Wednesday, September 16, 2015
What's Old Is New Again: Antitrust
70 years ago, movie studios could own movie theatres. And they did. They could fill them with whatever films they wanted, like their own movies they made themselves. 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 short term bottom line.
In 1948, in US v. Paramount, the Supreme Court said it was no longer ok for studios to own the theatres too. That's why today they by and large don't. Or do they:
Giant-screen specialist IMAX Corp. is joining the content creation party, and will be generating its own movies and other programming in the near future, the company’s entertainment chief executive officer Greg Foster said Wednesday.
With the digital explosion creating countless new streaming platforms, there has been a rush to fill the content void by media firms and companies better known in other sectors, like online retailer Amazon.com and Marriott Hotels
I'm not saying that making a handful of films to fill holes in programing is at all anti-competitive, nor it is likely to run into the Department of Justice's lawyers taking any action. It does suggest an interesting possibility for distribution in general: does a company (like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc.) making the show and owning the distribution channel it is released on seem similar to a movie studio owning theatres? Right now it's an academic thought; there is still a great deal of competition between these players and the vast majority of their new offerings were not made in house, at least not yet.
It isn't just me looking at such things, and according to the Wall Street Journal, as recently as June the government was still moving forward on whether the largest chains are already crossing antitrust lines:
Regal Entertainment Group and AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., the nation's two largest movie theater chains, have received formal inquiries from the Justice Department's Antitrust Division, signaling growing government scrutiny of a tactic large theater operators commonly use to keep movies out of competing locations.
If the coming months and years result in consolidation in theatres and/or online outlets, maybe the anti-competitive possibilities will require more attention. Right now though, it just makes for an interesting show.
Monday, July 27, 2015
Aside from the state of being alive, there are very few things that are objectively good, if in fact any are. I'm talking about more than things seeming good or being good, I'm getting more at judgements that lead us to believe something is unflinchingly good or bad, and what we do about it. It is 3am and this may not make much sense in the light of day.
I'd hazard a guess that 95% of the things we have chosen to call good, and then acted as if they were, had little to no intrinsic, undeniable "good" in them. But we somehow felt or thought it useful to call them "good." We judge so very much not merely in terms of does it serve some purpose or reach toward a goal. In a thousand little and big almost invisible assumptions about "goodness" we accept and reject elements of reality as we encounter them.
This may court or shun things, people and situations. Almost as if our thoughts build our world and lives by pushing our attention toward some things and by blinding us to others. There is a major world religion that by and large says our thoughts make reality.
Sometimes our characters do this categorizing into "good" and "bad." They build themselves little internal cages that become their prisons: they trap themselves in expectations and assumptions. It can make sense when they do. Putting a value judgement on things makes it easier to insulate oneself from the actual complicated and nuanced world. Why deal with the vague and not-always-readily-obvious-realities when it can become this simple:
- Assess all things, people and situations you already know or encounter and label them either good or bad.
- Move toward the things labeled "good" and away from the things labeled "bad."
- repeat steps 1 to 3
So much simpler and less scary than actually connecting with each moment honestly and completely as they happen (and connecting with each thing and person in those moments). It is also a form of death-while-living: in exchange for promising freedom from pain and uncertainty, it demands only a subtle but complete disconnect from one's own life.
Being vulnerable and connected to one's own life is arguably the only way to be present and actually live life, as opposed to watching oneself living life. Does Hamlet stay in the moment? Not a whole lot one could interpret. Hamlet bemoans his situation and only swiftly addresses the central issues of the play once he already knows he is literally a walking dead man. Do we stay in the moment? No, often distraction, stress and compromise between contrasting goals leads us to shield ourselves from genuinely experiencing all of the emotional realities of a moment as they unfold.
It can a useful defense that keeps us alive; admiring the beauty of a lion's run as it angrily charges you may well be the last thing you ever do if you can't put that aside long enough to avoid being killed. However, similarly closing oneself to fully seeing the truth, in an important relationship in our lives for instance, may not only not protect us, but may actually allow far more harm and heartache into our life than fully recognizing reality ever could.
[Truth has a habit of being impervious to our wishes and immune to our opinions. Without launching into too much weird hair-splitting, I think you can almost say that one of truth's defining attributes is that it is not subject to whim. Not sure if such an objective truth becomes one and the same with objective reality, a reality that exists regardless of whether we think it does or not, but it seems like objective good would have to somehow interact with object realities and objective truths.]
So being alive may be an only objectively good thing because of its opposite. The opposite of being alive is the ultimate lack of options, dearth of possibilities. And possibility is the substance of the future, and each moment of everyday we make possibilities real.
It is tempting to translate this into something actionable for all of us by saying, "be alive," but that feels like a bit of weak direction, like a director saying, "be angrier." Instead, I think the objective for all of us, in work and life, may be "keep going." I'll close this late night blog post (please forgive any errors and rambling-ness) with a quote I've heard attributed to Tracy McMillan:
Everything works out in the end. If it hasn't worked out yet, then it's not the end.
Friday, July 24, 2015
Be Good to Yourself
Decide this minute to never again beg anyone for the love, respect, and attention that you should be showing yourself
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
99-Seat Theaters to Pay Minimum Wage
National leaders of Actors' Equity Assn. on Tuesday imposed a $9 hourly minimum wage for members who perform in Los Angeles County theaters with fewer than 100 seats...
The minimum wage for rehearsals and performances will take effect June 1, 2016, for scores of theater companies that already work under the 99-Seat Theater Plan. For decades that plan has required only token payments for actors when they perform - and nothing when they rehearse.
New producers who want to hire union actors will have to start paying the minimum wage immediately.
Backers of the wage hike argued that acting deserves the dignity of a minimum wage, and union leaders said they were responding to complaints from the L.A. rank and file about poor pay
Saturday, April 18, 2015
David in Bring the Funny screening in festival
Bring the Funny was produced for the same show that produced
Corporate Dialects, which David is in and wrote as well.
Wednesday, April 08, 2015
When Words Don't Work
Sometimes it's easy to get lost in the lines. They give such a nice structure, a cushion, almost like a blanket. Scripts are nice that way. Plays and screenplays are good, constant, acting companions. When in doubt, reach for the blanky and it will make everything better.
It often does. When words are in the right place, the character can be found, sussed out, accessed through the text. What is said is, after all, an extension of the character's wants.
But sometimes, if for no other reason but to change it up (or if the text is not as strong as it might be), maybe we should find what to do without words. What if your character couldn't speak, what then? Instantly I can imagine the stakes feeling higher, need more desperate, and as tactics constrict, pushing against the wordless trap could intensify or even clarify things.
What isn't said? What can't be said? What won't be said, and screams its silence. These are moments of both drama and comedy that we all live, and know. When inexplicably you simply couldn't say, "I love you, don't go," so they did go. When somehow the shock, or shame, or something else that defies articulation defined an instant, and then echoed into a string of days to promise a life of incomprehensible regret. These instances, small and big, where words simply didn't come or couldn't do justice are just as much part of our character's arc and life as the things they utter.
It is not just acting between the lines. It is letting the person live and breathe, during which they may happen to have something said to or by them. The uncertainty of letting go of the blanky, that is sometimes where our work lies. It lies there, where the truth lives.
At least that is what my midday Wednesday musings tell me. Break a leg out there.
Sunday, March 15, 2015
Cable Bundle Breaking
Years later than I would have liked, it seems the forced bundling together, long a part of the business model of cable companies (big channels carrying the smaller ones that are bundled with them), may be coming to an end. For decades, audience seeking a handful of channels has been sold access to the shows on those channels only if they also buy access to many (sometimes hundreds) of other channels, channels they have little and sometimes no interest in. This has subsidized some channels that, in the 20th century, would have had no other way to get into enough homes to be appealing to advertisers.
One holdover from this period in media distribution include some sites requiring you log in with your cable provider's credentials in order to stream a single episode of some shows (they need to confirm you are paying for the whole bundle, and the restricted access to the show you want is the leverage they use to preserve the bundle model). No business model that needs an obstacle to remain in place in order to survive is robust. Movie theatres used to be able to assume that if you wanted to see the movie, you would rent a chair in their theatre. That stopped being the case for them, and the years of smaller channels getting into homes because they are bundled with bigger ones may also be on the way out.
Another holdover is the impossibility of legally accessing some premium channel's shows in any way other than a full blown cable subscription with premium channels added on. Back when a single show would drive people to sign up for cable (The Sopranos, for example, did that at one time), this was a protective measure; it allowed cable companies to conduct business vaguely as they had for decades. Frustrating as it may be for the audience, there were business reasons for doing it; show producers needed the cable companies in order to be able to offer their show to as many homes as possible. Back in the day, broadcast television and cable were the only meaningful ways to get TV shows in front of an audience (satellite television's business model was close to cable's, so for this post I am lumping them together).
The rise of broadband internet and other technologies and trends has made such bundling less the only option. For many demographics, cable bundling was never appealing and never bought into, literally or figuratively. Now, the premium channels seem to be making noises of letting us all legally get their shows without the hundreds of channels (and dollars spent) we may not be interested in.
Business by crowbar may not be gentle, but short-term it can get things to happen. Like the music industry suing their customers, business by crowbar isn't nice, but seeing it done to those who have done it so long themselves, makes me think turn-about may be fair play. Cable used the shows the audience wanted as a crowbar to force the audience to buy a whole bundle. Now HBO is using Apple as a crowbar to break their shows apart from the cable bundle.
Make no mistake, the scales have tipped. Even old school media heads have ceded that streaming is the future of video.Clearly the bundle is changing. The days of the 500-channel universe are over,CBS chief Les Moonves said Wednesday at an investor conference.The days of the 150-channel universe in the home are not necessarily over but they're changing rapidly. People are slicing it and dicing it in different ways
Sunday, March 08, 2015
Keep Your Eyes On the Long Game
Keep your eyes on the long game. No distractions, no matter how tempting they may be or the opiate effect they provide. -@MysteryCr8tve
Sunday, February 01, 2015
Should I Stay Or Should I Go
Agents and managers, when should you stay and when should you go? An actor was sharing concern that their current representation wasn't getting them auditions, let alone bookings. These are some off-the-cuff comments I made about when to stay with an agent or manager, and when to go:
You are not alone in having encountered a rep with whom you are not effective right now. Oftentimes an ineffective rep is worse for an actor than having no rep; it can keep the actor from seeking, or being seeked out by, a rep with whom the actor will have more bookings and progress in their career. One of the best decisions I've made was once to part company with an ineffective rep once. This is anecdotal, and I did have moments or concern and near panic during the short period I had no rep afterwards, but then connected with reps that were world-class at what they did. Sometimes making room for something better is better than trying to redeem or build something that simply cannot grow well.
That said, trying to rejuvenate, and improve an existing relationship can make a world of difference. Often the rep may not be thrilled with results either. Perhaps a good, honest discussion of what you can do, together and individually, to make your work together more successful, can fix things. The true challenge is knowing when to work on it, and when to go elsewhere. Hindsight will be perfect, but best educated and reasoned guess can be the effective decision. Best of luck!
Please comment with your ideas and thoughts on when to stay with, and when to run from, an agent or manager.
Friday, January 23, 2015
Scammer Called Out
Hi, I'm [name removed to protect the guilty]. I'm from ['agency' name], and we'd like you to come to our auditions. We're having auditions at [theatre name] on thus and such a date and time, and we'd like you to come in.
Okay. And please bring your headshot and resume.
Great, looking forward to it. See you then...
And we're asking actors to bring $10 as a donation to [name of alleged non-profit charity] to perform.
(I look up the alleged charity's form 990, a tax form charities must file. I find nothing.)
Thank you for inviting me. I'm not finding [name of alleged non-profit charity]'s form 990, so because of the fee charged, I will not be attending.
Other person: (Launches into rant insulting me, protesting way too much: they know they are doing a bad thing.)
This is inspired by an actual exchange I had a few years ago on email. Actors never have to pay money upfront to honest agents and managers. Representatives make a percentage of the money you are paid for work.
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer on Friday announced the launch of a new campaign aimed at warning aspiring actors and entertainers of scams in which managers and agents seek upfront payments and other fees for representation.
(from LA Officials Announce Crackdown on Agent and Manager Talent Scams). Be careful out there.
Wednesday, December 31, 2014
The Universe Conspires in Your Favor
Whoever is born of sound mind has been naturally intended by Heaven for honest work and some kind of life. Whoever, therefore, wishes Heaven to be nice to him, will go after this work and this kind of life, and doggedly pursue it. For Heaven favors things it has itself begun. You were made by Nature for this purpose beyond anything else. What you do from your tender years on, what you talk about, mold, fit, dream, imitate, what you try very often, what you can do easily, what you are most of all good at, what you love beyond all else, what you would be unwilling to leave - this is clearly what Heaven, and the Rector of Heaven bore for you. To this extent therefore, Heaven will favor your beginnings, and will smile on your life.
- Marcillo Ficino, physician, The Book of Life, 1485
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
Pain and Motivation
Pain is temporary. It may last for a minute, or an hour, or a day, or even a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit however, it will last forever
(from Sydney Blu - Motivate). Part of our job is to feel bad. In exchange, we get fulfillment others only dream of. Hard to remember in the throws of whatever inconvenience or even real loss and hardship we may encounter.
Especially as the stress of the holiday season is upon us, remember: it is temporary. Good stress, what scientists call eustress, is experienced by our bodies virtually identically to how our bodies experience bad stress, what they call distress. The body does not physically discern between distress or eustress (according to Jon Kabat-Zinn in Full Catastrophe Living). So remember, when good and great things happen be gentle with yourself just as you are when bad things happen.
Either way, our jobs demand we endure more than typical stress, so it makes sense if, like me the last couple days, you have been feeling a bit stressed. Exercise, relaxation, meditation, and anything else that helps you diffuse stress is probably a good idea, in general, and specifically when things get hectic. Wendy Braun has an audio meditation specifically for actors to have peaceful holiday gatherings, which I'm listening to as I write this.
And remember: we are supposed to have fun, it's part of our job. So enjoy the season, and hope you have a great rest of your day (he says as he plans how to have a good day himself).
Wednesday, October 01, 2014
TV Financing Is Getting Creative
We see an opportunity to make content that does not necessarily fit the studio model.
Before you ask
what does this have to do with me, I'm an actor remember that this is how we get paid too; actor salaries come from the financing. Plus, if you ever want to produce something yourself it is more than indirectly your business how things get financed. Different business models for the projects we do mean different types of projects become possible.
Right now, most network television (as in broadcast, which in the US means ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) is made with the need to hit certain ratings. Those ratings are what the advertisers were promised by the networks back when the ads were sold to them. If a show's ratings go below certain numbers, then the network has to refund money the advertisers paid. That can sometimes make certain plots or premises seem like a bad idea; they can't risk losing audience. If they do, then the network has to write a check they really don't want to write.
Shows for other markets, like cable or internet, typically don't have the same guarantee of ratings: networks usually promise certain minimum numbers when they presell ads in May for shows that starting airing in September. Internet and premium channels typically don't manage their ad inventories that way. Networks configure themselves and their business to make big expensive shows. Non-broadcast venues don't.
That means that non-broadcast networks usually don't have to capture the attention of quite so many viewers, and therefore can sometimes do riskier material, they can risk having a smaller audience. Or at least they can take more risks with the material because the financial obligations are not as huge. For non-ad supported
Show business has historically almost always used the gathering of people together to sell them things as its basic business model, whether it was the show itself, or the products and services sold near it. But with the fragmentation of today's audience into different groups, and the explosion of new outlets and technologies makes more diverse types of shows possible because of these new forms of financing. These new versions of the business model mean we can have new forms of entertainment. News that causes some people anxiety: we can't just do business the way we always used to. But the good news for everyone: new things can thrive.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Setting Limits on Yourself
It's a mistake to set limits on yourself; life will do that whether you like it or not. A successful life must be determined by one's attitude. In a favorite phrase of my brother Ed, "We live between our ears." Sermon over.
- James Cagney