Comixology and Frictionless Digital Consumption

I’ve long maintained that one of the things that increases consumption of digital entertainment is the reduction in friction. I don’t just mean the convenience of accessing digital media anytime and anywhere, but actually making it increasingly easy to keep consuming it; encouraging you to stay and consume more. Netflix does this very well. When you’ve finished watching an episode of a TV show, you don’t have to hunt down the next one. In fact, if you pause to consider for more than 15 seconds, the next episode will start to play automatically. Frictionless.

Breaking Bad Netflix Continue

I mention this because Comixology, the market-leading digital comics source, used to have the same thing, you’d get to the end of a comic and you’d be shown a screen with an option to read the next issue if you had it already, buy it if you didn’t, and if it was the end of a series you’d be shown similar comics. Again, frictionless. It was made easy to keep reading and keep buying.

The latter was the sticking point though. When Amazon bought Comixology, they decided to move to the same model as for Kindle books: Buying them as In-App Purchases cuts into Amazon’s profits as they’d have to give 30% to Apple or Google. So, as with Kindle books, Comixology purchases can now only occur on their website.

I understand their reasoning for this, nobody likes the idea of giving away 30% of profits, not when there’s another option. And there’s a strong argument for the fact that creators will get a bigger cut of profits. However, in my view it’s a bigger cut of a smaller pie. Because it’s no longer frictionless.

Now, if I want to read the next comic in a series, I have to put my tablet down, load up my computer, browse to the Comixology website, search for the comic, check out, enter my PayPal details… When previously, all I had to do was press the button marked Buy, then OK then start reading. Frictionless.

Time will tell whether Comixology really does take this predicted hit in sales, whether people will adapt to putting their tablets down, shift to buying Kindle Fire HDs or whether Amazon will cave in. But however you spin it, by adding friction Amazon and Comixology have fumbled this and lost a lot of goodwill.

Screenplay Format Controversies

Icon-Writing-150On the whole, screenplay format is pretty standardised, and thankfully screenwriters barely have to think about it thanks to the use of modern screenwriting software.

Some of the formatting controversies of the past have been dealt with and become canon: Avoid using parentheticals or transitions unless absolutely, vitally necessary. Simple enough. Two controversies remain though.

Fade In/Out

For once I’m not talking about the screenwriting software Fade In, but the necessity to begin every screenplay with FADE IN: and end it with FADE OUT. Certain guides will tell you it’s mandatory, some will tell you it’s tradition and you should just do it. Many newer to the industry will say it’s redundant and can be skipped, leaving the choice of fading, cutting etc. to the director like all transitions. There’s pretty much no consensus other than this: Keeping it will seemingly annoy nobody, while removing them could irk some. So we may as well use them, and some of their variations. A word of warning though: There should only ever be one of each in the screenplay.

Double-Space

I don’t refer to line-spacing, but the number of spaces after a full stop in a screenplay. After years of beautifully laid-out treatises, typographers finally convinced us all that putting two spaces after a full stop was redundant, as these days we have typefaces and word-processors that handle the kerning properly. The restrictions of mono-spaced typewriters were a thing of the past. Except, however, when writing a screenplay, where we use a mono-spaced Courier font, to facilitate standardised spacing, partly to assist in judging the minute per page pacing. Again, nobody is going to throw your script in the bin for only using a single space, but apparently it’s easier on the eye of a script reader to use two spaces. And these are the people who’ll make the first decision on whether to pass on your script.

Top Ten List of Things 2013

It’s the end of the year and everyone is doing best of year lists; books, films, music, footwear, memes, you name it, it’s on a list somewhere. So, I’ve decided to do one of my own, a list of the top 10 favourite things of 2013. (It was either this or a top 10 list of top 10 lists)

  1. Gravity in the Imax – I’ll start, not just with a movie, but with a cinema experience. I cannot remember being more thrilled, of experiencing a more fulfilling cinema experience than this. I have no idea whether Gravity will work anywhere near as well in 2D on my TV, I doubt it, but that moment will be unforgettable.
  2. Daft Punk’s ‘Random Access Memories – 2013 had a lot of great music released, but it’s no great shock to anyone who has ever perused my Last.FM account that I was going to decide on RAM as my favourite album of the year.
  3. The Hour – I’d been recommended The Hour for a long time by a friend, but it was always a TV show that I’d eventually, maybe get around to. Well, I did get around to it, it was amazing and I’m gutted there won’t be a third season.
  4. London Screenwriters’ Festival – This was a game changer for me; the lessons I learnt, experiences I had and people I met have had a hugely positive effect on my writing, my confidence and, dare I say it, my life.
  5. Chic at Glastonbury – Oh, how they laughed. ‘Chic?’ they sniggered. ‘Well, they were okay back in the day I suppose, but they’re no Arctic Monkeys’. Indeed. Chic’s set was the best party at the best festival and I danced for an hour and a half solid.
  6. Saga – In a standout year for comics, this was nearly a close call. But the art, writing, excitement and emotional power of Saga easily dominates the field.
  7. The Sexy Lamp Test – Both in terms of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s alternative to the Bechdel Test, but also the fact that it was far and away the top post on my blog in 2013, with 5,854 views.
  8. Gizmo Love – After a less-than-stellar theatre experience, I sought out recommendations for theatre. I ended up in the wonderful New Diorama Theatre for Gizmo Love, a dark tale of obsession and writing. I’ll definitely be back to the New Diorama, currently in the shortlist for Fringe Theatre of the Year.
  9. London’s Southbank – You’d think I’d be tired of it by now, but I still have so many amazing memories of that stretch just south of the river, from Waterloo station to London Bridge.
  10. Friends – Yes, yes, I know this one is cheesy. But this year has been a year for friends being there for me, people becoming friends and spending time with friends. And that will never not be important to me.

Fifty Pounds Worth of Movies

Icon-Movie-150I was asked yesterday what movies and TV shows I would recommend someone buy; someone who loved film, but whose collection was bereft of anything but old VHS copies taped off the TV. The budget of £50 meant it was hard to recommend many TV box sets, otherwise I’d have loved to include The Hour, Deadwood and The Fades and perhaps The Wire, BSG, Fringe and Peaky Blinders. But here’s what I came up with, for a total of £51 second-hand, but including postage and packing:

Drive Netflix recommended it to me for ages, but I ignored it because: Ryan Gosling. However, this was tightly scripted, beautifully shot, high on subtle imagery
West Wing Season 1 Sorkin writes amazing dialogue and never insults his audience’s intelligence (unless they’re Republican). Superb characterisation, and no hint of his later apparent misogyny.
Raiders of the Lost Ark The classic adventure film and I grew up with it. But it’s often used as an example of classic movie structure. Plus: I always wanted to be Indiana Jones
Memento If Raiders is classic structure, this is that structure broken into tiny pieces; a perfect example of knowing the rules and then using that knowledge to break them.
Bound Bound is what the Wachowskis did before Matrix, and shows off their spectacular skill at tight, tight plotting. A superb, sexy thriller.
Brick I love this film; again tightly plotted and the most amazing Chandleresque dialogue. Witty, sexy, classic noir.
Citizen Kane I avoided this film for decades, the accolade of Best Film Ever weighing too heavily on it. Don’t make the same mistake I did. This film warrants frequent re-watch and study.
The Big Sleep The film that made Brick possible and made Bogart a star. Smart, witty dialogue, managing to make the journey through a convoluted plot fun. Classic noir.
Black Swan This film surprised me a lot, because of the multi-layered storytelling; we have straight thriller,psycho-fantasy, post-modern existential crisis and reimagining of the original ballet.
Pan’s Labyrinth Back when Del Toro was still the cream of the crop, this modern fairy tale set during the Spanish Civil war was wondrous and plays with ambiguity and doubt perfectly.
Million Dollar Baby Handling schmaltzy emotional content in a sports movie in a way that appeals to people who hate schmaltzy content and sports movies? Only this and The Blind Side have achieved it.
Secretary A subversive genre-busting romantic comedy, this had to be on the list.
Moon Beautiful, heart-breaking and executed with the most delicate touch. All with three locations and three actors.
Good Night, And Good Luck George Clooney, it turns out, has a deft directorial touch, subtle and light and this film is the finest example of that. And considering the topic of McCarthyism, it was perfect.
Once Upon a Time in the West Languorous, over the top, slightly ridiculous, massively indulgent shots… You’d think it was a modern action film, instead of a 1968 western! Beautiful and frequently referenced.
Dark City If you hadn’t picked up on it so far, I love noir. This is the perfect example of how noir and science fiction can be married without losing the essential feel. Also: post-modern as fuck.
In Bruges Witty, tightly plotted and darkly funny, this is what happens when you give a celebrated playwright the chance to write and direct his own movie: He makes a Greek tragedy in Belgium with Colin Farrell.
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist This… might be a bit of a departure from the rest of the list. But anything in this genre that stands out to me is going to be worth a mention! I thought it was a sweet modern romance.
Fish Tank Young, urban, tragic and talented. A clean, heartbreaking through-line, a great example of British indie cinema.

Clearly the list is incomplete, and I’m eternally remembering things I wish I had put on it. For a start, there are no foreign language films on this list, when it could include Jeux d’enfants, Lola Rennt, La Femme Nikita and Seven Samurai. But what else have I missed? Let me know in the comments!