Archive for film
Yesterday, I was very excited to launch the Media Impact Project, which aspires to be a global hub for the best research on measuring the impact of media. Supported by $3.25 million in initial funding from the Gates and Knight Foundations, I’m optimistic that the Norman Lear Center can help make media more accountable to audiences and contribute to a better understanding of the role that media plays in people’s lives.
The New York Times picked up the story and I was thrilled to see reporter Michael Cieply focus on this aspect of the program:
to provide tools on an “open-source” basis, putting socially minded nonprofit groups on a more equal footing with corporate advertisers, who use sophisticated, but expensive, measurements.
As Bill Gates pointed out recently in the Wall Street Journal, accurate measurement is the key to innovation. Without benchmarks, we don’t know where we’re going. Because media is such a pervasive presence in human life, we need reliable systems for measuring its impact. It’s difficult work, as our funders have pointed out, but with the rise of social media networks and the prospects of big data analysis the academy has an unprecedented opportunity to step up and to provide mechanisms for measurement untainted by profit motives.
The entertainment industry is notorious for adjusting its numbers to service an often inscrutable bottom line. And all of us – including everyone who variously produces or consumes media content – have been ill-served by cookie-cutter audience segmentation techniques and panel-based research methods that cannot account for what’s happening in the “long tail” of our global cultural economy. The insidious audience segmentation techniques that valorize age, race, gender and income over every other facet of human identity have contributed to a media system rife with stereotypes about how humans tick. (You can find out more about my thoughts on this in this TED talk.) The awe-inspiring data sets emerging from social media networks offer us the opportunity to understand ourselves, and our engagement with media, in a far more nuanced way.
My vision here? Ultimately, I want media makers to have the resources to make data-driven decisions. Rather than depending on their “gut” and random comments from their kids and colleagues, I want them to grapple with meaningful feedback information that demonstrates how real people have engaged with their work and what effects that interaction has produced.
I also want media makers to have a far more sophisticated and detailed understanding of their audience’s needs, values and taste. For me, it’s an issue of respect. I want our media environment to be respectful and responsive to the needs of global audiences, not just a few prized, but deeply misunderstood, demographic groups.
Looking for a job? The Media Impact Project is hiring! Find out more.
Created by: Paralegal.net
Big thanks to Peter Kim for alerting me to this great new infographic about Hollywood’s convoluted history with piracy and its battle to embrace and defang new technologies.
One of the best cinematic experiences I’ve ever had was watching Wim Wenders’ new 3D film about dancer/choreographer Pina Bausch. I was moved by his interview on NPR, where he explained that he’d been intending to make a film about Bausch’s work for several years, but he just couldn’t figure out how to do it . . . until he watched a 3D film. He felt that the new technology would allow the audience to “be in the same water” with the dancers, and let me tell you, when he achieves that, the effect is blissfully visceral. Bausch’s work deals quite dramatically (often violently) with power relationships, gender divides, misunderstanding, affection: to be in the physical midst of all that motion and emotion is intoxicating.
So. It’s in theaters now. But not for long! See it while you can in 3D . . .
During a recent trip to Seattle, I finally had a chance to visit the Experience Music Project, Paul Allen’s eccentric Frank Gehry-designed museum committed to Allen’s passions: rock and roll, digital technology, science fiction and the geekier side of American pop culture. A little tear welled up in my eye as I drifted through the somber Nirvana exhibition, but the highlights of my trip were to be found in the Sci-Fi wing of the museum.
The highly interactive Avatar exhibition was a delight to experience: I was not the only one who had a hard time tearing myself away from the interactive table-top, which allowed you to shuffle through cards that triggered the retrieval of multimedia resources on the making of Pandora. I was also smitten by the fact that they let museum visitors try out Jim’s handheld virtual cameras, which he used to shoot scenes with actors after they already went home. It reminds you how magical motion capture really is, and I’m sure it puts the fear of Jesus in actors who thought they could never be replaced. I’m sure the gadgets installed at the museum are dumbed-down versions of Cameron’s cool invention (the zoom button felt like something circa 1972), but wow – it’s a brilliant way to give fans a taste of the creative process behind something they love.
I also could NOT wipe the smile off my face as I wended my way through the exhibit devoted to horror. Can’t Look Away: The Lure of Horror starts off with a descent in a soulless spiral stairwell, lined with pictures of people screaming. Once you land in the exhibit you realize that all those people are visitors who visited the “Scream Booth,” which gives everyone an opportunity to screech like Janet Leigh or Drew Barrymore. Such fun.
I also made an idiot out of myself in the “Shadow Monsters” interactive installation. As you move various parts of your body at various speeds, your projected shadow is transformed into a variety of monstrous forms. It’s pretty addictive but, man, I was little disappointed that I couldn’t get a decent shot of my monstrous shadow. I would have frightened you.
I knew I had to write something in response to A. O. Scott’s Sunday New York Times piece about all the movies out right now which give an insider’s perspective on industries that we find fascinating. Moneyball and Margin Call were two of the films that inspired him to write about our perennial interest in lifting the veil and seeing what’s really going on inside baseball and Wall Street.
I don’t think the irony was lost on Scott that we like to turn to pieces of fiction in order to get the real story. And some poststructuralist scholars might tell you it’s as good a place as any to look for the truth. But I don’t think that Scott went as far as he could in establishing the tremendous power that commercial storytelling has in influencing individual attitudes and, if it’s enough of a cultural juggernaut, public opinion. We may not care to admit the degree to which our knowledge of the Holocaust, for instance, is dependent on Hollywood’s depiction of it, but often these well-produced, tightly scripted fictional narratives can do more than entertain us for a couple hours, they can fill in the blanks in our knowledge. Just think about how much you learned about global pandemics in Contagion, cancer in 50/50, the founding of Facebook in Social Network and Jim Crow in The Help… Read the rest of this entry »
Soon after presidential candidate Michele Bachman pronounced the new cervical cancer vaccine “dangerous,” public health officials began shaking their collective heads.
One expert from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which supports the use of the vaccine, told the New York Times, “These things always set you back about three years.”
Pronouncements on screens large and small by recognizable people — whether they are actors, musicians, politicians or the growing ranks of reality TV celebrities — can have an impact on public opinion completely out of proportion with their expertise.
Whether its history or science, that’s one reason people get very nervous about feature films — fictional films — that try to grapple with real-life issues and events. There has been a flurry of news coverage about the accuracy of the hit film Contagion, which provides a gripping illustration of what could happen if a global pandemic occurred. Read the rest of this entry »
In April of this year, I attended Fractal’11, a truly unique conference in Medellin, Colombia, that explored the convergence of fiction, art, science and technology. The event was the perfect forum for me to talk about my winding career path, which began in an English PhD program, meandered through a Web start-up and an international multimedia company and deposited me, quite happily at the Norman Lear Center.
One of the many fascinating themes of the conference (I explored several others here) was the appeal of infotainment, material that serves two seemingly unrelated purposes: to occupy attention agreeably (as the Oxford English Dictionary defines “entertainment”) and to transmit practical information that may just contribute to your survival.
My talk about Entertainment as Virtual Reality focused on the ways in which entertainment – catchy pop songs, video games, movies, opera, toys, etc. – could be understood as simulations, little virtual reality machines that allow us to test our ideas about the world in safe, artificial spaces. Regardless of how distracting a cultural object may be, it is also a powerful transmitter of information about our world, and it can have a surprisingly profound impact on our lives well outside the movie theater, concert hall or American Girls store. Read the rest of this entry »
My seventeen year-old cat died a week and a half ago and so I found myself in need of some cinema therapy.
I’ve always argued that people who think of entertainment as simply escapist fare are not being honest with themselves. Yes, we use entertainment in order to check-out of our present situations, but, quite inevitably, we step into another world, one with some pretty clear connections to the world we live in, and we can’t help but use the time we spend in those virtual realities (like movies and games and concerts) to test some of the premises that guide our lives outside the cineplex, game or concert hall.
Sex and death are the bread and butter of compelling storytelling, from The Odyssey to Avatar. That tradition takes on new hues in Beginners, the new film by Mike Mills that features a thoroughly beguiling performance by Christopher Plummer, who plays a man in his mid-seventies who comes out as gay. Through constantly shifting chronologies and flash backs, the film addresses his sexual awakening and his imminent death simultaneously, making both more poignant. We’re not allowed for one moment to think that this film isn’t about death (his son, played by Ewan McGregor, is packing up his father’s house as the film opens), but in my melancholic state, it was oddly comforting. I realized that what I was longing to escape from was not the subject of death, but my lonely slog through it. It was a relief not only to see other people grappling with it on screen, but to be among 100 strangers in a room who were going through the emotional obstacle course with me. Read the rest of this entry »