Director of narrative, commercial, and virtual reality

Film Portfolio

Project Greenlight finalist | Short about sex, death, existence, time

Lily in the Grinder

Shabbat Dinner

Comedy short about coming out | Featured in 55+ festivals

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Featured on TechCrunch | 7k users per day

Global event handing out nametags on first Sat in June

Nametag Day

Uber Forecast

Tracking Uber's surge pricing to guess what the weather might be

Archive for June, 2009

Will You Be There

Rest in peace, MJ. You leave a legacy as weird as you ever were! I have no idea how I feel right now, but it’s a huge shock.

Moonwalkin' on heaven's door

Moonwalkin' on heaven's door

Hold me
Like the river Jordan
And I will then say to thee
You are my friend

Carry me
Like you are my brother
Love me like a mother
Will you be there?

Weary
Tell me will you hold me?
When wrong, will you scold me?
When lost, will you find me?

But they told me
A man should be faithful
And walk when not able
And fight ’til the end
But I’m only human

Everyone’s taking control of me
Seems that the world’s
Got a role for me
I’m so confused
Will you show it to me?
You’ll be there for me
And care enough to bare me

Hold me (show me)
Lay your head lowly (lowly)
Softly then boldly (yeah-ah)
Carry me there (I’m only human)

Lead me (hold me)
Love me and feed me (yeah yeah yeah)
Kiss me and free me (yeah-ah)
I will feel blessed (I’m only human)

Carry (carry)
Carry me boldly (carry-y me)
Lift me up slowly (yeah-ah)
Carry me there (I’m only human)

Save me (save me)
Heal me and bath me (lift me up, lift me up)
Softly you say to me
I will be there (I will be there)

Lift me (don’t leave)
Lift me up slowly
Carry me boldly (yeah-ah)
Show me you care (carrrre)

Hold me (whoo)
Lay your head lowly (get lonely sometime)
Softly then boldly (I get lonely, yeah-ah)
Carry me there (will you be there)

Need me (whoo)
Love me and feed me (lift me up, hold me up, lift me up sometime)
Kiss me and free me (up sometime)
I will feel blessed (yeah-ah)

(Spoken)
In our darkest hour
In my deepest despair
Will you still care?
Will you be there?
In my trials
And my tribulations
Through our doubts
And frustrations
In my violence
In my turbulence
Through my fear
And my confessions
In my anguish and my pain
Through my joy and my sorrow
In the promise of another tomorrow
I’ll never let you part
For you’re always in my heart

Firefox ftw and I never even noticed. (EDIT: maybe not…)

Back when Mozilla Firefox was first gaining popularity, I used to check W3Schools’ browser usage chart, which breaks down browser marketshare as reported by a number of websites. I kept hoping impatiently that Firefox would overtake Internet Explorer. Well I just checked tonight and, as it turns out, this occurred around January, 2009. (It’s hard to say exactly when as these stats are by nature quite inexact.)

Aside from Firefox’s dominance coinciding with Barack Obama’s inauguration (no coincidence, I’m sure,) it’s notable how little fanfare there was. By the time it happened, the inevitability of the event was obvious. Firefox was launched after the browser wars had been declared over and Microsoft crowned king. How could anything dominate the monopoly browser, people asked? Since then, both Safari and Chrome have sprung up as successful browsers in their own right, and with seemingly little effort.

Here’s the graph I made:

browser_graph

If you don’t know what it was like to develop for browsers in the early days of Firefox, it was terrible. Imagine that you are a gourmet chef trying to prepare a beautifully presented meal, but it will be served on either a plate, a bowl, a cup, or a giant vat. Unless you are very clever and creative–or very simple–your beautiful dish will get poured into a cup and turned into mush.

Internet Explorer has never supported open web standards; Opera, a not-as-popular browser, always has. Netscape never did. Even worse, a browser’s PC and Mac version would render pages differently. A developer had to use ingenious tricks to determine what browser a person was using and serve them different code based on this information. One small change in a page’s layout, then, would mean testing on three browsers on two operating systems.

In the time right after Firefox’s introduction, we had an even worse adjustment period. As much as web developers wanted to, we could not simply ignore Internet Explorer, the dominant browser. So it made our lives a living hell, rendering inconsistently and changing with each version (the complexity of the changes is beyond this blog–look at the bottom where I detail one particularly insidious change.) IE also came shipped with computers, so how were we ever going to get it off?

Thankfully, we are leaving the days where most internet users are like my father, who thought his browser was called “My Yahoo.” People are aware of their choice in browsers and exercise it. Firefox and its ilk have forced Microsoft to adapt to web standards and innovate again, and this has been much of the impetus behind the explosion in web tools. With a browser community that can support the latest developments, awesome apps like Google Wave or Google Gears have the foundation to stand on.

For the curious, I have enlarged the area with the non-dominant browsers. You can see the end of the decline of Netscape, the rapid rise of Chrome, and the slow rise of Safari. Opera has held steady and probably will – it’s a browser for geeks mostly.

browser_graph_larger

As I promised above, here is one particularly egregious change of Microsoft’s: IE6 was the end of innovation until Firefox came along. They hurriedly assembled a development team and did their best to catch up with the web standards – but they did such a shoddy job of it that only some parts of the browser were up to code (so to speak.) One of the techniques used to fix IE was to capitalize on a flaw in the browser that caused it to run code that other browsers would correctly ignore. That flaw was used to feed IE the code that would make things look right. The team fixed this error, so that IE now executed the same code as other browsers, but they neglected to fix the rendering problems. So IE acted like a standards-compliant browser and received the code for one, and then failed to execute the code properly. These growing pains are inevitable, but it would have been a real treat if IE really fixed all their problems in one fell swoop. Luckily, the days of a broken IE are mostly in the past.

You can see my file with the stats by browser here, and the original data here.

EDIT 6-25-09: My friend Sam Levine points out the wikipedia article that links to hitslink’s statistics, which show IE’s market share at a whopping 80%. Depressing, but I’m inclined to agree with this number more than my previous one.

It’s a totally subjective metric. The only way to gauge it is to count each individual visit. You can check visits by IP address to verify that you’re not counting multiple visits from the same computer and perform some other tricks to try and get a better number, but it’s not an exact science. The stats are skewed most by the group of people visiting the website – techies tend to be more likely to use non-IE browsers. Another source of skew is corporate intranets and other funky setups, which are much more likely to be using IE.

W3Schools’ data, which I used, is from a techie web design site, whereas hitslink’s data is from a statistics tracking app installed on many mainstream sites, so it likely reflects the broader trends more accurately. Still, the movement in trends are robust and it is still significant news that on some websites Firefox has recently become the dominant browser. 20% of the browser market is a sizable enough amount to keep sites standards-compliant and keep IE in line. Hopefully soon we will enter a world of strict standards compliance where any browser is equally welcome!

I guess “My Yahoo” must account for a significant chunk browser share as well…

Showbizzle: off the hizzle

Breaking into showbiz is hard, and Janie’s no stranger to that process! She’s got tons of friends who are trying to make it big, and they pour their hearts out to her a coffee shop while she does her writing.

That’s the premise of Showbizzle, a web series launched by my friend Lindsey Rosin and her dad Chuck. It’s artfully executed and manages to feel natural while following these characters through Janie’s life. The concept is built as a community more than simply a web series: they have provided advice from real filmmakers, social networking, and the ability to submit your own episodes of your stories!

For those trying to break into the community or those who want to watch some good TV, the site is a great resource to engage with. Here’s the first episode:

 

Derrida and banana bread

But what is banana bread, anyway? What is <i>is</i>?

But what is banana bread, anyway? What is is?

I noticed this sign at Film Forum in New York. What an endorsement!! To understand it fully, though, we will have to dig deeply…

Embryo Adoption??

Being pre-born again. <a href=

Being pre-born again - Village Voice.

The front page article of this week’s Village Voice discusses a new niche sect of the Pro-Life movement that seeks to rebrand a frozen embryo as a child with human rights, and the process of in-vitro fertilization as “adoption.” It’s a fascinating read.

From Village Voice:

Since 1997, a small but growing arm of the pro-life movement has been promoting a new name […] “embryo adoption.”

The idea is to convince people that embryos created for in vitro fertilization—undifferentiated clumps of cells roughly the size of a comma—are actually individuals that deserve legal rights and the same protections afforded to actual children during adoption. To help popularize the notion of embryos as unique individuals, pro-life advocates refer to them as human “snowflakes” (because no two are alike), and say that women like Lauren are helping to bring “snowflake babies” into the world.

Now, I understand the opinion that an embryo is alive. I understand that an embryo has a unique potential to be a human being. It’s clear that there is no solid line between an embryo and a baby. But this is ridiculous. The mere potential to be a human being alone shouldn’t make them sacred; is menstruation a sin?

Embry-who?

Embry-who?

The real dilemma here is that our old framework that considers things either alive or dead is a gross simplification, and a morality based on this duality is increasingly irrelevant. A human personality, spirit, and experience is holy. A lump that has the potential to become human is not. We will never all agree on where the line is.

Sam Casey, Executive VP for Advocates International, says that treating embryos as nonhuman is just like the way we treated slaves as nonhuman before the Civil War. They want to require women who have frozen their embryos to either inseminate or give them up for adoption, because otherwise they are being “bad parents.”

There’s a weird denial of death here. Do they really believe it is possible to give life to every embryo in existence? What in their experience makes them believe this is desirable or the natural order of things? Ordinarily I believe that practical considerations shouldn’t come into the definition of what is right–but in this case what they propose is next to impossible, and therefore pretty absurd.

I know this is a hot button issue and I apologize if I’ve offended anybody, but how can we come to terms with each other if we do not speak honestly? Please post your comments below.

John Hodgman roasts Obama

Witty as usual, Hodgman tries to determine if Obama is a nerd as he seems, or (gasp!) actually a jock in disguise.

The Turmoil in the Industry: Part Three

youtube player with woman(this is a long article and internet people have no attention span. skip to the bottom if you want to know how it ends!)

In the last two posts I have covered the challenges facing our industry – financing its films when the distribution model is defunct, monetizing the Internet where users expect to pay nothing, and conquering the crowd logic of moviegoers and the advertising budgets of the big players.

The situation seems dire, but I see a glimmer hope for indie filmmakers. If we follow some currently existing technologies to investigate the possibilities they create, we can see glimpses of a future that is ever more friendly to the independent filmmaker. Here are the changes I see happening – if you have any thoughts don’t be shy about commenting!

Lowered cost of film production

There is no arguing this one – films are cheaper to make than ever, and costs are only going down. With a Filp camera and a Mac with Final Cut, anybody can create a feature film in HD. Of course availability does not equal quality; there is little chance of competing with a studio film if money and creative energy are spent on lighting, film and acting talent, set design, etc. Still, the cost of making a great movie with a small, scrappy team is dropping astronomically.

This means that studios will have a much harder time competing quality-wise with independent productions. Still, they maintain three advantages that they are unlikely to lose. First, they have greater financial resources and the ability to take risk – they can recoup losses from some films with profits from successful films. Second, they have greater access to movie stars and money to pay for them, and this access will always be useful. Third, they have the ability to make huge-budget crowd-pleasing effects movies like Transformers and Batman. These are the films that benefit the most from effects budgets, licensing deals, and traditional marketing that can get an entire country excited for the release.

Internet marketing

Again, already begun. The Internet has allowed filmmakers more opportunity than ever before to reach the exact audience that will be interested in their film. This process is already creating successes of movies that would have been failures ten years ago.

This ability to get the word out is important, but I see it as a first step. At this point, film networks are ad-hoc and created by the filmmaker – a website and Facebook page that collects email addresses and sends updates, for example. I am more interested in communities that already exist for the express purpose of movie watching.

What’s more, these communities can be tied to the actual distribution of films. For example, a moviegoer can log onto a website that provides not only showtimes and trailers, but a viewer community, links to similar films, and rankings of films. Furthermore, the performance of a film on these sites can inform the distribution of films; films that perform well can be featured more prominently at physical box-office locations.

Does this sound familiar? It’s a model already in use..read on.

Digital distribution of films

This is certainly coming, and it’s implications are enormous. Currently, a 35mm print must be struck for every film exhibition run–a time-consuming and costly process. The costs of transporting these prints and coordinating their locations for a theatrical run are very daunting for small distributors. These limitations are most of the reason for our current model: films make either a small run at festivals or a huge nationwide run, with very little in the middle.

Digital distribution will change all that. With digital projectors and high-speed data connections, any movie theater can pay for an exhibition license with a credit card and download the film to its projectors. So any filmmaker with enough enterprise can convince a theater to show a film just once. Films can have medium-sized distribution runs. Films can be show at off hours and, if they perform well, moved to peak hours. The development opens the door for all manners of promotion: for example, a filmmaker can give a screening to a theater for free to show the movie’s viability and then charge for successive screenings.

Even as home distribution rises, there will always be an appetite for showing and watching films in large groups, and this large-format distribution will finally be in on the digital game.

Flattening of the exhibition curve

The curve I discussed earlier, plotting the popularity of a film against the number of times it has been watched, drops precipitously after the first few studio films. As independent films are easier to promote and distribute,  this curve will flatten substantially and non-studio films will win a greater audience. With lower barriers to every element of filmmaking, smaller entities will be able to make money off their films, and maybe have a better shot at making it big.

This brave new world offers a different role for studios. The astronomical profits of big hits are likely to shrink, and with them a lot of the sexy status and extreme wealth of the film industry. I don’t think the industry will have the same tremendous skew of wealth distribution as it currently does, with billion-dollar success stories and bucketloads of cheap labor – it will begin to resemble much less of a glamor industry and more a traditional one (Malcom Gladwell has a great illustration of this distinction in The Tipping Point.) Studios will have incentive to invest in many low-budget films; we will likely see much of the independent film market be assimilated and funded by the studios — niche films, political films, and all the rest.

The change in the curve also will make low-budget filmmaking a less risky endeavor. A filmmaker will have a more easily accessible source of revenue in the new digital cinemas, and further revenue in the form of…

The rise of micropayment

Micropayment is simply the process of paying small amounts of money – from $.10 to $2 or so, in exchange for information or anything else. It’s already here but it has not reached maturity, and I believe that payments of small amounts of money can save this and other industries.

The capability is here – any website that wants to can accept a credit card in return for a service, but these sites currently face two obstacles. The first is effort – entering a credit card number and confirming billing information takes a good amount of time; sites like the iTunes Store show much more success by taking credit card information in the beginning. This way, purchases become as easy as a single click. It is easy to spend a dollar here, 50 cents there, without thinking too much about it.

I see payment becoming integrated into our browser sessions and various user accounts automatically and across the board. A user can perform a single click and the browser will take care of the rest. There is plenty of research into secure means of achieving this goal, and I am confident we can iron out the kinks.

Once this procedure is perfected, I predict that news and video sites will start charging for content again – I don’t know what model they will use, but 30 cents for a news article would be a big change from free information. Once consumers are used to paying in micropayments, the possibilities for content providers are endless. A person can pay $2 to watch the first 30 minutes of a film and another $6 to watch the rest of it if they like it, for example.

A note on copy protection

The next issue with micropayment for films is copy protection. I fundamentally disagree with the concept of copy protection and locking media to a specific device. I have frequently circumvented copy protection just to be able to exercise my legal fair-use rights, and I resent the cage my media has been placed in. Still, some form of content protection is required if a filmmaker is to make money. Also recognizing that someone will figure out how to pirate your movie somehow, what makes most sense to me is a very light form of protection that deters casual copying; there is no justification in trying harder than that.

All these factors bring me to my big-deal solution that I believe will be the next revolution in film distribution. I call it..

The Youtubization of Feature Films

I told you that the centralized viewing model I described was a familiar one, and it is – it’s almost the exact model of YouTube, but with feature films! Once films can be uploaded to a network, sold at small cost to individuals and large cost to theaters, and people can enter in an online community as a part of that network, this shift will be inevitable. On top of this framework, a million different pricing and exhibition options are available – distribution from movie screens all the way down to cell phones, all through the same mechanism. A filmmaker can set the prices and for each distribution

The consequences here are enormous. In this framework, the content, promotion, and distribution are one and the same. A frequently-watched trailer will earn higher placement on the site and entice theater owners to choose that film to exhibit. Movies will be able to “go viral” much in the same way short videos have: by making money in a limited theatrical run, getting many online views, etc. Even the smaller films will be able to develop their own communities as part of the greater movie-watching community.

This shift will bring tremendous diversity to the moviegoer experience. In New York, we enjoy a population density so great that it sustains many independent theaters and offers New Yorkers plenty of choice. Soon, any town with a multiplex will be able to offer a similar diversity. The cost of doing so will be nominal.

With this diversity, I predict that as more obscure content becomes more psychologically acceptable and available, viewers will become more empowered to choose movies and more active in their movie choices. I hope, in my lifetime, to see non-cinephiles give an obscure documentary the same consideration as a large-budget action feature. Perhaps this dream is too optimistic, but I know we are heading towards it.

And so we have come full circle

From the days of storytelling before books and the radio, when wandering storytellers would gather groups by fire or candlelight to tell their tales, we are heading back towards where we came. Peer-to-peer storytelling is now a reality–and while only the good storytellers are successful, it’s nice to see that everyone can have a chance.

Obama's Plan for Gay Rights? There Isn't One.

Wow. Just wow. I knew that Obama wasn’t going to do the right thing every step of the way, but this development is downright crushing. Thanks to Chris Stout for bringing this to my attention.

From America Blog:

Obama didn’t just argue a technicality about the case, he argued that DOMA is reasonable. That DOMA is constitutional. That DOMA wasn’t motivated by any anti-gay animus. He argued why our Supreme Court victories in Roemer and Lawrence shouldn’t be interpreted to give us rights in any other area (which hurts us in countless other cases and battles). He argued that DOMA doesn’t discriminate against us because it also discriminates about straight unmarried couples (ignoring the fact that they can get married and we can’t).

He actually argued that the courts shouldn’t consider Loving v. Virginia, the miscegenation case in which the Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to ban interracial marriages, when looking at gay civil rights cases. He told the court, in essence, that blacks deserve more civil rights than gays, that our civil rights are not on the same level.

And before Obama claims he didn’t have a choice, he had a choice. Bush, Reagan and Clinton all filed briefs in court opposing current federal law as being unconstitutional (we’ll be posting more about that later). Obama could have done the same.

Obama was elected because we believed him when he said that it is time to band together as brothers and sisters and fight a shared struggle. HE PROMISED TO REPEAL DOMA AND IS NOW ARGUING IN ITS FAVOR? I don’t care what the technicalities of the law are–what has happened to him? Does he really believe in what he is doing?

You can do something – Sign the Dallas Principles, go on the Change.org Gay Rights page, or petition through Equality California.

UPDATE: Thanks to Stephen Ursprung’s link on my Facebook wall, I have learned that the DNC Treasurer Andrew Tobias has defended the brief as likely below the level of Obama’s awareness and not in line with his views. Let’s hope the White House takes action before Joe Biden’s June 25 LGBT fundraiser, which has already seen many prominent figures back out of…

The Turmoil in the Industry: Part Two

Pick a distribution channel, any distribution channel.

Pick a distribution channel, any distribution channel.

In part one of this series, I laid out the challenges facing the indepedent film industry today – namely, financing its films when the distribution model is defunct. In this post I will explain some of the particular challenges of the internet. Indie film has never had a great model, and I will discuss the difficulties in marketing that we’ve had forever, and what I see as the big-deal problem with indie film.

Many of us are looking to the Internet as an answer to our troubles, and it certainly will be for the players who manage to stay relevant. Sadly, though, the internet is a bitch to monetize. The only tried and true model for moneymaking so far is iTunes, and it takes a lot of hoop-jumping to get work on there. A good producer with an award-winning film can swing it, but the movie is not going to make much. (Not to mention that to base an industry model off of one company’s service is a terrible idea.) Other opportunities are Netflix and online DVD sales, which can also play a small role in making money the costs of a film but only if that film is in the upper echelons of popularity.

The trouble with the internet is that with few exceptions, consumers are unwilling to pay for content in a medium that has so much free stuff. Advertising-sponsored content is theoretically great, but Google’s market dominance has pushed these revenues so far downward that again, only the top fraction of films can make any sort of money at all. (Maha writes about that a lot about this pickle in the journalism industry.)

None of these problems are new – if anything, the internet has given independent filmmakers *the chance* to make money where it was not possible before by directly targeting large numbers of people. But just because it is possible does not mean it is feasible, and we’re looking for a viable model for independent cinema large and small here.

What solutions have been advanced so far? Many and none all at once. The best solution so far is a scramble to monetize through fragmented, low-return channels. Successful independent films target demographics tightly and reach them effectively. They tie themselves to an issue-based campaign, a niche community like lesbian activists or black artists or environmentalists, or a hot political issue. Through direct marketing they drum up grassroots interest and recruit others to be their advocate. A film that cannot also be a movement is not as likely to succeed, even if it is well-made and fascinating to watch.

This brings me to the big-deal problem in independent film — a difficulty that we’ve had since the dawn of mass media, and is only now showing signs that it can be overcome: moviegoers do not watch films actively.

Like many aspects of our culture, advertising is king in moviegoers’ decisions of which movie to watch. If you were to plot a film’s popularity by how many times it has been watched, you’d get a curve that starts out very high and drops precipitously; for example, something like 5% of feature films and shorts account for 95% of the watching (not real numbers.). Many of the other 95% are of good quality, but they don’t have the benefit of a national media campaign, or can’t catch on with the viewing public.

This phenomenon is a reflection of our mass media culture – a few companies and entities have the attention of most of the population. Watching a film in theaters is a shared cultural experience that we can talk about with pretty much anybody we meet. The Internet is changing this reality as I will discuss in the next post, but most of this change is yet to come.

The one major piece in this puzzle is film festivals – as champions of independent film, they give an opportunity for films to be exhibited. If an indie film gets bought, it is probably by a distributor at a film festival. And if the film doesn’t get bought, at least it is being received by an audience. Festivals really are godsends in their leveling of the playing field, but I see them as a small piece of the solution. Submission fees can cost thousands, and once a film is accepted there is no monetary payoff (with the exception of cash prizes.) Most people view festivals as an opportunity to advance their film and be selected for the studio/big-player distribution system.

So we have an Internet that is hard to monetize and a mass distribution system that requires huge amounts of capital outlay and offers few prospects for any but the most successful films. This is not the distribution system of tomorrow: everyone knows the game is changing drastically but not in which direction. If we follow a number of technological trends to their natural conclusion, we can see a glimpse of where they are going, and the big-deal conclusion to this shift.

Read On: Final article, The Turmoil in the Industry, Part Three –>

RestFest: The Festival for the Rest

I want to create a film festival for films that got rejected from other festivals. To be in it, you submit your film along with at least 30 festival rejection letters. It will be called “RestFest: The Festival for the Rest.”

Then, everyone would get high and watch the films. There would be a potluck buffet – bring your own food and you can eat others’. In one room, we would have two terrible films set up facing one another with gigantic joysticks to control the volume. People could stand next to the screens and attack each other with the films by throttling the volume up at the right time.

Any other ideas?