Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Voice Actors are Important!

I happened to be meandering around the internet and found the site to an interesting indie film named Gamers. If you'll take a look at their site, you'll soon notice they've cast a slew of iconic, though unexpected actors. (Reminds me of Comic Book: The Movie in that way). If you were a kid in the 70's-80's like I was, you recall fondly Kelly LeBrock (Lady in Red, Weird Science), Beverly D'Angelo (National Lampoon's European Vacation), and William Katt (Greatest American Hero) as well as John Heard who's just great. One name you may not recognize in the credits is actor-turned-voice actor Michael Bell. He did voices in Superfriends, G.I. Joe, Transformers, Smurfs and a whole lot more and narrates Gamers. He's really the reason why I'm writing this see, I have a huge respect for voice actors since I grew up on radio stories (on cassette, that is) and cartoons and thoroughly enjoyed the truly talented VOICE actors. The amazing depth and life they gave the character had a huge impact on me. Over the last 10 or more years though, voice actors have been widely traded for celebrities and cheap labor. In a little interview snippet on the Gamers site, Mr. Bell had this interview question to answer...

GAMERS: Your industry credentials are extensive, to say the least. What would you say are some of the biggest changes in film and audio recording since you started your acting career?

MICHAEL BELL: Stars, friends of the producers, real gangsters and sock puppets are being cast in jobs I used to do... although I still do a mean sock puppet.

Here here! Now, Mr. Bell is certainly not hurting for work, but I've watched more and more animated features turn to celebrity instead of quality and more TV shows go from quality to people off the street (I suppose). The voice is something that used to be very important in animation and live action alike. And I don't understand why the art of speaking-- enunciation, projection, tone, emotion-- has become so unimportant to so many content producers. Although Comic Book: The Movie had its slow parts, I loved the inclusion of so many voice actors. Mark Hamill, the star and director of the film, has become an amazing voice actor. (Side Note: Mr. Hamill was a stage actor before he was in film and watching some DVD extras of the animated series Justice League, the cast talked about how stage actors seem to make the leap to voice acting a little more gracefully since when on stage, their voice has to reach the furthest ear and be understood). I think when there is so much care put into the writing a piece for stage, video game, TV or film, the creators owe it to the writer and the audience to make those words sound as beautiful as they're written. There is such a beauty to the spoken word. Check out an old radio drama, cartoon, TV show or movie and you'll see what an amazing effect well delivered lines can have. It may not always be "realistic," but it's always entertaining.

To all the aspiring and professional entertainment creators out there, please take note of the enriching qualities of casting a great voice. And don't be afraid to cast a great actor who fits your role even if he or she isn't a big name. Maybe with your help they'll get to be one, you as well. And for anyone making the next great cartoon or video game, make your producer or backers spend the extra money on great voices. They're often the funniest and easiest people to work with and they may even help increase sales. And no matter what, when you look back at what you've created, you'll always feel rewarded because you cast the right people for the parts. Kudos to the creators of Gamers.

This entry originally appeared in my Myspace blog.

Sunday, October 8, 2006

Pre-Original Trek on the Big Screen?

There have been some murmurs and now some hype about a 2008 Star Trek film possibly featuring a young Kirk and Spock as cadets back in the good old days of Star Trek. Here's a great article that collects the various tid-bits and clues floating around the world.

Personally, I don't know if JJ Abrams can do a Trek film justice. I feel it must be pointed out that in addition to shows like Alias and Lost, Abrams also created Felicity. Although I liked some of Alias, I find many of the storylines in Abram's shows to be simply preposterous; much like the film Armageddon (which he also wrote). When talking The Original Series (TOS) Trek we're talking about pulpy sci fi hits hard-science science fiction-- that's a difficult balance. Kirk has to get the ladies, but that can't be the whole show. The film has to make a profound point about society and the human condition; which to me is the guiding light of science fiction and is something the original series did well on many occasions. With Abrams at the con, this could quickly descend into NCC-90201. I like Abrams more than Michael Bay, but the two seem to have certain similar sensibilities about (not) developing realistic and compelling characters and storylines. I don't want to apply guilt by association, but other people who have worked along side Abrams also helped create Bay's horrible The Island and will soon crush the hopes of millions of Transformers fans when that disaster of a film is finally released (in which the similarities of the film to the original franchise pretty much end at the Autobot symbol). Is this really the guy we want? Should it matter that he's associated with (potential) franchise-killers? Well, I have to say that there are so many better creators out there who are being ignored. Wouldn't it be better to dig a little deeper and build a creative team of people who have been dreaming of creating Trek for a little longer or a little more? Abrams may call himself an Uber-Trekkie, but I can't see someone creating Felicity when he really wants to make Trek. Overall, Paramount has done a lot to lose the trust of Trek fans. Now that they own the franchise, CBS has only continued the erosion by announcing that in their forthcoming HD re-release of Star Trek: TOS they will be replacing many of the original special effects with new CG effects. Not only does that sound, well, really dumb and an extreme waste of time, to some, it's even sacrilegious. (Heck, as a visual effects artist, I think it's at the least dishonoring our visual effects heritage. One can only hope that, like the DVD releases of Doctor Who, you can turn off the replacement effects. And those original effects were REALLY... underfunded). If they're going to win back the trust of Trek fans, they have to show reverence for what has come before and make up for the poor choices they've made since The Next Generation. Not bringing Berman and Braga back might be a step in the right direction, but it won't heal the wounds.

Is the future-past story concept is a good one? Well, it may provide some fun situations and give the creators a chance to explore the characters and the Trek Universe in a different way. It may also free them from trying to continually stretch the TNG storyline as Berman/Braga did, which may be a boon. It may also be a chance to make up for the TNG mold they forced Enterprise into. The thing that this storyline would definitely have going for it is something that none of the later series had: the strong bond between Kirk, Spock and Bones (well, Data and Geordi, Paris and Kim were probably closest). I'm not saying that the others should have had that, but if you're going to use these characters, you have to include the genesis of that close friendship. As far as the look and feel of a film like this, clearly, CBS/Paramount et al are indicating that the old gold and blue colors will make a comeback, but I don't think you can make a feature film today that simply uses the same exact designs as the 60's show. Doing so would imply a certain tongue-in-cheek attitude that might not work if you want the audience to judge the film on its laurels and not as just some homage or parody. You need more detail in the designs or they'd end up looking cartoonish. Perhaps you have to start at the beginning, look through the prism of TOS and say "Okay, if the original series had money and things like laptops and cell phones had already existed, what might the series have looked like?" I think some of the costume and production designs for the TOS-crew films were brilliant, but much of it didn't really reflect The Original Series. The inspiration has to be there if fans are to enjoy it. And lastly, cast people who fit the roles, not just pretty faces. Say what you will about Shatner's acting, I think it takes a solid actor with the right attitude and even the right voice to pull off a character in sci fi. And that goes for crew as well. Don't hire someone to direct your film simply because he has some hit series and is a hot commodity in Hollywood. For both actors and crew, I think Hollywood is trapping itself inside ever-contracting bubble sort of like Washington D.C. Instead of actually looking for the right people to fill roles, Hollywood is limited by its rolodex. If so-and-so isn't in the rolodex, they don't exist. And we wonder why box office numbers are falling? Every community needs fresh blood in its gene pool or it will corrupt and die out. And fresh blood pumps in the veins as much in older individuals as younger. New people mean more risk, but the lack of risk-taking is probably the other biggest thing killing Hollywood. (Heck, if you wanted to choose a proven commodity, why not ask Joss Whedon, creator of the Buffy the Vampire and Firefly series? Now that could be cool!)

In the end, a good Star Trek story is much larger, much deeper and much more fun than any soap opera drama or action show set in contemporary times. Because of that, this film may be beyond JJ Abrams and many, many others, but if he can look beyond the immediate and finds the right people, young and old, Hollywood and not, he can make a truly amazing film. And, he can use his clout and popularity for good and make that big corporate conglomerate care about what they're making. Unfortunately, to do any less will mean the end of the franchise. (At least we'll still have New Voyages!)

That's only my jaw flappin' though. What do you think?

This entry originally appeared in my Myspace blog. Here are the comments as posted:

Posted by Tantra on Friday, January 05, 2007 at 9:21 PM
I can appreciate your sentiments on this subject. Do you work with New Voyages? If so, I look forward to meeting you sometime. I'm with Farragut.


Posted by Ben'jamin on Friday, January 05, 2007 at 9:54 PM
Thanks Holly! I guess you could say I'm a little passionate about Trek and other great sci fi. I do work with New Voyages and I don't think I could forget who you are, Lt. Commander. Fair wind and calm seas to the cast and crew of Starship Farragut!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Why Do We Have Fewer Friends?

On the CBS Evening News on Friday, there was a report entitled "Is Your Circle of Friends Shrinking?" In short, a study shows that on average, Americans have one less true friend as we might have had 20 years ago. The report suggested that perhaps it's the internet, all our techno-gadgets and our over-worked lifestyles that are keeping us from meaningful friendships. So, what do you think? Are these the causes? Let's look at the first two...

So are cell phones, email, iPods, PDA's, text messengers and the internet "causing" us to have fewer friends? I think there's no doubt that they are having an effect on society, but I don't think they're to blame. In reality, I say they're a symptom, not a cause. The popularity of long-distance, anywhere social communication is growing because of societal changes, not the other way around. We want to keep people at a distance. We don't want the possible problems and embarrassment of talking to someone while looking them in the eye. And why the heck might that be? In a word, fear.

What about our work schedules? John and Jane have two hour commutes and five-jobs-in-one, how can they find and keep friends? Hey, that's totally true. To keep our jobs these days we have to work longer hours than ever and many of us have to take lower wages. Lower wages means we either have to move to another company or stick it out. Either way, we're commuting farther than ever. It's tough to hang out on a Friday night when you don't get home until 8pm and can't think straight enough to make dinner let alone call up your buds. I'd love it if we could somehow stand up to these employers and say "Hey, we can't keep killing ourselves like this. Please hire some more people," but what can you do? You've got to eat, pay bills and pay down your debt, right? I guess we have to find ways to make time for friends though. It's that important to our mental, emotional (and thusly physical) well being to be able to talk and relate to people in the flesh that we have to choose to do something about it. One good friend I made was a coworker and we didn't have much time to hang out so, we often car pooled. Of course, you can't force it, but you do need to put yourself in a place, at a point when you feel you can, where you might find a like-minded person (parties, user groups, coffee houses, etc). So, I think our work schedule is far closer to causing our lack of good friends than gadgetry, but it can still be surmounted with some solid time management. If that's the case, then perhaps it's a symptom as well? Some of us work more so we don't have to think about what we're not doing. Perhaps this also stems from fear? What is this whole fear thing anyhow?

Perhaps from one side, we now have access to a world of information and are constantly bombarded with bad news. That makes it easy to get overwhelmed by the negative. Meanwhile, from the other side perhaps there was a lack of guidance in our formative years which has led to gaps in our knowledge and preparedness for processing all this information especially when it comes to relationships. Our knowledge of and interest in emotional, moral, physical and social boundaries is severely lacking. Borne out of this bombardment from one side and lack of guidance from the other is apathy-- indifferent people who act like they own the place, wherever they are. They talk loudly on cell phones anywhere; walk, stand and sit in the way of cars, bikes and other people without a care; they cut you off in a car without looking and cut you off in a conversation without thinking. They feel they have the right to do whatever they care to so, nothing is their fault or responsibility. (Although, no one else is allowed to make a mistake). Much of the time they spend with friends is spent on the phone instead. And when they say they're going to call their friends, they don't. People disrespect, lie to, hide true feelings from and purposely hurt themselves! Add cheating, stealing and USING and that's how they treat their 'friends.' Who in their right mind would want to be friends with someone like that? This is not everyone (thankfully!), but this kind of behavior is not rare. I thought it was bad when our society was all about the next quick high, but now it looks as though it's all about just doing... whatever. Complete obliviousness. Phrases of our fathers like "think before you act" and "look before you leap" seem to have never been said. The words of our mothers like "mind your P's and Q's" seem to have been skipped. Children command their parents. Expectation has replaced etiquette. It's not "what can I do for you?" it's "what can you do for me?" The somewhat subtle differences in tone between "how can I help you" and "what do you want" are lost. There is no doubt that our lifestyle is increasing the distance between us, but the greater cause is the fear of being treated like crap! Funny thing is, a generation ago, this wasn't the case.

Have you known many of your parent's or grandparent's good friends? You would think that these WWII or Vietnam era folks fought on the front lines together the way they look out for each other. Of course, sometimes they did! But I tell you, you can feel the respect and concern even without words. Grandma can call her friend and ask for help and the next thing you know, the friend is knocking on the door. Probably the most amazing thing to me though, is that respect. No one pushes, no one pulls. No one pries or digs for dirt... not about each other anyhow. They just love and cherish each other and are comfortable in one and other's presence... even if they argue to create a little drama. Now that's friendship.

I think we need to bring this back. Sure it's a global economy and there's all crazy ways to get word out, but that's no reason why we can't connect on a personal level. Without friends we'll stop learning about ourselves and about each other. Without love and intimacy, we'll wilt and die. Words on a computer screen are the result of a temporary gathering of electrons. That can never be anything more than superficial. No matter how deep down in the heart those pixels are supposed to be from, they are nothing until they're backed up in person. So get out there and be friendly! Be neighborly! Wave and smile at strangers. Learn your bus driver's name. A very wise person taught me that there is no limit to the love inside all of us and that you have to start by loving yourself. Sounds hokey perhaps, but I've found it to be true. We can turn this thing around! So say I, what say ye?

Thanks to all my friends out there! I know I'm guilty of acting like a jerk at times so, thanks for your patience.

This entry originally appeared in my Myspace blog. Here are the comments as posted:

Posted by B on Saturday, July 01, 2006 at 12:34 PM
Well put Ben. I completely agree. Nothing can take the place of the human aspect. Not the internet, or any other future advance form of technology. I just felt that technology cannot simply be labeled as the culprit that led to the fewer friends in the first place. And I sense you are in agreement with me on that one.

So, lets leave it with a different analogy. Not a Symptom, Not a Cause, and Not a Cure. Perhaps we can call it a form of Life Support. Keeping the friendship alive and breathing when the passage of time and great distance prevents the ever so important human presence from occurring. Sound good?

Posted by Ben'jamin on Sunday, July 02, 2006 at 12:40 PM
Thanks B, I cant totally agree, but I do see what you mean. I think that there is a possibility that technology and our work schedules are in part a symptom of fear and our lack of confidants, although I agree that its not the case for everyone. But, the ROOT question here isnt just about that, its the question as to whether we really DO have fewer confidants. And if so, why and how do we fix it (because at least you and I agree that fixing it is necessary). How about the other points in my original entry not directly involving an escape into technology? Are we degrading into a do before you think society? If we do have fewer confidants is it because were afraid we'll be treated like crap?

Posted by B on Thursday, July 06, 2006 at 4:39 PM
There are a lot of different ways I could go with this, and to be honest I am not even sure where to start. In fact, I feel limited by the keyboard in front of me from really responding here. Perhaps a good example of what you were referring to earlier. Anyway, I did read over everything from the beginning, and for the most part, I am in complete agreement with you. I'll mention the points that ring most true for me, and then maybe a little bit of where I differ (you know i gotta play devil's advocate).

"The Do before you think society"

Unfortunately I agree. It's pretty sad too. Like you said above: Nothing is their fault or responsibility ... Expectation replacing Etiquette ... and No One thinking before they act. I see this all around me, and it makes me sick. And you are right about past generations being nothing like this. But how do we remedy this or is it too late?

The only place where I disagree is that i don't blame the internet, cellphones, or whatever new ipod is on the market. I blame the parents. Children are a product of their home environment, and if you got lazy ass parents who don't give a damn ... well you got a whole generation of kids doing the same. But that's a whole different discussion all together.

"The Crazy Work Schedule"

Yup, nothing like a good 9-5 routine to really tear at a friendship. I too have made friends at the office, but what about those that came before the job. I used to be in really good contact with my buds from college but each year the communication gets less and less and I think that the fact of us all having different jobs with different schedules has a lot to do with it. But what can be done about this? We got bills to pay right? And although e-mail is keeping our friendship on "life support" ... its only a matter of time till the plug gets pulled if you know what I mean.


This is what I'm not so sure about. Afraid to make friends? or Afraid to keep em? or Afraid of something else? I am not quite following you completely on this, and perhaps I could use a little further explanation on your part before I give my opinion. Because i got one cookin on the burner, but I just want to make sure I'm in the right kitchen.

So to finish up. I agree. We do have fewer friends. And all I need to do is look in the mirror for an example of that. Whether it be the combination of today's society or work schedules ... well ... I think that varies with each person. Everybody has their own issues or reasons. But the fact remains, the circle is shrinking, and its up to the individual to decide if they are comfortable with those diminishing numbers.

Posted by Ben'jamin on Tuesday, July 11, 2006 at 11:43 AM
Thanks B. Ah-ha, but we DO agree! I don't think technology is the cause either, I just think its rise in POPULARITY is evidence that we're not trying as hard to make and keep close friends. Listening to tunes on the bus is nothing new, heck I did it when I was in college. The thing is, I was the only one doing it. Now, there are many more people tuning in to devices and not mixing with the folks around them. Uncomfortable chit-chat that might just make your day... you know, like finding out that lady beside you is actually a dude... is lost. Chatting online with strangers more than you talk to your friends is also something that has gained popularity. Overall, technology does have an effect on society but, like you're saying, if the quality of parenting was there, it could not have an ill effect. Since the parenting is indeed poor, technology has become a distraction and an excuse. Everything in Moderation is becoming Everything in Excess.

Can we pull out of this dive to doomsville? Hmm. First step in problem solving, identify the problem. What was the situation that led to today's poor parents? I think the latter half of the Baby Boomer Generation marks the decline. Civil rights, the anti war movement and women's lib were huge societal changes. My parents were of the first half of the Boomers, the "Hippies," who railed against any establishment, but still tried to teach their children solid values. However, the second half of their generation represents a conservative backlash which became the "Yuppies." This is where everything gets interesting. After a time of relative piece following Vietnam, it was like all of a sudden we had freedom AND money. I'd have to research it to say for sure, but I think this was the real birth of Corporate America and we entered what became known as the Excessive 80's. Yuppies were all about being everything to everyone and wanted to attain an extravagant lifestyle by any means necessary. With the supposed rules for women rightfully dashed, they also left the home and pursued the high life. With parents so busy with work and parties, they left the parenting to schools, nannies and TV. With the Yuppies came increases in divorce, binge drinking, alcoholism, violent crime, domestic violence, teen pregnancy, abortion, pornography, cocaine and crack use, credit cards, bank loans, inflation and the national debt. WOW! It's sure is something to line all that up (and I'm sure I'm missing a lot). So, like you said B, they were lazy/absent parents and their children grew up to repeat the process (described at length above). Can we fix it? I'm thinking so. How? I have no idea! Robert Frost might say one way is to be a good neighbor. These days it's like we're all keeping an eye out for pedophiles and terrorists. We're all closed up and suspicious; focused on the negative possibilities (and don't realize that being open and confident scares off many kinds of criminals). Personally, I've learned to combat this pervasive dark mood with a smile and a wave. I learned it from an elderly couple on their morning stroll who I used to pass every day on the way to work (they wave at every car and why not?).

Now, since you asked if there is anything we can do, I'm going to go out on a limb here and share one of the problems I think exists and partial remedy I believe in. Focusing on the negative isn't something new, but I think it's more popular especially since 9-11. Right now we're bombarded with bad news about war, scandal, disease and obesity and most of the shows on TV are serious cop shows and courtroom dramas about heinous crimes with gross imagery. The movie theater has been packed with serious dramas and it seems the fun films haven't been able to break the trend like Star Wars did in the 70's. Even comic books over the last 10-15 years have been darker. Cartoons on TV for girls like "Bratts" are showing girls unhealthy habits. More video games go farther into senseless violence and deviant behavior. Much of the popular music today is all about ME and no longer about US. I'm not saying that any of these things should stop or that they are the cause of the general degradation of society, but I do think they affect us at least in little ways. The Toltecs tell us that words have power. If you repeatedly call yourself stupid, you're apt to believe it. We're exposed to more information than ever and I think filling our day with harsh news and unhealthy habits is having an effect on all of us an especially on those who are not equipped to deal with it. Why should we keep submitting ourselves to all these negative vibes? I think the news is important, but we have to be able to process it. Cop shows on TV and hard hitting dramas on the big screen are fine, but why not invest in more fun shows and movies? Great Scott! Wedding Crashers did AMAZINGLY at the box office last summer! Isn't that telling us something? And I guess that somewhere in the fun we fit in the healthy little lessons that we have been missing, we put in a little inspiration and we cultivate a little optimism. I mean, when I was a kid, the shows and films blew my mind. Star Trek, Doctor Who, MacGyver, Star Wars, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future-- those are like candy to the overactive imagination! What have kids had lately? 2 Fast 2 Furious? Law and Order SVU? I'm certainly not saying there's no fun content out there, there's Stargate SG-1, Num3ers, Spiderman, Lord of the Rings, Superman to name a few, but we need MORE. Dramatic content is most definitely necessary and there is some great stuff out there. I just think a little more focusing on the good side of humanity might help us out. Too much drama and I think people start emulating it-- even soap opera drama. So, what I'm saying is if we can avoid being overwhelmed by negativity, it may allow us to open up and find the solutions to our problems/issues. Terry Goodkind repeats the lesson in his novels that in order to solve a problem you ultimately have to focus on solving it or you'll dwell on the problem itself and get overwhelmed. An unfortunate and wide spread example is beating yourself up because you're overweight. Heck, I've done it! But, beating yourself up is only going to make matters worse. We have to look beyond our perception and see the reality. Reality is what you make it and it's important that you alone control it. Media, corporations, businesses, governments and all the people you associate with have the power to influence your perception and that's why it's so important that you find yourself, you find your own reality and then you can identify and filter these attempts to influence you. So, I say it MAY help if we stop surrounding ourselves with negativity and emphasize a little more on the positive. Suddenly I feel like an old Disney movie. If we all spend less time cultivating the dark seeds of doom and creating drama with our loved ones, then think of all the time we'll free up for enjoying life instead!

Almost forgot this part... "Fear"
By fear I mean afraid to stick your neck out for fear of it getting chopped off. Fear of going out to make new friends and sabotaging the relationships we have. In a chat room or IM, you can release as little or as much information as you wish anonymously and without any risk. And to someone who us afraid of groups, intimacy, the unknown etc, that's very attractive. At times, I've had friends who spent more time talking online than with their friends. They also eventually stopped of their own volition telling me that it's kind of an addiction. I'd venture that what they sort of get addicted' to is simply the thrill you get when meeting new people and when you think someone is listening and understanding. Real communication is a thrilling thing. One reason why the beginning of any kind of relationship is so thrilling is probably because you're communicating with a new person (and all your old jokes are new again!). But OH NO when they turn around and kick you in the shins! Online, it can certainly sting when something goes arwy, but even so, in real life it's always worse. I think most of us have been cheated on, dumped on an excuse, blamed for things we have no control over, we didn't do or didn't know we did/for not being omniscient as well as used, ditched, ignored, blamed for not keeping in touch and stabbed in the back. And it's only natural when you're treated like this (and/or hear horror stories) to be afraid of it happening again. Because of poor parenting, more than ever personal borders are all messed up and emotional issues abound. And a lot of people take it out on their friends and lovers. We repeat our unidentified mistakes, lay booby-traps and stealthily sabotage our relationships and then conveniently blame it on others in an unhealthy cycle. Sometimes I guess we're more afraid of a relationship actually working out than it failing. Or, perhaps instead of simply ending a relationship we don't believe is for the best, we feel the need to twist it and make it the other's fault and end it in a horrible train wreck of emotions (READ: Drama). I can't say I blame anyone for being afraid of that and turning to alternate methods to try and get some companionship, but it's simply SO important that we do connect with others on a personal level. We have to stick our necks out so, hopefully we can realize that we humans are in this together.

Posted by Kevin on Wednesday, August 02, 2006 at 1:23 PM
Robert Putnam wrote a book about this phenomenon a few years ago called Bowling Alone. He describes how this decline in social capital is problematic not only at an individual level, but is a troubling factor in the way that it can weaken a democracy as well.

Monday, June 19, 2006

What's the Future of Film and TV?

It's interesting what's happening to the film and TV broadcast industries. When I was in high school, I got in the habit of being particular about what films I saw in the theater and what ones I rented on good ole VHS. To this day, my decision is often made by the big screen-ness of a film. Star Wars and Lord of the Rings trilogies; big screen. The Wedding Crashers and The Break Up; small screen (unless there's a lady involved, of course). Overall, I divide it between what I want to see now, now, now and what I can wait for. Years ago, that could mean a year long wait, so you had to choose wisely. Now, three months is a long time for distributors.

The other habit I got into way back when was recording my TV shows with a VCR so I could fast forward through the commercials. I hate commercials during shows because most of them are loud/obnoxious and it makes the show you're watching, these days, 15+ minutes longer. I want to sit in a chair as little as possible so, the advent of the TiVO/DVR made things even easier.

Today, for whatever reason, these habits are becoming the norm in our country. Enough so to make the major films studios freak about decreased profits and to switch to a more blockbusters-only production mentality. And enough so to make the TV advertising industry go ballistic and to make companies move more and more ad dollars to the internet (or even to a $0, net-buzz-only ad methodology). Not too long ago, with the lack of investment in the film industry and the rise of HD television, I thought that maybe broadcast would be a viable alternative to the theater for my films and I reconsidered creating TV shows, in addition to or instead of film. Now I'm not so sure it would provide more opportunity. A lot of investment dollars have moved to the small screen (including broadcast and DVD) and with increased on-demand possibilities and online DVD rental, it's understandable. But what's the future? I mean, if companies won't sponsor shows, then will we be subscribing to our shows or buying them on-demand? That could have a huge effect on the 1000 channel system we have now. Even the Senator McCain-backed idea of paying only for the channels you want could be huge. Local affiliates could be in danger if we're ordering Stargate SG-1 direct from NBC. Will cable providers (which we all hate, but...) still exist if we're ordering our shows through our broadband-enabled Media Center PC system? (Some people have even criticized Time Warner for writing its own death certificate by offering DVR's). Will people just wait for their shows to come out on DVD (just like movies)? Lots of people are already doing that. If any of these things happen, it makes one wonder how content creators and distributors will get the word out about your film or program. The whole paradigm could change! For the better?

What do you think? Will on-demand services rule the TV? Will HD discs or Intel's Viiv-type computer systems become the default delivery mediums? Will the movie theater exhibition make a comeback? Hey, it's simple, it's big, takes no set up or software installation and they make real popcorn fresh:) (Yeah, I know it's too expensive, but the theater distribution paradigm, which needs a big overhaul, is a query for another day).

This entry originally appeared in my Myspace blog. Here are the comments as posted:

Posted by Terse Films on Tuesday, June 20, 2006 at 4:32 PM
Some interesting points & excellent questions... I'm not sure who can really anticipate exactly how the corporate dynamics will play out until they materialize, but I will say that I definitely home entertainment continuing to move in the direction of customizable, on-demand content, whether it be via the Media PC or simply retooling of cable/sattellite subscription options (I highly recommend The Dish Network for anyone who is looking for an inexpensive alternative to their current Cable provider). As for movie theatres, while I don't see them going away anytime soon, I do hope and anticipate that the recent industry shifts will force theatres to offer a better value for your buck for viewers, because patrons definitely deserve either lower prices or a much better theater experience than they are currently paying for.

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

GM and Ethanol


What say we: How's about GM leverages its ethanol-or-gasoline car flexability by helping gas stations to pay for the cost of putting up ethanol pumps. Then, it can start pumping out its FlexFuel cars. Would that not help everyone including the ailing GM?

Let's run it down:
It costs GM the same amount to build a FlexFuel car as a normal car. It costs less to grow and refine ethanol. (Ethanol can be made out of corn, vegetable waste, heck even algae.) Ethanol gets about 29.4mpg in a car that gets 30mpg. And lastly, to put up an ethanol pump at your local gas station, if your corporation will allow it, will cost around $40-50,000. (Only about 600 out of 170,000 gas stations currently offer it).

So Brazil has been selling ethanol (E85 meaning 85% ethanol, 15% gasoline) and GM manufactured FlexFuel cars for 4 years now. E85 fuel is far cheaper in that country and, of course, out sells gasoline. Refining (actually distilling) ethanol does not produce any air pollutants, only steam. And refining, say, corn is less expensive than refining oil. These are all facts that oil companies (you know, the most profitable corporations EVER) will deny. Now lead by Rick Wagoner, former head of GM operations in Brazil, GM is now just starting to amp up their marketing of FlexFuel cars in the US (some 1.5 million FlexFuel cars are already in use here). More here and here.

The Hybrid Question:
So, we've seen the popularity of Hybrid cars skyrocket, but are they the long term answer? With a Hybrid Civic beating out a normal Civic by only 4 mpg on average, I have to wonder. Ethanol beats out Hybrids by further decreasing our use of gasoline, which is something that makes us reliant on not only foreign oil, but on oil companies. Moving to ethanol also releases the taxpayer from the huge tax breaks, contracts and allowances that are/were given to oil companies by the federal government. And, of course it puts more jobs back in America-- on farms and at any business who couldn't to stay in operation or expand because of high gas prices. (This also includes local and state municipalities who have had to reduce police patrols and other spending.) And then: And then we sell ethanol to China and India and the rest of the world. Heck, we might even rejuvenate our agricultural industries and start feeding ourselves again! Please share your thoughts!

This entry originally appeared in my Myspace blog. Here are the comments as posted:

Posted by Eric on Thursday, May 18, 2006 at 2:15 PM

Interesting points; thanks for posting them.

The Hybrid Question, however, overlooks the decline in sales of hybrids (down 69% in April, according to the latest Newsweek; this is compared to the 129% increase in Cadillac Escalades in the same period); Hybrids fail to be the answer as long as they cost more to the consumer than they will save.

I'm an atypical commuter -- I drive about 300 miles a day (yes, I know it's crazy, etc. but I have valid reasons for doing so) -- and Hybrids would not save me a nickel on gas. But the minute there's a fuel source (hydrogen fuel cells, or bio-fuel) that either a) gets considerably better mileage or b) costs considerably less at the start, thus lowering the barrier to entry, I for one would invest heavily in the company producing both fuel and car, and second, would buy one immediately.

But the fact that SUV sales are up, despite SKYROCKETING fuel costs, leads me to the inescapable conclusion that, well, people are not very smart, or perhaps more charitably, people don't really want to do something different, even if it's better for them.

That's the real barrier that needs to be overcome first, on a wider scale, before any kind of alternative fuel will gain traction in the U.S.

(Thanks for the message, by the way; check your MySpace inbox for my reply.) :)

-Eric ("Yes, the one from Malone") T.

Posted by Ben'jamin on Friday, May 19, 2006 at 1:13 PM

Thank you for your comments, very informative. I guess the Escalade phenomenon, which I find quite remarkable actually, is much like the house building going on in southern NY and elsewhere. People buy a big house, level it, and build a HUGE, towering house as wide and long as the zoning will allow. The houses leave no lawn and you could almost lean out and knock on your neighbor's mammoth house. WHY? Oh yeah, status. I guess having a lawn isn't viewed as a status symbol anymore. Also, I think it's also a sign that a certain segment of our population is either not concerned enough about rising interest rates, is too desperate to look rich or simply are sitting on too much cash and want to show it. You're right though; people are reluctant to help themselves if the action isn't somehow almost the same as what they're already doing. That's the beauty of ethanol and FlexFuel cars; you don't have to change your habits and it will cost you less if you have a station with an ethanol pump. That's why I think GM should just DO IT regardless of handshakes with oil companies or whomever. This is business. I agree that hybrids are not the answer, although wouldn't an ethanol-electric hybrid kick ass? On the other side of the coin, there's no reason why there couldn't be an ethanol-guzzling SUV

In the end, I think the root of the Escalade culture is that somehow the idea of big, gaudy, energy consuming things has mutated the American Dream. I like to think that the Dream was about family and living a fruitful and fulfilling life. A life where you can make choices that lead to a comfortable lifestyle. Today, all that seems to matter is that you look like money. Who cares if I drown in debt, I need all these shiny, inefficient and useless things so people will think I'm important, successful, attractive and HAPPY! Are we saying that what other people think is all that really matters? Taking into account the last 20 or so years, I'd say that's a resounding YES. In the 90's we looked back and called the 80's extravagant like we had grown out of it. I don't know what I'd call these times. We're so far beyond extravagant. And to anyone who thinks that disliking this kind of lifestyle is somehow un-American, I say, I love being an American and I sure wouldn't mind being wealthy, it's just that I don't feel the need to flaunt it.

PS If cars ran on water, I guess the ethanol question would be moot. HAHA! That will never happen. What?! It has? Check it out: here

Posted by Eric on Friday, May 19, 2006 at 1:45 PM

The "water as fuel" video is the coolest bloody thing I've seen in months.