Eisner is Betting on New Media

I’ve been watching the business pages for entertainment news more often since I started my Media Industry Perspectives on Digital Media class this September.  While my prof. found the NYT write-up today on Twitter most interesting, I was drawn to a different story, given my background in web video.

Seems that Michael Eisner, formerly of Disney, has been wading into the new media pool.  Now he seems ready to try a different approach and spring from the diving board.  As Brian Stelter reported in todays New York Times, Eisner’s new media company will be spinning off into an independent entity with major backing from Rogers Communications of Canada.

Eisner is being very forthcoming with his goals.  The studio, which currently produces less than a dozen series, is aiming to produce 30 in the next few years.  Some of that content will be exclusive to Rogers customers, as part of the agreement.  Eisner also claims that the company is profitable, although no public records were cited to prove this claim.

Since we’re all trying to figure out how to make money in the new media landscape, the future of Vuguru, as it is called, is of great interest to me, and I’d bet several others as well.  Eisner brings a big name and big money to the new media game, and the ultimate fate of Vuguru will see if it takes money to make money right now in this medium.  Eisner’s statements indicate that he thinks advertisers will embrace new media, and that Vuguru’s ultimate success depends on their willingness to do so.  I and the rest of the new media upstarts are interested to see if Eisner is right in his hope, or wither Vuguru will fall to the same trap that so many other production companies face when considering new media.

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Considering a Change of Title

I’m going to commit to making shorter posts on a more regular basis.  To make a large blog post takes me a while: researching, writing, fact checking, editing, peer reviewing.  I never post a full entry without someone looking it over first.  It makes things a bit difficult to handle.  So I’m going to aim at a shorter format.

For today, I’m mulling changing my title from Video Editor to Filmmaker.  The more general title would be more fitting with what I find myself doing, which right now is a lot of pre-production work more in line with producing.  I also feel like I could write more that way, as my attention is drawn all over filmmaking and video production.  As you know from my last post, I’ve been getting my feet wet with cinematography, which has been very interesting.  Starting in January, I’ll really be developing skills as a producer as well.  Time will tell.

Today’s post is just this general musing.  Getting ready to move to a new day job up in NYC tomorrow, and using today to rest up.  Just wanted to touch base with all my readers out there.  I’ll have another quick one this evening.  Keep an eye out!

Studying Cinematography to Study Editing

Well, I’ve been quiet.  Things have been hectic, as I’m getting ready to switch jobs and transfer to full-time work in NYC.  Not as an editor yet, but I’m hoping the move will give me a chance to get more into the game.  I’m also starting to amass quite a nice library of books on all aspects of production and post thanks to my classes, recommendations from my Twitter contacts, and others.  The one thing I’m finding very helpful in increasing my vocabulary of what makes good edits and good films is to study cinematography.  Because I can manipulate a shot to a degree, by tweaking the color, punching in a bit, or applying a filter, I’m spending a decent amount of time learning what makes a good shot when it’s captured on the camera so I can try to recreate them in post if a scene calls for it.

I’m getting 2 books that I’m hoping will help me learn a bit more about cinematography, both recommended to me by The Independent.

1.) Master Shots: 100 Advanced Camera Techniques to Get an Expensive Look on Your Low-Budget Movie

2.) The Five C’s of Cinematography: Motion Picture Filming Techniques

When I’m working with Scott Napolitano on Issues, I’m usually on set, and in the past, I haven’t felt like I could accurately describe what I thought would make a good shot.  This is an attempt to solve that problem, and broaden my idea of what makes a good shot, and what sets up a good cut.  If you’re in a similar boat, try reading up on Cinematography.  It may improve your communication with both the director and the DP, if you have a chance to interact with them before production is wrapped.  Once I have the books, I’ll post an idea of how they’ve helped me.  I’m also reading The Invisible Cut, which was assigned to me by one of my professors this semester.  It’s a wonderful book that breaks down scenes from famous movies to teach you some of the basics of editing and how to do it well – that is, how to make it invisible to the audience.  Feel free to check them all out!

Ruminations on the Finances of Freelancing

Well, things at both the day job and my freelancing have been on the move.  Just shipped off a load of 12 DVDs I was hired to author from a camp I taught.  Hopefully will be reimbursed for those camps soon.  I’ve spoken to the creator of another web series about the possibility of doing some re-edits in the near future for a screening, and have been contacted to be a freelancer for a small company in Missouri, so I’ve got an experiment of remote editing on the horizon.  In the day job, I’ve officially applied to a job at another store that will hopefully be more in line with what I like to do there (teaching and problem solving as opposed to selling).  I’m also hoping it will bring more hours, and consequently more money.  I’ve been thinking of the idea of financial security for freelancers lately.

In today’s economy, while it is slowly getting better, money is still hard to come by for a lot of people.  I’ve wanted to go full tilt into freelancing, but am still at the day job.  Why?  I can’t afford not to be.  With most of the work in the NJ/NY area paying little or nothing, I need a source of money from somewhere.  Even the day job just barely let’s me break even on personal expenses – and thank god my student loans are in deferment while I’m in school.  I had hoped to make interest-only payments while I was getting my M.A., but there’s not enough cash on hand for that.

So my recommendation to everyone who is thinking of freelancing is to make sure you have a 6-12 month fund to get you through if the market heads south.  Most financial shows recommend 3 months of funding for the average individual.  But we’re not average, we don’t know what the paycheck will be on the next job, or when the next job is coming.  Without that fund, you’re in deep trouble if work dries up.  With that fund, 6-12 months, you can be more relaxed, and play hard ball more effectively.  You won’t feel as if you need to take any job that comes to pay the bills.  I’m looking to transfer at my day job to help me establish a fund like that, as well as start putting away for the down payment on a car and a house.  Once I have that fund in place, I’ll feel safer leaving the day job.  I wouldn’t have panic attacks over money like I do now.  I’d be able to take a step back and plan for the long run more.  Right now, it’s a battle to survive the 2 weeks between the paychecks from the day job, which is only part-time.

So in the interest of your sanity, your credit, and you’re ability to work on the best possible projects, establish that fund.  6 to 12 months may be excessive, but it’s a good safety net.  Not only will it let you deal with dry spells between work more often, but it can absorb the impact of a large financial hit even when business is good.

Know the Basics, Part 1

So, after settling into my new routine of school and work again, it’s time to get back to it.  I’m taking a double header of editing courses this semester, just to expose myself to different genres and media so I can develop a style for each – don’t do many music videos in a non-academic setting, for example.  One course is a technical course, one is an aesthetics course.  The best of both worlds.  I was struck by how many people in the aesthetics course described themselves as working editors, but who didn’t know some of the basics of editing.  So, with that, I figured I’d leave the professionalism theme alone for the time being and address some more fundamentals here.  Because it flat out scared me that my fellow students didn’t know some of this.

To keep these short, I’ll present 1 major convention of editing in each post.  Like all rules, there are times when these rules can be broken.  However, it’s important to know why you are breaking them, so that they can effectively fit into the overall rhythm and emotion of your project.  So, to start us off, here’s number 1.

First Basic Rule of Editing: When making a cut, there must be a change of camera angle and size of shot.

What does this mean?  It means that you shouldn’t join shots that originate from the same vantage point, and the type of shot (wide shot, medium, close up, etc.) should vary between takes.  For example: we see a wide shot of a actor as he starts walking out of the frame.  He is walking at a 45˚ angle away from the viewer.  In the next shot, if I seek to continue the action, I would probably look for a medium shot or close-up with the actor walking towards the viewer at a 45˚ angle.

Why?  For a cut to be effective, the audience has to see something completely different in the two shots that make up the cut.  If the size or angle is the same, or very close to the same, the cut looks more like a jump between to identical shots.  Audiences will notice cuts like that.  Walter Murch explains it through an interesting analogy to bees.  If you move a beehive overnight, let’s say 3 miles away, the bees won’t be disoriented at all.  They’ll get to work exploring this new environment and will continue to function just fine.  However, if you only move the hive, say 3 yards, the bees will be fatally confused.  Their surroundings are almost identical, but the hive is missing.  The bees will actually hover where the hive was rather than were it is now.  They don’t realize things have changed.

You want your audience to be like those bees who moved 3 miles.  You want them to just keep going with the flow.  A successful cut is one that isn’t noticed.  That means you need to force their brains to realize a change of context.  We do that by varying the angle and size of shots when we make cuts.  Although that sounds like more work, it’s something our brains do automatically.  We’re not even aware of it.  To see that in action, go watch the shower scene from Psycho twice.  Once, just watch, then watch again and try to count the number of cuts.  When you count the cuts, ask yourself how many you were aware of when first watching.

You can actually accomplish the same thing in a continuous shot if you have a very talented director and DP at your disposal.  To see what I’m talking about, watch the first shot of A Touch of Evil, by Orson Welles.  It’s a beautifully composed shot of at least 3 minutes.  There isn’t a single cut in that entire 3 minutes.  And yet there are changes of shot size and angle throughout, so your brain accepts it as if it were cut.  That wraps up the first big rule of editing.  As with any rule, you can break it, but make sure you’re breaking it for a reason related to the story you’re telling, and not breaking it out of ignorance.  An audience will be able to tell the difference.

Professionalism, Part 1

A couple weeks ago, I posted, publicly on Twitter, that our first season had been challenging (which is quite true) and that we should strive for a level of professionalism that equalled shows like The Guild, The Mercury Men, Captain Blasto, and Gold: The Series, to name a few.  Of course, I did this over the course of several tweets.  Silly 140 character limit.

It’s very difficult to explain complex ideas over Twitter.  So I’ve decided to bring the discussion here.  Some of this serious is based on what happened in Season 1, and some is based on common sense that I’ve learned through other experience and good mentors. What I mean by professionalism is that everyone involved in the show should take it seriously and perform their job or jobs more professionally than the professionals.  On my show, the downfall of our first season was a lack of a solid plan, or a lack of communication about a solid plan, and an impression that some people where there just for fun, or just didn’t know what to do.  Those two things frustrated many cast and crew members.

Although I’ve done most of my work to this point in post-production, I spent my time on Issues as – well, we’re not sure what, since we were all jacks-of-all-trades.  I worked with my boyfriend to manage props for the show, to try to maintain visual continuity and set dressing when we could, helped with blocking, helped with lines, and even took over as co-director with the AD when the director couldn’t be there.  So I’ve lived all of production and post-production for Issues.  Yes, including the great window incident.

I’ll be posting a serious of short to medium posts on professionalism as I organize my thoughts around them.  It’s meant to be a bit of a guide to professionalism for someone who’s never been in a professional production/post atmosphere and wants to create one.  For now, I’ll just focus on what it is.

When I say that a web series or other production needs to be professional, it means that you need to act like this is serious business, because to some people you work with, it is.  That means that you should know your position within the production, and know what responsibilities that position entails.  You should see them through completely.  And you should help others see them through completely.  If everyone takes it seriously, the show is more fun.  Why?  Because you’re not worrying about things that have been left undone because everyone had done their job well, and when the camera finally rolls, or you’re finally in the editing room, you can enjoy yourself.

In the coming days, I’ll be thinking of what I saw on set and experienced after taping wrapped, and using it to frame my discussions on professionalism.  That doesn’t mean that I’ll be sharing the shortcomings of our cast and crew.  Instead, I’ll be using it to figure out what to talk about.  The prompt that solicits the response.  If you have points to add that you think I’ve left off, please comment.  Every independent production has widly different experiences, and you may have learned something I and my friends haven’t yet.

Why Networking is Worth It

Sorry for my unexplained absence. Kids and video cameras, a truly exhausting combination. I’ve got another 2 weeks with them, but hopefully I’ll be more functional now that I know what to expect. Thank you to everyone who’s stopped by to read in my absence. I was expecting to find my stats flatlined, and while they are much lower than when I was writing regularly a couple weeks ago, there have been visitors every day.

So, here I am today to give you a reason why networking (especially social networking) is really worth your time. I just got work on a second series because of my contact with the creator. I’ll publish details when things are more finalized, but it’s refreshing to know that barring serious unforeseen problems, I’ll have something new to work on. How did I meet the creator of this show? Her show started following my show on Twitter. I followed her show and her show followed me back. We then hooked up on Massify, which is a wonderful site for anyone looking to build a nice little portfolio of their video work.  So far we’ve solidified my interest and arranged a meeting through direct message on Twitter.

Know why it worked?  I’ve been talking to this creator over the span of a few months.  I am also quite a fan of her show, so the idea of editing it makes me very happy.  But the point is, even though we spent a lot of time talking about 80s music, we were still talking.  Good things happen from talking.

If you still haven’t jumped on the social networking bandwagon, I say to go for it.  Start small.  I think Twitter is a great place to start because it helps you really focus on your message: after all, only 140 characters to get it across.  There are tons of sites that create ways to introduce you to people.  I’m a fan of Mr. Tweet, myself.  There are also lots of sites that will help you monitor how you use Twitter and how you can be more effective.  As you get used to the idea, definitely expand out.  LinkedIn is a good professional social networking site, so it’s best used to connect with colleagues and friends working in other companies in your industry.  Facebook can be useful too, just be very careful with it.  It’s very easy to let your Facebook account sort of get away from you.  I sat down not too long ago and retamed it, taking out content that didn’t work for me anymore, and being a bit more critical of all my connections.

So yes, all the talk about social networking being good is true.  It just takes some effort on your part.  Although as you get the hang of using them, they don’t feel so much like work.  In fact, I have plenty of fun with my Twitter account.  And Facebook.  And it’s fun meeting people in my field on LinkedIn.  So go for it!  Good things can happen from social networking.