Category Archives: Entertainment Industry Coverage

Sirk TV Print Feature: QUIBI (CES Highlights) [Las Vegas, Nevada]

The transformative power of consumer electronics and what they have to offer is always reflected in what the consumer wants but what is the next step in evolution. One would think going in that it would be reflected in the elements of the streaming revolution since the dirge of content only seems to be making the choices more dynamic but also more complicated for consumers. How does one piece through all the material. Only one company seemingly brought this ideal to CES.  The new structure of the show has the presentations spread out further across the city of Las Vegas with private demos becoming more the norm. Quibi hosted their presentation inside the Park MGM Theater, home to Lady Gaga’s Las Vegas residency.

Quibi was the most eye opening in a trade show mostly based on people having established resources but trying to make them their own. Here Quibi is taking the actual idea of the phone as a content resource and building an entire ecosystem around it. Many have been hearing about Quibi and the many intrinsic content deals it has been making with big name filmmakers and talent across town. The question became “How does it work”. David Katzenberg, best known from his animation days at the Walt Disney Company and as co-founder of Dreamworks with Steven Spielberg, could have rested on his laurels but is putting his name per se on the line. The result is a interesting library of material as he interrelated in his remarks, all original. To explain the content element, he used the comparison to Dan Brown’s “DaVinci Code” book which used small chapters to entice the reader into continuing on. But the chapters were short enough that they were effective morsels to engage the reader on. Katzenberg believes the same is true of mobile content. The key is making movies and TV content into miniature episodes that make up a bigger movie or story. For example a movie could be broke down into 20 episodes of 6-7 minutes each. This opens the door to many creative possibilities for the creators. Sam Raimi, Paul Feig, Steve Spielberg and Guillermo Del Toro are among the vast numbers of people creating new stories in this way for this company. Katzenberg even related that Spielberg was one of the first people to sign on asking if he could only make his content so people could watch it after the sun went down wherever they were. This became the show “After Dark”.

Another aspect of this entire creative process needs to reflect in the technical. Meg Whitman (who used to run Ebay) is David’s partner in the venture. She describes herself as very analytical while Katzenberg can reflect what the creatives want. But it is about creating the tools of the platform with the creative in mind. The first step on tackling this process was the on-the-go viewing capability and how that would undeniably work. The ratio couldn’t just switch from portrait to landscape or use a pan and scan method that many filmmakers have used for years. Quibi had to change the way they told and filmed their stories. Some take it to a literal point while others make it a different editing process all together. In essence what each filmmaker/creator does in all of the projects is build two complete edits and cuts of the material so that at any point the material can shift from portrait to landscape depending on the way the user is holding it. This is called Turnstyle and it is not just in the aspect of seeing it in the presentation. After the keynote, attendees went to a private ballroom in the Park MGM to physically hold a phone and see how it works. These were only test clips and not live on the service but it gave one the perception.

But bringing tech and creative partners on stage made this clearer. Even though some of the presentation was clunky, others were inspiring and seeing practical application makes a difference. Actor Tye Sheridan who had worked with Steven Spielberg on “Ready Player One” stars in “Wireless” which is a short form series taking place in a car during a blizzard or at least part of it. The director, who is already shooting another series for Quibi, showed the camera rig they used see for some of the portrait in-camera material which both records the screen, the forward camera and the rear facing camera. It looks like a giant oversized cell phone but with all new technology it is taking these first steps forward. The landscape pieces are shot more traditionally like normal film but in seeing the cuts back and forth, one again gets a sense of what the technology is trying to do.

The last part of the long ranging but undeniably comprehensive approach to Quibi was advertising integration. What Quibi has done is quite remarkable but again it is approach ingthe creatives, even on an advertising level, from the ground up. Again without large names like Whitman and Katzenberg as well as creators like Spielberg and Del Toro, this wouldn’t be possible. Whitman explained that they had already sold out their fist year of advertising for 150 million. The actual cost of the service in terms of the content outlay is not known but thought to be in the billions possibly. But the price point at launch, which is set to be April 6th is $7.99 Ad Free and $4.99 without ads, is an interesting gamble. Whitman brought out a high level executive from Pepsi Co who also has Mountain Dew, Doritos and Gatorade under their build. And, as shown with their outside-the-box thinking with filmmakers during Super Bowl over the last couple years, this seems the perfect company. The exec showed two ads. One interrelated with the portrait/landscape play of Turnstyle which perfectly encapsulates the Pepsi Brand and can be done in many different ways. The other was actually built into the identity of a driving show using one of the cars and Mountain Dew. Being brought in at the beginning and at such a high level is inspired. And the ad loads per hour of programming is 2.5 minutes which is unheard of and not random at all. Other advertisers including Anheuser Busch, Proctor & Gamble, Taco Bell and T-Mobile.

T-Mobile is the last part of the puzzle but an important part. Whitman last brought the new incoming CEO of T-Mobile onstage who I’ll be bundling Quibi in with their new plans, especially since they (increased by their merger with Sptint) are heading the pace into 5G. With a partner like this who is also an advertiser, the groundswell is stacked in Quibi’s favor. The gamble is the embrace of the technology and the storytelling but also the intuitive nature of what is new without getting lost. The learning technology sees what you watch. The amount of material approximately and growing with be 175 shows and 6500 episodes with 5 episodes of different shows every day, every week for the whole year. Quibi also has different tiers of programming including the movie/tv storytelling, episodic and docs and a third tier with news, talk shows and round ups including NBC, TMZ and BBC. Quibi seems to have spared no expense and is covering all the angles. Now just comes the launch. An exciting prospect for sure.

By Tim Wassberg

Sirk TV Print Feature: KLAXOON, DRONES & THE MIX (CES Highlights) [Las Vegas, Nevada]

While AI and Robotics were a texture at the trade show at CES [Fest Track did a on-camera segment with OMRON], the aspect of drones, especially the fluidity of underwater drones, seemed to make an impact. The question becomes the increased lack of discussion between the essence of reconnaissance and payload. People want drones to be able to be used for delivery or possibility emergency rescue which dynamically it is not cable at the current point.

Something like The Ranger from XDynamics is taking into account the more streamlined drones for fast speed and agility along with carbon fibrs framing but the possible placement of the engines might cause interesting progressions in weather. However its ability to do thermal, lidar and infrared gives it an undeniable application with research groups for higher altitude reconnaissance. And although landing is integrated, it doesn’t seem fully fit for jungle incursions.

The Autel Dragonfish is a little more heavy duty with a more military drone appearance but for the commercial and possible private inlay to perhaps help with farming or long range flying since it has an 18 mile range and 100 minute flight time. It has PPK and RTK mapping as well as dual thermal reading from the two sensors onboard. It does require an extra transmitting station so it is heavy duty. The element of hovering would seem to be more difficult yet the industrial applications her seem to work well.

On the other end of the spectrum Klaxoom, a French Start Up has created an interesting meeting workspace application that interrelates notes and other elements. It is seemingly very intrinsic but not as comprehensive as one would hope. Concurrently, which did not fully and seemingly interconnect, they introduced a base station called Team Player with 9 buttons that are inter-programmable. It comes off as a mix between a tic-tac-toe board and a more advanced version of Simple Simon. It is inherently supposed to show you through a base station connected to your TV via HDMI the ability to make people’s live simpler. However programming this device into those apps or folders that they use the most seems counter intuitive. This would seem to be a good possibility for older consumers but again the actual programming of it does not seem intuitive yet. It uses multiple input devices including a scroll wheel. While it has a good design it just doesn’t necessarily balance what it is trying to sell and despite a good presentation effect inside Cox Pavillion at UNLV, the continued R&D should yield more results.

Many events outside the convention center, which had its share of beauty (including LG’s beautiful wave screen presentation with mirrors leading into its booth), seemed to optimize an ideal but not a practical application. On the other side, Samsung showcased at its booth the new foldable phone which is seemingly done to give a bigger screen but a more compact storing possibility. And although the sensors seem very good, the boundary of making that transition seamless while still giving all the functionality of the phone might hinder its adoption though consumers were clamoring to see how it physically felt.

On a more basic fun and practical level, Zhiyun, whose gimbals Fest Track/Travel Trak have been using for years, continues to highlight its importance but also its functionality within the industry. The Crane 3 is a beautiful piece of equipment which allows both the mount of DSLR as well as a cell phone while optimizing a X and Y axis and still being able to give a sense of fluidity. The possible implications for full video assist are undeniable.

Various events attended in terms of promoting brands beyond Klaxoom had varying degrees of success. Among those to be mentioned…The India Pavilion had a dinner reception at Oyo held by the Motwani Jadja Foundation with various practical applications. One was a high velocity potscrubber to alleviate older users from arthritis when they are washing their dishes. The NPD Group held a reception at Mirage’s 1OAK Nightclub to encourage networking that integrated into their data and analytic reports. The event was dynamic and more integrated and organized while also encouraging discussion. Keating held its annual soirée in the Hangover Suite at Caesars Palace with a dynamic of music and the usual fanfare.

CryptoVirtual Lounge also held a private VIP suite at the Salon Bar in the Presidential Suite at the Wynn Las Vegas to highlight Virse, a dynamic real estate design technology that allows both real world and virtual integration. The event was also co-hosted by Tracy Hutson from ABC’s Extreme Home Makeover so the integration level made undeniable sense. A final mention integrated with the Uproar Suite which was held at The Palazzo for a collection of start ups. One specifically to mention because of its possible application for stroke victims as well as casual gamers is Pico Interactive and its Nu-Eyes technology which optimized eye track where the sensor inside can completely adjust to mirror your eye movement. Its possible applications in medical practice for the measuring of cognitive ability for those who may be paraplegic but have extremely limited range of motions is undeniable.

CES continues to show its participants thinking outside the box while moving on top of other technological advances to create many parallel elements. This is indicative too in many ways in the wearable and in the drone space. But in the continuing years as technology continues to develop, the transition of how it affects the consumer and lifestyle continue to change.

By Tim Wassberg

IR Exclusive Print Feature: MALIFICENT – MISTRESS OF EVIL [Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment]

The beauty of a film like “Malificent: Mistress Of Evil” can be reflected in its idea of perspective versus perception. The way that characters interact shows a dexterity of what is trying to be shown. In talking to Joachim Ronning, the director, it is reflected in ideas of the women involved. The balance of themes like ambition versus contentment, loyalty and betrayal. But ultimately reflected in his words, “Malificent “is a story of a mother and daughter. Malificent, ultimately in certain parts of her character, will never change but that bond is integral to the story. In speaking about scenes, we discuss the dinner scene, which specifically enough does not really employ any green screen so it is the most practically pure where all the characters are present. Very few actors in terms of presence can go up Angelina Jolie, especially in this role as she knows Malificent inside and outwards but Joachim believes that Michelle Pfieffer is one of actors. It is hard he admits to be able to adjust a performance like Angie’s since she knows it so purely. One aspect Joachim says he did try to bring to the film was a sense of humor (which is undeniably in the dinner scene). He relates that they had a week to filmthe dinner scene which itself was actually about 10 pages. There are some many elements of both masks and truth but they are essential to the character.

Another actor involved that Inside Reel spoke to for the release of “Malificent: Mistress Of Evil” was Warwick Davis who has had many experiences and knowledge of vast franchises from Star Wars to Harry Potter. He plays Lickspittle, who whittles away in the basement doing the bidding of the Queen played by Michelle Pfieffer. Warwick explains that the backstory of the character is important and integrates into the performance. He doesn’t lean on the make up and prosthetics which he often dons because from his perception, they will always be great so he needs to bring his own gravitas to the point and that always reflects in the emotion and physicality of the character and how he holds himself. With Lickspittle, Warwick says that this creature is not there of his own will. There is no place to sleep and that reflects in his playing with him. In selecting characters, it is inherent of the journey for Warwick. Some are more complex than others. Some are cameos as well but they are reflect him. I ask him about those tells that he sees or reflects. He says the simple neck angling of his Ewok character in Return Of The Jedi at certain points relayed so much and that same element can be seen in the shot he plays with his son in the recent “Rise Of Skywalker”. But the key he reiterates is listening either to your actors or the director. He recounts about George Lucas directing in the prequels where Lucas would say very little but you had to make sure you embodied that and made it work. Another director he relays he was very excited to work with was Gareth Edwards in “Rogue One”. He speaks of that approach where Gareth would let the camera run so an actor got a more organic style to the scenes. He also speaks of Ron Howard fondly. He relates that Ron being an actor really gave him confidence playing Willow as he was only 17 when he took on that role and it really helped guide him in many of his choices. Warwick is rumored to be taking back on the role in a new Disney+ series.

Making big movies like this is always tricky with so many moving parts. Joachim is most proud of his creation in the emotional connection…that specific connection between mother and daughter. As the father of two girls he related to this he said but also to this story of three very strong and different women. With his next directorial effort set to be the “Pirates Of The Caribbean” reboot after directing “Dead Man Tell No Tales”, the future is bright especially since the lead in the new film is rumored to be female. The emotional core and story always has to appeal which Warwick agrees with. But with a director, there is so many moving parts at any point. On the technical side Joachim is proud of the ending battle of the film since it took up nearly 30 pages. This can be a daunting task for any director and he was working on it up until the final days before the film was released. Ultimately “Malificent: Mistress Of Evil” stands on the world that it is created within but also he believes in the subtlety of humor and the through line within the tone that makes one believe in the transformative power of love through this mother and daughter.

By Tim Wassberg

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