January 30, 2012
Effie Trinket on 'Capitol Couture'
Last week I came upon this delightful piece of transmedia, thanks to the obsessive coverage by Entertainment Weekly of all things Hunger Games.
It’s the new “Capitol Couture” blog for all those fashionistas who love the mad style and glittery colors of Suzanne Collin’s fictional District One (a.k.a. The Capitol). Unlike the Panem website, which requires a Facebook or Twitter login, Capitol Couture offers a splashy, magazine-style format for anyone interested. Posts are divided into such topics as Cover Stories, Profiles, Capitol Look, Guides, Intel, and Citizen Activity. Fans can read, like, share, and comment on each post, further generating fan engagement and interaction.
The tumblr blog is clever and imaginative. There is a banner that advertises the 74th Annual Hunger Games, creepily similar to the ad banners we all encounter across the web. There is a space for you to write to the editor and a Twitter stream in the sidebar so you can stay up-to-date with the latest announcements from Panem. (Yep, they’ve got a Twitter account, too.) There is a competition for anyone wishing to channel their inner Cinna in the hopes of being selected as their district’s stylist. There is even a Capitol line of nail polish called “Colors From the Capitol” by China Glaze, each color representing a district. You can purchase your favorite starting March 1st.
Several posts incorporate real-life fashion photographers and designers, such as this entry: “Craig McDean – Steal the show from the Tributes with this high-necked number at your next Sponsor’s banquet!” Other posts echo the voice of another fictional fashion-and-society blogger – Gossip Girl – like so: “Spotted! Yummy grosgrain peep-toes on one of the Capitol’s favorite socialites. Just how black were they in person? Coal-black. A sure sign of the District 12-inspired fashion revolution we predict is just around the corner.”
The insider references to districts, events, and characters are sure to delight fans. But really, what is the point?
Lionsgate (or a digital marketing company that is working with Lionsgate) has certainly taken advantage of online and social media to build buzz around the film’s March 23 release. Transmedia elements, like Capitol Couture, do more than garner excitement and prompt Siri reminders. They allow for fans to become part of the story while simultaneously welcoming new fans into the fold.
Sound familiar? AMC executed the same strategy for the third season premiere of its Emmy-winning series Mad Men (coincidentally produced by Lionsgate studio). With the creative genius of Deep Focus, fans were given the chance to create customised, 1960’s-era, Mad Men-inspired likenesses of themselves and then spread them throughout social media. The result? 3.3 million viewers for the premiere – up from the usual 2 million.
Sure, it’s cute and creative to post about Effie Trinket’s shoes as if she were a real person. Yet it is the spreadable and immersive nature of this transmedia that heightens visibility and deepens investment – something producers hope will translate into mega-numbers at the box office.
January 22, 2012
Dogs + Star Wars? Talk about a force stronger than, well, the Force. This video is quite possibly the best I’ve ever seen. Not to mention it’s pure entertainment.
“The Bark Force” is a commercial for a commercial. Volkswagen, you’re blowing my mind here. It’s a fascinating example of “new” advertising - a form of marketing that relies upon emotional connection and immersive storytelling. Sound interesting? Check out Frank Rose’s The Art of Immersion. But that is not the point of this post.
I want to trace the route this video traveled through my social media channels. I first saw a link to an article about dogs and Star Wars on my Twitter stream. So I read the article, watched the video, loved it so much that I went to YouTube to watch it again. (Joining some three million other views.) I immediately shared the link with my mom (a dog-lover) and sister (a Star Wars geek) and then copied the link into a Facebook post, which received comments within thirty minutes. No wonder the video had reached an additional million views (past four million) by the time I watched it again later that night.
It’s been obvious that we live in an “age of instant information” for awhile now. This instant spreading via social media is a growing phenomenon. It’s been so interesting and fun to see how quickly a one-minute video has spread – and been shared – online.
What videos have you seen gone viral?
January 18, 2012
In case you missed Monday night’s two-hour premiere of J.J. Abrams’s new televisual behemoth, Alcatraz, let me save you the trip to Hulu. It is not worth your time. It isn’t that Alcatraz is horrendously bad; it is painfully average. As TV critic Alan Sepinwall described it: Alcatraz is just another “drab police procedural.”
Originally I had planned to write a live review. Type out my thoughts of the show as I was watching it. Well, that lasted 45 minutes. That was all I could endure of the hyped-up, splashy Alcatraz, which struggled under the cumbersome weight of Abrams’s signature bag of tricks—all of which are now tired, recycled, and thoroughly overused. The Abrams formula worked a couple times—arguably a third with Fringe—but now it’s just sad.
Three-second summary: the real reason Alcatraz closed down was due to the sudden, mysterious disappearance of all 302 inmates and prison guards in 1963. They then start to reappear—without having aged—in present day. The pilot focuses on one particular prisoner, Jack Sylvane, who embarks upon a killing spree when he wakes up nearly fifty years later, no longer an inmate and still ruggedly young. After his first murder, Detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) investigates, later joined by an Alcatraz expert and author Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia), until both are stopped by a no-record-on-file CIA agent Emerson Hauser (Sam Neil). Something strange is afoot! When Jack is finally cornered by police, he begs for Rebecca to kill him because “they” will keep bringing death and destruction through him—and others like him (and yes, that means the other three hundred-odd folks from retro-Alcatraz).
That was as far as I got.*
I found Alcatraz boring and slow. The cold, bleak colors of the obviously computer-generated set creates a sense of isolation and, well, chill. That might work for a creepy, science-fuelled, dual-reality narrative like Fringe. Here it felt staged, forced, and therefore bland.
The voice-over at the beginning did not help either. I am becoming annoyed with voice-overs as the go-to method to supply background information. How about some old-fashioned text for exposition? Or better yet, no exposition whatsoever (none of the blatant kind anyway) and hook your viewers with compelling intrigue?
Characters? I couldn’t decide whether I liked the bold, terse detective Rebecca Madsen. I like and advocate for strong female characters on television. The hardened cop, however, is a bit of a worn-out caricature. She’s essentially Ana Lucia Cortez from Lost (among a host of other female TV cops). Maybe the writers give Rebecca more complexity in time, but I will not stick around to find out.
Abrams’s fingerprints are all over the pilot, but none of his patterns work. The flashbacks are unnecessary and filler (save perhaps to show that 1960’s Jack possesses human emotion and the 2012 Jack robotically murders people – though even that is a stretch). You’ve got the secret lab beneath Alcatraz prison. You’ve got “special” agents who seemingly know far too much and so very little. You’ve got the cutesy Hurley comments (poor Jorge Garcia; he’s typecast for the next decade), such as this obnoxious gem: “So you’ve built a batcave underneath Alcatraz…Why would you do that?” And, of course, you have the mysterious “Them.” The others of the time-shifting Alcatraz madness that are somehow manipulating ex-cons to kill on command. What is their plan? Why are They doing this?
I, for one, do not care to find out. (Nor do I know how I have managed to go on for 600 words on such a dull topic.) Fox needs to stop spending so much money on promotion and instead invest into quality programming. Otherwise you end up with viewers like me: giving up on a brand-new pilot after 45 minutes and watching The Bachelor instead.
Now that’s sad.
*If you read the recap of the entire two-hour premiere, the second hour had a couple more attempts to hook viewers. SPOILERS: Rebecca’s grandfather was not a guard in 1960′s Alcatraz, as she was told, but a prisoner. In fact, the younger version of her grandfather was the mysterious person responsible for her partner’s death. A second prisoner shows up in present day and, like Sylvane, goes on a shooting rampage (this time targeting teenage girls). And apparently, the two ex-prisoners know each other. Emerson’s associate Lucy is shot into a coma, and it is later revealed that she, too, was at Alcatraz in the ’60′s as a prison doctor, looking exactly the same as she does in 2012. Apparently that was the ultimate “twist” at the premiere’s closing. And yet still…I can’t be bothered to tune in next Monday.
Did you see Alcatraz? What did you think?
January 15, 2012
2012 is the year for action. It is the year to pursue my deepest twin passions: creative production and storytelling. I have recently returned from the incredible experience of living in England while earning my Master’s. I am planning a wedding for this summer. I have started a new (and obscenely fun) career of social media management. All great things. All Good things.
Yet amidst grad school, an amazing job, and social media exploration, my creative spirit has been itching to obtain my full attention and time. Even two years ago – as I served as an AmeriCorps VISTA and completed several meaningful projects – my imagination churned forth an ocean of ideas: narrative arcs, opening scenes for novels, character sketches, possible television pilots. I scribbled them away into notebooks, scratch paper, the backs of church bulletins, even the occasional napkin. And they remained there. A few inked ideas on paper, entire worlds in my head. Nothing complete.
I recognize this is only human. There are only so many functional hours in the day. There are seasons we all go through. Last year was my year for research and academic writing. (And let me tell you, it can be monstrously difficult to switch mental gears from academic writing to creative writing.) Instead of forcing that creativity, I let it simmer while I poured all my energy, perfectionism, and focus into crafting professional pieces of research. One of my proudest moments was the day I handed in my dissertation. Why? Because it was good. I had given it my all. That was a season of academia.
But now…now is the season to finally produce creative media. I have enough notebooks of scrawled inspiration. I have a stack of books at my house on independent filmmaking and low-budget production. I could scribble and read until I became an expert. But I’m ready for the stories and characters that currently reside in my brain to gain flesh and thoughts and colors. I want others to know these stories as I do. It seems impossible to keep the vast, detailed, vivid, complex scenes to myself, locked away in my head. Isn’t it every author/creator’s desire to share her imaginings with other people?
And so I will be acting upon my passion and my ideas this year. No more wishing I had time to produce a short film. This is the year that I will produce a short film. On my new website (remember March 3!) I will have a page specifically for my creative projects so that y’all can 1) travel along with the creative production process and 2) keep me accountable. Sometimes the greatest motivating power is the knowledge that someone else is waiting for your story, too.
Next week ushers in the Chinese New Year: the year of the dragon. In Chinese culture, the dragon can represent ambition, confidence, risk, and passion. Seems like a rather apt symbol for my year of action. 2012: a year to live fiercely.
What season are you finding yourself to be in?
January 8, 2012
I first came across Pinterest last summer during one of my mental breaks from dissertation writing. Before the Pinterest Epidemic. The media site seemed rather, shall we say, prosaic? Bloggers have been creating pinboards for years for everything from wedding ideas and color palettes to interior design. (In fact, the non-blogger could piece together boards on sites such as theknot.com.) So why has Pinterest exploded from 1.2 million users in August to over 4 million? Its site visits increased by 4000%. When I signed up in the beginning of December, I was placed on a waiting list. Entrance was by invitation-only, like some elite society where all the cool kids go. Why? For all that is right and good and logical in the world, why?!
I’ll tell you why: Pinterest’s creators did three things very well. Dare I say, Right.
1. They tapped into our visual culture. We increasingly communicate through pictures, as evidenced by Facebook’s new Timeline, iPhone’s instagram and hipstamatic, and our continued consumption/interaction with screen media. Moreover, Pinterest engages our sharing culture. From the “Like” button to the Tweet, we love sharing and spreading content, especially online.
2. Appealing design. The site itself is beautiful to look at and easy to absorb. The grid layout is aesthetically pleasing – streamlined and simple. Not to mention the screen is filled with images. It’s like browsing through a glossy magazine, all connected by a common topic.
3. Simplicity is queen. Pinterest is so very easy to use. It is easy to create your own boards. Easy to browse through others’ pins. Easy to pin. Easy to…you get the picture. Pinterest provides a “Pin It” button that you can place in your Bookmark toolbar. Any time you find an image on the web that you want to add to your collection, you simple click the “Pin It” button. That brings you to a pop-up window in which you label and caption your picture. Easy peasy. Its brilliance is in its simplicity.
And, yes, it’s fun. I played with Pinterest for a few hours and found it incredibly addicting. (Check out my FemTV: Strong Women board here.) It harkens back to the days in junior high when you collected magazine pictures and collaged them together, creating a visual composite of personal interests. (Or was that just me?) Pinterest provides a space to keep track of all your favorite images across the web. It is a home for pictures – a bookmarking site. All pinned photos include a link to the original site, so for those searching for specific items (say, kitchen decor or shoes), Pinterest offers an image bibliography, with which you can trace back to original sites in order to find even more related images.
Despite all this, I still find Pinterest to be a curious trend. It is yet another example of user-generated content via the spreading of other people’s material. There is little originality to be found with Pinterest. You are not a creator of images. You’re merely a curator of them. Arguably, how you choose to design your board could be called “creative collecting” or creative expression. It’s similar to window displays. The actual product being displayed (i.e. clothing) is the fashion designer’s creation. The way those pieces are placed together for a window display is another kind of creation, but one that still relies upon someone else’s genius. What does Pinterest do to the actual art of photography or graphic design?
One recent article suggests that the promise of Pinterest lies within its ability to encourage its users to take their own pictures and upload them to the home site. Yet, I argue, even if that were to happen, it would only encompass a small percentage of users.
I suppose I’m nervous with our cultural shift of spreading content rather than creating. This is a much-discussed topic in the field of film and television. “Poaching” content – a term popularized by Henry Jenkins – is the act of taking desired pieces of content and finding new ways to express them. (A fan of Mad Men, for instance, creates her own Mad Men-style avatar and spreads it across the web. Two teens decide to film their own version of Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” and post it on YouTube.) I support this kind of fan expression, but it does make me question whether these activities lead to a seepage of innovation. Vanity Fair printed an article in January about the apparent lack of cultural innovation. While I heatedly contest with much of the article, I do agree that culturally we are looking more and more to others (past eras, retro styles, already-produced entertainment, etc) for our inspiration and collections. We are “poaching” aspects of the 1890′s, 1950′s, and 1980′s that we find appealing and refashioning them for our current day. All well and good. I enjoy neo-Victorianism as much as the next person. But what does 2012 look like? Will the 2010′s have its own look, creations, and innovation, or will we just recycle – and curate – prior originals?
I realize that Pinterest is a simple website. And perhaps you find it absurd for me to initiate a philosophical debate on culture from a harmless site. Like most fads, the Pinterest craze will probably tone down and become a companion to Flickr or Picasa.
And yet…there is something indicative of our visual culture made manifest in Pinterest. And it is wise to take note. While curating can be a fun, enjoyable (even addicting) activity, I do not want to stagnate in a culture of curators. As humans, we should be constantly creating, improving, and challenging our limitations. We need to be active agents, employing our curiosity and imagination for the betterment of our world.
January 2, 2012
I have wanted to see Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy since early summer when I saw its trailer while living in York. The film opened September 16 in England – three days after my return to the States. Imagine my disappointment when I searched for the U.S. release date, only to discover that the film would not reach American theaters until December 9! Even then, December 9 was a limited release date, and Portland theaters would not show the movie until the final weekend of 2011. Yep, December 30. After waiting half a year for this film, I entered the theater thinking it better be damn worth it.
It was. Director Tomas Alfredson’s bleak portrait of UK espionage during the 1970′s forces the viewer to slow down and appreciate silent shots and brief dialogue. Ex-spy George Smiley (brilliantly played by Gary Oldman) is asked to secretly work for ‘the Circus’ in order to find out which one of the four top British agents is leaking information to Russia: Tinker, Percy Alleline (Toby Jones); Tailor, Bill Haydon (Colin Firth); Solider, Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds); or Poor Man, Toby Esterhase (David Dencik). (Yeah…the ‘Spy’ is in reference to Smiley himself, whose predecessor also suspected Smiley of potentially being the mole. ‘Poor Man’ doesn’t sound as catchy in the title, clearly.)
Tinker is a study in suspense. This is no Jason Bourne flick. Absent are chase scenes, flashy cars, fight sequences, and fly-on-the-wall cinematography. Instead the suspense slowly builds throughout as Smiley thinks his way through the case. Sure, he moves around secretly. He visits people who are supposed to be dead or wanted dead. But in each case, Smiley is methodical and deliberative. The film’s look echoes that disciplined (some might call it ‘dull’) pace. Overcast skies compliment the dreary browns and chilly grey hues of London. There is no bright lighting or bold colors; this story is not the place for them. The dialogue is startlingly sparse. In fact, Oldman does not have a single line for the first twenty minutes. Even then his lines are short. When he finally gives a monologue (nearly 2/3 through the film), it comes as a surprise – as though Smiley were not capable of uttering more than three sentences at a time. He is more than capable, however, and the monologue is one of the best I have seen on screen this past year.
Performances are nuanced and consistent – the work of seasoned, mature actors. Indeed, it was Tinker’s bevy of A-list British actors that first attracted me to the film. You have Oldman, Firth, Jones, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy and Mark Strong all in the same film. It’s every British film lover’s dream come true.
There is a caveat to Tinker: this is not a film for everyone. It requires patience. If you’re looking for a fast-paced action thriller, you will be sorely disappointed. If you go see Tinker to try and figure out which character is the mole, you will most likely emerge from the theater frustrated. In my opinion, Tinker is not a film for you to figure out. We get the privilege to watch Smiley solve the puzzle. The ‘clues’ that Smiley notices are often too subtle or invisible to us viewers. At the end, I didn’t really care which agent was the mole; I just wanted to know who it was. Some might find that insurmountably frustrating. I find it to be a deliberate, intentional choice by Alfredson to create a specific kind of spy film. It’s an experience in watching – allowing oneself to fully immerse into the story and be carried along for the ride. Most of the time, you’re riding blind. I found that exhilarating, and I accepted the journey due to the exquisite way in which Alfredson develops the narrative. Bottom line: Tinker Tailor Solider Spy is an acquired taste. If you appreciate meticulous, stoical, thoughtful suspense, this is your Holy Grail.
Playing at Fox Tower 10 in Portland, OR.