One Way Forward: AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women

Amanda Mae Meyncke on Wednesday, Aug. 29th

This week film journalist and filmmaker Amanda Mae Meyncke takes a look at the uphill battle women directors face in Hollywood through the lens of the American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women and her own personal experience. In the second of three parts, Meyncke takes a closer look at the history of the DWW. [Read the first part of this series here.]

When the AFI Directing Workshop for Women (DWW) was founded in 1974, it was the only program of its kind, founded with the intention of supporting women directors and helping them move towards directing major feature films, correcting the imbalance of power that existed in Hollywood. Well, it’s thirty eight years later, and where are we now?

Men continue to dominate the field of filmmaking, while women and other traditionally marginalized groups such as homosexuals and people of color find themselves on the outside looking in. (more…)

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Long Way Left To Go: Women Directors Face Uphill Battle in Hollywood

Amanda Mae Meyncke on Tuesday, Aug. 28th

toms cheap sale
hogan donne 2014

This week film journalist and filmmaker Amanda Mae Meyncke takes a look at the uphill battle women directors face in Hollywood through the lens of the American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women and her own personal experience. First up: the DWW through the eyes of one of its current participants.

Women directors make up less than 10% of all working directors in Hollywood, and the AFI Directing Workshop for Women has been doing its steady best to change that number. Since the program’s inception in Los Angeles in 1974, there’s been plenty of famous faces in the ranks, and a high percentage of the alumna have moved on to directing features, television shows and creating their own singular works.

Lauren Ludwig is the prime example of a women director who doesn’t take no for an answer, and makes things happen without waiting for the perfect moment. One of the eight women chosen to undertake the AFI Directing Workshop for Women this year, she’s an accomplished playwright, radio and theatre director as well as a writing coach who has won numerous awards for her theatrical work. Her short film Burns Brightly, created during the workshop, finished production this summer. We recently caught up with Ludwig to catch a glimpse of what the program was like on the inside.

The question of why there are so few female directors working in Hollywood is a complicated one, and Ludwig believes that the problem begins for many female directors in film school when more forceful, and often male, voices are rewarded with attention, while women may be afraid of speaking up, or discouraged. She acknowledges that the problem is a systemic one and that there is no clear-cut solution to getting women into positions of authority within the industry.

“Women need to be told they are storytellers and encouraged to tell those stories,” said Ludwig.

(more…)

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Hollywood: Money, Innovation, Guesswork

on Wednesday, Jun. 27th

Two articles are getting my long-term pattern recognition centers bubbling today. I don’t have anything definitive… yet… but I wanted to share some of my quick notes on them with you, loyal readers*, since I think somewhere between their two poles lies the Big Picture.

First up is a July 1st New York Times magazine piece by Planet Money’s Adam Davidson that looks at how the entertainment industry actually makes money. Davidson is a business reporter, so there is little in the way of sentiment here. If you read between the lines you get the message: they don’t really and Hollywood is a bad bet. That’s a gross oversimplification, but I sense it in the tone. If you look at the movie biz from a math standpoint it really is quite stupid.

Thank the maker we know better than to look at most human endeavors with a cost/benefit analysis alone right? Uh oh.

Not that Davidson is totally bearish on Hollywood:

Hollywood is, somewhat surprisingly, a remarkably stable industry. Over the past 80 years or so, its basic model – in which financiers in New York lend money to creative people in Los Angeles – has been largely unaltered. Partly as a result, today’s biggest studios – Columbia, Disney, Paramount, Warner Brothers, Universal, 20th Century Fox – have been on top since at least the 1950s. This stability is initially puzzling because movie studios don’t have many assets. Worse, every one of their projects is a short-term collaboration between a bunch of independent agents.

A modern studio’s main asset, however, is its ability to put together these disparate elements. They know how to get Tom Cruise to do a film, how to get it into theaters around the country and whom to call to set up a junket in Doha. They also know the industry’s language of power, with its ever-changing rules about which stars, restaurants and scripts are cool and which are not. It’s the stuff of easy parody, but it’s worth billions.

There is something underneath all this about the bloat in the current system and that might be answerable by a post I picked up on thanks to Techdirt’s Mike Masnick about how Hollywood really doesn’t get Silicon Valley. Said post is by Tyler Crowley (@steepdecline) and gives a great metaphor about the way the world-views of tech and the music industry differ.

For tech folks, from the 35,000′ view, there are islands of opportunity.  There’s Apple Island, Facebook Island, Microsoft Island, among many others and yes there’s Music Biz Island.  Now, we as tech folks have many friends who have sailed to Apple Island and we know that it’s $99/year to doc your boat and if you build anything Apple Island will tax you at 30%.  Many of our friends are partying their asses off on Apple Island while making millions (and in some recent cases billions) and that sure sounds like a nice place to build a business.

Music Biz Island, on the other hand, starts shooting at you the second you come close to their shore.

It’s time for the entertainment industry to start looking for opportunities in this post-apocalyptic archipelago, instead of trying to defend their shrinking turf.

Adapt or die.

* I mean YOU Lucas, Jon, and Lisa. Amongst others.

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‘American Psycho’, ‘Taxi Driver’ Writers Team Up For Film Kickstarter

on Monday, May. 7th

In terms of proven storytelling talent The Canyons might just be the biggest project to plant a banner at Kickstarter yet. Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho, Less Than Zero) has written and Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Auto Focus) will direct this thriller about the quest for love, sex, success and power in contemporary Hollywood. The film is scheduled to go in front of the lens this summer.

The writer-director team, along with producer Braxton Pope, are self-financing the film. The trio have turned to the crowdfunding site as a means to up the production value, and start building awareness, for a project they chose to keep out of the studio system.

“We didn’t want to be in the position where people perceived it as ‘Oh these guys are begging for money. Why would they be doing that?'” said producer Pope in an interview last week, at the start of the campaign. “I saw someone tweet ‘Why don’t they ask Martin Scorsese for a loan?'”

Pope has been working with the luminaries of the independent film world– directors like Gaspar Noe and Gus Van Sant– for over a decade now. This is his first time dipping his toe into the crowdfunding pool.

“I think I foolishly had some reservations about it,” said Pope, “but once I really discussed it with Paul and Bret, once we explored it a little bit, we realized it was kind of a no brainer. Especially with the new model that we’re embracing to get the movie done.”

The “new model” Pope refers to is the DIY one, from production all the way through distribution. After a different film from the trio fell through at Lionsgate, a company that Pope has a long standing relationship with, they chose to strike out onto the self-produced path with The Canyons.

“We decided to be autonomous and take control and not have to push dates. Not have to hire actors that might not be best for a given role. That we could just make it and tell the story the way we wanted to tell it.”

The campaign for The Canyons is aggressive in its reward offerings. On the day that the campaign went live, Turnstyle’s crowdfunding columnist indie filmmaker Lucas McNelly expressed strong reservations online and in a conversation over the structure of the campaign.  In short: McNelly felt that the producers were putting too much into the rewards relative to the money they were looking to raise. More than one film project has tripped itself up by over-promising on the rewards.

Pope, as it turns out, is an avid Twitter user, and was watching the feeds.

“I read Lucas McNelly’s tweets because I was curious to see his explanation for his critique. Look, I’m by no means a crowdfunding expert . This is the first Kickstarter campaign I’ve initiated, so I don’t presume to know things I don’t know. What I can tell you is that one of the people who is working with us has been through Kickstarter before, is very fluent in Kickstarter and one of his jobs on the production is to oversee the rewards. Get the posters printed. Mailing them out. The DVDs. All our rewards. He’s priced out everything, so there’s no reward that we’ve posted that we haven’t budgeted and accounted for the hard cost.”

One key factor for The Canyons vis-a-vis its generous rewards is the goal of the campaign. The film is going to get made one way or another. What Pope, Easton Ellis and Schrader are looking to do is with the campaign is different from what we usually see at this stage of production.

“It is true that we have more rewards than kind of comparable campaigns, but the reason for Kickstarter wasn’t just trying to get financial resources. A big part of it for us is engaging the community and getting people to participate. We very self-consciously wanted to try and be generous with our time. Giving people access to us and creating a lot of rewards so that people feel invested in what we’re doing.”

This kind of strategy is similar to the self-distribution campaigns we’ve seen for films like On The Ice. Here the filmmakers are looking to get around the huge costs that can come with marketing a movie right from the start.

“In the past when a studio puts up all the P&A (prints and advertising), then you have to sit behind those dollar figures and those spends before you recoup and that can be very, very costly.”

Pope is thinking differently about the fate of the film and putting those thoughts into action right from the start. Before the era of digital distribution and social media an indie film faced a virtual cliff face of obstacles in order to find an audience.

“You were still in the trap of once you’ve executed this movie: how were you going to get it seen? What’s the marketing, what’s the distribution plan?” said Pope. “In the past if a movie went straight to DVD then that was essentially perceived as– in a lot of cases– as a failure. With VOD I don’t think there’s any kind of stigma and I think it’s really opened things up, because there’s been a shift in how people consume films and consume media and content with streaming.”

While our conversation focused on the campaign as a marketing and distribution tool, the campaign will have an impact on the quality of the production. Pope notes that the dollars raised will add days onto the production, and give them the option of exploring “the ARRI Alexa’s which are very difficult to get for free, [but] we can ge them for reduced rates. It may mean some different locations that we may not have had access to, because now we can afford to get them permitted or rent them out as opposed to just exclusively getting locations for free from friends.”

Pope aims to use the campaign to build a community, one that can act as advocates for the production, and that also has a say in the film. One of the more interesting parts of the reward structure is access to the casting process. Backers will be able to vote on finalists for the film at LetItCast.com.

“We want to be transparent and we want to be open and inclusive. Hopefully at the end of it we’ll have created a movie that is compelling and works artistically,but I think bringing people into the process is an important shift for us,” said Pope. “When you do movies with studio partners there’s a lot of control over releasing information. There’s a lot of secrecy. In this social media era there’s a new transparency and I think it’s different and exciting.”

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dirtySTAND

New Media Breaks Through: Fourth Wall Studios Launches RIDES

on Tuesday, May. 1st

The technological arms race that has given us wi-fi and social media has left our society with a fractured attention span in a broken media landscape. Consider how we watch TV: smartphone cradled in one hand, iPad just a lean away.

“You’ve got these connected devices that are taking up a lot of your attention. It creates this conflict, it’s competing. You’re watching a show and then your phone rings and it’s a friend and you got to pause the show and go talk to your friend. Or then you’re chatting on Facebook. All of these kind of invitations into your life that compete for that very precious little band of attention.”

This is how Elan Lee, co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Fourth Wall Studios sees the new normal. It’s a problem that everyone in the entertainment industry is trying to crack: even movie theater owners are thinking about allowing texting during films, a sign taken by some that the barbarians have won. Where others see a crisis, Lee and his studio see an opportunity.

This month they launch Dirty Work— a cable TV style comedy about crime scene cleaners. But it is nothing like cable TV. It’s the first showcase series for the interactive platform they call RIDES. The show starts with a call to your phone, which lets you eavesdrop on a conversation taking place on screen. It’s a technique used to create “gee whiz” moments. Later on the phone trick is used to let the audience in on a character’s thoughts. Instead of letting smartphones and laptops compete with the show for the audience’s attention, RIDES allies with them.

“It collects all of those things together,” said Lee, “your Facebook account and your Twitter and what you’re looking at at the moment. Your telephone number and your ability to leave text messages and on and on. It synchronizes them all together so they all work in unison to tell a really, really good story.”

THE FUTURE OF STORYTELLING [BETA]

At Fourth Wall Studio’s cavernous offices— housed inside a post-modern office park in Culver City intentionally designed to appear as if it barely survived an attack by Mothra— Lee demoed the first episode of Dirty Work for me. Sitting nearby were the studio’s executive producer Zach Schiff-Abrams and head of production Jackie Turnure. RIDES was two weeks from launch at that point, with known bugs present. There were just as many nerves in the room as there would be during a video game demonstration, Lee and company on edge that something new would go wrong with the latest build of RIDES. If Dirty Work were just a pilot for a TV series there’d be no fear of an experience destroying software bug.

For the purposes of the demo Lee sends the signature “wow” content of Dirty Work— the phone calls— to the screen. This is always an option for viewers, but it robs the experience of its punch. Dirty Work itself has solid  production values, to the point where the thought “web series” fades away from the first shot. Below the picture window a timeline lurks, anchored by data points that signal the approach of a phone call, text message, or bonus scene.

“One of the things that user testing revealed,” said Jackie Turnure, “was that there is a tension between anticipating and recognizing on the timeline that there’s about to be extra content coming up and then excitedly hovering. Waiting to click on it, but at the same time wanting to watch what’s happening. That tension of anticipation but also avoiding distraction, that’s what I think we’re getting right 80% of the time right now.”

It’s possible to watch Dirty Work— any RIDES content for that matter— straight through without interacting with the extra content. As the show plays out that material is collected into an inventory, which RIDES gives the viewer the option of picking through during the act breaks. It is an inversion of the classic commercial break from television. Instead of stopping down the action to watch some ads, RIDES takes a pause to let the viewer dig deeper into the world of the story.

As a show Dirty Work has a lot going for it. The crime scene cleaners set-up will give the writing team an endless supply of weird scenarios to put the cast through, which includes recognizable actors from 24 and Breaking Bad. These actors serve as a talisman to ward off any lingering notion that a web distributed series is a second string affair by nature.

Hours later, at home with my own second string DSL connection I log into Home: A Ghost Story, the early beta demo Fourth Wall released. It is here that I finally undergo the singularly creepy experience of a ghost calling my phone, perfectly synched to the action on screen. It’s a kind of magic that brings with it the physical shock the opening shots of The Dark Knight did in IMAX. Who knew a simple phone call could carry so much metaphysical weight?

THE ARG EXPERTS

Lee and studio head writer Sean Stewart had a pretty good idea. They were the co-creators of the first Alternate Reality Game, a promotion for the Steven Spielberg film A.I. affectionally known to its players as “The Beast”

“They were stories that would reach out to you and live in the same world that you lived in,” said Lee. “So all of a sudden you’d be playing the game and in the middle of the night a character from the game would call you on your cellphone and that’s when the next chapter would begin. And it was really cool. It was really fun. It felt kind of like crafting the future somehow.”

At the time he was working on “The Beast” Lee was the lead designer at Microsoft Game Studios.

“When we finished I was all excited because I was like ‘This is awesome! Let’s go build a ton more of these. It really feels like we’re on to something here.’ Then my boss at Microsoft said ‘Explain to me exactly how that makes more money than a game for the XBox which I actually hired you to build?’”

So Lee resigned from his position at Microsoft and went on to co-found 42 Entertainment, the company that pioneered Alternate Reality Games as a marketing tool for video games and movies. For the past decade the creators of ARGs have been developing a host of storytelling techniques that leverage all of our modern technology to create incredibly immersive experiences for a small but very intense audience.

“One of the things that we did was spend five years confusing the living hell out of people, and saying ‘We’re going to make the most impenetrable stuff you ever saw and it’s gonna be AWESOME,’ said Sean Stewart. “And it was pretty awesome. But it was kind of impenetrable.”

Stewart sees the work on RIDES as a chance to use what he and his colleagues have learned to reach a wider audience.

Dirty Work reaches out to you if you wish it to— on your phone, in your email, via text— but you can consume it in a way that’s more familiar,” said Stewart. “You don’t have to stay awake, hop on one foot, run to your local campus, answer a ringing pay phone in the middle of the desert. It looks like other stuff that you do. The idea is that we’d like people to actually feel comfortable having a new media experience, instead of having to be the coolest kid in their dorm to do this stuff.”

TRANSMEDIA’S CROSSOVER MOMENT

Fourth Wall’s challenges are bigger than just tempting audiences into a new storytelling paradigm; they have to convince other media makers to embrace the new way as well. The past few years in Hollywood, thanks in a large part to the work of the ARG creators, has seen the term “transmedia” become the hot buzzword. Even if no one can agree on what it actually means. The time is ripe for a transmedia product to crossover into the mainstream, but the makers of mainstream media are still reluctant to play.

“You want to take the best writers, the best actors, the best craftspeople, the best [directors of photography] and a lot of those people are not working in games,” said head of production Jackie Turnure. “They’re not working in kind of crazy transmedia companies. They are out there making really high quality film and television, and you want to attract those people, because until the work we make can compete with the kind of work those people make, audiences are always going to see us as a second class citizen. As some kind of poor man’s version.”

“There is an expression that we’ve found ourselves using many times,” said Turnure, “that is ‘We’re building the plane as we’re flying it.‘ We’re building the platform at the same time that we’re building the content, and those two things influence each other greatly. Those are the big challenges. That we are kind of figuring out things that we thought would work and then didn’t, and that then impacts the way we make our content along the way.”

To thrive, Fourth Wall Studios has to be more than just a media production company. The technology is, obviously, central to what they are doing. The closest analogy is this: when a video game company makes a new game engine they ship a game with all the bells and whistles to show off what their new baby can do. Games like Gears of War are walking, talking, exploding, profit making calling cards for their home studio’s technologies. Ultimately the goal is to get other game studios to license the engine. According to CEO Jim Stewartson, the platforms that Fourth Wall Studios are building— RIDES and a mobile augmented reality set-up currently called “Elseware”— are toys they intend to share with others.

“Our goal is to create and experiment enough with these tools,” said Stewartson, “to build this platform so that it’s robust enough that other people who are even more creative than we are, who have incredible stories to tell, will be able to take the platform and the tools and be able to expand them and make them better. In the long term we see what we’re building as a movie camera and a movie theater. We want to be making movies with those, because at the end of the day that’s what we do; but we’re hoping that there’s something much bigger that will enable anybody to play in this world.”

To get to that point even the most mundane, sacrosanct parts of production have come under scrutiny. Writer and producer Jay Bushman— who started off his career as one of the players in “The Beast”— explains.

“We’re all used to screenplay format, which is a format that was developed a hundred years ago out of the physical necessity of the filmic production process,” said Bushman. “It was a difficult and interesting challenge, trying to take a format and make it do things that it didn’t want to do. We’ve talked about trying to come up with a new format. We’ve tried to talk about just starting from ground zero.”

BACK TO BASICS

That a group of some of the craftiest storytellers on the planet are rethinking the shape of the screenplay in a office park not far from where Howard Hughes when crazy seems completely appropriate. These are, after all, overloaded ADHD laden times. The cadre at Fourth Wall, who have been living on the edge of new media for the past ten years, are conscious of the historical moment. CEO Stewartson likens the moment to as a step as big as the one from stage plays to movies. So far the attempts to make that leap have been like “taking the Matrix and putting it on your iPhone. That’s a terrible experience. Just like watching a stage play on a movie screen is a terrible experience.”

“What we’re hoping to do is start looking at how the internet wants to tell stories.“ Stewartson said. “How do your devices want to tell stories? In the same way that the movie camera wanted to tell stories. We don’t see it as an evolution. We’re at one of those inflection points like the printing press and the movies and television that really took things to a completely different place.”

All of which is enough to make your head spin if you entertain the possibilities. The team at Fourth Wall is forced to stay much more grounded. They, after all, have to ship their platform and shows. Moreover, they have to connect with audiences, which puts the emphasis back on the basics of storytelling. This is reflected in the name RIDES, which Lee says was settled based on the similarities between the form and that of a roller coaster.

Executive producer Zach Schiff-Abrams, who came to Fourth Wall from a successful movie producing career, boils the choice of the name down to something even more fundamental.

“People want to be taken on a ride,” said Schiff-Abrams. “They want the storyteller to guide them along that path. Sure that path might take circuitous routes at points, but they desperately want to be taken on a ride.”

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The Business of Art: Hollywood Fringe Fest Founders Talk Shop

on Monday, Apr. 16th

Fringe festivals have a reputation as free-for-alls: somewhere between a carnival and theatrical Russian Roulette. Some fantastically visceral pieces of theatre are born out of the crucible of a fringe; audiences also get accustomed to enduring more than a few duds in their search for greatness.

What isn’t often readily apparent is how much winds up going on behind the scenes of a successful Fringe fest. The Hollywood Fringe Festival, which will return for its third year this June for an 11-day stand at theaters throughout the Hollywood area. After growing their festival’s profile over the past two years, co-founders Ben Hill and Stacy Jones-Hill are looking to consolidate what works about the festival and start building an even stronger foundation for the future.

“Its always been a five year plan,” said Hill, “the first was just ‘make it happen’. Above all, if the event occurs then it is successful. The second year was expanding on the first year’s success and adding programs. We’re starting to set our framework for adding these things. The third year is about grouping and consolidating. It’s about taking what we already have and gold plating it, making it better.”

Hill has his eye on more than just expanding the number of venues participating in the festival. With the Hollywood Fringe he’s looking to create a new model for how fringe festivals can work. As Hill tells it, there are currently two major models that fringe festivals use

“There’s what’s called the CAFF model– the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals model– which is the predominant North American model,” said Hill. “The fringe actually rents and runs every single venue.” In most of these festivals shows are chosen either through a lottery or a first-come, first served system. The problem with this model being that it creates what Hill calls a “bulky central fringe organization”. Producers are left at the mercy of the luck of the draw or to fight over a small supply of performance slots.

The other major model is drawn from the Edinburgh Fringe, the festival that started the worldwide fringe movement. Edinburgh is a total free-for-all. If a producer can find a venue that will rent to them, then the show can go on.

“The major criticism of the Edinburgh model,” said Hill, “is that its very easy for the venues to start jacking up the price of the venue substantially. So what we’re trying to do is find an American model.”

In Hill’s vision of the Hollywood Fringe, the central organization controls a small number of venues, while the BYOV (Bring Your Own Venue) ethos of the Edinburgh Fringe plays out all around that hub.

“We set the basic rates and we publicize those rates,” said Hill. “So other venues see what Fringe Central is setting their rate at this year. It becomes like a Fed interest rate, a central rate. So vary from that at your own peril because we are not flooding, but we are injecting a very healthy dose of slots in the market at this rate.”

Open market forces at work means there’s more than a little healthy competition for the audience’s attention. Which puts a pressure on artists to think about the business of the show and not just the art and craft. Stacy Jones-Hill, the festival’s director of publicity, explained that they see part of their role as helping artists develop these skills too.

“We try and be hands on as much as we can without doing everything for anybody,” said Jones-Hill. “We’ve been laying out mathematical formulas about how to budget a show. Ben was giving very conservative estimated about what you should budget for and we try to give suggestions about how to market.”

“We always knew that we’d be creating a lot of producers as a result of this,” said Hill. “That’s kind of what we’re trying to train people on this year. Your show is a business. You’re an entrepreneur, you’re a producer.”

With two years of festivals and host of shows that have gone on to have longer runs post-festival– like Pulp Shakespeare and Four Clowns— the Hollywood Fringe will also turn to some of its alumni to run workshops on marketing and producing this year.

These are not the only changes. Fringe Central which was anchored at the Artworks theater spaces on Santa Monica Blvd. last year, complete with a beer tent, will be de-centralized for the third annual fest. The 99-seat Open Fist Theater will serve as the Fringe Central  main stage along Santa Monica Theater Row. The smaller Theater of Note will be the Fringe run black box venue, creating a second locus of Fringe activity a little closer to the heart of Hollywood.

The Hollywood Fringe will continue to expand their slate this year, with plans to “double down” on the film programming that was kicked off at the last fest and an effort to stage free shows for junior and high school students of the LA Unified School District as part of the festival’s preview week. To encourage patrons to stick around, the festival’s discount button program– which patrons used to get a deal on drinks in the festival tent last year– is being expanded to provide a dollar discount on everything the festival sells, from tickets to merchandise. (Social drinkers need not worry, as the buttons steal score discount booze.)

The overall aim, Hill explained, is to continue to find ways to make the festival a “financially positive experience as well as a socially positive experience” for participating producers.

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The Art Of Being Bad

Beth Acommando on Tuesday, Feb. 21st

Films like “Plan 9 From Outer Space” and more recently “The Room,” reveal the appeal of bad movies. Neither one, though, was intended to be bad. A small Hollywood company is gaining attention for making films designed to be bad.

Meet gonzo filmmaker and part-time ballistics expert Saint James St. James.

“In 1990 I was hired to write and direct ‘Poolboy: No Lifeguard on Duty’ and ‘Poolboy 2: Drowning Out the Fury,'” says St. James.

The legendary filmmaker rocked Hollywood by making his directorial debut at the age of 10. Bucking the system at every turn, he quickly amassed more than a hundred movie credits to his name. His revenge opus “Poolboy: Drowning Out the Fury,” was thought to be lost. But a massive online petition has brought the film back from oblivion…

What? You’ve never heard of Saint James St. James? Or “Poolboy”?

Well that’s because Saint James St. James isn’t a real director. He’s the creation of Ross Patterson and “Poolboy: Drowning Out the Fury” just pretends to be a bad action film from the 90s. Patterson is an actor who got tired of auditioning for bit roles in formulaic Hollywood movies. Patterson gave Hollywood his best shot now he’s giving it his worst.

“‘Poolboy: Drowning Out the Fury,’ literally, is the worst film ever made,” says Patterson with pride.

Boom mics drop into frame, peope forget lines, special effects go awry, and actors (including “Hercules'” Kevin Sorbo and “Machete’s” Danny Trejo) chew up scenery like it’s bubblegum. But there’s an art to being bad says Patterson: “The best way I can describe it, is kind of like Los Feliz hipsters out here, where it takes a lot of money to look poor. It takes a lot of hard work to make bad movies.”

You still have to cast talented actors, hire top crews, and efficiently plan shoots to make best use of locations. But then you have to make it all look bad.

“It’s looking for the right thing,” says editor and producer Ivan Victor, “Even though the right thing might be someone delivering a line in a truly awful, bad actressy kind of way. What’s the best worst read that you have of this particular line?”

Patterson adds, “There’s little things that maybe aren’t in the script, like there was a line in ‘Poolboy’ where an actor in the middle of a scene forgot his line so he just screams out for the script supervisor, ‘Line.’ So you can hear the script supervisor screaming out the line from off camera, and everyone pauses, and then the actor goes right back into the scene as if nothing happens. That is not in the script but having an editor as good as Ivan, he’s like what if we just left that moment in there? And it’s a brilliant scene in the movie.”Here’s the thing. Most of what Hollywood makes isn’t bad it’s bland and mediocre. What audiences want is something entertaining, something that’s fun to watch with friends. And there’s nothing like sharing a deliciously bad movie. Key ingredients are inspiration, genuine passion, and a knowing affection for the source material. Then a kind of alchemy comes into play.

“What you have here is almost like a Hegelian transformation into opposite,” says actor Jesse Merlin, “It’s something that is so bad it approaches the sublime.”

Merlin plays Werewolf Hitler in Patterson’s new film, “FDR: American Badass.” Apparently FDR (hilariously played by Barry Bostwick of “Rocky Horror Fame”) didn’t contract polio while at his summer home at Campobello. He got it from a werewolf bite, and the Axis leaders are all werewolves.

“You try to describe these movies to people,” says producer Tristan Drew, “And tell them that you are making a film about ‘FDR: American Badass,’ and they can’t quite wrap their head around it. They react with, ‘Are you serious?'”

And yes they are. Dead serious about making outrageous movies. “Poolboy’s” inspiration was the awful “The Room” and its pretentious director Tommy Wiseau while the campy 1966 original “Batman” was the model for “FDR.”

For more, visit KPBS’s Cinema Junkie.

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SOPA Makes Me Feel Dirty [The World of Tech]

on Friday, Dec. 16th

Oh, what a mess we’ve made.

SOPA, the “Stop Online Piracy Act”, is the beast that just won’t die. Congress failed to get the bill through the laborious “markup” process before going on break for the year. Markup is the ritual where legislators attempt to stab the rabid bill with steely knives in the form of amendments, in an effort to correct some of the more brain-dead provisions of the law. Like the bits that were written by people who don’t understand how the internet works, and wind up putting in language that could break the ‘net.

The objective of SOPA is to give copyright holders the ability to cut off  internet sites that provide access to their copyrighted materials. When we say cut off we mean that quite literally — a total access ban.

Mike Masnick over at Techdirt has been doing a bang-up job of providing color commentary on the markup hearing. If you can handle what is essentially the vivisection of online freedom of speech, I suggest you read his coverage. The most striking part of Masnick’s reporting is how clear it becomes that the legislators are almost willfully ignorant of what the bill’s actual impact would be. You’d almost think someone was paying them to be stupid. (More on that in a moment.)

What we’re seeing is a pretty bad case of generational divide, complicated by an outmoded frame of thinking about copyright infringement. At Slate, Matthew Yglesias notes that even their own executives think the studios have framed the issue wrong. Tom Rothman, co-CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment, blamed “this romantic word-piracy”. The studios assert that copyright infringement should just be called theft.

Yglesias takes issue there.

The harm in the duplicating is supposed to be that by duplicating content that Fox Filmed Entertainment owns the copyright to, I’m depriving Tom Rothman of some revenue that he might have gotten had I instead gone out and bought a copy of the content for myself. That’s fair enough for Rothman to feel sad about, but it’s a totally different kind of thing. I didn’t buy DC’s animated film of Batman: Year One, and I didn’t pirate a copy either; I watched it at a friend’s house. The difference between watching a movie with your friend and copying your friend’s Blu-ray is that one is legal and one is illegal. But in both cases you watch the movie without paying the copyright owner, and in neither case have you stolen anything from anyone.

There’s a conceptual problem at the heart of the divide between the studios line of thinking and that of the tech industry. The thing is that the studio system still thinks in terms of admission. Having evolved from live performance, the business of theatrical presentation was originally structured in exactly the same way: you paid an admission price to see a film or a slate of films. No ticket, no admission.

Under the studio’s logic a theatre hopper should be getting fined thousands of dollars. After all, they violated the terms of access. We’re a society of criminals. Problem is, if you treat the entirety of the populace as criminal scum they will begin to act like it. (Got that pearl of wisdom from a Batman comic, I did.)

The MPAA is on a quixotic crusade here. The only reason why this is a real problem is that their Sancho Panza is a whole cluster of Congressmen who are addicted to the fat loot that the entertainment industry can provide. Which brings us to the political heart of the matter.

It’s a solid piece of conventional wisdom at present that Congress is broken beyond nearly all repair. Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, the man behind the Creative Commons, has spent the past four years studying what’s broken about Congress. He thinks he’s found the root of the problem: money. Lessig stopped by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to promote his new book “Republic, Lost” this week and the show put up  an extended version of the interview online. It’s worth taking the time to watch both parts. The first will leave you wanting to punch the monitor, and the second offers a glimmer of hope for the future of our democracy. Just a glimmer, mind you. I think we all know how fragile hope is these days.

I couldn’t help but think that the willful ignorance of the legislators who were roundly rejecting every amendment to SOPA were caught up in the broken dynamic of a campaign cash addicted Congress. What’s even more frustrating here is that the architects of these bills are protecting the business model of one industry at the expense of another, all while setting a legislative precedent that could at some point be used to assault our most fundamental rights.

SOPA is a pointless fight. It won’t stop the decline of media conglomerates. There’s a simple unavoidable truth here: the business model that revolves around the leasing of access to a recorded piece of media is on its last breaths. Actually, that isn’t breathing you hear but the moan of a zombie. What we see all around us now aren’t real movie studios; they are the walking dead.

Studios should pour this passionate intensity into figuring out how to make the movie-going experience better. They could also try cutting ticket prices; I hear people love to go to the movies when they’re broke if they can afford it.

The industry needs to stop spending money on protecting their old business models and start investing in inventing the future. While they’re at it they should pay attention to the kind of experiment that comedian Louis C.K. pulled off this week, releasing his latest comedy special — the production costs of which were paid for out of his own pocket — as a DRM-free, region-unlocked, $5 download.

The battle over SOPA will pick up where it left off in January.

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Comic-Con’s Day In The Sun

on Monday, Jul. 25th

It was only a whirlwind trip to San Diego Comic-Con 2011 for my first ever trip to the grand-daddy of Comic-Cons. I knew what to expect, having been a veteran of Wondercon, the sister show in Northern California. SDCC did not disappoint: it was Wondercon times 100, with a greater emphasis on toys, collectables, and Hollywood’s latest offerings.

What did surprise me was how the convention spilled out into the streets of San Diego. The historic Gaslamp quarter was, for all intents and purposes, Hall X. Restaurants got full conversions as television networks bought them out for promotional purposes.

It’s said every year, and now I can confirm with authority: the convention has outgrown the venue. Although the real problem isn’t the size — it’s the way the convention is organized. In days of old, an “open panel” style was good for the convention. Scores of fans would just chill in whatever hall they were in and absorb the pitches and panels from the various comic book publishers.

Now the convention is all about camping inside Hall H — the main media venue — for the one panel you are excited about while fans of whatever is being talked about at the moment grumble outside, wishing they could trade places with those who are merely enduring what they would kill to hear.

As I heard reports that the lines for pre-registration for the 2012 convention had begun hours before the first day of the current con was underway, the immortal words of Yoda the Jedi Master echoed through my head:

“Never his mind on where he is, heh. What he is doing, heh.”

SDCC has become a recursive loop; its own hype feeding on itself to the point where almost no one can enjoy the moment they are in. To combat this, alternatives to the main venues have cropped up, like Nerd Machine’s Nerd HQ. Launched by “Chuck” actor Zachary Levi, the Nerd HQ venue hosted panel discussions on a pay by panel basis to cater to fans who couldn’t see what they came for at the con. Capitalism at its finest, and a sign that the Comic-Con system may be irrevocably broken.

The spirit of an open panel format is an egalitarian one, but it leaves much to be desired as an organizational principle. The openness is gamed by the hall campers, and the spirit is crushed, leaving fans disappointed. After spending a year at giant events like Sundance, E3, and various theatre festivals that overtook LA in June (I’ve been busy- Humble Braggin’ Noah) I can say that Comic-Con would benefit by adopting a film festival like structure for it’s major programming.

Ticket everything, and sell ticket packages to the various programs. A basic pass could come with one ticket to a Hall H program and a few “regular” panels. The details aren’t worth going into here… and they’ve been refined for decades by events of this scale.

It’s time Comic-Con grew up.

Ah, what do you care… you just want the pictures. Here you go:

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Emmy Ballots Are In

on Friday, Jun. 24th

The deadline passed an hour ago for Emmy ballots to be submitted. As a new–and seemingly indifferent–member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, I voted this year and marveled at how the ballot inspired my inner cheerleader (and bully).

You see, in most categories, you can cast up to ten votes on your “scantron” ballot, which looks like an SAT test answer sheet, also requiring a number two pencil. With ten votes, and often dozens of choices, I found myself employing strategic tactics to get my shows to win: Voting for what I imagined as the stiffest competitors of a show I don’t like, but will likely be a front runner this year. And in categories where I don’t know enough to vote intelligently–such as Children’s Programs and Variety-Music-Comedy Specials–I either picked the most altruistic titles or voted for whom I assumed was a deserving underdog.

One thing that irked me is I didn’t get to vote for any of the actors. I couldn’t immediately figure out why by looking on the academy’s site,  but assume it is because I am a mere “active member.” There are several stratum leading all the way up to the highest, which is, surprisingly, “Los Angeles Area Membership.” You’d think the “emeritus” level would be the highest, right?

I suppose this will make the awards show worth watching.

Go Dexter! (That’s all I really care about, after all. That and Mad Men… and United States of Tara… and the Big C… and… Okay! I do care about a bunch of shows!)

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To Build The VR Education of Tomorrow One Scholar Turns To The Past

There are plenty of folks in the education technology field who are excited about virtual reality as the next great educational tool.

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We’re Closer To Our Photorealistic VR Future Than You’d Think (INTERVIEW)

A look into the virtual world of tomorrow with USC researcher Paul Debevec.

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Prepare Yourselves For The Personal VR Video Revolution

Virtual Reality is rapidly approaching a watershed moment.

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Spoiler Alert: Hollywood Isn’t Taking Cyber Security Seriously (LA Film Fest)

Tonight at the Los Angeles Film Festival, squeezed in between movies and red carpet events, a symposium on Cyber Security is being held at the Grammy Museum.

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Rent Video Straight From Social Media Via Gumroad

The people who brought the “Buy Now” button to Twitter are going all-in on film distribution.

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