What if newspapers could talk? Well, now they really can.

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The Day the Studios and Theaters Stood Still

Sometime in the near future there will be an explosion heard only in the entertainment trades and whispered and talked about between studios, marketing executives,  theater owners and DVD retailers. The FCC gave everyone permission to enter this pissing match and what a pissing match it will be.

If you ever go to the movies (and many of us do) with more than 1 person – so two people attend a film and you have a child where you needed to hire a sitter, you might not be going to the theater so quickly anymore. Well, maybe you still will. Time will tell this one. Soon, a mere 6 weeks AFTER any movie starts playing in a theater, you will be able to watch it at home in the comfort of your ‘Aunt Fay’s couch’ (nod to Steely Dan) on your nice large LCD flat panel TV.  To help you To help you visualize what this means in numbers, there are about 115 million television households in the US. Approximately 100 million of them are currently cable, satellite or IPTV subscribers. Through these cable boxes (although not every one of them, only the ‘digital’ households that have a set-top box) you will be able to purchase the very same film that was JUST in the theaters 6 weeks ago on cable for $24.99 – called premium V.O.D. – video-on-demand.  BUT, the movie studios will be able to activate a technology to prevent films sold through video-on-demand cable systems from being copied.  This is the ruling that the FCC just allowed in May 2010 after a two year battle with the studios.

Right now, theaters get an exclusive period — 120 days (4 months vs. 6 weeks), on average — to serve up new movies. Then the releases appear on television video-on-demand services at a price of about $4.99. Now the studios want to offer us new movies on video-on-demand services about 45 days after they arrive in theaters.  But, you can’t keep a copy or make a copy (your DVR, VHS or whatever won’t work). Just like a theater, once its over, its over.

So, if you are more than 2 people (+ a baby sitter), and unless you are dying to see the film on a BIG screen, I guess you might wait a few weeks.

So, what’s the big deal? For starters, the theater owners, have made it clear that releasing a movie early on video-on-demand services — thus cutting into their window — would be the equivalent of declaring war. They feel people will be more reluctant to buy movie tickets, at an average cost of almost $8, if they know they can catch the same film just a few weeks later in their living rooms, and for less money than it costs to haul the whole family to the theater. The average moviegoer spends more than $3 on popcorn and soda and the like, the cost of Friday night at the movies for a family of four can easily reach $45 – $60 — or much more in cities like New York and California.   And theater owners say this doesn’t take into account second-run and discount theaters, and that there are big exceptions: “Inception,” for instance, was still raking in millions in theaters 10 weeks after its release.

Next up, DVD retailers are fuming – Best Buy and Wal-Mart have told the studios they will retaliate against anyone who tries early-release V.O.D. because of the threat it poses to DVD sales. Huh, what DVD sales? The DVD is going the way of the CD in case anyone hasn’t noticed. Blockbuster just filed for bankruptcy. DVD sales for the year are expected to total about $9.9 billion, down 30 percent from their peak in 2004  (about $13 billion), according to Adams Media Research.

Who is the big winner here? The Studios (or so they think) because as much as 80 percent of that early V.O.D. revenue goes to them, therefore movie executives see a new way to compensate for their dwindling DVD business. And the studios are aware that consumers are growing impatient about being unable to access all movies whenever and wherever they want. An early video-on-demand option might prevent some of those frustrated customers from turning to pirated copies.

So where’s the flaw in this plan? I have a couple of thoughts. First of all, the pay-per-view business has been an anemic business since its inception on cable in 1984 when Request TV, Viewers Choice and The People’s Choice (yes, this was my company back then). Part of the problems was with the windows given to PPV movies, part was the terrible job the cable operators did to market these films to us, part was the billing mechanism (it was archaic) and part was the fact that the VHS back then and soon the DVD was simply an easier option. Not to mention you could rent the same film on VHS/DVD so much earlier than on PPV and then buy a copy to own, to watch again and again.  Second problem is that you can’t keep a copy of what you fork out $24.99 for. This just begs for pirates to hack the system (and it will happen and supposedly already has). So forget the studios argument that an early video-on-demand option might prevent some of those frustrated customers from turning to pirated copies.  Maybe at first, but I have no doubt pirated copies will turn up on the streets all the same – now just earlier and better quality DVD copies.

The fact you can’t keep a copy is just self-defeating. Instead, what the studios SHOULD be doing is giving everyone a ‘cloud’ storage locker for say, $ 10.00-20.00 a year. Once you pay $24.99, the film goes straight to your locker. Then, its kept there to be watched as many times as you want for as long as you keep the locker subscription current each year. Sure, pirated copies will still happen but there is a much better chance that people will be more willing to pay the $24.99 IF they can watch it over again, anytime, and on any ‘authorized’ device you own (i.e. mobile phone, Galaxy ‘Tab’, iPad, etc).  Apple does great job with ‘authorized’ devices and computers.

I’m sure a studio would say ‘well, then your friends can come over and see the same film without paying for it because its in your locker’. Well, its in YOUR locker, not theirs and they can come over anyway under the present scenario. And this is the same ridiculous argument studio exec’s made in the early years of the PPV business.  It didn’t stop anyone back then and only help stifle the PPV business – a misjudgment they appear are doomed to repeat once again.  Will they ever learn from past mistakes?

So, will you pay $24.99 to watch a film at home you can only see one time?  You might if it’s a title you don’t really care to much to see in the theaters. Would you have seen Avatar that way?  NOT ME!

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The ‘commodization’ of the movies

Movies. We see the commercials/ spots on TV,  ads in the newspapers , posters on the bus stops and digital ‘moving’ billboards, hear them tout them on radio and of course we still discuss them at the office and home.  We still go to the theaters to see them, then we go home and wait for them to be available to us on…? well, not really DVD‘s anymore. Blockbuster is going away, we really don’t run to Best Buy or Fry’s to ‘rent’ them. Maybe RedBox in a grocery store too. Some of us now are using Netflix, iTunes and some in major metropolitan cities can find them for $5.00 on a table on a street corner (illegal copies albeit, if you know where to look). And fewer of us get them from Torrents, and even less from the newsgroups. But what has happened over the past 10 years to the DVD business has caused a major shift in perception for all of us. Its no longer the ‘event’ it used to be to wait to get a movie in DVD form to bring home and watch on a weekend night. Years ago, there weren’t 15-20 movies in the theaters at once. Movies started a run in the theaters and most lasted a few months. Now, most last a few weeks, if that. Or never see a theater at all. Back then, we could peruse Blockbuster along with our neighbors to grab a copy and return it the next day (if it was a new release).  There was a sense of pent up demand to get that movies when it came out on DVD. That no longer exists. What happened? Where did that great feeling of waiting for that movie you liked so much in the theater to come out on DVD. I miss that ‘looking forward’ to a film at home. How did Hollywood lose that edge with all of us?  They blinked.

Today, even ‘Avatar‘ released on DVD or to Netflix, iTunes, etc. is a non-event. True, Hollywood tries to make it an event. They really do advertise the DVD release. Target and Wal-Mart carry it but years ago Target and Wal-Mart were not even in the running for carrying and stocking an ‘Avatar’.  I think to some extent that the loss of the trips to the local DVD store and the swing to the Targets and Best Buy seem to lend a feeling to each movie released that there a sense of ‘mass commoditization’ of the movies.  You just don’t ‘run’ to Wal-Mart for a film. You can’t even rent them at Wal-Mart or Target – they must be purchased.  To compound this, movies are being released sooner than ever before. This gives one a reason to stop before going to a theater right away to see a movie. Given the cost of a ticket, popcorn etc., a babysitter (if you need one) and you’re into 1 movies for nearly $ 100.00 if you go with 1 other individual. Ouch!

Years back, certain theaters carried certain films. There were ‘art’ houses (for independent films) , there were theaters that carried foreign films ( Goddard, Truffaut) and there were retro houses and mainstream theaters. With costs so high these days, theater owners must give way to larger bigger well advertised releases.  When was the last time anyone saw an ad on TV, newspapers, bus stop, radio, etc for a foreign language film from a well known director. It used to be Directors could lure an audience into the theaters alone.  It didn’t matter who was in the film, what the special effects were or if there were any at all. Few directors today can do this (Cameron and a handful of others can, but not too many).

Movies are a commodity today. One released after another, not much difference between them all. And once they are out and available after the theaters, they are all but forgotten.  We have no more real teams of actors and actresses that are featured in several films  (except for Tarrantino and now Rob Zombie, who do this).

I miss all of this. Do you?

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Avatar cost $300m to make…

but is ‘Dancing With Smurfs’ going to be the most expensive flop ever?

The story of Avatar – the new film from Titanic director James Cameron, and reputedly the most expensive ever made – will ring true to anyone who has ever felt so much as a twinge of guilt about their own carbon footprint.

It is the 22nd century and Earth has run out of its natural resources. It is now little more than a desert, without vegetation, wildlife or minerals.

But a newly discovered planet, Pandora, is a lush, exotic world which possesses everything we need, so a ruthless mining corporation hatches a plan to strip it bare and save the Earth while making billions for themselves.

Feeling blue: Computer-generated aliens in Avatar

Feeling blue: Computer-generated aliens in Avatar

‘To sum it up, it’s about ecology and greed,’ says Sigourney Weaver, who dyed her hair red to play a botanist in the film. ‘It took me a while to grasp what I was getting into, but then I realised no one has ever made a fantasy film like this before.’

Cameron himself is convinced cinema-goers will want to see it at least four times – hopefully quadrupling its box office potential.

‘People will see the movie because they are curious,’ he says. ‘Then they’ll go back to make sure they saw the fantastic things they thought they saw.

‘By then, they’ll be ready to see it for the third time – just to enjoy it – then a fourth time to savour the full experience.’

Certainly, the Hollywood executives who bankrolled this sci-fi juggernaut laden with 3D effects are hoping that Cameron’s optimism is well placed.

Avatar

Sam Worthington morphed into Na’vi, one of the blue-deer-like creatures who populate the world of Pandora

For although the Fox studio indicates that Avatar cost around $180 million – some $30 million more than Cameron’s previous epic, Titanic – Tinseltown gossip says the true cost was a staggering $300 million, thanks to re-shoots and Cameron’s constantly changing ideas.

It’s no wonder that everyone connected with movies is waiting to see what the box office figures look like when Avatar comes out on December 18.

Some believe a movie about an alien culture of giant blue humanoids can never make a profit, while others think it will save the film industry from the threats of DVD piracy and static ticket sales.

Someone, rather unkindly, has dubbed this long, po-faced epic Dances With Smurfs, after Kevin Costner’s over-long po-faced epic Dances With Wolves.

Is Cameron’s ambitious project likely ever to recoup its investment? Titanic, which cost around $150 million to make, was forecast to be a massive flop. And the prediction, when the film came out 12 years ago, was that it was going to lose at least $60 million at the box office.

In the event, it was the most lucrative film ever released, making a staggering $1.1 billion and winning 11 Oscars to boot.

Critics may have carped about Titanic’s hackneyed storyline and saccharine sensibility, but it was a globally loved phenomenon. Avatar

Like all James Cameron films, Avatar is a huge gamble, with audiences at early previews ecstatic at the 3D technology – less enamoured of his environmentally conscious sci-fi world

It personally enriched Cameron – a five-times married movie obsessive with a reputation for throwing the shoutiest tantrums in Hollywood – by an estimated $60 million.

So why has Avatar, which has its London premiere next week, cost so much to make? It is Cameron’s first feature film since Titanic and the price tag mostly reflects the fact that he wanted to make a photo-realistic sci-fi epic film in 3-D.

Sigourney WeaverSigourney Weaver is the only well known actor

This ‘live action’ epic is about two-thirds computer generated and one-third real, and uses the most advanced motion capture technology.

There are only 37 cast members – all unknowns except for Sigourney Weaver – but there is a roll-call of thousands of digitally-created characters.

Much of the technology was created just to make the filming possible, and Cameron says his team had to invent dozens of new techno-phrases to describe the processes involved.

In fact, when he came up with the idea for Avatar 14 years ago, he was told it was an impossible dream, because the technology needed to make it come true didn’t exist.

Describing the making of Avatar as ‘computer graphics hell’, he added: ‘We were trying to create a world from scratch, working with computer generated characters that are photorealistic. That’s tough. We set the bar high.’

The project was conducted with Cameron’s customary mania for perfection, using close-up cameras so sensitive they could detect muscles moving under the skin of the actors’ faces.

Each shot was captured by up to eight cameras simultaneously and the images were then turned into aliens. The final effect is said to be so convincing that you could be looking at actors in make-up rather than digitally created beings.

And every scene had to be shot twice on 3D cameras to make the film work in three dimensions.

The film’s production designer, Rick Carter, says the created reality is vital to the success of the film.

‘The real challenge is whether you feel the emotion coming through from the characters.

When you look into those eyes, do you feel the connection is real?’

Titanic

Cameron’s movie Titanic took 2.5 years to produce, cost $200m to make and took $1.8 billion worldwide to become the biggest-grossing film of all time

It was Carter’s job to create the fantasy planet Pandora, according to Cameron’s specifications. One of the many spectacular features is that the planet lights up at night.

Cameron had seen a bioluminescent world when he was deep-sea diving during the making of Titanic, and so, for added realism, hired a professor of plant physiology, Jodie Holt, to help create the plant life on Pandora, which had to be toxic to humans but support vegetation.

Another academic, Professor Paul Frommer, of the University of Southern California, was paid to create a language for the tribe of 10ft tall blue aliens, called the Na’vi, who live on Pandora.

Frommer, a linguistics expert, spent four years working on the language, and said: ‘I could have let my imagination run wild and come up with all sorts of weird sounds, but I was limited by what a human actor could actually do.’

The Na’vi language as he created it has more than 1,000 words, with a grammar of its own. The actors even had a voice coach, the renowned Carla Meyer, to help with pronunciation.

Frommer hopes it will have ‘a life of its own’ in possible prequels and sequels and that fans of Avatar may even trouble to learn it, as some Star Trek fans have studied the Klingon language. A Na’vi dictionary is already available online.

Avatar

Some early scenes, such as the one where Jake wakes up as an Avatar, were shot in real sets – partially, James Cameron admits, to save money

Meanwhile, Sigourney Weaver is at pains to point out that the film will appeal to a much wider audience than sci-fi fans.

‘In its way, it is an old fashioned kind of movie but with a seamless modern technology. It is a big, swashbuckling epic romance – the sort of story that has brought audiences into the cinema for almost 100 years.’

Because humans cannot breathe on Pandora, the SecFor mining company which sets out to pillage the planet creates human-alien hybrids, called Avatars.

The hero, Jake Sully, played by Australian actor Sam Worthington, is a paraplegic former Marine who volunteers to take part, blissfully unaware of the corporation’s plans to steal Pandora’s resources.

However, Jake is accepted into the Na’vi world, and falls in love with Princess Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). He learns to respect the Na’vi culture, which puts him at odds with SecFor, as they gear up to assault and take over Pandora itself in a massive final battle scene.

Worthington, 30, was unknown outside Australia, where he had made a few art films. ‘I met James Cameron to discuss the film and discovered that his personal heroes weren’t actors – they were scientists. That got me hooked.’

Worthington’s take on Avatar is simplistic. ‘It’s a great film, and a story that isn’t so far-fetched because we all know that we’re bleeding our planet dry. Maybe it will make people realise that Earth needs saving from itself before it’s too late.

‘But we’re not preaching – It’s just a rattling good story.’

Some critics say it’s a ‘horrible film’ – overinflated, hard to watch and ridiculous. There are also complaints that the Na’vi just don’t work cinematically and that it’s all a shade absurd.

But Leo Barraclough, of the entertainment industry magazine Variety, says he doesn’t think such brickbats will affect its commercial appeal. ‘It is one of the most anticipated films of recent years and I don’t think it will much matter what the critics say.

‘It is 12 years since Titanic, and James Cameron is a big movie maker, so people are going to want to see it because of that.

‘Cameron is known for quality film making, with energy, intelligence and detail. Avatar has also been marketed very cleverly via the internet and tie-ins with MTV and Coca Cola and so on.’

Avatar

James Cameron’s epic new 3D sci-fi adventure is the story of a distant planet, Pandora, being exploited for its precious resources, and features both live action and pioneering digital animation

More than one million people have logged on to the online trailer, and ticket presales are apparently phenomenal.

Rather unusually, Fox has sought to whet public interest in Avatar with special showings at IMAX cinemas around the world of a 16-minute extended trailer.

The marketing assault includes product tie-ins with McDonalds and the Coca-Cola Company, who are Fox’s promotional partners: Coca Cola, for example, has produced 140 million cans of Coke Zero which, when held up to a webcam, will show a helicopter taking off.

Action figures and vehicles are being made for the global market by Mattel. They all contain i-Tags which show content and info when held up to a webcam. And a video game in 3D is already on the market.

It’s all very clever, but will Avatar make its money back? Whether it’s $180 million, as the studio says, or $300 million as the grapevine has it, the film still needs to sell a lot of tickets.

To put this into context, big effects-laden movies such as Spider Man 2 and Pirates of the Caribbean cost around $150 million to make.

Fox, however, is able to stay calm about its financial exposure – because the costs have been split with two other investors. Dune Capital Management and Ingenious Film Partners are paying for about two-thirds of the production costs.

And Fox will also get a 15 per cent tax rebate from New Zealand, where all the live-action sequences and most of the effects were done, which is expected to return around $15 million.

Cameron has agreed to delay his profit participation until Fox and its investors recoup their costs. Perhaps he is so confident because Avatar will benefit from the higher ticket prices charged by 3-D theatres.

There are high hopes that it will help to continue the 3-D revolution, which is bringing audiences back into cinemas, and that it will push the sales of Blu ray discs next year when it is released.

Fox’s co-chairman Tom Rothman describes Avatar as ‘a creatively ambitious movie that is fiscally prudent’. It’s clear that he is already thinking about a sequel. ‘When you can move the popular culture, particularly with something newly created, that’s a path to tremendous success,’ he says.

Guest Post  by Alison Boshoff – Thanks to the DailyMail.co.uk

Can you put yourself in a video game? You sure can right now! (see video below)

(Disclaimer: I am currently doing some work for BigStage Entertainment) logo_new

There is some very cool technology here today and hopefully soon will be available to the masses to play with. Big Stage Entertainment, located in Los Angeles owns the tech and software and has been striking deals with some very large and well known entertainment companies, including brands and content partners such as Intel, MTV, Lionsgate, Sony BMG, Epic Games, Splash News, GGL Global Gaming, Stephen J. Cannell Productions, Icarus Studios, The Venue Network (TVN), and Ogilvy. When I first met them and saw this, I was as fascinated with the technology as I was the people behind it. Not only is the tech pretty cool, but the ones slinging the code are even better. If you are a gamer, this is something you’ve probably had wet dreams about for years – being able to jump into a video game, armour and gear, guns and all, trying to kill the aliens or zombies. Unlike the many social networks or other duplacative software clients vying for the same consumer ( video encoder, IM messenger, browser, etc) Big Stage’s technology is one of a kind.

Check me out, I’ve placed myself in the ‘Warhammer’ Dawn of War video game. You can try this for yourself at http://www.bigstage.com.


The Big Stage @ctor™ that you can create today (www.bigstage.com) is generated using advanced stereo reconstruction technology initially funded by the CIA and other government grants as part of a 9+ year research project at the University of Southern California (USC) under the direction of Professor and Department Chair of Computer Science, Gerard Medioni, Ph.D. In 2007, Big Stage Entertainment secured exclusive rights to exploit this technology for all purposes outside of Security. Big Stage Entertainment has invested thousands of hours of additional engineering time to produce what is today the most advanced mass market 3-D avatar technology anywhere – with no laboratory setting or special equipment required.

data3

To realize this twofold goal of simplicity and realism, the Big Stage R&D team focused on extracting the quality and accuracy of complex 3-D scanning technology, previously only available to production houses and animation companies, to offer it to any consumer with a digital camera through a free, fun and easy-to-use browser platform. The team also built a system through which new technology advancements are automatically inherited by existing Big Stage @ctors™, meaning that the facial fidelity of your Big Stage @ctor™ will continue to improve over time.

What does this mean in the future? Douglas Fidaleo Ph.D. and Chief Scientist at Big Stage says it perfectly, ” The game changer occurs by making this capability accessible to all and fully portable across digital life. Very soon, everyone will have a digital version of themselves, and when that happens, cyberspace becomes a very very cool place to hang out. “

Wanna see 3D? Try this…

The best thing for browsing in full 3D has to be CoolIris. The best part, is that its a plug-in for Firefox. Takes a minute to install and fire up. But wow, once you’ve launched the product, its just amazing. You’ll need to see it for yourself. This is a Kleiner-Perkins backed company and has about 2.4 million users (downloads of the plug-in). Its fun eye-candy, especially for those of you with a large, wide screen monitor.

Check it out here.