Friday, December 01, 2006

Blogging: A Reflection

Creating and maintaining a blog has been a unique experience that personally signals the future forum of scholarly analysis and discussion. From the Third Row Center allowed the chance to engage in conversation regarding current events and persons in entertainment media, my academic study and possible future professional field. I was able to investigate with greater interactivity due to the wealth of information available online. With the integration of hypertextuality and visual evidence, the blog virtually connects readers to the post as well as the wider web community. One specific example, I discussed technological film changes within my online posts. Significantly, the internet itself is arguably the most important medium affecting cinema today. These essays are topically significant and supported by contemporary sources from numerous sites across the web.

With no prior blogging experience, there was some hesitancy and doubt as to the benefits of posting work versus turning in the usual stapled computer printouts. Much like any new activity, my blogging confidence grew as I explored the technical methods and quirks of Blogger. Initially, it was difficult to venture beyond the normality of endnotes and bibliographies to the hypertexual approach to reference. However, this prompted a sharpening of my investigative skills searching for credible online sources. My work was not only available to fellow classmates, but the entire internet population. This fact motivated my desire to examine media issues with a strong academic tone, but remain relevant for the common film or television viewer and online reader. The essay topics reflect the opinions of a Cinema-Television student and a dedicated observer of the industry.

I hope to continually shape a cleaner, more sophisticated prose to create seamless arguments. Though I have made improvement, there is still opportunity for growth, especially for a clear academic tone. Additionally, the unpredictable temperament of Blogger plagued my experience with the system. These problems may have been avoided if my HTML knowledge was up-to-date. Overall, the experience has given me a great opportunity to immerse into web culture while making substantial arguments in the media field. I plan to continue blogging as a method to examine and reflect media changes for the future.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Shonda Rhimes: 2007 USC Honorary Degree Candidate

In our society, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Robert Zemeckis are considered three of the most important and influential filmmakers, yet they share another praiseworthy distinction: recipients of honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degrees from the University of Southern California. Since around 1753, American universities have granted honorary degrees to Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winners, inventors, government officials, peace activists, and even a muppet. Each university may have different qualifications for nominees, but any honorand chosen should reflect the nature and values of the institution. Liberal Education and the Public Interest author James O. Freedman asserts, “in bestowing an honorary degree, a university makes an explicit statement to its students and the world about the qualities of character and attainment it admires most” (117). With these considerations, the alumni, faculty, and the student body of University of Southern California have begun the nomination process for honorary doctoral degree candidates for the 2007 commencement ceremony. Beyond football recognition, USC is one of the most culturally diverse universities in America and holds the oldest and most reputable cinema school in the world. Representing these notable attributes, alumna Shonda Rhimes is an exceptional candidate for a Doctorate in Fine Arts at the University of Southern California for 2007.

When choosing an honoree, USC uses criteria that takes into account the overall career and body of work of a given nominee. This may encompass various activities and honors, including scholarly recognition, previous accolades, professional output, social awareness, or even their familiarity in culture. While seemingly overwhelming, author Mike W. Martin provides the following foundation: “We might sort professionals’ desires, pleasures, and sources of meaning into three broad categories: craft, compensation, and moral concern” (21). Regarding craft, Shonda Rhimes has an motivating academic background led to her eventual compensation. As a scholastic institution, USC supports education acquirement and considers it in the honorary degree process. It is also important to examine the academic career of a candidate because “[professional] expertise is acquired through higher education and developed throughout a career” (22). The daughter of two parents in academia, Rhimes earned a B.A. in English at Dartmouth College where she expanded upon her love of writing. Though Rhimes worked for several years, the desire to pursue a writing career led to the cinema school at USC. Recalling the days at the University, Rhimes remarks, “I loved it immediately. [There] I discovered...what I wanted to do." In 1994, Rhimes earned a M.F.A in Screenwriting and received the impressive Gary Rosenberg Fellowship for her talent in the field.

Like many post-graduation, Rhimes had difficulty finding success in the film industry, yet remained motivated and progressively honed her craft. She established valuable connections within the field interning under Debra Chase, producer of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005) and The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004). The relationship allowed Rhimes the opportunity to pen the script for The Princess Diaries 2. Regarding the talent of Rhimes, Chase asserts, “She understands story. She understands how to handle emotion, action and humor and how to meld all of those pieces into one. She understands structure, which is critical to development, and she’s good with dialogue. Most writers can’t do all of that. But Shonda just gets it.” Rhimes received the big break writing the script for the HBO film Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (1999), a Golden Globe-winning biography about one of the first African-American movie stars in America. Following, Rhimes explored the feature film realm with Crossroads (2002) and the aforementioned The Princess Diaries 2. These films were critically frowned upon, but embraced by young girls for the messages about friendship and self-confidence. However, Rhimes became an important media figure with her most personal work, the hit ABC show Grey’s Anatomy.

Martin defines compensation as "social rewards in the form of income and prestige," both evident from the work of Rhimes (22). The recognition and awards for Grey’s Anatomy are commendable proofs that her work is culturally significant. Likewise, the acknowledgment follows honorary degree criteria since “the degree is given to elevate the university in the eyes of the world by honoring individuals who are widely known and highly regarded for achievements in their respective fields of endeavor.” There is no question that the American society is aware of Rhimes and her work. Grey’s Anatomy is currently the third most watched television show in America in its third season. Moreover, the show has been distinguished with nominations for numerous awards and winning Golden Globes, Writer’s Guild Awards, and Primetime Emmys. The success of the show has produced further career opportunities including a lucrative film deal with Disney and a new show on ABC next season. Awards and monetary achievements aside, Rhimes can proudly call Grey’s Anatomy her own. Having the initial concept, she is also the executive producer with control of every aspect from creating each character arc, overseeing editing, to even choosing the episode soundtrack. Embracing the freedom, Rhimes admits, “With this show, every episode is what was in my head. So, I feel very gratified creatively." She is the true voice of the show watched by approximately 23 million American viewers every Thursday night.

Furthermore, Rhimes is the first African-American woman to create and executive-produce a show in the Nielsen Top Ten. Ron Simon, curator at the Museum of Television and Radio in New York, remarks, "She’s the only black woman show runner on a dramatic show at this point on the major networks. It’s a tremendous achievement for a woman, African-American or otherwise." This feat deserves particular high praise and admiration since the industry is still widely dominated by Anglo-American men. Arguably, the most meaningful acknowledgments come from those who work with Rhimes. Actor Isaiah Washington, surgeon Preston Burke on Grey's, opines, "Shonda sees the world through the eyes of human beings. That's the bottom line." He credits Rhimes for providing a role that departs from the stereotypical "thug roles” typically written for African-American men. Likewise, co-executive producer Jim Parriot commends Rhimes through observing, “There's a great deal of courage in Shonda. She dives into the unknown. It's all forward motion with her, and that's very powerful. That's what makes her a good leader.” These extolments are noteworthy confirmations of her character and intellect especially in regards to work on-screen and behind-the-scenes.

To adequately credit Rhimes, it is necessary to see the underlying impact of her work on society as a whole. Martin argues that professionals have "inherent moral significance [that should] provide opportunities to make ongoing contributions on the well-being of others" (23). For USC, moral concern is another important factor in the deciding an honorary degree candidate. The university strives “to honor alumni and other individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the welfare and development of USC or the communities of which they are a part.” In interviews, Rhimes is constantly questioned about one specific aspect of Grey’s Anatomy: its multicultural cast. The main cast includes three African-Americans, an Asian-American, and a Mexican-American, making the cast one of the most diverse on television. Likewise, the week-to-week hospital patients and background staff are consistently varied in ethnicity. For Grey’s Anatomy, Rhimes follows blind-casting, hiring the best actor for the role by having no racial specifications in the script. Though initially met with slight protest, she was particularly insistent, “This assumption that a character can only be played if they’re White or Black or Asian in a certain way is ludicrous to me. I just feel there are lot of shows that are happy to portray certain ethnicities in a certain [stereotypical] light…In my world, we don’t do that." Grey’s Anatomy also stands out for its cast because the characters have well-rounded personalities. More importantly, their flaws go beyond the clich├ęd “race problems” common on television like drug addiction and violent gang activity . There are progressive interracial relationships on the show, like the pictured Callie and George, that have normal dating problems. The show promotes positive minority images, encouraging future depictions of diversity on television. Rhimes has personal hopes for the show, “If you’re watching TV in middle America and have never seen a person of color in your life, you are going to come away with a different perspective [watching the show] than what they’ve normally given you.” It is an admirable goal that has been favorably recognized within the industry.

While promoting diversity, Rhimes also depicts strong, well-rounded women with realistic flaws in her films and Grey’s Anatomy. Females spectators may use these characters as examples for how one should or should not act. The screenplays for Princess Diaries 2, Crossroads and Introducing Dorothy Dandridge all feature female protagonists who make difficult choices and deal with the consequences. Regarding television, the cast of Grey’s Anatomy features six major female characters who are well-educated and hold important rank in the hospital. Equally important, they all have different body shapes and have strong self-esteems. Eager for a change, Rhimes was annoyed with the routine female roles: "They seemed to exist purely in relation to the men in their lives. Women I knew were competitive and a little snarky and had their share of bad days. There wasn't a show out there about women who seemed like them." With Grey’s Anatomy, Rhimes reflects the real female population working in the surgical field, contrasting the "males-only" cultural assumption about surgery. This imagery is also supportive to women who are involved or interested in the career. The show addresses women's health issues like a recent episode featuring a patient dealing with breast cancer occurring in October, National Breast Cancer Awareness month. A commercial break also featured a Public Service Announcement about breast cancer performed by actress Kate Walsh, Grey's Dr. Addison Montgomery. Rhimes is dedicated to creating positive images for women and plans to continue with Disney’s All-American Girl starring Raven Simone and an untitled ABC pilot about female war correspondents. Lastly, Rhimes does not “bash” men to encourage her gender. She explains, "It's fabulous to have a partner. But if you don't, you're going to be fine. I think a lot of women spend a lot of time waiting to have a life until they have a man.” As an independent African-American woman and single mother, Rhimes herself stands as wonderful role model for women and young girls.

USC considers alumni support and involvement especially vital for the future success of the university. As stated in the Role and Mission of USC, “The Trojan Family is a genuinely supportive community. Alumni, trustees, volunteers and friends of USC are essential to this family tradition, providing generous financial support, participating in university governance, and assisting students at every turn.” Rhimes is a wonderful example of the supportive alumni network available for future graduates. She has encouraged female students to pursue careers in cinema. For example, Rhimes was involved in the inaugural event for Women in Cinema, a USC student organization. Along with fellow grads Josh Schwartz and John Singleton, Rhimes is a member of the USC Cinema-Television Alumni Development Council. Among other duties, the council works to help transition recent graduates into the industry through internships, interviews, or other placement. Elizabeth Daley, Dean of the USC School for Cinematic Arts, asserts, “[the council] is another demonstration of the close relationship between the school and its alumni. I can’t think of a better way to help guide the school’s future than to have this group share their wisdom and experience with us and our students.” Furthermore, Rhimes employs fellow USC Trojans like Susan Vaill, editor for Grey’s Anatomy and graduate of the M.F.A. Film Production program (2001). Conferring an honorary degree to Shonda Rhimes would acknowledge and honor her continual involvement in the university. Her work is outstanding proof of the Trojan Family tradition.

Though the work of Rhimes merits praise, undoubtedly some will oppose the nomination due to her popularity. Notably, Freedman argues against lauding famous persons as “the original purpose of honoring distinguished personal achievement has widely been modified—some would say blighted—by institutional desire to…garner a fleeting moment of public attention by awarding an institution’s ultimate accolade to mere celebrities--who are often famous principally for being famous” (126). He is greatly opposed to awarding honorary degrees with a seemingly selfish, superficial backing. Agreeably, it is unfair to focus solely on her compensation for the nomination. But as Martin points out, craft, compensation, and moral concern "are mutally reinforcing, interwoven, and fused, [and] sometimes compensation motives and goods support moral concerns" (25). Admittedly, Rhimes is extremely popular, but it is erroneous to assume USC would grant her honorary recognition solely due to her familiarity rather than her work and social contributions. Along with personal success, she is an outstanding illustration the great education and skills USC offers to students dedicated to their field of study. Her films and TV show integrate the values of the university as the Mission Statement states, “USC is pluralistic, welcoming outstanding men and women of every race, creed and background.” The promotion of gender equality and racial diversity on Grey’s Anatomy is the statement in application.

Still, critics may presume the honorary degree will be yet another award for the famous show. Others may question her nomination since she has only one significant piece of work. While Grey's Anatomy is extremely popular, it is should not be seen as another mindless form of entertainment on par with racy talk shows or wild reality shows. Rhimes is using one show to make a difference as she argues, “The way people look at people on television is the way they perceive the world…The idea of the show, part of it, is that we can change…the assumptions that people have simply by the images that they see in the background.” Regardless of critics, the desire to represent her personal, positive point-of-view on television is venerable in its own right. Furthermore, having only one considerable work should not undermine the worthiness of an honorary candidate. Krista Vernoff, staff writer for Grey’s Anatomy, contends, “What Shonda has done in terms of race…is revolutionary…And she does this in such an unassuming way. Not coming in to scream and change the world but coming in to reflect the world as [she lives] it. That’s going to have far-reaching ramifications.” If a single work is of exceptional craftsmanship or social effectiveness, the fact that it is unaccompanied should not be a deterrent for commendableness.

If honored, Rhimes would have the opportunity to speak to the graduating class of 2007. According to Freedman, the commencement address should “persuade our students and commencement guests that each honorand’s character and attainment were worthy of emulation and admiration” (132). Fittingly, Rhimes is an exceptional representative of anyone who has faced professional and personal struggles to achieve success without sacrificing integrity and core values. Unfortunately, our society propagates misleading myths like the “rags-to-riches" tale and "instantaneous" millionaire. This has led to generations having misconceived notions about their careers when they enter the professional world. For our graduates, it will be enlightening to hear from someone whose great accomplishments came from rigorous study, willingness to work, and unwavering dedication to her craft. Equally admirable, Rhimes is pursuing a career she enjoys while spreading positive messages to the public. While the world may not change over night, she is setting example by injecting personal values and a personal diverse background into her work. In presenting a willingness to change the face of television and film, Rhimes will hopefully persuade graduates and commencement guests alike that the voice of one person can make a difference, regardless of the professional medium. Lastly, her personal motto is universally honorable and applicable: “As long as I’m writing things that make me happy and I’m enjoying [myself], it doesn’t feel like work. That’s pretty much my only goal: to make it not feel like work.” For her outstanding contributions towards presenting and encouraging diversity and gender equality on television and film, USC should bestow its highest award to Shonda Rhimes.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Welcome to Tideland: Interactive Web Promotion

Along with television, newspaper, and radio, the internet is a platform for film promotion. Whether for a low-budget indie or studio blockbuster, motion picture websites are intricately constructed and often prepared months in advance of their theatrical release. These websites are endorsed in TV spots, trailers, and magazine ads along with the film. Why has online marketing become essential to the film industry? According to analysts at Pew Internet and American Life, the web is the outlet for approximately 73% of American adults or 147 million in the target “18-49” consumer age demographic, the group most likely to purchase a product. With this knowledge, a film can widen its possible target range through internet publicity. For promotion, exposure is a vital key to achieving box office success and studios are wise to pursue potential audiences considering the steady declination of moviegoers. A film site should firstly generate audience interest, but has the technological capacity to surpass the role of merely advertising. If constructed carefully, these sites can be an organic, informative web “community” that allows users to experience the world of a film within its cinematic text and through the film-making process.

The website for Terry Gilliam’s fantasy/drama Tideland (2006) utilizes the available internet technology to draw online users into the film’s environment. Emphasizing interactivity and visual design, the Tideland site attempts to secure audience interest by creating a symbiotic relationship with visitors. Professionally successful, the site is a 2006 Movie/Film Webby Award nominee, one of only three film sites recognized for "excellence on the Internet" by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences. The notice is quite significant considering more than three hundred films are released every year with accompanying websites. Likewise, it is an online accomplishment to be a “Movie/Film” contender as a Webby Award is considered “the Internet's most respected symbol of success.” The site deserves acknowledgment for its brilliant showcase of the aesthetics and themes of Tideland compared to the usual, banal online advertising. The site is promotionally successful because observers are provided with a creative experience that is arguably more interactive than the film itself.

The fundamental facet to every film site is captivation; they must intrigue visitors to the extent that they will tell others about the film and ultimately watch it in theaters. Site-building page Web Style Guide indicates, "[Entertainment] audiences need to be grabbed immediately...or they'll hop somewhere else in search of stimulation." Tideland especially follows the suggestion by pulling audiences into an virtual atmosphere that requires interactive participation. Upon entering the site, a haunting, stop-motion introduction video grabs visual attention while revealing the protagonist of Tideland and its aesthetics. The lead-in merges into a total Macromedia Flash environment that encompasses film information within embedded links. Following the criteria for Webby Awards, the site “communicates a visual experience and may even take your breath away,” a specification for the “visual design” category. Indeed, visitors explore by engaging graphic links like an old radio or a dead tree that reveal cast information and behind-the-scenes video clips respectively. A contrast to common online realms, observers can use the mouse to virtually move within the intriguing surroundings. Brief visuals independently appear and provide surprising moments for participants. On “The Attic” page, a disturbing image of a monster appears from the shadows. It is impressive given that users have no control regarding its appearance. Importantly, the range of interplay and the visuals themselves are centered in the content of Tideland. The monster is a “Bog man,” the villain of Tideland as shown in the clip “Prosthetics Team – Caligari” on the “Field of Dreams” page. Therefore, the lack of interaction with the “Bog man” is meant to produce awareness and possibly fear of the uncontrollable entity, mirroring its film role. With the exploratory freedom, prospective audiences become interested in the movie through virtual connection.

Internet technology has the ability to showcase film in ways impossible to accomplish in any other advertising medium. Webby Awards describes, "
interactive [elements are] what separates the web from other media. Their inclusion should make it clear that you aren't reading a magazine or watching TV anymore." Seemingly, the site prevails because it attract users to the film more than the film could have possibly achieve alone. To explicate, moviegoers are usually placed outside the film as third party participants. This is not to say audiences remain objective as they may connect with characters emotionally or visually through point-of-view (POV) shots. However, the website for Tideland allows audiences to virtually become the protagonist Jeliza-Rose. Pop-up, interactive doll heads encourage investigation of the atmosphere, addressing visitors with interjections like, “Let’s go outside Jeliza-Rose!” The film trailer and synopsis reveal the doll heads as the faithful companions in her journey and likewise, the accompaniment of online visitors. Within the surroundings, users literally share the POV of Jeliza-Rose as established by screenshots from the film. The site clearly “has a voice, a point of view” as praised by Webby Awards and additionally, “always leaves you wanting more.” The latter criteria is best represented on “The Railroad” page where online audiences are placed directly in front of a train in suspended animation. With virtual movement constricted, spectators are left wondering whether Jeliza-Rose safely moves off the tracks in the film. When placed in her shoes, viewers become unique participants in the world of Tideland. However, the site keeps visitors adequately surprised and bedazzled so that viewers will have to see the theatrical release to have all their questions answered.

Ingeniously, the element of discovery ties into Tideland’s theme of adolescent journey as Jeliza-Rose acclimates to her new surroundings through an imaginative adventure. According to Webby Awards, websites should “allow you, as a user, to give and receive. It insists that you participate, not spectate.” For Tideland, the website develops a beautiful ambiance that creatively simulates locations of the film. Online audiences discover the world of Jeliza-Rose while she “escapes the vast loneliness of her new home into the fantasy world that exists in her imagination,” as described by the synopsis. Visitors journey through five main pages: the Farmhouse, the Attic, the Railroad, Dell’s house, and Field of Dreams. Each page mirrors actual film locations as evidenced by production stills from “The Attic” and videos from “Field of Dreams” pages. Significantly, the site also provides aural stimulation to create a more visceral surrounding for audiences. Each page showcases different sound environments depending on the presented visuals. On the “The Farmhouse” page, the sound design matches the visuals of a woman rocking a creaky chair and hints at a world beyond the front porch with the faint bird tweets. Also, the haunting, melodic score for Tideland plays consonantly on all the pages, creating an interesting mood for the site as well as reflecting the film. This atmosphere allows the audience to gain a familiarity and closeness with the film that could not be achieved in 30-second TV spot or magazine ad.

Though the website for Tideland is technological savvy, key material is relatively easy to locate. Besides the aforementioned interactive aspects, the site offers different avenues for visitors who desire immediate access to film facts, extra media, or text materials. Following Web Style Guide, the site offers visual and text-based pages so varying audiences can participate and access the same facts on the website in alternative ways. Below the flash program, text links open separate windows that contain basic film information like international release dates, press images, and UK theater listings.

Clearly labeled, the links are located in the most advantageous area as natural eye motion moves down and to the right. For the non-exploratory user, the “access map” link reveals a graphic map of the five virtual environments with direct links to their interactive content. Moreover, Web Style Guide indicates, “Your users should feel comfortable exploring your site and confident that they can find what they need.” Likewise, the access map has content distinctly labeled as “Stills Gallery” or “Terry Gilliam Interview,” minimizing possible confusion about their location. Some users may be disappointed at the lack of a fully text version of the entire site. However, general navigation to content areas is relatively simple even for those without advanced technological knowledge. While the site’s structure accommodates different sensibilities, clearly the creators prefer visitors to interactively participate since great effort was made creating the Flash world.

Like most film sites, Tideland presents additional material like exclusive film clips, behind-the-scenes videos, and PDF files of production notes. This emphasis on media can be potentially risky since long download times, low quality video, and assorted technical problems can disrupt user experience. Media frustration may explain why only about 56% of the internet population go online to watch videos. However, the site artistically displays content by integrating high quality media with efficient, automatic download into the flash program. Visitors are spared from technological hassle all media is under the Macromedia Flash platform. The clips can sustain audience attention because they only last approximately thirty seconds to two minutes. This translates to great functionality because the site places “the experience center stage and the technology invisible.” Regarding content, the segments reveal the “film-making” side of Tideland featuring interviews with the wardrobe supervisor, the art director, and the gaffer as well as “on location” videos. Webby Awards stresses that site content “be engaging [and] relevant” for visitors. With success, the media on the site is appealing, but the most charming feature is “Postcards from Tideland.” In place of lengthy clips, the page presents an animated, out-of-tune player piano that “plays” music while featuring various behind-the-scenes clips where the music roll is typically located. On "Dell's House" page, there are relevant videos from director Terry Gilliam and Tideland author Mitch Cullin. The clips of Gilliam deliver insight into the mind that shaped the film and therefore the website. In one of the segments, Cullin endorses the film, remarking, “I trust [Gilliam’s] aesthetic far more than my own.” This encouragement establishes credibility for both the film and site. These bonus features are entertaining and meaningful, yet distinguish the site since the bonus material will not be shown in theatrical versions and may not be placed on the DVD release.

It is important to that the site content continually addresses a target audience. Though the synopsis reads “Tideland is a celebration of the power of a child’s imagination,” it is clear the site and film are meant for older audiences. Even with a young protagonist, Tideland is unsuitable for children because of the drug use aspect and possibly frightening imagery. Likewise, the site itself is inappropriate as a syringe filling with blood acts as the transition from page to page. Most young children could not appreciate the sophisticated web environment or have the patience to smoothly navigate through it. Additionally, the responses on the message board show a level of maturity and film knowledge not attributed to small children or even average film goers. Unlike most message boards, this responses contain deep film analysis or discussion of Gilliam's past work. Like Tideland, the site is aimed at a niche market rather than a mass audience. On the Q & A page, Gilliam explains, “With Tideland, one can deal with dark and disturbing subject matter, because we are not appealing to a big audience.” Instead, the target viewers fall into three categories: fans of previous Gilliam films, followers of the fantasy/cult genre, and audiences from the United Kingdom. The "Links" pop-up window provides links to Gilliam fan sites like Dreams and sites dedicated to Monty Python, arguably Gilliam's most popular work. Other links correspond with the fantasy genre and cult cinema, both of which many films of Gilliam fall under. Tideland and its site especially aim for the moviegoers in UK, because they have a historical fan base with Gilliam and his work. This may account for Tideland being first released in the UK. Furthermore, the "UK Cinema" link provides a long list of UK theater houses that will feature the film. While American moviegoers may feel excluded, it is wise to appeal to the UK audiences as they have repeatedly supported and watched Gilliam films in the past. Some may argue against catering to specific audiences rather than mass appeal because the latter may mean a large box-office revenue. But given Tideland's subject matter, it is smarter marketing to appeal to a smaller, sure-fire group rather than risk time and money banking on the uncertain revenue of a mass audience.

Due to the exceptional nature of the site, there are minor, problematic areas that should be adjusted to make a more seamless, user-friendly site. Their web environment is so unique that the various difficulties need be fixed so there is no detraction. Web Style Guide argues, “Repetition…gives your site a consistent graphic identity that creates and then reinforces a distinct sense of “place” and makes your site memorable.” The main problem seems to maintaining consistency throughout the pages. Some are more interactive than others and this inequality could manifest into possible boredom for users. There are several clips that have comparatively low quality video and sound. At least one media clip wouldn’t load from “Field of Dreams” page, lessening the overall user experience. Often, the Tideland score abruptly shut off when certain videos played and volume problems became distracting. Changes to the structure will only improve interactivity like eliminating unnecessary links like the wall on the “Piano” page. Surprisingly, some areas are outdated, like a finished publicity contest, and should be removed to avoid confusion for visitors. Most important, there is no information or links about the creators of the site which raises questions of credibility. This aspect needs to be addressed even though the site provided credible sources for the film. While these are relatively minor details, these awkward areas may glaringly stand out to visitors, because the overall website is extremely well-crafted. If these areas are reconsidered, the site will be ultimately stronger and possibly more effective to audiences.

Overall, the Tideland website has creatively presented and promoted the upcoming film with an engaging, beautifully-designed environment. The interactive freedom allows for a deeper connection between the movie and web community, hopefully persuading audiences to theaters. Internet technology was utilized to transform a basic marketing site into a fully-fledged virtual atmosphere. Users even have the opportunity to explore the world offline. A downloadable screensaver mirrors the site as described, “Enter the world of Tideland with this atmospheric screensaver, where surprises lie waiting in every corner.” The site has become more intricate and informative as the release date for Tideland approached, providing more clips and a Q&A section with Gilliam and online visitors. Additionally, the promise of promotional prizes and updates along with an open forum of discussion offers audiences a enticing reason to come back. According to the Way Back Machine, the site has been progressing and making additions since its creation in 2005, proving its viability as an organic, ongoing experience for visitors. Regarding Tideland, Terry Gilliam remarks, “I hope people are surprised, confused, delighted, and moved”—a feat dually accomplished by the online atmosphere. Successfully, the website for Tideland offers a unique experience and incentives to prospective moviegoers that work to forge a sustaining attachment to the film.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Taking the Information Superhighway to the Box Office: The Tricky Dynamics of Online Viral Marketing

With greater vitality, the film industry is exploring the power and possibilities of internet viral marketing to promote movies and hopefully, the next box-office hits. Studio executives are wisely acknowledging the potential of the internet, a media-ready format that arguably surpasses the marketing capabilities of radio and television. The success of a film's online marketing is often held against the popularity garnered by the website for the indie-hit The Blair Witch Project (1999). The unprecedented mock-investigative website is credited for the film's notable revenue. Audiences flocked to theaters eager to discover whether the film was a documentary or fiction, an ambiguity generated by the website. Earlier this year, the viral marketing and online "buzz" for the film Snakes on a Plane (2006) surpassed Blair Witch, leading many to believe the film was a guaranteed profit winner. When Snakes disappointed, film industry members questioned the effectiveness of the internet in movie marketing. Considering the marketing concepts of "virality" and "monetization," I commented on two blog posts discussing internet-involved film marketing: one presenting the errors of Snakes' viral marketing and the other promoting the internet campaign for the new film Borat (2006) which I argue will garner success.

Monday, September 11, 2006

But Wait, There's More! : Addressing the Trend of Multiple DVD Releases

Almost three years after the Lord of the Rings’ trilogy was completed, New Line Cinema has released another DVD set of the fantasy adaptation. The so-named “theatrical/extended limited edition” is complete with both versions of the films and six hours of additional extras. The previous film versions are the widescreen and the Special Extended editions previously issued as a trilogy two years ago. The news may be encouraging for the die-hard Lord of the Rings’ fans eager to keep the franchise in the spotlight and collect every "LOTR." But for many consumers, the news may be an unpleasant surprise since New Line Cinema sold the Special Extended DVD in 2004 as the definitive version with no hint of possible future editions. Now two years later, consumers must open their wallets once more if they want the ultimate Lord of the Rings’ set with previously unreleased professional documentary footage. With each edition of the trilogy priced around $50.00 to $85.00, being a Lord of the Rings’ fan or even a DVD collector is quite a financial investment.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is among the many
films in constant DVD rotation with multiple "special," "limited edition," or "anniversary" versions on the market. Christmas favorite It's a Wonderful Life (1947) is being release on October 31 with special double-disc treatment, despite having seven other versions available on But studios frequently reissue films due to public appeals. The public has requested different editions because of preference for the original theatrical version or desiring a choice between a cheaper, bare-bones film and its more expense, indepth version. The extensive DVDs often carry additional bonus materials, cast interviews, and behind-the-scenes documentaries that are worth the purchase, because they can create an overall richer film experience. Arguably, a film's many DVD versions allow a greater freedom of choice for the consumer.

But how many releases of one film can the film market really have at one time? Terry Lawson of the Detroit Free Press
argues that New Line is marketing the new Lord of the Rings DVDs to people who have already purchased at least one film edition. It is understandable that New Line Cinema would try to increase profit from the Lord of the Rings trilogy as the three films are in the top 11 grossing films of all time with a combined total box office gross of over $2.8 billion. But is it fair to the public? Lawson describes the DVD consumer as turning "cynical" and it is understandable. Studios seem be making a profit just by reissuing "tweaked" film DVDs months or even years after the initial DVD release. More significantly, studios usually neglect to inform the public of the possibility of future versions, allowing an unassuming public to purchase the first-run release. Why is additional material not released separately on a bonus disc, thereby avoiding a repurchase of an already owned DVD? Though each studio may have different answers, Matt Lasorsa of New Line Cinema explains independent release the new Lord of the Rings' footage is "legally impossible" because the film's actors only consented for the documentary footage to be used for DVD film versions. For the public, purchasing the new limited edition is the only choice available to own the exclusive documentary footage shot by Costa Botes.

Can a consumer purchase a DVD without worry that a revised, more complete version will pop up in the near future? Honestly, it seems impossible given the studios dependence on DVD sales for consistant revenue. And since the creation of DVD, it seems past and present films have special, alternate, or unreleased footage that didn't make it to the theatrical showing. But Entertainment Weekly writer Steve Daly presents the real question when discussing the popular DVD trend: Is multiple DVD release a form of public exploitation? Arguably, film reissues could be seen as such since they are primarily released to make more money off the viewing public. But there is a great difference between unnecessary versions of a film and those with additional, special features that give something back to viewers by taking them inside a cinematic world. Though the newest Lord of the Rings edition is firstly for profit, it is a worthy purchase for those who truly love the film. The documentary footage presents behind the scenes' antics, angst, and camaraderie that allows movie watchers to delve deeper in the world of Middle earth in a greater depth than the previously released versions.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

High-Def War Politics: Fox Announces Loyalty to Blu-ray

While perusing the neighborhood Best Buy or Circuit City, you may have noticed a small selection of HD-DVDs or Blu-rays among the many racks of DVDs. While the press releases updates about continuing "battle" of the high definition DVDs, common discussion of these next-generation formats is relatively fixed in technically savvy circles or with those involved in media. Many are focused on who will be the eventual winner of the DVD war, given that either Blu-ray or HD-DVD will be the next major format for recording, releasing, and archiving domestic and foreign media. However, there are already immediate ramifications present for film studios and film consumers that the everyday moviegoer should know before they take the high-def step.

One such instance was in a recent Reuters' article announcing Twentieth Century Fox's endorsement of Blu-ray. Fox is one of the oldest film studios with an extensive cinema library that will be the titles released in Blu-ray. Studios are wise to be taking an active role in determining the next media format, as the outcome will greatly affect their capital. Los Angeles Times' writer Rachel Abramowitz believes that studios are invested in the new technology because "DVD sales constitute 50% to 60% of the revenue on any given picture." With the constant reports of the financial downturn in media, it's only natural that studios are actively seeking to secure their futures. Fox isn't the only studio to back Blu-ray as Warner and Paramount are also, but the latter two dually plan to release titles in HD-DVD to widen their financial opportunities. However, Fox's Home Entertainment President Mike Dunn revealed that "[20th Century Fox] have no plans to release on HD-DVD," thus being the first studio to commit solely to the format. In doing so, Fox is risking the studio's future earnings, since there is always the possibility that HD-DVD will emerge as the premier media format. Fox's support of Blu-ray is bound to give the latter credibility and possibly greater support from other studios. But with the dependence on DVD revenue, no studio can afford to make the wrong choice for their future media format.

In addition, Fox's decision has some underlying implications for the everyday movie-watcher. According to the Digital Entertainment Network, 80% of American homes have DVD players or a compatible system, the target group for the high-def switch for televisions, disks, and media players. High-def technology is the natural progression of technology like the move from VHS to DVD and is better quality overall than the DVD. By going high-def however, the consumer may be losing the freedom of choice that comes with DVDs being the current universal form across media. For instance, those who have chosen HD-DVD technology will be unable to get compatible Fox titles like Kingdom of Heaven or The Usual Suspects since Fox is going the Blu-ray route. If more studios copy Fox's decision, one format could arguably overtake the other more readily because it would force the consuming public into a corner. They would have to buy the studio-supported format if they wanted to watch that studio’s films. But for the most part, many media analysts believe most studios will waver between both technologies until one emerges the victor. While this provides the studios with more security, it means some consumers are bound to pick the "wrong" format. As a result, have even less freedom as the emerging format becomes the main outlet for any following media.

One may wonder if the public has to choose between Blu-ray and HD-DVD; in other words, why can't we have both? Though it may be possible, media history has shown that opposing, incompatible media formats are very unlikely to coexist in public economy. Even though various media conglomerates have chosen sides, the average movie-watcher should hold off selecting either system until the outcome becomes a bit clearer. There is no doubt that Blu-ray and HD-DVD are both significantly better technologies than DVDs, but who knows which system could end up on top. Technology is a fickle medium that should be watched carefully, especially by those who do not have the money to invest in the entire high-def catalogue. Though it may be tempting to revamp one's theater system with the most current, state-of-the-art accessories, one may risk purchasing the "losing" format and being left with a technology that has no future.