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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Jim Cameron talks to Harry Knowles...Mark Cuban and IFC tussle over day-and-date releases

Two great links from Anne Thompson's Risky Business blog:

- Now it's Mark Cuban and Landmark saying they won't show IFC Films that're simultaneously released on Comcast - because Comcast doesn't carry Cuban's two high-definition channels, HDNet and HDNet Movies

- Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News talks with Jim Cameron about upcoming projects, shooting in 3-D, and visiting the International Space Station.

James Cameron coming to NAB...Apple links up with your TV

- James Cameron will be one of the big draws at April's NAB conference in Vegas. He'll be giving a keynote address, and also sitting down with NATO president John Fithian for a dialogue, according to this release. It includes these two never-uttered quotes from Cameron and Fithian:

    “Digital cinema and 3D open the door for filmmakers to mine completely new creative territory,” said Cameron. “It’s up to exhibitors, now, to adopt these new technologies on the display side, so that audiences have a reason to seek out the cinema and leave their computer and flat screen TVs.”

    Fithian explained, “After years of hard work on technical specifications, equipment development and business modeling, the cinema industry stands at the dawn of the biggest technological revolution since the advent of sound.
    Digital cinema starts right now, in the year 2006, and it couldn't come at a more important time."

- Apple's latest Mac Mini computer, unveiled today, has a remote control, Apple's FrontRow software, and can be connected to a TV. [Prior sentence was corrected, thanks to a reader's comment.] It can also find other content on your wireless network, so you can watch videos stored on your machine in the den, for example. (Say, "Desperate Housewives" episode you bought from the iTunes Music Store for your video iPod.) The lowest-price Mini is $599. (For Apple, that's practically free.)

An Oscars revamp

What if some of the Oscars handed out on TV Sunday night celebrated business achievements, technology, or movie marketing?

That's one notion that film historian David Thomson proposed in the LA Times on Sunday. He thinks the Oscars telecast is getting old and creaky. (Thanks to Cinematical for the link.)

Thomson starts off by noticing that Gary Demos, who won a Sci-Tech Award from the Academy earlier in the month, doesn't get props on the Sunday TV spectacular, despite having helped create the field of computer-generated effects. Thomson writes:

    And Gary Demos? Well, as far as I can see, he is a pioneering genius who did much of the theoretical work in computer-generated imagery, which now thrives on its ability to put a copy of life, light, etc. on our screens. I'm not knocking Demos, even if I generally dislike the victory of digital imagery over photography. He received his award on Feb. 18, but I would have handed it out on the real Oscar night, and I would have explained in detail what he has done because — for good or ill — that's where the mind of our movies is today.

    But to reform the academy, that's just a start. I'd also throw out the awards for sound, costume and art direction, the dire songs, the shorts and the documentaries and the foreign films. OK, throw your bricks this way — but I think the night of the Oscars has to restore the last few bonds of reality between film and the public. This is hard because the movies are not exactly a mass medium anymore. They belong to a few of us.

    But the academy will last only if we believe that movies can sweep us all up — movies such as "It Happened One Night," "Casablanca," "From Here to Eternity," "The Apartment." So I'd push the technical awards and the science that has already changed the movies, because I think that's what "movie" means to kids now, and I believe that's the future we're headed for. I'd treat Demos as a very important man — which he is.

    I'd also give Oscars for the best deal, the best promotion campaign, the most outrageous agent of the year. I'd give a chutzpah award — while the term chutzpah is still understood. All because people are in love with the business more than the story.

    I'd cut the show in half. I'd make it a dinner party again, instead of an awkward theatrical event.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Free TiVo? ... NATO releases Digital Cinema System requirements

- TiVo's CEO hints that the company may start giving away free DVRs in order to generate subscription revenue, in this Reuters piece:

    "We're continuing to pursue the prospects of zero upfront and all upfront" pricing, Rogers told the Reuters Global Technology, Media and Telecoms Summit in New York.

    The company is likely to begin the test to offer free boxes, possibly in exchange for higher priced and longer term plans, fairly soon, said Rogers, who was named chief executive last July.

- If you're really wonky, you may want to have a look at NATO's Digital Cinema System Requirements, just released today as a PDF. (NATO being the National Association of Theater Owners.)

Two from the Times: News Corp.'s cell phone content; What to make of Oscar

- Laura Holson writes about Mobizzo, News Corp.'s content studio for cell phones, in today's NY Times:

    In what is the boldest venture yet by an established media company to insinuate itself into millions of cellphones, the News Corporation has created a mobile entertainment store called Mobizzo and a production studio to focus exclusively on developing cellphone entertainment in much the same way that 20th Century Fox creates movies and television.

    What they came up with seems simple: text alerts from a gossip column in a British tabloid, The Sun, and kung fu movie posters and yoga and meditation music from the Star media group in Hong Kong.

    But News Corporation executives hope that the store, which is to make its debut today, will capitalize on a nascent but rapidly growing appetite for video, graphics and music on cellphones.

- David Carr writes about the tension between the giant blockbusters that generate big returns for Hollywood studios and the smaller films (all profitable by now, I'd bet) nominated for Oscars this year:

    The real significance of this year's nominees is that Hollywood is placing bets all over the table to stay in business. At a time when everything is up for grabs — distribution, technology, platform — studios are morphing and eliding as fast as they can to hang onto their big, fat corner of the entertainment dollar, even if that means playing small.

    IT just so happened that, in 2005, small worked. If the Academy was tough on Hollywood-as-usual, audiences were brutal, snubbing Oscar-ready studio films — like "The New World," "Cinderella Man," and "Memoirs of a Geisha" — that turned out to be gorgeous, empty vessels in favor of movies that attack serious issues with grit and idiosyncrasy. (In that sense, Jon Stewart seems to be a pitch-perfect choice as host of this year's affair.)

    "This year, the industry did not manage to make a lot of big, expensive movies that the Academy liked," said Tom Pollack, a veteran producer at the Montecito Picture Company. "That may not be true next year."

    The success of this year's group of serious films made for adults means that directors and producers who want to make something besides a sequel about a comic book character will have an easier time getting a meeting and even financing.

    But for all the self-congratulation on the podium next week, this year's class of earnest films have limited value in the global marketplace. All that gravitas will not have much value in a world where the attention span of a 15-year-old on an opening weekend still rules. Niche films are grand but studios still need the next "Lord of the Batman Chronicles" to feed the beast, because studios find more than half their revenue outside the domestic market.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The NY Times on changing winds in the Blu-ray/HD-DVD rivalry

Ken Belson of the NY Times writes today about changing winds in land of high-def DVDs. The piece is headlined, `In Sony's Stumble, the Ghost of Betamax'. As evidence that HD-DVD is gaining momentum, Belson writes:

    Hewlett-Packard withdrew its exclusive support of Blu-ray. This month, another member of the Blu-ray camp, LG Electronics, hedged its bets, too, signing a deal to license Toshiba's [HD-DVD] technology.

    And earlier this month, one of the main reasons underpinning Microsoft's move to shuck its neutrality [and join the HD-DVD camp] — the complexity of producing Blu-ray technology — led to Sony's acknowledgment that it might delay this spring's scheduled release of its PlayStation 3 game console partly because the needed technology was still being worked out.

    The possible delay and the Blu-ray group's loss of its once-commanding lead are not encouraging developments for Sony in its attempt to revive its electronics group after a series of bungles. PlayStation 3 is crucial to Sony's future, and not only because the latest version of its gaming consoles could generate billions in revenue; the new machines will include disc drives that will turn them into Blu-ray DVD players as well.

Belson notes that HD-DVD players will hit the market first, with the cheapest selling for $499. Blu-ray players will follow, selling for about twice as much. Sounds like a real recipe for success...

Later, Belson quotes a retailer saying the format battle will undoubtedly hurt consumers:

    "Both sides are digging in their heels and stupidity has prevailed," said Joe McGuire, the chief executive of Tweeter, a high-end electronics chain. Mr. McGuire called the failure of the two camps to agree on a single format "criminal" and said he would have a hard time advising consumers. "The answer to which is better is: 'We don't know,' " he said. "I'm tempted not to sell anyone these machines."

Friday, February 24, 2006

Variety on the ASC awards; Google adds historic video

-Variety has this preview of the American Society of Cinematographers' awards show this Sunday. John Anderson and Steve Chagollan write:

    [Director of photography] Allen Daviau asserts that "it's part of our job to be aware of the advances in technology, and to know when they're working in our favor and when they are not."

    Daviau, who won ASC awards for his work on "Bugsy" and "Empire of the Sun," tells his students they will learn more by shooting film and by "previsualizing the photo chemical process."

    "Film is going to last longer than people think as an originating medium, because they continue to make better film all the time," Daviau asserts. "Digital cameras are getting better, too, and we can make beautiful pictures with them. But digital doesn't offer the range of film."

    Nancy Shreiber, a member of the ASC board, says with film stock "there are no mysteries."

    "When I'm on a shoot somewhere in the world," she adds, "a print can be sent to me at a lab there, and I can sit with a timer and send very precise notes back. With digital intermediate, you really have to be there in the room. So it's really something we want to protect."

    Crudo, Shreiber and other ASC members use the terms "Kodak" and "film" synonymously, and perhaps with good reason. Kodak has long had a unique relationship with the ASC, which lends the company prestige and a creative face to sell its products. Kodak, in return, sponsors many ASC functions, including pre-awards dinners tied to the ASC awards, the Oscars and the Emmys.

Here's the ASC's info about their awards and an open house they're hosting this Saturday.

- Google and the National Archives have started a pilot program to make available historic videos. They're starting with 103 of them, including WW II newsreels, and historic NASA footage.

James Cameron's next two projects: both shot in digital 3-D

Entertainment Weekly writes about two projects that James Cameron has in the works, "Project 880" and "Battle Angel." Degen Pener writes:

    Cameron is no stranger to cutting-edge gadgetry — he's been on the forefront of the CGI revolution since Terminator 2. Now he's using realistic-looking motion-capture techniques like those that made The Lord of the Rings' Gollum so eerily lifelike, and shooting both new movies in brand-spanking-new high-definition 3-D. The catch? If the movies are to be distributed in 3-D format, he hopes to have at least 1,000 theaters converted to digital projection.

(Thanks to the Risky Business blog for the link.)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

From the not-dead DCI: A test for adherence

I thought the studios' Digital Cinema Initiatives group had closed up shop last year. (In fact, I was in DCI's offices in Hollywood the last week they were open.) But apparently, someone is still there issuing press releases.

So today, in cooperation with Germany's Frau Blücher Institute (whoops, I mean the Fraunhofer Institute), DCI will create a program for verifying that a digital cinema system is "DCI compliant" -- that is, that it adheres to the standards for image quality, security, and equipment interoperability that the group outlined last year.

    Cinema Initiatives (DCI) has signed an agreement with the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS in Erlangen, Germany to collaborate and jointly produce a certification test plan comprised of test procedures and data to validate compliance with the Digital Cinema System Specification published by DCI in July of 2005.

    Development of the test procedures and data is expected to take place over a four-month period, followed by a three-month period of testing and validation. Once complete, the procedures and data will enable equipment manufacturers to validate their compliance with the Specification and promote interoperability between key digital cinema theatrical equipment components. DCI hopes to encourage an established process to test Specification compliancy in order to gain certification of digital cinema equipment.

    "As the transition from conventional 35mm film to digital projection systems continues, many industry entities and manufacturers have been anticipating a DCI supported methodology to provide certification for DCI compliant components," the DCI member studios jointly declared, "the Fraunhofer IIS is a world-respected entity with demonstrated imaging and
    technology expertise that will develop these robust and comprehensive test procedures."

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Paramount turmoil... WSJ on online TV...Chinese animation edict

- Patrick Goldstein writes in the LA Times about "studio turmoil" at Paramount, following the company's acquisition of DreamWorks SKG:

    As a relatively new company, DreamWorks is oriented to the future; Paramount has always looked to the past. As [studio chief Brad] Grey discovered in his first months at Paramount, the studio was a crumbling edifice, full of antiquated technology and staffers with equally antiquated ideas about the business. The studio, which missed out on a big chunk of the DVD bonanza by being the last to open its vaults, was equally slow to embrace digital media. Grey once told me that when he arrived at the studio he was shocked to discover he couldn't make a conference call.

    This is all changing now. The studio has launched a new digital media division. And another new recruit, Paramount Classics chief John Lesher, is speedily putting that division back on the map with an impressive slate of new films. But change is wrenching, especially when so many executives, from Grey on down, are doing jobs they've never done before.

It should be noted that Paramount hasn't yet committed to one of the two rival digital cinema plans (from Technicolor and AccessIT), and the studio also hasn't distributed a single digital film yet.

- The Wall Street Journal has a piece today headlined, `Choices Expand for Watching TV on Your PC.' The piece has some data about video consumption online:

    Based on consumer surveys, Points North Group estimates that 50% of Internet users watch video online, with 9% of users watching full-length movies downloaded from the Internet and 8% watching current TV shows at least occasionally.


    Parks Associates estimates that 3.7 million Americans will pay for video online by the end of 2006, with that number rising to more than 51 million by the end of 2010. The Dallas research and consulting group predicts such payments will rise to $1.8 billion by 2010 from $111 million this year.

The piece also offers stats about how many movies are `on the shelves' at the leading download/streaming sites: Movielink (1,200), Vongo (1,000), CinemaNow (4,000), and Greencine (more than 10,000).

- Variety says that China has banned films that combine animated characters with human actors. No "Space Jam" or "Who Framed Roger Rabbits" for Chinese kids. The move may be aimed at making it easier for Chinese animation companies to compete for airtime on Chinese television. (Perhaps they're not as good at blending live action and animation? Or they don't have access to Bob Hoskins?)

Here's the Xinhua story -- see if it makes sense to you.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

From Salon: `Don't call it the nerd Oscars'

OK, two more things on last weekend's Scientific and Technical Awards, put on by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences...

I've got a piece that just went up on Salon. Here's the opening:

    BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- The camera crews from "Entertainment Tonight" and "Access Hollywood" were clearly vexed: Unlike at other banquets held during the busy season leading up to the Oscars, full of famous faces, no one streaming into the International Ballroom at the Beverly Hilton on Feb. 18 was even remotely recognizable to them. Most of the attendees' garb looked as though it was bought off the rack at Nordstrom, and no one was wearing gaudy baubles borrowed from Harry Winston. When interviewed by the TV and radio reporters positioned behind the black velvet ropes, the evening's award winners were more likely to discourse on compression algorithms, cloth-simulation software or robotic camera mounts than to grin and gripe about the nonexistent limo gridlock outside the hotel.

    The occasion was the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' annual Scientific and Technical Awards, which each year's Oscar host fleetingly refers to as "a ceremony held earlier" before cueing a 30-second video summary of the event. There's usually a grand total of one celebrity at the Sci-Tech Awards: the evening's host. The banquet's organizers at the academy have a solid record of landing actresses on the way up, including Charlize Theron, Kate Hudson and, last year, Scarlett Johansson. This year's host was Rachel McAdams, seen recently in "The Family Stone," "Wedding Crashers" and "The Notebook."

    As someone who identifies less with the international megacelebs who'll strut into the Kodak Theatre on the first Sunday in March, and more with the working stiffs behind the scenes trying to keep the directors, cinematographers and editors happy, I'd always been curious about the Sci-Tech Awards. Did they have anything in common with Hollywood's biggest night, aside from plastic statues of Oscar guarding every pillar?

And Xeni Jardin has a piece in Wired News, `Gizmos Trump Gowns at Nerd Oscars.' (Hey - they're calling it the nerd Oscars!) Over at NPR, she has a radio piece from the awards.

Brightcove in the Wall Street Journal: A new idea in online video distribution

The Wall Street Journal writes today about the world of online video, and Brightcove specifically.

The biggest idea Brightcove has - and the way it's different from, say, Google Video - is that anyone can become what I call a "video dealer." If you have a site about windsurfing, for instance, you can offer a selection of videos from Brightcove on that topic. If one of your site's visitors chooses to pay to download one of the clips (or simply watches an ad), you get a cut of the revenues.

Peter Grant of the Journal writes:

    Brightcove's technology makes it easy for any producer -- from home-movie buffs to television networks -- to distribute their videos to multitudes of Web sites. All three parties -- the video's maker, the site that shows it and Brightcove -- often will share revenue from the resulting advertisements or sales.

    "You become a little multimedia or cable company yourself," says Kevin Aylward, who runs, a political Web log, or blog. On its homepage is a link to the "Wizbang News Channel" that activates a Brightcove player featuring a choice of 15 Reuters news stories.

    Even in its early days, this business model represents a challenge to the media industry, and an opportunity for entrepreneurs. Once, producers of films, TV shows and video material relied on other big companies -- broadcast networks, cable systems -- to get shows in front of an audience. Now, these new forms of distribution could turn anyone into a producer with a nearly endless array of possible outlets.

    "In the past, content owners had to rely on gatekeepers like cable companies to get to consumers," says Jeremy Allaire, Brightcove's founder, a 34-year-old serial entrepreneur who doubled the value of his baseball-card business when he was a teenager. "Now they don't have to do that."

Allaire calls the concept 'federation': it's friction-free dealmaking, where anyone who likes your content can help you sell it. Could it eventually generate more video plays than a Google or Apple's iTunes Music Store? We'll see.

Barry Diller is on Brightcove's board, and has a small stake in the company. America Online was the biggest investor in the company's latest round of funding.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Oscar picks, more Sci-Tech Awards coverage

Gurus O' Gold has compiled Oscar picks from thirteen critics. Will the wisdom of crowds be right on March 5th?<

And the LA Times' Oscarbeat has more coverage of last Saturday night's Scientific and Technical Awards. Steve Pond writes:

    The Sci-Tech Awards are a reality check, an evening that points out that a filmmaker's imagination is only as impressive as the expertise of the brainiacs who supply the means to realize those visions.

    "The heart of what all of us do," said Gary Thieltges, who won an academy certificate for a remotely-operated camera head, "is take that spark that happens in the brain of a cinematographer or director, and give them the tools to put that on the screen."

Sunday, February 19, 2006

A dispatch from the other Oscars: the Academy's Sci-Tech Awards

Thanks to Academy prez Sid Ganis, I had a chance to go to the Scientific and Technical Awards last night at the Beverly Hilton. Though it’s black tie, it’s a much more relaxed event than the Oscars that will take place on March 5th: it begins with a cocktail hour, then moves into a ballroom for dinner and the award presentations. (A few of my snapshots from the awards are here.)

Though there were cameras from Access Hollywood, CNN, and Entertainment Tonight stationed near the entrance, there weren’t many recognizable celebrity faces in the crowd. About the only person I could identify was Pixar president Ed Catmull, and only because I’d met him once before. The guy sitting next to me at Table 25, J. Walt Adamczyk, said he could pick out Richard Edlund, the effects guru who’s currently chairman of the Sci-Tech awards committee. Gil Cates, who produces the televised Oscar show, was also in the audience.

(J. Walt also showed me a little paper card he’d received, notifying him that there’d be a member of the press at each winner’s table. He joked that he’d been trying to figure out who the mole was. Well, it was me.)

All the award winners knew beforehand that they’d won, so there wasn’t much tension in the room, or forcing a smile if you’d lost. All the winners – including J. Walt and two other folks at my table (Alvah Miller and Michael Sorensen) – wore a red rose pinned to their lapels.

Ganis opened with an oblique joke about the Cinea DVD players that were sent to every member of the Academy so they could view nominated films on a specially-encrypted DVD that will only play on a registered Cinea player. Members have been slow to install these players, and not all studios distribute their screeners yet on Cinea-encoded DVDs. But Ganis said that it was “a giant leap forward” that “75 percent of all Academy members figured out how to take their DVD player out of the box. Time marches on and technology marches on.”

A string of film clips from movies like “The Hot Chick,” “Wedding Crashers,” and “The Family Stone” introduced the evening’s host, Rachel McAdams. She came up to the plexiglass podium, and joked that the audience was probably more familiar with her work as a scientist, though she had recently abandoned her work on cold fusion. “It was just too cold,” she said.

Stuntman Scott Leva received the first award for his Precision Stunt Airbag, which can safely pull in stuntment who leap onto it, even if they don’t hit the airbag square in the center. Leva said that he was sorry his friend Paul Dallas wasn’t around to see him receive the award. (Dallas was killed in 1996 doing a high fall for a television series). He also thanked the folks at Cirque du Soleil – who I presume use his airbags.

A band of Germans from Cinelux came up to aceept the award for their projector lenses, and then Technicolor got an award for a new system to produce answer prints. One of the Technicolor guys quoted Walt Disney: “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” He said, “Hopefully, we can continue to do the impossible, and have fun doing it.” He also thanked “all the naysayers. I love a challenge.” Another of the Technicolor group thanked “all of these guys [at Technicolor] for giving film a few more years of life.” (It was tough to tell who was who, since not everyone said who they were as they started their thank-yous.)

Catmull got an award, along with two researchers, Tony deRose (of Pixar) and Jos Stam (of Alias/Wavefront/Autodesk), for their work on subdivision surfaces, which help companies like Pixar make skin (and other surfaces) look smoother and more realistic. DeRose said he was on “a mission to show kids how cool math and science can be…[and] this award will help get that message across.”

When McAdam gave out the next award, for elastically-deformable models (which led to more realistic computer-animated cloth), recipient John Platt said, “I’d like to thank Rachel, because now my Kevin Bacon number has been radically reduced to three.” He also thanked his neighbors for watching his kids. (Platt’s acceptance speech was about as funny as it got last night. My seatmate, Xeni Jardin of NPR and, and I cringed through a fifteen-minute ventriloquist routine that opened the show.)

There was another award for software to simulate cloth in animated films, and three awards for remotely-controlled cameras hung from cables that could move around in three dimensions: Skycam, Cablecam, and Spydercam. Garrett Brown, the inventor of Skycam (and, before that, Steadicam) said that he’d initially created the system in 1983, using an Osborne portable computer and a 1200-baud modem. He quipped that he was wearing digital cloth. “Would you like to see white tie?” he asked, pressing some imaginary buttons on his lapel.

Then there were a series of awards for remote-controlled camera mounts that let camera operators put their cameras in all kinds of places where they wouldn’t want to go: the Sparrow Head (used on vehicles), the Aerohead, and the Hot-Head, forerunner of them all. Gary Thieltges, inventor of the Sparrow Head, said he started its development by writing down a list of shots he’d never seen before, that no piece of equipment could do.

David Grober accepted the award for his Perfect Horizon camera stabilization head, which allows camera operators to take perfectly level shots, even if they’re on a boat in rolling waves, by compensating for any motion. Grober said he was “hoping for a remake of `Lawrence of Arabia.’ I want to take the Perfect Horizon and mount it on a camel…and the image will be perfectly stable… I promise.”

Two camera cranes, the Russian Arm and the Cascade, both won awards. The Russian Arm is designed to go atop an SUV and allow it to travel at high-speeds over any kind of terrain; the Cascade is a crane that can take a camera up to 70 feet.

Sound editor Don Hall, who worked on movies like "MASH," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," “Bridge Over the River Kwai,” and “Young Frankenstein,” was awarded the John Bonner medal.

Computer graphics researcher Gary Demos was the one person all night to receive an actual Oscar statuette (everyone else had gotten plaques or certificates of merit). “It is heavy,” were his first words on the stage. Demos’ early work showed up in movies like “Tron” and “Futureworld”; more recently, he has been working on new approaches to image compression. “I like scientific challenges,” he said, “the harder the better. When they’re considered impossible, that really gets me interested.”

His words could definitely serve as the motto for the entire sci-tech community in Hollywood: tackling impossible challenges, the harder the better.

That was really the end of the ceremony, though McAdam did tape a very brief intro that’ll be aired during the “real” Oscars on March 5th, and as attendees filed out of the ballroom, the winners gathered for a group photo.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Reports from Entertainment Gathering 2006

Conference impresario Richard Saul Wurman (the founder of TED) held the first Entertainment Gathering last week at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles. Among the speakers: DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg; Lloyd Braun, head of Yahoo's Media Group; Bran Ferren and Danny Hillis of Applied Minds; `Simpsons' creator Matt Groening; and Chris Wedge, co-founder of Fox's Blue Sky Studios. Ticket price: $4,000.

Some of the coverage:

- The LA Weekly has the best overview of the event...including Groening begging Wurman to hold another EG

- Forbes writes about some of the musicians who were there, including Herbie Hancock, Yo-Yo Ma, and Island Records founder Chris Blackwell

- The Washington Post focused on games (like what Sims creator Will Wright is up to, and a preview of the forthcoming Godfather game), and the idea that players/audiences will be taking a more active role in their entertainment

- ZDNet talks about the impromptu wedding of Bill Nye the Science guy and his fiancee, oboe player Blair Tindall, which apparently took place at EG. John Underkoffler (a tech consultant for movies like `Minority Report') showed off actual gloves that he has helped design for manipulating data just like Tom Cruise did in the movie.

-'s coverage focuses entirely on gaming.

- Entrepreneur Brian Dear seems like one of the few people to have blogged about EG.

Indie Features 06 blog

Indie Features 06 is "a group blog where filmmakers will talk about their films in distribution in '06."

Friday, February 17, 2006

Variable ticket prices at the box office?

The New York Times explores the idea - gaining steam in the theater biz, they say - that different movies should bear different ticket prices. David Leonhardt writes:

    ...You will pay more for a ticket on the weekends and less on weekdays. You'll be able to buy a reserved seat in the center of the theater for a few extra dollars. One of these days, you may even have to pay more for a hit movie than for a bomb. The changes are under way, and they are long overdue.

    The theater industry's attempt to ignore the laws of supply and demand is as good an example of corporate inertia as you will find. For decades, going to the movies was one of the rituals of American life, and competition among theaters revolved mainly around trying to land more hot films than the theater down the street.

    But now theaters face a very different competitive landscape, thanks to DVD's, high-definition TV's, Netflix and TiVo. Family night at the movies, meanwhile, can cost $60. It's no wonder that the share of disposable income spent on moviegoing has fallen a stunning 17 percent in just the last three years.

Leonhardt should have talked to a few studio execs. They hate this idea. No one wants to see their product in the deep-discount rack... especially because a $3 ticket at the box office for a flop, they believe, might somehow influence demand (and not in a good way) for that movie when it's available as a DVD or pay-per-view.

UltraStar Cinemas is first chain to go 100 percent digital

San Diego-based UltraStar Cinemas announced today that they've now got digital projectors in all 102 of their projection booths. This weekend, the company is showing Disney's "Eight Below" digitally in 12 of their 13 theaters.

That's a pretty cool milestone, but let me shade in a bit of detail:

1. One of the main reasons that UltraStar went all digital so quickly is that Christie/AIX, the joint venture company that installed all the equipment and is taking care of the financing, had promised the studios (several of whom had committed to supplying them with films) that they'd have 150 screens up and running by the end of January, according to Christie CEO Jack Kline. He said they hit that number, in part by digitizing more screens at UltraStar, faster, than they'd planned. (This Variety piece says they were aiming to have 150 done by the end of December, but my impression from talking to Kline was that the contract technically promised the end of January.)

2. When I was at Christie last week, Kline also said that many of the screens that are now digitally capable aren't actually showing digital content, because there isn't a steady stream of it available today from studios. (All of UltraStar's booths now have 35-millimeter projectors and Christie DLP 2K digital projectors.) Both Disney and Warner Bros. have told me recently that the vast majority of their 2006 releases are available digitally ... not sure about the other studios.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

An in-depth look at MovieBeam

Disney's joining the ranks of 2929 Entertainment and IFC Films: companies not afraid to tinker with traditional movie release windows.

Yesterday, Disney announced that it was reviving its MovieBeam video-on-demand service, which was tested last year in three markets. Disney movies will be available through the MovieBeam service the same day they're released on DVD - rather than 30 to 45 days later, which is the traditional studio practice. (Films from other studios will still be held until at least a month after their DVD release.)

Merissa Marr of the Wall Street Journal writes:

    MovieBeam plans to transmit 10 new movies a week to an antenna in a customer's home over broadcast signals leased from the Public Broadcasting Service's digital-content delivery unit, National Datacast Inc. MovieBeam's set-top box will store 100 movies at a time that, once selected, can be viewed over a 24-hour period with the same playback functions as a DVD.

    MovieBeam's set-top boxes will be sold at retailers, including Best Buy Co., for $199.99 after a rebate, with an activation fee of $29.99. Movies will cost $3.99 for new releases and $1.99 for library titles. The service will offer high-definition titles for an additional $1 -- the first time Disney and Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros. have offered their titles in a high-definition format for an on-demand service.

    The studios currently licensing their movies to the service are Disney; News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox; Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.'s Lionsgate; General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal; Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures; Warner Bros., and Time Warner's New Line Cinema. Sony Corp. has yet to wrap up a deal with MovieBeam.

The MovieBeam site says that about ten percent of titles will be available in HD.

Three thoughts about Moviebeam:

1. Asking consumers to buy a special purpose box - one that offers a limited selection of 100 movies at any given moment - is going to be a tough task. It doesn't play DVDs, it doesn't pull content from the Net, it doesn't let you store and pause live TV. Just gives you access to 100 popular films. From Dawn Chmielewski's piece in the LA Times:

    "It has to be a tremendously compelling offering for you to stack another box in your component set," said Bruce Leichtman, an independent media researcher in Durham, N.H. "Combined with something else, it has an opportunity. When it's a stand-alone device, it's very challenged."

2. MovieBeam is basically anti-Long Tail. They give you 100 of the most mainstream movies; you can't hunt for (or get recommendations about) interesting niche content that might appeal to you specifically, as you can with Netflix

3. But MovieBeam shows that when studios want to make a new technology succeed, they can change long-standing business the lag between DVD release and the video-on-demand window. If MovieBeam succeeds - a big 'if' - I wonder if other studios who supply films to the service will be tempted to follow Disney's lead. If they do, will that make Wal-Mart (the country's biggest DVD retailer) angry?

Here's an interesting interview with MovieBeam marketing exec Carl Crabill. Here's the SJ Mercury News coverage, with a bullish quote from analyst Tim Bajarin. has some background on the earlier test of MovieBeam. The earlier incarnation was entirely Disney-owned. The Mouse is still the largest shareholder, but several other investors, including Mayfield Fund, Intel Capital, and Cisco Systems have joined in. (The MovieBeam set-top box carries the Linksys brand name; Linksys is owned by Cisco.)

Monday, February 13, 2006

`Superman Returns' director says his movie didn't cost $250 million

Director Bryan Singer quashes the rumor that `Superman Returns' cost $250 million to make. Singer says, "The movie was budgeted at $184.5 million and will probably climb with visual effects and variables that occur in a movie of this magnitude, with 1,400 visual effects, etc., to somewhere still south of $200 million."

Of course, once Warner Brothers has paid all the marketing bills for the film, the tab will undoubtedly be close to $250 million. That's a big bet.

According to The Numbers, the 1978 "Superman" cost $55 million to make; "Superman II" cost $25 million. Of all the Christopher Reeve era films, the first "Superman" grossed the most worldwide ($300 million). "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace," released in 1987, made a whopping $11 million at the U.S. box office.

Wired News: `Bubble' fails to rock Tinseltown

With all the hype in advance of the debut of Steven Soderbergh's `Bubble,' someone was bound to brandish a pin.

But this won't be the only movie that Landmark and 2929 release day-and-date, and IFC Films has its own simultaneous release experiments starting in March.

I think it's hasty to judge an experiment by one data point.

Netflix 'throttling,' IDT animating, audio mixing

- This AP story explains the Netflix practice of 'throttling' heavy users of the DVD rental service. Michael Liedtke writes:

    Netflix typically sends about 13 movies per month to [Manuel] Villanueva's home in Warren, Mich. -- down from the 18 to 22 DVDs he once received before the company's automated system identified him as a heavy renter and began delaying his shipments to protect its profits.

    The same Netflix formula also shoves Villanueva to the back of the line for the most-wanted DVDs, so the service can send those popular flicks to new subscribers and infrequent renters.

    The little-known practice, called "throttling" by critics, means Netflix customers who pay the same price for the same service are often treated differently, depending on their rental patterns.

- Happened to meet someone yesterday who works with IDT Entertainment in New Jersey, the computer animation division of a telecom company. (Odd, yes.) Their first feature film, "Yankee Irving," will be out this August. It's the story of a kid who befriends Babe Ruth. Voicing characters are Whoopi Goldberg, Brian Dennehy, William H. Macy, and Mandy Patinkin. The original director was Christopher Reeve. IDT has spent at least $72 million building up its animation business, and buying a DVD distributor.

- Speaking of animation, the LA Times has this neat profile of an audio mixer who works in feature animation.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Two links: Peter Chernin says traditional media is not dead yet; Alex Beam samples high-end cinemas

Two links for today:

- Fox president and COO Peter Chernin wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal's op-ed page on Thursday. The message was that Fox understands that consumers are increasingly in control of their media, and Fox 'gets' the new technologies that underly that. In other words, nothing earth-shattering... more the equivalent of Fox character Bart Simpson writing `I understand new media' 100 times on a chalkboard. Chernin writes:

    Traditional media is not dead. In fact, our companies are leading the charge into the networked digital future. The media industry stands at the dawn of a new golden age—fueled on the demand side by ever-more discerning consumers, and on the supply side by fresh thinking, new products and oceans of new content.

    The reality is that new technology, far from being a threat, offers media companies the chance to solve an age-old problem. Our businesses were built on our ability to enlighten, entertain and educate—whether through the pages of a novel, the images on a screen, or the facts in a news broadcast. We exist to connect masses of people with compelling content. Yet throughout history, our power to achieve that mass connection has been limited by distribution constraints—prohibitive costs, hard-to-reach locations, sluggish technology, etc. Even as media companies grew and thrived, complete access to a truly global audience was long out of reach.

    Not anymore. Thanks to advances in both hardware and software, we can now reach almost anyone, anywhere, at any time, through a wide variety of devices. This new reality of ubiquitous low-cost distribution gives us more ways than ever to tell our stories and get them to an audience.

He then rattles off a list of technologies (broadband, hard-disk storage, high-def video, wireless, community, etc) that are sparking changes, and in his view leading to a new golden age for traditional media. (Of course, small media start-ups can take advantage of these technologies just as easily - if not more easily - than Fox.)

Worth a read.

- Boston Globe gadfly columnist Alex Beam travels to LA and goes to the movies at The Bridge DeLux and the Arclight. He seems pleased with the upscale strategy that some exhibitors are pursuing. Beam writes:

    Visiting the Arclight is a lot like going to what Hollywood calls the legitimate theater. You can choose your seat over the Internet; every place is reserved. Where many theaters have yappy kiddie arcades and Kong-size movie ads in the lobby, Arclight has a small, museum-like bookstore selling magazines, notions, and glossy art books.

    They don't show ads before the movie, either. Does that mean no cute Coca-Cola polar bears? ''That's right, no polar bears," says Arclight CEO Christopher Forman. ''The problem with showing ads is that people talk during the ads and that carries over to the movie." Arclight has even done away with popcorn bags. ''We've gone back to popcorn tubs so you don't hear the crinkling noises during the movie," Forman explains.

    I spent a perfectly enjoyable evening at the Arclight, quaffing the Coppola wine and ogling an exhibit of the costumes from ''Brokeback Mountain," one of my favorite movies. Blue-shirted ushers were ubiquitous, and before my movie started, an upbeat young man told us that he intended to linger in the theater for a few minutes to monitor picture and sound quality. ''We love you and we want to take care of you," were his very words. Well, this is LA, after all.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Obituary: Richard J. Stumpf, co-inventor of Sensurround and Universal Studios engineering exec

Richard J. Stumpf died on February 2nd, and his funeral is tomorrow. I haven't seen an obit published anywhere other than this site.

Stumpf started his career in TV engineering at NBC and RCA, contributed to NASA's Project Mercury, and worked for 29 years at Universal Studios. He was on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Sci-Tech Awards Committee for 23 years. He won two Oscars for technical contributions... and he also gave the world Sensurround.

Here's a little snippet on Sensurround from my book-in-progress:

    Universal engineers W.O. Watson and Richard K. Stumpf came up with the idea to use low-frequency sound to accentuate a seven-minute sequence in the 1974 disaster movie “Earthquake,” in which Los Angeles is destroyed.

    Installing Sensurround wasn’t a simple task – nor was it cheap. Theaters paid a $500 weekly rental fee to Universal for the equipment, which included ten large subwoofer speakers placed around the theater and a 1600-watt amplifier. When triggered by a special code on the film’s optical soundtrack during the quake scenes, the subwoofers kicked into action, generating a sub-audible tone that could be felt as a vibration, but not heard.

    During testing of the Sensurround system at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, the Sensurround system caused the plaster ceiling to crack. A large net had to be set up to catch any pieces of falling plaster that might be dislodged during the earthquake sequences.

    Rumor has it that in some theaters where “Earthquake” (screenplay by Mario Puzo) was playing next door to “The Godfather Part II” (based on Puzo’s novel), audience members complained about the noise and vibrations disrupting their enjoyment of the more dialogue-driven film.

    For the run of “Earthquake,” Sensurround was installed in about 60 theaters; by 1976, when “Midway” opened, 300 theaters had been outfitted. That film was a World War II movie starring Henry Fonda and Charlton Heston (who’d also appeared in “Earthquake”), opened in 1976. “Earthquake” was the third-highest grossing movie of 1974, and by the end of its run it had brought in $79 million at the box office. (It also won an Academy Award for Best Sound, and Sensurround received a special technical award.)

    When innovations originated from the studios, as Sensurround did, they had powerful backing. “Sensurround is as big a star as there is in the movie business today,” Universal president Sidney Sheinberg declared in 1977. Despite the boosterism, only three other films were released in Sensurround, likely because of the cost to exhibitors, the fading novelty, and the disturbances to other auditoriums: “Midway,” “Rollercoaster,” and “Battlestar Galactica,” the last in 1978.

Some links related to Sensurround and "Earthquake":




(In the photo are Richard J. Stumpf at left and W.O. Watson, co-inventor of Sensurround, at right.)

`Other Digital Stuff' - March 10th in Hollywood

The Entertainment Technology Center at USC is sponsoring a cool day-long conference on "Other Digital Stuff" (aka alternative content) that'll be shown in digital cinemas.

From my perspective, there are two big questions:

- who will produce, supply, and profit from alternative content shown on digital movie screens (like concerts, sporting events, political rallies, motivational speeches, etc)?

- if the studios aren't producing and profiting from alternative content, won't they view it as an unwelcome competitor to the movies they're marketing?

The release is below. I should note that this event is for "industry types" only - you can't buy your way in.


    Conference Examines New Forms of In-theatre Content Beyond Film

    Los Angeles, CA ‑‑ February 2, 2006 —The first-ever conference dedicated to in-theatre content beyond motion pictures was announced today by the Entertainment Technology Center at University of Southern California (USC‑ETC). “Other Digital Stuff: Expanding the In-theatre Experience” will examine the new forms of content enabled by digital cinema technologies, including pre-show ads and entertainment, real-time sports and music, 3D trailers and lobby displays, and more. It will feature demonstrations of the latest innovations; discussions about technology and bottom-line issues; and a digital cinema overview. It will also look at how to devise alternative content that appeals to audiences “Other Digital Stuff” is free for qualified industry members and will take place March 10, 2006 from 9:00 AM –3:00 PM in Hollywood at ETC-USC’s Digital Cinema Lab theater.

    “Other Digital Stuff” is designed for creators and distributors of content for new in-theatre platforms; exhibitors seeking to build attendance and revenues and who must negotiate new technologies and business issues; and marketers and advertisers striving to maximize the big screen’s storytelling power along with its new capabilities for targeted messages.

    John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), will keynote along with Kurt Hall, president and CEO, National CineMedia and Bob Lambert, senior vice president, Worldwide Technology Strategy, The Walt Disney Company. Texas Instruments is sponsoring the day and providing technical and program support, along with NATO.

    Said Charles S. Swartz, executive director/CEO of ETC‑USC, “Digital cinema enables exciting new opportunities in in-theatre content, but making it work is a complex process. Our goal for ‘Other Digital Stuff’ is to help major stakeholders expand on the alternative content already in theatres and embark in new directions.”

    “Other Digital Stuff: Expanding the In-theatre Experience” is the first in what will be a series of events presented by the ETC-USC tackling exhibition industry issues.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Waterborne: A movie debut success on Google Video?

Anne Thompson of The Hollywood Reporter writes on her blog that the Google Video debut of the indie feature `Waterborne' has been a success. (The bio-terrorist thriller nearly won an audience award at South by Southwest last year -- it was a runner-up.)

But there aren't a lot of hard stats - even though this is a worthy experiment by a filmmaker interested in selling movies directly to his audience ($3.99 for a download that you own, and 99 cents for a 24-hour rental. A streamed version was offered for free during the first 10 days of release last month.) Writer/director Ben Rekhi says in a press release that they've been getting "hundreds" of paid downloads per day. Um, like two hundred or nine hundred? What percentage of people paid the download-to-own price, versus the rental? Inquiring minds wanna know.

They do reveal that they've got pre-orders for 15,000 units of the DVD, which comes out Feb. 21st.

Not having seen the film yet, I'm not commenting on its quality when I say that I think it has benefitted from the novelty of being among the first features for sale on Google Video, and definitely from the attendant publicity. So perhaps it was a smart move for the filmmakers to pass up what they described as a $125,000 offer for theatrical distribution to join up with Google Video.

Here's the movie's page on Google. And here's an earlier CinemaTech post on the deal.

Here's the movie's Web site and MySpace page.

There's also a great interview with Rekhi, who just turned 27, on Here's a passage:

    Q. Why is Waterborne going to Google and DVD, and not into theatres?

    A. Our film won a lot of praise at many film festivals but remember that many independently made low budget films do not get a theatrical release because they have no stars. And more often than not, distributors try to take advantage of such films and their producers see little returns.

    We thought we would have control over the film by trying something innovative.

    Q. And what is this innovation?

    A. We are breaking the mould of traditional film distribution by applying the concept of music downloading, popularised by iTunes, to a feature-length film: essentially, cutting out the middle man by bringing product directly to the consumer via the Internet.

    Q. How exactly are you doing this?

    A. We have made the film...available for free streaming on Google Video the first week of release, after which it join Google Video's radical new download-to-own feature.

    Then on February 21st, it will be released on home video, available for purchase and rental at all major retailers and rental outfits, including Netflix and

    The quick turnaround to DVD is another aspect of the new distribution model to release it in the ancillary media while the film is still fresh in people's minds.

    Q. What does this method say about the traditional distribution method?

    A. Films will continue to be released theatrically and then go to video. It could happen to our next film, Car Babes. But as the traditional means of film distribution are dwindling, I believe that embracing online technology is the future for independent filmmakers.

    The Internet will revolutionise the film industry just as it has the music industry.

I wonder: does anyone at a major Hollywood studio feel similarly?

Rekhi's now starting work on his fourth film.

From the BBC: `Digital film: Industry answers'

As I posted about earlier, the BBC offered the opportunity for you to send in your questions for a panel of movie industry bigwigs, including the heads of the Motion Picture Association of America and the National Association of Theatre Owners. They've posted seven questions and answers here. Among them, `What's the point of DRM?' ... `Was the video recorder damaging?' ... and two questions about simultaneous release.

Here's a snippet on that topic:

    John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners:

    `We do not believe that simultaneous release would actually offer consumers a meaningful choice. Quite the contrary, simultaneous release would cripple the cinema industry, and for many people, their cherished choice to view a new (or old) film away from home, on the big screen, would vanish.

    Moreover, an exclusive theatrical window confers panache and a marketing edge on a film that would likewise vanish in a simultaneous release regime. Then you're talking 'television movie of the week' - a sad diminution of cinematic art, and thus, again, a disservice to consumer choice. '

    Curt Marvis, chief executive of CinemaNow:

    Yes, I can imagine such a time. That said, I think it is still several years off and a question of 'when' rather than 'if'

Returned to life: `Toy Story 3'

After Disney's acquisition of Pixar, the buzz was that John Lasseter had killed `Toy Story 3,' which was being developed by Disney animators. (Disney had the rights to make sequels to Pixar films that they'd distributed - up through `Cars.' So even if the company didn't buy Pixar, they could've still released Pixar-esque movies that they'd made in-house.)

I had breakfast today with an ex-Disney exec who said that was Lasseter's signal to the Pixar animators that even though they were now part of the Mouse House, he was going to defend them and their artistic integrity. He also mentioned that former CEO Michael Eisner knew that moving forward with a sequel based on Pixar characters would tick off Steve Jobs - and didn't much care. `Toy Story 3' was very much part of the feud between the two CEOs.

So it's very interesting news this week that the picture isn't dead, but is rather being handed over from Disney's CG animators to Pixar's, according to Bob Iger, Disney's current CEO. IGN also has a piece.

Last week, I chatted a bit with Jeff Kleiser, who brought up an interesting question: in the Disney-Pixar marriage, which sides traits will dominate? Pixar's perfectionism (everything they do, whether it shows up on the screen or not, is over-the-top, Kleiser said), or what he called "the economic focus of the Disney people" - and the concern that budgets be reasonable and contained.

(As an aside, right now Jeff's studio is working on visual effects for `X-Men 3' and `Scary Movie 4,' not to mention some TV spots for Sun-Maid Raisins.)

Links: 'Bubble' commentary...Vongo review...Smell-O-Vision

Traveling in Los Angeles this week, interviewing cinematographers and studio execs mostly... so just a few links for now.

- `Bubble'

Josh Oakhurst has transcribed the DVD commentary from `Bubble' (released last week, shortly after the movie's theatrical debut). Filmmaker Mark Romanek interviews Steven Soderbergh (who directed `Bubble'). It begins:

    Steven: First I want to thank you all for buying this disk. It was available the first day the movie opened in theaters, which is something Mark and I will talk about.
    Mark: You’re assuming they bought it.
    Steven: I hope they bought it. Well, you mean, they might have pirated it?
    Mark: Well, there are all sorts of ways to get a hold of these things.

Here's a Washington Post review of the `Bubble' DVD.

I still haven't seen much info about whether/where `Bubble' is playing on Landmark's 4K projectors from Sony. Anyone know? This piece says it's playing in Manhattan on a Sony 4K projector. This piece from the Dallas Morning News indicates that the film is playing in some Landmark Theatres on Texas Instruments DLP projectors, and others on the Sony. But I didn't see the full list of six (I think) Sony projector locations anywhere.

- David Colker of the LA Times reviews the new all-you-can-eat video buffet from Starz Entertainment, called Vongo. He's underwhelmed with the 850-movie library Vongo. Colker writes:

    Primarily, there's a paucity of content. Movielink, which is owned by several Hollywood studios, offers 1,200 features. CinemaNow, which offers films from several small independent and foreign outlets as well as the majors, says it has about 2,500.

    The other big problem is picture quality. Vongo's technology isn't on par with that of CinemaNow and Movielink.

    Still, the buffet option is an attractive one. Over several days of testing Vongo, I found myself downloading and watching movies I'd normally not access if I had to pay for each film.

- Having just done some reading about Smell-O-Vision and its rival, AromaRama, I was tickled to see this piece in the LA Times recently, "The Lingering Reek of Smell-O-Vision". Martin Smith and Patrick Kiger write:

    Almost since the invention of the motion picture, filmmakers have sought to exploit senses in addition to sight. Some tricks, such as the THX system that provides high-quality sound in theaters, have been successful. Others, such as Sensurround—a violent motion-simulating technology featured in the 1974 film "Earthquake"—fell flat.

    The sense of smell has tempted filmmakers for a long time, with good reason. The olfactory neurons in the nasal cavity, which detect chemical components of aromas, and the brain's olfactory bulb—a clump of cells that identify nerve impulses as being triggered by jasmine, say, rather than rose petals—are capable of sensing and distinguishing about 10,000 scents. Research has shown that scents can stimulate physiological responses before people even realize what they're smelling.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Small screens get big

Here's my Entertainment 2.0 column from yesterday's Boston Globe, which focuses on ways to make the images on portable devices - iPods, cell phones, PSPs, etc. - look bigger.

Here's the opener:

    Stuart Auerbach doesn't mind being mistaken for a cyborg in airports across the country.

    On a trip last month that took the Wellesley venture capitalist to Michigan, Florida, North Carolina, and back home, Auerbach was wearing a pair of narrow, futuristic glasses with integrated headphones.

    The glasses, made by MicroOptical Corp. of Westwood, enlarged the image from Auerbach's video iPod, making it seem as though he were looking at a 25-inch screen from about 6 feet away.

    Auerbach may have been watching ''Master and Commander," but he looked like ''RoboCop." His glasses, a freebie from his friend Mark Spitzer, the chief executive of MicroOptical, are part of a new wave of products designed to improve on the screens of our tiny portable devices. These next-generation displays will allow you to surf the Web on your cellphone without squinting or catch up on ''Conan" during a transcontinental flight.

The piece also mentions other solutions: rollable displays from Philips and E Ink, and palm-top LED projectors from Toshiba, Mitsubishi, and Samsung.

What's the strategy at Paramount?

Laura Holson of the NY Times asks that question this morning, and here's what she learns:

    [Paramount chairman and CEO Brad] Grey believes he has a plan for reviving Paramount, which in 2004 ranked seventh in domestic box-office receipts. And the plan is similar to the one he had as a talent manager aggressively guiding the careers of A-list actors like Brad Pitt or developing television shows like "The Sopranos": he will buy good scripts, bet heavily on talented executives and filmmakers and, he hopes, watch the money follow.

    "Some people would say, 'Come in with a flamethrower,' and others would take a more measured approach," Mr. Grey said in his office on the Paramount lot last week. "I quickly realized I had to have my own style and strategy and find my own way. I don't lack confidence. I don't sweat. I don't want to get too Zen on you, but I have to run my own race."

You can be the judge whether they're on the right track: one of their summer movies is "Nacho Libre," directed by Jared Hess of "Napoleon Dynamite" and starring Jack Black.

SXSW Film Fest line-up

SXSW just announced its 2006 features line-up; the shorts will be announced next Monday. Choosing what to see is going to be tough...too many interesting movies.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

An Oscar milestone?

Of the five movies nominated earlier this week for Best Picture, just one hasn't yet earned back the money invested in its production yet.

The nominated movies are `Brokeback Mountain,' `Capote,' `Crash,' `Good Night, and Good Luck,' and `Munich.'

The Wall Street Journal observes that the first four nominees "were inexpensive independent or boutique productions that struck a chord with moviegoers. The combined production budgets of those four films add up to half that of the fifth nominee, the $70 million `Munich.' All four have shown a profit even without help from Oscar."

`Munich' - no knock on the merit of the film - has only earned about $40 million at the U.S. box office thus far.

Of course, that could change once the overseas numbers for `Munich' are in - or if the movie wins a few Oscars. The movie was a production of Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures. It's also the only major studio release in the Best Picture category this year.

BusinessWeek on Jobs, Pixar, Disney, and Apple

A great package of stories in BusinessWeek this week about Disney's acquisition of Pixar:

  • Steve Jobs' Magic Kingdom: How Apple's demanding visionary will shake up Disney and the world of entertainment

    "The alliance between Jobs and Disney is full of promise. If he can bring to Disney the same kind of industry-shaking, boundary-busting energy that has lifted Apple and Pixar sky-high, he could help the staid company become the leading laboratory for media convergence. It's not hard to imagine a day when you could fire up your Apple TV and watch Net-only spin-offs of popular TV shows from Disney's ABC Inc. (DIS ). Or use your Apple iPhone to watch Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant's video blog, delivered via Disney's ESPN Inc. `We've been talking about a lot of things,' says Jobs. `It's going to be a pretty exciting world looking ahead over the next five years.'"

  • An Insider's Take on Steve Jobs: Former Apple board member Edgar Woolard Jr. talks about the man, his vision, and how he'll likely contribute at Disney

    "I think people are misreading Steve Jobs. My opinion is that he will not come in with a heavy hand. I think he will try very hard to identify opportunities, and I think he will listen carefully to what Iger and the Disney management team has in mind, and will add suggestions.

    The two men seem to have a good relationship, and there's one thing that's for certain: If Steve has a good relationship with you, there's nobody better in the world to work with. He trusts you, and he listens, and he bounces his ideas off you. But if he doesn't trust you, it doesn't work."

  • A Pixar Exec's Fairy Tale Story: John Lasseter once swept Disneyland's streets. Now the animating force behind Toy Story may hold the key to the Magic Kingdom's future

    "With the deal, in fact, Lasseter becomes the new Walt Disney, with creative input not only over Disney's upcoming animated films but also over theme parks. For the 49-year-old, it's like returning home. Raised in Southern California, Lasseter's mother was a high school art teacher, and he grew up ashamed to tell high school friends he was still reading comics and playing with G.I. Joe. For kicks, he wrote letters to Walt Disney, hoping for -- but never getting -- a response."

Mike Curtis interviews Jim Jannard, founder of RED

Mike has a e-mail intevriew on HD for Indies with Jim Jannard, founder of sunglass-maker Oakley. He's now working on a high-definition camera. He says:

    My vision is to begin at the top. Re-write the books on a high-end camera. Then, I see us leveraging success (that's the plan, anyway) to release a broad range of cameras for many different applications. I have always said that we build our sunglasses so that if we don't sell one pair, I will be happy wearing it. The same philosophy is in play here.

It'll debut at the NAB show in April.