Friday, November 30, 2012

F/F: The Sky Is Not The Limit

This week of short films highlighting solutions to the world’s most pressing problems was partially inspired by the month which ends today –- November.

November is when the days shorten and darkness seems pervasive. The air gets colder and the urge to just hunker down until Spring grows stronger.

It was also partially inspired by my various social media feeds. Twitter and Facebook have allowed us all to become advocates for one cause or another, without actually having to physically or emotionally commit to fighting for it.

All the problems overwhelming the world feel so much larger and impossible to confront when so many people are demanding that you join in their particular chorus of outrage.

Nobody’s got that kind of time, energy –- or rage.

So the problems begin to feel like they can never be solved.

But these posts were also inspired by how much the world seems to have changed from when I was inspired to realize my own dreams.

Back then, John F. Kennedy’s appeal to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you could do for your country” was a rallying cry.

Now we appear to feel more entitled and want our countries to do more for us. Maybe -– because after all –- we deserve it.

But problems don’t solve themselves. And for the most part governments have their hands full. So it really is up to us.

Maybe the real future of problem solving lies in the model of the “X” Prize. Creating a reward more tangible than the mere thrill of achievement and satisfaction of doing something well.

The “X” Prize proves that the sky does not have to be the limit. There is incentive to move beyond. To Focus/Forward.

The twenty finalists in this inspiring short film competition were named this week. You can see them here and online voting continues until December 20th.

Who knows, you may find something that solves a problem that hits close to home for you –- or maybe just brings a little light of hope to stave off the dark days of Winter.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

F/F: DisplAir

iPad. iPod. Mac. Mac Mini. Blackberry. Notepad. Notebook. Netbook. Tablet. Flat screen. Touch screen. Smartphone. Samsung Galaxy I,II and III. iPhone 4. iPhone 5…

Every day there’s a new device, a newer device. An upgrade. An update. An innovation. A technological revolution.

And each time something new comes along, all the old stuff gets pitched, filling electronic junkyards and polluting the environment.

And all the new stuff requires new accessories, newer batteries and rare earth minerals people literally kill to acquire. Not to mention the armies of human robots working 100 mind-numbing hours per week to make them.

What if we could get rid of all the hardware without sacrificing the benefits that flow from new technologies?

What if all the devices we need could be made from nothing more than light and water and air?

You might call it DisplAir…

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

F/F: Bankrupting The Warlords

Like all things, wars cost money. And when the costs outweigh the benefits, other ways of resolving differences have to be found.

Last weekend, I read an article about the recent Israel/Gaza conflict that said each missile lobbed into Israel by Hamas cost about $1000 to purchase. But by the time all the bribes and payoffs have been made to get them into the Gaza Strip, their final cost is a significant multiple of that.

Taking into account the number of these rockets brought down before reaching their targets by the “Iron Dome” defense system, it’s calculated that Hamas spent over $1 Million for each Israeli killed. And with new software developed during the eight day barrage, any future conflict will raise that cost to between $5 and $10 Million per casualty.

Begging the questions, “Why bother?” and “Maybe that money could be put to better use”.

One of the favorite weapons of the world’s armies is the landmine. They are cheap, costing between $3 and $30 apiece. Any idiot can plant one. And at an estimated cost of $1200 to find and remove each one of them, most armies just leave them where they are when they leave the field.

At this moment, there are approximately 110 Million active landmines planted around the world, continuing to kill 3-4000 people every year, many of them generations after the conflict in which they were used ended.

Most of the casualties are children.

But if it was as cheap and easy to remove a landmine as it is to lay it in the ground, like the Hamas missiles, they would soon cease to be worth using.

Maybe it’s too much to hope that people might then resort to talking out their differences instead. But at least a lot of innocent people wouldn’t have to suffer or die.

Today’s Good News Week entry from the Focus/Forward Short Film Competition exhibits an inspired solution to one weapon of war. It gives you hope that the answers to all the others might be just as easy to find –- if we put our minds to it.

Mine Kafon | Callum Cooper from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Focus Forward: Highways of Light

I have a friend who recently bought an electric car. He did it for a lot of reasons. It only costs him about 1 cent/kilometer for fuel. There are zero emissions polluting the environment. It reduces the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. 

On the minus side, he can only drive 150 km before he needs to spend time recharging. He still gets stuck behind snow plows. All the new electricity he’s using comes from a coal burning plant.

You win some. You lose some. So far, there have been no easy answers to our need to be mobile.

Except for one. 

One that could solve all our energy problems. One that could reduce the cost of building and maintaining highways. One that could employ millions of people and make the electric car a viable choice for more of us.

Today’s entry from the Focus/Forward short film competition is that solution. A solution where the highways of the future will be highways of light.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Focus Forward Week: Print Your Own Kidney

There’s a lot wrong with the world. Everywhere you look there are problems which appear to be unsolvable. Sometimes it feels like for every step forward we take, we take another backward –- or sideways and into yet some new pit of quicksand.

But there are people making progress, coming up with innovative, inspired and almost unbelievable ideas which not only solve our most pressing problems as a species and a planet but take a great leap beyond.

Somehow, you’re not hearing much about these people and their research on CBC or CNN. Maybe the networks would rather you just curled up on the couch in a foetal position eating cheese doodles and in fear of even hitting another dial on the remote.

Maybe they just haven’t heard of the Focus/Forward Project.

Focus/Forward is part contest, part inspiring revelation in which documentary filmmakers are asked to submit 3 minute films about people reshaping our world through actions or innovation.

The most inspiring film will win $100,000. Four runner ups will share another hundred grand.

Dozens of finalists are now online at the Focus/Forward website with more being added daily.

Over this week, in an effort to counter the endless drumbeat of the Main Stream Media Cheerleaders of Doom, I’ll be presenting my favorites from the current slate of entries.

Each one is a stunning example of the unquenchable human will to overcome adversity, not to mention a pretty cool short film.

First up – creating new organs with a 3D Printer.

Pioneering Regenerative Medicine, Dr. Anthony Atala | Andy Anderson from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Lazy Sunday # 248: The Reality Of Reality TV

The openly admitted conceit of drama is that it’s fiction. We all know it’s all made up. The story was hammered out in advance. The actors are pretending. The shots of bourbon are cold tea.

The well hidden truth of reality television is that it’s just as made up. But the writers and performers don’t get paid very much. And while the Jell-o shots might pack a punch, they aren’t really from the brand name bottles in the shot.

This week there was a frisson of “We’ve arrived!” among the makers of Canadian reality shows after American Secretary of State, Hilary Rodham Clinton, allowed that “Love It Or List It” was her favorite TV show.

Maybe it gave her some ideas for that fixer-upper she’s got in Benghazi.

Actually, what she said was that she found the show “Calming”, perhaps admitting that such programming basically helps put her to sleep.

However, we have to admit it is amazing that after almost two decades of by-the-numbers and repetitive “reality” formats, they continue to dominate the television landscape.

Much of that is because networks keep making more of them, their low cost slowing the need to openly admit that their outmoded business model is in its death spiral.

But part of it is because audiences simply don’t stop to consider that the only way to capture such manufactured realities is by using the very same techniques which capture fiction.

Maybe it’s time somebody pulled back that veil.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

See Tomorrow’s CBC Shows Today

You can’t legitimately describe the first couple of days of CRTC hearings on renewing the license of the CBC as fascinating –- unless narcolepsy holds a particular attraction for you.

But they have been fascinatingly revealing.

A month ago, there was a terrifying amount of electricity in the windowless room where these hearings are held as powerful corporate executives from Bell sparred with Commissioners over clearly different visions of what the future of Canadian television should be.

The airless bunker was crammed with predatory power and palpable suspicion. There were flashes of anger, cries of frustration and the thrust and parry of competing forces searching for a chink in either corporate or regulatory armor.

This time, not so much.

The looks between Commissioner podium and network executive table are familial and understanding. “I’m a government bureaucrat. You’re a government bureaucrat. We all know the boxes that need to be ticked.”

When a CBC Exec doesn’t have any support material or suggests the need for a break from CRTC rules, perhaps even a revision to the terms of license already applied for, there’s no consternation.

Instead, we’re treated to a lackadaisical, eloquent dance of civility. Everybody is all forgiveness and smiles. Being a National Broadcaster is a thankless job. Much like being a CRTC Commissioner.

Catch-phrases and cultural touchstones that don’t mean much more than we all remembered to touch all the bases are traded with knowing winks and nods of gracious understanding.

Regionalism. Gender and Ethnic sensitivity. Child psychologist vetted Kid shows. Recipes for Mom. Hockey for Dad. Requisite hours of Blues and Classical music. Radio in dying languages for shrinking audiences. News read by respectable looking White guys who genuinely like the Queen.

The same old same old as familiar as the lumberjack shirt and sweat pants you pull on to watch “Dragon’s Den”.

You begin to realize that the only real difference between “The Beachcombers”, “Arctic Air” and “Republic of Doyle” is which ocean serves as a backdrop.

Phrases like “we’ve ruminated on that”, “we’ve had many discussions about this” and “it’s something we debate amongst ourselves” repeat so often, you soon realize the people who work at CBC spend most of their time talking.

And not a lot doing…

No desire to show that bad old Prime Minister how much more can be done with so much less. No passion to demand the audience pay attention or the world take notice.

No fire in the belly. No spark of imagination.

Only bureaucratic excuses another bureaucrat would understand.

When the subject of feature films on CBC was broached, we learned that Canadian feature films don’t work for the CBC anymore because they arrive without any audience recognition or box office fanfare.

Far be it from the CBC to stir up some interest. Why should they do the job similarly lackadaisical and government funded producers and distributors have not.

What’s more, it seems Canadian films are not “family friendly”. And worse, they don’t all run 90 minutes.

The concepts of editing for content or to fit a time slot are apparently too large for the bureaucratic mind.

But in an effort to accommodate (everything about these hearings drips with accommodation) the network will program Canadian feature films on Saturday nights (the graveyard of Canadian TV) during the Summer (traditional boneyard of all things television).

Which evenings, even a bending-over-backward-to-be-accommodating Commissioner had to mention, are when families are “outside” and “around a campfire”.

At least those who are among the same class and cottage country coteries which network and government bureaucrats inhabit.

I told you these hearings were revealing.

But my favorite moment so far was provided by Mark Starowitz, Executive Director of CBC Documentary Programming, after assuring the Commissioners that CBC remains the dominant force in Canadian documentary filmmaking.

Certainly a revelation to any indie filmmaker who has tried to sell CBC an innovative documentary in the last while.

Asked what kind of Documentary inspiration CBC had coming down the pipe, Starowitz thought for a moment and offered that “in a couple of weeks” a crack CBC crew would be installing a camera inside a beaver dam, allowing the nation’s children the thrilling prospect of getting to know the iconic rodent so much better.

File:American Beaver.jpg

Starowitz would seem unaware, a little research apparently far below the pay grade of somebody busy thinking up documentaries, that there are currently DOZENS of web sites offering web cams planted inside or in the water surrounding any number of beaver lodges.

Meaning –- anybody with Internet access can see what CBC thinks will be cutting edge programming next season –- right now.

Having checked out a long-standing Canadian site which features a Beaver-cam, two items which also escaped the tax-payer funded programmers became clear:

1) Beavers spend most of their lodge time sleeping.

2) Beavers are nocturnal.

So unless some child psychologist recommends getting your kid up to watch TV at three in the morning –- they won’t see much.

And it’s not going to be exciting enough to drag them away from playing “World of Warcraft”.

Although –- if that Beaver were to do what Beavers often do and chews off his own nuts, he’s probably got a good chance of sitting at one of those hearing room tables.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lazy Sunday # 247: Blood Or Chrome

Blood: The essence of life, supplying oxygen and nutrients to the body while removing toxins and waste.

Chrome: Odorless and tasteless. A lustrous, hard metal that appears to be highly polished.

"The most watched content on YouTube is professionally produced because people can tell the difference between real stuff and crap." -- Rishad Tobacowala

Five years ago, when media strategist Rishad Tobacowala assessed the internet’s best known video archive, most in showbiz did not believe online video would ever seriously challenge television creatively or attract a significant audience.

Yeah, it was fun, even edgy and challenging sometimes. But monetizing the content was virtually impossible and without money, those with marketable creative skills might dabble or try out a vanity project, but they would never fully commit.

Because creative people need money to survive and keep creating. So the internet might be a marketing or inspirational tool. Maybe it could even be a platform on which to augment the content of a popular TV series.

But it would never seriously compete.

The Broadcasting powers that be saw sites like YouTube as Chrome, the distracting sparkly, a shiny decorative flourish on  the vehicle to which it was attached.

All that is about to change forever.

imageA year ago, YouTube began to offer “Channels”, specialized sub-sites offering content directed at a specific audience.

These include brands like “Car & Driver”, “Maker” and “Machinima”as well as several where Russian guys shoot big guns with an enthusiasm that must leave even the National Rifle Association slack-jawed.

And in that one year, some of these sites have grown to average more than a Billion video views per month.

That has given Google the confidence to begin moving YouTube from a place where people surf to one where they engage, spending more time watching content –- and thus being more susceptible to advertising.

A few months ago, Google pumped $100 Million into its channels, which for a company that earns more than $8 Billion a year is the equivalent of you or me digging through the couch cushions when we realize the Pizza guy is going to expect a tip.

But with that money, the blood and life essence of creativity, YouTube can at last pay professionals to create high-end content.

Fully one third of this investment went to Machinima and its vast audience of gamers, resulting in two of the most polished series currently available on TV or any other platform.

“Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn” is accessible and engrossing even to those of us who have never played the game, while “Battlestar Gallactica: Blood & Chrome” is a far more worthy successor to the 2004 series than its own “Caprica” sequel.

“Blood and Chrome” began rolling out two weeks ago and will consist of ten 7 to 12 minute episodes by the time it concludes its launch in early December.

The webisodes will then be glued together as a two hour movie for SyFy in early 2013 before a DVD release.

Watching episodes of “Blood & Chrome” it’s impossible not to be struck by production values that exceed virtually anything else on television and realize how quickly what we thought only television could deliver has been eclipsed.

Television will doubtless be around for a while. But from a creative standpoint, it will have to depend on more chrome trim, maybe even fins and spoiler panels to maintain its audience. The essence of life and creativity is inexorably moving online.

The first episode of “Blood & Chrome” is embedded below. Go full screen for the full experience and just keep clicking through to subsequent episodes.

And Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Lazy Sunday # 246: Gifs With Sound

italian wave

I don’t know why I have such a soft spot for animated Gifs. Small things amuse small minds, I suppose.

Or maybe it’s got something to do with those old billboards that used to blow smoke rings or that two storey cowboy in Vegas who did nothing but wave 24/7. They just get your attention.

God knows, every time I tack one up here, the visitor traffic spikes.


It might have something to do with a life spent at the movies too. Watching those strings of still pictures magically being brought to life. The sweet “I could so be on Jeopardy” twinge of recognition or the distillation of the essence of a film captured in a snippet of frames.

Or maybe it’s just that they’re a lot of fun.

Fun that can be multiplied with the creative use of sound and pop touchstones. It’s always amazing how two or three disparate elements can be combined to get you giggling about what has become a cultural reference to something else.

You may not like or even “get” all of what follows. But I guarantee you’ll find yourself laughing out loud a couple of times.

Maybe it really is that “small things amuse small minds” thing.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Bonding With Bond

I stood on the sunlit sidewalk outside Regina’s Capitol theatre, staring at the poster and lobby cards for the movie “Now Showing” in its plush velvet interior. Barely 13 years old, I was certain that the matinee I’d just seen had to be the best movie ever made, “Dr. No”.

I knew nothing of spies, espionage or the Ian Fleming novel on which “Dr. No” had been based back then. What had drawn me was the concept of a man with a “Licence to kill”.

Movies back then stuck to a stronger moral code than they do now. And while today’s action heroes blast away with impunity, a contemporary hero in the 60’s had to be law-abiding and responsible. So the idea that James Bond had been given the okay to kill whoever he wanted without having to answer to anybody was unique indeed.

Looking at “Dr. No” now, it’s hard to believe it had the impact it did. The level of action and production values aren’t far beyond that of an average hour of television –- from the 1970’s.

And for all of his vaunted “License to kill”, the film’s half over before Bond dispatches his first bad guy.

But there was something about it.

All the trademarks of the Bond franchise were there at the beginning. The opening shot through the gun barrel, the stylized title sequence, the theme music with its infectious guitar riff, “Bond. James Bond” and Martinis “shaken not stirred”.

And there was the first “Bond Girl”. I still credit the moment when Ursula Andress’ “Honey Ryder” rose from the ocean in her white bikini as the moment I entered puberty.

I knew I was going to see this movie again. But it was a long wait until the next Saturday matinee. That problem was solved halfway up the next block, when I saw the paperback version of “Dr. No” on a drugstore rack.

I was a couple of chapters into the book before the bus from downtown got me home. Hard as it was for me to believe, it was even better than the movie.

Bond was a rougher, tougher guy. But still with his devil-may-care roguish flair. Dr. No was far more evil, his secret island not a Bauxite mine but a quarry for mining Bat Guano. Who knew bat shit was even called Guano, let alone how much work went into processing it. Fleming was a sucker for detail.

Everything in the book was richer. The inner workings of MI6 and the flavors of Jamaica were knitted throughout. Dr. No’s victims weren’t just thrown in the ocean or fed to sharks. They were staked out on a beach to be set upon by ravenous crabs. And Honey –- Oh My God – when Honey Ryder stepped out of the ocean she wasn’t wearing nothing at all!!!

That copy of “Dr. No” was utterly dog-eared by the time school rolled around on Monday.

And by the end of that first weekend I had become a confirmed James Bond fanatic. By the time “From Russia With Love” came out a year later, I’d read all every one of Fleming’s novels. And I found the second Bond film even better than the first.

But Bond and I were still relative outliers. The films were successes, but didn’t reach “must see” status for the general public until “Goldfinger” came along.

It was followed by what I still think is the best Bond caper, “Thunderball”. But then things started to get into a pattern  where you felt you’d seen it all before. The iconic moments were still highlights, of course. But everything else seemed a re-tread of what had been done before.

The magic of the books and the first films had been replaced by the Hollywood process of turning a plot into a sequel string of familiar touchstones. I always thought that was the real reason Sean Connery walked away from the franchise.

In a way, I walked away too. I didn’t even have an interest in seeing George Lazenby’s turn in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”.

Part of me figured maybe I’d just grown up.

Then, during a break in shooting a scene on “The Last Detail”, Clifton James started talking about the part he’d just played (Sheriff J.W. Pepper) in what would be the next Bond film “Live and Let Die” with the new Bond, Roger Moore.

I pressed him for details and he said the franchise was going in a “different direction”. It was going to be more “tongue in cheek”, more fun.

That didn’t feel right to me and after I saw the movie I knew I was right. Moore’s Bond was a wise-cracking cad who didn’t even drink Martinis and almost seemed to enjoy killing.

I still went to see his Bond films. Back then I saw everything. But I recall leaving both “Moonraker” and “View to a Kill” vowing I’d never see a Bond movie again.

The rugged humanity and unflinching decency that would need to be there for a man to be granted a “License to Kill”, a permit to operate beyond the rules of society in the first place, were gone. Without that, James Bond was just another psychopath. A sophisticated one to be sure. But not a hero.

And that wasn’t the guy who had first gained the trust of both me and Honey Ryder.

bond and honey

Yet, proving just how out of step I was with the Zeitgeist, the popularity of the franchise just seemed to grow.

And while I longed for the Bond of the books and the first films, each new release was accompanied by magazine spreads on the new “Bond Girls” and the “Gadgets” sandwiched between ads for Bond’s new Breitling watch, his special edition Florsheim shoes and the bullet shaped suppositories he could shove up his ass if he came down with a case of the piles.

Commerce had overtaken and corrupted what had been (at least to me) pure art.

By then, luckily, I was on my own espionage series, “Adderly” where fellow story editor Carl Binder and I would do all we could to keep our spy character in the Connery mode while the network kept pushing him ever closer to Roger Moore.

To be honest, both we and the network were deluding ourselves, since our secret agent operated on a far lower level than the double O’s of MI6.

Still, there was a moment late in the second season when we finally got “Adderly” into a white dinner jacket and seated at the Baccarat table of a Moroccan Casino. It was a small victory. But one we savored to the hilt.

I felt the Bond franchise began to turn back to its roots with Timothy Dalton and sensed a perfect balance developing between the Connery and Moore camps in Pierce Brosnan.

But the harsh reality of the character’s life as an espionage agent and what he sacrificed to keep the free world free was still missing.

And then along came “Casino Royale”, reminding all who had been there from the beginning of the magic inherent in Ian Fleming’s creation.

I don’t know if any movie has ever made my movie-going tastes feel more redeemed. A redemption confirmed by “Quantum of Solace”. And hopefully by “Skyfall”.

It’s hard to believe that a movie franchise is still with us, the arrival of its next instalment as anticipated as it is a half century after the first one appeared.

But that’s the bond we all seem to have with Bond. Hopefully, it will continue for many more episodes and incarnations to come.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

It’s Never Too Late For An Awesome Childhood

A couple of weekends back, I was a “Special Guest” at one of those skyrocketing in popularity Comic Con affairs.

While others sold memorabilia or promoted coming attractions, I was there to talk to fans and sign autographs in the spectrum now known as “Genre” –- so named since it has surpassed all the other available genres in its effect on popular culture.

Given that my career includes many years as an actor, some of that giving voice to well-known animated characters and then writing and producing several hundred hours of TV that included Sci-fi, horror, fantasy and adventure formats, it was a varied and multiple personality experience.

It’s also one for which I have to prepare on the scale of a presidential debate. From experience, I’ve learned that there’s always somebody at these events who knows my oeuvre far better than I do and still wants more detail. 

Much as I’ve been ingrained with respect for the audience and appreciation of a fan base, many of those with an undying dedication to one show or another don’t understand that we who create for a living tend to create and move on, often with less emotional attachment to the work we’ve done than they have.

For us it’s a job, their moments of magic either too hard won, constructed with cold calculation or just the result of dumb luck to hold much ongoing personal investment.

Of course, I still appreciate the appreciation. And unlike many in the media, I don’t classify Genre fans as “nerds” or “geeks”. Because there’s a lot more behind being a Genre fan and it’s integral to what makes all of us happy.

Allow me to explain.

The show began in the early morning hours as the vendors showed off their wares to appreciative competitors and VIPs. These are the folks who either make their living in the Genre after-market or whose dedication to collecting, promoting or blogging its content is well known.

It was during this portion of the day that I witnessed one guy count out a few hundred dollars for a set of Hot Wheels cars he’d wanted since he was eight years old. Nearby, another guy climbed into an adult sized Orc costume he insisted would make next Halloween the kind he’d always imagined enjoying as a kid.

As he stalked around ferociously, the guy with the new Hot Wheels tried them out on a loop-the-loop accessory, the look on his face letting you know he was right behind the wheel of each vehicle as it rocketed up the ramp into an inverted 360.

That’s because the embrace of memorabilia and genre is linked to either rekindling imaginations or offering the exercise of imagination to those who, through one circumstance or another, didn’t have the chance to do so when they were kids.

Down one aisle sat a display of priceless comics from what is now known as those publications’ “Golden Age”. As I scanned covers I recalled from my own childhood, I pondered the King’s ransom the titles once stacked in my bedroom closet would bring today.

But I also wondered if the teenaged or young adult me would have bothered dragging the contents of that closet through life. Comics back then were consumed until repeat readings offered no new flights of fancy and then traded to a friend for what he’d read.

Those comics had helped me bring Batman’s battles with The Joker to life in my own mind. Unlike the Hot Wheels and Orc guys, that part of my need for creative expression had been met and encouraged in childhood.

And the thrill of what your own imagination can create is at the core of Genre love. It’s a reminder of how important it is that we all find ways to creatively express ourselves and exercise our imaginations.

The fantasy, horror, Sci-Fi genre by definition requires a greater suspension of disbelief than is asked of those drawn to detectives or historical fiction. It demands we give more credence to what “could happen” rather than what logically “should” or “would have”.

Embracing a childlike willingness to accept the impossible and the implausible is what drives Genre. Unfortunately, that great leap of faith and the desire to be inspired is widely misinterpreted as an unwillingness to mature.

But it’s not. For the original experience inspired some of us to continue playing in that sandbox and allowing ourselves even greater levels of intellectual openness.

Wanting to dress as Princess Leia or an Imperial Storm Trooper is not about being an extrovert or safely practicing fascist tendencies. Do you think any woman wanders the halls of a Comic Con half naked in the hope of attracting the attention of guys already terminally addicted to video games?

Of course not. She’s just having fun. And maybe hoping to meet somebody conversant in Wookie or Klingon.

That kind of playful interplay was exemplified in many of the fans for whom I signed scripts, animation cells, old props and logo’d apparel.

In addition to those who’d found a typo on Page 32 of the script for Episode 63 that had escaped God knows how many weeks of rewrites and wondered if that made it more valuable; there were those who had been inspired to venture beyond where the show, character or iconic item that sparked their imagination ended.

There was one whose research had revealed that the first sighting of the Loch Ness monster took place mere days after the original movie version of “King Kong” had played in Scotland.

Talk about imagination inspiring imagination.

Another had come to own a city miniature created for some series and begun constructing his own town, one that now occupied 833 cubic feet and was still growing; a construct so detailed that town planners dropped by to study the potential impact of their own potential civic improvements.

Most rewarding were those who credited a certain story for healing a long carried wound or inspiring them to overcome a real life version of the obstacles that faced our fictional hero.

And even when I sensed the anecdote might be somewhat embellished itself, you still had to appreciate the exercise in imagination and the desire to share it.

Like all of these weekends, there was a dominating presence by the heavy hitters, the “Star Wars”, “Star Trek”, “Marvel” and “Transformers” franchises. X-Men and Gaming icons wandered every aisle.

Once high-flyers like “Barbie” and “Mickey” were there as well. But a significant segment of the floor space was held by worlds and characters I’d never seen before.

At first, I thought I was just out-of-touch. But on further exploration, I discovered that these were people with brand new creations. None of them had a major studio, game platform or deep-pocketed venture capitalist behind them.

There was the guy who makes his own Zombie movies –- on his days off –- with friends -- and makes enough money at shows like these to keep making them.

There were the twin sisters with a web series. A guy with his own original trading card game. People with online series, graphic novels or a book that could be the start of the next Harry Potter or Twilight franchise.

None had either a studio development contract, interest from a publisher or a deal with a Chinese toy factory. They had just thought up or made something cool and had come to find an audience who might like it.

And I’m sure some of them did. For I know their passion and imagination inspired me. And I’m one of those jaded showbiz guys who’s fairly certain he’s seen it all.

As the show closed and the displays on the floor began coming down, I walked out past vendors breaking down the now empty boxes that had carried in their wares and counting wads of cash and credit card receipts.

It was a reminder of the economic power of imagination and a sad reminder of how so few in the Canadian entertainment industry have understood the value of Genre production.

Yeah, it’s maybe not the stuff any self-respecting exec dependent on funding from a government bureaucracy can easily pitch. They all insist on putting away “childish” things and leaning toward that which fits a societal or demographic need.

But Genre makes money, sometimes for generations to come. While those seeking out “Republic of Doyle” action figures or the “Holmes on Homes” graphic novel will be rare.

But more important, Genre fires imaginations, allowing adults to live or relive what inspired them as kids. And those ideas are what makes an industry vital and viable – and popular.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Beyond The Paywall

This is my second week going cold turkey on the Globe and Mail, Canada’s National newspaper. I admit I was never a devout follower of the “Grey Lady of Front Street” as she was once called, since the Globe was frequently “shocked and appalled” by things that didn’t upset me in the least.

The paper also featured a regularly disappearing and then appearing revamped before disappearing again sports section suggesting a complete lack of interest in issues which interested me deeply.

But it was generally available on the seat next to me on the bus or in the coffee shop. And based on what I found on those occasions, I paid for it from time to time.

And then it was online and it was free and the ink didn’t come off on my hands, so I dropped by the website with increasing regularity.

Recently, however, like a lot of struggling newspapers, the Globe put up a paywall, insisting I pay for its stories, whether I found anything of interest or not and even if the content might be plagiarized or printed to serve little more than the personal needs of some Globe employee.

So now I’m getting my news elsewhere and, far from surprising, have found more than enough information on virtually any story that has caught my attention –- for free.

Somebody who has given more thought than I about Newspaper paywalls is Anthony Marco, who most who visit this site know as the co-host of the inimitable “TV-Eh?” podcast as well as my fave Canadian podcast “Dyscultured”.

These and Mr. Marco’s other online activities are aggregated here.

Anthony is also a teacher from Hamilton, Ontario, heavily involved in Labor issues and has run as an NDP candidate. So he comes to the issue of access to information both honestly and with greater depth than I’ll ever have.

He’s also agreed to share his views here. They’re well worth the read. Have at ‘em Anth!

News Site Paywalls:The Decade Old Box of Baking Soda in the Back Corner of Your Fridge

I've been wrestling with the idea of paywalls on news websites over the last few weeks. That's not to say they haven't been around longer than that, but the practise seems to have ramped up in Ontario and Canada as the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail announced their most recent forays.

As I'm working through my feelings on podcasts and during impromptu discussions, I find that I never quite capture everything I want to say.

First of all, I do believe that the people who work for publications should get paid, and get paid well. That's the social democrat in me.

I get the sense that traditional print publications don't get the first thing about how to monetize on the web. They make some piddling amount on web ads, but their business is still floated by print advertising to a huge degree over subscriptions.

I've always been against any restriction of my travels on the web, but somehow I've had an instinctive problem with it on news sites. I believe, after much consideration, I've drilled down to my major objection:

The product by which these giant media conglomerates are making money is one of the few protected businesses in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the U.S. Constitution. The reason we protect such an enterprise is because the public have a right to know the affairs of government through an independent body that does not work for that government.

If such a paradigm is so important that we have enshrined it into the living documents that create a road map for our countries and cultures, why are we allowing roadblocks to be thrown up in front of this information? If freedom of the press is a right then surely access to the content the press produces should be essential to an informed and literate society.

When I buy a newspaper (not regularly), I've always assumed that I'm buying the delivery system of the content, not the content itself. I'm clearly not buying the content or I would have a transferable right to use the content without citation. If I choose a tree-based product as my choice delivery system of content, I should expect that the cost of paper, ink and delivery is a necessary evil.

I have no doubt that maintaining a newspaper's website is a time-consuming enterprise that has costs attached, but if it is a loss leader in the "news" enterprise, why have a website? If the answer is "That's because our readers want to read our content there," then surely they will pay. So why aren't they?

Perhaps it's because a huge percentage of people who read news on a website cherry-pick stories and don't see read the news like a retiree who devours each page over a three hour period every morning. If I only read a story or two each day from the Toronto Star, I would never buy the print edition based on a such a practise. Why would I pay for a full-blown web subscription?

When newspapers try to translate to the web, they are trying to shove a widely general-themed product into a readily niche-utilized environment. Who wants to read a web edition, in its entirety, the way one might read a print edition?

I can't justify the value model of paying for a single newspaper's web portal when I get my news from all over the web.

In trying to sum up my basic problems of paywalled news sites:

1) You're making money from constitutional protections that don't extend to average citizens. You are holders of a public trust and, as such, your fiduciary responsibility to maximize shareholder profits by blocking the most democratic form of access we've had to information is highly problematic.

2) The most impoverished of our citizenry, who could, until now, try to maintain a grasp of current events by having access to a web where most content was accessible. How can those who cannot afford a print edition subscription afford a digital subscription when the alternative may be rent, heat or food?

3) You've never tried a "pay what you can" strategy or a system for micropayments. If I read one article on your website and find it informative, I might pay a nickle or a dime for it even though I wouldn't pay ten bucks a month on the chance I may find nothing. By asking readers "how much is this worth to you?" you may find you're surprised. But that's not a model that acceptable to the corporate overseers.

4) I love the concept of supporting local businesses. Local newspapers have been subsumed by national publisher silos. In Hamilton, the daily, The Spectator, is owned by the Toronto Star's parent company Metroland. The weekly hyper-local papers are also owned by Metroland. The Spec has more stories aggregated through wire services than local stories on a daily basis. I can find endless sources which will allow me to read wire stories for free. It used to be that a local paper's success often ran parallel to a city's successes. Now the dollars are fed into the silo and the viewpoints have become homogenized by corporate interests.

I can't give news sites the right answer, but I can spot a wrong one: paywalls.

Neither the work, the employees or the content have become irrelevant. The monetization model is, however, more questionable than the ten year old box of baking soda in the back corner of your fridge. It's well past it's "best before" date and so is the idea that your masthead will carry the day on a user-defined information medium.

Mr. Marco’s piece is published under a (cc) Creative Commons license.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Lazy Sunday # 245: Penciling It In


With the explosion of new technologies, we’re all constantly offered fresh and innovative ways to alter or improve the ways we work. There’s always yet another cutting edge way to do the job faster, easier and more efficiently.

But a lot of us resist. Not because we wouldn’t like the grunt work made simpler. But because we’ve already found what works for us.

A couple of years ago, I shot a documentary about a well-known Canadian artist. During a break of an interview we were conducting at a gallery, a young fan approached and asked how he decided what was going to be his next canvas.

He replied, “It’s not up to me. The paint decides”. Those of us who work creatively know he wasn’t kidding.

For all of the ways computers have improved the work of writing screenplays, I still sit down with a first draft and a red pen, eschewing the “click of a button” highlighters and post-it notes for a process that connects more directly with my own creative energies.

Recently, I worked with a comic book artist who draws all of his first pages with a red pencil. To anybody else, his images are almost indiscernible. But the feel of that pencil in his hand is what draws the illustrations to the page in the first place.

The same must be true for American artist Chris LaPorte. Once a sidewalk portrait and caricature artist from Grand Rapids, Michigan, LaPorte now works on massive murals, which he draws ---- with a pencil.

There are a ton of easier and quicker ways Chris LaPorte could accomplish his task. But the simplest of creative tools, the pencil, is what works for him.

It’s always about the final product –- and the tool that best connects it to your muse.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

…and follow the progress of Chris’ latest work online here.

Friday, November 02, 2012

The Final Installment

No, not from me. Sorry if I got your hopes up.

But somebody far more notable did say good-bye to his own loyal audience yesterday, British DJ Danny Baker.

Baker, a screenwriter, comic and what the BBC likes to call their show hosts, a presenter, for more than 30 years and until yesterday at the helm of a popular gig on BBC Radio London known as “The All Day Breakfast Show”, was fired without notice just before he went on the air.

Said “sacking” also occurred less than a week before Baker will be inducted into the UK’s Radio Hall of Fame.

Since he was done and since nobody in management had even had either the courtesy or courage to tell him to his face, let alone supply a reason for the dismissal; Baker used his final broadcast to unleash a multi-hour rant against the “pinheaded weasels” and out-of-control bean-counters who have taken over not only the BBC but the entertainment industry as a whole.

For anyone who has been fired or even just forced to sit through a meeting with some pencil necked geek more familiar with spreadsheets than what attracts or moves an audience, Baker’s rant is pure gold.

If the Canadian entertainment industry had ten people with half his disdain for those who pretend to “manage” what artists create, it would be a whole different ballgame.

What follows is a thing of beauty. Enjoy.