Archive for October, 2006


October 30, 2006

In 2003, I was telling my friend Matthew Bernstein about my troubles creating a story for my upcoming video game. Matt gave me a copy of Impro by Keith Johnstone. He thought I would like it and it might help.

However, I was doubtful. I had taken Robert McKee’s Story seminar and had read McKee’s book. I had read a dozen books on screenwriting and story writing, and none of them had helped. Impro had an ugly cover, and it was about acting, so I postponed reading it for weeks.

When I finally picked it up in July, 2003, it instantly changed my life.

That might be an odd thing to say about an acting book, but I don’t care. And I am not the only one who says so. Several reviews on Amazon say the same thing.

Impro is ostensibly a book about acting—improvisation and mask work. However, it is also a great book—an important book—about creativity, about psychology, and about education. To me, it was a mind-blowing trip.

Mainly it was useful. Whereas McKee explained how to analyze a story (and tell a good one from a bad one), Johnstone explained how to create one. My Cecropia story team had been collectively banging its head against a wall for months. Johnstone’s ideas helped us blast through that wall and become a prolific, productive machine.

Impro was a huge help for my writing and directing. But the life-changing part was that it opened my eyes to the “status transactions” in every human interaction. Also, just as my children were entering the formal education system, Johnstone’s ideas about education stunned me. (Johnstone was an elementary school teacher before he was a playwright and director.) Here is a small exerpt:

“People think of good and bad teachers as engaged in the same activity, as if education was a substance, and that bad teachers supply a little of the substance, and good teachers supply a lot. This makes it difficult to understand…that good and bad teachers are engaged in opposite activities.”

After reading Impro, I was lucky enough to take one of Johnstone’s acting seminars. I sucked, and he was not quite as sympathetic to the talent-less as he claims to be in his book. However, his every word was gold.

If you are an actor, you should read this book. If you are a teacher, or thinking of becoming a teacher, you should read this book. But if you are a story writer or director, you really must read this book. Then thank me, as I thank Matt Bernstein. (Thank you, Matt!)

Peerflix vs. Netflix

October 27, 2006

Most of my friends know that I am a rabid Peerflix fan. Hey, everyone has to have a hobby, right? 🙂 My apologies to my old high school pal, Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix. Reed, I love you, too. And I am also a Netflix customer. But Peerflix—what an idea!

Netflix has to run distribution centers around the country where DVD mailers get opened and re-stuffed. Netflix has to print the mailers and pay for postage. Netflix has to buy the DVDs in the first place.

Peerflix, on the other hand, is just a web site. Peerflix has no distribution centers. Customers print their own mailers on their own printers and mail them directly to the next customer in line. Peerflix gets paid $0.99 for every DVD that gets traded!

Each service has advantages and disadvantages from the customer’s point of view. Netflix has the advantage that you can get whatever you want whenever you want it. But with Netflix, I feel pressured to get my money’s worth. If I don’t watch the DVDs I have and send them back quickly, I’m wasting money (because I pay by the month—regardless of how many DVDs I watch). The last thing I want is pressure to watch more TV!

With Peerflix, there is no time pressure. You own all the DVDs you have, and you can keep them forever if you want without any cost.

But Peerflix has its own peculiar downsides. Some titles are on many “Have” lists and few “Want” lists. These titles will arrive quickly if you put them on your “Want” list. Then, it will be hard to get rid of them. Depending on how lopsided the supply/demand is, you might get stuck with the title forever. In which case, you cannot replenish your “Peerbux” by trading it away. Other titles have the opposite problem: they are on many “Want” lists and few “Have” lists. These titles will take forever to get sent to you. The best titles are the happy medium ones that are plentiful enough to get to you in the first place, but will also be tradable after you are finished with them.

One thing I will say for Peerflix is that it has caused me to buy DVDs for the first time in my life. If I read the description on a movie and I really want to see it, but there are 0 copies available on Peerflix—I’ll look for it on Ebay or used on Amazon and buy it. If I feel it is a must-see, and it is worth a lot of Peerbux, and it is not available used, I’ll even buy it new. My psychology goes like this: “Hey, I have saved way more than 20 bucks on Peerflix already. Plus, I can easily trade this and get Peerbux when I’m done.”

Every time I buy another DVD—used or new—I expand the size of my in-house library—even after I trade it away (because trading away earns Peerbux that enable me to receive more titles from my “Want” list). I now have about 25 DVDs at home that I have not yet seen! That is incredible! How much would I have to pay EVERY MONTH at Netflix to have 25 DVDs at a time?

So here is a topic for you to discuss amongst yourselves: will Peerflix ever be as popular as Netflix? Or is Omar a looney-bird? Or both?

P.S. I forgot to credit Jackie Shadrake with turning me on to Peerflix. Thanks, Jackie! 🙂

P.P.S. I just found a wealth of posts about Peerflix on Brad Templeton’s blog.

Peter Moore

October 26, 2006

I will do my best to make this weblog entertaining, thought-provoking, and informative. However, if you really want to laugh out loud, check out Peter Moore’s blog. No kidding, I laughed so much that Des came running out of his office to see what I was doing.

Peter is the super-talented musician who composed the score for “The Act.” Not only did he compose an awesome score, but he played all the instruments (except violin). Plus he is an amazing wit! It is really not fair that one person should have so many talents. 🙂

BTW, Peter is now on the road playing keyboards with the Blue Man Group touring show. Peter’s “regular” band is Count Zero.

My First Post!

October 26, 2006

We had a great promotional party for “The Act” last night at Our House West in Allston. One group of young men were particularly fun to watch. They narrated the entire game with their own improv dialogue. If there ever were going to be a DVD version of “The Act,” their banter would make a great commentary track. With some coaching from me, they finished the game in about an hour…and immediately started playing again! This time, they turned it into a drinking game (simple rules: you lose, you drink). Why didn’t I think of that! Maybe we should add a “Drink Now!” message superimposed over the rewind effect. 🙂