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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Future or Nothing New?

Y'all may remember that before Passover I mentioned a cool discovery that I wanted to post about. This is that post.

Now let me start by saying that I'm of mixed feelings about what, if anything, this means. But whatever we make of it, it is still pretty cool, and worth discussing and thinking about.

I've long been a member of various online communities, but never was one to fully immerse myself in them. I've got a page up on MySpace. When I first started on the internet, back around '93, I started on AOSmell, like so many others have. I was certainly active in chat rooms and bulletin boards on there back then. Even before then, I used to log on to plenty of local BBS's when I was in jr. high or high school. So I guess you could say I'm no stranger to the online community, even though I've always been more into my "real" life than in any "virtual" one.

But Second Life is like nothing I've seen before. I guess part of it is that I've never been much of a video gamer, and I've also never played The Sims. Basically, it is an online community that is a complete world of sorts. Participants create avatars to represent their online personae. They meet each other and socialize, and participate in "parties," games, and other types of entertainment.

But one difference from previous online communities is that there is also commerce. According to something on the site a few minutes ago when I looked, it said that there was over $204,000 spent on Second Life today! And that's in real money. There are just under 200,000 "residents" currently (meaning over $1/resident spent today, of course). This also blows the mind somewhat.

But what does that have to do with us? (And yes, I'm aware that this is the third consecutive paragraph I began with the word "but.") Well, one of the hallmarks of Second Life, and a source of income, is that residents can "do anything" on the site. They are supposedly limited only by their imaginations. And they seem to treasure and value creativity. From one of the pages explaining the Second Life Creations:

Second Life is a place dedicated to your creativity. It’s about dreaming of something one moment and bringing it to life the next. Everything in Second Life is resident-created, from to [sic] the strobe lights in the nightclubs to the car (or spaceship) in your driveway.

And one of the relatively recent developments in Second Life has been the development of short films, entirely created within the Second Life "world." There have been a few "trailers" to promote Second Life. And then there is Silver Bells & Golden Spurs, the first original film "shot" in Second Life. The makers have no misconceptions about what they have really done:

Silver Bells and Golden Spurs is an exploration of the movie making capabilities of Second Life. It serves as a proof of concept for doing such, as well as the need for certain technical improvements.

And improvements it certainly does need. There are a number of awkward images, and/or rough movements. On a technical filmmaking level, the film also suffers on both directing and screenwriting counts. The camera's restless and repetitive spiraling moves are more distracting than anything else, and the poem that forms the film's voiceover narration is trite and silly.

Still, I am not here to discuss the weaknesses of the film, for they are not what I'm interested in. Rather, I want to talk about what Silver Bells means to us as screenwriters.

I've found that the internet offers numerous means for screenwriters to promote themselves, and most of us are not taking enough advantage of the opportunities. There are cheap and easy ways to build websites of our own. There are also blogs, MySpace, the upcoming StoryLink (now in beta testing), podcasts, and numerous other tools. But we also need to remember that we are screenwriters. So what better way to promote ourselves than with films of our writing?

We can create short films or trailers of our work (and if you, like me, don't want to also direct, find someone to partner with). There are plenty of outlets for showing the work. MySpace recently launched a film section, akin to its popular music section that has worked wonders to promote bands. We can upload our videos for free to YouTube and/or Google Video. You can even get them up on Atom.

Still, making a film can cost money. Even if you shoot on DV. And the money isn't always there in return. So what about a film "shot" without using actors, sets, film, DV, or anything else? And in an environment that fosters commerce in exchange for creative acts? Can Second Life offer a potential outlet of self-promotion for the developing screenwriter, and possibly be a source of a small amount of income at the same time?

I don't know. And in fact, I'm not even convinced this is such a new thing. It looks like it very easily could be something old dressed up in new clothes. I mean, digital animation has been around for a while, and that's essentially what Silver Bells is. I think that the "new clothes" here are a ready market for consumption and (perhaps) an easier means of production for the animation unitiated. Which in a way is just another step in the democratization of fimmaking, and the arts in general. DV, ProTools, FinalCut, PhotoShop, etc. These have all been things that helped level the playing field of arts production by removing many of the economic barriers.

So does it mean that there will just be much more crap getting made? Or does it mean it will be easier for creative people to get their visions before the people that they want to see it? I think both, probably. And though I am unlikely to invest much time in developing a film on Second Life, I still find the possibilities intriguing.

What do you think?

Hat tip to Jesse at The Writers Store.

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Blogger Rock said...

Hmmmm. still thinking over the general post as a whole, but must admit that second life place is absolutely intriguing!

11:53 AM  
Blogger Shawn said...

I can't wrap my brain around this Second Life thing. How, exactly, does someone make money from this? And what happens to your first life if you're too caught up in the second?

As for your question, I'm not sure if this or any other online innovation helps someone promote their work. I think the opposite would happen -- with so many people doing the same, you get lost in the crowd. True, cream always rises to the top, but are agents or executives really looking at YouTube for the next flavor of the month? Are assistants (i.e. future agents and execs)? I don't think so. I could be wrong, but the only way to get ahead in this business is through personal relationships. I don't think that will go away any time soon no matter what new technological wonder temporarily occupies our fancy.

9:18 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Shawn -- As I understand it (and I am not on Second Life, so I'm not 100% sure), people "buy" the Second Life currency (Linden dollars) with US Dollars. Then, for certain events, games, etc, on Second Life, they actually have to pay a fee. Once you collect Lindens, you may then cash back out for dollars.

Re: what happens to your first life, I'm afraid to even consider it! ;-)

And no, I don't think important people are checking YouTube. But I do know (and can list a few examples if you need) of "viral videos" that have garnered interest for their creators. YouTube and GoogVid have made it easier to transmit these viral vids, spreading the word and popularity. And quite quickly. They get emailed, posted everywhere, etc. People comment on them, and talk about them to their friends. Thus, buzz is generated, where it might not have before. And it inevitably comes to the attention of the "important" people. So I do believe that things have changed in that sense.

3:15 AM  
Anonymous Leif Smart said...

If you're interested in being able to make your own movies cheaply, you should check out the game the movies. At the basic level, its a sim like game that puts you in charge of running a movie studio. Within the game though is a movie creation tool, that can be quite powerful in letting you make your own movies.
I've included some links so you can find out more info about it

Review of the game:

Link to the Demo so you can try for free:

Link to the online site:

The last one is worth checking out. Its where people can show off the movies that they've made using the game, and gives you a chance to see what can be done.

Its certainly not super sophisticated, but in terms of ease of use, and being able to quickly put something together, it should do the job.

3:18 AM  
Blogger Rock said...

I bought that game "The Movies" then promptly sold it. I wasn't a fan at all. It started out fun, but the films you can make are so bland, and by the book, it just bored me immensely. As for youtube videos getting out there, I agree with Joel, the ease of use, and extended viewership (myspace anyone) does create a certain market, that thought may not be able to advance your career, can in some ways lead to a follwing. I've heard of a few guys who made these youtube films, that have used them to either finance other works, or to raise awareness of themselves within the industry.

And as for them being passed around, and creating a huge following, I have 4 now all too well known words for ya...

"I'm the Juggernaut Bitch"

6:01 AM  
Blogger Rock said...

Ironically, Variety just ran this article tonight...

Exex use amateur clips online to find the next hot show for key demo

After years of the Internet and videogames siphoning young men from television, networks are employing the tactics and services of sites like YouTube to win them back.
With viral videos and user-generated content populating the Web, the new philosophy among TV execs is this: Let the audience dictate what's hot.

For proof, look no further than the resurrection of "Saved by the Bell" on Adult Swim, the latenight counterpart of Cartoon Network, which is full of subversive toons.

On paper, "Saved by the Bell" seems an odd fit for a cable network ranked as the No. 1 draw for young men (outpacing competitors ESPN, TBS, MTV, FX). But since launching April 17, the Saturday morning kids favefave from the '80s has averaged 310,000 18- to 34-old men, a 35% increase over its current average.

Adult Swim's chief exec Mike Lazzo says he can't explain why the gamble is paying off.

"It must be those '80s haircuts and clothes. I mean, how can you not watch?" he jokes. But his reason for putting it on the air is solid.

"'The show is a huge hit on YouTube," he says. "My own development guys watch the 7 a.m. play on TBS and told me it would be a great idea to put it on. I refused until I noticed how much traffic clips from the show get online."

With the explosion of guy-oriented Web sites like YouTube, Break.com and Heavy.com -- a mix of amateur video and clips ripped from other media -- it's no wonder that programming execs have begun treating the viral video portals as what Lazzo calls "development tools."

"It's got enormous piloting potential," he says. He has already reached out to several from the online world for possible on-air collaborations.

The trend is significant because men in the 18-34 bracket are notoriously difficult to attract. Even guy-oriented shows like "The Office" and "My Name Is Earl" can't crack this season's top 10 shows in the demo. That's why scrappy cablers are eagerly trying to tap into the even scrappier sensibilities of the online world.

What's already working are shows that play to, and can be chopped up for, the online crowd: "South Park," "Mind of Mencia," "Hogan Knows Best" and improv comedy series "Nick Cannon's Wild 'N Out."

MTV2 is also making noise with "The Andy Milonakis Show" and "Wonder Showzen," both made up of funny bits that run between one and three minutes long.

"Guys are media nomads. They're platform-agnostic," says G4 president Neal Tiles, who is evolving the vidgame net into a broader-based space for young men. "This demo grew up in a multi-channel universe, so they've always had many choices. They're used to consuming life in bite-sized chunks."

G4 is readying several super-short shows that run minutes long for the network as well as for its non-linear plays. Tiles says it is the anarchic sensibility of the free-for-all Web sites that programmers are trying to target.

USA exec VP Jeff Wachtel is hoping his pilot for "eBaum's World" -- a clip show based on the guy's Web site of the same name -- is the kind of show that plays into that chaos. The challenge, he says, is to find a structure that works for an audience that resists it.

"It's a cross between 'Wayne's World' and 'Mystery Science Theater 3000,' so it's got an element of short-attention-span theater," says Wachtel.

Finding a series to pair with wrestling is "a big priority" for USA. Episodes of WWE attract an average 5 million viewers, a quarter of which are young men.

Says Lazzo: "There isn't a day that goes by where I'm not accosted by emails from my development guys with links from YouTube that say, 'Hey, we should try this.' Or 'Let's contact the guys who made this.' "

Even pay cablercabler HBO locked up the services of online comedian Dane Cook in the hopes of luring younger audiences and men .

"Targeting demos is less important to us than to ad-supported networks," says HBO entertainment toppertopper Carolyn StraussCarolyn Strauss. "But Cook is white-hot with college kids, who are our future subscribers. Getting to them is very important."

The one cloud hanging over the phenom is the issue of copyright. But the promotional benefits thus far seem to outweigh the costs.

While NBC has been quick to shut down the "SNL""SNL" clips that circulate online, VH1VH1 actually leaked highlights from its dating show "Flavor of Love" to the viral vidvid sites. The cabler wound up with an audaud of 6 million for the series finale.

But Lazzo says it is a double-edged sword. He knows viewers can find the majority of Adult Swim's shows content online in full length.

"I love and hate it," he says. "It's also nerve-wracking to see all your shows available on the sites. But I admit it, I'm on those sites every single day."

7:19 AM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Thanks for posting, Rock! I think the most relevant line to our discussion comes in the middle:

"Says Lazzo: "There isn't a day that goes by where I'm not accosted by emails from my development guys with links from YouTube that say, 'Hey, we should try this.' Or 'Let's contact the guys who made this.' "

7:42 AM  

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