the candler blog

Ambition, Risk and Failure on Kickstarter

Crowdfunding

James Grimmelmann’s excellent, brief “Riskstarter” needs to be bookmarked and revisited regularly:

Kickstarter specializes in creative projects, but creative projects are inherently risky. They are risky in an artistic sense: creativity is an uncertain and unpredictable process. They are risky in a transactional sense: you never know how good a book is going to be until you’ve read it. And they are risky in a financial sense: they take investments that may never be recouped by anyone.

The impetus for Grimmelmann’s piece is last weekend’s New York Times Magazine article on the failed ZPM espresso machine. Crowdfunding continues to be something that delights, inspires and confounds people. What’s wonderful about this piece is that it casts Kickstarter and the like in creative, not capitalist, terms. Contributing to a campaign is not an investment in the traditional sense. You don’t own a portion of whatever it is you’re trying to help get off the ground. You contribute because you think the world might be a little better if this movie, book, album or iPhone case were in it. That’s the proposition.

Still, things get hairy whenever money changes hands, and the ZPM story sounds awful for all parties, but Grimmelman’s final point is his best:

If Kickstarters never failed, it would mean that creators weren’t being ambitious enough.

Exactly.

(via Jason Kottke.)

James Burrows on Bullseye

Television

James Burrows isn’t a household name, but his work sure is. His groundbreaking direction on Cheers (which he co-created with Les and Glen Charles) set the tone for most of the successful sitcoms of the 80s and 90s. To this day his fingerprints are all over pretty much any three-camera television show.

Jesse Thorn interviewed Burrows on this week’s Bullseye and it’s just a phenomenal listen. He’s quite modest about his work, but also very exacting about what it is that sets him apart.

Here is my favorite part, from around 22:30. Burrows is discussing his work on Taxi (he directed seventy-five episodes).

You had Judd [Hirsch] who had his mind on a hundred other things, which is how Judd works. We called him “the piddler,” because he was always thinking about stuff. But when he got…when the show was on, he was unbelievable. He and Teddy Danson are two of the greatest centers you’ve ever seen in a show.

Judd, you know, didn’t have a lot of funny stuff on Taxi but his facial reactions when he was dealing with the weirdos are unbelievable. You could always cut to him. And the same with Ted.

That precise knowledge about one actor’s face is what sets Burrows apart. Go give the whole episode a listen.

Obama on Letterman and What I’ll Miss in Late Night Television

Television

A little over two weeks ago, Conan staff writer Andrés du Bouchet got himself in a bit of trouble by whining about the state of late night comedy on Twitter. Since deleted, here’s what the tweets amounted to:

Comedy in 2015 needs a severe motherfucking shakeup. No celebrities, no parodies, no pranks, no mash-ups or hashtag wars. I’m fat. … and shove your lip-synching up your ass.

Prom King Comedy. That’s what I call all this shit. You’ve let the popular kids appropriate the very art form that helped you deal. Fuck. None of the funniest stuff ever involved celebrity cameos.

The tweets were in poor taste, but they struck a chord with me. The target of the criticism was surely Jimmy Fallon, but Jimmy Kimmel seems just as guilty. I don’t think it’s fair to necessarily call either host “the popular kids,” but “Prom King Comedy” rings true. Which is to say not really comedy at all, just dress up skits.

I can’t watch Fallon’s Tonight Show because I simply have no interest in the snackable, made-for-YouTube look-at-what-I-can-do bits. His show may be fun, but I don’t find it funny and, generally speaking, I wouldn’t really call it a comedy show. The sketches feel like a crutch, propping up the host to keep him from interviewing guests.

The Tonight Show today is wildly popular, and I don’t begrudge anyone for enjoying it before bed (or, more likely and by design, at work the next day). But to me it’s not a late night talk show. It’s a different thing than what I grew up with; a different thing than what I want in the evenings. And that’s fine. Perhaps the comedy talk show is done for. Maybe we’ve moved on from a format that worked for decades to something else.

Which brings me to David Letterman interviewing Barack Obama last night. Letterman, the elder statesman of late night television, is closing in on his final show. He’s stacking the deck with high profile guests and longtime friends on each outing. Having the President come on seems appropriate for the occasion.

It has been common for politicians to stop in on comedy shows for decades now to show off their softer side. These shows appeal to a younger, often-times not-politically minded crowd. The hosts are often friendly and welcoming in a way that makes it easy to get your agenda out in front of the public. Plus you get to be funny and appear soft and relatable. Everyone wins.

But it’s always been different with Letterman. He is a brilliant comedian, but an even better broadcaster. He has an extra muscle that allows him to know what makes great television, and he’s never been afraid to use those skills in front of the camera. On Letterman’s stage, no guest, no matter how powerful can outsmart him.

Perhaps the most famous example of Letterman’s broadcasting (and, arguably, political) prowess occurred on September 24, 2008, when John McCain, then deep in his failed campaign for president, canceled a Late Show appearance so he could go back to Washington to work on the faltering economy. Letterman’s response was to tear into the presidential hopeful. His master stroke was broadcasting the CBS News live feed of McCain, still in New York at the time of the taping, getting his makeup put on in preparation for an interview with Katie Couric. As Bill Carter puts it in his excellent The War for Late Night:

The event became part of the news cycle in the race. McCain had stiffed Letterman, and Dave made him pay. He got more licks in on McCain for several nights after, and McCain ultimately had to make a date in his otherwise packed calendar to return to New York (a state he was hardly going to win) on October 16 to formally seek Dave’s pardon.

It’s hard to think of any other late night host, past or present, who could have pulled off such a stunt. McCain went head-to-head with Letterman and lost. Today we think of our television personalities, even many of our news anchors, as lightweights, fluffy sounding-boards against which any candidate, analyst or celebrity can speak rehearsed talking points. That’s never been Letterman.

His interview with Obama last night certainly wasn’t hard hitting. The President rolled out a few obviously scripted zingers and Letterman tried to lighten the mood. But for the most part the conversation was deeply serious. They discussed poverty, race relations, policing, riots and how to help disabled veterans when they come home.

Where Letterman is a deft broadcaster, Obama is a staunch politician. And so almost none of what comes out of his mouth is off the cuff. Yet there is something so refreshing about seeing him asked about specific, major issues of the day.

Letterman is so good at getting to the heart of big questions, the conversation seemed like it could go in any direction. I wondered while watching, for example, if Letterman might ask the president to explain his sweeping drone strike strategy. Only a week and a half ago a contrite Obama admitted to the accidental killing of American and Italian hostages. Though Letterman didn’t go there, he could have, and he could have done it in a way that no other broadcaster today could.

And that’s what I’m going to miss when he’s off the air. Letterman holds court in the Ed Sullivan theater. He can mete out truth from his guests while keeping them comfortable enough to have a few laughs. That mix of off-the-wall comedy (earlier in the show Will Ferrell reprised his SNL Harry Caray impersonation from the audience) and plainspoken talk show is what makes late night television such a fertile and interesting space.

All of that is a long-winded explanation not only of why I’ll miss Letterman, but, ultimately, why I don’t like Fallon’s Tonight Show and its ilk. As Obama explained to his questioner the state of race relations in our country today, I turned to my girlfriend and asked if she could ever imagine Fallon doing an interview like this. She laughed.

“No way. They’d be playing the dunce game by now,” referring to a trivia sketch that ends when either the guest or Fallon, each in a pointy dunce cap, pops a water balloon positioned over his or her head. Fun, but funny?

There is room for so many types of shows and hosts, but I hope that we don’t lose the format that has been a cornerstone of American broadcasting for so long. As the powerful get savvier, so too must our interviewers find ways to break down the barriers to honest conversation. Letterman is the best at it. Hopefully soon someone else will be.1

  1. I actually think Stephen Colbert, Letterman’s successor, is great at precisely this type of interview. His learning curve on CBS will be whether or not he can be likable up against the likes of Fallon, whose populism, I don’t know if I’ve made clear, has clouded his ability to be much more than friendly face.

Where I Fit on the Web

Writing

The web is such a different place today than it was when I first started publishing a blog in 2006. It’s bigger and, honestly, dumber. Social ate websites, and BuzzFeed ate everything else. Sometimes I have trouble figuring out where I fit in. But I know I do fit in.

I’ve been fairly quiet around these parts because I get stopped up for the silliest reasons. I wonder if anyone is listening anymore. Worse, I wonder how I can break through the clogged arteries of the web. If something seems unlikely to hit, I back off and wait for the next inspiration to come.

I don’t know how long the candler blog will last, but here’s what I do know.

This website has given me a small side-career as a writer. I’ve interviewed some extremely interesting people, covered film festivals and forged relationships with people all over the world I never would have had access to if not for the words I’ve written here over the years. That’s not something I can give up easily.

Not to sound too out of touch, but I find many of the biggest trends in media to be passing fads. I don’t know if Facebook will make sense in 20 years. I don’t think nostalgic quizzes and listicles will have value in the long run. That doesn’t mean they are without value today, but I don’t think it’s wise to hitch one’s wagon to something that doesn’t look like it will last. This, by the way, is why I’m so reticent to give my words over to Medium. Maybe it’s because I’m old enough to remember the last dot-com bust, but the party can’t last forever.

My own website is a simple proposition. Here’s a space where I can put out the best writing I’m capable of. I own every pixel here. That concept will never go out of fashion, even if it fades from the limelight.

I honestly don’t know whether or not there will always be a Google or a Facebook to help readers find me. I do know that I’m in control of whether or not there’s a candler blog.

So I guess I fit in right here. Thanks for reading.

Craft Beer Line-Ups at All 30 MLB Stadiums

Baseball, Beer, Link

Khushbu Shah and Cynthia Correa have done yeoman’s work over at Eater:

Nothing pairs better with crazy, over-the-top stadium snacks than an ice-cold beer while watching baseball on a hot summer day. Luckily, fans are no longer stuck forking over an arm and a leg for awful, run-of-the-mill beers. Instead, many stadiums have stepped up their craft beer line-ups, and are often sourcing brews from local breweries.

Philadelphia needs to up its game.1 I went to a game at the Twins’s Target Field last year and enjoyed quite a few local brews. Shocked to see they have more on offer than Colorado’s Coors Field.

Anyway, play ball and drink up.

  1. Both in beer and in actually, you know, hitting and pitching.

Steve Carrell to Star in Film Based on Marwencol

Movies

Jeff Sneider for The Wrap:

After receiving his first Oscar nomination for his acclaimed performance in “Foxcatcher,” Steve Carell is signing on to star in Robert Zemeckis‘ feature adaptation of Jeff Malmberg’s 2010 documentary “Marwencol” at Universal Pictures, TheWrap has learned.

What?! I was a huge fan of Marwencol when it premiered way back in 2010 at SXSW.1 I just brought it up the other day when a friend pointed out that I don’t seem to like any documentaries. I like Marwencol, and I highly recommend you seek it out. It’s available for rent or purchase on iTunes.

I don’t really know how I feel about it being turned into a Hollywood movie. The story of Mark Hogancamp, the man at the center of Marwencol, is certinly interesting enough to command a feature film. Still, the fact will probably always be stranger than the fiction, in this case.

  1. I also interviewed Jeff Malmberg, the film’s director, later that year.

Baseball, 2015

Baseball, Sports

For The New York Times, Tyler Kepner on the state of baseball in 2015:

The areas of emphasis are changing, but teams, of course, will always seek ways to gain an edge. Players will, too, but the drug culture that once led to an offensive boom is mostly gone. Thousands of runs and homers have gone with it, but baseball — for now — can live with that.

“You have to get rid of performance-enhancing drugs, because they are a threat to the integrity of the game,” [league commissioner Rob] Manfred said. “And whatever the game looks like with players playing clean is what the game looks like.”

Strikeouts are up and homers are down. The game is evolving, but I say: good for the game. I grew up in the PED-fueled home run era. It was fun to watch, but now I look back on those years ashamed of what the game became. Baseball needs to move forward and if it’s a more defensive game, so be it.

Man, I’m so happy it’s Spring. Go, Phillies.

Oh and speaking of my Phils:

They lost Thursday afternoon to the Rays at Bright House Field, 10-1, to finish 1-7-1 in their last nine games. They were outscored 72-27 in that stretch.

Oof. Whatever. Go team.

Apple Watch at the Movies

Since the Apple Watch release is getting near, and since I’ve never used one or seen one in person, let’s speculate what it will be like to use one in everyday life, as is tradition.

I wonder what it will be like to wear an Apple Watch at the movies. This is, I realize, a controversial subject. Especially here in Austin:

The accepted rule is: no talking or texting at the movies. In 2015 that’s not likely to change. My phone remains pretty much in my pocket for the duration of any film I see in the theater.1 I say “pretty much” because there are exceptions to keeping the phone out of sight, out of mind.

I don’t turn my phone completely off. I recognize that I could, but the fact is that there are things in this world that might be more important than the movie I’m in. I don’t think any notification that has gone off on my phone during a movie has ever more important than the movie itself, but when that day comes, do I really want to miss it? I’m talking about the big deal stuff: life and, more likely, death. I ignore the tiny buzzing in my pocket just fine.

Now, the exception to keeping my phone in my pocket is simple: if I ever get the dreaded double call, the phone will come partway, though never above the waist, out of my pocket to see who’s calling. If it’s nothing, it slips away out of sight. If it’s something then I spring into action out in the hallway. My loved ones know (as all loved ones really should) that the double call is reserved for emergencies only.2 I suppose I’d make a similar exception for something like ten texts in a row.

So how does this all play out if you have an Apple Watch?

An open question (for me, at least) is how the watch’s screen works in tandem with the “Taptic Engine,” the little actuator inside that “taps you on the wrist.” Up until now, notifications have come in through vibrations in our phones. These vibrations are often audible, as when a phone on silent vibrates on a table. Anyone nearby will notice it is vibrating. The taps on the Apple Watch, by all accounts, can only be felt by the wearer. Those nearby will not hear or feel anything. My question is what does the screen do when a notification comes in. Here’s how Apple describes getting text messages on their “New Ways to Connect” page:

You’ll know right away when someone sends you a message, because a notification appears front and center on Apple Watch. Hold up your wrist to read the message, or lower your arm to dismiss it.

If I had to guess, I would say that, just like with iPhone, a notification will light up the screen, but it’s unclear. Here’s how I’d like it to happen:

  • A message comes in
  • Your Apple Watch taps your wrist but the screen doesn’t turn on
  • Raise your wrist and the screen comes on to show you who sent you the text
  • Lower your wrist and it’s gone and silent

That would be ideal for movie theater use so long as the screen is automatically dimmed to the lowest setting. Even at its brightest, I have trouble believing a 312 x 390 (for the 42mm model) screen will be that annoying in a movie. Will it be any more annoying than an Indiglo® or similar watch?

I just really hope that the screen doesn’t light up for every notification. Even if it does, though, Apple does seem to have made it very simple to get rid of them. If lifting the wrist and lowering it seems like too much work (in a movie, I think it is) then the way Apple describes dismissing a phone call is even easier:

To mute an incoming call, just cover Apple Watch with your hand.

Maybe all notifications could be silenced this way.

Now, to move into controversial movie theater etiquette: what about responding? If you raise your wrist and see a message that requires some kind of response, you’re two taps away from sending your location. As in: “I’m at the movies, don’t bother me.” You’re also two taps away from a pre-filled response. We’ll see what it’s like, but I’m betting these quick interactions won’t be noticeable to other movie-goers.

And then there’s the “Digital Touch” functionality Apple is touting. If a friend or loved one has an Apple Watch, they could send you some taps, a sketch or their heartbeat. You, in turn, could send a few taps back and be on your way. I see the following becoming very commonplace:

  • My girlfriend sends me two taps, indicating “Where are you?”3
  • I send three back, indicating “Can’t talk now,” which, if you know me, means “I’m in a movie.”

Conversation over.

Again this seems like it will be almost unnoticeable to other moviegoers. Better yet, this seems like it will be fast enough to barely be noticeable to the wearer. Here’s an animation of Digital Touch taps in action.4

Now, keep that image in mind, and then consider this explanation from Craig Hockenberry of how the watch’s AMOLED display works:

And from what we’ve seen so far of the watch, that black is really really black. We’ve become accustomed to blacks on LCD displays that aren’t really dark: that’s because the crystals that are blocking light let a small amount pass through. Total darkness lets the edgeless illusion work.

I suspect that any time black is displayed on Apple Watch, it will be as if the screen isn’t illuminated at all. With Digital Touch, there is so little that will actually emanate light. So in a setting like a darkened room where everyone expects silence, Digital Touch interactions may fly well below the radar.

So in a movie theater I would think of Apple Watch as, well, a watch. If, for example, someone actuates a light up screen on an analog watch and leaves it on for more than a few seconds, that will become annoying fast. The same goes for Apple Watch. Quick interactions will likely go unnoticed by engrossed moviegoers. Anything more is rude.

I don’t see theaters instituting a serious “no Apple Watching” policy. I’m guessing that as they first come out reactions will visceral and negative. For whatever reason (probably the price, probably because it’s Apple), there is a presumption of douchebaggery for people wearing Apple Watches. I think that will quickly fade. As someone who owned the original iPhone which came into the world with the same “Who would spend $600 on a phone” incredulousness, I predict that that noise will move to the background right quick.

The (supposed, remember I’ve never seen or used one) intimacy and simplicity of using Apple Watch at the movies removes most of the problems smartphones have introduced at the theater. I think going to the movies in our hyperconnected world will become easier, not harder, with Apple Watch. But that’s me.

  1. Since I frequent the Alamo Drafthouse (see above video) I of course live in fear they make take my ass out otherwise.

  2. I learned this the hard way in college when I double called a roommate at work to ask something dumb, like where’s the detergent.

  3. Both parties would have to come to an agreement on what different taps mean, which I think would happen organically over time.

  4. Note that these are pulled from the video featured at the September 2014 event. The interface has since been updated, as seen on Apple’s “New Ways to Connect” page, but for my purposes here, this inital design is close enough to what is shipping later this month.