Sunday, July 28, 2013


It's July.

Can you believe it? Where has this year gone?

And more importantly, how are you holding up amongst the frantic pace of it all?

It's exciting but simultaneously petrifying. So much happens, but so little time do we get to stop and mull.

When we do, the need to dig deeper hits us at bizarre moments. One minute you are doing a quick email check, hours later you are reading about nuclear fission on Wikipedia. At 2am.

But that's part of the fun in life, isn't it? Taking time to go beyond the superficial. Lifting the rock and seeing what's underneath?

That's where life get's interesting.

Remarkably, the compulsion to dig deeper is fairly universal. It's a foundation trait of humanity. Natural curiosity.

It's the reason why camera shy directors end up in a sound booth recording commentary for their movies. If you have made people feel something, anything, they want to know more. How did you tap into their emotional response?

While I respect the question, I find a lot of the extra content pretty dry. Borderline unwatchable.

Recently, however, a friend sent me a link to an amazing piece of additional content created for the TV Show, 'The Walking Dead'. It is an interactive, comic book style, animated web site, showing how the zombie hoard, called 'walkers' are created. Of my favourite tid bits:

- actors who play 'walkers' have to go to zombie school;
- walkers in zombie school go through an obstacle course, where each 'walker' has to learn 10-12 different ways to move around an obstacle; and
- the colour of the blood on the zombie's is called 'Zombie Dark' and the formula for it is top secret.

I find this fascinating, but what is truly noteworthy is that this additional content grabs and holds my attention on its own merits. Intrinsically.

And before you accuse me of bias, labeling me a 'Walking Dead' fanboy, you should know that I have never seen the show.

I have also never watched 'Game of Thrones', although I seem to know a lot about it from the horrified cries of the fanverse on Facebook. My ignorance, however, was no barrier to me being enthralled by the news that a dragon skull 'washed ashore' in England. The photos in this article capture it best:

Shortly after, it was revealed to be an elaborate promotion for 'Game of Thrones'.

And yet, it was still remarkable enough for me to take a moment to see it. That is the power that great content, even if it is just the additional content, can evoke when it meets human curiosity.

The power to draw an audience.

This power may seem trivial but, in a world where we are constantly bombarded with information, and seven months can fly by in a blink, such power is impressive.

But what does this mean to you?

For content creators, it goes to show that, when you create something with skill and care, rather than as an after-thought, it can grab attention. Even in a time poor world.

In short, never do anything half-assed. Not when people are creating fantastic content as the additional material for their main work.

And for the rest of you?

It means it's July.

Soon it will be December.

Time passes too quickly.

So, for your own sake, whether its a zombie, a dragon skull or something else that makes you smile, take a moment to appreciate it.

Moments are all we have.

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Thursday, July 25, 2013


'The Lone Ranger', Disney's new $250 million dollar summer blockbuster, looks like it is going to lose $150 million for Disney.

That's not a typo. $150 million. Lost.

To some analysts, this failure signals the beginning of 'the Hollywood implosion' that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas recently predicted.

I disagree.

You see, I also wrote recently about the glum prognostications of Mr Spielberg and Mr Lucas:

I suggested that, instead of evidence of an implosion, their predictions are evidence of a different trend: the wave of technological change turning the existing experts into novices, just like the rest of us.

I also pointed out that, remarkably, no-one is highlighting the fact that film budgets continue to expand, while the technological means to make films actually becomes cheaper and more accessible.

And then, amongst all of the chatter of doom and industry implosions, 'The Lone Ranger', and its suggested dismal box office returns, seems to provide timely evidence for the pessimists.

Or does it?

There is a very small gem of vital truth in the Hollywood Reporter article about 'The Lone Ranger' and its predicted failure. I suggest you read it, however, just in case you are feeling lazy, the critical passages are:

'In August 2011, former Walt Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross suspended production of Lone Ranger because of concerns over the $250 million budget in the wake of box office bomb Cowboys & Aliens, also a Western.

But after Bruckheimer and Verbinski promised to scale back the budget to $215 million, Disney gave the go-ahead. As part of the agreement, Bruckheimer also agreed to pay for a portion of any budget overages, although it isn't known what the split is between him and Disney. That arrangement could put some of the financial loss on Bruckheimer's shoulders.'

Did you see it?

I even bolded it for you.

The critical question, we should all be asking, is how do you simply 'scale back' $35 million dollars?

That's a not insignificant 14% of the total budget, by the way.

If you didn't need to spend $35 million dollars then why, for the love of Pete, would you ask for it?

And while you are thinking, consider this. Traditionally, the producer's fee is calculated as a percentage of the total budget of the film. Under this model, producer's essentially have a vested interest to see the budget go higher, to increase the size of the fee they receive, regardless of box office success.

Could this have been a factor?

We'll never know.

What we do know, is that the film production system has to adopt the technological change at hand and evolve to a more sustainable model. We are in the midst of that transitional period, and transition is always scary. The old guard are terrified by what they can't understand.

But once upon a time, films didn't have sound.

Epochs end. Is an end to the days of spending so much on a film that it has to do unrealistically well at the box office a tragedy?

No, it isn't. It simply means that films will need to be made using the latest technology. Smarter. Cheaper. Less wasteful.

It's not a bad thing. It's just an unknown, given our current level of understanding.

The unknown always leads to outlandish theories, to try and explain a shifting paradigm.

The Hollywood implosion is one of those myths.

How do I know?

Despite 'The Lone Ranger', Disney just became the first Hollywood studio to surpass $1 billion in U.S. domestic box office returns this year.

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Sunday, July 14, 2013


Julia Roberts has a brother named Eric. If you were cognizant in the 80's, you already know that.

Eric, you see, is also an actor, like his younger sister.

In fact, believe it or not, at one stage Eric Roberts was set to be the next big thing.

A star.

And then, his Hollywood stock started to fall. Bad movie after bad movie followed. He baffled audiences and critics with his choices. How could he be Oscar-nominated for 'Runaway Train', and then star in a B-grade martial arts film, 'Best of the Best', just a few films later?

As it turns out, Roberts would answer this question himself:

"Up until the late '80s, I'd been so careful with my career that I only made a movie a year; sometimes every other year. But because of some bad investments, I was not a millionaire anymore. I decided the hell with it. So I started doing everything that was offered to me. I made a slew of B-movies, like 12 or 14, and some of them are pretty terrible."

So, out of financial desperation, and (from another interview) the crippling paranoia of never getting another job offer, Roberts took every role and brought about his own career downfall.

Roberts is not alone in facing these concerns. The feeling of choosing 'passion versus work' is one that we all face at some point in our lives. No matter your profession, we have also all had that moment where you wonder if the opportunity in front of you will be your last.

In that sense, everyone can take a lesson from Eric Roberts' cautionary tale.

Unfortunately, these two feelings are usually only associated with a project or opportunity that you are not really convinced about. Your intuition tells you that you want to pass on the offer, but the naysaying voice in your mind wonders aloud, 'but what if this is the last offer I get? My big break?'

While I would love to tell you differently, this is a paradox that is difficult to resolve.

It is true that the best projects to attach to are the ones where you can't imagine being uninvolved, but these sorts of projects only come along infrequently. And, while you sustain yourself with your adherence to these lofty principles, the truth is that there is also something to be said for staying active. Ultimately, it really depends on your circumstances and whether you are hardwired to play the game with a long term view in mind.

Personally, I won't work on anything that I can't envision being proud to talk about years later. As a producer, it is particularly important because you have to live with the film for FAR longer than everyone else.

But I have known others who prefer to stay active. Building skills by working on a plethora of smaller projects.

Both of these approaches are perfectly valid in their own right. The commonality, you see, is that both approaches are motivated by reasons very different to the melancholy tale of Eric Roberts. These two approaches are motivated by developing a career based on choices.

Mr Roberts was motivated by money and fear of being ignored.

But all is not lost. Roberts finally stopped jumping at every offer and started to make better choices. His biggest star turn was a well received role as a mob boss in the acclaimed Batman sequel, 'The Dark Knight'.

And that is the beauty of choice. It's never too late to correct your trajectory. It can start as simply with the next choice you face.

But wait. Just when the clouds were clearing, Roberts signed on to reality show, 'Celebrity Rehab'.

And, most recently, he has been announced to star in 'The Human Centipede 3'.

Oh dear.

Make good decisions.

Don't be Eric Roberts.

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Saturday, July 06, 2013


So, you have just been nominated for an Oscar.

It is the symbol of excellence in filmmaking. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) Award.

This is the summit. The peak. The recognition of your hard work and sacrifice.

This is the goal you set yourself all those years ago. The litmus test that you have 'made it'.

You are honoured to be nominated and thrilled at the opportunity to win it.

Or are you?

"The whole thing is a goddamn meat parade. I don't want any part of it."

Such were the words of George C. Scott. Winner of the 1971 Academy Award for Best Actor.

Also, the first person to ever reject an Oscar.


I wouldn't be surprised if you were. This behaviour flies in the face of a lot of cultural norms today.

But in deifying the Academy Awards, as we have in modern times, have we overlooked a fairly basic truth?

By way of comparison, have you ever seen a poster for a film covered in tiny 'Official Selection, (insert Film Festival name here)' logos, like floral epaulettes?

The filmmakers place them there to add an impression of prestige to the film.

Keep in mind, however, that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of film festivals in the world. The end result is that, in the eye of the beholder, the 'Official Selection' logo ultimately reads a lot like this:

And this is the basic truth I was referring to: context matters.

If there were only one film festival in the world, an official selection logo would suddenly be meaningful. But alas, there are thousands. In the full context, the harsh truth, the 'Official Selection' logo looks pretty but is ultimately meaningless to the vast majority of observers.

And so it is with awards for artistic merit, like the Oscars: context matters.

Context, in fact, is even more vital for an Awards program because awards do not have intrinsic value. Awards derive their power and value from respect bestowed onto them, by both the giver and the receiver.

Unfortunately, in the case of the Oscars, there is a growing schism between these two groups.

The receivers still largely respect the awards as a symbol of excellence. Anyone who has watched a starlet melt into an emotional downpour on stage knows that holding that small golden erection means something deeply profound to a recipient.

But on the giving side?

To those that bestow the Oscar, is it still the symbol of excellence or a leverage of pure politics?

Recent events lead you to wonder.

Like the institution, by the Academy, of a new rule that means a documentary has to have been reviewed by the LA Times or The New York Times to qualify for an Oscar.

The new rule is designed purely to reduce the number of films The Academy actually has to consider and judge for the Oscars. Is this behaviour respecting the idea of the Award being the pinnacle of the film achievement? Surely a great documentary is a great documentary, regardless of whether it has been reviewed by these two publications?

And therein lies the problem. When the givers of an Award have deliberately introduced a rule that could, conceivably, exclude legitimate contenders, they diminish the respect in which that Award is held.

Couple this example with the controversy around Academy Members speaking out against 'Zero Dark Thirty', suggesting it endorses CIA torture, and you get a picture of an accolade that has become more political platform than altruistic reward for excellence.

So, what does this all mean?

It's simple really.

Don't chase the accolades. Don't use an award, even one as glamorous as an Oscar, as the symbolic end goal for your success.

Enjoy the work because the privilege of making a living telling stories, that an audience responds to, should be reward enough.

And if it's not, for the love of god, do something else for a living. There are far easier ways to make money and garner respect.

Leave this one for the raconteurs.

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