A Bright Future

As we tremble on the brink of turning the calendar over to a new year, I’ve been doing a little thinking about the future, as we are all wont to do at this milestone in time. But before I got into the deep waters, I came home from work yesterday evening and didn’t want to do much of, well, anything. There was a brief conversation with my husband, and he reminded me that we really wanted to see the latest movie release, Bright. So we grabbed our winter coats, wallets, and packed up into the car to drive the twenty minutes to the nearest cinema….

No, we didn’t. I queued it up on my big monitor (don’t be impressed, it’s a mere 27″ screen!) and we paused it while we went to grab microwave popcorn, soda, and assorted snacks. Then we started the movie while we munched, later curling up on the bed to finish it out. There were a couple of pauses for potty breaks (the dog, too) but we actually watched the whole thing through. And we enjoyed it! I’ll do a bit of a review for writers in a minute, but first: this is the future of entertainment. The two of us have seen movies on the big screen together a grand total of twice, in the five years we’ve been together. I’ve taken the kids to a handful more, and let the kids go on their own to a few more than that. But still, we’re talking about us as a couple. Twice in five years (Guardians of the Galaxy one and two, for the curious) is hardly box-office success. We just don’t have the time, or really, the inclination. We’re homebodies. So Bright being available on Netflix was ideal for us. On-demand entertainment at home, at our leisure, and it was a very well-done production? It used to be that if a movie bypassed the big screens straight to the small screen it was because it was a failure. Bright disproves that old model.

Just like Indie Authors are proving you don’t have to get lucky with a book published by the Big Five to be a good storyteller and writer. The future is bright, I’m telling you. Bookstores are vanishing from the face of the earth, sure, and it’s a sad thing. I have an indie used book store I love and visit as often as is practical. But the last time we went in a Barnes and Nobles it was so I could buy a frappucino for my daughters and I. It was the closest Starbucks, and they regard that as a big treat. Barnes and Nobles is on the Motley Fool’s deathwatch for 2018, and after it’s gone, there aren’t any other national chains I can think of. Perhaps it’s time for the return of Indie bookstores.

Or it could just be that the dynamic of how and where we buy and consume entertainment is changing entirely. I don’t think that the advent of streaming high-quality movies will kill the cinema. There is still something about seeing the huge moving picture that is a more immersive experience, and I believe that Bright did appear in theaters. I’d go see it again on the big screen. Kids like my teens still regard going to the movies as a social event. It’s not convenient for me, the adult, though, and that’s why I’m so excited to see that Netflix already plans to do it again. More, please! And less of the regurgitated Hollywood crap while you’re at it…

And now, for the review. I started watching this movie knowing pretty much what to expect: Urban Fantasy in a dystopian setting with stereotypical racial tensions between humans, elves, and orcs. That’s not new – I don’t think it was even new when Tolkein did it, although he’s certainly the best known early Fantasy writer. The movie did a very good job of setting visually, and in the first interactions with the characters on-screen. As writers, we don’t get that easy way out of painting a picture for the readers, but there’s certainly good things here about showing, not telling, to build a world and develop characters from the first. The movie drops us right into this fantastic world that resembles Los Angeles in many ways, and it works neatly. There’s one bit where the two buddy cops (this is, by the way, mostly a buddy cop movie at the heart of it, and a fine example of that) are driving to work and they take a shortcut through the Elf enclave with it’s restricted access simply to show us how the other side lives.

I’m trying not to spoil the movie. If you have Netflix, you really ought to check it out. It’s got a lot of violence and language, I’ll warn you that this isn’t kid friendly. But the story provides plenty of conflict and resolutions, without straying too much into ‘it’s magic!’ in order to do so. You wouldn’t know, watching this, that it was produced by anything other than the usual blockbuster companies, the visuals are clean, powerfully done, and not at all cheesy. The banter between the buddies is occasionally very funny, and sometimes not, but that’s also because the orc is more than a little literal and over-earnest. As he should be: that’s in character. Will Smith as the cynical human partner is a great piece of casting. He’s a little older, a little more tired, and a lot less patient than his enthusiastic character in Men in Black, and I really enjoyed the work he’s done here in Bright. The First Reader’s comment was that the fairies are spot-on.

The movie has a satisfying resolution (if somewhat predictable, but really… well, watch it for yourself) but leaves it wide open for a sequel, which I believe is already planned. I’m looking forward to it, and to other movies like this being made available straight to the convenience of my own bedroom. Books, movies, music, I can have it all without leaving the comfort of my own room. It’s a good thing I love photography and hiking, or I’d become a recluse!

I cut the Cable eight years ago exactly, and haven’t regretted it since. Between Netflix and Amazon Video, I have almost as much film material as I care to watch (not being a big television fan) and mostly, it’s been for the kids. I’m not alone, either. Netflix has become a huge cultural phenomenon. Now, this is the future. Books as well as movies have cut the ties to the past, and the future is here.


  1. The future on average may be bright, but individually …

    Well, aside from non-writing issues that hit recently (and that I won’t go into), right now I’m feeling like road kill on the Indie highway. Big (I hope) problem is promotion. With a limited number of titles, there’s not much I can do with sales promotions. Things are dark enough that I’ve started work on a basic math textbook, since my one non-fiction book seems to be what moves. Shrug. Maybe I’m just a how-to writer. Don’t know.

    Something I’m thinking of trying are the Amazon paperbacks. Can’t hurt. The thing is, right now I don’t have time to devote to formatting. And how, you might ask, do I have time to write a textbook and not format a book for paperback? Because I’m writing it in a composition book. It actually works out better this way, as I can do sketches for graphics on the fly, and it’s nice and portable.

    1. Formatting for POD is not that different from formatting for an e-book. I think just about every word processor on the market has an “export to PDF” function. You just plug the recommended values for page size and margins into the program and export. (Okay, a little more complex than that, but with practice you can turn a manuscript into both an e-book and a PDF for POD in an hour.)

    2. Promotion is probably the key, yes. And it’s hard to promote unless you have the time and energy to plan for it – I know I certainly don’t, so i’ve resigned myself to slow sales unless I manage a new release. So that’s the key, then: consistent writing production.

      Paper formatting isn’t terribly difficult. Amanda has some great templates here on the site you can definitely use.

      1. Definitely constant writing and frequent publishing. For instance I just published a novella, and my sales jumped impressively. Checking the titles, I sold as many of the first book as I did the new one. So hopefully I’ll hook some new fans that will read the whole backlog _and_ everything new from now on.

        Regular publishing seems to be the best way to get your name out where it might catch people’s interest.

    3. A certain organization is complaining about last year’s testing of the fifteen year old cohort. The bit they aren’t mentioning is that these are the people who learned division under common core. There is value in a good sane basic math text that teaches division well.

        1. Just a comment on Saxon. The Saxon name and franchise were sold in, I think, 2002. Since then the publisher has scrambled the lesson sequence and removed some of the practice problems. Something to watch out for. It can be overcome with extra worksheets and moving lessons around if necessary. It seems like vandalism to me.

      1. The problem with Common Core is watered down curriculum. How it’s taught isn’t addressed.

        No, I’m not in favor of Common Core (see watered down curriculum), but math-wise the problem are fads in education. New Math was one, coming out of the hysteria when the Soviets beat the US into space. The problem wasn’t necessarily what was taught, but how and when, and some of what was taught was useless.

        The irony is that in stressing learning math concepts, they are throwing out the best ways to grasp them. Our number system is designed with manual computation in mind and have those basic concepts built-in, but the latest teaching fads seem to ignore that.

        It was bad years ago when I had to tell mine “Work it this way and put it the way your teacher wants. These days, my own have a dim view of the latest fads in teaching math.

        I’m not jotting down anything off-the-wall, or some “great new teaching method.” No gimmicks here. It’s just an explanation of how basic math works, and why.

    4. Promotion has been another huge stumbling block for me too. There are so many times I feel like I’m talking to an empty room, and I think that feeling has been a real drain on my enthusiasm for writing the next chapter of a serial, the next book of a series.

      It’s really hard to develop a fanbase from a standing start. There seems to be a certain critical mass at which the buzz becomes self-sustaining as long as you don’t totally stop putting out new stuff. But getting it started is like moving into a new area and having to make that first friend.

  2. I agree about Bright. I recommend it for writers because it’s a solid hybrid–it works as both an urban police drama and as a magical fantasy.

    I also agree with you about the future of entertainment. We don’t have cable or even broadcast TV in our home, and my roommate spends most evenings watching TV (I try to spend most evenings writing). Between Netflix and Amazon there is far more content than we can ever watch, and quite a bit is high quality.

    In fact, I don’t even listen to broadcast radio any more–as I write this I have Pandora running through my TV in the other room for background music.

      1. This was the 2nd year I haven’t listened to my entire Christmas music collection before the season ended. There are that many songs, and I don’t listen to music 24/7. Christmas music is just part of my collection. There’s classical, rock, country, ragtime, Sousa marches, bluegrass, gospel, novelty, and soundtracks.

        My entire collection fits on one micro SD card in an MP3 player. It has more variety than the local stations.

  3. c4c, Still waking up and brains still mush. Still trying to get my words done for the day as well. Have to start publishing next year or trying to get stuff published.

  4. We have Amazon Prime for TV, not Netflix (yet, anyway). Still, all those old great shows are on it. And I did most of my music listening through Pandora (free).

    1. We have Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and Acorn — and more choices than we can shake a stick at. Currently we are binging on a BBC comedy series from the 90s – ‘Allo, ‘Allo – which is slapstick, funny, and very politically incorrect. And has gotten my daughter interested in stories of the WWII French underground…

  5. I’ve viewed going to a movie in a theater as an event since I was a kid. VCRs were coming out as I was growing up, so most of our movie consumption was via VCR, though my grandparents did have Showtime, so I got to watch quite a few movies that way as well. But the theater is an experience. The popcorn and candy. The soda. The seating. And the gigantic screen and huge sound. However, as HD TVs have gotten bigger with better definition while getting cheaper, the visual aspect of the theater has diminished somewhat. And hooking your stereo system into your TV/VCR/DVD/BD player has been a thing for awhile now. With streaming it’s just gotten easier/more convenient to watch at home.

    When the wife and I go out to a movie, it’s date night. We go to dinner, have a drink and see a movie.

    Mostly what I watch on Netflix/Amazon is old TV shows. Or more recent shows, mostly foreign, that I didn’t get a chance to watch before. Of the new shows they carry I pretty just watch Longmire and Stranger Things. Most of the stuff listed on that graphic up there I have never heard of.

      1. Oddly enough, we have a quaint little cinema here in town that dates at least back to the 1920s and they are still going. They charge $5 a ticket, are only open three days a week (Fri-Sa-Su) and only show one title at a time on that weekend. It’s a curiosity.

    1. I recently saw the latest SW (which I loved) in a theater that is undergoing renovations. Said renovations are putting in full-on recliners, and apparently they’re selling wine there now too. (The recliners are electric and infinitely positionable rather than mechanical, too. Very comfy.)

  6. I agree overall. I’ve gotten pickier about what movies I see in the theater… if I actually have time for it. Likewise, I watch fewer movies and shows these days. I quit watching regular TV about 20 years ago, and discovered that the less I watched, the less I wanted to watch. If I like a show, where possible I’ll just buy it by the season on DVD or Amazon digital.

    Regarding Bright specifically, there were a lot of things that were pure formulaic… and I liked it that way. One scene near the end, I actually said to my friends I was watching with, “… that was so predictable. And it felt so very satisfying.” Far more so than when things in a Very Big Name Movie I recently saw in the theater were telegraphed, I swear, by Western Union. Good writing has good characters that don’t telegraph, but rather make promises that are fulfilled.

    1. I don’t want to buy seasons of things I watch, because I don’t ever re-watch (whereas with books I will sometimes re-read). But I watch odder shows than most – just caught up on Endeavour, for instance.

      1. I am so sporadic, and barely dipped my toe into the whole ‘online content’ thing that I might not get to the end of an episode before the rental time expires. It also requires that I like something enough to spend $20 for a season (though many older shows are much less).

        1. That’s why I stick to the streaming stuff. I can watch when I feel like it – I have Amazon Prime, which includes a lot, and the lowest tier Netflix, and that’s plenty. About the only other thing I’d pick up would be if the Food Network ever offered a streaming service. Their videos on site are almost impossible to watch as-is.

    1. Or develop the tech further to allow decentralized film work over the internet.

      I’ve a couple of visions

      One, motion capture bank libraries. Like what voice bank software has done to open up lyrical music to a wider range of creators.

      Two, refining and standardizing the tech for motion capture, voice acting, and modeling/rendering, so that commercial off the shelf technology lets a developer use cheaper contractors who telecommute.

      The tech to do it more cheaply, with automation or less famous labor, will weaken the monopoly of the Hollywood financiers.

      1. It’ll also create a very interesting blurring of the boundaries between live action and animation. I delved into it in a blog post about how the medium shapes the story.

        Indie visual media is still difficult, because it is almost impossible to get around the need for a fairly large crew of actors for a live-action drama, even if post-production work can be done on the sort of computer that is in the reach of an ordinary person. But computer animation is becoming increasingly sophisticated, especially when coupled with some of the motion-rendering engines developed for the gaming industry. Combine that with the ease of hiring freelance voice actors (or doing all the voices yourself, if you’re particularly good at doing impressions), and it becomes quite possible to set up an indie animation studio in your own garage.

        What happens when computer-rendered animation becomes so sophisticated that it’s effectively indistinguishable from live-action cinema? Is it meaningful to even distinguish the two art forms?

        And the gaming industry is driving a lot of it, as video and computer gamers demand ever more sophisticated graphics for an immersive gaming experience. It’s a long way from the old Atari 2600 and the Adventure game in which the dragons looked more like ducks.

        1. There’s a school of writing that proclaims, “Don’t say, show!” It’s their One True Way, of course.

          The problem with film/video/etc. is that “show” is all they can do, unless they scroll some text or add a voiceover. And there are too many things you *can’t* show, and one where it would technically be possible, but far too lengthy to be practical.

          Film does things books can’t, but in return the medium has limits of its own.

          1. well, if they dont show it, there is either a VO, or a character has to stand there talking about it, and “Well, as you know…” is considered bad form in books as well.

        2. Some of those animation tools are even open-source and available for free! One of my friends has a son about 11-12 years old who has done a lot of work with Blender, the free 3D animation software, and he’s apparently put together a five-minute short film all on his own. He’s not the only kid out there who’s growing up learning these professional-quality tools. Hollywood should be very, VERY worried about the upcoming indie competition. But, just as with the Big Six Five, they’re going to get blindsided by it and have NO idea what hit them.

          1. Robin, I can tell you exactly what they’re thinking:
            “We have lawyers and they don’t, so we’ll shut them down like we did the people who tried to make something like ‘Prelude to Axanar’ (fan made short film set in Star Trek universe).”

          2. Indeed. We’ve seen this with indy musicians – they’ve upended the old ‘big studio’ concept, once it was possible to have a perfectly adequate professional-grade studio, mixing suite, and production of quality CDs. It was possible for indy musicians to sell their own CDs at their live performances. (My daughter has some friends who are doing this,)
            Once writers could inexpensively self-publish print and ebooks – well, there went that Big Industry. And now I think we are on the verge of seeing movies and TV series go indy as well.

              1. VNV Nation, Neuroticfish, & Assemblage 23? Covenant, Seabound, and Bel Canto are duos, and I think Edge of Dawn is, too.

                So who else? (Casually pulls out pad and pen to take notes on more good artists to look up.)

          3. yes, and some of these may even learn that the paid 3d apps are much more efficient…. hopefully before they spend too much extra time on projects.

  7. We rarely go to the theater to see a movie – too flipping loud for us, not to mention bloody expensive. As soon as a movie comes out that we think we want to see, I pre-order it on Amazon Video. Then we can watch when we want, where we want, at the volume we want, and we can pause the movie for bathroom breaks.

    Yes, I am getting old. Get off my lawn!

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