Thursday, 31 January 2008

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Long Form Storytelling and Hollywood Marketing

I want to revisit some of the ideas I was fumbling to elucidate in my earlier post about the Cloverfield marketing. Cloverfield was an excellent ignition for some thoughts I've had on this topic for a while, and they were equally stirred up again today whilst reading about the concerns in Hollywood now with how to market The Dark Knight, particularly some of the comments on the issue over at Defamer. For TDK the issue is around the centrality of Ledger's apparently powerful performance to the marketing campaign, and whether that is appropriate, post mortem. My feeling is that it is completely appropriate to continue as planned. It is openly acknowledged that Ledger put a lot of himself into the role, and he would want that role valued and given the attention it deserves. All the more so now that he has died and it is his last role. Appropriateness is a thin veil for what is really at issue for the studio though. After all, it is appropriate to cry when someone dies, but in doing so you are unlikely to be interested in paying for overpriced popcorn.

What the studio is scrambling to figure out is how to balance out the milking the news of Ledger's death between making people morbidly curious about his last performance, and making them too sad to want to watch it. The primary concern is bums on seats, and other points really are moot, despite lip-service. That is what the Hollywood marketing behemoth is all about, and the relationship between getting people in the cinema and what they are actually watching is tenuous at best. Actors, characters, special effects, dialogue, music - all are simply fodder to marketing departments. A dilemma like Ledger highlights the question marketers live by, 'What can we get away with?'

The whole sorry situation is based on a fundamental precept, once useful but now outdated, that sees production and marketing as two wholly separate, largely unrelated spheres. The manufacturing industry proved sometime ago that marketing was primary, production secondary. Unfortunately for Hollywood, the split into such a hierarchy hasn't been so simple, hard as they might try forcing it to fit. What Hollywood, and film makers in general need to do, is view the marketing and the film itself as part of an integrated whole. The processes of marketing a film and making one are quite similar. A marketing campaign, such as the one for TDK, is planned in advance, determining what elements, when and how much of them are revealed to the audience, hopefully building to a climax that culminates in the purchase of a ticket. A filmaker undertakes the same process, determining what to reveal to the audience, how much and when, which hopefully builds to a climax. Film-makers should be viewing marketing as the 'big picture' process of telling a story. Working in Hollywood with the amount of money put into marketing, they would in a sense double their budget for telling their story if they told it on more then just the cinema screen. Such an approach would require a new level of skill, of story-telling savvy for film-makers. They would need to know not just how the interplay of sound and images affects a viewer, but additionally all the skills involved with telling a story across a variety of mediums and without a 'captured' audience. It was the ability of The Blair Witch and Cloverfield to tell their stories off screen as part of the 'marketing', even if in a very simple sense, that made them successful, not magic 'Internet buzz'. I think the results of this approach to film-making story-telling could be phenomenal. I dream of the opportunity to create stories like this with Hollwood resources one day, but in I would happily settle for someone else doing so in the meantime.

Glum connections in Hollywood

Earlier this evening my mother gushed about the recently released Juno, and how it was imperative that I see it, particularly for the performance by Ellen Page. I've been browsing the net too, as I'm want to do, and of course there has been a deluge of Heath Ledger related news. Messages from Ledger's family in a Perth newspaper were halting, a brief glimpse into their tragedy and the real Heath. His father lamented never again playing chess with his son, whom he could never beat. As if this weren't maudlin enough, I was also reading about the Hollywood industry response to Ledger's death as well. As I mentioned before, Terry Gilliam was shooting a film with Heath, and the quote he gave at the end of the Variety article, just served to compound the melancholy. Gilliam tells us that Ledger was about to direct soon, and that had was keenly observant of all of his techniques on set. Gilliam was sure he was going a be a better director then himself. The movie that Ledger was developing for his directorial debut was an adaptation of the Walter Tevis novel "The Queen's Gambit," about a young female chess prodigy, to be played by Ellen Page.

Heath Round-Up and Movie News

~ There's a great little piece at TV Guide by Michael Ausiello about watching Brokeback Mountain again after hearing of Heath Ledger's death.

~ Poor Terry Gilliam was in the middle of shooting "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus" with Heath Ledger. Rather then recast and reshoot, there is some talk of Johnny Depp replacing the Ledger in the film. Read how here.

~ Latest Britney goss is that her crazy antics that fuel the paparazzi might be due some sort of deal where she gets a cut from the sale of the pics. Could explain why she shacked up with a pap...

~ The Warner Bros backed big-screen CGI adaptation of Astro Boy has changed has switched directors. It's now being helmed by Flushed Away director David Bowers.

~ As if you really need a good reason to post a pic of Daniel Craig, but the new James Bond movie, coming out in November, now has a title - Quantum of Solace. Plenty of new details about the plot and characters have been released too.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Pearl the comic genius

Oh, what the heck, I'm in a funny video mood. Here is Pearl's debut performance, followed by her retirement piece. Enjoy.

More Tom Cruise fun...

I never intended this much Tom Cruise, but I think this send up clip is pretty funny. Which is odd, because its just some random guy who has cut himself into the interview, finishing Tom's answers. Yet, somehow he gets Tom's delivery just right... I can't explain it ok, it just funny!

Wednesday, 23 January 2008


Is it life on Mars or just a freaky rock? No it's bigfoot!
Life on Mars?

The Shock of Heath Ledger's Departure

What a sad way to wake up this morning, particularly for little Matilda. Heath Ledger has been found dead in a Manhattan apartment, apparently from a drug overdose. Friends have said that he had a drug problem, but that he's been clean for a year. His family are adamant it wasn't suicide, and apparently he was ill with pneumonia, so it seems likely he misjudged his self-medication.

His death is one of those celebrity events I find quite sad, much more so then I would have predicted. Thinking about it, I guess my esteem for him has gradually grown since the initial pretty boy phase of his career. I admired the risk he took with starring in Brokeback Mountain, and he always came across as a pretty genuine, down-to-earth sort of guy, who loved his daughter deeply. I always imagined him ageing well as an actor, given the success he had already with stepping outside of expectations in the roles he chose. Poor Terry Gilliam, in the middle of shooting a film with Heath, will have yet another film likely written off, on top of loosing a colleague he undoubtedly liked. I expect I will have mixed feelings watching the upcoming Batman, his last ever role.

Heath deserved to be a Hollywood legend, and now sadly, he has earned that status irrevocably.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Marketing Cloverfield - Story Beyond the Screen

Cloverfield seems to have done quite well at the box office over the weekend, doing $46 million in the US, which is comparable to Peter Jackson's King Kong opening, reports the LA Times. I find it interesting in these sort of articles how the explanations for the success of films like this, are pretty meagre. Cloverfield only cost $25 million to make, so its already broken even in that respect, although apparently the marketing campaign cost more then production. The reasoning given by the Times for its success... it was pet project of the a studio exec, and the good 'buzz' generated on the Internet was reinforced by good reviews. Two important questions are not really answered. What made it a good movie? What made people think it would be a good movie before they saw it? Apparently its a good movie because people went to see it, and people went to see it because its a good move. And people say Hollywood isn't insightful!

The other reasons given for it's success seem to be 'oh, it had a big monster', which often make money and 'its like The Blair Witch', which made lots of money. That must be it. Oh, and all that money spent on marketing. You'd think given the amount of money spent on movies in Hollywood, the depth of analysis would extend beyond, oh you know, the amount of money spent.

I thought it was a pretty safe bet that Cloverfield would do well. That's not to say I thought it would be a good film, it was disappointingly flawed as I said in my review, but I suspected it would do well. I know why I thought that, and it has to do with its similarity to The Blair Witch, but not simply because it generated some magical 'Internet buzz'. I remember when The Blair Witch came out no one seemed to really get why it was successful. "It's because it has ghosts, no witches!" "No, its because the camera was really, really shaky" "Na-uh, it's because it had no-name actors in it." "Derr, it was because it had Internet buzz!" After a few lame attempts to recreate the success based on lame theories, people seemed to give up trying to explain it. It became an anomaly. None of the reasons come up with looked deep enough. What made The Blair Witch good, and I thought it was really good, was that it didn't limit the telling of its story to the hour and bit spent in the cinema.

The problem with my generation is that our attention span is too short, apparently. That may be true, but that doesn't mean we want to see an epic squashed into an ad break. That's why the Snickers ad was funny. We still like a good story, and story is all the more enjoyable if told over a long time. The Lord of the Rings weren't just long cinematically, that's not what made them hits, their success came because they continued a story that people have been experiencing for 50 years. Both The Blair Witch and Cloverfield start telling the story before you watch the film. They don't just recap info from the film beforehand, in fact they cut out all the tedious exposition and explanation from the films all together because they've already given it to you on the net. That is incidently why they are both quite short films, and why that doesn't particularly matter.
Franchises are popular not simply because they offer the audience something familiar, but because they end up telling a story over a long period time. They build up back-story, in between story and incidental information, much of which is never explicitly covered in the films. Maybe implied at best. This is true for the Star Wars films, the Harry Potter films, the Matrix films, the Bond films, etc all of which have a plethora of books, video games, toys, animations, tv shows even fan fiction, that contribute to the larger story, or in geek terms, to the fictional 'universes'.

Hollywood certainly sees the value in these things, both for marketing, and for their own profitability, but the over-riding idea is that they are peripheral to the film. They are the rear-spoilers, nice if you can sell them too, but you still have to sell the car first. (Oh god, I'm using automotive analogies, someone shoot me) One day, hopefully, Hollywood will realise that its about telling a story, and it doesn't matter what medium you do it in. Instead of thinking of marketing as a means to trick, cajole and bombast audiences into watching their films, they should think of all the marketing as an integrated part of the story telling. They will stop wasting money trying to clamp down on people stealing their stories, and start giving away original parts of their stories for free, as tv, or on the net, or in games. Then people would be falling over themselves paying to be let into the cinema, or buying the disc to see what happens next.

It's getting late, and this post has got a bit rambly... there are too many ideas in here that I want to expand on, to write more about, but I'll wait until another day...

Roboroach - Cockroach cyborgs

I am somewhat creeped out by this clip. Yes, its all explained in the clip why they did it, but it's still damn freaky! All the reasons they give, while logical, still beg the question... couldn't they have thought of other ways to explore those concepts. Clearly it is just a cover for the development of a cyberoach army that rules the night. I dread their second version, I'm sure it flies...

Monday, 21 January 2008

Curse you Veronica Mars!

Veronica Mars is making this whole blogging thing rather difficult. How am I supposed to post stuff when they go and end every episode of season 3 with a juicy cliff-hanger?! It's compounded by things like this -

The universe is trying to stop me blogging I tell you!

Actually I came across some fascinating info on IMDB. So Michael Muhney who plays the dumb sheriff on Veronica Mars is actually a member of Mensa. He has just written, produced and starred in a movie, released this year presumably, which also stars Amber Benson, AKA Tara from Buffy. So there is yet another Buffy connection to Veronica Mars, what with Charisma Carpenter and Alyson Hannigan both having recurring roles in the show.
Suddenly my Veronica buzz has worn off, and I'm sad that I'll never get to watch another new episode of Buffy...

Sunday, 20 January 2008


After months of drooling over the clever viral campaign and teaser footage, I finally saw Cloverfield last Friday. Sigh. Sometimes I wish all Hollywood features would only be a maximum of five minutes long, then it might be possible for them to just be on par with their trailers. I think Manohla Dargis over at the New York Times summed Cloverfield up succinctly when she said,

Like too many big-studio productions, “Cloverfield” works as a showcase for impressively realistic-looking special effects, a realism that fails to extend to the scurrying humans whose fates are meant to invoke pity and fear but instead inspire yawns and contempt.

What disappoints me, and this isn't the first time JJ Abrams has disappointed me, is that the basis of this film is an excellent conceit, but it seems rushed and not very thought through. I will admit that I loved Shyamalan's 'Signs', and one of the best moments in that film is when Joaquin Pheonix's character, sitting in the closet, sees the first glimpse of an alien on news, filmed in shaky hand-held at a children's party in Mexico. It's shocking because the reveal is unexpected, but more importantly it is exactly how we would be first exposed to something so strange in the real world, through badly shot footage on the news or the net. There was some hope that Cloverfield would capture that contemporary aesthetic, given the wonderful fake news clips and websites that were made as part of the marketing hype. Instead of making the film a mockumentary, piecing together the news and personal footage of a monster attack, which could have worked amazingly, the film-makers have shoe-horned Hollywood heroics into the hand-held gimmick. Instead of gradually witnessing this cataclysmic event through a variety of found footage, we are forced to endure a restricted set of clich├ęd characters whose plights become more absurdly unreal, hence disengaging, as the film wears on. Its all the more painful, because the special effects, and the deftness with which they are executed are undermined by this silliness. I want to be insulted when Hollywood tells me the only way I can engage with a film is through a heroically stupid protagonist, but it happens so much now I just have to take it for granted. Hollywood thinks I'm an idiot, and that's never going to change.

Some of the critics out there that are lambasting the picture for its insensitivity Dargis also has little time for) are being a(something bit too sensationally sensitive. There has been plenty written about the apocalyptic themes present in Japanese culture after the atom bombs were dropped on them, especially in those native habitats of sci-fi, anime and manga. Yet it is frequently seen as some sort of public catharsis, a way for Japanese society to come to terms with the horror it endured. The same thing is starting to be evident in US cinema. That is not to imply the references to 9/11 that we are seeing, and there are more then one (take the aeroplane shaped robot flying through the side of a sky scraper in 'Transformers') are meaningful, intelligent or adept, but some credit has to be given for the attempt, even if the film-makers aren't conscious of it. Dumb people need to come to terms with catastrophe too.

Having said all that, I still think it is worth seeing Cloverfield at the cinema. The stupid elements of the film are no more stupid then any of your typical Hollywood fare, while the rest of the film is well executed and fun. The film does try to challenge certain Hollywood conventions about story-telling, and for that its worth giving your financial, cinematic support, because though it doesn't necessarily succeed, at least it tried. These days the balls to do that in Hollywood seem to be very rare.

Facebook Founders

There is a fascinating article over on the Guardian website by Tom Hodgkinson called 'With Friends Like These...' which discusses the power-brokers behind Facebook and their personal ideologies. I don't necessarily find the information presented in the article as sinister as the author clearly does, particularly the irrational fear that an older generation seems to have about 'targeted marketing', but I do think the information definitely gives pause for thought.

Tom Cruise & Will Smith Interview Remix

So I'm somewhat in love with the remix culture that YouTube has facilitated, and given that I'm partial to a bit of celebrity gossip (ha, understatement!) this clip just tickled me. It remixes the Tom Cruise 'Look-how-crazy-I-am-now' Scientology vid that was leaked recently with some Will Smith interview. I could only bring myself to watch a couple minutes of the original leaked vid, Tom is just too crazy, not in the fun, pathetic Britney way, but in a creepy, almost sexual way.
I would like to see a craziness showdown between Brit and Tom tho. That would be gold. :D

Why Blog?

I might be more frequent with my blogs if I had a clear idea of why I want to blog. And I I do have an idea of why I want to blog, so perhaps if I lay it out it will become clearer.

For a while now I have been thinking about how bloggers are gaining more cultural significance. Blogging represents several broader trends in our culture, reflecting our increased capacity to communicate and stay connected with people, the culture of celebrity which has morphed into the cult of personality, and the need for a means to guide us through the overwhelming quantity of cultural information out there.

In that sense, I want to blog so that I can experience first-hand these cultural shifts. Hopefully even gain some insights into them. I know all the online blogging lit recommends picking a topic you like to write about, and focusing your blog if you want it to be successful (and by that, I mean actually read by people). While I see the logic in that, unfortunately I like everything. There are very few topics I don't find interesting (professional sports being one example, and even then I can be distracted given the right imagery :P ), and damn it I'm going to write about it all! In fact, I do actually think there is value in take a very broad point of view. Often, if we just focus on similar topics or issues, we failed to make important and interesting connections between diverse and disparate information. It's those unexpected connections that I love. That I will hunt for on this blog. No doubt they shall be elusive, but in the mean time I guess I'll just blog about all the different cool stuff I like.

Two Nights in a row...

Well its been several days already and I'm yet to post anything at all on this blog. A dire sign? I hope not. Once again I have spent the last two nights out drinking until the early hours. I wonder if this is why I am so unproductive with my spare time. Tsk, tsk. Well anyway, I'm awake (just) and here now, so I'll try to post something interesting.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

My first blog post....

Well the day has finally come for me to create a blog. Now, when the day comes that I will actually post some meaningful content is an entirely different matter all together...