Trent Reznor has released 404gb of raw, unedited HD tour footage from three shows on Nine Inch Nails‘ 2008 Lights In The Sky tour. The footage is available as a peer-to-peer BitTorrent file.
An interesting pattern emerges about the reasons for Reznor’s BitTorrent tactics and Christmas gifts to fans. Several weeks ago Reznor indicated to fans that an official DVD project for the tour had fallen through after a negotiation breakdown with a production company. Whilst researching this 2008 conference paper and presentation I found out that Reznor knew in December 2006 about the Pirate Bay leak of NIN’s unreleased Closure DVD (Halo 12), a project still held up by licensing negotiations.
As I suggested in the paper, Reznor is using BitTorrent hyperdistribution to side-step negotiation breakdowns. You can visualise the backward induction of decision tree payoffs or the real options analysis. It’s a win-win situation for Reznor and NIN’s fans: Reznor breaks the deadlock and releases ‘unreleasable’ projects which probably have significant, unrecoverable sunk costs. Fans get the raw, unedited material for user-generated content. Behind this strategic rationale is a positive feedback loop that keeps NIN and Reznor relevant, generates buzz marketing and media coverage, and enhances Reznor’s bargaining power in negotiations. The losers in this reshaped value net are the traditional record companies, their retail distributors and music industry lawyers.
Why does Hollywood’s upcoming production slate have so many remakes of classic science fiction, horror and fantasy films? Depending on your viewpoint, several reasons.
The Writer’s Guild of America‘s 2008 strike affected the ‘deal flow’ of new scripts that Hollywood’s studios may have purchased and fast-tracked out of development hell and into pre-production. In the language of managerial economics the studios lacked the willingness to pay (WTP) the willingness to sell (WTS) price demanded by WGA members for their services. Faced with months of industrial action the studios pursued a fallback option: remakes of existing properties.
WGA’s delay tactics have given the studios a potential financial windfall in the near-term future. The studios often already own the intellectual property rights for the remakes. Demographics such as inter-generational shifts creates two consumer segments: people who remember the original films, and Gen X and Gen-Y viewers who are new. Ancillary markets can be tapped, from cable television re-runs of the original films to DVD repackages/re-releases, ‘versioned’ editions for collectors, and ‘bundled’ packs of both films. The studios’ windfall is a short-term boost in cashflow which can be used for working capital management or debt-equity leverage. New Zealand’s Weta Digital also benefits as the films require its expertise in digital special effects; the studios can minimise their production costs through currency hedging and business process outsourcing.
The global financial crisis also benefits the studios through a market timing strategy for film portfolio management. The production slate announced so far for 2009-2010 is heavily weighted towards dystopian science fiction films from the turbulent late 1960s and the energy crisis/stagflation early 1970s. There’s also a few 1930s Depression era monster films and 1950s Cold War science fiction. American journalist Annalee Newitz, amongst others, has observed that Hollywood studios turn to genre films during times of social dislocation; this thesis is central to 1950s film noir and its neo-noir remanifestation in the early 1990s recession, and may also fit the micro-trend of counterterrorism films in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Cinema Studies scholar Geoff Mayer has also explored this thesis in Pre-Code Hollywood cinema and the Western genre.
However, there’s another potential pattern here that might be worth further research, even though correlation is not causation. The 1930s Depression era films appear to fit the 54-to-70 year long macroeconomic cycle (aka the KWave) that Soviet mathematician Nikolai Kondratieff proposed, particularly the Fall and Winter periods of stagnation and recession/depression. The time period between the 1930s, 1950s and 1970s films also roughly fits the 18-year Kuznets Wave identified by Simon Kuznets, and which might explain the deeper/unconscious interest in 1970s film properties. Add a mid-1990s wave of films (perhaps neo-noir or the heroin chic of My Own Private Idaho and Trainspotting), and you have a series of macreconomic cycles that span film genres, subcultural imagery, inter-generational audiences and new cohorts of film actors, directors, scriptwriters and producers.
It may be a neat backtesting/retrospective explanation of how Hollywood studios can revitalise their institutional power. Or, it just may be the theoretical framework for the Entourage crew to shed their up-and-coming careers and achieve some real deal-making longevity.
Ron Howard’s film adaptation of Frost/Nixon (2008) adopts a thriller format in contrast with the Melbourne Theatre Company’s stage production which I saw several months ago. Salvatore Totino’s cinematography turns David Frost‘s interview into a claustrophobic tit for tat whilst editors Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill linger on the emotional aftermath of Richard Nixon‘s elicited, emotional self-disclosure.
For me the MTC’s version suffered from a first act which established the interview’s circumstances, obscured the dual track negotiations between Frost and Nixon’s advisers, and veered into comedy, before ratcheting up the second act. Howard avoids this dilemma through taut pacing that has a semi-documentary feel heightened when the characters deliver their monologues straight to the camera.
The cast needs to be stellar for this ensemble film and it delivers. Frank Langella’s Nixon is a self-tortured leader with feet of clay; I have to now revisit Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal in Oliver Stone’s Nixon (1995) for a comparison. Michael Sheen’s Frost adopts a chutzpah mask which hides a risk-taking gambit to avoid career demise and the compromises made to financiers. Kevin Bacon’s Jack Brennan is prepared to take the flak for Nixon. Sam Rockwell’s James Reston Jr. evokes how research can become an all-consuming quest when your beliefs and passions are on the line, deftly counterpointed by Oliver Platt’s Bob Zelnick who zigs and zags between self-depracating humour and conscientious objector angst. Matthew Macfayden’s John Birt updates the role he played in Spooks (aka MI5) as a nuanced political operator who must counterbalance Frost’s chutzpah and the resistance it creates for Reston Jr. and Zelnick with keeping the team together, and getting the interview planning, negotiations and logistics done. Rebecca Hall’s Caroline Cushing and Toby Jones’ Swifty Lazar provide comic relief from the tension and function to advance the film’s plot points. Langella gets the spotlight for his Nixon portrayal yet the rest of the cast are vital because the plot needs everyone to be a coherent whole.
Playwright and scriptwriter Peter Morgan‘s previous films have explored weighty themes: self-willed blindness to the dark side of charismatic leadership in The Last King of Scotland (2006) and leadership judgment during crisis-driven events in The Queen (2006). Set after Watergate and Nixon’s presidential pardon, Frost/Nixon explores the commitment costs for a research group that sets out to achieve public justice and the ploys in a complex multi-party negotiation. There’s far more beyond the heart-to-heart phone call between Nixon and Frost, and Nixon’s final self-disclosure, just as there was more to Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987) than Gordon Gecko’s ‘greed is good’ sound-bite. All sides use psychological tactics to gain momentary bargaining advantages and to leverage power imbalances, from Swifty Lazar’s late night reply on Frost’s opening bid to Birt, Reston Jr. and Brennan’s interruptions of the interview taping at strategic points that are beneficial to their teams. Frost opts to ‘lure the tiger from the mountain’ (36 Strategies) for Nixon to self-disclose, enraging Reston Jr. and Zelnick who want a front-on attack about Watergate and the Vietnam War. Nixon uses sleight of mouth patterns to interrupt, stall and throw Frost off guard. Birt is caught in a position akin to a consultant or line manager: responsible for logistics and having to persuade all parties to move forward. Anyone who has had to raise money against the odds for a project will wince with familiarity at Frost’s desparate meetings with television network chiefs and advertising agencies. It’s this pointillism which makes Frost/Nixon even richer than the interview’s climatic revelations and why the film will be perfect for an MBA class on mergers and acquisitions, negotiation and game theory.
Now all I need to see are the Frost/Nixon original interviews . . .