Thursday, November 19, 2009

What Else I've Learned About Making Web Series

Making Vlog Star, and before that, Kenny Bloggerly's Internet Life, has been a constant learning experience.

When you look at things that become popular on the Internet, most of them are bizarre curiosities, often things that you never would have imagined existed, let alone would be discovered by a huge, fascinated audience. Because of this, it's easy to conclude that if you do something random and weird, you will capture people's attention based largely on the curiosity factor.

That was the thinking behind Kenny Bloggerly's Internet Life, a show where the whole joke hinged on anticlimax. No content, no jokes, no events, and abrupt endings. One thing that was fun about it was that after a while it's harder to write nothing than it is to write something, and talking about something without actually saying anything about it required increasingly awkward contortions of language. And the character developed mannerisms that were increasingly distinctive, which gave the show a little but of substance after all. In the end, the show subverted its own uneventfulness by actually launching an unexpectedly high-stakes story arc, though it was approached with the same strangely hesitant structure of everything else.

Is it weird that I'm analyzing my own shows here like they are some established work? This is what I would be like if I were to record a DVD commentary.

Anyway, the problem with this kind of show, I think, is that before viewers can enjoy the joke of having their expectations constantly frustrated, they have to discover the show, and that requires viewers to be thrilled enough to share the show with others. (It also requires the makers to be savvy and dedicated about publicizing their work and targeting a potentially receptive audience, like Felicia Day, which is something I'm still trying to figure out.) The central anti-joke of Kenny Bloggerly is something that (theoretically) grows more satisfying with subsequent episodes, as one learns the rhythm of the show and the games of the character. But any individual episode is unlikely to pack a big punch. You might smile with amusement, but let's be honest, a video about nothing happening is not going to set the world on fire. Shows where the joke is that there isn't one are generally more fun for creators than viewers. If something is going to attract attention for its weirdness, it has to be exceptionally, genuinely unique. Without that, the average viewer will lack the motivation to explore multiple episodes unless he or she truly has a lot of time on his or her hands.

Which brings us to the central ratio that determines the success of any piece of entertainment, but is especially marked in the field of web videos:

Investment/Reward.

Where Investment, usually time, must be as low as possible, and Reward, the viewer's enjoyment and satisfaction must be as high as possible.

I know, this seems like a no-brainer, but when you are in your own world creating a series, it's easy to presume that something will be great simply because you are the one making it and you are great.

If a video is long, over 2 or 3 minutes, or especially over 5 minutes, most people won't watch the whole thing. I've made plenty of videos over 5 minutes that I hoped people would watch, yet if I click on a video and discover it's over 5, I'll usually bail. It's a big Internet and when you're procrastinating, it's hard to commit that much time to a single video. If a video requires that you be caught up on the continuity of a series to understand it, you'll be similarly unlikely to get all the way through it. Too much Investment.

If you can invest a small amount of time but come away with a high level of enjoyment, you'll come away extra-satisfied. And what's more, you'll be willing to explore more episodes. They're like bite-sized candies -- a lot of pleasure for a small investment. This is something that Jake & Amir does really well. They never waste much of your time, and while there are some duds, more often than not, you feel like you got your 90 seconds' worth and you might as well watch another one. The most extreme example is the compulsively watchable 5 Second Films, which are basically the web video equivalent of potato chips. Again, some are bad, some are brilliant, but when most of them are at least pretty good and it only takes 8 seconds to watch another one, why not roll the dice a few more times? (And if something is really good, right away, it can even get away with being over 5 minutes.)

I know, I know, this is a lot of words to say that people like videos that are good and don't waste their time, which is blindingly obvious but easier said than done.

With Vlog Star, I've always made an effort to keep the Investment side of the ratio low, at least time-wise -- episodes are consistently 2-3 minutes or less. Where I've faltered, I think, is on the reward side. Season 1 leaned too heavily on the central joke that Nate is a has-been web star, yet it never hit this joke in a big, memorable way, nor did it offer much variation on the concept. What's more, it was pretty uneventful. This grew out of a few attempts at Channel 101 pilots like this and this, where I found that trying to squeeze too much plot into a 5 minute video seemed to leave the comedy without much room to breathe. I came to believe that webisodes based around a single, funny scene could lower the Investment side while raising the Reward side at the same time. The problem with Vlog Star season 1 was that the scenes were just not funny enough. Maybe they had too much room to breathe.

With season 2 I attempted to correct the problem of the show's uneventfulness. You might notice that there is a much stronger story arc informing the season, especially at the beginning and end. The problem I found here was that we ended up with too many episodes that were basically just connective tissue for the story arcs, but with little comic meat of their own. My favorite episodes from season 2 are the standalones like "Arm Run Over By Car" or the mini-arcs, like the cup-stacking/juggling episodes or the Road Trip arc. These, I think, are a good way to inject story without bogging things down with scenes that are purely functional or turning things into a soap opera that ask too much of viewers.

(An example of a series I think has the soap opera problem is Break a Leg, a very well-made show that aspires to the Arrested Development style and builds an intricate comic universe that diverges from reality to the point that it's kind of impenetrable after the first few episodes. In spite of that, it's pretty successful as web series go, and seems to have helped its creators find further work in the field, so what do I know? My point is I have trouble getting into it because it starts to feel like work.)

Yes, I am aware of the irony that the Investment/Reward ratio of this blog post is astonishingly low.

My point? I guess it's that I'm still working at this, and trying not to get discouraged that I'm such a slow learner. More Vlog Star episodes are on their way, and if you don't notice a difference, it's not for a lack of overthinking. The goal this season is to further refine the all important Investment/Reward ratio. I'm trying to make things more accessible -- more stand-alone episodes, less exposition, something that you can jump in and watch without being caught up on 20+ previous episodes -- and funnier -- which is a constant battle against my rusty and limited performing ability.

Enjoy the new season! I hope it's good.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

What I've Learned About Making Web Series

A year or so ago I heard that USC is now offering a web video class, which I thought was ridiculous. Nobody knows how to guarantee success in web video; big media companies like HBO and Warner Brothers are throwing money at it and failing all the time. Why pay tuition to take a class in it? There are no rules. We are all inventing them right now.

Having made a total of three seasons of two different web series, I think I have learned a few things about the form. The first one is that nobody cares about web series. I'm not just saying that because nobody cares about my web series; I know that's just because they're not very entertaining. But I have a sneaking suspicion that nobody cares about any web series, really, except for people who are making their own web series, watching each other's shows to see what works and hoping against hope that there is a market for this format.

If you look at the views of even the more successful web shows, they pale in comparison to the views of random one-offs, quirky vloggers and internet curiosities. So, you could let an unselfconscious nineteen-year-old vamp on a webcam for five minutes of jump-cutting and get five million views, or you can spend ten thousand dollars on actors, locations, equipment and crew and get ten thousand views if you're lucky. Who wouldn't want to make a web show?

Has any web series ever even gone viral? When the pinnacle of the form is French Maid TV, it's time to question whether that form is worth making viable. Congratulations, you've leveraged T&A against product placement, now just make something that a person would want to watch a second time.

There are exceptions, of course--as I've mentioned, Jake & Amir is both popular and entertaining. But that show aside, I've never heard a real person in real life say how much they love a web series, or even that they have watched one. Does mainstream America even know they exist?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Speed: Needed

One of the reasons I picked up Need for Speed Carbon, despite the fact that I still feel guilty about not finishing Most Wanted on PS2, is that I was looking for something else to make use of the Nerf Wii Wheel peripheral that so far I've only been using with Speed Racer. Now, I've only played it for two days, but in that time I have learned two things. One is that the game is generally pretty fun and the other is that the default "steering wheel" style control scheme is an unmitigated disaster. It is possible to control the car only in the loosest sense of the word, in the same way that if you shake a box with a cat inside you could be said to be "controlling" the cat. Yes, your actions affect its movement, but not in any kind of predictable or repeatable way. It's not a matter of the tilt being too sensitive or not sensitive enough; somehow it is both. Your car won't turn enough, until after the turn is over, at which point it will curve straight into a wall even though you have straightened the wheel. I've seen it said that there is a learning curve here, and maybe if I could figure out exactly when in the turn I ought to stop turning my car even though the turn is not done yet, there would some way to do it. But I suspect that by the time I mastered such a thing, the experience would bear little resemblance to operating a steering wheel anyway. Furthermore, I believe a simple thing like maneuvering a virtual car around a corner while not even at top speed should not require a learning curve tantamount to landing the space shuttle. Call me crazy, but that is just how I was raised.

At first I feared the game, though graphically gorgeous (for the Wii anyway) would be completely unplayable. There is no excuse for control this hopeless (especially when the Wii's other racers prove it's possible), and I can only conclude that the guys at EA simply failed at it. Maybe there is some specific issue with their physics model, which was designed to be controlled by an analog stick, that cannot be ported over to a tilting controller without destroying the fabric of the game. I don't know.

Happily, there are 5 control schemes here to choose from. One of them involves tilting the nunchuck, which works marginally better than the Wiimote (imagine an angry cat on a leash instead of in a box), but twisting a nunchuck is nothing like using a steering wheel anyway, so why bother? The last two options involve steering with the analog stick, which is an absolute delight, especially after an hour of slamming your unruly car into walls with your Wii wheel. The analog stick steering is, in fact, especially good, and furthermore, the Wiimote throttle control, in which you tilt the controller like a gas pedal, works like a charm. Yes, it sounds counterintuitive and completely stupid, but in fact it triggered an epiphany -- the key to racing, especially in these games, is actually not steering at all. After all, any idiot can steer (once he is using a sensible control scheme and not one that is fundamentally broken); one usually blows a race by trying to take a turn too fast. This is because mastering finesse with the gas, brake and handbrake are the key to success. Once I tried control scheme 5 (4 is nice too, as it tethers the Wiimote to brake/reverse as well as gas, but unfortunately the handbrake is operated by jerking back on the nunchuck, which doesn't seem to do anything), I found myself commanding the throttle and handbrake with an assurance and precision I had never experienced playing NFS with a conventional controller. In fact, it works so well, I wondered if EA's programmers had consciously not bothered to perfect steering wheel controls, so certain were they that the weird nunchuck-analog/Wiimote gas pedal scheme was superior.

So yes, the game is playable and so far, a lot of fun on the Wii -- not just in spite of, but even due to, the Wii's unique controls. But not the ones you expect.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Phones Are Ruining My Life

All of you with iPhones and Blackberries and assorted cool phones with apps and web browsing and so forth ought to know, every time I see you staring down at your phones, activating the screen with that precious little swipe-to-unlock, it is like a knife in my heart. Every time your status updates appear on Facebook with the attribution "from Facebook for iPhone," I fight back tears as my soul overflows with agonizing envy.

You see, most people are either frivolous enough to go ahead and spend money on fancy phones full of exciting features no one needs, or sensible enough to not care about them. Unfortunately, I am neither. I have an overwhelming gadget lust that is matched only by my unbearable cheapness. So what happens is, I look at these phones longingly, then discover how much they actually cost to operate on a month-to-month basis, and conclude that voluntarily doubling one of my monthly bills would be an act of extraordinary idiocy for someone with a modest income who is already carrying around massive debt.

If I were a reasonable person in full control of my faculties, it might end there. Unfortunately, every time I see a banner ad for a smartphone, or an individual engaging in the aforementioned screen-swipe, all my Want rushes back to the surface. I am locked in a struggle with consumerism. Don't get me wrong, consumerism is delightful if you lean back and let it wash over you (at least until you lose your job or something and discover that you are broke and your money has been squandered on trifles that will provide neither food nor shelter), but it's a force to be reckoned with should you try to resist. Everywhere you go, people are entranced by their little phones, blissfully tapping away. Obviously there is something awesome happening on phones these days, and here I am missing out on the modern world!

Where was I? Oh yes, so then I get sucked back in to my Phone Want. And I start searching for halfassed alternatives. Maybe the aptly named EnV Touch would sate my appetite; there's html web browsing and a second-rate but good-looking touch screen; and a flip-out keyboard for texting might be kind of nice. And there's even the VPak: an unlimited data plan, plus VCast videos, for $15! But would this really satisfy me? Would the savings be worth the reduced functionality? Maybe not. I talked myself out of it.

This week, Verizon replaced the VPak option with a limited data plan with no VCast for $5 more, and I lamented my missed opportunity to be grandfathered in. On the other hand, now there is the Samsung Rogue, a much slicker option as far as halfassed smartphone alternatives go. I'm not opposed to limited data plans as a concept; my limited text plan suits me fine. But Verizon's data limits are absurdly stingy and a terrible value. The $20 option, for 75 mb a month, is only $10 less than a Blackberry unlimited data plan. And the only unlimited options put you in territory that is exactly the same as a Blackberry. So why would you ever get a phone with less? It's like if GM made the Chevy Aveo cost the same as a Cadillac CTS -- is the Aveo really there to be bought or is it just there to make the upsell look better?

It's Apple's fault, actually -- their iPhone price drop has fucked the industry by forcing every carrier to flatten their handset prices to around $100, regardless of whether it makes any sense, and then to make back the subsidy with unreasonable data plans, just like AT&T.

I just want to stop thinking about phones. I want to stop reading reviews, comparing prices, hoping in vain to beat the system and find the nonexistent rate combinations that would actually make sense. It is a real problem.

I tried to psychoanalyze myself out of it. You don't really want a phone, I told myself. You want what the phone symbolizes: the financial security to spend money wastefully, the additional discretionary income that comes with the career success that continues to elude you. A phone would not make you happy. Focus on self-improvement and hard work and the rest will follow. Your phone obsession, and the absurd amount of time and mental energy it consumes, is only an impediment to your success. This worked for a week or two, but then it came back.

I know I don't need all this bullshit. I have a laptop I carry almost everywhere anyway. I have a fucking map in my car, and even that I only use about once a year. I go through an average day never needing the capability a smartphone would give me, except that I am constantly thinking about smartphones and how I could possibly acquire one.

The Blackberry Storm 2 looks like it's going to be pretty good.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

My Favorite Insomnia Cafe Bathroom Graffiti

From the bathroom of Insomnia Cafe, an insufferable yet invaluable screenwriter haunt:


8/19/07
Today is my last day with Jon DuBos and I just want the world to know he's my Best Friend and I love him more than you will ever know.
- Sam Sam



He knows
He loves Sam Sam too!
BFM FOREVER!
=) 8-19-07



8/19/08
Today I celebrate one year without Jon DuBos. Awesome! To think I ever thought he was my Best Friend(!) or even cool! Looking back, I now see what a douchebag he was. I loathe him more than you will ever know.
-Sam Sam

--

By the way, does anyone know what "BFM forever" is supposed to mean?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ghosts: Busted

Just finished Ghostbusters: The Video Game today on the Wii. How was it? Terrific.

Normally I like the stylized, cartoony designs that show up on underpowered Nintendo ports. I thought the goofy look of Windwaker suited the game nicely, much better than Twilight Princess' hideous attempt at fantasy realism.

In this case, though, I did eye the graphics of the PS3 and 360 Ghostbusters games with envy. Despite its precarious perch on the ledge of the uncanny valley, the attempt at photorealism does help the game to feel like it takes place in the universe of the movies.

That said, once you are playing the game, you never give it a thought. And I doubt the slicker versions can match the fun factor of the Wii's control scheme. The nunchuck/Wiimote combo is in top form, immersing you in the gameplay while never feeling gimmicky. Smashing the ghosts around by waving the Wiimote is perfect (although it might have been better with less delay between real-life and onscreen movement, but whatever).

The Wii version stands on its own and never feels like a hobbled version of a better game. If you go and actually compare it to the other versions, you'll find the levels can be very different, and some (like an extended outdoor Times Square battle) have been omitted. Some things, like exposition about a Super Slammer weapon, have no purpose in the Wii version, where you never use the Super Slammer (a mega-trap on the roof of Ecto-1). But basically, the story still works and is always fun.

The difficulty is exactly right. There is a nice hit system where your energy builds back up if you don't get hit for a while, and fellow busters can revive each other providing they're around and not dead too. All this means you don't die that often, and when you do, you're usually started at a reasonable point not too far from where it happened. There's still enough challenge to keep it interesting, without all the failure and repetition that makes me frustrated and bored and keeps me from finishing most games. Combined with the voice work and decent story, it easily makes for what's easly the best movie-to-game conversion ever (admittedly a low bar to clear, but still).

I guess more hardcore gamers complain when a game is too short and easy, but I like when I can play through a game and enjoy it without investing over forty hours of time. I feel like I got my money's worth, much more than when I have to give up on a game and never come back to it after finishing 5% of it.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Trade Secret

Oh, by the way, in case you don't know me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter -- in case you are still living in the era when things like blogs and phonographs and daguerrotypes are the cutting edge of communications technology -- there is this.

The article makes it sound like I'm riding high already; in fact, it is a bit premature. I can still barely pay my credit card balance, and not because I just bought a ranch and a pony with big fancy Hollywood fuck-you money. Things are still not quite so definite. But as much as I prefer to keep quiet about things until they are more certain, this is still my first mention in the trades, and it's no fun to let that go by without showing people, even if I have to qualify it heavily.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Terminator Salvation: Unacceptable

Slant's Terminator Salvation review neatly and concisely articulates the central plot hole that devastates the entirety of Terminator Salvation, the same one I would have written about had I blogged about it in a more timely fashion.

How is it that Skynet is actively targeting Connor in Salvation, fully aware of both his future centrality to events and his childhood escape from their robot assassins? The established timeline does not support this. Armed with this knowledge, why would Skynet even commence with their eventual plans to attack the Connors in a different time, knowing as they must that such plans will fail? Another question: Why am I putting more thought into this than the screenwriters did?


To add on to that point -- since the machines shouldn't even know that Connor is important, it is even more outrageous that they know that Reese is important. If Skynet knows Reese, Skynet knows everything, and the entire franchise is stupid and pointless. To accept Terminator Salvation on any level is to create a black hole of stupidity that disintegrates and swallows up the franchise in toto, and that simply cannot be tolerated.

Just as the T-800 in T2 tells John, "I know now why you cry," I can say that I know now why Steve continually denies the existence of T3. Personally I thought T3 had enough good moments to outweigh the bad -- sure, there's some timeline discrepancies with John's age and some dopey failed jokes, and the general feeling of a franchise being stretched too thin... but there is also the pleasure of revisiting something familiar, a few memorable action scenes, an interesting arc for John, an effective, if depressing, ending, and some successful comic moments as well. Overall, there is enough to recommend it as a watchable, if inferior and not-wholly-canonical entry in the series.

Terminator Salvation, however, should not be allowed in the door at all. There's just nothing that good in there; the action is flashy but utterly unmemorable and uninvolving, Sam Worthington and Anton Yelchin do their best to connect, but at no point does the story reward them or us or give anyone a reason to invest in the characters, and the ending is just plain retarded, as was the equally retarded ending it replaced. Certainly nothing here good enough to justify overlooking the staggering crimes of logic and story.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bourne to Cook

Check out our new video, a stand-alone parody of the Bourne movies. Then send it to everyone you know!

Jason Bourne cooks a quiche from kennybloggerly on Vimeo.





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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Transporter 3


Transporter 3 is an essential entry in the franchise, assuming you have been waiting for the Transporter to fall in love with the least charismatic girl in the world. Actually, their chemistry is so bad that it's more like he falls in like, or falls in tolerate. By the end, he can sort of stand her, and she's goaded and pestered him into having grudging sex with her that he doesn't completely hate.

The problem is not that she's useless, annoying, dumb, shallow, and constantly distracted by booze and pills, it's that the actress playing her fails to make any of this fun. A charming girl could make us like this idiot, and that would have been kind of brilliant, the perfect love interest for a franchise so wonderfully, unapologetically brainless. Unfortunately, Natalya Rudakova is not that charming girl.

A fan's first thought might be, who cares? After all, we don't watch this for the story, and the slo-mo easy-listening-scored love scenes in the first Transporter movie were painful too. But those scenes felt more compartmentalized. You could grit your teeth and get through them, and they never felt like they dominated the movie. Unfortunately, in Transporter 3, we are stuck in a car with the girl for most of the movie, and worse yet, there is nothing to occupy our attention but their dull banter about food and the green-screen backgrounds quietly sailing past the windows.

One of Luc Besson's strengths is setting up simple but high stakes dramatic situations with crisp, economical pacing that quickly pulls you in. This strength is not in evidence here, where we jump around to various situations we don't care about before finally meeting the Transporter fishing. The first big fight scene is thrown away in a flashback, which is a clever and subtle way to sap out what little tension there is -- in these movies, we know the Transporter will always win a fight, but watching it when it's already over just makes the danger even less significant. (In an odd touch, several henchman bones are obviously snapped in this sequence, but conspicuously lacking the crunching sound effects that would make them satisfying -- a PG-13 concession perhaps?)

The pacing is leaden, the action scenes are too few and too brief, and at least two-thirds of the movie (though it feels like more) is the Transporter driving his car while talking to boring people. The fight scenes are well-choreographed, but they are too short, and they're shot and cut in showy, annoying ways that make them less exciting instead of more.

For a franchise that revolves around a man driving a car, the car chases have never been the series' strongest suit. The first movie's first scene was its only decent car chase, and the second movie had several hilarious car gags, but no extended car action that was actually impressive. In this installment, new director Olivier Megaton seems to have pioneered new ways to make speeding cars look dull. Either that, or he shot a bunch of terrible footage and tried to save it in the cutting room with lame and desperate editing tricks. Here are some tips for him in case next time he wants to make his car chases good:

1) The best way to add excitement is not to get as far away from the cars as you can -- don't shoot the whole thing from a helicopter.

2) When you're choosing a bad guy car to chase the hero's black luxury sedan, maybe don't select a nearly identical black luxury sedan, especially if you're going to shoot the whole thing from a helicopter. I shouldn't have to constantly check the Audi and Mercedes logos to tell whose car I'm looking at.

3) I can tell when you speed up the footage. Are you trying to disguise the fact that you shot the whole thing at 10 miles per hour, or are you just fast-forwarding it for me because you know how boring it is? If it's the latter, then thanks, I guess, but maybe next time have the cars do more cool shit than swerve at each other on an empty road.

4) Two-wheeling between the trucks was a nice, appropriately stupid-in-a-good-way kind of idea. Now just don't surround it with worthless filler and then we'll have something.

On the plus side, my fondness for the first two Transporter movies has increased as I'm reminded how difficult it is to do fun, low-budget action. This car-bound, claustrophobic exercise made me wonder if they ran out of money.

There are a few decent set pieces here, including a well-conceived but half-assedly executed bike/car chase, a nonsensical but sorta clever underwater predicament, and a climax on a train that is hilariously awesome and far superior to the lousy airplane fight at the end of Transporter 2. Unfortunately, they're buried by the movie's many flaws.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Vlog Star #27: Come Back

In the season 2 finale, Alexa tries to convince a despondent Nate not to run away.

Come Back | Vlog Star #27 (Season 2 Finale) from kennybloggerly on Vimeo.



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So... what did you think?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Vlog Star #26: Riding the Rails

In the penultimate episode of season 2, Vlog Star gets all dramatic on you.


Riding the Rails | Vlog Star #26 from kennybloggerly on Vimeo.



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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Vlog Star #25: Betrayal

Vlog Star hurtles toward season 2's dramatic conclusion:


Betrayal | Vlog Star #25 from kennybloggerly on Vimeo.



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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Vlog Star #24: Trading Spaces

Nate and Alexa switch apartments. This episode is notable for having the most scenes and cast members of any single episode.


Trading Spaces | Vlog Star #24 from kennybloggerly on Vimeo.



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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Merv and the Mystery Meat

Oh, this is so not a turkey sandwich.*



The texture was almost like hot dog, only as you can see it's cut into wide, thick slices. The taste could also be hot dog like, though you could make an argument that it was not totally unlike ham. Then again the sandwich also had bacon, which confuses matters.

Any guesses?


*I ordered a turkey sandwich.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Fast/Fury

So help me, I'm looking forward to Fast & Furious. Justin Lin did a great job with the underrated franchise best Tokyo Drift, and even if this one is saddled with Walker and Diesel, whom I couldn't care less about, the buzz on the action is solid.



How retarded is the 3-D GPS system with race girl graphics, by the way?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tobacco!

Imagine this was your only source of information with which to form an opinion on a tobacco tax increase.





Conclusion: Smokers are gravelly old badasses and tobacco-tax supporters are horrible busybody douchebags.

DVD vs. Blu-Ray

A few months ago I met a woman at a party who worked for a major studio's DVD marketing department, and mentioned how I had felt no rush to upgrade to Blu-Ray. "Why not?" she asked. Which is the thing, really -- the studios think the question is "Why not?" when actually the question is "Why?" As in, why should anyone want to upgrade in the first place?

To even start to become interested, you need to own an HDTV of a certain size, and at the time, I didn't. That has since changed, and so I recently did upgrade to a Blu-Ray player. Even then, I would have been satisfied with an upconverting DVD player with HDMI output, except that it seemed silly to get something like that when it was possible I would get a Blu-Ray player eventually. I got the cheapest Blu-Ray player I could find that still seemed trustworthy. It doesn't support online features through BD Live, so I'm banking on the fact that when I want to go online to talk about movies, I will be satisfied to use my computer and not a cumbersome proprietary interface through my television. I hope I didn't make a mistake.

The Blu-Ray player does a fine job of upconverting DVDs and finally displaying content that I feel is worthy of our new TV screen. Last week we got our first Blu-Ray disc from Netflix and experienced our first true HD picture.

Watching Blu-Ray is kind of like getting new glasses. You're impressed at how clear everything is, how much detail you can see that you weren't even aware of before. Then again, you were never aware of it before, so was it really all that important? It seems to demand part of your attention to appreciate, so that part of your mind is always thinking, "Look how sharp everything is; I must remember to be grateful for this." All of this is beside the point in terms of actually becoming absorbed in a film's story, for which DVD resolution is perfectly sufficient. Still, it's nice.

The other thing is that Blu-Ray players are slow, almost comically slow. As in, it's actually funny that something could load this slowly and still be considered a viable consumer product ready for market. The thing must take almost a minute to boot up, way longer than we are accustomed to with DVD. Remote commands like fast-forwards, rewinds, and menu selections feel like they have a slightly delayed response. The high resolution playback of Blu-Ray is like a heavy train that takes an extra effort to start moving and to stop.

I like watching Blu-Ray from Netflix, but I'm not sure when I would start buying movies on Blu-Ray. One reason I buy DVDs is so I can show movies to my family, and Blu-Rays wouldn't play there, or on my computer, so right now it feels more limiting.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Vlog Star review

Managed to get Vlog Star a write-up on a video review site called Viral Vengeance. Thanks to TroubledYoungMan at ViralVengeance for his review and for watching a show even if it has no hits.

Professor YouTube explains Hamster on a Piano



Discussing this:

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Vlog Star #21: Arm Run Over By Car

This was actually the first episode I wrote for season 2, and I still think it's pretty great.


Arm Run Over By Car | Vlog Star #21 from kennybloggerly on Vimeo.


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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Wedding Video

The "groom's eye view" video. It doesn't include any of the big moments like the ceremony or toasts because I was a little busy at the time.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Vlog Star #20: Alexa Loses It


Alexa Loses It (Road Trip part 2) | Vlog Star #20 from kennybloggerly on Vimeo.


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Fun fact: The establishing shot of San Francisco was shot as I was completely drunk after my bachelor party, riding in Charlie's car across the Bay Bridge as she drove Mike back to his friend's place before dropping me off at my hotel. In this state, I still had the presence of mind to remember that I needed a San Francisco establishing shot and this might be my best chance to get one.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Vlog Star #19: Road Trip

As I embed this it's still showing no thumbnail, but the video works. Press play and see for yourself!

Boback might be interested to know that the majority of this episode (all the stuff outside the car) was shot on his and Sarah's wedding gift to us, the same gift that some of you may have seen me using at the wedding itself. (So, thanks ... um, I was going to say "Thanks again" but we haven't sent thank yous yet. So, pre-thanks, I guess.)


Prius Road Trip | Vlog Star #19 from kennybloggerly on Vimeo.



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Sunday, March 08, 2009

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Vlog Star #18: Target

Here begins a story arc that was conceived with the goal of opening up the world of the show and not having so many episodes where the characters just sit on a couch like they did so much in season one.

Filmed on location, guerilla-style, which obviously shows.


Target | Vlog Star #18 from kennybloggerly on Vimeo.



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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Facebook Fan Page


By the way, I've publicized this already on my many other outlets for internet self-promotion, but if you haven't yet, you should really become a fan of Vlog Star on our Facebook page. It's a good place to declare your support for the show and check out behind-the-scenes stills like this one.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Vlog Star #17 - Clay Mask

This episode was good for my skin.


Clay Mask | Vlog Star #17 from kennybloggerly on Vimeo.

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I Eat Food


Subway has the best street team ever.

Chimp off the Old Block


Ever since that horrifying chimp attack story, I just can't look at Clem the same way anymore. We let him sleep on our bed, and he looks so cute and harmless, but is there a savage animal lurking beneath the surface?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

License to Drive


Went to the DMV today to renew my license. Apparently it's been long enough that they want to see me there in person. Fair enough. I've started to get funny looks when I show people my ID. I can't remember what clerk looked at it recently and said, "You're twelve!" Stephanie laughed when she saw my renewal notice, which still listed my weight as 125 and my height as 5'9".

After I checked in and got my waiting number, I realized that I did not have enough cash to pay the renewal fee and had forgotten my checkbook. I went outside, spotted a 7-Eleven on the next block, made an emergency ATM trip and got back in time for them to call my number. That sounds boring now but it was a tense predicament when it happened.

And so in a few weeks I will have a new license with a new photo and a printed-on organ donor dot that I won't be able to peel off during my periodic bouts of worrying about my organs being harvested prematurely.

I've always loved my old driver's license picture. I got away with turning my head a little, creating a slight three-quarters angle that is more flattering than the required straight-on shot. Also, I was so excited to get my license that I look really happy. At the time I really liked it because it made me seem like a happier person than I actually was. It looked better than any portrait anyone ever took of me. I wished I could have my driver license photo blown up and framed.

Today's shot was less notable. I looked straight on and didn't buck the system. It's a wide-eyed, almost exaggeratedly blank stare. I purged my face of any expression. We'll see what happens. I hope I don't hate it too much.

*Updated with my old license picture.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hong Kong Airport Woman

Already posted this on Facebook, but here is the version with English subtitles so you can understand the tantrum without worrying that she is actually dealing with something important enough to justify her childish freak-out.

It's pretty great either way, really.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Vlog Star #15: Speed Stacking


Speed Stacking Worst Record | Vlog Star #15 from kennybloggerly on Vimeo.


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Is it speed stacking, cup stacking, or sport stacking? Who knows, really?

I really like this episode. I think season 2 is much better than season 1, where, admittedly, some episodes got bogged down in exposition/set-up and didn't always go anywhere comedically. I think this episode is a good example of how things have improved. It's faster, funnier, more visual and just plain more fun. Check it out.

Next week's is really good too.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Professor YouTube explains Where the Hell is Matt?

Professor YouTube continues in a semi-spinoff.



He's commenting on this:

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Vlog Star #14: Three's Company


Three's Company | Vlog Star #14 from kennybloggerly on Vimeo.



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This seemingly modest episode actually represents several milestones for the series... not only adding a new cast member in Shelly, played by Marion Kerr, but also in staging an apartment scene that actually required several setups! Moving from one area in the apartment to another actually forced us to reset the lights for every angle, just like a real movie. It was exhausting but I think you'll agree it was worth it. Just one more example of how we're raising the bar for season 2! Also, this is the first episode with Nate in a more minor role, and the first episode scripted by (and credited to) Dave Duman and not me.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Vlog Star Season 2 - First Episode

Season 2 of our little show is starting today. Please watch it! If you'd like to support the show by re-posting and re-blogging it, that would be great too. Although I'm very proud of the first season, we learned a lot about making a web show, what worked well and what didn't, and I think season 2 will be a lot better. If you haven't watched the show before, this is a good place to start, and the recap should get you up to speed.


Moving Out | Vlog Star #13 (season 2 premiere) from kennybloggerly on Vimeo.



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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Well Wed



I'm having trouble thinking about anything else today... I'm too enamored of our wedding slideshow that just went up.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Vlog Star Season 2 Trailer

I'm a little late on the season 2 trailer on account of, you know, getting married. But I'm still shooting for a Wednesday premiere for episode 1. We've taken the lessons we've learned making season 1 and hopefully created something that is better, funnier, and most important of all, something you will blog about and tell your friends about so we can all get rich and spit on you from our passing limousines. Wait, pretend you didn't read that last part. (I don't want to bother deleting it.)

Seriously, though, please watch our show, tell your friends, and let us know what you think. Thanks!


Vlog Star - Season 2 Trailer from kennybloggerly on Vimeo.


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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Chun Li



So, that's fine that someone decided to make a Street Fighter movie over a decade after the franchise has been relevant to anyone. It even kinda makes sense that they decided to base it around Chun-Li. Attempting to make a movie with too many protagonists was among the (many) things that derailed the last Street Fighter movie. Also, Chun-Li is apparently played by Kristen Kruek, so yay for Team Hapa.

But I feel like it's a mistake to build the movie around Chun-Li, and then make a trailer where you never see Chun-Li. That seems misguided to me. There are maybe two shots in this where you see her face, and even then she's not in a recognizable costume, and she's not terribly Asian-looking, so it's kind of hard to recognize her as anyone. M. Bison is also in this trailer, not that you'd ever know it. Vega is the only one you could pick out here without someone telling you who everybody is.

Yes, Chun-Li's chi-pao and hair buns are kinda cheesy looking, but surely someone could have designed a cool version of that. Because without it, you just have half a Chinese girl. And there is definitely no point making a movie about one character from an out-of-date property and then costuming her so that no one will ever recognize that character. In fact, this trailer seems desperate to avoid anyone ever making the connection to the video game.

Yeah, now this just seems dumb.

Maybe they should have continued the numbering from the last movie, so that this one could be Street Fighter II: The Movie. The phrase "Street Fighter" doesn't really evoke the game unless you have the "II" after it anyway.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Flight of the Conchords Lip Dub

Here's a Vlog Star video we did for the Flight of the Conchords lip dub Fansterpiece contest. I've uploaded it over there but it has yet to show up on their channel. Based on the comments it looks like this delay is common, or maybe they don't post all of them. Either way, it was fun to do and makes a good teaser for the season. In fact, it's such a good teaser it already has more YouTube views than most of our episodes! So, yeah.

I wanted to do one where Nate and Alexa are doing the lip dub on their webcam, and then Max enters the shot and Nate gets pissed off at him and tries to get him to go away (this during the long pause after the first Hiphopopotamus line). But that didn't work out for reasons of scheduling and exhaustion/laziness -- this came at the end of our shooting for season 2, by which point we were tired, all the way across town from our apartment "set," and Mike was five hours away from being available.

So instead we did this. This version doesn't really fit into continuity at all, but certainly the scenery is nicer than the webcam version would have been.


Flight of the Conchords Lip Dub / Vlog Star teaser from kennybloggerly on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

On Tom Cruise and Tropic Thunder

I am not a big Tom Cruise fan, generally. Not necessarily because of his Festival of Crazy these past couple years, which he is now attempting to correct via the most overtly desperate charm offensive in memory, or as it is known officially, the "Valkyrie Press Tour." I did, of course, share in the schadenfreude over the incredible spectacle of self-sabotage that is Tom Cruise unleashed, but the original reason I was not that into him is that he is one of those actors who always makes the movie about him, so that it is impossible even for a moment to imagine that you are watching a character in a situation and not Tom Cruise Acting.

Cruise gained a lot of acclaim for his role in Tropic Thunder last year, and now having finally seen the movie I am somewhat surprised to report that his performance is actually good, even with the burden of incredible hype that accompanied the movie's release. He is very funny in it and a scene stealer in a movie full of scene stealers. What the performance isn't, though, is uncharacteristic. Some people suggest that Tom Cruise is playing against type here. I submit to you that he is so good in it because he is playing exactly his type. The only way in which he is playing against type is that in Tropic Thunder, he is ugly.

Tom Cruise is at his best when he is playing a cocky showoff (Jerry Maguire, Top Gun) or intense megalomaniac (Magnolia, Collateral). Tom Cruise is at his worst in the Mission: Impossible series, where he has no real character to portray, and his amazing stunts play not as Ethan Hunt's heroic feats but Tom Cruise, cocky showoff, showing off cockily how many stunts he is willing to perform himself. So Lev Grossman, Cruise's Tropic Thunder character, is really just another Tom Cruise intense megalomaniac, only ugly. The fact that people think this makes the character different just goes to show how much slack people will cut an asshole for being good-looking. Cruise could play the same character as himself, and audiences would think, "How charming!" Play the role with a fat gut, hairy hands, a beard, glasses and a bald cap, and they think, "What a grotesque monster!" What is the much hyped dance scene but Risky Business With an Ugly Guy? Of course Cruise is good at it.

Still, it's hilarious, to give the man his due, and benefits tremendously from Cruise's intensity and even his charisma. Personally, I think Tom Cruise is even better ugly--it brings him down to earth (even though on another level it's still a showoff-y ploy). And I always like it when he's playing an asshole on purpose instead of by accident.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Gran Torino



Defamer was being really bitchy to Gran Torino for awhile -- even their posts about Oscar handicapping would include some aside like "at least that's one less nomination spot for Gran Torino." This baffled and annoyed me since my reaction to the trailer was much closer to this, minus the detailed knowledge of Clint Eastwood's filmography.

I guess Defamer had some issue about how standing up to criminals is fascist and wrong, and seeing movies about guys doing cool shit will turn everyone into vigilantes or something. First of all, vigilantism is a satisfying and cathartic fantasy, not to mention awesome and badass, so get over yourselves and let us enjoy our movies in peace, Defamer wet blankets. Second, Gran Torino isn't that kind of movie anyway, so much as it is a meditation on those movies, about which Eastwood now seems to have complex feelings. So give the man some credit and don't judge so fast, jerks.

Anyway, aside from a few heavy-handed moments and the inexperienced Hmong cast's sometimes shaky acting (though no worse than the likes of, say, Jessica Alba), Gran Torino is a pretty fine movie, and its take on the values of the older generation, and what it meant to be a man, really rings true. It's a good movie to watch with your dad, which is what I did.