DIGITAL MEDIA FROM THE INSIDE OUT: My focus is digital content -- production, distribution, collaboration, innovation, creativity. Some posts have appeared across the web (HuffPo, Tribeca's Future of Film, The Wrap, MIPblog, etc.). To receive these posts regularly via email, sign up for my newsletter here.


Looking for Community Partners for 'Pulse on VR' survey

My clients at the CFC Media Lab recently launched with OMERS Ventures and a host of partners, a study focused on the VR ecosystem in Canada and California. Titled Pulse on VR: A Workflow and Ecosystem Study, the study aims to identify the key players in this emerging industry and the primary workflows used to bring Virtual Reality (VR) to users. 

Click here to view and take The Survey

Click here to learn more about the study and to view the Press release

We would like to invite relevant organizations to become Community Partners of Pulse on VR. What this partnership entails is quite simple:

What you get:

  • Participation for your membership and stakeholders in a wide-ranging VR ecosystem study that will help put them on the map
  • Early access to findings of Pulse on VR
  • Early access to register for our new VR News Aggregator site called VIRTUAL REALITY PULSE 
  • Logo recognition as a Community Partner on most collateral materials, but most notably on the Pulse on VR website where we will publish an interactive map and/or visualization of our findings (Fall 2016)
  • Invitation to Pulse on VR events and launches

What we need:

  • Call to action email or campaign to your stakeholders and members to complete our Pulse on VR survey
  • Call to action social campaign to your followers to complete our Pulse on VR survey
  • Your LOGO
  • Information for at least 2-3 members of your organization so we can invite them to our events

If you are part of an organization that represents VR Content Creators and/or VR Technology Companies and think you would like to be a Pulse on VR Community Partner, please send me a note, and I'll set up a call with CFC chief digital officer Ana Serrano, who is spearheading this effort. 



The Here-and-Now of VR Innovation

Five great innovators in virtual reality from Canada joined me in New York for a great conversation, focusing upon the here-and-how of VR production during the Media Summit New York, a Digital Hollywood event.

“The VR Cutting Edge from Canada: A Look at VR, AR, and Immersive Entertainment from our Northern Neighbors” was a panel that lived up to its title. Here’s how I described the March 3rd event: As the market for new VR and immersive technologies explode, centers of innovation like Canada are making significant contributions, both creatively and technologically. With two of North America’s busiest film/TV production centers and arguably the deepest bench in 3D animation technologies in the world, Canadian artists, entrepreneurs and institutions are making waves in a market that requires both. Join Nick DeMartino, senior advisor to the Canadian Film Centre, and a stellar panel from north of the border to explore the cutting edge of entertainment.

Speakers all hailed from Canadian companies, with quite a range of experience.

C.J. is a senior member of the 60-person Toronto team that won the first Emmy given to a VR experience for its work on Fox’s Sleepy Hollow. Ian is an innovative VR producer who joined the staff of the CFC, which is investing heavily in VR production (more details on that will become available soon). Kim is a legendary visual effects pioneer whose company Side Effects produces the industry-leading Houdini 3-D package, which is now being used not only for films, TV and games, but for virtual reality, as well. Les is a game designer whose passion for VR has led the production of some of the first VR experiences that leverage the Oculus social platform. Ben has jumped into VR to provide Globacore’s clients with amazing immersive experiences at trade shows, events, museums and other out-of-home environments.

These guys presented an engaging mix of theory and practice, which I found refreshing compared to many VR discussions, which concentrate primarily on monetization strategies and speculations on the market. 


2015: TV, Movies, Books & Digital - My year-end reviews all in one place

Over the past week, as has been my habit during the past few years, I've posted year-end reviews of my favorite media products (and trends) for 2015. If you missed the post, here are links to each of the blog posts. Bookmark, spread around, and send me your reactions, if you please.

Movies: 2015: A Fine Year for Cinema

Books: 2015: Great books that touched me

TV: 2015: TV’s Embarrassment of Riches

Digital: 2015: One Year in ‘Now’ Media

A milestone for me this year: honor from my peers.


2015: Great books that touched me

Reading, especially fiction, is a core part of my identity, going beyond the cliché we have all learned – that reading gives lonely kids a host of imaginary friends, gives us wings to fly away to worlds beyond a present that seems lame by comparison – though certainly that was true in my earlier life. Reading provides the most intimate form of connection to story that we have: we get to enter the interior life of characters, and often the author's as well, experiencing a near-magical transmutation of words into feelings, ideas, and the distillation of everything that it means to be human.

I have had a book near my pillow since I learned to read at age five. Now I have an eBook or an audio book in my pocket whenever I might want to dive back into the magical realm of a great story. Digital books have encouraged me to read more, not less – for instance, the new Kindle/Audible hybrid app that allows one to toggle back and forth from audio to text in the same app without losing one's place.

As a result, this year I have consumed more than 60 books in all forms – print, eBook, and audio. My reading life is eclectic – I follow new work by favorite authors, check out award-winners (especially the Booker), and take recommendations from friends, reviewers, and contacts I’ve on, where I review every book. Note: I've included the year of publication, since my favorites scan the decades). Here are the books to which I gave four or fives stars. My full 2015 list can be found here. Follow me here for a regular update on my reading life.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (2015)

One review used the term 'fever dream' to describe A LITTLE LIFE. That approached the experience I have had this week as I stayed up way too late, unable to tear myself away from the story of Jude St. Francis and his circle of New York friends as they make their way through the decades.

Dream-like indeed, because Yanagihara's focus is the emotional life of the characters, especially Jude, who is one of the most complex and tragic protagonists in the history of literature. He was horribly abused in multiple ways as a child, leaving him with persistent and worsening physical ailments, but worse than that, a profoundly deep and singular well of shame that he labors prodigiously to hide, even as it defines virtually every waking moment of his life and his interactions with those he meets, loves and is loved by.

Fever, because the unfolding of the true story of what happened to him, doled out along with the forward thrust of the narrative is critical to understand and extremely difficult to experience in the present moment, which the author delivers with harrowing and unflinching honesty. Perhaps even more difficult is the real-time experience of the consequences, which is extreme self-hate and mutilation, which I've never ever experienced with any degree of understanding before. The logic of shame is on full display, made even more disturbing in contrast to the exterior validation that Jude receives in his core relationships -- a circle of adoring friends, new adoptive parents, a profoundly committed doctor, and a man who loves him beyond words -- and the larger world of commerce and an almost operatic inhabitation of upper-middle-class privilege that arrives for the group of men who each earns extraordinary success.

Without question, the invented lives of these men map to a recognizable New York and global world of money, glamour, art, media, objects, and events, even as Yanagihara manufactures a kind of parallel universe of names, places, titles, and moments in time that never existed, a kind of fable of New York without 9/11, AIDS, or recognizable historical figures, like alternative speculative fiction -- here's a world that feels like our world, but is really all mine. I could go on and on, but finally, ultimately, as I think back upon the reading experience, I will remember, night after night, putting down my Kindle with a gasp, breathing deeply as if I had just woken from a particularly vivid and disturbing dream, struggling to release and have a dream of my own, grateful that mine are not so fevered.

The Whites: A Novel by Richard Price, writing as Harry Brandt (2015)

Price is a master builder, creating vivid and detailed worlds populated by cops and criminals whose lives and values slosh back and forth like dirty water, everyone covered in slime. The distinguishing characteristic of the good guys, which the cops in this novel sort of try to be, is loyalty, expressed in ways that, from the outside, would hardly be considered "good.' This is quite literally, a story of revenge. The central metaphor is "The Whites," e.g., the white whales that got away -- perps who walked away from an investigation that the core group of detectives in a Bronx squad really, really wanted to get, but didn't.

Click to read more ...


2015: A Year for Fine Cinema

My year-end review continues with a look at some of the films I most enjoyed. I shy away from ranking these uniformly high-quality entries, but I would say that the first two, films with very different virtues, impacted me in the most lasting fashion. 


Was upon viewing, and may still be at the end of this great movie year, my favorite -- an old-fashioned kind of telling of an old-fashioned industry, newspapering, fueled by old-fashioned virtue, e.g., honor, honesty, truth. It's remarkable that a story centered upon almost unspeakable crimes -- the sexual abuse of thousands of young boys (and some girls too) by members of the Roman Catholic clergy -- is really a mystery story about finding the proof that will expose the monsters in the church hierarchy who knew about the crimes, covered them up, then lied about the cover-up. Virtually everyone in the story in Catholic Boston knows each other and is steeped in the culture that made such venality possible for so long -- the priests, the church administration, its influential supporters, the cops, the prosecutors, and indeed, the leadership of the Boston Globe. Except for two outsiders, an Armenian-American defense attorney and a Jewish editor who pushed the investigative unit, known as Spotlight, to dig, and then dig harder, at immense personal costs to the members of the team. Like the films of Frank Capra, Spotlight brings the story to a rousing finale -- you want to stand up and cheer, were it not for the horror that remains at the center of the story, to this day.

Son of Saul

Every moment of this remarkable movie is intense, a kind of fever dream suspense story about a father trying to honor the death of his son, only grafted on top of two other stories -- the day-to-life of kapo/guards in a death camp in Poland during the waning days of WWII when the Nazi's literally rolled up the trains and the kapos managed the industrial process of death. Along with all the elements of a spy thriller among the kapos who are planning an escape. The amazing experience is the first feature of Hungarian director László Nemes and a great Hungarian cinematographer (trained at the AFI) Mátyás Erdély, who tell the story through an amazing combination of intense close-ups of the face of the protagonist (played by Géza Röhrig) along with run-along-with steadicam of the horror that is everywhere, a kind of helter-skelter hurl of action and emotion that must be experienced to understand. Like nothing I've ever seen.


Haynes is now the master of the "woman's film," as often noted he virtually channels Douglas Sirk. But it's not the romantic or sentimental side of Sirk alone that we get with Haynes -- Carol is a tough version of the story of doomed love, in this case, between an older experienced married woman who has affairs with women outside her upscale marriage, and a younger naive shop girl who falls for her. Haynes and his DP use the iconic faces of these two beauties in extreme close-up, allowing us to seemingly enter into each woman's inner life. And, of course, we have the now patented Haynes "look," which in this case is literally and figuratively a million-bucks look from 50's New York City and environs, rivaling the look of The Godfather. The pricey suburban mansion where Carol lives with her angry husband and angelic child is American baronial. Her clothes are meticulous, restrained, and seductive. Mara is doing a bit of channeling of her own, namely Audrey Hepburn, whom she resembles here quite remarkably. Altogether a moving and exquisitely rendered slice of the untold history of ordinary people.


You'd never know this tight, fierce little street drama was shot entirely on an iPhone 5s, except when I think about the fluidity of the close-ups and tracking shots in places like cabs, donut shops, and bathrooms, well, it's a long way from break-out sets on the studio lot, that's for sure. As is the subject: a bitch-match between street trannies, johns and assorted street folks radiating out from the core pair, Cind-ee and Alexandra. The former has just gotten out of jail on Christmas Eve and splits a forlorn donut with Alexandra who promptly rats out Chester, the boyfriend/pimp, who seems to have been boning a real girl with a vag. And we're off to the races, a startling, very real-feeling journey into the sun-bleached sadness of the working life. We meet a married Armenian cab driver who has a thing for chicks with dicks, and soon enough, his entire family. We meet the blond 'beeatch', who gets dragged along, literally, for the ride. And Chester, who is especially believable as the white trash, tatted up pimp who rules the world from a dollar donut shop. Great pacing, impressive performances, and technically, I'm telling you, it's a milestone.

The Big Short

McKay moves from pop satire (Ron Burgundy) to trenchant social analysis with this adaptation of the Michael Lewis book about the housing meltdown, bank collapse, and Wall Street perfidy. With a focus on a colorful, but mostly unconnected group of financial industry outliers who came to understand that the housing bubble simply couldn't be sustained, and bet against the world economy is what is by far the biggest "short" bet in history. Christian Bale's Palo Alto fund manager, an Asperger-fueled, flipflop-wearing weirdo, is the first to figure it out, and others follow. Bales performance is revelatory, he continues to simply kill with every new challenge he takes. The rest of the cast, led by a sympathetic Steve Carrell, is also good, but for my money, this is Bale's Oscar nom to lose. I'm slightly unimpressed by McKay's attempt to explain complicated financial chicanery by breaking the third wall, a la Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall, mainly because he does it often and with decreasing affect. But otherwise, this is a roaring good tale, well told.

45 Years

A master class in screen acting from two incomparable masters of the form. Director Haigh, whose earlier work (Weekend, Looking) dealt with the emotional terrain of gay men trying to find love, turns his considerable skills to a marriage in sudden free fall after the couple learns of the improbable survival (in Alpine glacier) of the wife's predecessor, who had probably been the husband's 'one true love.' While both Courtenay and Rampling are superb, her performance really got under my skin. There were moments when literally her eyes told the story. Or a tiny movement around the mouth, and hand gesture or a turn away. Here we have another form of explosion that cinema reveals best, far from the well-worn trails of CG spectacle, but intensely valuable for those of us still caring a bit about human beings.


I'm a near-fanatical Sorrentino fan, and now that his achievements are obvious, he's getting bigger budgets and bigger actors, working here with a spectacular cast. I was fond of Weitz and Dano, not so much a fan of the Fonda walk-on and the downer performance by Keitel. Cain is, as it seems he always is, close to perfect. Sorrentino is a visual master, and doesn't disappoint, with set-piece after breathtakingly beautiful set-piece setting up various scenes, a looser and lusher version of Wes Anderson's "look" without the manic humor. This is a story of aging, but named Youth, which is the kind of sardonic humor Sorrentino is more frequently known for. We get to know the characters at a Swiss health spa hotel as they navigate through little moments of revelation and breathless beauty. A masseuse with braces who likes to dance along with her Kinect; a sumo-sized sports star who kicks a tennis ball high into the air, turning to reveal a Karl Marx tattoo; a Buddhist monk who levitates into the Swiss Alps, and a recurring circular stage featuring one wacky act after another. With the barest of plots, this film gets lost in its own sumptuousness for a while, but comes back around with a finale so grande and musical that I never wanted it to end.

Straight Outta Compton

As many a middle-aged white reviewers have already written, I'm not a big fan of rap or hiphop, and yet, I loved this movie, one of the few musical group biopics that seemed real, though the press clips report otherwise. Like I said, not a fan here, and yet I was able to connect to the characters, their conflicts, and the times. While there are plenty of rough edges in the story as presented, surely many have been sanded smooth in the manner of "The Rose", which never officially purported to tell the story of Janis Joplin, but did anyway. What SOC does is tell the story of a generation of justifiably angry black men from South LA who found a way to fight back, and sparked a revolution in consciousness that is still relevant in the era of Black Lives Matter. They also, like many stars before them, got rich and got messed up as a result. A Star is Born all over again. Dig it.


Click to read more ...