Can I tell you how excited I am about the Pandemic? In the highly unlikely event you haven't heard about it already -- it's a massive transmedia project unfolding at the Sundance Film Festival even as we speak. The anchor is the short film Pandemic 41.410806, -75.54259.

But that is far, far, farrrr from the sum of it. For the people lucky enough to be in Park City at the festival, the Pandemic is happening right now.

If you're not in Park City, though, you can definitely still participate. The HopeIsMissing Twitter account has a helpful how-to-participate summary in the sidebar, and it sounds like a lot of fun is to be had in following the #pandemic11 hashtag.

You can read more in this great WSJ interview with Lance Weiler. Though Pandemic is far from the creation of a single person -- my awesome pals Chuck Wendig and Mark Harris have both also played roles, and I'm sure a lot of other great people have, too.

In the interest of full disclosure, I did contribute a miniscule amount to this amazing project -- but I'm not even marking this as shameless self-promotion, because boy howdy did I have nothing at all to do with how big and awesome this is. Check it out, you guys.

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Creative Spotlight: Caitlin Burns

I've only recently had the pleasure of meeting Caitlin Burns, who is a key part of the Starlight Runner transmedia crew and a feminist after my own heart. I could tell you she's super-creative and lots of fun to hang around with, but I don't need to. I just need to tell you the name of her summer project and you will know.

Jurassic Park Slope, you guys. The movie. I am not even kidding.

This epic adventure is going to go heavy on participatory collaboration and crowdsourcing, so if you're in the metro New York area, reserve your Saturday, July 17, to head into Brooklyn. From the JPS official announcement:

When Dinosaurs Roamed the Burg... 
July 17, 2010, Location TBA, 1pm 
Dress up like a dinosaur and congregate with you Cretaceous Brethren in searching for the finest watering hole in Williamsburg! 
The first in a series of parties and events to support Jurassic Park Slope a transmedia experience, When Dinosaurs Roamed the Burg is part film shoot, part normal day in the burg, part party.
Check out the complete announcement for more info on what to wear, what to bring, how to act, and more. If you don't think that's going to be the best time ever, I... I don't even know what to say to you. Because this is pure, unadulterated awesome, my friends.

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Heroes: Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert is an amazing, smart, warm human being, and it pains me that he walked the face of pop culture for decades before I knew it. It's possibly you still don't know, so let me share. The famous movie critic was diagnosed with thyroid cancer some years ago, and the winding course of treatment, recurrence, and complications has left him lacking a lower jaw and unable to speak or eat. 

There's an amazing profile of him on Esquire. Here's Ebert's own essay about his medical adventures and the role of conversation in his life. Scratch that: Read his whole blog, man. It's brimming with so much wisdom and evidence of the greatness humanity is capable of -- both on the part of its host and the community of commenters -- that I admit I'm tearing up just writing about it right now.

In the face of disability and death, Roger Ebert has built an edifice of intellect that humbles me. He writes about movies, of course, but movies are a gateway he uses to look at all of the big issues of life: Politics. Love. Death.  

Mr. Ebert, for this grace in adversity, you are one of my creative heroes. I salute you. I hope that I, too, will have the strength and will to continue the work that matters to me, even when my body fails.

This post is a part of Heroes Week 2010. Please post a link to a post about your own heroes in the open thread!

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Indy Film Wisconsin, Here I Come!

I'll be a guest on the Indy Film Wisconsin podcast tomorrow, talking about alternate reality games in general and their relationship with the film industry in specific. The live cast is at 11am Eastern time. There's even a call-in number!

I'd love it if you'd tune in to give me a little moral support. See you then!

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I've talked about gender issues here before, but really, all elements of social justice are important to me. Gender, gender identity, sexuality, and of course good old-fashioned race exist in a dazzling variety of combinations, and they all deserve respectful representation in media. This is something I learned how to do at the knee of Naomi Alderman, and I hope to continue it as long as I work (which will probably be as long as there is breath in my body). Perplex City was a place where men and women existed in equal numbers in authority roles; where gay relationships -- and, yes, marriages -- were celebrated as much as hetero; where skins and faces and hair came in all colors, textures, and configurations, and not much was made of it. Not bad for a quietly but profoundly xenophobic city-state, don't you think?

Around my house, we're all big fans of the cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender. (Bear with me, I'll tie it all together in a minute.) We watched every episode, bought the video games, evangelized to our friends, and in general were the kind of consumers that any IP property longs to have. When we found out there was going to be a live-action film, we were cautious but excited; when we found out M. Night Shyamalan was on board to direct, we were frankly a bit skeptical, but still willing to give it a shot out of sheer loyalty to the franchise.  

Why did we love this show so much? It's hard to say. The writing was tight, surprisingly deep and sophisticated for a children's cartoon. Avatar actually examines the themes of good and evil at some length, and there is a whole season establishing that the people living in a nation with aggressive leadership are still just regular (and sympathetic) people. We loved the research that went into it -- four distinct styles of martial arts for the four types of 'bending.' We loved the original and heavily Asian-inspired world and aesthetic. I particularly loved that there are girls in active roles, both as heroes and villains. The show was like a breath of fresh air, even/especially to withered cynics like me who despair of getting my girls out of the pink ghetto of consumerism and incredibly strict gender roles. Last year, my daughter chose karate over ballet, and I'm sure Avatar influenced her decision.

But the news out of The Last Airbender film is bad, and it keeps getting worse. The problem? Casting.

See, in Avatar-the-cartoon, there simply isn't a white face on the show. It's all shades of brown and yellow. You see thinly-veiled renderings of Inuit and Chinese cultures, very specifically, with the people from them colored to match. I loved this to pieces (I was shocked to find this show was made in America, and not an import). The world is a big place, my friends, and I'd like my children to grow up knowing that not everybody looks like them, and that's OK. More important, I'd like all of those children in the world who are brown and yellow (and black and red, too) to get to see people on the screen like themselves, who are good people doing great things. And then the film announced who it had cast for the leading roles. And by now you see where this is going: They were white, every one of 'em. Nary even a suntan in the bunch. That's standard-op Hollywood racism right there; it happened with Earthsea, too.

Now, this was pretty awful, and people were justifiably upset about it, so the powers that be behind the film decided on a change of course and recast a role to a minority actor -- one. You know who he plays? Zuko, the bad guy. So suddenly a show that was all about the strength and beauty of Asian cultures and the interplay between them has turned into a movie where three white folks are battling a brown menace. I'm sure I don't need to draw you a diagram to explain why I find this problematic. This is just as awful as if they had kept the all-white casting -- and arguably it's a lot worse.

Fortunately, there are actions you can take to try to get the studio's head on straight. For a more thorough explanation of the problem here, including some historical information on screen shots, please see Racebending. They have a fantastic list of resources on things you can do to protest, from signing a petition and joining a Facebook group to writing to Paramount Pictures to contacting local media. 

Let's make some noise over this, people, and see if we can get it fixed. I'd really hate to have to skip the movie over this, but if nothing changes, me and a lot of other people will be staying home when it comes out.

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