Quote: Netflix’ Open-source Alt-Distro Biz

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With the launch of a streaming-only option, many Netflix subscribers (including this one) will no longer say “and now the envelope please.” It’s a red-letter day for online movie distribution without, um, the red letter. What will happen to the post-office once their largest consumer of first class postage goes completely digital? And for that matter, might the move affect broadband rates? Who cares? It took 10 years longer than expected but “convergence” is upon us that’s to deft hacking of existing systems…

from Netflix?s Move Onto the Web Stirs Rivalries

?Netflix used an open-source network, the U.S. Postal Service, to launch an alternative distribution business without asking anyone for permission,? said Tim Wu, a Columbia University law professor and author of ?The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires.? ?Now they are using another open-source network, the Internet, to transform the business. It is much easier for Netflix to change, because they don?t have to undergo a kind of religious conversion like media companies will have to.? ? New York Times

It leads what to ponder what other open-source systems one might hack to create a disruptive (read: independent) means of media distribution. Let’s get there before Netflix then create a bidding war between them and Google for our inevitable acquisition. I’ll purchase a cool, crisp pint of ale (or it’s digitally transferable equivalent) to the best idea to hit the comments.

Sonoma’s Secret Societies

Secret SocietyI received an email from the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance today and happily clicked through because I like my spam paired with wine and (full disclosure) the organization is a client of mine. In it was an invitation to join the Sonoma Valley Grapes and Wine Society, which affords one all sorts of amenities and exclusive arrangements devised to complement one?s wine country lifestyle. Seeing as my schedule leaves more style than an actual life at present, my societal needs are a might bit more circumspect. I?m more inclined to join a ?secret society,? one where no one knows anyone, never shows up anyway and pays dues directly to me. You can join but you must first file and application fee. How much? It?s a secret. Pick a number and I?ll tell you if it needs to be higher. And trust me, it needs to be higher.

Sonoma is chockablock with secret societies. Pick any proclivity, profession or passion and there are likely a few souls huddled around a candle, going through the motions of some ritual baloney in a wine cave near you. Weird? Sure. But effective ? secret societies have long been a means to get business done, particularly when it comes to creating puppet governments or re-jiggering the banking system. They?re also good for getting one drunk.

?Press Club? was my gang?s ill-fated attempt at a secret society, which failed miserably because, A) journalists can?t keep a secret and B) we were overly social and well-lubricated in so doing. Turns out, drinking and writing only go well together in the movies and our society began to fray faster than you could order a ?dyslexia and soda.? Also, our password was ?swordfish,? which accounted for the Marxists who frequently overran us (ever try to clean a greasepaint mustache off a pint glass?).

Among our Sonoma?s other secret societies is my fan club. I bet. I mean, I know they?re out there yet no one publicly claims membership ? the better to protect the shrine to me, I suppose. In fact, I communicate to them through this column ? take the first letter of every sentence and decipher the anagram. I don?t mind revealing how to do this for only true secret society fan club members would bother to take the time. But you non-secret-society-fan-club-members are thinking about it now, aren?t you? That?s the first step in the initiation process, which is followed by the ?passing of the cash,? an ancient ritual that involves large bills, a paper bag and a secret drop location (P.O. Box 653).

Of course, the best secret societies are those that come with a decoder ring and a membership badge. I?m personally a fan of any group whose sacred accoutrements can be found in a box of Cracker-Jacks. The one?s that require blood oaths, pledges to supernatural characters or the occasional assassination, not so much. Do such shadowy and clandestine groups rule Sonoma? Meh. Would it be cool if they did? Yes, but only in the motion picture version. It would be ?The Da Vinci Code? meets ?Sideways? with a little ?Eyes Wide Shut? and ?Dead Poets Society.? It would consist of a single scene of Sonomans reading cryptograms aloud, in a wine cave, naked, while emphatically not drinking merlot. Typical weekend, really.

If your secret society wants to bankroll this film do not bother the Sonoma Film Society ? bother the Secret Sonoma Film Society, a shadow operation that hosts the Secret Sonoma Film Festival. The group is so secretive that it?s said even the credits are expunged from the films they screen. No one knows who the members are, not even the members. Sometimes, members don?t even know they are members. I know I don?t and if I did, I couldn?t tell you.

Sonoma Secret Society

Sonoma Secret Society

I received an email from the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance today and happily clicked through because I like my spam paired with wine and (full disclosure) the organization is a client of mine. In it was an invitation to join the Sonoma Valley Grapes and Wine Society, which affords one all sorts of amenities and exclusive arrangements devised to complement one’s wine country lifestyle. Seeing as my schedule leaves more style than an actual life at present, my societal needs are a might bit more circumspect. I’m more inclined to join a “secret society,” one where no one knows anyone, never shows up anyway and pays dues directly to me. You can join but you must first file and application fee. How much? It’s a secret. Pick a number and I’ll tell you if it needs to be higher. And trust me, it needs to be higher.

Sonoma Secret Society is Real

Sonoma is chockablock with secret societies. Pick any proclivity, profession or passion and there are likely a few souls huddled around a candle, going through the motions of some ritual baloney in a wine cave near you. Weird? Sure. But effective – secret societies have long been a means to get business done, particularly when it comes to creating puppet governments or re-jiggering the banking system. They’re also good for getting one drunk.

“Press Club” was my gang’s ill-fated attempt at a secret society, which failed miserably because, A) journalists can’t keep a secret and B) we were overly social and well-lubricated in so doing. Turns out, drinking and writing only go well together in the movies and our society began to fray faster than you could order a “dyslexia and soda.” Also, our password was “swordfish,” which accounted for the Marxists who frequently overran us (ever try to clean a greasepaint mustache off a pint glass?).

Among our Sonoma’s other secret societies is my fan club. I bet. I mean, I know they’re out there yet no one publicly claims membership – the better to protect the shrine to me, I suppose. In fact, I communicate to them through this column – take the first letter of every sentence and decipher the anagram. I don’t mind revealing how to do this for only true secret society fan club members would bother to take the time. But you non-secret-society-fan-club-members are thinking about it now, aren’t you? That’s the first step in the initiation process, which is followed by the “passing of the cash,” an ancient ritual that involves large bills, a paper bag and a secret drop location (40 4th Street).

Of course, the best secret societies are those that come with a decoder ring and a membership badge. I’m personally a fan of any group whose sacred accoutrements can be found in a box of Cracker-Jacks. The one’s that require blood oaths, pledges to supernatural characters or the occasional assassination, not so much. Do such shadowy and clandestine groups rule Sonoma? Meh. Would it be cool if they did? Yes, but only in the motion picture version. It would be “The Da Vinci Code” meets “Sideways” with a little “Eyes Wide Shut” and “Dead Poets Society.” It would consist of a single scene of Sonomans reading cryptograms aloud, in a wine cave, naked, while emphatically not drinking merlot. Typical weekend, really.

If your secret society wants to bankroll this film do not bother the Sonoma Film Society – bother the Secret Sonoma Film Society, a shadow operation that hosts the Secret Sonoma Film Festival. The group is so secretive that it’s said even the credits are expunged from the films they screen. No one knows who the members are, not even the members. Sometimes, members don’t even know they are members. I know I don’t and if I did, I couldn’t tell you.

Rated F: When Failed Films find Redemption

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?Failure? is the new F-word. In recent years, the notion of failure has become something of an academic and media flashpoint with everyone from Malcom Gladwell to FailCon 2010, a convention celebrating entrepreneurial failures, pondering the positive possibilities of blowing it. No one, however, seems to blow it with higher entertainment value than filmmakers, resulting in many an effort justifiably rated ?F.? For some, this is something of a blessing as is the case with the legendary flop, Troll 2, which has not only found redemption as a cult film but also warranted examination in a recently released feature documentary.

Best Worst Movie, released on DVD this month by Docudrama Films, examines the ill-fated, pseudo-sequel to horror-fantasy film Troll and the cult following that has developed in the intervening 20 years. That the second Troll film is related to its predecessor only in title (thanks to canny distributors eager to capitalize on the minor success of the original) is the least of the issues facing Troll 2 and director Michael Paul Stephenson examines it with an ennobling tenderness. As well he should ??as an aspiring child actor, Stephenson played the film?s hero, a whining 10-year-old boy whose family?s house-swap is blighted by goblins (of course, no actual ?trolls? appear in the film).

The New Yorker heralded Stephenson?s work as ?hilarious and sad?priceless,? which is entirely merited. His cinematic post-mortem?presents a cogent case for why certain, truly terrible films become beloved cinematic fetish objects. The secret ingredient? Earnestness. A rotten flick produced with total sincerity and a commitment to its asinine premise stands a chance of scoring a half-life in midnight screenings and breathless approbation from movies bloggers. The only irony allowed is that brought by the audience itself. It?s an odd pas de deux between the viewer and the viewed, wherein derision and adoration begin to blur and somehow over the course of a film?s run-time, catharsis and redemption is found by both audience and artist.

In this scenario, filmmakers must come to accept that their artistic intentions are irrelevant when a cult takes ownership of their work and uses it to foment community, no matter how farcical their objectives. The audience, for its part, goes from merely enduring a work to endearing it, committing its every nuance to memory and frequently staging re-enactments of pivotal scenes, as Best Worst Movie reveals on several occasions. Then, at some point, the cult?s ironic pose melts away like a sugar coating, and the bittersweet truth that some Quixotic schmuck poured his savings and soul into a piece shit becomes distastefully evident. Too committed to turn back, the audience swallows this sad fact, eulogizing good intentions while enshrining failure.

Be assured making crappy movies (with heart) is not a recommended career move for would-be auteurs. It is, however, cause for reflection particularly since self-reflection on the part of some filmmakers seems so hard won. The Room, which, like Troll 2, has had numerous screenings (including one last week at Carnegie Mellon University no less) is a such a steaming pile of ego-aggrandizement that director Tommy Wiseau, tellingly, claims that it was his intention to create a ?black comedy,? though several cast members have steadfastly denied this (Wiseau accepted Harvard?s ?Ivory Tower? award as Filmmaker of the Year several months ago).

Director James Nguyen, whose take on avian terror, Birdemic: Shock and Terror, is differentiated from Alfred Hitchcock?s iconic The Birds by virtue of the fact that his killer birds were principally ?eagles and vultures? (as relayed during a recent interview with this columnist on KSRO) has a legion of ?fans? who have driven interest in his film to an international level with copious press (usually aligned with the ?shock and terror? portion of the title) adding more wind beneath his wings. Interestingly, Nguyen doesn?t appear to care that his film is some kind of inside joke. The fact is, against all conceivable odds ??including his own plot line ? he made it. And therein lies the key. These guys are underdogs, and given our cultural proclivity to root for the little guy, it?s little wonder that these films find audiences to champion them. One might suspect it?s not so much the films that audiences are identifying with, as it is their makers. If that?s failure, it?s really not so bad.

Weinstein Company onboard space conspiracy flick, Apollo 18

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With NASA about to scuttle the shuttle, Richard Branson?s plans to shoot the moon with tourists and SpaceX having its own venture-capitalized space race, the final frontier clearly still captures the American imagination ??but will it capture ticket sales? The Weinstein Company seems to thinks so, at least that?s what one might infer from their ?documentary-style sci-fi thriller,? Apollo 18.

No, you haven?t missed several intervening sequels to Ron Howard?s 1995 flick, nor are the Weinsteins poaching from the They Might Be Giants Album of 1992 which, mysteriously, featured an orbiting squid an whale in mid-battle ??an inspiration for director Noah Baumbach?).

This space oddity takes it?s premise from a canceled 1969 moon-shot, according to the Weinstein?s publicist, actually occurred under a veil of secrecy for reasons known only to Nixon and his toadies.

From the release:

?A quintessential Cold War story, Apollo 18 casts light on the covert and undocumented lunar mission that officially ?never happened.??Bekmambetov, hired by Russia to shoot a documentary about the Russian space station, recently came across footage in its space archives that bolsters the idea that an Apollo 18 mission did, in fact, take place, and reveals startling evidence of extraterrestrial life forms. ?This actual footage will be part of Apollo 18, a paranormal thriller that will interpolate fact and fiction.?

There?s no reference to a successful, if secret, Apollo 18 mission listed on that bastion of crowd-sourced conspiracy, Wikipedia (yes, I dug that deep). Harvey Weinstein, however, is insistent: ?We were absolutely compelled to bring it to the screen for audiences to judge for themselves.?

Or at least, they were compelled to try to generate some pre-launch buzz. To be directed by Trevor Cawood from a screenplay by Brian Miller, production has been fast-tracked to begin in December, with a wide release planned for March 4.

Let?s just hope no one utters the fateful words, ?Harvey, we have a problem??