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ONLINE VIDEO: Where and How to Publish Your Videos, Web Series September 29, 2009

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UPDATE: For the full interview, click here.

I had an email interview with Benny and Rafi Fine recently, the pair that makes up the Fine Brothers, the duo of producers making some of the most popular viral videos on the net, along with a couple of web series. They’re razor-smart, and I hope to quote extensively from our interview in future articles, but I wanted to pull out an interesting statement from Rafi that I think is useful for producers starting out in the space. It’s about where to publish your videos and knowing which websites are good for specific kinds of videos. The Fine brothers publish everywhere: YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Atom, iTunes, FunnyorDie, Break. This is in part because they do all kinds of videos; so take the advice with a grain of salt: they’re more versatile than your average producer, so they publish more places.

Rafi: YouTube is of course the bread and butter of everything online. No other site gives any ad money to independent producers on that scale, and no other site gets us steady views like YouTube (thanks to their subscriber system which over time has stood out as the best). That said, the other sites have their specific merits… whether it’s the million views you can get in a day or 2 if Break puts you on the homepage, to the more traditional media cred Funny Or Die gives you.

It all depends on what ones goals are online really, and changes month to month on which websites can help you achieve those goals. That said, YouTube should be the base of operations since it has stood out as the only place other than iTunes that can generate a reliable fanbase that will always come back for more.

Not all producers have found success on YouTube, of course. I got an email the other from a web series creator whose YouTube videos have not taken off in the same way. The Fine Brothers probably do well on the ‘Tube because they’re really funny. Their videos go viral, because people like to share them. They’ve used the visibility from YouTube to build a fanbase and support their other activities — like their Atom project MyProfileStory, which, despite being of one the more creative web series ideas, did not go past the pilot, though Benny tells me it’s not over quite yet: “It was a huge success though and we have several companies interested in the series.” So there’s still hope!

Although they are still invested in the future of web video, the Fine brothers told me they are taking meetings with traditional TV companies; it’d be great to see the aesthetics of web humor make it onto the TV screen (aside from the activity already happening in web video, like YouTube on AppleTV and the Koldcast/TiVO deal, noteworthy developments on their own from the past few years).

If you haven’t seen them yet, here’s one of their latest viral vids, part of their “spoilers” series, which apparently they shoot in one take (looks like it to me)! I can’t imagine how hard it is to memorize all these lines, and then say them so fast — though I guess Michael Buckley knows something about that.


For more of the interview you’ll have to stay tuned and watch for them in other publications!

FILM/TV: Web Series Research and Television Genres September 28, 2009

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I’ve been incredibly busy of late with various projects (lectures, editing documentaries, freelance and academic articles) and haven’t had time to post. Nevertheless I did want to give a couple scholarly updates.


First is really just a class assignment — click for report — on Jason Mittell’s Genre and Television. Mittell’s is a remarkably well-researched book that aims to refocus television studies around issues of genre. Mittell’s main point is that television genres are best studied not as texts, but as cultural discourses involving numerous agents, voices and factors — industrial producers, the media, audiences, network scheduling, policy, etc. Mittell looks at various genres and scandals — cartoons, police shows (Dragnet), talk TV, soaps (Soap), and quiz shows — and provides blueprints for analyzing them. I wrote a class report covering most of the book; it’s basically a summary with a little bit of analysis/review thrown in. I thought it might be a useful guide to people. Of course, if you’re studying television, you should own it! If not, it’s a good library checkout. Click here for the report.

Mittell’s book is particularly useful to me as I start researching the web series. There is such a diversity of series out there, I knew I had to go beyond the text (the narrative, visuals, production aspects of the shows themselves) in order to study it, at least at first. I’ve been talking producers, marketers, writers, actors and others involved with web series production and I’m beginning to formulate a thesis that examines web shows not as texts — like I said, huge diveristy — but as a form emerging from a discourse about what audiences want in a post-network age.

Maybelline's sponsorship of the Broadroom really epitomizes what sponsors want from web series, and what many of the deals in this market look like at the moment.

Maybelline's sponsorship of the Broadroom really epitomizes what sponsors want from web series, and what many of the deals in this market look like at the moment.

The beginnings — the tiny sprouts from the seedlings — of that argument I written in a report here (click) on the market for web series. This report is not really intended for publication, i.e. I’m not submitting it anywhere, but more as a way to guide my thoughts around this issue. It’s not perfect; for one, I sort of drop my thesis about half way through and I think I quoted some sources pretty crudely (both mistakes are due to time), but it at least allows a glimpse into how I’m trying to interpret these things. I very much welcome comments and constructive criticism!

Hopefully I’ll have published soon a freelance article based on the same interviews, which will delve into a much more specific aspect of the web series market.

I’m also hoping to explore in more depth the role of fandom for web series (it’s only alluded to in the report above). It’s crucial, really for all media production today, and I’ll be fleshing out those ideas for a course I’m taking with the esteemed Henry Jenkins this fall!

ONLINE VIDEO: A New Kid Delivers Mad Men Parody “Ma Men” September 16, 2009

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funnyordie-joey-mcintyre-MA-Men(Click the photo above for video!)

The level of humor here is pretty base: the Boston accent is funny. But, hey, it is funny!

Bloggers are already raving about New Kids on the Block’s Joey McIntyre’s spoof Ma Men — although it really has little to do with the original. The 36-year old McIntyre is a Massachusetts native, hailing from Needham and Jamaica Plain, both outside Boston.

It looks pretty clear Budweiser sponsored this and that’s okay. Perhaps if it becomes sufficiently popular (70,000 views on FunnyOrDie in 24 hours isn’t half bad), it’ll become a web series. There are enough Mad Men fans to pull in an initial audience, and the fact that it’s hilarious will keep them coming! Could this be one of the next hit web series? Will it go viral? Time will tell!

FILM: Rising Indie Director Shows Us A Rare Romance September 15, 2009

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ronebreak Original at Ronebreak.

Let’s just say this: if Bloomingdale’s offered me money to make a short film, I’d say, “sign me up!”


Rising indie filmmaker Barry Jenkins, whose first feature Medicine for Melancholy (my thoughts on it here, and here) made a small critical splash last year in the indie film community, not to mention a nice bit of cash, given its teeny budget, has followed it up with a quirky and smart short film for Bloomingdale’s, as part of a competition among up-and-coming directors for a chance to make it to the Independent Spirit Awards, Shadow and Act informed me. This only builds anticipation for Jenkins’ next feature, whenever that may be.

Obligatory product placement (for Bloomingdale’s) aside, I can’t remember the last time I saw a romance between a Chinese-American man and a black American woman, and such a stylish one at that. But certainly, this being 2009 and all, it’s about time! Not to mention the film looks stunning. Head over to the site and vote for the one you like the most! To purchase Jenkins’ equally beautiful first feature, click here.

FILM: Passing Strange Is Good For Your Soul September 14, 2009

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Passing Strange is Good For Your Soul. (click: Original Article)

(Grade: A-)

All media is marketing. It’s easy to forget that sometimes, and media saavy people can be easiest people to fool. Sophisticates think they watch Mad Men only because it’s subtle and rich, or District 9 because it’s a commentary on the brutality of man. Sure, I say those things. But I also try to remember Mad Men boasts a cast of really hot people, and the District 9 trailer has lots of things blowing up.

I was not enthused, then, when I first saw the first poster for Passing Strange, the now-cancelled Broadway musical written and created by musician Stew (and his creative partner, Heidi Rhodewald) about his journey as a teenager from South Central to Europe and back again as a man. The poster image is of Stew, with his guitar, amid the lights of the city, looking kind of sad, or, more generously, introspective. But let’s be real, he looks sad. If you’ve seen the musical, this makes sense. It’s very much about Stew and his existential crises.

I hate poor marketing. Why hide the fact that it also boasts a cast of really hot young people? Or that it looks — in terms of set design — bright and fresh? Why so serious? Not expecting these amusements, by the end of the first act, I was flabbergasted. It was the best thing I’d seen on Broadway since Rent. In fact, it was the new Rent. It would be a hit, I was sure (I saw one of the earliest shows).

Cut to now. It’s cancelled. But! Luckily there are at least a few rich black people willing to lend their names to good art about other black people that need to find larger audiences — think Oprah for The Color Purple, Oprah and Tyler Perry for Precious, and now Tyler Perry for For Colored Girls (okay it’s a short list). Spike Lee swooped in to shoot the musical and preserve it on film. Sundance picked it up and it is now showing at the IFC Center in New York and available for purchase OnDemand. (more…)

ART: Philadelphia Museum of Art Short Film Program September 12, 2009

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Here’s the schedule for the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s short film program Film@Perelman. I’m excited to introduce and hold Q&A’s at screening of these films, which I’ve selected, during the fall! For the HTML list of programs on the museum’s website, click here. I’ve also given talks at the museum, including one introducing a screening of Brian De Palma’s Blow Out.PMAfall2009film

TV: Naughty Republicans: Rich (Mad Men) and Poor (True Blood) September 8, 2009

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large_maryann party

Maryann, who, in her boho dresses, looks like a kind of modern-day hippie, has come to Bon Temps to shake the puritanical hicks out of their conservatism!

Everyone who follows television is tripping out over the stunning success of HBO’s True Blood, and even I, as a fan, am rather stunned. Consider this: when True Blood premiered last year it garnered 1.44 million viewers, leaving industry watchers to once again proclaim that HBO had lost its mojo. Last week’s episode, in advance of the season two finale, received 5.2 million viewers (the season high was the week before at 5.3). It stands to be HBO’s most successful show since The Sopranos and Sex and the City. Plus, name one television show in the past five years that’s seen that kind of growth! (It’s a sign to all networks, cable and network, that not every show that starts weak ends weak).

Why has True Blood been rising so fast?  The main reasons are pretty clear: OnDemand viewings in advance of season two (bored summer TV fans like myself needed something to watch) and DVD sales (powered by word of mouth) are the biggest drivers. The ratings had been rising all throughout the first season too, which suggests the show’s narrative strategies — and constant replays — including campy, over-the-top acting, surprise endings, and bloodsport are all drivers.

I’d add another though: schadenfreude. The thematic/ideological appeal of True Blood is watching the South crumble amidst its own morality and ignorance. Remember, HBO viewers are slightly wealthier and more liberal than your average TV viewer, with concentrations in cities and suburbs. True Blood plays up the hick factor with exaggerated accents and its country setting. Sookie, our heroine, is the pure Southern virgin — how many outfits in white can a girl have? — consistently defiled by miscegenation, lawlessness, outsiders and predatory men of the European nature (vampire style in True Blood is pure euro trash; we saw this at the vamp party for Godric in Texas. Many of the vampires actually are Europeans, with strong accents and second languages).

This theme was pretty soft in the first season, focused as it was on Sookie’s relationship with Bill. But the arrival of Maryann, a hedonistic Greek god in the vain of Dionysus, has made this all the more clear. Watching the wholesome Southern town driven to wild sex, drugs, violence and sodomy by a beguiling outsider is eye candy for liberal onlookers. It’s as if those birther/deather, I-don’t-want-Obama-talking-to-my-kids, anti-gay conservatives were suddenly forced, through hypnosis, to do all they decry publicly (and perhaps do privately).

Bon Temps, True Blood‘s central town, is behind the times. The presence of a vampire public relations effort — appearing on shows like Bill Maher and cable news — is a sign that the nation’s most liberal centers have already gotten down with vampires. True Blood doesn’t give us polls, but it’s possible a majority of the country is fine with vampires having equal rights, just as the majority of country, when asked proper questions, wants universal healthcare and is fine with Barack Obama talking to their kids. Bon Temps, Louisiana, we assume, is an island of ignorance, one of those places just a few years behind everywhere else.


Roger Sterling, aging Republican and a partner in Mad Men's ad agency, performs blackface for his new younger lover.

Can we see this schadenfreude dynamic in another hot cable television series? I’d posit Mad Men as well.

First: schadenfreude is not the primary appeal of Mad Men. I’ve been clear that the show’s plotting and its patience with its characters are the key drivers: the show is grown-up (and very pretty).

However, it’s becoming ever more clear as the show advances into the sixties that the people we are watching are nowhere near the images most of us have of the early sixties. Says New York Magazine on episode 4, season two:

But to be fair, think of how much is going on that doesn’t even enter the universe of these white people. By this time, George Wallace, promising “segregation forever,” has been elected governor of Alabama, and Bull Connor has turned the fire hoses on protesters. Sylvia Plath has committed suicide (hello, Peggy). Amid race riots and bombings, Martin Luther King Jr. has written his famous “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” Meanwhile, the Sterling Cooper gang is twittering over jai a’lai and Bye Bye Birdie. The show’s taken pains to show that a whole generation didn’t suddenly turn on, tune in, and drop out. Young guys like Pete were conservatives till the end, joining groups like the nascent, Ronald Reagan–supporting Young Americans for Freedom.

The show deftly illustrates changes in the role of women — for example this week’s episode subtly suggested how the young Sally Draper might see her mother, the image-obsessed and domestic Betty, as a relic, and grow up to be quite the force to be reckoned with in the 70s and 80s. And it eludes to racial difference here and there. But the people in the show are quite clearly far away from the riots, Martin Luther King Jr. and any other notions of social progress. The tension in the show is building as these characters stay more and more entrenched in the 1950s while the world presses forward. The question — and drama and intrigue — is: will they and their worlds change? The sad fact is maybe no. There are still worlds like that today, rich conservative worlds where such things as poverty and strife have no place in the conversation. In fact, the writers of Mad Men have to delicately navigate the world of rich Republicans they have cultivated and not thrust liberals in there too quickly or hastily. The appeal of the show is this claustrophobic nature; it’s not the 60s we know, thank God (how boring would that be?!). Its delusions and tragedies — like the red-haired Joan, who missed feminism by a few years — are a result not only of its character’s personal flaws but also of the conservative environments in which they must reside.

The ratings for Mad Men are good, though incomparable to that of other networks, since AMC is mostly a channel of old movies. The lower ratings (lately, around 1.6 million on Sunday) is partially attributable to the show’s intellectual nature. Still, you can bet a large portion of the show’s viewers are the same enlightened liberals, just smarter, looking down at the tattered jewelry box of drama the writers of Mad Men have created and saying, “how sad and old, and yet, how pretty and dramatic.”*

Recently the show has been laying this theme on thick, with references to the decline of the Roman Empire and Eliot (“this is the way the world ends…not with a bang but with a whimper.”) If True Blood is about the death of the South — their decreased electoral power, growing irrelevance in policy debates — Mad Men purports to be a world that has already died — of white men in smoky rooms, with separate bank accounts and city lovers, of women who don’t want to or can’t work. But is that true?

*I’m sure, however, that the show’s commentary on its characters is missed on some, who enjoy it for its drama and stylish veneer.

FILM: Dr. Ken Jeong: Brilliant or Lucky? September 8, 2009

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Original at Ronebreak.


Not many people know the name Ken Jeong, but they definitely know his face. Ever since his big-screen debut in Knocked Up two years ago, North Carolina-raised Jeong – also known as Dr. Ken – has been a hot commodity, booking nearly two dozen current and upcoming parts in TV and film. I didn’t realize how important he was to American comedy until I went to see Funny People recently (of course, he makes a cameo) and noticed he was in three of the five previews — The Goods, All About Steve, and Couples Retreat. You’ll be seeing him as Senor Chang in the upcoming NBC show Community and it won’t stop there. Even Seth Rogen is less exposed!

How did a 40-ish average-looking Korean-American doctor-turned-comedian manage to book more gigs than the younger, hotter John Cho?