the competition is coming directly from other artists, not from major labels, studios, or publishing houses that have acted as gatekeepers to the Kingdom of Fame and Fortune. Actually, getting a "deal" with one of these gatekeepers was often the beginning of an artist's demise, but that's another post.

Artists can now go directly to the public, the end-consumer of their work. And they will be the final arbiters of success. Today's competition is greater, fiercer, and aligning along the lines of public taste, not corporate taste. Artists will have to develop thicker skin, and, frankly, produce more appealing content.

Oh, and one more thing: they'll have to find other ways to make a living. At least until they hit the viral big-time.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Austin girl makes good

My agent Liz Atherton sent word that one of my stable-mates, Austin actress Brea Grant, who only just recently moved out to L.A., was picked to be a recurring villainous character on NBC's "Heroes". Good on ya, girl!

I haven't met Brea yet, but I'm glad she's doing well, and representing the ATX. Hopefully, it will inspire more producers to look for talent here in Austin. There's certainly plenty of it.

Best of luck, Brea!