Saturday, May 17, 2014

Are we approaching the age of unemployment?

Our latest article in the Hollywood Journal:



Are we approaching the age of unemployment?


Are we approaching the age of unemployment?

by Dan Katzir and Ravit Markus
Some say that in order to fulfill humanity’s entire needs in the future, only 30% of the population will need to work. The other week Joao Gomes, professor of finance at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, published an article titled: Is America giving up? In it he says that in 1999, 74% of working-age Americans were employed. Nowadays it’s 67.4%. That drop represents a loss of about 14 million positions.
His article is one of several in the last few months that are all depicting this new reality. Those articles predict that there’s a chance that in less than 30 years the world will experience the age of unemployment — an era in which the majority of people will have very little chance of finding a job.
What would our lives look like in a reality where the majority of people are unemployed? Predictions vary. Imagine a world where 70% of the people are unemployed and are either at home trying to fill their day with meaning, or out and about trying to find things to do while they wait for some job opening that might never happen?
Throughout modern history, as technology advanced, some jobs were eliminated, while others were created. Think about the time before refrigerators, when there were people whose job was to cut ice from lakes and store it for the warmer months. But with the invention of the refrigerator, suddenly there was need for refrigerator manufacturers, refrigerator stores, refrigerator movers, refrigerator technicians, used refrigerator parts suppliers, etc.
So can a society exist when a majority of its members are unemployed? Even if the work of 30% is enough to take care of the 100%, what are tens of millions of people to do if they are not needed?
While Hollywood films and TV constantly invent reasons for a chaotic futuristic world, reality seems to be supplying us with a very real reason for a troubled new existence. This might be the most dangerous asteroid about to hit the human race. We could make a movie about it… because when so many people will be roaming the streets aimlessly, they might be looking for some good entertainment. Will our industry actually be the one benefitting from this asteroid?
The cheapest form of entertainment for all those jobless people will be free videos on TV and the web. We are already seeing many big players entering the online world and creating TV-like channels and production studios – including Netflix, Amazon, Yahoo, and Microsoft.
So perhaps while the amount of people working in other industries drops, the amount of people working for the entertainment industry might actually rise. But the real question for Hollywood will be: what content will those 70% be looking for?

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Redefining community

Redefining community

Redefining community

by Dan Katzir and Ravit Markus
The last few years have been revolutionary in terms of our perception of community. Back in the old days, community was the neighborhood we lived in. It was our local coffee shop, our local diner, our local newspaper stand, our local grocery shop. When we traveled, we got a sense of physical distance from all the things that made up that community.
But as everything became more corporate, our local coffee shop became Starbucks and our local grocery store became Trader Joe’s or Costco. No matter where we went, we seemed to be at the same distance from those familiar places, and that helped people move from one place to the next. With the ease of moving, the concept of community was changed.
Facebook, Twitter, and other social media websites are becoming a new alternative to community. One is more updated on the lives of people living across the country or in another continent than on the lives of the people living next door. You see pictures of intimate moments of their lives — birthdays, weddings, babies smiling. You can read their thoughts when they are celebrating or grieving. You can share in their musical tastes and learn about their political views on an ongoing daily basis.
So while some might say this is a virtual community, to us it feels very real. While we might not actually be with them in all these moments, we are still there in spirit. We probably know more about some of our virtual friends than we know about some of the people living on our street (unless they are already our FB friends).
This new sense of community is redefining our world. And yet, many people still feel as lonely as ever. Is it human nature to feel alienated from the real world no matter what the virtual reality can offer us?
Only time will tell if our new world – with its new communities – will succeed in meeting our emotional needs.
Or if our sense of loneliness will force us to continue searching for what makes a real community, in a world where the virtual world seems more constant than our constantly changing real world.
It will be interesting to see how Hollywood tackles all these changes. At the heart of many movies is the sense of community. The fact that the idea of community itself is changing will have to change the essence of motion pictures itself. For now, TV – which always mirrors the zeitgeist – reveals two directions in dealing with this theme:
On one hand it shows us that audiences crave TV shows about family as a way to feel less alienated. Some of the most successful TV shows right now are Modern Family and The Goldbergs, which remind us that as flawed as family is – it is ours and it will always be there as a stable element in our lives for good and for bad.
On the other hand, hit shows like Orange is the new Black and Revolution, reaffirm to many the idea that in the modern world there is no community anywhere and we can’t trust anyone. Not even our families. Not in prison nor in a futuristic world where electricity has destroyed the idea of a virtual community and mankind is back to basic survival mode.
Our sense of community is evolving. Hollywood will continue to reflect on this evolution. And for all of us working here trying to capture the essence of our time, the questions will be: What do people want from their community? What does their community require from them, and how does that community justify its existence?

Monday, March 03, 2014

What pot legalization tells us about the importance of net neutrality

Yes, there is a connection between pot legalization and net neutrality. See us connect the dots at our newest blog in the Hollywood Journal. Please share.



What pot legalization tells us about the importance of net neutrality

What pot legalization tells us about the importance of net neutrality

by Dan Katzir and Ravit Markus
Pot legalization is making significant headlines lately with both Senator Harry Reid and President Barack Obama making positive comments about it. As thedocumentary we are working on demonstrates, a major part of what helped the movement organize, be heard and become legit, is the web and all it has to offer. Now, the freedom of the web – which we all take for granted – is at great risk because we are about to lose net neutrality.
If you don’t know what that is, the one and only Stephen Colbert explains it besthere, and it’s followed by an interview with the Columbia Law School Professor who coined the term. In short: The court of appeals just ruled in favor of Verizon (and a few other major corporations) – and not in favor of the entire population of the planet – regarding net neutrality. Net neutrality means that all Internet traffic should generally be treated equally and that the Internet providers (Verizon, Time Warner, et. al.) cannot decide which websites will be streamed faster or slower, and which will not be streamed at all. Without net neutrality, the Internet providers could technically change it into a place where only big corporations can get their content to us.
The fact that a few corporations are trying to gain control of the Internet and are succeeding would seem to be a reason for all of us to protest in the streets to clearly show the government that we demand that the Internet stays free. But the media doesn’t seem to be stressing how dangerous this is, so most people have missed it.
Why is this so scary? We found a good summary here, but this is how we see it.
Without the random and free nature of the Internet, we would stand to lose the following:
* The freedom of the Internet is what allowed a website like Amazon to redefine the way we all shop (and sell) and lowered our overall costs by hundreds of percent.
* The freedom of the Internet is what allowed Netflix to redefine the way we watch movies and TV.
* The freedom of the Internet is what allowed websites like AirbnbUber andLyft to create a new shared economy which forced industries like hotels and taxis into a competition that improved the service and price for everyone.
* The freedom of the Internet is what allowed grassroots groups to organize and redefine our politics. From Occupy Wall Street to the Tea Party (through pot legalizers) — thanks to the web, politicians are forced to listen to their constituents and are discovering that a huge percentage of the population, many times, has different opinions than what the mainstream is expressing.
* And we haven’t even gotten to Facebook, Twitter, etc. The freedom of the Internet has changed everything in our lives – from commerce to the nature of our communities.
Net neutrality affects all of us, in everything we do in the digital age.
The underlying question is who owns the Internet. Is it the cable companies or the citizens of the world? Is the Internet a commodity that whomever owns it controls it – or is the Internet a utility – like gas, electricity or water, to which everyone has the same right to be connected, regardless of income?
Being indie filmmakers, we know all too well how much we need the Internet to stay free. The Internet helped bring an audience to watch our previous documentaryYiddish Theater: A Love Story in the theaters for over four months and is now enabling it to be sold on Amazon on a daily basis. How can we hope to achieve the same with our new documentary if we need to pay to even have an online presence?
After the court ruled that the Internet belongs to the cable companies, it will be up to the FCC to decide the fate of the freedom of the net – they need to change the law to reinforce net neutrality. From the few voices that were heard from in Washington after the court decision, it is obviously not a priority for most politicians.
So it is up to us, the people, to make sure they know this is a priority. Please call your representatives and let them know you want net neutrality defended by law. Or sign an online petition (there are a few circling around on Facebook).
We must use the freedom we still have of the web to do everything we can to keep it.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Sneak peek screening of our film at Bill Maher's house as part of a special event organized by CCPR.


The story of the sneak peek screening of our film at Bill Maher's house as part of a special event organized by CCPR in the Hollywood Journal:


http://hollywoodjournal.com/personal-journeys/the-lesson-we-learned-from-making-legalize-it/20131024/

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Open source art: Letting go of your ego

Our Latest article in the Hollywood Journal:

Open source art: Letting go of your ego

Open source art: Letting go of your ego

by Dan Katzir and Ravit Markus

Last week we saw one of the greatest art exhibits we have ever seen in our lives: Urs Fischer – YES, 2013. We don’t make it to downtown L.A. as often as we would like to and rarely go to the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. We actually stumbled into this exhibition by mistake without knowing anything about the artist or what we would see.
What makes this exhibit utterly breathtaking is that it is comprised of thousands of clay sculptures of almost everything that makes our world – from religious icons to pop culture icons, monsters, ghosts, animals, cars, old and new relics, immature and mature work, funny and serious work, playful and sad work – everything is there. We have never seen an exhibit with so much in it.
We were wondering how one man could create so much art even in an entire lifetime. How one man could speak in so many voices, have so many different styles – it was as if every style in the universe was present there but in a unique version of that style, not a mere copy work.
Then we read that the artist who created this work was Urs Fischer and that he actually brought in 1,500 volunteers to create this exhibit with him over one weekend.
All ages were there, young and old, dozens of kids. Most were not professional sculptors.
The artist gave them tons of clay and let their imagination run and regardless if some of the work was brilliant – and some was just okay – together it became a powerful and deeply moving statement.
What this exhibition shows is what we are experiencing all around us – the power of open source and the power of community in achieving greatness.
Open source has redefined our world. From open sourcing our collective experiences in social websites like Facebook, through collective sharing of our knowledge on Wikipedia, to collective sharing of criticism in websites such as TripAdvisor, Yelp, Epinions, etc.
Yet in art? Art is usually the place where an individual expresses his/her unique voice. All arts have a lot to do with a person trying to quiet his/her soul – and part of that journey is motivated by very strong egos.
But open source is the opposite. It is letting go of one’s ego.
Some of the myths of the 20th century were about individuals with a unique voice and how they changed our world. It might be the basis of the myths in all history.
Maybe the story of the 21st century isn’t about individuals, but instead about teamwork that will lead to groundbreaking changes.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

4/20 Happy Global Weed Day

Our Latest article in the Hollywood Journal. Please share and LIKE on the article page itself.

Happy 420 Everyone!

4/20 Happy Global Weed Day

global-weed-hollywood-journal
4/20 Happy Global Weed Day
by Dan Katzir and Ravit Markus
IMG_2925
Photos courtesy of Dan Katzir and Ravit Markus
On the heels of a fantastic test screening we had of our new film Legalize It at the Irvine United Congregational Church of Christ last Saturday, we are reminded what got us into this project in the first place. As in our previous documentaries, we followed those people because we felt they are fighting the good fight.
That’s why it’s not as surprising as it may sound that churchgoers would fill a screening (we had a full house!) of a ‘potumentary’. It’s because our protagonists are fighting for change: changing our society from a punitive to a compassionate one, and that is something churchgoers can relate to.
As we sat on the panel discussion with two of the film’s IMG_3001participants, retired Orange County Superior Court Judge Jim Gray (also the Libertarian Party Vice Presidential Nominee in 2012) and retired law enforcement Lieutenant Diane Goldstein, it was interesting to hear the audience responses which ran the gamut of connecting the marijuana policy issue to the failure of our health system, all the way to the question of when will our DVD be released . . . to which we could only reply with a long sigh.
Apropos, millions around the world are celebrating today, 4/20 aka April 20 . . . Global Weed Day. It’s kind of surreal when you think about how many people are (and have been for years) celebrating their fondness of an illegal activity connected to an illegal plant. Is there any other legal plant in the world that gets so much attention and respect? One wonders why so many people are willing to risk arrest, criminal records and even going to jail for the sake of an illegal plant. After working on our film for over three years, we actually understand and the audience at the church I believe can now understand as well.
However, the risk might be getting smaller thanks to the latest development in the world of drug policy reform: “Russell Simmons Rally Celebrities And Civil Rights Leaders To Help Obama Change Drug Policy” (Huffington Post). The coalition included Will Smith, Ron Howard, Scarlett Johansson, Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Hudson and many more.
This news item didn’t just stay with the regular news outlets that feed the news junkies. It was also picked up by news sources covering entertainment and that brought the story to the mainstream majority, many of whom usually don’t care about politics or breaking headlines. Even Perez Hilton posted on his website a story about it: “Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian & More Join Russell Simmons To Urge Obama To End The War On Drugs!”
In the past Hollywood quietly endorsed marijuana policy reform by glamorizing it in movies, TV and songs. But since it was so controversial, there were only a few industry professionals and celebrities willing to publically stand behind the issue. But now, as the group of supporters calling for change is growing, it is empowering more people within Hollywood to come out and have their voice heard.
The Marijuana Spring we predicted in our last story is starting to bloom.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The marijuana spring

Our third blog on Hollywood Journal is up and running. Check it out:

The marijuana spring

The marijuana spring

by Dan Katzir and Ravit Markus
Finally spring has come back. Flowers are starting to blossom, bears are waking up from their winter sleep, and across America people are also waking up to a new political reality that as always has a Californian connection.
They say that as goes California so goes the nation, and as goes the nation so goes the world. If California were an independent nation, it would be the 8th largest economy in the world, which shows the importance of California not just as an entertainment hub, but also as a leading business center.
That’s why when we started working on our documentary following the Proposition 19 campaign to legalize marijuana in California, we knew that whatever happens in California will resonate elsewhere.
But unlike the image of California in the media as being very liberal, the last few elections have shown nuanced results. In the last few controversial public referendums, Californians have been much more hesitant towards major social changes. Californians rejected marijuana legalization, they rejected gay marriage and they rejected ending the death penalty sentence. One surprising common denominator to these ballots: the entertainment industry was less vocal than many expected them to be.
It is a sharp contrast to the past where the entertainment industry proudly took on a leadership role in many of America’s major changes.
It’s not that people in California and in the entertainment industry care today less about social changes, but perhaps it’s that in our global world, we have all bought into the idea that everything is business. Self-help gurus keep telling us every day on TV shows that we got to leverage our own failures and successes, as if we ourselves are our own company’s stock, and in this business culture it’s unwise to express one’s political opinions. After all, in a corporate world, all of us want our own corporation to succeed, and political debate might alienate potential business, clients or work colleagues. This logic is even influencing people’s attitude towards endorsing political pages on Facebook since many feel it might seem too controversial to others if they see their “corporate” endorsement.
While avoiding conflict of political opinions has its reassuring side in the way of people looking for common ground with other people, by not discussing political issues out loud except with those you know totally agree with you, we are perpetuating stagnation.
Because solutions can be found only when both sides are forced to sit at the same table and find a compromise that addresses most of their concerns.
This month, with the coming of spring, an earthquake occurred in American politics and quite surprisingly it happened with an extremely controversial issue, marijuana policy reform.
The former mayor of San Francisco, and currently the popular Lt. Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, stated that it is time for a marijuana policy reform. This segment of Bill Maher’s show became an online sensation because Newsom is one of the stars of the Democratic party.
Another major headline was made when California politician and L.A. Mayoral candidate, Eric Garcetti, also came out in support of marijuana policy reform. Garcetti is in a close race at the moment so the fact that he took a stand on a controversial issue like this is indeed groundbreaking.
Another headline that quickly became a sensation and many posted and reposted it on facebook: Nancy Pelosi, one of the most powerful women in Congress, expressed support on the issue as well.
 We’ve focused on three leading Democratic politicians because currently Democrats are in the top position in California. Yet on a national level, leading politicians from all parties are finding the courage to call for change on this controversial issue. For instance, in the last general election a few months ago, the Libertarian presidential nominee, former Republican Governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson, was one of the leading voices calling for marijuana policy reform.
Republican Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who some predict will become a Republican presidential nominee in 2016, made headlines this week with his statement that: “The last two presidents could conceivably have been put in jail for their drug use, and I really think, you know, look what would have happened, it would have ruined their lives . . . They got lucky.”
But back to California. When major Californian politicians speak out about this controversial issue, it is obvious real historical change is happening in front of our eyes. Not just for marijuana policy reform, but for the idea of reform itself.
Question is, will the courage of leading California politicians also inspire the entertainment industry to take greater risks in expressing their real opinions on controversial political issues? Will political debate become fashionable at dinner tables?

Remember this spring everyone. Yes, there’s the Arab spring in the Middle East, but it could be an activist spring in America.