Monthly Archives: July 2010

Busy Time

To my pals who may check in, I’ll be gone for awhile. But more fun later!

To the spambots, don’t worry, WordPress has many, many other blogs you can send stuff to that will be stuck in the spam filter and deleted.

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Old Spice Conquers New Media

When Old Spice hired Bruce Campbell to play a swarmy version of himself for their t.v. and Net commercials, we were delighted as there is a shrine to Bruce in our house:

When Old Spice then hired Neil Patrick Harris to play a swarmy version of himself for their commercials, we were thrilled, as we are his devoted fans:

And then came actor Isaiah Mustafa in a bizarrely brilliant Old Spice commercial that ended with the immortal words: “I’m on a horse.”

Mustafa has done more commercials for Old Spice and they’ve become a cult phenomena on the Net and elsewhere, so much so that Mustafa has netted himself a t.v. development deal. But he has not abandonned his fame-making employer and they haven’t abandonned exploiting new media. They put Mustafa to work for hours in  a towel in a shower set, with a teleprompter, to give personalized responses on the Net to Tweets, Facebook and YouTube comments and questions from celebrities, media companies and disparate Net users. Each one of them is hilarious. You can check them out on this YouTube channel:

Warning: you’re likely to waste at least an hour on them. Check out the ones to Demi Moore and Ellen DeGeneres.

Note to companies trying to sell us things: this is the way to do it. Give us a show, make us laugh, involve us in the game and not with some lame contest. And we’ll viral it for you, selling a brand that used to be hawked in the 1950’s to our grandfathers. (And then Louis Vuitton won’t have to spam my blog to sell luxury overpriced handbags. I’d help sell the handbags if someone like Mustafa does the pitch.)

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Proper T.V. Critiquing

This is from Scott, who lives in Ireland, apparently with a tiger, and has a Livejournal as Squid314. And it’s brilliant, spread the word.

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Well as long as he’s green

In 2003, director Ang Lee released a live action feature, The Hulk, of Marvel Comics’ popular superhero the Hulk for Universal Pictures. The movie was a wet, hot mess; it was horror movie dark, scary, loud, chaotic, loaded with flashbacks and torture scenes, and there were problems with the special effects, which was a key ingredient for this particular superhero. Not surprisingly, it didn’t do well, which was not the fault of Eric Bana, who played Dr. Bruce Banner, the guy who gets turned into the Hulk, or Jennifer Connelly, who played his love interest, Dr. Betty Ross. But since it took 5 years to re-jump-start the franchise (which only happened because of Marvel’s ambitious plans,) and since the philosophy of Hollywood is always get new ones and start over, the next Hulk movie, The Incredible Hulk, starred Edward Norton as Banner and Liv Tyler as Ross. Norton is notorious as a hard task master in acting/directing/writing, but he fit right into the role, Tyler was fine, and the 2008 movie was, while not perfect, a considerable improvement. It ended with Banner in his human form being contacted by S.H.I.E.L.D., the ultra secret agency that is trying to round up some superheroes and use them for stuff. With the spies, Marvel, now doing their own films as Marvel Pictures, hoped to tie in together its many different franchises like Iron Man through a movie about the Avengers, which in the comics is a loose team of superheroes who sometimes worked together.

So this week comes word that Ed Norton, who was supposed to be in the Avengers movie as Banner, won’t be playing the role. Marvel claims it’s because he’s a big old cranky pants, (as if his reputation was news to them,) and Norton’s camp shoots back that it was about money. These claims are probably both the truth — Norton wanted more money and probably a bigger role. Marvel is trying to do all these pics on tight budgets and so got annoyed that a Golden Globe winning, Oscar nominated vet wouldn’t go along like a good starlet, especially as they have to pay out the nose for Robert Downey Jr. now. And when you’ve already replaced a role once….

And it’s true — who is playing an iconic superhero or villain character who will appear many times in films is not a big issue. Everybody can be replaced. But it’s also true that cast changes of big leads do start to deflate audience interest in an on-going series, especially if you’re trying to use the character in multiple movie series, as Marvel is doing. If someone is doing a good job, investing the audience in the character, it’s usually a good idea to make more of an effort to stick with the actor, especially for as complicated an enterprise as the Hulk in live action.

But the split has come and now Marvel will try to grab mileage out of the re-casting. I’d suggest bringing Bana back as Banner myself. But with Sony dumping the Spider-Man gang in a sudden re-boot, these kinds of casting carnivals make me less interested in the Avengers  film, not more.

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Where E-Books Will Go

Oh Jeff, Jeff, Jeff. You’re exactly right. Can I be in your future army?

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Mad Hatter Awards — Scones for Tea

Yes, today’s Mad Hatter Awards do come from quotes in the magazine/site Entertainment Weekly, and the last batch did too.  Sometimes it just works out that way. Today’s winners aren’t perhaps worthy of full awards. More like they just get tea scones because they are being annoying.

The Runner Up Scone goes to is actor Mark Ruffalo, who is a nice actor and is in the film The Kids are All Right, about which he says, “It wasn’t thought of in a boardroom or in a focus group before it was written. It wasn’t made to sell toys or videogames. A lot of movies are put together through marketing. That’s why there are so many s… movies out there.”

1) Indie movies are not automatically brilliant over studio generated films. In fact, many of them are totally crappy.

2) While the movie was made for a low budget, it had high-powered investors, two powerhouse stars, and is being distributed by Focus Features which is a division of Universal Pictures and also did Brokeback Mountain to huge success, meaning that unlike most indie pictures, it will actually see the inside of multiplex theaters and make back its budget on opening weekend even if it’s not a big hit. The film is about two hot looking lesbians and their good looking children, and one of the hot lesbians then sleeps with the kids’ cute biological father (Ruffalo.) So while I’m quite sure the film did indeed come from the screenwriters/director’s heart and was not cooked up in a boardroom, the decision to distribute it however did indeed have to do with marketing and focus groups, festival style, if not toys, and pretending that does not go on just because toys aren’t involved seems to imply that people who also  like smaller pictures about complicated relationships (and hot lesbians who might do a guy,) are not smart enough to realize that Hollywood also market manipulates them too.

3) Mark Ruffalo starred earlier in his career in Mirror, Mirror 2 and Mirror, Mirror III, schlock horror movies, has taken a stab at t.v., and he starred in 13 Going on 30, Just Like Heaven and Rumor Has It, three rom com films that, while again not involving toys, were designed in a boardroom with focus groups (let’s remake Big with a female!) and while not perhaps s… movies (they were pleasant enough,) certainly don’t give him a lot of height to his horse to look down from. Additionally, he was recently  in Date Night, another big, marketing designed comedy, and Where the Wild Things Are, which, whatever indie bonafides you want to give to its director or creator Sendak, was also used to sell a lot of toys, merchandise and a videogame for Warner Brothers.

4) His co-star Annette Bening was going to be Catwoman in Batman 2, a movie created to sell videogames and toys, until Warren Beatty knocked her up and the role went to Michelle Pfeffer instead. (Okay, so that has minimal relevance, but it does make the point that actors will be doing many types of films if they are lucky.)

Quite simply, Ruffalo has kids. At some point, he’s probably going to be doing the voice for a character in a kids animated feature film. So his comment here about The Kids are All Right just makes him and the movie sound obnoxious instead of heartwarming.

The Chief Scone, however, goes to Leonardo DiCaprio, who is in the hot buzz SF film of the summer, Inception, directed by Christopher Nolan (who directs the current Batman movies, which are used to sell lots of toys and videogames.) What we know of the film is relatively simple — thieves enter people’s dreams in a tricky and risky manuever to steal their ideas. But DiCaprio wants us to know that it’s even simpler than that:

“…it has elements of sci-fi, but the sci-fi isn’t something the audience can’t relate to.”

If you are under the age of 50 (and pretty much even if you’re over 50,) and live in the U.S. or general Western world, you’ve spent your life saturated in science fiction, fantasy, supernatural horror and superheroes, and likely SFF videogames as well. It surrounds us in the culture. It’s the center of most of the biggest, most famous movies in our history, and a good chunk of plays, t.v. and literature. We know it intimately. So why do we continually have film and t.v. makers and actors seeking to reassure us that the most common stories we experience are not going to be strange, hard and confusing to us? Leo, dude, it’s 2010. Sure, back when you were doing Critters 3 and t.v. shows like Growing Pains, you might have mistakenly thought such stories were too deep for most audiences, but by now you should know better. (And wouldn’t it be cool if a journalist actually did ask DiCaprio if the movie was more accessible than Critters 3?)

Apparently, these actors and the studio publicists who instruct them still feel that the best way to get people interested in a movie is to tell the audience that they are stupid, timid, merchandising driven zombies but they should go see the movie anyway. It’s the shaming technique. And it continues to ignore the very culture that these actors and studios helped build. Which is obviously the result of marketing consultants and focus groups, and so these poor actors are being deluded by what they are denouncing into denouncing it. So they only get a scone today. But when Ruffalo gets his own action figure for a film, I’m going to laugh.


Filed under Movies/TV, SFFH

Movie Trailers with Extra Treacle

I’m having a weird, hectic day. How about you?

The Internet was built on porn, as many things start out being. Here’s a movie about that, Middle Men:

This one has extra, extra treacle, Charlie St. Cloud:

This one has less treacle, but more bodies, The Oxford Murders:

With treacle, but Sigourney Weaver almost makes me forgive her for her idiotic Avatar comments, Crazy on the Outside:

Soldierly brotherly treacle as Romans flee from deadly, pissed off Celts, in Centurion:

The Brits have fun in Wild Target, released in the UK this summer, due in the U.S. in the fall:


Filed under Movies/TV

Authors are not Rock Stars

An interesting discussion has sprung up, thanks to author Robert Sawyer’s piece about going to a book tech company and having to endure people who don’t really understand fiction publishing telling him that he should expect not to be paid for his fiction writing and instead make his money through other things, like speeches and merchandising, like the music industry. Sawyer quite accurately points out that no one wants to pay him for speeches and merchandising as a fiction author either, and makes the gloomy prediction that in ten years or so, authors who are making a living from fiction writing will not be able to do so, because of dropping sales per title and other issues.

Author John Scalzi comments on Sawyer as being too gloomy. He rightly points out that only a tiny percentage of fiction authors have ever made their living from their fiction writing. Instead, most of them have day jobs and don’t make much from novels, certainly not from short fiction. Scalzi doubts that top tier writers like Sawyer are going to completely lose the ability to make income or that the status quo is much going to change:

And other novelists have weighed in on this issue at their blogs and elsewhere.

I pretty much agree with Scalzi, but I do understand Sawyer being plagued by people who keep thinking that fiction publishing works just like rock music and that a fiction e-book is the same thing as a music file. Musicians and singers are performers. That is their main business — to put on a show with spectacle and/or soul. They record some of their performances and sell those recordings or sell them to be used as background material by other marketers such as for commercials or shows. They sell merchandise to those who want a momento of seeing one of their performances or who like the recordings of performances.

Fiction writers are not performers. They make words and the words are all they have to sell. They cannot spin off their words into commercials. Only a tiny, tiny percentage will ever have their work get adapted into visual mediums. The most popular authors can sell a small amount of merchandise to the most devoted fans (the rest can give some of it away free for publicity only.)  In SFF, authors are lucky enough to have some very enthusiastic fans who are willing to hear them speak at conventions, and who will pay to go, but as Sawyer points out, the convention doesn’t really pay to have the authors there and book sales at conventions are small. Outside of that, no one is particularly interested in hearing an author speak, especially if they are not a very famous bestseller or phenom. A non-fiction writer is usually an expert at something, and the books they do are additional outlets for their expertise, while they may make most of their money as a journalist or seminar/speech maker and get paid a lot by the business sector or the technology industry to come and speak or consult. But these industries have little interest in fiction authors. In general, people, even fans, don’t care about fiction authors and how erudite a speaker they may be. They care only about the writer’s characters, stories and words. That’s what they are most interested in, and it’s hard enough getting them to pay anything for that, so trying to make one’s fortune selling T-shirts is not going to happen.  Fiction authors have some small social status, but they are not considered cool. (Neil Gaiman is considered cool because he writes for comics, films and t.v. — day job — and because he has cool hair.) And most of them are not young, and they aren’t necessarily attractive. They don’t party with the stars. (Unless they are Neil Gaiman and work in the film industry.) They dress poorly. They don’t have tons and tons of money advanced to them to do promotion by studios/patrons. (Yeah, good luck bringing back the patronage system. That ship has sailed.) And so on and so on.  And having read a story once, often no one wants to read it again, wheras once you hear a song online, then you often do want to hear it again, enough to buy it for your lovely MP3 player. Saying that fiction authors should do what the music performers are doing is like telling an otter that he should sprout wings and fly.

Fiction writing is not going to become a totally free hobby; that’s ignoring the addictions of fiction readers. It’s never going to be big, but it’s never had to be big to survive. Fiction authors are not rock stars, however much many people encourage them to try. And while they will always try to maximize other revenue streams, words are really all they have to sell. The electronics industry is still trying to wrap their heads around that. They won’t be the first industry to try and they won’t be the last.

That being said, if you are looking for free fiction, there is a ton of it on the Web. I keep getting lists of freebies thrown at me and I keep thinking I should take advantage of that, but the way I read is not going to work with a computer screen. It might work with a reader but they don’t have what I want in a reader yet. But for anyone else not so burdened, you can certainly find much good stuff from premium writers without insisting that all the writers in the world create without payment.

Anyway, you can check out the debate. What seems very clear is that hostility towards fiction authors is increasing, in part because A) Hollywood has been making a lot of films and now some t.v. shows from books in the last ten years; and B) we’ve had more and bigger phenoms in authors like Dan Brown, J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyers, and a lot of successful authors grabbing a bit more media attention, leading many to somehow believe that the fiction market is much bigger and more rock starry than it actually is. I don’t know whether to be happy about that trend (as it is created by increased success in fiction,) or worried about it. I’m not sure any of the fiction authors know either. They’d just like to sell some books and not have lots of people lecture at them, I suspect.

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We will all become Google serfs!

I kid, I kid. Sort of. Still not happy about Google’s attempt to usurp authors’ rights on numerous books. But let’s face it, those conflicts are not going to keep Google from jumping into the pool on e-book sales, and there has been a good development there: Google has made a deal with the American Booksellers Association to sell non-device specific e-books through the Association’s independent bookstore members. Which means other big electronic, online provider companies will be doing the same. Spreading the love on e-book sales to the whole industry is only going to improve things, and makes it easier for Google and more companies to get interested in e-books if they can concentrate on production and wholeselling and leave the retail sales to the booksellers. Now if Google will stop trying to do it without making deals with authors and publishers and paying authors royalties for books under copyright, we’ll be in good shape. And this deal with the ABA members seems to indicate that they are heading toward that plan.

Here’s the NYTimes piece:

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