Further Effects

Variety be saying this much

Variety reports that YouTube is teaming up with a subsidiary of DreamWorks Animation — AwesomnessTV — and NBC Universal’s Universal Cable Productions to produce Side Effects, an hour time-slot-length TV show — but on the Internet?

TV on the Internet may not be crazy these days — how did you watch the first three seasons of Breaking Bad? — but original programming for the web is still a developing medium. It might be the wave of the future, and it may just begin with Side Effects. Of course, YouTube will have to compete with Netflix as a platform, which has the prestige aspect nailed down, thanks to personnel and projects in the manner of Kevin Spacey, Eli Roth,  Jenji Kohan, Arrested Development, etc. Much as we love Felicia Day, her profile doesn’t reach as far as David Fincher, another one of these big-time Hollywood directors indulging in television.

There’s plenty of obstacles we could dream up to stand in this project’s way (BSG had a built-in fanbase, musicals don’t necessarily skate by on TV unless they’re Glee), but it’s more heartwarming to think about the paths this could open up. YouTube is a diverse enough platform that it could do well expanding into this kind of territory, and we’d never worry about it compromising what it — cat videos, as we very, very well know.

From the creative side, there’s never been a better time to be an independent filmmaker — ten years ago. Nowadays, all avenues are opened. The first person to use kickstarter to co-finance, with an actual factual cable company, a YouTube drama series that’s also available on VOD and later Blu-Ray Disc… well, they’ve seemingly won everything already. I’d like to see a great big cocktail of Internet services that take up positions along the development/production throughline.

But how does TV companies getting involved affect all this? If they help to set a standard, imprint a viewing methodology in the audience’s mind for full-length TV online, the indies will follow suit. And then we might see some additional interesting content. That’s a best case scenario though, and a good way to reconcile big business studios with the artistic temperament of broke people.


Three Dimensional Argument


To 3D or not 3D?

Always, we ask this question. Maybe we should’ve went with Roger Ebert, and not Stan Lee, for the “NO!” side, although Ebert was known for being pretty stubborn when it came to things he hadn’t given a fair chance. And Stan Lee isn’t quite Frank Miller, after all, some people I assume still listen to him.

The pro side here is wider than Stan Lee’s arguments, bringing into account history and recent developments in using the technology for artistic purposes, making an actual statement, as with the Martin Scorsese example.

They’re both reaching at the idea that the 3D film, for now, is limited in a number of ways. While Stan Lee calls it straight-up manipulative, the bigger concern is how a 3D film’s shelf-life is predetermined, that once out of the IMAX/RealD theatres, there’s no more 3D. Just like in the old days, before home video. The Huffington Post article doesn’t quite address that issue, but it certainly arises from the positives raised.

Of course, it’s a matter of opinion, and these two blogs are fairly representative of each side: the anti is reactionary and irrational, and the pro is on shaky foundation.


What did you think of Gravity?

The Monomyth: Avatar, James Cameron, and Copyright Court


Avatar plagiarized this Hugo-Award winning novelist Ben Bova.

Ben Bova says “Haha, naw.”

Earlier this month another in the great line of lawsuits against James Cameron, for Avatar, was dismissed. This time it was a screenwriter who claimed that Lightstorm stole his screenplay about corporate colonization of a mega-cool 3D planet. Probably why studios don’t look at unsolicited screenplays. Get an agent, ya dang foolies.

From the start, James Cameron has had his difficulties with copyright court. Acclaimed SF author Harlan Ellison sued Cameron, successfully, over The Terminator, the 1984 classic that was nearly James Cameron’s first film. Ellison is known for going after money, scrounging it like a miserly gremlin, and frequently takes to litigation. Both of these dudes are infamous for being difficult men, and so it was inevitable that at some point they’d have a showdown in court, and so it’s just funny that it was in fact the earliest conceivable point.

With the two blog posts above, we get just one example — we all heard it back in 2009-present, the whole “this is just Dances with Pocahontas: The Last Rainforest.” As if any of us have actually SEEN Ferngully. So — is Ben Bova right? Should plagiarism be limited to words themselves and not ideas?

Or… should it even be subjective? Media laws and all that are really bizarre (one suit was dismissed because the alleged original Avatar story, a children’s book, was too simple to be comparable). It’s an endless grey area. But the comparison stink lines have been drawn, so what do you think? Hold that thought — here’s what I think.

The truth is perhaps much more depressing, that the old saying holds — there is nothing new under the sun. Every story is iterative and derivative and so I guess that jerk was right, those many, many moons of Pandora ago. James Cameron didn’t necessarily steal any ideas (whether or not he did is unlikely [perhaps less so than with Terminator, which was clear-cut] but impossible to prove, so the fanboys will continue to slapfight) but his ideas were so generic (tribal native aliens, space dragons, robot suits, corporate terraforming, eco-warrior tree nonsense, and space marines — which of course he was first to in film) that it’s easy to draw earlier comparisons.

The sad thing is, even if James Cameron copped to plagiarism, assuming he plagiarized, the anti-JC camp would never let him live it down. Not only because Avatar was not very well received by the traditional science-fiction audience, but because we still don’t forgive the greatly talented Wachowski siblings (please buy Cloud Atlas on Blu-Ray Disc) for ripping off and admitting to ripping off Ghost in the Shell, and also Megazone 23 and probably Akira. No matter what angle you take, it’s a bent and broken amorphous mess. And all just because a humble man wanted to create the greatest cinematic experience of all time.

Gilligan’s Next Move: The Weight of a Name


Not to be too frequenting of television or even just Breaking Bad on this site, but Breaking Bad has left a lasting mark on television, and for showrunner Vince Gilligan, it was the “best job I will likely ever have.”

Has there ever been a showrunner, beyond Aaron Sorkin, whose got more than one named television series to their… names? Gilligan’s anxiety might be justified, but it might be like Robert Rodriguez’s, fresh off of his first big success, was worried about losing the spotlight upon his ‘sophomore slump.’ No, that was your predecessor, John Singleton

Among his projected next moves was a show for a network, Battle Creek, which comes packed with the exciting premise of “two detectives with very different world views who are teamed up.” But let’s leave that aside for now, I don’t mean to poke eyes.

The question is “Why CBS?” CBS is the network that rakes in the highest ratings by creating these nonsensical schedules filled with the vilest mix of reality TV, derivative dramas, and cheap comedies (sometimes still with laugh-tracks). It’s the lowest common denominator principle — contrasting with early AMC, who’ll get a relatively small number of people who are intensely interested, CBS will attract everyone, but nobody super cares.

The sophomore slump question may after all be a factor here, because even though Gilligan is certainly established as a major talent, the executives at CBS will hit harder and demand more influence over the creative project. And that’s what’s expected, it’s not unfair for them to maintain a certain brand, one that obviously B&E the Industry doesn’t agree with, but is proven.

What’s more interesting to me is the idea of what failure could mean, and it is more likely than any scenario where our man Vince does not go to CBS, because Creator of a TV series does not have the same cache as Movie Director. And in Hollywood it’s all about ‘what have you done for me lately,’ and for fans, their DVRs don’t lack for work.

A man like this this should not be forgotten, so I’ll urge you to keep him in your mind, an open mind, but I would never ask you to keep an open mind about a damn, dirty CBS show.

Hunnam’s Out


So Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim and some FX television show) has dropped from Fifty Shades of Grey, the upcoming disastacular from Focus and Universal Pictures, and for reasons you might’ve hoped for if you’re of the variety that slapped your keyboard to Livejournal to tweet about Batfleck.

The television actor got more attention than any A-list movie star would be used to, and folded under the tight binds of pressure. Rep and image management might be one reason to shy away from this particular film, but there are other good ones, I’m sure.

This is a kind of minorly unprecedented situation, where the Internet culture has effected such a great change. Before all they could do was get Jericho back on TV, but maybe that was a while ago. It’s interesting to think about in terms of the interaction between creator and audience; the gap between them has been lessening with every kickstarter and fan campaign.

Fifty Shades of Grey might be a bad example, and not actually a shape of things to come, because this is an audience-driven film. The audience spoke when the book was ‘released,’ making it the great success it is, and it’s financially sound for studios to listen when the movie’s being made, and directly logical here, to repeat the book’s success, only in potential hundreds of millions of dollars.

Now that Hunnam’s out, I don’t know. I guess I’ll be there day one, but finding someone that gorgeous again? Good luck.

The End of the Tentpole?

It's genre films that die each time a Pacific Rim falls

This past weekend, Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity did the expected blockbuster numbers, in the range of $50-60 million. Against a $90 million budget, the film James Cameron called “the best space film ever done,” is sure to be a great financial success. Director Cuaron somehow managed to keep the costs of a big genre picture down, and in the year 2013, he’s unique.

Suppose Riddick did as well, squeezing all it could out of $40 million, but I don’t know if that’s really got the same cache. Unfortunately.

The medium of film is slave to trends, more aggressively than any other, I’d say. Right now we’re doing superheroes and young adult novels. Yesterday, it was horror franchise reboots, before then, video-games. Anime adaptations have yet to pop off, but get ready, because once the first one does well, the Akiraghostintheshellevangelion deluge will have no mercy.

But the superhero/young adult thing has done extraordinarily well. Between Twilight and the Batmans and everything, studios put in $200 million and get close to a billion back, given the right intellectual property. Maybe execs just got too comfy, because there was a great hullaballoo this summer over runaway movies like The Lone Ranger, which was a major disaster (and possibly Bruckheimer’s last?), and Pacific Rim, which made its money back, but only overseas. Not good enough for a sequel…

These movies had way too much money poured into them, and in the case of Pacific Rim, appealed to way niche an audience (nerd-jerks). People are getting scared, and studios are planning on scaling back. How this will affect the end of The Hunger Games saga? You’ll just have to stay tuned.

In the eternal and fallacy-laced battle between the Special Effects Movies and indie films, the latter has gained more ground. I guess I’ll just be more direct here and say that Pacific Rim for me was extremely important, and if this shying away from tentpoles speculation is substantiated in the coming years, we won’t see a big genre picture for a long time, unless it has people in capes who frown.

Oh and Ender’s Game is gonna be… Jesus. Although Summit Entertainment has a hand on the throne, the only people lining up for that one are the sci-fi fans who haven’t burnt out on I, Robot and Starship Troopers and those kinds of things, and Chick fil a customers. It’s gonna be ugly.

Breaking Mad Men

Don Draper says what
The end is coming. See it — over there? No? Well, it’s coming. Take Weiner’s word for it, just as you did Gilligan’s.
So Mad Men, AMC’s first and most decorated original drama, is taking a cue from Breaking Bad, ratings juggernaut (but small-fry to The Walking Dead), in splitting the final season across two years. With b-squad shows like Low Winter Sun being as terrible as they are (ugh), The Killing being canceled again, and a Breaking Bad spin-off the one surefire hit on the horizon, the shining era for AMC seems to have lit up an encompassing dusk as it slowly fades to black. Not a good time for two of their three biggest shows to hit town.
It’s standard practice to use a popular show to launch a fresh new one, and while the Breaking Bad/Low Winter Sun matchup didn’t set off fireworks like Showtime’s recent Dexter/Homeland pairing, they’ll have a few more chances now, in 2014 and 2015.
The Mad Men episodes will be shot all fourteen, straight-through, but released over two years as two half-seasons.
The question is — does it matter? Will this give a boost not only to Mad Men ratings, but AMC’s image? It’s a strange time for media, where quality content is what selling. Say what you might about The Walking Dead, whose showrunners are killed faster than the zombies — it does better than most network shows both critically and commercially. The sentiment that appealing to the broadest audience, thereby stretching a show out to an ungainly, amorphous but vaguely Law & Order-y shaped piece of plastic, is slowly losing favor, and AMC has had a hand in that.
The move to split seasons is proven, but unpopular. Like in The Social Network, when Zuckerburg refuses ads on his site because it isn’t ‘cool,’ AMC’s gotta do some serious image reevaluation. There doesn’t seem to be a killer app on the horizon, and AMC has a reputation for being stingy come pilot season.
When Mad Men comes back, will it be the unheralded event that this last year of Breaking Bad has been? Breaking Bad is unique — heavily serialized, it’s like the final installment of a movie trilogy. The last Harry Potter outgrossed each predecessor because maybe people had time to catch up, and you had to get the ending. Mad Men has an ‘ending,’ but its story didn’t have much of a beginning. It opens on Don Draper carrying out an average day. It’s an interesting one, but arbitrarily chosen along his fictional timeline. Not like Walter White’s, whose story had a clear beginning.
If AMC executives don’t recognize that critical difference between those two shows, one must wonder about how they’ll do beyond 2015. And for Mad Men, here’s the man himself discussing the end of the show he previously worked on, The Sopranos. This might give you some clues as to the ending of his current show, but… you might not like what he has to say…