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PGA Credit Definitions: Video Games

Posted By CJ -, Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Look at Video Games Credit Definitions for New Media Producers




Click to view the Video Games Credit Definitions
While film and television have enjoyed official accreditation for decades, new media producers have been the new kids on the block; not until now have their credits had the official endorsement of the Producers Guild of America. On April 5, 2010, the PGA’s Board of Directors officially ratified a clearly defined set of job descriptions and guidelines covering producing titles in new media. The result of three years of research and careful drafting by the PGA’s New Media Council, these new credit guidelines cover a variety of different and discrete new media platforms. Over the course of the coming weeks and months, we’ll be highlighting the various platforms represented by the New Media Council, and the job definitions for each. This week, we are proud to present the Guild’s job definitions for members of the producing team for video games.

New media producers are in the vanguard of storytelling via digital platforms and are proud to have the Producers Guild’s acknowledgment of the importance of their contribution to entertainment. These guidelines, like those for film and television credits, set an important stake in the ground, allowing for consistent and fair accreditation in new media across all platforms. Credits represent and reflect the body of work, the reputation, and the creative personality of any accredited producer. With objective and consistent credit standards, new media producers can present themselves more effectively to potential employers, and appropriately recognize the work of their teams on projects they oversee. And of course, proper accreditation serves as an essential yardstick for membership in the Producers Guild.

This groundbreaking work represents yet another phase in the development of new media as art and commerce. No longer will new media platforms utilize a "Wild West” mentality when it comes to credits, inventing new credits one day and then discarding them the next. As the industry continues to embrace digital platforms, not only as marketing and social networking tools, but as storytelling vehicles unto themselves, we are proud to see the PGA taking a leadership role in recognizing and codifying these essential contributions.

We are well into the new century. The Producers Guild of America continues, like so many of its members, to look forward. Storytelling is, after all, agnostic of platform; the PGA recognizes and celebrates all of it, continuing to keep its eyes on the horizon.




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The Challenges of a Sustainable Production

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Scott Greenberg, Production Manager of Cooper, discusses the challenges of a sustainable production on our PGA Green website. Stay tuned for more from Scott as he blogs about his experiences managing an environmentally conscious set.


Scott talks about recycling a car crash on the set of Cooper


To learn more about eco-friendly film and television production click here.

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The Ali Paradigm

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2012
The Ali Paradigm
by Chase Adams


Ali LeRoi, television producer and writer, is probably best known now as the co-creator and executive producer of the comedy Everybody Hates Chris, but before he’s finished, he just may be known as one of the men who changed the paradigm by which television shows are created and released. Exhibit A: his latest project, the sitcom Are We There Yet? starring Ice Cube and breakout actor Terry Crews. This article originally appeared in the Summer 2010 issue of 'Produced By' magazine.



Executive Producer/Director Ali Leroi

When we caught up with him in his downtown office, the experiment with his partners — Joe Roth of Revolution and Ice Cube of Cube Vision, whose movie Are We There Yet? serves as the inspiration for the TV show — was in full swing.

"The television world has adopted a lot of what has happened in the film world,” says LeRoi, "most notably, how TV has started to put such an emphasis on how a show opens. It’s just like what you saw happen in film, where suddenly,people who live in Missouri know what a film’s opening numbers are. And films live and die by that opening weekend. We’re seeing that now in TV, where a show has to connect immediately to survive.

”While the emphasis on those opening numbers may be an easy way for networks to gauge how a show is doing and garner some free marketing to boot ("The No. 1 New Show Thursdays at 8!”), LeRoi points to several television classics that took time to build an audience.

"Seinfeld, Cheers, Everybody Loves Raymond, those shows opened low and built on word of mouth. People told other people, ‘This is a good show.’ There’s a reason Chuck Lorre’s shows stay on TV, it’s because people watch once and recommend it to other people.

"Keep in mind that studios and networks are in two different businesses,” LeRoi continues. "Studios are in the distribution business; they want to build a library of content that they can sell today, tomorrow, for the next thousand years. Networks, on the other hand, are in the business of selling advertising. And advertising is something that you’re either selling — or not selling — in the here and now, which puts increased emphasis on those opening numbers. At a certain point, networks are asking, ‘Are we selling advertising on this?’ If the answer is no, well…” LeRoi trails off, leaving that dire fate to the imagination.

"So what you get is what you see on the TV today: a lot of reality programming and fewer traditional multi-camera sitcoms. And reality programs are a good business for the networks to be in; they’re cheap and they deliver eyeballs to sell advertising. But it’s a terrible business for studios to be in, because no one wants to watch reruns of The Biggest Loser in Las Vegas or whatever.”

Within this tightening spiral, where does the studio that’s looking to produce content go? Presently, they are literally taking million-dollar shots on shows that get 22 minutes to connect or be put out to pasture — it’s an expensive gamble.

Here’s where LeRoi and his partners have attempted to change the manner in which new shows are brought to market.

"After the success of House of Payne by Tyler Perry,” he explains, "Debmar-Mercury [the distributors] were looking to replicate that model. Together, we came up with a different way of doing things, a way that I think is better in terms of letting a show develop and giving the studio greater odds that their investment won’t be gone after just one show. It works like this: We brought the financing in to film 10 episodes. We’ll do an on-air test, meaning that they’ll air 10 episodes of Are We There Yet? If it meets a certain predetermined rating, it triggers an automatic pickup of 90 episodes.” For the network, it’s a smart play because they’ll get 10 episodes at a very friendly cost. The financiers will break even with their license fee — and if the show is a go, they’ll get to sell 100 episodes to syndication at a profit. For the executive producer, like LeRoi, the main difference is not receiving fees up front, meaning that he holds a true partnership back-end position.

"We’re not reinventing the wheel with regards to the content of multi-camera sitcoms; we’re reinventing how they’re made.” He summarizes, "Boiling this down to its purest essence: We’re betting on ourselves here.”

UPDATE: We are proud to note – as reported in Variety – that Are We There Yet? has received its 90-episode pickup from TBS. "Getting Are We There Yet? picked up feels like we won,” LeRoi declares. " We put it on the line and it worked. It's like the opposite of what happened to David Caruso when he left NYPD Blue.” Congratulations to Ali LeRoi and his producing team on helping to re-invent the TV business. Keep betting on yourselves, guys.

Obviously, the rewards are high, but so are the risks — if the show doesn’t catch on after 10 episodes, LeRoi gains only the experience. But in his opinion, the potential is worth it.

"The multi-camera sitcom is part of the lifeblood of American television. And they’re gold mines for their syndicators. A hundred years from now, people are still going to be watching Seinfeld. If you look at the environment today,there’s not a lot of them to choose from — it’s all reality this and reality that. So there’s a real space to fill.

"On top of that,” he observes, "you’ve got a generation coming up that's been living in the multi-camera-sitcom world their whole lives— I’m talking about the kids who’ve been weaned,literally, on iCarly, That’s So Raven, The Suite Life,etc. — and so while the idea [of multi-camera sitcoms] might seem retro to us, to them, it’s the world they know and love.”

Changing the business model has changed the creative process as well. LeRoi feels for the better."TBS has been fantastic. They gave us some very easy-to-hit and broad ‘musts,’ and from there on out, for us, it’s really been live by the sword or die by the sword. But which ever way it turns out, it’ll be truly the best sword that we, the creative team, could have produced.”

LeRoi, who also directed all 10 initial episodes, feels that as a true partner in the business of the show, he was given more freedom creatively. "With a network in a typical situation, they give you notes for certain things because they’ve seen those certain things work before.That tends to drown out the singular voice that anything good needs to rise above the mediocre. But if you watch this, you’ll see that we’re not copying what Tyler Perry did. I think my voice really comes through; I think Ice Cube’s voice really comes through. I think these important voices come through on Are We There Yet? because we’ve set things up this way. It’s funny, when we were doing Everybody Hates Chris, Chris Rock used to joke with me that you always get notes from an executive about the character that the executive relates to the most! We didn’t have to deal with things like that on this show.

"Even the way we shot it was different than anything I’ve ever done. One of the prime concerns was shooting the initial 10 episodes as cheaply as possible — but doing it well. Toward that end, we shot in Connecticut to take advantage of the tax credits that they’re offering. A lot of states are offering these, but you can get out there and find that there’s not an established field of talent or crew to put the show together. But when you’re shooting in Connecticut, you’re just a train ride from New York City, which means we had access to all the crew we needed and were able to get really great actors who happened to have some time to swing by between Broadway shows.



Essence Atkins and Terry Crews rehearse during the episode
"The Rat in the House."
"And before shooting these episodes, I met with people that I’ve always looked up to, directors who shot, and a few others, and I asked them what we needed to do to make this show work visually on a budget. Based on those conversations, I built the stage [primarily a large, open living room] so that there are all of these spaces within it to move over and have mini scenes. There’s the entrance way, the couch, the place where the kids play video games — it’s all on one set, which creates both an ability to move around and a change of scene and you don’t get that crampedness that I think some sitcoms fall prey to.

"On Everybody Hates Chris,” he notes, "we were doing eight scenes in 22 minutes; using these mini-areas, we’re at about 16 per show. I think it creates a nice flow.”

All of LeRoi’s preparation has paid off. The show itself does not at all come across as "done on a budget”; the production values are comparable to any other sitcom out there. Terry Crews’ family on Are We There Yet? is African-American, but they feel like any family in America trying to deal with stepchildren, money concerns and relationship issues.



"Like I said,” LeRoi states,"we’re not copying what Tyler Perry has achieved. And back in the late ’90s, there was a big issue about subdividing audiences into white and black. But the problem with subdividing is that eventually you’re carving some pretty thin slices of the pie. If you’re saying someone has this niche of the black audience and we’re going for that niche of the black audience … well, I’d rather make shows about and that appeal to people out there trying to make their mortgage, trying to make their marriage work, trying to raise kids. That’s what’s interesting to me. That’s what I want Are We There Yet? to be about.”

Obviously, when watching a multi-camera show about an African-American family whose problems are more family based than race-based, a comparison to The Cosby Show is inevitable.

"Some people have said that, after watching a little of Are We There Yet?” he confesses. "But for me, even to compare anything to that is almost a sacrilege. Bill Cosby is the greatest family comedian America has ever produced. I think for people to see this and say, ‘Hey, they’re operating in that field,’ that’s fine by me, but you know, when people say that after seeing this show, I’m honored, but like I said, to me, that’s a little too much.”

Are We There Yet? is currently airing on TBS, where it will enjoy a 10-episode run. Initial reviews have been very positive and Terry Crews indeed seems to be an actor on the edge of breaking out. If the show catches on, it seems only logical that more potential series would replicate this model rather than betting everything on a single pilot episode. Here’s wishing Ali LeRoi and his partners the best.

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We Shot Our Network Pilot Like a Web Series

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2012
We Shot Our Network Pilot Like a Web Series
By Tim Gibbons

I've just finished shooting a comedy pilot for a major network and major studio, and they are nervous. We shot it like a web series. What I mean by that is that we used a variety of formats to shoot on, with some shots involving up to 14 cameras, and none of the cameras are the "traditional" cameras one would use for a primetime comedy show. The basic premise of the show involves a show-within-a-show concept. It was created by Larry Charles ("Borat", "Religulous", "Seinfeld", etc.), whom I've known for years, from working together on HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm". It was executive produced by Larry, McG (well-known director/producer, "Charlie's Angels", "Chuck"), Peter Johnson ("Supernatural", "Chuck", who is also the president of McG's Wonderland Sound and Vision company), and myself.

The show we see is the show the characters are making, which is shot by them, and the only video we ever see is material ostensibly shot by them. The idea is that anything we'd see would have been shot by one of the characters, so there could be no traditional camera "coverage”, no studio three shots, no establishing shots, unless it was something one of the characters shot. The main source of the storytelling footage would be the "behind the scenes" documentary one of the characters is making, to document their production, plus the actual footage the characters had shot for their movie. It was shot all on location, no sets or stages.

In today's world of YouTube and Ustream, the video many of us watch all the time is shot with iPhones, Flip cameras, miniDV's and the like, all of which we used in our production.

The quality is not the same as shooting on any "professional" camera system, from the RED camera system to even old-school Sony digibeta, but we felt like we've come a long way in the expectation of what something to look like, especially in the world of fan films and user-generated material, so we decided to go for it and shoot on strictly "non professional" equipment (although, that being said, we did use some prosumer equipment, but that kind of walks the line, wouldn't you say?). And if the characters in our pilot's small town were to actually shoot their own show, to be posted on the Internet, what would it look like anyway? So we tried to match what a low-budget, non-professional team of filmmakers would and could do on a limited budget.

From the moment Larry Charles called me about this project, I was intrigued and excited. The idea of shooting an entire primetime network show with an "alternate" look, on a variety of different camera platforms, was exciting. Could we do it, and would this show fit in with other primetime shows that are shot with big, expensive cameras, full lighting packages and a giant crew? How would we shoot it? What cameras would we use? So we got to work on planning this show, keeping in mind that everything we'd see in the finished product would need to appear as if it were shot by one of the characters. We had to use "available light" (or at least make it look like that) for most of it, and then figure out how it would look and sound. So I got to work with our Director of Photography, Anthony Hardwick, and we came up with a shooting plan that included some really interesting hardware.

We ended up going with our main camera package of: 2 Sony EX3 HDCAM's, which shoot onto cards, not tape. To this we added a Sony EX1 HDCAM, for when we need a third camera. Then, for the main characters to hold (and shoot, with the cameras often seen in the shots), we added 3 Canon HV20 miniDV cameras and 6 Flip UltraHD camcorders. For additional looks (and a few additional characters), along the way we added a Canon 7D still/video SLR, several iPhones, my MacBook Pro laptop, 2 Flip SD camcorders, a Canon GL2 Digital Camcorder, a Motorola phone, and, for one scene, an InfraRed camera, the Sony HDR-HC5.

I should add that I approached Flip (owned by Cisco) about providing us with their cameras, since they'd be seen on screen, with our stars using them, but they declined. They said that we didn't fit in with their marketing strategy. Don't ask me, but it seems like we exactly fit in with their marketing strategy: people taking video into their own hands. And their cameras would be shown on a primetime network show.

Sound was shot both in-camera (on some) and through the more traditional method of wireless mics and a boom, mixed through either a portable field mixer or soundboard on a cart. We figured that an audience might forgive "rough" video (with many different looks), but that bad audio would not be tolerated. The show is an improv comedy show, with several scenes having multiple people talking all at once, so we wanted to have as much flexibility as possible when it came time to mixing the sound.

So, for the shoot, we had a total 19 cameras (and, for one long scene, we used 14 of them), many of which had different recording formats (SD cards/disc, miniDV tape, hard drive, flash memory, etc.), and different frame rates (23.98fps, 24p, 30fps), some of which were HD, some SD. To handle all the downloading of the cards on set, plus log the tapes and transfer iPhone and Macbook Pro material, I hired a data management tech, Jimmy An, whose sole job was to keep track of all the material, download the SD cards, and make sure we had adequate backups of all the material that had been transferred to hard drives. We ended up, on our five-day shoot, with 45 hours of raw material.

Post has been hectic and exhilarating. In addition to getting a plethora of great comedy (with some serious moments as well), we had the logistical challenge of conforming all the material from the different formats and frame rates into something our Final Cut Pro 7 editing system could ingest and work with. For the conversions, we turned to Digital Film Tree, an awesome post house, who had the massive job of making it all work together seamlessly. They did so with style and grace, cranking out "dailies" that we could use for our notes for post -- and that the edit system could actually handle. This all had to be done while keeping the "look" of the various formats, something that was important to us.

We haven't delivered the pilot yet, but to get down to pilot length has been a real challenge. With so many choices, so much footage, so many different looks, this show will be one thing most network primetime pilots are not: a show that looks, sounds, and feels completely different from everything else on network primetime. Can the network handle it? Will the mainstream TV audience (let alone the network!) accept something with so many looks? I'll let you know how it goes!

Article originally appeared on timgibbons.tv.

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New Perceptions: Augmented Reality as Entertainment

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2012
New Perceptions:
Augmented Reality as Entertainment
By Chris Thomes

Augmented reality (AR) refers to computer displays that add virtual information to a user's sensory perceptions. Most AR research focuses on "see-through" devices, usually worn on the head, which overlay graphics and text on the user's view of his or her surroundings. (Virtual information can also be in other sensory forms, such as sound or touch, but this article will concentrate on visual enhancements.) AR systems track the position and orientation of the user's head so that the overlaid material can be aligned with the user's view of the world. This process is called registration. Thru it, graphics software can place a three-dimensional image of a teacup, for example, on top of a real saucer and keep the teacup fixed in that position as the user moves about the room. AR systems employ similar technologies used in virtual-reality research, but where virtual reality attempts to replace the real world in an encompassing way, augmented reality only supplements it.

For entertainment purposes, AR has been used effectively in PR and marketing initiatives for motion picture, television, and other media promotional campaigns. Typically, these have included printed graphic or real life object recognition where the software identifies a unique symbol via web cam or cell phone camera. The software then activates a graphic overlay, which tracks fixed coordinates within the web cam image. Imagine unlocking a pseudo 3D moustache or hat that appears over your head as though you were wearing it. Or imagine holding out your hand in front of the camera and onscreen a small 3D character appears to suddenly sit in your hand and talk to you. These are examples of mapping objects and experiences onto video imagery, real-time.

Up to now, effects like this have been mainly utilized for the wow factor. Varying platforms and high development costs have limited deeper more immersive experiences. Although, toy manufacturer Mattel, partnering with Total Immersion, created interesting experiences for the Avatar inspired toy line. Each Avatar action figure toy included a little card that is scannable via web cam. The result is an on-screen, augmented reality robot or character. You can see more demos at AvatarItag.com, but an example of it working is here:



So, this may be one way to reach mass audiences – thru retail.

But the real question is, how compelling is the content? Little characters and micro activities are just scratching the surface of what can be done. AR’s applications can reach audiences in entirely new ways. It is fundamental shift in user. This is a compelling notion, especially as users continue to expect lifestyle-based devices like iPad. The more the devices become simple and ergonomic, the more unique user interfaces can become effective methods for allowing interaction with information and entertainment.

Many experiments with AR now allow users to explore locations using mobile devices with graphical overlays that can teach users about historical locations, explore tourist destinations, play games that use AR to place game interfaces directly onto real-life surfaces, or even use AR to teach and warn people about safety conditions or as critical navigation. And that may be where AR is quickly headed. The research and development labs of General Motors have been working closely with several universities, including Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Southern California, to build an augmented reality system that could assist motorists in difficult driving situations.



The new system, called the enhanced vision system, would embed an array of sensors and cameras inside and outside vehicles that could monitor a driver’s eye and head movements and provide relevant additional information to help him deal with current driving conditions. Imagine that in foggy or dark conditions, the system helps define the edges of the road and points to upcoming road signs. With this new technology, the information will be displayed on the car’s windshield, which will be coated with transparent phosphors.

So while people may end up safer on the road, informed on their vacations, and not…lost, how can AR be used for entertainment? The secret to that lies in behavioral design. Because AR can adapt to a variety of environments and has sophisticated tracking capabilities, it is a new brush in the producer’s palate when painting stories. But like good videogame development, a "story” must have interactive elements that benefit from AR’s capabilities. Simply creating stunts with a quick experience that is not repeatable has little ROI, for both the storyteller and the audience. Encouraging re-use behavior is critical to maximizing AR development.

Many marketing departments and agencies have dabbled with AR and, while the initial experience has a wow factor, the audience will simply burn thru it if it is not created carefully. For many marketers, that may not be important since they often are interested in opening weekends or stunts and audience engagement is not needed beyond an initial crescendo. For producers of new media, though, AR can be expensive and justifying costs require a solid business model supported by smart product and content development.

In order to reach mass markets, Producers will want to ride the tech wave extend what audiences already find compelling about their favorite connected experiences and applications. They will also need to re-examine what "storytelling” and entertainment means to audiences on the go. Facebook may be a good place to start looking. Mob Wars and other Facebook game apps have people addicted. Now imagine taking that behavior of interacting with people and places to a new level where you can map a story or information onto any location in the world.

Visiting ancient ruins may become a more active experience with AR. Imagine the Roman Coliseum coming to life right before your eyes. Or imagine a who-done-it happening before visitors at a historic London rowhouse. It will be this layer where AR transcends "consumerization” to become storytelling. And if the experiences can be entertaining enough to "map” pathos into our lives wherever we are, we might pay for it just like a ring tone, a DVD, cable TV or a movie ticket, which would be music to the ears of savvy content producers.

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