Thursday, February 28, 2008

New Media Now

Last week I attended a panel discussion sponsored by the IFP New York on alternative distribution models for independent movies.

Just to be clear, I'm defining "independent" as "produced outside of a corporate infrastructure and without corporate investment" and "movies" as "moving pictures, not specifically on celluloid."

With the exception of indiepix founder Bob Alexander (full disclosure: indiepix is distributing the feature I made called Every Dog's Day), it seemed as though everyone was more or less still looking at independent movies according to the Industry status quo, where they're generally regarded as a junior-varsity farm system for Hollywood or expensively marketed and unlikely-to-recoup art-house 'cache' vehicles for stars.

This status quo is unsustainable. From a business perspective, does it make sense to invest the time, effort and capital involved in making a movie just so one or two people can maybe come out of it with an agent? Uh, no... And while I do appreciate that working popular actors want to make work they care about outside Hollywood, it's been proven again and again that name-recognition does not equal profitability any more than a classical three-act structure with redemptive characters does.

On that particular panel, Bob seemed to be the only person who understood, or cared, that the explosion in the production of independent media, fueled by accessible technology and a growing skilled work-force, requires the expansion and nurturing of markets for that media and had put together a smart business model that was fair to filmmakers. (With props to indie gogo for forward thinking)

It's basic free-market economics. In order for the market to function optimally, goods have to be able to get to the marketplace.

Until the costs of theatrical distribution are effectively reduced (no, I don't want to see 35 mm burn out into oblivion, either. Or two-inch tape, for that matter), those markets are small-format.

From my point of view, that means that the product (yes, I am an artist who refers to his work as 'product') needs to be catered to those markets -- it needs to work visually on a small screen and be made with minimal capital investment.

To my mind, an analogy can be drawn between today's independent movies and the pulp novels of the previous mid-century and the penny-dreadfuls and dime novels of the century before. The kind of cheap mass-market media that gave us Charles Dickens, Dashiell Hammett and Philip K. Dick among others.

That said, it remains to be seen if a living can be made at it, let alone if it can recoup. But that's the nature of the market.

The big question is: where are those markets and how do we get to them? And do they have eight or fifteen bucks to drop on a movie every so often? (Netflix, God bless 'em, is great for movie-lovers, but there ain't much of a profit margin for individual movie-makers.)

The audience is the future of independent media. And I'm convinced they're out there. As to whether or not they have eight or fifteen bucks to drop, we'll have to see how deep this recession bites.

Or is every creative professional doomed to be forever beholden to behemoths like Publicis (which envisions thirty-second spots tailor-made for every possible demographic in every platform) or News Corp (full disclosure: I too have suckled Rupert Murdoch's golden teat, having built sets for Fox News) in a future where eight people are employed to sell every one person a tube of toothpaste?

Don't get me wrong. I like big Hollywood movies and art-house flicks. If movies didn't cost twelve bucks a pop I'd be at a theater four nights a week (then again, with the same movie on six out of twelve screens at the average multiplex, what would I see?). And I don't have a problem with big corporations paying for media as advertising or through sponsorship, but I do have a problem with that being the only option for creative professionals to make a living.

copyright, © 2008 Andy Biscontini

Monday, February 25, 2008

New Texture loves Legend House

There's nothing like having friends in low places, and nobody does lowbrow like our friends Johnny and Lynnie Legend at Legend House!

We'd pull your coat to them anyway, but the fact that they've invited New Texture's Chris D. and Wyatt Doyle to contribute audio commentaries to their upcoming double feature DVD release of THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM (Christopher Lee!) and DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER (Klaus Kinski!) gives us an excellent excuse to call them to your attention.

Check out their site here. And add 'em on MySpace, while you're at it:


...And don't forget to mark your calendar for this Friday, the 29th:

(click to enlarge flyer!)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

We Hack You Because We Love You And You Never Take Our Calls

Over the past several months, an undisclosed number of Americans estimated to be greater than the combined fan bases of four average large-market major-league sports franchises may have received an email disguised as spam containing a version of the following encrypted message:

We are writing to inform you that you have been hacked.

We have been aware of you for quite some time, and have taken an interest in your activities.

Please be advised that we have made numerous attempts to make contact with you via traditional avenues.

We have approached you in public and, while seemingly uncomfortable with small-talk, you have on occasion been exceptionally charming and we’d like to see more of that please.

Some of us have attempted to befriend you, but you have become guarded and make yourself socially unavailable.

We have repeatedly sent inquiries into your well-being by post, but you have discarded them as junk without so much as reading between the lines.

On more than one occasion, we have sent you messages in Fortune Cookies, which some of us consider to be pretty darn creative and an impressive logistical accomplishment.

We have crammed your bills and statements with exorbitant fees in an attempt to get you on the phone just so we can hear your voice but, after we dedicated valuable time and resources tapping your land-line you never use it anymore and we have been unable to access your cell because someone else is hogging it. We miss hearing your voice.

On several occasions, some of us have tried to send work your way, but we are unsure what exactly it is you want to be doing.

There are those of us who still think you might be up to something shady. They have been responsible for withholding your paychecks in the mail and delaying your bank deposits in an attempt to see where you really get your money because they find it hard to believe that you make as little as you do.

They have also been intercepting the resumes, job applications and queries you’ve been sending out and responding with those clever rejections. Based on the way they talk about you, we think it’s because deep down they wish you'd come work for us. And some of them are jealous.

For there are those of us who are simply wild about you, and we believe it is better for us to continue to admire you from afar lest we go mad. We’ve been down that road before and know it could only ever end in tears.

You should be aware that your friends, neighbors and co-workers have been instrumental in keeping us informed as to your whereabouts at considerable profit to themselves and expense to us and we don’t think they really love you.

We know you’re having a difficult time, and we want you to know that we believe in you. Hang in there!

FYI, the view from your webcam goes from the window to the couch.

copyright, © 2008 Andy Biscontini

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

"Byzantium Redux" by Lynne Margulies

(click image twice to enlarge)

30" x 40", mixed media on canvas; handmade frame

copyright, © 2008 Lynne Margulies

Friday, February 15, 2008

"You are their bitches."

Harlan Ellison's thoughts on the Writer's Guild strike settlement:


Creds: got here in 1962, written for just about everybody, won the Writers Guild Award four times for solo work, sat on the WGAw Board twice, worked on negotiating committees, and was out on the picket lines with my NICK COUNTER SLEEPS WITH THE FISHE$$$ sign. You may have heard my name. I am a Union guy, I am a Guild guy, I am loyal. I fuckin’ LOVE the Guild.

And I voted NO on accepting this deal.

My reasons are good, and they are plentiful; Patric Verrone will be saddened by what I am about to say; long-time friends will shake their heads; but this I say without equivocation…

THEY BEAT US LIKE A YELLOW DOG. IT IS A SHIT DEAL. We finally got a timorous generation that has never had to strike, to get their asses out there, and we had to put up with the usual cowardly spineless babbling horse’s asses who kept mumbling “lessgo bac’ta work” over and over, as if it would make them one iota a better writer. But after months on the line, and them finally bouncing that pus-sucking dipthong Nick Counter, we rushed headlong into a shabby, scabrous, underfed shovelfulla shit clutched to the affections of toss-in-the-towel summer soldiers trembling before the Awe of the Alliance.

My Guild did what it did in 1988. It trembled and sold us out. It gave away the EXACT co-terminus expiration date with SAG for some bullshit short-line substitute; it got us no more control of our words; it sneak-abandoned the animator and reality beanfield hands before anyone even forced it on them; it made nice so no one would think we were meanies; it let the Alliance play us like the village idiot. The WGAw folded like a Texaco Road Map from back in the day.

And I am ashamed of this Guild, as I was when Shavelson was the prexy, and we wasted our efforts and lost out on technology that we had to strike for THIS time. 17 days of streaming tv!!!????? Geezus, you bleating wimps, why not just turn over your old granny for gang-rape?

You deserve all the opprobrium you get. While this nutty festschrift of demented pleasure at being allowed to go back to work in the rice paddy is filling your cowardly hearts with joy and relief that the grips and the staff at the Ivy and street sweepers won’t be saying nasty shit behind your back, remember this:

You are their bitches. They outslugged you, outthought you, outmaneuvered you; and in the end you ripped off your pants, painted yer asses blue, and said yes sir, may I have another.

Please excuse my temerity. I’m just a sad old man who has fallen among Quislings, Turncoats, Hacks and Cowards.

I must go now to whoops. My gorge has become buoyant.

Respectfully, Yr. Pal, Harlan Ellison

copyright 2008 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Eight New Rules

Yes yes, I know, Sunny Murray. I'll get to that eventually. But really, don't get your hopes up--it's just some dumb liner essay that didn't get used anyway.

Since the last post got such great traction on account of Kill Ugly Radio picking it up, (not that Kill Ugly Radio--that other Kill Ugly Radio) I thought I would follow up.

While thinking of "cover bands" and "official cover bands" and "unofficial cover bands" and "intellectual property" and "artists rights" and "artists integrity" and "artist's lawyers" and "artistic cease and desist letters" and all the rest, the voice in my head that keeps a moralistic running commentary on my every thought and deed appeared in my consciousness and told me the new rules. There are 8 that I can remember. There might be more.

Here are the new rules:

1. If your song has an A - B - A form (or a "bridge" of any kind), it is public domain.

2. If your song has a "head" of any kind, it is public domain.

3. If your song employs major or minor tonality, at any point, it is public domain.

4. If your song employs any scales (especially a blues scale), played as a scale, one note after another, it is public domain.

5. If anything in your song repeats (lyrics, triplets played on the guitar with two hands, chords) it is public domain.

6. If your song has words in a language spoken by more than one person, it is public domain.

7. If your song uses instruments made by someone other than you, or if somewhere in your song there is a guitar, it is public domain.

8. If your song can be played by someone other than you, it is public domain. (Everyone can play The Black Page. Who other than Bill Dixon, Tony Oxley, Klaus Koch and Matthias Bauer can play Open Quiet/The Orange Bell?)

Lastly, the voice in my head that keeps a constant running commentary on all my thoughts and actions wanted to make clear that There shall be no legal or court action taken related to anything musical, as music and law have nothing in common.

+ + +

Did I leave any rules out?

copyright © 2008 Stanley Jason Zappa

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Teslacolonic

For the most part, I think I've come to do a fairly good job of maintaining a positive attitude, but I can no longer deny that for the last several months I've been feeling somewhat out-of-whack.

I don't know if it's Seasonal Affected Depression, Clinical Depression, regular Depression, Attention Deficit Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Frieswith Disorder, Restless Leg Syndrome, ants in my pants, low barometric pressure, Mercury going retrograde or the drying-up of my already meager freelance income on the brink of hard times, but lately I've been feeling it, and having a tough time focusing my energy productively.

Acupuncture has helped me in the past, I do a little yoga from time to time for general physical alignment, and the Neti pot once knocked out a persistent sinus infection that a brutal regimen of antibiotics couldn't lick, so I'm always open to alternatives to pharmaceutical treatment, especially in psychic crises.

A friend referred me to an elderly electrician in Woodside who, in his youth, had worked briefly in Thomas Edison's labs before becoming disillusioned and taking up as an assistant to Nikola Tesla towards the end of his career. He'd worked with the aging Tesla on several projects concerning the application of electrical current to personal health, and was now the sole practitioner of these techniques. This man could straighten me out for a reasonable rate, my friend told me.

So a couple of days ago I paid him a visit.

He lives alone, a widower, on the first floor of a trim split-level semi-detached on a quiet street a couple of blocks off Roosevelt Avenue and keeps a small workshop in the basement.

Sitting next to me on the crisp plastic-covered couch in the living room his niece, a cute pear-shaped girl with large almond eyes and thin hair tied into a whispy ponytail explained the procedure to me.

I would be asked to remove my clothes. Oppositely charged magnets would be placed in each of my hands, and I would be asked to make a fist. I would be asked to bite down on a negative lead connected to an AC modulator, and the positive lead would be placed in my rear.

"Don't worry," she reassured me perfunctorily in her thick Queens accent, "It's very non-invasive. You won't even notice it's there."

I followed her into the kitchen, signed the release waiting for me on the kitchen table and paid her twenty dollars which she tucked neatly into a small gray cashbox on the counter behind the toaster. She gestured towards the cellar door and told me to go ahead down, he was waiting.

Her uncle was a small, angular octogenarian, sad-eyed and quiet in a chin-to-ankle waxed canvas smock and rubber gloves that fanned out around his elbows, which poked sharply out from under his rolled shirtsleeves. He was barefoot, and I noticed that his feet were in excellent condition for a man of his age. Thick healthy nails, gently arched bridge, and expressively articulated toes, each crowned with a tuft of white hair at the knuckle.

He gestured vaguely for me to undress and began powering up a series of switches and ballasts as I disrobed and hung my clothes over a nearby vinyl-padded metal chair. A constellation of old-fashioned glass transformers and vacuum tubes glowed to life in the darkness behind him. He pointed to a rubber mat in the middle of the floor and I stood on it.

From the pocket in the bib of his smock, he produced two egg-sized magnets and put one in each of my hands, then made two fists with his own hands to demonstrate what I was supposed to do. I squeezed the magnets and held up my hands to show him I was squeezing.

He nodded and took a thin copper rod out of a beaker full of antiseptic solution, stripped the insulation off of the tip of a length of 14-gauge wire with his front teeth, twisted it onto the copper rod and placed it in my mouth, baring his own teeth as instruction. I bit down on the copper and waited for the positive lead to be inserted. While that really isn't my thing, his niece was right, it didn't feel invasive at all.

At that point, he turned on the juice and gradually increased the voltage.

It's difficult to describe how it felt. Having been bitten by 12-volt car batteries, I'd say that the voltage he ran through me peaked at about 8 or 9 volts and was raised so gradually that I hardly noticed I was being zapped, but at a certain point I lost all awareness of my body and was overcome by the tangible sensation that the universe and I were one, flowing into each other at a quantum level.

As to whether or not it cured my blues, that's also difficult to say. But I've had an erection for the last seventy-two hours.

copyright, © 2008 Andy Biscontini

Monday, February 4, 2008

Vanina Marsot in Vietnam

(click image to enlarge)

view of river, Hoi An

copyright, © 2008 Vanina Marsot