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Apples Billion-Dollar Bet on Hollywood Is the Opposite of Edgy



Days before Apple Inc. planned to celebrate the release of its first TV show last spring at a Hollywood hotel, Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook told his deputies the fun had to wait. Foul language and references to vaginal hygiene had to be cut from some episodes of , a show featuring celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Alba, Blake Shelton, and Chelsea Handler cracking jokes while driving around Los Angeles.


While the delay of was widely reported last April, the reasons never were. Edits were made, additional episodes were shot, and Apple shifted resources to another show. When was released in August, it didn’t make much of a splash. The early stumbles highlight the challenges ahead as Apple mounts an ambitious foray into showbiz. The company plans to spend $1 billion on TV shows over the next year and has hired a team that’s already bidding for projects against the biggest media companies in the world.


With $262 billion in cash and securities in its coffers, Apple has the money to make as much TV as anyone, but some in Hollywood are beginning to wonder whether it has a clear strategy. The most valuable company in the world, Apple is under the constant glare of regulators, reporters, and competitors. Furthermore, the people who use the hundreds of millions of Apple devices have pretty mainstream views about the brand’s appeal. Macs, iPhones, and iPads are also often in the hands of children—a group unsuited for much of the edgy programming that’s fueled the new golden age of television.


The secretive company says little about its plans. No one in Hollywood knows where the shows will be available to watch, how much they’ll cost, or even how Apple will publicize them. But in recent weeks, a visit to Apple offices in the Culver City suburb of Los Angeles has become as much a rite of passage for Hollywood producers, agents, and filmmakers as dining at Spago. So clues are beginning to emerge, based on interviews with more than a dozen people who’ve met with Apple executives or work there.


The company has had many fits and starts in Hollywood over the past two years, with as many as four different executives claiming to be responsible for its big move into Tinseltown. To lead the latest charge, Apple hired Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, former heads of Sony Corp.’s TV studio. The two men have sterling reputations as key members of the studio that produced . They’ve hired other industry veterans to oversee the development of new shows. They also plan to hire at least 70 staffers—including development executives, publicists, and marketers—to fill out their division. “They are professionals with deep relationships with many of the people who make some of the best shows on TV today,” says Jon Avnet, who directed 10 episodes of Sony’s TV show .

Erlicht and Van Amburg have agreed to remake Steven Spielberg’s anthology series  with NBCUniversal and are in the bidding for another show, about morning TV show hosts played by Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston. Apple wants to have a small slate of shows ready for release in 2019. “I think for both NBC and Apple, it’s about finding that sweet spot with content that is creative and challenging but also allows as many people in the tent as possible,” says Jennifer Salke, president of NBC Entertainment.

However, Apple isn’t interested in the types of shows that become hits on HBO or Netflix, like —at least not yet. The company plans to release the first few projects to everyone with an Apple device, potentially via its TV app, and top executives don’t want kids catching a stray nipple. Every show must be suitable for an Apple Store. Instead of the nudity, raw language, and violence that have become staples of many TV shows on cable or streaming services, Apple wants comedies and emotional dramas with broad appeal, such as the NBC hit , and family shows like . People pitching edgier fare, such as an eight-part program produced by filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón and starring Casey Affleck, have been told as much.

Yet like Netflix Inc., Apple is thinking globally. The company hired Inc. executive Morgan Wandell to oversee its international division and is about to hire Jay Hunt to oversee development in Europe.

All this has led many producers to label Apple as conservative and picky. Some potential partners say they walk into Apple’s offices expecting to be blown away by the most successful consumer technology company in the world only to run up against the reality of dealing with a giant, cautious corporation taking its first steps into a new industry.

Apple isn’t the first tech company to underwhelm Hollywood. Yahoo! Inc. and Microsoft Corp. spent millions of dollars on TV shows before pulling back within a couple of years, frustrated by the slow pace of development and their inability to attract audiences. Even Amazon, at first considered a success story, is now drawing complaints from writers and producers over casting decisions and instances of buying scripts but not producing them. The online retailer also fired its studio chief in October over allegations of sexual harassment.

Streaming video is just one of many fronts in the global battle between technology titans. After years of flirting with Hollywood, Silicon Valley companies are finally writing big checks, spurring a doubling of video production over the past decade. Amazon spent an estimated $4.5 billion this year on movies and TV shows, while Facebook and YouTube will spend more than $1 billion each. Netflix, which plans to spend $8 billion in 2018, dwarfs them all.

Yet no one arouses more interest in Hollywood than Apple. One reason it quickly climbed the list of places to pitch new shows: the almost cult-like attachment many have for its phones. “Their brand is the most important thing,” says Avnet, who’s made shows for Snapchat and YouTube and is in the process of making one for Facebook.

By funding original shows, the company also can remind customers to think of the Apple TV streaming device before the Roku or Amazon Fire TV Stick and to use Apple’s year-old TV app instead of Amazon Prime Video or YouTube. With iPhone growth slowing, the company is looking to other divisions to deliver sales. ITunes, Apple Music, and the TV app are part of its services business, where CEO Cook wants to double revenue by 2020, to about $50 billion.

Yet Apple isn’t trying to compete with Walt Disney Co. or Netflix to become the biggest backer of TV shows and movies on the planet. Instead, the company wants its shows to complement those of other networks and streaming services that consumers already watch on Apple devices. Its new shows, however, will no longer be placed on Apple Music, which will limit its focus to music-related video.

Whether Apple can channel consumer demand in TV as well as it does in smartphones remains to be seen. Around the time Apple delayed the release of , its top brass also decided the TV unit should move up the release of , a reality competition series in which entrepreneurs pitched celebrity investors on their idea for an app, so it would make its debut on Apple Music in time for the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference in June. Apple execs loved the show and thought it would endear the tech giant to software writers. The show wasn’t supposed to be released for a couple of months, and there was no marketing plan in place—a vital step in the age of too much TV. Apple pressed ahead, and the show came and went with little fanfare beyond a couple of savage reviews. The show is “a bland, tepid, barely competent knock-off of ,” according to ’s Maureen Ryan. “There’s no reason” for Hollywood to lose sleep over it, she wrote. Apple is betting the same won’t be said about its broader TV strategy.

BOTTOM LINE – Apple will spend $1 billion next year on programming for television. By sticking with mainstream shows, it could miss out on viewers who increasingly favor edgier fare.

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MoviePass CEO proudly says the app tracks your location before and after movies

Charmaine Blake



Everyone knew the MoviePass deal is too good to be true — and as is so often the case these days, it turns out you’re not the customer, you’re the product. And in this case they’re not even attempting to camouflage that. Mitch Lowe, the company’s CEO, told an audience at a Hollywood event that “we know all about you.”

Lowe was giving the keynote at the Entertainment Finance Forum; his talk was entitled “Data is the New Oil: How will MoviePass Monetize It?” Media Play News first reported his remarks.

“We get an enormous amount of information,” Lowe continued. “We watch how you drive from home to the movies. We watch where you go afterwards.”

It’s no secret that MoviePass is planning on making hay out of the data collected through its service. But what I imagined, and what I think most people imagined, was that it would be interesting next-generation data about ticket sales, movie browsing, A/B testing on promotions in the app and so on.

I didn’t imagine that the app would be tracking your location before you even left your home, and then follow you while you drive back or head out for a drink afterwards. Did you?

It sure isn’t in the company’s privacy policy, which in relation to location tracking discloses only a “single request” when selecting a theater, which will “only be used as a means to develop, improve, and personalize the service.” Which part of development requires them to track you before and after you see the movie?

Naturally I contacted MoviePass for comment and will update if I hear back. But it’s pretty hard to misinterpret Lowe’s words.


The startup’s plan is to “build a night at the movies,” perhaps complete with setting up parking or ordering you a car, giving you a deal on dinner before or after, connecting you with like-minded moviegoers, etc. Of course they need data to do that, but one would hope that the collection would be a bit more nuanced than this.

People clearly value the service, because it essentially lets them use someone else’s credit card instead of their own at the movies (and one belonging to a bunch of venture capitalists at that). Who would say no? Some people sure might, if they knew their activities were being tracked at this granularity (and, it has to be said, with such a cavalier attitude) to be packaged up and sold. (Good luck with the GDPR, by the way.)

Hopefully MoviePass can explain exactly what data it collects and what it does with it, so everyone can make an informed choice.

Update: In a statement, a MoviePass representative says:

We are exploring utilizing location-based marketing as a way to help enhance the overall experience by creating more opportunities for our subscribers to enjoy all the various elements of a good movie night. We will not be selling the data that we gather. Rather, we will use it to better inform how to market potential customer benefits including discounts on transportation, coupons for nearby restaurants, and other similar opportunities.

I’ve also asked for information on what location data specifically is collected, for how long before and after a movie users are tracked, and where these policies are disclosed to users.

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Aesthetic excellence: how cinematography transformed TV

Charmaine Blake



Directors of photography from Atlanta, Transparent and other top shows discuss how they achieve the sensibility of cinema

Much of the conversation regarding the rise of prestige television has rightfully centered around the showrunners and writers rooms whove energized a medium that was once the province of three-camera sitcoms filmed on studio sets. But less often do we focus on the cinematographers behind the lens, many of whom never saw themselves working in television until, in the last decade or so, the schisms between the small and big screens dwindled. And not merely in the scope of the stories or the quality of scripts: never before has television looked so good, from inventive camerawork to glossy lighting.

Its hard to ascertain exactly when the paradigm shift began, but there have certainly been seminal moments that most boldly bridged the gap between the two: the six-minute tracking shot in True Detective following Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson on a drug bust comes to mind, as do early seasons of Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire, ambitious, world-building series that took a sledgehammer to the conventions of episodic television. That the Television Academy split its cinematography honors between one-hour and half-hour series last year also signaled that the Emmys governing body had taken note of the profusion of aesthetic excellence on TV.

Nowadays, changes to TVs visual orthodoxy is reflected everywhere, and more diversely, too: in the sprawling, noir-ish science fiction of Netflixs new series Altered Carbon; in the shabby surrealism of FXs Atlanta; in the bright, California sheen of HBOs Insecure; and in the hyper-naturalism of Amazon shows like Transparent and I Love Dick. In these shows, and several others, environment comes alive as much as the characters do and, unsurprisingly, the directors of photography behind them were inspired by the world of film, approaching the work less like fragmented installments of a serialized story than like marathon movies, constructed piecemeal.

None of the creatives involved in this project saw this as a TV show, says Martin Ahlgren, who shot half of Altered Carbons first season and several episodes of House of Cards. We all imagined it as a 10-hour movie, and thats the approach we took to creating not only story arcs but visual arcs.

Joel Kinnaman in a still from Netflixs Altered Carbon. Photograph: Netflix

For Altered Carbon, a Blade Runner-inspired series about a future in which consciousness is digitized and stored in microchips, Ahlgren says that the visual world was more fully realized than it might have been as a two-hour feature, where much of the show would have been constructed via green screens and digital effects. Moreover, for a series that bounced between six different directors in its 10-episode first season, more responsibility falls on showrunners and cinematographers to establish and sustain visual through-lines in the absence of consistent episode-to-episode direction.

Jim Frohna, the Emmy-nominated DP behind Transparent and I Love Dick, took a similar approach in his collaboration with showrunner and head writer Jill Soloway. The pair, inspired by the intimacy of Andrea Arnolds film Fish Tank, first teamed up on the 2013 feature Afternoon Delight; when they moved to Amazon to make Transparent and, later, I Love Dick, they saw no need to change their formula as they ventured into television.

Jill would always talk about Transparent as a five-hour movie and never had any expectation that wed change how we shot Afternoon Delight, says Frohna, whos teamed up with Arnold to shoot the second season of Big Little Lies. I love lighting very naturalistically and was always drawn to hand-held cameras. I purposely would light from outside the windows, just like how youd have light coming into an actual place, and that freed up space for the actors to use the whole room.

There was a time, 15 years ago, when there were so many movies in town you would see them shooting on the streets, at the studio, and then that dried up, says Transparent DP Jim Frohna. Photograph: Merie Wallace/Amazon

When speaking of their approach to television, cinematographers frequently invoke the influence of naturalism on their work. Christian Sprenger, who shoots Atlanta, attributes the shows raw, dreamlike quality to his fruitful relationship with creator Donald Glover and director Hiro Mirai, who were often expressly working against the conventions of the small screen and culling inspiration from indie films like Memphis, Belly and Martha Marcy May Marlene.

Ive never been involved in a project before where it almost feels like no risk is too big. Were shooting in Super 16, using these super-old garbage hand-lenses, putting tons of filtration, purposely trying to improperly calibrate the color balance, Sprenger says. When we were making season one, it was around the time that the first season of House of Cards and True Detective came out. It felt like there were these institutional pillars getting knocked over by these auteur film-makers, coming in and saying Were going to make a TV show however we want, and well make it not feel like television at all.

This was what Ava Berkofsky had in mind before she was hired to shoot the second season of Insecure, which she felt too closely resembled a standard television sitcom and hadnt yet taken full advantage of its environment. I was really drawn to Insecure, as a fan of the show, but I thought there were a lot of opportunities that werent being embraced, with it being an LA show, a female-driven show, a black show. I thought that the lighting overall looked too similar to television, and that people of color didnt need to be lit so aggressively.

Insecure DP Ava Berkofsky: Its no longer the same 50 people in charge of all the content that happens. Its a much bigger, more democratic pool. Photograph: HBO

I never had any desire to shoot television before, so I felt like I had nothing to lose in the interview, Berkofsky adds. I told them I would want to switch from zooms to prime lenses, change the lighting from stage-y to naturalistic, and treat it like a film. When she was brought on to shoot most of Insecures second season, Berkofsky and director Melina Matsoukas, who directed Beyoncs Formation music video, drew from the color palettes of films like Nightingale, Selma and Moonlight while referencing Flying Lotuss Until the Quiet Comes video to establish a sense of place.

Naturally, given that cinema is a common point of reference for todays premium television series, the distinctions between the two mediums have begun to shrink. But subject matter, too, comes to bear on the look of a series, and more or less presupposes that it differ visually from the kinds of shows that preceded it. If were pulling back the curtain, opening your eyes to a different sort of protagonist or subject matter, something has cracked open for all the creative members of a team, says Frohna, who shoots with his preferred Canon Cinema EOS C300 Mark II. We dont want to make another slicker-looking police procedural. Were in new terrain. So with that, theres a new look to it.

Berkofsky agrees: Unexpected people are running shows and unexpected stories are being told in unexpected ways on television, which is very attractive to cinematographers because the people we used to look at in the features world are in television now.

This migration of indie film-makers to premium and streaming television was set in motion chiefly by changes to the film industry, which used to be more hospitable to the kinds of mid-budget projects whose creators now revel in televisions abundant resources and creative liberties. Most of us see ourselves as film-makers, but the differences between the mediums have more or less disappeared, says Ahlgren. Theres very few movies between $10m and $40m being produced; its become either very small indies or tentpole Hollywood blockbusters.

These auteur-driven series check all the boxes of those movies from the 90s we all look back on, adds Sprenger, who also shoots Netflixs female wrestling comedy Glow. The $5m-$20m realm has dwindled, and a lot of those film-makers and crew members are moving to premium television. And youre getting seen by millions of people, which is sometimes the turn-off for a handmade indie film.

Where the streets of Los Angeles were once overflowing with film crews, youre now more likely to happen upon a television production, not only in Hollywood but in Atlanta, New Orleans and Vancouver, where Altered Carbon shoots. I moved out to Los Angeles maybe 10 years ago and theres a night-and-day difference between how incredibly busy everyone is crew-wise, says Sprenger. If youre lucky, you get work on something that feels like a movie, and know youll have eyeballs on it when its done.

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Snoke Screens: Designing the User Interfaces In The Last Jedi



You’ll find no touch screens in Star Wars: The Last Jedi—not even when you can watch it at home next month (March 13 for digital, two weeks later for physical). Same goes for mice and keyboards. They’re all too familiar, too of-this-world, to appear in a galaxy so far, far away. What you’ll find instead are interface displays, and lots of them. Whether in an X-wing’s cockpit or the bridge of a Star Destroyer, every display in The Last Jedi exists to support the story—to provide a graphical complement to the film’s action and dialogue.

And it started with the film’s director. “Whenever possible, Rian [Johnson] wanted us to use practical graphics to enforce the narrative,” says creative director Andrew Booth, who oversaw the creation of TLJ’s assorted instrument clusters, targeting systems, medical readouts, and tactical displays. “It would actually appear in the script that you look at a screen and gain a deeper understanding of what’s happening. The challenge was always, what can we do in-camera to create something that feels real and believable?”

What’s impressive about the interfaces in The Last Jedi is that they feel believable not just to the audience, but to the film’s dramatis personae. In the real world, designers design for one person: the user. But creatives like Booth—whose design agency, BLIND LTD, has been behind the look and feel of some of this century’s biggest blockbusters, including every Star Wars film from TFA onward—designed the practical displays in The Last Jedi with at least three groups of people in mind: the characters, the actors depicting those characters, and the folks watching along in theaters.

Consider the film’s opening scene, in which (fair warning: plot points and spoilers from here on out) Commander Poe Dameron calls General Hux. The point of Poe’s call is to buy time; he’s charging the engines on his X-wing so he can stage a surprise attack on the First Order Dreadnought that’s poised to obliterate his Resistance buddies planetside. It’s a plan the audience comes to understand when the camera cuts to a display inside Poe’s starfighter that shows the status of his boosters.

The inside of Poe’s X-wing. The top display depicts the Dreadnaught tower Poe attacks at the beginning of the film; the middle one shows the status bar for his X-wing’s engines; and the bottom one, which is all wonky, visualizes his spaceship’s damaged targeting system.

“For us, that’s a perfect piece of storytelling,” Booth says. “Now you’ve got exposition, drama, and tension all wrapped up in this close-up of a progress bar.” And because it’s a practical effect, that tension is experienced by audience, actor, and character alike. In fact, every single display in Poe’s cockpit pulls triple duty: The top one depicts the tower Poe is attacking; the middle one shows the status bar for his X-wing’s engines; and the bottom one, which is all wonky, visualizes his spaceship’s damaged targeting system, which BB-8 spends much of the sequence trying to repair.

These kinds of details don’t always make it into the final cut of a film, and even when they do, audiences don’t always notice them. Not explicitly, anyway. “For us, these graphics are more about shape and form than they are about spelling things out—but they do allow people to feel what’s going on in a scene, and they help support the actor’s performance,” Booth says.


The WIRED Guide to Star Wars

Similar details abound inside the spacecraft from Canto Bight, the opulent casino city. The graphics aboard the ship that DJ and BB-8 steal are shiny. Slinky. Sumptuous. A striking contrast to the First Order’s stark, militaristic vibes and the ragtag aesthetics of the Resistance. “This was us trying to evoke a different world,” Booth says.

But even the film’s familiar spaces brim with visual information. Toward the end of the film, on the chalk-dusted mining planet Crait, the audience gets multiple glimpses inside Kylo Ren’s shuttle, from which he has orchestrated the First Order’s assault on what remains of the Resistance. “The aesthetic is sharp, clean, systematic—just like the First Order, itself, and the color palette is all red, grey, black and white,” Booth says.

Inside Kylo Ren’s shuttle, above the battle on Crait.

These are classic, higher-order stylistic cues, many of which date back to the original trilogy. During pre-production on The Force Awakens BLIND LTD researched the original designs closely, and collaborated with production designers Rick Carter and Darren Gilford to get the look and feel just right. The graphics continued to evolve with Lucasfilm design supervisor Kevin Jenkins and production designer Rick Heinrichs on The Last Jedi. They immediately help viewers understand where they are and whose ship it is. (The Resistance’s aesthetic, by contrast, is analog and unstructured—its color palette dominated by orange, green, brown, and other earth colors.)

But look closely, and you’ll see that the screens inside the shuttle are loaded with details. Crait’s topography, the blast door separating the Resistance from the First Order, the line of AT-ATs—they’re all depicted on screens, often for the briefest of moments. “It gives you an idea of the level of detail that we put into these interfaces,” Booth says. “It’s one of the things we pride ourselves on: You don’t necessarily always see it, but you sure as hell feel it.”

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