Reviews, Views and Adventures in Content Creation

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Look at Digital Content Creators - From a Super-8 Perspective

Those of us who are veterans of the "super-8" filmmaking generation have been experiencing a wave of nostalgia in the wake of the recent J.J. Abrams / Steven Spielberg film of (nearly) the same name.

Why did super-8 filmmaking mean so much to us? For one thing, having the ability to actually shoot and edit movies was still relatively rare amongst most kids, so a kid making a movie was a special attraction to like-minded friends.

For me, the greatest attraction - though I wasn't aware of it at the time - was the chance to have and lead a team. I might come up with the general parameters, and my friends would join in the adventure and make their own contributions. Like in the film, Super 8, someone might specialize in monster make-up, while others simply wanted to act. Others would work with me on a screenplay, or co-produce a film with me (inevitably leading to an afternoon-long negotiation dedicated to naming our new production company. During junior high school, I served as a mini-mogul at several of these creations - from RSDH Productions (combining my initials with my friend's) or Silver Hammer Productions (because another friend was a big Beatle fan).

The creation of each studio, naturally, would lead to a slate of proposed films, developed through further negotiation and debate. My friends and I usually focused on horror and science fiction films, with titles that ranged from Killer From Space to The Blob From Outer Space.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Blogcritics Documentary Review: "The Boy Mir"

Image Used by Permission

(Check out my interview with Phil Grabsky, director of "The Boy Mir")

This review originally posted on

The Boy Mir – Ten Years in Afghanistan, a feature documentary now making the rounds at film festivals worldwide, offers an intimate perspective of daily life in Afghanistan rarely seen by western audiences. Over a period of a decade, British filmmaker Phil Grabsky returned repeatedly to this war-ravaged country to visit Mir, a young boy living with his family in remote villages far – but not untouched – by the battles raging throughout the country.

Only eight years old when we first meet him, Mir grows into a young man, with hopes and dreams of a better for himself and his family. His family, at times, is literally dirt poor –living in mountain dug-outs high above the plain, struggling daily to survive. He understands that school is the key to his future, but his attendance is spotty and inconsistent – he must tend to his family’s livestock more and more, as his father is in failing health and is less able to perform the arduous work necessary for the family to survive.

Mir’s life will seem surprisingly familiar to the western audience. Material desires – for bikes and motorbikes – will dominate his thoughts for a time, and as he grows older and the family’s life marginally improves, he dominates use of the family’s new cell phone with calls to girls in distant towns. As he grows, he also develops an awareness of his situation, his future, and what he must to succeed beyond his family’s bare existence.

National and international politics are distant here – but never out of mind. They’ve fled to the remote mountain settlement because of the incursion of the Taliban; they return to when the Taliban are on the run. These are simple people struggling to survive in a world hopelessly beyond their control. They’re not religious zealots, or freedom fighters. Like most people around the world, they only want to live their lives in peace.

Knowledge of the Americans and British are mostly anecdotal in this remote enclave. During one tribal meeting, an attendee struggles to understand the relationship between the two allied nations, asking if the U.K. is part of the U.S. (he's corrected by wiser villagers).   When several American troops in a pair of military vehicles tentatively visit the town, villagers are gracious, but puzzled by the visit, and the peculiar gifts they’re given by the American soldiers.

The Boy Mir – Ten Years in Afghanistan is actually a follow-up to Grabsky’s award-winning film, The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan, featuring Mir and his family when they lived in the shadow of what once were gigantic and ancient statues of Buddha, blown to rubble during the Taliban’s reign.

Mir – the boy and the film - has an abundance of energy and hope for his future – though the road ahead is still unclear. For anyone struggling to truly understand the people of Afghanistan, this film provides an exceptional and moving introduction.

Monday, June 20, 2011

My Blogcritics Essay: The Future of YouTube Content Creators

I posted this a few days ago on  It's part of my ongoing exploration of the relationshiop between the old and new media worlds...

Online video has only been practical for the last few years. In only six years, YouTube, has almost become synonymous with online video sharing. It’s where viral videos live, where nostalgia reigns, and also where an entire generation of content creators and consumers have built an interactive community that could very well be the earliest stirrings of an entirely new platform of entertainment - related but fundamentally independent from motion pictures and television.

Entrepreneurs, advertisers, and studios, of course are finding ways to use online video to facilitate or feed other ventures, and it provides added content to traditional media products.

Others  see the "web series" concept as the future of online video. Actors and traditional media types are particularly attracted to this format, which has the closest resemblance to traditional scripted media. A number of these ventures, in fact, have achieved some modest success, primarily in funding and building a social-based following. Break-out financial success, though, still hasn't materialized.

Today, the most successful content creators, financially speaking, are YouTube "partners" - popular YouTubers whose success has earned them entry into a profit sharing arrangement with YouTube, earning a percentage of the advertising placed on their videos or channels by YouTube. The top YouTubers are even are making a good living at it.

The most effective YouTube content creators are of a decidedly different breed than those in other media. These individuals, often in the teens and 20s, write, produce, direct, edit, market and perform in their programming. They also interact with their viewers with an intimacy and responsiveness that would be impossible in traditional media platforms. They may be comedians, musicians or commentators. Some are hobbyists, while others have dreams of fame and fortune. Some are even aspiring feature filmmakers. Very few have studied media.

At this early stage it’s unclear if even the most-watched YouTube partners can survive long-term as online content creators.  Many are experimenting with methods to develop and monetize their content or create peripheral content - from the sale of related music to t-shirts to DVD highlight compilations. An increasing number have crossed over into traditional media as traditonal media actors, filmmakers, or pop musicians.  None, however, have discovered a clear path toward making a long-term living creating strictly for an online audience. Professional vlogging (video blogging) is the domain of very few.

As a traditional media professional, I've seen countless colleagues turn glossy-eyed when the subject of online video or even social media comes up. "I don't know much about those people" one says. "They're young" concludes another. There's a collective scratching of heads related to those people who create online. Traditional production, after all, has over one hundred years of development behind it, and many filmmakers spend a lifetime honing their craft. YouTubers, on the other hand, can come from anywhere. They may never have studied film. They may own just a Flip Cam. They’re inventing the rules as they go. Anyone who has spent time browsing YouTube will agree – there’s chaos online. A working professional in television or motion pictures looks at this mass of content creators as a huge collection of amateurs – who aren’t making money.

There’s also great raw talent.

Cecil B. DeMille (The Greatest Show on Earth, The Ten Commandments), the legendary director of early Hollywood, wrote in his autobiography about the beginning of the motion picture industry. He noted that "for the most part, the only men in America who saw the commercial possibilities of "Mr. Edison's Invention" [motion pictures] were men with no theatrical, scientific or artistic background” but “they took risks, they had drive, they had organizing ability. And the best of them had vision."
If the YouTube (and the wider online video) community can maintain and grow it’s independence as a unique media platform, and resist the temptation to become a second-rate imitation of motion pictures and television, then it’s quite possible that online video professionals can someday number into the millions.

If, to paraphrase Mr. DeMille, the best of them have vision.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

My Blogcritics Review of the Blu-Ray Edition of "Kes"

Kes, director Ken Loach’s classic 1969 film about a boy growing up in a mining town in northern England, has finally come to Blu-ray in the form of a special edition from The Criterion Collection. In America, this is the first time the film has been widely available in years, though it’s considered one of the top 10 British films of all time by the British Film Institute.

Casper (David Bradley), a scrawny, sensitive boy growing up in a rough middle class neighborhood. He’s faced with a bleak world, and an even bleaker future down in “the pits,” the mines in which his brother works and dominate the town. Most of the teachers in his school are strict and unyielding. He’s already dismissed as a lost cause. He finds solace in the form of a wild kestrel. Casper raises the bird, bonds with it, spends endless hours training it to fly free and then return to him. These sequences, especially, are photographed and edited with a truly elegant beauty that captures both the beauty of the bird’s flight, and Casper’s special bond. Casper’s relationship with Kes offers a faint glimmer of hope, but can it last?

Though this is might seem to simply the story of a boy and a bird, this isn’t a children’s film. It’s the story of a boy caught in a system that threatens to devour him alive.

Though technically not an independent film, Kes was shot with a grittiness and authenticity that still offers lessons for filmmakers today. Loach’s direction of the largely non-professional cast, including the young lead, was top-rate. It was shot on location in Barnsley, the setting of the book on which it was based, Barry Hines’ A Kestral for a Knave. Hines also wrote the screenplay. Special mention should also be made of John Cameron's moving score, simple yet powerful, and never This new Blu-ray edition, which is also available on DVD, offers the prerequisite “beautifully restored print,” supervised and approved by Loach and Director of Photography Chris Menges. Built using contemporary technology from a variety of sources including original camera footage, will be most appreciated during those scenes shot out amongst the green belt surrounding Barnsley.  This is the lush English countryside of legend, breathtaking in it's beauty, even with the massive mining facilities looming in the distance.  This 1080p restoration brings this film back to it's full impact, perhaps for the first time since its original theatrical distribution over forty years ago.

Kes's original manaural audio tracks have also been restored and brought up to modern standards.  Previous editions have been marred by noisy, sub-standard treatment - distracting in a film that at times allows the audience to apprecaite the quiet moments that can mean so much.  Those moments, so clearly part of the filmmaker's vision, are finally achieved here.

This edition features two alternate audio tracks.  The original, with it’s Yorkshire dialect, may prove difficult for some to understand.  To faciliate American distribution, an alternative track was recorded shortly after the film was completed, featuring the original actors adjusting their speech to be more clearly understood.  This post-sync dialogue is quite good, but naturally offers less presence than the original on-location tracks.

Other features include a “making of” film, which is primarily a talking head documentary about the film and it’s history, supplementary footage highlighting Ken Loach’s career, and an accompanying booklet tracing the history of the film and it’s legacy.

Kes is a film that should be on the list of anyone who cares about effective, socially relevant and impactful filmmaking. Those interested in reading more about the story behind Kes and it’s impact will also enjoy the book, Life After Kes, by Simon W. Golding.

The original post on Blogcritics:

Monday, June 13, 2011

My Social Media Run-Down!

The last few days have included a good dose of social media activity for me...have you seen it all?

I've had two reviews at - the theatrical release of Super 8, and the Blu-Ray release of Kes.  You can find them on my author's page there at  My "Kes" review was named an Editors Pick today.

Super 8 reminded me of my youth as a super-8 filmmaker - I wrote about that experience on my Childhood According To Rich Blog.

I posted a new vlog, Producers vs. Content Creators? further considering whether traditional media producers and YouTube content creators have anything to share.

Finally, I explored my nephew's food-related blog, Greg's Gourmet, and Lynette Privatsky's new Twitter for people who like food but have food allergies, SpecialOrderPlz - check the previous blog entry, Food is Good, More is Better: Food I Follow for more info on both of these.

Also, please check out the new FOR (Friends of Rich) tab on my blog for links to blogs, YouTube Channels and the like of selected friends (and relatives)...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Food is Good, More is Better: Food I Follow

I’m not a foodie, by any stretch of the imagination, but I do follow two new food-centric destinations.
My nephew Greg’s hilarious blog, Greg’s Gourmet, features food, food and more food (but not seafood) that Greg encounters during his day-to-day life. Pictures, videos, and a detailed narrative of his experiences make this a great place to drool…well, enjoy, anyway! You an also follow Greg’s Gourmet on Twitter.
Greg launched Greg’s Gourmet just a few months ago, and has been slowly ramping up the site and developing the brand – it’s the sort of a high-concept / wide appeal idea that I think will do well as more people hear about it.  As Greg is a recent San Diego State Marketing grad, I expect this to develop in some fun new directions.

Greg and I will be taking a road trip throughout California in a few weeks – you can bet Greg’s Gourmet will be part of the adventure!

My friend Lynette loves food just as much as Greg, but she’s developed a whole line-up of food allergies and restrictions. Her Twitter account, SpecialOrderPlz (and soon a blog and webseries) shares her personal experiences in creating and finding great meals despite all the annoying limitations. It’s a great guide for anyone in the same situation.

Lynette just launched her effort, but offers a perspective that’s valuable to a targeted audience that is largely underserved in the larger foodie community. She fulfills a need, and I expect to see quite a following develop as she continues the effort.

Both ideas are simple, straight-forward and appealing to their respective audiences. I look forward to seeing how they develop, and learning along with them!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

My Review of "Super 8" at

Article first published as Movie Review: Super 8 on Blogcritics.

Super 8, the J.J. Abrams-written and directed, Steven Spielberg-produced summer blockbuster, has it all:  the emotional landscape of E.T., the friendships and adventure of Goonies the grandeur of Close Encounters, the creepiness of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and the awesomeness of any good action film of the last ten or fifteen years. Even so – it all adds up to an film oddly lacking in heart.

Super 8 is the story of a group of 12-year-old filmmakers in 1979 who are the only witnesses to a spectacular military train wreck while shooting their movie – capturing the entire thing on camera. The train, as it turns out, was carrying a mysterious cargo, and the wreck unleashes a trail of terror in this small Ohio town.

Joe (Joel Courtney), the young pivotal character in the film, is suffering after the accidental death of his mother in a factory accident. His father (Kyle Chandler), a town deputy, is suffering too – and they’re both alienated from each other in lonely despair. As his father is rapidly engulfed in his responsibilities as deputy, Joe finds solace with his friends. His buddy Charles (Riley Griffiths) is making a zombie movie, and all of his friends are on board – even Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning), the girl of Joe’s dreams. The train wreck changes everything, however, as the military sweeps the town in search of...something. Fear of the unknown turns to horror as things, and then people begin to disappear. Soon, Joe and his friends are in a struggle for the lives of the people they love as they race to solve the deadly mystery.

Super 8 is one heck of a movie. It seems to do everything right. I recognized kids in the film – they look and feel and act like real middle-schoolers. Mystery, adventure, wonder, emotion and love - it’s all there. That’s the problem. With so many moving parts, even the most intimate moments seem oddly cold. Where those moments in E.T. might have made you cry, in Super 8, you only feel a tinge of compassion.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Producers, Content Creators, and the Great Divide

This past weekend, I attended the annual "Produced By" conference hosted by my trade organization, the Producers Guild of America.  The weekend featured vendor booths for production services and locations worldwide, and seminars on many aspects of production and opportunities in production.  The audience, as you might guess from the conference title, was producers of all types - motion picture, television and independents from around the world looking to network, learn, and develop critical relationships for upcoming projects.

Naturally, a number of programs addressed the quickly-developing online world - and what it means from content creation to funding - to cloud-based production management.  There was considerable excitement about these developing opportunities - a session entitled, "The Sky's the Limit: Entrepreneurial Media and Indie Innovators" sold out before the weekend began.  As most attendees work in so-called traditional media, interest was largely centered on using online tools to provide new options for the development and distribution of traditional content.  Web series are seen as a particularly promising avenue for traditional media producers.

In a few weeks, I'll be experiencing another perspective on the producing world.  I'll be attending Vidcon, the annual conference of You Tube content creators.  These producers are considerably - even radically different from traditional producers.   While they certainly aren't veterans - many are in their teens or twenties, they're very much real producers pioneering a brand new field.  Theirs is a more personal model, dependent upon a level of audience interaction unthinkable to their traditional media cousins.   Of course, they're also not operating at the stratospheric financial heights of successful traditional media producers.  Even the most successful YouTube partners in year aren't earning even close to a network television producer's weekly income.  On the other hand, they generally work alone or with a very small team.  They can do what they want.  Most are writers, producers, directors, performers and marketers - all rolled into one.  You might say they're the most independent of what used to be called independent filmmakers.

I've long been fascinated with the middle ground between these two worlds - or even if such a common meeting point can exist.  I wonder what would happen if a group of successful television or film producers spent a few hours in a room with the most successful YouTubers to search out that common ground.  What would each contingent gain from the experience? What, if anything, can they possibly learn from each other?  Does the intimacy of the successful vlogger by its very nature preclude any real lesson for corporate-driven traditional media?  Likewise, can traditional media as a money-making machine offer any hints of where new media content creators can go?