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Posts Tagged ‘Netflix’

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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!

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A few days ago I was returning with my sister Lindsay Mofford and our friend Stefan Rhys from the full length screening of “Che” at the Nuart theater.  The two of them couldn’t see how director Steven Soderbergh could allow the studios to release the film in two parts instead of the four+ hour version that we had just throughly enjoyed.  I argued that they seemed like two different films, both in filmmaking style and tone.  They were even shot at different aspect  ratios.  Soderbergh may have always planned them as two different films.  The conversation continued with discussions of classic great films, both Lindsay and Stefan had recently seen Sidney Lumet’s 1976 film “Network” again on Netflix.  We talked about Paddy Chayefsky‘s great screenplay, including the fight between Diana (Faye Dunaway) to Max (William Holden) and her apology, “I’m sorry I impugned your cockmanship.”  We all agreed, “Such a great line.”  They just don’t make them like that anymore.  Well, OK, Sidney Lumet  and Steven Soderbergh are still making great movies.

I’ve been reading a lot about the past recently, not just 2008 (which is to be expected with the New Year), but even further back.  The Sunday, December 28, New York Times was filled with articles about how things are changing so rapidly, mostly because of digital technology and the Internet.  In Michael Kimmelman’s article, “Imperfect, Yet Magical” he writes about Polaroid’s decision to stop manufacturing the film for their instant cameras.  Digital cameras did them in, even though some amazing art, including the work of David Hockney, has been created with those white-bordered prints.  As to be expected, many  are protesting by signing petitions at SavePolaroid.com.  Others are happy to see its demise, Polaroid film never being a great thing for the environment.

I signed the petition, but how many things can we really hope to save in this changing world.  On the very next page of the newspaper was an article by David Streitfeld about the destruction of book publishing.  Turns out it isn’t because of lack of interest in books, it’s because book lovers are finding cheaper ways to read and buy books on the Internet.  To quote, “more books are available for less effort and less money than ever before.”  He not only mentions Amazon.com but introduced me to ViaLibri.net, a book search engine of 20,000 booksellers around the world, ready to uncover your next read.

Reading about how the Internet is the demise of book publishing reminds me of all the discussions, including here on this blog and at our Nashville office Unconventional South, of how downloading music has ruined the recording companies.  In 2008, one Billion songs were purchased online, while CD sales fell nearly twenty percent.  The music industry is scrambling to cope with this change.  In the Arts and Leisure section of the same New York Times, Jon Pareles writes in his article, “Songs from the Heart of a Marketing Plan” that record labels are now creating “360” deals with artists, in which they share in concert tickets and merchandise sales.  The biggest new source of income for musical artists is in licensing fees for commercials, movie and television soundtracks and video games.  The concern, of course, is that in the past, the record labels job was selling the music and the artist, licensers have no interest beyond the immediate sales effect of a certain song.  So the shift goes from recording songs from the heart to making music that marketers can use.  Didn’t Neil Young warn us all many years ago that this was where things were headed in “This Note’s for You?”

If it requires marketing and branding to get your music heard, is that so bad?  Music has always had a role in marketing.  Most successful musicians believe that licensing does build interest in the music that can pay off with record sales.  The key is staying true to your art while taking advantage of the new opportunities.  In the Music section of that same December 28 issue of the Times, Vivien Schweitzer writes in her article, “Aliens are attacking.  Cue the Strings.” that music scores whether rock, rap or classical are becoming an integral part of video games.  It seems as the game industry matures, they’re getting better at storytelling.  Steve Schnur of Electronic Arts (EA) is quoted as saying, “music is the reason for the emotional response that games never had 10 to 20 years ago.”  We certainly found that to be true when producing the live portions of  “Need for Speed:Undercover.”  In prep, the discussions on music were considered just as important as visual content.  According to the article, television and film producers want more ambient music, while software companies want strong statements.  However, the biggest challenge for the composer is switching from linear to the interactive of video games, the music has to reflect different possible outcomes within each part of the game.

Listen, I still love the sound of an LP over a CD or digital recording.  I don’t mind getting up ever 25 minutes to turn over the record, that’s why I still own three thousand records.  I also have close to that many CD’s.  However, we need to embrace the fact that new media has changed the industry, not only music, but other creative endeavors.  Because I also love listening to new bands on Pandora, Ourstage and MySpace.

The changing industry is even having an effect on syndicated cartoonists. According to Leslie Berlin in her New York Times article (same date, quite an issue), “The Comics are Feeling the Pain of Print,” cartoonist are feeling the same bite as musical artists.  Newspapers are declining.  Cartoonists are using the web to sell books, calendars, stuffed dolls to compensate.  Sites like Comics.com and Webcomics Nation present many of the same strips found syndicated in newspapers, plus some new ones only available on the web.  Another site, GoComics.com even has a version for the iPhone.  Like most things on the Internet, the comic sites didn’t have much success with subscription fees, but marketing banners seem bring in some income.

In 1976, when the film “Network” was released, news as entertainment seemed like a far-fetched fantasy.  Things have changed, but in many ways things remain the same.  Many of the issues documented in the terrific Gus Van Zant film release “Milk” are being fought today in California with Prop. 8 and elsewhere in this country.  I gathered my information the old fashioned way, I read the Sunday New York Times, not on the Internet, it was delivered.  But I put it in my Blog, you can still read the articles online.  In 2009, we don’t have to leave everything behind to move forward, we just need to figure out how to make all this new technology work to our own artistic and financial advantage.  So take those fading Polaroids, maybe scan them and create a website.  Take your music and find a new way to market it.  Write your novel or make your film and self distribute it.  Use the web for success, that’s my resolution.  There are no good old yesterdays, just present day.

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