Thursday, May 31, 2007
Blacks Vs. The Future:
Okay, I promised to talk to you a little bit about being black, doing tech stuff, and approaching the investment community.
Let me start by saying that my first experience with this phenomenon was with a product called an Illumiplate, a license plate that actually illuminated from within. Not to be confused with license plates with little lights or neon borders, the digits of the Illumiplate glowed incandescently. You had to see it to believe it: the plate actually had glowing digits you could read from half a mile away. So, of course, cops loved it, and wanted to get black folks Illumiplates immediately.
Anyway, this brother I know patented the plate and the proprietary technology and built a company around the product, and we then took it to the VC community and the state and federal government. It was a beautiful invention, like the coming of blue jeans. You could certainly imagine that, within ten years, everyone would be driving a car with a plate like this because it had so many aesthetic and functional competitive advantages. The plate's surface was basically a digital canvas, so from a vanity perspective you could have a honeymoon photo or an Outkast logo in all its blazing glory on the front of your car. It was ridiculous.
We talked to congressmen. People in the military. State troopers. They all loved it. We began looking at the various states, the billions of automobiles across the world, and it became apparent that this was a multi-billion dollar product.
But we had two major issues: 1) the inventor and all the founding members were black; 2) we didn't have the right friends: people that know great people and give great advice.
Politicians openly wanted to get cut in before any legislation moved forward to allow the Illumiplate on the streets. VCs wanted the technology, and wanted to throw us some nickels and dimes for coming up with their new cash cow.
We had no friends in the tech community. No leverage. No counseling from folks in the appropriate industry, which would have certainly helped seeing as our friend who invented the product was set on running everything and keeping the lion's share of pie for himself.
It was an amazing mess.
But for me, the most striking thing was how white people would look at the product. They would hold it in their hands, flipping it back and forth and damn near trying to crack it open to see how it worked, and then ask technical questions that, perhaps, they thought we couldn't answer.
To many of these white businessmen, it seemed simply inconceivable that we had done this. That it wasn't a top research lab or university that pulled this technological feat off: that it was just a few n*gg*s sitting alone in a room. Perhaps it was just as far-fetched to them that we would be able to successfully commercialize this product, build the General Electric- the entire infrastructure- needed to push, market and distribute this product around the globe.
Perhaps, in some regard, they were correct, but here's where the paths of whiteness and blackness differ. As James Brown said, we don't want nobody to give us nothing. Open up the door we'll get it ourselves. With money, you can hire folks that have much more experience than you, build infrastructure, market things properly, make things happen. Take a leap: treat a young black guy like Mark Zuckerberg and you never know what might happen.
We just need a fair deal. Not a they're-some-n*gg*s-they-don't-know-the-difference deal.
We never expanded our team. We never pulled in the money. We never built a coalition to make it possible. And the invention died. Maybe died's not the right word. Went back to that place where good ideas go, where they can be born again to a white person, who knows the right people, attracts the right level of funding and then gets on the cover of Forbes magazine smiling.
Like Col. Sanders, who probably never cooked a piece of chicken in his life, bragging about his secret spices.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Submitted the following video treatment to Purple Ribbon upon Big Boi's special request. Never shot. Would love to shoot this...if the perfect crazy party-dance song came along. Let me know what you think...
Property of Blak Milk Productions
We see DICK MICK, a black newscaster dressed in a badly tailored baby blue suit and a horrible toupee. His lips are ashy, and he talks with a lisp. When he turns to the camera, we see that his eyes are wide with fear— he looks like a man who has just seen an elderly woman harassed in broad daylight.
As we hear the opening chorus, he says, “As you know, this is DICK MICK of BTV NEWS…What you are about to see is shocking…lewd, crude…and partially nude. Please brace yourselves: Perhaps you have even heard about our next story…a group of hooligans calling themselves the Purple Ribbon Posse…Like nefarious criminals from the Wild West they have colorful nicknames! They call themselves Donkey Boy, Lil’ Co and Killer Mike…Over the last two months, they have gone on an outrageous rampage through the South… where with colorful phony guns they have been making outlandish appearances in banks…and using security cameras to make horrible music videos…see for yourself.”
As the first verse begins, we see Lil’ Co in a bank, waving a monstrous blurred out squirt gun. People are running and screaming, diving over counters. He stands in the center of the room, rapping, acting crazy and making the scared fat security guard do the body rock. Killer Mike and Donkey Boy are behind him, pushing their blurred out squirt guns in crying customers’ faces and forcing them “to do the body rock.” Two beautiful female customers begin to enjoy doing the body rock. Making suggestive glances at the security cameras, they throw off their corporate attire and begin gyrating and doing the body rock like professional strippers. Their torsos are blurred out, even though their bright bras are still visible. A blind man goes by doing the robot. A bank teller pours Moet on an elderly dancing woman, whose wig falls off. The peaceful bank has become a riotous party. A ticker tape scrolling across the bottom of the screen reads “Coming NEXT: the BTV world-wide premiere of BODY ROCK!” The shots alternate between black and white security camera footage and gritty color handheld shots.
We see Dick Mick again, sweating and visibly disturbed. He is seated with Big Boi, who is dressed in bowtie, with a briefcase. Dick Mick says, “I’m here with Lucious Leftfoot, a mild mannered businessman, an innocent bystander now traumatized by one of these banking incidents. Do you care to tell us what happened?” Big Boi’s eyes are glazed over, as he fights for words: “The-They made us do the Body Rock.” We see security slow-motion footage of Big Boi being forced to do the Body Rock (Big Boi is circled with yellow). Dick Mick swallows, looks book at the camera, and says: “And now these criminals, the Purple Ribbon Posse, have had the gumption to actually make a professional music video…see for yourself…”
As Killer Mike’s verse begins, we go to a bright video set, complete with sexy, prissy models, dangling microphones, gaffers and impressive cameras. The professional shots alternate with security camera footage. Models gyrate. People hold up drinks and blurred out squirt guns. Right after Killer says “Gucci Man!”, the sound lowers and we hear the instrumental. We see Dick Mick standing in an aisle at a convenience store. In a grave voice, he says, “Here we are in Pay-For-It. As you can see, the hysteria has grown. There are Donkey Boy action figures. A Body Rock exercise tape. And Killer Mike Halloween costumes. See for yourself…” We pan over to a group of children who are in a rampage— dressed in Killer Mike Halloween costumes. We see security camera footage of the kids yanking things off shelves, doing the body rock and laughing with monstrous blurred out squirt guns. We cut back to the end of Killer Mike’s verse.
When the second chorus begins, we see Dick Mick again, standing on the steps of a church. He grimaces, then we follow his glance over to the church sign, which reads: “Come Do the Holy Rock!” We see Cee-lo in a jheri curl. He is eating chicken. His name flashes on the screen: Rev. Spicy Man. Dick Mick says, “Rev. Spicy tell us about the Holy Rock.” Rev. Spicy Man pulls a chicken bone out his mouth and says quietly, “Will my wife see this?" Dick Mick nods no.
Rev. Spicy says, "Okay.” Then says loudly in a preacherly tone: “It started a few weeks back, when I had a religious experience doing the body rock in a club of ill repute. And I decided that my congregation needed to experience what I experienced that night. Since then, the Lord’s mercy has been good to us. The whole choir and congregation is doing the Holy Rock, and our offerings have gone up expeditiously.” We see the whole choir doing the Holy Rock.
We cut back to the interview, where Dick Mick is frowning. Disgusted, he shakes his head and stands, saying “I can’t believe this..” Meanwhile, Rev. Spicy Man does the Holy Rock in the chair, and then passes him a collection plate and says “No one leaves my church…without doing the Holy Rock!” Dick Mick laughs, “What you want some money?” Rev. Spicy Man nods. Dick Mick sighs, takes out his wallet, and begins to take out a couple of dollars. But Rev. Spicy Man reaches over with a laugh and takes his whole wallet.
As the third verse begins, we CUT TO the professional music video, where Donkey Boy is holding up his action figures and doing the Body Rock with Lucious Leftfoot and the wigless elderly woman. The blind man goes by doing the robot. We see security footage as well. As the verse ends, we CUT TO a busy downtown area where Dick Mick is standing on a street corner. Dick Mick says, “Here we are outside of Old National, Georgia’s largest and most historic bank…As you have heard, the culprits will be here any minute…for their first openly televised performance of body rock The police are here, ready to arrest these criminals when they arrive. You can see their fans are here too, the press, what a crazy scene… Oh this might be them…”
An old white utility van pulls up. The door slides open, and a dozen kids spill out dressed like Killer Mike with blurred out squirt guns. They begin doing the body rock, so do the fans and innocent bystanders …a purple smoke grenade explodes in the street…a party starts in the street…Then the Purple Ribbon Posse appears and all hell breaks loose with even the press doing the body rock…Instead of arresting the posse, the police begin taking off their clothes and doing the body rock…Dick Mick screams, “All hell is breaking loose! Mass pandemonium! Cut! Cut!” As the screen fades to black, Dick Mick begins energetically doing the body rock.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
The PLEASURE SCALE (Guest Starring the Ohio Players!!)
Well, guess I'll be reviewing albums, films, and books here from time to time, so it's good to have a scale. And who betta to rate how pleasurable something is than the Ohio Players, I mean with albums named Pain, Ecstasy, Orgasm...
They know a thing or two about things that feel good, and things that feel bad. So what I've done is equated each part of the scale to the amount of pleasure found in each album cover. Period. It's NOT about the music found on the respective album, just a reflection of the level of joy brought into the male psyche by the cover design itself. So here we go:
And once again, for the playas that missed it!
This is further proof that they don't make albums like they used to. Also proof that the "Tip Drill" controversy started in the 70's if not earlier.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Bjork Raises Her Own Flag: 85% (for details on the ratings see the Pleasure Meter post)
It's hard out here for music lovers. Music still costs money. And to make matters worse-- as fellow WAS member MitchOWski asked, "When's the last time you really LOVED a song?" And we actually had to think about it.
Well, after a couple weeks of listening and marinating on not only the question, but also Bjork's album Volta, I finally have a proper answer: Tracks 1,2, 3, 5, 6,7 and 9. But who's really counting?
This is Bjork. I expect the trees to start dancing while I'm listening to her album. The earth to tremble. Birds to flap their wings to the beat. A dolphin to jump out of the ocean and land in my eardrums.
The tragedy of innovation is the curse of adulation--the aficionado that wants it faster, smaller, longer, weirder, and right frickin' now! Because deep inside we think you can still take us someplace new...
So, of course, we're expecting a lot, but Volta doesn't disappoint. The starter "Earth Intruders" bangs tribally, and you can almost feel the Bacchae gathering around you as you listen: you almost feel them pinching your skin, whispering "thumping...marching...grinding the sceptics into soil...we are the earth intruders/stampede of resistance/we are the canoneers/necessary voodoo," and as the song crashes to a close, you know Bjork is back again. Like stellar tracks such as "Wanderlust," this song is spritual cousins to "Hunter" and other pounding masterpieces from Homogenic.
But that's a good thing. Or a bad thing.
It's good to know Bjork can still deliver thematically and lyrically, and it's good to see that her Timbaland collaboration wasn't a smoking bust, but there's really nothing new here...a stellar summation, perhaps, of places we've already been....
It took a little while, but I'm now a HUGE fan of "Dull Flame of Desire." For some odd reason, it reminds me of Minnie Ripperton's take on "Light My Fire." It's most likely the way Antony sings: for some odd reason, the timbre of his voice reminds me of Jose Felliciano for some odd reason...The movement of brass reminds me of "Unravel," putting the song on Homogenic territory again. The new thing about this song is the idea of the duet, which Bjork has done sparingly outside of her work with Thom Yorke on Dancer in the Dark. I have to admit that the fact that the lyrics come from Stalker ( a Tarkovsky film, which I haven't yet seen) also add a subtle allure.
"I See Who You Are" sounds like something cut during the Vespertine sessions: a quiet kiss punctuated with melodic blips, Asian harmonics, and a sea of silence. Simply wonderful.
But for me it's "Vertebrae by Vertebrae" that really gets the album started. So here's a concept: How about Bjork singing to a Bernard Herrmann score? Bernard Herrmann scored Psycho and Vertigo. So you get the point. Bjork, like Missy Eliott, has always prided herself on diving into the deep end where most singers see no water at all. And the result, is shockingly beautiful, gorgeously unbelievable. This is the album's best song. It's like she's lost in a Hitchcock film, and there's no way out. Produced by Bjork with Damian Taylor, this song is the best song I've heard all year.
The lyrics are as good, if not better. It's a short story about a woman becoming a werewolf, becoming one with nature, becoming one with herself...which is to say she is "hungry and curious..[and]...looking forward...[to a place where] the air is thinner...." Her growl becomes a howl as the strings stab, and you can almost see her in the moonlight, writhing in existential pain, as she shrieks, "my arms ooze out my shoulders!"
"Pneumonia," the song that follows it, has a beautiful brass arrangement that sound like lost ships calling to each other on a misty sea. Which is appropriate because the song is really a song for lost girls, girls who dared to love, girls that have been broken in so many pieces by so many men that they can't find their way home again. A stunner that completes the most sublime sequence on the album.
"Hope" reminds me of Vespertine again: light arrangement, Eastern harmonic plucking and lyrics about terrorism (WTF!) The less said about this, the better. I'm still deciding how I feel about the lyrics, and the song concept overall, but it's interesting, produced with Timbo, and at least, not standing still thematically.
Then there's "Declare Independence." An anthem that does for Bjork what "If 6 was 9" did for Jimi. There's only one problem here: this anthemic electro-punk song should have been on Homogenic. This statement should have been made soooooo much earlier in her career. In fact, the most amazing thing about this song is the fact that Bjork hadn't done it already. It's as if this was the true sentiment, the invisible ink, swirling in all the words and worlds of all her songs, and she finally said fuck it--i'll just come out and tell you what to fricking do--MAKE YOUR OWN FLAG...RAISE IT HIGHER....HIGHER...DONT LET THEM DO THAT TO YOU!
but perhaps, as in all things, this song is right on time.
Because, as the song throbs and pounds, and Bjork begins to chant down the colonists, you begin to understand what this album was all about. It wasn't for you. You have all her albums. You've seen all her videos. You know this is what she's been singing all along. But there's someone else out there. A new fan, lost in a world of bling and horrible Real World reruns. Someone who is listening to Bjork for the very first time. This young girl has never heard all of the queens and kings that Karen O worships: she's never heard of the Gang of Four or the Clash or the Slits or heard X-Ray Spex or Siouxsie & the Banshees, heard "Free Money" by Patti Smith, or any of the countless anthems by Kate Bush, Sleater Kinney or Liliput.
And this anthem is for them. And I hope these teen rebels love it. And burn this world down. And build a new one.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
The Star Wars universe began this weekend, thirty years ago.
Isn't that crazy!?
As mentioned before, I've been reading the new Making of Star Wars book. It's insane.
Here's a few quick items you can take note of when you're building your own personal epic.
- You've got to read: Joseph Campbell, Tolkein, Bruno Bettleheim, and more fairy tales and myths than the law allows. That's what Lucas was consuming as he wrote and rewrote, edited and revised the script over three years. And that's just for the story. Then, of course, he was taking in films as well: Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress, which provided the plot, and films such as The Dam Busters and Battle of Britain and Tora! Tora! Tora!, which provided the manuevers for the challenging dogfight sequences.
- Your only friend is history: Who knows what the future will be like? We all thought we'd have our flying cars by now. So Star Wars looks back. Simply put, the production would not have been possible without World War II. The uniforms, aesthetic and philosophy of the Nazis and the ongoing imperial machinations of America during the Vietnam conflict supplied the belief system and look of the Empire. The Y-wing and X-wing fighters were designed after WWII bombers and jets. Same with a lot of the pilot garb and maneuvers from the war films. Of course, we all know this historical research extended to ancient times from other cultures such as the samurai, which provided Darth Vader's helmet, Luke and Obi Wan Kenobi's garb, etc.
- Your future is used: Lucas's biggest contribution to science fiction, though, was the idea of the used future. The idea that things shouldn't be polished, sterile, clean. They should be dirty, rusty, used. Ships and guns should look like they might not work at all. This is an amazingly simple concept that makes perfect sense. And it has been used in so many genres and films since then: Alien/Aliens, Lord of the Rings, etc.
- Your best costumes and ideas are junk: Literally. They built the moisture collectors on Tatooine out of airplane junk; used faucets to make comlinks; cannibalized actual World War II weapons to make blasters; old photographic flash units to make lightsaber handles, and on and on. Most of this stuff came from junkyards, garage sales, bins and warehouses of junk, damaged goods and products that were yesterday's news. They even used scrapped technology, like the Vistavision camera and other junked high-end equipment in their struggle to create detailed FX projections at ILM.
- You'll figure it out as you go along: All the great films I've heard of have terrible, draining shoots. Star Wars was no exception. And with malfunctioning robots, monsoon rain in the desert, no money, scant pre-production time, you already know...And that's just the technical stuff. On the story side, Lucas was still figuring out all the details we hold dear. Luke was on the set for days being called Luke Starkiller!
- You better have geniuses for friends: It helps to have close friends like Coppola and Spielberg reading the drafts of your script. Brilliant actors like Harrison Ford still waiting to make it, begging to get in your film. And to have friends like De Palma (who was casting for Carrie at the time) helping out during your casting sessions. The important thing to realize here, though, is that you have to have faith and vision. Many of the folks around you, if not geniuses, are most likely very talented in their own right: how can you gather together, pool your resources and do something that's never been done?
- You better be rich: This is the most important. Star Wars would not have happened without American Grafitti, which in turn, would not have happened without The Godfather (Coppola produced American Grafitti using his Godfather war chest). But let me say it again: Star Wars would not have happened without American Grafitti, which grossed over $100 million in 1973 and became one of the highest grossing films of all time. This made Lucas respected...and rich. This made Lucas capable of putting up the $473,368 (which would be $1,713,454.18 today!) needed to set up Industrial Light & Magic, hire Ralph McQuarrie to start the crucial sketches and designs needed of robots, landscapes, vehicles, characters, stormtroopers, etc. This meant Lucas could pay salaries himself, begin casting his film, roll up to the last seven days before filming, the very gates of the shoot itself...with Twentieth Century Fox nodding its head yes, while not laying down one greasy dime for production...
It's a celebration, b*tches! Happy Birthday STAR WARS! You changed my life.
Friday, May 25, 2007
Okay, this morning I finally talked to Erica!
She's on her way to Costa Rica and she has the script with her. So we'll see...
She's been caught up finalizing a deal with Brian Grazer, so she says we'll talk next week.
In other news, yesterday I spoke with Greg Tate, friend and esteemed writer of classics such as Flyboy in the Buttermilk, and writer for Rolling Stone, Vibe, Village Voice, etc. He read the script, for which I am forever grateful! Thanx Greg!
Anywhoo, Greg liked a lot of the toys in the toybox. Writing is a little like building things: you have different textures and materials, joints and tubes, nuts and bolts, a couple wings, windows and monitors, wheels and an engine to make the whole thing go...and you put all this stuff together, try to think of a new name for this beautiful monstrosity other than THINGAMAJIG and then give it a push...
The waiting is the hard part...waiting to see if it flies, explodes, gets crushed by a passing semi, or makes it safely back to the ground or to the other side of the the road.
(Did I mention that before you gave it a push, you packed your heart and soul onboard?)
Anywhoo, Greg liked where Slasher was headed: the world, the characters, the teen drama/romance, the dialogue...but he wanted more focus on some characters that are minor as of now...and his feeling is that there are definitely different genres at hand...in fact, because of the feel of the police investigation, he feels that the film could be "a cross between The Inside Man and The Ring"...which he thought was cool...and I find interesting in theory...
Of course, the challenge here is that (in practice) it still needs to make you spill your popcorn and hold your girlfriend's hand! It still needs to move at 999 miles per hour...your heart has to feel like it's running up the stairs from at least the mid-point on!
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Back to our discussion of innovation.
Could Atlanta become a black Silicon Valley?
In its current incarnation, and without some drastic measures, I have an easy answer for you: NO.
In his amazing post on how to create a Silicon Valley, Paul Graham names the two types of people needed to get the tech start up engine churning: rich people and nerds.
To get nerds, you have to have an academic/research community. And Atlanta does: We have Emory University, Georgia Tech, Georgia State, Morehouse College, Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University....sounds like enough nerds to me.
When I was at Morehouse, I met so many geniuses that everyday I would say if we don't leave here and start a Microsoft? (for details on my question mark, see my post below)...then we've lost our minds...
What about rich folks?
That doesn't seem to be a problem either. According to an article in the Atlanta Business Chronicle, the ATL has cash and mulit-millionaires comin' out the wazoo. In fact, we're ranked No. 7 in the nation in terms of our concentration of households with more than $5 million in investable assets, and ahead of similar size cities such as Charlotte and Miami in terms of our rate of growth in the area of wealthy households (households with at least $1 million in investable assets.)
So wealth ain't the issue either. So what's the problem?
As Paul Graham points out, there is a distinct connection between technology and liberalism. He even provides a map from the recent election: just in case you're unsure how your region rates in terms of its notion of liberty. But if you're from Georgia, you already know the deal: you're from the home of Confederate battle flags, Sons of the South, and on and on.But maybe a few key examples from the Wondaland's forays into the Atlanta investment community will help you understand what's really goin on.
Suffice it to say that I do believe Atlanta has a severe case of warped world views, racism and chronic "traditional value syndrome." From a tech investment standpoint, Atlanta's very sick, on both the black and white sides. If I were a doctor, I would recommend surgery immediately.
For more on this, see my coming post Black Folks Vs. the Future.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
So Slasher is now registered with the WGA (Writers Guild of America).
Which I'm happy about.
Still tryin' to set up some proper pitch meetings. Haven't yet heard back from Erica, who is always on the phone with Brian Grazer or sompunother.
Has she read the script yet? Who knows?
In the meantime, I've done line edits and revised some critical dialogue in the third act, begun planning a beat sheet, begun reading From Reel to Deal (which is outright hysterical one second and outright frightening the next!), begun a cast breakdown, and begun to try to boil the film down to a proper screenplay treatment.
I've also been taking some notes from film production books like the new book on Grindhouse. In that book, you can see scale models of all the Death Proof sets: Jungle Julia's apartment, the bar, etc. I've asked Chris Chambless about building a diorama/scale model/3D CGI model of the Tusker House, our primary location. He thinks it's a great idea, so I've already reached out to a computer animator in that regard. The more work we can get done by ourselves the better, especially if we're trying to get this film out by next Halloween.
I've also come up with a Logline: "It's The Ring in a haunted plantation house." What do you think?
One thing I do know is that they continue to use writers for shark bait in the television and film industry. See the links below:
For writers, it's a scary world all day long.
Here's an invention for you. James Brown reconstructs the English sentence, explains the nature of blackness in America and deconstructs modern marriage, romance and love in 4 minutes and 33 seconds flat.
My favorite moment is when JB says "I'm NOT YES!" I'm certain that I've never heard anyone but my drunk uncle say anything like that before. And my uncle was a genius when he was drunk. Which is to say he was a genius everytime I saw him.
(This video is required viewing for Funk 401: Groove as a Way of Life at Wondaland.)
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
For a good look at what INVENTION truly means, I suggest a look at the video post above. Some of you have probably seen this. That's Jefferson Han, showing off his Minority Report-like Multi-Touch Interface.
For those wondering, there is a crucial difference between this touch screen technology and that sported by the new iPhone. Jeff Han's patented interface is actually rear projected, while Apple's patented gesture user interface is actually overlaid on the screen.
Now Jeff Han's interface is amazing. But it is an invention, not an innovation. While the iPhone's interface is an innovation. How so?
The word INNOVATION has become so watered down in our culture: Everyone's an innovator, everything's innovative, everybody is a genius.
At Wondaland we are following the cues of SRI, the Stanford Research Institute. These guys say innovation is only one thing: Innovation is the process of creating and delivering new customer value in the marketplace.
And these SRI guys know a little about innovation: they helped Douglas Englebart create the computer mouse and the personal computer interface; they helped create the Internet designations .com, .org and .gov; they sent the first transmissions over wireless and wired networks; thereby creating the Arpanet, the precursor to the Internet; they created the standard for HD-television; they did the feasability studies and scouted locations for Walt Disney's Disneyland, and on and on and on....
They agree with you that there's several things going on in an innovative product. For instance, you might have:
- a new technological breakthrough, such as the discovery of the transistor
- a new invention, such a one-wheel scooter
- a new business model, such a no-frills airline
- a new production process, such as a lower-cost way to make computers
- a new creative design, such a sleek, sexy automobile
For example, in Innovation: The Five Disciplines of Creating What Customers Want, Curtis Carlson, the director of SRI, relates the following:
"Philo Farnsworth invented television in 1927, but it was David Sarnoff who created television broadcasting to bring black-and-white television to the consumer in 1939. He developed a successful business model that put together televisions, cameras, broadcasting stations, program content, and advertising. Farnsworth invented the device, while Sarnoff was the innovator who put all the pieces together to create an industry."A rich example can also be found with Edison:
"Thomas Edison was a master of knowing when to attack a problem, and he created one marvelous innovation after another. For many years he did not work on the lightbulb. He realized it was a huge opportunity, but he also knew that the technology needed to create the infrastructure to distribute electricity was not practical. once he decided the infrastructure could be built, he put his prodigious energy behind the task and created a durable lightbulb, parallel circuits, an improved dynamo, an underground conductor network, safety fuses, and insulation, and light sockets with on-off switches."
"The objective is, as Edison knew, finding solutions to important customer and market needs where all the pieces come together. The electric light bulb was an invention. The creation of the light bulb with a practical electrical distribution system that could economically deliver power to customers was an innovation--one of the most important in the history of mankind. Edison did his homework and, among other things, created the phonograph, the cinema, and the modern research laboratory. He also created General Electric to build his innovations, now the second most valuable company in the world after Exxon with a market capitalization of roughly $300 billion."
As Fast Company pointed out in its feature story on Jeff Han, often inventors aren't innovators: they have no idea what their technology can be used for. In fact, Edison thought "his phonograph would lead to the paperless office; businessmen would record letters and send the waxed discs through the post." Likewise, Jeff Han doesn't know how his mapping software, photo manipulator, or any of it will be ultimately used-- these applications are proofs of concept, not marketable ends in themselves.
And until Mr. Han or someone else figures it out, Apple will remain the Edison of the touch-screen interface world.
Monday, May 21, 2007
This weeek, I'd like to talk a little about INNOVATION.
First, a simple definition:
Inventions make you smile; they impact you qualitatively like the fun idea of mashing "Hey Ya" with Charlie Brown footage in the video post above--innovations bring new customer value into the marketplace; they quantifiably change your life, forever alter the way you approach your profession, recreation, or both. With the advent of an innovation like YouTube, this suddenly means the world is a different place: political candidates sweat a little harder when they're near cameras and microphones.
Let me start by saying this discussion was prompted by two conversations I had yesterday: one with Julian Haring, a computer animator from the Atlanta area, and one with Control Z, who like all of us, is still quite upset he does not have his flying car and Holographic TV.
I was meeting with Julian to discuss the first Metropolis video, which will most likely be an extended video for the songs "Violet Stars Happy Hunting" and "Many Moons." For the video, we are considering the creation of several CGI environments so we can bring the world of Metropolis to life--and we're reaching out across the world (literally) to do all this on a Ramen noodle budget.
(This does NOT mean these CGI environments will happen. This means we are investigating the possibility as we refine the video treatment and prepare for production. At Wondaland, we truly believe in Underpromising and Overdelivering...)
Some of you might already know that there's a lot going on over here at Wondaland besides music. Yes, we do produce for Outkast, Janell Monáe, etc. But we also invent and we're working on true innovation. This is why we often introduce ourselves as inventors, instead of music producers, songwriters, screenwriters, artists, etc.
To help in this regard, we have several companies:
- Wondaland Productions, which produces music for the Wondaland Arts Society ;
- BlabStar LLC, a tech company that promises to change social networking, E-commerce and music distribution forever;
- Blak Milk Productions, which spearheads our graphic design efforts, designs logos, album packaging,and merchandise design;
- WISM, which as a production entity owns the scripts for Slasher and Adam's Song. In addition, like a young budding WETA or ILM, this company handles our art direction, video/film pre-production, storyboarding and will one day handle all of our post-production computer animation and special effects, as well as serve as an in-house film and video production concern.
The trick here, of course, is that the film industry wants to out-innovate the pirates. How do you create a 3D experience in your home without the special glasses, multi-million dollar projectors, screens, etc? How do you create lasting competitive advantages if you're a movie studio, theatre owner? And folks like James Cameron and George Lucas really believe that the only way you can beat "free" or satellite delivery is through the creation of a communal, beautiful experience that can only be replicated with expensive technology in a cushy theatre near you.
As with the music industry, my thoughts here are two-fold:
- The Pirates can't be beat. Especially in a digital arena, where products, code, etc. can be replicated and distributed with the click of a button without any loss of quality. These folks need to read Phillip K. Dick's "Man and the Android" where Dick delineates how the police in his neighborhood in California are treated by the rising anarchist movement: "As we say in California, where I live, when the police come to investigate a burglary in your house, they find, when they are leaving, that someone has stripped the tires and motor and transmission from their car, and the officers must hitchhike back to headquarters." I believe all these major media companies better get ready to hitchhike...that is, find new systems to monetize their content.
- Can quality trump convenience? In other words, can the quality of a 3D communal cinema experience truly trump the convenience of having it in lesser-but-still-HD-quality at home on your plasma screen. Or in even lower resolution on your iPhone. If the rise of the MP3 is any indication here, I would bet on convenience--not quality. But that being said, I think cinemas are here to stay: they've lived through the rise of b/w, then color TV, the arrival of cable, VCRs, DVDs...
I think the cinema is part of the fabric of America. A date and a movie, and then a trip out to Lovers Lane is probably how most of our parents were born.
Now MUSIC, on the other hand, is a whole 'nother story. As our friend Rapheal Tisdale, who was a VP and the chief general counsel for Capitol Records for many years, has reminded us: the music industry has always turned to outside tech firms for the technology that controls its business: the CD, MP3, online stores, subscription services, etc.
And there is no way you can protect your industry without actively bringing those processes in-house or brokering deals QUICKLY and EFFICIENTLY with the upstarts. So go ahead. Act snobby. Act provinicial. Overcharge people for your bland, cookie-cutter products for twenty years. And you are guaranteed to kill your market by turning even your die hard customers into pirates.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
I hereby decree that it is against the law not to add a question mark after the word Microsoft.
The Zune is a metaphor for their entire enterprise. And that's not a compliment.
It's not that I think Microsoft? is dead. It's just that I think they need a daily reminder in Redmond that they need to find a new value proposition quick. or they'll go the way of the dinosaur...and become IBM.
It's not that IBM doesn't make money. It's just that they're not dangerous anymore to anyone. Except to themselves. Steve Ballmer vs. Linux and the free world.
Even when Microsoft?'s trying to help us get paid (you know, patents and copyrights do drive innovation, pay the mortgage and send the kids to school whether you like it or not), they're still the bad guy. It's like the playground bully asking his terrified classmates why he wasn't invited to the pipsqueak's birthday bash.
Karma is a bitch.
And spending $6 billion on aQuantive cant help you. Microsoft? or Freedom? Take your pick.
(If you have no idea what this post is about, start here:http://paulgraham.com/microsoft.html)
And for those in the Wondaland Arts Society keeping score, that's:
Chuck's Magic Macs: 100
Nate's Micro?s: 0
Okay, I used to know this girl from New York. She graduated from NYU, and she used to tell me all the time that her favorite movie was The Iron Giant. She was a bright cookie. Master's degree in journalism yada yada yada.
She told me Iron Giant made her cry. I didn't get it.
Watched Iron Giant last night. Now I do.
I didn't cry, but damn...Brad Bird is an American Miyazaki. Five quick things I LOVE about the film. (If you haven't seen the film, don't read these!!!)
1. Music, music, music. They chose a great time period. It's a few years before American Grafitti, but the songs are still rocking! Placed in the background, no singing on the counters here! Just placed in as part of the setting, masterfully done. (By the way, I love the score by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra).
2. The Giant!! In terms of story, this movie owes E.T. its heart and soul. But they did a wonderful job with the Giant. His compassion burns through. And boy, when he gets angry....He must have some serious post-traumatic stress syndrome. I almost wanna see a prequel.
2b. And the giant's design is just fascinating. The discovery process unfolds at a wondrous pace. You can fix yourself. You can fly. Wait your chest is a big cannon. WTF! My favorite sequence would have to be the hand. A giant hand walking innocently around the crib like a cross between a big puppy and a giant tarantula..too much!
3. 2D animation rules. 'nuff said.
4. Story, story, story. This is really number 1. Brad Bird and company hit this out the park. It's like Snow White. Everything, and I mean everything, means something. Walt would be sooo proud of this film. It has so much heart, great characters, and the story is symphonic in the way that it spirals out its themes in a simple, melodic manner. (Guess I should mention that all this magic madness is based on a short story by Ted Hughes. Having an iconic poet/writer around always helps.)
5. Setting as character. Any good story should have a great setting- a setting so great it becomes a leading character. Like Pan's Labrinyth, this story is a fantasy set in a political time. With a backdrop of cold war, atomic power, and the American war machine run amok, Brad had plenty of toys to play with.
This was better than The Incredibles. The Incredibles was more entertaining by a hair. But The Iron Giant beats it with heart and economy. And that's saying a lot.
So I know some of you have been worried about Metropolis. Worried that Metropolis will become Chinese Democracy, devolve into creative chaos and other woes. Worried that Wondaland will screw it up. That we're going to create something that only a few Star Wars geeks can understand. Or let it become a black rock beast, you know, something you'd love at home with your afropunk friends but never hear on the radio. And then there's the biggest travesty of it all: What if it never comes out?
Well rest ye weary souls. Here's a little concrete information about the release to put your heart at ease.
- Metropolis will be released quarterly in four suites. Each suite will be a mini-album complete with collectible ephemera (stickers, posters, oh boy!). Each suite will be numbered and limited edition.
- The first single "Violet Stars Happy Hunting" will be released on June 1, 2007. The first suite of Metropolis (Suite I: The Chase) will be released on Auguest 1, 2007. Look for the first JM video to come your way in late July (more details on that later).
- The full album Metropolis will be released next year. The album will contain all kinds of goodies: bonus tracks, live tracks, videos, etc.
- In terms of major distribution, we've been in talks with a few majors here and overseas. We'll keep you posted how those thangs go. In case you haven't heard, there's a lot of problems in the music industry right now. Superstars can't buy a hit. And they just turned the historic Capitol building into condos. Getting a major record deal right now is a little like getting invited to a five course meal on the Titanic...
- The suites will be distributed through iTunes, Amazon, MySpace and BlabStar. If you don't have a BlabStar account, and if you've never heard of it, you know nothing about the future of music. And that is something to worry about.
- The album is the debut release of a new label that is a joint venture between Wondaland Productions and Big Boi. The name of this label is the Wondaland Arts Society. The WAS is the home of the Wonderground, a collective consisting of JM and Deep Cotton.
- In addition, the WAS will be collaborating with Purple Ribbon and the Atlanta Ballet Company to convert Metropolis into a rock opera/ballet. We are still putting the finals and particulars together. And we're beginning the creative process this summer. But the performances are already booked: April 10-13, 2008 at the Fox Theatre. So get ready to see JM on stage singing her heart out in the midst of twenty moonwalking androids!
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
So tell me this house isn't scary.
It is. And you know it.
And when you look on the most haunted lists of America, half of the most terrifying places in the nation are old plantations...where people hear chains rattling...folks hollerin off in the dark...
Anyway, I had this idea late last year to write a grimy genre film. Called Slasher. A horror film. And to complete the whole thing from start to finish in 30 days. Nothing too serious. Just fun.
I started on April 27th. I finished on March 6th. One week!
Anyway, I would like to thank the Wondaland Arts Society (especially Delvin Stanklin, Control Z, MitchOWski, Mikael Moore, and Miyamoto, who have already read the script), Chris Chambliss (for his continued use of fragmented knowledge and wacked-out inspiration), Michelle Manuel (who loves, loves, LOVES horror films!), Mykal Monroe, Emily Parker and Janelle Monáe (who believed I was holding seances late at night, invoking spirits and burning magic candles to help with the script), Erica Conner (who executive produced Idlewild and read the script last weekend...so we'll see....), and my sis Kim Joseph (who put me onto a rare Takashi Miike film)...
And most of all, thanks to America...One of the Scariest Places on Earth...
I'll keep you posted on the progress of everythang. Let the pitching begin...
I read Walt Disney's bio earlier this year, so I know a little about financial constraints vis a vis creative projects, but damn....who thought it could take years to move the smallest things forward?
But anyway, this made me laugh...hopefully it will brighten your day too...