Numbers numbers numbers, film industry edition

This week you probably read headlines to the effect of, Hollywood has biggest box office year ever.

That’s technically true if you are counting gross domestic revenue, and you don’t adjust for inflation.

Bloomberg digs into the numbers.

Turns out, gross domestic revenue (US and Canada) was up 4 percent from last year to $9.6 billion.


One, that doesn’t adjust for inflation.

Two, that doesn’t adjust for an aggregate 4.6 percent rise in ticket prices.

Some of that rise in ticket prices can be attributed to keeping up with inflation, but not all of it.

Three, ticket sales tell a different story.

About 1.41 billion tickets were sold this year, about the same number as last year.However, in 2002, 1.61 billion tickets were sold.

So, ticket sales are down 12% over the last 5 years.

The big macro story is that once upon a time, most Americans routinely went to the movies. Today, only a minority do. And that minority continues to shrink.

From here on out, Hollywood can — and will — continue to raise ticket prices to offset shrinking audiences. But that will presumably just cause the audiences to shrink faster.

Fascism watch, “I wasn’t necessarily referring to genocide” edition

The howling void apparently lives within all of us…

…or at least those of us who are co-chairmen of New Hampshire Veterans for Rudy Giuliani…

From Talking Points Memo:

John Deady, the co-chair of New Hampshire Veterans for Rudy, is standing by the comments he made in [a] controversial interview with The Guardian… in which he said that “the Muslims” need to be chased “back to their caves.”

In an interview with me, Deady confirmed that when he made the comments, he was referring to all Muslims.

“I don’t subscribe to the principle that there are good Muslims and bad Muslims,” Deady told me by phone from his home in New Hampshire. “They’re all Muslims.”

…Asked if he stood by his comments in the earlier Guardian interview, Deady said:

“I most assuredly do. I’ve been very concerned about this Muslim thing for quite awhile. The average American does not know beans about what the Muslims are about. I am talking about the Muslims in general. I don’t subscribe to the principle that there are good Muslims and bad Muslims. They’re all Muslims.”

In the earlier interview with The Guardian, Deady said of Muslims: “We need to keep the feet to the fire and keep pressing these people until we defeat or chase them back to their caves or in other words get rid of them.”

When I asked Deady to elaborate on his suggestion that we need to “get rid” of Muslims, Deady said:

“When I say get rid of them, I wasn’t necessarily referring to genocide. What I was referring to is, stand up to them every time they stick up their heads and attack us. We can’t afford to say, `We’ll try diplomacy.’ They don’t respond to it. If you look into Islamic tradition, a treaty is only good for five years. We’re not dealing with a rational mindset here. We’re dealing with madmen.”

When I asked Deady if this was also a reference to all Muslims, he said: “I am talking about Muslims in general.”

Crazy watch:


Pursuing the dream but ahead of his time, personal broadcasting edition

From the New Yorker, May 1932:

There were a few strangely depressing things in [an inventions conference attended by the writer].

One was a miniature broadcasting station, owned, built, and operated by Mr. John R. Boyle, who spent ten months building it.

In every detail it is like a real broadcasting station, and what it does — after ten months of steady effort — is take a voice record with a voice singing “I can’t caress you, other arms possess you, but Heaven bless you, you’re still in my heart” and transmit the sound a distance of ten feet, so it comes out of a radio instead of a record player.

Innovation in law enforcement, topless woman edition

From ABC News:

Robin Garrison, an off-duty 42-year-old firefighter, was walking in Berliner Park in Columbus, Ohio, in May when he saw a woman sunbathing topless under a tree.

He approached her and they started talking and getting comfortable, the woman smiling and resting her foot on his shoulder at one point.

Eventually, she asked to see Garrison’s penis; he unzipped his pants and complied.

Seconds later, undercover police officers pulled up in a van and arrested Garrison; he was later charged with public indecency, a misdemeanor…

While topless sunbathing is legal in the city’s parks, exposing more than that is against the law…

At Garrison’s trial, his attorney argued that it was a case of entrapment.

You think???

Columbus Fire Battalion Chief Doug Smith: “We want to be held to a higher standard, we are in the community every day and we put our best foot forward…”

Sometimes the jokes just write themselves…

I’ve finally found my future ex-drug habit

From Wired, appropriately enough:

In what sounds like a dream for millions of tired coffee drinkers, Darpa-funded scientists might have found a drug that will eliminate sleepiness.

A nasal spray containing a naturally occurring brain hormone called orexin A reversed the effects of sleep deprivation in monkeys, allowing them to perform like well-rested monkeys on cognitive tests…

The treatment is “a totally new route for increasing arousal, and the new study shows it to be relatively benign,” said Jerome Siegel, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA and a co-author of the paper. “It reduces sleepiness without causing edginess.”


Orexin A is a promising candidate to become a “sleep replacement” drug. For decades, stimulants have been used to combat sleepiness, but they can be addictive and often have side effects, including raising blood pressure or causing mood swings…

The monkeys were deprived of sleep for 30 to 36 hours and then given either orexin A or a saline placebo before taking standard cognitive tests. The monkeys given orexin A in a nasal spray scored about the same as alert monkeys, while the saline-control group was severely impaired.

The study, published in the Dec. 26 edition of The Journal of Neuroscience, found orexin A not only restored monkeys’ cognitive abilities but made their brains look “awake” in PET scans.

Siegel said that orexin A is unique in that it only had an impact on sleepy monkeys, not alert ones, and that it is “specific in reversing the effects of sleepiness” without other impacts on the brain.

I’m practically sobbing with excitement at this point.

…Siegel said that Americans already recognize that sleepiness is a problem and have long treated it with a variety of stimulants.

“We have to realize that we are already living in a society where we are already self-medicating with caffeine,” he said.

Oh yes we are!

He also said that modafinil, which is marketed as Provigil by Cephalon and Alertec in Canada, has become widely used by healthy individuals for managing sleepiness.

“We have these other precedents, and it’s not clear that you can’t use orexin A temporarily to reduce sleep,” said Siegel. “On the other hand, you’d have to be a fool to advocate taking this and reducing sleep as much as possible.”


Sleep advocates probably won’t have to worry about orexin A reaching drugstore shelves for many years. Any commercial treatment using the substance would need approval from the Food and Drug Administration, which can take more than a decade.

Off to Europe, then…

Headline of the day, killer tiger edition

Headline of the day:

Zoo Director Says Tiger Wall Was Low

I think that would be hard to dispute at this point.

As background, a Siberian tiger escaped from its containment area and tragically killed one person and mauled two others at the San Francisco Zoo on Christmas day.

Stunned zoo officials and tiger experts have been speculating that someone must have helped the tiger escape. Or perhaps not…

The director of the zoo where a teenager was killed by an escaped tiger acknowledged Thursday that the wall around the animal’s pen was just 12 1/2 feet high — well below the height recommended by the accrediting agency for the nation’s zoos.

San Francisco Zoo Director Manuel A. Mollinedo also admitted that it was becoming increasingly clear the 350-pound Siberian tiger leaped or climbed out of its open-air enclosure, perhaps by grabbing onto a ledge.

”She had to have jumped,” he said. ”How she was able to jump that high is amazing to me.” Mollinedo said investigators have ruled out the theory the tiger escaped through a door behind the exhibit.

Here’s where you start to get really impressed by the tiger:

According to the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, the walls around a tiger exhibit should be at least 16.4 feet high. But Mollinedo said the nearly 70-year-old wall was 12 feet, 5 inches, with what he described as a ”moat” 33 feet across.

Even if the wall wasn’t up to code, leaping 33 feet horizontally and then over 12 feet vertically — perhaps all in one motion? — is pretty impressive.

[Mollinedo] said safety inspectors had examined the 1940 wall and never raised any red flags about its size.

”When the AZA came out and inspected our zoo three years ago, they never noted that as a deficiency,” he said. ”Obviously now that something’s happened, we’re going to be revisiting the actual height.”

Good idea!

Mollinedo said the ”moat” contained no water, and has never had any. He did not address whether that affected the tiger’s ability to get out.

Interesting. The implication here is: had the tiger been able to walk on water, it would have been able to escape much more quickly, had there been water in the moat. Or something.

On Wednesday, the zoo director said the wall was 18 feet high and the moat 20 feet wide. Based on the earlier, incorrect height estimate, animal experts had expressed disbelief that a tiger in captivity could have made such a spectacular leap.

What’s 5 1/2 feet of vertical containment between friends?

”I think it could be feasible for a cat that has been taunted or angered,” [Jack Hanna, former director of the Columbus Zoo, said]. ”I don’t think it would ever just do it to do it. Somebody had to have provoked it.”

Interesting theory! Let’s see, is there any evidence of that…

The San Francisco Chronicle, citing anonymous sources, reported Thursday that police are looking into the possibility that the victims had taunted the tiger and dangled a leg or other body part over the edge of the moat. The newspaper said police had found a shoe and blood inside the enclosure.

Oh my.

All over the world, people are springing into action:

At the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Columbus, Ohio, Assistant Director Don Winstel said he checked the architectural drawings and plans for the enclosure on Wednesday, and found that the walls and fence around the tigers are no lower than 16 feet.

But ”now that you mention it, I think I’ll take a tape measure out there tomorrow and make sure,” he said.

Meanwhile, I think someone has a great chance as a future career as an official at a bond rating agency like Moody’s or S&P!

AZA spokesman Steven Feldman said the minimum height is just a guideline and that a zoo could still be deemed safe even if its wall were lower.

Accreditation standards require ”that the barriers be adequate to keep the animals and people apart from each other,” Feldman said. ”Obviously something happened to cause that not to be the case in this incident.”

Great moments in predicting the future, television edition

From the New Yorker, July 14, 1951:

The most encouraging word we have so far had about television came from a grade-school principal we encountered the other afternoon.

“They say it’s going to bring back vaudeville,” he said, “but I think it’s going to bring back the book.”

Before television, he told us, his pupils never read; that is, they knew how to read and could do it in school, but their reading ended there. Their entertainment was predominantly pictorial and auditory — movies, comic books, radio.

Now, the principal said, news summaries are typed out and displayed on the television screen to the accompaniment of soothing music, the opening pages of dramatized novels are shown, words are written on blackboards in quiz and panel programs, commercials are spelled out in letters made up of dancing cigarettes, and even the packages of cleansers and breakfast foods and the announcers exhibit for identification bear printed messages.

It’s only a question of time, our principal felt, before the new literacy of the television audience reaches the point where whole books can be held up to the screen and all their pages slowly turned.

Hey, it could happen!

Applied note-taking taken to a whole new level

Your faithful blogger has recently become obsessed with the New Yorker magazine complete archive that you can purchase on a single hard disk. (Why it’s not just up on the web as a subscription service I’m not quite sure, but to have instant access to every New Yorker article ever published, I’ll take it.)

As someone who regularly fades in and out of various note-taking modes, I enjoyed this segment from a 1934 profile of Hollywood producer Darryl Zanuck and his one-time boss H. C. Witwer:

[Zanuck] then had the good luck to become associated with… H. C. Witwer, whose Leather Pusher [!] and Telephone Girl tales and pictures were famous a decade ago…

Witwer had an original method of composition. He carried small scratch pads and short pencils in his pockets. If a comic idea occurred to him on the sidewalk, at a party, in conference, in a taxicab, in a speakeasy, or anywhere else, he would thrust his hand in his side coat pocket, make a note on the pad, tear off the sheet, and leave the pad in readiness for the next idea. Whenever he heard a very bright remark or a very dumb remark, Witwer’s right hand would dart into his coat pocket.

From long practice he could scribble legibly and inconspicuously.

After accumulating a hundred of two hundred of these notes, he would seat himself at his desk, cover the floor around him with the slips of paper, and start writing. When his invention lagged, he would lean over and pick up a slip of paper. If the paper failed to suggest anything useful at the moment, he would toss it back on the floor and pick up another. Sooner or later he would find a note which would inspire him. Once used, the slip would be crumpled and thrown into a wastebasket.

Before Witwer had worked his way through all his notes, the script would be finished.

New aspirational goal for any aspiring lifehacker: write notes on a pad of paper without taking the pad out of your pocket!

Memo to Hollywood PR people: I’m available!

Finally, my big chance!

Hollywood PR people: Use this blog to promote your huge new big-budget movies!

From the New York Times:

As striking screenwriters keep late-night talk shows in reruns, Hollywood publicists have been scrambling to find new ways to promote star-driven holiday and Oscar movies…

The movie industry has long regarded late-night television as one of the most important marketing tools in its arsenal. After swamping consumers with television commercials, studios dispatch stars to do appearances on shows like “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on ABC to seal the sale…

But the Writers Guild of America strike, now entering its seventh week, shuttered every late-night show, tearing a hole in carefully planned marketing campaigns…

“Late-night publicity can be a crucial tipping point,” said Bob Berney, president of Picturehouse, whose biopic of Edith Piaf, “La Vie en Rose,” is an Oscar contender.

OK, now I concede that my blog has a somewhat limited audience if you’re looking use it to pitch a big-budget Hollywood film. On the other hand, I have a much larger audience than a TV show that’s not actually on the air due to the writer’s strike. I may even have a bigger audience than stale Jimmy Kimmel reruns — come on, that wouldn’t be hard to believe, would it?

I’d also note that while I can’t provide the “television” part of “late-night television” promotion, I can provide the “late night” part — that’s when I do most of my blogging!

So… send Julia Roberts and Johnny Depp over to my pad, and I’ll guarantee a positive blog post about their new film, “Sweeney Todd’s War” or whatever it’s called.

The Times story continues:

A few studios are even cozying up to those hoariest of media outlets: radio stations and newspapers.

Oof. Times must be tough.

Even when the late-night shows return, studios will most likely continue to have trouble. Many stars do not want to cross picket lines.

See, this is what I mean! There are no Writers’ Guild picket lines in front of my house. El coast es clear.

And it is every publicist’s nightmare to have a celebrity get caught in a nasty union situation, as happened to Jerry Rice, the football star and “Dancing With the Stars” contestant, whose interview with Carson Daly was disrupted when a group of striking writers infiltrated the show’s taping.

Yes, both viewers of that show were very upset.

Thank you, folks, I’ll be here all week.

The strike could hasten a larger shift in how movie studios generate publicity, said Valerie Van Gelder, Sony’s top domestic marketing executive. For years, studios have been moving money to the Internet and relying less on stars than on extensive trailers and Internet programs that allow users to take content and incorporate it into their MySpace profiles and screen savers.

Note how the New York Times rightly only brings up the Internet marketing component of this issue after discussing Carson Daly’s show, local TV stations, radio, newspapers, daytime TV shows, and “Access Hollywood”. It’s not like the Internet is where the kids are!

Strong-arming marquee stars to participate in more stunts is a delicate topic, but studios are starting to discuss it. Among the ideas are cameos on game shows like “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?”…

Now, see, again, this is where I come in. Having Will Smith and Alvin interviewed on my blog for their new film “I Am Chipmunks” would not be nearly as degrading as popping up on “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader.”

Would it?