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.

Ozymandias and Harriet

May 11th, 2018 by dewprocess.

California State Senator Scott Wiener and I communicated with one another several times during his campaign to push SB 827 through the legislature, and I warned very early on during our exchanges that the singlemindedness that gave him the courage and conviction to introduce and champion such disruptive legislation would be the very undoing of its hopes for success.

I do not delight in being proven right in this case, because the intent behind this bill was and remains laudable. Urban zones, especially in California, are in desperate need of increased housing inventory. That said, the housing most needed in many of our cities is not luxury condominiums or lofty apartments for the well-heeled. What is sorely lacking in major municipalities is thoughtfully centralized housing for the people who keep our cities alive: the teachers, city workers, restaurant and store staff, and other citizens presently struggling through daily commutes to work in places where they cannot presently imagine ever being able to live. A healthy community caters to its best and most conscientious citizens, irrespective of their income, net worth, gender, color, or creed. Our cities have lost sight of this dictum. Another element in ensuring the health and well-being of our urban societies is protecting the best core differentiating characteristics of each of these communities. Senator Wiener’s bill did not satisfy its critics on either count. Desperate circumstances do NOT always call for desperate measures.

Senator Wiener made it very clear to me how disdainful he was of early critiques, and his dismissive answers to polite questions in numerous online forums repeatedly undermined his chances at developing transversal support. It was only after a groundswell of opposition presented itself, from such quarters as the Sierra Club and the LA Times, that he begrudgingly agreed to revisit the details of his proposed bill. The damage had been done, however, and he had alienated too many potential interests, who might have proven invaluable in developing a piece of legislation that could have been truly revolutionary, if somewhat more nuanced than the original form.

My hope now is that Senator Wiener learns from this experience. He was not wrong in his general objective. He was incorrect in his specific approach. Credit is due, though, to the Senator: for lighting a match under municipalities whose bureaucracies have for too long kicked this can down the road. The warning bell has been rung, and it would not behoove our cities to meet Senator Wiener’s unfortunate strategy with their own arrogance and hubris. Change is due, and I sincerely hope that when Senator Wiener looks to revisit the matter, he will find that local legislatures will have done the job well enough to both adequately approach his noble aspirations and meet the needs of the community they more knowledgeably serve.

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”

 

Whither/wither interstitial advertising?

November 14th, 2016 by dewprocess.
They say the ad industry has lost touch with the consumer, and I find myself agreeing, but not only from the creative perspective. When watching streaming or OTT content, I am disappointed by how unimaginative the ad allocations are, resulting in nauseatingly frequent repetitions of the same commercial spot, to the point where the brand actually suffers from being forced upon the viewer with mind-numbing frequency. Recently, a rather amusing Geico ad turned into a Gitmo ad, by the time I had been tortuously subjected to its pitch no less than 7 times in the same show. It’s a simple enough algorithmic exercise to parse out advertising content in a manner more digestible for consumers, and ultimately more profitably for brands. Indeed, with some intelligent and imaginative programming, online content ad streaming could be so much better targeted and varied, as to really promise the clickthru and brand adoption rates that conventional broadcast content has never been able to even suggest, despite all their metric mumbo jumbo.
 
While ECM is certainly a major challenge that needs prompt addressing, the creative content of ads is also in dire need of innovation. The drug ads have become little more than legalese white noise (to the point where our family doesn’t worry about the daytime Viagra ads, as we know the kids aren’t listening or watching), and the rest is a leftover soup of copycat automotive, CPG, and family restaurant dreck. One would hope that brands would take advantage of the upcoming holiday period to reposition themselves as partners in consumers’ lifestyles, both functionally and aspirationally. Several British brands seem to have got the message (see links below), but I’m having a hard time finding US brands that have positioned themselves as anything but hard sell commercial pitches. Another missed opportunity. Here below are a few of the British ads for this upcoming holiday season. Let me know if you find any other spots from the US (or elsewhere) that recognize the value of building a relationship, as much as hawking the initial product.

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?

This Is Not Your Father’s Brand Management

January 3rd, 2016 by admin.

At 8:43pm last night, ABC News posted a ridiculously framed tweet about the terrorist incident in Oregon:

ABC Tweet

Denizens of the Twittersphere went ballistic, in response to this apparent double standard in journalism (White American armed takeover of Federal sites is “peaceful militia action”, while *anything* involving Muslims is a “terrorist cell”.) You can find some of the responses in the growing number of blog posts, such as this one from Raw Story.

In the face of this indignation, ABC News was sadly silent, and the trolls jumped in. The news organization’s inability to understand social brand management left the door open for erstwhile fans and trolls to take over their online brand narrative. ABC News seemed to think that ignoring the matter would make it go away…#OldSchoolMarketing

If something more interesting happens in the next 12 hours, they might get lucky, and the hubbub may abate somewhat. The damage is done, however, to any sense that their news brand is anything worth considering as “above” the fray. ABC News is now fair game, simply because they could not be responsive in the first hours of their mess-up. All they had to do (simply as one possible option among many available) was post one follow-up Tweet at 10pm, just over an hour after the first “unfortunately phrased” post: “Many viewers hold strong opinions about the situation in Oregon. We want to hear/share all reasonable views. Chat on [Periscope/Facebook] in one hour.”

ABC News could have hosted an online chat for exactly 30 minutes, with all the fair and not-so-fair comments that would have ensued, and then summarized with a nicely woven acknowledgement of the fact that “sometimes ABC does not frame a breaking news situation as effectively as – in retrospect – we would have liked to, and it is with the help and feedback of viewers and fans that the news team is able to get a better sense of…blahblahblah”…Thank everyone for their thoughtful comments and assure them you’ll “continue to work hard to responsibly explore and report on the stories that affect our lives and communities….blah blah blah…”

In short: be seen as responsive, and manage the narrative enough so it doesn’t look like you are completely tone deaf and out-of-touch. News obviously never quite works when you let it go the way of fanfic, as CNN has discovered. However, BBC News has been doing quite a good job, of late, using social tools to bring their news stories closer to their viewers and listeners. ABC News could learn a thing or two from them.

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.

If You Were to Draw a Tree, What Tree Would You Draw?

January 9th, 2015 by admin.

So often we find ourselves working incredibly hard to “fit” in to a mold we believe might position us better for success. This mold has more often than not been formed for us by someone else, be it a predecessor in our life (whether professional or personal), or an “expert” who apparently knows us better than we know ourselves. It takes one or two (or more) turns around the carousel of one’s career to realize one has been riding the wrong horse, and it takes a good degree of humility, introspection, and courage to reconnect with that confluence of what we do well, what we enjoy doing, and what might remunerate us to the level we aspire.

Sometimes people spend their whole careers doing what they think they were “meant” to do, only to realize upon retirement that they have been unwittingly untrue to their inner potential. As adults, we grow all too easily afraid of pursuing those dreams we so readily embraced as children; conditioned by our teachers, peers, and others to toss aside those childish fantasies as the fragile baubles of youth, insufficient to withstand the rigors and challenges of “the real world”. But it is those visions we construct in our hearts and minds when young that we eventually come to discover were far more robust than we were led to believe, and far more in tune with our true potential.

The form which the realization of our dream takes is not as important as the fact that the vision has been honestly expressed. Nobody will convince me that a ballet dancer is a “better” aspiration than a dance teacher, aerobics instructor, or occupational therapist: they each share their passion, in their own special way, for the power of the human body and how it operates. An intelligent and aggressively pursued related career strategy is just as apt to be financially rewarding as any quest for a leading contract with a premier ballet company. In fact, probably more so (with apologies to any readers currently applying to ABT, Paris Opera, or the Royal Ballet!).

I can’t recall who sent me the link to this video, so am sorry not to fairly tip my hat to them. That said, I think this is a fascinating piece, demonstrative not only of the impressive artistry of animators whose work we might otherwise blithely take for granted, but celebrating the unique and extraordinary talents and expression that lie within every artist, every creator…every person. These are but four people who have found a way to retain their individual vision, express it with unique eloquence, and meanwhile also apply that talent and commitment, sometimes with small compromises, to a larger whole that proves greater than the sum of each part they contribute.

If we could each pursue that goal within ourselves, we and the world we live in might be that much happier and fulfilled. To listen to and act upon the truth that lies within us, express it with integrity, and then find a place to marry it with other admirable and complementary talents…to balance our own personal integrity with the needs of a community …to recognize that the best collective result is ALWAYS attained when each individual voice is given the room to be fully heard…to find a way to celebrate and elevate the individual and the collective, at one and the same time…the best companies and communities achieve this union, and they do so by hiring and nurturing the best people.

Nicholas de Wolff Interviewed at Produced By Conference 2014

December 10th, 2014 by admin.

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