Friday, January 18, 2013

Has Too Many Channels Ruined TV?

The answer is clearly, yes and no. No, because there are literally hundreds of channels now offering thousands of programs, with no signs of slowing down. These are even broadcast in a variety of formats, including standard, HD, and 3D. Yes, because it has all but killed television as we know it.

Television is unique in a capitalist market like the United States in so much as in this case, competition does not breed quality.  Rather, programs can be shopped around on a variety of stations, and even whole networks can focus their programs on a niche market. Twenty years ago, a program that would not even be green-lit for a pilot episode can now attain syndication today.

While there are the old standby's like sitcoms, morning talk shows, game shows, news programs, dramas and soaps, there is a slew of cheaply produced reality programs that seem to generate enough ratings to warrant more. So much so that networks are looking in the strangest places. There are currently four shows about pawn shops, four shows about repo companies, meter maids, loggers, truck drivers, two shows about fishermen, miners, duck call manufacturers, bar owners, bike builders,  three shows about ghost investigating, beauty pageants for 5 year old's, and bounty hunting. If that isn't enough, there is competitive reality shows following groups of people competing for the top spot in their field. There are over a dozen shows regarding competitive dance, singing, and modelling alone. Lets also add competitive cooking, cleaning, make-up artists, tattooing, weight loss,  cheer leading, dating, and most recently, competitive taxidermy.

With the exception of American Idol, America's Got Talent, The Biggest Loser, and maybe one or two others, most reality television is produced very cheaply, and why not? If a network or cable station can grab ratings and save a buck in production, the happier they are. However, less production value also means a product of inferior quality. Consider the final season of one of NBC's biggest sitcoms, Friends. The cast alone received a million dollars per episode. That's six million an episode for six people, and we haven't even added the cost of supporting cast, extras, directors, writers, and crew. How much do you think a cable network spends on Ghost Hunters, or Ice Loves Coco?

Naturally, a reduction in budget is a reduction in quality, but does a lesser quality necessarily affect standards? Apparently not. Maybe Seinfeld was a bit of a prophet. In one episode George and Jerry were pitching a show idea to NBC network execs to which George said it's a show about nothing.That nothing happens. The executive asked why would he be watching it, to which George replied, "because it's on television."   That certainly seems to be the culture today. Sure, television still has quality programming, such as The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, The Walking Dead, etc. But can you honestly say 20 years ago you would spend hours a week watching tv shows about people who cut down trees, the children who participate in beauty pageants  or who work in a pawn store? How are other peoples jobs a television show? What's next, a camera crew documenting the goings on at a Burger King? So why do we watch? Because their on television?

Perhaps a more accurate question isn't, "Has too many channels ruined tv", but "has too many channels ruined us?" Because we don't seem to mind. All but the most lofty off us still enjoy a good trainwreck, and for that we'll endure Keeping Up With The Kardashians and Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo, just to see how intolerable people live and feel better about ourselves.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Naked Foot: Cheaters Never Win

For most actresses looking to establish themselves in mainstream Hollywood, it seems an inevitable choice will have to be made; to do a nude scene or not. Despite the use of nudity in creating mood, plot, and story development, actresses must face the fact that at the end of the day, they're privates will be shown to the world. Even if organic to the plot and full of artistic merit, there will be a community out there that will simply view the scene as a "free shot at their goods." Does Mr. Skin ring a bell? Yet, going nude, if done strategically, can catapult an actress to the a-list status. It's worked for Nicole Kidman, Sharon Stone, Angelina Jolie, and Charlize Theron. Even established stars have used nudity to their advantage. A young Demi Moore bared her breasts in 1988's The Seventh Sign, which got her noticed. Yet deciding to bare it all for 1996's Striptease allowed her to command a salary over $20 million dollars, the highest for any actress at the time. This system of compromising one's sexual intimacy for fame and fortune has been in place for decades now. And while some have given into it, others have not, choosing their own sense of value, self-worth, and ethics over a hot shot to the top. Yet, a new factor has arisen, the foot fetish, and it's a game changer to the established system of sexual compromise and fame.

At the heart of this is famed writer/director Quintin Tarantino. Tarantino films have gone from low budget indy films to big budget productions. His films, which features a stylized narrative that is unmistakably unique, has launched, or rejuvenated, the careers of actors like Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta, Steve Buscemi, Harvey Keitel, Ving Rhames and others. Naturally, actors and actresses flock to auditions involving a Tarantino film because it will add notoriety to their careers. However, almost as famous as his edgy storytelling, it's common knowledge that Tarantino has a foot fetish, and often writes in scenes that appeal to his fetish and to those that share his fetish. An actress knows going in that she'll have to display her bare feet for Quintin, as well as the rest of the world. This may seem, on the surface, that this is an opportunity to cheat the system. After all, it's just feet right? It's not like breasts, butts, or genitals. Bare feet don't warrant an "R" rating. Maybe, but it's not that easy. Since they know the director is sexually aroused by women's feet, they are still  sexually compromising themselves. They are knowingly arousing sexual desires in a man that they hope in return, will reward their compromise with fame and fortune.

So, maybe they are cheating the system. While Demi and Sharon will one day have to explain to their own children why their friends all can see their Mommy's privates, women who cater to the foot fetishist do not. But has it worked out? How has showing off their naked feet for the arousal of their director and the foot-fetish audience rewarded them? Let's take a look at those ladies who showed off their cute tootsies in a Tarantino film, and where they've gone from there.  

Uma Thurman - No stranger to Quintin Tarantino films, Uma and her feet were featured in Pulp Fiction, and front and center for Kill Bill Vol 1 & 2. While all three films were well received, Uma's post-Tarantino career has been, at best, less than stellar. Films like The Avengers (1998), Batman & Robin, Les' Miserables, Prime, The Accidental Husband, and My Super Ex-Girlfriend has kept her working, but failed to bring success to fans or the box office as she goes from forgettable role to forgettable role. 

Salma Hayek - Even if you don't have a foot fetish, the idea of a young and sexy Salma shoving her toes in your mouth and making you slurp tequila off them has to perk your interest. Or maybe you don't have a pulse. Salma got her big break as a vampire-stripper in Tarantino's From Dusk Till Dawn. Since then, Salma has remained on the Hollywood radar, however films like Hotel, Spy Kids: 3D, Grown Ups, Americano, and Lonely Hearts aren't keeping her there. As of this writing, Salma is starring in Savages, which looks to be a hit, especially in the competition heavy summer. Time will tell.

Juliette Lewis - An incredible actress, Juliette Lewis has had many hits. Ironic then, that most of her hits came before her role in Tarantino's From Dusk Till Dawn. Her big break came in the now Holiday favorite Christmas Vacation. She went on to put in a very good performance in the sleeper What's Eating Gilbert Grape, holding her own with the likes of Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio. Kalifornia, the Basketball Diaries, Cape Fear and Natural Born Killers had her riding a wave to the a-list. However, post-Tarantino, Juliette has been in smaller roles in films like Starsky & Hutch and Whip It. Catch and Release and The Evening Star failed to deliver at the box office. Indeed, it seems Juliette's potential has diminished after her Tarantino experience.

Bridget Fonda - This actress showed off her bare soles in Jackie Brown. But long before Jackie, Bridget has had her ups and downs. First appearing (uncredited) in the acclaimed Easy Rider, Bridget Fonda has appeared in Army of Darkness, Point Of No Return, Single White Female, It Could Happen To You, Godfather III, and Doc Hollywood. Then her career began to wane with Camilla, Rough Magic, and Grace of My Heart all flying below the radar. So an opportunity to star in a Tarantino film comes along and all she has to do is let Quintin film her barefoot. The result was a return to mediocrity with Lake Placid, Delivering Milo, and Monkeybone. In fact, 2002 marked her last year of appearing in a major motion picture with The Whole Shebang.

Diane Kruger - Making her debut in 2002 with The Piano Player, Diane found her career rising, at a slow pace with both National Treasure films, the big budget disappointment of Troy, and other so-so films like Wicker Park, Frankie, and Goodbye Bafana. But it was in 2009 that she got to star in her most acclaimed film, Tarantino's Inglorious Bastards. It's only been three years since, so her long term career is yet to be played out. However, with roles in forgettable films like Lily Sometimes, Inhale, and Special Forces, it isn't looking good.

The moral of this evolving story seems to be, cheaters don't win. We at Real To Reel certainly don't judge actresses for the choices they make, yet it seems clear. If you won't go nude and decide to make it with hard work, integrity, and keeping your privates private, that's commendable. If you decide to roll the dice and bare it all and see if that grants you the jackpot, we respect that too. But trying to cheat the system and knowingly perform bare foot for a director who finds feet sexy and arousing, hoping it'll do for you what it did for other actresses who showed the full monty, well, it seems to have backfired. There is no having your cake and eating it too. A bare foot is t&a to a foot fetishist true, but you're right, to the mainstream audience a bare foot is just a bare foot. You're going to have to bring more to the table than that if you want your role in a Tarantino film to account for something later. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

John Williams: The Most Prolific Man In Film?

Motion pictures have been with us for over a hundred years now, and  has influenced and changed our culture immensely. Movies are unique, in so much as it is the nexus by which science and art coalesce.  The intangible human element of drama blends with the latest technology creating richer and deeper canvases that  storytellers use to whisk audiences from their seats and into the heart of a story. So many components go into a movie, from directors and actors to cameramen and costume designers. Let's also give credit to editors, producers, recording engineers, special effects wizards, and the ever present best boy. If one were to ask, "who is the most influential man in film history?", naturally we would look to the disciplines of acting, directing, and screen writing to find the answer. Yet the real answer may come from a different discipline all together, the composer. Enter John Williams, musician, conductor, and  composer, who's body of work over the last 45 years has been the emotional driving force behind Hollywood's finest, and most popular films.

Surely not. If one is discussing influential people in film, certainly names like Steven Spielberg and Orson Welles instantly spring to mind. Surely their directing and storytelling techniques have shaped the industry far more than John Williams. Perhaps, but consider the Academy, an institution established to acknowledge and honor all those who have contributed to the motion picture industry. Spielberg's career has earned him six Academy Award nominations for best director, two of which he won (Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan). Orson Welles received three nominations, with one win. John Williams; a jaw-dropping forty-seven nominations, with five wins! In fact, of the AFI's top 100 films of all time, John Williams' work appears six times. 

Music connects with the listener in a way no other art form can. It stirs the emotion. Indeed, music is a legitimate art form in itself, practiced for thousands of years, and has been a part of theater for just as long. Indeed, it could be argued that theater needs music more than music needs theater. To enjoy music, one simply needs to hear. Yet while theater can tell its story without music, it's music that sets the tone and mood in a way no actor, prop, lighting, or dialogue ever could. 

While a man of contemporary times, John is not a contemporary composer. Many films use contemporary music, be it the popular expression of its day. Indeed his style is in the classical sense, often referred to as neoromanticism. Epic leitmotif scores, inspired by classic composers such as Richard Wagner keeps his music timeless. In fact, the style, fashion, and filmmaking techniques used in the films he's contributed to will date those films before his music ever would. 

John's earliest work was on the small screen, doing music for the television show Lost In Space, Land Of The Giants, and the pilot episode of Gilligan's Island. His early film works include Valley Of The Dolls and Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Both of which earned him his first nominations, but it was his score on 1971's Fiddler On The Roof where he won his first Oscar. His work on Star Wars(and its sequels), Jaws, Superman, Jurassic Park, Close Encounters, Schindler's List, Harry Potter(and sequels) E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Saving Private Ryan, and Raider's Of The Lost Ark(and sequels) are among his most recognizable works, which also happen to be among the most popular films of all time. Now, I'm not suggesting that these films broke box office records because people purchased tickets to hear his latest masterpiece. But one cannot deny that his contributions to these films gave them a distinct signature that separates them from other, more mediocre films. And there lies John's true talent. While first and foremost a musician, John has an understanding of film that is on par with notable directors and screen-writers. In the movie Immortal Beloved, Gary Oldman plays Beethoven. In one scene he explains that music is the ability to carry the listener into the mind of the composer. Indeed, any music writer is in a way, telling their own story. But John goes a step further. He is able to grasp what the filmmaker has in mind, then carries the listener into the film itself. Think about that for a moment. While many musicians struggle to carry the listener into their own mind, he carries the listener into his interpretation of the filmmakers mind. In fact, his work is so ingrained into movie audiences' subconscious,  that it instantly carries the listener to the heart of the film. Perhaps one does not have the time to sit and re-watch Raiders of the Lost Ark or Star Wars, but to listen to their iconic themes, one experiences those films. A two hour visual is summed up in a six or seven minute musical piece. 

Yet, despite so many awards and nominations, despite a lifetimes work of creating the soundtrack to the later half of the 20th Centuries' greatest films, John Williams is still largely overlooked by the casual audience member. Like College Football, making a film is a team effort. If the directors, actors, and screen-writers are the Quarterbacks and receivers, than John Williams is a talented Fullback. Fullbacks do not get the lion's share of the glory, yet they're the ones making the critical blocks, and sometimes, score some impressive yardage themselves. Maybe John is a champion of those who participate in film, but never get the glory; the engineer, designer, continuity director, and the all present best boy. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Should Movies Be Priced Like Automobiles?

Cars have an intended function, transportation. They pretty much have all the same features; wheels, brakes, radio, engine, windshield, and all the standard features that meet federal and state guidelines for safety and legality, ie: mirrors, turn signals, seat belts, air bags, headlights, break-lights, etc. Yet a Ford Focus costs around $16,000, while a Ford Mustang costs over $23,000. A Lexus RX, $39,000. Why the huge gap in prices? Simple, the answer is quality. Better parts, better design and engineering, performance, and definitely more bells and whistles. But isn't that the same across all avenues of marketing? The higher the quality, better features, and more bells and whistles, the more expensive it is. A men's polo shirt at Wal-Mart is far cheaper than one sold at Macy's. Again, we're talking quality of material, stitching and craftsmanship, etc. All of this, of course, comes down to money. The more money companies invest in a product to up its quality, the more they will charge for it. If a Ford Focus and a Lexus RX cost the same, wouldn't everyone purchase the Lexus then? So why can't movie ticket prices do the same?

Movies have an intended function, to entertain. They pretty much have all the same features; actors, directors, editors, sets, props, as well as all the components that make for a feature length film, ie: runtime, a narrative, plot, conflict, resolution, etc. Like cars, movies vary in terms of quality. But movie tickets all cost the same.

Take a look at this early Summer for instance. The Dictator vs The Avengers. The Dictator had a production budget of $65million and a runtime of 1h 23m. The Avengers had a production budget of $220million with a runtime of 2h 22m. Avengers' budget shows with better actors, directing, performances, and a dump truck full of bells and whistles. So, when standing in line to purchase a $9 ticket, which is gonna give you more bang for your buck? Some could say that they prefer The Dictator over The Avengers because they want a good comedy, and just aren't into comic book films. That's a fair argument. But box office returns have clearly illustrated those people are in the minority. 

In today's struggling economy, people have to make choices. How many times have we said to ourselves, "I want to see both movies. I guess I'll see (movie A) in theaters, I can wait for (movie B) to hit cable." Such was my attitude in deciding between The Dictator and The Avengers. Had The Dictator offered a matinee price of $3 and a regular price of $4, that certainly would have swayed my decision. Not that I would have forgone The Avengers, but I would have seen both films in their theatrical run. I'm sure theater owners wouldn't object, as they maintain they don't profit from ticket sales. Yet, keep me in the theater longer, and that's more opportunity that I'll fork over money for their overpriced concessions. 

Studios may argue that such pricing could hamstring any profitability from lower budget films (it's sad to think 60 million is "low-budget"). That may be true, but studios who adopt that line of thinking don't consider the reverse, that bigger doesn't always mean better. Take a look at Battleship. Like The Avengers, it too had a budget of over $200million and a runtime well over two hours. Yet it sank. Didn't that hamstring the studio's profits too? In April 2012, a romantic-comedy, or rom-com, was released called Think Like A Man. It scored a hair under $90million domestically, with a production budget of merely $12million. A very profitable film. More so than The Avengers, in terms of investment vs return is concerned. Think Like A Man earned the studio a profit of 600%. The Avengers earned merely 165% profit. If we maintain the argument that ticket prices should reflect budget, than Think Like A Man would have made less money right? Perhaps. According to RottenTomatoes, critics seemed split (53%), but audiences gave it a thumb's up (88%). So split critics and good word of mouth made this movie $90million. Would shaving $3 off the price of the ticket have ham-stringed its profits? It still would have earned far more than what was invested, and I dare say the financial loss from a reduced ticket price would be softened by audiences who didn't go see this film because split critics and word of mouth wasn't enough to sway them. Now, many of them would go see it, because the bargain sold them on it.

Wait a minute. Don't studios already do this? Not in theatrical runs, but certainly in DVD sales? Like a theatrical run, they all cost $19.99 (more for blue-ray). But after a year or so, many end up in the bargain bin, while others still command a higher price-tag. Some films, studios feel, are so profitable, that they vault the films, releasing them to the public for a short time every so many years. In fact, statistics show that in the film industry, more money is to be had in DVD sales than theatrical sales. Indeed, home movie entertainment has moved from back-end profits to the front end. 

Movie prices are indeed a huge factor in a consumers' purchasing decision. Stores like Buybacks are built on the business model of buying/selling used DVDs. Hey, if I save $9 on a movie because it's used, that's a good deal. It doesn't diminish the quality of the film or my enjoyment of it, plus it's under a limited 30-day warranty (in case the previous owners scratched it causing it to malfunction).

Would adjusting ticket prices to reflect budget and it's assumptive quality change the landscape of how films are made? Would studios be less willing to fork over $200million for fear that it would drive ticket prices up? Would Indy films be given their due? I'd say the biggest change would be in the overall quality of films. For example, no way would we see another Battleship, at least not at a +$200million budget. This film was directed by Peter Berg, who's directing credits include so-so films like Very Bad Things, The Rundown, and The Kingdom. Where as Avatar was directed by James Cameron, who's films include Terminator, Terminator 2, Aliens, Abyss and Titanic. In other words, James has a proven track record with making movies that are both quality and profitable films. Some might argue that this would hold younger talent down, while only the older guard will make the big bucks. Not true. Remember, long before the studios gave him the reigns of a $200million dollar project, Mr. Cameron had to cut his teeth on some low budget films, like Terminator and Pirannah 2: the Spawning, to prove he could tell a good story without relying on expensive props and effects. Directors like Spielberg will even be given a pass by audiences and studios should he turn out a clunker or two, because of his overall success in film making. The same will hold true for actors, writers, editors, FX departments, etc. 

Hold on. Isn't that kind of how it works anyway? Surely Johnny Depp didn't command his current salary while filming A Nightmare on Elm St., or Private Resort. True, but when actors start commanding those high-end salaries, I think you'll start seeing them behaving more selectively, attaching themselves to better quality films. Johnny's latest films, Dark Shadows, Rango, The Tourist and Public Enemies all failed to turn a profit domestically. They keep his name in the public's ear, but too much could damage his bottom line. Look at Tom Cruise, he's just not as bankable as he used to be. Certainly Studios could of saved 12-15million on hiring a good, but somewhat undiscovered, actor for Vanilla Sky, The Last Samurai, and Valkyrie, selling America on the strength of its story rather than the name of its actor. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Are Movie Tickets Too Expensive?

Perhaps it's human nature. Perhaps it's a sense of nostalgia. It seems when we look back at our past, life seemed simpler, and prices were far more reasonable. Today, ticket prices are higher than ever. With a struggling economy, it seems going out to see a movie is no longer a cheap date, but an expensive affair. Take a date to the Olive Garden, and expect to pay around $28 (no alcohol). For that price you get a pleasant atmosphere, good conversation, and an intimate feel. Take her out one evening to a show, popcorn and soda included, and expect to shell out over $35. For that price, you get sticky floors, no privacy, and people talking throughout the film. Now imagine taking a family of four out. But is it nostalgia, or the truth? Are ticket prices less affordable now than when we were young?

Unfortunately, I am no economist. So I can not factor in the subtle nuances of inflation, supply & demand, population growth, or the myriad of other factors that go into determining the cost of what a ticket price should be. However, it seems foolish to assume a default attitude of "they're just trying to rip me off." Indeed, theaters must make money, but they must also compete for your dollar. Theaters offer entertainment, and they recognize that entertainment isn't as high a priority as say paying bills, buying food or clothes, or purchasing gasoline. So their prices have to be reasonable, right?

Still, even without being an economist, one can attempt to gauge a reasonable picture of ticket prices and determine if they are indeed too much. We'll make comparisons to average ticket prices vs minimum wage, plus factor in other concerns such as unemployment rates, recessions, and poverty levels.

We'll start with the year I saw my first movie, Star Wars. Truth be told, I probably seen others before Star Wars, but that's the film I have full recollection of seeing.

1977: The average ticket price was $2.23. Minimum wage(mw) was $2.30. That meant for someone working a minimum wage job, it would take them slightly less than an hour's wage to earn a movie ticket. Unemployment in the country was around 6.9% at this time.

1984: The average ticket price was $3.36. That's a $1.13 increase, or a 50% hike. Minimum wage increased to $3.35. That's a $1.15 increase in (mw), or a 34% hike. Unemployment at this time was 7.5%, an increase of 0.6%, or an 8.7% hike in the unemployment rate. 

In this 7 year span, we see an increase in unemployment, and wage earnings increase by 34%, but ticket prices soar by 50%. Indeed, consumers are feeling the pinch. Also notice that with an hour's labor at (mw), a movie goer comes up just a bit short. Ticket prices surpass an hourly wage.

1991: The average ticket price is $4.21. That's a $0.85 increase, or a 25% hike in ticket prices. Minimum wage at this time was $4.25. That's a $0.90 increase in (mw), or a 26.8% hike. Unemployment at this time was 6.8%, a decrease of 0.7%, or a 9.3% drop in the unemployment rate.

This 7 year span seems a bit prosperous. Unemployment is at the lowest since 1977. The minimum wage worker can afford a movie ticket again with just an hour's labor. Still, notice the rate at which ticket prices rise. They seem on par with the overall increase in earnings. Essentially, the pinch is still there because the increase in earnings only slightly overtake the increase in cost.

1998: The average ticket price is $4.69. That's a $0.48 increase, or 10.2% hike in ticket prices. Minimum wage at this time was $5.15. That's a $0.90 increase in (mw), or a 21% hike. Unemployment at this time was  4.5%, a decrease of 2.3%, or a 33.8% drop.

This 7 year span seems very, very prosperous. Unemployment is at an all time low. The rate that wages increase is more than double the rate movie tickets have increased. Finally, the pinch is weakening. Many Americans are working, and wages seem to allow for prosperity. The (mw) earner can afford a movie in less than an hour's work.

2005: The average ticket price is $6.41. That's a $1.72 increase, or a 36.6% hike in ticket prices. Minimum wage at this time is $5.15. That is 0% growth in wages. Unemployment at this time is 5.1%, an increase of 0.6%, or a 13.3% rise in unemployment rates.

This 7 year span we see a turn for the worst. 0% growth in earnings and an increase in people out of work. Yet ticket prices rocket to the top. The (mw) earner now has to work close to 1.25 hours just to afford a ticket.

2012: The average ticket price is $7.92. That's a $1.51 increase, or a 23.5% hike in ticket prices. Minimum wage at this time is $7.25. That's a $2.10 increase in (mw), or a 40.7% hike. Unemployment at this time is 8.2%, an increase of 3.2%, or a 62.7% rise in unemployment rates.

This 7 year span is a bit more hopeful, but ultimately disappointing. Wages increase faster than ticket prices do. Yet the (mw) earner still cannot afford a movie ticket after an hour's labor. Americans out of work is shockingly high.

So, what are the overalls? 

From 1977 to Present (2012), wages have increased by $4.95, or 315%. Ticket prices have increased by $5.69, or 355%. Overall, ticket prices have increased at a rate exceeding the growth rate of income. There are, of course other things to consider. In 1977, 11% of the populous was living at, or below, the poverty line, some 25 million Americans. By 2009, it has increased to 14.3%, some 43.6 million (if the numbers seem off, take into consideration population growth).

In fact, it is said the value of today's minimum wage is 29% lower than it was in 1979. So even if the (mw) increased, its value hasn't. Ultimately, we face a high unemployment rate, and those that are working are working low wage jobs. Yet ticket prices keep on rising. 

So, are ticket prices really ripping us off? Not really. Sure, the margin of affordability seems to be widening, but it's not at an egregious amount. The (mw) worker still labors for about an hour (give or take a few minutes) to earn his ticket. Still, movie tickets seem more outrageous than ever before. Perhaps it isn't soaring ticket prices, but maybe our dollar just doesn't stretch as far as it used to. 

For those curious, in 1977, gas prices were on average $0.65 a gallon. 2012, it has averaged $3.60. That's a $2.95 increase, or 553%. Clearly, gas prices are more out of control than ticket prices.

Editorial on minimum wage, value, and poverty:

Gasoline Prices:

Unemployment Rates

Movie ticket prices by year:

depatment of labor, minimum wage statistics:

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Are Movie Trailers Behind The Times?

Let's face it. Movie Trailers are an art form in and of themselves. The dramatic editing and choice of music is meant to compel the viewer to go see the film. A trailer has to walk that fine line of revealing enough key scenes to tell what the film is about, yet not give away everything. Like a burlesque show, it is the art of the tease. Show em a little leg, and they'll beg for more.

Yet, in the 21st Century, this art form is becoming more and more outdated. The movie trailer operates under the assumption that it's preserving the integrity of the film and its content. However, in the modern world of cinema, that integrity no longer exists.

Case in point: The Amazing Spider-Man. Several teasers and trailers have been released as of this writing depicting the action/drama of the upcoming reboot of the franchise. The main villain is the Lizard, and in the grand style of movie trailers, we only get the quickest and most subliminal peek at this classic villain. We get a sense that it's the Lizard, but we also feel urged to see the film if for no other reason to see how the character is realized on film. A great technique if this was 1982, but this is 2012, and trailers haven't caught up. Within mere minutes of a trailers release, fans will stream the trailer online, freeze frames and analyze every image. The subliminal image of the lizard is now available for in depth scrutiny, long before his intended reveal on the big screen.

Of course, it could be argued, that there is no intended reveal? Perhaps not. Even those who shy away from websites and internet scrutiny are still confronted with spoilers authorized by the studios themselves. The toy lines come out with action figures, children's books are released with the illustrated novel of the film, all BEFORE THE FILM'S THEATRICAL release.

This isn't a trend that started with Spider-Man. It seems big-budget blockbusters with toy/fast food/merchandise tie-ins seem to have no problem letting the cat out of the bag. Go back to April 1999, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, arguably the most anticipated film of the decade, releases its soundtrack to record stores. On the back, the track list includes a title called, "The Death of Qui-Gon-Jinn." Really, you're spilling the beans about a major character and what happens to him?

This cat out of the bag method has not hindered the movie studios at all. In fact, one could go back to 1999 and see how year after year box office records are continuously shattered. Fans, getting more than they want  out of a film before its release hasn't discouraged them from buying a ticket. The studio seems on board, the fans are enthusiastic, yet the trailers haven't seemed to embrace this concept. Perhaps the art of the tease is lost on today's instant gratification culture. It will be interesting to see if and when trailers get repackaged to reflect this current trend.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Critic's Cafe: Are Movie Credits Unnecessarily Too Long?

Bill: Ever notice how long movie credits seem to be? I think they systematically get longer every year. The question is: Who deserves to be listed in the movie credits? Personally, I believe that anyone who’s work is visibly or audibly represented in the film deserves credit. That means caterers and their staff, drivers, personal assistants to the actors should be excluded.

Scott: Interesting. So you think too many people are being listed in the movie credits, huh? Well, I’ve got to say, I agree with you in part. It does seem silly to credit folks who are basically unskilled laborers. But you’re not saying they don’t deserve any credit, are you? They still perform important jobs without which the film would not be able to be made. You’re just saying that they shouldn’t receive written credit in the scroll at the end of the film... right?

B: That’s a loaded statement, “the film would not be able to be made.” Surely if John Doe didn’t fetch Mr. Spielberg his bear claw and coffee, someone else would have. It would not have impacted Schindler’s List in the slightest. So no, he does not deserve a movie credit. However, if John Doe was an assistant prop guy who placed a coffee mug on the table that was in frame during the shoot, than yes, he deserves to be in the credit.

S: I’ll concede the point, but I’ll maintain that the workers on the film that produce no visual or auditory result still perform important functions - think of them as grease between the wheels. By your standard of who should receive credit, film credits may actually not be inclusive enough. I was just examining the credits for Captain America and, although the credits list is quite comprehensive, I noticed that it doesn’t list every extra who appears in the film by name.

B: I think in terms of extras, there is a legal reason. Since extras work for free, the studios are not obligated to credit them as they are not on the payroll. Surely a movie like Rudy isn’t going to name 20,000 fans at the stadium.

S: Hey, I’ve been an unpaid extra before (Major League 2) - I got paid a hot dog and a soda for an entire day’s work of cheering! But specifically to Captain America, I don’t believe that the soldiers at the USO show in the crowd or the many extras in the lab were unpaid volunteers - there is such a thing as a professional extra. If the guy who places a mug on a desk gets credit, why not the scores of extras whose faces actually appear in the film?

B: So, are you arguing for LONGER credits?

S: Not necessary - perhaps just a refocusing of priorities. It seems odd to me that Tom Hank’s assistant gets into the credits but not some of the people that actually appear in the film. The same can be said of the musicians who play in the orchestra - they go uncredited but they serve a critical function to the film. In my opinion, ditch the accountants and janitors in the credits and use that same space to actually credit the folks who make a difference on the screen.

B: I see your point, but since the goal is to reduce credit length, it seems you’re in favor of omitting a credit and replacing it with 20. For example, you bring up music. So, in Star Wars, who’s responsible for the dramatic theme? John Williams? Sure. He composed and conducted it. I don’t need to know the name of every oboe, tuba, and violin player during the production.

S: Let’s agree to disagree on that point. I was just taking your earlier assertion to the logical conclusion. I actually think that credits should be WAY shorter... perhaps “Wizard of Oz” short. There are only 37 people credited in the Wizard of Oz (the cast and the major creative supervisors such as the producer, director, costumes, etc.).

B: Well, maybe not THAT short, but I get ya. In today’s cinema, special effects are a huge contribution to movies that weren’t around then.

S: Wizard of Oz had a special effects credit!

B: Right, but in today’s world, what is a special effect? Is it CGI? Animation? Horror make-up, etc? To simply say “:Special effects by _____” isn’t specific enough. In Star Wars, if they credited Phil Tippet with “Special Effects,” what special effect? Did he build the model star destroyers, or create the visual effect of the lightsaber?

S: Well, hence the slippery slope that has gotten us where we are today. I think it’s actually very difficult to draw a clear line in the sand and say, “These people directly contributed to the film and these people didn’t.” Are there clear examples of both- sure (director, caterer). But there’s a big, fat grey area in the middle as well.

B: Every journey begins with a first step. So, let’s first weed out the obvious ones. Who are they?

S: Well, I’d definitely say anyone who is pushing paperwork behind the scenes needs to go. Personal assistants, food services, tutors for child actors, and nurses as well. Agree? Got more to add?

B: I agree. Who would I add to that list? Production assistants. Like personal assistants, they are essentially errand boys...oops, errand persons. Also, security.

S: Ha... that’s funny! I’m actually surprised how many of the job titles have the word “Man” or “Boy” in them still. I also noticed when I was examining the Captain America credits how many supervisors, directors, producers, executives, coordinators, and managers are listed! It’s literally SCORES - probably a few hundred. That’s sick! Now wonder these movies cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make!

B: What about concept artists? Those that paint concepts of characters and scenes, many of which don’t actually make it into the film.

S: See, that’s a big grey area, isn’t it? I would personally include these folks. I’d rather include the person who conceptualizes the things on screen than the electricians and plasterers who make it come to life.

B: Yeah, I’m going to disagree with you there. Those that bring it to life are more deserving IMO than those that conceptualize it. Not that concepts aren't important, but neither is crediting those who don’t make the cut. The guy who conceived Jabba the Hutt as a 6-legged crab-thing shouldn’t be in the credits, should he?

S: Wait until the next special edition... lol.

B: Also, when it comes to music, recording, etc., I’d be fine with differentiating between direct and indirect hires. For example, let’s take music. If Elton John writes and performs a song in the film, he gets a credit as he lends his unique talent to the film. Where as an entire orchestra does not need to be individually credited. Unless a particular musician is brought in for a solo piece or what have you. Now, extrapolate that concept. If you contract an audio studio to do the recordings, the company, and maybe manager/director gets a credit. But any “in-house” staff should not. Again, same applies to all areas of special effects, etc. Unless someone is specifically brought in because of a unique talent.

S: Okay, but how would you answer somebody who says, “What does it matter? There are no negative consequences to having a longer credit sequence!”

B: Actually there is. I generally make it a rule not to pay for a movie ticket unless the run time is 90 minutes or longer. That is the definition of a “feature length film.” Since credits are included in a films run time, I don’t want to see an 82 minute movie cause the credits ran an additional 10 minutes. Also, those pesky PCS, or Post Credit Scenes that fanboys wait for at the end of, well, Captain America in this example, to get a tease for the next film. It traps people into essentially sitting through nine minutes and 800 people you will never remember or care about.

S: I agree. I also think that in the mentality of crediting everyone, you actually deny people credit because the names become just a big blur of small font. Compare Wizard of Oz and Captain America again - WoZ has really big font letters up on the screen for seconds at a time so you can actually read the entire page. To read the credits for Captain America I needed to pause the movie over and over again. So I think all-inclusive credits are actually harmful.

B: Lol, just wait till Captain America hits cable television. The 9 minute credits will be reduced to 11 seconds on a condensed screen as the next show/movie begins.

S: True dat. So let’s wrap this up. Although we seem to disagree on the specifics, we both agree that movie credits need to slim down and trim the fat. Any final thoughts?

B: Yes, Jessica Alba is hot. :)  

S: The movies should credit God for that! lol

B: Got to thank God for a (insert favorite body part) like that. Seriously though, too many credits only serve to create a disservice to the artisans and craftsmen who make the movie happen. I, as a movie goer, will see a film based on who directed it, and/or who stars in it, who wrote it, or even the music score. Flashdance anyone? I don’t see films because Tony’s Food Service catered the production.

S: Agreed. Maybe that’s a good rule of thumb: Credit only those job titles that attract moviegoers.

B: Agreed.

This conversation was brought to you by...

Bill - Himself
Scott - Himself

Conceptualization - Bill
Scheduling Coordinator - Scott
Font Scout - Scott
Casting - Bill
Score - Bill
Location Scout - Scott
Lead Editor - Scott
Assistant Editor - Bill
Stunt Coordinator - Bill
Assistant to Mr. Scott - Scott’s wife
Assistant to Mr. Bill - Bill’s wife
Dialogue Coach - Scott
Continuity Director - Scott
Stand In - Bill
Best Boy - Bill
2nd Unit Director - Scott
2nd 2nd Unit Director - Scott
Caterer - Taco Bell

Microsoft Windows XP Production/Crew
Co-Founder Of Microsoft Bill Gates
CEO of Microsoft Steve Balmer
Brad Silverberg
Bob Muglia
Paul Maritz
Jim Allchin
Orlando Ayala
Mike Maples
Chris Smith
Jim Grey
Gordon Bell
Bernard Vergnes
Rick Rashid

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And now, the Post Credit Scene...enjoy.