Wednesday, October 31, 2007

On Writers & Strikes

After living in France, I really hate strikes. French workers seem like they'll strike if you look at them funny. Going on strike always felt like a form of blackmail, yet it can be an effective, and legal, tool to get things done. You can't talk from a position of power if you don't have a loaded gun readily visible... and the willpower to use it, even as a last resort after every attempt at amicable resolution has failed.

The Writers' Guild (WGA) is on the brink of a massive strike, so of course, I've got mixed feelings about it: if this strike goes ahead as planned, and continues until January, TV programs will start to get pushed around. After that, movies at the theatre will become affected. Basically, it's equal opportunity nastiness for everyone involved.

There's an old story about two children fighting over who should get the last slice of pizza. A parent overhears the argument and suggests they share the slice. But whoever cuts it, someone is probably going to get a larger slice... so the parent suggests that the first child cuts the pizza, and the second child selects which slice the first one gets. The result: both slices are exactly the same size.

This is the essence of any equitable negotiation—if each side can place themselves in the shoes of their adversary and design a solution preferable to their adversary, but solution which also seems fair for themselves, then the pizza has been cut exactly down the middle.

Thus, I've been following the WGA's conflicts with the AMPTP with great interest. Is one side asking for more of a pizza slice than the other? From what I've read, I don't think so, but then I haven't read what the AMPTP is saying about the negotiations. Obviously, as a writer, I'm biased towards the WGA's point of view, but if the WGA is only asking for what's fair and reasonable, why haven't they already gotten it? The AMPTP aren't villains with curly mustaches—they're people like anyone else and people always act to forward their own interests. Unfortunately, that approach doesn't always forward everyone else's interests. Why isn't the AMPTP agreeing to the WGA's demands?

I read this a half hour ago, from the WGA's Contract Captain Laeta Kalogridis:

I like the industry I work in. I have great respect for the men and women on both sides of the table—people I work with, and the people I work for. I get crazy with it, we all do, but at the end of the day I get to do what I love, and I’m grateful for that.

I’m also a working mother of two young boys, and the sole breadwinner for our family. I take my financial responsibilities very seriously, because they are serious.

This means, obviously, that I don’t want a strike.

But I also don’t want a terrible deal.

And for the last 27 years, here’s what’s happened to us as writers: slowly but steadily, we’ve lost, or had gutted, our rights on every new platform. VHS, DVD’s, cable, reality.

Now, for the first time in more than a quarter-century, we are refusing to back off of a new platform. We want to share in the new media and internet revenues that we are already helping create. They don’t want to share with us. It’s about that simple. Link.

I spoke to Hans about this a while back and he offered this insight on how a producer sees things: say you've spent 50% on overhead and you've promised 30% to residuals, and you keep 20% for yourself. What happens if your overhead rises to 70% or 80%? You go out of business. Obviously, producers want to make money in entertainment, but more importantly, they want to stay around long enough to do it. Residuals for a producer equal money out the door and that means less financial stability. I can't say I disagree with that perspective.

It got me thinking about the structure of financial remuneration in general. If you're a business owner, you put in sweat equity and your financial backers put in financial equity. You invest time, they invest money. Whatever profits are left over are usually split down the middle. But if your business requires employees, do they split that profit with you, too? After all, they worked for it as well. Right?

No. Employees are work-for-hires, and as such are given a static fee in exchange for their time. They work 40 hours per week, they go home, you pay them X amount, and they don't share the profits with you. But you work 100+ hours per week to make the business a success and split the profits of your hard work with your investors. It's like slicing that pizza.

The question is, are writers work-for-hire employees or business owners? They're acting as if they're business owners, but they're taking a salary check like work-for-hire employees.

Now, finally, we're at the core issue of this new world of distributing digital entertainment: ownership vs. licensing. If I bought a car from you, I would own the car and could do whatever I want with it and you can't say squat. Instead of a car, though, I'm buying your time, and when your time is up, you go home and you don't get to tell me what I do with the product you helped me create—that's the structure of a work-for-hire arrangement.

With licensing, everything changes. You retain ownership, but I control the car. I can't destroy the car without being accountable to you, but you can't tell me where I can and can't drive the car. Most importantly, if I make money with my new car, you are entitled to share in a small amount of those profits, otherwise known as residuals.

The clash of ideals is intrinsic when selling art. Is it still art after you sell it? Is art a commodity if you never sell it? Writers are artists, but the rules of commerce insist a price tag is put on their intellectual creations as if their property were a car.

So is the car bought outright? Or is it licensed?

Hollywood doesn't want business partners to split their profits... they want work-for-hires, even if a long tradition exists of offering back end points ("monkey points") on projects so bad that the producer can't get a proper budget to pay writers as work-for-hires. The movie business isn't like other businesses. How many other professions offer their employees back end points?

Furthermore, the car analogy breaks down when looking at the question of scale. For example, I can only buy a car from you once and sell it once, but I can buy an idea from you once—for $1—and then sell that idea a million times for a penny. If I sell it a million times and I own the idea, am I legally obligated to offer you a residual payment? I might be ethically obligated, but legally? Of course I wouldn't be legally obligated—because you had no obligation to sell me the idea at the price I was asking. But you did. And once you did, it became my idea, not yours.

And there's the issue.

The WGA is arguing (among other things) to be paid residuals for the reuse of their content... even though writers are work-for-hire employees. As Mark Kemp always used to say, "Perhaps I don't understand—you want to share the rewards, but you don't want to shoulder any of the risk? Can you please tell me how that's fair?"

Writers have the trump card, though. Their position is pretty reasonable: if a film they write makes no money, writers get paid no residuals. Yet if the film is wildly successful, writers should get a small slice of that pizza. They don't want the whole slice, but they would like something. This structure doesn't bankrupt producers, and it provides writers incentive to create wildly successful projects. Everyone wins.

Even so, producers will still grab whatever they can get, and they have a powerful reach. Case in point, Terry Rossio talks about his experience with Disney, and after reading this, it's really hard not to see the AMPTP as greedy zombies drinking the blood of newborn babies:
We are told, regarding royalties, that Disney's position on merchandising is that the characters, items, ships, locations, etc., are not described in enough detail in the screenplay in order to be considered anything other than generic. This allows them to sell a Jack Sparrow figure, dressed like the character from the movie, with scenes we created referenced on the packaging, and when you press a button Jack actually speaks six different lines of dialogue straight from the film—but that's really just a 'generic' pirate, and so you pay the writers nothing. (The way the legal definitions work, only the 'look' of the item matters, not what is spoken, and payments are made on the spoken words only if they are part of the separated rights agreement, such as a live performance.) My flight of fancy would be to manufacture the exact same figure saying the same lines and watch how fast Disney would sue for copyright infringement. Somehow they are able to hold the contradictory positions that the same figure that is indeed unique enough to be protected via copyright is somehow also not quite unique enough to qualify for merchandising payments to the writers.

To date, the WGA has a 90% strike authorization vote, and the Teamsters have decided to informally stand with the WGA (the Teamsters can't order their drivers not to cross picket lines, but their union can't punish anyone for individually deciding to cross the line). SAG has also voiced support for the WGA. That's bad news for the AMPTP.

I hate strikes, but in this case, it seems like the writers make a very good case, and AMPTP really hasn't been listening. Even if the AMPTP is right about the specifics of these negotiations, too many writers have been taken advantage of for way too long. Payback's going to hurt. Can you hear the world's smallest violins?

Further reading about the WGA, the AMPTP, and other entertainment news:
The Artful Writer
United Hollywood
Deadline Hollywood Daily

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Support Your Local Visionary

Dr. Gerald Bull wanted to build cannons his whole life. His lifelong dream was to build a cannon to launch satellites into space. His break came in the late 80's when he was commissioned to build the largest cannon ever... so large, in fact, that it had to be assembled in parts and laid at an angle on the side of a hill. Its length was 156 meters (about 500 feet), its bore would be 1 meter wide, its weight would be over 2,100 tons, and have a range of 750 kilometers (about 415 miles).

When Gerard Bull first presented the cannon project to his staff, and after he recited the long list of all its daunting engineering problems, they said, "That's impossible."

And he replied—excitedly—"Yeah, isn't it great?"

Bull was a visionary, and like so many other visionaries before and since, nobody else could see what he saw. Rather than open their eyes to new possibilities, his staff's gut response was extreme skepticism. But Bull didn't listen. He bullied them into tackling the so-called "impossible" problems. They labored for months. And he got his cannon built (click the picture to see it).

This is the problem with most human beings (myself included, I'm ashamed to admit), at least in the Western world—we resist change, even if the change is better for us. Anything radically new is intrinsically suspect. And the seed of an idea is killed before it even gets planted. The visionary sees the goal and finds a way to make it happen—the non-visionary sees what's available and so can't see a feasible way to reach the goal.

Regretfully, I am cursed with a visionary mind. I say cursed because having a visionary mind means you are condemned to a life of perpetual daydreaming, seeing possibilities which others don't, can't, or won't—that makes it a struggle to get others to open their minds wide enough to see what I see. It's exhausting. Many of my ideas are usually met with a polite nod, apathetic dismissal or, at worst, open derision. Thus, most of the time, simply because I'm so tired of being met with a lackluster attitude, I just shut up and keep all my new ideas to myself... but privately tinker with them until I can provide the non-visionaries with some meat to chew on. Since my ideas' early stages have no money to be developed into something ostensibly valuable, they are fueled only by my own enthusiasm and nothing kills enthusiasm faster than a simple non-visionary quip, "Nobody will ever use that. Why are you wasting your time?"

So here's a simple request to all you non-visionaries: if you ever hear someone come up with an idea which sounds crazy to you, stop yourself from saying, "That's impossible", or "That can't be done", or "You're mad! What if X or Y or Z?" Instead, try to reframe your reaction: "OK, I don't see how that could be done, but if it could, how could it be done?"

I'm developing a massive idea now—I've shared it with a few close friends and they love because it's useful and it has legs to stay around awhile. I feel it has the potential to be larger than Myspace if it catches on. But I'm careful about whom I talk to about it, and not just for legal reasons... most people don't see the possibility until it already exists.

There is another downside to being a visionary—you can be so thirsty to see your dreams realized that you lose touch with your ethics. For example, Dr. Bull's "supergun" was contracted by Saddam Hussein and not only were the canon's parts eventually confiscated by British customs officials, but Dr. Bull was assassinated outside his house in Belgium, probably by Israeli or Iranian secret police. Doomsday Gun was a TV movie made about Dr. Bull and his tragic ending.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

More Evidence for a Fat Tax

The Brits have a social healthcare system, and a recent study has concluded that individuals can no longer be held completely responsible for the British obesity epidemic and the government must now take a more pro-active role.

Well, amen, brutha.

I can already hear how the ensuing conversations will play out:

You wouldn't let someone commit suicide, right? But overeating isn't suicide.

Obesity-related illnesses shorten your lifespan. But that's a personal choice.

Yes, but the poor have neither the money nor ideal living conditions to set themselves up to eat well—they are handicapped from the start. So they're just victims?

In part. But it's really the government which has a moral responsibility to protect to the public health, which means stopping a flu outbreak, monitoring cattle for mad cow disease, or curbing a national obesity epidemic. Sometimes that means standing in the way of massive corporations making a kajillion dollars. I know, I know—that's unpopular, uncapitalist, un... American? Maybe. Irresponsible? Definitely not.

Look, you misunderstand. I do not want fatty foods outlawed—that'll never be the answer. Just slap a fat tax on fatty foods, make them expensive enough to dissuade people from gorging on them too often (why not charge $8 for a whopper rather than $4?), and use the resulting tax revenues to exclusively subsidize healthy foods. (Or at least offer tax credits to healthy food restaurants.) The poor don't suffer, and the nation gets healthier. Yes, it impinges freedom of choice, but not all freedom of choice is good; if you think so, then don't cry to me when your grown child swallows a shotgun.

Don't take my word for it. Take the word of 250 experts:

Obesity 'not individuals' fault'

It is said we live in an 'obesogenic' environment
Individuals can no longer be held responsible for obesity so government must act to stop Britain "sleepwalking" into a crisis, a report has concluded.

The largest ever UK study into obesity, backed by government and compiled by 250 experts, said excess weight was now the norm in our "obesogenic" society.

Dramatic and comprehensive action was required to stop the majority of us becoming obese by 2050, they said.

But the authors admitted proof that any anti-obesity policy works "was scant".

Nonetheless every level of society, from individual to the upper echelons of government, must become involved in the campaign against a condition which carries such great social and economic consequences, they said.

In 2002, those who were overweight or obese cost nearly £7bn in treatment and state benefits and in indirect costs such as loss of earnings and reduced productivity.

In 40 years time, that figure could reach nearly £46bn, as health services struggle to cope with the ill health such as diabetes, cancer and stroke which can be associated with excess weight.

"There is a danger that the moment to act radically and dramatically will be missed," said Sir David King, the government's chief scientific advisor and head of the Foresight Programme which drew up the report.

"It is a problem that is getting worse every year."

So hard

Obesity, the authors concluded, was an inevitable consequence of a society in which energy-dense, cheap foods, labour-saving devices, motorised transport and sedentary work were rife.

In this environment it was surprising that anyone was able to remain thin, Dr Susan Jebb of the Medical Research Council said, and so the notion of obesity simply being a product of personal over-indulgence had to be abandoned for good.

"The stress has been on the individual choosing a healthier lifestyle, but that simply isn't enough," she said.

From planning our towns to encourage more physical activity to placing more pressure on mothers to breast feed - believed to slow down infant weight gain - the report highlighted a range of policy options without making any concrete recommendations.

Industry was already working to put healthier products on the shelf, the report noted, while work was advanced in transforming the very make-up of food so it was digested more slowly and proved satisfying for longer.

But it was clear that government needed to involve itself, as on this occasion, the market was failing to do the job, Sir David said.

Shock tactics?

Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo said the government would be holding further consultations to decide how to proceed.

She said it was too early to say whether the same "shock" approach seen in public health warnings against smoking would be adopted with obesity, or whether a tax on fatty foods, highlighted in the report but widely dismissed as unworkable, would be considered.

"The most important thing is there has to be public consent and understanding of the issues you're trying to challenge," she said.

"A mandate for change will be difficult because it has to be preceded by an understanding of the dangers of obesity."

The Royal College of Physicians said the report was "encouraging".

"The emphasis on cross-governmental initiatives is particularly welcome, as is the importance of addressing issues across society whilst avoiding blame," said its president, Professor Ian Gilmore.

The Food and Drink Federation said it understood its role in tackling the problem.

"Our industry is now widely recognised as leading the world when it comes to reformulating products; extending consumer choice; and introducing improved nutrition labelling," a spokesperson said.—Source

Monday, October 15, 2007

The ELE Series—Global Warming

On October 15th, bloggers around the web will unite to put a single important issue on everyone’s mind—the environment. Every blogger will post about the environment in their own way and relating to their own topic. Our aim is to get everyone talking towards a better future.

Future generations may well have occasion to ask themselves, "What were our parents thinking? Why didn't they wake up when they had a chance?" We have to hear that question from them, now. —Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth

The latest report on climate change to the United Nations says global warming is happening and that humans are "very likely" responsible for it. CO2 levels, already the highest they've been in over 600,000 years, are still going up, too. Because temperature fluctuations appear to have some correlation with CO2 levels, the earth seems to be much more fragile than we were all taught in grade school and at this rate, if temperatures continue to increase, the Greenland and polar ice caps will almost certainly melt.

In fact, it looks like the ice is already melting at an alarming rate:

Sir Richard Attenborough believes humans are responsible:

And in An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore presented a graph charting data taken from polar ice samples spanning 600,000 years:

The bottom line on the chart above is the earth's temperature over 600,000 years, and the line above represents CO2 emissions. While there is no scientific proof per se that CO2 emissions are the cause of global temperatures (CO2 emissions might be the effect of a cause which also affects global temperatures), this data is compelling. The vertical red line after the dot is where CO2 emissions are predicted on rising to in the coming years; the line is completely vertical because its rate of increase is so high relative to the chart's timeline that it cannot be seen. Thus, if you accept the assumption that CO2 emissions are the central cause of global warming, you can imagine what impact that level of CO2 emissions would have on global warmth.

For those who thinks global warming is still fiction, consider this news clipping from January 31, 2007 (and pay special heed to the boldface):
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is due to release a report in Paris on Friday entitled Climate Change 2007 in which 2,500 scientists from 130 countries unequivocally state that the current trend towards potentially catastrophic global warming has been induced by human activity, which began with the dramatic increase in fossil fuel use during the Industrial Revolution of the mid-19th century....

The report is not without its critics in the scientific community. One senior British climate expert quoted in The Observer warned that the report’s predictions are relatively rosy, given its painstaking consensus process: “The really chilling thing about the IPCC report is that it is the work of several thousand climate experts who have widely differing views about how greenhouse gases will have their effect. Each paragraph of this report was therefore argued over and scrutinized intensely. Only points that were considered indisputable survived this process. This is a very conservative document—that's what makes it so scary.” —Source

Forget for a moment that Al Gore recently won the Nobel Peace Price for his work on raising awareness about climate change. Instead, picture 2,500 scientists across 130 countries co-authoring a document they can all agree on. They may disagree about many things in this document, but "only points that were considered indisputable survived this process." What brand of skeptic can comfortably refute that?

Even more evidence for the naysayers—on December 29, 2006, a Canadian ice shelf the size of 11,000 football fields was reported to have broken away from the mainland:
Ancient ice shelf breaks free from Canadian Arctic
POSTED: 11:31 a.m. EST, December 29, 2006

• Scientist: "Disturbing event" shows "we are crossing climate thresholds"
• Researchers using satellite images discovered 2005 event
• Collapse picked up by earthquake monitors 155 miles away

TORONTO, Ontario (AP)—A giant ice shelf the size of 11,000 football fields has snapped free from Canada's Arctic, scientists said.

The mass of ice broke clear 16 months ago from the coast of Ellesmere Island, about 800 kilometers (497 miles) south of the North Pole, but no one was present to see it in Canada's remote north.

Scientists using satellite images later noticed that it became a newly formed ice island in just an hour and left a trail of icy boulders floating in its wake. (Watch the satellite images that clued in ice watchers)

Warwick Vincent of Laval University, who studies Arctic conditions, traveled to the newly formed ice island and could not believe what he saw.

"This is a dramatic and disturbing event. It shows that we are losing remarkable features of the Canadian North that have been in place for many thousands of years. We are crossing climate thresholds, and these may signal the onset of accelerated change ahead," Vincent said Thursday.

In 10 years of working in the region he has never seen such a dramatic loss of sea ice, he said.

The collapse was so powerful that earthquake monitors 250 kilometers (155 miles) away picked up tremors from it.

The Ayles Ice Shelf, roughly 66 square kilometers (41 square miles) in area, was one of six major ice shelves remaining in Canada's Arctic.

Scientists say it is the largest event of its kind in Canada in 30 years and point their fingers at climate change as a major contributing factor.

"It is consistent with climate change," Vincent said, adding that the remaining ice shelves are 90 percent smaller than when they were first discovered in 1906.

"We aren't able to connect all of the dots... but unusually warm temperatures definitely played a major role."

Laurie Weir, who monitors ice conditions for the Canadian Ice Service, was poring over satellite images in 2005 when she noticed that the shelf had split and separated.

Weir notified Luke Copland, head of the new global ice lab at the University of Ottawa, who initiated an effort to find out what happened.

Using U.S. and Canadian satellite images, as well as data from seismic monitors, Copland discovered that the ice shelf collapsed in the early afternoon of August 13, 2005.

"What surprised us was how quickly it happened," Copland said. "It's pretty alarming.

"Even 10 years ago scientists assumed that when global warming changes occur that it would happen gradually so that perhaps we expected these ice shelves just to melt away quite slowly, but the big surprise is that for one they are going, but secondly that when they do go, they just go suddenly, it's all at once, in a span of an hour."

Within days, the floating ice shelf had drifted a few miles (kilometers) offshore. It traveled west for 50 kilometers (31 miles) until it finally froze into the sea ice in the early winter.

The Canadian ice shelves are packed with ancient ice that dates back over 3,000 years. They float on the sea but are connected to land.

Derek Mueller, a polar researcher with Vincent's team, said the ice shelves get weaker and weaker as the temperature rises. He visited Ellesmere's Ward Hunt Ice Shelf in 2002 and noticed it had cracked in half.

"We're losing our ice shelves, and this a feature of the landscape that is in danger of disappearing altogether from Canada," Mueller said. "In the global perspective Antarctica has many ice shelves bigger than this one, but then there is the idea that these are indicators of climate change."

The spring thaw may bring another concern as the warming temperatures could release the ice shelf from its Arctic grip. Prevailing winds could then send the ice island southwards, deep into the Beaufort Sea.

"Over the next few years this ice island could drift into populated shipping routes," Weir said. "There's significant oil and gas development in this region as well, so we'll have to keep monitoring its location over the next few years."

Here's what How Stuff Works says about it:
The main ice covered landmass is Antarctica at the South Pole, with about 90 percent of the world's ice (and 70 percent of its fresh water). Antarctica is covered with ice an average of 2,133 meters (7,000 feet) thick. If all of the Antarctic ice melted, sea levels around the world would rise about 61 meters (200 feet). But the average temperature in Antarctica is -37°C, so the ice there is in no danger of melting. In fact in most parts of the continent it never gets above freezing.

There is a significant amount of ice covering Greenland, which would add another 7 meters (20 feet) to the oceans if it melted. Because Greenland is closer to the equator than Antarctica, the temperatures there are higher, so the ice is more likely to melt.

But there might be a less dramatic reason than polar ice melting for the higher ocean level—the higher temperature of the water. Water is most dense at 4 degrees Celsius. Above and below this temperature, the density of water decreases (the same weight of water occupies a bigger space). So as the overall temperature of the water increases it naturally expands a little bit making the oceans rise.

In 1995, the International Panel on Climate Change issued a report which contained various projections of the sea level change by the year 2100. They estimate that the sea will rise 50 centimeters (20 inches) with the lowest estimates at 15 centimeters (6 inches) and the highest at 95 centimeters (37 inches). The rise will come from thermal expansion of the ocean and from melting glaciers and ice sheets. Twenty inches is no small amount—it could have a big effect on coastal cities, especially during storms. — Source.

If global warming accelerates to the worst-case scenario, i.e., if all the world's ice totally melts into the oceans, ocean levels will rise a maximum of 68 meters (220 feet), far less than portrayed in the film Waterworld, but much closer to A.I.. If you assume about 12.5 feet per building story, 220 feet is a little over 17.5 stories, which means my old 17th floor residence in the 20 floor New York City apartment building where I grew up would be completely underwater.

Technically speaking, global warming isn't a definitive extinction level event for humans, but it comes very close. If ocean levels rise too quickly—say over a century, rather then two centuries—mass migrations could spark a crippling economic implosion. Humans adapt, and while they're on the cusp of great technological discoveries, adjusting to an aquatic world by genetically splicing gills into our DNA will likely be overkill: if everything melts, there will still be land to live on. Thus, humans will still be able to to mine the necessary resources to colonize other planets and escape any comets coming from the Oort cloud.

Even so, you have to appreciate the cosmic irony that the accidental warming of our own planet—which could potentially bring about our own destruction here on Earth—may also be the most useful tool we learn to warm up and colonize Mars.

Further reading: An overview of information related to global warming compiled by Texas A&M University's Laboratory for Applied Biotelemetry & Biotechnology.

This is Part 5 of The ELE Series, a list of articles exploring the nature of extinction level events, or E.L.E's. You can read previous articles in the series by clicking on these links:
The ELE Series—An Overview
The ELE Series—Measuring Our Future
The ELE Series—Comets & The Oort Cloud
The ELE Series—Outbreak

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Kick Back

I've heard the complaint for years, and have often iterated it myself: letting everyone and their parrot have access to filmmaking equipment and software will only foster a wave of mediocre filmmaking. While true, there's also a pleasant upside—some people can actually make very entertaining films with almost no resources at all... a reminder to all filmmakers that cleverness often comes from the most unexpected places.

Apparently, this short started out as a simple film way to display a new haircut, but at some point, it became something else:

Thanks, Sara!

Friday, October 12, 2007

On Monday: Blog Action Day for the environment

Saw this on Oopsie Daisy today:

This Monday, October 15th is Blog Action Day. Blog Action Day is an initiative for bloggers to unite and put a single important issue out there in the "blogosphere" (worst word ever) and get people thinking and taking about the issue. This year's issue? You guessed it. The environment. Participating is simple. On Monday, blog as you normally would, but keep the environment in mind. You can read more about it on the Blog Action Day website. Go forth and do good things!

So watch this space on Monday for a blog post about the environment.

And it promises to be a good one.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Credits to The Kingdom

Today's shout out goes to the opening credits for Peter Berg's new film The Kingdom, thanks to John August.

Most filmmakers consider credits as an afterthought, which is a missed opportunity: opening credits set the mood, pace, and context of a story, as in The Kingdom, where the viewer is given over 70 years of Saudi history in under 4 minutes. Unlike films from the 1940s, no screen time is wasted from pimping ego—we are immediately thrown into the fray to review crucial, and visually sugar-coated, information. By the time our story has begun, the viewer already has a clear sense for what's at stake and whose interests are in play.

Design-wise, those credits remind me of What Barry Says, an animated short which turns a boring diatribe into an entertaining monologue:

And while we're talking about amazing credit design, check out my all-time favorite, from David Fincher's Se7en, done by Kyle Cooper's company, Imaginary Forces:

Monday, October 01, 2007

That (banned) XBox Commercial

I posted this commercial on my blog over a year ago, but it just resurfaced and it's so good, I'm reposting it!

You can tell someone took great care to capture a cinematic mood. The faint rolling bottle and cooing baby in the background really paint a complete scene, too... the setup, though funny, has such a serious tone that it creates a false tension—making the comic payoff even funnier.

Advertising at its best!