Dr. Horrible MP3s available from Amazon

Felicia Day of Dr. Horrible Image from BobbyPromFor those of you who prefer your internet-musical-extravaganza soundtracks sans DRM, the Amazon MP3 store is now offering Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog soundtrack. We’ve talked before about Dr. Horrible before, and I am a fan, but I do think it’s a little strange that the soundtrack costs $8.99 when the entire show could be had for $4.99 on iTunes.

I guess that’s the price you pay for convenience. Honestly though, who would pay $0.99 cents for the opening 9-second track? Joss, I think you missed the mark here. Amazon lets you set variable pricing (one of their major distinctions over iTunes, as far as labels are concerned). Take advantage of that and pick some reasonable prices rather than just going with the default. Your fans will thank you.

Musical Road

Ok, now this is cool. A road in Lancaster, CA has had grooves cut into it that cause car’s tires to play the William Tell Overture as they drive over it. CNET has the full story.

This is apparently part of a marketing campaign for the Honda Civic, and the road is tuned to play best for a Civic’s tires. The best part is that this isn’t even unique. There are other “singing roads” in Japan and South Korea. The one in Lancaster is being paved over due to complaints from neighbors. You would complain too if you had to listen, over and over, to a section of the William Tell Overture that sounded like this:

Encoding music into a road is a clever idea, despite the low fidelity. It certainly gets my attention. What other creative outlets for music have you seen?

RPI Builds Giant Media Toy

I don’t know how to describe Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, Empac, except as a Giant Media Toy. The New York Times article had many more eloquent words to describe the 220,000 square foot center, which not only serves as a performing arts space, but is also where a bunch of researchers hope to create a Star Trek-like holodeck, and train doctors to perform surgery using virtual models that they can see AND touch.

This project brings up a host of questions: How do science research institutions contribute to the production of art? How do artists drive scientific inquiry? Are big-scale virtual experiences still as relevant now that we have so many small-scale virtual experiences in our own homes (Nintendo Wii, iPod tours, etc)? What stories would you want to tell using a giant 3D theater that simply can’t be told on a regular old screen?

Lucky There’s Seth MacFarlane

Family Guy Graffiti Image from Cheryl’s PhotostreamI used to be a pretty big Family Guy devotee (back in that golden age when it was only shown on Adult Swim). While I’ve personally gotten a little tired of the manatees-with-idea-balls approach to storytelling (just watch the South Park episode), I think that MacFarlane’s talent for tapping into everything from Victorian literature to modern art and coming up with a poop joke is kind of impressive in its own way.

And that leaves us with MacFarlane’s latest venture, Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy. These are mini episodes (1-5 minutes a piece) that seem like deleted cutaway scenes from Family Guy.

Now, if you read the URL in that link, you’ll notice that you can find this Cavalcade at www.youtube.com/user/bk – Burger King’s YouTube channel. Every episode is branded with the Burger King logo and a snippet of an animated version of BK’s King character. That is in addition to the regular YouTube logo that plays in the lower right corner of the clip window.

The Cavalcade is branded in three ways: (1) Seth MacFarlane, (2) Burger King, (3) YouTube. It’s an innovative approach to producing web media, but one that was phenomenally popular in the early days of TV and radio. Comedian Jack Benny was sponsored by everything from Canada Dry to Lucky Strike cigarettes, and the show was labeled as the Canada Dry Show, The Grape-Nuts Show, etc. Philip Morris used to sponsor “I Love Lucy” – and characters, or animations of those characters, actively hyped their cigarettes on screen before the show. This level of corporate sponsorship, in which the sponsor’s brand is equally or more visible than the brand of the show itself, might be exceedingly valuable to indie and mainstream producers trying to get their shows on the web. It also creates some problems.

Up until now, the internet has not been an epicenter for high-quality, original, intentional humor. “Charlie bit my finger” was and is much more typical of online comedy than, say “Nobody’s Watching.” But well-established celebrities producing web exclusive content is going to mean higher production values, actual scripting (gasp!) and possibly even some steady camerawork. This means that maybe, just maybe, your well-scripted, innovative comedy has a chance to shine out there too.

However, while Seth MacFarlane can get away with a foul mouth when he’s sponsored by a “hip” brand like Burger King, I’m sure a sketch about transfats and obesity would not be welcome. Finding a patron if you are not already on the inside will be an uphill battle. And patron-sponsored content may mean sacrificing some ideas to preserve an overall brand image.

Would you go the patron route with your own web TV series? Or would you rather get your content out there, and find funding later?

Canon 5D Mark II Video Footage

Canon EOS 5D Mark II Image from Steve KeysCanon lent a prototype of the new 5D Mark II to New-York-based commercial and editorial photographer Vincent Laforet for 72 hours, and this short film is what he put together: beautifully shot, put to music (no sync sound), using only footage from the 5D Mark II. The footage is 1/4 size (from the original 1080P) and shot with mostly L-series glass. The 5D Mark II retails for about $2700 (body only) from B&H. The combination of excellent lenses with the full frame sensor yields some gorgeous low-light shots.

I’m certainly interested to see some of this tech make it over to the prosumer video side of Canon. After seeing this kind of result, would you consider shooting your next project on a DSLR?

Ask Ken Burns

Ken Burns Image from dbkingPBS Engage is offering an opportunity for viewers to ask documentary filmmaker Ken Burns five questions as part of the ongoing “Five Good Questions” series. This is a chance for all you budding documentarians to get your burning questions answered by one of the best known documentary directors in America.

Virtual World Creation Gets Democritized

In an interview with Information Week, Raph Koster talks about the Metaplace project.

“As [game] technology has risen, it has been harder and harder and harder for ordinary people to contribute,” said Raph Koster, the founder and president of Areae. This has driven budgets up “and the result is less creativity, less innovation, and fewer worlds,” he said.

“So we want to democratize this by doing what the Web has managed to do, which is push content creation tools to a much lower threshold,” said Koster.

The vision of bringing the technology behind virtual worlds to a level that allows non-technical users to easily create new content is akin to the dropping prices and lower thresholds in video equipment that fuel YouTube and other UGC video sites.

Virtual Building Blocks Image from fdecomiteThe difference, of course, is that democritizing virtual world creation is a matter of software design and usability, not governed by Moore’s law. Most modern computers are already powerful enough (rendering time aside) to create and run a virtual world. The difficulty is in designing the tools. Given Raph Koster’s previous successes, we’re optimistic that the future holds a signifigantly lower barrier to entry in the virtual world department.

Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem: DRM done right? Or yet another failed attempt?

Here’s what we know so far. DECE will announce details at CES in January. The general principle is something along the lines of a digital rights locker in the cloud that keeps track of what content you have purchased and have rights to play.

Burned (read: Destroyed) DVD Image from Night Star RomanusThe major goals of the project are interoperability, allowing users to copy content onto household playback devices (as opposed to streaming only) and to enable writing to physical media.

Sounds like an ambitious project, and maybe a pipe dream given the walled garden approach that most content providers have been pushing thus far. But with a list of players that includes most major media corporations, some serious technical expertise, the device manufacturers of both HD disc technologies (and then some), and at least one major retailer, this might have a chance to get past the conception stage.

The list of companies signed on so far is Best Buy, Cisco, Comcast, Fox, HP, Intel, Lions Gate, Microsoft, NBC Universal, Paramount Pictures, Philips, Sony, Toshiba, VeriSign, and Warner Bros.

What does this mean for indie producers? That remains to be seen, but for most of us, there’s already an alternative. What else supports interoperability and portability of content to offline and physical media? What lets viewers watch what they want, where and how they want to? Anything without DRM. Just sayin’.

The Bechdel Rule (AKA Ripley’s Rule)

Like every other media-and-pop-culture-obsessed feminist out there, I’m wondering why I hadn’t already heard of the “Bechdel Rule” (also known as Ripley’s Rule, the Bechdel/Wallace Rule, or any number of other variations the internet has yet to confuse us with). Kudos to my housemate and her friend for explaining it:

Back in the day, Alison Bechdel made a cartoon in which a character won’t see a movie unless it:

1) Has two women in it
2) They talk to each other
3) About something other than a man

Just recently, the NPR blog picked up on this phenomenally simple, phenomenally telling way of classifying movies and tv. Since some folks at NPR put the story on the radio, everyone’s been buzzing about Bechdel.

If you want a more personal account of how the Bechdel Rule plays into screenwriting, I suggest this post from a former UCLA film student.

I’m more interested in the way that the Bechdel Rule creates a measure of how woman-y a movie or TV show is across genres. It doesn’t specify whether the women are talking about destroying aliens (which is where the “Ripley” reference comes from) or about the perils of balancing children and a career. Of course, this is not a perfect measure – I think that there’s room in this world for all kinds of movies and all kinds of audiences – but I think the Bechdel rule helps me articulate why I feel warm or cool toward a certain piece of fiction (e.g. Buffy the Vampire Slayer v. Angel).

Katee Sackhoff and Mary McDonnell Image from KWC’s PhotostreamRemarkably, despite what NPR blogger Neda Ulaby says about science fiction being the “traditional fortress of geek-maledom,” modern science fiction shows pass the Bechdel test at a pretty decent rate. Even shows that sexualize their female characters (say, Battlestar or Star Trek: Voyager) actually give them lots of scenes to talk to each other about things other than men. Weird, isn’t it? Is that because directors are trying to make up for their smart women with some sexiness? Or is it because the ensemble casts now popular with science fiction shows leave enough room for female characters to have a wide range of scenes?

I have also been enjoying this easy-to-read list of Bechdel winners and losers. Are there any movies or tv shows that are surprises? I, for one, am shocked that not a single recent animated Disney movie makes the cut. Who knew?

Flicks to Watch Out For: Cartoon College

Recently saw the trailer for Cartoon College, a documentary by Tara Wray (who also made Manhattan, Kansas). The subject of the film is the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, VT. I love documentaries about people who are very passionate about something very obscure – so this should be just my thing. One part of the trailer that excites me is the idea of incorporating the art of the cartoonists into the visual medium of the film. I’m trying to come up with other documentaries that use an artist’s work to tell a story about the artist. Who has done this really well of late?

Here’s the trailer:

BRAND NEW teaser