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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.

Wednesday
Apr302014

The Story Cube

Anna Marie Piersimoni has begun teaching undergraduates at the California State University, Northridge, in their film/media program. She asked me to give a talk last week, and I've posted the presentation, which I dubbed "The Story Cube" -- an homage to another mutual colleague from our days at the American Film Institute, namely Suzanne Stefanac, who introduced me to the concept of "story cubed" as a way to encapsulate the multidimensional way we have come to understand stories in the digital era.

 

Thursday
Mar202014

Wearable Apps: Event in SF

I'm excited to share news of an event coming up on March 27 in San Francisco -- a showcase for the latest new apps built expressly for wearable tech devices (such as 'smart glasses'). Wearable tech is the next frontier of mobile media, offering intriguing opportunities to create useful and delightful experiences with entirely new form factors. 

The developers you will meet and the work you will sample has been created within a new business accelerator targeting wearable tech applications, a collaboration between the Canadian Film Center's ideaBOOST program and Bay Area start-up Mind Pirate, two of my clients. 

It would be great to see you at the event  in San Francisco. To RSVP click http://bit.ly/NTx4rP . For further assistance, ping me or Alison Hoy at the CFC <ahoy@cfcmedialab.com> Feel free to forward this invitation to colleagues whom may be interested in wearables, as well.

Wednesday
Mar192014

Quantified ME

I’ve been fat, I’ve been skinny, a roller-coaster of weight gain and loss, more of the former in recent years as I struggled with the impact of colon surgery, a late-stage scoliosis diagnosis. I didn’t seem to be able to control my food intake, and I became convinced that cardio sufficient to lose weight was now impossible for me.

Woe is me, I was thinking, self-pityingly, just as I stumbled across a post by my friend Shelley Palmer, whose blog tracks electronic devices and trends. Indeed, his post did focus on fitness gizmos from Fitbit and Jawbone, which I certainly had heard about given my recent interest in ‘wearable tech.”

I don’t know exactly what grabbed me in Shelly’s post -- dozens of similar stories have appeared across the web as the wearable health industry has taken off. I suspect it was how a person I knew described how he used a calorie counting app and a fitness tracker to lose 58.3 pounds in 189 days, or .3 pounds per day. He elaborates:

It’s not magic; it’s math. 3,500 calories = 1 lb. Every 3,500 calories you eat that you don’t burn, you gain a pound. Every 3,500 calories you burn that you don’t eat, you lose a pound. While this is not strictly true, for reasons that don’t matter here, it is a great baseline to use for changing your lifestyle based upon information you get from monitoring, or quantifying, your calories in and calories out.

Inspired, I ran out to Best Buy that afternoon and left with a Fitbit Flex and a Withings Wifi Scale. I created accounts for both products, as well as MyFitnessPal, an iOS app, and figured out how to link them together.

I’m happy to report that in 51 days I’ve lost 20 pounds, or .4 pounds per day, and along the way I’ve regained control of my food and dramatically increased my exercise, so far without any painful consequences.

This happened, pretty much as Shelly described the quantified self – being able to quantify my calories in and calories burned, and especially knowing in real time when the balance is about to go South. I know if I need to step up my exercise. I know if I need to restrict my food. No, I don’t always obey. But now I have no excuse.

To make this work, I have been diligent about recording calories in the MyFitnessPal app – it syncs between my iPad, iPhone and desktop, so there’s no excuse. The app’s database is immense and fairly accurate, so long as my estimates on portion size are honest.

I’ve also been rigorous about my exercise. I spend at least 40 minutes in the pool, vigorous water aerobics or swimming most weekday mornings. To that, I’ve added a heart-pounding walk each day, seamlessly tracked by my Fitbit, which calculates calories burned, and sends that data to MyFitnessPal. By last weekend I had nearly reached 15,000 steps per day, more than 5 miles. A few months ago, I had trouble with one mile. (Physical therapy with a miracle worker helped me “awaken” specific muscles that had not been firing properly, and that seems to have made all the difference.)

Two days ago I bought a bike, my new bike in more than 20 years, and I’m adding that to the mix.

Final word – music makes all the difference in my energy and motivation to increase my distance. Back when I was a runner, I laboriously programmed audio tape mixes with songs that drove me up hills and poured it on when I needed it. In today’s world, I make custom playlists in Spotify in a fraction of the time using the BPM Database and the All8 BPM tool. Here’s one just made for quick walking called, aptly, 120BPM

I think I’ll go try it, now. 

Saturday
Jan042014

#googleglassmovie

A month ago I blogged about initial reactions to my new Google Glass wearable computing device, mostly the back story about why I decided to dive into this new world and my initial experiences. 

Well, I've been wearing Glass for about a month now, capturing still images and videos and entertaining my friends. Brilliant of Google to get people like me to pay them for the privilege of evangelizing their product, but hey, it's been fun being the first kid on the block with a new toy. 

My experience with the device was limited to image and video capture, primarily because connectivity is so difficult, especially as I use an iPhone not an Android device. Other problems remain, and I'm sure others will solve them. I'll also leave until another time my comments on the social dimension of this new class of wearable devices, except to say that my encounters wearing Glass produced more curiosity and astonishment than fear or snearing. Subterfuge is not that easy with a glowing cube attached to your forehead.

So herein I offer my first month with the Google Glass camera, a frenetic period with lots of travel, conferences, meetings, and of course the year-end holidays. I reduced my month into five minutes, along the way remembering how to user iMovie and why media editors have a right to be crazy. 

The image quality is, to my eye, pretty damned good for an amateur like me. What's great is the sponteneity of image capture -- especially after Google introduced its "blink" function that allows you to take a still image by blinking, without needing to power up the device. You don't have to find the camera in your pocket, open the app, aim and frame. You just blink. Like one of my friends said, "it's creepy." 

The hands-free essence of the wearable camera turns your body into a steadycam or a dolly, like the shot of my hand holding catfood while following the cat, and the 360-degree pivots that are so fun when you wear the camera. It's a more fragile version of the GoPro, a product I've never used beyond trade show demos. 

The worst thing about Glass' camera is the lack of an actual viewfinder. I couldn't frame shots as easily as I do with my cameraphone. As a result, you'll notice that many of my shots slice off the tops of heads because the camera is positioned slightly above the normal field of vision. 

Now that I'm used to wearing the damned things, I'm going to try to shoot interviews at CES and see if I can create a movie with more content. 

Thursday
Dec262013

2013 Movies that Got Me Going

‘Twas a very good year for pictures, despite all the noise about the coming cinematic apocalypse, an argument that generally revolves around Hollywood’s addiction to movie franchises and comic book heroes. A) This is not new, Hollywood is about lowest common denominator, always has been; and B) Who cares? Mass appeal movies will be with us always, and rarely have they appealed to me, so let’s move on to those films that got me going this year.

1. American Hustle. Out of the park, Russell hits it out of the f***ing park with a masterful tour-de-force instant film classic. Plucking story elements from the late 70's Abscam sting, Russell and and co-writer Eric Singer embroider a complex tale populated by true American originals, fueled by insatiable greed for money or respect, or both. Everyone is on both sides, some more than others. Jeremy Renner's Camden mayor may be willing to accept a bribe, but he was a victim. Not true for any the remaining principals, a triangle of love, lust, betrayal and ingenuity. All actors a great; Lawrence is astonishing. Russell's directing style is propulsive, with one killer scene piled atop another, and then another. The music and costumes are perfect, and the acting, c'est magnifique. My favorite picture in a year of some strong contenders.

2. 12 Years a Slave. Unflinching, brutal, unsentimental. We see a particularly galling case of a freeman captured into the life of a slave, but his story is but one in a vast and systematic dehumanizing machine that lives in the soul of our nation, in case you wonder why we are still having trouble with many in the South still hating black people. And so it's only fair that the key representative of the system is a psychotic, capricious and truly evil drunk named Edwin Epps. His evil is no more singular than the particular problem of our protagonist. It's not a question of nice and not nice, fair and not fair. It's a question of evil.

3. The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza) Sorrentino has slayed me before (Il Divo), and he's done it again here with this homage to La Dolce Vita in a Rome that makes you cry it's so beautiful. The people, including our protagonist, played by the divine Toni Servillo, are monsters. They sleepwalk thru empty lives to the deadening rhythms of deception and toxic levels of self-obsession. Fortunately for us, they do so in some of the most beautiful places on the planet. The parties serve as a kind of nightmarish palette-cleansing between sequential courses featuring different key players in journalist/novelist Jep Gambardella's life -- his midget editor, his new lover who is daughter to a gangsterish disco owner, a mysterious tour guide of empty palazzo rooms, his best friend who has a giraffe, a Mother Teresa-like nun, a corrupt cardinal, an anonymous next door neighbor, who turns out to be a white-collar criminal who gets hauled away by the law.... and on and on. ‘Tis a tad long, but, like a fever dream, worth it for the pictures.

4. Dallas Buyers Club. What the hell happened to McConaughey in the last couple of years? He's turned into one helluva an actor, with two of my favorite performances of the year (MUD was the other). This is a fact-based tale of a ne'er-do-well scamp/drunk who contracts AIDS and fights the medical establishment back in the day, coming to terms with his own homophobia and becoming a kind of weird folk hero. Much has been made of the actor's weight loss (substantial), like a reverse of DeNiro in Raging Bull. By the finale, I got choked up, even knowing all the while I was being manipulated. Willingly when it's done this well.

5. Her. Eerily calibrated to this time in history, a time when technology is recasting our sense of identity and relationship, HER is a gentle what-if near-future-fi love letter of caution and melancholy. The persistent tone here is sadness, laced with hope against hope that somebody out there loves us. Deeply spiritual, without a tinge of religiosity, HER navigates the inner chambers of the heart with delicacy and precision, terms which should also be applied to the wonderful performances by Phoenix, Adams, and yes, Johansson as the voice of Samantha, the intelligent operating system who (seems to) love and leave our hero in a romantic movie of a unique sort. I left feeling and thinking. Pretty good.

6. Fruitvale Station. If ever there was a movie for which Godard's famous quip was perfect, it's Fruitvale Station, which delivers the truth at 24 frames per second. Here we have an ordinary lower-middle-class black guy, hardly perfect, but good to his family, trying hard to keep a job and get away from the drug scene. Wrong place, wrong time in a Shakespearean sense, that "if only" kind of fatalism that breaks the heart open so you can see it beating, thereby revealing more about the watcher than the watched. 

7. Captain Phillips. A suspenseful action picture with more than a plot, Captain Phillips gives Tom Hanks the chance to show how really good an actor he really is, and brings us along for the ride. By the end we understand a lot more about world politics with nary a moment of finger-wagging, and we have empathy for everyone involved in the conflict, however inevitable the ending has to be. First rate filmmaking, but then, what else have we come to expect from Greengrass, who takes what would in the hands of others be a kind of Baroquely manneristic style, and uses it to make us gasp and think at the same time.

8. Gravity. Gasp-worthy effects. Amazing suspense. Complete character transference:  I cannot think of a movie that so powerfully pulls each audience member into the world being created. Certainly in part it is because of the breakthrough CGI. But even more, we identify with Bullock -- what would I do? Oh my gosh, watch out!! We are there with her. And thus, we have all flown in space. Thank you Mr. Cuarón. Oh, yes: Iffy science (why is Bullock's character repairing a space wing, anyway? She's a doctor!).

9. Nebraska. Payne never patronizes these sad, somewhat pathetic mid-country citizens. He lets their story build and gently sweep us along with a bittersweet awareness of the inevitability of regret and redemption in our own lives. Dern's Woody Grant is more than demented from old age and hard-drinking: he's relentless, not just to collect his "winnings" that he thinks he's won in the mail, but something much deeper. The scene when we find out why, played with his son David, will break your heart if you pay close attention to the soft-spoken revelation. Dern reaches a career high, but the surprise is Will Forte as David. As he plays it, David is still trying to win his Dad's approval, even in the face of all odds, his own form of relentlessness which, as it turns out, closes the circle.

10. Mud. One of the best scripts in a long time, and a cast that manages, with a few exceptions, to inhabit this world of poor river folk on the edge of disaster with power and grace. The exception is a badly cast Witherspoon, who just doesn't play poor white trash with much believability or conviction. McConaughey continues his remarkable career re-invention with a charismatic turn as the doomed romantic on the run from the relatives of a bad guy he killed in some sort of misguided defense of the woman he loves, or let's say, the gal he can't get out of his blood. The core of the movie, however, is the coming of age journey of two boys who stumble across the whole operatic story on a day when they thought they were simply exploring the river that is the center of their world. Sheridan and Lofland are exceptional child actors, and Jeff Nichols is a truly great director. 

11. Meet Llewyn Davis. I'm a sucker for the period, the music, and the Coens, so yes, I liked this movie a lot, especially when Llewyn (played in a breakout role by Oscar Isaac) is singing. There's a purity and melancholy in his voice and look that make the whole package believable. And a bit depressing. The Coens have done something difficult, which is to create a sense of longing and nostalgia for a loser. Davis is not Dylan. He's the non-Dylan -- one of the hundreds of wannabee folkies with a guitar and some yearning, playing in second-rate coffee houses for tips. And we learn (spoiler) that he deserved to stay there, not only because is he second-rate, but because he's so contrarian and mean. Mean to his sister, girlfriend, best friend, strangers, really, to everyone but the damned cat, who steals the show in what has to be a nod to YouTube. You think you've seen cat videos, we'll show you.

12. Stories We Tell. Polley's story is interesting enough, but the brilliance of the movie is in the telling, her remarkably agile shaping of the documentary form into a kind of psychological forensics exercise. She's a geologist of the mind, revealing in successive and contradictory moments just how flawed our memories turn out to be. We believe what we want to believe. We believe the truth of others. We believe what we need to believe to survive. Until one member of the family decides to uncover the "real" truth. I thought several times of Mike Leigh's great "Secrets and Lies" and wondered, how did Polley do this?

Honorary Mention to a quartet of flicks that look at contemporary youth. Oh my!

The Bling Ring. Welcome to modern life, the way we live now. Yes, even though the materialistic and fame-obsessed LA teens that populate this "based on a true story" story seem extreme. But clearly, we're meant to look at ourselves and see how the dominant features of our everyday culture provide fertile ground into which these bad seed were able to sprout and grow. That, and perhaps the worst security systems in the world. It's fun and horrifying to go along for the ride, voyeurs in a game we cannot quite believe. This is not a great movie, but it was a lot of fun and was, at least, about more than the rash of potty-mouth buddy movies intended to document and appeal to this demographic. Coppola has a deft touch, and she knows these kids.

Spring Breakers. Lower middle class versions of the Bling Ring Gang, the girls in this hallucenogenic trip of a movie just wanna have fun. Instead, they go gun crazy during Spring Break in Florida, hooked on the erotic adrenaline rush of power (and a whole lot of drugs and booze). Plotwise, this here is a stretch, though you cannot fault the actresses, who shake their tail feathers mightily to make us believe, as does the scary creepy white-trash Gangsta impersonation delivered by James Franco. Korine's washed out Florida pastel palette, hip-hoppish jittery-editing style and disoriented camera conspire to deliver a woozy terrorist postcard to the civilized who don't want to admit that yes, maybe this could be the future.

This is the End. I so didn't expect to like this, so much so that it took a particularly unsavory airplane menu of pictures before I even tried this live-action cartoon, hatched in the ganja-marinated minds of Rogan and his posse. At once a satire of Hollywood's contemporary brat pack and disaster movies, Rogan and his gang pull it off, probably out of sheer energy. For a coda, watch Rogan and company roast James Franco on Comedy Central. Same vibe. Call it social-media comedy. We're invited into what appears to be an unmediated look at celebrity life. Like "Person-to-Person," only Rogan takes over Murrow's role.

Don Jon. Jon Martello is Tony Manero, only he whacks off instead of disco dances. He's a working class wop with a dead end job, a noisy stereotype of a family, a gang of gumbahs he hangs with at the bar where he scores with the ladies, which they rank numerically. What saves the first half of the pic is the razor editing and the cold-eyed depiction of how he (we) use porn -- to get lost, as Jon puts it. When the story, and our hero, shift gears, we stop buying, but for a debut, Gordon-Levitt does a damn good job. Performances are all fine, if to type... meaning, it's hard to take your eyes off Johansson, who is a great bitch, and G-L compels, as well.

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