Sunday, January 27, 2013

Lazy Sunday # 257: Missing In The Mansion


Understanding where the copyright lines are drawn these days is hard enough and what does or doesn’t constitute “fair use” in the modern copyright landscape makes the whole issue even more confusing.

Basically, copyright ensures the creator of any intellectual property the right to be credited for it, profit from it and determine how it is used; while fair use allows those using the property certain freedoms, like making copies for private use or educational purposes.

Fair Use also applies when the use of the original work doesn’t interfere with the copyright holder's right to exploit the work – and that’s where we get into the grey areas.

In days gone by, an author retained the rights to his creations for his lifetime and up to 50 years after his death –- at which time it went into the Public Domain where anybody could use or reproduce it as they saw fit.

This kept everybody happy until the Disney Corporation decided it would suffer catastrophic harm if such brands as Mickey Mouse could be used by the rest of us. Hollywood studios joined in the complaint and a compliant US Congress sided with the House of Mouse –- extending the life of a copyright while beginning an ongoing process of proscribing what constitutes fair use.

So it seems fitting that guerrilla filmmakers have targeted Disney in particular as they push their fair use rights to the limit.

Last week, the Sundance Festival debuted “Escape From Tomorrow”, a feature shot entirely at Disney World in Florida without the knowledge or permission of anyone at Disney.

Whether Disney will sue filmmaker Randy Moore or block the film’s release remains to be seen. A year ago, they didn’t go after pop artist Banksy, whose film “Exit Through The Gift Shop” clandestinely filmed scenes at the theme park, perhaps in the belief that the negative publicity wasn’t worth it.

And Moore doesn’t believe his work has done anything to harm any of Disney’s trademarks or infringe their multiple revenue streams either.

Either way, what this might represent is a change of attitude among those who have long been seen only as the consumers of media and targets of advertising.

Perhaps, they have had enough of piracy lawsuits, digital locks, commercials at the gas pump and urinal and other intrusions on their right to consume media how and when THEY wish –- since they are an equal partner in the transaction.

It would seem some have begun answering Banksy’s call (image above) to stop being passive in the face of insistent corporations and start making them accept your individual human rights.

A year ago, filmmakers the Daws Brothers, posted their own clandestinely shot film set in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion on Youtube.

It’s worth a look, and might just be someday acknowledged as the moment when the creatives in our industry began pushing back the over reach and heavy handedness of the executive offices.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Missing In The Mansion

And the making of…

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Lazy Sunday # 256: The Fake Moon Landing

It has been said that the fanciful mind is indiscriminate about its phantoms. Anything beyond some people’s intelligence or experience becomes automatic fodder for a conspiracy.

Personally, I’m a fan of conspiracy theories. I don’t believe most of them because I know how impossible it is for almost anybody to keep a secret. And conspiracies usually rely on a whole ton of people keeping quiet, making the probability of an ongoing total news blackout that much more improbable.

But do I admire the imagination and dedication to detail required to develop and sustain one.

Among our longest running conspiracies, consistently revived and retooled with each new age of technological advancement, is that Apollo Eleven didn’t land on the Moon and all that “One giant leap for mankind” stuff was manufactured on a soundstage in Hollywood.

Most conspiracy theories evolve from a desire to make sense of inexplicable inhumanity like 9/11. But the Moon Landing Hoax appears simply bent on proving that one of the human race’s greatest accomplishments never happened.

Why? In the words of Tom Hanks, “There is no law against making money in the promulgation of ignorance." And in the words of P.T. Barnum, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

The odd thing about the suckers who fall for this shit, is they never search out somebody who might know how you’d have to go about faking a moon landing in a movie studio.

Somebody who might explain that while we had the technology to fly to the moon in 1969, we didn’t have the technology to fake doing it.

Sorry to pop the balloon. But the explanation is just that simple.

Here, courtesy filmmaker S.G. Collins, is the proof. Enjoy Your Sunday.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Sheep Return To The Fold

“The Shepherd always tries to persuade the sheep that their interests and his own are the same.”

So, Hockey’s back! A truncated season of 48 games. Games that will only be played between teams of the same conference to save on travel and stoke local rivalries, whether or not they actually exist.

10% Vancouver’s games will be played against Calgary. They won’t visit or be visited by 4 of their fellow Canadian teams and won’t encounter the league’s biggest stars or their own storied rivals.

The New York Rangers will travel to 45% of their road games in less than an hour –- and by bus. Meanwhile, last year’s Stanley Cup Champions won’t be seen in either America’s biggest media market nor face-off against the team they beat in the finals.

There will be no exhibition games in which unknown players can make a name for themselves and six day training camps mean most attending rookies will be back with their farm team by the weekend, leaving teams staffed by most of the same guys they had last year.

It’s a recipe that promises bland and familiar.

But Gary Bettman is “Sorry” and “The teams are waiting for you with open arms”. Although you can be sure neither will escort you to a seat unless you cough up the requisite cash.

Much was written during the lockout about the suffering beyond their ranks that the NHL had caused. Food vendors and ticket takers at the rinks. Guys selling League merchandise or running bars on Main Street. The sports networks and the CBC.

If you ask me, all of them should know better by now. This labor squabble, like the last two, has been about one thing, Bettman’s strategy of putting teams in markets with little interest in hockey.

That process has reduced the pot of money available to all teams and thus made those who are profitable even less willing to revenue share with the ones who aren’t.

That means they need to claw back from the players while reducing as much of their other expenditures as they can.

During the first Strike in 1994, I happened to visit Las Vegas, turning up at a pool patio wearing an NHLPA T-shirt. The bartender stared at me in disbelief. “What’re you guys doin’? The fans are gonna hate you for this!” I shrugged off the obviously lucid reaction.

I also told him I was Doug Gilmour and spent a great afternoon drinking free Mai-Tai’s and signing autographs for people who had clearly never seen a hockey game.

I was almost outed by a guy from Calgary, who stared at me for a long time through an alcohol haze before asserting that it didn’t appear moving to Toronto had been very good for me.

The fans did eventually come back. But much as the talking heads on CBC and TSN trumpet the growing excitement in the land, I don’t see it this time.

In an odd way, the lack of hockey has led media outlets desperate to fan any remaining embers of interest to release information about players that probably hurts more than it helps.

Today alone, I learned that the Sedin Twins have declined to appear as witnesses in Scott Moore’s $60 Million lawsuit against their former Canuck teammate Todd Bertuzzi, because they might be required to reveal what was said in the Canucks’ dressing room prior to the game.

And that would break part of hockey’s unwritten “code” –- even though said code brutally ended the career of a fellow player.

No wonder fewer and fewer people think of hockey players as “heroes”…

I also learned that Sydney Crosby spent some of his lockout downtime at a Justin Beiber concert.

Although, honestly, does the fact that Syd’s becoming more of a whiney teenage girl with every season really surprise anybody?

So far, in an informal poll I’ve been taking, not one of my research subjects has indicated a burning desire to get back on the couch for “Hockey Night In Canada”.

Most will, like me, be sitting this season out. We’ve all found something else to do during the past few months. And it’ll take more than a hollow “sorry” to convince me any continued interest benefits me even a fraction as much as it will the NHL.

I’ve also decided that, for the first time in seven years, I won’t be hosting the “Infamous Writers Hockey Pool” on this site come the play-offs.

If somebody wants to take it over, let me know and I’ll give you all you need to set it up. But I don’t have any interest.

And the hard reality is that the media and the League need us far, far more than we need them. We’re the ones who buy the seats and the Bud Light. We make up the ratings numbers that drive license fees and advertising rates. We’re the people who convince our kids they’d rather have a Stamkos jersey than one for Man United.

And if you dig a little, you’ll discover some of the NHL’s own partners are not as committed to them as they’d like you to believe.

Much has been said about an American network, NBC, coming aboard this season to finally offer US fans access to NHL games.

But a quick peek at the NBC schedule indicates that not only will those viewers not see a single Canadian team, they won’t see any games involving the small market teams in their own country.

No Nashville. No Phoenix. No Anaheim, Carolina, Colorado, Columbus, Dallas, Florida, Minnesota, San Jose or Tampa Bay. Not even a single NY Islanders game, even though they’re playing in Manhattan this season.

In other words, unless they subscribe to specialty cable channels, American “Fans” won’t see 2/3 of the teams in the NHL and two more, including the 2011 Cup winner, only once.

What’s more, 41 of the 70 games to which NBC has rights will be broadcast on NBC’s Sports Network, an outfit doing so badly that last month they didn’t have a single show that attracted more than 200,000 viewers.

The Shepherd needs you –- for shearing. It’s not because he really cares…

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Lazy Sunday # 255: Look At This Instagram

What? Two weeks into a new year and there’s been no Nickleback at The Legion?

Well, let’s fix that right now. God knows this is a blog mostly devoted to Art.

A few years back, I sat in a network notes meeting on a France/Canada/Whoever co-production series also attended by a very fine French writer and a know-it-all broadcast exec.

Assuring us he was “the best dialogue man in the business”, said Exec set about acting out a scene in the writer’s episode he wanted revised, giving a performance that was not only completely bereft of creativity but revealed he didn’t have a clue what the show was.

Wrapping up the session with a self-satisfied grin, he snapped his fingers at the writer and said, “That’s how it’s done in Hollywood!” and swung out the door.

The writer dropped his head on the desk. I asked if he was okay. He responded quietly…

“Ses jours nous sommes tous des artistes…”

These days we’re all artists.

And –- these days –- what with the Internet, auto-tune and instagram, it seems most of us are.

Or think we are.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

I’m Just Sayin’…

CES (The Consumer Electronics Show) debuts today in Las Vegas and gadget sites are already giddy with all the new toys about to hit the marketplace.

Lexus has a new self-driving car. Samsung is introducing a fridge that keeps your grocery list up to date. Lenovo will roll out a coffee table sized tablet that up to four people can use at once.

But the early hit of the show seems to be a Panasonic Smart TV device called “My Home Screen” which scans the faces of those in the room and offers programming suggestions based on past viewing habits.

Which may be a product not as completely thought through as the company wants you to believe...

An example:

I invite some friends over to show off my brand new big screen Panasonic Viera.

I turn it on and the app scans the faces in the room –- promptly offering me a wide array of Midget Orgy Porn.

Seriously, Panasonic?

Does Mom really want Dad to know she’s secretly addicted to Ezra Levant? Will Dad suddenly have to explain exactly why he’s been catching every episode of the HBO “Girls” Marathon?

And how do the kids feel about their friends realizing they have absolutely no interest in “Vampire Diaries” or “Buck Wild”?

Not Smart TV at all, Panasonic.

I’m just sayin’…

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Lazy Sunday #254: SEE –- A Cast Of Billions!!!

When I was a kid, I loved those old posters for epic movies. They couldn’t scream loud enough about the spectacles that awaited you on the silver screen.

SEE – A Cast Of Thousands!

SEE – The Clash of War Elephants!

SEE – The Forbidden Dance of The Concubines!

It was more than any small town Saskatchewan kid could imagine. And a whole lot more than what you’d been told went on anywhere in your own country.

Canadians aren’t big about tooting our own horns. We just kinda do stuff and don’t much talk about it. And our newspapers would much prefer to keep you up to date on the Royals or the Kardashians (I know, I know, what’s the difference?) than see what one of us homeboys is doing down the block.

Which means few of us and hardly anybody on the rest of the planet has heard about a Vancouver company called Urthecast.

Part of that is because Urthecast is involved in designing a project for the International Space Station and anytime anybody in Canada talks about Space, the only things they mention are a handful of astronauts and the Canadarm –- which is, basically –- an arm.

But we’ve all heard about Google Earth and streaming video and Urthecast is about to install cameras aboard the Space Station which will stream live video of what’s going on below, down to a single meter in detail.

Tired of waiting to see how much damage some storm did, or have to watch the CNN version from as close to the destruction as the satellite truck can get? You don’t have to anymore.

Bored with the perspective of CBC News correspondents Skype calling from Jerusalem hotel rooms to report on events hundreds of miles away in Syria? Now you can see what’s happening for yourself.

Just want to show friends what your house looks like from space while you wave from the back deck? Well, you can do that too.

Before Spring, live video of Earth will be available to internet and smartphone users, allowing us all to watch events unfold in real time and even zoom in on the action if we want to.

App developers will have access to the data, meaning faster response to natural disasters and crimes. Teachers can show students exactly what it’s like to live on a farm in China or go to school in Malawi. And all of us can take a good look at that tropic resort whose online prices just seem too good to be true.

Urthecast’s system has the potential to revolutionize countless industries and give us more first hand knowledge than we’ve ever had before.

Plus –- there will be a “Cast of Billions”!

Enjoy your Sunday.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

More Reasons To Cut The Cord

There’s always a different feel to the first week of a New Year. A kind of laissez-faire ease. Some places are open, some are still closed for the holidays. Some people are working, others are stretching out the seasonal break. But nobody sweats it.

And there’s a palpable optimism in the air. Those who have made resolutions are kicking up the positive vibes as they “improve” themselves. And even the ones who haven’t listed any bad habits to lose or new goals to achieve seem buoyed by the realization that some around them are finally trying to be better people.

And like every first week of any month, there’s a whole ton of new stuff to watch on Netflix.

I’ve been a big fan of Netflix since it first appeared. And even though the Canadian library offered still languishes under the yoke of past rights agreements, it remains a far better deal than subscribing to any specialty movie channel.

Plus -- if you’re in the mood for some Cancon, it’s often easier to find Canadian titles on Netflix than the Cable offered options. What’s more, you can see what you want when you want rather than waiting for the hours between one and five a.m.

What’s more, Netflix has begun offering quality content Canadian networks would never consider making, let alone make with as clear an agenda of delivering quality at any cost.

This, for example, debuts next month…

…and debuts all 13 hours of the first season (two seasons have been ordered at a budget of $100 Million) on the same day for those who like what they see and want to continue viewing according to their schedule and not whichever one works for a broadcaster or its advertisers.

People, we have entered a world where HBO level programming is available without paying HBO level fees.

And similar content is either in development or will soon be available via set top boxes from Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft –- literally the new studios of the 21st Century.

Chip maker Intel will soon join the club, offering consumers the ability to subscribe to content per channel (no more bundles) and even to subscribe per show if the majority of a channel’s content isn’t to their taste.

And which of us doesn’t fall into that category?

Intel TV Logo - H 2012

Intel’s service also gives customers a “Cloud DVR”, allowing them to watch any TV show at any time, without the need to record, pause live or rewind shows in progress.

According to Intel, their system has the further potential to bring consumers live sports and TV schedules that match broadcast, something no other online service so far can.

Think of it as simultaneous-substitution for all.

Think of it as no longer paying for channels you never watch or having to buy an entire service for the one show you do want.

Realize it is the end of massive profits for Bell, Shaw, Rogers and other cable operators as well as the entire Canadian system of funding indigenous production.

And since none of them have ever shown any inclination to even attempt a project like “House of Cards” –- or much else that attracts a mass audience –- how big a loss will that really be?

Maybe instead of appearing before the CRTC to beg salvation for a failed and outmoded business model, perhaps its time for we industry players to lobby Parliament for financial rules that will make film investment a legitimate business again.

Maybe a business where the customer rules, not faceless and taste bereft bureaucrats or rapacious corporate monopolies.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

What A Night! What’s For Breakfast?

Happy first post of 2013!

Ooooh, Yeeaahh! Might be one of those mornings we start with a little hair of the dog, huh? And frankly, it’s not a school day –- so what’s wrong with something stronger than OJ with breakfast?

Used to be, all famous writers were Scotch drinkers. Nowadays, it seems the beverage of choice among screen scribes leans toward Bourbon. So here’s a tasty way to integrate Bourbon into the most important meal of the day.

And remember to turn down the sound when we reach the shaker stage of the recipe. Those cubes can wreak havoc if you’re feeling a little –- shall we say –- sensitive.