My SXSW content strategy workshop, “So You Wanna Be a Content Strategist?” is sold out. In fact, it sold out in about 48 hours! Looking forward to seeing everyone down there and engaging in some content strategy for SXSW itself. You can read a little more coverage of it here.
Here’s the talk I gave at LavaCon, a content strategy and technical writing conference (this year) in New Orleans. I spoke about how to use workshops to help gain alignment around goals and come up with ideas for how to achieve those goals. I used a case study from my day job working as a content strategist at EPAM.
Afterwards I had a breakout session where I actually walked attendees through the actual workshop with the goal of coming up with a content strategy for LavaCon itself. Jack Molisani, the organizer of LavaCon was present and answered some stakeholder interview questions given by an audience member to help establish the goals the workshopped strategies were meant to achieve. The audience research was done by the attendees themselves on themselves since they are, in fact, the audience.
Jack loved the ideas the attendees came up with and will probably implement some of them for next year’s LavaCon. The attendees did great work and somehow managed to do a workshop that usually takes half a day and get great value out of it in one hour.
This fulfilled a dream I didn’t realize I had until recently, which was to co-create a strategy for a client with that client’s audience. I look forward to doing it again (and I think more companies should take this approach).
For the past three years now I’ve co-organized what I consider to be the best unconference in the land, BarCamp Philly. I say this not because of any amazing co-organizing skills I have so much as the amazing people who show up and make it such a wonderful event. For those of you unfamiliar, an unconference is when a group of people get together and decide on the topics of all the talks that day themselves, rather than schedule all that shit in advance. That’s why who shows up directly impacts what the conference will be. Our job as organizers is to provide the most useful and engaging platform on which to make that happen.
Check out the variety of talks.
I was particularly impressed by Johnny Bilotta’s conversation on failure, Becky Sweger’s talk on the mystery—yes mystery!—surrounding where the dollars from our $3.8 trillion federal budget go (and her open source attempts to solve it), and finally getting to see Bala Peterson talk and seeing a completely different talk style than I am used to and trying to learn from it.
Then of course there was the 8-year-old who gave her second talk now about using iMovie on the iPad and then went out and shot this.
Shout out to my amazing team (pictured above; l-r; Brian Crumley, me, Maurice Gaston, Joe Campbell, Amanda Clark, Lisa Yoder)
Here’s to next year!
I’m going to be speaking at LavaCon on October 19th. It’s a content strategy conference that this year is being held in New Orleans. I’m going to be keynoting for the first time, talking about my company‘s work with Thomson Reuters. It’s a cool case study and I’m looking forward to sharing it. What’s more, there’s a follow up session afterward where I’ll actually run folks through a workshop similar to the one I describe in the keynote.
See you in New Orleans!
Haven’t updated in a while because I’m working on changing this blog.
What will it be?
I’m thinking more of a place to post updates about what’s going on. I’ve been doing more events, more speaking, more workshops, more writing outside of this blog and I want to represent that more clearly. I also want it to be a clearer reflection of all the things I’m about, like learning from failure, distributing power, equality, and how content and tech can possibly help. Not sure how to articulate that with a website yet, but you’ll be the first to know.
Also, spam. So, so much spam.
So, yeah, probably a complete overhaul of the site coming. In the meantime I’ll be posting updates about upcoming events, speaking gigs, etc. And I’ll still probably freak out about the Oscars for no particular reason. No need to subject Medium to that just yet.
Let me know if you have thoughts. I’ll try to pick them out from the horrible, horrible spam.
A really muddled year. But let’s give it a shot anyway, shall we?
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Will Win: Birdman
Should Win: Birdman
It has won all of the things, including the American Society of Cinematographers award. Oddsmakers like it, and so do I.
And it should have, right? It’s funny, last year I was talking about how, based on Gravity, it was clear to me that Alfonso Cuarón was going to make the next great film that was all one long tracking shot. Then his buddy Iñárritu did it instead.
Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
Will Win: The Imitation Game
Should Win: The Imitation Game
This one is anyone’s guess. If Gone Girl had been nominated, it would have been the obvious choice, at least according to Critics Circle awards, of which it nabbed up 13 plus a Critics Choice. Then the BAFTA’s went with Theory of Everything then, just to add more confusion, the WGA didn’t nominate Theory of Everything but did nominate Gone Girl but gave it to The Imitation Game instead. Now oddsmakers like Imitation Game. Why not?
Minus a perhaps-once-too-often-repeated phrase here or there, Game is a snappy, clever script that manages to tackle a lot of issues without losing sight of plot or character along the way.
Writing (Original Screenplay)
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should Win: Nightcrawler
A ton of critics circles, a BAFTA, and a WGA win later, Hotel emerges as the clear frontrunner, and nicely fills the little-indie-that-could slot that the Academy likes to use this award for from time to time, the irony being that this is one of the most nominated films of the year.
I like me some Wes Anderson and all, but the real standout here is Nightcrawler. An incredibly tight, acerbic screenplay that’s somewhere between Taxi Driver and Network in terms of character study/eviscerating satire.
Best Supporting Actress
Keira Knightley—The Imitation Game
Emma Stone—Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Meryl Streep—Into the Woods
Will Win: Patricia Arquette
Should Win: Patricia Arquette
This is a lock. All of the big and little guns, including BAFTA, Globe, Critics Choice, SAG and countless critics circles went this way.
And with good reason. It is a subtle, nuanced performance that gets at the complexities of a character who is so good at and grows in so many ways about some things, and makes exactly the same mistakes over and over again about others over the course of twelve years. It rings painfully true. That having been said, Dern kills it in her (not entirely dissimilar) role.
Best Supporting Actor
Robert Duvall—The Judge
Edward Norton—Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Will Win: J.K. Simmons
Should Win: J.K. Simmons
Even more of a lock than Arquette, if that were possible. Basically all of the things she won, plus a shitload more critics circle wins.
I haven’t actually seen Whiplash, but I have every confidence that J.K. Simmons deserves and Oscar for this or almost any other role in film or television. Yes, he should get an Oscar for his television work. It’s just that good.
Marion Cotillard—Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones—The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore—Still Alice
Rosamund Pike—Gone Girl
Will Win: Julianne Moore
Should Win: Julianne Moore
As the award season began, it seemed like a three way tie between Moore, Pike, and Cotillard. As things progressed and BAFTA, Critics Choice, and the Globes weighed in, the field converged around Moore, with a SAG win sealing the deal.
As with Simmons, I have not seen the nominated performance, but I’m willing to take it on faith given her track record. If I had to stick with what I’ve seen (all but Moore and Cotillard), I’d go with Pike.
Bradley Cooper—American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch—The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton—Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Eddie Redmayne—The Theory of Everything
Will Win: Michael Keaton
Should Win: Eddie Redmayne
This is a tough one. Earlier in the season, the smart money was on Keaton. Even as we got into the Globes and saw him give an excellent speech it seemed like the speech he would be giving soon at the Oscars. And here’s the thing, it’s a very actor-friendly speech for a very actor-friendly film. It’s a film about the trials and tribulations of being an actor. It’s about the trials and tribulations of being a career actor trying to be taken seriously, trying to find acceptance, trying to get past self-loathing. This is a performance the Academy can relate to.
However, as awards season played out the other Globe winner, Eddie Redmayne, suddenly found himself taking home the BAFTA and the SAG, which seem a little more significant than Keaton’s far bigger market share of critics circle awards, critics choice award, and the non-serious half of the Globes actor pie. The oddsmakers, naturally, favor Redmayne. I still think Keaton’s too good a story for the Academy to pass up.
I actually prefer Redmayne’s performance. It is, in a way, the more typical choice. A very actorly, disappear in the role, complete transformation performance, but it’s a really, really, really good one. It’s a painfully obvious he should win kind of performance. So I guess the odds are in favor of me being happy either way.
Alejandro G. Iñárritu—Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Wes Anderson—The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum—The Imitation Game
Will Win: Richard Linklater
Should Win: Ava DuVernay
This is another close one. Probably closer. Linklater has a lot of momentum here. Tons and tons of critics circles. The BAFTA, Globe, and Critic Choice win. The only thing he’s missing is the DGA win. But here’s the thing. The DGA win is like 90% predictive. It’s about the most predictive award there is. And it went to Inarritu. So the smart money now is on him. But here’s the other thing. 90% means that one time in ten the DGA gets it wrong. I believe this will be that one.
As much as I would love to see Linklater (or Inarritu, for that matter) take home the gold, the real moment here should be for DuVernay, not just because she’d be the first black woman to do so, the first black person to do so, and one of the very few women to do so, but because she did an amazing job directing what should have been a mediocre film (because most biopics of icons end up being mediocre because they have no voice refuse to take a point of view, and DuVernay has a voice and takes a point of view). I usually complain about at least one unnominated person at these things, so here you go.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
Will Win: Boyhood
Should Win: Selma
This is another close one. As with director, until recently, the momentum has been behind Boyhood. Tons of critics circles. Critics Choice, Golden Globe, BAFTA. But again, that pesky guild award, in this case the PGA, went to Birdman, signaling a shift in the momentum. Where I think that shift will go is to Best Actor for Keaton, not necessarily Picture or Director. Still, it’s gonna be close.
Boyhood, to be fair, is my second favorite film of the year. An incredible achievement from one of my favorite directors. However, I think an even stronger achievement comes in the form of the first film about Martin Luther King (really? really?) not sucking, but in fact, being great. Yes, this is tainted by all the shit that happened in 2014. And the fact that moments in the film, without intending to (since the logistics of filmmaking make that kind of impossible) echoed those things very directly, gives the film resonance. And sometimes that’s a good thing. You have your Best Pictures which are timeless (yer Artists, yer 12 Years a Slave), but then you have your Best Pictures which are of their moment (even if they are set over 50 years earlier). This is one of those movies.
10. The Raid 2
“They’re not cops anymore. They’re in my world now.”
This is the sequel as contrast, not continuation. The Raid 2 is epic where The Raid is contained, gorgeous where The Raid is gritty, grotesque where The Raid is (comparatively) subdued, and complex where The Raid is simple. That both are amazing action films speaks to the incredible visual and narrative range of writer/director Gareth Evans. The last two set pieces in particular give us one of the best car chases and fight scenes in recent memory.
9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
“People will fight for their freedom if people try to take it from them. But if you cause enough trouble, people will willingly give up their freedom for a more secure world.”
Cap should have been the least interesting Avenger. And the first movie almost proved that right. But what’s made Cap interesting in the comics has always been bringing him into conflict with the modern day. And Winter Soldier delivers on that promise. Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directors Anthony and Joe Russo infuse enough Patriot Act paranoia into this tale to mash-up the traditional comic book movie with Three Days of the Condor and its 70’s conspiracy-prone ilk, a combination well-suited to throw someone like Cap off-balance. The audacity of the film, from a franchise perspective, is to introduce a mid-film twist that reverberates (brilliantly) throughout the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe (see the amazing tie-in with Agents of Shield), fulfilling the potential of what can happen when you decide to tie so many properties together into one mega-narrative. And not for nothing, but some riveting hand-to-hand combat as well.
8. Dear White People
“Dear White People, the minimum requirement of black friends needed not to seem racist has just been raised to two. Sorry, but your weed man, Tyrone, does not count.”
Satire at its finest, Dear White People takes a look at “post-racial” America as a microcosm at an elite liberal arts college. Solid jokes bolster a keenly observed portrait of attitudes that pervade when the most powerful man in the country looks a lot like its least powerful citizens. Career-making turn by Tyler James Williams (other than the one he already had on Everybody Hates Chris).
“You make one mistake, Donal, one little fucking mistake, and the whole world comes crashing down around you.”
File under “Movies That Should Not Work.” It’s hard enough to contain your hero to one location for an entire film when the stakes are life or death (see the very problematic Phone Booth), but when we’re really just seeing some (admittedly life altering) decisions unfold as a series of phone calls in a car for 85 minutes we should be bored, right? Instead Locke is more gripping than any of its straight up thriller antecedents mostly due to the unflinchingly truthful performance of its lead, a shoulda-been-a-Best-Actor-contender Tom Hardy not to mention some great voice work from I-totally-didn’t-realize-that-was Andrew Scott, Ruth Wilson, and Olivia Colman.
“My friend, you suffer from the misplaced optimism of the doomed.”
Unique sci-fi actioner from the brilliant Bong Joon Ho (The Host, Mother), Snowpiercer takes a wacky-ass, dying-to-be-precious premise (all of humanity lives on a segmented-by-class train after global collapse) and turns it into a tense, dark-humored, and, yes, still kind of wacky thrill ride/examination of privilege, bolstered by a sardonic turn by the always great Tilda Swinton. Also contains one of the best fridge horror endings of the year.
5. The LEGO Movie
“I only work in black and sometimes very, very dark grey.”
I can think of only one movie that is so of its moment when discussing issues of creativity and design. The LEGO Movie is, at its heart, a remix manifesto, cultivating notions of mass empowerment while also debating the distribution of that power when actually building something. It also happens to be relentlessly funny, with a Best Supporting Actor-worthy nod from Will Arnett as Batman, and on top of all that emerges as the best action film of the year. Also, in a call back to those very notions of rights management, it combines certain franchises that will probably never share screen time again.
4. The Imitation Game
“When people talk to each other, they never say what they mean. They say something else and you’re expected to just know what they mean.”
Benedict Cumberbatch gives an unforgettable performance in the tragic biography of the brilliant computer-scientist-before-there-were-really-computers Alan Turing. The film manages to tackle homophobia, combat ethics, misogyny, and higher math without ever losing sight of character, plot, or pace. A crackerjack script by Graham Moore (based on Andrew Hodges book) keeps all the plates spinning gracefully.
“That’s my job, that’s what I do, I’d like to think if you’re seeing me you’re having the worst day of your life.”
This is the kind of movie they made in the 70’s. A biting send up of corporate culture and entrepreneurial double-speak wrapped in a bigger critique of local news leveraging racial fear, Nightcrawler uncovers the dark heart of ambition in the modern equivalent of the American Dream as seen through the eyes of petty crook turned crime scene videographer Lou Bloom (a brilliant Jake Gyllenhaal). Subtle touches, like a soundtrack that satirizes local news themes, help fill out the picture. And the photography is the best sodium-imbued vision of after-hours L.A. we’ve seen since Collateral. Powerful supporting performances by Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed, who get caught up in Bloom’s gravity, show us the full scope of his carnage. An absolute must-see.
“You know how everyone’s always saying seize the moment? I don’t know, I’m kind of thinking it’s the other way around, you know, like the moment seizes us.”
What’s remarkable about this movie (besides the fact that writer/director Richard Linklater convinced any number of people to revisit the same project continuously for 12 years) is that Linklater is able to create a coherent experience while largely eschewing depicting major milestones in the main character’s lives. He focuses on the scenes around the scenes. But that, as Linklater keenly observes, is where life really happens: in the day-to-day interactions that reflect those milestones.
Also, don’t let the title fool you. While the eponymous boy Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is the window through which we visit these lives, we see the evolution of his father (a perfectly cast Ethan Hawke), mother (a well-deserving likely Oscar winner Patricia Arquette) and sister (Linklater’s own daughter Lorelei) with equal clarity.
The film also has a perfect sense of setting. This is a very Texas movie, perhaps no moreso when we see the gifts Mason gets for his 16th birthday.
And the phenomenon of seeing someone evolve in the blink-and-now-they’re-suddenly-older way, which as a parent I’ve now observed first hand, is perfectly captured here, making those three hours feel earned.
“Who murdered Jimmie Lee Jackson? Every white lawman who abuses the law to terrorize. Every white politician who feeds on prejudice and hatred. Every white preacher who preaches the bible and stays silent before his white congregation. Who murdered Jimmie Lee Jackson? Every Negro man and woman who stands by without joining this fight as their brothers and sisters are brutalized, humiliated, and ripped from this Earth.”
Just making a feature film about Martin Luther King is (unfortunately) historic. But director Ava DuVernay’s real triumph here is to not settle for that. Instead she makes a film that, MLK or no, has some of the best writing, direction, cinematography and performances of the year. That it happens to be relevant in the year of Michael Brown and Eric Garner puts it top of mind, but it doesn’t coast on that to have impact.
To wit, the movie is called Selma, and not Martin. DuVernay focuses as much attention on getting us to understand – and feel – the frustration and horror of the residents and what it was like to live under that sort of tyranny. She never lets us forget the stakes.
Or the strategy. Not unlike Lincoln, part of what makes the film fascinating is the intricacies of legal, political, and media wrangling involved in what seems like a purely moral cause.
David Oyelowo’s MLK is radiant, and buttressed by sharp performances from a slew of other actors, most notably Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King. And that DuVernay manages to supply the words for his speeches herself with comparable eloquence to the real thing is nothing short of astonishing.
An amazing documentary about what could have been an incredible film.
Auspicious, hilarious debut from director Jason Bateman.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
A stunning return to form from Bryan Singer.
Edge of Tomorrow
One of the most under-seen (and poorly re-titled) films of the year, sums up nicely what a video game movie should be, without being based on a video game.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Fincher doing what Fincher does. And well.
Nolan doing what Nolan does. Not to everyone’s taste, but I buy what he’s selling. And McConaughey kills it where it matters.
Big Hero 6
One of the best animated films of the year.
One of the best war films. And some of Eastwood’s most powerful direction to date.
All of the stuff we already knew about the Snowden leaks suddenly becomes fresh and new with a perspective on the dangers of big data and the ambiguities of a war waged, intentionally or not, on just about everyone.
As usual, plenty of stuff I didn’t catch up on in 2014 (I’m only just now getting into Orange Is the New Black). But from what I did see, here’s what stood out…
10. Teen Wolf
Yes. Teen Wolf. That movie with Michael J. Fox. Turned into an amazing TV show by Jeff Davis. Yes. Amazing. Well, by Season Three anyway. Season Four, which aired in 2014, wasn’t quite as amazing, but still delivered the goods, including an outstanding cast (especially Maze Runner breakout star Dylan O’Brien), clever writing, and moody direction by Duran Duran music video vet Russell Mulcahy (whom I celebrate here, he really did some wacky/astounding shit back in the day).
While not as solid as Season Two – due to a very problematic season opener – the most recent season of Sherlock provided much of the same great writing and performances and, to boot, a worthy successor to Moriarty in Lars Mikkelsen’s deliciously evil Charles Augustus Magnussen.
8. Silicon Valley
In what could have easily been a one-note nerdfest or, worse yet, a completely inaccessible inside baseball wormhole, Silicon Valley instead remembered to deliver jokes. Jokes that were funny because they were funny, not because you did or didn’t know one thing or another about the startup universe. That having been said, it was eerily accurate in its portrayal of the characters and rituals that populate that world, and skewered them appropriately. Mike Judge has still got it.
7. Boardwalk Empire
Sometimes, not often, but sometimes a show knows exactly when and how to end. With a season-long arc that flashed back to our anti-hero’s origins in Atlantic City (with an uncannily Buscemi-esque turn by Marc Pickering) Empire managed to take us out by showing us things we already knew in a way that made them fresh and relevant, while still surprising us in the end. Also gave us one of the most succinct dissections of male privilege when one character says to her male business partner, “Imagine all of the things you want in life. Now imagine yourself in a dress.”
6. True Detective
Though it certainly drew on genre tropes from serial killer narratives and film noir, Detective still managed to create a unique tone, feel, and structure and introduce a singularly fascinating nihilist protagonist to tie it all onto. Not to mention directorial style to spare (witness the incredibly long, action packed tracking shot from “Who Goes There”).
5. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey
It could have just been Neil DeGrasse Tyson standing there spouting science and it would’ve been interesting (trust me, I’ve seen him stand there and spout science). But they went and put on a show with an Alan Silvestri (Back to the Future) score and Bill Pope (The Matrix) cinematography and excellent animation and location shoots all to hammer home the value (and diversity) of science.
4. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Brooklyn Nine-Nine suffered no sophomore slump as it launched into its second year. If anything it picked up momentum with established characters and relationships upon which to build and experiment and emerged as the most consistently funny show on television.
A long overdue exploration of the history of feminism and its struggles and gains in contemporary America. Smartly broken up into an overall look at the struggle and a vertical-specific, if you will, episodic look at women in the military, government, business, Hollywood, etc. Even the episode I was personally the least invested in actually ended up being one of the best. It’s all available on the Makers site which has plenty more to offer in addition to the series itself.
2. Game of Thrones
I should be sick now of dragons and swords and Grand-Guignol levels of douchebaggery, but I’m really not. Part of the reason is that showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss keep finding interesting ways to use those tropes to comment on power, mortality, family, obligation, and more. Part of the reason is withering speeches (link is spoilery) like the one Peter Dinklage delivers in “The Laws of Gods and Men.” Part of the reason is just Peter Dinklage, period. Part of the reason is clever-ass foreshadowing that you don’t even realize is foreshadowing (link is even spoiler-ier). But it all comes together into one of the most entertaining, if occasionally harrowing, hours of television currently on-air.
1. Last Week Tonight
There was a lot of skepticism when John Oliver launched his weekly mock-news show on HBO. How could he possibly improve upon his alma mater? How could he stay current when he only aired once a week? Wasn’t this a step backwards?
I was actually psyched to see what would happen when a comedy news organization had a full week to digest what had happened the week before. And while Oliver delivered on that psyched-ness, he brought something to the table that I didn’t expect. Investigative journalism. He also baked in a prankster/activist element that made good use of the web, a rarity in television. What results is the must-watch (or must catch up Monday morning on YouTube – another platform of which they made excellent use) show of the season, if only to be smarter and to laugh, two things we desperately needed in 2014.
Honorable Mentions: Outlander, Fargo, Orphan Black, Agents of Shield, Doctor Who, Bob’s Burgers, The Walking Dead, Parks and Recreation
In the latest episode of Hotcha Zimzam, I look at the evolution of movies that represent the true video game narrative (I explain what that is in the video) over time.
Any movies that you think fit the bill?
Back in the day, villains like Moriarty or The Master looked like this:
These days, they look like this:
Is the replacement of the dignified British gentleman with the snarky, smart-ass young British brah a commentary on current young, white male society, or just a coincidence of appealing to a younger demo with the heroes of said franchises?
Although if we look at a show like Luther, especially in its second season, we see a lot of the young, white, privileged male as sociopath.
So are young, white males the new, hip villains (at least on the BBC)? The same way Russians were in the 80’s and serial killers in the 90’s? And if so, what does that have to say about our own insecurities?