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Archive for January, 2009

Some Place Like Home

Some Place Like Home

I just got a chance to see this powerful documentary on the changes taking place in Brooklyn. As a BK resident I’m deeply concerned about what is happening here, but this film is worth seeing even if you’re nowhere nearby, because the tragic suburbinisation of the American city is coming soon to a place near you.

The film outlines the way bad planning happens, and how quickly things can be turned around if people organize and apply a little pressure. Change is not the problem – great cities are always transient. Problems start when development takes place without any real participation from local people, without any consideration for the amenities people actually need or any regard for the culture and people crushed by poorly thought out redevelopment.

It’s no big surprise that this is happening, this is how most of the rest of the country is designed. The film reminded me of this great talk James Howard Kunsler gave at TED about how suburban sprawl happens:

As Kunstler puts it we should be designing inspired centers of civic life and the physical manifestation of the common good. Instead, he argues, what we have in America is a nation of places not worth caring about. I don’t want to see that happen to Brooklyn. The Some Place Like Home trailer is below, (if you want to know more, head over here, or visit Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn).

If Banksy comes through your neighborhood…

Chop that ish down with a rotary saw and sell it on eBay for 100 grand:

The Afflicted Yard: The Rock from Rickards Bros. on Vimeo.



Illustration by Matias Vigliano, nicked from Wired.

In his latest column for Wired, Scott Brown rings the death knell for storytelling. “Hollywood, vendor of Story in its most denatured form, is most at risk” he writes. “The film industry is slowly but steadily being forced to part with quaint artifacts like the “hero’s journey,” Joseph Campbell’s so-called Monomyth.”

I think Brown is dead wrong.

Networked storytelling is going to become more and more prominent, I agree. But the death of the hero journey? Pure fantasy.

First off, the traditional story format is not at risk, at all. Hollywood had its biggest ever year domestically in 2008, despite the deluge of digital content now competing for our attention (not to mention pirates, who may even be helping). The biggest selling film was The Dark Knight, a Cambell-esque monomyth of the highest order and pretty much all the Oscar nominees – Slumdog, Benjamin Button, Milk, The Wrestler etc etc are all hero myths of one sort or another.

Brown gives a tongue-in-cheek example of what might replace traditional story structure:

“Die Hard will look like this: John McClane, NYC cop, arrives in LA to reconcile with his estranged wife—but we already know all about their failing marriage from the ARG we’ve been obsessed with for the six months leading up to the movie’s release. (McClane’s potemkin Tumblr blog was especially illuminating.) With exposition rendered obsolete, we open instead on a Sprite commercial, which transitions seamlessly into furious gunplay. We don’t even see McClane in the flesh, but our handsets are buzzing with his real-time thumb-tweets: “in the air duct. smelz like dead trrist in here lol.” The film then rewinds to McClane Googling “terrorists” to read up on his adversaries. We then flash-cut to the baddies’ POV, which we’re familiar with (and sympathetic to) thanks to the addictive Xbox hit Die Hard: Hard Out There for a Terrorist. This is all part of the Action-Happening Plateau, an intensifying mass of things and stuff leading up to the Mymaxtm.

“The Mymax is not a lame old Freytag climax but a hot Escher mess of narrative possibilities suggested by you, the audience. With a mere click of your handset (and a charge of 99 cents), you furnish a Youclusiontm to your liking. This is how McClane somehow ends up defeating terrorists—and winning American Idol—with his ultrasonic melisma. McClane and Holly then celebrate by making a sex tape. (Awww!)”

That doesn’t sound like a good movie, it sounds like a bad video game with a Sprite commercial in it. No one will pay 99 cents to finish a movie like this, because by that point no one will be left in the theater.

The reality is that new tech and transmedia are making traditional storytelling stronger. The point Brown misses is that the fundamentals of storytelling haven’t changed much with new tech, which is why Joseph Campbell’s work on ancient myth has been so relevant to screenwriting all these years. Not to get all Robert McGee, but story is not about the media through which you experience it as much as it’s about conveying a sense of meaning and/or truth that audiences can relate to.

The media we use to tell stories is changing, no doubt about it. But from what I’ve seen so far, film and TV writers seem to be using new technology and media platforms to extend the traditional model of storytelling further, not replace it.

Take Cloverfield for example. The viral video that kicked it off? A very traditional act one set-up sequence, inciting incident included. What was different was where it was broadcast and how. Those crazy websites about seemingly unrelated stuff that kept everyone guessing – Tagruato Corporation, Slusho, MySpace pages for characters etc? All part of the back story. Screenwriters have always written elaborate back stories to develop character and plot, what’s new is these pieces of writing didn’t have a viable commercial outlet before.

Or look at Heroes – story arcs stretch across different formats, creating a totally new kind of immersion experience, but they are still just story arcs. In days gone by some of these might have been left on the cutting room floor, but now they can be revenue-generating graphic novels instead. That’s awesome, but fundamentally it’s still traditional, myth-driven storytelling.

Networked storytelling is a cool new part of the equation for sure – involving audiences can add value in a million ways. But the bottom line is new tech and new media platforms are making traditional storytelling more complete. Transmedia is allowing content creators to take monomyths to dizzy new heights, to tell monomyths in stereo. Our method of telling stories is as old as we are, and has worked for different cultures and generations for thousands of years. It’s going to take more than a half-baked twitter feed to change it.

The T-1000 is here!

Well, almost. This material is called nitinol wire, and according to PSFK it is a type of shape memory alloy that can re-form into a pre-designed shape when exposed to heat.

With great power comes great responsibility.

barack obama spiderman

Adbusting with Photoshop


Most of the commercial images we are exposed to have been through Photoshop, and these stickers that went up on a billboard in Berlin do a great job of reminding us of that. The full set of pics is here. Thanks Dan!

Jim Jarmusch

via 12ozPROPHET. Thanks Mark!

In 2008 piracy helped…


The Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts I-IV was Amazon’s best-selling album of the year despite also being released for free under a Creative Commons license. Now that there are great mp3 stores like Amazon’s which offer a better experience than the pirates do, people are flocking to them. The problem in music wasn’t pirates, it was a lack of good legitimate alternatives.

The Vinyl Business

Vinyl sales doubled, and not because it sounds better. It’s because vinyl feels better. In 2008, 1.88 million vinyl albums were purchased, more than in any other year since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking LP sales in 1991. Why? The same reason some NIN fans paid $300+ for the super-deluxe autographed editions of Ghost I-IV. Records are like books – they are souvenirs of ideas. The digital idea is everywhere and easily communicated, but the physical souvenir still has value. There is a lesson there for anyone in the ideas business.

The Movie Industry

In the US the domestic box office pulled down an estimated $9.78 billion, a new record. Again, digital copies are not proving to be substitutes here, if anything they seem to more like complimentary products. The experience of going to the movies cannot be replicated at home without inviting 300 strangers into your house to watch the movie with you. The industry’s approach to piracy is improving too – like the music business, Hollywood is seeing pirate alternatives (like Hulu) working in their favor.

This is all good news, but digital copies can and did wipe out a few industries too. The yearbook business, for example, has evaporated thanks to social networks. The one souvenir everyone used to want is being slowly replaced. As The Economist tells it:

“The phenomenon is due in part to the price of the hard-bound volumes, typically as high as $75. For cash-strapped students facing ever-rising tuition and living costs they are a luxury that many can’t afford. But the main cause is not the cost so much as the replacement of print with electronic media by and for the Facebook and MySpace generation. With social networks linking hundreds of friends and offering digital photographs and videos the traditional yearbook looks like a bit of a dinosaur.”

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