May 282013
 

Quite a few of my writery friends have been shouting in despair about how big data is being used to profile screenplays. The long & short of the article is that, contrary to public belief, there is something of a formula to building hollywood blockbusters, and that certain things can reduce take in a film. I wonder if & when they’ll add in snack data. More red hots are sold in dragonlance films, more popcorn sold to romances? What about the perennial coke-versus-pepsi debate?

The concern and alarm seems to boil down to one of two things:

  1. Oh, no! It’s the end of Art!
  2. This is going to affect my pocketbook, badly.

The second is fairly straightforward to deal with: Authors (generally) don’t sit back and write and make cash. A few do – a very few. For the rest, they make up the difference between royalties and advances and the ability to make their rent each month from a few different areas, one of which is (often) writing or revising film scripts. There are lots of good ideas out there, often written by people who don’t understand story structure. Script doctors get in to help them.

The other dirty secret of the film industry is that of all the scripts optioned (or even bought) a tiny proportion are ever produced. I personally know of a dozen authors who have had tens of screenplays purchased, none of which have ever been produced.

So, it kind of boils down to Change is Bad. Scary. Might take money from my pocket.

There are always winners and losers in change, but this kind of excites me, actually. See, we’ve been here before, in film, and things got better.

The last big data-type thing that happened with film was the focus group. Focus group science came into its own in the 70s and 80s, right around the time that culture was converging. In my mind, it peaked at one Thursday evening in the mid-80s when everyone in America was watching the Cosby Show.

It wasn’t everyone of course. Henry Rolllins was probably throwing his telly out the window, three was a kid in Muscogee, Iowa, who was grounded for setting off firecrackers, and Edwin Edwards was strategising how he was going to purchase another juror. But pretty much everyone else.

We got sick of it. Some of us. Culture started to diverge. Clerks came out shortly thereafter. Redford started Sundance. There’s a theatre in New Orleans called Zeitgeist who was – and remains – firmly indie-indie, not mainstream indie. René’s ethos could be “if you’ve heard of it, I won’t screen it”.

And there have been some brilliant things that have come up in the last howevermany years.

On the one side: we (as a species) have the science of story structure down, cold. Hollywood can make you choke up with the most horrible, derivative schlock they put out. There are some side benefits, and there are larger audiences for film.

The other side, however, is what’s fabulous for me. Indie producers have given us Primer, all the Dogme95 stuff, and a few other things.

We’ve got brilliant filmmakers who have nothing to say. I hope we’re in for an explosion in new experiments and forms of storytelling, breaking boundaries and doing new things. Low-tech. No-tech.

There’ll always be a market for blockbusters, just like there’ll always be Superman reboots and frankly quite average (if enjoyable) films. If they can make the average more enjoyable and leave space for more people to come in and make low-budget brilliance, I’m all for it.

Or, perhaps, at least it’s not the end of art.

(and when is Upstream Color going to get a release in the UK?)

Mar 052010
 

Has apple gone too far?
Let me make this clear: I think Apple makes some of the slickest technology around. Despite my (generally) being a PC/Linux user, I have had loads of respect for Apple from the early days, and particularly since the Return of Jobs, heralding the original iMac, the shift to mach-based OSX, the iPod, and the iEverything. This stuff’s always cool.

That being said, they’ve always delivered in a closed ecosystem. Fair enough. They were niche players. I’ve owned macs at all levels– from 8″ black and white jobs right through G4 iMacs. I’ve always had slight niggles with them– having to load a command line for development from a dozen floppies, often and ongoing issues with build quality, and Apple’s poor response to these problems has made them some enemies– people seem to fall through the cracks of Apple customer service from time to time.

On the flip side, they’ve been building a litany of awesome stuff. I think even the much-maligned iPad has some legs in it, though no one’s quite sure why they want one– it’s made me reconsider the iPod Touch as an interesting platform– a pocketable iPad.

Signs of distress
The last three months, though, has seen an accellerating litany of un-Apple-like behaviour. Here’s the thing: Apple is an underdog. Apple is an innovator. Apple positions themselves outside the mainstream, but they’ve been using dominant market position, patent law, and arbitrary bullying techniques to get ahead.

This isn’t what Apple is good at. I say stick to the knitting. Stop alienating your developers. That $40 billion could be spent on far cooler things like innovative music distribution models that don’t annoy customers instead of legal fees.

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Oct 102009
 

I had the pleasure to speak at the Africa Gathering in London this morning. (twitter feed here).

There were a number of emerging themes through the conference, and not necessarily the ones you might think– access to finance, more capital, education.

Nope. What came up again and again was:

TIA
This is Africa. Sometimes problems can seem overwhelming. I have talked about this before, but it bears repeating. My take on it: Break the problems down, solve what you can. Innovate around what you can’t.

Open Source/Open Platforms
FrontlineSMS, Android, Ubuntu Linux– these give you the tools and abilities to build cost-effective, replicable platforms that won’t break the bank. For all the thrill of open source technology in Silicon Valley, the true innovation may come in Africa, where stuff like Microsoft’s failing ability to register its software (due, admittedly, to fighting rampant software piracy) may mean that the sotware is unusable.

Open platforms create frameworks and fertile ground for new innovations. Enough said.

Turn up and do something… and listen when you get there.
The power of doing something, getting over your own inhibitions, going, turning up, is far more important than your ability to make a big, great plan.

On the other hand, the developing world works differently than it does in the developed world. Teddy Ruge of Project Diaspora.suggests getting a member of the diaspora on your team. In whatever case, however, listening is critical. Go. Take a risk. See what works. Give yourself permission to fail, early and often, and learn from your mistakes.

Africans have the solutions to African problems.
You know a lot, but you don’t know the context. Africans can solve African problems– this is the difference between Busines Incubation projects around entrepreneurship and NGO projects– Incubators should offer mentorship rather than direction. The essential difference is that mentorship offers assistance to someone to help them do what they want to do, rather than demanding that they do what you think they should do.

The flip side to the TIA problem is that it’s important to believe that things get better, that the creative, innovative entrepreneur inside can find a solution to the problem. The flip side to mentorship is the encouragement, so that when your entrepreneur finds a wall, he figures out how to go under, around, or through it– or to turn that wall to her own advantage.

Sep 022009
 

We’ve seen a lot of shifts in the last few dozen years– my parents lamented that I would never live in a world where a job was something you could have for a lifetime, and people of my parents’s age were tarred with the worst of both– they wree promised a lifetime job but, mid-career, the beginning of the shift came in.

Myself and many of my peers, however, don’t really mind. The average Gen-X-er, it is thought, will have 3-5 careers (not jobs) in his or her lifetime (at last! Somewhere where I’m right on target– my third career in my mid-30s). We were called slackers and told we had ADD in high school and in our 20s, but in all actuality (or at least from my perspective), we are the first wave of constant learning and constantly changing what we do.

The old way
My grandmother was born in 1907. She was one of eighteen children because it was the tail-end of an agrarian economy where children’s lives were often too short. There weren’t cars. If my grandmother were in the UK, she’d have been using shillings and guineas.

The people of my grandmother’s time have had to deal with decimalisation, the shift to the metric system, world wars, an end to protectionism, the rise of a globalised economy (twice), the great depression, the end of banking hours, the introduction of ATMs, credit cards, chip-and-pin systems, push-button phones, mobile phones, computers, the Internet (my grandmother stopped here– mobile phones were enough) and more.

…And now
You may notice on this list that, as these new introductions have come closer to the present day, they have gotten closer and closer. Disruptive innovations are a huge driver in the economy, from google to facebook to email to twitter to openid to SOAP to java, we have to deal with new things all the time– new modes of interaction, new tools that we love to joke how they “simplify” our lives (we have to email, blog, and tweet)

How many things have you had to learn in your job? Word. Excel. Powerpoint. (and the new interfaces) Salesforce. Gmail. SharePoint. Your VPN. Your SecureID fob. IM. Skype. The new phone system. The fiddly expense form. The new reporting system on the Intranet. The TPS report forms.

Not only that, but the rules are changing faster and faster. In accounting, there’s XRBL, new and changing IFRS, and new laws coming in every market due to the financial crisis.

In software development, there are always new frameworks and companies are reinventing themselves so quickly that much software is released as “beta” these days. Gmail has just come out of beta after five years.

Modes of charity, development, and giving are changing constantly– almost too fast for us to keep up.

Your job
You have a single job: this job, if you are broadly a professional, is to learn. Constantly. Not necessarily in school, although we do see more people going to school later in life and schools like the Open University reporting increased enrollment.

Economist subscriptions are up, even as newspaper subscriptions are down. Chart-topping books include social psychology by Malcolm Gladwell, economists like Steven D. Levitt, and statistics books like Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

What opportunities does this open up? How does this change the game? Branding? How you prepare for your career? What you want from life?