Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for June, 2009

IMG_0129

Last Saturday night I had the pleasure of attending a free live performance by Bear McCreary and his team of world class musicians perform his original scores from the Emmy-deserving television show, “Battlestar Galactica.” It was the opening for this summer’s Grand Performances in downtown Los Angeles, a consistently wonderful showcase of world music.  We’ve been going for years.  One of those hidden treasures of LA.

As indicated on these pages in January, I think “Battlestar Galactica” is fracken great.  However, I didn’t really understand how important the series was until I attended a panel last week hosted by Geoff Boucher (LA Times Hero Complex) as part of the LA Times “Envelope” Emmy screening series. Writer/creators Ronald D. Moore and David Eick were there, as well as stars Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, but the surprise was that they were joined by United Nations Senior Human Rights Official, Craig Mohkiber and United Nations Senior Political Affairs Officer, Stephen Siqueria. I guess last March, this same group sat in front of the United Nations (video links here) and discussed issues ranging from human rights accountability to peace and justice in the world. They not only talked about how these issues related to BSG, but what we as nations can learn from the decisions made in the show, both by the military, demonstrated in the series by Admiral William Adama, played by Olmos, and, on the civilian side, by President Laura Roslin, played by Mary McDonnell.

If who haven’t seen the show, tens of thousands of human survivors have escaped annihilation from the man-made Cylons by taking refuge aboard a group of spaceships, lead by the aging warship Galactica. They begin a search for a new home planet, the mythical 13th colony, called Earth, chased by the Cylons, many that look human. As President, Laura Roslin sacrifices thousands of innocent civilians, abolishes reproductive choice, executes enemy combatants without trial and nearly steals an election over the course of the series. That was the point of the UN event and the Los Angeles event billed as “TV – making global issues relevant.” After showing clips from the series, the speakers shared how these shameful and violating acts continue for real across our world. As UN official, Craig Mokhiber said, “every nation on this planet has broken the rules of human rights,” and talked about how part of the UN mandate was to safeguard the human rights of everyone, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, and station. This fictional series gave us all an opportunity to think and discuss human rights, justice versus revenge, punishing people who perpetrate crimes against humanity, by watching episodes that take place on a spaceship in the future.

Isn’t that amazing? A fictional television show that carries significant political and world issue relevance. Most important, BSG was entertaining, I never felt like I was being preached too. That is the true genius of Ron Moore and David Eick.  In addition, the contribution of director Michael Rymer, as Moore acknowledged that night as “the third creative force that contributed heavily to our vision.” (It was fun to see the director get credit publicly for their creative input on a television series.  It rarely happens.)

It doesn’t have to be mindless, to be entertaining. That’s why I got into filmmaking.  To tell stories that make us think, react, research, formulate an educated opinion. We understand this to be true with documentaries, but as Basil Tsiokos reminds us in the terrific blog he wrote for indiewire,”8 Documentary Dos and Don’ts,” no one needs another wrongly executed doc film that’s only about message. Basil is a programming associate for the Sundance Film Festival and was Artistic Director for NewFest for twelve years.  He screens a lot of films and knows that a documentary can be important and informative, but it still needs to be entertaining.

That was our goal for the documentary, “Houston We Have a Problem” directed by Nicole Torre. The film explores our dangerous addiction to oil through candid insights from the Barons, Wildcatters, CEO’s and Roughnecks that comprise the world of Big Oil. An inside look into the culture of oil that explores the history of our dependency and how it has led us to the current energy crisis.  I’ve written about this film before here, when it premiered at AFI-Dallas and it continues to play the festivals. The issues the film addresses are important, but I believe we presented them in a fun, sometimes humorous, never boring way.

However, I am no Ron Moore. I’ve tried to write screenplays with significance, usually with them ending up being obvious and heavy.  I look forward to Mr. Moore’s television movie “Virtuality” airing June 26 on Fox about a group of astronauts who pass the time in virtual reality modules as their interactions are beamed back to Earth as a reality TV show. The new BSG series “Caprica” starts in January, about the kind of people, think us, that would create Cylons in the first place.  There is also “The Plan,” the Battlestar Galactica story from the Cylons perspective airing on Sci-Fi in November.  Directed by Edward James Olmos, a trailer was shown at the event and to quote Olmos, “it is breathtaking. It’s fantastic… I couldn’t have imagined this kind of a situation happening at the end of a show, where you would actually start at the beginning. That’s a masterful piece of understanding, Ron is a genius. Because after you see ‘The Plan,’ you’ll want to go back and view the whole series again.”

In these days of Twitter informing the world of election protests in Iran before the news can cover the story, important stories, fact or fiction, WILL FIND an audience. Smart filmmakers are figuring out how to find that audience. BSG is just one of many, many great shows on television, so why go out and spend big bucks on a crappy studio remake. If you want your film seen, it’s about getting it out there, any way possible.  In fact tonight, I’ll be watching the pilot episode of “Caprica” on DVD that was rented from Netflix. I’m sure the hope is that as a fan. I’ll like the new show as much as BSG and so when it airs, I’ll tell my friends and it will become “must see TV.” That’s forward thinking and we need more writers, showrunners and filmmakers to be looking forward and to tell the stories that have important relevance to our lives, yet still are entertaining. And so say we all!

Read Full Post »

When I was in the eighth grade, my buddies would come over almost every day after school to my parent’s apartment to play the board game, RISK.  It became a ritual and soon the topic of conversation between us, each day at lunch and recess.  In fact, one time three or four female classmates came to the apartment, pleading for us guys to give up the game and spend some time with them.  We said, “no way!”  Ah, the decisions we make!

I’ve always been a fan of games, the more complex the better.  I’ve played board games, cards, Dungeon and Dragons.  I enjoy the social interaction, the elements of fantasy.  After all these years it shouldn’t be a surprise that I would take my filmmaking experience and put it to use in video games, but it wasn’t until last year when my company, Unconventional Media produced the live action portions to the Electronic Arts (EA) video game, “Need for Speed: Undercover” that I really began to understand the tremendous possibilities of video games and interactive storytelling.

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Electronic Entertainment Expo, simply known as E3, at the Los Angeles Convention Center.  Presented by the Electronic Software Association, this is the event where new games and gaming inventions are unveiled each year.  The roll-out was impressive, the technology amazing.  I was in awe of the big LED televisions displaying such realistic, spot on graphics.  However, what really caught my attention this year is the amount of immersive game play devices being released.  Nintendo introduced a device, the Wii Vitality Sensor, that clips to a player’s index finger and reads their pulse into the game.  This is the same company that has been so successful with the Wii Fit, which helps a game player lose weight by bouncing on a board that feeds the movements into game play.  Basically, your movements are the game characters movements, so if the game requires your character to run or jump, then you, the player must do the same.  A hell of a workout.  Ubisoft Entertainment introduced a competitive, more serious fitness title, “Your Shape” that actually customizes the workout based on body type.

However, the Project Natal for the XBox really knocked me over.  You’ve got to watch the YouTube video attached to really understand the interactive possibilities.  You can fully immerse yourself into a virtual world.

IMG_0125

As I wrote in this blog last October, after the “E for all Expo,” the philosophy behind my company, Unconventional Media, is to deliver a fresh angle for new entertainment, incorporating movie storytelling into game play.  This seems to be a growing, exciting trend in the business, although much of it remains tied to feature film releases like “Batman,” “Watchman,” “Harry Potter,” etc..  I do admit it was fun to stand next to the original Ghostbusters Ecto-1 vehicle, parked outside to promote the Ghostbuster Video game. I believe with the immersing technology of virtual game worlds, we can create storylines to form a new kind of entertainment.  It’s like my fictional screenplay, “Press>Play” as reality.  We enter the story, virtually.

Since I’ve always enjoyed the social aspects of game play and find the solo aspects of most video games a little lonely, like playing Solitaire, you’d think I’d be a big fan of online gaming. I’m fearful that getting involved in games like “World of Warcraft” and other multi-player online activities will become such an addiction that I’ll never go outdoors again.  Hell, I won’t even play “Mafia Wars” on Facebook.  However, after viewing the EA and LucasArts upcoming release, “Star Wars: The Old Republic,” a multiplayer, online game based on the franchise, but set in a different time period, I may be hooked.

After a couple of days of the loud noises and visual attacks of E3, I had to make an escape. I sat down with some friends and played “Joan of Arc,” a good old fashioned board game.  The game takes place during the 100 year war between England and the provinces of France.  There are castles, battles, land grabs, even the plaque, but there are also alliances between players, negotiating between teams, the human element.  I miss this part of game play in video games.  Sometimes, it just feels like it’s you against the machine.  I like the social interaction. Maybe, I’m just a board game geek.  Anyone up for a game of RISK.

Read Full Post »