Filling the Void

August 27th, 2018 by dewprocess.

Finally got to test “Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire”, launched last year by The Void, a location-specific “whole-body, fully immersive VR experience”.

While this experience is certainly superior to their other immersive walkthru, Ghostbusters, I continue to question whether these platforms for VR tech will ultimately be able to settle on a sustainable price point? is still trying to find its place in Entertainment, IMHO (ed.: I admit I’ve not had the opportunity to try their third, older walkthru, “Nicodemus”)

While experiencing this product, I returned to my now decade-old claim that AR would likely prevail in M&E long before VR. Is it fair to label an immersive walkthru, with physical cues and feedback, haptic feedback, and multisensory components (smells, physical environmental audio, etc) as , strictly speaking? The parameters seem much more akin to , in a sort of inverted fashion.

VR is showing itself to be enormously compelling in construction, healthcare, research, and real estate, among other market sectors. Not Entertainment.

AR is a marvelous and *still* undervalued opportunity for the Entertainment industry, and I remain eager to see how brands, both creative and technological leverage that potential.

Breakfast Banter

January 20th, 2018 by dewprocess.

Tonight is the Producers Guild Awards, in anticipation of which I was invited to this morning’s Nominee’s Breakfast, where I got to meet some fascinating producers from all over the world, and catch pearls of wisdom from the mouths of this year’s Nominated Pictures shepherds. Rather than post a bunch of thoroughly uninteresting selfies of me side hugging a ton of celebrities I’ve never met before, I thought it might be a tad more interesting to recall some of the comments I caught from others, in passing:

“If it had come to me without Aaron Sorkin attached to write it, it would have been hard to do. He was a real challenge, though. As tough as he was to work with as a writer, he was a pleasure to work with as a director.” – Mark Gordon, producer of “Molly’s Game”

“We thought ‘we’ll probably only get a million dollars to make this, and nobody will see it, but this is such a beautiful story, we have to do it.’” – Barry Mendel, producer of “The Big Sick”

“We came to Warner Brothers with the script and Chris (Nolan) said ‘Here’s the story, but we insist on casting it with unknown actors.’” – Emma Thomas, producer of “Dunkirk”

“Here’s one that nobody will ever make.” – Jordan Peele, pitching a script at a coffee meeting to discuss random possible projects, as recalled by Sean McKittrick, producer of “Get Out”

‘I wanted to produce and star in this before I knew Tonya Harding was a real person.” – Margot Robbie, producer and star of “I, Tonya”

“The last person we wanted to talk to was Scott (Rudin) because he is Noah Baumbach’s producer, and we wanted this to be Greta’s (Greta Gerwig) story. But he pushed for it, and did amazing things.” – Evelyn O’Neill, producer of “Lady Bird”

“When everyone thought Clinton would get in, directors were turning us down because they saw it as a drawing room drama: quaint and unimportant. When January came, though, we had interest from a lot of very different directors.” – Amy Pascal, producer of “The Post”

 “Guillermo (del Toro) came to me with this story about a mute cleaning lady falling in love with a fish man, and it was obviously a slam dunk! I smelled a bidding war!” – J. Miles Dale, producer of “The Shape Of Water”

“Martin (McDonagh) wrote this for Fran (Frances McDormand), and for Sam (Rockwell), but getting him to direct it was a challenge. He likes his plays, and he likes his time off: to travel, to see things” – Graham Broadbent, producer of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

“We made a conscious decision from the start to have a woman director because how do you tell the story of such an iconic feminist character without a female helming the production?” – Deborah Snyder, producer of “Wonder Woman”

 

The Consumer Never Wins In Format Wars

October 8th, 2017 by dewprocess.

Betamax was better than VHS (smaller tapes, better color reproduction, APS, 250 lines vs. 240 lines of resolution, superior sound, a more stable image, and better HW (recorders) construction).

HD DVD was better than Blu-ray, from a production scaling perspective: a fact that would have proved even more profitable given the lack of wholescale Blu-ray adoption for which Sony et al were hoping. While Blu-ray picture quality is superior to HD DVD, the cost for upgrade (to studios, manufacturers, and consumers alike) will have proven too great, once we look back and see how non-existent the transition from DVD to Blu-ray was.

History is littered with the corpses of superior or more reasonably positioned systems, all killed by the same disease: poor strategic marketing. Herewith, another one bites the dust:

The Windows Phone OS family (WinPhone 7 – Windows 10 Mobile) was a fluid, elegant, sophisticated OS group, murdered by marketing failures galore (as well as by the marketing successes of the opposition). For more than 6 years, I have been writing about Microsoft’s failure to effectively position or market their mobile platform and operating systems. A lot of good that did!

What are the lessons learned, and has Microsoft burned their mobile user base enough times now, that their Windows Core OS offering will fail to elicit enthusiasm from mobile consumers who carry too many scars?

https://www.windowscentral.com/microsoft-windows-10-mobile-features-and-hardware-are-not-focus-anymore

Two Anniversaries

August 23rd, 2017 by dewprocess.

13 years ago, I gave a small talk at the Cannes Film Festival, evangelizing for more measured creative and business growth. I had been working with several startups and noticed a trend toward accelerated scaling that I found worrisome. I encouraged my audience (mostly independent filmmakers) to give themselves time to develop their properties, instead of desperately rushing to sell their idea, fearful that it would be illicitly co-opted by some unknown competitor.

In 2005, I joined a large multinational corporation and noticed that this trend was reflected in the sense of urgency with which budgets and projects were managed throughout business units, and even at the corporate level (usually in response to shareholder demands for the semblance of repetitive short term gains).

Instead of engaging in careful long-term strategic planning and consistent scaling at a manageable pace, enterprises large and small were increasingly (and often retroactively) chasing mythical goals. Business ventures want to convince investors, shareholders, and others that their offering is worth obscene valuation, yet they don’t want to “waste” time actually doing the work of conceptualizing, developing, testing, productizing, marketing, selling, and supporting any tangible offering. It takes less time to make a PowerPoint, it would seem, than it does to make a product. The collateral damage from this mentality continues to be ignored today, by too many people who ought to know better.

Permit me to jump to another topic, for reasons which will become apparent, I hope:

The C-130 Hercules remains the longest continuously produced military aircraft in history. The first flight of the YC-130 prototype was made on this day (23 August) 1954 from the Lockheed plant in Burbank, California. Burbank’s relationship with Lockheed was long and proud, but the city demonstrated a painful lack of strategic planning that left it in dire straits in the early 1990s, when Lockheed left town. The job losses and economic downturn were dramatic, to say the least. Burbank had relied too heavily on one industry, even though the signs of change in that industry had been evident for years. Today, the local economy in this charming SoCal city is once again relying heavily on an admirable and powerful industry. That industry is also showing signs of dramatic change, and Burbank must work proactively – in partnership with its resident businesses from the Media & Entertainment industries – to adapt and evolve, in order to stay aloft in turbulent times, economic, technological, and social.
Cities are growing, as populations increasingly urbanize. Too many of these cities rely on a very few large sources of tax inflow, instead of diversifying their portfolio of revenues. Given that 99.7% of businesses in the US are small businesses, and 48% of US employees are small-business employees, I continue to advocate (with increasing volume!) for municipalities to support sustainable small business incubation: providing for scalable workforce growth, complementary innovations within pre-existing business ecosystems, and more agile infrastructures, capable of adapting to the increasingly explosive nature of 21st century markets, without becoming unduly subject to that same volatility.

The window of opportunity narrows, the closer one comes to a point of inflection. Will Burbank adapt in time, so it is able to manage, rather than be subject to, dynamic market changes? Will the Media & Entertainment industries pull back (even just a little) from the precipice of quarterly performance, in deference to more long-term strategic measurements? Will business ventures invest more thoughtfully in smaller initiatives (subsidiary or autonomous), more capable of adapting to the creative, technological, and economic forces that wait around the corner?

In the words of my close personal friend, Dame Shirley:

“They say the next big thing is here,
That the revolution’s near,
But to me it seems quite clear
That’s it’s all just a little bit of history repeating.”

A Cautionary Tale In Close-Up

May 2nd, 2017 by dewprocess.

The recently launched Hulu serialization of Margaret Atwood’s seminal novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” is proving a worthy challenge to viewers around the world. It is not for the fainthearted audience.

Executive Producers Bruce Miller and Warren Littlefield gave the reins to director Reed Morano who, in partnership with actors including Elisabeth Moss, Joseph Fiennes, Yvonne Strahovski, Alexis Bledel, Samira Wiley, Ann Dowd, Madeline Brewer, Max Minghella, and O-T Fagbenle, have inhabited a world at one and the same time seductive and horrific.

DP Colin Watkinson has used focus and color in ways designed to disorient and unsettle, and the symbolism of Ane Crabtree’s costume design is as direct as her craft is sublime. Not forgetting Julie Berghoff’s production design, but nevertheless unwittingly neglecting the host of other contributors, I found the show to be immensely demanding, in the best of ways.

This is not something I would actively choose to watch, as a means to relax at the end of a long day’s work. Then again, there is little about our current sociopolitical landscape that warrants relaxation. One might once have called “The Handmaid’s Tale” a cautionary tale. Today, it feels more like a peek in to a possible yet not-so-distant future. I wonder how much advanced warning we can afford.

Is “Periscope Depth” still too shallow?

July 6th, 2016 by dewprocess.

The power of live streaming is incontestable, as most recently demonstrated by the awful but important footage captured by Lavish Reynolds. This media innovation has the potential to revolutionize journalism, communications, storytelling…but then Twitter had that same potential, when it rose to prominence. Technological innovation will usually manifest compelling results, but many pioneering brands will stumble along the way. Is this unavoidable? Are there better ways to grow a product or solution, so it may realize its best potential more effectively, efficiently, and sustainably?

The recent Democrat “sit-in” in the US House of Representatives launched Twitter’s subsidiary Periscope into the spotlight (at the edges of which it had been operating for more than a year). This app has the potential to merge the functional merits of both Twitter and YouTube. Will this “Video Twitter” evolve into a long-term media platform enhancement, or is it little more than the latest social media fad? Who remembers Meerkat?

Snapchat took over from Instagram, which itself apparently supplanted Pinterest, after the latter briefly challenged Facebook. Of course, some will argue that I have one or two of the brand incursions mixed up, but that only underscores my contention: Will everyone have the Periscope app on their smartphones for the next 6 months, only to hop to the next shiny bright object, as soon as some bright young startup creates it (with a surfeit of investment from Venture Capital companies eager to reap quick cash rewards, before their latest vaporware is supplanted)? Will Periscope instead grow “too big to fail”, as Twitter seems to have done, yet – like Twitter – represent little clarity, in terms of functional positioning? Are our social platforms and channels destined to come and go with the whims of youth, or are some focusing on developing a degree of operational maturity that will more securely establish their merits and utility, both on our smartphones and in our communities? For all of Facebook’s flaws, it has consistently pursued this maturation with the degree of academic humility and professional confidence that is the hallmark of most engineers. Its relative longevity is as much a result of its willingness to adapt and iterate, as it is due to its refusal to be molded by its user base.

Therein lies the lesson.

Too many brands have relied upon the “Crowd” to manifest and elevate their identity and fortunes, simply because it was this same “Crowd” that first adopted the company’s initial value proposition. The “Crowd” is a powerful current, but while it runs most aggressively in shallow waters, it carries the greatest power in deeper seas. In much the same way, it behooves companies that operate in the Social space (which effectively includes all M&E and Communications companies, along with a host of other markets) to study more assiduously the role of their user base in the ongoing development and growth of their brand. It is not the Crowd’s responsibility to identify or define the brand, nor its value proposition. Furthermore, the longer we allow Startups to scale too quickly, simply as a means to secure larger investments, IPOs, and other Get-rich-quick objectives, the weaker our innovation pipeline will become. The vast majority of Venture-backed startups fail in their first year, and the many articles acknowledging this long-known but too often ignored fact effectively concur that the solution lies in more sustainable development, both of IP and workforce.

I have spent the past 15 years promoting this thesis: that Startup success should no longer be gauged by how fast a company sells, but rather how solidly it is able to build its value proposition; how securely it is able to hire and retain talent; how reliably it is able to integrate its offering into the physical and functional communities within which it operates. While the ROI may not be as immediately “sexy” as the silly Unicorns investors still chase, the longer-term returns generated by the far less mythical “workhorses” I have been supporting are more rewarding, both financially and otherwise. With this in mind, I look to brands such as Periscope, and I wonder: will they be seduced by the noise and sparkle of short-term ROI aspiration, which more often than not represents little more than a mirage of unattainable yearnings, or will they plot their course with thoughtful care and imagination, giving themselves, their investors, their employees, and users the best chance of hitting the mark, and driving forward into an increasingly valuable future?

Are musicians getting valid ROI from video efforts?

May 17th, 2016 by dewprocess.

The music industry is admittedly not my wheelhouse, but an undeniably creative video, released yesterday by Coldplay, has highlighted a conflict that lies within the creation of promotional content: to what does the content owe its principal allegiance? In this case we have a marvelously impressive creative visual production (CGI heavy as it is), ostensibly produced to promote a song. If the core consideration is the song, however, it is arguable whether the video is doing it good service. Then again, if the song were abysmal, no amount of production sophistication could help. So, what role do music videos play today? Are they supposed to principally increase sales of the song, raise consumer awareness of the musician, or win awards and the media coverage that (sometimes) comes therewith? Is there some other purpose (such as simply generating buzz for the director, sufficient to springboard them into a commercial or feature career)?

Obviously, different music videos have different objectives, but I would posit that a core goal ought to be either to increase fandom (and purchase) for the song itself, or to increase viewer investment in the musician, sufficient to garner increased sales – be they merchandise, concert, or content. Maroon 5 achieved the former with their video for “Sugar”, while also generating a good deal of buzz for their inventive approach. Sia achieved the latter with her video for “Elastic Heart”. Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” achieved both, I would argue (and the sales numbers corroborate that claim). I have long championed the videos of FKA Twigs, which establish the artist firmly as the lost love child of Madonna and Bjork. Indeed, there exist a number of compelling music videos that successfully compel the viewer to either buy the song or follow the artist more enthusiastically.

What, however, do Coldplay’s videos (or those by OK GO, for that matter) accomplish, extant high YouTube views? Obviously, those who never liked the music might claim they mitigate an otherwise painful audio experience, but a massive investment in a music video is not going to sell the song or musician to someone who hates the music. Nobody suddenly became a new fan of U2’s after watching the video for “Numb”. If you didn’t love Christina Aguilera before, watching her embarrassing Lady Gaga copycat for ‘Not Myself Tonight’ was not going to endear her to you. Then again, Lady Gaga did herself no favors with her Madonna copycat for the forgettable “Judas”. So where’s the value?

After watching Coldplay’s recent video for “Up & Up” (the third single from their last album, “A Head Full Of Dreams”), I barely remembered the song, and I notice that all the online comments are about the video, with nary a word about the song or musicians.

Securing viewers of content on YouTube is a tough challenge these days, with the vast majority being relegated swiftly to burst traffic. It stands to reason, therefore, that content posted to online video aggregation sites such as YouTube, Vimeo, (arguably) Facebook, and soon Amazon Video Direct, needs to be compelling enough to merit swift and sustained viewership, but at what cost, and with what intended outcome? Content production without strategic context will rarely return satisfactory value. People will notice something attractive, but to what end? If that is the goal, kudos. Music videos are supposed to promote further action on the part of the viewer, though, aren’t they? Is clicking “Like” or “Share” enough, these days?

The Televised Community

October 30th, 2015 by dewprocess.

Television today is very different from the medium of the 1970s and 1980s. Ecosystems burn and people gather in search of positive change. Yet news programs are more interested in, as writer George Monbiot recently observed, “the dress the Duchess of Cambridge wore to the James Bond premiere, Donald Trump’s idiocy du jour, and who got eliminated from the Halloween episode of Dancing with the Stars. The great debate of the week, dominating the news across much of the world? Sausages: are they really so bad for your health?”

As we move from one spectacle to another, be it fictionalized, serialized, or politicized, it behooves us to take 10 seconds or, in this case, just over 10 minutes to remind ourselves of what a force Television is, and what a unique enterprise each of our communities represents.

This weekend, millions of people will wander out in to their physical communities, roaming from home to home, as they meet one another briefly in the annual ritual of “Trick or Treat”. The origins of the ritual are all but forgotten, as children race from door to door to grab as much candy as possible, barely pausing to glance at the face and person that are attached to the arm that offers the treat. Parents idle distractedly on the pavement outside, worrying about the work week past, or the chores awaiting them in the next couple of days. The brief but wondrous opportunity for connection and community interaction is lost in our collective impatience and self-centeredness.

It used to be that media, whether televised or printed, served as a utilitarian resource for our individual and collective edification. We would reference several newspapers, as we developed an opinion about one issue or another. We would look to our television for the latest images and coverage, trusting in a relatively objective perspective, or balanced programming that ensured transparency whenever objectivity was not possible. I still own the letters my grandfather wrote to his sister in the 1930s and 40s, as he led the Allied Correspondents through Europe, covering the War. His distaste for Hitler was not hidden, but he always balanced his contempt for the man and his minions with insights in to how and why the German populace might have been convinced to follow such an unholy agenda. To listen to and socialize the opinions of others is not a weakness, but rather a manifestation of one’s own strong convictions. What are ideas worth, if they are not tested?

Today’s media, instead of serving our community of diversity, so often collaborates with our own prejudices, that it compound the memes within which we exist.

Whether our media is servant to our citizens, vice versa or, worse still, whether both become servants to a culture devoid of useful information or humanity, is still a matter of choice. For now.

Nicholas de Wolff Interviewed at Produced By Conference 2014

December 10th, 2014 by admin.

If All The World’s A Stage, Why Do So Many People Keep Missing Their Cues?

May 15th, 2013 by admin.

The Actor’s Equity Association (AEA) is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and one of its initiatives is to provide members with fancy new gold credit card style membership cards, replacing the former paper-based version. My reaction, when I heard this, was one of disappointment. Every initiative taken by an organization today has consequences and implications that reverberate across multiple sectors. In this case, the AEA failed to take advantage of a priceless opportunity to enhance member services, increase member engagement, and exhibit a very simple but impactful degree of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility).

More than 7 years ago, the Census Bureau determined that there were nearly 1.5 billion credit cards in use in the U.S. A stack of all those credit cards would reach more than 70 miles into space — and be almost as tall as 13 Mount Everests. If this number of credit cards were thrown away every three years, the stack of credit cards would reach almost 43 Everests high after a decade. These plastics do not biodegrade in landfills. Not so fancy.

Actor’s Equity is not a lone offender, though. When SAG and AFTRA merged, the new union had an opportunity to revisit its longstanding use of plastic credit card member IDs, but opted to stick with the short term functionality of plastics, long-term sustainability be damned. The Producers Guild and other industry organizations are equally guilty. My frustration would be less justified if there existed few alternatives. However, companies such as Discover Financial services are offering cards made of BioPVC™ and other biodegradable alternatives; well-established technologies such as mobile apps present a plethora of creative and operational opportunities; and other technologies such as NFC offer yet more potential, as their adoption becomes more widespread. So why the lack of innovation or sustainability best practices? Is it an absence of imagination? Aversion to change? Financially motivated obduracy?

As current Chair of my city’s Sustainability Commission, I have benefited from the past four years, learning about the negative consequences of unsustainable practices (both in business and personal life), as well as about the positive implications of Green and other more sustainable commercial and community options, be it through renewable materials sourcing, alternative energy programs, commercial district redesigns, and many other areas. Many initiatives in sustainability offer up more than a single-pronged benefit or solution. It’s not just about environmental conservation, or clean air, or recycling. It’s about positioning ourselves, our businesses, and our communities for a more environmentally, socially, and financially robust future.

Had the AEA decided to explore options for member identification, other than the current plastic card tradition, all sorts of exciting avenues to member engagement and empowerment might have been revealed. Imagine a mobile app (what actor does not have a mobile phone?) that represents not only the individual’s union identification, but also a resource for direct connection to their credit union, membership affiliate discount programs, health insurance tools, personalized pension and 401K insights, dues status (and mobile payment processing), and much more, besides. The cost savings to the AEA and their members alike would be enormous, the raw materials no longer needed (plastics, papers, etc) would be mountainous, and the ability to connect more dynamically with membership would elevate the usefulness, value and – by extension – collective bargaining power of the AEA.

To those who would argue that they would not wish to entrust such data to a mobile device that might lose power, break, be stolen, or otherwise be compromised…I suggest they note that more wallets are stolen and lost than mobile devices. The Baby Boomer generation may not be able to acclimatize themselves to the notion of a cardless society, but I personally am quite excited by the idea of saving money, time, and materials – simply by aggregating the contents of my wallet into a well-protected, institutionally insured, cloud-based ecosystem that poses no more risk to our identities than we currently face today. The promise that lies in such innovation far outweighs the risks, and I can think of no better collective to act upon this promise than Actors themselves. This opportunity seems to have been missed, but I sincerely hope that other organizations might think a little more expansively about each initiative they take, going forward. The smallest tweak might offer far greater rewards (and savings) than they might imagine.

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