Archive for February, 2014

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The recent gangbusters success of “Frozen” and “The Lego Movie” has given rise to a popular argument that goes something like this:

The average G- and PG-Rated movie makes more money than the average PG-13 and R-Rated movie, but every year more R and PG-13 movies are released than G and PG-Rated movies. Therefore, Hollywood should listen to the audience and make more family friendly films.

It’s a perennial talking point every time a family flick breaks 9 figures at the box office. It’s also completely bogus.

Now, I’m not arguing with their numbers. The average G and PG-rated movie does in fact take in a decent haul at the box office. But averages can be tricky things and as they say, there’s three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics.

November 1st, 2013 @ 20:51:56

Supply vs Demand

Imagine you’re a grocer and one of your venders offers you a deal on Stroopwafels, a product that you don’t regularly carry. It’s a good deal and the things are freaking delicious, so you buy 100 units.

You stock the Stroopwafels on your shelves and they sell out within a couple of days. Intrigued, you order 1,000 units on your next product cycle but are dismayed when only 100 units sell and the remaining 9,900 units have to be hawked at a loss at checkout.

The mistake you made was assuming that with increased supply would come increased demand, when in fact your store just happened to have 100 regular shoppers that enjoy Stroopwafels.

It’s a simplistic, and somewhat hyperbolic, metaphor, but it illustrates the root flaw of the Make More Cartoons argument.

It’s no coincidence that The Lego Movie was released a month and a half after Frozen. Studios learned a long time ago that they could maximize profits by having a single family friendly film in theaters at any given time.

If you suddenly flooded the market with G- and PG-rated films, there would not suddenly be more movie-going families in America. Instead, you would only force those films to compete with each other for the same audience rather than serving as counter-programming to the mass audience Marquee titles that carry a more adult rating.

A deluge of family friendly films would bifurcate the audience in a manner much similar to what we’re currently seeing on TV. Ten years ago, Friends drew an average of 22.8 million weekly viewers in its ninth season. Today, with original programming on the broadcast networks, cable, and streaming outlets like Amazon and Netflix, the ninth season of How I Met Your Mother draws an average 9 million viewers, which is the envy of literally everything on NBC (except The Voice).

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Box Office Does Not Equal Profit

In June of 2013, The Purge debuted with an opening weekend box office of $34 million before going on to a domestic gross of $64 million. It was heralded as a runaway success and the greenlight was immediately given for a sequel, which will be released later this year.

One month later, Pacific Rim launched to an opening weekend of $37 million on its way to a domestic tally of just over $100 million. It was lambasted as an embarrassing failure before decent worldwide sales ($411 million all told) changed the conversation to one of muted indifference.

The difference is obvious, but under the context it bears repeating. The Purge cost a measly $3 million dollars to make and paid for itself twenty-fold. I repeat twenty-fold.

Pacific Rim cost $190 million and, were it not for the growing Asian movie market, would have forced a write-down on its distributor.

Film fans know this. It’s Box Office 101. But what people sometimes forget is that family friendly movies don’t come cheap. The production budget on The Lego Movie was reportedly $60 million. Frozen was even higher, with a reported budget of $150 million.

Also, as a general rule of them, the cost of marketing a film is roughly half of its production budget, meaning that just to turn a profit Frozen would have to break $200 million at the box office. It’s done that, with room to spare, but it illustrates why basing your argument on average box office receipts never tells the whole story.

Simply put, the most profitable genre in Hollywood is not family friendly films. It’s horror films. That’s why there’s 7 Saw films and 5 (so far) Paranormal Activities. You can make them for a song and they turn a profit within hours of their release.

So to anyone who argues that Hollywood should “listen to the audience,” be careful what you wish for. It ain’t gonna be Toy Story 4 that gets the green light.

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Box Office Does Not Equal Quality

This third part of my rebuttal is more emotion-based than logic-based, but it’s also why I get so irritated. I understad that parents want to take their kids to the movies (heaven knows why, but that’s their prerogative) and I understand they may feel there’s not a lot of options. But the implicit nature of their “Make more family friendly movies” rhetoric is one that suggests a value judgement based on a film’s rating.

That line of reasoning completely disregards the artistic nature of film as a medium that educates, challenges and inspires. I love an explosion-heavy popcorn flick as much as the next late-20s bachelor, but what keeps me coming back to the movies are the stories that show me the world in a way I’ve never seen it before. Movies like 12 Years A Slave, or Gravity.

Do we really want a world with less Lincoln and more Croods? Fewer Before Midnights at the expense of Cars 3? No Schindler’s List but another Oogieloves movie? (It should be noted, the G-rated Oogieloves movie had one of the worst opening weekends in box office history).

I suppose there are some that want to live in that world. A Tarantino- and Scorcese-less landscape peppered with Shrek derivatives. That world is my nightmare.

It’s also no coincidence that all 9 of this year’s Best Picture nominees are rated PG-13 and R, or that the glowing critical reception for The Lego Movie is the exception and not the rule. For the most part, family friendly content comes at the expense of story, and at the expense of quality.

I’m not a parent. I have no idea if I ever will be or what the movie-viewing rules will be in my household. But when I think about sitting down in front of the television with my son, I’d rather it be Slumdog Millionaire on the screen and not Megamind.

Oh, and if I see one more cover of “Let it Go” on my Facebook feed I’m going to start hurting people.

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Admittedly, this post is a little late. “Fools Rush In” was the first song I learned on my Kamoa Ukulele, which as you may recall I bought in Hawaii and which has a unique low-G base string, but at the time I thought “I should save that song for Valentine’s Day.”

But V-Day just so happens to land in a the middle of a very busy time for me, squeezed between the end of the Sundance Film Festival and the buildup of the 45-day Utah legislative session. So I recorded the song, didn’t love the way it sounded, tried it again, still didn’t love it, started shooting B-roll for a video and then just kind of dropped the project altogether.

Part of the challenge is that my Kamoa, unlike my Cordoba, does not have an audio jack to record digitally. That means I either record everything live through my microphone or sacrifice the base string, which sounds so great in this song.

But after a week of the top image on Wood’s Stock being me, naked on a massage table, it became apparent that I really needed to put a new post online. So here we are, a brand new albeit loosely completed One Wood Uke video just in time for Valentine’s Day 🙂

As always, the song is available for download at bandcamp, should you feel so inclined.

Also, it has occurred to me that theses videos are all essentially the same. I would experiment more, but it’s a fine line between just posting Uke songs for kicks and going full-Marnie. If I ever cross that line, please, I beg of you, warn me by punching me in the face.

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photo(28)Is that picture inappropriate? On the one hand, there’s nothing erotic about my neck and shoulders (or that face I’m making), but on the other hand it is technically a nude selfie. It’s about intent though, right? Al Roker and Matt Lauer had prostate exams live on TODAY.

I think we’re ok. Good talk everybody.

A little context: For February I decided to Treat Myself to a Hot Stone Massage. I’ve never had a massage before – with the exception of those tacky chairs people buy from the Home Shopping Network – so I have no idea what the culture entails.

I found a nice deal on Groupon (TYS tip: there’s ALWAYS massages on Groupon) for a 70-minute hot stone at All Around The Town Massage, a small but charming spa in West Valley City and invited my friend Emily to come along.

Emily and I met in college under the customarily-convoluted nature of academic friendships: she was the co-worker of a friend of a pseudo-roommate and we bonded over a mutual love for film, music, ultimate frisbee and (now) ukulele. She’s ok.

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But back to the massage. I told my masseuse Corleigh that I was a first-timer and she informed me that people either remove all their clothes or remain in their underwear. It’s all the same to her.

Natually, when placed in a scenario where those are my options, I choose the buff. And did so.

The massage itself was great. I’m a high-stress person so it was great to just lie back, Yoga-breathe and be soothed. Corleigh mostly massaged with her fingers, but would use a stone before moving onto the next arm, leg, shoulder, etc.

Properly pampered, Emily and I headed to Bruges Waffles and Frites to conduct our interview over some speculoos and sliced strawberries.

Wood’s Stock: Who are you and what do you do

Emily Milam: My name is Emily Milam. I’m a tax assistant for an accounting firm downtown.

WS: How are you feeling right now?

EM: I feel extremely relaxed and very lovely.

WS: And lovely?

EM: Something about the oils, it just makes me feel smooth.

WS: My masseuse said people either undress completely or leave their underwear on. I got naked. What was your choice?

EM: Panties only

WS: You’ve had a massage before?

EM: Once

WS: But not hot stone?

EM: Not it was a half-hour free massage. I still stripped down, but it was a half hour on just the back. No stones.

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WS: What did you think of the stones?

EM: I loved the stones. Ermaghersh. It was nice, I liked that there was a combination of a regular massage as well as a hot stone massage because the warmth of the stone after a regular massage felt especially relaxing.

WS: I got a little nervous not knowing how hot the stones would be on my naked flesh. Did you feel any anxiety?

EM: No because at first I thought that her hand was a stone and thought “this isn’t hot at all! It’s like room temperature at best.” Then she pulled out the actual stones and she did this thing where, I don’t want to use the word stroke, but she would stroke the part of me she was massaging and then use the stone.

WS: Walk me through the massage.

EM: I started on my front, she did one leg at a time and just went slowly up and down the leg. She’d ask me questions about where I hold my tension and how the pressure was, things like that. Apparently I hold tension in my calves and my hands.

WS: You guys had a nice chat.

EM: Just a little, like a couple words. She asked me if I ran.

WS: When she was working on your legs, how close did she get to the goods?

EM: Never close enough that I was like [unintelligible sound of surprise and discomfort]. But, I’ve gotten a Brazilian so…

WS: Really? We’ll come back to that. Were you hoping for a male or female masseuse?

EM: I was glad that she was female. I feel like I would have been holding my tension more if it had been a man. I don’t know if it would be worse with a good looking man or a not good looking man. I already felt self-conscious.

WS: I don’t think anyone wants to be massaged by an ugly man.

EM: Especially not a hairy one.

WS: Well my masseuse was not shy downstairs, particularly on my backside.

EM: Oh yeah, she got real close to the butt. Did she full-on touch your butt?

WS: There was some touching. Some caressing and general massaging.

EM: The actual butt?

WS: See that’s a problem. How do we define actual butt?

EM: Below the…

WS: What is below? I’m laying down. What is up and down?

EM: So when she was upper-thighing you feel like she got close to the butt?

WS: I feel like most of the regions of the area in question where massaged at some point.

EM: Really? Maybe because I was wearing panties…

WS: Maybe. I wondered that actually. I wondered if by going nude, that was a subtle queue that said ‘go for it. Massage me.”

EM: Did it feel nice?

WS: Oh, it was amazing. So you started on your front, arms, legs, then flipped you over?

EM: Yeah, did the back. I could’ve done with more back.

WS: Did they give you the stone spine?

EM: No! Did she give you the stone spine?

WS: Yeah, I got the stone spine.

EM: I did not get that. She did all the stone stuff moving. None of it was just sitting on me.

WS: I enjoyed the stone spine, it was nice. And the stone palm was quite pleasant. The whole last half of my massage was stone palm.

EM:  Was she doing other things while you had stone palm?

WS: Yeah, she just set a stone in my palms while she worked on my back, shoulders and legs from behind, and I just kind of forgot that I even had stones in my hands.

EM: Yeah I never had any stones just set on me. She was always working me.

WS: Any part where you felt uncomfortable?

EM: Not from the actual massage. My room was right next to the washer and dryer. It wasn’t particularly super distracting, there was just the sound of a cylinder spinning.

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WS: Now, back to the Brazilian. Why?

EM: My friend A—- was getting married and she didn’t want to go alone and it was before our cruise so…

WS: Before our cruise? I was a part of this?

EM: You weren’t. I promise you, you were not.

WS: So that implies that A—- was an abstinent person?

EM: Yes

WS: Granted I don’t know much about a woman’s first sexual experience, but she chose to have a Brazilian?

EM: She and her fiancé had talked about it. It’s what he wanted.

WS: Don’t you think for your first time you’d want to experience how it’s going to be normally?

EM: Unless he’s going to pay for a Brazilian all the time, that’s maybe how it’s going to be.

WS: I think you’re setting a bar that you might not want to set. I think you should go into your wedding night in a comfortable and, I don’t want to say “standard,” but comfortable scenario. Then in the future you can do special things like that. But I digress. On a scale of 1 to Death, how painful was it?

EM: The actual ripping, for lack of a better word, doesn’t hurt as much as the repetition. They do it little by little so it takes a really long time. If it were just three quick pulls it would be fine, it would be doable, it would be bearable. And they’re very thorough.

WS: Well, yeah.

EM: After they’re done with the waxing, there’s still some hair and they pluck. I would say on a scale of 1 to kidney stones it’s probably a 4. On a scale of 1 to plucking your eyebrows it’s a 50.

WS: This is just you and one person in a room?

EM: Yes.  Me and a lady in her 40s.

WS: I had a hernia, so I’ve been shaved by a man. I would imagine the emotional context is similar, but this seems particularly intimate. In my mind I see the old repairman from Toy Story 2 with his magnifying glasses and his fine instruments.

EM: No, it’s more like your cool aunt who does this for a living. It doesn’t even matter.

WS: Would you recommend that someone get a hot stone massage?

EM: Yes, definitely, for sure.

WS: Are you on twitter?

EM: I am on twitter, I think I have 3 followers. @EmilyRMilam

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And so ends another festival, and a very successful one at that. In all I saw 20 films, breaking my personal record, and also managed to catch at least one screening on each of the 10 days of Sundance (including the big winner Whiplash, which was a highlight of the week.) If you haven’t already, you can read my capsule reviews of this year’s films here, here, here and finally here.

I was busier than usual with work-related activities and I also made the executive decision to not lug my camera around unnecessarily. The result is a smaller crop of photos but since every Q&A looks the exact same, that’s not necessarily a problem.

That first image above is of the historic Egyptian Theater on Main Street. As part of this year’s New Frontier, every night the facade was lit up with a series of adaptive images projected from across the street. It was great having New Frontier back on Main Street and I wish I had more time to explore it, particularly the Oculus Rift installations that I hear were pretty trippy.

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This year’s festival closed with William H. Macy’s “Rudderless,” a very good film about a man mourning his son’s death who finds some direction by covering his son’s music. It was Macy’s directorial debut and very promising, with one of the best-handled “twists” I’ve ever seen.

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The best Q&A award goes to “They Came Together,” which saw director David Wain joined by stars Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd and Max Greenfield. The film is essentially one long satirical sketch about romantic comedies (imagine a feature film version of the movie-within-a-movie sequence of Don Jon) and the cast was fittingly sarcastic during the panel. Here’s a video I shot of the Q&A but fair warning, there is some adult-ish sexual language.

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And here is director Lynn Shelton and the crew of “Laggies” taking questions in the MARC theater.

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That’s Jake Paltrow (brother of Gwyneth) taking questions after a screening of his film “Young Ones,” which was another one of my favorites. Directors have a tendency to be very vague when asked about the artistic choices they make while making a film (not wanting to undercut the poetic ambiguity, I suppose) but Paltrow’s answers were all surprisingly direct.

Young Ones stars Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult and Elle Fanning. Watch for it.

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Speaking of Elle Fanning, she performed a reading during this year’s Celebration of Music in Film Event.

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As did Glenn Close.

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I didn’t make it to any of the musical acts at ASCAP this year, but I was able to catch a series of performances at the Celebration of Music in Film. Above is the performer Jetta, who killed it and whose music you can find here.

.@jettaofficial performing at #sundance

A post shared by bjaminwood (@bjaminwood) on

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Another of the evening’s performers was Rae Spoon, who was the subject of the documentary film “My Prairie Home.” I wasn’t able to catch the movie, but Spoon had a great sound at the celebration event.

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And of course, Flea, from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, joined a small jazz number who are no doubt renowned in jazz circles but whose names unfortunately aren’t as memorable as “Flea”. I was going to post a picture of Flea’s face but I just couldn’t pass up this one of him in power stance. (And unlike the Peppers’ Super Bowl performance, his guitar was plugged in this time.)

I only had to attend one red carpet this year, which was fantastic because red carpets are the absolute worse. People often mistakenly think they’re glamorous. You’re wrong. As a journalist you’re packed into a space considerably smaller than your physical body where you wait for an hour for “the stars” to arrive. When they finally do, it becomes a gauntlet challenge where they try to pass through as quickly as possible while reporters literally climb on top of each other, thrusting cameras and microphones in order to ask extremely asinine questions.

But here’s Mitt Romney, arriving for the Salt Lake Gala premiere of “Mitt” which is now available on Netflix (it’s also not meh).

Lastly, I didn’t want to bombard ya’ll with instagram photos but I had to share this. I attended the Sundance Awards Ceremony for the first time this year and was assigned a table with other journalists. Now, most people know already, but journalists are notorious booze hounds, particularly when the booze is free.

I personally don’t imbibe, but even without my contributions we had a couple dozen bottles of Stella on the table by the end of the night (full disclosure, a few passers-by added to the collection, but only after it had already become formidable).

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