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Roger Ebert

In 2010, I stood outside the American Pavilion at the Cannes Film Festival, holding the door open for a gentleman who exiting the building. Film critic Roger Ebert looked at me and said “I don’t remember your name. But, I do remember that you are an asshole.” I smiled and said that I had read that he had been ill, and hoped for his rapid and complete recovery.

Of course, there is a backstory. In 1987, I conducted a seminar at the Hawaiian Internatonal Film Festival in Honolulu. The topic was “What Producers Need to Know About Distrribution and the Marketplace.” It went very well. During the last half hour, Mr Ebert and his entourage came into the small theater, sat in the back and started having a party–a very loud and disruptive party.

I told him that we would soon be finished, and I would conduct the Q&A session outside so that he could begin his lecture on time. In return, I politely asked him to keep it down until we were finished. He would have no part of it. He said that business had no place at a film festival.

I contended that 70% of producers that had produced a film were never able to produce a second one, largely because they mishandled the business side on their first one. I was trying to make sure this did not happen. Mr Ebert was unmoved, and spoke to me like an idiot as he repeated that film festivals are no place for business.

Now, I was pissed. I told him that business is always secondary. Just like it was when you dumped public television for more money with Tribune Broadcasting, and then dumped Tribune for Disney.

“My personal finances are none of your business!” he roared. I responded that not every failed screenwriter has a career in film criticism to fall back on. He stormed out and, I found out later, went directly to the festival office and demanded that I have my credential taken from me. Otherwise, he would leave that night.

When chased down by the organizers, I made a deal with them. Other than the Governor’s party the next night, I would attend no official events. As for Mr Ebert, I never spoke with him again until that brief encounter at Cannes. He died in 2013. I’d be a liar if I said I miss him.

Brad and Cynthia’s Wedding

Normally, mixing drugs and alcohol is not a recommended practice. But, if you can’t make an exception for your best mate’s wedding, what kind of friend are you?

The trip from Murwillumbah to Brisbane last August (the middle of Austral Winter) was uneventful. Despite the good motorways, finding a good vein while riding in an SUV is a greater challenge than one might imagine. Laureen avoided bumps and pot holes as much as possible, which i really appreciated.  She is so considerate–even remembered to bring along my bleach kit.  I was feeling fine as we approached the train station at Varsity Lakes, just across the border of Queensland and New South Wales. She parked the SUV and we boarded the train heading north..

Should have been clear sailing from there to South Bank Station in Brisbane. However, with security cameras everywhere and Big Brother’s prohibition on public alcohol consumption, my aspirations of dissolution were put on hold for the time being. Fortunately, I was able to drink Bundaberg Rum from a flask, uncontested on the one kilometer walk between the train station and the River Cat ferry.

I must admit that I was not feeling my best on the ferry to Kangaroo Point, as Neptune himself takes issue with the inebriates who ply His waters. Well, I have news for him: He is no saint himself!

As we disembarked at the Holman Street ferry stop, Laureen guided me to the Anglican Church, where I took a nap around the corner from the main entrance. Some time later, I awakened to an odorous and unpleasant moisture emanating from my torso and legs. I asked Laureen if she was feeling better. But, with her characteristic Bart Simpson laugh (the one with the slight cackle at the end) she informed me that I had, in fact, vomited upon myself. Fortunately, I had had the foresight to wear a Hawaiian shirt (one of those classy ones with the coconut shell buttons) that camouflaged my chunder. My khaki trousers were less forgiving. I felt betrayed by my own pants.

By this time, Laureen, satisfied that I would be okay, went to confer her greetings to the assembled crowd. I sought a faucet to mitigate my arguably soiled condition. But, was surprised to learn that when I turned on the faucet, sprinklers just around the corner soaked the assembled the wedding party. What were the odds on that!

Nevertheless, I went around the corner, removed my potentially offending garb and conscientiously cleansed my clothing in the soothing sprinklers . I then dressed and took a seat next to Laureen in the cold stone church. She really loves weddings. In fact, she has been married seven times.

I slept through much of the ceremony, and don’t remember much about it, except for admonishing a five year old to “watch it with those flowers!” as she spread rose petals at the initial procession. I do remember awakening when the priest said “You may now kiss the bride”. I obediently staggered towards the altar, only to be stopped by that killjoy Greg Dunny. The padre should have been more specific and Greg should have minded his own business.

Laureen and I walked to the reception nearby (the longest half kilometer of my life!). There we discovered that my name was absent from the list. That was okay. While Laureen had a good feed, I sought the refuge of a sleeping space among kindred souls. With a view of Storey Bridge and a cool breeze to comfort my soul, I savored thoughts of the happy couple, enjoyed the view and looked forward to the warm and forgiving embrace of my beloved Laureen.

=====

Michael T. George
28 December 2018

 

The Chinaman’s Chance

When the cashier at the hotel coffee shop in Rock Springs, Wyoming appeared at the cash register, the old Chinese man had already removed from his billfold a Hong Kong tendollar note and a US twenty dollar bill. His wearing gloves had made the process more
difficult. The cashier was fascinated by the plastic Hong Kong note. The Chinese offered it to her as a gift. “It’s worth barely a single US dollar”, he said. “Please accept it as my gift to you.”, handing it to her with both hands.

She gave him his change. He departed into the sub-freezing cold, below clear skies.
Snow drifts fringed the parking lot. She proudly showed the plastic note to her co-
workers, all bemused by the novelty of the gift.

Meanwhile, settled into his rental car, the old Chinese changed his lighter gloves for a
heavier pair. The frosty interior of the windshield was still new to him–never before
encountered by him back home. He tried wiping the windshield with his forearm and hand before allowing the defroster to finish the job.

A drive to the tourism office proved fruitless. His request for directions to the cemetery in
which the Chinese were buried was met with a cold stare. Tourists were welcome. But,
troublemakers were not. No massacre had taken place in the 1870s. The rumor that
Chinese immigrants–newly unemployed after completion of the Transcontinental
Railroad—had competed for mining jobs with locals had no basis in fact. No, the Chinese
had moved either to San Francisco or elsewhere, he was told.

On his own, he found the town cemetery. But, it offered no clues. Graves dating to the
1840s were to be found. (Many were of those passing through on the Oregon Trail.) But,
none contained Chinese.

The old Chinese was chagrined as he left town, thinking ahead to his return to his
hometown of Sah-In in Guangdong province, where he was a distinguished, though
generally regarded as an rascible chemist. Meanwhile, he passed the hotel on his way to
the I-80.

Slowing at an intersection, he could see an ambulance in the parking lot, its two EMTs
were loading a young lady onto a stretcher: the hostess he had encountered earlier. A
second ambulance almost ran him off the road and into a snowdrift as it squeezed past
him. A third ambulance could be heard in the distance, its siren growing louder by the
second. He was relieved that he had avoided a collision and was happy that he would be
in Salt Lake City in time for his flights to San Francisco and Shenzhen, followed by the long bus ride home.

=====

Michael T. George
4 May 2017

The Ecstasy of Instant Coffee

In my youth, I was both precocious and an over-achiever. So, it was no surprise when I was sent to a reform school for teenaged boys when I was only 11 years old. It was a progressive facility, teaching skills that would be useful when we matriculated to adult prisons.

In one shop class we were being taught to make shivs from toothbrush handles. Mine was roundly praised for being exquisitely sharp while being concealable in body orifices without causing internal damage. It was truly the Mona Lisa of illicit weaponry.

In the informal contest, mine was assumed by all to be the finest.

However, the teacher’s punk was given the highest marks. I was inconsolable. My mates sought to make things right by providing me with a life-changing consolation prize–a sachet of Folgers Instant Crystals coffee.

I will never forget that both the aroma and the taste exceeded any sensory experience I ever had. The subtle froth alone was worth a pack of cigarettes. The taste alone would turn the most devout Mormon into a Jack.

My anticipated career path has not gone as expected, as I have remained outside the prison population. I found myself as a full time advocate of instant coffee. True, I have shared my joy, and gained many new converts along the way. But, not at a certain cost.

Maureen D had spent over A$700 on an espresso machine a week prior to her conversion to instant coffee. At first, she tried to sell the chrome plated disaster. But, the constant reminder of her mistake induced her to throw the machine away. Meanwhile, M Durney discovered that her new found distaste for the pretensions of French Press coffee were hard to give up. What would she do with the drawer full of berets?

The satisfaction of conversion to new and better things has its challenges. However, the rewards far exceed the costs. One must always be willing to go that extra sip on instant coffee’s journey of ecstasy.

=====

Michael T George

Fiction. Brad and Cynthia’s Wedding

Normally, mixing drugs and alcohol is not a recommended practice. But, if you can’t make an exception for your best mate’s wedding, what kind of friend are you?

The trip from Murwillumbah to Brisbane last August (the middle of Austral Winter) was uneventful. Despite the good motorways, finding a good vein while riding in an SUV is a greater challenge than one might imagine. Nonetheless, I was feeling fine as Laureen and I approached the train station at Varsity Lakes, just across the border of Queensland and New South Wales, where we parked the SUV and boarded the train north..

Should have been clear sailing from there to South Bank Station in Brisbane. However, with security cameras everywhere and Big Brother’s prohibition on alcohol consumption, my aspirations of dissolution were put on hold for the moment. Fortunately, I was able to drink Bundaberg Rum from a flask uncontested on the one kilometer walk between the train station and the River Cat ferry.

I must admit that I was not feeling my best on the ferry to Kangaroo Point, as Neptune himself takes issue with the inebriates who ply the waters. Well, I have news for him: He is no saint himself!

As we disembarked at the Holman Street ferry stop, Laureen guided me to the Anglican Church, where I took a nap on the side of the church opposite the main entrance. Some time later, I awakened to a odorous and unpleasant moisture emanating from my torso and legs. I asked Laureen if she was feeling better. But, with her characteristic Bart Simpson laugh (the one with the slight cackle at the end) she informed me that I had, in fact, vomited upon myself. Fortunately, I had had the foresight to wear a Hawaiian shirt (one of those classy ones with the coconut shell buttons) that camouflaged my chunder. My khaki trousers were less forgiving. I felt betrayed by my own pants.

By this time, Laureen, satisfied that I would be okay, went to confer her greetings to the assembled crowd. I sought a faucet to mitigate my arguably soiled condition. But, was surprised to learn that the device I engaged coincidently occurred with sprinklers on the other side of the church being activated, soaking the assembled the wedding party. How about that!.

Nevertheless, I went to the other side of the church, removed my potentially offending garb and conscientiously cleansed my clothing in the soothing sprinklers . I then dressed and took a seat next to Laureen in the cold stone church. She really loves weddings. In fact, she has been married seven times.

I slept through much of the ceremony, and don’t remember much about it, except for admonishing a five year old to “watch it with those flowers!” as she spread rose petals at the initial procession. I do remember awakening when the priest said “You may now kiss the bride”. I obediently staggered towards the altar, only to be stopped by that killjoy Greg Dunny. The padre should have been more specific and Greg should have minded his own business.

Laureen and I walked to the reception nearby (the longest half kilometer of my life!). There we discovered that my name was absent from the list. That was okay. While Laureen had a good feed, I sought the refuge of a sleeping space among kindred souls of a similar disposition. With a a view of Storey Bridge and a cool breeze to comfort my soul, I savored thoughts of the happy couple, enjoyed the view and looked forward to the warm and forgiving embrace of my beloved Laureen.

Fiction

BRAD AND CYNTHIA’S WEDDING
Normally, mixing drugs and alcohol is not a recommended practice. But, if you can’t make an exception for your best mate’s wedding, what kind of friend are you?
Continue reading…

THE ECSTASY OF INSTANT COFFEE
In my youth, I was both precocious and an over-achiever. So, it was no surprise when I was sent to a reform school for teenaged boys when I was only 11 years old. It was a progressive facility, teaching skills that would be useful when we progressed to adult prisons.
Continue reading…

THE CHINAMAN’S CHANCE
When the cashier at the hotel coffee shop in Rock Springs, Wyoming appeared at the cash register, the old Chinese man had already removed from his billfold a Hong Kong ten dollar note and a US twenty dollar bill. His wearing gloves had made the process more
difficult. The cashier was fascinated by the plastic Hong Kong note. The Chinese offered
it to her as a gift. “It’s worth barely a single US dollar”, he said. “Please accept it as my
gift to you.”, handing it to her with both hands.
Continue reading…

Migration Policy: USA

Immigration reform is an inflammatory issue for many people. Here is my take on it.

In 1931, immigration policies were introduced during the Hoover administration that severely restricted immigration. Quotas were placed on immigrants from all countries, with a special accommodation for political refugees. Preference was given to prospective immigrants with trades that were considered to be in short supply, such as engineers and medical doctors This system more or less stayed the same until Ronald Reagan became president in 1981.

The system worked. By giving preference to prospective immigrants with marketable skills fetching high wages, the competition for both lower-end jobs and housing was minimal. The disparity of income was very low by historical standards in the USA. Periodic shortages of migrant farm workers during and after WWII were met with contract workers from Mexico, as a part of the Bracero program.

In 1982, the rules for immigration changed under Ronald Reagan, but the changes were already over a decade inn their formation.

In the early 1960s, California was dominated by the Democratic Party as it is now. Attempts to sell a conservative agenda failed. Richard Nixon failed to win the election for governor in 1962, just two years after losing the presidential election to JFK. Ronald Reagan had been the past president of the Screen Actors Guild. But, had no conventional political experience and, had few political convictions other than being a staunch anti-communist.

Aside from being an actor in such classic films “Bedtime for Bonzo”, he was a pitch man for General Electric and host of the popular tv anthology series “Death Valley Days”. He was well liked by the public.

Two powerful, conservative businessmen (Justin Dart and Eli Broad) thought he would be the perfect man to sell the conservative agenda, and supplied him with the financial resources and grooming to become the next governor of California in 1966. He won the election against incumbent Edmund G Brown.

While Mr Dart and Mr. Broad were Republican loyalists, they shared a common objective: the liberalization of immigration policies. Mr. Dart wanted an influx of poor immigrants from Latin America to put downward pressure on the wages he paid for his low-skilled light manufacturing subsidiaries. Mr. Broad–who owned the largest property management company in California–wanted higher rents by having greater competition for his low-end rental properties. Since immigration policy is conducted at the federal level–rather than state level–it would seem that putting their resources supporting Mr Reagan were misplaced. But, they were willing to play the long game–anticipating that Mr Reagan would run for president in the future.

When Mr Reagan left the governorship after two terms in January 1974, he was anticipating a run for the GOP nomination in 1976. What he did not anticipate was that only seven months after Mr Reagan left office, Mr Nixon resigned, and Mr Reagan would be facing an incumbent president (Gerald Ford) in a spirited primary campaign that was won by Mr Ford. Jimmy Carter won the general election. Mr Reagan had four more years to hone his message and further develop his campaign skills.

The first two years of his presidency introduced far-reaching policy changes. Reagan had struck a deal with his closest allies. As long as the powers that be supported his desires for immigration reform and higher spending on defense, Mr Reagan would support the party line on lower taxes for the wealthy and a reduction in government spending–the centerpiece of the Reagan campaign.

Secretary of the Treasury David Stockman wrote in his book that Mr Reagan would sit at meetings with his eyes closed, listening to the proceedings as he planned his pitch to the American public–a skill at which “the Great Communicator” was a master. He was apitch man, not a policy wonk.

A favorite of example mine was his claiming that he was recently in line at a grocery store where he was standing in line behind a woman who paid for liquor with food stamps! (Such a fiction created an impactful image that superceded the illogic of it being decades since he had been in line at a grocery store.)

His strategy for selling the public on immigration reform was equally brilliant. His objective in allowing large influxes of poor immigrants was to create competition for low-end jobs and housing. But, he sold it on humanitarian grounds. “Family reunification” was his preferred approach. It was a brilliant ploy–and the immigration policy has remained largely unchanged since then.

Migration Policy: Australia

On a map, Australia looks very isolated. But, the world’s fourth most populated country (Indonesia) is but a short distance to the north. They have had their own refugee crisis for years–and the mechanics are very similar to what is faced by the Greeks and Italians.

People smugglers put migrants on flimsy boats and take them to international waters, and abandon them–assuming that Australian ships will bring them ashore.

Handling the matter has been a controversy for Australia since the year 2010 when Kevin Rudd was prime minister. Australia made arrangements with both Indonesia and the tiny island nation of Nauru to build detention centers. It was made absolutely clear that boat people would be refused entry into Australia. (Most of the boat people have made their way from Iran and Afghanistan to Indonesia to attempt asylum in Australia.)

Today, the boats have stopped. No one is dying at sea trying to get to Australia.  Word has spread that life on Manus and Nauru is worse than it is where they are. Admittedly, the conditions are draconian in both places. Suicides, riots and psychological stress–especially among children–have occurred at high levels.

The majority of the migrants have been resettled in the USA in exchange for Australia taking in migrants that had illegally entered the USA. (No Somalis or Iranians have been allowed in the USA.) Many in Australia were shocked that Australia turned down New Zealand’s offer to take some of the migrants. But, I agree with the refusal. Relocating the migrants to other countries would encourage the smugglers and lead to more deaths.

Migration Policy: Europe

Italy is getting a lot of flack of late. A right wing, anti-immigrant alliance has taken power—and Europe is responding with shock, more shock and righteous indignation!

Starting In 2015, the number of boat people seeking asylum in Europe rose dramatically, largely due to the war in Syria, political upheaval in Libya and declining living standards elsewhere in Africa.

Read more: Migration Policy: Europe

Classical Music Masterpieces by Composer

Michael T George shares his favorite classical music masterpieces
Chronological Order

In Alphabetical Order

AlbinoniOboe Concerto #2
Bach, JS  / Brandenburg Concerto #3
BarberKnoxville: Summer of 1915
BaxTintagel
BerliozRoyal Hunt and Storm from “Les Troyens”
Biber Battalia
BizetDuet from “The Pearl Fishers”
Bloch Concerto Grosso #1
Boccherini 
Musica Notturna delle Strade in Madrid 
BorodinString Quartet #2  
Brahms Piano Quartet #1 in G
BruchScottish Fantasy
Carpenter / Adventures in a Perambulator
ChopinGrand Polonaise, op 22
Danzi Wind Quintet op 56 #1
Debussy 
The Children’s Corner Suite
Delius Florida Suite
DowlandMusic for Lute
Dvorak Symphony #6
Elgar 
Cello Concerto in e
FranckSymphony in D minor 
Gershwin Piano Concerto in F
Gottschalk Symphony #1 “A Night in the Tropics”
Gounod / Funeral March for a Marionette
Grainger
Handel in the Strand
Grieg
Wedding Day at Troldhaugen
Grofe’Grand Canyon Suite
Handel Organ Concerto #12
HertelDouble Concerto for Trumpet and Oboe in E-flat
Infante Three Andalusian Dances
Khachaturian Adagio from “Spartacus”
Liszt / Hungarian Rhapsody #2
MahlerSymphony #1 “Titan”
Milhaud Le Boeuf Sur Le Toit (The Cow on the Roof)
Mozart / Serenade #13 “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”
Morricone Selections from “Once Upon a Time in the West”
Mussorgsky
Pictures at an Exhibition (Piano Version)
Nielsen
Symphony #4 “The Inextinguishable”
Offenbach Entry of the Kings from “La Belle Helene”
Peterson-Berger Song of Summer
Piazzola Libertango
Poulenc / Sextet for Piano and Winds
Praetorius
Dances from Terpsichore
Prokofiev Cantata “Alexander Nevsky”
RespighiGli Uccelli (The Birds)
Rimsky-Korsakov Russian Easter Overture
Rossini Overture to “William Tell”
Rota Selections from “Amarcord”
Rouget De Lisle
Le Marseillaise
Saint-Saens Piano Concerto #5 “The Egyptian”
Schubert Quartettsatz
Schumann Fantasie in C, op 17
Shostakovich
Cello Sonata, op 40
Sibelius Finlandia
SousaThe Stars and Stripes Forever
Strauss II, Johan  Roses from the South
Strauss, Richard
Serenade for Winds, Op 7
Telemann Concerto in A for Oboe D’Amore
Tchaikovsky / Serenade for Strings
Van Beethoven / Symphony #6 “Pastoral”
Vaughn-Williams Variations on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
Verdi /Triumphal March from “Aida”
Villa-Lobos / Bachinalas Brasileiras #5 for Soprano & 13 Cellos
Vivaldi Bassoon Concerto in g
WaltonViola Concerto

The Mike on Media

Crowd Funding and the Creative Community
Development Capital for Feature Films
Does Beijing Really Want Western Screen Content?
Fundamentals of Screen Content Distribution
Starting Your Own Content Distribution Company

 

 

 

The Mike on Politics and Social Issues

Immigration Policy: Europe  
Immigration Policy: Australia
Immigration Policy: USA

The Mike on Travel

The Mike on Cannes
The Mike on Hong Kong

Classical Music Masterpiece of the Day

Michael T George shares his favorite classical music masterpieces
Alphabetical Order by composer

In Chronological Order by Most Recent

14 August 2018
Entry of the Gladiators
Fucik, Jules
3:06

13 August 2018
The Four Seasons
Glazunov, Alexander
37:52

12 August 2018
Dances from Golanta
Kodaly, Zoltan
15:23

11 August 2018
Instrumental Music from “Orfeo
Monteverdi, Claudio
10:50

10 August 2018
The Unanswered Question
Ives, Charles
4:35

9 August 2018
Music for Lute
Dowland, John
1:16:16

8 August 2018
Musica Notturna delle Strade in Madrid
Boccherini, Luigi
26:17

7 August 2018
Viola Concerto
Walton, Williaim
26:51

6 August 2018
Selections from “Amarcord”
Rota, Nino
10:40

5 August 2018
Clarinet Concerto #1
Von Weber, Carl Maria
19:40

4 August 2018
Toccata in d minor
Buxtehude, Dietrich
7:18

3 August 2018
Double Concerto for Trumpet and Oboe in E-flat
Hertel, Johan
13:54

2 August 2018
Duet from “The Pearl Fisheers”
Bizet, George
4:40

1 August 2018
Grand Canyon Suite
Grofe’, Ferde
33:08

31 July 2018
Selections from “Once Upon a Time in the West”
Morricone, Ennio
26:55

30 July 2018
Triumphal March from “Aida”
Verdi, Giuseppe
7:46

29 July 2018
Pictures at an Exhibition (Piano Version)
Mussorgsky, Modest
33:12

28 July 2018
Adagio from “Spartacus”
Khachaturian, Aram
9:01

27 July 2018
Overture to “William Tell”
Rossini, Gioacchino
12:06

26 July 2018
The Children’s Corner Suite
Debussy, Claude
16:41

25 July 2018
Symphony #1 “Titan”
Mahler, Gustav
1:02.13

24 July 2018
Wind Quintet op 56 #1
Danzi, Franz
14:23

23 July 2018
Cello Concerto in e
Elgar, Edward
32:38

22 July 2018
Oboe Concerto #2
Albinoni, Tomaso
10:31

21 July 2018
Knoxville: Summer of 1915
Barber, Samuel
15:08

20 July 2018
Nielsen, Carl
Symphony #4 “The Inextinguishable”
34:22

19 July 2018
Sextet for Piano and Winds
Poulenc, Francois
8:03

18 July 2018
Prelude to Act 1 “Der Meistersinger”
Wagner, Richard
9:15

17 July 2018
Cantata “Alexander Nevsky”
Prokofiev, Sergei
38:41

16 July 2018
Tintagel
Bax, Arnold
14:41

15 July 2018
Three Andalusian Dances
Infante, Miguel Infante
4:10

14 July 2018
Le Marseillaise
Rouget de Lisle, Claude-Joseph
14:15

13 July 2018
Fantasie in C, op 17
Schumann, Robert
32:45

12 July 2018
String Quartet #2
Borodin, Alexander
29:28

11 July 2018
Symphony in D minor
Franck, Cesar
40:59

10 July 2018
Dances from Terpsichore
Praetoriius, Michael
14:14

9 July 2018
Le Boeuf Sur Le Toit (“The Cow on the Roof”)
Milhaud, Darius
18:58

8 July 2018
Funeral March for a Marionette
Gounod, Charles
4:22

7 July 2018
Scottish Fantasy
Bruch, Max
31:12

6 July 2018
Bachinalas Brasileiras #5 for Soprano & 13 Cellos
Viilla-Lobos, Heitor
12:50

5 July 2018
Libertango
Piazzola, Astor
4:54

4 July 2018
The Stars and Stripes Forever
Sousa, John Phillip
4:43

3 July 2018
Serenade for Strings
Tchaikovsky, Pyotr
33:04

2 July 2018
Symphony #6 “Pastoral”
Van Beethoven, Ludwig
42:31

1 July 2018
Hungarian Rhapsody #2
Liszt, Franz
10:32

30 June 2018
Finlandia
Sibelius, Jean
9:36

29 June 2018
Cello Sonata, op 40
Shostakovich, Dmitri
25:28

28 June 2018
Grand Polonaise, op 22
Chopin, Frederic
14:11

27 June 2018
Wedding Day at Troldhaugen
Grieg, Edward
5:34

26 June 2018
Battalia
Biber, Heinrich
12:54

25 June 2018
Bassoon Concerto in g minor
Vivaldi, Antonio
11:38

24 June 2018
Symphony #6
Dvorak, Antonin
41:38

23 June 2018
Entry of the Kings from “La Belle Helene”
Offenbach, Jacques
4:35

22 June 2018
Royal Hunt and Storm from “Les Troyens”
Berlioz, Hector
10:00

21 June 2018
Symphony #31 “Hornsignal”
Haydn, Franz Joseph
34:02

20 June 2018
Light Cavalry Overture
Von Suppe’, Franz
6:45

19 June 2018
Concerto in A for Oboe D’Amore
Telemann, Georg Philipp
13:56

18 June 2018
Serenade #13 “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus
18.51

17 June 2018
Serenade for Winds, Op 7
Strauss, Richard
10:04

16 June 2018
Roses from the South
Strauss II, Johann
8:47

14 June 2018
Handel in the Strand
Grainger, Percy
4:11

13 June 2018
Variations on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
Vaughn-Williams, Ralph
16:16

12 June 2018
Quartettsatz
Schubert, Franz
9:23

11 June 2018
Piano Concerto in F
Gershwin, George
35:26

10 June 2018
Adventures in a Perambulator
Carpenter, John Alden
27:28

9 June 2018
Florida Suite
Delius, Frederic
37:56

8 June 2018
Russian Easter Overture
Rimsky-Korsakov, Nicholai
14:50

7 June 2018
Concerto Grosso #1
Bloch, Ernest
24:09

6 June 2018
Organ Concerto #12
Handel, George Friedrich
9:10

5 June 2018
Piano Concerto #5 “The Egyptian”
Saint-Saens, Camille
28:13

4 June 2018
Symphony #1 “A Night in the Tropics
Gottschalk, Louis Moreau
18:58

3 June 2018
Song of Summer
Peterson-Berger,  Wilhelm
2:38

2 June 2018
Piano Quartet #1 in G
Brahms, Johannes
41:21

1 June 2018
Brandenburg Concerto #3
Bach, Johann Sebastian
10:35

 

The Mike on Hong Kong

Michael T George
Updated 6 June 2018

ORIENTATION

Hong Kong has a population of just over 7 million people in an area a little smaller than that of London, Most visitors stay either near the north shore or Hong Kong Island or the southern part of Kowloon, which is just across Victoria Harbour to the north.

95% of the population is ethnic Chinese. The remainder are mostly Westerners, South Asians and over 250,000 live-in domestic helpers, mostly from the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Hong Kong has a sub-tropical climate with two distinct seasons. Winter (November to March) temperatures can dip below 10°c (52°F). Summer comes in May and continues into late August, with temperatures often above 30°c (92°F) with rain, high humidity and even the occasional typhoon.

Octopus Card.  For anyone that will be in Hong Kong for more than a few days, an Octopus Card is an absolute must.  Can be used on public transportation and for most purchases less than HK$200 (US$26).  It can be obtained at the airport and all MTR stations.  The card costs HK$150 (US$19.35) and comes with HK$100 in credit.  All but HK$50 can be refunded upon departure.

Adding credit can be done at all 7-Eleven stores, MTR stations and most locations that accept the card.  Recharging takes seconds.  You hand the store clerk the cash, touch the card against the reader and after you hear the beep you are on your way. You never have to take the card out of your wallet or purse, just touch same against the reader and you are good to go.

Language.  Most of the Chinese that have regular contact with Westerners have some degree of fluency in English.  Hotel clerks in better hotels speak fluently.  At lesser hotels, shops and restaurants the degree of fluency declines.  But, one is rarely in a situation where communicating a need in English is a genuine difficulty, as someone who speaks good English is likely to observe your communication challenge and act on your behalf.

The local language is Cantonese, which is spoken by 110 million people in Hong Kong and the adjacent Chinese provinces of Guangzhou and Guangxi.  It is sufficiently different from Mandarin (called Putonghua by native Chinese) that they have to be separately learned.

However, written Chinese is a completely different matter.  The written language is entirely pictographic, with no phonetic equivalent.  It has approximately 3,500 characters that must be individually learned.  So, all literate Chinese can communicate in writing, regardless of dialect.  (Think of universal sign language as the nearest equivalent.)

 

CHEK LAP KOK AIRPORT

Located on Lantau Island. 40 km (21 miles) from Central, Hong Kong, Chek Lap Kok International Airport offers the necessary amenities to make the transit to and from the airport almost a pleasure. You will find the helpful and approachable people at the information counter and on foot throughout the arrivals area.  Free, high-speed wi-fi is available throughout the airport.

ATM Machines are located in several locations at the terminal.  Don’t trust ATMs that are not directly affiliated with a bank, as the fees may be exorbitant. Bank affiliated ATM machines at the airport arrivals are include: China Construction Bank, HSBC and Standard Chartered. There is also a Travelex money changer, should you want to get your HK dollars at the airport.

Mobile Phones. You can purchase a SIM card for your mobile at the Airport.  If you are coming from the USA or Canada, make sure your mobile phone has been “unlocked” ten days before you come to Hong Kong.

For pre-paid SIM cards you might consider the Discover Hong Kong Tourist Sim Card.  They offer two plans: five day (HK$88 / US$11.25 / 1.5 gb) and eight day (HK$118 / US$15 / 5gb).  Is operated by 1000.  The office is on the 5th floor of the arrivals building.

Your mobile phone will work as well in Hong Kong as it does in Europe, and infinitely better than it will in the USA or Canada. Why? The low, building penetrating frequencies on which mobile phones operate in Europe and Asia were allocated to the US military long before mobile phones existed. American and Canadian mobile phones operate at the high frequency, low penetrating range of the electro-magnetic spectrum. Be pleasantly surprised to discover your phone will even work on the MTR.

 

GETTING TO AND FROM THE AIRPORT

Assuming that your hotel is on Hong Kong Island or in Kowloon, getting to your destination will be remarkably easy. You have a choice of the Airport Express, taxis and public buses.

Airport Express. For those traveling alone or in pairs, taking the Airport Express is recommended.  You can buy your Octopus Card and ticket for Airport Express at the same time. (Or, buy your Octopus Card and purchase your AE ticket with the Octopus Card.) The one way fare to Central station is HK110 (US$14) and to Kowloon station it is HK$100 (US$12.75).

The Airport Express runs shuttle buses from Central to most of the hotels in Central and Kowloon. Takes only 24 minutes–much faster than a taxi or bus. Other pluses: There are no stair steps between the arrivals area and the doors to the train; attendants will even help you put your luggage on the train.

Taxis have the advantage that taxis have everywhere. You get door to door service; a plus if you are carrying a lot of luggage or market paraphernalia. The cost of a taxi into town is HK$280 (US$36) plus surcharges for luggage. So, three people traveling together via taxi will pay about the same as they would by taking the AE. Transit time would be about the same: the AE gets to town faster; but, after switching to the shuttle bus and making the rounds to the various hotels, the overall time would be about the same.

Bus. Traveling by bus from the airport is cheap. But, the buses are slow, uncomfortable and not recommended after a long flight. (YHC takes it because he is cheap and the A11 stops near his flat in Tin Hau.) A bus ticket to Hong Kong Island costs only HK$40 (US$5.25).

 

CUSTOMS AND MANNERS

Overview  Hong Kong Chinese are more conscious of the cultural differences between the East and West than you are likely to be.  In general, it is best to speak softly and avoid drama if at all possible.  Droll humor and irony are to be avoided if possible, even with Chinese that have been educated in the West.  Low key is generally the best key.

If you have time, the book The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently … and Why (2006) by Richard Nisbett makes for worthwhile reading .

Gratitude.  Hong Kong Chinese do not generally thank people who are being paid to provide a service, such as a server at a restaurant.  However, the charming Chinese custom of knuckle tapping is a way of acknowledging service.  To do this, make a fist with your right hand with the palm side facing down.  With your fingers still curled, extend the forefinger and middle finger and tap the middle knuckles silently on the table twice.

If you are in a crowded place, there is no need to excuse yourself if you need someone to move in order for you to pass by as long as you have made eye contact with the person.  To do otherwise implies that the person is not making sufficient effort to accommodate you, and will induce the person to apologize.  Save the “excuse me” for when the person is unaware of your presence.

The Pedestrian Life.  The pace is fast.  Sidewalks are crowded, and made even more congested by innumerable unauthorized vendors competing for space.

Sidewalks.  It is entirely acceptable for a person to pass you and cut directly in front of you as they continue onward, as long as they both maintain your pace (barring some other obstruction) and make the minimum physical contact possible.  This seeming violation of personal space takes some getting used to by a westerner.

The same is true for waiting for the traffic light to change and there is enough space in front of you for another person to fit, be prepared for someone to fill this space.

Crosswalks.  Pedestrians have few rights.  Except at intersections with traffic signals, be particularly careful about crossing streets.  Few cars use turn signals or slow down when making turns.  But, just as pedestrian rights vary dramatically on the east and west coasts of the USA, so too Hong Kong has its own ways.  Be careful.

Doors.  Hong Kongers traveling alone open doors just far enough for themselves to pass through.  Is a bit disconcerting that holding doors for strangers is not standard practice.  But, such is the local custom.  However, should you do so for others, it is generally appreciated and acknowledged.

Escalators.  Stand on the right and pass on the left.

The MTR.  Probably the most disconcerting custom is the anarchy of boarding and exiting MTR trains.  Recorded announcements in English and Cantonese plead with passengers both to allow people to exit the trains before others board and to move towards the center of the cars.  Both requests are routinely ignored. The generally high standards of courtesy break down on the MTR.

During less crowded times, an air of patience prevails.  But, when it gets crowded it is a free for all.

Eating.  No tipping.  No sales tax.  A few restaurants assess a 10% service charge.  High service standards, though not particularly friendly.  Good food.  And, great value as long as one avoids the major tourist thoroughfares and the tony realms of Soho and Lan Kwai Fong.

A few tips:  In general, the farther one gets from areas frequented by Westerners the fewer the number of English speaking servers one is likely to find.  If you do not see a bi-lingual menu posted outside the restaurant, presume that English is not spoken.  However, if there are pictures of the fare on the menu, go ahead and take a chance.

At informal restaurants, expect yourself or your group to share a table with others.

To ask for service, extend your arm upward with fingers extended and keep it there until the server appears at your table.

The dishes are likely to come at different times for each diner.  Chinese custom stipulates that one starts eating when their dish arrives.  The western custom of waiting for all to be served is viewed as a quaint curiosity.

When the bill is brought to the table, presume that you should pay the server at that time.  If you are directed to pay the cashier, the server will point towards same.

If using chopsticks, place them on top of the bowl or plate when finished.

If the restaurant is crowded, do not be surprised if you are asked to leave shortly after finishing your meal.

One last note.  Compliment service people on their good English, even if their use is barely adequate.  It will make you both feel good.

 

GETTING AROUND HONG KONG

Easy, efficient and cheap.

MTR. The nonpareil underground system not only runs every two minutes during peak hours and every 3-4 minutes at other times. The fare from Wanchai (the station nearest to the Convention Centre) to the famous Night Market in Jordan costs only HK$7.7 (US$1).

The MTR is a modern wonder.  Clean, efficient and cheap.  You will quickly realize that if you are changing to another line the train running to your intended location will be directly opposite the train from which you’ve just disembarked.  This will be no coincidence.  In designing the interchange stations, the trains with the highest numerical probability of being the train passengers would switch to are positioned directly opposite each other.

For example, to go from the Wan Chai MTR on Hong Kong Island to City One in the New Territories requires five changes of trains, but the trip takes only 40 minutes.

Using your Octopus card will spare you the wait in line at the ticket machines.  Buy yours at the airport when you arrive.

Taxis. Cheap, clean and the drivers are generally honest.  (I have, however, heard horror stories from tourists taking taxis to or from major tourist attractions, such as Victoria Peak.)  The drop charge on Hong Kong taxis is only HK$22 (US$2.80) and will get you quite a distance. Finding one is easy, as they far outnumber passenger cars in the principal business areas.

 If you are returning to your hotel, is best to give the driver the business card for the hotel.  Keep in mind the following: Most drivers speak very little English; and, streets with both English and Chinese names have no phonetic similarity.

But, Hong Kong has found a simple solution.  If the cab driver does not understand you, he will call the dispatcher on his mobile and hand the phone to you.  You will tell the dispatcher where you want to go, and the dispatcher will then tell the driver.  It usually works out pretty well.

Tipping is not mandatory.  But, if you receive a combination of coins and bills as change, you may wish to take the bills and give the driver the coins.

Trams. The routes of these double decked wonders are clearly marked at the trolley stops. Fare is only HK$2.30 (30 US cents!). They run at the same frequency as the MTR during the day. The trams are convenient, and their routes are clearly marked. Most are old, but clean. The newer ones are more comfortable, but have all of the charming features of the older trams.  They feature wood interiors and the view from the upper deck is a real pleasure. Much recommended.

Do you know the direction you are going, but are not sure if you are on the right track?  The track on the left side in the direction you want to go is side on which you want to go..

You board trams at the rear, and pay as you disembark at the front.  (More info in the WHERE TO GO section.).

Buses. Public light buses (holding up to 16 people) will get you close to anywhere you might want to go. But, these are not recommended unless you are traveling with local knowledge, or on an easily explained Point A to Point B route.

 

WHERE TO GO

Hong Kong hosts many attractions.  Select an activity according to the time you have available.

Since Wan Chai has a large number of tourist hotels and is centrally located on the north shore of Hong Kong Island, we will use the MTR station thereat as a starting point for excursions.

A Ride on the Ding Ding (aka Tram, Trolley).  Hong Kong Island.  (1-3 hours)  The cheapest and best tour conveyance one can hope to find is the tram that runs along the north side of Hong Kong Island (except for the tram to Happy Valley, which goes inland and has few attractions other than the horse track).  For HK$2.3 (US$0.30) you can have unlimited one-way travel on the ding-ding.  However, I would not recommend this means between 6pm and 8pm in the evening, when seats are hard to come by.  (Standing on a crowded tram is no pleasure.)

Exiting the Wan Chai MTR (Exit A3) you can take the train in either direction.  I recommend the eastbound tram to North Point, where you will pass along the edge of Time Square in Causeway Bay, trundle alongside Victoria Park and exit in North Point.  (Takes about 30 minutes.) You can then take the same tram back to Wan Chai or take the MTR at Fortress Hill to your next destination.

Victoria Peak. Hong Kong Island.  (2-3 hours)  Probably, the most popular attraction in Hong Kong for visitors.  The Peak Tram is a funicular that ascends to the highlands behind Admiralty and Central, delivering you to the Peak.. The view is spectacular.  The restaurants and shops are expensive.  The tram ride is entertaining.

To get to the Peak Tram take the MTR to Admiralty Exit C1 (one stop away from Wan Chai on the Island Line going west).  From there walk to Pacific Place and take the escalator to Hong Kong Park.  Follow the signs to the Peak Tram terminus.

Temple Street Night Market.  Kowloon.  (2-4 hours)  The first choice for visitors to Hong Kong is pretty much ignored by locals.  Mostly clothing and accessories.  Plenty of fun, inexpensive  restaurants.  Always a rather festive atmosphere.  Don’t hesitate to haggle.  Take Exit A at Jordan MTR Station.  Make a right turn and go three blocks.  The real action starts around 8pm.

Yau Ma Tei  Kowloon.  (2-3 hours).  Huh?  Located between Jordan and Mongkok, this is one of the most crowded areas in all of Hong Kong, and one of the most fascinating.  Make a U-turn as you leave Exit C at the Yau Ma Tei MTR Station and go two blocks to Temple Street.  Pass through the Ladies Market for dinner at the funky Mido Cafe (63 Temple Street) or pop around the corner for dessert at the Kubrick Cafe (3 Public Square St, Prosperous Garden) at the Hong Kong Cinematheque.

Afterwards, head back to Temple Street.  Make a left turn and walk four blocks to Waterloo Road, cross the street and go one block to Portland Street.  (Runs parallel to and one block west of Nathan Road.)  Walk along fascinating, grubbyPortland Street to Langham Place, a gigantic, brilliantly designed shopping centre, with some of the longest indoor escalators anywhere.  There is an MTR station at Langham Place

Stanley Market.  Hong Kong Island.  (3-5 hours).  Your best chance to see rural Hong Kong if you have a half-day or less to spare.  Best visited during the day.  Located on the opposite site of Hong Kong Island.  There is a low-rise shopping arcade, restaurants in every price range and a nice view of the open sea.  Nice place to relax.

Take the #6 bus (Central MTR Station Exit B) to Stanley Police Station bus stop.  You will be unable to see anything of interest as you disembark.  But, the action is only five minutes away.  The bus takes about 50 minutes, and takes the most scenic route.

Returning to Central, you can take the 6x or 260 bus, which take a less scenic route and are 20 minutes faster.  You might want to take the slow bus there and the fast bus on the return..(You can also take the #40 public light bus on Tang Lung Street at Hennessey Road, near Time Square inCauseway Bay.)

Lantau Island.  (Day Trip).  Would you like to take a scenic ferry ride to a charming rural village, followed by a bus ride to the world’s largest sitting Buddha and finishing with a ride on the world’s longest aerial tram ride?

Go to Central MTR Station Exit A.  Follow the signs to Central Piers.  This walk will take up to 15 minutes.

Look for the Ferry Terminal #6.  You will want the ferry to Mui Wo.  The fast ferry takes 35 minutes.  The slow ferry takes 55 minutes.  You can see the ferry schedule at http://www.nwff.com.hk/eng/fare_table/central-mui_wo/

Mui Wo is a village of 6,000 people, very popular with expats and featuring a handful of very good western restaurants and cafes near the ferry terminal.

Looking out from the ferry terminal, you will see a McDonalds (the only chain restaurant in Mui Wo) on the far left.  Walk past it on the left until you can see The Kitchen (18A Mui Wo Ferry Road) and Cafe Paradiso (3 Ngan Wan Road).  Or, you can immediately take bus #2 to Ngong Ping Village in the mountains of South Lantau Island, home of the Sitting Buddha.

From there, you can board the Ngong Ping 360 aerial cable car for the 5.7 km (3.5 mile) journey over the mountain tops to Tung Chung, where the both an MTR station and the largest outlet mall in Hong Kong are located near the exit.

The MTR station has a direct line to Hong Kong MTR Station, which is connected by an underground walkway to Central.

Macau.  (Day Trip)  The fact that Macao surpassed Las Vegas years ago in amount money spent gambling is well known.  But, did you know that this former Portuguese colony is 250 years older than Hong Kong, and much of its historic architecture remains intact?

Take Exit D at Shueng Wan MTR Station to the Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal.  Hydrofoil ferries leave for Macau at least every hour.  The one hour trip costs about HK$155 (US$20) each way. You must have a valid passport. See the Turbojet website for prices and timetables at http://www.turbojet.com.hk/en/routing-sailing-schedule/hong-kong-macau/sailing-schedule-fares.aspx

If gambling is your objective, free shuttle buses will you to where you want to go.  But, if you want to see historic Macau take the #3 bus from the ferry terminal via Avenida Ribeiro to the Ruins of St Paul and wander among the attractions of the nearby Senado Square.  Macanese cuisine–a hybrid of Chinese and Portuguese styles–is worth a try.

Pay via credit or debit card where you can, as the change given for payment in US or Hong Kong dollars will be in the local currency–the pataka–which will be useless to you outside of Macau.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS.  Hong Kong is the most user-friendly city that your humble correspondent (who lived there for over nine years) has ever visited.  The internet is fast.  Transportation is inexpensive and reliable.  Service standards are generally very high.

For the first time traveler to Asia, Hong Kong (along with Singapore, perhaps) is where East and West meet with the least friction.  But, it can be frustrating.  A cool head and patience are almost an absolute must.

The success of your visit will largely depend upon your adaptability to the environment.  Take a deep breath.  Relax.  Absorb yourself as much as you can into the Hong Kong experience.  Enjoy the adventure.

Crowdfunding and the Creative Community

Michael T George
Updated 6 June 2018

Crowdfunding can be an effective means of raising money for projects of almost any description.    You can finance development of an app or invention, raise money to finance a recording or video; or, to acquire equipment for a new business.

The basics.  There are three parties involved: 1) the Project Initiator (PI); 2) the Crowd (i.e. the pool of potential funders); and, 3) the Platform (e.g. Kickstarter, Pozzible, etc.).

There are four kinds of crowd-funding: 1) Donation-based;  2) Reward-based;  3)  Credit-based; and 4) Equity-based.

The PI places a proposal on a platform that identifies:  1)  the specific amount to be raised; 2)  the deadline by which the entirety of the amount must be raised;  3) the purposes for which the funding will be raised; and, 4)  background information about the PI, including whether it is a non-profit organisation.

Donation-based crowdfunding is exactly what the name implies.  The Crowd derives satisfaction from contributing to a noble cause, plus possible tax benefits if the PI is an IRS 501 (c) 3 entity (both non-profit and tax-exempt) or the equivalent in other countries.  Suitable more for projects that would raise money for medical equipment for a local community or for the purchase of mosquito nets for use in third world countries than to finance movies and tv programs.

Reward-based crowdfunding allows the Crowd to receive something of tangible value in exchange for the donation.  So, if it were used to raise money for a concert event or produce a music CD, the rewards might be concert tickets, CDs, autographed posters, etc.  If the PI is an NPO, the Crowd may be able to deduct the difference between the value of the reward and the amount of the donation from their taxes.

It is a very suitable means of pre-selling tickets to a concert.  In the event that the target funding is not raised–and the event does not take place–the platform will automatically refund the donations at such time as the deadline for complete funding passes.  Such reduces the risk for the ticket buyer (Crowd) and the responsibility for refunds from the PI.

Laws governing Credit-based and equity-based crowdfunding are still in a state of evolution. At the time of this posting, crowd funding operated under the same laws governing conventional loans and investments.  But, if and when they find a legal status something short of conventional private offering, they may be an excellent vehicle for raising capital for larger motion pictures and tv projects.

Using crowdfunding for big budget screen projects.  I do not particularly like the idea of using crowdfunding in its current legal state as a vehicle for raising the entirety of the funding for a multi-million dollar motion picture.  It is a long shot at best, even if you have something of great perceived value to offer (such as Spike Lee getting $10,000 each from 29 people desirous of sharing his court side seats at a Knicks game).

However, let us say that you are trying to raise US$2.5 million for a film to which you have attached a relatively unknown star with a small but enthusiastic following.  A combination of $500,000 in pre-sales and/or in an advances from a distributor, $1.25 million in a combination of equity finance and government incentives, plus $750,000 in reward-based crowdfunding would cover the costs.

Best of all, it could avoid the chicken and egg contingencies that plague most fundraising efforts.  The pre-sale and equity entities would be induced to put up irrevocable letters of credit with execution dependent only upon raising the target crowdfunding amount.  (Money in the budget would have to be allocated for factoring the LCs.)

The importance of passion.  Reward-based crowdfunding is best suited to projects where the crowd feels passionately about the subject matter and/or participants in the project.  In the 1980s, a collection was made in Mennonite churches to fund a movie about the founder of the Anabaptist movement from which the Mennonites, Amish and Baptist churches descended–knowing that their religion prohibited they themselves from seeing The Radicals.

If the Crowd would like to see the project funded, but does not feel compelled to take action, the crowdfunding effort has little likelihood of succeeding

When the laws governing credit-based and equity based crowdfunding have been enacted, I will be back with updated notes on same.

Thanks for reading.

The Fundamentals of Screen Content Distribution

Michael T George
Updated 6 June 2018

Are you looking for distribution for a completed production?

Both the production and distribution of screen content take a lifetime to master.  Unfortunately, the two areas have very little in common.  So, most producers are ill equipped to negotiate their agreements–but this too rarely stops them from doing so.

1)  Get help.   You have several options.  An entertainment lawyer may know the contracts, but doesn’t necessarily have good contacts with the distributors appropriate for your production.   An experienced content distributor turned producer consultant probably has the necessary experience to deal with contacts and contracts.

You should decide at the outset whether you want a producer rep or a distributor to handle the distribution.

2)  Producer Reps vs Distributors.  Both should be skilled at placing screen content with buyers.  But, there are three fundamental differences between the two

A Producer Rep is a hired contractor.  The producer is the Licensor on the agreements.  All revenues accrue to the account designated by the producer.  The Rep works for a fee or fee plus a percentage of the revenues.

A Distributor is a third party.  The distributor is the Licensor on all agreements.  All revenues accrue to the account of the distributor.  The distributor is compensated exclusively from the sales that it makes.

3)  Fundamentals of the Producer/Distributor Agreement.

a)  Length of the Term.  Distributors usually want an agreement that will extend for at least three years, plus the ten years that the longest license agreements will comprise–so that they can continue to service and collect royalties from said licenses.

Consider this instead.  Make the agreement for one year, with an automatic extension if a specified amount of money has been paid to the producer before the end of the term.  (Or, alternately, an automatic extension if executed agreements worth a certain dollar value have been effected before the end of the term.)

b)  Advances.  Good luck.  These are rare, but can be a bargaining chip.

c)  Schedule of Minimums protect the producer from having the screen content licensed for significantly less than its worth.  The schedule contains a list of the major territories and the minimum amount that the screen content can be licensed for in that territory.  Doesn’t have to include all territories, as the top 17 territories represent 95% of the likely revenue for the film.

The distributor would not be authorized to make any agreement unless the up front paid by the Licensee met or exceeded this figure.  (I will demonstrate the difference between “license fees” and “minimum guarantees” in the Distributor/Licensee segment that follows.)

d)  Distribution Fees.  Most distributors want an agreement where they receive a distribution fee (25% to 40%) from the total revenues received; are then allowed to reimburse themselves for expenses related to the content; and, they pay the balance–if there is any–to the producer.

Consider this instead.  A distribution fee of 40% of the gross, inclusive of expenses is preferable.  Is important that the term gross means the total revenues received.  There is no such thing as a gross that allows deductions.  Any such allowance make it a net deal.  Not gross.

It has become the fashion for distributors to want to reimburse certain general marketing expenses from the first revenues received.  Don’t fall for it.

e)  Delivery materials.  The Producer/Distributor agreement will require that the producer provide the distributor both with access to videomasters (containing music & effects tracks)  and to copies of the artwork, dialog lists, etc.  If these are not in proper order, it is only right that the distributor should be able to fix or create new materials at the producer’s expense.

Fundamentals of the Distributor/Licensee Agreement.

a)  There are two types of Agreement: flat licenses and royalty agreements.

Flat licenses are utilized when a set fee is paid by the licensee, as in the case of most television agreements.  The amount paid up front is all that the Licensor will receive (except in the case of some licenses with major program services, which are paid in installments over the term of the agreement.)

Royalty agreements apply whenever the Licensor participates in the actual revenues received by the Licensee, such as theatrical, DVD and VOD licenses.  Generally, the Licensee pays a Minimum Guarantee, which is a non-refundable advance against the royalty.  This way, the Licensor is guaranteed a certain amount no matter how the screen content performs in the marketplace.

While advances are standard for theatrical and DVD licenses, they are relatively rare for VOD only licenses.  Times are changing.  But, most VOD licenses are bundled with DVD rights.

Under both arrangements, the entirety of the license fee or minimum guarantee is paid in advance of the delivery of the necessary mastering materials.  Generally, 20% is paid at the time of contract signature; 80% is paid upon the Licensor’s notification to the Licensee that the materials are ready for delivery.

b)  The Term of the License varies according to media, but generally range from five to seven years.

c)  Delivery Materials generally include the following:

Permission to create copies of the videomaster of the content.
Permission to create copies of the music & effects tracks
English language dialog list (regardless of the original language of the content)
High resolution jpgs of the poster artwork (in both text and non-text versions)
High resolution jpgs taken from the content

Thanks for reading.

Development Capital for Feature Films

Michael T George
Updated 6 June 2018

Preface.  If you are impatient, skip ahead to the paragraph that begins:  For anyone but the most established and well-backed producers…

Years ago, an Esquire magazine article featured the picture of a monkey at a typewriter and asked: “Is there anyone out there not writing a screenplay?”  Good question then.  Equally good question today.

Hundreds of thousands of original screenplays (“original” meaning not an adaptation of a previously produced play or published work) get written every year.  Less than a thousand get made, even as low-budget features.  Only a handful of original screenplays get made into feature films costing $10 million or more.

Most feature films are based upon source material that was commercially successful in other media.  Why?  Because $10 million plus is a lot of money.  Not only do the investors want a higher probability on a financial return, but everyone in the production and distribution food chains wants reliable deniability if the project fails.  (“Who would have thought that a hit novel like Two Nuns and a Vicar in a Taxi could be such a colossal failure?”)

So, what does it take to get an original screenplay produced?

First, be realistic.  The odds are particularly long if the creative talent (screenwriter, producer or director) has never had a film produced that was either

a) a low-budget film that made a significant profit; or

b) an independent feature in the $2 million plus range that was a significant, critical success (and I don’t mean an almost positive review in the Minot Daily News.)

Lacking these, the best route is to either

a)  find an angel (probably a relative) to finance the whole thing, Or

b)  get off their butts and raise the development capital that will allow them to assemble the team necessary to put together a package that will attract actual production finance.

Uh, you ask ‘what about shopping the screenplay to big production companies and distributors? You’ve just disproved the notion that there is no such thing as a stupid question.  Go back and read the third paragraph above.  When you return to here, keep in mind the following.

You will be sending your screenplay to development executives.  Keep in mind the following:

a)  Most will return it unread, rather than risk a lawsuit for plagiarism should the screenplay be similar to something they might already have in development.

b)  The objective of a development executive is neither there to help you nurture your creative potential nor to fast track your opus to fame and fortune

Their real objective of a development executive is threefold:

a)   to keep having three square meals a day and roof over their head

b)   to either retain that nice job of theirs until they can get a promotion (with more money and further opportunities for advancement) or a better job somewhere else.

They know that their company:

a)  already has producers with projects of their own that will take precedence over anything you’ve got, and with whom they don’t want to make enemies (am reminded of Voltaire, who when asked while on his deathbed if he renounced Satan replied “Now isn’t the time to be making enemies.”) ; and

b)  few people get fired for saying no or pushing the project upstairs with a maybe.  the yes word would be verboten even if it were allowed to them–the only fear being that they might pass on some project that would be a big hit elsewhere, and they might be called on the carpet for it.

So, you are back to either self-producing or building a package that can attract the participation of credible co-production entity, such as a big production company or top twenty distributor that will invest a chunk of capital.

For anyone but the most established and well-backed producers, availability of development capital is the single greatest determinant in whether or not a film gets made.

I support this claim with the following contentions:

a) creative talents (will use the term producers heretofore) have to pay the bills while they try to bring their projects to fruition; thus, the part-time producers are competing with full time producers; and,

b) re-writes, casting directors, “name” screen talent and potential collaborators cost money.

The idea that a novice producer can send a screenplay to a top 500 screen talent and that they will allow you to attach their name to your project is fanciful at best and induces thoughts of clientcide on the part of agents at worse.

Actually–and this should be obvious–a commitment on the part of screen talent that have been consequential to films that have made money in the past is worth money, and can only be secured by even a credible casting agent if a paid up front option is secured.

Development capital is the source from which such options can be secured.

So, let us consider the key issues:

a) What are the expenses for which development capital will be used?

b)  How much capital will be required?

c)  How would the capital be compensated?

d)  Would all of the development capital be paid up front?

e)  What are the sources of development capital?

f)  What are the necessary elements to attract development capital?

What are the expenses for which development capital will be used?  Here is a checklist
a)  A salary for the producer(s) sufficient to allow their full time efforts to be devoted to bringing the project to fruition.  Such must be low enough to suggest that the producer is willing to share risk with the investor, but high enough for the project not to be dismissed as a labor of love for which a ROI is immaterial.

b)  Office rent, expenses and salaries in a commercial facility–preferably a production office in a building mostly containing other production offices.

c)  Nominal travel and entertainment expenses.

d)  Professional services, including accounting, legal and the retainer for a bona fide casting director.

e)  Money to secure options on screen talent.

How much capital will be required?  Depends upon the budget of the film.  Wiggle room on each item up 20%

a)  $5 million feature
screen talent costs of $3 million
development window of five months
advanced draft of screenplay
$500,000

b)  $2 million feature
screen talent costs of $1.5 million
development window of three months
camera ready draft of screenplay
$250,000

Salary for the producer(s)
12%

Office rent, expenses and salaries
4%

Nominal travel and entertainment expenses.
2%

Professional services, including casting director.
10%

Money for talent options. (More on negotiating these later. Be patient.)
62%

How would the capital be compensated?  For the sake of simplicity, we will go with the following assumptions:

a)  The development capital is 10% of the total budget

b)  The producer will negotiate a distribution agreement in which 60% of the total revenues accrued by the distributor (“Distributor Gross”) with no further deductions whatsoever are paid to the producer.(“Producer Gross”).

c)  The investors of production capital would receive 100% of the Producer Gross between the moment that has received its “Initial Compensation” (defined hereafter) and the occasion in which they have been paid 120% of their investment.  Thereafter, the producer and the investor of production capital shall equally share the profits.

The provider of development capital would receive:

a) 100% of the revenues Producer gross until 120% of the development capital has been repaid.

b)  20% of the Producer Gross thereafter.

c)  10% of the producer share of the profits

d)  An exclusive first option to invest production capital for the project

e)  Co-Executive Producer credit

Sounds generous, does it?  By the above formula, if the $5 million feature had a Distributor Gross of only $500,000

a)  $200,000 would go to the distributor.

b)  $240,000 would go to the investor of development capital.

c)  $60,000 would go to the investors of production capital. (an 87% loss!)

d)  $0 would go to the producer.

How can this be justified?  The investors of development capital are running a double risk:

a)  That the feature will not be made at all

b)  That it may commercially fail so miserably–or be defrauded–so as to not get any ROI.

Since development capital would likely be the difference between the feature getting made and not getting made it is worth such generous terms, which would unlikely deter investors in production capital from participating.

Would all of the development capital be paid up front?  Kinda.  If 500,000 in development capital was provided, of which 70% was to go to talent options:

a)  $150,000 would be payable to the producer upon execution of the development capital agreement.

b)  $350,000 would be in the form of an irrevocable letter of credit very clearly specifying that if the producer was able to secure an option with any of the talent listed on the L/C for a role specified in the screenplay (and the same for the other lead roles) in accordance with very clearly specified terms.

For those unfamiliar with letters of credit, I will summarize here.  Those familiar with same can skip ahead to: “The options would constitute 10% to 20%…”

A letter of credit is a banking instrument between an issuer (e.g. investor) and a payee (e.g. producer) in which a variety of objective criteria are articulated.  The issuer uses an issuing bank into which the amount of the L/C is irrevocably placed.  (Once the L/C has been issued, there is no backing out on the part of the investor.)  This is the good part.

If the payee meets the exact specifications of the criteria before the expiration date of the L/C the bank must pay the amount in full to the payee. (That’s the irrevocable part.).  This is another good part.

So, if the L/C states that if– prior to a specified date–producer Stanley Schlub provides fully executed WGA or DGA documents demonstrating that he has for his the feature film project “Hey, Hey in the Hayloft”acquired a fully executed option on the services of:

a)  Stanley Schlub or Morrie Magillah or Deborah Dweeb to serve as director; and

b)  Seymour Schtup or Thomas Twineweed or Peter Pinhead to participate in the role of Phineas Thoroughgood: and,

c)  Brenda Shiska or Michelle Mishugunah or Tara Temple for the role of Porcina Thoroughgood.

Upon presentation of the attendant documents described herein to the bank in advance of the expiration date of the L/C the bank will pay you the full value of the L/C.  And, if it will be a comfort to the investor and/or the agents for the talent, the pay-out made directly to various parties (just in case the investor was fearful that you might use the funds for other purposes).  This is also good.

There are a few downsides.

a)  Bank fees and review procedures can be time-consuming and expensive.

b)  To get the money, one has to follow the exact procedures.  There is no flexibility.  All names must be spelled exactly correctly.  They are not fool-proof.  I offer an example.

Some years ago, I was representing an American seller of a film package of six titles to a company in Spain.  The buyer had wanted delivery in advance of payment (something no credible seller will never do to anyone but the likes of the BBC).  In anger, the buyer claimed he didn’t trust me and wanted to do it by L/C.  When all of the materials were assembled and placed with the freight forwarder, the buyer contacted the seller and asked that the materials be sent to a different office in Spain–and send the materials through Madrid instead of Barcelona.
The seller agreed and contacted the freight forwarder who, suspecting a rat, gave me a call.  I made sure that the port of entry be as specified in the L/C.  If not, when the seller provided shipping documents to the bank for payment: his payment claim would be rejected, the buyer would have the materials and his money back from the bank.  The seller would probably have to take legal action to get his money.  It was a close call.

The options would constitute 10% to 20% deposit on the total up-front compensation for the talent, and would require the remainder of their compensation to be paid prior to a negotiated date or the deposit paid by the investor of development capital would be forfeited.  (According to industry practice, the agent for the talent would be legally required to hold the deposit in escrow so as to be refunded in the event of non-performance–basically meaning not showing up for duty on the specified first day of principal photography.)

With these options secured, raising the production capital would be made much, much easier as the contingencies that deter most investors would be obviated.

What are the sources of development capital?

Private investment is always the best.  Any producer that does not have potential investors for development capital is at a distinct disadvantage.  I cringe when I hear creative talents mutter the mantra that they are “creative types”, not “business types”.  Well, if that is what you are, I hope you have:

a)  A business type friend who is willing to invest their time on a long shot project.

b)  A rich relative who believes you walk on water and will take the plunge.

Government finance is another possibility.  Australia and Ireland have outstanding programs.  Austria, Belgium and Canada (three countries who border on much larger same-speaking language countries that provide enough content that the entertainment needs of the forementioned three could be met without them producing a minute of content) have good programs.  Almost every country other than the USA has some film promotion scheme in the form of tax subsidies or outright grants..

Why not the USA?  The USA is perceived to produce enough content without help that government subsidies are considered unnecessary.  And, unlike most countries in the world, the domestic market alone for most content is large enough to turn a profit.  Can’t exactly say that about Iceland or Ireland or New Zealand, can you?

Crowd funding.  I was slow to accept crowd funding as a means of raising development capital.  Is not the perfect solution for many or most.  But, you can see my assessment of possibilities at http://michaeltgeorgeonmedia.blogspot.hk/2014/05/crowdfunding-and-creative-community.html

What are the necessary elements to attract development capital?  This is the even more subjective part of this missive.

a)  A compelling treatment.  You must convince a potential development capital investor that the project will keep the audience engaged from the very beginning to the very end.  Thus, it must have elements that you can point to that are new and compelling without being so avant-garde that the audience will become alienated.

b)  A business plan.  You must clearly articulate what you want from the development capital investor, what same will receive as compensation.  Your potential investor may not be saavy on the nuts and bolts of production and distribution.  But, shall likely have people who have.

Virtually every investor has heard horror stories about movies that have grossed millions, but whose investors were wronged by producer criminality or negligence or robbed by distributors via “creative accounting”.

Be able to make a case for either your knowledge of negotiating distribution agreements or the expertise of your retained counsel that does.  Wouldn’t hurt to look at the exalted essay entitled Fundamentals of Distribution for Producers at http://michaeltgeorgeonmedia.blogspot.hk/2014/05/the-fundamentals-of-distribution-for.html

c)  A top sheet budget.  The proportion of producer compensation to the remainder of the budget will be the first thing an investor will look at.  Too big and you are asking the investor to bear too much of the risk.  Too little and you won’t be taken seriously as a business person.

d)  An advanced draft of the screenplay.  Would not provide same to an investor if possible–and then only if you can judge the interest of same to be very serious.  Everyone has an opinion.  Invariably, an investor with enough capital to take a flutter on the risky prospect of providing development capital must be financially successful.  Financially successful people think they can be successful in any trade, and that their creative input into a screenplay would be indispensable to your success.

That said, William Goldman is famous for saying “Nobody in this business knows anything”.  Is probably the stupidest thing anyone has ever said in this business. Good screenplays actually have two things in common:

1)  They are consistently engaging from beginning to end.  To do so, they must be sufficiently innovative to lead the reader to terra incognita.  Anything conspicuously derivative hurts.

2)  The protagonists must inspire sympathy, amenity or empathy.  Otherwise, we don’t care what happens to them, and lose interest.  Never understood the appeal of Oliver Stone’s Midnight Express.  Drug mule gets caught carry drugs and languishes in Turkish prison?  Who gives a shit what happens to him?

Hemingway famously said that a story cannot be better than its villain.  I would cite Iago (Othello), Frank Booth (Blue Velvet) and master-at-arms Claggart (Billy Budd) as my most compelling arguments in support of Papa.

e)  A revenue forecast.  By territory and media.  Citing the high, low and most-likely grosses for the 17 largest territories (which constitute about 95% of worldwide revenue).  Make sure that the “low” is below break even.  I know someone who can help you with this.

f)  Cash flow timetable.  Quarterly.  For five years.

g) Lastly, some appeal to the vanity of the investor is to be allowed.  Their name will forever be on the credits of an important motion picture.  The IMDB entry will immortalize them as a bona fide member of the entertainment media family.

Some last caveats.  Don’t waste your time with investors that:

a)  Only make blue chip investments.  The project may appeal to the following remarkably common country club fantasy: “Well, Sam, you ask how my picture is coming along?  Things were not going very well.  But, I’m now taking a more active role, and things seem to have turned around for the better.”

Once they see the real risk involved, reality will dissipate the fantasy.  Venture capitalists and successful real estate types understand risk/reward.  Pursue investors of any stripe that understand these as well.

b)  Confuse an investment with a loan–or want some kind of hybrid that will give them a guaranteed return with the hope that they may also make the big score.  The laws of most countries–especially the USA–clearly define what constitutes each.  An investor that is set on a guaranteed return is unlikely to be satisfied whatever arrangement you offer.  Don’t waste your time.

Thanks for reading.  Comments are welcome.

Starting Your Own Content Distribution Company

Michael T George
Updated 6 June 2018

I have been in the content distribution business for over 30 years.  Have both worked for and run my own content distribution company.  Have assigned content to and bought from others.  Here are a few things I have learned along the way.

Every producer has heard horror stories about productions that grossed tens of millions of dollars, but due to either creative accounting or outright theft the producers saw little or nothing of the revenues.

Tell them the producers a story with a happy ending.  For each of the following elements I offer a way for you to offer an honest contrast to business as usual.

a)  Offer a gross distribution arrangement with a 35% to 40% of the gross arrangement.   (30% if the feature is really good; 30% of something is better than 40% of nothing.)  This will ease producer concerns about getting ripped off on expenses.

Once upon a time,
 a producer assigned the rights to his feature film to a distributor on a net distribution basis.  Since its revenue were maximized by spending lavishly on the theatrical release, the gross revenues (from which the distribution fee were deducted) were high, but the net expenses that the producer received after expenses were deducted were low. Consequently, the distributor made millions while the producer suffered a net loss.

However, this won’t happen to you because 
you will receive from us a fixed percentage of our total revenues, regardless of the expenses.

b)   Offer to include a schedule of minimums in the producer / distributor agreement.  This will state the minimum amount for which distributor will be allowed to license the content in each of the 28 largest territories (95% of the worldwide marketplace) without written permission of the producer.

This assures the producer that you will not unload the content for less than its market value.

There is another way in which the schedule of minimums plays an important role.  Let us say that a distributor has five films in a package for all television rights in Sweden.  Two of the films have been produced by the distributor.  But, yours was not and yours is worth all of the other films combined. Since it was not protected by a schedule of minimums, the distributor allocated 35% of the total value of the package to each of their two films, and 10% each for the remaining three titles.  Thus, while your film should have received at least half of the money in the package, it received only ten percent instead.  Nonetheless, the distributor must have the right to service all license agreements effected before the specified, including collecting money from royalties and their attendant reports. This may seem like an extreme concession.  But, if the content is not making money for the producer it is not making money for you.

However, this won’t happen to you because if the distributor does not meet the performance conditions as specified the producer will get his content back.  Don’t waste your time trying to convince producers of your honesty.  An honest person can only demonstrate honesty by performing honestly.  But, making a convincing case for your personal commitment can be as important as proven distribution expertise in acquiring content.  A producer will take the schedule of minimums that you provide and will take it to a competing distributor that will promise them higher revenues–without actually codifying these promises in the contract.  The producer will then go with the competitor because “they seemed to believe in the picture more” when in reality they were just bigger liars.A producer will make promises regarding delivery materials, pre-sales that it effected but did not report, previous attempts at distribution of the content that you were unaware of and the like.  When the truth comes to light they will claim that “they are creative types, no business people, and that allowances should be made for their misunderstandings”.  They will flinch with disgust that you did not understand them, and treat you with contempt.

You will have completed distribution agreements on the table waiting for signature–with terms that the producer has agreed to–when the producer will bail out of the agreement in favor of a competitor of yours deemed to have more prestige or promising better performance.

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Get used to this reality or get out before you embark on operating a distribution entity.
As for the actual operation of a distribution company, please see our companion blog:

The Fundamentals of Screen Content Distribution.

The Fundamentals of Screen Content Distribution

Thanks for reading.  Your comments are welcome.

Does Beijing really want western screen content?

Michael T George
Updated 6 June 2018

Would Beijing would exclude all outside content into China if they could get away with it?  The USA has few industries that are net exporters (aerospace, armaments, software and entertainment content being among the few).

Certainly, the formal banning that foreign content would generate cries of protectionism from the USA–and retaliation would be inevitable.  So, Beijing has found effective ways to minimize the importation of western content without suffering the consequences.

1)  Only 38 feature films from outside of the Mainland, HK and Macao can play theatrically in China on a royalty basis (meaning that the western supplier receives a percentage of the box office revenues). All other films can be imported on a flat fee basis, which means de facto that the license fees are based on their “least likely value”.

2)  Foreign content is mostly off limits to broadcast tv.  However, western formats are very popular.

3)  VOD there is a double-edged sword.

a) Suppliers of foreign content can be paid via license fee, but cannot receive royalties. (However, if one uses a Mainland Chinese aggregator, this obstacle can be circumvented–so claim the aggregators.)

b) The Mainland government arbitrarily censor foreign content. An innocent show like “The Big Bang Theory” was ordered off of online services by Beijing.  This caused losses for the VOD service and I believe that the reason was to discourage Chinese companies from taking the risk that it would happen again–which was the intended result of the authorities.

Now, there are competing schools of thought as to why the series was banned.

This is not a matter of the Chinese government keeping the trade balance in their favor without ruffling the feathers of their trade “partners”. (Trade suckers would be a better description.) The key objective is to keep outside cultural influences to a minimum, as part of a systematic drive to cut off Mainlanders from all influences deemed inappropriate by Beijing. (Your own challenges in getting access to your gmail account when visiting China is testimony of same.)

The best way to achieve this is to make promises about how they will open up their marketplace, and put laws that codify same in place. Then, in typically Beijing fashion, choose not to enforce them.