Category Archives: Producing

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Public Domain Day, 2023 Addendum

I have a new source to look for regarding Public Domain Day every January… that is assuming Steve Shives returns for more merriment next year. I’ve already enjoyed his Star Trek commentaries and now I learn how much of a classic film buff he is — and he doesn’t mind singing. Truly, he contains multitudes.

His phrasing is occasionally delightfully NSFW at moments, so be warned for when you watch.

Public Domain Day, 2023

I plan to do posts on public domain every year and I really should have last January for this clip alone, but the year got away from me early.

Really gotta appreciate the Winnie the Pooh/Hemingway mash-up.

Now that was last year, and most of you already know about the Winnie the Pooh horror movie soon to be out in the world?

So what’s in store for 2023 and all the goodies from 1927 now in the public domain in the U.S.?

As always, Duke Law’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain provides a good overview of the year in question, penned by Jennifer Jenkins, the director or said center.

Over at Polygon, David Grossman notes some of the highlights that are agreed upon by most of the links here, including Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis and the last collection of Sherlock Holmes short stories.

Author Cory Doctorow has many thoughts on the Arthur Conan Doyle estate no longer having rights to Sherlock Holmes (though noting some legalistic clinging may yet occur) and his piece is a good reminder of how we all benefit from works entering the public domain.

The efforts of estates and entertainment conglomerates to hold onto intellectual property for as long as possible is also explored in an article by Aaron Moss that will likely interest many of you.

Also, it’s worth noting the the U.S. copyright law is different from other countries, but they have works that go into the public domain on January 1st as well… and the appropriately named Public Domain Review has a rundown of some of those works.

Finally, I would expect any site with a name like Book Riot to be very into Public Domain Day and Annika Barranti Klein’s article validates that expectation.

So there it is: a whole new year’s worth of goodies that may fuel your own creativity. If you do something with any of the 1927 works, leave a note about it down in the comments. We’ll see you next year when a certain 1928 cartoon is sure to be the headline for many a public domain post.

The Optimization of Boring?

For my work, I’m often focused on continuous improvement — and the silver lining of broken processes means there’s always room for improvement. On the one hand have you ever met those people for whom 99.9999% just isn’t close enough to 100%?

Can more optimization be too much of a good thing?

Derek Thompson over at The Atlantic feels that might be the case, starting, with that most American of statistics obsession: baseball. If you know about Moneyball, from either the book or movie, his premise is that the “Moneyball-ization” of baseball has optimized the National Pastime into the National “Meh” time.

But what if you are one of the many Americans who doesn’t pass their time with baseball at all? Well, he doesn’t stop there. His premise is that this mechanical optimization has penetrated all sorts of aspects of American culture, including mass media in terms of music and films. And for those of us indie creators, that’s certainly a trend to study.

In fact, if you want to get into music, I’ve been watching musician/producer Rick Beato’s YouTube channel for the past few weeks and goes into a music theory version of why music doesn’t sound as interesting (briefly touching on the risk-averse nature of music labels these days).

All in all, stuff to ponder.

The Big Media Landscape of Fall 2022

For whatever reason, I get a lot of hits for my “Future TV” posts especially the one about the future of Netflix in the Fall of 2017.

Well it’s a whole new world out there in media-land these days because Netflix is far from the only streaming game in town. Heck, traditional Big Media aren’t the biggest of companies in media these days either. To learn more, check out the graphic below and the article by Rani Molla and Peter Kafka for Recode/Vox.

The Showrunner Role in Transition

Thinking of Monday’s post regarding Rod Serling, I’m continuing to read up about showrunners and industry trends in the wake of COVID. And if you’re wondering what a ‘showrunner’ of a TV show actually is, well, that’s changing too — as covered in this very long form article for Vice by Katharine Trendacosta.

Perhaps from my time studying anthropology and perhaps my dayjob role of analyzing business processes, but I love detailed articles like these that delve into the art and craft of running a show (and yes, I’ve got some self-interest there too). Trendacosta intereviews a wide gamut of writer-producers to give you multiple perspectives on the industry… and one thing I note that is quite common in so many industries I read about: there are massive changes in how they are doing business and many people aren’t trying to figure out what is good and bad about it until the reality hits them in the face.

Add to that, the rise of streaming, the business practices adopted with COVID, and you have a lot to chew on. I really hope they find ways to add that mentoring and production experience “scaffolding” to the newer models, because I’m pretty sure we won’t be getting back to 22-episode seasons anytime soon.

The Hollywood War Machine

Top Gun: Maverick performed some “best of the best” box office maneuvers when it opened Memorial Day weekend and continues to do well. The original film proved to be as much a recruitment commercial as popcorn movie… and this sequel’s premiere aboard an aircraft carrier, Midway (now a museum ship), hints that this newest film will perform similarly.

Over 30 years later, he still feels the need for speed.

As a cinemaniac who’s seen more than a few military-themed movies over the decades, Hollywood’s connection to the U.S. military is not a surprise, nor is the nuance. That’s one of the reasons I appreciated the nuance in this article by Alissa Wilkinson for Vox, exploring the past, present, and future of how the military works with filmmakers.

One of the aspects I appreciate about the article is how it goes through some of the filmmaking choices of working, or not working, with the military and how it’s not a good or bad thing: it’s really about what story you’re trying to tell.

And, as many film historians naturally know, Hollywood has close ties to the American military and has sought to seek to tell both the story of American service men and women, but more broadly, Why We Fight. The book and Netflix series, Five Came Back are well worth checking out.

Casting Based on What Characters Do & How They Do It

Thanks to several area theaters offering ridiculously good deals for students, I started regularly attending theaters in the 1980s. Almost from the get-go, I was exposed to what is generally termed “non-traditional casting,” including a production of Macbeth with a cast that included actors who, at the time, I would not have instantly guessed as “Scottish.” Any preconceived notions I might have had of what the Scottish characters “ought to look like” were retired by the curtain call. The production was full of energy and all the actors brought their ‘A’ game. Franchelle Stewart Dorn, for example, will always be a definitive Lady Macbeth. She was that character based on what she did and how she did it.

Now multiply that by every single show I’ve ever seen with “non-traditional casting.”

Why am I mentioning this? Well, for one thing, from running auditions in the DC-Baltimore area for 15 years, I continually found myself needing to remind filmmakers that very skilled and enormously appropriate actors were available for their production if they focused on what the characters needed to do and how they needed to do it. And so few stories these people were telling demanded the characters be a certain age, ethnicity, or even gender.

In fact, I’ve found an overwhelming amount of great stories that don’t have those restrictions. Just tell the story with the best people you can find.

For a second thing, people in general still need to get this memo, and the author of the Percy Jackson novels evidently needed to give people a version of this memo, because, yes you guessed it: some folks are up in arms that a character is going to be played by an actor who isn’t who they pictured. I appreciate his call to stop the bull and remind people where the buck stops. Hopefully, a few more people will become more open about who could be a Greek demigod.

After all, growing up, I never imagined The Doctor from Doctor Who being Scottish… and we’re about to have our third Scot in the role. I’ll let you guess why I thought of that.

Welcome, Number Fourteen

Why the Spice Flowed the Way it Flowed in Dune

While it seems that not everyone liked the latest screen version of Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi novel Dune, it’s the first film in a long time that I finished watching and wanted to immediately watch again. I’m up to seeing it five times now, so it’s safe to say I’m a fan (I find much to love in the other two screen versions as well, but that’s for another post).

One of the most striking aspect of this version is the now Oscar-winning visual effects, which is something that Jourdan Aldredge goes into over at the site No Film School. Specifically, he talks a lot about that tool filmmakers frequently call upon when they need something fantastical: green screens.

Dune did not use green-colored screens nor even the older school blue screens. It used sand-colored screens.

If you, like me, went, “Whaaaaaaat?” you can check out the article mentioned above and also go directly to this video essay explaining what they did:

Fast. Cheap. Good. Pick Two.

Many of you have seen the sentiment expressed in the title above, but it’s always worth remembering… and remembering we, as a species, will likely figure out how to go faster than the speed of light before we break the above constraints.

If I could add this to certain project submission forms, I would.

A post by writer Mark Evanier reminded me of how these constraints can often come into play in the writing world, which led to a good musing on his part:

How does one judge the quality constraint? (i.e. good/bad)

Producers, project managers, and writers will always try and balance these three constraints, often contending with executives who want to pretend like constraints don’t exist.

(Project managers will think of “time, scope, and cost” as the “triple constraints,” but we’ll leave the discussion of connections between scope and quality for another time).

In judging quality, it’s useful to allow that every project falls into a different “acceptance spectrum.” A good “rough order of magnitude” (ROM) estimate is automatically placing speed at a premium and therefore a “good ROM” is good with less precision than a “good detailed cost estimate.”

Let’s be honest: the same goes for writing projects. You’re likely to scrutinize that update for the internal corporate newsletter a bit less than the next chapter of your planned Great American Novel. You’re going to do your best on both, sure, but you absolutely will take more time with that novel.

Once you realize that “Good” is variable and contextual, it’s just a quick hop to realize that “fast” and “cheap” are also variable and contextual. Mind you, the constraints still apply: if you or your executives want something fast and cheap, there’s going to be a limit to how good it’s going to be (try ordering bespoke anything the fastest you can and see what that does to cost and quality). However, once you realize the balancing act, you can start making choices –and getting stakeholders to get on the record about their choices– about how fast, cheap, and good they want it. And if they want to increase speed or increase quality, guess what happens to the other constraint? The bottom line is you don’t get all three.

Passion Counts: Patton Oswalt Edition

Lest any of you think I’m going to populate the blog with repeatedly grim tales of people being sucky (as I have for a couple Wednesdays and this morning), I just wanted to highlight the Patton Oswalt interview I linked in last week’s post about film distribution.

Patton Oswalt, circa 2018 (the time of the interview)

Really, if you are at all interested in his career or perspective on things (he is a tremendous film geek in addition to his other geekdoms), the hour will fly by. And it’s applicable to any creative industry.