What We Can Learn From P*Star

When I say “rapper”, what do you think of? Probably not a preteen girl spittin’ rhymes about how she isn’t ready for a boyfriend yet. This documentary might change that.

PStar (Photo Credit: ewphoto on Flickr)

PStar (Credit: ewphoto on Flickr)

P*Star Rising is a documentary by Gabriel Noble that follows the growth (literally) of a 9-year-old female rapper from Harlem named Priscilla Diaz, stage name: P*Star.  While I don’t know if I would have picked a name for a 9-year-old that produces google searches about the adult entertainment industry, I was instantly won over by this little girl’s wittiness and extremely apparent charisma.  The film recently premiered at Tribeca Film Festival.  Check out the trailer.

We can all learn a few things from P*Star, the artist, and Priscilla Diaz, the girl.

Connections make you or break you. P*Star wasn’t born rapping (although that would be pretty sick).  She didn’t get signed by a record label because of her musical genius.  She got signed because her father, an ex-rapper from the 80s, knew the right people.

While most of us aren’t lucky enough to be born into families with connections in the field of our choice, we can use social media to forge connections with people that will help advance our career.  Start seeking out people on Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter that will provide you with an outlet for your work.  Maybe it is a museum curator, or a record producer, or an employer.  Join the communities that these people are part of and start a conversation.  Make a connection by asking questions or establish yourself as competent by answering other people’s questions.  The questions can lead to an email, the email to an interview or audition.  Most successes don’t come from luck; they come from someone saying “Hey, I know this great person you should hear about.”

You can’t do it alone. There are going to be hard times.  Really hard times.  I don’t care how strong you are, you can’t believe that you are going to make it without some support system.  Whether it is monetary or emotional support, you need someone that will always be stable, because there will be times when everything else is not.

Have an interesting story. The thing I like most about P*Star is that she has a story.  She grew up in poverty with a heroine-addicted mother and cocaine-selling father.  Her father cleaned up his act and took her in, teaching her how to rap.  She had her first gig when she was 6, was signed to a record contract at 10, and now has a leading role on PBS’s revival of The Electric CompanyFind some things, or a series of things that make people go, “Cool!

Are You Guilty of Media Malpractice?

Last week I attended Making Media Now at Bentley University, where, among other really interesting panels, I saw Andy Carvin talk about crowdsourcing. I was also really glad to hear Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films talk about making media that matters with Lisa Mullins of The World. Greenwald also screened a clip from his upcoming work on the war in Afghanistan.

Robert Greenwald, Photo Credit: Brave New Films on Flickr

Robert Greenwald, Photo Credit: Brave New Films on Flickr

When asked by Lisa Mullins to fill in the sentence, “If you’re not using new media you are. . .” he answered, “. . . guilty of malpractice.” Greenwald described the new media scene as the opposite of Hollywood: “Suddenly the gatekeepers are gone.” With decreasing costs to make media, filmmakers can create quality work with fewer people on board. Greenwald says he takes an “if you build it they will come” approach – starting with a 2-minute version of a film he wants to make, and finding an audience that will support it.

Greenwald insisted that filmmakers think creatively about marketing and distribution – reserve a short simple URL when the idea for the film strikes, distribute short web clips if you can’t get a feature length doc on the air, collaborate with groups that will promote or financially contribute to the film, and, my favorite quote: “Think about it not as a microphone, but as a conversation.”

Battlestar Galactica’s Face of the Enemy: Evidently Quite Kissable

I’ve been waiting, quite nervously, for the return of Battlestar Galactica in January.  It’s been so gosh darn long since the end of the first half of season 4 – what if I don’t remember what happened?  Lucky for me I can still Catch the Frak Up.

We’ve also got webisodes to help us get through the holidays, this time penned by Jane Espenson.  The first two webisodes are already up. (Warning: this webisode contains spoilers for the last 4 seasons, so don’t watch if you don’t want to know):

At around the two-minute mark, I had to pause, take a few deep breaths, and restart the video.  Two men just kissed – in SPACE!  Hoshi and Gaeta are not particularly surprising choices as gay characters (Lt. Gaeta had a rather puppyish attachment to Gaius Baltar early in the series). My first reaction, after decades of waiting in vain for a gay relationship on Star Trek, or really anywhere in American spacefaring drama (I hear Torchwood is very progressive, but it’s still British), was pure joy.  Two actual male characters, one of whom has been integral to the storyline, kiss in a non-sensationalized moment on screen.  Can anyone think of another show that has done that?  I can’t even think of another male-male kiss in space, let alone one that uses existing characters.

But as with so many great gay moments in pop culture – there’s a little bit of disappointment mixed in with that joy.  The gay kiss isn’t happening on the show proper, but on a webisode that regular viewers can watch or not watch as they choose.  If the relationship had been a part of the intricate plot of the main show, it would be impossible to ignore, since it is nearly impossible to skip an episode of Battlestar Galactica and still get what’s going on.  It seems that from Jane Espenson’s commentary, the webisodes were some of the last scenes filmed on the BSG set, which leads me to believe that the relationship will not be portrayed at all in the final ten episodes.

So what do you think?  Historic moment in science fiction or a cop-out?

If Star Trek was on the air today, might they have unrolled a character arc much like this one on the web, and thus had the opportunity to test their viewers’ reaction before moving it onto the regular show?  Can webisodes, extended scenes, and other out-of-show content play in creating a more inclusive narrative – or do they make it too easy for producers to bury anything that might not sit well with audiences?

Post-Election Roundup

Barack Obama: A mosaic of people Image from tsevis’s Photostream

Tuesday night, as I skyped into Teague’s election night party taking place a few hundred miles from my own living room. . . two things hit me: (1) I’m a dork for using skype to attend someone’s party and (2) That won’t be true in 2012.

Right now, across the country, pundits are figuring out exactly what “lessons” we should learn from this election. The biggest lesson of all? Smart media is here to stay. The NY Times places a heavy emphasis on the role of the internet in this race. I feel the best way to sum up the “sea change” is that whereas in 2004, there was a campaign, and a campaign on the internet, today, the campaign lives through the internet. Technology is moving faster than the election cycle. It’s foolish to think that in four years, kids will still think that YouTube is cool. The internet isn’t just a nifty gadget, it’s a country unto itself – and if you don’t know the right customs and etiquette – you’ll get laughed out of the game.

The big question now is whether President Barack Obama (wow, I will never get tired of typing that), will continue to use social media to govern. Tweets from senior staff? A presidential YouTube channel? The possibilities are pretty endless – it’s all a question of how the Obama administration (again, never gets old!) will choose to engage with constituents.

What kinds of information do you want from the federal government? How do you want them delivered? Now that this election is over, what do you want to say to the people about to take power?

ABC’s Earth 2100: You, too, can be Al Gore!

Our special agent in New Jersey gave us a tip on a new web  and television fusion project from a major network:

Image from *L*u*z*a* return to nature

Image from *L*u*z*a* return to nature

Earth 2100 is a “television and internet event” set to debut this fall on ABC [Editor’s Note: The site now simply says “Coming in 2009”]. Here’s how they describe it:

The world’s brightest minds agree that the “perfect storm” of population growth, resource depletion and climate change could converge with catastrophic results.

We need you to bring this story to life — to use your imagination to create short videos about what it would be like to live through the next century if we stay on our current path. Using predictions from top experts, we will feed you detailed briefings from the years 2015, 2050, 2070 and 2100 — and you will report back about the dangers that are unfolding before your eyes.

Your videos will be combined with the projections of top scientists, historians, and economists to form a powerful web–based narrative about the perils of our future. We will also select the most compelling reports to form the backbone of our two–hour primetime ABC News broadcast: Earth 2100, airing this fall.

They have a few sample “reports from the future” up there already. Kudos to ABC for trying to combine documentary, fiction and user-generated content all in one go. I see some problems with the approach. . . for one thing, the “reports from the future” are bound to be depressing and bleak – because that’s what all the experts are describing. There is also the problem of combining gorgeous HD footage of experts with cheesily shot, low budget versions of Children of Men. I don’t want to be a wet blanket here – I love documentaries, and I love cheesy, homemade science fiction. . . but I don’t know if I can take the leap to watch both at once.

This project STILL doesn’t solve the “can’t I just get it on YouTube?” problem. Meaning, if you bother to make a movie that’s as clever as the sample clip with the snorkel and the pink walrus – why would you let ABC decide whether or not to distribute it for you? Why would you go to the ABC site, rather than google video or YouTube?

The fact that ABC is going to put some of these in a national broadcast is certainly a draw, and I am all for educating people about climate change and public health any which way you can.

Hulu Business Model Meets Skepticism

Michael Learmonth of Silicon Valley Insider, speculates that Hulu is selling ads at $25 CPM (cost per mille), and that their monthly traffic of 5 million viewers would translate to $125,000 after revenue sharing. He doesn’t cover what numbers he thinks Hulu has on the expenses side of the balance sheet, but does say that $1.5 million annually is not going to cover the costs of a venture valued at $1 billion.

Of course Hulu will probably gain viewers over time, but the catch is that, as viewers increase, so do the costs of bandwidth and marketing. Silicon Valley Insider has another post about why Hulu will fail. Both of these articles raise valid questions for anyone looking to distribute their own content. Even for people not hoping to make a profit large enough to live on, the requirement remains to have a model where you can increase viewership without incurring incremental costs greater than the returns.

So what’s the business model for your content?