COW TV (2004 – Part 3)

Continued on from part 2.

So with free afternoons and a lot of grand ideas of helping on the production, I was thrown straight into helping. Cam was brilliant and was always telling me more about shooting for sequences, editing tips, and cut downs. Some of the earlier things I did were far too long and needed better editing, but this was also helped by better shooting plans.

I ended up shooting with Hamish for the Night and Day News segment quite a bit, and Hamish seemed to enjoy having someone to shoot for him that he didn’t have to direct much, that I could be expected to go off and shoot the content and cutaways needed outside of his pieces to camera and interviews. Otherwise being around during the early evening meant I was also asked to come shoot Flat Raids and other such events too, plus any other crazy things in and around the station for that evenings show. I also ended up doing the shooting for the Walk of Shame segment after a couple of months, and Cam gave me great feedback on the material I brought back. The experience there also led to me working on a few paid jobs for Channel 9 itself and eventually rolling into working on the News in a variety of ways.

On top of this I continued my studio shoots for Cow in the evenings too. More and more often I was doing handheld camera work and enjoying every moment of it. For the first few months I didn’t miss a single show, and so 5 nights a week I was there no matter what.

One night it snowed, and minimal crew came in. So Ivan and I built a fort out of the set materials.

One night it snowed, and minimal crew came in. Ivan and I built a fort, and most of what screened that night was highlights from the year so far.

Sun, Rain, or even snow. The first snow night was cold, and we went out and shot students being crazy in the sea level snowfall. Some of the out of town students had never seen snow that wasn’t on a mountain. It could only be called snow madness what we saw. The studio was so quiet that night that Ivan and I were the only crew for the two presenters, and we built a fort for the presenters to use. Aside from the snow content, we played recent highlights because little else had been shot. For some reason, other than the photos I have from the night, this sticks out as a clear early memory.

It wasn’t until probably late April before I missed any shows. The only one I did at first was a debating show for who knows what, and I still watched it from home. Around Easter I went back up to Wellington for the long weekend, missing the Tuesday night show. But after that for the rest of the year until just after mid July I didn’t again miss a single episode. I was hooked, and most of the time I was in on camera, on the studio floor, having a blast.

Me getting ready for a night of shooting sometime in early 2004. I don't look as thrilled as I normally was when we were on air.

Me getting ready for a night of shooting sometime in early 2004. I don’t look as thrilled as I normally was when we were on air.

Shoots out of the studio though were a blur after a while. I did some event at the Meridian Mall with Nathan Rarere being interviewed, numerous Night and Day stories with Hamish, more Walk of Shame’s including one on a particularly frosty morning with Ivan as my presenter after a major Rugby game between the All Blacks and British Lions. Music interview after music interview, usually with Craig Easson interviewing, flat raids with Rob Dixon, Who Dares Wins Beers with Jim Bush, plus sports interviews with whoever was there to do them. The Hyde Street Keg party (where I got hit with five month old rotten milk while filming, thanks to William Miller), 24 Book Sale coverage, New Zealand Idol coverage, talked to Politicians. We covered the Leith Bike Race, Jaffa Race, setup a Supermarket Trolley race and filmed it as an event, did milk challenges outside on the street by the studio live, filmed events at the Uni Games which was in Dunedin that year. Went to pubs and shot bands. But then also Lip Syncing and Air Guitar competitions at student pubs as well, and many many many more.

Rob Jackson gets hit in the face by a unexpected snowball during filming in the snow in 2004.

Rob Jackson gets hit in the face by a unexpected snowball during filming in the snow in 2004.

After Gwyneth Paltrow filmed a movie in Dunedin (the movie Sylvia) Hamish, Ivan, and I visited Corstorphine House, the most expensive accommodation in Dunedin, where she stayed. And compared it to a scummy student flat on Hyde Street. Hamish and Ivan did some inappropriate things in the Russian Room and Hamish jumped onto the beds, climbed into empty baths, and slid down stair railings. The owners weren’t impressed apparently.

One of the events we filmed at the Oriental Tavern (‘The Ori’) was a talent competition which introduced us to Callum Macdonald. Callum was studying Television and started to come into help on the show. From then on until just last year in 2013 he was a face you’d see around the station a lot.

We had guest try to pin the "tail on the honkey", in reference to a then recent event with Don Brash.

We had guest try to pin the “tail on the honkey”, in reference to a then recent event with Don Brash.

Studio shows weren’t slacking often either. From hallway jousting, cooking segments, setting up former CH9 news reader and TV3 reporter Shaun Summerfield (walking through an old CH9 new promo banner with his face on it), a ‘pin the tail on the honkey’ game (Don Brash inspired, pic above). We had bands play (including one punk band which overfilled the studio – probably should have got us in trouble on the weight and fire hazards no doubt), setup a Female Boxing bout between Sasha and Anna somehow, had Highlanders Cheerleaders in the studio (cheering for anything and everything on that episode), plus numerous other celeb guests and sports stars in and on as interviews between anything else Cam could get in each night. So many I could probably go on and on if I could just remember them all.

Craig Easson often did music interviews, like this one with some possibly well known guy... or whatever....

Craig Easson often did music interviews, like this one with some possibly well known guy… or whatever….

Sadly it couldn’t last forever, for both me and others. In around mid July I left for a couple of weeks back to Wellington, and out of some luck secured some paid contract work while I was away, it didn’t start for a month or so though. I returned to Dunedin in early August and continued to help on the show for a few more weeks until I was due to be back in Wellington for the job. At the same time Cam had also found other work outside of Dunedin and left as the Cow producer in early August. Matt took over now presenting and producing the show.

I can’t comment much on what happened after I left. The biggest highlight for the guys was probably a whole saga with presenter Rob Jackson’s flatmate calling up and playing random midi music frequently, being labeled the “Musicman” and then a Beastie Boys inspired Cow Squad thing trying to hunt him down. William Miller got in trouble for helping himself to a large amount of beer trying to secure an interview with a famous international rap star who visited Dunedin (he didn’t get the IV but the singer got the beer). The guys got on the final episode of the show Sportscafe being filmed in Dunedin and literally tore the set to pieces. There was probably much more again but I never saw much of it.

By the time I returned just before Christmas the year was well over, and because I had so much fun in 2004 I wanted to come back for the 2005 year. Little did I know just how different it would be.

To be continued…

COW TV (2004 – Part 2)

The poster for the show... "We're Back Violating Your Television"

The poster for the show… “We’re Back Violating Your Television”


Continued from part 1.

So I turned up on the following Monday evening to Channel 9. As I mentioned last time, the station is located in the Allied Press building – home of the Otago Daily Times. Allied is currently the only remaining independent newspaper company left in NZ, and had taken full ownership of Channel 9 after it faced financial problems in 2002. This meant that for most all of my time at the company, the station never spent money it didn’t have to. Regional television is done bare bones, smell of an oily rag most of the time… but this generally means the people that come out of working from it really do well with challenges. The station itself is on the top floor of the building, floor 3, and you either took the full set of stairs up or crammed yourself into what is likely to be the world smallest elevator.

Once you’re inside there is a reception area with no receptionist, just a TV showing the current on air material from the station and some couches. At the time I first arrived, the News team was in the front area with the sales people. The office behind that was the production managers, who at the start of 2004 was Dan Wright – who’d been there since 2001. Beside that a large office for the station manager, Keith Collins. Then two edit suites, one analogue tape-to-tape, used mostly by the news guys and a digital suite with two computers running Adobe Premiere.

The Channel 9 station logo and slogan, which used to be at the end of the main hallway.

The Channel 9 station logo and slogan, which used to be at the end of the main hallway.

Behind this area was the old CowTV room, then used for random storage. Beside that a tape store, and then beside that a large space that was the new Cow office… the “Cow hole” I believe I mentioned previously. The other areas in the floor included the studio space, and a moderately small control room with vision desk, three tape machines, Grass Valley switcher, sound desk, and a rack of broadcast equipment that should have probably had it’s own room but never did.

My intent was to do a great job being part of the studio crew, hopefully jump on a camera and show I felt confident as a camera operator, and show my enthusiasm for the work. When I arrived, I was instructed to help setup both the remaining pieces of the set not yet out and the camera equipment. The studio space was surprisingly not as big as I had expected, having not seen it when I originally visited. I’d seen plenty of COW and also the local news, and straight away remembered that things always generally look larger on camera. Half of the studio was taken up full time by the news desk, the other half was where every other production was made at the station. The split was made by two doors on either side – one which went out to the front offices, the other intro the control room. Of the half of the non news space, COW used up half of this space again for the set, and half or so (spilling slightly back into the news area) for a 3 camera setup for the hour of live content. The studio was probably only 4×8 meters square in total size.

My first notice aside from the studio of things was that, while it was still a hive of activity with a number of people around, there certainly wasn’t as many people as had been there the start of the previous week. There was also a few new faces that I didn’t recognize, some people from the meeting, and a few I did simply as they’d who’d been working on the show the last year or so – mostly presenters. Also floating around was Dan Wright, who was Channel 9’s production manager as I mentioned, who I’d never talked to until that point. I had a quick chat with him between setting stuff up, and found him quite an easy to talk to and laid back guy. He seemed to be good friends with some of the crew around, people who’d he’d obviously been working with the last few years.

Those people who’d been around previous years and Dan gave instructions, and so I listened and tried to do or otherwise copy what they were doing. I was spending most of my time setting up Camera One. This was going okay, until I managed to insert the external camera monitor cable into a different plug location. As the camera cables were bundled and already in (power supply, gen lock/picture and reference sets), the power was provided to both front and rear of the camera, and I’d already switched both on being told that was okay… and not knowing this would happen. And so this tripped an internal circuit breaker… meaning the camera was still powered on but nothing would seemingly function including sending out a picture.

As I was providing that feed already into the control room once the power was on, and they’d seen the picture short out… from the control room doorway came this pale dark haired character who proceed to yell at me, tell me I was very stupid, and that I should go home. He proceeded to turn everything off on the camera, flick a tiny hidden switch under the camera which reset the breaker, and then proceeded to finish setting up the camera… give me a glance, and then stomp out.

A voice cut across the room. “Don’t mind him, that’s just Wayne… he’s like that with all the new people.” I didn’t know him at all, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to but I was reassured that I should just carry on. Later I would get to know Wayne… and he was a real crack up. The first few months of 04 he was holding the station together and was under a lot of stress, little sleep, and long hours. He was seemingly difficult and when I had to work with him on actual projects I didn’t know how I would deal with him. In later years when I got to know him better, we’d joke around a lot and I counted on him a lot for helping me with his never ending technical know how. He’d later finally leave Channel 9 in 2006 and eventually moved to TV3 in Auckland, where from what I’ve been told he’s basically just become the same technical guru for them as he was for Channel 9.

Part of the Channel 9 control area. From left to right - Barry, Dan, and Wayne.

Part of the Channel 9 control area. From left to right – Barry, Dan, and Wayne.

Back to that first night though…. intending not to make anymore mistakes, I planned to moved on and just do what I could.

We found that the set of lights in the studio were numerous but old. They were all more or less locked into a general position but could all be turned around with the trusty lighting stick or by climbing up a ladder and positioning them. A call went out for people with lighting experience, and I put my hand up… along with another fellow. We ended up chatting and working out our respective “lighting history.” His name was Ivan Larsen, originally from Levin, and just moved to Dunedin to study medicine at Otago University.

Ivan had done a lot of lighting, sound and tech stuff mostly for school shows, and he had far more experience than I had while I was at film school. I’d done two days of studio work which mostly had us looking over lighting plans. The rest of my lighting experience was just from 3 point light setups for interviews, which was ironically good enough to help out because basically that’s more or less how we were lighting this set – aside from a giant fill light above the door to the control room.

Ivan Larsen on sound duties, looking like a filthy bad man.

Ivan Larsen on sound duties, looking like a filthy bad man.

Between us we went around adjusting lights, having presenters or other people sit in the seats, looking at getting it even, that it wasn’t too harsh or in eye-lines. After a half hour or so, a few placement adjustments, cutting some lights, and some gel/spun work – we’d got it sussed. By then more or less the rest of the studio was set, with mics and cameras all in place. I got to call for a camera position, #3 – one of the close ups. Cam called a meeting and we discussed stuff and did a little bit of rehearsal, probably one of the only ones we ever did that year, just so people could get a feel for the show.

The presenters were Matt and Sasha, both from the previous year. Matt was generally open and funny, Sasha was mostly quiet. As a combo onscreen it generally worked, for some odd reason… both talked fine, they were opposites in backgrounds and seemingly balanced it out. If Matt was over the top, then Sasha was the straight-man… or woman as it was. Two 2003 segment presenters, Jim Bush and Rob Dixon were also around, having been filming flat raids and other things during Orientation. They would be on and off the show during the year based on what they were doing outside the show.

The presenter audition night. Sasha is behind the Cow desk. Matt, in tan, Cam in blue. Tony on the ground getting a shot ready to come back to.

The presenter audition night. Sasha is behind the Cow desk. Matt, in tan, Cam in blue. Tony on the ground getting a shot ready to come back to.

Supporting them in doing the “Night and Day News” segment was Hamish Coleman-Ross, also another last year veteran. Although I think if Hamish was there that night at all, he wasn’t there for long. Hamish’s then girlfriend Victoria Rushton was probably also wasn’t, though later on she often did work on the sound desk. Barry Findley was directing, he’d been doing the show for a while, and was in almost every night to do this. I think William Miller, who was then this young kid was also around, he just wanted to help out and ended up in the control room most of the time (If he wasn’t put in a giant cow suit which had been made). And there was Tony Pratt, who was often the main camera 1 operator and who was on “handheld” for good chunks of the show. Tony and I would usually end up working together on a lot of studio shows, tag teaming the camera work around the static #2 wide cam. The rest of the guys running around were mostly friends of Cam’s who were involved in early shoots, including John Day who’d done heaps for Cam during Orientation – who I’d end up working with a few years later somewhere else entirely. He now does the Sports news for the Rock FM radio station morning show.

The other person that came in for camera in the early days was Harley Neville. Harley was well known for doing a segment in 2003 called ‘Cow’s Rear End’ and mostly was dumb and/or gross stunts that would have fit in with Jackass or similar. The story for why Harley got in trouble for this is better left for another post, but he wasn’t supposed to be allowed to make new content for the show… but Cam had somehow convinced Keith to allow him come work on the show floor at least.

Then as my memory is, I don’t remember much who else was there… and aside from glaring gaps – there was a simple reason probably. It turns out that the promotion of “work” there meant lots of people turned up, as I’d seen the previous week, but the drop off rate was quite high. Between people realizing it’s not at all paid, or could be a while before they’re going to get paid work, as well as students not really having time for it and realizing this, or the simple fact people can’t volunteer every day. This would later work to the advantage of anyone who stuck around – including my own – and was probably a bigger factor than me just doing ‘awesome work’.

The first show went off almost without a hitch. As the week went on I helped on a few small segments, but turned up for every show. By later in the week I got to do some handheld segments and shots, and felt like every day when I came in I was contributing to the show. By show 5 on the Friday, Hamish did a special on party pills mixed with alcohol, and I can still clearly remember getting an extreme close up of his eye which we cut to showing the effect you could see on his face as well as a “party” zone with a smoke machine and strobe light, that the entire cast and some of the other studio crew was in by the end of the night.

In studio the following weeks, later in March, we had a “be a cow presenter” comp, people had auditioned during Orientation and came in. Out of it the show got a new host in Anna Hegarty, who was already friends with some of the guys anyway including Cam, John, and others; and Rob Jackson. Rob lost the presenter challenge by a small margin but hung around to help on the show. Later on in the year Anna took off overseas, and so Rob filled in the presenter position he’d originally gone for.

Anna interviews a guy they found busking outside the Countdown supermarket.

Anna interviews a guy they found busking outside the Countdown supermarket.

I’d started an advertising design course at Aoraki Polytechnic, which was a 2 minute walk from Allied’s building, to up my graphic abilities. I’d done this as I’d found I’d enjoyed making graphics for edits the previous years, when most students were just using basic text in the films. My course normally finished mid-afternoons (and at lunch time once a week on Fridays) so within a few weeks in I started popping in after this time.

By doing so I began helping out on going out and shooting segments… and without knowing a new chapter began already…

To be continued once more…

COW TV (2004 – Part 1)

Last year I somehow entirely missed the fact it had been over a decade since I went to film & TV school at Avalon… which I did in the later half of 2003. So it’s with a little forethought that I think slightly in advance at what I did with my 2004.

The Allied Press building, Channel 9 (now Freeview 39) is located on the top (3rd) floor on the right side of this photo. Image from TrekEarth.

The Allied Press building, Channel 9 (now Dunedin TV Freeview 39) is located on the top (3rd) floor on the right side of this photo. Image from TrekEarth.

In December of 2003 I arrived back in my home town of Dunedin, just shortly before Christmas. Having just finished my course I decided to check in with the local TV station in town, Channel 9, to see if I could put my hand up for work. I met with the then station manager, Keith Collins, and we discussed the simple point of working at the station usually started with those who worked their way up through from volunteering for the student TV show. That show was COW TV.

The logo for CowTV

The logo for CowTV

I’d watched quite a bit of COW in 1999 and 2000, it’s first couple of years, and now and then at random through 2001-2003. The show was created by Clarke Gayford, who’d gone on to reasonable success in New Zealand as a presenter and producer among other work, as a university focused entertainment show. While he’d created the idea while at study in Christchurch, he’d instead managed to get it up and running in Dunedin focused for the students of Otago University.

The first season in 1999 was hosted by a few different people, but the main duo for the bulk of the first year was made of Andrew Mulligan (still on TV, as main co-host Sky/Prime’s Crowd Goes Wild) and Marcus Sonntag (who last I heard is working in upper level banking for ANZ Bank). They probably remain the best known of the hosts as far as the history of the show is concerned, although some other hosts in later years would be more well known for other work in other shows.

CowTV Presenters from 1999, Marcus Sontagg (L) and Andrew Mulligan (R).

CowTV Presenters from 1999, Marcus Sontagg (L) and Andrew Mulligan (R).

The show itself, which started as one recorded, usually in the field, half hour per week for around 40 weeks of the year, was very funny… with skits and segments, the most infamous being the Walk of Shame. I’ll come back to this aspect much later to further discuss the content. However the title itself reflected this screening slot, originally meaning “Campus Otago Weekly TeleVision.” In the 2000 season some sort of outside research told Channel 9’s owners they should move the show from a night slot to a live studio based AM show to boost viewers – which was later found to be a bad move and the show later returned to nights. As the years went on the show increased in duration and episodes per year, and when I’d started watching it again more regularly by early 2003 (following some dramatic changes to the station in 2002) the show was around 1 hour long per episode and on, absurdly, 5 nights a week at 10pm.

Anyway, I was told in the meeting with Keith that he’d take my details and pass them on in the new year to the shows producer, who hadn’t yet been organized, and I’d probably hear from him in early Feb once the show was coming together.

I got a call from the show’s producer in Feb as Keith had said I would. His name was Cam Williams and he’d been working on the show on and off for a few years while also working on other “actual productions” around the country. Being COW’s producer was seemingly a last minute thing for him, as I believe he’d been planning on being elsewhere but when some expected work seemed to be pushed back or cancelled he ended up taking the gig of COW TV Producer for the meantime. Channel 9 it seemed had also struggled to see someone take the position until then and so it seemed of benefit to both parties.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Cam was the best first producer you could hope for. I would find out later that he knew what he wanted, was assertive when it was needed, yet entirely laid back otherwise. He taught you stuff which was important, and while he may not of specifically cared about the show on the surface all the time, he still always appreciated what it allowed for people in learning and always made sure it was fun for the volunteers. I guess especially because he appreciated the people giving up their own time to make his job easier.

On top of it all he did simply his job as the producer, including coming in the day after each show and cutting out highlights from each episode before for highlight shows and reels, pleasing the sponsors with material, and making sure as best he could there was content for every night. This seems like something you don’t need to state, producer does his job… how amazing. However I would learn the following year what the complete antithesis of this would be. but that’s a story for another time.

My brief meeting with Cam was straight forward, he asked what I had studied, what I was interested in as far as the content, and then told me he’d let me know when to come in – but said that it would likely be the first week of the University’s orientation week around the middle of the month. I’d known some of the guys who’d worked on the 2003 season through my Web Design/Animation course the start of 2003 (they were doing TV training in the same building), and I expected a few people to be there and I was hoping I could do something good with my more recently earned skills.

When I got a call to come in during the first week of Orientation I was excited, and I arrived shortly before the time I was supposed to. I was however disheartened when I walked into the back office space, which I would later find out was designated “the COW hole,” was crowded with no less than two dozen people. The meeting divvied up the planned work over the couple of weeks during the University orientation… people being sent to cover concerts, toga parades, doing the ‘find a presenter’ drive, shooting opening credits and stings, creating skits, crews raiding flats in the evening, being sent out to do the years first Walk Of Shame coverage… the list seemingly went on and on.

However once everything was divvied up I, along with a few others, were left with nothing because our unspecific skills didn’t seem as well suited to field shoots it seemed or didn’t know the existing guys well enough to join in. I was instead told to turn up around 6.30-7pm on the next Monday for the first show of the year.

I was disheartened over what had happened and I left the Channel 9 building feeling quite rejected, perhaps even more so because it was volunteer work and yet I didn’t seem like I’d been used for even that most simplest of jobs. But the more I thought I simply just realized there was so many people helping out and there just wasn’t enough work to do. Instead I just decided that I’d try to do my best for that first show at the station itself… maybe that’s where my skills would be best put to use, in the live studio shoot. And so indeed in making this decision to do the best job I could for the live studio part I had, unknowingly, set forward the best plan I could have ever decided.

To be continued in another post….

First

Hello there internet.

Sorry about the mess, or more specifically the lack there of, for this is the first post while I get a hang of this whole WordPress thing. So for now the site is in a basic look… I’ll get on to changing this up in time.

This is the first post for the new year, and hopefully I will soon be filling this with the sorts of pointless to the world guff that everyone else does. But simply with major moving travel and job changes in the future I hopefully will post the occasional nugget of something actually interesting.

Until then…

Game Of The Post #6: Black

Format: Sony Playstation 2
First Person Shooter
Developer: Criteron Games
Publisher: EA
Released: 2006
Black was an odd title. But fun. In a world heading more and more towards online FPS titles, especially modern based warfare ones, Black would probably be considered the last hurrah to the old school single player titles. Especially given it’s 2006 release. And yet for it’s time it looked incredible. Gun porn was what the developers called it, the menus alone had high rendered real time weapons firing off in the background and the level of detail on the weapons and enviroments throughout the game was exceptionally high.
The difficulty curve was high and hard, but very rewarding. One level involving a bridge attack in particular was very challenging but ranks high in my memory of the game. The plot however ranked low overall which isnt surprising as it was added as an afterthought and ended on a semi-cliff hanger, which never will be followed up on (more on this below).
The game sold itself to me entirely on what Criteron had been working on with the Burnout series which is odd when you think about it… a car series selling on a first person shooter. But visually the Burnout series had been pushing better and better visuals on the PS2 and thus the looks of this game would be amazing, and of course the screens and video sold this.
I sold off Black sometime last year via Trade Me. Had I never finished it at the time, I would have held onto it longer, but I had done everything I could in the game. These days the title is surpassed by stuff like the Call Of Duty series, but if you’ve got only a PS2 or an X-Box and are looking for something like that – Black is where you should head. In fact the X-Box version is avaliable to download and play on the 360 off the Live service as well.

The team who made Black more or less left Criteron, based on differing issues with how a planned Black 2 was handled by it’s potential publisher, Electronic Arts, and are currently working on a new FPS called Bodycount to be released by UK publisher Codemasters sometime in 2011. Having watched the video of it, it hasn’t grabbed me like Black did… unfortunately the competition these days in the genre is so thick and the games so simular, it probably won’t see my console.

Soccer World Cup and NZ’s Turn Of Attitude

No one needs to point out the irony to me that we sent a team called ‘The All Whites’ to South Africa… especially given the turbulent history of that topic NZ has with the country in the early 80’s. Aside from this, which I just wanted to get out of the way first… don’t get me wrong here, but I’m not a Soccer fan… and not really much of a sports fan in general really, casual observer really.

However NZ was the rank rank rank outsiders in the countries that made it in (I think we’re like 81st or 82nd in World Rankings), and so there was no expectation for the team to win. And they didn’t. But they also didn’t lose any match they were in, instead managing to tie all 3 games they played and not making it through on clear points due to Italy’s unexpected defeat. As a country, many were happy to be in and playing that first game. If we drew or even scored 1 goal people would have been happy, and many even said as long as we lost by 1 or 2 points we’d still be happy to have been there. It’s nice to see positive support regardless of outcome by our nation… it’s not something I’m accustom to here.

You see, our main sport here of course is Rugby… our team for this sport is The All Blacks (thus why the Soccer team is the Whites), but they – for mostly as long as I can remember – get a hard time for every loss they’ve had. The pressure is always on, especially for their world cup (to be held here next year too)… but honestly, big or small game, if we lose – even if the team battles well and literally loses by a point or so, you’ll be hearing about it everywhere for weeks as if it was the end of the world.

There are justified reasons for complaining sometimes sure. NZ has a history of still being bitter about the “1981 Trevor Chappell Underarm bowling incident” in the cricket. At the time I’m sure this is all justified, but it’s almost 30 years later and it’s still often cited. Then there is the 1995 Rugby World cup loss for the AB’s, which sparked a conspiracy stories about food poisoning, listening devices, and car alarms going off waking up players the night before the match, all which personally I’d state as poor excuses for just not being happy at losing.

Ref mistakes too seem justified, regardless of if it was unfair or fair, but a team losing is treated as the worst offense ever. Personally I’ve never gotten this… there are 2 teams in the game. One wins, One loses… it’s just a fact. If you don’t win then you don’t win. You can get over this and hope next time you just win. Simple. So of course it was nice to see a change here… constant positive news stories about how well the team was doing, how they were being great role models as being a team to just take part… that it’s what matters the most.

Game Of The Post #5: Auto Modellista

Format: Sony Playstation 2
Racing
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Released: 2002

Auto Modellista is an odd little gem that turned up on my doorstep thanks to the late great PSM magazine. Several years ago I entered a competition to win a Capcom prize package, and amazingly I won. The item which turned up on my doorstep? A Street Fighter t-shirt and 3 games. The games were the awesome Onimusha 2, the odd Dino Stalker (aka Gun Survivor 3), and the crazy (and also odd titled) auto modellista.

Modellista peaked my interest however so much I ended up writing a guide for it

Interestingly this is Capcom’s first (and only still) racing game that they’ve ever made. Considering they managed to licence a number of brands and car types, they did an exceptional job and I can only guess a lack of overall sales may have been the cause as to why they never made a sequel or any other games like this. 
 
The game itself is fairly simple. It’s a mix between arcade and sim, focusing on officially licensed parts and a balance system in the garage in which you tune your car to the best for the upcoming race. This however goes against type and gives you cell-shaded arcade style gameplay. 
 
Provided you’ve tuned your car correctly, you’ll be drifting and power sliding your way around corners, splashing up marks behind you like in the photos shown.

My friend who saw the game said Capcom nailed what should have been the Anime ‘Initial D’ look which surprisingly the officially released titles hadn’t actually managed to do. I’ve never seen the series myself, so I can’t comment greatly, but looking at the games online they look very standard.

The other interesting thing about it is the replay theatre option, which went beyond the standard editor and allowed you to mix in various visual elements and grades over the top, which wasn’t something often seen. The outcome, mixed with the cellshades, made something of a music video out of your replays.

Sadly the game lacked a lot of depth. Aside from unlocking all of the cars and extras, there was a very limited number of tracks and the version in PAL areas lacked the Online play.

The US had a delayed version which went multiformat and included extra unlocks, cars, modes, and the online play. The game was re-released in some countries as “U.S. tuned” which added these features back into the game for those markets, however it was never released over here and thus I never picked it up.

I currently still own the game, however it will probably end up on my sell pile at this stage as, while doing the guide, I’ve basically played through everything I could in the game. It’s a great quirky little title and I suggest if you get the chance to play it then definitely do so, I don’t think you’ll regret it.

So… my PS3 died… but how are you?

So I had intended on doing my long delayed follow up to the PS3 update saga from a few months back, however last week my PS3 gave way to the Yellow Light Of Death, or YLOD as it’s known online. This in of itself wouldn’t have been an issue as I’d somehow managed to cover myself for problems for 3 years when I brought it.

However, the first thing was I was playing a game when it died… a copy of X-Men Origins: Wolverine that I rented… which was stuck in the console. Apparently every PS3 since the original 60GB BC models have a manual eject option… except mine was a 60GB model. Secondly I haven’t backed up my drive… so while I can re-download all my DLC contents and add-ons, my save files have gone. Which is a shame about for a number of the games on my shelf.

– Assassin’s Creed II
I was 3% away from 100% trophies, which mostly entitled to getting feathers on the game map. This in of itself isn’t so hard to do in perhaps a normal replay, however I also had side quests to do. I also don’t know how that impacts on the stuff I got from the Uplay website via Ubisoft.

– Burnout Paradise
Starting over for the third time (once before trophies, once after trophies).

– Ghostbusters
Was currently replaying in pro-mode, and was a half of the way in and working on trophies.

– GOW Collection / GOW 3
Have to replay the games all over again to unlock the challenge modes which I was going to play next.

– GTA4
Completed save file is gone.

– Lego Star Wars
Thanks to my friend Ryan, my save was around 76% complete. Restart.

– MGS4
Aside from the completed save files and bonus from replaying the game, the MGS Database uses a complete game file. What is more annoying though is the in-game DLC for the game is painfully slow to get from Konami’s servers… it took me a day to get all the bonus music, camo, and podcasts.

– RE5
Aside from the fact I’d just gotten the Gold Edition, which requires me to have at least finished the game for all the bonus content to become unlocked, I have to re-earn everything… which I figure I funneled about 30-40 hours into on the original game.

– Rock Band / Rock Band 2 / Beatles Rock Band
I don’t know how to recover a band stat (will check the RB website, it is assigned to my PSN name), because my band (Sure, Not ) but all my stats on RB1 is gone. Thankfully the unlock key for RB2 unlocks them all for use in it without the legwork, but still I put a lot into that as well.

– Uncharted / Uncharted 2
Was needing to finish Crushing in both titles, plus everything I unlocked is gone. I think you have to play through Hard before you unlock Crushing.

The rest of the games I have can be replayed still and aren’t as a big deal. The only other thing on there I wanted to finish aside from Wolverine, which I was playing at the time of death, was a save for Batman: Arkham Asylum which I was about 40% into from a 3 day rental. Considering I want to buy it still at some stage, thats not so bad.

In any case, you live and learn… and next time I will backup my drive to another drive space regularly and copy individual save files across as well. With any luck my PS3 when it returns will last longer than 2.5 more years.

Why Videogame Movies Have More Or Less Failed…

The other night my girlfriend and I sat down to watch a couple of films from my DVD collection. She picked out Rush Hour, which I’d not seen for quite some time but both of us had seen before (my memory of the film was fairly good, but my understanding is that Rush Hour 2 might actually be one of those films that is a better film than the original was). The other DVD was Silent Hill.

My recent completion of Silent Hill Homecoming on PS3 (which I’d put off for several months because frankly the game was fan wankery, mostly consisting of repeated scenes from earlier games combined with the film… thus…) made me actually want to see the film again since I had only seen it last when I brought it on DVD. Seeing as she had not seen it before it also helped. It helped as well I guess that until I told her, she actually had no idea the movie was based of a videogame and she had no idea I had the collection released thus far on my shelf.

Watching through the movie with someone who’d never seen the games gave me a new appreciation for quite why these films frequently… frequently is probably the wrong word…. for why these films always fail horribly as more credible fare.

Personally I believe, and probably lots of others, that Silent Hill is probably the most faithful of all videogame adaptions thus far. The art direction and camera work in particular draws exceptional parallels to the world created in the original games, and the story and environments pay several major homages to the titles well. Additionally Akira Yamaoka’s music from through the series is used appropriately during the film as well.

My girlfriend did not have issues with most of this in particular. She did feel that while there were constantly brilliantly crafted shots and sets, that it seemed to be at the cost of other things that may have been important. She also felt there was a particular brand of over-acting or over-dramatics about some of it, yet at the same time the main character didn’t in particular seem freaked out enough over some of the things that happened. In short it seemed to be at odds with itself on what it exactly wanted to be. Additionally no time it really spent on building a relationship with the characters at the start. But overall I think she felt the story just lacked not from key moments or momentum, but that it had no solid base.

I sat there on reflection at the end of the film and realized the story I saw was probably different from what she had seen… my history with the games gave more insight into why there are alternate worlds, who the guy with the pyramid head and the knife was, and so on and so forth. But that additionally she was correct. It’s not exceptionally long before the movie arrives in Silent Hill… and while the videogames didn’t need back story, the movie did. You learned as you went in the games. You read notes, you listed to dialog. You read the instruction manual and the back cover. You had plenty of time to understand. The movie did not allow this.

It started making me think of other films and then had to think over what had made other videogame films work or not work. This week a new one has opened with Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time, based on the old Jordan Mechner series which has was craftily reworked in 2003 and reinvented as a new series. As it’s still on release, I started to think about how much game movies have made and why they don’t do so well.  

So I looked into the top 10 grossing live action films based off games according to USA and Worldwide box office sales listed via IMDb and Box Office Mojo. Just to prove how sad I am, I’ve actually seen all 10 and I… as shamed as I am to admit this, own 7 out of 10 of them on DVD. This is the list from 10th to 1st ranked by US earnings.

10. Mortal Kombat Annihilation (1997) – $35,927,406 / $51,376,861

Mortal Kombat II came out at a time where interest in the series had declined, but the intent was – much like the original film, which came out around the time MK3 was launched, to rekindle the series in the fans hearts. Sadly it didn’t work.

The tagline for it was ‘Destroy All Expectations’ – it certainly did. It ruined everything the first film managed in one complete go. The original film was a zany fast paced action flick, which quite passable effects at the time of it’s release. While a direct sequel (literally picking up where the end of the last movie was… recapping in a horrible voice over by the non-Christoper Lambert-James Remar), this film had no heart, humor (just lots of unintentional stuff), horrible script and dialogue, some of the worst effects ever in a major picture. It was a shallow empty husk of the series – much like the actual series itself as a game had become. The two best things about it is that Johnny Cage is killed in the first six mins – just to be replaced with new good characters at a whim, and the heeeeelirious mud-wrestling sequence with poor continuity to boot – when Sonya turns up in the next scene completely clean.  It’s better than the yellow car in Commando!

A few years back early production took place on a 3rd film, reportedly somehow Cage would be back from the dead and new characters would be added. But it hit production problems and never happened. Apparently there is discussion/talk of a 3rd film to happen, however it will likely be a reboot of the franchise and not be connected to the two earlier films if the rumors are be believed.

9. Hitman (2007) – $39,687,694 / $99,965,792

Hitman should have probably done better than it did on paper. Eidos’ (now a part of SquareEnix) series has quite a following, and while it was often rumored that Vin Diesel was interested in playing Agent 47, Timothy Olyphant seemed a better choice… on paper. I saw the ‘Uncut’ edition of Hitman on DVD, which was not really any longer than the original film by any major stretch.

The problems were many. The script attempted a balance of trying to keep somewhat towards the origins of the character, but put him in a situation a bit further beyond the games. It was slow too. Dialogue was forced.Olga Kurylenko tried her best and failed…. something she wouldn’t try again…And Olyphant’s version of the character got no development with audiences. You didn’t dislike him because he wasn’t horrible over the top and just did his job, but you couldn’t like him because of the job and the general air around the character.

The movie made a modest amount given it’s budget and a sequel is apparently due to happen.


8. Resident Evil (2002) – $40,119,709 / $102,441,078

Resident Evil is a bit of a sore point for me. A large fan of the series as games, the film was never going to be much other than a disappointment. The trilogy – thus far – has been Sony Screen Gem’s 2nd biggest release as far as profits go (behind the Spiderman films), and they and the makers – Constantine Films, Davis Films – are happy with that. I was very keen back in 1997/1998 when George A. Romero was attached to direct, however he was dropped and it took 3 more years before the movie happened. Resident Evil did do one thing however, which was put zombies back on the screen in a big way.

The film itself is much like all other Paul W.S. Anderson films… a bit hit or miss. The ideas are there, there are some key links to the series which spawned it, while becoming it’s own thing. Originally the casting call talked only of a homicidal supercomputer, although thankfully it wasn’t that bad. The best sequence is definently the laser hallway scene, which seems to be a homage to the movie Cube. Milla Jovovich’s casting was suspect, but she eventually got another husband out of it and some sequels. Can’t be all that bad for her. Since it’s release in early 2002, zombies have become one of the major horror movie attractions again and even George got to finally make a new zombie film in 2004. A forth sequel is due out this year, Resident Evil Afterlife.


7. Max Payne (2008) – $40,689,393 / $85,416,905

My car was broken into while I saw this terrible film. Perhaps not a way to start a critical point about this film… but to be honest I was surprised how much it made and that it ranked this high. The game is a dark drug related noir title which has a self-aware sense of humor. The movie however is a dark (visually) drug related bore title which has no sense of humor and some very very bad casting.

Much like Silent Hill the nice visuals overshadow the film, however unlike Silent Hill this doesn’t mean they have followed the game – more specifically they’ve just looked at how to shoot stuff in slow motion and use shadows to great effect. Mark Wahlberg chews scenery. And the plot. Because it’s a thin as a single sheet of paper. Learning she wasted energy for nothing in Hitman, Olga Kurylenko turns up for eye candy and nothing more.

Best thing about the whole movie (aside from the nice shot of the gun firing with snow on it) is probably the credits sequence which actually seems to get the idea of what the game is about. Shame the preceding 1 and a half hours or so couldn’t.


6. Silent Hill (2006) – $46,982,632 / $97,607,453

Not much to say here I haven’t said earlier above.

The art design was spectacular, the story and pacing not so much. Fans felt the crowds of cult/church people in limbo plus the barb wire thing was a little too beyond the games although I’m unsure how the general audience would gage this (my girlfriend didn’t find most of the movie that scary – aside from the bugs – mostly because early on they kinda avoid showing you a lot in much detail until around the time the janitor guy (shown to the right) crawls out across the floor.

And yet sadly everything else was so much of the games it limits the connections for people who’ve never played them. Probably one of the three listed films that does have a very heavy connection between it’s game counterpart but for non fans this works against it quite a bit.

A sequel is on the cards, but what form this will take and when is yet to be known.


5. Resident Evil Extinction (2007) – $50,648,679 / $147,717,833

The 3rd in the RE series took only just less in the US than the 2nd, but actually made more worldwide than the 2nd overall which is fairly great box office for third in a series.

After the sequel the third film had not been left with a lot of places it could go, and so it borders the crazy in numerous places. Okay, basically the whole thing.

Why is there sand everywhere? How could this happen worldwide in just a few months? Why doesn’t Alice use her powers better and more appropriately. Why do main characters that don’t die live, and ones that should live die?

The ending is one of those crazy over the top ones too, where you kinda think it’s better they leave it where it was.

But they aren’t.

Guess we’ll see what happens next later this year.

In 3D.

Ugh.

4. Resident Evil Apocalypse (2004) – $51,201,453 / $129,394,835

In retrospect the second film made me appreciate the original film a little more.

While everything is ramped up, like good sequels do, the scripting is a little loose, the dialogue is poor, the plot is silly, and the acting is crazy. In an attempt to make up for the lack of large connections in the original film, Anderson’s script (although he didn’t direct) tries to include numerous references and characters from the series into the films.

There are some good ideas in here, but they are overshadowed by the bad, stupid, and down right horrible.

I think most of all is the ‘guy in a suit’ Nemesis and the cardboard cut out bad guys.

Oh and Jared Harris as Dr Ashford. Please note for your acting in future: Just because your character is in a wheelchair does not make him mentally disabled. 


3. Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life (2003) – $65,660,196 / $156,505,388

I don’t remember much of the Tomb Raider sequel. I think this says a lot, because it was obviously very forgettable. It also has a stupidly stupid long stupid title. While it still made a good deal of money (mostly off the back of a few things, but I’ll get to that later) I personally believe it was the worse of the two films… however while critics in general basically disliked both Tomb Raider titles this one has better marks overall. Maybe it’s just because this film was directed by Jan De Bont I dislike it…. but I don’t know if it’s just that.

The film follows a course similar to later title in the game series, jumping from country to country on a single quest (to find Pandora’s Box, via way of a key in the titular item). Fish-Lips Jolie does a convincing acting job as the badly proportioned tomb raider… and it’s interesting to note that both Tomb Raider’s have cast a leading man that has become quite famous in recent years for action movies more than their traditional fare (Gerard Butler in this and Daniel Craig in the first film).

It’s also worth noting that the movie launched in 2003 with a PS2 game, Angel of Darkness, at the same time. Angel had deviated away from traditional earlier games which the movie was based on, which bad enough in and of itself. However the game as well was rushed in order to be released before the film. It was buggy and badly designed, and while the movie made a decent profit the game spelled the end of the current line of Tomb Raider games and almost one would believe almost killed the series entirely.


2. Mortal Kombat (1995) – $70,454,098 / $122,195,920

This might be a tall call but I honestly (personally) believe that Mortal Kombat is probably the only title to deserve this much money and I would also call it the most successful video game movie to date when it comes to critical response, fan response, and commercial take overall. Where Street Fighter and Double Dragon had both bombed fairly poorly just several months earlier, Mortal Kombat did exceptionally well.

Firstly it was one of the first movies to use the power of the internet. The official website provided lots of info, details, and video preview(!) of the film which created a lot of buzz.

Secondly the movie doesn’t take itself entirely seriously and frequently plays over the idea it’s a videogame or at least comes from a game background. It creates a story around it’s mythos with characters that the fans knew, and non fans could easily understand and follow. On that line it’s story is straight forward but doesn’t treat it’s audience like idiots.

There are many flaws with the film of course. The main one is… well for a bloody fighting game it’s lacking in blood. And lengthy fights. In fact the best fight in the movie isn’t the last. It’s the one between Liu Kang and Reptile. One almost believes however the blood content was left on the floor for a couple of reasons. First was the rating, because the core audience is probably aged 13 or 14, and if it got some sort of higher R rating well then thats the core audience gone. And secondly was due to the high exposure and contovercey into the game itself with the US Govt. (in particular Joe Lieberman) – well covered in the aptly titled Doco – “Moral Kombat.”

However it was filled with good effects for it’s time (perhaps TV sci-fi level these days really). It’s soundtrack complimented and extended the idea of it being a videogame (very electronic backed and of course, how catchy was that main theme song). It was cross-promoted and released along with an Arcade game release of Mortal Kombat 3, which unlike Tomb Raider in 2003, was completed properly…. and actually good. And quite simply overall it was a fun movie.

It is cheesy to watch it now (yup, this is one of the 7 I own) but it was a darn good generally entertaining movie back in 1995, but I still enjoy it as a guilty pleasure.


1. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (aka. Tomb Raider) (2001) – $131,168,070 / $274,703,340

The only videogame to pass 100 million at the US domestic box office, and even then it made more in the US than Mortal Kombat made worldwide. Prince Of Persia will likely be the next videogame movie to hopefully eye this prize… but we’ll have to wait and see if it’ll have any chance.

So why this film above all others? Hype mostly you would say. It was exceptionally well promoted, promoted again, and cross-promoted to boot. In the years leading up the film, Lara Croft became a digital icon. She didn’t just appear in games…. she appeared in commercials, magazine covers, on the video wall for U2 (who in turn did work for the soundtrack), so it already had a great push. The games hadn’t entirely over sold themselves just yet. And Paramount put a lot of money into it’s marketing as well.

To top it off, Jolie being cast as the title character added it’s own hype. By 2000 she was a hype sensasion all by herself. People had already said she was the perfect choice for the role before she was signed on. They believed she had the look and the people making the film listened to everyone to confirm it. It was a combination that worked.

As with a lot of films, there are ones that make more money even when they are critically panned by most. Tomb Raider is one of these films. The plot is fairly straight forward. The direction is passable by Simon West, but really at the end of the day – the game was to control a female Indy Jones-style character and when you put that back on the screen it’s fairly 1 dimensional sadly. And yet it made mega bucks.

However saying that Tomb Raider (and to a degree also it’s sequel) get the concept right of putting that game on screen – the Tomb Raider movie could have quite easily been the plot of a Tomb Raider game, the characters have the same depth, there is a MacGuffin object to quest for, and the pacing feels like levels to a game… Still I didn’t find it that entertaining. And neither did most critics it seems.

Still to come this year officially: The King of Fighters, Tekken, and as mentioned Resident Evil Afterlife. Unofficially plenty of others. Plus we are yet to see what Prince Of Persia will make, but after 1 weekend so far it’s already technically now in 10th place. After all this because I’m sure people a curious, these are the other videogame movies (live action) ranked in best to worst US box office take… from 11 downwards. 


Street Fighter (1994) – $33,423,521 / $99,423,521

Doom (2005) – $28,212,337 / $55,987,321

Super Mario Bros. (1993) – $20,915,465 / n/a

Wing Commander (1999) – $11,578,059 / n/a
 
House of the Dead (2003) – $10,249,719 / $13,818,181

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (2009) – $8,742,261 / $12,707,250

Alone In The Dark (2005) – $5,178,569 / $10,442,808

In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2007) – $4,775,656 / $13,097,915 

BloodRayne (2005) – $2,405,420 / $3,650,275
 
Double Dragon (1994) – $2,341,309 / n/a

D.O.A. – Dead Or Alive (2006) – $480,813 / $7,500,497

Postal (2007) – n/a (Never Officially Released Wide in the US, 21 screens only) / $146,741

Far Cry – $0 (Never Officially Released in the US) / n/a

Unsurprisingly if people know their videogame movies well, there is one director on here more than anyone else – Uwe Boll (pictured right).

He has six films in that list with a seventh I couldn’t find any details on…. as it was released straight to DVD; BloodRayne 2.

Just in case people ask, the 3 movies I don’t own on DVD are:

Mortal Kombat Annihilation, Tomb Raider, and Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life. Yup… I own Max Payne. Don’t ask.

As for the girlfriend…. well next up, I will probably subject her to the first Resident Evil film and see what she says… 🙂