Saturday, July 22, 2006

Arch on Fox

Russell Arch, who writes the must-read blog Irritable Vowel Syndrome, is also a talented filmmaker. He wrote and shot these three promos for Fox. Now your job is to spread them on a massive, viral basis so they will hire him to make many more. (By the way, if you look closely you will spy his beautiful wife, Lisa, whose blog, What Does Lisa Say About It?, inspired me to start this one. So blame her.)

Monday, July 17, 2006

Pete Townshend & Eddie Vedder

Twenty years after the previous clip, Pete is still kicking ass. Here he is on Letterman, with Eddie Vedder, doing a song from Pete's and Ronnie Lane's Rough Mix (one of my desert island CD's).

What I Think is Easily One of the Most Exciting Moments in Movie History

Pete Townshend is pissed off at having to play the song for the second time; the film's director feels the first time wasn't special enough to end the film. Pete disagrees, and isn't shy about showing his displeasure at being made to caper like a candy-ass; by the end, he smashes his guitar for the first time in years, feeling like he's in rock and roll again.

This is, IMHO, the greatest performance by the greatest rock band in history. And in one of those ironies that happens too often in rock, it was their last. After the synthesizer break, from Keith's drum solo to Pete's jump, is one of my favorite film sequences.

And if you haven't seen the movie The Kids Are Alright, see it immediately.

Once Again, Why TV Is Losing Viewers

So 24 had a great season, right? And my parents were busy for one reason or another, and missed it. So when Fox ran those ads about how this summer was going to be your chance to catch it all, and don't miss one breathtaking moment, and see what stopped our hearts and all that, I told them to be sure to watch every Friday, two hours. And they did.

They really enjoyed it, and I watched it again, to experience it through their eyes. I really enjoyed talking to them on Saturdays about the show. It was actually a microcosm of what network TV used to be: a tiny little watercooler, all our own.

Then, last week, came "1:oo - 2:00." Then, stay tuned, here are scenes from the next episode of 24. And they showed clips from "2:00 - 3:00" (obviously).

Then came, "Previously on 24..."

And they had skipped two episodes!

This episode, I realized was "4:00 - 5:00." I called my parents, who were actually a half hour ahead of me and totally confused, and told them to stop watching. I sent them tapes of the shows they missed so they could catch up for next week.

Only next week -- this past week -- Fox had skipped, like, eleven hours!! How could they possibly think anyone could enjoy that?

What will they have next week? A special movie presentation of six nonconsecutive minutes from the end of The Empire Strikes Back followed by the middle forty minutes of Star Wars followed by random clips from The O.C.?

The Long Tail

I've heard "the long tail" defined many ways, but I think the easiest way for me to understand it is this:

Back when I was doing Duckman, I tried to impress upon the Paramount brass that this Internet thing was going to be a big deal. They actually wanted to stop it. They convened a meeting of execs, writers, and producers to come up with a strategy to convince Bill Gates not to ship WebTV. They felt the Internet would kill TV. Best to kill the Internet first.

I was stunned as I looked around the table at this Flat Earth Society. I suggested it would be better to embrace the Internet, that maybe (for example) Frasier fans might like to have chat rooms during the show with cast members or writers. One of the execs said, "Chat rooms???"

I explained what a chat room was.

He sneered and laughed. "Right. Okay. People are actually going to 'type' to total strangers. 'Whatever!'"

I took one more stab. I suggested that the biggest financial future of the studio wasn't in its successes, but in monetizing its failures. That the studio had warehouses full of product that still had millions of fans. So let's take the manufacturing out of the distribution equation. Imagine you didn't have to print anything or press anything or make anything plastic. Imagine you could just sell the show itself to those fans for a dollar apiece with no manufacturing costs.

We had over a million loyal Duckman fans. Let's say, conservatively, ten percent buy the downloads... That's found money! And they had treasures they probably didn't even know they had! Like that male Laverne & Shirley with Jim Belushi and Michael Keaton. Or Bosom Buddies, which at that time wasn't syndicated. Or M Squad with Lee Marvin, the show Police Squad! was a parody of. Or Police Squad!, which is even now not on DVD. I'll bet lots of people would pay a buck to see those.

They looked at me as if I had suggested we slaughter a cow.

That's what I think of as the long tail.

By the way, undaunted, starting about ten years ago I tried for years to get a meeting with TiVo or Microsoft or NBC to lay out my vision for an alternative to network broadcasting that involved hundreds of niche-targeted shows, delivered via broadband and watched on computers and handheld devices. I was unable to get in the door. People thought I was speaking in what Mr. T might call jibber-jabber.

Having taken years to recover, a couple of years ago I tried in vain to get another meeting. My idea to save TiVo -- since I have five boxes I want to see them make it -- was to free them from the tyranny of the networks. I thought, "Wouldn't it be better if people could upload their own videos and share them? If TiVo became a massive community of video-sharing and podcasts, with network TV as a bonus?

Couldn't get in. Cut to: YouTube invented, YouTube explodes, TiVo makes deals with YouTube and Yahoo.

I don't care that I wasn't part of podcasting or YouTube, I'm just glad it happened. And I'm not saying I'm a genius. Lots of people had these same ideas at the same time. They were the way the wired world was moving. They were inevitable. Yet people still evit them. (Evit?)

Still if anyone wants to meet about my combination jetpack and sexbot, I'm wide open after next week.

P.S. Once it became clear at that ludicrous meeting that it was, well, a ludicrous meeting, I confess I got a little punchy. There we all were around a long oaken conference table with green lampshades, trying to figure out how to stop Bill Gates before he unleashed WebTV and poisoned our business model.

So I suggested an idea that was a joke, but I still think is sheer genius: that we use broadband to deliver two versions of each show. One would be (the example I used then) Frasier done the way it was always done, and the other would be the exact same dialogue...

...used in porn.

All hardcore fucking, without changing a single word. As they stared at me, I said, "Tell me you wouldn't watch that every week." I pantomimed assfucking. "Sherry, Niles?"

"You would watch it, and you would call your friends and tell them to turn on their TV's, quick!"

And I really do believe everyone would watch. If anyone wants to try it, just cut me in for a little taste of the profits. A little somethin', y'know, for the effort.

Snakes on Salon and the Ol' Switcheroo

There is a snobby and imperious piece about Snakes on a Plane today by Snooty Von Snootenberg in Salon. You know, one of those "think pieces" about the movie industry that imagines you've just emerged after years in the New York Public Library or, well, in a "salon"... and the writer is going to tell you what's been going on among the unwashed and what it all "means"?

I should have known we were in for a rough ride when she referred to "unlikely cult hero Samuel L. Jackson." You mean cool, bad-ass Kangol motherfucker, insanely talented, mondo-good-looking Sam Jackson, who's been a cult hero for ten or twenty years? Yeah. Unlikely that he'd become a cult hero. *

But then comes this worrisome passage: "Everyone who hears about it loves Snakes on a Plane. And yet no one has actually seen it. There are countless homages and parodies of all levels of production value on the Web that millions have enjoyed... This preemptive attack of fandom was caused by the four syllables that make up the title."

Yeah, imagine. Judging a movie by its title. So let's move on to these quotes:

"The real question here is how Snakes on a Plane became so much more than just a shitty movie."

"The studio, realizing the golden, rotten egg upon which it sat..."

"[A]ll the really bad movies have really good titles... The underlying assumption here is that if a movie is an underwritten, overproduced turd kept afloat by an evil and powerful network of producers and distribution studios, the title has probably been expertly cleaned and perfumed to a degree greater than or equal to the shittiness of the film itself."

"If the title had stayed "Flight 121," it would have ended up in the dustbin of bad, bad movies."

"It's an agreement between David and Goliath, where Goliath slips up and calls himself a knuckle-dragging retard giant."

Pretty amazing, huh? We're idiots to look forward to a movie based on its title, but she's okay with calling it shitty based on its title. Twice. (Thrice if you count "turd.")

Then she goes on and on about pandering to the audience, and acts of dissent and Zen koans and who the fuck knows what else?

Look, here's where I'm coming from in a nutshell: I'm sick of going to the movies and getting the old switcheroo. You go to see a movie about a historical event, and you have to sit through an hour of a bad love story between two fictional characters first. You go to see a movie about guys partying, and you have to watch one of them missing his wife, because otherwise he'll be an unsympathetic character.

When I go to see a movie about, say, some people planning to rob a bank, I'm there because I'm interested in people planning to rob a bank. But first you have to sit through why they rob the bank... why it's important to rob the bank... maybe one of them has sworn to stop robbing banks... but he needs this money for some contrived reason... so he swears to the woman he loves, just one more heist and I'm out... which is all fine.

Except before you know it, we're a half hour in and NO ONE IS PLANNING A BANK ROBBERY!!

(Besides, Willie Sutton already famously told us why they rob the bank. "It's where the money is.")

It's the same thing in TV. There's something I call "The Thing." It's the premise you sold the TV show about. The one the network liked. The one they bought.

And then, on your way out, they say, "Now, it's not gonna be just The Thing every week, right?"

Oh, no, of course not, you promise.

So that's how Windfall, a show with a great premise (people win the lottery) ends up being about everything but people winning the lottery. Because someone decided you can't just do a show about the lottery every week. So they filled it with cheating husbands and discontented teens and adopted babies and all kinds of other soapy suds we can get on any other show.

To avoid The Thing. The Thing you turned on the show to watch in the first place.

(The ultimate example of Thing-o-phobia was the TV remake of The Poseidon Adventure, where it took over an hour for the ship to capsize. I mean, Jesus!!!)

The reason I'm looking forward to Snakes on a Plane is simple, and it has nothing to do with Zen koans, whatever they are. Snakes on a Plane promises to be about The Thing. I want to see a movie where people on a plane are terrorized by snakes, and I'm fairly certain this movie will have that. (Unlike, say, Must Love Dogs, which I'm told had very few dogs.)

She also refers to Con Air as a turd. I love Con Air. Killers on a Plane. Love it. I went to see a movie about Killers on a Plane, and that's what I got, well-made, well-acted, exciting, and possibly one of the great casts of all time. What's not to like?

It's summer. Summer is about air conditioning, big popcorn, and movies about people screaming and dying for no reason. When people like Jeffrey Lyons and Gene Shalit review movies like Final Destination 3 or You, Me and Dupree I have to wonder if they are putting themselves in the mindset of the intended audience.

There is a an audience out there that would love to see Lindsay Lohan in Just My Luck, and would rather drink Drano than see her in Prairie Home Companion. I confess, I may be one of them. We're not stupid, we just go to the movies for different reasons than does, say, anyone who would ever write movie reviews in a column called "The Current Cinema." (It's what Roger Ebert understands and Richard Roeper never will.)

And by the way, I have no idea whether Snakes on a Plane will be good or bad. I simply measure it on a different scale than I would, say, Judgment at Nuremberg. But it would have been just as good or just as bad under the title Flight 121. It's about the movie, not the title, Snooty.

*) Those of you old enough will recall there used to be an older woman who had a column in the Los Angeles Times about pretty much nothing at all. Just kinda whatever was on her mind. I want to say it was the actress Evelyn Keyes, but I can't be sure. Anyway, one day she wrote a swoony column about how parts of her that had long been dusty had suddenly grown moist over the two Olivers who had burst on the news scene that week: North and Stone. She wrote of careless forelocks and manly growls or somesuch. Those would be unlikely cult heroes, particularly given that one was about to be commit a felony, and the other is a great filmmaker, but I can personally say is a ginormous prick. (long story)

Anyway, I don't think she had the column much longer, but I could be wrong, and if I am, I apologize to what may have been a nice old lady with her heart on her sleeve. (the one with a tissue tucked in it)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Home Schmucking Network

At the Risk of Becoming Andy Rooney...

Since the jacks are red and white, would it kill the makers of audio cables to make the RCA plugs red and white instead of red and blue?

And would it be so bad if the S-video people came up with some kind of standardized mark on the outside of the jack so we could line up their stupid only-fits-one-way rubik's plug?

And why must there be so many different plugs, all with the name DVI?

Just to show you, those of us who know our way around the back of a piece of equipment get frustrated by little things, too.

But I Don't Want To Get Beaujolaid

Is it me, or is this ad confusing? I stared at it for the longest time, trying to figure it out. Now bear in mind: I don't drink wine. I know, it seems blasphemous. I just never acquired a taste for it. I'm very jealous of those of you who enjoy it, because you enjoy it so much.

Anyway, since I never drink wine, I have no idea what's usual and what's unusual in that world. Still, when I saw this ad suggesting Beaujolais and Olive Oil for summer, I had to stop.

Hmmmm... I've heard of people drinking olive oil for health, and I use it in everything, though not for drinking.

And I've lived to see a lot of foods I never could have imagined. I have enjoyed fried ice cream and garlic ice cream, I've tried vodka-and-Red-Bull, vodka-and-borscht, and vodka-and-Arnold-Palmer. I've passed on fried crickets and chocolate ants, I love the once-unthinkable sushi and decline the still-unthinkable steak tartare.

Could they be mixing beaujolais and olive oil? Maybe... but... for summer? I was thinking about this as I went outside, and in the 100-degree heat it actually nauseated me a little. I decided it would be a terrible hot-weather drink, I don't care how crazy you are.

So I went to the website, and as near as I can figure, I think they just grow these two things in the same place and decided to share an ad. But... I really think they need to take our hand and lead us to the synergy, don't you? I mean, say, Michigan has large industries in automobiles and deer hunting, but an ad that said, "Fast cars and dead deer" wouldn't get the job done. You've got to guide the reader a little.

I ask Howard, or our other copywriters out there, but wouldn't it have been better to say something about a warm evening, good friends, dining al fresco, dipping flatbread in olive oil and drinking chilled beaujolais? Paint a brutha a picture or something, you know?

And by the way, if anyone out there would like to send me some wine that's perfect for someone just starting out, I'm willing to learn. Perhaps I've just never had the good stuff. Just, please, no olive oil in it.

Ladies, You'll Hate Hearing This: Good News

There's nothing women hate more than being told they don't have to worry about something they worry about. So I'm going to lob this out there, and prepare to be either ignored or scorned. Don't matter to me... I got no dog in this fight.

There was a report the other day on Today about the painful shoes women wear. (Yes, I know, it's not like there are a few World Wars going on... but remember, they do have three hours to kill, and half the anchors are in cabs by 9:15.)

First they showed a film piece of women bitching about how uncomfortable their shoes are, and how the high heels hurt them, and they can only wear them an hour at a time, and then doctors said it's causing spinal damage, and they'll all be in Stephen Hawking chairs in about three months, and the women were complaining about how expensive they are, and there were a lot of Sex and the City clips and blah blah blah.

And then there was a show of more "comfortable" fashions, starting with a shoe that looked, to me, really uncomfortable. The woman wearing it was still on her tippy-toes, but I guess the heel wasn't spikey. It was one long sole, so the heel was connected to the toe (now hear the word of the Lord).

It was like a sandal, with a preposterous cork bulletin board under it. If it were Lucite, you could have filled it with water and goldfish. She looked ridiculous, standing en pointe like that, but she was supposedly comfortable because it wasn't a spikey heel.

So I turned off the TV. I was as bored as I am by Frenchmen using their bald heads as weapons.

Ladies, I'm going to ask you to stop icing down your feet and use your heads:

Have you ever seen a TV show or movie? You know the girl that the guy falls in love with? The one played by Jennifer Aniston or Amy Smart or whoever? She's the one in sneakers and jeans and a T-shirt.

You know the actress in the $800 shoes and the expensive dress and the diamond earrings? The one with the cat makeup and the done-up eyebrows, who also likes our hero? The one who ends up with mud or horseshit splashed all over her at the end, while our guy and Jennifer or Amy ride their beater convertible into the sunset?

Why do you keep dressing like the loser character?

Have none of you realized that the Devil wears Prada? That no straight guy gives a shit what shoes you wear? That, actually, the fact that you care about what shoes you wear is a bit of a turn-off for most guys? That it's unfathomable that anyone would run to spend eight hundred shekels for a pair of shoes that hurt their feet when the perfect pair of shoes for men and women -- slip-on Chucks -- can be had for thirty?

Now I know what you're saying: "Who says I dress for men? I dress for me! To make me feel good!"

Okay, fine. But, first of all, bullshit, because you don't feel good. And second of all, bullshit, because you don't dress to make yourself feel good, you either dress to make yourself feel less bad, or to make other women feel more bad... depending on which end of the self-esteem-ometer you land on.

And finally, bullshit, because women are always bitching to men about how unfair it is that our clothes are so much easier and cheaper and it's so much less fuss for us to get ready. If it's unfair, then fuss less.

The sexiest women I've ever known wore almost no makeup, used baseball caps instead of doing their hair, and lived in sweatpants. They were sexy because they spent that hour or two a day being nice to the people in their lives and to themselves instead of locked in the bathroom torturing their bodies. They spent that eight hundred dollars on beers and movies and vacations instead of skirts and pumps. They lived, instead of wearing costumes for a show about living.

If you dress up because you like it, like it, and own liking it. If you don't like it, don't do it. Wear flats, wear jeans, and screw anyone who doesn't like it. And instead of stopping in the ladies room to freshen your makeup after lunch, stop by the cubicle of someone you've always wanted to talk to.