Saturday, May 31, 2008

...and These Are the Professionals

Many a-year ago, and some 2500 miles away from the promised land of Hollywood, I had only my imagination and some parsings of information from Entertainment Weekly to suss out what it must be like to work on a real movie or TV show.  I imaged experienced professionals, at the top of their game, using their masterful skills and their massive resources to create these works of audiovisual brilliance, which were then beamed gracefully into our living rooms or shipped lovingly to a theater near us.

I'm not going to come out and say that's all wrong.  But I will say it's different than I imagined it would be.

The show I'm currently working on -- and I am loath to admit this -- is Legally Blonde: The Musical - The Search for Elle Woods.  (Talk about title-by-committee.  Any other details you want to add to that name?)  It begins airing this Monday on MTV and, remarkably, we delivered the finished cut on schedule - a week before air.

CUT TO: three days before air.  The day begins with a problem in the credits.  No, it wasn't a misspelled name or a mis-credited job title.  It was the order.  As in, "My name should appear before this person's name."  Petty, high school behavior?  Oh yes.

For the sake of not pissing off my co-workers, I won't be naming the people whose credits needed to be shifted; but I'll give you a hint: they were people who worked on Legally Blonde: The Musical - The Search for Elle Woods.

To fix this little problem requires recalling a dozen or so DigiBeta tapes from local facilities and from New York, the labor cost to make the fix, and then returning all the tapes to their proper destinations.  A few thousand dollars, dozens man hours, and a lot of eye rolling, just so that one person's name can appear three seconds before another person's name.

Here's a news flash for anyone seeking the glory of getting their name in the credits of a TV show: nobody cares.  You, some of your family, and a few friends are the only ones who are going to be watching for it.  And you're going to have difficulty seeing it when it's squeezed into 1/3 of the screen, flashing by for 1/2 a second.  The general audience only cares about two areas in the credits: 1, the performers they see on screen.  2-A, the director of a movie they love; 2-B, the creators of their favorite TV shows.  And they don't even necessarily care about area 2.

Once we got past the credits issue in the morning, we were confronted with a new issue in the evening.  And honestly, folks, I can't even describe what that issue was, because it didn't make any sense to me.  Yes, I've dedicated six months of my life to this show, but whatever the problem was is still beyond me.  It had something to do with information that appears on the screen at various points during the show.  And three days before the show was set to air, someone finally figured out that something was wrong there.  Let me explain why this should not have been such a last-minute discovery...

The way it works on a reality show is, you send numerous cuts of each episode out to numerous people.  These people represent the network airing the show, the production company creating the show, some lawyers, some other dudes, and, in the case of LB, some of the people responsible for making the stage play.  In the case of episode 1 of LB, some 35 people have viewed 10 cuts of the show, going all the way back to March 14.  But it wasn't until the Friday before air that someone noticed this particular problem.  Which meant that I and several other people were stuck at the office until about 9:30 on a Friday night... which actually isn't such a long work day compared to a lot of other nights on a lot of other shows I've been involved with.  All so that you, our beloved audience, can enjoy 43 minutes of solid entertainment, and 17 minutes of commercials.  (Buy things!)

And I love it.  Complain though I may, I secretly love it.  Perhaps I'd rather be on other shows, and perhaps I'd rather have different job responsibilities, but I'm always glad to be working on a show at all.  When my family and friends strain their eyes to see my name on the screen for 14 frames, I know it's all been worth it.  Plus the paychecks; I like those too.

To see if you think it was all worth it, tune into MTV at 10 o'clock on June 2.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Things That Are Hooked Up to My TV (And Things That Will Be)

Netflix has officially unveiled their long-awaited set-top box.  And according to the review at Wired, it turned out spectacularly.

For those of you who don't have Netflix (or for you Netflickerers who haven't been paying attention), they've been offering the "Watch Instantly" feature on a steadily increasing number of movies.  At first, the only movies you could Watch Instantly were junk you'd never heard of - non-classic oldies, public domain schlock.  But they've gotten to the point where a lot of new, top-tier releases are available immediately.  They're working very hard toward the ultimate goal of all movies being available for instant viewing, on the day of release.

There have been three major problems with this service up to this point:
  1. You do not download the movies, you stream them.  With internet service prone to the occasional traffic congestion, this can mean stuttering or prolonged pausing in your movie-viewing experience.
  2. The service is not Mac compatible.
  3. You have to sit in front of your computer to take advantage of this option.
Obviously, the release of this new box takes care of those last two points.  But the greatest strength of this box?  You use it to watch movies for free.  Yes, free!

Ok, not free.  "Free" in this case means "at no additional cost."  You continue to pay for your Netflix subscription, which, by the way, is one of the best-value consumer services in the world right now.  You will also need to continue paying for your high-speed internet access, which, since you're reading this article online right now, probably won't be a problem for you.  Other than that, you pay a one-time $100 price to own the box -- more than a DVD player, less than every other current video player.

This, folks, is a great deal.  And my reflex reaction is that it's a no-brainer that I should get it.  But then, I think of all the other stuff hooked up to my TV, and I wonder if another set-top box is really what I need.

Just a couple days before the official unveiling of the Netflix box, I was thinking of ways to consolidate all the stuff hooked up to my TV.  I'm kind of an Apple guy, so I was thinking of how to apply their wares to my entertainment center.  The Apple TV is a contender for my master plan; but there are snags with that device which are holding me back from getting it.  First of all, Apple charges too much for both buying and renting movies and TV shows... especially in light of this new Netflix device.  I already own a Mac mini that could be converted to similar usage as the Apple TV, and also probably offers a little more versatility.  So the Apple TV is probably out.

Unless they add a Blu Ray drive to the Apple TV.  Then you'd have a device that can manage all your digital media, and have hi-def disc capabilities.  But I still doubt I'd ever rent or buy movies from iTunes.

Which is why Netflix needs to get over this Apple incompatibility issue it's having, and allow me to use an Apple TV to watch their streaming movies.

In a perfect world, the Apple TV would have a huge hard drive and a Blu Ray player.  It could act as my satellite receiver, my DVR, my Netflix player, and play all of my DVDs and Blu Rays.  Scratch that; it would import my DVDs and Blu Rays, creating a digital library much like iTunes does with my music.  But that's not going to happen.  Not in the realm of legality, anyway.

I would settle for Blu Ray and Netflix streaming capabilities on the Apple TV.  If it could do that, I would pay up to $400 for it.  (Current retail price of a 40 GB Apple TV: $229.)  Barring that, the Netflix box will probably be the way to go.  I'll start clearing room for an 8th remote in my remote control drawer.