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Until the New Year! December 22, 2009

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For regular readers, a note: I’m taking a (short) break!

I’ve had a hectic few months, unbearably busy. I’ve co-produced and co-edited a short documentary; written nearly 70 blog posts; managed a film program at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and planned two more for 2010; given two invited lectures; presented at three conferences; wrote a book chapter, two academic articles, a book review and 14 articles for other blogs and mainstream publications; took four courses; conducted about 40 interviews with workers in the web series/film/TV industries; ran the publicity for an on-campus student group; and I tweeted a whole bunch. I say this mainly to let my friends know where I’ve been this whole time. There are a lot of people busier than I (for one, any assistant professor in America), but for me, this was a lot to take on.

Not that it hasn’t paid-off! I’ve nabbed some interviews and media coverage (New York Times, NPR, Jezebel) and made some great contacts for research and otherwise; that’s all been fun. But blogging is hard, especially if you want to do it regularly. I can see how people burn out.

Regardless: I have a great series of posts planned on digital celebrity (the short documentary I mentioned; also a follow-up on Fame), digital distribution, some research updates, more posts about black web series, TV and film (even some breaking news!), and some great ones about the online video market. So stay tuned!

See you in 2010!

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“Avatar” Inspires Visually, But Leaves Me Cold December 22, 2009

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Original at SpliceToday. Writer’s note: The following review is a bit harsher than my first thoughts on Avatar, mainly because I realized that my lack of emotional involvement in the story was more meaningful than I’d originally thought, signaling the film’s ethnic and political paradigms were not as sophisticated as its visuals.

I’m a pretty lenient grader. I tend to evaluate films on their own terms. I watched Transformers II and managed to keep my lunch down. I even defended The Women, Lord help me. I’m not a snob.

It’s not as if I hated Avatar. I liked it. Avatar is a great cinematic experience. Everything you’ve heard is true: the visuals are spectacular and engrossing. Many times I completely forgot I was watching computer-generated images. Even now I think of Avatar not so much as digitally rendered and impressively filmed and created.

But I didn’t love it, and that’s a problem. I feel the need to counteract a lot of the raves I’ve been hearing and reading.

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“Anyone But Me” Creators On Web Series, Coming Out and Being The “Un-Gossip Girl” December 20, 2009

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Original at Ronebreak!

When Sylar orders you to do something, you better do it.

Starting its second season this week, Anyone But Me, probably America’s first full lesbian teen series, has gained its share of fans, including Zachary Quinto (Heroes, Star Trek), through is intimate, nuanced storytelling.

“Life at sixteen is fraught and fertile for drama,” said writer Susan Miller, a veteran of The L Word and thirtysomething, who wrote the show with director Tina Cesa Ward. “Anyone But Me shines a light on identity – coming to terms with who we are as gays, African Americans, women, and citizens of the world.”

The show has carved a niche for itself in a relatively crowded field. The web has been home to dozens of series about gays and lesbians. People of color have shows like Drama Queenz and the Lovers and Friends Show. Shows aimed at gay men like In the Moment are equally diverse, and lesbian series have devised interesting and addictive gimmicks, like the HBO-funded web series Time Travelling Lesbian and B.J. Fletcher: Private Eye.

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Best TV of the Decade! (Top Three, For Me) December 19, 2009

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I normally dislike “best of” lists. I don’t read them and dislike writing them. But I’m writing a chapter for a book on a very solid television series, and I thought: I have to give this some praise.

So instead of doing a “Top 10” I decided to keep it simple. My top three television series of the 00’s. (UPDATE: Here’s a great compilation of “best of” TV lists by Chris Becker…Thanks for linking to mine).

Warning: Not on this list: The Sopranos, The West Wing, Mad Men, Lost, 24, Six Feet Under, Battlestar Galactica, The Office, The Comeback, and probably a dozen other critical darlings. There was too much solid television this decade to be comprehensive. The following shows are not only emotionally meaningful to me — my television habit matured in the aughts — but also revolutionized, in my opinion, what we think of as “television.”

In general, these are three shows, which, I think, proved television is in fact better at storytelling than film.

Here we go!

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Breaking Down “Avatar:” Going Native December 18, 2009

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It’s probably too much to ask that the script for a film like Avatar be as extraordinary as its visuals. Avatar is visually stunning; the 3D is seamless — Cameron doesn’t do what most directors do and throw a bunch of things at you, which can ruin the sense of realism. The colors are brilliant. The world is scrupulously drawn. You feel transported. I basically forgot the whole thing was CGI.

Will it do well? I’m not sure! Certainly Titanic burned slowly, amassing solid numbers for months (remember it opened at a mere $28 million, and went on to gross 20 times that domestically, then double that internationally.) It’s all going to depend on word of mouth. My midnight screening was overwhelmingly male — and immature, laughing at every sentimental moment — though they loved it in the end. The film has work to do with women. And the sticker price doesn’t help.

What about the writing though?

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Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Slate of Spring 2010 Programs (Curated By Me)! December 17, 2009

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The brochure for the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Spring 2010 Adult Public Programs is coming out! This spring I’ll be co-teaching a film survey course with Dr. Rebecca Sheehan (PhD from Penn, now at Haverford). I’ll also continue to run the Film@Perelman series, and I’ve selected some interesting offerings for the season!

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What is “Television”? Broadcast, It Is Not December 13, 2009

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TVbytheNumbers recently published the chart above, numbers crunched by Turner using Nielsen ratings. The graph shows the share of the 18-49 demographic received by cable networks vs. broadcast networks (pay-cable is excluded; and, of course, a reminder that 18-49 is all that matters). As you can see, in terms of where ad dollars are going to go, it’s cable.

I wanted to post this so scholars, web series producers and everyone invested in television can take note that, when we speak of “television” we need to place equal if not more importance on cable. It sounds obvious — especially post-Oprah — but it’s surprising how often popular culture assumes the implicit cultural dominance of broadcast (the diminished economic dominance of broadcast has been well documented, though I’m not sure how aware Americans are of this fact). (more…)

“Invictus” and the Politics of Idealism December 12, 2009

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I tend to avoid in films what we see in Invictus: rugby, sports, Matt Damon, Morgan-Freeman-as-Deity-figure, sports, and Clint Eastwood. I should be ashamed of avoiding Eastwood, but his recent films have often been marketed as morally simplistic (and his Republicanism doesn’t help): we know with whom we are supposed to identify and who is evil (exceptions might be Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima). Yet Eastwood’s films are majestic, regal, and magnanimous.

Invictus is, in fact, morally simplistic: we root for South Africa and deify Mandela. But it’s nonetheless an important meditation on the politics of idealism, a film particularly relevant for Americans right now, especially progressives trying to make sense of the 2008 election. Invictus shows us idealism, even amidst mounting reasons for pessimism, is necessary.

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“Orlando’s Joint:” Urban, Stoned And Running A Business December 11, 2009

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Originally published at Ronebreak!

There’s a long history of “urban” and black cartoons in the U.S., most of which I don’t know, so I won’t get into it. Needless to say, the lo-fi web series Orlando’s Joint, about a young man who inherits a second-rate coffee shop, is an interesting contribution to a genre dominated now by Aaron McGruder’s Boondocks. Orlando’s Joint — as in a shop, but also, you know, that other kind of joint — is a comedic series that explores running a local urban business, growing up and being not-so-rich in contemporary Los Angeles. Oh yes, it’s also pretty funny.

Orlando Reed, our protagonist, is a “stoner” (something of a slacker), but he inherits an coffee shop — that isn’t Starbucks — and clearly intends to reinvigorate it with the help of two friends a few kooky characters.  The series creator Terence Anthony said in the interview below he wanted to buck stereotypes and be a bit provocative.

I noticed some interesting links between this series and other independents I’ve encountered. One is an interesting coincidence: both Anthony and Chris Wiltz (from yesterday’s post about Semi-Dead) are alums of Bill Cosby’s film fellowships! Another has become predictable: in order to produce a completely no-budget series you need good friends and, most importantly, passion (passion breeds passion). No surprise there. The last thing I hear often is a general disenchantment with the TV industry; that’s from nearly every producer, no matter how successful they were in the biz.

I spoke with Anthony about the show, being independent and what it means to make a black web series today.

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Super-Indie Web Series “Semi-Dead” Advances Horror-Comedy Trend December 10, 2009

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Web series are great spaces for narrative experimentation and genre-bending. Many of the most popular shows are genre hybrids, especially with comedy (sci-fi comedy, fantasy comedy, etc.). This fall, we’ve seen several series blending horror and comedy including Electric Farm Entertainment and Jon Heder’s Woke Up Dead on Crackle, where it’s doing well; Babelgum’s The Occulterers; I Kissed a Vampire; not to mention rumors of a potential Buffy web series from Joss Whedon.

Chris Wiltz, a young filmmaker, decided to go the zombie route and spent his own money filming Semi-Dead, a buddy comedy about two roommates in living in Los Angeles after its been overrun with zombies. Each guy has a very different reaction to the event: one, Joe, “goes into survival mode,” while the other Chris, goes about his life as if nothing has happened.

“The show is really about the personality clash and how these two cope with living together – all while the truth of what’s happening to the city slowly begins to reveal itself,” Wiltz said.

I spoke with Wiltz about Semi-Dead and producing and distributing an independent (black) web series, the challenges and advantages. The third episode airs next week Wednesday, with the rest airing monthly until the season finale — with a twist! — in March.

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Beyond “Black Hulu:” Rowdy Orbit’s Ambitious Bid To Build A Web Series Market December 7, 2009

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After 90 episodes of about a dozen web shows published less than three months into its beta launch, Rowdy Orbit founder Jonathan Moore claims this is only the beginning. The site plans to launch six to ten webisodes in the next two weeks, and hopes to be going at a rate of 12 to 15 new shows a month in 2010 — plans I teased in my earlier post, “Black Hulu: Creating a Home for Independent Online Video.”

Needless to say, that’s a lot of shows by and about people of color! Are there even enough series out there to support this kind of development? (more…)

Lo-Fi Survives the Age of High-Tech and Big Budgets December 4, 2009

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Original at Splice Today. Comment there!

It’s the visual equivalent of wearing flannel or drinking black coffee. Retro ebbs and flows, classic comes and goes, but Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox pushes me to believe we are in a lo-fi moment.

You cannot write for a living and avoid silly trend stories; it’s inevitable. We naturally look for patterns, and we have blank pages to fill. Still, I think this may be legit.

First, take the reviews for The Fantastic Mr. Fox. (more…)

“Up in the Air” Lovable, Borderline Insightful (Review) December 3, 2009

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Original at Splice Today! Comment there!

Jason Reitman’s newest release, Up in the Air, will no doubt encourage comparisons to Thank You for Smoking, the successful humanization of a heartless tobacco lobbyist in a humorous and efficient 90 minutes. Both films portray men who do despicable jobs—from the latter’s tobacco lobbyist to former’s professional pink-slip giver—and yet are lovable and charming. Both are loners, having failed in relationships while succeeding in their careers.

But the similarities end there. (more…)

Kanye West and the Power of Curating Web Video December 2, 2009

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Kanye West just made a film career. Let me explain. (more…)

Fine Brothers: Making and Marketing Hit Videos, Today and Tomorrow December 1, 2009

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I’ve already posted some comments from the Fine Brothers before, but I thought I’d post the whole interview, which we did via email a couple months ago (Sorry folks! Scholars are slow). The Fine Brothers — Benny and Rafi Fine — are two standout comedians in an online world awash in aspirants. They’ve created numerous viral videos and web shows, not to mention collabing with some of YouTube‘s heavy hitters to create very successful parodies and comedic shorts.

They also happen to be pretty shrewd about how they market themselves and conduct their business, so I thought this interview — unedited, below — could help out people starting to make their own videos or interested in learning more about the space. Their response to my last question was particularly interesting: “At the end of the day online video is not a place to go to ‘make it,’ and we feel many come into the space feeling they will.” But they go on to say that the web still shows promise, if certain things happen. Very interesting, and perhaps true given current conditions.

Below Benny and Rafi talk to me about how they got started, how they make and market their videos and why success online may not be their ultimate goal: (more…)

Fine Brothers, Shane Dawson Collab To Viral Vid Success December 1, 2009

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Originally published on the Wall Street Journal culture blog, Speakeasy.

Cult fandom and teen taste can be potent combination. (Two words: “New Moon.”)

Taking a cue from the trend, Internet personalities the  Fine Brothers and Shane Dawson posted an 11-minute parody of the Canadian teen drama “Degrassi: The Next Generation” — filmed in just one day — on YouTube Nov. 21. In less than a week, the video has amassed over two million views.

The  parody, titled “Hot Teens Gone Wild on Degrassi!,” spoofs the long-running show, which is infamous for its grown-up storylines, ranging from date rape, oral sex, school violence and just about anything else taboo. The video plays up the show’s litany of parental nightmares, using camp to highlight the scandalous reasons young people love the show. (more…)