April 26, 2008

Los Angeles takes one more step toward NFL Franchise

Posted in Life in Los Angeles, NFL and other lesser sports at 5:17 pm by loolar

It’s being widely reported that the owner of the Lakers and Kings has unveiled the stadium construction plans and site, including a completed environmental impact survey, for an NFL stadium in LA. What I love about it is that he’s upfront in saying there will be no taxpayer dollars used to finance the stadium. The last owner to do that was Bob Kraft, owner of our beloved Patriots. Why the disgustingly rich Paul Allen couldn’t do the same in Seattle for the Seahawks is a question Washington State residents ought to be pissed about.

So the question now is, what team? No expansion plans, which means we steal from someone else. Since we’ve had our franchise stolen, I guess I don’t feel too bad about it. Widely regarded as the most vulnerable are “the New Orleans Saints, Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings and San Diego Chargers because of their stadium uncertainties.” Cripes, Jacksonville just got that franchise, are you kidding me? San Diego wouldn’t be too bad, since the fans down there probably wouldn’t notice it if they left, notwithstanding the last three years of pseudo-success.

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March 12, 2008

Stephen Colbert and World of Warcraft

Posted in Life in Los Angeles, Role Playing Games, World of Warcrack at 5:06 pm by loolar

WOW Insider has an article about how Upper Deck , creator of the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game (WoW TCG), hired artist Todd Lockwood to produce an image of Stephen Colbert, of The Colbert Report, for a special card depicting him as a “Paladin for Truthiness” for the game:

Stefen Colbear Paladin of Truthiness

I love it. Absolutely love it. I don’t play the game or have any cards, but I’d buy a pack to get this one.

My problem is this (emphasis mine):

Unfortunately, Colbert’s agent nipped the idea in the bud. According to Lockwood, he didn’t even show the artwork to his client. Blizzard and Upper Deck presumably had hoped Colbert would feature the card on his show, giving them mega-publicity. An unknown individual leaked the image onto the net a few weeks ago, and WoW and Colbert fans excitedly spread it around in both card and wallpaper forms.

I’ve pounded the pavement enough in Hollywood for that throwaway line to make me furious. You want to know why the same crap keeps getting made in Hollywood? Because the gatekeepers – agents, executive producers, studio executives – have no clue about entertainment or their audience. They got into Hollywood because they had a useless law degree or MBA, were 23 and without prospects, and hey, they could meet hot actresses. I know, because I’ve met them. As a result, when good ideas come down the line that aren’t “cool” as they see it, they get nixed without their client ever knowing.

I only hope Colbert sees this somehow – and fires that twit that thought he knew better.

March 10, 2008

Waiting for Service – 10 Things I Want From Restaurant Waiters

Posted in Customer Lack of Service, Life in Los Angeles at 4:03 pm by loolar

My wife and I recently vacationed for a week in Seattle and the San Juan islands, and had the opportunity to eat at a number of restaurants, from greasy spoons to fancy high-end joints. I’m a serviceable cook, so when I go out to eat, I like to try things that are beyond my ability to make, and I like to enjoy good service. Unfortunately, the second thing is vanishing.

It seems that people in the service industry are more and more clueless about the experience they are creating, and nowhere has this become more apparent in the last decade than in the restaurant business. So my wife and I collected some of our biggest pet peeves so we could share them with you, my two readers. Somehow it makes me feel better.

Servers put up with terrible behavior out of misguided “brotherhood” loyalty, and so frequently forgive, and therefore, forget, some cardinal sins when it’s their turn to sling the plates. One of my dearest friends has worked in the restaurant and bar industry for over ten years, and so puts up with – and apologizes for – a pretty high level of unacceptable service out of a sense of forbearance for their suffering. Hey, servers, if they don’t like the service industry, don’t take it out on me – in the words of Quentin Tarantino as performed by Steve Buscemi as Mr. Pink, “I got two words for that: learn to fuckin’ type.”

And so, presented in the order of the meal you’re likely to encounter them, the tips for professional waitstaff and servers:

****

1. For Bartenders – I don’t want a glass full of ice, and please learn to pour.
Whether it’s water or soda, most bartenders will scoop a glass through the ice bin, then fill it. It’s fast, it’s easy, and then they don’t have to sit there with the soda gun forever because the ice makes it fill up faster. Unfortunately, this is not customer focused, this is server focused, and the result is that I get three sips and then an iceberg slides out of the glass and punches me in the face.

Bartenders may say, “hey, fine, we’ll slow down the entire process to fill your soda, pansy-pants, but don’t come crying to us when your drink order takes 30 minutes.” This is the wrong attitude. This would be a problem, certainly, but this solution only takes care of half the issue. Drinks are timely, yes, but they’re not good drinks – which is really the most important part, isn’t it? If this is such a crippler, put a soda gun where servers and bus staff can get at them. Either way, stop doing it.

As for beer – stop pouring it before it spills all over the glass. I guess they figure I can’t complain that they didn’t fill it up all the way. Unfortunately, this leaves me with a wet, slimy, sticky mess. I don’t want to feel the beer; I want to drink it. Learn to pour, or at least wipe the glass off before you hand it to me.

2. At least pretend to write down my order.
I don’t care how clever you think you are; invariably, I get an order screwed up by a waiter who insisted on taking it verbally. I want enough things “my way” – whether on the side, extra crispy, extra tomatoes, whatever – that there are plenty of chances to screw it up.

Even if you do this all the time, without error, ever – the bottom line is this: when you don’t write down my order, you cause me to stress that it’s going to be wrong, and that directly detracts from the reason I’m there in the first place – to enjoy myself. I know some people think this makes the experience “more magical;” well, it never impresses me, but always causes me anxiety, thereby lessening my experience. And make no mistake – I’m only there for the experience. I can cook most of these dishes myself.

3. Don’t put the gigantic dollop of butter on my pancakes.
This is the fault of the kitchen, but a smart waiter would always tell them to keep the glob on the side. This was underscored when we visited a greasy spoon for brunch that didn’t do it – the butter was served separately in a small dish. Wonderful, and reminded us how much we hate this when they don’t. Admittedly esoteric list item, but with a baby, going out to breakfast has become one of our rare eating-out indulgences nowadays – and you’d be surprised how many “high end” places do this.

4. Remember “the customer is always right”?
In Montreal last fall, for Rob Sama’s bachelor party, at a $50-70 a cut steak house, I had my order screwed up – the waiter brought me a cut I did not order. The waiter reviewed his pad, confirmed he had written down the cut I did not order, and so concluded that it was I who was mistaken. Are you kidding me?

Never mind the fact that, when I ordered, he didn’t hear me the first time, so I not only repeated it, I pointed to it on the menu (this must be the source of the error, obviously). But I pointed to it on the menu. The other 8 guys at the table saw me do that. And yet he insisted I was mistaken because of his written “evidence.” I don’t care if I ordered a bowl of froot loops and then asked where my steak was when you brought it – the customer is always right. Make me feel good, make me feel happy, bring me what I ask for, even if it’s my fault. When it’s your fault, you sure as hell better not argue with me about it.

5. Let me actually taste it before you ask if it’s okay.
Eager to ignore customers until it’s time for the bill, the food is delivered along with a cheery, “how is everything?” I don’t know yet. I’m still picking up the fork. And considering stabbing you in the eye with it. You may want to ask, “do you need anything else?”

6. Stop overfilling the pepper.
More for management than waitstaff, except that I see the servers usually doing this job. What is it with pepper shakers? You shake and shake and nothing comes out; you unscrew the top only to be blasted with a volcanic eruption of ash from all the pepper jammed into the damn shaker. Leave some room in there, or it won’t come out.

7. Stop interrupting me.
Unless you’re Jack Nicholson in AS GOOD AS IT GETS, you go to a restaurant with someone. And unless you’re socially maladjusted, you talk while you eat. Unfortunately, it seems that most servers have begun to mistake good service for rude and inconsiderate interruptions. Excellent waiters have the instincts to know when you want something; more importantly, they never interrupt a conversation in progress to ask something as inane as, “everything okay?” And how is it they have the uncanny ability to interrupt the story right at the punchline / surprising twist / heartbreaking moment?

In an Italian restaurant in Friday Harbor, San Juan Island (one of the most expensive places in town, by the way), we were interrupted, mid-conversation, by three different servers. Our drinks were full, we were eating and talking – what the hell did you think we needed? Again, good service isn’t about pestering, it’s about being aware of the needs of your customer, and being available if they want you. Walk by, hover for a moment, let me see you – and when I don’t ask for anything, be on your way. If you’re worried that I’ll be too much of a wuss to “bother you,” then tell me you’ll do this up front, and let me know you won’t interrupt me, but when you are nearby, I can call you over. And don’t ask me anything when you can see my mouth is full.

8. Don’t make me wait for the easy stuff.
This is the most irritating thing; being constantly interrupted, and yet paying no attention to easily satisfied needs. You don’t need to interrupt me, you don’t need to ask – just keep my water glass full. Nothing brings a nice dining experience to a screeching halt like trying to survey the restaurant for your server as if you’re playing Where’s Waldo, and all you want is more water.

9. Don’t clear my plate while I’m still eating.
Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But I’ve literally had to slap the plate back down because my mouth was too full to say anything. If I’m still chewing, there’s a good chance I might want another bite.

10. Please box up my leftovers for me.
This one blows my mind when I’m at a nicer place, but it’s becoming more and more widespread. When they ask to clear the plate (excellent – see #9), and I ask to have my leftovers boxed, more and more often, they leave and bring back a box. Never mind that my table is cluttered with glasses, uncleared dishes, and other people’s elbows, or that you have much more space in the back – how is this service? It isn’t, and it leaves a real sour taste at the end of the meal.

BONUS #11 (Because this list goes to eleven)

11. Give the original receipt back with my credit card slip.
Too many servers mysteriously steal the original check when they return with your credit card and a bill slip. I don’t know about you, but I’m not great at math, and I typically use the tax to figure the tip (in most states, doubling the tax is about right). It’s not on the credit card slip. Also, by the time I put out my credit card, I’m ready to go soon; I want that decision to be mine, not the server’s – so I want to review the receipts after I get my card back. I can always have them run it again.

****

Well, there you have it… now I pray to the gods of viral internet sharing that this actually makes it to a waiter or waitress.

So why does any of this matter? Well, think of this… for two decades, as American industry moved offshore to preserve the illusion that we have no inflation (because prices are still low, right?), it has been touted that we are moving toward a “service economy,” although perhaps only to keep us from throwing crooks out of Congress. Well, if this is a service economy, then why is it that more and more businesses are derided for their lack of service? This is just one example; but in terms of America “staying competitive,” it’s not a long shot before we lose our service industry overseas as well, merely because it’s not hard to figure out how to be polite and customer-focused.

March 5, 2008

Gary Gygax goes to a Higher Plane

Posted in Fatherhood, Life in Los Angeles, Role Playing Games, Teaching, World of Warcrack at 4:15 pm by loolar

I certainly owe a tremendous debt to Gygax for giving my science fiction/fantasy adolescent mind an outlet; or perhaps he owes me thousands of hours of my life back – either way, I would be remiss if not marking his passing.

I rarely get to roleplay anymore; it seems that with children, most of us who can run a game just don’t have the time to plan it. And most of us have ceased to play the Wizards of the Coast update to the TSR classic rules anyway, preferring home-brewed systems light on mechanics and heavy on flavor. Additionally, World of Warcraft has become a surrogate of sorts, since I still get to see most of the group online.

That said, I’ve been engaging in roleplaying in one form or another since my early teens, which I am forced to admit means in excess of 25 years now (kindly don’t do the math). I actually look forward to teaching my son the idea when he’s old enough, the same way I taught my younger brother. I still believe the game prompts creativity and literary hunger, and anything that gets kids to read is okay with me.

In honor, I’m linking a fun Salon article, mostly for the video at the end – a Warcraft inspired take on “Mahna Mahna” as made famous by the Muppets. For those not in the know, ROTFLMAO means rolling on the floor laughing my ass off; the other gibberish sung by the main character are similarly-inspired bits of email, chat, text and video game words, or “leet speak” (l33t for “elite”).

December 29, 2007

Time Warner Cable Internet and Sneaky Price Increase

Posted in Customer Lack of Service, Life in Los Angeles, Movies, Music at 5:06 pm by loolar

Time Warner, without so much as an insert to the bill, raised my internet access monthly bill from $34.95 to $44.95.

Most of my bills are on autopay, and most of them are flat fees per month, meaning I only open the statements when I’ve got two or three; I quickly make sure they’re charging what they should, then file them.

So imagine my shock when I opened this month’s statement from Time Warner Cable and found the price increase. No new line item, no notation, not even an insert explaining the 30% increase – let alone a phone call. I quickly checked the last two months; nothing in there either. Were they just hoping I wouldn’t notice?

Naturally, I immediately called them. After an acceptable wait time (about 3-4 minutes), I got a human being. Male, heavily accented, didn’t offer his name. He called up my account and told me I have been “under a promotion” for the last year, and now that the year is up, the promotion has expired, and my service is reverting to the original price.

Understandably, I told him to put the “promotion” back. He said the only promotions they have are for more services, like digital phone (of course!). So I asked to speak to a supervisor.

At this point, it got surreal. He put me on hold, then came back to say, “No supervisors are available. Besides, they won’t change the pricing, what I’ve told you is how it works.” I insisted he let me speak to a supervisor, at which point he added that they were, “busy doing other things.” He could not elaborate. The best he could offer was that I should, “call back later.” When they’re finished doing other things? “Why should I call back later,” I asked, “if I don’t know what they’re doing, and therefore, if they’ll be finished?”

Never mind the gigantic, crushingly obvious question of just what in the Grinch’s goiter is more important than talking to your customers?

I insisted he try again; I was on hold for less than 20 seconds before he came back with the same scripted line, that, “no supervisors are available.” And continued to insist that they couldn’t help me anyway, he’d already given me the answer they would.

So it seems that companies, in a continuing effort to anally abuse their customers while taking our money without any responsibility for actually servicing them, have escalated the fight. They now have realized that most of us understand the poor minimum wage lackey front line customer service phone drone – assuming, of course, that they’re not some fungible galley slave from a sweatshop in another country – is useless.

They know that we the customers are no longer satisfied with scripted platitudes – horror of horrors, we actually want results! I want to be treated with common sense and character. Not companies that suddenly change the deal because it’s not in their favor anymore.

The most frustrating thing, however is this – what can I do about it? Cable companies are still monopolies; I can’t decide to leave this company in favor of another. So assuming I still like high speed internet, all I can do is shut up and keep paying. Hell, they could double the price, and it would still be cheaper than me putting in a land line to get DSL, the only viable alternative.

Oh for when satellite internet comes around. Time Warner, I am now counting the days until I can tell you where to shove your promotion. In the mean time, at least I can hurl stones at Goliath thanks to my David – the blog.

Oh, and I can also resolve to stop paying for Time Warner products. In fact, with the extra $120 a year they’re getting from me, I’m sure they’ll completely understand if I obtain a commensurate amount of TV, movie and musical entertainment “free of charge,” courtesy of this expensive internet connection.

I’ll just tell them that me paying for that stuff was a “promotion” which has now expired.

December 14, 2007

Christmas Cards and my friend’s kids I’ve never met

Posted in Fatherhood, Life in Los Angeles at 6:06 pm by loolar

Treading on thin ice here – about to offend friends, family, assorted loved ones, etc. Days like this should be savored. Probably spit out, actually.

But hey, when you gotta blog, you gotta blog.

<Rant on>

Today we opened five Christmas cards sent by friends and family (and clearly people far more organized than we). All five shared this same quality – the card was a picture of their kid(s). Not the whole family. Just the kid(s).

Now, don’t get me wrong – being a father of a certain wonderful one year-old, I definitely understand the pride and joy thing. But I also understand that I’m a bit biased in this regard; i.e., I don’t have any illusions that anyone else cares as much as I do (read: gives a shit).

And yet, here’s this new tradition of sending out personalized Christmas cards consisting only of the children of the family. Unless the cards are going to your kid’s friends (or, let’s face it, grandparents – they don’t want to see any more of you, anyway; you fulfilled your purpose), what in Rudolph’s Red Nosed boogers is the point of leaving out the people I know?

Understand, friends and family and loved ones, I say all this only with deep and heartfelt love and lemon drop kisses, etc., but I don’t know these kids. In many cases, I’ve never actually even MET these kids. The person I know – and miss – and would love to see a recent photo of, and I promise not to snort holiday cheer out my nose when I guffaw about your receding and gray hair and extra padding, trust me – is, y’know, the person I actually know.

Sure, put your kids in the picture with you; makes total sense (and isn’t that charming). But in the same way your kid doesn’t want to get Christmas cards with my picture, why in Scrooge’s shorts do you think I want to get a picture of your kid?

</Rant off>

Tidings of comfort and joy.

December 10, 2007

TOYS R US invades my privacy

Posted in Customer Lack of Service, Fatherhood, Life in Los Angeles, Toys at 8:54 pm by loolar

Toys R Us attempted to invade our privacy this last weekend.

So on Saturday, Catherine and Logan and I attended a birthday party for the son of our friends, who is about Logan’s age (i.e., just turned one).

A pleasant surprise was that one of the attendees remembered that Logan had just celebrated his birthday, and so presented us with a gift – a $25 gift card to Toys R Us.

Another thing we encountered was that most of the other kids, all a month older or younger than Logan, were already walking, while our son is still a crawler. The mother of the birthday boy showed us his “shoes,” little leather slipper type things with an elastic band. They stay on easily, and provide good feedback through the soles as the little feet are still figuring out how to stay up. We thought they looked like a great solution, especially since our day care center has just told us shoes are required at his new age bracket.

So on the way home, we decided to stop in at Toys R Us and see if we couldn’t find those shoes. Success! Two pairs, at $12.99 each (turns out they were on sale, $3.90 off, for $9.09). We grabbed two pairs and a pack of socks and got into line.

The guy ahead of us used his credit card to pay, and the cashier asked him for his phone number. Interesting, I thought – didn’t they used to ask for the zip code? Well, either way, I knew I would decline to participate. For one thing, I don’t appreciate sharing personal information in front of strangers (the others in line behind us), and for another, a zip code is bad enough – but a phone number? Why would they need that? I shrugged it off as perhaps something to do with his credit card.

Our items scanned in at $25.08 – just 8 cents more than the gift card. Oh well, I break out a buck and hand it to him. Politely, he takes it. The rest of the exchange needs to be given verbatim:

TRU Employee (TRUE?): Thanks. And I need your phone number.

Me: Oh. Well, I decline, thanks.

TRUE: No, I need it.

Me: I’m sorry?

TRUE: I need your phone number to finish the transaction.

Me: Well, I don’t want to give it to you.

TRUE: It’s not me; it’s the computer – it won’t let me finish without a phone number.

Me: For eight cents? Fine… five five five…

(you saw that one coming, right?)

TRUE (interrupting): Yeah, it won’t accept that.

(so this policy has pissed off enough people that so many customers have already tried giving the information number, to the point where this poor minimum wage sap has a reflex reaction to it?)

Man behind me: They want your phone number?

Me: Yeah, he says the computer won’t do the transaction without it.

Man: Unreal.

Man’s wife: Just give them my work number.

Man: Yeah, it’s 661-(I don’t remember the rest, but it was a suitably neutral sounding switchboard number, e.g., ending in a bunch of the same number).

And so we got out of there. I was honestly considering if we were going to walk out when they intervened.

Toys R Us is getting more and more obnoxious.

Our last nightmare experience was how they refused to take certain returns if the items had been bought online (we encountered this trying to return items from our registry on Babies R Us – extras, duplicates, etc.). Not only would they not take “web only” items, we were informed we would have to pay to ship them back, and that the merchandise credit would go to the person who had bought the gift – not us!

What moronic, sub-human, worm-brained, feces-chewing, sniveling twit thought this was remotely customer friendly – and what boob manager approved the idea?

We were faced with returning a $200 crib that would have cost us $75 to ship, and the credit would have gone to the person who gave it to us, not only giving us nothing in return, but embarrassing us to the generous party who had bought it. Yes, we had the baby registry, yes, the item had been bought through our registry, yes, we could prove who we were – and yet still, in an attempt at “fraud protection,” we were treated like so much dirt.

As for this latest twist of imbecilic idiocy, what possible reason can there be for demanding my phone number? Further identity verification in the case of an attempted return? If I have a valid receipt, why isn’t that enough? And for the guy with the credit card, why isn’t his credit card and the receipt enough (or his zip code matching his billing address?)

My zip code, I can see (though still can’t abide), as they try to see where their customers are coming from. But my phone number?

Simply unacceptable. I’d love to hear some comments on this – but my feeling is that we’re done shopping with Toys R Us.

November 30, 2007

No Child Left Behind (or with critical thinking skills)

Posted in Life in Los Angeles, Teaching at 6:14 pm by loolar

Sad, but true.

The latest annoyance, thanks to the idiocy known as “No Child Left Behind” (code name: No Teacher Left Standing), is that we’re spending 8 weeks doing a straight from the prep course book CAHSEE review (California High School Exit Exam). We might as well be a strip mall prep course – only $49.99!

That’s right, folks, because if our scores don’t raise enough, we’ll get more administrative, bureaucratic oversight, despite the fact that four years of home-grown innovation have our scores through the roof. See, they’re rising, just not “fast enough.” So to preserve our autonomy, we have sunk to the lowest of the lows – teaching to the test. Normally we’d be studying Fahrenheit 451 right now. And writing about it.

I love the irony. (No, I don’t.)

Please, please, please, for the love of learning instead of cramming crap standardized tests, tell your congressperson/senator to REPEAL No Child Left Behind.

Underfunded Schools Forced To Cut Past Tense From Language Programs

The Onion

Underfunded Schools Forced To Cut Past Tense From Language Programs

November 12, 2007

Saving Baseball

Posted in Life in Los Angeles, NFL and other lesser sports at 12:03 pm by loolar

So with the World Series now a distant and mostly irrelevant memory, I have come to wonder – why don’t I care? Why are fewer and fewer people watching baseball?

Let me start off by saying that I have nearly zero baseball knowledge. Football is my sport. Now, there are certainly age-old debates why one sport is better than the other, but as my man Jimmy recently stated, “can’t we just agree that these are apples and oranges?” Sure. Delicious, juicy oranges vs. rotten, mealy apples. But I digress. It doesn’t change the fact that baseball is in trouble.

While stadiums are routinely selling out, the newer stadiums being built are also smaller. And television revenues are shrinking compared to other sports (most notably, NFL, NBA, and NASCAR*).

The fact is, the boys of summer are, well, boring. Watching the Cleveland-Yankees series a few weeks ago, I’d swear a reaction shot of Joe Torre showed him nodding off. During the game. I mean, why not? Nothing was happening anyway.

Now, I can argue about a number of things about baseball that are pointless. Five and seven game series for instance (what kind of a pansy game makes you beat the other team more than once? Damn, it’s already got 9 innings for a comeback, now you want another chance tomorrow – and the next day?); or how about the terminally long 162 game season. Are you serious? How do the fans keep up?

I have a theory about this**: I think baseball, developed back when there were a lot of vacant lots and people with nothing to do anyway, had to justify these guys playing a game for a living, or face resentment from the new fans. Solution? Make these guys play as often as a working stiff goes to work, five days a week.

Well, now that we have pampered pansies like Manny Ramirez and A-Rod making millions every time they scratch their jockstrap, do we really need the illusion?

But those things aside, and recognizing that baseball is steeped in tradition, even really, really, really pointless and annoying ones (Is there any good reason not to put the player’s name on the back of the jersey? That was a rhetorical question, because the real answer is, “who gives a rat’s booger about baseball,” but if you were to take that question seriously, the answer would be, “only to annoy me.”), I think I can still offer some critical changes that would really change the face of things:

  1. No more than one relief pitcher. I would love someone who cares to look up the stats on this (I got bored after two minutes), but I would be shocked and awed if I’m wrong. It’s my perception that the number of triple plays has drastically shrunk in the past 2-3 decades, and the double play is as rare as the triple play used to be. Baseball has become a boring pitcher’s duel, or a slugger derby. Where is the fielding? What are the other seven guys doing while the pitcher and catcher have all the fun, y’know, besides spitting and scratching their crotch? BORING. However, if managers can’t substitute seventeen guys in from the bullpen; if they only get a single reliever, you’d see a lot more interest and debate as to when to bring in your single reliever when your starting pitcher tires (the current debate consists of five words: “Jesus Christ, take him out!”).
  2. No designated hitter (related to the first point). Weakloaf in extra weaksauce, you pansies. Perhaps if the pitchers had to work on their hitting as much as their pitching, we’d have more excitement in the fielding game, and no more nancy-skirts prancing up to the plate and swinging like Mary Poppins with an umbrella. Again, more interesting fielding opportunities, and less pitching duel-slugger crap.
  3. Cheaper Tickets. Look, the fans of tomorrow are in diapers today, and there’s no way in hell I’m taking my son to a Dodgers game when it’s going to cost us $120 in tickets alone ($80 if we ditch his mommy) – to sit in the damn nosebleeds! Add a couple of hot dogs, cokes, crackerjack and peanuts, and there goes another $40-50. Want a hat, too? $35. And face it – if you don’t take your kid to a live game, his head will explode from the boredom of watching it on TV, especially compared to, y’know, watching grass wilt (or, as is more likely, playing a video game or watching an action movie). So with more families electing not to go to a live game, and therefore never becoming fans enough to endure it on TV, you know that means lower television revenues. Start realizing what Hollywood has figured out about feature films – they’re just commercials for the DVD. And the live game should just be the “concert” that gets you to buy the “record.” Make it cheap, or face losing your fans – and lucrative TV contracts – of tomorrow.
  4. Cheaper Parking. You bastards. After charging me $40 to sit with the pigeons in the rafters, you’re going to charge me $15 to park my car, too? Forget it. Not going.

And I haven’t been to a Dodgers game in nearly two years. I did go to a single MLB game this year – the Padres at Petco park (corporate naming to be attacked in an upcoming rant), because, hey, Jimmy got tickets for free, and that park is lovely. But we spent $60 each on food and beer. Crap food and crap beer, mind you. For that cash, I can get a steak and a nice glass of wine.

Oh, and I think you should be able to get a runner out by pegging them with the ball. But let’s be realistic; if we’re going to allow that, the batter should be able to take the bat to first to club the First Baseman.

*not actually a sport
**based purely on nothing

The Death of the Entertainment “Industry”

Posted in Life in Los Angeles, Movies, Music, World of Warcrack at 11:57 am by loolar

Thanks to Adam Shostack who forwarded this wonderful and simple breakdown (intentional word choice by me) of the current status of the demise of the Entertainment Industry, and it’s hastening by the current Writer’s Strike, as written by Marc Andreessen (co-founder of Netscape and inventor of the graphical web browser – you’re using one right now).

Those who know me know that I have been predicting, since I worked at MGM years ago (left the company in 2000), that this would all come to pass. I just never stated it as elegantly as Andreessen. My argument went something like this:

In the beginning, the studios controlled everything; actors, writers, directors, labor, etc. Actors were brought in and trained in song, dance, elocution, you name it; same with the others. It was an apprenticeship-based model where the studios acted as sponsors; in return, your loyalty was expected and given.

The actors were the first to defect, when big-name stars wanted to go make movies with other stars on projects they cared about, but which happened to be “under contract” at other studios. The actors unionized first, and seeing actors no longer as the “flagship brands” of certain studios became commonplace in the 50s.

The directors were next, heightened by the auter movement of the 60s, and the influx of foreign films. Suddenly directors were acknowledged as being more than glorified cameramen, and they were in demand for the unique perspective and vision they brought to a project. They unionized, and likewise were no longer beholden to certain studios.

The writers followed next in the 60s and 70s. Gone were the sweatshop-style typewriter farms churning out episodic, made-to-order serials and shows.

Finally, the producers got into the gig, separating themselves from the studio architecture to become “independent” producers; this was the birth of “indie” cinema in the 80s.

So what did Studios still provide?

Well, the talent was all independent, but someone still had to foot the bill. Studios provided production financing, insurance, post-production financing, marketing and distribution.

But the indie producers eroded the first three in the 80s. Soon venture capital and bank money was available from stodgy book keepers who wanted the sexiest investment you could find – making movies. Which left marketing and distribution.

When I joined MGM in the late 90s, that was all that was left. And once I got a look at the financing models (I worked in Budgets and Forecasts), I was stunned and appalled. Without exception, the amount of money spent to market a film was at least equal to half the production costs (and in most cases, more). So if we spent $60 million making a movie, we were spending at least $30 million to market it. That business model can’t survive for long (and for MGM, it didn’t). Studios quickly began to co-finance films in the mid-90s to share the burden and the risk. Most big pictures nowadays are co-productions, except for the “surefire” hits with built-in audiences, like SPIDER-MAN.

In fact, the only thing keeping the studios afloat was the DVD revolution. I know this. I was directly working with the numbers of a major studio every day. Without the DVD library, we were tits-up in a year. It’s no mystery that two years ago, once consumers had finished replacing their VHS library, MGM ran out of gas.

So I said, with only marketing and distribution keeping the studios relevant, how long is it before the distribution takes over (the movie theaters), and begins creating their own content? But the internet got there first.

Now, in 1999, most of the internet ventures failed. Broadband wasn’t available to enough of the market, and most desktop computers were barely up to the task. Additionally, content creators didn’t understand the new model, and just tried to create 1/2 hour shows like TV. But it was just a matter of time.

Enter YouTube. The user-creators have figured out that a short needs to be no longer than ten minutes, and most try to clock in at three minutes, just like a top 40 hit on the radio. So that’s the distribution. And the marketing? The best kind – viral, or “word of mouth”; or, email by forwarding, as the reality has shown.

The studios are already extinct; they just don’t know it yet.

They can repeat the mistakes of the now entirely irrelevant music business, or they can embrace the change, as Andreessen so elegantly outlines it. My guess is they will embrace nothing, and will sink like the bloated carcasses they are. Studios are no longer lean, mean vanity operations of a single creative executive such as Jack Warner or Daryl Zanuck in the 40s and 50s; they’re corporations, with boards and shareholders and entirely too many bureaucrats whose sole interest is in preserving the status quo. Moreover, since the various studios work together to create what the industry is, the motivation to innovate and break from the herd is even lower.

And so I predict they will continue to spend $150 million on movies that fewer people come to watch, spending in excess of the budget in vain efforts to reach someone, anyone, to convince them to come see. But they won’t be watching – they’ll be on the internet, playing World of Warcraft, watching YouTube, texting pictures and videos to friends, and finally, making their own entertainment, with cheap cameras, video game clips (the new “machinima” genre), and with their own friends and family as stars.

Good. Welcome back to the populist storyteller model. It’s been a few centuries.

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