Archive for March, 2009

Cometh the hour

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

I wasn’t sure whether to post on this topic. There’s so much to it, and so much scope for overly pious, and for ranting on about things I don’t fully understand, I thought I might just let it pass.

Then I saw this.

earthhour_0.jpg

(I decided to leave it unaccredited, but I’m going to DM a link to this post to the tweeter in question, and if he cares to comment he’ll be free to do so.)

I’m sure it’s just one of a multitude tweets condemning Earth Hour as an ineffectual gesture by a vocal minority of self-congratulatory do-gooders, many of whom are among the worst offenders in the whole CO2 stakes.

I certainly don’t mean to single the author of this one out, but unfortunately he’s the guy who turned up in my Twitter stream and riled me to the point of putting pen to paper.

(It didn’t help that he followed this up by complaining that “hollow gestures by the mavens confuse the masses. I think the whole thing is damaging.”  Confuse the masses?  Who the hell are you?  Pontius Fucking Pilate?)

THE MASSES AREN’T STUPID

I suspect, though I may be wrong, that the good people of Edmonton (and the surrounding area) – the kind of people who spend a Saturday afternoon trawling around IKEA in search of cheap electrical appliances they don’t really need – probably fall pretty precisely under many people’s definition of ‘the masses’.

Well, while the masses were out shopping this afternoon they who would have done pretty well to avoid the announcement coming across the tannoy at thirty minute intervals to the effect that IKEA would be observing Earth Hour, and that so should they.

There wasn’t anything especially confusing about the message, at least not for those among us with ears and a brain, who numbered very much in the majority.  ‘Show your commitment to fighting climate change.  Turn off your lights for an hour this evening.’  It’s not rocket science.

And yes, sadly, that’s probably as much as most of us have ever done.  Do we really believe that this will even scratch the surface of the issue, in terms of pure energy-saving?  Of course not.

It is a symbolic act, by which we show our recognition of the fact that man-made climate change is a reality, with the potential to unite our species, and the power to decimate it.

It gives us an opportunity to sit for an hour, by candle-light, reflecting on the things we otherwise take for granted, pondering a world in which they were not so abundant, and wishing we’d had the presence of mind to sneak the bloody kettle on before the clock struck half eight.

THE TWITTERING CLASSES

More than once today I’ve encountered the insinuation that Earth Hour is the exclusive domain of some web-literate elite who are simply paying lip service to the issue, whilst continuing to be amongst the worst offenders on CO2 usage, making profligate use of technology in order to share the many tedious details of our largely unremarkable lives.

This, if you’ll forgive my bluntness, is fucking ignorant.  Here we have a global communication network, off the back of which the infinite seeds of one simple idea can be borne to all four corners of the world in minutes, seconds even.  We have a mouthpiece for the grass-roots, a medium for the groundswell, powered by observation and opinion every bit as much as electricity.

With so many people seeming to revert instaneously from denial to resignation, we have to engender a climate in which the naysayers are the exception, rather than the rule.

In short, we have to turn this ship around.  And, realising that this is beyond the capabilities of our political leadership, we have to do it for ourselves.

In the Internet, we have the potential for a new kind of leadership, articulated as an idea.  Earth Hour is just that – an idea. In giving it our support, we’re not aligning ourselves with left or right, or pledging our allegiance to a wider political platform.  We don’t have to wear the badge, or download the fact pack.

All we have to do is switch off some lights, and light a few candles.  And, in doing so, take the time to think about what else we’re ready to do, to try and make a difference.

That moment of introspection, of self-recrimination, and whatever greater environmental conscientiousness it precipitates, that’s the essence of Earth Hour.  Whether we experience it as individuals, or realise it amongst ourselves, or embrace it as a species, it has value.

And if some of us continue to take the easy option, to opt out, to say “little old me, what difference can I make.”  Well, if that’s how you feel, so alone in the world, so isolated and insoluble, perhaps you’re right.  Little old you.

The future begins

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

This, we are told, is the principle theatrical Star Trek poster.

Look at all familiar?  Well, if you were around in 1979, you might remember this:

Great to see that they’re taking the re-boot seriously.  All the same, I think it’s a bold choice.  This is a very abstract design for the principle piece of artwork on such a major release.

Normally we see this kind of thing used for the teaser poster early on in the campaign, often because all the designers have to work with is one visual of the Enterprise and a bed sheet.

The final theatrical poster tends to be more of an amalgam, reflecting the key selling points of the movie, and any star quality on offer.  These can often feel slightly crowded and overworked, at the expense of any underlying creative coherence.

The next two designs – used for two of the international posters, destined for markets where Star Trek is a little less ubiquitous than the US – typify that approach (although personally I think they hold together pretty nicely):

And just to round up this little round-up, this (apparently) is the South American poster:

Looks like they’ve taken a completely different route, positioning Star Trek as an event movie, cut from the same cloth as Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow.

independence_day_ver3.jpg

The last of these notably caters for the global obsession with the spectacle of major American landmarks being destroyed.  Some would probably cite this as some sort of morbid post-9/11 phenomenon, but for those people I have just two words.  Well, three. The. Towering. Inferno.

towering_inferno.jpg

All in all, I think these posters offer an interesting view of the whole process of packaging the same film for differing cultural sensibilities.

Indeed, the Star Trek franchise as a whole is a bit of an anomaly in this respect – it’s an institution in America, plays pretty well in the UK, Australia, and a few other European countries, but apart from that it’s a pretty tough sell. That may be rooted in the fact that it espouses a homogenised world-view foreign to the local sensibilities of non-English-speaking markets.

Ironic, when you consider that series creator Gene Roddenberry predicated Star Trek on the coming together of all mankind in the face of the discovery of other intelligent life in the universe.

I guess maybe the coming together of all mankind feels a little less enticing if it means that everybody ends up looking like they went to school in Beverly Hills.

Butt Naked Wonda, Big Brotha Thunda and The Masta Blasta

Friday, March 27th, 2009

I’ve got nothing to add.

We Live In Public

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

The irony of my blogging this is not lost on me.

Care of AnnieOK.

Street view

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

[iframe http://maps.google.com/maps/sv?cbp=12,345.6389921709606,,0,5&cbll=51.552974,-0.056197&panoid=&v=1&hl=en&gl= 450 300]

Welcome to Google Street View.

This is us, right here, the street where we live. There’s an amazing narrative concealed within what you can see here. Catch me off the record and I’ll happily share it with you.

Of course, Google gives us this, so many stories, frozen in time, and all we can do is bleat about privacy.

Have you seen how many CCTV cameras there are in London today? Suddenly, here, we’re getting this little glimpse what they see.

If we don’t like it, Google Street View is the least of our problems.

Crunk

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

crunk.jpg

I’ve had to explain to a few people today what Crunk is, so now I’m putting it on the record.

I woke up on what turned out to be the first day of Lent with the kind of hangover that makes you wish you were someone else, purely so you could look at yourself and reflect on the fact that things might be bad, but at least you weren’t him.

I decided to attempt some kind of detox, the starting point for which was no booze, no fags and – let’s not beat around the bush here – no tetrahydrocannabinol, benzoylmethyl ecgonine or methylenedioxymethamphetamines. You’ll notice that I set no stock by the law in dictating the scope of my fast.  That, my friends, is because – on these matters at least – the law is an ass.

Twenty-four days in, and I’m giving it a name.  Crunk.  I’m calling it Crunk because I’m tired of telling people that I’m observing Lent and then having to qualify that by explaining that I hold no religious beliefs, except the belief that religion in general needs a very close eye keeping on it.

I chose the name Crunk on the basis that it’s almost as silly a word as Lent.  I’ve since learnt that the word ‘lent’ is derived from an old English word meaning ‘springtime’.  That hasn’t convinced me that it’s any less silly a name, merely that its foolishness has a discernible point of origin.

The basic tenets of Crunk are as follows:

  1. It starts on the same day as Lent.  That’s just a coincidence really, and a happy one, in that next year I’ll have a major religious festival to remind me that it’s time to put down the crack-pipe and step away from the mini-bar.
  2. It demands that you reject any kind of mass-produced consumer narcotic.  That means the most fun you can expect to have during Crunk is picking a few magic mushrooms or brewing yourself a cup of San Pedro. And, from my experiences at least, that’s not very much fun at all.
  3. You must eat as much raw leaf spinach as you can manage with every evening meal.
  4. It lasts until noon on the first friday of April, at which point you are free to break your Crunken fast by drinking a glass of cheap cava.

That’s Crunk, basically.  It’s a chance to clean out your system, and to give yourself any reassurance you need that you can stop the lot (for a few weeks at least) purely off the back of arbitrarily choosing to do so.  For those of us who don’t buy into the whole old-man-upstairs school of thought, there can’t be a better reason.

The Force™

Friday, March 20th, 2009

Found this today on Slashfilm.  Even though it’s taking a potshot at LucasFilm’s procilivity for pursuing even the most spurious merchandising opportunities, the first thing I felt when I saw it was an immense surge of nostalgic pleasure at the memory of buying my first Star Wars figure.

I was out with my mum and my brother, in a shop on Godalming High Street.  We’re talking about twenty-eight years ago.  My mum bought us one each – my brother got Han Solo (1st row, 5 across), and I ended up with one of those dudes who operates the Death Star (2nd row, 18 across).

Sure, my guy was kind of crap, but we still managed to spend the next month pretending the family piano was some sort of vast interstellar vehicle over which these two sworn enemies forever battled for control.

It wasn’t long before more figures arrived.   I remember Greedo (2, 6), Admiral Ackbar (3, 9) and, in time, the mighty Boba Fett (2, 12).  We even got that guy who worked for Lando Calrissian in Cloud City (2, 9).  Turns out he’s called Lobot:

It pretty quickly became clear that he was the Star Wars figure equivalent of the guy who gets chosen last when you’re working out football teams in the playground.

Whenever we settled down on a Saturday morning, turned the duvet on one of our beds into some sort of other-worldy terrain, and engaged in a little Star Wars team selection, Lobot was always left kicking his heels at the end, along with the droid who looks like suitcase and a Gamorrean Guard.

I think it was those big sleeves of his. He just looked a bit, well, crap. These days, nerd-boy that I am, I’d kill for a Lobot. Especially if was still wrapped up in that bloody glorious packaging.

The Force™ was just one of the numerous posts on Slashfilm today.  Peter Sciretta’s commitment to keeping the site chock full of up-to-the-minute movie news and painfully cool extra goodness is just extraordinary, and lies at the heart of why it has so quickly become my favourite blog.

Another peach from today was this 60″ version of Kill Bill.  Ever since we sweded Lord of the Rings I’ve been hankering to get back in the director’s chair.  To me this is a classic swede, showing just how much you can achieve with little more than a yellow tracksuit and a hockey pitch:

I hope Peter keeps taking Slashfilm site from strength to strength, so that the rest of us can go on enjoying the best of the past, present and future in film. Something tells me he will. The force is strong in this one.

THE END IS NIGH

Friday, March 6th, 2009

On the eve of release, this is a retrospective on all the work we’ve done on the WATCHMEN campaign. Hopefully, if nothing else, it may help some of the people I’ve neglected over the last few weeks/months/years understand why that might have been.  I offer it not as a justification, merely an explanation.

_ _ _

Fifteen years in the making

The Doomsday Clock

PPC started talking about the WATCHMEN campaign about five years ago, when the movie was being produced by Paramount, with Paul Greengrass set to direct. I sat down with our creative director at the time and we talked through a few ideas. Guess that would have been some time in 2004.

At the heart of what we were discussing was the idea of how we could take the ‘metanarrative’ that runs through WATCHMEN – present most explicitly in the little vignettes appearing at the end of each chapter – and realise this through a range of different media, including video, print and the web.

Around the same time, Emma’s friend Kate got in touch. She was assisting Greengrass at the time, and was working on their version of the script. She’d heard that WATCHMEN had featured in my English Lit. dissertation, and wanted to get hold of a copy.

Unfortunately, I had to explain that the only hard copy of my dissertation had died with my academic career back in 1999. It was an expansive and somewhat tedious tract entitled ‘Taking Liberties: Ideas of Freedom in the Graphic Novel’ in which I examined various themes permeating what I considered to be the most significant graphic novels ever written.

This included not only WATCHMEN but also Alan Moore’s V FOR VENDETTA, Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and Grant Morrison’s ARKHAM ASYLUM, many of the key frames of which were reproduced within my dissertation in glorious technicolour, harnessing the extraordinary power of a computer system residing in the Edinburgh University library.

Unfortunately, the cost of printing the bastard thing was so extortionate I had to turn a few tricks just to run off the copy I had to hand in. As for keeping a digital version, I would have needed a dongle the size of a cricket bat to take it anywhere, even if such a thing as a dongle had even yet existed.

The little I do remember about the substance of what I wrote was my focus on themes and ideas I had grown up with, living through the decade in which WATCHMEN, V and THE DARK KNIGHT all came into being – the eighties.

I examined the pervasive presence of television, the spectre of nuclear armageddon, and a growing sense of moral ambiguity ushered in by an age of scientific enlightenment, religious disenfranchisement and the emergence of the all-powerful media industrial complex (of which I am now such a loyal and trusted servant).

I found that these recurred within the significant graphic novels of the era, both in terms of narrative development, and as visual elements, framing characters existing within a menacing grey area beyond the childish binary of black and white, right and wrong, good and evil.

Meaning that when Kate and I sat down and talked about how Watchmen could be adapted into a post-9/11 PG-13 superhero story, I was stumped. I was all up for trying – I’ve long ago shaken the mindset that shit film adaptations somehow compromise the integrity of the source material. As far as I’m concerned, all shit films compromise is the people who make them.

It wasn’t really working though, at least not when Kate and I were trying to get to grips with it, and the news that Paramount had pulled the plug on the project was met on my part with a measure of relief, as well as disappointment. (I’m sure with hindsight Greengrass is far happier that he went on to make his other post-9/11 project, UNITED 93.)

Fast forward to 2007, and I’m sitting in Hall E of the San Diego Convention Centre waiting for Zack Snyder to tell me and 4,999 other feverish fanboys what he has planned for WATCHMEN. I’ve travelled to Comic-con under the auspices of getting the inside track on a few of the movies slated for 2008-9, but this is the real reason I’ve routed my quarterly trip to LA through southernmost California.

It takes a certain type of person to address a crowd of 5,000 people and have each of them feel as though they’re having a one-to-one conversation. Probably the same kind of person it takes to inspire a team of hundreds, thousands even, to give themselves over to the production of a $120m movie depicting a group of men and women dressing up and ostensibly failing to save the world.

What we learned at Comic-con was that the film was set to be a period piece, that it would be R-rated, and that it would star no-one in particular. Each of these details seemed to resonate with everybody present – by the end of the session I believe every one of us shared a palpable sense that WATCHMEN was in safe hands.

_ _ _

Making it (y)our own

We must have produced more than fifty different movie widgets in the last twelve months, but the WATCHMEN widget is unique in a couple of key respects:

a) A typical movie widget goes live 8-10 weeks out from release, sometimes even less.  It’s not ideal, but movie marketing – every bit as much as politics – is the art of the possible.

The WATCHMEN widget went live ten months out.

That probably only happened because…

b) We built the WATCHMEN widget without waiting to be asked.  It wasn’t much to look at – just a countdown clock and a smiley face – but it was enough to get it signed off and get started.  When the widget went live, we were still almost 300 days from release.

(I’m looking at it now, and I’m seeing 14 hours, 39 minutes and 7 seconds.)

The key to a great movie widget is to start early, update often and seed aggressively off the back of all the major campaign milestones.

The moment the embargo came up on the teaser trailer, we had it live in the widget and were mailing around our blogger contacts to let them know that it was there for the taking.

Likewise the feature trailer, which saw Marc Berry and I up at 3am in the morning republishing files and emailing everyone we knew who might want to feature the trailer on their site.

In the background, we’ve been updating the widget on an almost weekly basis to include the steady flow of new video clips and production webisodes, campaign news, wallpapers, screensavers and all the other fanboy fare making up the backbone of any self-respecting interactive marketing campaign.

The bottom line is this – if you’re going to ask somebody to place what is essentially a free advertisement for your product on their homepage, blog, fan-site, social networking profile or whatever other digital smallholding it is they call their own, you better make sure it does something.  In the case of WATCHMEN, content-wise, we really went for the mother lode.

Coming into 2009, we took the widget and turned it into the centrepiece of what we can find no better words to describe than ‘social media toolkit’.

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www.I-Watch-The-Watchmen.com went live in early January, featuring a plethora – and I really mean, plethora – of tools and features.  I’m talking profile picture creators, blog, templates, site skins, social bookmarking and the rest, offering advanced compatibility with dozens of different blogging tools and social networks, as well as content created specifically for iPhone users.

I’m afraid I’m saying nothing about the number of widgets grabbed, or impressions generated, or profile pics created, unless its already out there in the public domain.  So when I say “PEOPLE LOVED THIS”, you’re just going to have to take my word for it.

_ _ _

Better blue than red, man.

Some of the ideas we pitch feel like complete no-brainers.  Others are submitted more in hope than expectation. When we sent Paramount our first pass at treatments for various 3-minute videos, each offering a different view into the world of WATCHMEN and the alternate reality in which it is situated, it never really occurred to me that several months later I’d be able to sit here and show you this…

…or this…

…or this…

[UPDATE 11:54pm 06/03/09] …or this…

…or that between them, they would be closing in on a total of one million views in less than six weeks. (The first of them, NBS Nightly News, did 200,000 views in just 48 hours.)

Ted Phillips

If it hadn’t been for the tireless persistence and imaginative energy of our creative director, Dan Skinner (a fellow fanboy, and Watchmen acolyte), I doubt these even would have made it in front of the client, let alone have gone on to become a reality.

No matter that the process of conceptualising them and co-writing the scripts was one of the most creatively stimulating experiences of my life, working or otherwise.

Nor that the time we spent designing the sets and filming the key material gave me a glimpse of what a remarkable thing it must be to spend your life working in film production.

Setting up NBS News

The ultimate satisfaction is that these seem to be viewed by many as an extension of the entertainment, rather than just marketing materials. Tracking the comments online, we’ve seen a number of people mistake them for the work of the film-makers. From where we’re standing, that’s high praise indeed.

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The videos are just three of the 50-odd artefacts making up The New Frontiersman, a website launched in order to explore the sprawling back-story of Watchmen with an attention to detail worthy of a Michelin star.  Like everyone, I have my own favourites, of which these are just a few:

Mothman sectioned

Viet Cong surrender to Dr Manhattan

FBI Wanted Poster

Veidt Foundation auction lot #37

The New Yorker

OZYMANDIAS Action Figures

For my money, what’s worth enjoying about The New Frontiersman isn’t the fine-looking site we developed in order to deliver the wealth of custom-created content (every item of which had to be submitted for client and film-maker approval), but the fact that Youtube, Flickr, Friendfeed and Twitter are also used to aggregate and syndicate every single item, enabling a broad audience of subscribers to pick up our daily updates by whatever means they preferred.

We weren’t just paying lip service to social media, so that we could name-check fashionable web 2.0 brands in press releases.  Everything we did with these channels was driving towards finding a broader audience for our content, using the right tools for the right jobs, building a community of common interest around the unfolding back-story.

The numbers are all there if you want to look for them – evidence not only of quantity, but also of a quality of engagement going way beyond a hit to a website, or a click-through on a banner ad.  The kind of engagement you only really surpass once you’ve got people going ten-pin bowling dressed up as Nite Owl.

_ _ _

No place like Home™

Two years ago exactly, I was sweating on an event we were running in Second Life to promote the release of Zack Snyder’s “300”.  I mean really sweating.  Working in conjunction with friend and collaborator Neville Hobson, we were inviting a number of very influential bloggers and journalists to an in-world event that had an inordinate potential to go wrong.

It didn’t go wrong.  It went off really rather well, after which I hid in an office in our building, called my wife, and broke down in tears.  It was that kind of project.

The “300” film-maker Q&A became the starting point for a series of movie promotions in Second Life, each of which was more technically and creatively ambitious than the last, promoting movies including DIE HARD, TRANSFORMERS and IRON MAN.

PPC quickly established ourselves as peerless in the field of marketing movies in virtual worlds, which is maybe why Sony got in touch with us to talk about doing the same in PlayStation Home.

With Home going open beta in December 2008, the timing in relation to WATCHMEN couldn’t have been better.  December would see a sudden influx of many hundreds of thousands of PlayStation owners into Home, with Home cinema a likely first port of call.

We agreed to run a number of initiatives, starting with the release of the newly unveiled feature trailer in Home, making it the first trailer to play in the open beta.  This was accompanied by a video message from Zack Snyder, welcoming everybody to Home and encouraging them to look forward to more from WATCHMEN in weeks to come:

The best of what we’d learnt from our work in Second Life then came into play on the day of the UK junket, as we brought Zack Snyder and Dave Gibbons together with a worldwide audience of journalists, bloggers and fans for a 45-minute Q&A in Silverscreen clubhouse.  The Q&A was broadcast live over Ustream, opening it up to a broader audience online, and enabling us to take questions both from Ustream and from Twitter through the course of the event.

The machinima event promo gives a far better sense of what went down than I could ever hope to do:

These events tend to rely on a precarious amalgam of new technology and logistical mayhem, and can be nasty things to get caught up in the middle of.  I ran three of them in Second Life, and drank a hell of a lot of vodka along the way.

With that in mind, I hadn’t really expected to be able to just hire somebody who could just step up and take over the reins.  That’s exactly what Marc Berry did, ably supported by long-term virtual collaborator Dom from Deluxe Corporation and our metaverse consultant from across the water, Annie Ok.

The way it basically played is that with about a week to go before the event I put the fear of god into Marc, in terms of all the potential problems he was likely to face over coming days, then disappeared up north for a week on a family holiday.  I got back just in time to join the audience – virtual and actual – for a perfectly executed event.  While I’m on the record, I have to give Marc HUGE kudos for pulling it off.

The icing on the cake has been the WATCHMEN digital merchandise we’ve created and released, at no cost, through the PlayStation store.  Annie’s staple involvement in the project was to cut us a rocking machinima promo showing off the Rorschach and Nite Owl costumes we produced, and that’s exactly what she did:Again, you’re going to have to take my word for it that these have proven popular.  The great thing about them is that, rather than spending big on producing a themed environment, something like this is relatively cheap to produce and travels through Home to wherever it is the people are.  If our approach is about encouraging fans to wear there anticipation of a movie on their virtual sleeves, and to evangelize on its behalf, our work on Home on this campaign has to be scored as a ground-breaking success.

_ _ _

The bigger picture

WATCHMEN has been a big deal for PPC Group as a whole.  As well as everything here, we’ve worked on numerous international trailers and tv spots, a 30-minute programme, a 12-part press kit and a Metro cover wrap due to hit the streets in several European countries in just a few hours time.

[Update 12:45pm 06/03/09] The cover wrap looks thus:

It’s been a chance for PPC Interactive to show exactly what it is that sets us apart from the crowd, in terms of our preparedness to innovate and experiment, whilst retaining a clear sense of the need to deliver tangible results satisfying explicitly commercial criteria.  To some extent I’ve had to ask the guys I work with – Saffron especially – to indulge me, and to forgive an almost unprofessional preoccupation with a single campaign, albeit the single most creatively aggressive campaign we’ve ever taken on.

It’s also been a chance for me to work with some of the amazing talents in my broader creative vicinity, all the way through to clients and film-makers whose preparedness to trust us with a $120m movie goes way beyond anything I’ve ever encountered.

But best of all?  Well, if you’d sat me down, fifteen years ago, and talked me through what we were going to do with this movie, the fun we were going to have, the people I’d get to work with, and the story we’d have the opportunity to tell, and then you’d told me that someone was actually going to pay me to do it, I’d have kissed you on those cherry lips of yours, and called you a liar.

I got to live the absolute dream on this one.  I don’t know what comes next, but it’s going to have to be good.  Damn good.  Because here I am.  One minute to midnight.  And it’s never felt better ≠)

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The one thing worse than being talked about…

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

Organising a blogger screening is always a far from straight-forward business.  It involves contending with, in no particular order:

1) The manifest anxiety any self-respecting film publicist instinctively experiences when confronted by the prospect of somebody writing honestly about a movie before it has been released.  (Oh, I know the critics sometimes have a go, but they also have meal tickets to worry about.)

2) The indignation bloggers often feel at being handled like the poorer cousins of journalists.  Let’s face it, most journalists are pretty poor in the first place, but at least they can rely on picking up the odd free lunch, provided they play ball (see point 1).

3) The conspicuous absence of any kind of trade body or formal qualification distinguishing a blogger from someone who just set up a blog purely in order to gain access to a free preview screening of a movie.

4) The certain knowledge that the more successful you are in attracting influential, high profile bloggers to your screening, the more fucked you’ll be if (a) it falls through at the very last minute, (b) no-one bothers to turn up on the day or (c) it doesn’t fall through, everyone turns up, and everyone thinks the movie is utterly fucking worthless.

In the case of the WATCHMEN blogger screening, which took place in Paramount International’s screening room in Chiswick Park at 10.30am this morning, these are just some of the issues we’ve faced.

A few new ones also popped up.  Notably:

i) The fact that Chiswick, for any of us who do not live there, is the middle of fucking nowhere.

ii) The fact that Chiswick Park is a business park, and that bloggers hate business parks.

iii) The fact that 10.30am on a Tuesday morning is not a time traditionally associated with watching movies.

iv) The fact that 24 hours is not a lot of notice to give a blogger in order for them to make the arrangements necessary to spend a Tuesday morning watching a movie in a business park in the middle of fucking nowhere.

With all this in mind, the roll-call in Starbucks at five past ten this morning was fairly extraordinary.  I’m talking about Mike, Gia, Lloyd, Chris, Steve, Lobelia, Nik, Derek, Rachel, Melinda, Allix, Paul, Maegan and Marie, not to mention some friends of friends and a very nice chap called David from The Times.

Within minutes of the screening ending I could see that it had divided opinion.  Not just in terms of the discussions that were taking place, but also on Twitter, where 140-word reviews quickly materialised presenting a plethora of pithy perspectives.  Take this one. Or this one. Or this one. Or, if you really must, this one.

This has carried through in the full write-ups I’ve already seen posted.  Rachel Clarke enjoyed the style and complexity, but found it excessively long and far too violent.  Paul Bay felt that it probably should have run a little longer, and found it visually stunning, but was disappointed by the anachronistic soundtrack.  And Steve Lawson, despite disliking the movie intensely, has written a very positive assessment of the event itself, exploring the benefits of taking this approach to driving conversation as part of the marketing process.

I imagine more write-ups will appear over the next day or two, so I’ll try to update this post accordingly.

Overall, the reactions I’m seeing are reminding me of working on Zack Snyder’s last movie, “300”.  It was another R-rated movie, adapted from a graphic novel, showing a huge amount of respect for the source material – too much, as far as some critics were concerned.

It was violent, and it was sexy, taking a cast of relative unknowns and asking them to deliver characters we would genuinely care about, despite the fact that we were encountering them against a backdrop of implausibly hyper-real pseudo-historical circumstance.

“300” was released in March, around two years ago, and set some box office records in the process.  Part of its success was that it divided opinion so completely, and that this played out across a wide variety of different social channels and online media in the weeks ahead of release.

By the time “300” came out it wasn’t enough to borrow somebody else’s opinion from the pages of a newspaper, website or film magazine – everybody seemed to want one all of their own.

On the evidence of today, here’s hoping Watchmen is set to go the same way.

Botanicalls 0042

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

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I never posted about this at the time, but I found this photo on my iPhone and it reminded my that I wanted to document the brief operational existence of @botanicalls0042.  (I love the clear implication that – until my mum bought this one for me – they had only sold 41 kits.)

You can find out what it does on the Botanicalls website. You can also download the extensive instructions my father and I followed to the letter in order to assemble it, equipped with a selection of wire cutters and an extremely rudimentary soldering iron.

No-one was more surprised than we were when we plugged it into the wireless router at my mum and dad’s place, and the two little LEDs flickered into life. Indeed, they managed to successfully communicate the error code denoting that Botanicalls 0042 had failed to deliver its first tweet, on the basis that it was running into the draconian security measures Orange France impose upon all their home wi-fi users.

WIth that in mind, I felt confident that once we had it back in Hackney, plugged into a router so lax on security that half the neighbourhood are drinking my bandwidth like cheap rum, it would be able to tweet freely, and begin the process of alerting me whenever the plant privileged enough to be playing host to it needed a drink of its own.

Sadly, it was not to be. In what was one of the most pointless crimes of 2008, someone stole the box containing Botanicalls0042 from our car at some point during our 3-day stay in Paris between Christmas and New Year. Unless the culprit turns out to be some sort of geek-thief, it seems likely that Botanicalls0042 is destined to never send that inaugural tweet.

I’ll keep following though, on the off-chance.