July 12, 2008

Bits and pieces... lots of 'em

--Episode Four of The West Side went live a month ago. Sorry for the lack of updates; we hustled hard to get the episode done before the Webby Awards, and then we hustled hard to the open bars at the Webby Awards.

--At the Film & Video Webbys, we were the assholes. Maybe gracious and humble was the way to go, but everyone was saying those things and our speech was at the end of the show, so we went for something more memorable. Sorry, girl.

--The Webby Awards are at an interesting crossroads; they've been around for 12 years but are only now on the cusp of becoming well-known. Considering most of us spend more time surfing the web than we do watching TV, viewing movies, reading books, or going to plays, you'd think the web would have an awards show as prestigious as the Oscars, Emmys, etc. The Webbys are certainly the foremost Internet award, but they still have a ways to go.

--To further distinguish the award, the show-runners could axe many of their hundred or so categories, such as "Best Rich Media Advertising: Business-to-Business." Maybe there really were hundreds of entries in that category. Or maybe there were more like nine entries, five of which were in turn nominated, two of which were then winners (the Webbys add a popular-vote "People's Voice" award in addition to the judge-determined Webby Award). Add on the Official Honorees distinction and the show starts to feel like "everyone gets a star." As a nominee (for Best Drama--certainly not a category that would be dropped, I should note), I tried to watch as many as possible of the other nominees, but I couldn't make it through the 25+ Film and Video categories, not to mention the hundred other Website, Mobile, and Interactive Advertising awards.

--On the other hand, there should be awards for websites in a broad array of categories, given the Internet is such a broad and varied community. I'm not trying to bite the hand that feeds us; we couldn't be happier about the award itself, or the accompanying shows and events. The boost in interest we've gotten because of winning the award will hopefully be career-launching. But it's also in our best interest to hope the award continues to gain prestige; at the very least, the Webbys need to start prodding their sponsors for a higher percentage of their operating expenses to reduce their reliance on fees from participants (which is the most immediately obvious explanation for why there are so many categories).

--The first act of WALL-E is entrancing. It's one of the greatest first acts ever committed to digital screens or celluloid film, for children or adults. But (minor spoiler alert) I was jarred by the appearance of actual live human beings in a Pixar film, in the form of Fred Willard no less; I'm still grappling with Stanton, et al's decision to portray the Earthbound human civilization as a live-action digital video relic, but then 3D-animate the masses of human beings who appear on the spaceship. I get why they did it, but I'm not sure I like it. (That specific decision, I mean; while I think the second half of the film is a bit disjointed, as a whole it nevertheless ranks up there with Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles as Pixar's best... and that's saying a lot).

--At-home high definition is anathema to the movie theater industry; since I bought a cheap HD projector for my apartment, I've seldom set foot in a theater. This isn't a new observation, but I'll add to the chorus of voices: for $12 a ticket--$35 if you go with a friend and buy popcorn--the theater had better be a vastly superior experience than home, and it's not. At the very least, the sound and visuals should be unbeatable, but when I eventually get a Blu-ray player, WALL-E will be brighter, sharper, and more colorful on my own wall than it was at the theater. And WALL-E will cost the same to own on disc (digital, re-watchable, with behind-the scenes interviews, commentaries, deleted scenes) as it did to see the analog film reproduction of it projected once in the company of strangers. I hope theaters find a way to right the ship, but at this point it's simple economics as to why attendance is down (and yes, box office records are still being broken, but that's due to increased ticket prices and more screens, not increased attendance).

--In other world news, "Mission Accomplished." We got that oil--oho! And not only mission accomplished for Mr. Bush, in light of gaining control over Iraqi oil through no-bid contracts for American companies worth up to 75% of the country's profits; also for Mr. Bin Laden, who stated in 2001 after 9/11 that his goal was to get oil to $144/barrel. Last week, it hit $145.85. Congratulations, oil barons/religious zealots! Somehow, you both won.

--On the other hand, neither of them can be blamed for the direction our auto industry took--or, more accurately, didn't take--in the '90s. Between 1974 and 1989, fuel efficiency doubled; since then, how much more efficient do you think our cars have gotten? Actually, the question is, how much less efficient have our cars gotten? The average car in 1989 got 27.5 MPG and today the average car gets right around 25. One could point to the fact that a higher percentage of hulking SUVs on the road today lowers the MPG average across the board, but the 1989 Toyota Camry got 27 MPG, while the 2008 Toyota Camry gets... 22. Surely that doesn't represent 20 years of scientific progress? Granted, there is a hybrid Camry, which gets 34 MPG, but even that only represents a 25% improvement on a 20 year-old relic. As the New York Times points out, this mileage crunch was entirely preventable, and it's our politicians who are largely to blame--on both sides of the aisle--although it was Republicans who passed a six-year bill in 1995 that expressly forbade the highway administration from spending any money to elevate fuel efficiency. Justify your existence!

--Speaking of which, I'm still waiting for an Obama-Edwards ticket. Pretty crazy: when I wrote that here two years ago, not only was I convinced Clinton was certain to get the nomination and anyone else even having a chance was wishful thinking, but I also had Obama penciled in as a Vice nominee because I didn't think anyone's star could rise that fast. Yes We Can!

--I'm excited to announce I'll be doing television commercials for the McCain campaign.


--Sorry, this temporarily became the so-not-film-school-that-it's-politics-school; back to movies.

--The Dark Knight is going to make a metric ton of money, but how much of its opening weekend gross will be inflated by Heath Ledger's baffling, sobering, premature death? Over the course of its theatrical run, domestically, internationally, including cable TV airings, adding in DVD and Blu-ray sales and all the other ancillaries, how much will the increased interest in the film because of his death end up being "worth?" No one wants to profit from an event like that, and no one wanted it to happen... but it did happen, and people are going to end up being richer because of it. Unsettling.

--As parts of The Dark Knight were actually shot on IMAX film stock--and scanned in at 8k for the DI--this is the film to see in an IMAX theater. So much so, in fact, that I had to buy tickets two weeks ahead of time; even the 2AM, 4AM and 6AM showings that I thought were listing errors on Fandango.com ("they must mean PM, right?") for opening weekend were sold out. If you've been wanting to see a grown man run around in a glorified Halloween costume on an 80-foot screen at 6AM Monday morning on your way to work, now's your chance.

--This late-night ticket phenomenon was also reported in the pesky New York Times; they somehow manage to beat No Film School.com to every story!

--Because I apparently write a lot about Christopher Nolan projects, I'll keep going on The Dark Knight: my West Side co-director Zack is predicting a $114 million opening weekend, which I initially filed under "just another example of Zack's boundless and unreasonable optimism," but I've slowly come around to believing he's on the money. Despite the movie's dark subject matter, it's both a sequel and a comic book movie, which collectively dominate the top of the all-time box office charts. At Media Predict, where "trading" ends 30 days before the film opens, the over/under finished at $101.5. We'll see.

--The Brothers Nolan (Christopher and Jonathan), who have worked together in some form on Memento, The Prestige (one of my favorite films in recent memory, which I attempted to explain as a polemic on the price of religion), and now The Dark Knight, are at the top of their game. (Batman Begins was directed by Christopher, but penned by Blade scribe David S. Goyer, and Christopher's other studio picture, Insomnia, was adapted from the Norwegian original by Hillary Seitz, an apparently prolific script doctor). So, yes, I'm really looking forward to this massive Hollywood blockbuster; I'll get off the Nolans' collective jock now.

--Wait a second, Bush is "pushing" for an average of 31 MPG by 2015?! We were getting 27 MPG in 19-fucking-89 and a mandated 12% improvement over 26 years is being called "aggressive"!?

--Sorry. I don't own a car and I live in a city where mass transportation is readily available, so I'm allowed to be incredulous. If you're in the market for a car and care about these things, however, you may be wondering which is better for the planet: a new Prius or a used compact sedan.

--Our screening and panel at IFC Center was a great experience and is covered a bit here and here. It was great to meet and chat with the other participants, and I was surprised at how well The West Side's visuals held up on the big screen. As for the panel, I learned for the hundredth time that I'm much more coherent in writing, with or without editing, than I am when talking. Good thing this isn't a podcast.

--If the most common approach for an aspiring filmmaker to break into the industry in the '50s and '60s was to get a studio apprenticeship, if the path in the '70s and '80s was to go to film school, if the path in the '90s and '00s was to direct music videos and commercials, the '10s and '20s will see the internet become the most prolific source of new talent. And not just for people who can film a video of their cat mowing their lawn; legitimate directors at the highest echelons of the industry will be most commonly discovered via their hitting the "Upload" button.

--That's about as self-interested a statement as you'll find. But you are, after all, at No Film School.com.

--On the other hand, reading about The Wire's Ed Burns and how much of the greatest television show in history was informed by his personal life, one gets to thinking about how much more important real-world experiences are than anything they can teach you in a school, much less a film school. I've successfully avoided paying a lot of money to incubate in a film classroom, but on the other hand I've been stuck in a cubicle day in and out and haven't traveled outside the country in two years. Day jobs are a bitch.

--Thus the name of our nascent production company: Exit Strategy.

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