Saturday, May 31, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull F.A.Q.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull raises many questions, none of them important.

(SPOILERS)

Q. Why would the U.S. Government waste money fully furnishing a town with brand new cars and functional appliances only to blow it up with a nuclear explosion?

A. In order to briefly fool Indiana Jones. And to see if a nuclear bomb would destroy a TV set. Turns out, yeah it would.

Q. Why did the Russians go to the test site town in the first place?

A. To lead Indiana Jones there.

Q. How come some of the Russians were still there when the test began?

A. They didn't know it was a test site town either.

Q. So how come Cate Blanchett and the rest of them had left already?

A. Those Russians did know.

Q. Why did Ox steal the skull originally?

A. What?

Q. Why didn't the aliens just take their saucer and go home before the skull was stolen?

A. They didn't feel like it yet.

Q. So what actually happened at the end?

A. Who cares?

Q. Why did the aliens destroy everything they collected?

A. Does it really matter?

Q. What's the point of building a temple just to self-destruct? Why not just not build a temple?

A. [shrug]

Q. What was happening to Cate Blanchett when her eyes burst into flame and she disintegrated?

A. Her eyes were bursting into flame and she was disintegrating.

Q. Why did the alien do that?

A. Aliens also like Ike.

Q. Why are the aliens from another dimension, rather than another planet?

A. Because it's far more plausible that way.

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Friday, May 30, 2008

Credit Where Credit's Due



What do you know, the episode came out pretty well. Here are some pictures from the set last year.



This was the first day I met Jon Kent Ethridge, who played Craig. I had my skateboard, which I used to get to set faster (set was very far away). He asked to try it, then skated all the way to set with it as Dominic (Jimmy) ran off alongside him. By the time I caught up he was in the middle of shooting a scene, someone had taken the skateboard from him, and he had no idea where it was.



Dominic was not fond of his hives makeup, which smelled bad and was possibly as uncomfortable as he had to pretend to be in the show.



People often ask if it is exciting to hear actors delivering your lines. It is, but then again, I could deliver my own lines if I really wanted to hear them that badly. What is really surreal are sets and props. You mean I wrote in a ray gun, and now some guy has to actually build a ray gun? Now that's cool.



And then there's Animal-Loving Kevin, a character who was to always appear with an exotic pet of some sort. So naturally we wrote him with a donkey in the lunchroom. It turns out donkeys and most large or weird animals are pretty expensive. Seeing an actual donkey complete with wrangler just because you wrote it is actually kind of startling. When we saw the donkey on set, we felt like, Are we crazy? Why did we put this donkey in the show!? This is insane! I felt like I should apologize for it or something. For this reason, as well as the more important reasons of budget and time, Kevin's animals would be far less ambitious for the rest of the series.



When you're watching on TV, it's easy to forget how many people were on set, just off-camera.



Finally, I dedicate this post to John Bliss, who was great as Gramps (the old man) in my episode, and who was a really nice guy to boot. He had very kind words for my script. Sadly, he passed away in February.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Set a "Lunch Tables" Date with Jimmy


If you'd like to see an actual TV program with my writing credit attached to it, the moment you've been waiting for is fast approaching.

My episode of Out of Jimmy's Head, "Lunch Tables," filmed just about a year ago, to the month, is slated to air at last, this Thursday, May 29 at 7:30. This is on Cartoon Network, of course.

Caveats:

- It should air at this time, but it is not unprecedented for Cartoon Network to air a different episode or a different show than scheduled at the last minute.

- Apologies in advance for the grating, embarrassing laugh track. None of us writers wanted it or expected it. It was forced upon the show the way a creepy uncle forces himself on a helpless step-niece, seven episodes into a previously laugh-track-free run. Try to tune it out and you might notice some of the jokes would actually be good if it weren't for the phoniest laughs you ever heard turning the show into a parody of a bad sitcom.

- I have not seen the finished episode myself and have no idea how it turned out. If it is bad, I had nothing to do with it.

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Quote Me on That

From the comments:

boffo said...

Diddy Reese used to (and may still) have a sign advertising their ""All beef" hot dogs."

I always wondered why "All beef" was in quotes, but I was never willing to buy a hot dog to find out.


It's possible that, like the post office, any place where employees make their own signs is a place where employees don't know the meaning of quotation marks. I was at the post office today (for something like thirty or forty minutes to mail a single package, incidentally, while one guy was on duty and a customer ate up ten or fifteen minutes all by himself mailing ten packages at once while the line stretched out the door. I wanted to sarcastically applaud when he was finally done. Why aren't crowds in real life as cruel as crowds in movies? But I digress). In the post office there were office-made signs everywhere, all of them lousy with quotation marks:

"STAMPS" WILL BE INCREASING BY 2 CENTS ON JUNE 12

IF PAYING BY "CREDIT CARD" PLEASE BE PREPARED TO "SHOW ID."

Many people seem to assume that quotation marks are, like italics, underlining and capital letters, simply a handy method of adding emphasis to something. These people also tend to use all four techniques simultaneously.

Oddly, when I was in England for the summer in college, I noticed that English publications seemed to misuse quotation marks even more than we do. You'd think they'd know how to use their own damn language. Don't be fooled by their sophisticated accents! English people are just as stupid as Americans.

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"I bought that cabin!"



Going back to the well of posting video links... this is one of my favorite Weighty Decisions episodes. Also, psst: click here.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

I've Often Wondered...



When fast food places boast about 100% beef, that is as opposed to what, exactly? Is somebody out there cutting their ground beef with sawdust to make it last longer?

No, there isn't a "percent better than that," but there really shouldn't be any percents worse than that out there, either. There's good beef and bad beef, but we're all presuming that no matter where we go, we are at least getting beef. Shouldn't "100% beef" be less a selling point and more a bare minimum starting point we should be able to take for granted? Kind of like "We won't stab you at the register when you order" or "100% strychnine-free"? I wasn't nervous about the percentage until you brought it up, guys.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Chair Wars Episode II

For those of you wondering how the chair rivalry turned out... it has ended in tenuous peace. I arrived at work one day to find the good chair in my doorway. I thought perhaps my foe had surrendered, but in fact a second good chair had appeared in his classroom, rendering our battle unnecessary.

I told him that I had thought at first that he was giving me the good chair, and that that would have been too nice of him. He replied, "Don't worry, I'm not that nice."

On that same day, in my classroom, the morning class teacher had written his name, class time and email in the corner of the white board. Normally, I erase this, along with all the other writing on the board that he never bothers to erase when his class is done. But this day, he had drawn a box around his name and information and written "SAVE," thus denying me a small corner of the board.

I retaliated by writing my own information in excessively large letters in another corner, drawing a box around it, and writing "SAVE" in even bigger letters. I topped it off by not erasing the rest of the board at the end of class.

Too passive aggressive?

The next day, my box had indeed been saved, although the "SAVE" outside the box had been erased. I felt my point had been made. I erased my large name box and replaced it with a smaller box marked "SAVE," this one containing only a drawing of a winking cat.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Chair Wars

I've been teaching English as a Foreign Language classes in Koreatown (fortunately to do this you only need to be able to speak English and not a foreign language). Something about the combination of the school's carpet and my shoes causes me to work up a static charge more or less instantly, which means every time I sit down in my teacher's chair and touch the metal bar under the seat as I steady it, I get a static shock. As you might guess, submitting to a static shock every few minutes gets rather frustrating. On top of that, the chair is too small and not very comfortable.

However, there is another chair -- a lovely, cushioned, high-backed chair with plastic arms and no exposed metal surfaces. Problem is, every time I leave it in my classroom, I inevitably return to find that some morning class teacher has stolen it for his class next door. And ever since a new teacher started teaching TOEFL next door, he gets the chair and usually arrives before I can steal it back for the day.

Today I was early and he was late. I gleefully swiped the good chair. A few minutes into class, he knocked on my door. I answered.

"Someone stole my chair," he said, clearly hoping for some kind of help.

"Yeah, that was me," I said, proudly. "I like that chair."

"But I've had it for the past few days," he said.

"That's because you got here first," I explained. "Today I finally got here in time to steal it."

He said something about having an incentive now to get there earlier. His punctuality was hard enough to beat when he didn't know he was competing. Now the game is truly afoot.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Letting it Ride



So far I had been having fantastic luck with Speed Racer tie-ins. First I was at the grocery store and I saw that General Mills cereals were packaged with Speed Racer turbo cars. Besides the Mach 5 and the Racer X car, all the others were ugly and unrecognizable, but the cereal was on sale anyway so I decided to take a chance and bought a box of Cheerios and a box of guilty pleasure Lucky Charms. Results? One Mach 5 and one Racer X car. Two for two, no duds! I was thrilled.

Then Cynthia notified me that McDonalds has Speed Racer Happy Meals. I'm tutoring this five year old kid, and on Tuesday he showed up with a Racer X Happy Meal car that I eyed jealously. Even with the Happy Meal, the odds are against you. There are more cars that are decent but still a high number of bad ones. I took a chance anyway and bought a Happy Meal. I was prepared to be happy even with a Mach 6 or Racer X car. Result? The Mach 5 on the first try! The best car, and the only one I really wanted.

My luck was hot. Too hot, I thought, to quit. Perhaps with another try I could get my runner-up choices as well. Besides, what's the worst that could happen? Even if I got one of the lousy cars, it's still something for my Mach 5 to race against. So last night, I bought another Happy Meal.

That's when my luck came crashing down. Not only did I not get a good car, I didn't even get a bad car. No, despite the fact that they had explicitly asked me whether I wanted a boys' or girls' toy, and I readily answered "Boys'," they gave me a girls' toy. And not just any girls' toy, but the worst of the girls' toys. Sure, I would have been disappointed, but I could have made do with a mini tote bag, or a race car wristlet. Even the bling necklace or heck, the Chim Chim charm would have been welcome compared to... the photo bracelet?! A crummy photo bracelet? An unwearably tiny piece of plastic with a stupid flower shape with a photo of Chim Chim in it? Argh. Even a compact or a handbag is at least a real thing.

Unfortunately, now I am caught in a gambling cycle. I can come back from this! My luck will turn! I have to try again!

Or at least, see if I can exchange the photo bracelet for a boys' toy. This was not what I ordered.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Speed Racer



Apparently I was the only one who thought Speed Racer looked kind of awesome. Too bad.

The movie is good. Not perfect -- it's unnecessarily long, has a few clunky moments and (almost literally) climaxes in an orgasmic, oddly messianic victory sequence that recalls Neo's moment of learning to see through the Matrix -- only even more overblown, if that is even possible. It's almost too abstract at times, and the action could be a bit easier to follow, but generally you can tell what's going on when it really counts. Overall, the Wachowskis are clearly as indulgent as ever, but the results are far better here than in their awful Matrix sequels.

It's dazzling, even overpowering. If you embrace the delirious excess of it all -- the impossible colors and the bombastic melodrama alike, it's great fun. And despite the feeling that certain scenes and the movie as a whole could and indeed should have been shorter, I wasn't ever actually bored. In a way, the running time befits the air of decadence that permeates everything about the movie.

It's times like this that make me feel like I don't understand the world. In my mind it's ridiculous that anyone could see anything as cool and insane as the Speed Racer trailer -- packed with crazy neon cars that spin and jump and drive sideways, anime motion effects and heightened everything -- and not instantly want to see that movie. I mean, technically I can understand it. People don't like things that are too weird or cheesy or stylized, even if it is intentional. Speed Racer is plainly insane, and for a lot people that's a turn-off. I can understand that. But I can't empathize with it.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Nit-Picking Iron Man

Iron Man is pretty good. Robert Downey Jr.'s performance is excellent, as has been widely reported, and director Jon Favreau perfectly balances the right level of seriousness with action thrills and lighthearted fun. Favreau also displays a rare knack for deploying special effects in a realistic, unassuming way that allows you to forget that they're effects (and surely it doesn't hurt that a metal suit is easier to render convincingly than a man in spandex).

Given all that went right, it seems churlish to dwell on the few nagging details that bugged me, but in a movie so otherwise solid, they stick out even more:

(SPOILERS:)


1. When Pepper Potts accidentally pulls out the copper magnet from Tony Stark's chest, why don't they replace it before installing the new arc unit? Isn't the arc just a power supply, and the magnet the necessary component to keep him alive? Stark explicitly warns her not to remove the magnet, and when it's out, he starts crashing, yet they quickly install the new arc without the magnet and everything is fine. You might argue that his new arc unit contains a built in magnet, but then why would he warn her not to remove the old magnet, and why wouldn't he still need it when he later re-installs the old one?

2. When Stark crawls to the basement (having fortunately not died yet during his fifteen minutes of paralysis) and re-installs the original arc unit (still sans magnet) how is he able to do so without Pepper's tiny hands to help him? Previously the movie made a point of establishing that Stark was unable to install an arc without Pepper's help, yet when the plot demands it he is able do it himself despite being in a debilitated, less-coordinated state.

3. After Iron Man wins the final battle and is lying unconscious with the arc unit about to flicker out, we cut straight to him being fine at the press conference. How did they save him? Presumably the other arc was destroyed with Obediah, which means there are no arc units left. Did the guy from S.H.I.E.L.D. just hook him up to another car battery until he could build another one?

This third point is the easiest to explain away. It's a bit of a cheat, but I can understand why for pacing reasons you don't want to pause to watch Stark build another arc unit.

However, the first two bother me specifically because the movie goes out of its way to establish that 1) the magnet is important and 2) Stark needs Pepper, or someone with small hands, to help install his arc unit, and then these points are disregarded just when you think they are going to pay off. Why even include the magnet just to ignore it? I would have bought that the magnets were in the arc units if I hadn't been specifically told otherwise. And wouldn't it have been a great, tense scene and a satisfying payoff to have Pepper racing to get there in time to help, then finding Stark unconscious with the arc in hand but unable to use it, but luckily, thanks to that earlier scene, she knows how to install it and saves him?

Did this stuff bother anyone else or am I the only party pooper? Were there explanations that I missed somehow?

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Mark Cuban on Internet Video

Media mogul Mark Cuban blogs about a report questioning the future of ad-supported internet video:

Craig Moffett of Bernstein Research wrote an amazing report entitled And Now for the News...The Emperor Has No Clothes". If you can get a copy, read it. Starting with the disappointing but expected news that journalism is no longer a service consumers desire to pay for, he moves on to the problems facing Internet video. He does a far better job than I ever did explaining the failings of Internet video and the expectation of free content. This is the report I wish I had blogged.

From the report:
Ironically, we are headed down the same self-destructive road for other kinds of traditional media,as well. Five years into the video-over-the-Internet revolution, we have learned two things. First; consumers won't pay for content on the web, so it will have to be ad supported. And second; it won't be ad supported.

In the cable TV network world, half of all revenues come from affiliate (carriage) fees paid by the Comcasts and DirecTVs of the world. The other half comes from advertising. But in the TV world, a typical half hour show supports an ad load of about 8 minutes.

On the web, early evidence suggests that consumers will tune out – click away – if they are forced to watch more than 30 seconds or so of advertising up front, and maybe another 90 seconds of advertising over the next thirty minutes. Hulu.com, for example, which has already been lionized by many as the future of TV, serves two minutes of advertising for every 22 minutes of programming(i.e. the programming duration of a typical half hour show from television). Assuming identical CPMs for web video and TV, and after accounting for lost affiliate fees, a 30 minute program on the web with two minutes of advertising yields approximately 1/8th as much revenue per viewer.


He goes on to ask some other legitimate-sounding questions about how networks will cope when they are no longer able to use the popular portions of their schedules to prop up the still-expensive but less-popular parts of their schedules. But finally her ends up here:

Are TV networks making a huge mistake by putting their current TV schedules online for free? If a streamed TV show only has 2 mins of commercials, will that drive some viewers to prefer watching online ? Will it force networks to reduce their TV show ad load? If so, by how much ? Particularly if and when over the top video enables Internet video to be presented right on TVs. Will shows be forced to introduce different versions of shows, say with different ratings as a means of differentiating TV from streamed shows? The R rated version of Friday Night Lights online and the PG version on TV?

Bottom line is that something has got to give. Business as usual is not going to cut it. The question is whether the dollars the big TV and media companies are creating online from the streaming of their current TV lineups are sustainable incremental dollars? Or is streaming the video a collateralized video obligation? The video equivalent of the collateralized debt behind the sub prime mess. Money that looks good while its coming in, but could lead to far, far bigger problems?


My comment:

First: No one is making a "mistake" by offering ad-supported streaming versions of network programs. It may not be a long-term solution to a crumbling economic model, but not offering legitimate streaming versions is foolish and self-defeating.

Are networks already forgetting that the reason they were forced to put shows online in the first place is that if they don't, viewers will find shows torrented shows online anyway, through free, illegitimate means? If someone misses a live broadcast or otherwise wants to watch TV online, they can find a way to do it. Online streaming beats illegal torrents of TV shows because they are easier to find and faster to download, but if they are not available, young, desirable viewers are the most proficient at seeking out torrents and the least likely to feel guilty about it.

Napster and file-sharing gained momentum while the music industry failed to agree on an iTunes-style model that consumers would actually use. Withholding legal streaming in hopes of increasing live viewership (which the CW is trying with Gossip Girl) seems ridiculous, especially for a show so targeted to tech-savvy youngsters that its promotional taglines are ":-O" and "OMFG."

As for the problem of making people view ads... I want Hulu to succeed and even I admit I click to other tabs while waiting for ads play... wouldn't anybody? But I still hear the ads, and if the ad's message comes through in audio, I receive it, and that should count. After all, advertisers still paid for TV ads even though lots of people used that time to flip channels, get a snack, or go to the bathroom, right?

Pop up bugs below the video -- already used on YouTube and Revver -- are unavoidable views, and you don't click away because the video is still playing. No one likes them, but they are tolerable and they work. What about those?

I think advertisers need to realize that exposure to their ads is more powerful than they think. We shouldn't need to click through a banner ad for that to count as an impression. I almost never click on banner ads, but that doesn't mean that they do not successfully communicate that, say, Harold and Kumar 2 is coming out. I don't click on outdoor billboards but somehow people make money on those. I think online advertising needs a model where seeing or hearing an ad counts as delivery -- you know, like it does everywhere else -- and can be a source of revenue even if people don't click on it. Because it's 2008 and we've had the internet for over a decade and people don't click on everything they see anymore, so let's get with it.

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