I’m delighted to report that the digital upgrade of the Delancey Street Screening Room was completed before the end of 2012 with fabulous results. This project grew into an inspiring community effort, with the Foundation’s resourceful supply manager and knowledgable theater crew working hand in hand with cutting edge manufacturers and dedicated film professionals.
Individual donors — many of whom tweaked their personal budgets to find money to contribute — covered the cost of installation, including an additional projection booth window. Station KRON provided the cables, renowned local cinematographer Mike Maley helped the Delancey team with the electrical work and Moving Imagine Technology came up from LA to supervise the equipment testing and training. With full certification in place, everyone at Delancey’s San Francisco Headquarters is excited to be starting the new year in style.
I received a personal tour and demo of the revamped facility and was extremely impressed. The viewing experience — made possible by NEC, Doremi Labs, and RealD — is positively dazzling. The new screen provides a cleaner image, even for 35MM prints. And QSC’s enhanced audio system sends sound towards the audience as well as from the sides.
Our work isn’t done quite yet. To cover the cost of the projector, $10,000 had to be spent from the Foundation’s general fund. Since this is money that could go towards tires for the moving vans, fresh fish for the restaurant and suits for the graduates starting their job search, tax deductible donations for the Screening Room Project are still being accepted. If you’d like to play an active role in this successful undertaking by making a contribution (big or small), you can reach the Network for Good secure server through Delancey’s homepage. Just be sure to write “Screening Room Project” in the “Behalf” box.
It’s thrilling to have this precious Bay Area resource relaunch better than ever. In addition to the digital movie equipment, the space includes a small stage for presentations and a glass enclosed lobby with a wet bar perfect for receptions. If you’d like to schedule an event, please contact Rebecca Jackson at 415-512-5153. I look forward to hearing from you after you’ve had the opportunity to see the revitalized venue for yourself.
Recently, the major studios stopped delivering 35MM prints for industry screenings. The Delancey Street Foundation —the Directors Guild’s screening partner for over 20 years — must upgrade their screening room to accommodate 2D and 3D digital formats. They need to be able to compete with fully-funded facilities such as Dolby and Premier. I’m writing to my extended industry “family” to ask for your help with this critical undertaking. The venue is such a precious resource for those of us in the Bay Area. Furthermore, the income from the theater goes to support 500 hard-working residents. Even with discounts and loans from vendors, they are looking at a $40,000 to $80,000 shortfall.
Time is of the essence to fill the gap. The build-out must be completed by October 1 in order for them to capitalize on the busy awards season. Limited bookings by the major contenders in November and December would be detrimental to their entire community. In addition to new equipment (a server, processor, projector, converter, screen and glasses), they will need to enhance the electrical and ventilation systems in the theater. So I hope you will give what you can and help spread the word to others in your network who may want to make a contribution.
How you can help
Delancey is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) and contributions are tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law. The best way to ensure that your donation is processed quickly is to send a check made out to “Delancey Street Foundation”. Please write “Screening Room Project” in the notes section and on the envelope so we can make certain it goes to the right place. Donations should be sent to:
Delancey Street Foundation
c/o Jerry Raymond, Treasurer
600 the Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA 94107
If you have been paperless for so long that you can’t find your checkbook, you may also donate online through the Network for Good secure server (https://npo.networkforgood.org/Donate/Donate.aspx?npoSubscriptionId=1003059&code=Web%20-%20To%20Support%20Us). Please remember to put “Screening Room Project” in the Dedication section and the in comment box of the form, so the money will be properly tracked.
How else you can help
If you know
- Anyone who loves the movies and has an interest in keeping a splendid 150 seat venue active and up-to-date or
- Anyone who appreciates the valuable work of The Delancey Foundation and wants to support their efforts (http://www.delanceystreetfoundation.org)
please forward this link to them.
If you have any questions, please post them here and I’ll respond as quickly as I can. As someone who has hosted over 150 movies in this facility, this project is dear to my heart. I appreciate anything you can do to move it forward.
The more web-based series try to conquer new territory, the more they walk along the paths established by their network counterparts. But that’s what happens when you realize you have to balance your creative genius with actually earning enough money to keep your program going. There’s no shame in making a monetary move in support of your project as long as it’s a righteous one. For example, there was a bit of hoopla when cult darling The Guild “sold out” last Christmas. But it’s a beautifully orchestrated campaign that ties in well with Season 5. And their licensing deals have helped the long running series stay, well, long running.
With the cost of even simple production going up and advertising dollars harder to find, the fees and royalties paid for using trademarked characters and logos can really punch up a show’s income stream. According to the MediaGuardian, the television merchandising industry took in over $191 billion globally last year. The Simpsons, a show with appeal to a wide age group and therefore suitable for a range of products, was at the top of the heap making over $8bn. That’ll buy a lot of Krusty Burgers (which as far as I know have never actually shown up on a franchise menu).
You can’t just make any old deal, sit back and wait for the bucks to flow. While wall calendars somehow continue to flourish in this time of Smart Phones, most shows are recognizing that they need to go beyond the typical threadbare Ts and aluminum lunch-boxes and think creatively about merchandising to be completely successful. You want to expand the universe of your series and select items that are in tune with your audience. If the conception is inappropriate, you risk the danger of having your latest collectable wind up in a remainder bin between the “Go Diego Go” lead painted boats and the bags of GeoCentral “Sticky Stones” sited for causing intestinal infections.
It’s been a while since I worked in commercials, but I regularly collaborate with my clients on brand integrity. I admire deals obviously constructed by people who understand their brand image and their target market. An Adrianna Papell evening gown promoting E! Live From the Red Carpet? Can’t wait to wear one to my next Oscar bash! The Food Network’s line of kitchenware products available at Kohl’s? What else would I use for my holiday spiral ham! Rick Castle’s latest Nikki Heat novel? At the top of the best seller list where we Castle fans like to see it! Gunsmoke loungewear, Mighty Mouse wallets and Elly May Clampett Barbies? Apologies to those who treasure them, but not every combinations of “beloved TV property” + consumer product strikes the right note.
Children’s television is a particularly delicate area when it comes to merchandising. Almost all of the programming for the younger set is developed with a licensing income stream factored into the mix. There’s simply insufficient funding coming in from other sources. But parents get itchy when they sense they are being sold to through their offspring. Some of today’s Saturday morning favorites are all-too-obviously geared more towards pushing dolls or cereal than entertaining or educating. In some cases, the product came first, followed by a series of what amount to 30 minute weekly commercials. You just have to be grateful when the tie-ins include a book, learning game, or toothpaste. On the plus side, production values are considerably higher than when I was a kid and there are a number of networks completely devoted to little ones. So at least some of the money is going back into the development pipeline where it belongs.
As for the folks over at The Guild, thanks to a healthier budget they were able to leave the house and shoot on location. A thrill indeed. How Felicity Day will feel next Monday when Trick or Treaters deck out in her image is harder to guess.
Most of the discussion I read about the advent of 3D TV centers on the technological advances. While LG, Samsung, Panasonic and most of the other major players have already released 3D capable sets, they all require glasses. Horizontal passive shutters don’t have any moving parts, but you lose half the resolution of your set per eyeball. The battery powered active shutter glasses produce a superior full picture, but they are considerably more expensive per pair. And who wants to keep a drawer full of goofy eyewear just so you can have the gang over to watch the Super Bowl anyway? A glasses-free experience is by most measure at least 5 years away, likely accomplished using a decoder at the consumer end. But for me, this timeline and indeed this path is almost beside the point. Many other factors from production to distribution are also going to have to evolve in order for there to be any there there in 3D TV land.
I had the pleasure of attending a seminar about 3D technology at Dolby Laboratories in San Francisco last weekend. The featured speaker was stereographer Grant Anderson from the Sony’s 3D Technology Center in Los Angeles. As an established producer, visual effects supervisor and digital artist, his talk focused on the thought process behind directing features, but I kept my television ears on. More well known directors are shooting in and thinking in 3D, so it’s safe to assume at least a few of them are contemplating how the creative approach involved would work on the smaller screen.
The initial problem is a matter of bandwidth. Most cable companies already only distribute programming in 1080i or 720p, not full HD. Furthermore, there is movement towards decreasing that bandwidth to make room for more stations. 3D would require these businesses to reverse course, and we’ve all seen how “quickly” they do that. Cord cutters shouldn’t be doing their happy dance just yet since many internet providers are starting to put caps on downloaded bytes. Discs are more likely to be a satisfactory delivery method for 3D content, but it’s hard to imagine that any programming not initially produced in 3D would go through the expense of conversion just to sell what many consider to be a vanishing format.
Let’s be utopian and assume that somehow the bandwidth were to become available. The next hurdle would be changing the way almost all television is directed. The smaller screen and home viewing space provide a bigger “comfort zone” than a typical movie theater for viewing 3D without eyestrain. Nevertheless, the pace, movement and editing would all have to be slowed down. Standard practices of interchanged close-ups, documentary-style hand-held camera work, and quick cuts could become rapidly sick-making.
Further, there would be a host of new and expensive design considerations. 3D is easier to scale down than up and home theaters, not to mention standard living rooms, provide a much more controlled environment that suits the 3D experience. However, stage sets would have to convey more depth to support an impactful effect. And those matte paintings used for low budget background would need to be converted so they didn’t look like, well, matte paintings used for low budget background.
Then there is the storytelling to consider. Television is still a writer’s medium, after all. Providing an enjoyable 3D episode would necessarily influence the tales told. Not every program would be a good candidate for 3D anymore than every feature is filmed that way. But it’s hard to imagine anything among the current fall favorites as a genuine contender for a worthwhile 3D upgrade.
So what are we watching on these 3D TVs? Football? Clash of the Titans? Call of Duty: Black Ops? I realize that for a few of you I have just described the ideal weekend. But I doubt I’ve summarized a line-up that defines a new industry. Then again, I would never have predicted a successful Banana Republic clothing line built around a drama with less than 3 million viewers. So as Dennis Miller used to say when he was still a liberal, I could be wrong.
Janko Roettgers’ GigaOm article predicts a new rise in piracy because of the current economy. I’m not sure where he got the idea that Hollywood is treating the issue as “passé.” Within the Directors Guild, it’s been a hot topic at our last few meeting and headline news on our website. Yes, it’s been helpful that services such as Netflix and Hulu provide entertainment at a more reasonable price. But there are still many challenges to fair distribution that need to be addressed. From what I see, a contributing factor to the surge is a misunderstanding held by many viewers concerning who is affected by these free copies, the sharing of which gets easier all the time.
I learned how grave this misunderstanding had become when I read the comments addressed to GigaOm guest writer Alex Swartsel. A member of the Motion Picture Association of America, Ms. Swartsel’s blog piece accused Mr. Roettgers of promoting piracy. (GigaOm staff writer Ryan Lawler explained that their intent was exactly the opposite: to alert the studios to the need for viewers to have easier access to better legitimate sources.) Readers were absolutely livid that Swartsel and the MPAA were given a say on a site like GigaOm and many stated plainly that they do not have much respect for current copyright laws.
Let me make a few things clear before I go any further. I don’t love the MPAA either, but mostly because I think their ratings system is absurd. (The Kings Speech an R? Really?) And most of what Swartsel said, including her unfortunate shoplifting analogy, inflamed more than informed. Clamping down is a pointless response to pirating; just ask the music industry. Further, I 100% agree that it’s wrong to ding honest viewers multiple times for the same content. But P2P sites shouldn’t be considered the best source for material just because the audience is frustrated.
That piracy has become “socially acceptable” comes in part, I think, from putting much of the available content under the banner of Big Hollywood. As I pointed out in my piece There’s Nothing Cute About Pirating, it’s the little guys who get crushed first and worst when content is distributed illegally. The way the system is set up, the revenue from secondary markets is what helps fund salaries, healthcare, and retirement for over 300,000 workers who have very everyday jobs that just happen to be in the film and television industry. These earnings are syphoned off every time someone helps themselves to a free download. So in many ways, the people who are losing money aren’t very different from the people who are trying to beat the system.
Obviously, the providers need to get real about the way viewing habits have evolved. Finding, retrieving and sharing content has to be made much easier and priced within reason. It’s time for companies to rethink their current adversarial relationships – easily developed when you’re fighting over the same eyeballs and same pot of money – and work together more effectively and efficiently. As the saying goes in the US market, Bulls and Bears both get ahead, but Pigs never do. By now, Chief Liaison Officer, someone comfortable and conversant with broadcast and technology, should be a common position in the convergence space. There’s been plenty of tech giants buying cooler widgets and media giants buying cooler product, but not as much collaboration between the two worlds as obviously needs to happen. I applaud the concept posted by Kelley Mitchell, a commenter on Roettgers’ piece, that companies should start thinking of piracy as a competitor. That would indeed be motivating!
It’s also time for a group-effort campaign putting a face on piracy. Not everyone in entertainment is Big Hollywood or greedy or trying to “screw over” the audience. Many are just doing the best they can to make the next house payment and take care of their kids. I’m not saying piracy will ever go away, but it would be preferable if we could head off this new surge, resulting from the worsening economy, and didn’t generate more unnecessary job loss.
During a recent conversation with a deeply respected colleague, I was taken aback to hear him say that many television providers have “contempt” for consumers. Certainly that would explain the less-than-satisfactory channel selection, the sometimes-iffy customer service, and the prices that inch up like pounds over the holidays. Then yesterday, I read Ryan Lawler’s well researched article on the shedding of cable customers in Q2 of this year. Clearly, cord cutters are no longer just those who are raging against the Industry Machine. The 47 comments (and counting) by visitors who add detail to Lawler’s conclusion illustrate how quickly the cable operators’ value proposition is breaking down.
Many of the comments railed against the available line-up. The various “packages” offered by almost all of players only make sense when you look at their cash flow. Operators use popular channels to bootstrap “minority programming”: shows that appeal to a small but enthusiastic audience. In order for me to receive BBC America, I also have to buy a bunch of channels aimed at little kids, outdoorsy types, and what some networks think of as women (although who these women are remains a mystery to me). With Netflix, Hulu, iTunes and others continuing to expand their libraries, it’s become easier for viewers to build a highly personalized a la carte menu. So I expect to see more subscribers at least downgrade their accounts. Theaters have widened their audience by offering flex tickets and mini subscriptions. Why can’t cable find a cost effective way of doing the same?
Service complaints were featured in many of the comments to Lawler’s piece. I know the speed and quality of my provider’s signal never came up when I was picking out my new equipment. I suppose I’m ready for whenever they get around to sending 1080p at 120Hz , if I live that long. At least my TiVO is easy to use and does what she’s told. My poor parents, on the other hand, have a box rented from their operator. They are on their 5th in less than a year, having experienced problems ranging from the remote not working to the picture freezing. And they get dinged with a $75 charge for every house call. They pay for several premium packages, so by Lawler’s account they should fall at least somewhat into desirable customer territory. Additionally, they are too uncomfortable with the internet to go the wireless route, which in my opinion would make them even more within cable’s target market. It’s hard to tell from the outside whether this is a training or procedural problem, but it’s obviously a gap in good, smart customer service.
As for the cost creep, I agree with those who used words like “sneaky” in their descriptions. The name of my service keeps changing. Each time it’s rechristened, a few more dollars are added to my bill. My friends who bundled their phone and internet with their cable are getting hurt even worse. A few are paying double their initial fees. On this subject, I’m going to bang the same drum I’ve been playing since I launched this blog. If more of this money went back into developing high-quality content and picture or any clear indication that we were benefiting, I think there’d be less complaining. But what most folks see is a huge increase in cheap-to-produce reality shows, leading many to conclude there’s nothing on television anyway.
My reaction to all of this is mostly sadness. We are living in tough times when television should be enjoyable, affordable, and shared. Yet, when I look at the careers page of the most popular providers, I don’t see any positions advertised that indicate cable is making a purposeful attempt to (dare I say) connect with its customers. I am prepared to say that at the very least Comcast, Time Warner and their brothers and sisters don’t understand us very well. Whether this ignorance stems from “contempt” or just living in a cave too long, in practical terms, makes no difference.