Let The Battle Begin!

A recent article in The Hollywood Reporter exposed the emerging Star Maps Battles. Yes, Dear Reader, it seems that there is no boundaries when it comes to corporate in-fighting. It has even extended into the arcane world of where stars live.

Once a cottage industry where under employed actors or Hollywood wannabes would set up shop on some street corner selling maps to stars homes as a way to supplement their income. Tourists would buy them and get a cheap thrill by seeing where a “name” seen in lights actually went to bed at night, ate his breakfast and had a post morning coffee bowel movement. And if the heavens aligned, perhaps a glitterati glimpse would end up as a story to be told over and over back in the home town.

Over the years, these guides to popular culture have gotten more sophisticated. There are talking CD/cassette tours. There are ‘famous crime scenes’. There are updated maps for the latest reality star or face du jour. Prices range from $6 for a map to $44 for a bus tour. It has become a multimillion dollar business.

Now the new wrinkle is an iPhone app. For just 99¢, a potential voyeur can buy the app with directions, GPS finders and helpful trivia to enhance the experience.


THR reports that in the old days, that would be last year for the uninformed, many of the star maps people would fight for customers, literally. They would yell at each other. Yell at customers going with someone else. It is, was, a tough business.  The new app, which will undoubtedly, have imitators may quiet the screaming, but it won’t change one very important fact. The information is changing daily and much of it is wrong.

So if you’re planning on going to La-La Land and getting all sight seeing, be warned, many of those “star maps” are either plain wrong or the information has changed. Maybe a better use of time would be not to see the stars’ homes, but rather get some of these purveyors of voyeurism to fight over you.  Different companies fighting their competition for your dollar. It’ll be pure capitalism. Sadly, it looks like those old time paper map entrepreneurs may go the way of mom and pop stores everywhere. Done in by technology.


Trailer Trash

Nearly 100 years ago, a theater manager named Nils Granlun made a small promotional film to highlight a feature film opening the following week. It was the first, of what we now call, trailer. It was November 1913 when Nils ran his coming attraction. It ran after the main feature and was simply called ‘a trailer’. Exhibitors quickly learned two things. First the trailer was an effective marketing tool and secondly, running them after the film was not a good idea. People left and didn’t see them. They moved them to the front of features, but the name ‘trailer’ stuck. Now 99 years later critics are calling trailers, trash advertising.

Over the century of film making, trailers have changed with the times. Look at a trailer from the 40s, then one from the 50s, then one from the 60 and then one from this year and you can see the difference of taste, style, impact. Today too many trailers expose a 2 minute hyped up, quick edited version of the film. It usually gives away everything. Today’s trailers are not only for theaters but also for the internet. Last year, 10-billion video trailers were watched, ranking it #3, after news and user-created video as the most watched form of content.

The reason critics are calling trailers trash advertising is what is happening in theaters today. Distributors, aka studios, and exhibitors, aka movie theater owners, are getting awfully cozy about trailers, but haven’t let on why. These days, especially in big chains, more and more theaters are being paid to show more and more trailers. Yep, that’s right, the studios are paying the movie theaters cash incentives to show their trailers. This may help explain the butt numbing number of them splashing on the screen prior to the latest paint-by-numbers action film or estrogen fueled chick flick.

There are very few rules governing the use of trailers. The MPAA, the folks who give us those wonderful ratings, have decreed from high on up, that trailers should not exceed two minutes, thirty seconds. There is one exception to that rule. Studios can select one film a year to run 4 minutes. Other than that, there isn’t much stopping studios from doing anything they want.

The deals between studios and theaters may vary. It may be a direct buy. It be a trade or swap. In 2009, the estimated revenue to theatres directly or indirectly was $30 billion. Of course, knowing Hollywood’s expertise at creative accounting, even that number is suspect. The arrangement can take various forms. It can be lower film rentals on certain films, more promotions involving the theater but paid for by the distributor, a straight cash deal or more money in advertising. Most theaters will opt for any combination of these, but the basic premise makes both sides happy.

Even as we trash talk this practice, studios are now looking at lobbies as the next frontier. They see them as real estate. They are considering renting space from the movie theaters and doing promotions there as well. For exhibitors this is found money. They have been taking it on the chin from the studios for years. Today’s films are front loaded. The average film makes nearly 70% of its total revenue in the first week. It makes it tough for the movie theater owner to make ends meet. On top of that the average amount of film rental demanded by the studios has been creeping up. The practice known as ‘aggregates’ has aggravated the theater’s financial distress, but that is a different tale.

The practice of selling screen space for trailers offers a disturbing question. Are these trailers appropriate for kids? Consider this, a very popular PG film has that studio’s next film as a trailer before the film plays. It looks like a kids film, but it may PG13 or even R. If money is the key factor in running a trailer, will inappropriate trailers entice younger audiences to desire seeing a film? Probably.

Agree or disagree, there is one thing certain, we should be wary consumers. Trailers aren’t what they used to be. They are quickly becoming trashy advertising.

What We Learn by Traveling in Time

DIMENSIONS: A Line, A Loop, A Tangle of Threads was The Gort recipient at this year’s Boston Science Fiction Film Festival. It is an indie gem about time travel. It got me thinking, there are a lot of time travel films out there. What do they tell us? Are there lessons to be learned and, if so, what are they?

The answer to the second question is an emphatic yes. So here are a few lessons gleaned from various time travel films.

Lesson #1: If you travel back in time, remember, no matter how hot you mom is and how strong she comes on to you, don’t sleep with her. (Back to the Future)

Lesson #2: Loud, nearly atonal teenage rock music is timeless, like the masters Mozart and Beethoven. It comes replete with significant ear damage and with a poseur’s attitude. Oh yeah, really cute women will be drawn to it like a Valley girl is drawn to malls. (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure)

Lesson #3: In the pursuit of perfect happiness, it is imperative to buy lots of insurance from snarky salesmen. This is key to finding a smart, beautiful woman as a life companion. It also helps if you can play the piano, know the Heimlich Maneuver and avoid puddles. (Groundhog Day)

Lesson #4: When preparing for time travel, bringing the proper equipment makes all the difference. The savvy time travel knows that no matter where you go, or when, be sure to bring your chainsaw. It has a thousand and one uses. (Army of Darkness).

And finally, in Lesson #5, we learn that modern dentistry has no equal throughout the ages, especially the 1960s. (Austin Powers & The Spy Who Shagged Me)

We’ll be mulling and absorbing these lessons as the days go on. Perhaps we’ll discover some more for as we know, the movies are a font of essential information on how to live our lives, just ask the Eloi.

Cheating On Your Oscar Vote

You know what the biggest thing to remember when your filling out your Oscar pool ballot? Not who won the SAG Award or the PGA Award. Not the latest buzz emanating from the gossip columnists or these insipid TV shows.

No, the most important thing to remember is who is doing the voting.

Don’t think for one minute that the Academy voters reflect the general US population. In fact, they don’t even represent the movie going public. The nearly 5800 member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Science are professionals in the business. To get into the Academy they need to be nominated and then go through a relatively rigorous vetting process. Oh yeah, once they are in, they are in for life.

The result is an electorate that is ensconced within the industry and older, much older.

The demographic looks like this.

94% of the Academy is white. 77% of them are male. And the average age is 62. With numbers like these they are hardly adventurous or tuned in what is happening within minority groups or trends within the culture. This helps explain why Social Network lost out to the rather prosaic, but well acted The King’s Speech last year.

So when you vote for this year’s winner, remember, vote like a 62 year, white male. Your chances of winning the pool have just improved.

Oscar Nominations 2012

Went on NH Public Radio’s Word of Mouth with Virginia Prescott. We talked about the Oscar nominations for 2012.

Once again the people populating the world of Hollywood have put their crass business ways aside and try to remember the ‘art’ side of their business. This year’s nominations deftly avoid the big money makers of the past year in favor of films that suck up to their past like Scorcese’s HUGO and Hazanavcious’s THE ARTIST.

With nearly 5800 people voting in this year’s Oscars, we can expect a self-congratulatory valentine to their industry. In the meantime, I’ll be writing about the Oscars over the next few weeks

.Here is a link to the Word of Mouth conversation