Saturday, April 15, 2017

It's time to "Uber-ize" the airline industry

My op/ed piece in the Austin American-Statesman:

Photos taken during San Francisco delay.
©Joe O'Connell
It’s not about one customer being dragged off one airplane; it’s about an industry attitude that must change or go the way of the cab industry. Shape up or get Uber-ized, United Airlines.

Consider the Facebook page I Hate United Airlines and its good friends: I Hate American Airlines and I Hate Delta Airlines. Angry customers are in awe that Southwest Airlines reportedly reacts to long delays by buying its customers pizza. A simple act of kindness is the aberration not the norm.

My wife and I traveled from Austin to Santa Barbara to see Van Morrison perform. A short connection in San Francisco and we’d be there. But our United flight was delayed again and again. Weather, we were told. We arrived in San Francisco minutes after our connecting flight had left. The next flight out was canceled — and the next one was already full of people from that canceled fight. OK, we said, put us up and fly us out tomorrow. We don’t pay for weather delays, the United rep said. Later we learned that United had had a well-publicized computer problem the day before. Was it lingering?

We made the best of it and went full-on tourist: Argonaut Hotel at Fisherman’s Wharf, cable car, lunch at Nick’s Lighthouse. To the airport with plenty of time to still make the Van Morrison show. Another delay, another. United workers blamed it on air traffic control this time. We booked an airport hotel, resigned to flying home without having ever set foot in Santa Barbara. Our flight soon was canceled. We’d take a morning flight home.

©Joe O'Connell
The next morning we presented boarding passes and were told our tickets were canceled — canceled because our flights were canceled. A third day in the airport. I started tweeting about our hostage crisis. How I’d taken a job washing dishes at Peet’s Coffee and living off of airport candy. On Facebook a friend sent footage of the show we’d missed: Morrison performing “Moondance” with actual full moon in the background “‘neath the cover of October skies.”

Throughout it all, United workers treated us with resignation mixed with wariness. For our trouble we got two $150 vouchers — a third the cost of our flights. Customer service was an afterthought.

Yes, Austin chased Uber away with threats of regulation, — but it’s clear Uber has forced the old cab company model to shape up or vanish. Use PayPal instead of needing cash? Check. Half the cost? Oh yeah. Less structure. Less fuss. Less hassle.

It’s the same with telephones and television. Expensive landlines? Dead or dying. Cable television? Hah. Innovation and change have made none of the old, tired models safe from welcome extinction. The airline industry needs to be next.

©Joe O'Connell
Consider this: United and other airlines charge for checked bags, so customers bring more carry-on luggage. A San Francisco TSA worker shook her head while she explained how it slowed down their process and overworked them. Security lines were long and stressful. Once we got to United’s smaller plane from Austin to San Francisco, they handed out tags to check luggage anyway. Overhead bins were too few and two small. We piled our bags by the entryway. The same process happened on our aborted flight home. It made no sense. The airline industry makes no sense.

We are living in a changing world where marketing pros talk of “connectedness” as the secret to success. They don’t mean networking; instead it’s about synthesis — taking the old ways and reworking them into something better. It’s what Uber did. It’s why Blockbuster Video and its exorbitant late fees seems like a distant memory. It’s why phone books are as useless as buggy whips.

I don’t have an answer to the airline industry problems, but I know airlines like United with their “friendly skies” need their creaky old models to change or step aside for something new. Please, creatives, Uber-ize them quickly. We need you.
©Joe O'Connell

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Austin-shot 'The Son' ready to premiere on AMC



Philipp Meyer was getting drunk on author and folklorist J. Frank Dobie's front porch when he decided to adapt his epic Texas novel The Son for the screen.

"Let's just do it ourselves," he recalls thinking, with the "ourselves" including his compadres Brian McGreevy and Lee Shipman from the University of Texas' Michener Center for Writers. "The worst that can happen is we fail."

Read the rest at the Austin Chronicle.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Dracula vs. Frankenstein vs. Sam Sherman

Sam Sherman and Frankenstein from Joe O'Connell on Vimeo.

Just when we thought the documentary Love and Other Stunts was complete, I took a trip to legendary B-movie producer Sam Sherman's New Jersey house and met Frankenstein.

Sherman and I talked about the independent film scene of the '60s and '70s, about director Al Adamson (and Adamson's murder) and, of course, about stuntman Gary Kent whose story is the focus of Love and Other Stunts.

Sherman said he believed Kent was destined to be a major Hollywood star or perhaps the star of a television series, but instead Kent was soon back on the Adamson crew. But Kent's life did take interesting turns as you'll see in the doc. (Get regular updates on our Facebook page.)

Sherman said Kent's role as the good-guy lead in Satan's Sadists was a turning point for his Independent-International Pictures. Sherman is first and foremost a fan and a collector of film reels and memorabilia. He's also still actively working as head of IIP. And, as you can see, he knows just what box to open to reveal the star of Dracula vs. Frankenstein.

Find more about Love and Other Stunts here.

Sam Sherman: Photo by Joe O'Connell

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

First trailer for 'Love and Other Stunts'

Love and Other Stunts trailer #1 from Joe O'Connell on Vimeo.

We are gearing up for a 2017 film festival launch of my documentary Love and Other Stunts.

We're working now on taking care of legal aspects and getting all our ducks in a row. I hired an amazing designer who will create our film poster.

The film's main character, legendary stuntman Gary Kent, is just back from Milan, where a film he starred in, Frame Switch, took best film honors at a festival there. At 83, he is rocking it.

Here is the first trailer for Love and Other Stunts!

Thanks again for your support.--Joe O'Connell


Friday, October 28, 2016

Rodriguez seeks extras as 'Alita' begins Austin shoot

Robert Rodriguez is back in action directing Alita: Battle Angel for Fox in Austin from now until February.

According to Deadline, it's set in a 26th-century dystopian future: "The film follows the story of an amnesiac cyborg who, after being rescued from a scrap heap by a doctor (Christoph Waltz), becomes a bounty hunter tracking down criminals."

Actress and singer Eiza González has the lead role. She also stars in Rodriguez's El Rey Network series From Dusk Till Dawn. Rodriguez shocked Austin locals when he moved series production to film friendlier (as in incentives) New Mexico for season three. The cast also includes Lana Condor, Rosa Salazar, Jackie Earle Haley and Ed Skrein.

It's an adaptation of  the graphic novel series Battle Angel Alita by Yukito Kushiro. James Cameron wrote the script with Laeta Kalogridis.

Third Coast Extras is handing background roles, which include punk rocker types, Asians and East Indians, but also general folks of all ages. Get more info at the casting company's Facebook page.

The film is set for a 2018 release.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The totally true story of Texas "skyscrapers"

My cover story in the June issue of Texas Co-op Power (the largest circulation mag in Texas):

On January 21, 1929, the “human fly” gripped the brick wall and slowly ascended Temple’s sleekly narrow Kyle Hotel. A crowd of observers, decked out in their Sunday best, exchanged knowing glances and looked skyward. Halfway to the 13th and final floor, the man-fly pulled a Coca-Cola bottle from his pocket and took a leisurely sip. The onlookers laughed and cheered. Those lucky enough to purchase tickets to the grand opening party ventured inside to dance to Henry Lange and his orchestra’s hit song, Hot Lips. For $1.50, they could stay the night in one of 125 rooms appointed with steam heat, ceiling fans and running ice water.

In October of that year, the stock market crashed, foretelling the Great Depression. Farmers saw cotton prices plummet. The town’s major employer, the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway, implemented layoffs and pay cuts. Four of Temple’s five banks closed. Temple’s population remained static at 15,000 throughout the 1930s. Yet the Kyle and other high-rise Texas hotels like it held on for decades as towering symbols of something larger. Soldiers huddled in them during World War II. Community groups met for lunch. High school kids held proms.

The Kyle was the third “skyscraper” in Temple. The 113-room Doering Hotel—later sold and renamed the Hawn Hotel—had celebrated its opening in 1928 with a different human fly ascending its nine levels. The six-story Professional Building came second and housed a grocery, stenography school, barbershop, law office, flower shop and cigar store.

New Yorkers might argue whether any building with fewer than 20 stories, or perhaps even 50, could be billed as a skyscraper, but architect T.J. Gottesdiener, quoted in the Christian Science Monitor decades after the firm he worked for designed Chicago’s iconic Sears Tower, perhaps put it best: “What is a skyscraper? It is anything that makes you stop, stand, crane your neck back and look up.” In the late 1920s, high-rise buildings began to ascend in Texas, and they became a symbol of good times, progress and optimism in tough times ahead.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Hello, goodbye, 'Leftovers,' and thank for all the miracles


The good news: HBO is back in Austin at this very moment shooting the third and final season of The Leftovers. Austin serves as the show's Miracle, Texas, in a world torn asunder by the sudden disappearance of 2 percent of the population. Much of the cast returns from season two.


The bad news: The Austin stay will be done in the blink of an eye, with the bulk of the season lensing in Australia. Indiewire has a great breakdown on how this fits into the plot.

For once, this isn't about the shrinking Texas film incentive funding that sent Robert Rodriguez packing to New Mexico. It's really about where the story itself is headed. And can we really be upset when Austin kidnapped the series for its second season after the first was shot in New York state? And, hey, The Son is rising in Austin (and needs extras!), so no worries, mate.

The Leftovers remains some of the best television out there. Based on Tom Perrotta's novel of the same name, the series has a fine pedigree with Damon Lindelof, the showrunner for Lost, at the helm. Read my Austin Chronicle interview with the show's executive producer Mimi Leder for more on that.