Category Archives: Producing

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.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Hollywood Accounting

Last Wednesday’s post about how some film distributors led to some discussion amongst friends on the Interwebs and elsewhere. One colleague who’s been a filmmaker and exhibitor pointed out how there are so many sticky problems with film distribution, it’s a difficult problem to handle — and there are definitely some issues with some of the smaller distributors. However, that made me think of how the major distributors engage in creative accounting that’s about as alluring as a blow to the nether regions. For example, did you know the Harry Potter films, in one way, didn’t make money?

They gaze in horror at the dark magic that is Hollywood accounting.

There’s nothing I can really add to this that will be additionally edifying, but for those of you who didn’t know about these shenanigans, now you know.

Video

The New Paradigm of Film Distributors Really Not Caring About Their Films

If you read last Wednesday’s post about standardization of suck that is the McDonald’s ice cream machine, you hopefully felt a little irritation — assuming you believe in truth, justice, and lovely intangibles.

Well, alas, I have more fuel for the ire fire, which I have a special interest due to my connection to filmmaking and knowing many a fellow indie producer who is either in this position or about to be.

Now, if you’re like me, you find this more than a little annoying. I mean, any indie filmmaker understands they need to wear multiple hats, often at once, to get their film completed and out into the world. But it really shouldn’t be too much to ask that people whose livelihood is based on your movie making money for them to care about, not the movie, but how to make sure that money maximizes money for them.

It reminds me of Patton Oswalt talking about having passion for the industry you’re in whether it’s running a comedy club booking stand-up comics or, say, distributing films. Enjoy the industry you’re in on one or more levels. There are so many other jobs you could do if you don’t care about this one. And I like that the discussion that especially when it comes to artistic and creative pursuits, it’s about being a fan and a ‘connoisseur’ of whatever the pursuit is… and you can be a fan at any budget level (some of that discussion begins at the 16:28 mark, but the whole interview is great).

While Deverett would possibly empathize, it’s clear he’s accepted this is the way things are, even if it’s more than a little irksome. In fact, if you watch his whole 4-hour interview or even some of the other segments, he points out all sorts of irksome aspects of the industry when it comes to film distribution. Film distributors in many cases are ripping filmmakers off. Brazenly. He even documents how he went after some “whoops” missing money from some of the territories a film of his was being distributed in. And he documents why is was so hard to do and holding people accountable is hard, expensive, and therefore unsustainable — this assessment from a lawyer and former film distribution professional!

So I won’t say, “Go forth and storm the barricades!” But I do want to give voice to that ire in the hopes that someone somewhere will figure out a way to beneficially disrupt a part of the film industry that seems to be doing its level best to standardize the suck.

Do You Hear What Netflix Hears?

The podcast hills may soon be alive with the sound of Netflix. That’s what I’m gleaning from this Bloomberg article about the new Netflix executive in charge of podcasts.

N’Jeri Eaton (photo via Netflix)

N’Jeri Eaton comes to Netflix by way of Apple and NPR. An award-winning storyteller, she has roots in documentary filmmaking, something near and dear to many a DC filmmaker.

While that’s all cool, the big surprise from the article for me was that not only that Netflix has a number of podcasts already –many being deeper dives into their TV shows and films– but that they are building up publishing and social media presences. That growth as an overall media company is, I suppose, something one might expect, but I confess to still thinking of Netflix as the streaming enfant terrible vs. “another media conglomerate.”

I’m also, for obvious reasons, wondering if they’re going to start making moves into original audio fiction.

Perfect is the Enemy of Good: YouTuber Edition

Given the traffic some of my project management posts get, I figured I should get back to being wonky on Wednesdays or other days. I’ve recently rediscovered the Vlogbrothers, aka John and Hank Green, and have been cycling through their videos at a fast pace. That’s easy, because most of them are under 5 minutes and they contain some thought nuggets that fire the synapses in the most delightful way.

So then I came across this one from 2017 about productivity:

As some of you project managers and office denizens may have clued into, the “80%” he refers to calls to mind “the 80/20 rule” or the Pareto Principle.

And yes, the Pareto Principle started as something a bit different –and is invoked in a number of rather different arenas– but Hank Green’s reference aligns with how I most frequently encounter it in terms of quality control and optimization. Or put another way: perfect is the enemy of good.

And “done is good,” a fact I learned back when I was building sets and hanging lights and the curtain went up at 8pm whether or not things were perfect.

So embrace your 80%, people! Except for consuming ice cream. Finish that whole cone/bowl/pint/what-have-you. Exceptions make the rule after all.

AIM Calls for Aid!

As one filmmaking colleague I know has mentioned, “Money isn’t an issue, it’s the issue.”

And many creative endeavors rely on crowdfunding these days. Hence my previous post about the audio drama Apollyon (which I should mention I and the other cast & crew really do want to get funded to continue the story).

As many of you may know, the audio theater troupe I run, Jabberwocky Audio Theater, has its shows start on broadcast radio, WERA-LP 96.7 FM in Arlington, Virginia to be precise.

WERA is community radio, as in the program literally comes from the community. And it gives back, with news, coverage of local events, and some of the best value in media training around (which includes TV as well, since WERA is part of Arlington Independent Media).

But it also depends on the community for financial support in the best of times, so this past year has hit them hard, and Arlington Independent Media is looking to keep on going through their 39th year and beyond. They’ve been integral to our getting Jabberwocky Audio Theater off the ground again in 2018 and we’d love to see them continue.

Besides straight-up donating to them, they also have an auction going on as well as a special virtual concert fundraiser this weekend. Spread the word!

Cue Rockin’ Blogiversary Music

Wait! How is this Star Trek-themed?

It’s been six years since I re-launched my personal website, which evidently is the “iron” anniversary, hence good ol’ shellhead above. As I mentioned in last year’s blogiversary post, I was going to try and make this more annual and — especially because last year felt like at least five years — it felt right to do a post.

So here are some highlights and personal favorites.

Star Trek

My series Crisis of Infinite Star Treks lasted the first five years of the blog. As it happened, there was also a Star Trek-related project that I worked on over that same five years. It came to fruition thanks to the pandemic — and to quote a certain Klingon, it was glorious.

Every Episode of Every Star Trek Series, Ranked

As I kind of expected, the traffic I get to this post and its related pages dwarfs just about everything else on the site. It’s like people are interested in Star Trek or something!

The pages that had the comments (with spoilers and snark) got far more hits than the pages with only titles — and of those, the “Whole Enchilada” got far and away the most traffic. Breaking it down by show, these are the pages that got the most traffic:

  1. Star Trek: The Next Generation
  2. Star Trek: Voyager
  3. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
  4. Star Trek (the original series)
  5. Star Trek: Enterprise
  6. Star Trek: Discovery
  7. Star Trek: Picard
  8. Star Trek (the animated series)
  9. Star Trek: Short Treks

Mind you, I don’t think this tells me anything more than which series Trek fans most want to see some guy on the Internet’s ranking of — which reminds me: the fact that Voyager is right there at the top doesn’t surprise me. Based on conversations on Reddit, some of my fellow Trekkers love that show and, just like Enterprise, if you haven’t checked it out there’s a whole slew of episodes that are really good.

In fact, just as I’ve done a “Viewing Guide for Enterprise,” I will be doing a “Viewing Guide for Voyager” and some of the others later this year (if all goes well).

Theater and Creativity Amid Coronavirus

Many of my creative colleagues are depend on being physically on sets and on stages for their ducats, so I’ve been tracking how those industries are doing and posting about them this past year:

And more COVID

While I didn’t want to focus on the pandemic endlessly, I did find it cathartic to share some articles and videos and events related to it, so I created a tag, COVID Craziness, which has a little bit of crossover to theater coverage above. There’s plenty of joy and introspection.

Check it out when it seems right. I suspect for some people it’s too soon, but other’s it’s just right.

Most Visited Posts (apart from Trek)

Apart from the Star Trek ranking, in honor of this, the sixth blogiversary, these are the top six visited posts from the year (not necessarily written in the past year):

  1. Schedule Management: The 0-50-100 Method for Tasks
  2. The Nightmare that is 2020, Expressed in Sugar
  3. My 50 Favorite Films, 2020 Edition
  4. The Worst Derelict Spaceships to Board
  5. Voices Behind the Scenes of Atlantis: The Lost Empire
  6. The Differences between a Policy, Process, Procedure, and Work Instruction

So, it could be that Trek-loving project managers who also watch a lot of films are my niche.

Whatever the case, thanks for visiting and reading, and here’s to another year of maybe (just maybe) useful information.

Lessons Learned: Trilogy-writing Edition

Book one in the trilogy (image via JohnAugust.com)

In traditional project management, the last phase is closing. It means the project is accepted as ‘completed’ on some level of formality. Not only that, what with project managers loving to document things, they like to document ‘”lessons learned.” In other words, what will you do better next time? What might you try to avoid doing altogether? What definitely worked? While users of agile and lean frameworks may think of continuous improvement, a good concept to bear in mind, sometimes you only have the chance to really step back and evaluate what the heck happened at a bigger milestone.

“Post-mortems” in theater and film projects are where I first encountered “lessons learned,” so when I later crossed over into the office environment, they were not unfamiliar and something I’ve encouraged for both their pragmatic and cathartic benefits. This has also meant that I’ve always known it’s good and necessary to do lessons learned for creative projects.

So I was thrilled to see screenwriter and all-around storyteller John August detail some of his lessons learned after completing his foray into middle-grade fiction. (That’s the Arlo Finch series pictured above).

Long-time readers may recall I listen to the screenwriting podcast he and fellow scribe Craig Mazin do, called Scriptnotes. Long-time listeners of that podcast will already know August approaches most things with a thoroughly methodical, yet joyful frame of mind. You’ll see that on display in this list of 10 lessons learned. I’m not writing a trilogy per se, but a lot of the lessons here apply to my writing. Hope they work for you all as well.

Bringing the Real and the Imagined Alive: Remembering Michael Apted

Apted at the Peabody Awards in 2013 (Photo: Anders Krusberg)

When you talk with your filmmaking peers, it comes as no surprise they have always have a few filmmakers they follow closely, perhaps someone who isn’t necessarily a household name… or even necessarily an art house movie theater name.

Michael Apted was one of those filmmakers for me. He died at the age of 79, earlier in January (I’m just getting to writing this post now). You can read obituaries and remembrances from the BBC, the Guardian, Variety, and NPR among others.

One part of his career you see mentioned again and again is the Up series, documentaries made at seven-year intervals looking at a particular set of Britons starting in 1964. It has become –as I recall one reviewer putting it– “a time-lapse film of human lives.” It’s simple, straightforward, and extraordinary.

Apted continued to make fiction and non-fiction films for the rest of his career… and the fiction films included a James Bond spy film and an installment of the Chronicles of Narnia. His filmography is rightly described as “eclectic.” And with a background in both anthropology and theater, with a love of films and history, you can perhaps begin to see why he was one of the filmmakers I followed.

For those of you who have seen my biennial Favorite Films sort, none of his fiction films ever make it into my top 50 and –by virtue of me wanting each feature to stand on its own– that eliminates the Up series from competition (its heft comes from the whole package after all). But I would be hard pressed not to find something interesting an energizing about every single one of his movies. In part, I think it’s because he always finds ways to bring forward truth in the fiction.

Nowhere is this more on display for me than the natural double-feature of Incident at Oglala and Thunderheart. The former is a thought-provoking documentary about shootings and subsequent trials at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. The latter is Hollywood mystery thriller with Val Kilmer, Sam Shepard, and Graham Greene, among others, oh so clearly inspired by the real events, but distinctly different.

There are always bits worthy of note in all of his films. For instance, in 2001’s Enigma, you get a good breakdown of how codebreaking actually works versus the typical “hack the Internets” silliness sometimes on display in films.

Still from 2001’s Enigma (cinematographer: Seamus McGarvey)

So while my biggest disappointment is how the Up series will continue or end (something several people are now wondering), there are plenty of other films, big and small, I was hoping might pop up there.

Time to revisit some films…

Little (Mobile) Theater on the Prarie

The events of last Wednesday are still dwelling on my mind, so it was nice to catch this article by Lia Kvatum in the Washington Post Magazine about an itinerant creative who’s connecting communities to their history through theater. It provides some much needed light and joy… and the notion that we can communicate with one another.

Theatrical portraits of Hanson in Granite Falls, Minn. (Caroline Yang via the Washington Post)

Reading about how Ashley Hanson has been traveling to different communities and talking with the people reminds me of both how the Federal Theatre Project had a whole “think national, act local” approach to productions as well as the more recent Playback Theatre‘s attempts to translate personal experiences into short plays.

When it comes to theater, I am biased, what with it being a “non-trivial” portion of my working life, to say nothing of participating in some of the “walking theater” mentioned in the article (although my part got to be on stage). I believe live theater has a way of connecting and impacting people in a way that will make it just as relevant 100 years from now as it was 1,000 and more years ago. So I wish Hanson and others great success in hundreds more towns across America, because it means connecting and deep listening.