Thursday, May 31, 2007

Kill your (cable) television

Living sans television for a year now hasn't been quite the cold-turkey experience one might have expected. Most of the serial dramas I follow (24, Lost) are available for streaming online a few hours after broadcast. I could get a lot more content via iTunes but I fear just how out of hand that could get for both my free time and wallet. A couple new products, however, offer a glimpse into a future of cutting the cable tv cord (or satellite dish uplink) altogether. I think network executives especially should be quaking in their suits.

By now, most have heard of, if not seen, YouTube, the repository of all manner of viral videos, music, and miscellany. But clips are limited to about 10 minutes, the low-rez video window is tiny, and it's often hard to separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of content.

Enter Joost, a new video distribution program from the creators of Skype and Kazaa. In a nutshell, it's TV over the internet but not in the way viewers are accustomed to watching TV over-the-air. Instead of scheduled broadcast times, all the content is available at any time through the user's computer. If you have a broadband connection, you're ready to watch. Programs are organized in channels similar to a cable box's but with more particularization, closer to satellite radio's narrowcasting. Some of the major cable channels, like MTV and Comedy Central, have their own channels; others include episodes from shows such as NewsRadio, Rocky & Bullwinkle, and even '70s cop fare like Starsky & Hutch. Music videos, fringe sports, and international programs also figure prominently. Programs are interrupted only occasionally by a short advertisement (usually under 30 seconds).

Using the beta version for a few weeks now, the content is the weak link in the chain at this point. It will have to expand beyond basic cable repeats and second-tier reality programming to be competitive with cable and network television. Dedicated movie channels would also be another welcome addition. But the concept is solid and it's easy to envision a time where, if access to any desired content was not an issue, something like Joost would be a cable killer. Instead of being at the mercy of the various schedules of a few hundred channels (90% of which go paid for but unwatched) or even the offerings on cable's own On Demand service, what to watch and when to watch it would be completely at the fingertips and control of the computer user. Stream it directly to a home theater via a device like Apple TV and there really wouldn't be a reason to need your Time-Warner or Comcast set-top box again.

An explosion in content delivery via systems like Joost also augurs well for creative types. There will still be gatekeepers but the barriers to entry keep getting lower and lower. Hi-def technology of the type that only a few years ago was in the hands of one director will soon be entry-level for professionals. The costs of computer processing, memory, and storage will be cheap enough that visual effects and editing can be done in an apartment instead of a post-production facility. If a screenwriter or director has a story they want to tell, they will not necessarily be limited to the largess of the studios, networks, or production companies to get the project made. Scrounge up some hedge fund money, a crew, and shoot it. Even if theatrical distribution remains the province of the big players (I'm not sure even that will be true once digital delivery becomes standard in theaters), internet distribution will allow an end run around the traditional system. It won't happen overnight but it's the direction I see things inevitably moving.

Until then, another nifty gidget I hope to pick up at some point is the Pinnacle HD Pro Stick, an HDTV tuner that plugs into any USB port. Allowing me to recieve local over-the-air hi-def broadcasts, and also record those to an attached hard drive a la TiVo. All for the low low price of $129.00. TV, I wish I knew how to quit you.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The verdict is in

The jury in the Clive Cussler case returned its verdicts this past week. Although Cussler had been seeking $40 million in damages from Crusader Entertainment, the producers of Sahara (Crusader itself countersued Cussler for $115 million), the awards from the jury were far more modest: $5 million for producer Phillip Anschutz and $8.5 million to author Cussler. The jury found that, while Cussler did breach his contract with Crusader, Anschutz's company should also pay Cussler for a second Dirk Pitt novel that was never produced. While not an outcome on the level of the legendary USFL v. NFL antitrust suit (where the jury found for the upstart football league, but only awarded it a single dollar in damages), it's probably just enough to cover each sides legal costs for this kind of litigation. The attorneys tried to put the best possible spin on the verdicts but it's hard to believe that either side really considers the jury's baby-splitting "a complete victory" or that "Cussler is the clear winner." The lawyer in me wonders why, when the jury was apparently loath to award either party a substantial amount, the parties chose to roll the dice at all and take it to trial. I'll presume (without knowing more), that any settlement offers that were made beforehand were larger than the verdict amounts -- compared to what each side was seeking, anything in the single-millions would likely not have been viewed as a serious offer. The screenwriter in me realizes that when Hollywood-sized egos get involved in these kinds of contests, rational decision making often goes out the window. Now it's on to October and the expiration of the current WGA Minimum Basic Agreement . . .

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Letters, we get letters

Back in the land of the living after sending off my Nicholl entry yesterday. Same script as last year, with the benefit of extensive rewriting and invaluable feedback from my fabulous fellow workshop members. And still, I know it's not where it either can or needs to be. But even a quarterfinal placement or "Next 100" note from Greg Beal would be an improvement from last year, so I didn't really have anything to lose by submitting.

I'll ease back into the blogging routine, John August Q&A style, with my first non-spam email from Sam, who asks:

Do you know how to make Movie Magic Screenwriter handle overlapping dialogue? For example:

Let go! I'm trying! Where's my phone?

Sam, since I use Final Draft, I don't know, personally, how to do this in Movie Magic Screenwriter (in FD, there is a "Dual Dialogue" command that will split overlapping dialogue into two side-by-side columns).

Aiming to please, however, I did find this Tech Tip on the MMS website:

Movie Magic Screenwriter: How to format dual-column (simultaneous) dialogue.

Sometimes in a screenplay, you will want two characters to speak simultaneously. This is done by placing the dialogues side by side.

1. Hit Tab to place the cursor in a Character Name element.
2. Hit Ctrl + 1 on the keyboard. The element list at the top should now say 'Character Name (L)'.
3. Type in the character's name.
4. Hit Enter/Return to place the cursor in a Dialogue element.
5. Type in the character's dialogue.
6. Hit Tab to place the cursor in the next Character Name element.
7. Hit Ctrl + 2 on the keyboard. The element list at the top should now say 'Character Name (R)'.
8. Type in the other character's name.
9. Hit Enter/Return to place the cursor in a Dialogue element.
10. Type in the other character's dialogue.

The two dialogues will appear one above the other on the screen, but will print (and print preview) side by side. The program does take into account the stacked dialgoues in order to get correct page length.

Hope this makes sense, and if any other MMS users have other advice, be sure to leave a comment.