Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Antitrust: Entertainment and Telecom Merging

I wrote about a year and a half ago about the possibility of our industry mirroring past trends and maybe moving toward antitrust issues. ‬Over 70 years ago it was decided that movie studios should not be allowed to own movie theatres, because:

The ownership of everything from the beginning of the production all the way through the final sale to the end consumer (vertical integration) means lots of money and control. Never letting any competition in, or dictating terms to them, can be good for your [the owner's] short term bottom line

(from What's Old Is New Again: Antitrust). And that's bad for everyone, even eventually the owners of the company/companies controlling everything. Innovation and competition tend to improve the options consumers have and improve the health and profits of an industry.

Today, Variety reports, Time Warner shareholders have overwhelmingly voted to approve the media conglomerate's upcoming sale to AT&T. The governmental authorities, both in the US and EU, have not yet given their final approval. However, the deal is expected to close by the end of the year.

We may be working for the phone company soon, at least whenever we're on a TV or film set owned by Warner and its subsidiary companies. The audience may soon get the delightful experience and value-for-their-money they already get from their cell phone or cable company.

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Thursday, February 09, 2017

Criminal Charges Against 5 Casting Workshops Brought by LA City Attorney

The Los Angeles City Attorney's office has filed criminal misdemeanor charges against the operators of five casting workshops for allegedly charging actors for auditions in violation of the state's Talent Scam Prevention Act of 2009. If convicted, each of the 28 defendants – including 18 local casting directors - could face up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine.
SAG-AFTRA said it supports the prosecutions and will continue to work with the city. Preying on the hopes and dreams of artists is one of the oldest scams in Hollywood, said Duncan Crabtree Ireland, the union's chief operating officer and general counsel. We thank City Attorney Mike Feuer for enforcing the law and taking action to hold people accountable when they violate the law and take advantage of vulnerable people's dreams. We will continue to work with the City Attorney's Office to help protect our members and future members

(from L.A. City Attorney Busts Five Casting Workshops For Charging For Auditions).

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Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Direct Deposit Residual Payments

Delivery of residual payments via direct deposit will finally become a reality in 2017. The program will begin with select payment partners and our eventual goal is to offer electronic processing of all residuals. This new service will not only add much-needed efficiency to the financial lives of performers who depend on these payments, but will also be another major step in SAG-AFTRA's eco-friendly green initiative

(emphasis added, from Game-Changing News). This seems like a very good thing.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Bryan Cranston's Advice On Auditioning

You're not going there to get a job, you're going there to present what you do. -Bryan Cranston interviewed at the Oscars

We come, we act, we leave. That is the base template of our work. Casting often factors in and depends on things completely beyond your control and outside your knowledge.

Stay in your lane and run your race; auditions are our chance to do our work, and show it to others. Let them worry about who books.

And I realize how impossible that seems. Our bills getting paid, and our career's growth seems to be wrapped up in who books. I get that it feels like it, but the reality is our success is more tied to how much we turn our focus away from such extrinsic motivation when we do our work, between action and cut and curtain up and curtain down.

Booking is not about us. We do not control that outcome (unless we're the executive producer as well). So when we audition it may as well not exist to us. Do your work, and then go to the beach or something (says the guy who wishes he were at the beach today).

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Friday, January 27, 2017

3D TV Is Not a Thing Anymore

There are no more major TV-makers that make 3D TVs anymore

(from 3d TV is dead). Seems our work will not be soon be seen in 3D at home, unless VR gets in-home traction. Movies may still be coming out in 3D for a while, whether they are shot natively that way or converted in post. The 3D up-charge has a real impact on box office returns, and some stories are well suited or work better in three dimensions. There are some people who like having the spectacle of 3D, and some who don't.

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Be Happy Now

Do everything you can to be a happy person, NOW. If you think you can grouse today and then be happy someday in the future, I'm here to tell you, happiness just does not work that way. Putting off happiness until 'someday' ... lasts forever. If you can't be happy where you are, it's a cinch you can't be happy where you ain't.

-Bob Fraser

So please do something today, before you go to sleep, that will make you smile.

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James Cagney on Directors

Direction, I've always held, is implicit in the writing. One doesn't go to the post with a bad script if he can help it. If the script is right, the direction is all there, implicit in the writing. Consequently, whenever I hear much ranting and roaring about this, that, or the other great director, I will admit there are some directors who are imaginative, who can get the most out of their material. Hawks, Wellman, Walsh, Keighley, Curtiz, Del Ruth, Ford and others were all expert and did their job to the fullest. But many directors are just pedestrian workmen, mechanics. Ostensibly they choose camera angels and on occasion they do, but I've often seen cameramen take over when needed. The director would indicate where he wanted it, and quietly the cameraman would indicate to his assistant a spot one good foot off the director's mark. Then the cameraman would turn to me, wink, and walk away.

(from Cagney by Cagney).

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Director's Contract Improved

Members of the Directors Guild of America [DGA] have approved a three-year successor deal on the master contract with a major gain in streaming residuals

(from Directors Guild of America Members Ratify New Contract).

The DGA statement says they gained on SVOD (like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu) residuals, tripling some of them. They also gained on wages, though only rising slightly more than inflation in some cases, and got higher pension contributions.

This is a good thing for actors too: often the guilds end up making comparable gains; producers engage in pattern bargaining. A gain for directors, writers or actors is often possible for the other two guilds to make. Since streaming continues to grow and be a more common way for our work to be seen, there is cause for hope. The SAG-AFTRA negotiations have not yet been publicly announced for our master contract with the AMPTP, which expires June 30, 2017.

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Dessert First

You don't have a minute. You don't even really have a few seconds. Whatever work you're doing likely only has a moment of the-person-watching-it's attention before they stop paying attention, stop watching, stop listening. Maybe they change the channel, maybe they click their mouse on something else, or maybe they start thinking what will they tell their assistant to order them for lunch, or look at their notes from a different actor's audition earlier in the day. (And while it has been said that actors have won roles with their walk from the wings to center stage [I believe I read that somewhere in Joanna Merlin and Harold Prince's book Auditioning], confidence and the projection of it is probably best in another post. I am talking here about our performances themselves.)

Sure if the audience is in a theatre, watching a play or a movie, then they've probably signed up, committed, to seeing the whole thing, but even then:

Acting is merely the art of keeping a large group of people from coughing

(Sir Ralph Richardson quoted in New York Herald Tribune, May 19, 1946).

What are we to do then as actors? Well if you have any say over a script or an edit, when you can put the good stuff, the one part you'd want someone to see if they only saw one part, at the beginning. And don't save the part you love, the deeper part, the clearer work or whatever it is that excites you for some amorphous time near the climax of the story. You don't always have to make the climax happen, that's more the writer's task.

Instead, perhaps start knowing that is coming. I'm not saving over act. I'm also not delving into a discussion of if the actor's job includes foreshadowing the story throughout act 1 in all cases (which may make for a good post just on that at some point). I am saying don't save the good stuff for a later that may never come. If the audience leaves, or stops watching, your good work may as well have been rehearsal.

Don't assume you get 5 minutes for the YouTube sketch to get to its punchline/good part; an estimated 500 hours of new video is uploaded every minute to YouTube and will show up right next to your work. Don't guess people will watch past the first 4 minutes of the 20 episode Netflix series you're working on; win over the viewer fast or the viewer will choose something else like either what Netflix is spending $6 billion (with a 'b') this year to make themselves or spending additional money to license from other places and putting a mouse click away from your work.

Narratively you cannot, a likely should not, try to put the climax at the top if it doesn't fit. Yet even in Chekhov's Three Sisters, a play partly about stagnation, he opens with the line it's a year ago that Father died, May fifth, on your birthday, Irina. We know and can have feelings about much of what is going on: the speaker is one of the sisters, another one of her sisters is Irina and its her birthday which is a complicated anniversary since its shared with their dad's death. It took more words to type than Olga uses and it likely still engages an audience interested in experiencing a family drama, just as it has for over 115 years on stage and on screen. This script lets an audience immediately get family drama, the treat they want if they are interested in a family story. The performer speaking that line ideally will be speaking already as Olga, not waiting to warm up into it even if the audience already agreed to sit through the whole show; the performer serves dessert first.

Rob Long articulated this idea of Dessert First over 5 years ago and his words still ring true:

The audience won't wait. They're hungry now...when you're trying to get people to do something, or to pay attention to something, or to just sit still for a moment, don't serve them appetizers first. Serve them dessert; dessert first, fun stuff first, sweet stuff up front. Start passing out the treats the moment it starts. Ask yourself, if you're a writer [or an actor], "at the top of the show, the top of the scene, is the audience getting dessert first?" Because if they're not, someone, somewhere...is serving it up a thumb push away

(from Martini Shot: Dessert First on KCRW, November 9, 2011).

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

David in the Secret Tunnel Into the White House

I shot a video of the Secret Tunnel Into the White House with Amy Walker as a sequel to my Secret Cave Into Disneyland:

And #STIWH screened this month in Hollywood at The Scramble:

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Filter Bubbles Change Outcomes (or Facebook EdgeRank Is Flawed)

disclaimer: It's 2:45 in the morning. Insomnia has me thinking wildly, and this may not be good logic, or reasoning, but here goes (caveat lector).

Facebook, and other systems (like Google's search results) insulate and cut us off from people who think differently than we do. This is bad, for many reasons. It polarizes us and leads to bad outcomes for everyone. This filter bubble problem was pointed out at least 5 years ago, and this problem continues and increases today.

To believe that Facebook did not accidentally affect the election with hoax stories may be to misunderstand math, or to forget that small things are still things. Not understanding math is something Mark Zuckerberg cannot believably claim. Hoax stories shared on Facebook probably impacted the election results. An impact can be small, but also be real, and maybe even decidedly so.

EdgeRank is the part of Facebook that chooses what you are shown in your Facebook newsfeed. If EdgeRank decides not to show a post to you in the newsfeed, you have to manually go to someone's page or profile to see the posts; posts won't show up on the newsfeed for you unless EdgeRank puts them there. On average only about 16% of your friends or fans will be shown a post (unless you pay to promote it).

Some at Facebook claim that EdgeRank didn't have any impact on the election. But small things can make a big difference.

On Saturday night, Mr. Zuckerberg posted a lengthy status update to his Facebook page with some of his thoughts on the election.
Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99% of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes, Mr. Zuckerberg wrote. Overall, this makes it extremely unlikely hoaxes changed the outcome of this election in one direction or the other

(from Facebook, in Cross Hairs After Election, Is Said to Question Its Influence).

Small does not mean unimportant. It could even be that such a number, the type of number Zuckerberg is dismissing, could change major world events.

Under 1% is a very small amount. 0.52% is a more specific small amount. Somewhere under 1% of stories on Facebook, according to Zuckerberg, are hoaxes. 0.52% is, According to AP, the difference between the number of votes Hillary Clinton got and Donald Trump got (as of November 13, 2016, AP has Donald Trump getting 60,350,241 votes and Hillary Clinton getting 60,981,118).

I am not calling Mark Zuckerberg wrong, but Facebook is calling Mark Zuckerberg wrong. Facebook says people do things based on what's shown to them in their Facebook stream:

Because Facebook Ads are placed in the [news] stream of information people view on Facebook, they’re more likely to see your ads and take action

(emphasis added, from Facebook business: Facebook ads retrieved November 14, 2016).

Facebook tells their paying customers that people act on what they see in news streams on Facebook. Zuckerberg says less than 1% of those stories people act on are hoaxes. Could 0.52% of those stories be something people acted on recently ;-).

For us as actors (and this post is decidedly not focused on our work, but more our online lives), EdgeRank is the machines choosing who sees what we post, including pictures and videos. Machines are not great at programming our work like the artistic director of a theatre or the cinema owner or the traffic department of a TV network (traffic as in what's on air, not what's on roads). It would be nice if everyone who would be thrilled to see our work we share would be shown our work, but no machine in the world can curate that well. Right now EdgeRank, or spending money to promote imperfectly (Facebook sometimes promises a wider reach than a spend will actually give) is all Facebook allows.

If Facebook wants to improve EdgeRank, including some of the posts we don't typically interact with in the news stream is a straightforward option. Remember: liking, sharing or commenting a post is the only data EdgeRank uses. To imagine people don't want to see or aren't affected by posts even when they don't like, share or comment is to imagine human behavior can be reduced to 3 types of database entries. It can't be. That's not even mentioning all the things we do in life that aren't strictly behavior. But this ventures into human-computer interaction, engagement measurement and metrics, and all are probably best for another post on another day...or night. Right now: good night!

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Friday, October 21, 2016

1880 Compliant

I coined the phrase 1880 Compliant or 1880 Compliance to refer to things that will still work, or keep working, if the power grid goes down. "Compliant" as in goes along with or works with, and "1880" because the first commercial power generator went online in about 1881. It's like a shorthand for business continuity without electricity: what happens if the power goes out? What happens if the power stays out? Actors are small businesses. Anything 1880 Compliant is a thing that works whether or not the power is working.

Important deadlines and other things don't care what infrastructure is doing in your area; you either showed up for work, or an audition, or you didn't. You could download the script/sides, or you couldn't. The movie/video/TV show could be watched our it couldn't. The theatre's lights could turn on or they couldn't. Business continuity isn't a major focus for actors (nor should it be) but since the internet today has many sites down, I'm going to write this instead of waiting for them to come back online. I have shared the phrase 1880 Compliant for years, but today I'll commit it to (digital) paper. Seems kind of apt. And ironic (not quite what that word means, but I digress).

Something you or a business does is 1880 Compliant for some amount of time. Books printed on paper are 1880 Compliant forever, books on a digital readers are 1880 Compliant for the life of the battery: they're basically not 1880 Compliant at all or are for only some hours or minutes.

Things that are 1880 Compliant can include:

A paper date book
Unless you lose it, burn it or otherwise physically destroy it, a paper date book will be available, complete and serve its purpose until the paper rots away. It won't care no what the power company does.
A bicycle
If it works today it will likely work tomorrow and the next day. Eventually its maintenance may need things like replacement parts and lubricants, and those need power to be available where you are, but a bike is effectively 1880 Compliant for the foreseeable future.
Talking in person
Face to face conversation doesn't require electricity to happen, and if the people's basic survival needs are met (the modern world requires electricity enabling the technologies that make food and clothes that end up in our presence), they can effectively communicate like this for the rest of their lives.

Things that are _not_ 1880 Compliant could include:

A digital planner
If you can't charge its battery it won't help you know what's next or next week. And if you think an online or home back-up will save you, you are right-ish: those will extend its 1880 Complaint time-frame, and may make your schedule retrievable, but eventually all those 1s and 0s do nothing for you if the power doesn't come back on soon.
A car
You may think "but I don't have an electric car, my car uses gas," and while that can be true, surprisingly almost all gas stations use electrically powered pumps without a petroleum product powered generator as back-up. Despite the distribution and sale of petroleum products being almost the entire business model of a gas station, they depend on the power being on. This means that in many natural disasters people have been left to abandon their cars and walk, even if they are right next to a gas station that has underground storage tanks full of fuel. That fuel is totally out of reach because the power the station's pumps rely on is not available. Remarkably foolish and tragic: this lack of a generator back-up slowed evacuations after the storm surge knocked out power before Hurricane Katrina made landfall.
All communications with screens or microphones involved
Kind of obvious; electrical technology may work during a power outage at first, but eventually telephone and cell phone systems' back-ups will run out of their ability to keep things running if the power grid stays down long term.

As actors, when working on a film or TV set, the production may have brought its own generator and may then be able to keep working without interruption for a time. They may be able to keep filming and "make the day" without the local power grid providing electricity; a set might be 1880 Compliant for some hours. Our work certainly doesn't require electricity to be done, though the systems that capture it and all the people working on the shoot probably will eventually need power from the grid to work well or at all. Plus, if the power went out because of anything that wasn't limited to the power grid (like a storm or other natural disaster) then filming probably stopped for other compelling reasons.

On stage, the show probably won't go on with out the power on; most theatres don't seem to have backup systems to power everything for hours if the power goes out. The light board and sound systems may have backups for their computers, but the lights, lobby and ticketing areas are probably going to go dark and stay dark. Rehearsal might be able to happen, in a park or a space with windows during the day, and auditions maybe could too, but with out the power up, traffic signals and subways probably don't work so getting to a rehearsal or audition might not be possible. A lot of what we do for work doesn't work when the power doesn't.

A corollary I'll mention that I also coined is being 1980 Compliant, meaning working without internet connectivity. The internet wasn't widely adopted until after 1980. Now I'm off to go to an 1880 Compliant in-person meeting ;-).

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Monday, October 17, 2016

David's fight choreography in Peter and the Starcatcher in DC

David co-choreographed the stage combat in
St. Marks Players' Peter and the Starcatcher,
playing through October 22, 2016 in Washington, DC.
tickets: http://bit.ly/petersmp

Peter and the Starcatcher poster image

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Thursday, October 06, 2016

Let's Make a Content!

The world has embraced the word "Content" for much of what we make. But that puts so much emphasis on the container and so much less on the things contained. I am starting to use the word "material" more to myself, to clarify that what we make has value and worth even separated from the container it comes in.

"Material" can be made into stuff. "Content" is bland and emotionally agnostic. My friend Shariq Siddiqui (with whom a conversation today inspired me to actually write out this post, a post that had been tumbling around in my mind for a while now) said, people don't wanna pay for content (even if they'll pay for anything around it). Material makes it sound like...well...material! Maybe we start thinking of our film and TV work as more like material making its way through a digital mill towards the audience. And think of it less like some blank feature-less chunk of content being digitally shipped in uniform shipping-container-like units toward the viewer or user.

But "the medium is the message" rings true in so many instances, so no matter what's said, we all notice the way and place it is being said. But, I connect with the character more than the logos at the start of the show or movie, and I think you do too. That is how we all want it. That is how we expect it to be.

I'm suggesting we don't get bogged down in focusing on the "container," the "pipes," the "screen," or, heaven forbid, the "bucket," and lose sight of the reason those things exist. They were created in the first place to serve content, both to be of service to it and to deliver it. Stories of human life need to be kept somewhere. The people and the stories can live without the containers (ex: live stage performance), but the containers and outlets kind of become pointless without the people and stories.

Not sure we'll find ourselves calling a friend and saying: "let's make a great content!" But whatever we call it, let's make some great things.

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