The Film is Strong with This One: Star Wars Episode VII Film and Tech

A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, George Lucas created a film franchise that revolutionized and redefined the entire science fiction genre as we know it. Star Wars introduced a new level of technology and special effects integration never seen before in film. With the acquisition of the franchise by Disney, there is even more innovation to be made, and that will start with Episode VII, due out in December, 2015.

starwarsDirector J.J Abrams (Star Trek, Mission Impossible III) has recently revealed that he is shooting the movie with 35mm film instead of the latest industry standard of digital.

This is not surprising of Abrams, who has yet to produce a film digitally, and believes that film is a valuable art that produces images that no digital rendering can replicate. Along with the 35mm film, leaked photos have shown the use of IMAX cameras, which would demonstrate the true versatility of Episode VII.

starwars2One can only imagine the amount of special effects and green screen action that will be present as well, so maybe a breath of fresh air from the digital world would be a tasteful addition to the film. One of the things that the Star Wars franchise has always been proud of is the eclectic sense of costuming and prop design that is most certainly extensive by nature of the science fiction genre. Taking it back to the original 1977 method of models and elaborate set designs, information and pictures have shown that Episode VII will not rely on strictly green screen, which while most certainly will be used, will not be the prime motivator to many movies that have been produced in the last decade.

With very little information released about the 2015 sci-fi epic, fans are left to only speculate the details of story and the overall quality of the Disney project. It is hard to believe many fans are even left after the very negatively criticized prequel trilogy came out, leaving many hardcore fans left to feel betrayed in a sense with characters like the CGI-monstrosity that is Jar-Jar Binks. (Wired.com has a great article looking at the technology and disappointments to this particular subject.)

When the series ended in 2005 with Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, the fans that remained felt closure. A short lived closure that was interrupted when Disney acquired the series in 2012. But fans have always complained about any minor change, such as the digital re-releases of the films in 1996. If anything, the creators are most likely looking towards a new generation of Star Wars to take the reins. A forgiving new generation who is open to loose interpretation and varying special effects. This being said, J.J. Abrams and everybody involved will do everything within their reach not to mess up this film as well.

So with Star Wars Episode VII set for a December 2015 release, will the film stay true to the original trilogy ideas? Do you agree with J.J. Abrams’ choice of filming in 35mm film as opposed to digital? These are the questions that we can’t help but ask ourselves as such a sacred film franchise is put into new hands into a new generation of filmmakers.

- Mike Lieb

Turning Point in Tragedy: Celebrity Culture and Mental Illness

Tortured. Hanged.

Got your attention, didn’t it? But for the wrong reasons.

With no concern for their audience, news media outlets used unnecessary details to sensationalize the sudden death of Robin Williams at age 63. Headlines were littered with buzzwords to catch attention. With no consideration for the impact that mental illness can have on an individual, people looked down on his actions and called him names. For example, Fox News anchor Sam Shepard is quoted on the situation, saying, “…And yet, something inside you is so horrible or you’re such a coward or whatever the reason that you decide that you have to end it…” And, shown below, the Daily News sported this headline:

Media1Unfortunately, there are more poor examples than these. Buzzfeed and Yahoo! News noticed that something wasn’t right here.

Thankfully, much of the media today has taken some sensitivity training. The media has become more aware of their audience when reporting this kind of news. For example, the New York Village Voice shared their own opinion (shown above) on how to properly report this event.

But why does this matter?

When suicide is reported in a shining light, it encourages copycat behavior. One unnecessary tragedy has the power to spiral in to many more thanks to our celebrity centered culture. Many have noticed we need a change. “There’s a very careful line they need to walk so as to not seem exploitive of a terrible situation; but at the same time, it is a national teachable moment that shouldn’t be ignored.” (Lisa Kovitz, Eldman PR Firm.) Turning tragedy in to an educational experience gives celebrity culture the advantage.

Also, when the media poorly reports mental illness, it can be harmful to those advocating for the cause. Organizations such as To Write Love on Her Arms have a vision to eliminate the stigma against mental illness and encourage those who are battling to keep fighting. On our own campus, there is a University Chapter of this organization. When the media degrades those who have suffered, their audiences will degrade those individuals as well and advocacy organizations suffer.

But now, media outlets now have a chance to reform. Samaritans in the UK shared some new helpful guidelines on reporting suicide and mental illness:

Media2Celebrities of all types tweeted about the tragedy, sharing positive memories of Robin Williams. Late night talk show hosts, such as Seth Meyers and Jimmy Fallon, took the time to remember the life that was lost. The power of celebrity culture, in this case, was used for good. We as fans of Robin Williams were all brought together to recognize that depression and mental illness is a very real problem.

News media outlets promoted awareness as well. Many articles ended on a positive note and encouraged readers to get help if they find themselves in a similar situation. And, some news outlets took the extra step of sharing articles solely on how to get help, such as The Today Show and WOWT Omaha.

Of the impact this event has made, the stigma against mental illness is starting to decrease. It is unfortunate that it took the loss of a very influential man for people to understand just how serious it can be. People can recognize that having a mental illness is not a sign of weakness and that it is okay to get help.

- Sammie Mallow

Lies About Freedom: The “Democratization” of Filmmaking

During the past decade, a plethora of technological advances have made filmmaking a more accessible craft. Digital video cameras have increased in quality and decreased in price. Affordable, easy-to-learn editing software is available for any home computer. YouTube and other video-sharing sites allow for a free broadcasting service. Crowdfunding sites allow for artists to obtain the financial resources necessary for their projects. These advances, among others, have led to a movement sometimes labeled the democratization of filmmaking, implying a freedom of entry into the world of the movies.

This is somewhat misleading.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a proponent of the many tools that are now at the filmmaker’s disposal. I myself have greatly benefited from the affordability of practicing the craft. I’ve created short films on affordable DSLR cameras, financed projects online, and have enjoyed watching viewcounts rise on YouTube. It is a great way to practice. However, to say that this same practice is indicative of a greater freedom in film is somewhat overstated.

Financing

Film

Need money? Kickstarter can help you get there. As long as you can sell people on your project and budget.

Financing projects has been transformed by the introduction of crowdfunding sites, such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter. The ability to solicit funds from online donors has led to award-winning films being made that would have otherwise been unable to find sufficient capital to back the project. But, this same crowdfunding process has led to certain laziness on behalf of filmmakers.

Many filmmakers, especially on first projects, utilize crowdfunding as a way to earn funds from family and friends. However, most project goals set by inexperienced filmmakers are rough guesses more than they are educated budgeting goals. This can lead to insufficient funds during production, unsuccessful funding on crowdfunding sites, or cheapened production quality. Improperly managed crowdfunding can hurt a project, not help it.

Production

Film2

DSLR cameras, such as the Canon 5D, are common tools of the beginning filmmaker. But it still only one of many expenses.

One of the major issues that many beginning filmmakers overlook is the expenses unrelated to the camera. Sure, it is now possible to buy an HD camera for under $1000 today. But, what about lenses? Or lighting gear? Or audio equipment? Or payment for crew members? How will those crew members be fed? And how will they get to the filming locations? All of these things require money. Even if crew members say they’ll work for free, they’ll work a lot harder if you feed them and arrange for their transportation. Costs can creep higher than anticipated very quickly, but many of them are necessary to increase the quality of the film. And even if costs are kept under control, it doesn’t mean anything if there isn’t substantial film talent behind the camera.

Distribution

film3

Vimeo is a common broadcasting site for independent filmmakers. Good luck making money there, though.

This is where the democracy of film truly falls apart. Independent filmmakers do have options for distributing their film online, but most of them are free sites such as Vimeo and YouTube. Although this is a wonderful way to find an audience, it is a terrible way to make money for the hundreds of hours of hard work crafting the film.

So, how does one distribute their work if they don’t want to give it away? That’s a tough question. Even award-winning films on festival circuits don’t always get picked up for distribution. This can put finished films in a sort of limbo, complete but unseen.

The Verdict?

For all the criticisms I suggest, there are definitely advantages to the digital revolution and the so-called democratization of the process. The most beneficial, in my opinion, is the ability for amateur videographers and filmmakers to practice the craft. Great work can be done by amateurs with the right amount of dedication, and even though this work might not be seen by many, it can help aspiring filmmakers learn the craft in a relatively low-risk environment.

So, is this idea of film democracy a misleading one? What benefits do you see in the current film landscape for beginning artists? Sound off in the comments section below.

- Jacob Meade

The Problems with “Kickstarting” Video Games

First off I should explain how I usually describe the crowd funding website Kickstarter. I like to think of Kickstarter as a gamification of funding. This is where supporters can pledge any amount of their choosing, but the larger donations are rewarded with more valuable perks (this may include getting involved with the creation of the game). Crowd funding can produce some great results, as seen with several recently released games, including “The Banner Saga” and “Broken Age”

gaming2While Kickstarter uses a captivating new system of funding, it comes with its own problems. “Dark Matter” is a controversial $15 game, which ends after just 6-8 hours of gameplay. One of the main problems I have with this game is that it was released while it was still unfinished. At the end of the game you walked through a door and are met with a screen of white on black text:

GamingThe developers were questioned about this ending, and they claimed that Kickstarter had prevented them from finishing the game—but that didn’t stop them from releasing it.

Games on Kickstarter can be fully funded, but there’s no guarantee that backers will receive the product on time, or at all, and some may end up waiting for it indefinitely. Evil as a Hobby broke down the success rate of 366 successfully funded video game projects on Kickstarter. They found that only one-third of games funded from 2009 and October 2012 had been fully delivered to the backers by the start of 2014.

37% of successfully funded projects have fully delivered a finished product to backers, 8% delivered a partial product, 3% of successful projects have been cancelled, 2% have been placed on hiatus. $21,641,800 has been invested in to successful Kickstarter projects that have failed, while the total value of projects that have delivered is less that $17,000,000.

You may ask “What’s with all the delays and failures?”

The best explanation is that developers who crowdfund through Kickstarter don’t formally owe their financers anything. The developer would owe the financer if Kickstarter were run on a more traditional funding model. With Kickstarter there usually isn’t a publisher breathing down the developer’s necks as an incentive to get the games finished, and released in time. On the whole, Kickstarter backers rely on the consistent positive energy, not to mention luck and other variables, of the studios that they pledge money to. In summary Kickstarter’s relations are primarily built on good faith.

Gaming3The message of this post shouldn’t be taken as a wholly negative one. As I mentioned before, Kickstarter campaigns have successfully funded some great games and left thousands of backers thrilled with their decision to make a pledge. However, I would recommend careful forethought before investing cash into a Kickstarter campaign, and suggest that readers think things through before deciding who and what to support.

One other concern with Kickstarter projects: be very wary of anyone offering an “internship” or other working role on the project in exchange for a pledge. Aside from the ethical considerations of exploiting free labor, awarding a position on a team to the highest bidder rather than rewarding the most highly skilled applicant doesn’t bode well for the quality of the product!

-Aven Helgerson

You will Marvel at Netflix’s New Programming!

In 2015 Netflix is adding a slew of new and original programing from Marvel to its already vast library of content. Among the list of new shows are “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” “Iron Fist” and “Luke Cage,” which will unfold over multiple years of original programming and take the viewer into the world of heroes and villains of Hell’s Kitchen, New York. Netflix has committed to thirteen episodes for each series and a culminating Marvel’s “The Defenders.”

netflixFor Netflix this is a step in the right direction. Marvel is known to attract people just based on brand name recognition, and for Netflix to give them creative license to create content that will add to the Marvel Cinematic Universe will certainly help them. This will be Marvel’s first attempt at establishing comic-based characters for television shows other than “Agents of Shield,” which airs on ABC.

“Daredevil” is the first of the shows to be produced and is a personal favorite of mine. “Daredevil” is the story of Matt Murdock, a lawyer who has special abilities that develop after being blinded as a young child. His main ability is a special sense that allows him to see through sound, like a bat. This opens up his other senses in special ways, and he uses his talents and agility to fight crime in Hell’s Kitchen as Daredevil.

Daredevil/Matt Murdock was one of the first roles to be cast for the show and will be portrayed by actor Charlie Cox.   Others to be cast are Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson, Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page and Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk. The show offers an opportunity to distance itself from the movie “Daredevil,” which many consider a flop.

Netflix’s new original TV deal follows their landmark movie distribution deal. Beginning in 2016, Netflix will be the exclusive U.S. subscription television service for first-run, live-action and animated movies from the Walt Disney Studios, including titles from Disney, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Studios, Disneynature and Lucasfilm. Netflix members can currently enjoy a wide range of Disney, ABC TV and Disney Channel films and shows across the 41 countries where Netflix operates.

As of now there isn’t much information on the other shows that Marvel is producing, as Daredevil seems to be the main focus for the time being. My personal take on this is that Marvel is on top of the world and can do no wrong right now.

Despite the dislike of fans for some Marvel movies they still earned a lot of money and are deemed successes. The company is still going forward with more and more plans for television shows and movies. I am looking forward to the new programing, and I’m glad that I have Netflix to be able to watch them when they come out.

- Ian Shilhanek

Getting Lost in the Galaxy: Apple Falls Behind in the Smartphone Race

On June 27th, 2007 Apple released the first iPhone, the first multi-touch interface smartphone. More than a year later on October 22nd, 2008 the HTC Dream became the first Android powered touch screen phone, and so started the heavily contested smartphone race. For many years the major competitors have been Samsung and Apple. For many years Apple has led the race as the most successful smartphone in the US. But is Apple falling behind?

AppleBeginning in the first fiscal quarter of 2010 Android had taken the lead for global sales of phones. Since that time the increase in total sales of Android products versus Apple products has been striking.

At the end of 2012, Apple’s total phone sales were $135.9 million. By the end of 2013, Apple’s total phones sold had grown to $153.4 million. Pretty good, right? Well let’s take a look at Android’s phone sales for 2012: $219.7 million. Wow, that has stomped out iPhones sales for 2012! What about 2013? In 2013 Android sold 313.9 Million phones.

Apple2The iPhone has held its ground in the United States due to a loyal fanbase and killer advertisements by Apple’s marketing department. But, Apple isn’t one to take to innovation. Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, stated in an interview, “Improving is not Apple-style innovation.” Apple is losing ground because they only make what they know how to make.

The current flagships for Apple and Samsung are the iPhone 6 and the Samsung galaxy S5. The technology inside each phone determines which phone is the most advanced.

Both phones are competitive, and while the Galaxy is definitely the more advanced phone, with its larger phone screen, larger battery, and 12 megapixel camera. The iPhone 6 is still in the race because of its loyal fanbase.

Samsung has something in store for Apple though. Recently Samsung has taken the next step to make the next innovations with the Samsung Galaxy S5, but they have also introduced a new phone that is very similar to the iPhone. The Samsung Galaxy Alpha mimics the iPhone in more ways than one. With an aluminum casing, the exact same screen size, and a smaller overall build the Alpha has copied the iPhone in several key ways. Samsung is looking for innovation and also providing a cheap alternative to the iPhone. The iPhone lists for $650 dollars without a 2-year contract, but the Samsung Galaxy Alpha will most likely list for considerably less, as is the current trend with the Galaxy S5.

The iPhone is more expensive and is basically the same phone as the last version—and then there are a number of key features the S5 has that the iPhone does not have.

The S5 has an improved wireless transmitter that actually allows for better access to cellular 4g networks. While Android was the first phone to accept 4g wireless in 2010, it was more than 2 years before the first iPhone that would connect to 4g. Android was also the first to offer a fully functional landscape mode for horizontal typing on their phones. In 2010, Android embraced bigger screen size, allowing people to type in landscape mode. Apple only adopted this feature for the iPhone 6. The S5 has a 12 megapixel camera versus the iPhone’s 8 MP camera. One of Apple’s biggest “new features” is Apple Pay. This allows you to pay with your phone, by sending your bank information to pay stations. Android offered similar capabilities back in 2010.

Apple came into the phone game very strong and fast. In 2007, they provided a phone that was revolutionary, but they haven’t improved their product much since then. Apple’s loyal fanbase will always be willing to pay $600 for the newest phone, but Android is offering a wide array of competitive phones, many of them better.

- Thomas Winkleman

Touchdown for TV? : How Television Coverage Affects Professional & College Sports

TOUCHDOWN! Your favorite football team has just scored the game-winning goal with time expiring. The crowd is going wild, the players are dancing, and the other team’s dreams have just been crushed. You are on top of the world, and you have experienced all of this excitement from the comfort of your own La-Z-boy recliner miles away from the action. How are new technologies changing media coverage of sports, and how is this changing our experience of watching sports in the media?

SportsThe behind the scenes of sports media is not something your average viewer thinks about when enjoying a sporting event on their television. This operation isn’t quite as simple as setting up a camera and plugging it into a satellite truck. The National Football League is the perfect example of how extensive coverage of a live sporting event can be.

On average, 150-200 people are working on a single production. This is everyone from a cable grip, to cameraman, to on air announcers. About 17 cameras are used to ensure the viewer doesn’t miss a second of the action on field. Everything happens very quickly, and the ultimate goal is to tell a story. This piece from The Verge takes us behind the scenes of a live broadcast:

The future of media is changing very rapidly. Today, we have everything from 4K technology, to Skycam’s, to microphones on the players and coaches. With new smaller cameras, we can put GoPro technology right on the playing field or surface. We can even put them onto the players themselves so as a viewer we can get every camera angle we could imagine.

But are these technologies too good? Technology updates have been amazing for in-game features such as instant replay, improving the technology for reviewable plays as well as game tape. These features bring the on field experience to the viewers at home putting them on the field right up and personal with the fans, players, and coaches.

With professional sports tickets prices rising quickly, fans are more likely to stay home for a game, especially because they can have a better overall experience. As a result, average ticket sales are down across the nation. According to sports writer and analyst Bill Shea, many stadiums will cover the number gap by including season ticket sales into their statistics, but ticket holders simply are not coming to every game.

Experiencing the game in the comfort of your own home is too nice to pass up for many people. This kind of pressure has escalated the competition of game coverage. Putting small cameras next to the field or on the mound brings the viewer right on top of the game.

This sometimes comes with a price, sometimes affecting the game in a negative way. In the 2011 Incite bowl, a Skycam actually malfunctioned and fell onto the field. No players or fans were hurt, but this was a very expensive mistake as it took away from airtime when it delayed the game. Not to mention the camera itself was a very expensive piece of equipment at $35,000.

New technology will continue to affect the in game experiences for all types of fans. Professional and college athletics will need to continue to market new promotions and incentives for people to continue to come to the games. People need to continue to attend the events to maintain the atmospheres and create revenue for the sports world to maintain the success that it has today.

Will you continue to be in the stands on game day? Or will you settle for watching that touchdown from your home?

- Austin Hansen

New App Era: Are We Surrendering Our Privacy?

In this day and age, it is not out of the ordinary to have a plethora of apps downloaded to your phone. While they may be convenient and easy to use, there are also many dangers we face in our app dependency.

Apps3For starters, how frequently do you input personal information into certain apps without giving it a second thought? These types of problems will not go away unless we pay more attention to what they are. Here are three main app security problems that we often blindly face.

Browsing in Third Party Apps- While most of the main alternative web browsers such as Safari and Google Chrome are safe, not all apps are. Apps that allow you to load browsers within them are often manipulating the JavaScript and gaining access to your screen. These apps record information in clear text, as you enter it into your own phone. An example of this can be found here.

Apps2Insecure Data Storage/Unauthorized Data Leakage- Apps like Starbucks failed to properly store their information. It was easily accessible and stored in plain texts on multiple devices. Other apps like Angry Birds have had consumer information recorded and stolen from companies like NSA. This could potentially violate individuals rights depending on the kind of information that is stolen.

Inviting Risky Devices into the Workplace- Since app security is not advancing as fast as applications are themselves, workplaces often don’t have the means of protecting their networks from these problems. They also allow individuals whose devices are not protected to connect to the main servers. This is extremely harmful for businesses and could potentially put important corporation data at risk.

The biggest thing we can do towards improving security is make people more aware of the problems that already exist. This means paying more attention to where we log our information and what kinds of apps we allow on our phone. It’s also good to mindfully put in information, rather than just surrendering it right away because the app is telling us too.

- Sam Fickett