Movie stars: the political comments you make before your movie releases will affect who will see the film

Last November, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Republicans and Democrats like different primetime television shows. A new survey now shows that political affiliation of the viewer affects how much the political views of major movie actors influences movie-going behavior:

With Dolphin Tale opening with a strong $19.2 million that first weekend and finishing No. 1 with $13.9 million in its second, the financial impact of Freeman’s comments is hard to quantify. But they did have an effect. In a far-ranging poll Penn Schoen Berland conducted for The Hollywood Reporter of 1,000 registered voters to gauge moviegoing tendencies of Democrats vs. Republicans, it’s clear political allegiances have shifted entertainment viewing habits. Jon Penn, the firm’s president of media and entertainment research, says that before Freeman’s words, interest in Dolphin Tale was considerably higher among conservatives and religious moviegoers than among liberals. After the remarks, 34 percent of the conservatives who were aware of them, and 37 percent of Tea Partiers, said they were less likely to see the film — but 42 percent of liberals said they were more likely. (Five days after Freeman’s remarks, 24 percent of all moviegoers were aware of them.)

In fact, overall, 35 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of Tea Partiers consider a celebrity’s political position before paying to see their films, compared with 20 percent of Democrats.

Many exhibitors say privately that they cringe when a star waxes politically just before one of their movies opens — like when, seven weeks before Contagion, Matt Damon attended a Save Our Schools march where some attendees compared Republicans to “terrorists.” Videos of Damon mocking conservatives for their fiscal policies spread like wildfire on the Internet.

I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised at this information since we hear all the time about our overly partisan public sphere.

If this is true, should movie actors muzzle themselves and avoid sharing their political opinions? Why do movie actors often share this information while sports stars are more demure about this topic?

It would be interesting to know exactly why Republicans let these political actions and views affect them. Has this always been the case? Is this due to the commonly heard idea that Hollywood is a liberal place pushing liberal ideas? Do most Republicans think Hollywood puts out “enough” family-friendly or conservative-friendly films – do they really want to go to the movies more and the content is simply lacking? What are the movies most loved by Republicans and Democrats? (The article suggests people of both parties “say comedy is their favorite genre, popcorn is their favorite theater snack, Forrest Gump is their preferred blockbuster and Indiana Jones is their favorite action hero.” Now that’s bi-partisanship!)

Looking for a sociologist type on a TV show

The academic job market may be bad but how many sociology graduate students might consider a casting call? Here is one that might fit:

Casting an archeologist, anthropologist, sociologist, scientist or the like; who can investigate extraordinary occurrences that some claim to be signs of the Apocalypse. History buff a MUST, with personality plus!!

This is quite a wide range of possible disciplines. How exactly would one play a sociologist in this situation – spout classical theory? I can’t remember ever seeing a sociologist portrayed on TV or in a movie.

(The firm that put out the casting call, Bel-Espirit Creative, is led by a woman with a background in sociology:

Loreen has a B.S. in Sociology from the University of Oregon, where she was a DJ and host of several shows on KWVA, the University’s campus radio station. Since founding Bel-Esprit Creative, she’s worked in music production for tv, audio post-production, art direction for TV, and script writing for radio. In addition, Loreen taught a class on Reality TV at New York Film Academy. Prior to working in entertainment, she was a social studies middle school teacher for at-risk students.

I wonder if this sociology background has influenced other casting/talent decisions.)

The spin-to-truth ratio is rising

Mike Masnick over at TechDirt pointed me over to a “study” put out by Rick Falkvinge, a member of the Pirate Party, who claims that

for every job lost (or killed) in the copyright industry due to nonenforcement of copyright, 11.8 jobs are created in electronics wholesale, electronics manufacturing, IT, or telecom industries — or even the copyright-inhibited part of the creative industries.

Masnick has at least as many problems with Falkvinge’s methodology as I do, but the content industry plays this game too.  See this example of similarly muddled reasoning over at The Copyright Alliance Blog, which attempts to connect almost 14 million illegal downloads with the 2,000 production jobs in L.A.  Are readers really supposed to think that Hollywood blockbusters are imperiled?  If so, the Alliance Blog probably shouldn’t have picked as its example a movie that’s made over $800 million worldwide.  (At the box office alone.)

I think Masnick’s analysis is spot-on:

I don’t think anyone actually believes [Falkvinge’s] numbers are accurate. But it’s using the same basic methodology, assumptions and thought processes behind the studies in the other direction. You can also, obviously, claim that Falkvinge is biased. He is. But is he more biased than the entertainment industry legacy players who do the other studies? It seems clear that the industries are likely to be more biased, since they have billions of dollars bet on keeping the old structures in place. I think both studies are probably far from accurate in all sorts of ways, but if you’re going to cite the entertainment industry’s claims based on this kind of methodology, it seems you should also have to accept these claims. [emphasis added]

Numbers can be powerful weapons.  But it helps if they actually mean something and aren’t simply empty rhetorical flourishes.

Quick Review: That Thing You Do

I’ve always liked this 1996 film that follows a one-hit band from Erie, Pennsylvania to the top of the record charts and then back down again as they fall apart. A few thoughts on re-watching the extended cut of the movie:

1. The movie has an innocence about it: small-town kids make it big. The characters have a wide-eyed wonder for much of the movie until they become disillusioned. Perhaps this is still the American dream for many bands: hope to get discovered by a local agent and then hit the big-time with all its benefits (fame, money, women, TV).

2. Though he is the last member to join, the drummer, Guy Patterson, is the main character who speeds up the tempo of the band’s hit song when it is still in its embryonic stages and tries to hold the band together as the pieces fall apart. Guy is likable. The extended cut includes move of Guy’s initial back story before he joined the band.

2a. The lead singer, Jimmy, on the other hand, is the brooding genius who can’t handle the demands of the road and just wants to record his next hit record.

2b. Faye, Jimmy’s girlfriend, is played by Liv Tyler and is a lovely girl caught in the band’s crossfire. (This is the only movie where I liked Liv Tyler’s acting.)

3. I like the music. Though it was written in the 1990s, it does sound like music from the 1960s. The title track, “That Thing You Do!”, is catchy and usually stays in my head for a few days after hearing it. Some of the other songs on the soundtrack are also good.

(According to Wikipedia, the title track was good enough in 1996 to merit airplay: “Written and composed for the film by Adam Schlesinger, bassist for Fountains of Wayne and Ivy, and released on the film’s soundtrack, the song became a genuine hit for The Wonders in 1996 (the song peaked at #41 on the Billboard Hot 100, #22 on the Adult Contemporary charts, #18 on the Adult Top 40, and #24 on the Top 40 Mainstream charts).”)

4. I don’t think the extended cut scenes add much. While it adds more nuance to some characters, particularly Guy, the in-theater version was snappier.

5. There are a lot of allusions/homages to the mid 1960s music scene. The Beatles are referred to often and a scene where the Wonders bike/run/skip on a map of the United States is very similar scene from A Hard Day’s Night.

6. I’ve been trying to think about the main point of the film. It could be viewed as sort of a slice-of-life retrospective about the heady days of rock in the mid 1960s but there are a couple of themes that run throughout the story that suggest there is something deeper:

a. The power of relationships over music and fame. While the band hits it big, it’s not the band that endures – it is the relationship between Guy and Faye.

b. The permanence/creativity of jazz compared to rock music. Guy is more interested in jazz when he initially joins the group to help them survive the injury of their original drummer. By the end of the film, he is still more interested in jazz. Compared to the fickle nature of rock (from nobodies to stars to nobodies all within a year), jazz is portrayed as having staying power.

c. The cycle of one-hit wonders that makes the music world go around. Toward the end of the film, their manager (played by Tom Hanks), suggests that this tale is a common one. The music machine takes innocent kids with hit songs, uses them for what they are worth, and then doesn’t care too much if they disappear. As long as there is another chart-topper in the works, that is all that matters.

After another re-watching, my liking of the film is confirmed: the catchy music plus the joy of seeing a small-town band hit it big plus the reality of what often happens when fame comes between people makes for an enjoyable two hour concoction.

Quick Review: The Stepford Wives (2004)

Not too long ago, I watched and reviewed the original Stepford Wives film (made in 1975). Due to some of the slow pacing of the original, I recently watched the newer version (made in 2004) to see how it compared. Some quick thoughts:

1. The newer version is made to fit modern times: the main character, Joanna Eberhart (played by Nicole Kidman),  is a reality TV maven, the character of the husband (Walter, played by Matthew Broderick) is developed more, and the ending has a twist that is meant to demonstrate the power of love over rigid gender ideologies.

2. The suburban critique is similar: suburbs promote gender stereotypes that need to be challenged.

3. On one hand, I could see why the makers thought a remake was needed. The original film looks like a film from the mid 1970s: the pacing is slow, the camera shots are clunky, and the ending is perhaps unsatisfying since the main character doesn’t resolve her issues with Stepford. The newer film is snappier, more colorful, and packs more in. On the other hand, the remake suffers from its own issues: a storyline that seems like it tries too hard to be modern, rapidly shifting emotional moods (particular between Joanna and Walter who alternate between barely seeing each other and having intimate conversations), and an ending that doesn’t have the same payoff as the original. The character Joanna seems thin; the original spent more time showing the audience her interests, her passions, and her friendships. The new film doesn’t have time for this.

Overall, this film is uneven though more palatable to modern viewers. In the end, the move to include more of a love story between Joanna and Walter takes away from some of the biting suburban criticism of the original.

(This movie was not well-received by critics: it is only 27% fresh, 43 out of 162 reviews, at RottenTomatoes.com.)

Quick Review: Pleasantville

I’ve seen parts of this 1998 film before but I watched it again recently to see if I want to use it in a class on suburbs. Two modern-day teenagers end up back as part of a family in a 1950s suburban world and they start bringing color to this less-than-idyllic community. Some quick thoughts about the film:

1.The film is a critique of suburban life, particularly that of 1950s television shows like Ozzie and Harriet and Leave It To Beaver. The critiques are typical: suburban residents are repressed (more on this in a moment), women are in a subservient role, and the people are conformists who just like things to stay the way they are.

2. Sexual repression is the major theme throughout. The teenage female protagonist quickly charms another high school boy and sets off big changes at Lovers Lane. The mother of the family explores her feelings, the manager of the diner does as well, and the whole town generally goes crazy. While there are other themes, like conformity, patriarchy, and being closed off from the outside world, they are not explored as much.

3. The whole black and white vs. color scheme is a clever tool. The two teenagers who end up back in the 1950s find a black & white world but as this world opens up, things turn to colors. It is visually interesting to watch this contrast throughout the film.

4. The sexual repression theme is somewhat heavy-handed by the end though there is a twist: the teenage female protagonist who first introduces sex to the community finds out that there is a value in books and ideas. While the rest of the teenagers want to go nuts, she pulls back and decides there are more important things for her to explore.

5. In the ending scenes, the characters ask what they are supposed to be doing in life and the response is “we don’t know.” While on one hand this is a refutation of the 1950s world where “we just do things because that is how they are done,” this is not very satisfying: the better alternative is left unexplained.

An interesting film with some surprises. I wish it could have explored some other suburban issues beyond sex and conformity…but perhaps that is a lot to ask.

(This film was generally well-received by critics: it is 85% fresh, 70 fresh out of 82 reviews, at RottenTomatoes.com.)

Quick Review: Despicable Me

I recently saw Despicable Me – I know I’m a little late to the game as this movie was released over a month ago. But I had read some good reviews and was interested in seeing it for myself. Some quick thoughts:

1. I don’t think the film will stick in my memory for long. A lot of it felt like an extended cartoon one might see on TV. Some of the characters, like Gru and Vector, are over the top. The three children alternate between being interesting and mawkish. It was somewhat entertaining but ultimately forgettable.

2. I know there are some funny scenes but I hardly laughed during the movie. Perhaps I wasn’t in a laughing mood…or perhaps the movie isn’t really that funny. Also, we were in a theater with about 10 other people so any semblance of group laughter was missing.

3. The small minions became tiresome. Sure, they may look cute but they started wearing on me after a while. I feel like if movies have to resort to characters like this to keep people interested, the story probably isn’t that great.

4. The music in the film is interesting, alternating between orchestral music and quirky modern numbers. Pharrell Williams of The Neptunes was involved and helped the score develop into something much more varied than a typical animated film.

On the whole, I was not impressed. Not terrible and not great with what seemed like too many switches between styles and ideas, this film settles into the land of average animated films.

(Overall, the movie was well-received by critics: it is 79% fresh (112 fresh out of 142 total reviews) at RottenTomatoes.com.)

How Hollywood portrays those without cars

There is little doubt that the automobile is an important part of the American cultural ethos. So what about people who don’t have cars?

Tom Vanderbilt, author of the fascinating Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What It Says About Us), argues at Slate that Hollywood tends to portray those without cars as losers. In different ways, Vanderbilt claims that the fact that characters do not have cars is often made to be symbolic of other failings in their lives.

The results of incentives for movie production

Michigan Avenue has been a battleground for several recent weekends as Transformers 3 filmed scenes. According to the Chicago Tribune, the producers were partly drawn by the financial incentives offered by the state of Illinois. Though the film will spend more than $20 million in six weeks in the local economy, the state will offer at least a $6 million tax credit.

Illinois is not the only state playing this game:

Illinois is among 45 jobs-hungry states tripping over each other to financially woo movies and television shows. About half, including Illinois, offer tax credits, which cut producers’ costs by tens of millions of dollars at the expense of state budgets.

The pool of rivals has doubled in the past four years, and the lures, for the most part, are getting fancier, with only a handful of states pulling back, either due to recessionary pressures or local scandals. A just-released study by the Milken Institute indicates that aggressive plays, by states as well as overseas locales, are cutting into California’s historical grip on the business.

The rest of the article contains arguments for and against such aggressive tax credits. Regardless, it seems that the tax credit game may become a race to the bottom where states eventually find there is little economic benefit to having filming in their backyard.

Even if the filming doesn’t bring in many jobs (as opposed to short-term work) or other lasting benefits, filming can certainly draw attention. The filming of Transformers 3 has attracted a lot of local media attention, perhaps raising the profile of Chicago and Michigan Avenue for viewers.

Quick Review: Amoeba Music

Perhaps there are better sites to see on the West Coast but I always thoroughly enjoy visiting Amoeba Music, the best used music store I have ever seen. Prior to this month, I had visited two of the locations (San Francisco and Berkeley). On a recent vacation to California, my wife and I visited the Hollywood location, the biggest store of the three.

The selection is beyond what I have found in any other music store. In the world of music retail that has seen the closure of Tower Records and Virgin Megastores plus the decline in CD sales, Amoeba stands out as a place where you can find everything. The pop/rock section is extensive but so are the other sections which include electronica, soul, jazz, Latin, and classical. I don’t know where they get all their used music but this isn’t like most used music stores that have been taken over by DVDs and video games.

My only complaint is that some of the used CDs are pricey ($8-10). However, this is offset by the extensive selection: I have found numerous CDs that I have never seen in any other American retail store.

I particularly like the initial sight of walking in past the registers and seeing the large sales floor and the many people happily milling about. An enjoyable experience for all music fans.