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Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

Embrace the Disruption of Movies and Television

In Film, Technology, Television on August 1, 2013 at 11:29 pm

I think it’s worth admitting, now, that “television” has become one of those legacy words, like “phone,” that we use to point at a thing, without really fully describing it.  What do you mean, now, when you say “television”?  HOUSE OF CARDS and HEMLOCK GROVE?  HAUNTING MELISSA on the iPad?  Serialised (periodical) narrative?  Shot for a small screen?  Maybe.  It certainly doesn’t mean what it used to [WEDC].

 

I stumbled onto this quote by author Warren Ellis that beautifully sums up something I’ve been speaking loudly about lately. Of course, Ellis is referring to the disruption of television, but I think what he say’s extends itself to movies as well.

Prior to the last 3-5 years (give or take) we used the words television, music video, film or movie to describe the most popular forms of media entertainment. But, recent trends in new media have challenged the use of these terms. For starters, when we go to the movie we are not watching film. The term film referred to a bunch of photographs running through a light source at 24 frames per second (more or less depending on the film). Today, most theaters don’t show film at all. With some exception, the images we see in today’s movie theaters are digital. Moreover, they are visual representations of numerical data. Sure, we still use the word film to describe a movie, an occupation or a discipline but it’s a term of nostalgia. Film is dead.

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But, even the term movie doesn’t mean what it use to. Ten years ago the idea of a movie was simple. I’m painting with broad strokes here, but typically a movie would be 90 – 120 minutes. It had a clear beginning, middle and an end that followed your classic three act structure. It was shot by a film crew (there goes that word again) and distributed into the theaters by a film studio. The viewer would watch it in one sitting. After its theater run it would show up in video stores across the country (in DVD, VHS and later BD formats). Finally, within a year that same film would show up on free television and/or cable television channels like HBO or Showtime.

That was the way things were in my young adult years. In the last few years we’ve been experiencing things (I’m not quite sure what to call them) that defies category. The recent popularity of 7-15 minute film shorts streamed through YouTube, Vimeo or Short of the Week, for example, has disrupted the way we talk about movies. Now that we’ve grown accustomed to streaming our video entertainment through TV and mobile devices do these shorts qualify as movies? What is the difference between watching 2 hours and 34 minutes of Transformers 3: Dark Side of the Moon on Netflix via an iPad and Spider, a 9 minute short from Nash Edgerton, on the same device?

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In regards to television, is Netflix orginal, House of Cards a television show or a 728 minute movie told in 13 chapters? Is Dennis Dortch’s Black&SexyTV a television channel on YouTube or is Dortch making a movie in short intervals? I think it is brilliant that The Couple, Hello Cupid, The Number, That Guy and Roomieloverfriends are connected and each series, if you will, tells the story of different characters in this world created by Dortch, Numa Perrier, Desmond Faison and Issa Rae. If you take each show in its entirety it feels like Robert Altman’s narrative approach in Gosford Park, but the filmmakers don’t have to squeeze multiple storylines into two hours. The characters have room to breath and the audience can get comfortable with them. Are these new age examples of movies? I don’t know, but you wouldn’t be entirely wrong to suggest they are.

But, these are easy examples. Haunting Melissa, described an app-only interactive horror movie, was created by Neal Edelstein, producer of The Ring and Mulholland Drive. To mimic a person being haunted by a ghost the movie is distributed in an unpredictable release schedule. The first two episodes are free (although episode 2 requires the user to give it some social media love) and after a few views I can confirm that there are a few noticeable differences each time you watch it. What category do you place Haunting Melissa in? Isn’t it safe to say that app-only interactive horror movie is a placeholder for now?

How would you categorize The Walking Dead: The Game? Although, it clearly falls in a video game category if you take out the interactivity it’s an animated version of the television series. This fall developer Quantic Dream will be releasing Beyond: Two Souls, a video game/interactive movie starring William Dafoe, Ellen Page and Kadeem Hardison. I’ve played their previous title, Heavy Rain, and let me tell you, video game doesn’t really do it justice.

These are but a few examples of new media that has challenged the way we talk about our visual entertainment. Is it appropriate to call them movies? Interactive movies? Video games? Television shows? Movies? Web series? Honestly, I could care less. I’m not interested in answering these questions. What fascinates me is the fact that we are asking these questions to begin with. It means that no one really knows, and that means there are no masters in today’s new media. The idea of a gatekeeper is not what it used to be. The old rules no longer apply.

Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas can barely get a movie made. Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino are threatening to retire. Spike Lee is on Bloomberg’s “Smart Street” yelling at Trish Regan for challenging his decision to start a Kickstarter campaign. Lee has always demonstrated a short fuse when it comes to ignorance. He’s old school in that regard. What Regan failed to understand yesterday is shared by a lot of folks. Traditional movie making is over.

To that I say, “Good! It’s about fucking time.” I say, we embrace these new trends. Dismantle these antiquated ideas of film and television. Consider the benefits of interactivity without being influenced by the limiting ideas of a video game.  I say, we look to our mavericks: Haile Gerima, Sam Greenlee, Julie Dash, Oscar Micheaux and Spike amongst many others. They couldn’t have left us a more clear blueprint on how to navigate through this disruption. I say, we stop hero-isizing people like Tyler Perry and Lee Daniels. The most exciting black filmmakers working today are the aforementioned Rae, Dortch and Khalil Joseph. Finally, I say, we stop fussing and start working. The traditional gatekeeper may be absent at the moment, but you best believe that someone is trying to figure that part out as I write this sentence. We have a chance not to get left out this time. Go get it. And, for God’s sake bring someone with you this time.

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Shadow and Act Comes Up With Some Great Ideas for Movies

In Culture, Film on July 16, 2013 at 2:29 am

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There’s this column over at S&A that I absolutely love. To encourage people to go out and create some really interesting black films they often post a little known but interesting story. I love these types of stories. When I was young my parents would tell me stories of black Americans or Africans that were never told in school. Our stories amaze me even more as an adult. The amount of untold stories we have is crazy.

So, I really like this column and I love the idea of throwing these ideas out there in the hope that someone will get inspired and pursue a movie out of one of them. I’m going to contribute by posting some of my favorites below with links to the original articles.

Was The Man Behind ‘The Lone Ranger’s’ Mask A Black Man?

Apparently, there is a ton of evidence to suggest that the man who inspired The Lone Ranger was a Deputy U.S. Marshall named Bass Reeves. Get this. Reeves was said to have captured close to 3,000 fugitives (he killed only 14). He was a former slave who lived in the Seminole and Creek Indian territory of what is now Oklahoma. Due to his close relationships with the Indians he had a partner who helped him track down bounties. And, most of his fugitives were shipped to a prison in Detroit. The Lone Ranger originated on a Detroit radio station.

Read more at the link. This Bass Reeves fella sounds like the truth. Whether he’s the inspiration for the Lone Ranger or not, he would make for one hell of a movie.

Consider The Black Count (The Real Count Of Monte Cristo) for Your Next Film Project

This one messed me up. I’m a huge fan of The Count of Monte Cristo. Stories inspired by it are placed high on my “need to watch list.” So, when I read that both Count and The Three Musketeers was based, in part, on the life of a half Haitian, half Frenchman I flipped.

Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie was born as a slave in Haiti, but he made his way to Paris, learned to be “a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy,” enlisted in the army and gradually rose through its ranks. By the age of 32, he was the commander-in-chief of the French army at the height of the French Revolution. Pailleterie, who adopted his mothers name (Dumas) when he enlisted, had three children and one of them was named Alexandre Dumas. Dumas, the son, would go on to be a world famous author.

So, how come no one has ever heard of this? Oh, it gets so much more interesting.

Doris Payne – International Jewel Thief & Black Woman

In the 1940’s Doris Payne became a diamond thief to help take care of her mother when she was a teenager. Payne, who has since been caught and is serving time in jail, stole jewelry in Paris, Monte Carlo, and Japan. Over a 60-year career, she traveled all over the world and stole over two million dollars worth of jewelry.

There is a documentary about this woman called “The Life and Times of Doris Payne” but I’m sure we can all agree that a feature film or an FX television series would be far more interesting.

Consider Investigating The Fascinating Life Of Sarah Rector For Your Next Film…

This story is so incredible I had to read it twice to truly understand what was going on. Sarah Vector was a former slave who became one of the richest girls in America in 1914. Vector was born amongst the Creek Indians. In 1887, the government awarded Creek Indian minors a few acres of land. She qualified as one of those minors. Of course, the land wasn’t expected to be worth anything, but in 1913 oil was discovered. Little Sarah Vector was only 10 years old. You won’t believe what happen when people found out.

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These are a few of my favorites but they’ve also posted stories on black female cartoonist Jackie Ormes, the Haitian Revolution and more. Hopefully, Tambay we’ll keep these stories coming.

Is Black Science Fiction Enslaved to Issues of Race?

In Film on July 9, 2013 at 2:08 am

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There’s an interesting article over at Shadow and Act titled, “Freeing (Black) Science Fiction From the Chains of Race.” In it, author, Andre Seewood posits that “placing the racial frame upon the science fiction/fantasy/or futurist work of African-Americans hastily discard[s] the genuine scientific, fantasy or futurist aspects of the work, which in turn, weakens and /or perverts the author’s original intent.” Basically, he believes the racial interpretations black people apply to science fiction are a detriment to our contribution to science fiction. As I write this, I hope I’m interpreting his essay correctly because I have a lot of problems with it.

Seewood begins by talking about Octavia Butlers, Bloodchild. It’s a great example to begin his essay. He quickly makes the point that Butler never intended her novel to have anything to do with race but many people viewed it as such. He believes that using race to interpret Bloodchild perverts its original intention. Though I’m not sure if I believe him, it is a fair point. It made me want to keep reading, but as soon as he starts to apply his ideas to film it begins to read like one of those bad time travel movies. You know, the one’s that move quickly through horrible plot holes thinking the audience won’t care of won’t notice through all of the quick editing and loud music.

Fear of a Black Planet

First off, Seewood chooses some really awful examples. For example, he criticizes people for reading Planet of the Apes (1968) as a “dense racial allegory” as opposed to an examination of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. It really irks me that my man is using the original Planet of the Apes – a movie arguably out of date — as opposed to the two most recent films. By ignoring the most recent contributions to the franchise Seewood is hiding his ideas behind a movie that people either haven’t seen or can’t remember. The last two films would have been more challenging and more rewarding if he could make them applicable.

Clearly, the Tim Burton remake with Mark Wahlberg is speaking to the racial undertones of the original. The surprise ending made that completely obvious, however, it was Rise of the Planet of the Apes that finally got the story right by making the ape, Ceaser, the protagonist. After being placed in a lab with other apes and gorillas who are tortured and experimented on — which clearly recalls American slavery, the horrible Tuskegee Syphilis experiments and today’s Prison Industrial Complex — Caeser breaks them out and they stage a massive revolt. I’m sure Ed Guerrero would agree that such a revolt is reminiscent to the Watts riots of 1965, the LA riots following the Rodney King case in 1992, or the riots that will happen if George Zimmerman is found innocent for killing Trayvon Martin (you heard it here).

In regards to Seewod’s focus on the idea that humans evolved from monkeys, I can see how this idea alone would make for an interesting plot, however Charles Darwin was very explicit in his connection of black people and apes.

At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes… will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla [Descent of Man].

Further, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution as it pertained to black people was so influential, its effect so profound that this belief still exists.

Crude historical depictions of African Americans as ape-like may have disappeared from mainstream U.S. culture, but research presented in a new paper by psychologists at Stanford, Pennsylvania State University and the University of California-Berkeley reveals that many Americans subconsciously associate blacks with apes.

The paper, “Not Yet Human: Implicit Knowledge, Historical Dehumanization and Contemporary Consequences,” is the result of a series of six previously unpublished studies conducted by Jennifer Eberhardt, Pennsylvania State University psychologist Phillip Atiba Goff (the lead author and a former student of Eberhardt’s) and Matthew C. Jackson and Melissa J. Williams, graduate students at Penn State and Berkeley, respectively [Science Blog].

I sympathize with Seewood’s desire for a movie that explores Darwin’s theory in a way that doesn’t speak to racial stereotypes. I  believe that type of movie is possible and it would be fun to watch. Planet of the Apes is not that movie. And, as we’ve seen with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the racial allegories hidden in the story make for a more interesting movie.

Gizmo Caca!

Seewood’s next example was Gremlins and Gremlins 2. Again, I believe these movies are out of date and he could have used some more recent examples to make his point. I’m not saying he would have been any more right in his assumption, but it would be interesting to explore his ideas with more movies made in the 21st century. Instead, he uses the well-known Spielberg franchise to criticize people for seeing racial commentary in the “structured absence” of black people. As he puts it:

[U]se any other non-white race, animal, or object within your film as a symbol of minority otherness and then “interpret” a racial commentary where you had not intended such a commentary to exist.

His aim to expose what he believes is a Catch 22. As Seewood puts it, if you omit black people from a movie like Gremlins, then a person can interpret the creatures in that film as metaphors for non-white people. However, if you cast a black person in a major role (he briefly mentions Adilifu Nama analysis of Will Smith in I, Robot) they are considered a token character. All of the above is bad, so focus more on the science of the science fiction and problem solved.

I’ll admit to being very disappointed in the way Seewood was trying to provide evidence to what my be a fresh way to look at the future of science fiction. He omits some very important details from his references. The Gremlins in question are not racial metaphors because it is convenient for the critic. After the bar scene in the first film – a scene that Ed Guerrero masterfully dissects in “Framing Blackness” — the filmmaker makes it impossible to see them as anything else but black caricatures. Take a look at this YouTube clip and tell me how many stereotypes you see. I can personally attest to the break-dancing Gremlin, the jazz-loving Gremlin, the stick up kid Gremlin, and the gambling Gremlins. When you view this scene and consider the attack of the gremlins are happening in a city devoid of any non-white characters, it isn’t a stretch to start making other connections.

This criticism is important because it reveals the weakness of the film and discussing these weaknesses — one can hope — make for better movies. As a kid, I was excited to see movies like Planet of the Apes and Gremlins. The idea that our world was being taken over by a foreign entity was the draw. What are we going to do to stop them? That was exciting. But, I quickly realized there were no we in these movies. We never did anything. The absence of non-white people in a story that affects so many people in a country known for its diversity? Regretfully, this speaks louder than any interesting scientific ideas you may be trying to explore.

Images Have a History

These images have a history and because they are so easy to recognize they distract from anything interesting you may be trying to say. This is what is holding us back. Most people are not obsessed with race and I would bet that people go to the movies to get away from such things. But, if you’re a storyteller there is a certain cultural awareness that you must have because that is your audience. There is nothing worse than spending money on a movie that implies a connection between black people and some ugly, evil creatures terrorizing a town of white people. If a good movie is about creating the illusion of a real world these scenes yank us from the illusion.

Evan Narcisse is a writer I really dig. He writes a lot about the images of black people in science fiction. He has a great line that I borrow all of the time: “if you’re not seeing a black guy, then you’re not seeing all of me. And if you’re seeing just a black guy, you’re not seeing all of me.” I think a person’s ability to understand how this applies to everyone is essential for good storytelling. Filmmakers have to get past that before we can begin to see the science in science fiction speak for itself.

Watch. This. 1:19

In Culture, Film on March 31, 2013 at 11:05 pm

I had to do a mock promo video for a mock counter-culture-centric website. Funny, this video means absolutely nothing as the site will never be made but, it’s honestly one of my favorite videos.

None of this footage is mine, mind you. It’s all wild stuff I found on YouTube (Yak Films, Odd Future music videos and concert footage, Adidas Promotional skateboarding videos, and random footage of the Mongols motorcycle club and the underground racing scene in Oakland).

I think this just speaks to a deranged part of me that doesn’t get a chance to play very often.

Maybe.
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Music:

“Geek Down” – J Dilla – Donuts

Watch. This. No Nearer to GOD

In Film, Technology on March 31, 2013 at 10:51 pm

Every time I disappear for an extended period of time I tend to return with a movie of some sort. Well, here I go again. I made a short movie and it’s called No Nearer to GOD. The synopsis is below and the movie is above.

Synopsis
No Nearer to GOD 

Valentin Wong is a modern day professional living in the Bay Area. Due to his job, Val spends most of his time connected to numerous mobile devices: his laptop, smart phone and tablet. Over the last few months he’s been hard at work on a project that has required him to read numerous emails, online documents, and research material. When he isn’t reading, Val is coordinating with people through various social networking sites and negotiating low level programming languages like Processing and HTML 5.

When we meet Val, his workload has caught up to him, and he is suffering from information anxiety. He is having trouble sleeping and when he does manage to rest he dreams of a mysterious woman that he can quite see. Soon Val becomes obsessed with “Her” and see’s a therapist in the hopes of discovering who she is.

Is she a figment of his imagination? A person from his past? A symbol of something he is trying to remember? Is she merely a hallucination? And, when he sees her is he awake or dreaming?

No Nearer to GOD is a short film inspired by the last chapter of James Gleick’s The Information. Titled New News Everyday, the focus of the chapter is on how we are inundated with all the information we can ask for, but for the first time this has created a condition where we struggle to make room for new information because we’re filled with so much already. Are we getting smarter? Are we getting more knowledgeable? Are we wiser? Or, is technology burying us in more information than we can handle resulting in a regression of intelligence, reflection and wisdom?

These are the questions that New News Everyday addresses and they are themes that No Nearer to GOD will explore using film styles from the L.A. Rebellion Film Movement and the French New Wave, with direct inspiration from Khalil Joseph’s short film, The Model.

Before I forget… Happy New Year!!!

In Film on January 3, 2013 at 12:49 am

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No need for a long winded speech. Happy New Year. Thanks for reading. I look forward to more, more and more to come. Last, as I am a big fan of black film and website Shadow and Act, which does the absolute BEST job of covering movies of the African Diaspora, below is my annual post of an annual video.

Each year SaA does a montage of the year in Black Cinema. So, if you feel like you missed something last year here’s your chance to find out what it is and start looking for it even if you’ll have to slow the video down or pause it to find out what movies you’re looking at. Work on that SaA!

“Abandon” the Notion that Black People Don’t Like Sci-Fi

In Film, Technology on December 21, 2012 at 10:31 pm

I wrote a few months ago about the experience of award winning playwright and screenwriter Keith Josef Adkins pitching a science fiction story starring five African American men. At the time there was no description of the plot other than that because the executive listening to the pitch quickly shot the brotha down.

Queue the very loud booing noise.

His reason: the science fiction market consists of white dudes from the ages of 13 and 49, so take yo’ black ass to a campfire somewhere and tell that story!

I made up that last part, but the pitch didn’t go so well and neither did the pitches that followed, so Mr. Adkins revealed that he was fed up and decided to circumvent Hollywood to go the web series route. As I said then, black people are taking over YouTube and yet another new series, Adkins’ The Abandon debut last night and it’s pretty good.

The filmmaking isn’t going to wow you as it was shot on a meager budget. However, the acting is good (something that is often bad in web shows) and the writing is well paced and boasts some surprising dialogue. The Abandon appears to be your standard aliens-are-taking-over-the-world type of story, but by mid-episode I quickly understood and believed the tension between the characters and was genuinely into what was happening.

It’s impressive to see that Adkins got this out so quickly as he just announced his intentions in July. It may have something to do with the fact that he kept the plot simple by letting it revolve around a group of guys on a camping trip, so most of this episode takes place in the woods.

I hear and certainly hope there are more webisodes to come. Check it out. Get hooked and support the continuing take over of YouTube by black folks. We’re coming… like these aliens in this web series, son!

Marginalized and Alienated Communities in the Rising Technological Age

In Culture, Film, Technology on November 8, 2012 at 10:29 pm

I’m in a Multimedia Program and I’m taking this business class, right? Every week I’m required to read a book, write a two-page op-ed of some aspect of the book then come to class the following week and discuss it. Ironically, the reading is less about business and more about the rise of nationalism, technological culture, behavioral economics, etc. We read things like Benedict Andersons’ Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism, Dan Arielys’ Predictable Irrational: The Hidden Forces the Shape our Decisions, and our most recent reading Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City by Walter J. Mitchell. The readings all have something in common. They’re written by old (and sometimes dead) white guys which makes the reading and writing part a little difficult for me.

Let me explain. The purpose of the reading is to help us understand “this nebulous term Multimedia” and how modern technology is changing us and the societies we live in. In the interest of doing this we use the exclusive ideas of white men. As a black man who is trying to make sense of this new age we are entering (and if you are not aware of this then you are really not paying attention) I find this very hard to do while reading the works of people who don’t consider diversity when they are discussing the future.

So, I search for explanations of diverse people in the digital age. I haven’t found much reading on the subject although Marshall McLuhan’s ideas are pretty cool. But, there is information out there in the digital world. They swim around and scream of relevance. It isn’t textual but there are images and music which is appropriate, I think. We tribal folk begin our expressions through movement and sound.

One such example is Alan Spearman’s (ironically, a white cat) As I Am embedded above. The beauty and tragedy of this video is reflective of a comment I made in class regarding Walter J Mitchell’s view that new technology would see the end of marginalized and alienated communities. He seemed to be referring to foreign terrorists but we have these folks right here in the U.S.

The ability to stream As I Am and to watch the digital images of poor black people as the protagonist questions his existence through voice over narrative is to see black people watching the world change around them while they try to figure out how to exist in it.

It’s a very powerful piece that, I think says a lot. And, I’m still trying to piece all of it together.

Tony Scott 1944-2012: Rest in Peace

In Film on August 21, 2012 at 10:40 pm


I intended to write something pretty lengthy about Tony Scott, but honestly I’m at a loss. I think it’s safe to say that most of us knew of the famed filmmaker. He has only made some of the most successful and most memorable movies of the last thirty years. I remember watching Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop 2 repeatedly with my brother on our old VHS. Crimson Tide was the first big budget thriller I had ever seen where a black male lead went head up with a white male lead without any issues of race and ethnicity. The man had an incredible list of films, and I always looked forward to what he was going to come out with next.

Tony Scott was a man that fed my generation movies. In the theater and the video stores he raised us, entertained us, and made some of us feel proud to see black men like Eddie Murphy, Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes and Will Smith in starring roles. We lost a giant this week. He will be greatly missed.

YouTube Original Channels Finally Explained

In Culture, Film, Technology on August 17, 2012 at 5:14 am


I read a brief blurb a few months ago about YouTube offering money to reach out to professional writers, producers, directors and actors to create YouTube original Channels. At the time that’s all it was and I thought it was bold, absurd and genius. So, I featured it in the Blogaboutech Mixtape, v. 2 and I’ve been keeping a very keen eye on these developments ever since.

Today, I came across a really fantastic article in the New Yorker about the genesis of YouTube’s Original Channels idea:

Early in 2011, Kyncl began meeting content creators in a variety of media—film, TV, music, print—whiteboarding the future of television, and inviting them to participate in it by creating new YouTube channels. He offered several million dollars in funding, in the form of advances against future ad revenues, to be used as development money. Once the advances are earned back, YouTube will share ad revenues with the creators. YouTube will have an exclusive right to the content for a year, but the creators will retain ownership. YouTube will be responsible for selling ads but will not invest in promoting or marketing the channels in the way that traditional television channels do. (There will be no lavish premiere parties, and no billboards in Times Square.)

They also discuss the direction they intend to go with it:

Is YouTube attempting to seize the means of production from Hollywood? James McQuivey, an analyst with Forrester Research, thinks so. “They’re saying, Fine, you don’t want to sell us your content, you want to tie everything up in distribution deals—fine, we’re going to make our own deals. Not just U.S. deals but global-rights deals, because YouTube is the largest video platform on the globe, and we’re going to sign Madonna and Amy Poehler, and guess what, this train is leaving the station, get on it or not.”

It is a good read for those who are interested in what may very well be the new way we view television (what ever the Hell that will mean in the next twenty years). I was a little disappointed in the authors proclivity towards mentioning more known content providers who have or will be producing their own channel (The Onion, The Wall Street Journal, Tony Hawk, Shaquille O’Neal, etc) as opposed to people I have featured here on Danger Brain. However, that does sound like an opportunity for someone else, n’est-ce pas?