I’ve been aware of Pinterest for some time now. I don’t use it myself but my wife has dabbled with it for months. She uses it to piece together collections of patterns, furniture or simply images of nature that inspire her. She even has a section titled “For Colin's Belly” which contain recipes for desserts that my stomach appreciates (although, worryingly it’s so enlarged that it’s only a matter of time before it has its own twitter account). When you pin these collections the public can view them and re-pin them. It’s a simple way of spreading information, designs or aspirational pictures, and it’s about the objects being pinned rather than the… err Pinner. It’s certainly not as self-indulgent as Facebook, or as vain as having a blog on a website that has your own name as an address… Hmm.

Anyway, until a few weeks ago it was a fairly low key site mostly inhabited by designers and artists. Then recently an article appeared in the Guardian newspaper pointing out that Pinterest currently had 12 million American devotees and 200,000 in the UK. The article positions it as possibly the next Facebook. But you know what? It isn’t (thankfully) and should never be a contender for that crown. Pinterest’s main attraction is that you know nothing about the person pinning and you don’t need to know. This to my mind is pretty nice. But, now companies have noticed that there is an untapped audience here and when that happens they get their tapping commercial sledgehammers out and bombard those prospective customers. It’s a shame that the internet has evolved from its origins to become nothing more than a gigantic worldwide billboard for advertisers and corporations.

It’s happened to Twitter and Facebook. Everybody and everything is on Twitter. Even yogurt manufacturers are on twitter. Come follow me they say. Why? What could a yogurt possibly have done that’s interesting enough to comment? What adventures does a strawberry twirl sugar free tub have? Did it have an argument with the Pineapple Crush, or has it been jilted by the uncaring thoughts of the Apricot Splash?  Probably not, they’re nothing more than another way to fill our heads with their products.

And if Pinterest doesn’t watch out it will happen to them too. Yesterday, Universal studios appeared on my Facebook page to inform me that they were on Pinterest. I couldn’t contain my excitement… oh! wait… yes I could… quite easily. Their post went as follows:

“Universal Studios is using Pinterest, an online pinboard to collect and share what inspires you.”

Really? Are you sure you’re not just taking the opportunity to try and flog me more of your tired output. I mean, is anybody really inspired by Russell Crowe’s Irish accented Robin Hood?  It’s funny, but Universal is celebrating its hundredth year and that’s the film they choose to push. It’s almost like there’s a warehouse filled with surplus copies of the damn movie and they’re desperate to unload them. This warehouse probably resembles the one in Raiders of the Lost Ark

Eventually either Pinterest will end up resembling the side of a bus shelter or a subway wall, by being simply plastered in corporate posters for more risible rubbish, or it will push these aside and return to what it was, a quiet, aspirational site. I hope it’s the latter as it would be nice to have one place where somebody wasn’t trying to sell me something. 

Excuse the Noise

3/2/2012

 
At this very moment I’m supposed to be creating a statement of purpose for graduate school, rewriting a screenplay and working on another project. However, what is really happening is a complete paralysis of action, a desert of thought, a drought of imagination… Well, you get the point.

Sometimes the words flow like scent seeping from a perfume bottle shattered on a tiled bathroom floor. The letters ooze along the crannies and the cracks while the sweetly smelling sentences fill the room with pungent paragraphs of perfection. Other times they fire forth like diabolical diarrhea instigated by a badly cooked curry that was devoured the night before. A meal, that like those words inside your head, you loved so much the previous evening, but now when exposed to the day has turned against you. Those canny clauses and pretty puns that made you smile are now as meaningful and worthwhile as the remnants of that spicy sauce which is firing into your cheap ceramic toilet. Occasionally, like now, the words have to be forced out as if they are the last remnants of toothpaste from an overused tube. And like that insignificant amount of paste you try to spread those words around. You swish with them, and gargle with them, until you realize that there isn’t enough to clean a page.

This is when writing is at its most painful. The words are not plucked like abundant aging apples on a drooping tree; they’re yanked from inside kicking and screaming and then vomited into the world. Now I’m not claiming that writing is physically painful. Although sitting on your arse for eight hours doesn’t do wonders for the posture. I’m not saying it’s as demanding as working down a coal mine (which is the cliché everybody employs when trying to describe real hard work). But it is mentally painful when nothing is occurring. There's a profound ache when the words decide to play the reluctant bride, and the marriage between page and text has been cancelled. Then it hurts.

So for now I sit and scrutinize this nonsense on my screen (and now possibly on yours too), these words say little and they mean even less, but they’re mine. And they’ll do.

 
People often say to me, “Please leave.” Now, those words are usually uttered just after they’ve made the mistake of inquiring about my Home Theater PC. So as a bit of a change of pace I’m going to talk about two pieces of software that can be used to turn your PC into a home theater. I’m not going to go into detail, but simply provide a taster for your own self-service buffet of technology.

Of course the first question is why?

With DVDs, blu-rays, CDs, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other online video and music channels, our viewing habits are moving away from sitting down to watch TV at a prescribed time. We want to be entertained on our schedule. An HTPC can bring all of these media elements into one central location, and give you immediate access at a touch of a button (or two). This coalescence is already happening on blu-ray and TV players with internet connections. In fact, this year will see Samsung launch a new TV that incorporates their SmartTV tech with an upgradable dual core processor, camera and microphone. Thus, blurring the line between HTPC, PC, and TV.

But for now we can achieve something similar with just a PC and a little know how.   

I’ll be focusing on Windows based programs, yeah I know, I hear you. However, for the moment Windows is the only OS that can get decent blu-ray playback. Not because of the operating systems themselves, but because of the Digital Rights Management that Blu-ray has been shackled with. 

For Windows 7 users there is of course the built in Windows Media Center, now usually called 7MC. There’s nothing really wrong with it, but at times it is unwieldy and doesn’t have the versatility that can be found elsewhere. I prefer XBMC and Mediaportal. Both take a slightly different approach from each other, but best of all both are totally free, and unlike 7MC they are constantly being improved.

XBMC

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XBMC started life as a media player for the original Xbox (in fact my ten year old brick of a console still runs it today). Since its inception XBMC has expanded beyond the limitations of that hardware and is now available on Windows, Linux and Mac. XBMC is a self-contained program with built in codecs (in simple terms codecs are software that translate the video and the audio information). This means that getting it up and running is a simple case of downloading from here and installing. Once the program is running you will have to set the paths to where ever your TV shows, films and music are located. XBMC will then download fanart (for backgrounds), show banners, and movie posters, and information. Visually XBMC’s default skin is impressive and looks fantastic on a HD TV. However, if for some reason you don’t like it then there are numerous skins that can be downloaded. Finally, like a web browser and its extensions you can add various functions to XBMC via its add-ons. These cover a range of uses like Youtube, Gmail, Apple trailers, subtitle downloaders.     


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Mediaportal is in some ways more complicated to set up than XBMC, but perseverance can be worth it. The most obvious difference is that Mediaportal’s central configuration screen works outside of the main program, but it allows you to have more flexibility than XBMC. You can choose which codecs you would like to use. Some combinations work better than others for different hardware types, and for those that know what they’re doing they can achieve video playback nirvana. In a sense Mediaportal is more modular than XBMC. The TV show database can be controlled by a TV Series plug in, and films either by ‘Moving Pictures’ or the ‘My Films’ plug-in. This choice allows the user to have more flexibility, but can also be confusing. Visually, I’ve found Mediaportal’s GUI to have less polish than XBMC, but hopefully in the future with new skins like this one it will allow this HTPC software to shine. Like XBMC, Mediaportal has an array of plugins that offer expansion of its base system. Mediaportal can be downloaded from here.

One main difference between the two is that Mediaportal can interact with TV cards that are installed in the PC giving you the ability to view live TV and record shows. XBMC needs external software to achieve this.

What do I use?

To be honest both programs are excellent and the amount of work that has been lovingly lavished into them by their relevant communities is truly amazing. For years I relied on XBMC, but recently I’ve had trouble getting films to play back smoothly at 24fps. Other people don’t appear to have any such complications so it may be a combination of my hardware and my lack of knowledge. However, Mediaportal plays just fine and while I appreciate the sexiness of the menus of XBMC at the end of the day it’s the video that counts. 



 
Welcome to my new website. Hopefully as time passes it will fill out with more info, writing samples, and loglines. I hope you like it. Oh! there may be one or two bugs that need stamping out so if you see them let me know, thanks.

As a first post to launch my small website I thought I’d list the screenwriting and general film podcasts and websites I visit on an almost daily basis (when I’m reading, I have an excuse for not writing). Some are entertainment based, a few are great resources for new screenwriters, and others provide meaty subjects for the film critics and historians amongst you. If anybody is aware of others then feel free to let me know, either through the contact me page, or just leave a comment below.

Podcasts:
  • Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s Film Podcast
    Broadcast on Radio 5 live. This is roughly 90 mins of wittertainment (their word not mine) consisting of film reviews and interviews. Mark Kermode is a well-respected film journalist and Simon Mayo is one of Britain’s best radio presenters. This is one of the finest film shows in the UK, and Kermode’s occasional rants on films that trouble him are a joy to behold. 
  • The Film Programme
    Broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Francine Stock takes a journalistic look at world cinema. There are interviews with actors, writers and directors, but there are also articles on the state of British cinema, censorship and other more serious film topics.
  • Film Fandango
    From UK’s Absolute Radio comes this podcast presented by Danielle Ward and David Reed, who are often accompanied by a guest. Each week they discuss a new release, while their guests often talk about a film of their choosing. It’s light, in a pub conversation way, but entertaining. 
  • Half in the Bag
    Video podcast from Red Letter Media and can also be found on Blip.tv. Each podcast consists of amusing reviews from the latest releases. I’m not a huge fan of the waffle before they get going, but I enjoy their astute an interesting criticisms.  Check out the review of Lucas’s Red Tails.
Screenwriting Websites:
  • Scripped
    Scripped isn’t just a website about screenplays but is also a screenwriting tool that you can use in your web browser. It’s not dependent on your OS and they have apps for the iphone too. The basic option is free, but there’s a pro version for one-time payment of $89.95, or $9.95 a month. They also run a number of contests throughout the year. 
  • John August
    Screenwriter of films such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Big Fish, and Frankenweenie. His site has a lot of information about the screenwriting process, and the management side of it too. 
  • Kung Fu Monkey
    A group of writer contributing on blog posts covering various aspects of production and writing.
  • Amazon Studios
    This is a fairly new idea by Amazon.com who are clearly trying to maneuver into being content developers rather than just distributors. I’m just starting to wade through the legal stuff on their site, so if anybody has any experiences about it I’d be interested to hear them.
  • Scriptwrecked
    Advice and tips on writing for TV and film. 
Film History / Criticism:
  • Observations on Film Art
    Articles by David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson. They’re the authors of the book Film History which is basically required reading in pretty much every film class I’ve ever done. 
  • Shadowplay
    Film essays, often with an emphasis on the classic period of cinema. It’s always informative, and enlightening. And it has often introduced me to films I’ve never heard of, or made me see old movies in a new light.

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