Fuck You Too And the Porsche You Rode In On

Recruiting for the Digital Revolution, one hater at a time.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

An open letter to those who agree with Conservative funding cuts to Canadian culture:

We all like to defend our positions. And once they're published, I just don't know that it's in our nature to change our minds. We become increasingly invested in a point of view. In the case of your view regarding cuts to government funding of the arts (in particular, film), I would like to try and convince you that it is important to have Canadian films and TV, even though I'm probably wasting my typing fingers. I agree with you on this: to date it doesn't LOOK like Canadian film and TV is very important. The stuff seems irrelevant and, even worse, it seems really crappy! But I think it is a big, scary deal to hand our film and TV entirely over to American voices and interests.

Film is the most powerful medium for conveying ideas in human history. That combination of sight and sound, the transporting power of the images, the ability to take us to places we'd never see otherwise, ALMOST like we were really there, is unique. The impact of the "art form" on our psyches has been undeniable, even if only on occasion. Film (and I include TV) causes a shift in tastes and politics and fashions very quickly and across great numbers of people. It captures our hearts and minds. And so is it any wonder that every dictatorship has tried to control the films its artists create? Check out Nazi Germany's "Triumph of the Will."

Of course, audiences don't rent a DVD starring Adam Sandler in order to actively improve themselves or learn or change. We watch to be entertained. But growing, changing and learning is a by-product of the experience over time. I mean, are you telling me that there aren't TV shows from your childhood that have made indelible impressions and changed your heart and mind? Seeing black people on Sesame Street didn't affect your six year old brain? What about NOT seeing black people on television. I'll never forget Mr. Dressup, and probably he taught me some things I am not even aware of. These days, like you, I mainly watch American media. It's better. I hate most of the stuff made in Canada. But I think it's a frightening proposition to abandon all attempts to express our own views and values. Are we not a bit different from the U.S. at least? If not, why do we even have a border!! Aren't there certain ideas we want to protect? Ideas we want to engender in the existing and future generation? Even if it's simply the idea of a free and open society that allows expression of even controvercial views? Yes, I think even Three's Company is expressing values (even at the time, a guy living with two girls was sort of controvercial!).

I for one believe that a society that allows for free artistic expression grows and matures. The debates and free flow of ideas makes us smarter, more tolerant, more inventive. Basically it gets us out of Hicksville and even makes us more competitive in a global marketplace. Hey, lots of great inventions have been inspired by the fantastical stories in books and movies. Have I convinced you that film can be very important to influencing the hearts and minds of a population? If I haven't, there are much better arguments for the case made by others. I encourage you to read some of them. And if you accept, at least for the sake of argument, that film is important, then I don't know how we can just relinquish our screens wholesale to another country. Oh, and you're probably saying that the funding cuts are anything but an infringement on our freedom of artistic impression, since you'll argue we should be able to express ourselves freely without government money anyhow. I beg you to read on.

If you accept that media culture is important to our sovereignty as a nation, then the second important truth to consider is the fact that WITHOUT government support, the expensive film industry would essentially vanish. You're saying that's not a bad thing. Mainly because the Canadian stuff sucks. But the fact is, without government subsidy, there would be NO film industry. We'd have no Cronenberg. We'd have no Kids in the Hall. We'd never have seen Mr. Dressup or The Decline of the American Empire. And that's a fact. Again, I should probably refer you to the reams of studies and analyses by academics and policy-makers alike that have basicaly realized the same thing. Just as it is in every country in the world, other than the U.S, there is simply no film industry without support from tax dollars. Italy funds it. Sweden funds it. England funds it. France, Japan, Russia, Iceland, Brazil. Why do they all fund it?! Because on some level they know they can't afford not to. And a lot of their stuff sucks too.

Maybe the most unsettling part is that financing film has always been about spending a lot on many things just so that a little bit of it can be good. It seems like a bad investment. However, that's just the nature of it, even in Hollywood, and even more so in our beavery backwater. You cannot predict what will be mesmerizing based on the first pitch of the idea. You have to give it your best guess, spend the money, and then wait for it to reach the box office, where it either flourishes or dies on the vine. I admit that there are many, many BETTER ways of funding film with government money than the current model. I actually think a lot of the current funding agencies are borderline corrupt. And we really shouldn't be making so much stuff that sucks. But I don't want a Canada that makes no films at all (save for a few YouTube videos made on a video camera, because there's no doubt that filmmaking is an expensive art form). And so I advocate better management of the money, not a lethal poisoning of the system.

I for one think there are uniquely Canadian ideas embodied in art--in theatre, literature and film--that we need to preserve. And if they disappeared we lose soemthing significant to our identity as a nation. We don't lose it by canceling a single crappy Canadian TV show. Maybe we don't lose it even if we cancel lots of them. But the cumulative effect, over time, is that we lose our voice in the end. Eventually we don't have a voice on those screens at all, though I admit we barely have one now. So I really, desperately want people like you, to argue for BETTERING the financing of Canadian film and TV, not arguing that we shouldn't care and we don't need it. I think yours is a natural but easy conclusion drawn from information we receive on the surface: turn TV on, TV sucks, turn it off and swear at the government for "wasting my money." Yes, we should be making more stuff we're proud of, and if we did, I wager that opinions like yours would be pilloried. Can you imagine making the case that we don't need Alice Munro and who cares if she never existed or never gets published again? You'd come off as dumb and devoid of feeling too.

So now we have to dig deeper and figure out why all these countries have seen the financing of film as important since the advent of the art form. And then fire the fuckers who don't seem to have a clue about how to make programs we can be more proud of.



Sunday, August 24, 2008

The future of TV and Internet convergence can be found in the wonderful, addictive, oh-so-obviously futuristic No Fat Clips. Watch it...and watch it...and watch it.

Start with: Crossbow, or just explore on your own. It's phenomenal.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

NO FAT CLIPS!! is Short and Very, Very Sweet

"Aggregator" is just another word for "broadcaster" in the online digital age--a place where selective content is aggregated in one place for the pleasure and efficiency of an audience. YouTube isn't an aggregator in this sense, since all they do is take anything and everything, constantly (and successfully) vying for the most voluminous collection of videos, most of which is senseless, artless and uninteresting (not to mention oftentimes racist and homophobic).

And My Damn Channel is more like a producer, in fact. Their content is so worthy because the sensibility behind their "programming" is so spot-on. The online series backed by My Damn Channel consistently offer smart, entertaining counter-TV programming. My Damn Channel doesn't link to content other than the stuff they have backed themselves, and it just happens that the stuff they back is too damn fun (give me Wainy Days any day or night).

So, it was just a matter of time before I came across no fat clips!!, a kick-ass "aggregator" in the truest sense of that term. A single portal that links me to the kind of stuff I desire, lovingly culled from the ocean of a hundred million videos. They don't produce anything; they just thoughtfully aggregate it. I'd never have seen something as beautiful as Crossbow without it. Indeed, the site has never failed to disappoint me yet, only confirming in my mind that the future of "TV" is in the hands of artists and their allies, clasped together by the likes of no fat clips!!


Friday, December 28, 2007

Sam and Jim are two guys who write scripts in Hollywood and they have a podcast. They're also big believers in the future of the Internet as TV. Their latest podcast is particularly relevant to this particular blog: they're another voice that sees the inevitability of an Internet which will empower writers and creative talents. But I don't agree with them on all counts. Have a listen for yourself. It's not short. Not much is even all that new. But much of it is well said (hey, they're writers).

I did like what they touch on regarding "spec scripts" and how writing TV specs is such a waste of creative energy. Having written my fair share of TV specs, I totally agree. Writing specs involves a ton of energy, if you wanna write something good enough to get hired from. But you're writing these things just to get a job--they're "resume pieces." And you don't have any chance of getting them made. They're dead on the page as soon as you write them, since the only purpose of a spec TV script is to show your writing ability to get hired on a show, rather than actually writing something that is going to be produced. So they sorta suggest that in the near future, writers will be better off investing that energy into scripts that they can actually make (thanks to the power of Internet distribution).

But I don't agree with them that "you" can't go off and make TV shows for the Internet as well as Hollywood can. Or maybe they're not talking to me when they say "you." Maybe they're talking to bozos with video-cameras who post pranks on YouTube. I'm not sure. Hey, good TV is hard. Hollywood fails half the time, as is evidenced by all the un-aired pilots and half-baked series that get canceled in the first season.

They do acknowledge that budgets don't have to be as big in the digital era. That the Web and accompanying technologies make things cheaper, especially when we excise the parasites (e.g., studios) who really don't offer much to improve the quality of a show, but take an awful lot of cash out of a budget. However, Sam and Jim don't yet see that the production values of Hollywood will be duplicated by "some guys in a garage" in the not so distant future (and I'm not talking about making Michael Bay's Transformers here, though a time will come when that level of CGI will be duplicated by college kids as well; instead I'm talking about something more like Arrested Development or The Office). I think Sam and Jim really are writers, full stop, and they might not realize that digital technologies are accelerating at the same rate as the Internet-based distribution platform. Cameras and equipment are getting better and cheaper. And expertise is becoming more widely dispersed outside of the traditional production centers. A rarer commodity than production values will be actors of the caliber we expect to see in a Network show. But again, we'll find those talents in stranger places too. Over time, Internet content might even alter our expectations of what an actor should look and sound like (go back and watch older movies and you see that it's an evolving aesthetic anyhow). But good acting will be a rarity.

And ultimately, I agree with them that Internet content has not paid much attention to the quality of storytelling. But I disagree with them when they (seem to) suggest that this can't happen without Hollywood writers such as, ahem, themselves. Good writers are very rare. They're the rarest of elements in the filmmaking equation, in fact. But they don't exist only in Hollywood. There is nothing magic about that hallowed ground. And while Hollywood has made it a business to pick through the thousands of talentless hacks to find the real storytellers, the Internet itself (or at least the audiences) will also begin a process of mining for the gold from a much bigger pool of dreamers. Because the truth is only a small percentage of the best storytellers ever actually move to Hollywood in the first place. That's right--there are more good writers than Hollywood will ever catch sight of. People choose not to move to Hollywood for myriad reasons, or never have such a choice at all. And some of those people can tell stories just as well or better than the best working today. Yes, Hollywood offers rather effective Darwinian selection for the best writers, but the Internet as a whole will serve up even better natural selection.

There is also a craft--a process of developing stories--that Hollywood has honed quite effectively, and which gets passed down to working Hollywood writers. But talent is the real key, and the craft will also be developed in the remoter corners of the world with some time and some trial and error.

I sorta sense that these guys are excited by the power that the Internet offers creatives such as themselves, but they perhaps also underestimate the potential for the Hollywood model to be duplicated in Minnesota, or Toronto, or Bombay. YouTube is crap, not because Hollywood has an exclusive lock on "the secret." YouTube is crap because it's just a clearing house for, well, crap. As Jim and Sam point out, the future "channels" will be companies or even individuals who select the best comedy, drama and non-fiction for us to watch on our Internet connected 52" LCD HD TV's with five point surround. And the talent to deliver those comedies and dramas will come from unlikely places. The clock is ticking down.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

For certain is death for the born,
Therefore over the inevitable
Thou shouldst not grieve.

Bhagavad Gita (250 BC - 250 AD), Chapter 2

It seemed inevitable to me: writers wallowing in picket lines would realize they don't need studios anymore. Seems it just took a couple months break from the fat Hollywood checks for writers to wake up. They're finally arriving at the rather obvious conclusion that writers should be by-passing the studios altogether and developing programs directly, and distributing them online, thereby retaining creative control and probably a heck of a lot of the potential money. (See, I'm still calling it potential money, but watch how quickly that "potential money" turns into gazillions--things move lightning fast in the digital era. I'm wagering within 15 months, we'll see the first instance of some new online dramatic or comedy series that ends up generating enough ad dollars to pay creators as much money as they'd make on any Network series.)

Fact is, writers are smart enough to realize that it might be stupid to fight with studios over a tiny percentage of Internet re-broadcast royalties when the future of television is the Internet itself, and writers can simply create their own content--indeed create their own studios--alongside creative producers and directors. Where's the money for production going to come from? Venture capital, that's where.

This article in the LA Times describes the first rumblings of such deal-making by writers. Believe me, it's the beginnings of an avalanche (on the studios) and a liberating revolution for artists. Ironically, the studios' petty fight over the pennies they don't want to pay to writers for Internet re-broadcasts will probably be the smelling salts that wake writers up to the fact they're now working in unnecessary servitude. Writers worth their union-card should take the risk and truly own the content they create, reaping the rewards too.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Get Out of My Computer! (Threats of Regulating the Internet in Canada)

[Awesome B&W photo above by Christian Fosatti.]

Jeezus, that thought scares me. Yes, broadcasters are actively cajoling the CRTC into regulating the Internet in Canada. Why? Because they see their stranglehold over Canadian ad dollars slipping away, end of story. They want it both ways: the Canadian broadcaster wants as LITTLE regulation as possible when it comes to airing Canadian content, so that they can continue to make the big bucks on ad spending during the airing of U.S. shows; but now that eyeballs are drifting over to Heavy.com and YouTube.com and MyDamnChannel.com, well, they're terrified. And now they're crying like little babies about the lack of regulation of the Internet. The CRTC wisely allowed market forces to govern the Internet, and the Canadian TV networks realize that you and me and some guy named Gord in Powell River can be a broadcaster too. Oh, so NOW they want regulation. The same broadcasters who arm-twisted the CRTC into relaxing several regulatory rules, thereby allowing broadcasters to count reality TV as Canadian "dramatic" programming, as well as attempting to stretch the "prime time" slots for Canadian programs towards midnight on Saturday nights when no one would be watching. (See, the Canadian networks don't care if you watch Canadian TV--they just put it on the air because the CRTC makes them do it as a price to pay for getting the right to air American content in "real prime time," like Thursday night at 8 pm!)

Thing is, I'm absolutely 100% for regulation of the television networks and Canadian cable signals. If we didn't have regulation we'd have no Canadian content on our own channels at all. But the key is that CRTC regulation, in the ancient television world, is a force which protects the interests of THE PEOPLE. The CRTC regulations are NOT primarily designed to protect executives' salaries at CTV and Global, despite what those executives might think. The CRTC regulations are NOT designed to preserve share value of Canadian networks either. Market forces dictate those things. In fact the networks themselves employ very few people directly (relative to other industries, and I'm not including the freelance production community, which again only gets work because the CRTC forces the networks to finance some Canadian shows). But here the networks are lobbying for CRTC regulation of the Internet to protect THEMSELVES not to protect the people. The earth-shattering difference is that the Internet is already democratized and Canadians can create content and get it out to their fellow citizens at will. So regulation of the Internet by the CRTC is not needed to keep Canadian stories on the Net the way it's needed to ensure the existence of Canadian stories on traditional network television. Any Canadian, any time can put their story out there on the Net.

See, Canadian network television signals were rare and precious and deserving of regulation because they were LIMITED. Only a few companies had access to them, because at the very least it takes millions of dollars and a corporate infrastructure to become a TV network. Plus, a network consisted of a SINGLE CHANNEL delivered to many cities at once. So if you're Channel 8, well then you have a licence to a LIMITED piece of real estate, which is in fact owned by the Canadian people. The network is regulated because we want to ensure that the network operates on that piece of precious Canadian real estate with our best interests in mind. Reminder: the network doesn't OWN that channel. It operates there under a licence that the people (i.e., the government) has given to the network as long as certain obligations are met (e.g., airing stories and news relevant to Canada as well as making too much money on American shows bought on the cheap).

So now we're in the digital age where there is no limit to the number of channels. The number of channels is infinite. Every Canadian can have one as soon as they post their home videos on their blogs. And it doesn't takes hundreds of millions to run a "network." It's free or almost free to anyone with an Internet connection. See how terrifying that is to the networks? It's not surprising the networks suddenly want regulation of the Internet. North Korea and Iran have regulation of the Internet too: it's about control. And control is usually really about money. The Internet threatens the salaries and dividends of the very rich families behind the Canadian networks. But now it's actually the NON-REGULATION of the Internet that provides the most powerful way in history to get Canadian voices out to the people. It's what the CRTC regulations were all about in the first place: not about protecting network exec's salaries, but about ensuring that the airwaves were owned by Canadians. We do own the Internet. Just like every citizen in the world owns the Internet. And we should fight to keep it that way before corporate interests try to control our access and our voices for their own ends.

Because what the networks really want is to apply the old world television definition of "broadcaster" (a regulated entity) to any individual who starts putting videos online and making money from them. That's right. If you're a filmmaker or write a blog and you start a web page that attracts advertising revenue, the Canadian networks want you to be defined as a "broadcaster" so they can shut you down. See why I find that scary?

But I envision a day when government cultural subsidies go not to broadcasters and politically connected production companies, but directly to the artists who make content, which is then distributed online right to your television set. Like a future Best-of-Canada-Channel.com, where the funniest Canadian comedy, the most compelling Canadian docs, the most valuable Canadain news, and the most gripping Canadian drama can be viewed by Canadians. It will be created by Canadians, and the Canadian audiences will benefit as well as the artists and storytellers who make the content.

In short, let's not forget who is really supposed to be protected by CRTC regulation: the people. Not the networks. I hope Canadians have the gumption to keep the Internet owned by the people, for the people. And when you hear arguments that Canadians watch too much American internet, well, then we should lobby for more moneys to help Canadians make and promote their sites online to get Canadian eyeballs watching Canadian stories again. But we should NOT be brainwashed into believing that we therefore need to hand control of Internet distribution to broadcasters or even to the government. I believe we really can tell stuff the world wants to watch. And a democratized Internet that's freely accessible to all will help ensure those Canadian stories gets out there.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

What the WGA Strike Means to You

Also see this article on the subject over at FreshDV.

I'd still like to read some analysis of how such strikes affect non-union writers and filmmakers. I mean, obviously having the protection of a guild/union is invaluable. Creative contributions will NEVER be valued to the degree they should be without such protection. But will non-union writers working for below scale (often WELL below scale) find more work as a result? There is increasing non-union (i.e., truly indie or DIY content) being made every year. The DVD market could easily be flooded with non-union films, if a producer is able to invest in a non-union project without violating their own adherence to WGA rules.

Then again, the adage that you get what you pay for may well hold true: the quality of scripts by unknown, non-union writers may be so much lower that it's not worth the risk to a producer. On the other hand, let's not forget that every union writer was an unknown, non-union writer at one time too.

In the end, I would like to see every writer--both union and non-union--refuse to work for below scale, whether during a strike or not. That's just not a reality for non-union writers, however. And in case any WGA members with dual-citizenship plan on trying to make some money in Canada (which is not on strike) over the next few months, be aware that animation writers in Canada, despite being covered by the WGC, don't even have minimum script fees--and the "standard rates" seem to be dropping each year rather than rising. You see, animation fees are "subject to negotiation," but a starving writer has very little negotiating power. That's why we need a healthy union on both sides of the border. I think the situation warrants some serious attention here in Canada, though I doubt Canadian writers have the guts and gumption that the American writers are showing right now. (Then again, with the appallingly low rates for scripts in Canada, we have a lot less to lose, and a strike might not have as much impact on our livelihoods as the comparatively flush US writers working for "the Networks.")

In the end, I still think it would be nice to see more writers pick up a camera or hook up with someone who can pick up a camera so that they own more of their own work. Then if the film makes money online the artists can keep most of it, and not just the relatively small amount they'll probably derive after a the strike. As distribution becomes democratized via the Internet, more writers need to flex their muscle by creating content they own directly. I think that could also send a very loud message to the studios. They need our words and ideas more than they know. And we're not just going to give it away. The Internet will soon be the ONLY way audiences receive content (whether it's viewed on a TV or a computer screen). It's a fight writers can't afford to lose.