Archive for December, 2006

Vacation Surprises

December 29, 2006

I have just returned from a memorable vacation. The family car broke down, so we had to leave it at a mechanic in Connecticut and continue in a rental. Then the family dog became so ill, she ended up in an animal hospital in New Jersey. 😦

But while I was away, some nice things happened. Mass High Tech published a nice story about The Act by Christopher Calnan. And Harry McCracken, Editor in Chief of PCWorld, wrote a really nice review of The Act on his blog. 🙂

Perhaps I should go away more often! Or…not.

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Baxter Park Acquires Katahdin Lakes

December 22, 2006

Jerry and Marcy MonkmanThe Portland Press Herald reports that one of my favorite places, Baxter State Park in Maine, has just expanded its borders by acquiring a key, adjacent parcel of land. The puchase was funded by the charitable contributions of hundreds of individuals, corporations and foundations.

The 200,000 acre park is unique among state and national parks in the United States. Most other parks, including all National Parks, are managed with the express purpose of enabling human enjoyment of the land. Baxter State Park is managed under the guidelines of a trust written by the late Percival Baxter. The rules are clear: the park is for the wildlife, and human visitors are barely tolerated. The trust keeps the wilderness pristine, and the experience of visiting it difficult and humbling.

Attendance at the park has been declining steadily since 1996. Studies have shown that all wilderness recreation has been suffering, due in part to gasoline prices, but also because of—God help us—video games.

Despite the fact that making video games has been my livelihood for the past 24 years, I think it’s a shame that the appeal of video games has taken away from people’s desire to experience the wild. The human race has been around for 250,000 years—human civilization only 13,000. I enjoy Baxter State Park, because there I can be in touch with what the world was like for the first 237,000. It helps me keep things in perspective.

More Screener Scrimmaging

December 21, 2006

dga_logo2.gifAn article in today’s Hollywood Reporter says that the Director’s Guild of America has announced a one-year ban on the practice of sending out DVD copies of movies (called “screeners”) to DGA members in advance of the 59th Annual DGA Awards.

Film distributors send out screeners to judges in hopes of increasing a film’s chance of winning awards. The practice has had a controversial history. Proponents say screeners level the playing field and give low-budget films a chance against highly visible big-budget films. In 2003, screeners were briefly banned for Academy Award contenders, until a lawsuit overturned the ban.

Peerflix, What Have you Done?

December 19, 2006

Wow. The old Peerflix is gone. The new one is…not so appealing to me.

With the old Peerflix, I felt I was buying DVDs for $1.50 each (99 cents to Peerflix plus 51 cents postage)—much less than the cost of a rental at Blockbuster. The Peerflix trading currency, “Peerbux,” was like Monopoly money. Perhaps that was an illusion, but it worked for me.

The new Peerflix is all about real money. You buy DVDs for real money. You sell DVDs for real money. I never did that before. I don’t think I want to do it now.

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Peerflix Now Offers Cash for Old DVDs

December 17, 2006

DVD swapping site Peerflix (which I have written about before) just announced a major new feature: you can now get cash for your old DVDs instead of just Peerbux (trading credit).

I am guessing this new feature is in response to a number of vocal critics who have built up a large backlog of Peerbux. These tend to be people who started off with a large library of DVDs in the first place. I am not one of them. I started off with a half dozen. I am constantly bumping up against a zero Peerbux balance even as my library grows. (more…)

The Act on NECN!

December 16, 2006

necn.jpgNew England Cable News did a nice story about The Act last night. It will be on their web site for a limited time.

P.S. Here is a direct link to the story.

Frog Princess Buzz

December 15, 2006

Animation fans have been buzzing since July about The Frog Princess, a 2D feature film rumored to be in development at Walt Disney Feature Animation. A casting call went out in November, but Disney still won’t officially comment.

Disney’s Life Examined

December 12, 2006

In this week’s New Yorker, Anthony Lane reviews Neal Gabler’s new biography, Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination, which is now on my Christmas wish list.

Since I was raised in the Peoples’ Republic of Cambridge, I grew up thinking “Disney” stood for “phony” or “commercial.” Disney was vilified for dumbing down and sugar-coating such classics of children’s literature as Mary Poppins, Winnie The Pooh, and The Jungle Books.

When I had the privilege of working with a group of Walt Disney Feature Animation veterans on The Act, I learned enough about Disney’s accomplishments to totally change my point of view. I now think of Disney as the creative genius who revolutionized entertainment so many ways it is hard to count them.

Anthony Lane nails both sides of the Disney coin in his review.

I’ll add only one quibble as a footnote. Lane writes:

Everyone recalls being distressed by the death of Bambi’s mother, and of his stick-legged pining in the snow, but how many of us recall what happens next? The oblivious birds strike up an immediate chorus: “Let’s sing a gay little spring song, tra-la-la.” The episode is closed, like a trapdoor. And so it is with Walt Disney.

We may not consciously remember it that way, but it is precisely that chipper chorus of birds that stabs us in the heart and makes us scream, “Noooooo!” when watching the film. In a fast-forward moment we see Bambi, himself, having moved on, grown up, and recovered from the death of his mother. Without that juxtaposition, the scene would have been much less powerful.

Lost in Translation

December 11, 2006

Last night I saw a stage adaptation of the classic 1983 film A Christmas Story. There were strong performances from the actors playing Mrs. Parker, The Old Man (Mr. Parker) and Ralphie. However, the narration that works so well in the film did not work at all on stage. Seeing this live narrator over and over ruined my willing suspension of disbelief. It kept yanking me out of the story and reminding me it is all a play.

Writing guru, Robert McKee, believes narration in film should only be used if it is not needed (as counterpoint). I’m thinking the rule on stage should be: never.

The Future is Light and Short

December 7, 2006

Many writers have pointed out (e.g. Crooked Timber, Daniel Read et al, and the Wall Street Journal) that when we have to choose what movie to watch days ahead of time (as with Netflix), we tend to make more ambitious choices than what we want when the time comes to watch. For example, many people select a bunch of “highbrow” movies on Netflix, then don’t feel like watching them when they arrive.

Netflix is a great bonanza for highbrow movies today, but what will happen when people have access to a library the size of Netflix, but no longer have to make choices days ahead of time?

Brad Templeton wrote a great piece about this, predicting:

…the real shift coming is to pay-per-view and downloading. If people look at the PPV menu and usually pick the light movie over the serious one, then the market for the serious ones is sunk.

Sadly, I think he is right. But neither good nor bad is his other interesting observation:

I’ve also noticed a push for shorter programming… When you just sit down to choose something from your library, the temptation is strong to watch shorter things instead of making a 2 hour committment to a longer thing.

The data sample is small, but my experience is definitely similar. I now have a pile of a few dozen DVDs acquired through Peerflix. Picking a movie at my house means straining my eyes to find the “running time” in tiny print on every disc, and more often than not, choosing among the shortest.

This could be good news for independent filmmakers, because shorter means cheaper. But if this small sample is predicting correctly, even the big studios would be wise to take note.