So, it’s #BookLoversDay, as if we should restrict this recognition to one day of the year. I love books ALL YEAR.

Is every admirable sentiment going to be turned into a Hallmark Cards moment now, reduced to a single burp of validation each year? First, it was Valentine’s Day, then Secretary’s Day, then Teacher Recognition Day…

We don’t have to wait until Social Media tells us it’s time to recognize the value in something as important as our executive assistant, our children’s teacher, our partner in life, or literature itself, do we?

Here’s an idea: Take 30 seconds at the beginning of your day to recognize and honor one of the above, or any one of sundry other valuable influences in your life. Get on with your day, until you bump into something or someone who merits positive recognition (your newest client, your boss, your bank teller, etc), and take a moment to offer sincere recognition of their value. It doesn’t require a long speech. It could be as simple as looking them in the eye and saying “Thanks”.

Sounds obvious, but we miss the opportunity so often.

I recently posted a query to my Twitter family:

In no time at all, I received a flurry of very interesting and diverse replies, and I want to thank everyone for their very compelling suggestions. Here below the first ten reading suggestions, as I look forward to more to come!:

“Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – via https://twitter.com/carozaldua

“2am at the Cat’s Pajamas” by Marie-Helene Bertino – via https://twitter.com/lmholt0

“Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline – via https://twitter.com/schlossax

“Lamb” by Christopher Moore – via https://twitter.com/jiwindsor

“Agapē Agape” by William Gaddis – via https://twitter.com/140xLangame

A general recommendation of biographies from https://twitter.com/MihadAli

“The Moon’s a Balloon” by David Niven – via https://twitter.com/bockersjv

“Such Small Hands” by Andrés Barba – via https://twitter.com/citizenlow

“The Happiness Hypothesis” by Jonathan Haidt – via https://twitter.com/timokupsa

“Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders – via https://twitter.com/sfie_1

The recently launched Hulu serialization of Margaret Atwood’s seminal novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” is proving a worthy challenge to viewers around the world. It is not for the fainthearted audience.

 

Executive Producers Bruce Miller and Warren Littlefield gave the reins to director Reed Morano who, in partnership with actors including Elisabeth Moss, Joseph Fiennes, Yvonne Strahovski, Alexis Bledel, Samira Wiley, Ann Dowd, Madeline Brewer, Max Minghella, and O-T Fagbenle, have inhabited a world at one and the same time seductive and horrific.

 

DP Colin Watkinson has used focus and color in ways designed to disorient and unsettle, and the symbolism of Ane Crabtree’s costume design is as direct as her craft is sublime. Not forgetting Julie Berghoff’s production design, but nevertheless unwittingly neglecting the host of other contributors, I found the show to be immensely demanding, in the best of ways.

 

This is not something I would actively choose to watch, as a means to relax at the end of a long day’s work. Then again, there is little about our current sociopolitical landscape that warrants relaxation. One might once have called “The Handmaid’s Tale” a cautionary tale. Today, it feels more like a peek into a possible yet not-so-distant future. I wonder how much advanced warning we can afford.

Historically, small businesses founded during periods of market malaise grow to become behemoth multinational empires. At least, that’s what the track records of the likes of Microsoft, GE, IBM, GM, Disney, and even Apple would have you believe. Whether it’s because a recession throws a marketplace in to clearer and sharper relief, and identifies gaps that can be filled by innovators…or the simple possibility that it is perhaps less challenging (in the short term) to start one’s own business than to get a job when companies are reluctant to increase their workforce when their revenue projections are so shaky.

Whatever the reasoning, small businesses seem to appear by the legion during economic downturns, and the challenging economic times we are currently experiencing are no exception. Starting a small business is but the first step, however, in a very long and often unpredictable journey to success.  Advice abounds for these self-starters. Some of this advice is spiritual, some aspirational, some inspirational, most destined for the remaindered bin (or today’s e-book equivalent thereof).

It is refreshing, therefore, to come across a book that offers little by way of cheerleading, and a lot by way of practical and actionable advice. Susan Wilson Solovic and Ellen R. Kadin have recently co-authored a small biz startup guide entitled “It’s Your Biz” (Amacom, 227pp), and much of it is well worth the reading. If you are thinking of, or in the process of, starting up your own business for the first time, you would be well advised to skip all those feel-good tomes designed to raise your consciousness or karmic frequency, and instead study the experienced advice of these women, who will help you raise your eyes to see the road ahead, and guide you around many of the potholes thereon.

I have two quibbles with the publication:

a)      Resources are cited in a manner that leaves little room for the inevitable evolution of information sources in the 21st century. Sites come and go, new resource offerings crop up on an almost daily basis. The authors are handing out free fish, as much as they are teaching the reader how to fish. I would prefer if they would perhaps challenge the reader to find the resources for themselves. Perhaps providing pointers and search tips, instead of direct links; hints and clues that will not only yield resource opportunities, but empower the conscientious reader to seek out emerging resource opportunities not available at time of publication. Gamefication is a deeply embedded convention in today’s marketplace. Why not apply a little of that methodology to the book, and integrate a layer of interactivity in to the publication?

b)      Yet another “expert” has mistaken product marketing and sales support for strategic marketing. So long as marketing is seen as little more than a support activity, the sole purpose of which is to drive and support sales, organizations will only realize – at best – 50% of the value of this practice area. Marketing is a complex undertaking that –when successful – manages to connect an offering (product, solution, service, or brand) with one or more markets, in a manner that delivers exponential returns to all stakeholders. These returns are not purely fiscal, but also relational. Marketing has the potential to turn customers into salespeople, employees into evangelists, and brands into currency. Today’s social economy requires that business ventures recognize the new and very collaborative relationship they must foster with their clients and customers, in order to survive and thrive. Today’s marketing strategy is all about commitment, and far less about campaigns.

Extant these two quibbles, I am impressed with this guidebook, at least as a solid “get your head on straight” introduction to the basics of business building. This is not, as the book’s cover would have you believe, “the complete guide to becoming your own boss”, but rather the initial guide to the planning, preparation, and perseverance required to start a small business. Reading this book will not guarantee you business success, but it will assuredly get you in the headspace necessary to evaluate whether you are prepared to undertake the adventure.

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With thanks to Roger Ebert for directing me to this great resource, I found a lovely “low-tech” use of YouTube today, that I wanted to share with you.

Over 500 classic poems, each read aloud by the same man, as a simple slideshow presents the poet’s headshot, followed by the text of the poem, and concluding with a subtly evocative image relating to the poem just read:

Click here to visit the Spoken Verse Channel on YouTube

I’m afraid I am finding the channel somewhat addictive…rediscovering old favorites, and unearthing new delights.

Following on from my assertion earlier this month that e-reading will become ubiquitous, and for the better, I offer this video excerpt as clear supporting evidence of the attractive potential that is currently crossing the threshold of traditional print publication houses (fiction, news, or otherwise).

In 4 days, it is rumored that Apple will reveal their hand in this market sector – a move which would do much to erase, once and for all, any doubt that eBooks are to print media what mobile devices have been to the landline. How swiftly and enthusiastically publishers and, perhaps more crucially, readers react to these still emerging opportunities will determine more than just the rate of development of the hardware and software surrounding these devices and platforms. It will heavily influence a diverse array of communities: from the literary to the artistic; from advertisers to consumer product marketing agencies; from students and teachers to parents and pundits.

Presently, the cost of an e-book device is still too high for the average citizen, until you calculate the ROI. Consumers were willing to pay $600 for the iPhone, when it was released. The current iteration – considerably improved from the iPhone model of less than 2 years ago – is only $99. Meanwhile, over 3 BILLION iPhone apps have been downloaded, and the device has revolutionized the mobile device industry, as well as consumer behavior habits. Apple has recouped its investment handsomely, and the smartphone (in its many incarnations) is now almost a necessity to a whole generation of users across the world (indeed, in the developing nations it has transformed lives).

Currently, e-book devices cost far less than the early iPhone, and there is no doubt that the price will drop further. Add to this the dramatically lower cost to publish digitally, as well as the positive Green considerations (no ink, no paper, no hard distribution costs, etc), and the value proposition to the purveyor (technology hardware provider, service provider, publisher, writer, et al) is clear. Meanwhile, assuming (perhaps somewhat naively?) that publishers will soon lower the price for eBooks and eMags, in order to make them more digestible to mass market consumers, the value to the reader will be explosive.

As readership grows, so new demographics evolve. As eyeballs become identified, qualified, and quantified, so advertisers begin to salivate. From a commercial perspective, the bonus of e-readership is that metrics are more controllable, and thus businesses are able to connect with and – more importantly – STAY CONNECTED TO the interested consumer. This is where the fun starts:

Today’s magazine advertiser has no way of accurately qualifying the value of their placement, and magazines have to publish thick volumes (see Vanity Fair) just to stay afloat. These tomes are 70% advertising, and 30% editorial, at best. Readers have become inured to this dynamic, and breeze past the mag ads in much the same way as they zip past TV commercials, thanks to the DVR. Now, imagine if – thanks to the eMag – an ad was clickable, promising instant conversion. Imagine if, thanks to the eMag, a product offering could be placed strategically in relation to an article, enhancing the value of that product offering in the mind of the reader, by association (a new type of product placement). The discreet advertising opportunities are vast, and promise untold opportunities to magazine publishers and product manufacturers, and the agencies that creatively connect the two worlds. Then again, if the reader prefers an ad-free experience, why not grant it to them, at a premium? Those publications with higher ad-free readerships can offer lower ad rates, and vice versa. All very measurable, to everyone’s satisfaction.

In the e-Lit universe (the environment wherein electronic literature is ubiquitous), publishers can release a new book and have it in the hands of pre-identified “interested” readers within seconds. The temporal investment required, from a marketing perspective, is greatly reduced; freeing publishers to take more creative risks which will inevitably produce surprisingly powerful “accidents” of literary genius. The greatest works of historical fiction were rarely foreseen as commercially viable products. This emerging dynamic will allow a lot of literature to become a user-driven proposition, virally marketed by the readers themselves. It won’t exclude traditionally vetted works of literature, which can continue to receive the type of robust “upfront” marketing support that publishing houses often manifest. Nor will it erode the support for “hidden gems” of challenging yet worthy literature, which might otherwise not be deemed viable by the publishers, nor initially digestible by the public. Statistics are showing that the field of literary criticism is already evolving to function less as a pre-release prognosticator, but as a post-release adjudicator, still very capable of identifying and championing tomorrow’s Ezra Pound or Thomas Pynchon. e-Literature widens the field of offerings. It does not pretend to, nor can it, expand the readership, in and of itself. It does, however, create a new landscape onto which a wider and more diverse readership now has the opportunity to travel. To those who claim this might dilute the quality of literature, I counter that dilution is only experienced and identified upon imbibing. Consider the following scenario:

10 bottles of wine are put on a table. 2 bottles are of the highest quality ($10 per glass), 2 are of strong  but slightly lesser quality ($6), 2 are of middling quality but eminently drinkable ($5), 2 are of poor quality ($2), and 2 are of varied quality but watered down ($3).

A group of wine aficionados is invited into the room, and each given a $10 bill. They are given a quick taste of each wine, and then asked to “spend the money”. How they choose to “invest” their funds, and subsequently advance their experience of wine, is – in my opinion – a worthwhile allegory for the opportunity facing the reading public. The e-Lit universe will expand the selection of available content, and the quality spectrum will widen and deepen, by extension. The more extensive and more diversified availability of phraseological grapes promises a richer and more rewarding vendange.

I could write a book on the multifarious revenue generation opportunities available via e-publication, but this article must remain within the 1,000-word realm. I look forward eagerly to the imminent delivery of my Kindle DX (delayed due to demand, apparently), fully accepting the likelihood that upon delivery I will be in possession of an already usurped iteration. But if I were to think that way, how sorrowful would be my lot. Imagine living in the latter 16th century and, purely based upon your suspicion that “better plays may come out soon”, you turned down tickets to Titus Andronicus (which, by all accounts, received “mixed reviews” back in the early 1590s). Sure, you might be around when Winter’s Tale came out, and you might get tickets, and from the selective logic point of view, you will have arguably made a better investment. However, what if the tickets you were first offered were to Thomas Kyd’s first play, “The Spanish Tragedy”, and you declined on the same principle. What was then seen, and is argued by many today, as “arguably the most popular play of the “Age of Shakespeare” and set new standards in effective plot construction and character development”*, was Kyd’s greatest work. It was all downhill from there.

I intend to enjoy my Kindle, and upon it I shall read with pleasure many plays, books, articles, magazines, newspapers, and more. When something indubitably superior comes out (and when I have a salary that will permit me the indulgence!), I will replace my lovingly used Kindle with whatever relatively new-fangled gewgaw convinces me of its unquestionable worth.

Stayed up late and watched “Lost in La Mancha“, the chronicle of Terry Gilliam’s sojourn in Spanish Hell.

Directed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, whose “Hamster Factory” witness to Gilliam’s “The Twelve Monkeys” proved that “Making of…” docs need not be fawning paeans to the genius of all involved, nor sycophantic celebrations of the warm and fuzzy working environment on every movie set ever assembled. These two chaps seem to be Gilliam’s personal biographers – although they’ve now moved on (of course) to their own fictional gig, “Living and Breathing”.
But back to Spain, where the rain does fall on the plain, a lot…Mr. Higgins, you-have-no-idea…

Gilliam at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con Intern...
Image via Wikipedia

Terry Gilliam has been trying to make a feature film adaptation of Cervantes’Don Quixote” since 1991, or thereabouts. He has struggled valiantly against a host of obstacles (read financiers), and as this documentary begins, we learn he has finally acquired enough funding, all of it European, to squeeze out a production that might just approximate the rich tapestry currently residing in his Pythonesque cerebrum. Gilliam plans to make this $70 million for $35.1 million, and nothing seems to be able to stop him…that is, until he actually gets started.

As with “Hamster Factory”, this feature shows the truth about the unglamorous aspects of getting a film made. Unlike the “Twelve Monkeys” documentary, this project keeps rolling as Gilliam’s quest becomes swiftly unseated, landing unceremoniously in a mess of hailstorms, hemorrhoids, and high-flying (make that “not-so-high-flying”) Spanish fighter jets.

This film is a must-see for film students, as well as for those wishing to better understand why movie tickets cost so much!

As those of you who read my reviews in the past know, I don’t rehash the whole story, but prefer to share a few hors-d’oeuvres, in the form of background, and sideline info, leaving the meat for dinnertime.

Bon Appetit!

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This year’s Digifest, produced and presented by the American Film Institute, was a well-attended smorgasbord of the innovative, socially conscious, imaginative, and awkward. Now in its 11th year, the AFI’s Digital Content lab is a vital futurist incubator for the content industry (more than just film and TV, the DCL incubates projects and initiatives across a variety of content platforms, dedicated to ensuring that the storyteller has fullest leverage of their vision).

This year’s Digifest was opened to any and all, with free tickets made available for the main presentations, held at the Mann’s Grauman Chinese Theater in Hollywood. The location was appropriate, not only because its size  allowed for the larger attendance, nor simply due to its state-of-the-art playout equipment, but also because of its storied history as a film house (dating back to the 1920’s).

It was interesting (on a personal and professional note) that Digifest 2009 included a presentation by Technicolor’s Tom Burton. Tom and I worked together while I was CMO at Thomson (parent company to Technicolor), and his presentation here was a great education in how complex film-making really is, and how it is about so much more than just the business of making money from the fans:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/v/sowreI5LnWQ]

(self-promoting side note: that’s me he’s subtly albeit generously acknowledging at the 18:40 mark, when he refers to the “research division”, which was one of the areas at Thomson I was charged with integrating more closely in with the Technicolor business units).

From film restoration to another form of archiving, Digifest showcased the work of Public Radio station KUOW, as part of the MQ2 project. Part of this project has used crowdsourcing to capture the essence and history of neighborhoods across America:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/v/Vmsd9EmnxjI]

Digifest obviously showcased innovative new projects, as well. These included ScrollMotion’s fascinating, albeit not quite ready for primetime, “First Things Last”:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/v/IH9G-misVi0]

The event also was site of the world premiere of Mass Animation’s first piece of work, “Live Music”:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_2NcijwPWE]

Worth noting: Mass Animation just launched their newest project a couple of days ago:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4QGFaL0iQQ]

Digifest 2009’s innovation showcase included an interesting but somewhat messy presentation by Naked Sky Entertainment, demonstrating the unmistakable potential of AR (Augmented Reality):

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/v/NvcCiqxatvQ]

Giving Naked Sky due credit, the team had very little time to put their presentation together, but I could not help wishing that they had thought through the variety of potential applications of this technology, and seen more clearly where the obstacles and opportunities lie. I believe that AR will be, along with real-time news sharing, one of the most talked about media evolutions of 2010, and so I am frustrated when it is not given the most compelling presentation possible. Another AR demonstrator at Digifest, Trigger, showed some of their work on “District 9“, and again I was disappointed by the lack of true innovation, given that such a compelling tech was part of the production.

Presentations from both days of Digifest opened my eyes to the nature of my frustration. on Day One, The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation gave another somewhat stilted presentation (mitigated here *a little* by some good editing by AFI):

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/v/eQhJUt4LC7I]

The presentation gave no sense of what it was or intended to be, and was somewhat saved by the impassioned, and far more clear-sighted, subsidiary presentations of Global Green USA, Treepeople, and IFAW.

On Day 2, The Manobi Development Foundation gave a thrilling and inspiring presentation (even though it was largely pre-packaged):

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/v/7rpt0AXxjDI]

The difference was simple – in any case where the presenter was showcasing a project driven by a dominant focus on the technology, there existed a certain lack of direction. When the project was largely about a well-conceived creative, political, or social objective (as opposed to an attempt to tap in to the shiny attraction of emerging tech), the power of that project came across impressively.

My critiques notwithstanding, I must acknowledge that all the presenters demonstrated a shared conviction in the power of storytelling and digital platforms, as foundation stones for social growth and community building. It did not matter whether the goal was social change or pure entertainment. The common thread remained an acknowledgment of the need to continue experimenting with the nature of storytelling.

The AFI’s Digital Content Lab was originally the brainchild of Nick DeMartino, and for the last few years has been driven by the tireless efforts of the impressive and charming Suzanne Stefanac.

I sincerely hope that, as Digifest 2010 begins to build up steam, the projects that will be showcased will be borne of, and driven by, creative and social considerations. The technologies that facilitate and assist in the realization of those considerations are vital and compelling, but they should never dominate the vision of those who have chosen to put them to use.

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