Things We Like

Was “COPS” the Ultimate Documentary?

I watched “Cops” for about twenty years before I stopped watching TV altogether.  Sure the box gets fired up for the Packers, you can bet on that, but other than that hallowed ritual, it remains as a black monolith in my living room ala “2001: A Space Odyssey” (not counting VHS and DVD viewings).  Ask people who knew me, whatever it took, Saturday nights I’d find myself planted in front of the electronic fireplace for the two riveting back-to-back episodes offered 7 p.m Central time sharp.  And that’s when the “Bad Boys” theme would begin to reverberate in living rooms across the U.S.A.  I never was a big TV watcher but there was something definitely special about that show.

When “Cops” premiered in 1989 our television culture wasn’t yet mired in the miasma of the “reality show,” but soon came the likes of “Survivor,” “American Idol” and such, and the dam of forced perspective burst force.  The bulk of many of those reality shows spawned by those initial hits were ostensibly produced and consequently as fake as a three dollar bill.  Participants were coerced into contrived situations and cajoled to malevolently react against each other.  “Cops” of course remained sincere, how could it not?  It was the real deal and these were real police at work out on the streets, in the alleyways and within the kitchens of domestic disputes.  It was happening in the moment, no furtive cues from the sidelines, the officers were there to do their job.

Many people couldn’t understand my obsession with “Cops.”  What was it about the show?  Was it the heart-stopping, high speed car chases?  Not really but somewhat.  Was it the close foot pursuits through tight  alleyways and over precarious fences and through winding yards?  Not really but somewhat.  Well, what was it then?  Over time some people began to understand where my interest was coming from.  And that interest was in the show’s humanity.  Yes, its humanity.  And the humor.  Humor on a real police show?  You bet, lots of humor, often times sub-textual as it may be, but therein resides one of the clever conceits of the show.  It is about us.

For “Cops” is about the human condition, albeit one that predominantly takes place out on the streets of America.  It’s about people in heightened situations and how those people react toward each other, whether trying to candidly explain their circumstances or furtively cover up some wrong-doing.  It concerns the rhetoric of the streets and the way we communicate with each other and how some miscreants stealthily dole out disinformation.  It exemplifies the clever use of language between those trying to avoid arrest and the authorities justifying that arrest.  It is the ultimate documentary coming at us directly into our homes each and every week.

Often times the paradigm was patternistic: The police officer would get out of their pursuing squad and cautiously approach the stopped vehicle in question.  Brief formalities would be exchanged between driver and soon-to-be interrogator.  Both knew what was on the docket.  But the stage was set for the stage itself.  Someone trying to find out, the other trying to evade, both doing their jobs to the best of their ability at the given moment.  Rarely was it a draw but sometimes it was, for occasionally the skirmish with words was entertaining enough.  Yet, in most cases, the cuffs came out providing a finite conclusion.

“Cops” takes us into homes and situations we otherwise never had access to before.  When the series began it was a unique premise and it caught on readily with audiences.  And many people, not living the white-collar dream, saw their own people up on the screen for the first time, people that they could relate to, characters and circumstances they may have encountered in their own backyard, driving down the street or fixing a car in a back alley.  On-screen it was everyday people pushed from the sidelines into the momentary spotlight of the camera.  There they finally were, people we knew, in our living rooms, finally for all to see and experience.

Mobile Ad Spending Going Up, Up, Up

Deadline has a prediction for 2014 ad spending from ad company ZenithOptimedia: ad spending will go up in 2014, fueled by mobile.

On mobile:

The medium “is now the main driver of global adspend growth,” it [ZenithOptimedia] says. “This is the first time in the past 20 years that a new platform is expanding overall media consumption without cannibalizing any of the other media platforms.”

This is not exactly a revelation, though.  From The Wall Street Journal on October 9th:

Mobile-ad spending in the U.S. totaled $3 billion in the first half [of 2013], up from $1.2 billion a year earlier, the Interactive Advertising Bureau estimates.

Why is this happening?  It’s probably obvious if you look around when you’re out on the town and see the majority of other people there with their heads buried in their smart phones. Where consumers go, advertisers follow.  Also from The Wall Street Journal:

Since Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010, smartphones and tablets have increasingly supplanted laptops, desktop computers and television sets as the devices on which people surf the Web, communicate and watch video entertainment. Adults in the U.S. are expected to spend an average of two hours and 21 minutes a day on smartphones and tablets this year, excluding time spent talking on phones, according to a recent study by eMarketer. In 2010, adults spent only 24 minutes on mobile devices, not counting talk time.

So get ready for more advertising on your iPhone and tablet in 2014—and if you have the opportunity, it might be time to consider an investment in a burgeoning mobile ad company or two.  It certainly seems that the spend increase won’t stop any time soon.

Sundance to Netflix

Amongst the recently-announced Sundance 2014 documentary films is Mitt, from director Greg Whiteley. The film follows former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney from 2006 through his run for United States president in 2012.

The film will premiere at the prestigious Park City film festival this coming January.

And then . . . The film will premiere on Netflix, also in January, after the festival premiere.

Last month, Netflix announced a similar release window for the documentary The Square. The film had a limited run, to qualify it for the Oscars, and then will premiere on Netflix in early January.

A smaller window between premiering on the big screen and the small screen looks more and more like the future for documentary distribution.

Nov. 4th, the New York Times ran the article “Netflix Acquires Streaming Rights to a Highly Praised Documentary,” which discussed The Square and those windows. Within the article are two stand-out quotes from Ted Sarandos, chief content officer for Netflix:

Why not premiere movies on Netflix the same day they’re opening in theaters?

According to the Times, such plans have “attracted the ire of theater owners.” Sarandos later “clarified his position,” saying that he wanted:

… to move all the windows up to get closer to what the consumer wants.

Netflix does not release numbers on how many users watch their content, so it’ll be difficult for outsiders to tell if this strategy is working for them.  Likely the only way we will know is if the company continues to do it down the road—and when it next reports earnings.

For film makers, though . . . Tightening the windows with Netflix worked with Netflix’s original programming in the past (except in those cases it eliminated certain windows altogether). There’s a good chance it will work for documentaries, too.

Bottom line: If you have a documentary in the can, get it to Netflix’s acquisitions department, because they’re buying and forward-looking.

For more on Mitt and its release, check out Deadline’s article “Netflix to Debut Romney Presidential Campaign Documentary ‘Mitt’ in January 2013 Following Sundance Premiere.

Will Ferrell’s Anchorman 2: Changing the Way Movies Are Marketed


Let’s take stock of the lessons we can learn from Ron Burgundy.

If you’ve turned on a TV in the last month or so, you’ve probably seen the Dodge commercials featuring Will Ferrell in character as Anchorman Ron Burgundy.

You may have seen Ferrell as Burgundy do an actual, real newscast last week on a local South Dakota station—or heard about Emerson College renaming its School of Communication after Burgundy (just for a day), replete with Burgundy himself showing up for the ceremony.

Then there’s the wave of social content being put out there by the marketing team behind the campaign, as well as Ferrell and co-writer/director Adam McKay, as well as by fans—and the opening of “The Anchorman: The Exhibit” at the Newseum, in Washington, D.C.

A lot of pundits and observers are calling this campaign a game-changer. Check out AdWeek’s thorough article on the campaign: “Will Ferrell’s Anchorman 2 Is Changing the Way Movies Are Marketed: The wide-reaching social push is unlike anything done before.”

There are a couple of lessons we can take away from this campaign’s success, even before the movie opens in a couple of weeks.

1) Content is marketing, and when done well, your target audience will freaking love it.

Every video or appearance or performance of the cast doing “Afternoon Delight” is highly entertaining, organic to the world of the movie, and content that is marketing.  And we all love it.

2) Content needs to be constant.

We’ve seen a steady stream of Burgundy content, whether TV ads for Dodge or newscast appearances or invitations for fans to audition for the fictional Burgundy news team. There’s always something else coming down the pipe. It never lets us forget that we want to go see the movie when it’s out.

In the end, if the movie is half as good as the content marketing promoting it, it seems a safe bet that it’ll be a big hit.  I know I’m excited to see it.

Hal Hartley, Kickstarter and Rethinking Distribution Rights

Veteran indie filmmaker Hal Hartley is doing a Kickstarter campaign.

What’s headline-making about another Kickstarter campaign?

The $9,000 pledge reward was U.S. theatrical rights to his new film, Ned Rifle (starring Liam Aiken, Parker Posey, Thomas Jay Ryan and James Urbaniak):

Pledge $9,000 or more

DISTRIBUTOR: US — become the theatrical distributor (only in movie theaters and other public venues) of NED RIFLE in the United States of America for 7 years. Make money with it or not, it’s up to you. All income you receive from theatrical exhibition during that term in your territory will be yours. Other licenses, such as Home Video and Electronic Distribution, can be negotiated after the film is completed and premiered. Once you pledge, I’ll email you the script and deal memo immediately.

According to Vanity Fair, not long after the $9,000 pledge was made:

Kickstarter notified Hartley that distribution rights would be considered a form of investment and would not be allowed. The pledge will not be processed by Kickstarter and Amazon, and the pledger has been notified.

Kickstarter’s rules changed Hartley’s distribution plans, but I still wonder if the original press and buzz surrounding the first $9,000 pledge reward will turn other filmmakers toward different forms of financing and distribution.

Read Full Post »

Bob Dylan Innovates Again With Interactive Music Video

It appears that even at 72-years-old, Bob Dylan isn’t finished doing cool things no one else has ever done.

This time, it’s an interactive video for his classic song “Like A Rolling Stone” (1965).


You hit play to watch the new video, and you can “flip channels” by using your up and down keys to see different “shows” wherein the subjects sing or speak along with the lyrics.


The video coincides with the release of a massive, all-official-album-plus release of Dylan music… because Sony wanted to remind us that Dylan has made a lot of great stuff.

Watch/interact with the video at Dylan’s official site.


Dylan’s video is arguably less interactive than this year’s Arcade Fire “Just A Reflektor” short film/music video experiment, but it’s also arguably more fun.

Get to channel-flipping!

“Forget Disruption. Think Undisruption” via Variety and Marjorie Cohn

“Forget Disruption. Think ‘Undisruption’” is an insightful article about where the media world has been and where it’s going, from Marjorie Cohn, head of television at DreamWorks Animation.

You may have heard about DreamWorks Animation’s deal with Netflix—the largest ever content deal by Netflix—giving Netflix exclusive access to 300 hours of original DreamWorks programming, all over the world.

A true insider, Cohn tells why this a good thing—and why it is not a revolutionary new way to serve viewers content.  In fact, it’s a return to the past.

For centuries, people consumed media when they wanted to. They read books and newspapers on their own schedules. They went to plays on the nights they wished. With the arrival of cinema in the early 20th century, they went to movies at any time of any day the box office was open.

Then came radio, followed by television. Suddenly something totally unprecedented was happening. Millions of people were consuming the very same piece of entertainment at the very same moment.

And, except for key live events, it will probably never happen again.

In the 1970s, things first began to undisrupt. That’s when the VCR was introduced. This allowed people to timeshift — a word that hadn’t been invented yet.

Today’s wide-ranging delivery systems have one thing in common: They are returning choice to the entertainment consumer. No longer are viewers constrained to the schedules of three broadcast networks.

She discusses the life of linear TV as well:

Online isn’t just complementary to linear by driving additional traffic to traditional TV; it can also drive the content itself to linear channels.

And . . . says something we’re often saying, too:

The fact is, what drives success in any and all forms of media is great storytelling.

Check out what Cohn has to say at Variety.

Animated Storytelling Through Social Media

There’s a new Kickstarter project up called Friend Us! that will tell animated stories through social media—and the future of this “social media show” depends on, well, social media to get funding.

Basically, the creators are looking to fund a run of episodes of the show—an animated program where episodes will run about three minutes. That’s the traditional part of this project.

The novel aspect of Friend Us! is that the main characters in the animated show, four middle school kids, also exist in social media. They’re already Tweeting, they’re putting images up on Instagram, and they’re making friends and posting on Facebook. From what I understand, the characters will have storylines and adventures via social media between the release of the animated episodes. That’s really cool—it’d be as if characters from The Simpsons had an online, social existence and you could interact with them between Sunday episodes.

I’m excited to see how this project comes together. It’s a really interesting attempt at immersive social media storytelling—multiple platforms and lots of interaction.

Fun stuff. Check it out.

About Face Senior Editor Michael Vollmann Wins Milwaukee Film Festival Cream City Cinema Award


Michael Vollman

Michael Vollmann went to the Milwaukee Film Festival last year and decided he wanted to enter his own film for 2013.  His goal was just to enter.  He didn’t expect to win.

“It’s a very personal film,” Michael says.  The short film, “Before You”, can be described as a man reading a lyrical bedtime story to his daughter.  In the film, Michael’s real-life 14-month-old daughter appears on and off.  We also get glimpses of her real-life mother, and Michael, the father, himself.  And it certainly connected with the audience at the Festival.

It all started with Michael writing some voice over.  He thought about what makes some children’s books so good, while others are not-at-all compelling.  A big part of that is imagery, he concluded.  So with the VO set, he started shooting.  Ninety percent of the film, he says, was shot on iPhone.  But you’d never know that from the haunting black and white photography.  Ultimately, the film is a somewhat abstract emotional journey, a tribute to the beauty of having children, and full of images as beautiful as the sentiment.

As part of the Award, Michael is now in line to receive significant cash and prizes as he pursues his next project.  He’s not ready to say exactly what that will be just yet, but he’s thinking a documentary feature at the moment.

Whatever the next will be, I’m looking forward to seeing it, as is I’m sure the entire filmmaking community, Milwaukee and beyond.

In the meantime, check out Michael’s cinematography skills in the feature documentary The Jeffrey Dahmer Files, available via Netflix, iTunes, XboxSundancenow, YouTube, Amazon, Google Play.

Online Piracy Has Not Yet Devastated The Creative Industries, But Is Piracy A Good Thing?

A study released last month by The London School of Economics opens with statements that suggest piracy shouldn’t be as much a focus as creative industries struggle to evolve:

The creative industries are innovating to adapt to a changing digital culture and evidence does not support claims about overall revenue reduction due to individual copyright infringement.

Then there’s Variety’s report this week, about The Walking Dead being “feasted on by Internet pirates”:

The Walking Dead” season four premiere—after tearing into a huge TV audience Sunday—was downloaded illegally by more than 500,000 people around the world within 16 hours of the episode first showing up on illegal download sites, according to piracy website TorrentFreak.

Imagine that those 500,000 people had actually bought the episode on iTunes, for example, at $3 a pop.  That’d be $1.5m in sales for AMC, and let’s just guess and say iTunes takes one third of the revenue and AMC gets the rest.  So AMC would have made $1m on this premiere episode more than they did, ballpark.

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Cinemax to Join the Original Programming and Rebranding Party

Do you remember when AMC was American Movie Classics?  They played old movies (‘50s and earlier) and no one under 50 watched. Then somewhere around 2002, they started calling the network AMC (perhaps the first of the many networks that dropped the “Country Music Television” of it all to just go by CMT or the like) and running more contemporary movies.

A few years later, AMC broke out with original programming. Mad Men debuted and critics loved it. Fans started going to Halloween parties dressed as characters. Then came Breaking Bad, another critical darling that just recently ended its monster run with high ratings and the Best Drama Emmy. AMC’s mighty original programming roster also includes the highest-rated scripted show in basic cable history, zombie apocalypse epic The Walking Dead.

So I guess you could say that AMC’s rebrand and investment in original programming has been very successful, both with a slew of Emmys for Mad Men and Breaking Bad and ratings for Bad and The Walking Dead, amongst others.

FX is another great example of this channel rebrand and investment in programming. This channel’s success has even spawned FXX—an additional channel because apparently they just have too much good stuff for one.

Of course, this model all goes back to what HBO did decades ago with such originals as The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, and Sex And the City. It’s a model that works.

But perhaps no brand has a more daunting task for rebranding and investment in original programming than Cinemax. Read Full Post »

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Another Example of Changing Trends in How We Get Our Stories

Last week, we looked at how Breaking Bad stayed alive and then thrived because of viewers watching episodes after the original run on AMC.  Availability on Netflix and iTunes and other places grew the audience, leading into the finale this past Sunday, with 10 million-plus viewers.

This week, Variety  posted an update and handy breakdown of how ABC’s Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiere did, by the numbers.  From Variety/Nielsen:

After bowing with 12.1 million viewers in Nielsen’s “live plus same-day” estimates, “SHIELD” gained about 3.7 million viewers via DVR time-shifting and video-on-demand from Wednesday through Friday. An on-air repeat Thursday night added 4.7 million, and roughly 1.6 million watched online, including Hulu — bringing the show’s total through Sunday to roughly 22.1 million.

So, that’s 1.6 million people watching the premiere online.  It’s not quite 10% of the total, but it’s also a number that, unlike on-TV numbers, is going to grow indefinitely.  If those viewers like the show, they’ll probably start watching live episodes on TV.  They may even recommend it to friends.  And the show would then shore up its audience base.

Not a bad deal.

It blows my mind that any network or show wouldn’t have their pilot available for free, online, forever.  If it’s free and out there, viewers may find it, and they may love it, and they may support subsequent episodes from then on.

Regardless, 1.6m people watching the S.H.I.E.L.D. premiere online (I watched it on Hulu) is yet another example of the changing way shows are watched, with the television set becoming one of many distribution channels, instead of the prime provider.

The Death of the Death of Television

“OhMyGod Netflix is making a series for itself—all the TV networks are going to go out of business—please someone stop them!”

A lot of pundits and industry muckety-mucks were saying that type of thing a few years ago.  But here we are.  A few days after the Emmys, for which Netflix’s shows received double-digit nominations, and not only has TV not gone the way of the dinosaur, it may be better and stronger than ever.

During the Emmys, the words “new Golden Age” of television were used more than once. Jack Lemmon described the first Golden Age as time when “you could try anything. Comedy one week . . . a drama the next . . . a musical . . . I mean . . . It was terrific. It hadn’t been commercialized yet and no one knew it was going to be around that long. There was this sense of total abandon. Total abandon.”

So if the first Golden Age was about experimenting with formats, then the second Golden Age is more about experimenting with how those formats are shared—their distribution.

In a recent Variety article, Vince Gilligan, creator of the Best Dramatic Series winner Breaking Bad noted the changes in television since the premiere of the show six years ago:

“I’m no expert on the sociological elements of it, but I’ve got to think a big part of what has changed is streaming video on demand, particularly with operations like Netflix, iTunes and Amazon Prime.”

Presumably, Gilligan was referring to increasing the show’s audience after the first run on cable network AMC.  Many people missed “Bad” during its short seven-episode first season.  But as the show became available on Netflix and other digital platforms over subsequent seasons, more and more people discovered it and started watching the new first run episodes on AMC when they got caught up.  Now, with one episode left in the fifth and last season of the series, the show has hit all-time ratings highs

Point is, viewers finding good TV shows on Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and anywhere else (legal) actually helps TV viewership in the long run.  Netflix and digital outlets haven’t killed traditional TV. Instead, they’ve helped save it.

Out Loud, on Paper, in the Theater or on the TV

I just read in The New York Times that the legendary (in some circles) storytelling project The Moth has released a book, with a transcribed collection of 50 of its stories. The Moth is a long-running stage event where people come out before the audience and tell a story.  It’s that simple.  No reading. No notes. Just a person and a mic. Live storytelling is, after all, part story, part performance, and part personality. So how is that going to translate to the written form?

Let’s look at going the other way with it—paper-to-filmed entertainment.

I read all The Walking Dead books available before the TV show started, so I knew everything that was going to happen. When the first season rolled out, it was fun to see a new audiences—ones that maybe weren’t into graphic novel series about zombie apocalypses or just hadn’t ever read them—discover and enjoy the story of Rick and his always-in-danger band of (sort of) friends fight to stay alive and un-undead. When the show started to do things that aren’t in the books—introduce/kill off characters, hit plot points, stage events—it got even more compelling because it was fresh and new. But by and large, the major events and settings and general machinations of the show comes from the books, and that’s okay by me. If it’s a good story written down, it’ll be a good story on screen, provided you have smart, talented people working hard to make sure of it.

In the case of Game Of Thrones, I’m a big fan and am caught up in the show, but I’ve never read any of the books. I heard that George R.R. Martin had written each chapter from a distinct character’s perspective, in a limited third-person narration. You get what’s going down from the perspective of whoever’s chapter it is.  This device helps the reader identify with characters who start out as villains, because you get to know why they are who they are and what is driving their behavior. I’ve only just started the first book, and am about a quarter of the way in.  It’s quite a fun read and the TV show is amazingly faithful to the book. In fact, the pilot episode is almost word-for-word, scene-for-scene from the book (with a scene or two cut or altered, and the ages altered for for the majority of the Stark and Targaryen kids). The point is, it works in either medium because in both mediums it’s a good story well told. Read Full Post »

Measuring Emotions to Improve Effectiveness of Online Video Ads

Cannes Lions has been Inspiring Creativity for 60 years. It is the world’s greatest celebration of creative communications in all its forms. Over seven days in June each year the whole creative industry comes together to learn from the best and celebrate the work changing the communications landscape.
The learning program in 2013 features 120 sessions from more than 300 world-class thinkers to inspire and educate the 12,000 delegates that are attending. And this year they are streaming live on YouTube.

Digital Camera Pocket Guides From The Black and Blue

Shooting on cameras that you aren’t familiar with can definitely get confusing when you are switching from menu to menu. It’s important to quickly be able to change any necessary settings in the field so you can focus on the shoot instead of the technology.

The Black and Blue is a great place to read about set experience, how to’s and the latest gadgets and gear.  The best thing this blog has to offer is the Digital Camera Pocket Guides – a comprehensive resource for camera assistants, cinematographers and filmmakers.  They are easy to read to help you better understand breakdown of camera setups and menus.  Great to keep in your back pocket on every shoot.  The Black and Blue recently updated the guides to include the ARRI Alexa XT, and Sony F5/F55.  You can “pay what you want” and download the guides here.

The Small Business Guide to YouTube

Simply Business  has compiled a huge number of great resources to help small business get started and / or improve existing YouTube videos and channels. From developing ideas and producing content, to uploading files and optimizing YouTube channels.

The Small Business Guide to YouTube is organized in a flow chart format so you can pick and choose how granular you want to get and drill down on different aspects of YouTube marketing.

YouTube Trends Map: Explore the Most Popular Videos

Check out the newly released YouTube Trends Map - a new interactive map that allows you to see and compare trending videos by age, location, and gender by both views and shares. It’s a great way to watch in real time as videos shift from region to region.

YouTube Trends Map


The YouTube Trends Map is an extension of the YouTube trends blog.

Robert Rodriguez and Blackberry 10 – Project Green Screen

Robert Rodriguez wrote and directed a short film and invited fans to be a part of it by leaving a few bits unfinished.

People could record themselves acting in a scene and potentially be plugged into the film via green screen.  There are also a bunch of needed still photos of “missing” people to plug in.  And a few other odds and ends such as designing a weapon to be used in the action scenes.

It’s a fun use of green screen technology and a fun way to involve fans.

The finished film will be premiering online “soon”, at the Project Green Screen website.

4K Is The Future of Filmmaking

NAB, or National Association of Broadcasters convention.  Is a physical digital candy store for Filmmakers and Gear Heads alike.  Each year vendors from around the global show up to tantalize us with the latest and greatest.  More blog post to follow about those gadgets and gizmos.

A resounding theme at this years NAB, as well as NAB’s from the past, has been 4K.  But what does that mean?  And more importantly, how do we capture it?

The following blog from Filmmaker Magazine goes into comprehensive detail on how we get there.

Read the article here.