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October 23, 2005

Talking Headshots

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It's the new new thing: Instead of a static picture that tells you nothing about how a person moves and sounds you can now create a short video clip to introduce yourself to casting directors worldwide looking for the next Julia Roberts.

As Winter Miller wrote in her most interesting story in today's New York Times, it's "the digital age's answer to Schwab's Drug Store, that mythical magic land where Lana Turners are discovered."

Agents are finding video clips faster and more effective than the traditional glossy photo as a way to present actresses and actors to clients.

Phillyfaces.com gets 150,000 hits a month.

Not bad, really: about two-thirds of what I get.

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But I digress.

Breakdownservices.com, which says it has 120,000 actors in its system and starting putting up video last year, reports 550,000 page views daily at BreakdownExpress, the section of its website open to casting directors and their ilk.

Huh — I've got a ways to go to reach that level.

As always, the reaction to this new technology is mixed: some rave about it while others, including casting directors who are strictly old school, are still oblivious, unaware that such a thing even exists.

That's OK — I'm sure there are still one or two now–elderly Japanese soldiers in the jungles of New Guinea hiding out in caves and waiting patiently for the emperor to tell them they've won.

Joe Chielli, a head–shot photographer who created phillyfaces.com, told Miller that he believes one day everyone from doctors to hairdressers will introduce themselves via a talking headshot.

He pointed out that a dentist just put one up on his site.

But there was no mention of an anesthesiologist.

I wonder what it would take to make the little picture of me at the top of bookofjoe talk when you clicked on it.

Phillip?

But I digress.

Here's the Times article.

    Hey, Look Them Over: The Digital Head Shot Is Here

    Click on one of the photographs on Phillyfaces.com and the snapshot moves to center screen accompanied by personal statistics like height, eye color, dress size.

    Click again and the headshot starts talking, well, auditioning really.

    "Hi, I'm Renée Weisband - I'm an actress, singer, dancer," one of the site's video clips recites.

    Then, breaking into an exaggerated British accent, Ms. Weisband starts performing what would seem - with a lot of imagination - to be a scene from "Peter Pan": "Wendy, look! My shadow, my very own shadow."

    Ms. Weisband and the thousands of other aspiring actors who have signed up with online talent directories are hoping to find the place where stars are born - the digital age's answer to Schwab's Drug Store, that mythical magic land where Lana Turners are discovered.

    For decades, standard operating procedure for actors trying to break into the business has been to send around a black-and-white head shot with a résumé stapled on the back to every casting agent, director, producer, receptionist, even hairdresser, they could think of.

    Most of the time, they never get a call.

    But now, thanks to the Internet and some enterprising entrepreneurs, actors can hope to get a casting agent's attention with a virtual audition.

    "I think the talking head shot is on its way," said Joe Chielli, a head-shot photographer who created Phillyfaces.

    Mr. Chielli, who charges $150 to shoot a 30-second video clip and $45 to upload it to the site, said his goal was to bring more film work to Philadelphia by creating an easily accessible casting database for directors filming in the area.

    The video clips range from the banal (the earnest recitation of hobbies) to the bizarre (the silent woman in lace running through a thicket with a seductive look).

    A more polished version is on Breakdownservices.com, a Los Angeles-based company that is a hub for casting information internationally.

    For $150, actors post what is known as an acting slate (60 seconds of talking about themselves) and for an additional $50, they can upload a performance video (60 seconds of playing Ophelia or a sufferer in a hemorrhoid commercial).

    "We have 120,000 actors in our system," said Gary Marsh, the president of Breakdown Services.

    "We've only been allowing the video to go in since May 2004. Starting it up was slow; we now get in about 10 to 20 videos a day."

    While some casting agents are unaware of the existence of talking headshots, Craig Colvin, a Los Angeles commercial casting director who casts primarily from electronic submissions, is a fan of the new technology.

    "I actually do use it when I don't know somebody and I need to figure out their personality," he said.

    "I don't have time to do generals and see people, so it's the only way you can see people."

    Others are more skeptical.

    Erica Palgon, the associate casting director at Susan Shopmaker Casting, sees hundreds of actors in New York and Los Angeles.

    "I've never even heard of the talking head shot thing," she said.

    "It's hard enough to go through the submissions and then do that as well."

    Merry Alderman, a casting assistant at Francine Maisler Casting in Los Angeles, said Breakdown Services "is good for finding actors' contact information, but it's not our primary source of finding people."

    "We really only see people who have agents," she added.

    Agents are finding video clips faster and more effective than the traditional glossy photo as a way to present clients.

    Andrea Gabriel, a Los Angeles actress, booked an appearance on "Lost" when her agent sent a the producer a link to her posting on Breakdown Services.

    Video clip or no, Ms. Alderman said most casting directors want to see an actor in person.

    "I'm sure it would be a good resource," she said, "but we'd be just as happy looking at head shots."

    Additionally, she pointed out that no matter how good the quality of the MPEG-4 or the streaming video when its uploaded, if the casting directors watch on a low bandwidth, a pixilated picture looks more like a perp walk than "Hamlet."

    The Phillyfaces site claims it gets 150,000 hits per month, but Mr. Chielli does not track the individual results of its clients.

    Breakdown Services doesn't track clients either, though Mr. Marsh said he estimated that Breakdown Express, the section of the site open to people in hiring positions, gets 550,000 page views per day.

    But there are personal testimonies.

    Gene Terinoni, who said he has been in the business for 30 years, said he has gotten several jobs from Phillyfaces. In his talking head shot, he says: "If you're looking for that Robert De Niro type, that Danny Aiello type, maybe that Al Pacino type, fuggedabout it. You've just found the Gene Terinoni type."

    The Internet does raise some other concerns, though. "You see hundreds and hundreds of pictures of men and women and children of all ages, and much too much contact information for them, making it possible for serial killers and pedophiles to track them down," said Todd Thaler, a Manhattan-based casting director.

    Mr. Chielli, who says he does not list personal contact information for underage actors, and leaves it up to individuals to determine how they wish to be contacted, agreed there were risks.

    "Some of the women have gotten calls from people wanting to do porn movies," he said.

    "That's the Internet, that's life in America."

    Still, Mr. Chielli has big plans.

    He foresees a day when everyone from doctors to hairdressers can introduce themselves electronically.

    "I did it with the hope of using it on a more commercial level," he said.

    "We finally have a dentist that did a clip."

OK, all this is great but now let's turn to making you some money.

Guess what?

talkingheadshots.org is available at this very instant for $35.

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Amazing what you can learn when you read to the end, eh?

But guess what?

The domain name won't be there for the taking tomorrow at this time.

I didn't buy it because I have better things to do than making money.

But maybe you've got a spare moment and a few dollars in the bottom of your drawer.

Get on with it — because if you don't I guarantee someone else will.

And you can take that to the bank.

Although it won't do you a whole lot of good once you get there.

October 23, 2005 at 05:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Kill–A–Watt™ — Fun with electricity

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Not since Ben Franklin flew his kite has there been anything like it.

From the website:

    • Identify the real energy abusers in your house

    Take it with you when shopping for appliances to test for energy efficiency

    Test all the outlets in your new home before escrow closes

    See how much it costs you to keep your computer running all day

    The cost of electricity can really hit you where it hurts.

    Now with Kill–A–Watt™ you can reduce your energy costs by identifying the real energy abusers.

    Simply plug your appliance into Kill–A–Watt™ and assess how efficient it really is.

    The jumbo LCD display measures consumption by the kilowatt-hour, just like your local utility company, so you can quickly calculate costs.

    It's perfect for seeing how much juice that freezer in the garage is sucking up, or to see how much it costs to keep your computer on throughout the day.

    But measuring appliance consumption is just the tip of the iceberg.

    By plugging this in, you can also test if an outlet is working, or evaluate the quality of the electrical power provided by your utility company.

    It does this by monitoring voltage (Volt) and line frequency (Hz).

    It's perfect for detecting voltage drops around the house, to predict brownout conditions or to make sure a new home's outlets are in working condition before escrow closes.

    Imagine being able to forecast your electric bill before you get it.

    With the Kill–A–Watt™, you can calculate electrical expenses by the hour, day, week, month, even year.

    With an accuracy within 0.2%, you can safely know what to expect your expenses to be.

I love the idea of going through the outlets, one by one, of a house you're interested in buying to check that they're all working properly.

Bet your realtor's never seen that before.

But I digress.

I've always, ever since I moved into my home, had a secret, until now never–before–revealed desire to "evaluate the quality of the electrical power provided" by my utility company.

Until now I'd thought it was pretty good, what with the occasional jolt when I try to put in a lightswitch and all.

Shows how little I know.

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$39.99 here (Appliances not included).

[via Stephen Bove]

October 23, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

I'm done with today's papers — and a four mile walk to boot

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So what, you say?

But consider the following details:

1) The papers in question are the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Charlottesville Daily Progress.

2) Every word of each paper has been read.

3) Each paper's crumpled, torn pages now rest in peace in the mass of newsprint behind and surrounding my treadmill (the current wave height is about two feet – but rising daily).

4) The reading was done between 9:30 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. this morning — while walking four miles on my treadmill.

I cannot emphasize how much better I feel now than in the days B.T. (before treadmill).

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I used to lie on my reading couch with my legs up on some soft cushions, reading the Sunday papers.

Invariably I'd get bored and have to get up and do something else (but different from the moment before) before returning to my spot (below).

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I'd sometimes get sleepy and doze off.

A pleasant start to the day but not nearly as great as what's going down here now.

Full disclosure:

1) To start I set the treadmill at 0.7 mph as advised by my guru, Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic.

2) After 5 minutes I bump it up to 1.0 mph and keep it there for 60 minutes.

3) The next 30 minutes it's at 2.0 mph.

4) Then it's time to get serious: up to 3.0 mph for the next 40 minutes.

Do the math: 1 + 1 + 2 = 4 miles covered in 2:15.

Now, you should know that I love reading in cars and have never had a problem with feeling queasy doing so, as some people do.

So if that's a problem, reading while walking on a treadmill may not work for you.

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I must say that if you choose to try this, a solid, heavy treadmill makes it much more pleasant as your reading material will remain absolutely still as you stride along.

October 23, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Securitree Transmitter

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Above, the cover girl–equivalent for the new show "SAFE: Design Takes On Risk," just opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

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It's the Securitree Transmitter, designed by Raúl Cárdenas Osuna for Torolab, a Mexican consortium of artists, designers, architects and musicians based in Tijuana, Mexico.

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Made of steel, the prototype measures 57" x 24" x 87".

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So how come I don't feel any safer?

October 23, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

In Praise of Dreams — by Wislawa Szymborska

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In my dreams
I paint like Vermeer van Delft.

I speak fluent Greek
and not just with the living.

I drive a car
that does what I want it to.

I am gifted
and write mighty epics.

I hear voices
as clearly as any venerable saint.

My brilliance as a pianist
would stun you.

I fly the way we ought to,
i.e., on my own.

Falling from the roof,
I tumble gently to the grass.

I've got no problem
breathing under water.

I've can't complain:
I've been able to locate Atlantis.

It's gratifying that I can always
wake up before dying.

As soon as war breaks out,
I roll over on my other side.

I'm a child of my age,
but I don't have to be.

A few years ago
I saw two suns.

And the night before last a penguin,
clear as day.
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October 23, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Levenger Sprezzatura Desk Chair

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I was paging through the Levenger catalog just now and came across a chair whose look I liked (above) called the Sprezzatura (Italian for "studied carelessness").

It's intended for small home offices where space is really tight.

But what struck me is that the rather stylish seating surface isn't plastic but, rather, embossed leather that looks woven, a la Bottega Veneta.

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Solid maple bentwood frame, 360° swivel, side pneumatic pump to raise or lower it — seemed like something I don't really need but might like to have someday.

So I tore the page out of the catalog and threw it in the "Might Get Someday" pile, to be filed later in a bulging folder with the same words on the tab.

Since I was going to feature a couple other things I'd found in the catalog anyhow, I had a look at the chair on the website.

In the paper catalog it's lasted as being available in red, tan or black but on the website there are four colors.

Huh.

I clicked on ivory and up came a picture of the chair (below)

Aaaaa

A notice in bold red letters up top said this color was on sale for $99.95.

No wonder it's not in the new paper catalog: it just didn't sell very well in the past.

Tell you what: I thought the chair was quite reasonably priced at $228 as listed but at the sale price it's too good to pass up.

I ordered one.

Maybe you can too, but I'll bet once this post goes up that may not be the case for long.

Don't dawdle.

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Ivory is $99.95 and red, tan or black versions cost $228 here.

October 23, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

podcasting comes to China

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Thomas Friedman's New York Times Op–Ed column Friday was about Chinese podcasts.

FunFacts:

• The most popular podcast in China currently is two 20–year–old Chinese women who lip–sync a popular Cantonese rock song. It took them a little over an hour to create and edit and has been viewed over 75,000 times in three months.

• China's most popular podcasting site is www.toodou.com, which has over 13,000 channels, 5,000 of which are updated regularly. Oh, I forgot — you're not Chinese. OK, then: in English.

• The founder of toudou, Gary Wang, first heard of podcasting 13 months ago. Today toodou has 100,000 registered users, 8 employees, 10 volunteers, and U.S. venture–capital backing.

What gets me excited is that I now consistently have a Chinese readership, 24/7 — always <1% of my worldwide traffic, but at least on the radar.

1100_sunday

And with China just beginning to take its place in the internet world, great things are gonna be happening in that space.

I've decided that my first ensemble player on joeTV must speak Chinese fluently.

This is a casting call.

You know how to reach me.

But I digress.

Here's Friedman's piece.

    Chinese Finding Their Voice

    And you thought the Cultural Revolution was over.

    Sorry, it's just beginning, only China's new Cultural Revolution will be driven this time from the bottom up - by podcasters with Apple's little white iPods or competing players, not from the top down by Maoists with Little Red Books.

    Yes, I know, I am a little ahead of myself.

    Very few Chinese have ever even seen an iPod, so the podcasting that does exist here is largely done through PC's. (Podcasting is the technology that enables individuals to produce their own poetry and songs, videos and photos, and upload them onto a podcasting Web site, then offer this content to anyone who wants to sample it or subscribe to it.)

    Once the prices come down for iPods, both for those that play audio and for Apple's newest version, which also plays video, there will be a huge market here for Chinese-language podcasting.

    I got a little glimpse of the future visiting a small apartment in suburban Shanghai, home to China's leading podcasting Web site, www.toodou.com.

    "We already have 13,000 channels on our site and about 5,000 of them are updated regularly," said Gary Wang, 32, the Fuzhou-born and U.S.- and French-educated Chinese engineer who founded Toodou.

    Any Chinese can create his or her own channel of video or audio content on Toodou (which means "potato"), and other individuals sign up to get that channel's new uploads.

    Eventually Toodou will charge a monthly subscription fee.

    "I want to create hundreds of thousands of different channels, maintained by just average people, where other people can access them and download the material," Mr. Wang added.

    And he will, because of how easy it is to upload and podcast homemade video and audio content.

    There are almost no barriers to entry. (His site does self-censor porn and anything that's obviously against Chinese law - but anything else goes.)

    Toodou's most popular podcast today shows two 20-year-old Chinese women who lip-sync a popular Cantonese rock tune.

    "They got bored," Mr. Wang explained, so they bought their own Webcam, which you can find here for as little as $6, used Microsoft Movie Maker, which is free with Windows XP, made their own little three-minute MTV-like podcast and uploaded it onto Toodou.com.

    It's been viewed 75,000 times in three months.

    "It took them one hour to make and 15 minutes to edit," Mr. Wang said.

    The women, called the Beans, now have their own Internet fan club.

    Another favorite is a podcast by two Chinese architecture students in Houston Rockets jerseys (the team of the Chinese N.B.A. star Yao Ming) who lip-sync a Backstreet Boys tune.

    A slide show on life in Shenzhen has been viewed 16,000 times, with lots of accompanying commentary from viewers.

    The second-most-popular podcast right now shows an underground rock band at a Shanghai bar.

    Toodou's goal, Mr. Wang said, "will be to connect [Chinese] people to their tastes and to their potential collaborators. We will have a huge content database, and we will share the revenue with content providers."

    For now, a lot of it is junk, but that will change.

    The podcasting tools are so easy to acquire that it will force competition, experimentation and better quality. Mr. Wang first heard of podcasting only 13 months ago.

    Today he has the most popular podcasting site in China, with 100,000 registered users, 8 employees, 40 volunteers and a U.S. venture-capital backer.

    News of his site was spread free by Chinese bloggers.

    His office costs $500 a month, and some of the employees sleep there.

    Almost all of the software that runs Toodou.com is from free open-source material on the Web: an Apache Web server; FreeBSD, a free Unix operating system; MySQL, a free database system; and PHP, free programming lingo. Mr. Wang wrote the basic algorithms that run Toodou.com himself.

    Unlike earlier techno-media revolutions, which began in the West and moved East, the podcasting revolution is going to explode everywhere at once, thanks to the Web and free technology tools.

    That's why the next phase of globalization is not going to be more Americanization, but more "glocalization" - more and more local content made global.

    "We have different songs and we want to express different things, but the desire is the same," Mr. Wang said.

    "We all want to be seen and heard and be able to create stuff we like and share it. ... People from all over the world will draw knowledge and inspiration from the same technology platform, but different cultures will flourish on it. It is the same soil, but different trees will grow."

October 23, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'Do you really want your wet towel touching your wet shower curtain?'

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You know, I'd never really given it any thought until I came across this mutant shower curtain rod (above) this morning.

From the website:

    Hang your wet bath towel over a rod that's not also hanging a mildewed shower curtain.

    Do you really want your wet towel touching your wet shower curtain?

    Thought not.

    That's why this duo shower-curtain rod is made of two rods: one for your shower curtain, the other for hanging wet towels!

    Mounts with tension over a standard 5' bathtub or use the screws included for a more permanent wall mounting.

I find it disturbing and frankly a bit insulting that the copywriter assumes that my shower curtain is mildewed.

As if.

Here is a good idea which died half–way to completion yet somehow made it to market in its current, half–baked incarnation.

Want to make some money?

So obvious once you think about it, really: use two bars but have the outer one connect to the first before it hits the wall.

That way it goes up the way regular shower rods do.

Want to make even more money?

Devise a clamp–on towel holder that fits any shower rod and installs without tools.

"We're in the money...."

The first pass version shown above is $49.99 here.

October 23, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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