Fox Innovation Lab

I drove the Mars rover!

Used to be you wanted to be on the lot. Back when movies drove the culture and Hollywood was still dreamland, back before the means of production were at our fingertips and Silicon Valley pushed the envelope and usurped L.A.’s power.

Kind of sad if you think about it. All the religious shrines have been devalued or disappeared, remember when the record store was iconic and you couldn’t even get a job there? It just wasn’t a retail location, it was the epicenter of a movement, ground zero for soul sustenance.

Which is all a long explanation to say that my heart did not go pitter-patter as I drove onto the Fox lot today. Movies are a sideshow, dumbed-down to play all over the world.

But when I got out of the structure and set foot on the campus…

I felt it.

Access is everything these days. You’ve either got it or want it. We all want to get somewhere we can’t. Like backstage. And no amount of money will get you on the Fox lot, but if your name is on the list…

Do you get anxious, wondering if your name will be there?

I do. I feel an impostor, like I’m pulling one over on somebody. And at first I thought the clerk couldn’t find my name, but in truth he was executing security protocols. He not only wanted my name, but the building I was going to and my ID. Because nowhere is safe anymore, or at least we don’t think so. That’s what’s changed. You can view the world from your couch, but if you actually want to get up and go you’re going to pass through many checkpoints. There are cameras everywhere, but still…bad actors abound.

Now I didn’t want to ask for directions. I’m fearful of appearing a newbie, and I don’t want to give the cops any reason to exclude me, to hold me back.

But I found Building 58 right away, it was right next to the parking structure.

And after taking a pee in the women’s room, don’t worry, it was single user and I had to go, I wandered through the building looking for Room 128. Act like you belong, even if you don’t, it goes a long way.

I was early.

L.A.’s weird, everybody’s late. But then you are and you feel awful.

But the rest of my group showed up soon.

There was the head of post production.

That’s a big job folks, one of the biggest. And I always wonder how someone gets from there to here. They make it sound easy, but it never is, even if you’re connected, and Ted Gagliano was not. He started off working for Frank Mancuso, was at Paramount for a long while, and…

The more this dude is talking the more I realize he’s a huge deal, and is the President of Post Production really taking time out of his day to talk to me?

Do we cut to the chase or can I investigate?

Ted went to Princeton. Not that you’d know it by looking at him, he was wearing his jeans. The biggest jobs are done by those who don’t advertise via their exterior. Rock was biggest when the players wore their street clothes. I’ll argue music went downhill when Tommy Mottola and the Sony brass started wearing suits. Give Lucian Grainge credit, he rarely shows up in one.

So the Innovation Lab is preparing Fox for the future. It’s coming, you know that, right? Everything changes, you do your best to survive.

Or you don’t and get plowed under, like all the musicians wondering who moved their cheese.

So then Ted Schilowitz showed up. He’s the hands-on guy.

And Ted S. is telling me how kids are hamstrung by society and can’t wait to get home, shut the door and make decisions, interact online and with video games. Whereas oldsters are overburdened with life and by time they get home they just want to relax, sit in front of the screen and shut down.

But screens it is.

Ted S. said we’re in front of one all day long. And that’s true. We wake up and look at our smartphone, we go to work and sit in front of a monitor, we come home and sit in front of the TV. What’s on these screens is important!

And both Teds agreed we wanted to interact.

Now virtual reality has gotten a bad rap. Kinda like 3-D TV, the techies keep raving about it and the public can’t see the fruits.

And the messaging is all screwed up. All this hogwash about VR and live entertainment. Er, no. You go to live entertainment to interact with the crowd, to feel it, seeing is only a small component.

And then you have the geeks with their gaming.

The problem with gaming is…

It’s trickery. There are no instructions and tons of dead ends and the frustration factor is through the roof! So many people check out.

But the truth is, VR is about the EXPERIENCE!

It’s not about the window to the world, but INHABITING that world.

And the techies just cannot convey this.

But when I was on Mars today…

Fox spent millions to repurpose the film “The Martian” as a VR experience.

But first I put on the Oculus Rift headset, the one with all the buzz, the one that got a boost from Kickstarter and was ultimately bought by Facebook. Fox tried to buy it, but the company was too late. If you want to surf the crest of the future, you’ve got to COMMIT!

And the truth is some of the effects I saw were cool, especially standing on the parapet of a New York building and watching the New Year’s Eve ball come down, but I was constantly afraid of FALLING DOWN! I’d just seen the doctor this morning, I didn’t want to mess up my arm. They kept imploring me to turn, but I wasn’t gonna. Especially after they told me people had fallen already.

But then I strapped on the HTC headset, with hand controllers, and jetted off to Mars.

It felt different, it felt like Mars. Lonely and red, dusty…

But then I had to take control, I had to throw switches, open doors, I was INVOLVED!

But the coolest part was getting behind the wheel of the rover. I intentionally drove it into the rocks. My seat shaked. The game was smart.

I could have driven that rover all afternoon, feeling the bumps, scanning the landscape. It was kind of like skiing, it took all my energy and concentration, I felt removed from the real world, and that’s a thrill.

And you can buy the Mars excursion right now. But there are even better things coming. Narratives, but with more options.

The truth is we love narrative, we’re addicted to stories. As for short attention spans, if that’s the case, if kids can’t concentrate, then why are they doing marathons on Netflix?

We’re gonna have so much time on our hands. Machines are gonna do the work, we’re not even gonna DRIVE!

So what fills the hole?


Video games already outstrip movies in revenue. There’s something on the horizon, more immersive. The price of the hardware has to come down, and it will, as it simultaneously gets better, but it’s about a breakout hit, software.

Don’t depend on the techies. These were the same people who told us to buy computers to store our recipes. Huh? The breakthrough app was AOL, interactivity, we wanted to connect. And I’m sure there will be a VR environment like “World of Warcraft” coming.

“Myst” broke open computer gaming. We just need the app everyone’s got to own.

Few owned computers, even fewer had modems, then AOL drove everybody to the store, they wanted to play.

People are thinking about the future. It’s not quite here, and it won’t be what people say it will be, but we’re on the hunt for titillation, and we go where we find it.

And the stunning thing was the two Teds were consumed by this. Conversation in music is rarely about that, it’s all about the business, the money, the penumbra. But in Room 128 today we were freestyling about story, about technology, this is what you come to Hollywood for, to escape the grind of the bank, to avoid a life of drudgery.

So maybe the dream factory is ready for a rebirth. A true hyperspace that is not dependent upon “Star Wars” remakes.

One thing’s for sure, I’M SITTING DOWN FOR IT!

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