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TWITTER: Twitter-Perfect Memes: #3wordsaftersex and #3breakupwords May 28, 2009

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3wordsaftersex tweets were uploaded at amazing rates.

3wordsaftersex tweets were uploaded at amazing rates.

UPDATE 9/24: After this meme, a similar one cropped up — institutional memory on Twitter is short — called #aftersex. You get the idea. 3wordsaftersex, by the way, is still being tweeted, months later.

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ORIGINAL POST: If ever there was a meme made for Twitter it was #3wordsaftersex (yes, that’s right, “three words after sex”). For those reading this who do not use Twitter at all — are you out there?? — a “#” is a way of linking keywords among tweets, so people can see what Twitterers are tweeting about a certain topic.

I’d seen the #3wordsaftersex trend for awhile, but I normally don’t click on these things. Once I clicked on it, it instantly became clear why it’s popular. 3wordsaftersex is simple: people simply tweet three words they say (or would say; or would never say but would like to pretend they would say) after sex.

3wordsaftersex takes advantage of what Twitter does best: short, witty, sensational messages easily intelligible and quickly repeatable, or re-tweetable. A short sample of 3wordsaftersex tweets reveals an incredible amount of wit among the Twitterati, a wit no doubt cultivated when you only have 140 characters to say what you want — truly, good tweeting is an art. Of course, the same sample of tweets also revealed misogyny (“swallow the nut”) and stupidity (“ima put it on her” — that’s not even three words, and it’s in poor taste!). Regardless, everyone on the site gets a good 10 seconds to express themselves before disappearing into the Internet dustbin. It’s pretty indicative of the web culture in general. (And yes, ten seconds is all you have, the tweets come so fast within that time you’ve been refreshed off the page).
This is a Twitter story. Something like this is too crass for most Facebook accounts — I for one have several employers and past employers as friends — and too short for MySpace, YouTube and most other social networking sites. Blogs are too slow, disparate and hard to find. Twitter is fast, immediate, constantly updated and self-contained. In the twenty minutes it took to write this post, well over 200 tweets were posted, and I’m writing at 3AM.

A companion to 3wordsaftersex is #3breakupwords (three words for a break-up), which isn’t as fun since it isn’t as narrowly constructed. Since there’s more room for possibility, more options and more possible situations, 3breakupwords doesn’t force the twitters to be as creative as 3wordsaftersex does. In my estimation it seems less popular than 3wordsaftersex.

It should be noted that a completely unscientific scan of the tweets shows that 3wordsaftersex does bring out more men than women, which instinctively makes sense to me, but the imbalance isn’t that stark. 3breakupwords seems more equal. But what do I know?! I’m looking at 3AM, my sample might be skewed. It’s surprising because Twitter is likely more female than male.

The big question is: who started this and why? Like many memes before, we may never know.

Three cheers for meaningless memes that rise and fall within the span of days!

PS – I know I keep diverging from my “televisual” theme/directive. But, you know, the Internet’s visual. Leave me alone.

TV: ABC’s OOPS! Ugly Betty “Series” Finale? May 26, 2009

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uglybettyfinale

UPDATE 4/14/10: Ugly Betty‘s real finale was tonight. Here is my post with thoughts on its conclusion.

UPDATE 1/30/10: Ugly Betty‘s fourth season will be its last, having been canceled and will be airing its series finale this spring. Meanwhile, it appears the cast is in demand, so we’ll be seeing them all again! Check out, for one, America Ferrara’s new wedding-themed movie! Click here for my post about what we can learn from Ugly Betty‘s cancellation.

UPDATE 9/12/09: TVbytheNumbers says ABC is airing just enough episodes of Ugly Betty on Fridays this fall to meet syndication (rerun) requirements/standards. So I’m not even sure we’ll get a full fourth season, just enough so we can see the first three on Lifetime.

ORIGINAL: So I just got finished with the Ugly Betty finale — I’ve been at the International Communication Association conference and so am a little behind on my TV — and noticed the “error” above.

ABC, in a kind of Freudian slip, inadvertently labeled last Thursday’s episode the show’s “series finale” as opposed to its “season finale.” Ugly Betty is supposed to be returning next fall, albeit to the dungeon time-slot of Fridays at 9PM.

At best, this little slip up — it should be noted elsewhere on the site the episode is correctly labeled “season finale” — indicates how close my beloved show came to cancellation. At worst, it’s further evidence that when Betty returns next fall it will be lying face first with its head on the chopping block, waiting to get cut.

That being said, the show really upped its game with this last latest show. (SPOILER ALERT) Betty finally got her promotion, but her now ex-boyfriend is her boss. Wilhelmina is back out of power and so will return to deviousness; Mark may or may not leave Mode and Daniel is single again. All the while the show pulled off some fun, if not terribly original, gags, including throwing Rachel Dratch (Mode‘s apparent features editor) off a building (anyone remember season 6, episode 18 of Sex and the City?).

I don’t want Betty to get canceled, though I desperately want her to get a makeover, especially now with her new job. Still, I’m going to start emotionally preparing myself for that reality.

Like Freud said, there are no accidents.

YOUTUBE: Video Effectively Integrated with Google News May 23, 2009

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YouTube and Google News

So I’m a little late with this, but I hadn’t realized how seamlessly Google was integrating news video into Google News search results and on the homepage. If they could somehow convince major content providers to regularly and quickly post video to YouTube it could provide another way to monetize the site. The problem is most major news organizations have their own video portals, but perhaps smaller media organizations could use the publicity.

TV: Not Your Tween’s High School Musical May 21, 2009

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If the creators keep things strange, Glee could be a great show. (Grade: B+)

Glee_large

Twitter was all abuzz Tuesday night after Adam Lambert proved Kris Allen is about as interesting as a country biscuit. After Allen put America to sleep, we awoke to Fox’s latest bit of derivative television: Glee.

Glee follows the struggles of a group of teenage losers and their idealistic teacher as they try to revive a middle class high school’s show choir. It’s a good show, with the potential to be a great one if Fox and its creator Ryan Murphy go even farther, instead of doing what most shows do: devolve into mediocrity.

Regardless, you will see Glee this fall. Depending on if you’re an optimist or pessimist, Glee either missed or met expectations on its premiere after Idol on Tuesday. Either way, Fox has dropped many millions betting on this show, so they have to push forward. You should give it a try.

Glee is a return to form for Fox, which made its mark in the 1980s by challenging the original networks ABC, NBC and CBS with edgier and engaging programming. Marketed as High School Musical: The Series, Glee is actually much closer to Fox classics like Married with Children, The Simpsons, Family Guy and Malcolm in the Middle. It’s a distant cousin, but it’s definitely a relative.

If you tuned in expecting High School Musical, you instead received Camp, the 2003 movie about a musical theater camp where everyone is either gay or questioning, the grown-ups are either drunks or incompetent and every kid’s a loser; “we’re all losers,” the football jock concedes in the premiere. It’s not surprise that Glee creator Murphy made his name with Nip/Tuck and the film Running With Scissors. A fucked-up America is his thing.

Glee’s America isn’t so much fucked up as real, however. Geared toward tweens and younger adults, the show portrays a more realistic view of suburban, or exburban, life. But it’s behind on this trend. ABC Family is ahead of them with Greek and Secret Life of the American Teenager, both with plenty of gay subplots and misbehaving youngsters. If you watch those shows, the fact that Glee’s star gal Rachel (Lea Michele) has two gay parents, one black, one white, isn’t too shocking.

Still, Glee has punch. Characters include a molesting music teacher who becomes a drug dealer (marijuana), the obligatory lesbian coach (played by power-lesbian Jane Lynch), and an OCD counselor (Jayma Mays) who’s in love with the glee club’s hot supervisor, our protagonist (Matthew Morrison). The word “penis” is used, as is “Gaylord Weiner.” The football jock is dating the president of the Celibacy Club. The cast is multicultural, though the show boringly casts them as side characters. Some things never change, but at least the show is self-aware: our sassy black female stereotype (Amber Riley) says to football jock, “what are you bringing to the table, Justin Timberlake?”

There’s the rub. I hate Justin Timberlake, but most of America loves him. So our leads are in fact the high school jock (Cory Monteith) and the pretty, if unpopular, girl. There is an air of predictability hovering over Glee even as it tries to break the mold. All the formulas are still in place: sports guys are mean, teachers are weird, handicapped (Kevin McHale) and overweight kids are uncool. The true test of the show will be whether it can poke enough fun at itself, while still delivering earnest and heart-pounding musical numbers—the show ended predictably with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin.’” If it remains aware of its own ridiculousness, only then will it hold my interest. For now, it at least has my attention, which is more than most shows can say these days.

FILM: Casting Dr. King: Who Will Play Martin?! May 19, 2009

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LI*20972

UPDATE: Apparently some King heirs are disputing the holder of the estate’s legal authority over the rights to Dr. King’s story. Dreamworks, for now, is working on a solution.

Cinematical reports that Steven Spielberg has nabbed the rights to a full-scale biopic, a first, of Dr. Martin Luther King. Not a guaranteed slam dunk to be sure but at least it’s a better idea than the much-feared Obama biopics. Says Cinematical’s :

So, why now? Well, I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that Lincoln has been struggling. If one biopic flails while trying to find cash, why not grab another passion project that would undoubtedly have an easier time getting funded? But there’s also the timeliness factor. As DreamWorks co-chair Stacey Snider explains: “The answer lies in MLK’s own words: ‘All progress is precarious.’ With every step forward, new obstacles emerge and we must never forget that his life and his teachings continue to challenge us every day to stand up to hatred and inequality.”

Yes, the critical question is who will play King? Obviously Hollywood isn’t going to go for an unknown, even though they should. The first actor that comes to mind is Terrence Howard, the only actor in the right age range with enough similarity and acting chops that I can think of. The problem is his raspy voice, very un-King. Jeffrey Wright, who has played King before, is another semi-obvious choice, but will Hollywood go with someone so unproven and noncommercial? Who am I missing? Can Cedric the Entertainer act? :) This is a tough one. Thoughts?

PS – Is Spike Lee upset he’s (probably) not directing?

UPDATE: A Facebook friend mentions Lawrence Fishburne, who might be a little old for the part, but looks young. The problem in general with King is he’s so iconic and omnipresent, you need a really good actor to pull him off.

MUSIC!: Breaking: Pandora Great for Dilettantes! May 16, 2009

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Contextual Ads on Pandora really work!

Contextual ads on Pandora really work! The above Sprint ad is "contextual-lite"

Pandora lead me to this fantastic site.

Pandora lead me to this fantastic site.

I normally don’t write about music because frankly there many, many more people who know more about music than I do. But this post is sort of new media/visual culture-adjacent.

I was listening to Arvo Part’s “Fratres for violin and piano” (1980 recording with Martin Roscoe and Tasmin Little) on iTunes, and I realized how well Pandora, where I originally discovered the song, works. Over a year ago, I created a Philip Glass station on the site and added composers as diverse as Steve Reich, Erik Satie, and Jonny Greenwood. I like to listen to classical music when I’m writing. So far I’ve downloaded — that’s right, PAID for — over a dozen songs on iTunes that I discovered on Pandora. It has my tastes so well computed, I’ve found interesting connections between the songs I like: Part’s “Fratres” was featured on There Will Be Blood‘s soundtrack, the score of which was composed by Jonny Greenwood, who was criminally disqualified from Oscar contention.

I’ve also been getting a crash course in 20th century classical music and film scores. From my “Philip Glass” station, I have learned about Steve Reich, John Adams, Nico Muhly, Nina Rota, Ennio Morricone, Erik Satie, Evan Ziporyn, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Osvaldo Golijov, among numerous others. Pandora gave me a (much-needed) education!

Pandora can point music novices like me to interesting remixes and recordings of niche music, music so specialized it might be too much of a hassle for the average user to try to download them on P2P networks like Limewire and Bittorrent, so we buy it on iTunes. Pandora links right to Amazon and iTunes, making my purchase a no-brainer. This is what makes industry efforts to kill Pandora so infuriating.

Its advertising, if contextual, works too. More record labels specializing in classical music should be advertising on Pandora. Carnegie Hall advertised its website for commissioned music, where visitors can listen to and occasionally download songs from contemporary composers for free. I clicked on that ad. I imagine a lot of users — especially those in small music niches — would click on contextual ads pertaining to their interests. Other ads for big companies like Sprint and Heinecken aren’t as effective (for clicking) but are eye-catching, much more engaging and visually stimulating than anything on television, movie screens or in newspapers and magazines.

There has been a lot of talk about how we live in an era of niches — most notably by Annenberg Professor Joseph Turow and Wired‘s Chris Anderson — so much so it’s become out-of-fashion to talk about it. It seems very early-2000’s to speak of niche markets and the web opening possibilities for consumers. As a niche blogger, I know this isn’t always true. But it’s nice to point out those rare moments when everything does work out just like the theories say.

Three cheers for Pandora, the dabbler’s music website.

FILM: Money Money Money: Slumdog Millionaire Still in Theaters May 14, 2009

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Slumdog Millionaire (2008)_1242285140708

UPDATE: Two weeks after this post, Slumdog closed in theaters; it made about $10 million more in those two weeks (if you believe, BoxOfficeMojo). Now if only those kids can get paid!

Just browsing BoxOfficeMojo, found out Slumdog is still in theatres (where?) and got an update on all the piles and piles of money it’s banking. Few recent films rival this kind of profitability. My Big Fat Greek Wedding, The Blair Witch Project, and Juno come to mind; not even indie hits like Little Miss Sunshine and Brokeback Mountain come close. This is incredible. Who would have known? Seriously. Who? It’s a great movie, but…damn.

YOUTUBE: A Few Good Movies Amidst Lots of… Well… May 13, 2009

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YouTube's movie selection is still mostly pitiful, but it houses some classics.

YouTube's movie selection is still mostly pitiful, but it houses some classics.

Yes, YouTube has been slow on getting premium content, and what they do have in TV and movies is mostly crap. But I was surprised after visiting YouTube’s movie section for the first time in a long while how many little gems they have. Sure there are some recent not-so-horrible films like The Mod Squad (Claire Danes version) and Cliffhanger, but YouTube also has bona fide classics, quality stuff. With the help of distributors like Crackle.com, Cinetic and MGM, YouTube is getting some nice content, even some with limited commercials. Here, with links, is what’s popular and worth watching.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (dir. George Romero) – Every streaming site has this one (IMDB.com has it) because it’s in the public domain! Back when corporations had to actually put in the effort to register their films, Night‘s producers made a mistake on the copyright application, sending this one into free culture. It’s one of the few classics you can use and remix without compunction.

YouTube - Watch Movies on YouTube_1242194779266

THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK (dir. Rob Epstein) – I don’t agree with critics who compare Gus Van Sant’s feature Milk with the documentary (they’re two separate genres!), but I do think everyone should watch both. Both are compelling, in their own ways.

AGUIRRE, WRATH OF GOD (dir. Werner Herzog); LITTLE DIETER LEARNS TO FLY (dir. Werner Herzog); FITZCARRALDO (dir. Werner Herzog) – I don’t know why there’s so much Herzog on YouTube, but c’mon folks, it’s Herzog. ‘Nuff said.

HIS GIRL FRIDAY (dir. Howard Hawks) – For anyone who likes romantic comedies, this is the cream of the crop. Compare this film to similar ones made today and you suddenly feel like we’ve taken several steps back. I wish there were more rom-coms this spirited and witty — and fast! — today. I’m so happy this is on the ‘Tube!

SLACKER (dir. Richard Linklater) – Linklater’s early day-in-the-life film, nominated for ISA and Sundance awards.

CASINO ROYALE (multiple) – One of the few films in which Woody Allen acts but does not direct!

YouTube - Watch Movies on YouTube_1242194832938

SUPER SIZE ME (dir. Morgan Spurlock) – I’m still scared to see this movie, but now I can watch it for free!

BLUE LAGOON (dir. Randal Kleiser) – No secret why this is one of YouTube’s most popular movies.

YouTube - Watch Movies on YouTube_1242194847504

CARRIE (dir. Brian De Palma) – Brian De Palma has his critics, but the man knows how to craft a solid film.

FILM: Know Your Movie Arithmetic May 13, 2009

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Calculate whether or not you should see a movie

RottenTomatoes and Metacritic quantify film criticism, let's beat them at their own game.

RottenTomatoes and Metacritic quantify film criticism.

Reviews_1242181027470

Let's beat them at their own game.

I am smart enough to know numbers are just as fallible and slippery as opinions, but I’m coming out as a closet numbers-fetishist. I love polls. Statistics, graphs and charts are sexy. I am also know that movies are expensive these days, a serious investment for most people.

Metacritic and Rottentomatoes are saviors for number-lovers and serial moviegoers alike. Some people hate them because they quantify what shouldn’t be quantified: film criticism. But let’s be real: reviewers, myself included, are fickle. We see lots and lots of films. We have bad moods. We have vendettas (you heard me, Saw series!). Since we see so many movies we are inclined to be harsher than an average viewer. Reading one or two reviews can exaggerate biases and outliers. Meanwhile Metacritic and Rottentomatoes are pretty accurate: despite two different methodologies, most of the time they agree. (Both are based on a 0-100 scale, where 60-plus is good; Metacritic uses “points” while Rottentomatoes calculates the percentage of critics who wrote favorable reviews).

The problem with Metacritic and Rottentomatoes is they cannot account for your biases. So I’m going to take the quantification of film criticism to a ridiculous degree and devise a simple formula to tailor review sites to your tastes. Yes, it makes little sense. But it’s fun!

My formula is: Total Score + Director/Screenwriter (5 points)  + Actor (2-5 points)  + Genre (2 points) + Cinematographer (2 points) + Producer (2 points) + (Franchise (5 points) x 2) = Your Projected Score.

First, you take the total score on either Metacritic or Rottentomatoes. Directors and screenwriters are worth five points, plus or minus, depending on whether you like or dislike them. Lead actors you like or dislike are worth five points, while minor ones are worth two. Genres, cinematographers and producers are each worth two, while franchises are worth plus or minus five points multiplied by two.

It’s easy! Take Tyler Perry’s The Family That Preys. Critics gave it a 49 on Metacritic. But that’s not what I would’ve given it. I subtract 10 points for Tyler Perry writing and directing—I’m not a huge fan. I add four for the fabulous Kathy Bates and Alfre Woodard (not 10 points because they aren’t really lead actors in it). I subtract another 10 for the Madea franchise, just because, and another two because Tyler Perry produced as well. Drumroll: 31! I hated that movie; I was right to not have seen it in theaters.

The rationale is simple. Some aspects of films matter more than others. If you like—or hate—a director or screenwriter that usually means they have done something consistently you either like or hate. They are the film’s backbone, so they are worth the most. Franchises traffic in predictability, so even if everyone hates it, you’ll still see it. If you hate a franchise, any good reviews should be tempered with your hatred of the series and genre. All else is important but fickle. Some producers are consistent, like Judd Apatow, but most are not. A few cinematographers can deeply affect a movie experience despite the script and direction—Christopher Doyle comes to mind—but most cannot. Feel free to add extra points for hyper-specific genres: for instance, I would add 10 points for urban romantic comedies, my guilty pleasure.

It works pretty well. For me, Watchmen gained 17 points over the critical consensus because I liked the novel (Franchise + screenplay). Obsessedstayed at its dreadful 25 score because it is, in fact, a terrible movie, and Star Trek went from 85 to 89 because it’s so well done it is hard to regard it more highly than the critics.

My last test: my formula has me liking the forthcoming Limits of Control 20 points higher than the consensus (currently at 39 points!) That feels right to me—I’m very excited to see it. But can biases overrule a critical drubbing?

FILM: Star Trek and Millennial Aesthetics May 9, 2009

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Star Trek glistens with Millenialism

Star Trek glistens with Millennialism

UPDATE: BoxOfficeMojo and other sources now reporting that Star Trek took in $72.5 million domestically and $35.5 million abroad, less than X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but still a good starting point. Next week will be key.

So last week I pop-conjectured that Star Trek might not do as well as Wolverine, since Wolverine, as the tale of blue collar worker screwed over by the government waging a massive revenge trip, fit in much better with the recession mood and would be able to bring in more (unemployed) men. It was a sloppy thesis, admittedly, because it turns out, Star Trek may be on track to outperform Wolverine and that the latter might die fast in the box office while Star Trek lingers longer in theatres. Who knows, right?

Wolverine, much darker than Star Trek, reflects a different aspect of socioeconomic moment.

Wolverine, much darker than Star Trek, reflects a different aspect of our socioeconomic moment.

Star Trek was similarly as timely as Wolverine, perhaps more so. The movie is one of those few major Hollywood films this year perfectly tuned to the aesthetics of Millennials — the throngs of hopeful, ambitious, idealistic yet practice-oriented young people who voted for Barack Obama, and, even if they didn’t, still believe optimism mixed with dedicated work brings the best results. The movie,it has been much-remarked, is glowing. It looks hopeful. The cast, true to the original Star Trek is multi-cultural and multiracial and interracial romance (inter-species!) romance is lauded without comment. The view of a galaxy mostly in harmony, respecting cultural differences — even essentialisms — without condoning violence among them is also very now. But also not new. All these things connect Millennial aesthetics with Boomer aesthetics. 

Yet there are deviations as well. I was surprised but the excessive use of close-ups on the human face, a device as much as result of television aesthetics as Millennial ones — think, your average YouTube vlog, Facebook/MySpace photos: the framing face is very important to my generation. There was the use of handheld camera in these moments, a quiet nod to DIY aesthetics without being as disruptive as in JJ Abrams’ previous Cloverfield. Indeed, Abrams seems desperate to be relevant, and mostly he succeeds in both films. 

The casting of pretty boy Chris Pine — distractingly pretty, I thought — and nerdy-hot Zachary Quinto was also canny. Both are bookish and geeky — see: Pine in Just My Luck — while still knowing how to kick ass and look sexy as hell — see: Quinto in Heroes. It’s the kind of complex yet harmonious identity, challenging as it to stereotype (Barack Obama!), that also feels very much like the kind of men we need now, not Bushy cowboys like Logan or fey hippies, but some kind of happy medium.

There’s more I’m missing — any thoughts? Like any theory, it’s messy. But I do think we’re in one of the moments when art and artistic styles start to shift, or, at least, new forms start to arise, so I’m trying to keep my mind open to the possibilities.

FILM: This Old French House: Summer Hours review May 8, 2009

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Summer Hours (dir. Olivier Assayas)

Summer Hours tackles surprisingly rich themes for its superficially stereotypical setting and concerns. (Grade: A-)

Summerhours_large

The marketing for Summer Hours traffics in well-worn French clichés: a summer house in the south, plenty of wine, and well-aged French people with useless jobs in the arts, academy and design. There are museums. There are disputes over what to do with expensive artwork.

But writer-director Olivier Assayas digs much deeper, making Summer Hours, now out in limited release, the most surprising movie I’ve seen so far this year. Assayas, equally at home with spectacle (Irma Vep), grit (Clean, Demonlover) and quiet romance (Sentimental Destinies), is one of the more limber directors working today; not an auteur, but assured nonetheless.

I thought I’d see a thoughtless, sunny French drama. Not so. Moving calmly but never slacking, Summer Hours manages to pack a lot in. It is a family drama first. It follows the problems of Frédéric (Assayas favorite Charles Berling), Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) and Jérémie (Jérémie Renier) as they grapple with the death of their mother, Helene, and the granduncle and world-famous artist Paul Berthier. They have to figure out what to do with their mother’s things, a house full of expensive and culturally significant works of art and furniture collected and created by Berthier. It’s so important the French government gets involved. Frédéric wants to keep their summer house with all its valuables, but Adrienne and Jérémie have other lives, marriages, children and jobs that take them outside of France and around the world. Frédéric teaches economics in France; he’s not going anywhere.

It sounds simple, maybe kind of boring. But it becomes rich. Summer Hours is about generational shifts. Their mother, Helene, lived in old France, where people painted gardens and sat at home. Her kids, however, live in a global world—Adrienne makes minimalist, mass-produced designer housewares, not her mother’s intricate silver teakettles—and they only visit the summer house twice a year. At the end of the film Frédéric’s teenage kids use the summer house one last time to throw a big party: smoking pot and listening to hip-hop, unaware of the history that’s gone by (a scene lyrically filmed with dignity in slow, sparsely-edited shots). History is ravenous, the movie suggests, and they are very few people who care to remember. Frédéric’s daughter, despite appearances, does. She seems to mourn the loss of her grandmother’s home. Those who do remember take it to heart.

So Summer Hours grapples with mortality. The mother has an interesting philosophy on life. When she dies, she says, the kids can sell all the objects in the house because they are filled with her memories, which die with her. She seems at peace with the fact that people won’t know her secrets—including a juicy family scandal—and all the memories that will go with her. She obviously wants her kids to know her history: she tells Frédéric many times about all the objects in the house, where they come from and what they’re worth. But she’s realistic. Death is death. History is unbiased.

Assayas reaches beyond quaint themes of family and death, though. He tackles globalization with Jérémie, who makes sneakers in China. Adrienne’s business is global as well, and her designs need to be minimalist enough to cross boundaries. All of their children look to America for inspiration; they go to English schools. They have no attachments to France. This is what globalization looks like on the ground. Their dead painter-uncle, the hidden center of all the drama, is becoming increasingly popular in the United States, which leads to arguments over whether his works should remain at home in France. France wants the notebooks of Paul Berthier. The Americans (Christie’s), they say, will “rip it up” and auction it off to the highest bidder. The question is raised implicitly: Is this the end of France? The breaking down of the house and the selling of its assets feels like the death of a kind of nostalgia for old France: bucolic, and withered at the walls of globalization. The house and the dead mother become elegantly metaphorical.

There is so much more in the film—the economic collapse, memory, even the sanctity of the art object—that makes Summer Hours feel more alive and bracing than it actually looks like on the surface. It is so elegant and delicate in its direction; Assayas cleverly masks all the drama and pathos driving his characters’ emotions and curious actions. Much more than your typical frothy French bobo flick.

Summer Hours, directed by Olivier Assayas. IFC Films, 103 minutes. Now playing in limited release.

TV: “30 Rock:” Canny Product Placement/ Cross-Promotion! May 8, 2009

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UPDATE: 30 Rock continued the “Dealbreaker” storyline in this week’s episode, “Kidney Live!,” and carried it to its hilarious extremes!

30 Rock has to be the most innovative and complex comedy on network TV these days. And not only for Tina Fey’s quirky, hilarious dialogue.

30 Rock - dealbreaker

Tonight the show unveiled a storyline involving a catchphrase — “That’s a Dealbreaker, Ladies!” — on the show’s fictional show “TGS with Tracey Jordan.” 30 Rock was parodying a real show, Millionaire Matchmaker and its host/star Patti Stanger (Jane Krakowski as Jenna Maroney on 30 Rock) on Bravo, which is of course owned by NBC. Along with that storyline NBC started an interactive website based on “That’s a Dealbreaker” with quizzes and trivia. While the whole thing’s a little too obvious to actually become a meme or go viral, it’s a good little promo for Millionaire, whose season finale is tonight — just a little after 30 Rock! — and where Stanger takes on her first gay client! (The show’s ratings are fine.)

This recalls other 30 Rock product moments the including disputable non-product-placement for McDonalds — McFlurrygateplacements for the iPhone, and a very canny non-product-placement-product-placement with Verizon. Of course the show has also worked NBC properties like the Today Show.

What makes all this so effective is 30 Rock‘s ironic distance, which masks the obvious selling and, moreover, makes any obvious pitches all in good fun. 30 Rock understands that brands are part of pop culture, so a show about culture-making (TV production) should mine that cave for as much diamond-crap as possible.

TV: Online Television, Web Serials Primer – Introduction (Part 2) May 7, 2009

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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DISTRIBUTION AND EXHIBITION: Where the Shows Go

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Web serials are also experimenting with distribution and exhibition online. The main debate centers on how to showcase the show, how people find it. This typically involves using either a video hosting site (YouTube, MySpace, Slide FunSpace on Facebook, Blip.tv, Crackle.com), a targeted video hosting site (FunnyorDie.com; CollegeHumor.com; Minimovie.com), a separate site for the show (lg15.com, afterworld.tv, theburg.tv), placing it on a network’s site (CW.com, NBC.com, IFC.com), or syndicating it, putting in more places than one,[1] which appears to be the new trend. (Norlin 2009) Here again, there are debates: some say single programs cannot stand alone, that websites become hits, not shows: “People are conditioned to think of hits as single programs…That’s not going to work online, where Hulu is a hit, Twitter is a hit.” (Caranicas 2009) Yet some networks want to drive traffic to their website, and still others lack trust in the business models of major hosting sites like YouTube, who is still tinkering with pleasing ad models (pre-rolls, in-video display). History shows, moreover, that some users will pay for shows (Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog), but no major company sees that as the future. Placing a show on a site like YouTube or Facebook incorporates the social networking and interactivity, which many, including lonelygirl15 co-creator Miles Beckett, say is vital. (New Media Age 2009) In the end, a growing consensus believes the television and computer screen will have to merge, or that the role of “television” itself will change, focusing on big live events rather than scripted or documentary (reality TV) fare. (Caranicas 2009; McQuivey 2009)

CONCLUSION           

            The online video market is still small, and despite its growth, networks and content producers are debating whether it is the future of serialized moving images. Some forecasts suggest the online video market will grow considerably but only reach 10 percent of traditional TV’s revenue. (Albrecht 2009) As an additional challenge, many Internet users – perhaps 70 percent – know nothing about web serials, even as video watching, by almost any metric, continues to grow. (Dobuzinskis 2009; McQuivey 2009; Albrecht 2009) The market also lacks structure. For advertisers, the diffuse nature of content delivery systems (both on the computer screen and to the television) leads to confusion about where to put their money. (Learmonth 2009) All this is happening during a recession, causing numerous players to pull back. Advertisers are not buying enough ads to fund all the video out there (from Hulu to YouTube) and networks are retrenching, pulling back content (Hulu from Boxee; FX from Hulu). These moves may, in the end, prove ill-considered. More collaboration leads to more innovation, which will help develop web serials into a viable commercial form.

WORKS REFERENCED

Albrecht, Chris. 2009. Is Online Video a Threat to TV?. March 26. NewTeeVee.com. http://newteevee.com/2009/03/26/is-online-video-a-threat-to-tv/

Barraclough, Leo. 2009. Made-for-online content still stalled; Business model remains a work in progress. March 29. Daily Variety.

Caranicas, Perter. 2009. Panel debates future of television; Discussion puts focus on TV, Internet. April 28. Daily Variety.

Chaney, Jen. 2009. ‘I Don’t Quite Know the Metrics of the Success.’; Josh Schwartz Is Getting in Tune With TV on the Web. March 8. The Washington Post, E02.

Dobuzinskis, Alex. 2009. Hollywood Struggles to find wealth on the Web. February 18. Reuters.

Donahue, Ann. 2008. Music show launches on TheWB.com. October 30. Billboard.com.

Hale, Mike. 2008. Television Keeps a Hand in the Online Game With Serialized Shows. September 2. The New York Times, Arts 5.

Hampp, Andrew. 2008. NBC Universal wants advertisers to fund original web series; Digital studio plans to integrate brands during the development stage. October 13. Advertising Age.

Heffernan, Virginia. 2007. Artists Only. December 23. The Medium blog. The New York Times.

Heffernan, Virigina. 2008. Serial Killers. August 24. The Medium blog. The New York Times.

Learmonth, Michael. 2009. Digital Marketing Guide: Video: From Broadcast Sites to Startups, How to Navigate the Online Content Space… March 30. Advertising Age. http://adage.com/digital/article?article_id=135596

McQuivey, James L. 2009. Preparing for the Coming Online TV Backlash: An Open Letter To An Industry On The Verge Of A Big Mistake. March 13. Forrester Research.

McQuivey, James L. 2009. There’s an online TV storm a brewin.’ March 29. OmniVideo. http://omnivideo.wordpress.com/2009/03/27/theres-an-online-tv-storm-a-brewin/

Norlin, Chase. 2009. The Next Big Thing In Online Video: Syndication. April 15. OnlineMediaDaily. http://www.mediapost.com/publications/?fa=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=103973

Owen, Rob. 2009. Web TV: Series not just for television anymore. March 17. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, A1.

Strauss, Gary. 2009. CollegeHumor.com laughs all the way to a TV series ; Not quite sketch, not quite scripted. February 5. The New York Times, D3.

Staff. 2009. Teens expect more integration says KateModern team. February 12. New Media Age


[1] Which is what Arianna Huffington proposes. (Caranicas 2009)

TV: Online Television, Web Series Primer – Introduction May 6, 2009

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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UPDATE!: I’ve updated the following post in a clearer format with better information on how the market works. Please see this post: “What is a Web Series?”

 

ORIGINAL: I wrote this primer on made-for-online TV serials for a seminar here at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania to orient myself to what the most current debates are and to start planning for research in this area (I’m just starting to learn). I’m posting it here in sections to get feedback, comments and information from anyone who’ll offer it. So please leave comments or email me (ajean @ asc . upenn . edu) if you can help out!

INTRODUCTION: A GENRE IN DEVELOPMENT

Bitsie Tulloch in "Quarterlife"

Bitsie Tulloch in "Quarterlife"

From Newsweek.com’s The District to IFC.com’s Young American Bodies, the range and number of web serials is staggering. In some ways, to speak of web serials – web series, or, metaphorically speaking, online TV shows – is fraught with complications. What are the similarities, for instance, between the low-budget, DIY aesthetic of Young American Bodies – formerly on Nerve.com – compared with the slate of sci-fi action series NBC created for its hit show HeroesNowhere Man, Going Postal, and Heroes Destiny? Wikipedia’s list of web series contains dozens of shows, and even that list is incomplete. There is no formula for web serials. They range from science fiction (a large proportion), to non-narrative periodical short films (Green Porno, SundanceChannel.com), to vignettes (Rockville, CA for TheWB.com), to promotional extras for established network shows (Chasing Dorota for the CW; Mode After Hours for ABC; Kenneth the Web Page for NBC), among numerous other unclassifiable installations on independent websites, major distributors like YouTube, Facebook or FunnyorDie.com, and network web sites. Web serials are becoming established and developing an infrastructure – they have an annual award, the Streamys, judged by a panel of industry leaders and participants. Yet with all of this activity, the mass media industries – advertisers, content producers, major distributors (networks) – have yet to master the medium and make it systematically profitable. The two major shows in web series history – lonelygirl15 and Quarterlife – both ending in 2008 and both often referenced in articles about online TV – have provided little guidance on do’s and don’ts, raising more questions for industry professionals than answers. In general, online television represents a genre of media still in development, and the debates around its possibilities and shortcomings indicate the challenges facing mass media industries today.

PRODUCTION STRATEGIES

The confusion around web serials mostly results from timing, or rather, the fact that the medium is still in its growing stages. Business and production practices are still being fleshed out advertisers, content producers and distributors looking for ways to operationalize the form. Most agree that production costs need to be kept as low as possible, since there is no guarantee of reaching an audience on the web. The definition of “low” is relative, however. Sometimes, series producers will pay extra for stars – as some have suggested for Gemini Division, a show developed for NBC featuring Rosario Dawson (Hale 2008) – and yet other stars take a pay cut in order to experiment with something new. Megan Mullally did not get paid for doing TheWB.coms’s Children’s Hospital, and many of the stars who appear in FunnyorDie.com videos are not paid either, while TheWB.com’s show Rockville, CA uses union actors who are paid. “The one commonality is that all Web series cost a fraction of prime-time TV series, which run more than $1 million per episode for half-hour programs and more than $2.5 million per episode for dramas.” (Owen 2009)

"Anytime with Bob Kushell"

"Anytime with Bob Kushell"

A popular talk show on Crackle.com, Anytime with Bob Kushell, produces 22 episodes in “the mid-six figure range.” (Owen 2009) Another reason to keep costs low is advertisers do not pay top-dollar for ads on web shows – the relationship changes when the advertisers help produce – because the audiences can be a small, the cost-per-thousand rate does not make it much cheaper. For marketers, “the overall investment here is small, but so are the audiences. It’s a niche strategy that could work for some brands.” (Learmonth 2009) Even if a show does attract an audience, the industry lacks a systematized way to decide what constitutes a hit. Unlike Nielsen, which provides ratings based on the number of TV households and the number of people watching at a given time, such a refined system is unavailable – and may be incompatible – in an online environment. New York Times reporter Virginia Heffernan noted that, on a “view-per-episode” basis, Quarterlife was more successful than lonelygirl15, even though the latter lasted longer. Yet she was quick to note that the “unit of success is the flimsy ‘view,’ meaning virtually any click on any part of a series, anywhere on the Web. But it’s clear that we’re not talking about numbers advertisers can remotely trust. Are there really any hit Web serials?” (Heffernan 2008) Especially in a digital environment where everything is purportedly quantifiable, advertisers want proof of engagement, some would argue “views,” and even “subscribers,” as is the case with YouTubers like “Fred,” are not enough.[1] A lack of standard metrics means more creative freedom in some cases. Josh Schwartz (The O.C.; Gossip Girl) said of his web series, Rockville, CA:

“I don’t quite know the metrics of the success, which is also part of what appeals to me. So much of what takes the fun out of doing a TV show is the ratings. The thing that was incredible about this was the freedom. There were no notes on scripts. I was able to cast whoever I wanted to cast for the show, and that was really freeing.” (Chaney 2009)

Yet clearly this kind of freedom will not last forever; once ratings are in place, shows start to get crafted to target audiences.

The success of "Lonelygirl15," relative to "Quarterlife," led Virginia Heffernan to question what a "hit" is online.

The success of "Lonelygirl15," relative to "Quarterlife," led Virginia Heffernan to question what a "hit" is online.

This ambiguity over the metrics of success has problems – notably, in getting the money to create the series – and also leads to interesting conversations about the ontology of what quantifies a “hit” and, indeed, what serials should look like and how they should be structured. Heffernan, saying she preferred the loose, unpredictable, less clearly narrative lonelygirl15, exhibited at first without metrics in mind, to the more rigidly serialized Quarterlife, said that perhaps the idea of a “web serial” and a “hit” are incompatible; perhaps the only video hits will be Susan Boyle and other “viral,” more organic popular videos:[2] “Web serials smack of planning and budgets and all that vestigial Hollywood stuff.” (Heffernan 2008) When distribution is predicated on advertising, budgeting and ratings are key, and web series simply have yet to reach that form of maturity. Of course, all of these issues become less important when web series are seen as testing grounds for launching shows into television; yet the viability of that model is in question, given the mediocre performance of In the Motherhood[3] on ABC and the dismal performance of Quarterlife when it aired on NBC.


[1] Though “Fred” has attracted product placements and advertisers, from Zipit and the film City of Ember. Juntras, Lisan. 2008. What could be more fun than watching a teen act like a shrieking six-year-old?. September 15. The Globe and Mail, L4, and Sanders, Peter. 2008. Studios Hope YouTube Tie Sells Movie. September 18. Wall Street Journal. (It did not work for City of Ember).

 

 

 

[2] Part of this is a discussion involves whether serials should remain amateur – “anyone who has a camcorder and a bright idea can produce a show” – or go professional. (Dobuzinskis 2009)

[3] The network’s lowest-rated show in the 18-49 demographic for the spring season. Gorman, Bill. 2009. Surviving Suburbia, Samantha Who? And Castle Sit On ABC’s Bubble?. April 28. TVByTheNumbers.com. http://tvbythenumbers.com/2009/04/28/surviving-suburbia-samantha-who-and-castle-sit-on-abcs-bubble/17566

FILM: Recession Film Formula: Mad Men May 6, 2009

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Angry Men Helm This Year’s Breakout Hits

By Aymar Jean Christian

Wolverine: Angry Blue Collar Worker Mad at the Government

Wolverine: Angry Blue Collar Worker Mad at the Government

Summer movies are upon us, and with a full five months of blockbusters, we’re beginning to see what a hit is in this economy.

Let’s take note of the breakouts so far: KnowingPaul Blart: Mall CopTaken,Fast and Furious, and now Wolverine. Notice a trend? All have angry or embattled (white) men as protagonists. Another surprise hit, Race to Witch Mountain, is a kid’s movie with former angry man The Rock as its lead. The notable exception to this rule is Observe and Report, which is really too arty and strange for a mass audience anyway.

Who are the angriest people in America, right now? The persistent influence of Rush Limbaugh even as Democrats took over Congress, and the rise in Fox News’ ratings—slaughtering MSNBC and CNN and dominating cable TV in general, second only to USA—provides the obvious answer: working class men. It has gotten so bad MSNBC has decided Keith Olbermann is not mad or working class enough, so they hired politico, and former football player, Ed Schultz. Some are calling it a “he-cession.” Men represent over 80 percent of the current job losses; the unemployment rate of black men is 15 percent.

Male protagonists heading blockbusters is not a trend; it’s the norm, really. But the movies above had pretty low expectations: hence the early, pre-summer releases. Despite being generally bad, they have performed quite well. Recessions and depressions are good for Hollywood, the saying goes, but it’s more complicated than that. First, let’s remember the larger issues Hollywood faces these days: home theater systems, Netflix, iTunes, and the cost of going to the movies (with snacks and drinks, taking the family out to the movies is a pricey affair). Second, let’s also remember that the most notable films from Hollywood’s Depression boom were spectacles likeScarface or Busby Berkley’s films.

This makes Wolverine‘s spectacular, if expected, open of $158 million worldwide all the more notable. Most superhero movies open well these days, at least those with proven box office pull like X-Men franchise.Wolverine’s formula, however, was particularly canny. Bravo to Gavin Hood and its marketers. The movie? Well, I give it a C-, and that’s just because I adore superhero flicks.

It’s not hard to see how the recession factors into Wolverine’s plot and setup. Logan is Mr. Blue Collar. He wears flannel. He’s a lumberjack who wants a simple life: hot babe who’s also a schoolteacher, and a house in the forest. The big militaristic government takes it away from him. Even though you need to see the movie to know this, Logan’s anger (is there any moment in the trailer when he’s not angry?) is the perfect cipher for the tens of thousands of unemployed men bearing the brunt of the recession. Wolverine traffics in anti-government and anti-institutional sentiments. It’s overbearingly Western (think “maverick”) in its feel. Will.I.Am wears a cowboy hat for chrissakes. Paging Joe the Plumber!

Sure, there have been other non-angry-white-men movies out this year: Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes To Jail has been his biggest success yet, and He’s Just Not That Into You did all right (women have to see something).

Matched with special effects, it’s no mystery why movie like Wolverine and Knowing have done well. It will be interesting to see how Star Trek does this weekend, given its men are less angry, more pretty and idealistic. Chris Pine is the fantasy of teenage girls and bi-curious boys, after all, not blue collar men. Will J.J. Abrams’ film, with its gorgeous, glowing (blinding, apparently) optimism fare similarly as well as Wolverine‘s hairy, ugly darkness? Do special effects films need a dash of cynicism, despair and vitriol to pop in this economy? Stay tuned.

YOUTUBE: Black Vloggers article LIVE May 5, 2009

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UPDATE: I’ve since been writing on black web series, black distribution of online video, and specific shows. For all new posts, see my web series page.

Vlogging While Black

A few black vloggers are beginning to make a splash on the scene. But it doesn’t mean it’s easy. “YouTube is very, very white,” explained Tonya, the blogger from TonyaTKO, who has 22,000 subscribers. With so many videos being uploaded, vloggers vie for prime placement on YouTube’s home page. “It’s very hard for black people to get seen on YouTube.” Like the many types of media that came before YouTube, the black vloggers who get noticed can often fit a stereotype. From the bizarre to the hilarious to the inspirational, here’s a sampling of some of the up-and-coming black vloggers and their winning formula…

Read the full article here.

YOUTUBE: Article coming: YouTube and Vlogging May 2, 2009

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UPDATE: Published article is out.

I shouldn’t really be blogging right now because I have a lot of work to do!

Just to wanted to direct you all to TheRoot.com, where, sometime this weekend or at least by Monday, an article I wrote on YouTube’s black vloggers will appear!

The quotes from the performers are the product of interviews I conducted for a paper on “black existentialism” on YouTube. Incidentally, I’m currently at a wonderful conference at Texas A&M University presenting that paper alongside the likes of Lisa Nakamura, the grand dame of new media and race studies herself!

So check it out, I’ll post more on it later, but I want people to go to TheRoot.com first because it’s a better site than my crappy blog.