Saturday, August 07, 2004

Alcohol Packaging

Just a brief one for you State-siders. You buy your beer in six-packs, (in the Northeast, anyway) liquor and wine are sold in special stores, beer is always sold in 12-oz cans or bottles, etc... The norm?

Not here.

The standard beer bottle is half a liter, or 18 oz. (Also, practically all beer bottles state their relative alcohol content (4-6% for normal beers) - look at your bottles and see if and where Anheuser-Busch does that.) 12 oz (33 cl) are sold here, but usually western brands, and are less popular. Prices range from 40-75 cents for that half liter, too. But beer quality is way up from the bad old days, and quite competitive with our own micro-brews.

Now for the fun part - many brands sell (quite well, too) 1.5 and 2-liter plastic bottles, the latter going for about $1.60. (The six-pack is 2 liters, of course)

The downside is no six-packs. Cases (of at least 24) or singles. No compromises.

1 and 2 liter wine boxes are popular here, too.

Now for the wierd - "cocktails" (mixed drinks). Gin and tonic in a 12-oz can, anyone? How about a Bloody Mary or screwdriver? No problem. Also some other wierd (and sometimes disgusting) fruity combinations as well.

And yesterday, I saw what made me sit down and write this....

Popular Russian mixes (in glass bottles) normally prepared only at parties - The "Russian Yorzh"* (Beer and vodka), the French Yorzh (Rum and wine), "Northern Lights (vodka and champaign) and more.

You really don't know what you're missing...

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

What makes a movie worth while?

Traditionally, film has been considered a realm of the arts. The criteria by which they used to be judged reflect this. The Academy Awards still gives a surface appearance of those criteria by their categories: Best actor, screenplay, etc., which mostly feature the artistic aspects of the film.
But those films, with few exceptions, generally have something else behind them besides good artistic quality.

That's right …$$$

Historically, the artistic criteria and relevance to the people, place and time the art is presented in have always determined the popularity of the given work of art. If a book has a sufficiently good story and well-thought out characters, if a painting uses lighting and contrast successfully in depicting its subject, if a musical piece is innovative and imaginative while conforming to rules of art, it can become popular. If it continues to be popular over a long period of time (at least a couple of generations - 50 -100 years - it comes to be called a classic. (Interestingly enough, Disney came up with the oxymoron "modern classic", as a line to sell its recent films with (such as Aladdin and Hercules.)

What if seventeeth century art were judged by the amount of money the artists spent on making the paintings? Or books by how much was spent on writing and publishing the books? Or music...? Or on the sales that they generated in the first week/month/year of their existence? Daniel Defoe, Mozart and Rembrandt might be unknown to the world today, that is, if people were stupid enough to use such ($) criteria.

And yet the method used, in a willing alliance between the owners of the movie studios and the news stations* is to gage a movie's quality by its box office take. Nobody is going to care whether Spiderman 2 makes a profit of $32 million or $332 million (except for Sony/Universal) - we are going to care more about whether the admission fee is $6 or $11, and most of all, whether we really enjoyed the film or not. And yet, rarely is more than a sentence or two spent on the quality of a film, which is reported as "news" (few people seem to realize the ominous meaning behind the term "infomercial" - as if a business would present unbiased information about its product).

What follows can be quickly scrolled through - or read thoroughly. This from Yahoo news (they scrub their links quickly, as does AP and other news organizations. If you want to prove they wrote something you have to save it fast. This article has not been edited in any way.

Shyamalan's 'The Village' Leads Box Office
Sunday August 1 1:03 PM ET
Its surprise ending may have underwhelmed some critics, but writer/director M. Night Shyamalan's latest scary movie, "The Village," got off to a strong start at the weekend box office in North America.
The film, which revolves around the good folk of a bucolic 19th century hamlet and the creepy goings-on in the nearby woods, earned about $50.8 million in its first three days, becoming the third film in as many weekends to open at No. 1 with more than $50 million.
Shyamalan's previous effort, "Signs," boosted by the star power of Mel Gibson, opened at $60 million in August 2002 and finished with $228 million.
The new movie, reportedly budgeted at a modest $60 million, represents one of the last chances by the film's backer, Walt Disney Co., to salvage some respectability from a dismal summer, which saw it release such duds as "King Arthur," "Around the World in 80 Days" and "Home on the Range," while refusing to allow its Miramax Films unit to handle box office titan "Fahrenheit 9/11."
Indeed, "The Village" set a new Disney record for a July release, beating the $46.6 million bow of last year's "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl."
Last weekend's champion, "The Bourne Supremacy," starring Matt Damon, slipped to No. 2 with $23.4 million. The spy thriller, released by Universal Pictures, has earned $98 million to date.
Three other wide new entries also debuted on Friday.
Paramount Pictures' $80 million remake of the political conspiracy thriller "The Manchurian Candidate," starring Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep, opened at No. 3 with $20.2 million, on par with previous Washington releases.
The stoner comedy "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle," about two pals with the late-night munchies, rolled in at No. 7 with a disappointing $5.2 million. The New Line Cinema film was budgeted at just $9 million.
Universal's family adventure "Thunderbirds," a live adaptation of the cult British TV show with marionettes, misfired at No. 12 with $2.7 million. The film was budgeted at $57 million.
Universal Pictures is a unit of General Electric Co. -controlled NBC Universal. Paramount Pictures is a unit of Viacom Inc . New Line Cinema is a unit of Time Warner Inc .

This article is typical of what movie talk on the news sounds like these days. (If this isn't enough, just go turn on the TV and wait until 6:25 or whatever.) Count the number of references to money. Divide by the percentage of relevance to "consumers" (yes, that's what you are, not people, but consumers) and add your level of interest in those figures and you get the true value of the movie for you and your family.

* (who are mostly now the same people - as a case in point, Disney owns not only its own film studio, as everyone knows, it also owns ABC, and Universal Pictures and NBC are both owned by G.E. and Viacom - CBS, etc. Hmmm…)

Monday, August 02, 2004

Movie Soundtracks and the Money Trail

Warning: If you don't give a darn about music or the music industry, don't read this.

I have read Amazon's reviews of the "soundtrack" for Spiderman 2. People who bought it liked the music, but were disappointed or confused. Sony did not miss a golden opportunity; it was a calculated move.

Always having been an afficiando of movie soundtracks, over the years I began to notice something peculiar. The constraints of the amount of music that could be placed on record albums mostly limited a release to 45 minutes. All forms of music, including soundtracks, were kind of stuck to this.

Newer technologies enabled the release of more music. Cassettes were made with up to a 120 minute limit, but tended to snarl up or get stuck, so 90 minutes became the practical limit. Nevertheless, more music was not recorded onto them because it did not increase profits. (The market had already set the prices, and units, such as records, cassettes and CDs were the determining factor, not the amount of music.)

What the music companies learned was that they could maximize their profits by releasing a 45 minute album, and follow up on successful sales of soundtracks of popular films by releasing a "special, collector's, or whatever edition" 5-10 years later. So using the standards of 2004, a 45 minute CD can be sold for $18, followed by a (say, 78 minute CD or 2 CD package) special edition release in 2010 for $30. People who really want to hear the music aren't going to want to wait 6 years, and of course will want to hear all available music. I don't have statistics, but I think it's safe to suppose that at least 20% of the people who bought the original will by the re-release. That raises the average final (gross) profit from the soundtrack sales to $24. (Based on $2400 in sales for every hundred people - do the math)

Now on to an even stranger phenomenon. I first witnessed this with the soundtrack for Batman (1989); most recently, the Spiderman films as well. The tactic of releasing an album that contained mostly pop/rock songs used fragmentally or not at all in the film (and having nothing to do with the price of tea in China, either) with the film itself, and a delayed release of the actual score by at least a month. This results in a large number of people who enjoyed the film and may or may not be soundtrack buffs buying the faux soundtrack. Of course, all people really interested in the soundtrack by the 2nd CD, and so, sales are increased. My guess is that here the proportion of dual sales is higher, probably at least 50%, which means $27 average per CD profit (although it's really $36 from the poor suckers who really wanted the music).

Sony and the other music companies had already learned to cover their butts by careful use of language. In the 80's (when I became a soundtrack lover), the term used was "original soundtrack" for the genuine symphonic score. Now the term soundtrack has been divorced from score, which means you have to read the fine print and know the distinctions to know what you are buying.

Of course, this is all connected with the larger money machine that movies have become. My next entry, I think, will look at that.