Archive for the ‘social media’ Category

TV, Film Startups Help

March 18th, 2015
By



As producer of the Career Changers TV show, I've been following the startup movement the past four years, which has mainly been driven by high tech applications for computers and mobile devices. First, there were incubators to help nascent companies develop their business plan. Then accelerators sprouted up around the country that offered seed money, office space and mentoring, in exchange for equity in startups they hand-picked (usually a 5 to 10 percent stake). Events such as Startup Weekend brought together like-minded entrepreneurs who would pitch their ideas to actual venture capitalists, angel investors and business consultants.

While filming segments on Blue Startups and Henk Rogers of Tetris empire fame, I saw similarities to what writers and filmmakers must go through to sell their TV or movie projects to producers. Many of the same principles apply, like the attention-getting premise or "elevator pitch" that succinctly sets up the concept and the synopsis that spells out what makes this project different or better than similar ideas. But in the TV and movie biz, the script was pretty much the entire franchise plan for the writer. Tech startups live or die based on "proof of concept" and demonstrations of their new product, service or app.

However, with the explosion of multimedia options -- or "transmedia" -- writers and filmmakers suddenly had plenty of other means to get their projects noticed in Hollywood: short films shot on high def video cameras, movie trailer style pitches for unproduced projects, YouTube, webisodes that can transition to mainstream TV, crowdfunding sites, etc. So it was only a matter of time before there were accelerators specifically created to nurture entertainment franchises. We now have one in Kona called Global Virtual Studio Transmedia, which had its first accelerator cohort last year. I learned about it after the application deadline had passed, but was invited to pitch a project for their GVS Boardroom panel event on Feb. 27.

I've been writing scripts for a long time, and had some minor success. Yet I haven't been able to get over the hump. I've often felt the missing ingredient was that to sell my scripts, you had to "see" it because they were written for the big screen and incorporated spectacular visual images -- such as locations in Hawaii related to the legends of the Menehune. Anyhow, I decided to submit a proposal for a franchise based on my feature screenplay, "Stinky Feet and the Secret of Menehune Gulch."

Since I had gotten good responses to prior email pitches I wrote for that script, I adapted my e-queries for the GVS submission and fleshed it out with images of Kauai's lush valleys, dramatic cliffs, underground lava tubes, and what might pass for a Menehune village. The GVS accelerator offers $50K over a six month period to each of the six teams they will select for the next cohort in the fall, which is a very nice incentive for fledgling screenwriters and filmmakers. In exchange for providing funding, facilities in their Kona studio, plus mentors with lots of experience and Hollywood connections, the project creator gives 10 percent equity in the franchise to GVS... which is a strong incentive for GVS to make it work too.

Backing this accelerator, is the State Dept. of Business, Economic Development & Tourism, which also has a major stake in seeing winners emerge from the program. Two of the top DBED&T officials -- Georja Skinner and Karl Fooks -- are taking a hands on approach, as I found out when I was selected as one of the eight presenters. Although our pitches were NOT being judged as part of the application process for the next cohort, we were told the feedback should be used to hone our franchise concepts to address questions that would be brought up by the specially-assembled panel. Besides Georja and Karl, there was a former Disney and Pepsico exec, a former marketing exec for Sony Pictures, and people with major movie experience sitting in the audience of about 50 people.

To say I was nervous is a bit of an understatement. I hate speaking in front of groups, and have never been comfortable pitching my TV or movie projects to industry people. But I felt confident in my Menehune concept, and I thought the Power Point I put together right before the event was good.

There was just one problem. When the presenters were gathered to do our run-through, we had to use their system to show whatever media we had. Instead of a laptop with the Presenter's View mode for my Power Point slides (which includes "Notes" at bottom you can use as a cheat sheet) all I had was a keyboard and a big monitor screen slightly behind me on my right side. They gave me a clicker to advance the slides... which had a slight delay. I had printed out my "Notes" text to consult, i.e. read from, if I got nervous and forgot the scripted lines. On top of that, we were limited to exactly five minutes for our spiels, and there was a GVS staffer to my left holding a digital clock.

So I'm trying to remember my lines, checking my printed-out notes, glancing back at the slide on the screen to my right -- crap, that's not the right slide! -- looking back at the clock ticking down to my left, clicking the clicker back a slide, then another... and I realize I'm not even halfway through before my time is up. This is why I hate public speaking. I could feel the pity from the other presenters. All of them did their run-throughs in one shot with not much problem. Me, I was asked to stay behind and do it again. Ugh. How embarrassing.

The second run-through was slightly better after I switched to using the keyboard to advance my slides. It was still running long though, so I knew I had to ditch the scripted "Notes" text and refer directly to the outline or visual images on my Power Point slides when we did it in front of a live audience -- and cameras. Which is another thing that gives me stage fright.

Minutes before show time, I considered bailing. Rather than stand in front of a crowded room and make a sputtering fool of myself, I could just say I felt sick and wouldn't be doing my presentation. The other seven projects were very impressive, and those people had better credentials than me -- or so I told myself. "Stinky Feet"? What was I thinking! Yet part of me knew years of rejections, failures, and even ridicule as a kid, had prepared me for this moment. I started off a little shaky, relying too much on reading my notes. Then when I had to refer back to my outlined thoughts on the screen behind me, I loosened up and got through it okay.

The panel then spent 12 minutes asking questions and commenting on my pitch. The former Disney exec immediately said he had never heard about Menehune, and was so fascinated by the myths that he felt it could be a TV series. The former Sony Pictures guy said he loved the concept. After I explained why the lead kid character is nicknamed "Stinky Feet" by a local bully, I confessed that it got left out because I was terrible at pitching. "I disagree," the Sony guy interjected. "When you stopped reading your notes, your passion and knowledge of your subject really came through!"

Later, Big Island Film Commissioner Ilihia Gionson and his significant other came up to me. He said he really liked my Menehune project even though it's set on Kauai. She said she voted for mine as her favorite of the eight presentations (I didn't win that vote -- a martial arts movie project by a Big Island filmmaker got the audience choice award). But there was one more twist after I returned home to the other Kailua...

The next day, I got an email that said, "Great Pitch!" in the subject line. In my Power Point, I included my email address on the last slide that said, "Pau." You never know, right? It turned out an audience member with contacts in the movie and TV business loved my concept and disagreed with panelists who said it should be a $10 million dollar movie, not the $100 million budget I guess-timated. She wrote that I should stick to my vision of a big movie about little people, and not make it a smaller project just to fit the accelerator's business model. They know it's almost impossible to sell a $100 million project even if I was able to use the accelerator to create a dynamite movie trailer or short film to promote it. But a $10 million film is something they could realistically help set up, and their 10 percent stake would pay dividends.

I want to believe this person who contacted me has the connections that can move my Menehune project forward as a big budget film. If not though, I'd be happy to see it made even if we have to dress up little people like Polynesian Munchkins instead of the expensive CGI "Lord of the Rings" type dwarves, trolls and elves I originally pictured for my Menehune village scenes. And maybe that's the best thing about the GVS Transmedia accelerator... it gives writers like me a chance to dream of seeing our work be brought to life, even if it's not exactly what we hoped for.

Kailua Beach Gate Redux

March 12th, 2015
By



Eight years ago, I co-founded Beach Access Hawaii when residents on L'Orange Place put up a gate to keep others from using the beach path at the end of their privately owned road. I soon learned that at least 17 Kailua beach-side lanes were gated or had put up "No Beach Access" signs. Upon further investigation, I found that the State law pertaining to beach rights of way wasn't actually an enforceable law. The attorney representing the City and County of Honolulu contended it was only a guideline because it said there "should" be public access every quarter mile in urban areas or every half mile in rural sections. "Should," not "shall."

Despite standing room only crowds testifying for the need to preserve beach access at Kailua Neighborhood Board meetings, and having thousands of people sign petitions supporting our cause, ultimately the State Legislature and City Council chose to do nothing. We also organized a state-wide Groundhog Day rally in 2008 that brought together over 20 organizations on every island -- there was even a Surfrider protest in Florida that same day, which was inspired by our efforts. For all our lobbying, calls to State and county officials, media attention, sign waving, proposed bills that got multiple hearings and lip service from elected reps, in the end, the status quo prevailed. Forcing property owners to allow public access on privately-owned land would amount to "takings" or require condemnation proceedings by the State, which would be costly and probably fail in court.

I bring this up because once again in Kailua there's talk about another gate going up on Ka'apuni Drive. The difference this time around is that the rumors spread faster thanks to Facebook. Back when my neighbors and I began Beach Access Hawaii in 2007, our chief form of communication was going door to door and handing out flyers. We then built an email list, which became our main tool to spread the word about what we were trying to accomplish through our meetings with State and county government people.

But social media is a different animal. Anyone can post anything, and often no one bothers to check the facts or research an issue. On the "My Kailua" Facebook page, which is presumably meant for a wide range of ages, comments took on an ugly tone, resorting to slinging the "F" bomb or "sh*t" every other word . Unfortunately, it's the rude commenters that give fuel to the arguments put forth by the Gate Keepers, who point their fingers at miscreants for trashing their streets and beach paths or disturbing them at all hours of the night when the rude idiots are out partying, defacing property with graffiti and so on. There is no defense for rudeness, online or elsewhere.

As some noted in the thread comments, there are good neighbors too who have taken the time to help clean up the Ka'apuni Drive access. Killing them with kindness is a far better strategy than threatening to make their lives miserable if they put up a gate. The one positive outcome we had from the L'Orange Gate controversy was that State Rep. Cynthia Thielen convinced residents on her beach-side lane to unlock their gate. But many of the other oceanfront properties in Kailua aren't even occupied by local owners. Some have been bought by investors that rent them out as vacation homes or B&Bs with their own private beach access.

So what can be done? Here's my suggestion: if homeowners on "private" roads want to deny beach access to the public, then treat those roads as private and require them to pay for all public services they currently enjoy at the taxpayers' expense. Let them pay for trash pick-up at their homes, or else they can cart it out to the public road adjoining their private lanes. Ditto for mail delivery. And make them pay for any public utility work that must be done beneath or bordering their private roads. They can't have it both ways -- their roads shouldn't be used for public services when it suits them, but kept off limits to the public when it doesn't.

I have also suggested to State reps and City Council members that they could offer positive inducements for allowing public access, such as tax breaks on their "private" roads and easements. Sometimes a carrot is better than a stick. For what it's worth, here's the post from the My Kailua Facebook page that elicited a strong reaction:

KA'APUNI TO BECOME GATED
Area Resident Local Reports In...
The "residents" of Kaapuni Drive have voted to put gates up and restrict beach access. This after only a few months ago they denied claims that this was happening nor would it ever. After local news was about to release the story, the Kaapuni association president called the news denying any validity to the accusations and dismissing it as baseless rumors. Now that one of the long time residents that has always opposed putting up gates has passed and her property is for sale, the "residents" (several of which live on the mainland and vote by proxy at the board meetings) now have the votes to pass the motion. Meanwhile the neighboring community that takes care of the beach accesses through community cleanups and beautification projects will be the ones most affected by this restriction. The next nearest public accesses are over a HALF MILE APART. We need to let the Kaapuni board and residents know that this is a horrible idea and will not decrease crime, vandalism, and littering. Those punks will just jump the gate or come down from another access. It is the families that grew up using these accesses and actually take care of the beach and accesses that they will be punishing. Beach access needs to be protected and opened, not limited! If anyone has contacts with the residents or board members, please share. Or contacts at local news outlets. Help spread the word before another beach access is restricted. Anyone happen to know the minimum distance between public beach accesses? Or an ordinance/law/etc regarding public trash and mail access on private roads?

Looking back, there was another positive result from the Beach Access Hawaii campaign... a lasting one. We got to know a lot of our neighbors by going door to door, and meeting in person to make our signs for the rallies and protests. That's one thing you can't do online. Putting names to faces, sharing stories of growing up in Kailua or elsewhere, spending real time together for a concerted purpose will always mean more than sitting in front of a computer, typing out pithy Tweets or snarky Facebook retorts. But at least grumbling online is a start. The question is, will any of them follow through and attempt to do something about it?

**********

SEED RESTAURANT UPDATE: In my prior post, I mentioned Seed had closed its doors indefinitely for repairs. Well, you can help them reopen by contributing to their IndieGoGo crowd-funding campaign to raise $50K. Here's the link. It's been less than a week and they've already raised about 45 percent of their goal! For all my grumbling about the superficiality of social media, this is an example of the upside for worthy causes like Seed. Please help them reopen so they can continue their mission of rebuilding lives.

For daily viewing times of my Career Changers TV show, please visit out website. You can also watch video segments from past and current episodes on the CCTV YouTube Channel by clicking here.

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Happenstance in Chinatown

May 24th, 2014
By



A writer friend I've collaborated with on a couple of screenplays posted on Facebook that a word you rarely see these days is "ubiquitous." Which seemed ironic to me, since social media forums such as FB can turn a forwarded video, photo, comment or cause into something that millions of people will see on computers, smart phones, then later on national TV shows, even local morning news spots about today's "Viral Video" or "Trends & Talkers" segments. It's everywhere you look -- ubiquitous, in other words.

And since I'm in the media biz, writing scripts for TV/movie projects, plus producing a local OC16 television show that often features newsworthy people, my life is filled with moments of convergence... a surreal blend of real life merging with online interactions, nationally-broadcast TV shows, and live local news programming. One day I'm interviewing a subject for Career Changers or blogging about it in the Star-Advertiser, the next day or on the evening KHON News, I'm watching that same person talk about their biz or responding to complaints (like the new vertical wind tunnel at The Groove Hawaii, which is on this month's show). Then I hit play on my DVR, and see another familiar face appearing on a Food Network or History Channel show after we had them on Career Changers awhile back. A week or two later, I run into the same person(s) while out and about looking for my next story, completing the Circle of Media Life.

That just happened to me again this past week. I bought discounted Groupon tickets for the Honolulu Exposed Red Light Tour because I had never heard of it before, and it sounded interesting: take a walk through the seedy side of history in Downtown Honolulu and Chinatown. Having researched stuff like opium dens, brothels, small pox outbreaks and other unsavory elements of Hawaii's past for scripts I was working on, this sounded like something right up my alley. Also, I wondered why no one else had offered this type of tour -- there were ghost tours, walking tours that focus on architecture, straight G-rated history, but nothing that included places like Club Hubba Hubba or the infamous Glades (btw, local filmmaker Connie Florez is producing a documentary about that... click here for details).

Now bear with me, because this trip down the rabbit hole interweaves a few seemingly-unrelated threads that all come together in the end. Last Saturday, my wife and I arrive at the Hawaii Theater where the Red Light tour starts at 9:30 AM. But we're early and having driven from Kailua after a couple of cups of coffee, need to find a restroom. Back in January 2012, my show was the first to air Chu Lan Shubert-Kwock's plans for a badly-need public restroom, which her Chinatown biz organization had raised money for. However, the experimental toilet program didn't receive enough funding to continue, ergo no place for us -- or other locals, visitors and of course, the ubiquitous homeless people -- to relieve ourselves. The closest coffee shops weren't open at that time, so my wife wound up walking down to the police station.

While waiting for Isabel to return, I nervously observed a rail-thin, wasted-looking woman growling and yelling madly at whoever walked past her across the street from me. She was scary, to put it mildly. On the way to the theater meeting spot, my wife and I had to stroll past smelly, filthy homeless men and women on just about every street and occupying every open space around the Hawaii Theater area. I'm not making any judgments -- just telling you what we experienced. What the solution is, I don't even know where to start. Wait, check that. I do know where to begin: by talking about creative approaches that involve partnerships between private interests and public services. I'll eventually get to that.

Anyway, our walkabout in search of a simple toilet answered one of my questions. Q: Why didn't anyone do a Red Light tour before? A: Who the heck wants to come down to stinky, dirty Chinatown in the morning, when you can't even find a public restroom or place to sit peacefully without mentally-ill people accosting you and getting right in your face! Still, having lived in New York City years ago, I've seen worse. Later, the tour guides said hotel concierges won't send visitors to the Chinatown area because of the homeless problem, so that's a major obstacle for their new venture to overcome.

First tour coincidence: the couple who run the Honolulu Exposed tour (click here for their Facebook link) arrive while Isabel is still on her bathroom run, and tell me they just moved here about four months ago and used to work for the Seattle Underground tour. I'm stunned because I had just pitched a TV series idea to the writer friend I mentioned up top, about how the Seattle Underground came into being after a huge fire destroyed much of downtown Seattle, which was originally built at sea level and prone to flooding. This was in the late 1800s. So city leaders figured it was a good time to rebuild the area higher. But cash-strapped biz owners who couldn't afford to go along with the plan, continued running their businesses while the new streets and sidewalks were constructed several feet above their storefronts. Eventually, to stop pedestrians from accidentally falling off the newly-elevated sidewalks, the city built right over the old buildings, creating an underground city where the dregs of society settled. Criminals, prostitutes, scammers, the homeless, all congregated down there. Meanwhile, the Yukon gold rush resulted in many fortune seekers coming to Seattle to deposit their newfound wealth -- making them ripe pickings for crooks. I learned all that from watching a Travel Channel show called "Hotel Secrets and Legends."

As it happens, when I told Clinton and Carter (she's an actress, although the name combo sounds like a Dem presidential ticket from the past) about my TV series idea, they looked at each other and said Clinton was working on a screenplay about little-known stories related to the Seattle Underground. However, he hasn't had much experience writing for TV or movies... and I have won a few awards, was repped by a semi-famous Hollywood manager, had scripts optioned, etc.

In fact, last week  I got word I'm a Top 10 Finalist in the Industry Insider contest, which spawned two prior winners who have gone on to major success: that new sci-fi series "Extant" starring Halle Berry in the ubiquitous CBS commercial spots; and a movie in the works called "The Disciple Program," starring Mark Wahlberg, landed on the vaunted Black List for unproduced scripts in 2012 after winning the Insider contest. So I'm in pretty good company just to make the finalist cut, and I'm thinking this Seattle Underground connection timing could be fortuitous if I happen to win and get some Hollywood heat. The tour hasn't even started, and already things look promising.

Just then, Isabel returns and says, "Look who's here!"

To be continued...

 

 

Fun and Games

April 30th, 2014
By



Groove medium

PROGRAM ALERT: The new May episode of Career Changers TV premieres Thurs., 7:30 PM on OC16 (Oceanic cable channel 12/high def 1012). For other viewing times and links to the CCTV YouTube Channel low res video segments, please visit www.CareerChangers.TV.

While thinking about what I was going to write for this preview, it occurred to me that there was a common theme to the four stories. The lead-off segment is about The Groove Hawaii on Ala Moana, which features a go-kart racing track, plus other types of games and fun activities -- they also plan to add a vertical wind tunnel soon, and possibly a wave pool down the road. The next piece is about the Dev League computer coding bootcamp that recently started up at the Manoa Innovation Center. That's followed by a profile of a professional handyman -- "Mr. Tinker" in MidWeek ads -- who moonlights as a musician. And the closing segment is about LinkedIn being a game changer for recruiters/job seekers.

So, can you see the connection to the theme I alluded to? Each one involves work and play. Most of us need to work for a living, but without some kind of fun and games, life would be pretty dreary. Hence, the need for speed, sports, games to suit any age -- the kind of stuff you'll find at The Groove Hawaii. Then you have video games and virtual worlds that exist because of computers and the internet revolution -- that's where Dev League's coding programs come into play. In the analog world, people still enjoy making music and doing things with their hands, be it Mr. Tinker or the Makers Movement we did a segment on in our April show.

But where does LinkedIn fit into the work as play/play as work paradigm, you ask? Well, essentially LinkedIn is the grown-ups' version of Facebook. FB began as a crude way for some nerds to rate college chicks, then added text and more substance to the postings. Eventually, FB became a way for friends to share links to interesting or funny articles, videos, and addictive games that transformed a simple idea into a billion-dollar enterprise. Yet it still left room for LinkedIn to fill the business network niche... a more serious adult-oriented form of social media geared to career goals. Like FB, LinkedIn has expanded their technical capabilities -- and global reach -- enabling users to post their own videos, papers, links to projects, whatever might help make their personal profile more attractive to potential employers, job recruiters or business partners.

When I look back at how job hunting and relationships with employers have changed over the past three decades, the generational shift in attitude towards work and play really strikes close to home. My parents were in their 30s during the turbulent 1960s and very much subscribed to the work-is-work mindset of sticking with one company for as long as possible to get good benefits and have a secure retirement. Play was something you did only if you had lots of money and time to fritter away. I didn't become a teenager until the Seventies, but I identified with the '60s counter-culture movement that had sprung up -- the generation that eschewed corporate bondage and flipped the Puritan live-to-work ethic to the pursuit of individual self-fulfillment, whatever that might be. Which put me and my siblings at odds with the folks, who frequently reminded us that "life is not about having fun!"

Except it is. I watched my parents age and stop playing games with us once we got a little older (and to be fair, we pulled back from them as well). Since they devoted so much of their life to work -- to support us and provide for us too -- they didn't have time or energy for play. They had a comfortable nest egg when they retired, but had lost interest in play... they didn't have any hobbies, didn't care about sports, didn't want to go to Vegas or travel. I think a lot of older folks from that generation are similar in that regard, maybe more so on the Mainland than in Hawaii -- like in that recent movie, Nebraska. Talk about bleak and depressing.

The irony is that much of the stuff I loved to do for no recognition or reward as a kid, now seems so far removed from my original idea of "fun" because grown-ups have turned sports and games into such serious business. It becomes all about proper technique, winning and losing, accounting balance sheets, political correctness, posturing, ego, and most of all, money.

Anyhow, it just reminds me that life is short. Go out and have fun this weekend! Play games, find something that gives you enjoyment. Pick up a musical instrument or a paint brush. Do something, create something with your hands or mind. Work can wait...

 

Must Sea TV

April 23rd, 2014
By



Haven’t had time to post here recently since I’m currently editing the next Career Changers TV episode for May. But I wanted to take a moment to recommend you watch a couple of other shows for completely different reasons.

On Thurs., April 24 at 8 PM, PBS is airing There Once Was an Island, a documentary by Briar March.  It’s about the impact of climate change and rising sea levels on the people who inhabit a tiny atoll off the coast of Papua New Guinea.  As you watch the villagers debate what to do – leave or rebuild, even as the next storm threatens to destroy their homes again – there’s a sense of déjà vu because we’ve heard these same arguments in Hawaii and elsewhere. Some say these are simply acts of God, or nature at work; others contend global warming is the culprit.

I got to meet the filmmaker through my show’s videographer, Stanford Chang, and his wife, Shirley Thompson, who has edited a number of PBS projects. Briar is a petite, charming, fair-skinned woman from New Zealand, who lived on that remote island for several months while filming the story. Yet she seemed to have no trouble adjusting to village life or fitting in despite the cultural differences. In part, I think it was because they shared a common desire to find some answers to the villagers’ dilemma.

On the opposite end of the cultural spectrum is the new HBO show, Silicon Valley by Mike Judge. A lot of people know him for his animated series, Beavis and Butt-Head and King of the Hill. I wasn’t a big fan of either, but thought his movie Idiocracy was painfully funny in portraying the demise of Western civilization as being the result of stupid people out-breeding more intelligent couples who choose to have only one or two children. At times, the movie's satire is so spot on, it almost seems like a documentary.

He also wrote and directed Office Space, which is kind of a 1999 foreshadowing of the coming high tech revolution in which workers reject their corporate overlords to start their own anti-corporate companies with funny names like Yahoo, Google, Twitter -- and "Hooli" in the new HBO series. Since I’ve been doing my own Career Changers segments on local startups, accelerators, incubators and entrepreneurs, I had to laugh out loud when I saw amped-up versions of those types in Mike Judge’s semi-fictional Silicon Valley world.

WARNING: there’s a fair amount of profanity, bad sex gags (the geeks and high tech superstars still reek of testosterone even if they’re nerds) and the coding jokes will probably go over most peoples’ heads… but it is also right on the mark when it comes to dissecting a society that cares more about how fast we can download music files, than how fast our islands and shorelines are disappearing because of climate change.

If we didn’t laugh, we’d have to cry.

******

Speaking of  startups and entrepreneurs, the current episode of Career Changers TV features segments on the Honolulu Mini Makers Faire and local inventors. For daily viewing times and links to the CCTV YouTube Channel, please go to www.CareerChangers.TV.