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Monday, February 12, 2007

Sci-Tech Oscars ... The 3-D Report ... Film Schools in a Box ... and More

- Maggie Gyllenhaal handed out the Scientific and Technical Oscars on Saturday night. Here's the complete list of winners from the Academy. The big winner was Ray Feeney, a pioneer of visual effects hardware and software systems, who took home the night's only Oscar statuette. Here's Variety's coverage. Another effects guru, Richard Edlund, took home the John A. Bonner award; he's also the chair of the Academy's visual effects branch. NPR's coverage of the awards called them the "Oscars Sans Glitz."

- Two pieces on 3-D: an editorial in the LA TImes, which concludes, "Innovation is always a gamble (and often great fun); the only thing certain is that good stories told well will always succeed, no matter how many dimensions are involved." The second piece, in the Wall Street Journal, is about broadcasting NBA games in movie theaters, in 3-D.

- The NY Times on Sunday ran a piece about the growing number of DVD-based tutorials that aim to supplant a film school degree. "Sold on DVDs and CDs, with names like 'Film School in a Box' and 'Make Your Own Damn Movie,' these programs, often conceived by people with no formal film training of their own, offer surprisingly detailed tutorials on a variety of film-related topics: blocking, editing, even fund-raising and distribution. Priced roughly from $50 to $500, they can instill confidence without the bother of hundreds of thousands of dollars of a formal education." Justin Peters continues:

    ...democratization appears to be an irreversible trend in cinema. The thousands of movies each year now submitted to festivals around the world are testimony to a guerilla mentality that says no one needs official permission to make a film; and the advocates of teaching software often see themselves not so much training, but liberating new filmmakers.

    “We try to inspire people to understand that they do not just have to work for Paramount or Sony — that does not necessarily validate their lives,” said Lloyd Kaufman, the longtime president of Troma Entertainment, whose book-and-DVD combination program, “Make Your Own Damn Movie,” offers lessons on everything from script conferences to presentations to potential investors to creating inexpensive yet realistic special effects.

    As Mr. Kaufman sees it, those who want to make a movie should, and avoid the studio system entirely: “They don’t have to pitch movies to 23-year-old idiots who have never heard of John Ford or Charlie Chaplin.”

- The Times also had an article about David Lehre, the 22-year old filmmaker who made "MySpace: The Movie" and landed a TV production deal with Fox. John Clark writes:

    Clearly one thing they got from Mr. Lehre was Internet-style economy. He borrowed props from everywhere: a Cessna from a friend of one of the producers, a Chrysler Prowler from one of Mr. Lehre’s neighbors, some hair clipped from the head of a crew member for a fake mustache, pasta left over from lunch to throw on an actor’s face. A crew member’s basement became a clubhouse for one skit. Mr. Lehre’s garage was the scene of a break-dancing video. His skateboard was used for a dolly shot. Production meetings were sometimes held in his bedroom. He brainstormed on his trampoline.

    A big test of Mr. Lehre’s viability as a television director was whether he could slow down his disposable, high-speed Internet shooting approach and embrace television’s higher production values. It wasn’t always easy. He had to be talked into covering scenes with more than one camera so that he would have editing options. Details that would drive most directors crazy — shadows thrown on actors’ faces, for example — didn’t appear to concern him, as long as he got the shot.

    “Never in all my years producing television have I seen anyone like David Lehre,” said Michael Binkow, who was hired by Fox to produce the pilot and whose credits include the reality show “30 Seconds to Fame.” “He gets to a location, shoots it in 10 minutes and says, ‘That’s it, I’ve got it.’ ” Asked if Mr. Lehre really got it, Mr. Binkow replied, “That remains to be seen.”

    Inevitably this breakneck pace was often thwarted, sometimes by production machinery, sometimes by the grown-ups on the set. Mr. Lehre wasn’t thrilled to be receiving input of any sort, especially from people outside the circle of friends and collaborators who have been working with him all along.

- In this morning's Journal: 'Media Firms Say Google Benefited From Film Piracy.' The gist of the complain seems to be that Google's advertising sometimes directs users to sites offering pirated movies. From the story:

    On Friday, Google responded to the complaints by agreeing to implement a series of measures it believes will help thwart piracy. In an afternoon conference call with studio representatives, lawyers for Google said the company would remove certain ads the companies objected to, create a list of approved advertisers and refrain from selling keywords used by rogue sites to lure users to pirated material. In addition, the Google lawyers said the company would introduce internal guidelines on monitoring keywords and train its ad sales force about how to avoid selling such ads.

    A spokesman for Google declined to comment on the call or the specific allegations the media companies have leveled against it. In a written statement, Google said it prohibits advertisers from promoting "the sale of copyright infringing materials." It also said, "We are continually improving our systems to screen out ads that violate these policies."

- The French videogame developer Ubisoft plans to get into the animated movie biz, according to another piece in the Journal. The company "will invest up to $384 million by 2013 to hire an additional 1,000 people in Montreal, about half for its new film operation and half to expand its game development team, bringing total staff in the city to about 3,000." One other interesting element of the firm's plans: "Initially, Ubisoft's Montreal film studio will make short movies that will be distributed digitally over the Internet to personal computers or consoles through online channels like Microsoft's Xbox Live service. One of its first projects will be a movie, around eight minutes long, that will be based on Assassin's Creed, a Ubisoft action game set during the third Crusades."

- This LA Times piece, 'Porn studios quitely courted,' gets to one of the key reasons that porn producers are finding it difficult to crank out Blu-ray discs. Joseph Menn and Dawn Chmielewski write:

    HD DVD production methods are built on the old DVD standards, so the older machinery can be retooled to make the next-generation discs. But Blu-ray requires expensive new equipment. That's why there are only eight or so Blu-ray replicators in the world.

    For Vivid Entertainment Group, the physical production of Blu-ray discs will come to about 35% of those movies' budgets, compared with 15% for HD DVDs and 10% for a standard DVD, said Vivid Chief Executive Steve Hirsch.

    Even if a porn studio wants to pay extra for Blu-ray, Sony and Walt Disney Co. make it hard.

    Sony manufactures Blu-ray discs but won't do it for adult titles. And Disney requires the replicators it uses to pledge not to use the same machines and employees to publish porn. Disney has its reasons: In the past, porn snippets have accidentally shown up on Disney titles. Neither company would comment for the record about porn.

    Since Disney uses most of the biggest U.S. Blu-ray replicators, L.A.-based Vivid, the only adult producer to promise some Blu-ray discs, has been forced to range far afield.


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