Tag Archives: film

Water Coolers, Spoilers, and Serial

On the way to work, my wife and I caught up on Serial. On our commute home, she mentioned that Zach Braff had tweeted about the podcast:

I can’t look through my Twitter feed without seeing a mention of Serial. Everyone’s onboard. Everyone’s got a take. But the extent of sharing is “OMG! WTF! #serial” We are all on par with Laura’s confusion in episode 8.

Serial is great. Definitely not my favorite podcast, but it’s a spectacular display of fine editing and editorial guidance. But more importantly, Serial has brought back the water cooler conversation. Everything about Serial thus far is based on presumption. If you tried to explain what is happening, you’d leave behind mountains of critical detail. Because the questions hurdle by ad nauseam, there aren’t answers big enough to spoil the show. Think LOST, with hatches and polar bears and Dharma, but rooted in the nonfiction investigation of a 1999 homicide case with cell records and reenactments and Jay. This is pre-meditated in the sense that Sarah Keonig and the Serial crew know that answers won’t come easy. There are no spoilers. This is great storytelling and we are along for the ride.

This thought led me to other serialized media. Serialized TV is larger than ever, but the good stuff (Game of Thones) is adapted or released in bulk (House of Cards). I kid, I kid. Admittedly, I have not watched True Detective. But in all seriousness, TiVo culture and binging has struck deep fear in sharing too much about nightly TV. While this sounds like a backwards argument against on-demand podcasts, again, Serial doesn’t offer enough answers to divulge spoilers. Again, this is great storytelling.

This led me to thoughts on film. What was the last (semi-)pre-meditated, non-adapted, serialized film series released? Pirates of the Caribbean (2 & 3)? The Matrix (2 & 3)? Star Wars (5 & 6)? Nearly every (if not all) serialized film series released within the past few years has been adapted. Harry Potter. Hunger Games. Divergent. The answers to these series have been lying around in text years prior to the film’s release. The best we can hope for is that we haven’t read the book or the film is so far off from the source material that it feels like a unique experience.

We need more original, pre-meditated, serialized content. Someone write an original three part film trilogy with segments so good they can stand on their own as solid films. Someone conceptualize a three, four, or five season TV show from start to finish. Calculate the journey or take us along for the ride. Stop adapting. Stop playing by ear. If you do play by ear, root it in nonfiction. Make sure you can’t make stuff up.

I realize this is less a message to creators as it is to producers, with overhead and risk to take into consideration. But if you want to give us story, allow us to risk our time and money. Trust creators.

Tomorrow, my wife and I will listen to episode 10 of Serial and the most we’ll be able to share is “OMG! WTF! #serial”

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‘I didn’t know that. I thought we were having fun.’

Dialog between Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) and Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), Chef:

CC: What exactly are you doing here?

RM: I’m eating the food. I’m eating your food.

CC: I thought my food was needy and cloying.

RM: Well, I didn’t think you’d want to serve me, so I sent somebody else to pick it up.

CC: What happened between us, that really knocked me for a loop. I mean, you robbed me of my pride and my career and my dignity. And I know people like you don’t usually care about that kind of thing…

RM: That’s not necessarily true.

CC: But you should know it hurts people like me. ‘Cause we’re really trying.

RM: You started a flame war with me. Are you kidding me? I buy ink by the barrel, buddy. What are you doing picking a fight with me? I wouldn’t challenge you to a cook off.

CC: I thought I was sending you a private message.

RM: I didn’t know that. I thought we were having fun. It was theater. By the way, what the fuck were you cooking? You totally shat the bed, buddy. How could I back that? You were one of my early boys.

CC: I had no control over the menu.

RM: Whatever the case, okay? You seem to be cooking for yourself again. Because this shit is sensational. I mean, really, really good.

CC: Thank you.

I really enjoyed this movie. Very simple and to the point. Good food is great, my opinion on critics (including myself) is iffy at best, and Twitter can be terrible. In a world of limited text, context counts. Inspiring, real stuff. Well done, Favreau.

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Building Blocks

Martin Scorsese, as quoted by FirstShowing.net:

We have many names for what we do – cinema, movies, motion pictures. And…film. We’re called directors, but more often we’re called filmmakers. Filmmakers. I’m not suggesting that we ignore the obvious: HD isn’t coming, it’s here. The advantages are numerous: the cameras are lighter, it’s much easier to shoot at night, we have many more means at our disposal for altering and perfecting our images. And, the cameras are more affordable: films really can be made now for very little money. Even those of us still shooting on film finish in HD, and our movies are projected in HD. So, we could easily agree that the future is here, that film is cumbersome and imperfect and difficult to transport and prone to wear and decay, and that it’s time to forget the past and say goodbye – really, that could be easily done. Too easily.

It seems like we’re always being reminded that film is, after all, a business. But film is also an art form, and young people who are driven to make films should have access to the tools and materials that were the building blocks of that art form. Would anyone dream of telling young artists to throw away their paints and canvases because iPads are so much easier to carry? Of course not. In the history of motion pictures, only a minuscule percentage of the works comprising our art form was not shot on film. Everything we do in HD is an effort to recreate the look of film. Film, even now, offers a richer visual palette than HD. And, we have to remember that film is still the best and only time-proven way to preserve movies. We have no assurance that digital informaton will last, but we know that film will, if properly stored and cared for.

Our industry – our filmmakers – rallied behind Kodak because we knew that we couldn’t afford to lose them, the way we’ve lost so many other film stocks. This news is a positive step towards preserving film, the art form we love.

Earlier today, I vocalized a theory to a colleague that within the next two years we will experience a technological “rubber band effect.” It’s not to say that we will fall out of love with the magic that tech provides or that we are desensitized to the magic, more so a realization that there are places where magic is not needed. Music production is over bloated and uncomfortably tight, there is an eeriness that all eBooks are the same weight and thickness, and the reliance of post-weathering filters and blurs on digital photos are non-starters. All different approaches to “improve” on digital mediums or mock analog as novelty, now overly used splinters in the senses.

I also predict an increased interest in non-fiction books in lieu of race-to-the-bottom listicles and online publications full of obnoxiously placed online ads. I’m not sure if it fits into the same argument but it feels like there is some overlap here.

Digital is becoming tiring. Surely a great outlook for a blogger.

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Video Games: The Movie Trailer

Should be a fun look back if nothing else.

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Sonic the Hedgehog feature film

Sonic the Hedgehog feature film

With this news and the reminder of the Ratchet & Clank Movie, Nintendo would be crazy not to be exploring this option for the Mushroom Kingdom right now…

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Pretty In Pink

Keith Stuart, The Guardian:

Obviously, I’m not saying that video games were better in the 80s – I’m old but I’m not mad. I’m saying that they really understood the anarchy inherent in rejecting bleakness. While city rich kids and Wall Street yuppies flashed their brick-sized phones, the commodity the rest of us traded in was fantasy – not as escapism, but as statement.

The casuals, the New Romantics, the goths, the grebos, the whizz kids, the geeks, they weren’t retreating, they were attacking. No thanks, keep your jobs in the city and your braying Sloanes. Let’s play Bubble Bobble and read Smash Hits. Our heroes are pop stars, hip-hop artists and Japanese game developers. At least that’s how I felt.

A wonderful read.

Somewhere in this piece, I was reminded of the role post-hardcore played in the wake of 9/11; a seemingly counter-culture voice saying, “don’t retreat. Understand this new world. Things are different.” Only after understanding could we sling-shot back with the dream-pop anthems swirling in our streaming playlists today. However, it was this “new world” that fostered the then middle and high-schoolers who are now developing today’s games. It’s time for games to sling-shot back.

Mario Kart anyone?

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Ethnicity in film is to sexuality in games

Jagger Gravning, Kill Screen:

While there is no modern Hays Code equivalent in contemporary American video games (the ESRB rates but does not censor) the manner that LGBT characters are being introduced to a broader audience in major games is through this same blowback-wary method of diligent self-policing. The writers allow space for an audience member to overlook or deny the homosexuality of a particular character if that’s the way they would prefer to see things.

Game writers like Rhianna Pratchett, who has stated that part of her would have loved Lara Croft to be gay, are instead artfully presenting these characters in a manner that is more aesthetically palatable to players (and likely their concerned parents) who might find explicit same-sex love too lurid or off-putting a subject to handle with frankness in a video game.

Gravning continues:

For many years, if a film did focus on a black character, the story would generally be about that character’s experience being black, like The Jackie Robinson Story or Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and many blacksploitation films. It took time for producers, and perhaps audiences, to realize there could be stories involving non-white characters that didn’t have to revolve around their ethnicity.

I wish I had read this prior to Harper’s post. A brilliant contextualization of today’s human rights issues displayed on a canvas of modern media; ethnic tip-toeing in early 20th century filmmaking vs. LGBT tip-toeing in early 21st century video game making.

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Save developers and you will save your soul

  • 130 layoffs, Nintendo (Eurogamer, 6/6/14)
  • 37 layoffs, Harmonix (Polygon, 5/29/14)
  • 20% of staff across development and marketing, Trendy Entertainment (GamesIndustry International, 5/21/14)
  • 16 layoffs, Rare (IGN, 5/19/14)
  • [undisclosed] layoffs, PopCap (Polygon, 3/13/14)
  • 700 layoffs, Disney Interactive (Joystiq, 3/6/14)
  • 27 layoffs, Eidos (Joystiq, 3/4/14)
  • [undisclosed] layoffs, Sony Santa Monica (Joystiq, 2/27/14)
  • 70 layoffs, Irrational Games (Joystiq, 2/18/14)
  • 12 layoffs, Eutechnyx (Joystiq, 2/18/14)
  • [undisclosed] layoffs, Ghost Games (Joystiq, 2/1/14)
  • [undisclosed] layoffs, EA Salt Lake (Joystiq, 1/30/14)
  • 3423+ industry layoffs from 1/7/13 – 10/29/13 (GameJobWatch.com)

In a discussion on IGN’s Game Scoop!. the Daemon Hatfield, Greg Miller, Justin Davis, and Brian Altano discussed the Sony Santa Monica layoffs and the ongoing (and seemingly permanent) “ramp up / layoff” structure of AAA studios. During this discussion, the panel made comments around the need for the video game industry to unionize and operate in similar fashion to the film industry:

Daemon Hatfield: “I wonder if the video game industry should be more like the movie industry. You have a crew that works on a movie and when the movie is done, they go on to their next project. They are not full-time employees.”

Greg MIller: “Do you think as far as unionizing?”

DH, Justin Davis, and Brian Altano confirm and agree.

DH: “You have a director that runs a movie, he brings on his crew, they make the game…”

JD: “You assemble a “dream team” for each project. A director has certain DPs and other key positions [and] likes to collaborate with the same people over and over. Presumably all of those people that are one step down also have people they like and they bring their whole crew with them. You get the one guy and then you get his crew.”

GM: “I guess that kind of already happens right?”

BA: “Sort of.”

JD: “It happens a little bit but the issue is that it disrupts people’s insurance and things like that. If there was a union, the equivalent of a SAG card or something, you could just move from project to project. In my opinion (and I haven’t done a tremendous amount of reach on this), but on the surface it seems like something that would be healthy for this business.”

While, many devs may benefit from negotiated salaries, working conditions, hours, and insurance coverage, further research into unions does not seem to offer a terrible amount of protection from layoffs. Nor does it appear that the film industry works this way.

According to Lawyers.com, how a union benefits an employee during a layoff is largely dependent on a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). In short, layoffs of union employees are usually handled on a measure of seniority. The source also goes on to mention the benefits of The Worker Adjustment & Retraining Notification Act (WARN):

Generally, WARN requires employers with 100 or more workers to give you 60 days’ advance notice of some closings and “mass layoffs.” A closing can mean the shut-down of a plant or facility. “Mass layoff” has very specific meanings, but basically it means that a substantial number of workers are being laid off for more than six months. –Lawyers.com

Systems such as WARN would appear to be very valuable for developers in the wake of the seemingly immediate purge of Irrational and Sony Santa Monica employees.

There is a looming fear that if the industry continues at this pace, great artists, programmers, engineers, writers, and the like will be swayed away from from the games industry, potentially diminishing the quality of games released. There is no doubt in my mind that the allure of working on a video game will continue to attract skilled creatives; however, lengthy tenure is sure to wane.

Some will argue that AAA isn’t for everyone and indie development is on the rise. While I agree, many of the skills possessed by indie devs were likely gained from experience at larger studios.

I have never been a developer, part of union, or involved in the film industry. I would appreciate any and all correction of the above information from those with experience.

Should video game developers unionize? Does the film industry actually work in this manner? Does a union offer more protection from layoffs than mentioned above? What is your solution to the state of video game development? Are things fine the way they are?

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Go Right by YouTuber RockyPlanetesimal

On the inside, a beautiful piece about persistence as told through the lives of iconic video game characters. On the outside, a reflection on our memories of early video games and the bonds we formed with these characters. A true testament to the story, animation, art, passion, and love developers pour into games to craft these unique experiences.

With it’s brilliant cinematography and direction, I cannot think of a better piece to humanize video games, bringing my reasons for gaming to a whole new level.

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Why video games are more Britney Spears and less Pink Floyd

Why video games are more Britney Spears and less Pink Floyd

The answer for IGN’s Mitch Dyer may lie on the Dark Side of the Moon. However, Toxic is a damn good song.

“Money, means, and the ideas that figure out how to do it without getting dull and standing on a soap box, which quite frankly nobody wants to listen to, and if they do they will go to documentaries. But as we are seeing, the more audiences realize that deeper content reflecting relevant truths can be more refreshing and engaging, [the more] we see documentary films having greater successes than ever in history. This is reflective of an evolving appetite that more people want more meaningful content and want to walk away from their experiences with more lasting impressions that add ‘more value to their lives.'”

– Lorne Lanning, Oddworld CEO

I find it oddly coincidental that two similar arguments on the lasting power of video games were published by two of the largest video game publications on the same day. What is the catalyst?

The bulk of the indies that reach the market are more akin to the early days of gaming. There is much more experimentation; however, indie devs in this evolved market are not making games to turn a profit but express themselves through the means created by gaming forefathers, thus unintentionally shaking gamers out of an empty dark-age before it has time to swallow us whole.

I’m giddy thinking of the ideas and stories Ken Levine could tell without the pressure of sales figures. I can’t be the only one who wished BioShock Infinite were simply an exploration game rather than FPS. Alas, shooters sell. Maybe Cyan could bring him in as a consultant on Obduction?

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