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...And Back Again
Welcome to 2023. Just back from
vacation chasing a small child around Australia and New Zealand for a few weeks. Not too much downtime but I was able to get quite a bit of reading done in the small slivers of time that would open during naps and bed. And actually, some writing too.
Mainly, I was reminded just how fantastic it truly is not to check email all the time. I’ll pay for it over the next week or so, but it’s something that eases my anxiety to a point that it probably shouldn’t. Clearly, I’m doing something wrong. But I’ve been complaining about this topic on the internet going on 20 years now and still, here we are.
New years are nothing if not good markers in time from which to reassess the way you operate. So it was hardly surprising to see a flurry of news around companies trying to re-imagine or trying to entirely get rid of meetings in the workplace as we all try to adapt to the way of things post-COVID. Even and maybe especially Facebook/Meta is having such challenges of how best to operate now, as Alex Heath notes in his new Command Line newsletter (subscription only). And the whole “quiet quitting” thing, which may not be all that novel, actually, as Cal Newport points out:
This is why so many older people are confused by quiet quitting: it’s not meant for us. It’s instead the first step of a younger generation taking their turn in developing a more nuanced understanding of the role of work in their lives. Before we heap disdain on their travails, we should remember that we were all once in this same position.
I’m trying a slightly different format below with images and excerpts for the top reads. Thoughts, as always, are most welcome. (I’m already seeing alerts that this email may be too long, so I’m cutting out at least one segment.)
Drinking: a Fort Point No Skips Double IPA 🍻
The Good Stuff
This detailed report on the trials and tribulations of making the latest Mission: Impossible installments is from last March, but worth surfacing again as we near the release of the first of these films (see: below) — Dead Reckoning Part One. Say what you will about Tom Cruise, but his commitment to filmmaking (again, see: below) and the theatrical element of it in particular is impressive. He’s the last true, true movie star in that he won’t be seen on a streaming service (at least not before his films run in theaters for an extended time) and he’s probably the only person left to demand such things. And this was written before the success of Top Gun: Maverick. Now Cruise can truly do whatever he wants here.
Sure enough, Cruise was having none of it. Seeing himself rightly as Paramount’s most important, not to mention longest-term, partner, he was said to be furious. He had no intention that any of his movies would play for a day less than his standard three-month run. “For him, 45 days is like going day-and-date,” says a Paramount source. He also felt that setting a date when the movie could be seen on the service would discourage people from going to the theater. Cruise is one of the last dollar-one gross players in the business, so box office receipts are key to his compensation. (He makes much more from the films than the studio does.) A source says Gianopulos had relied on the advice of Paramount Pictures COO Andrew Gumpert that the studio had the power to shrink M:I 7‘s theatrical window. (Paramount declined to comment.) But language in Cruise’s contract said the movie had to be handled in a manner consistent with the previous film. Cruise called his lawyers.
Also, just wild how many times M:I production had to be shut down during COVID restrictions. It matches the number in sequence of this next Mission: Impossible film. (The Hollywood Reporter)
Just incredible reporting by Olivia Nuzzi, matched by equally great writing about the absolute insanity that continues to surround Trump, the candidate. She’s great at the keep-a-sentence-going-until-you-twist-it-into-a-punchline. My favorite part:
What he means when he says “Miami” is that his SUV rolls down the driveway, past the pristine lawn set for croquet and through the Secret Service checkpoint at the gate, for the two-hour trip to another piece of Trump real estate, the Trump National in Doral, about eight miles from the airport in Miami-Dade County. There, he meets regularly with an impressive, ideologically diverse range of policy wonks, diplomats, and political theorists for conversations about the global economy and military conflicts and constitutional law and I’m kidding. He goes there to play golf.
Fine, one more:
On the day he announced his candidacy this past November, the air was heavy with oleander and snipped greenery and sea mist colliding with mold and wood polish and hotel soap and the metallic vapor of Diet Coke and the alcoholic ferment of generations of cougars in Chanel No. 5. The floor was staged for something between a rally and a cocktail party.
It’s wild that Trump agreed to participate in this. But then again, of course he did. He’s Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. (New York Magazine)
The entire time I’m reading this Economist report on the struggle for car manufacturers to adapt in a world where software is increasingly the focal point I’m thinking one thing: Apple. Yes, the company has infamously struggled with their still never formally announced car project, with several trips back to the drawing board. But the reason why they’d seem to be going after the space — beyond the obvious massive revenue potential — is that they can do what they did for personal computers and smartphones: meld hardware and software into on cohesive product. All of the other projects right now are clearly more piecemeal, save perhaps Tesla.
Moreover, making the mechanical engineers who still dominate the car industry work with software engineers, who will increasingly take a lead, will not be easy. One side is trained to achieve the perfect Spaltmaß, a German word for the gap between a car’s body panels. The other has no problem putting out half-baked “beta” products and collecting feedback from users.
As Tesla has proven, and Apple’s stumbles behind-the-scenes seem to make clear: it’s incredibly hard to produce a car. When you add in the self-driving elements, it’s seemingly next-to-impossible. Especially if you believe in Spaltmaß — something which Apple clearly will as well, but Tesla has seemingly been more okay with doing things on-the-fly, in beta.
Still, Apple has to enter this market eventually. And probably not just with software or some half-baked solution. They can unify the problems here. Even if it takes years. (The Economist)
A good post by Doug Shapiro on the current state of television (and film) production and where it’s likely headed
One notable thing about all this angst: it has been caused primarily by disruption of the way TV and films are distributed and, to a lesser extent, changes in how they are consumed. The way they are created, however, has not changed much.
In fact, while the Internet caused the costs to distribute content to plummet over the last decade or so, the cost to produce TV series and films has risen dramatically. It’s expensive and risky and consequently is still dominated by only a handful of big companies.
But, he asserts, AI may be on the verge of changing this, while at the same time, consumer quality expectations are changing/morphing thanks to Netflix, but also YouTube and TikTok.
For that matter, will is be possible to train an AI on the footage of every Angelina Jolie movie ever, including her voice and facial expressions, license her likeness, and then create a new film starring a 28-year Angelina Jolie, starring opposite a 32-year old Paul Newman, all in the Unreal Engine? The way things are headed, it probably will.
Yes, it will — I wrote this six years ago (wild). Such technology for this will probably be ready sooner than we imagine, but the societal and ethical questions around this will slow things down. But newsflash: in the end, money will win. (Medium)
I’ve clearly been fascinated by the “Battle of the Bobs” at Disney for quite some time now. And now we would seem to have a pretty full picture of what went down to end Bob Chapek’s reign and restore Bob Iger’s. And, ultimately, it may have been a decision by Chapek to bring in “The Bobs” — the Office Space variety. You know, consultants.
Throughout his career, Mr. Chapek has used and praised a management framework that emphasizes accountability and a structure for corporate responsibility. The method, called ARCI, is often taught in business schools. Under the philosophy, there should be no ambiguity about who is responsible for the success or failure of an effort. Under the ARCI framework, each time a company makes a big change, it must identify personnel who are accountable for the decision, responsible for its success or failure, consulted for feedback and informed of its impact. “Who’s got the ‘A’ on this project?” Mr. Chapek would often ask in meetings, according to people familiar with the matter—meaning, who is accountable for it? Some executives found the approach irritating because they felt it invited other managers to get involved with decisions that ordinarily would be made by a single segment head, people familiar with the matter said.
You can imagine how inspiring this all must have been for one of the all-time creative companies. We all get why companies bring in consultants, at least in theory — outside perspective, fresh ideas, etc. But does it ever actually work?
You just can’t force such frameworks on a company whose lifeblood has been creativity since its inception. Obviously. Which is why the most shocking element of all of this is that Iger thought Chapek was the right person for the job. I’m still not sure we have a great answer on that and why Iger left so quickly the last time around. Seeing the pandemic writing on the wall? Something else? (WSJ)
“No one asked Gene Kelly ‘Why do you dance?’”
- Tom Cruise, when asked why he does his own stunts.
As a reminder, he’s 60 years old.
The Quick Stuff
You probably heard that there was no beer for sale during the World Cup in Qatar, but did you know that Budweiser had already shipped all the beer to the country when the last-minute decision was made to ban it? Ouch. (NYT) 🍺
In a more sober, somber, and serious note, read the post from Céline Gounder, the wife of Grant Wahl, the famed journalist who tragically died while covering the World Cup from an aneurysm. (Substack) 😢
For something more uplifting, please read Isaac Chotiner absolutely eviscerating Alan Dershowitz in interview form. (New Yorker) 🤭
Of all the scores he’s worked on over the decades, Hans Zimmer thinks Interstellar is his best (so far). Hard to disagree. (The Playlist) 🎼
Why did Harrison Ford agree to do 1923, the Yellowstone prequel — again, a true movie star jumping to television? Because he views the current prestige television projects as films. Just really long ones. Again, hard to disagree (for the best of them). (NYT) 📺
Here’s a list of predictions about 2023 made in 1923. (Twitter) 📆
Matter, a GV portfolio company in the reading space — basically how I read all of these links shared — is going to start charging customers later this month for premium features — something which many users have actually been asking for, fearful the service may go away otherwise. Here’s some of their thoughts on the topic. (Matter) 📚
Several countries in Europe are going to start using the heat from data centers to help provide warmth in the winter. Clever. Wild. (WSJ) 🔥
Now that it’s finally out of your head, feel free to read this backstory about Wham!’s seminal “Last Christmas” — George Michael played every instrument himself, despite not really knowing how to. (The Guardian) 🎄
This Man is 60 Years Old
A big, limited opening weekend…
Can Facebook clone Twitter after failing to do so a dozen times?
Warner Bros. Discovery plans to merge its HBO Max and Discovery+ streaming services…
Some thoughts on the “Generative AI” hype
Imagining how Apple will allow third-party iPhone app stores…