Thursday, March 31, 2005

Product Placements in TV, Films Soar

Yahoo! News - Product Placements in TV, Films Soar, Study Finds

“Product placement” and other subliminal and viral ads are intended to circumvent the natural skepticism we bring to commercial messages clearly demarcated as advertising. If we know it is a commercial, we recognize that someone is trying to sell us something and are on our guard against self-serving statements and omissions. But if we do not know, we subconsciously associate the product with the story in a way that makes the case under the radar of our ability to assess the message rationally.

Children’s understanding of the line between telling a story and selling a product is uncertain. And tweens and teens, eagerly sought as consumers by those who are after their $175 billion in spending power, are especially vulnerable to subtle marketing outside the boundaries of advertising that associates products with “cool” celebrities.

When ads are reinforced by subliminal marketing, the message becomes exponentially more powerful. A study by Susan Auty and Charlie Lewis exposed children of two different age groups (6–7 and 11–12) in classrooms to a brief film clip. Half of each class was shown a scene from Home Alone that shows Pepsi Cola being spilled during a meal. The other half was shown a similar clip from Home Alone but without branded products. All children were invited to help themselves from a choice of Pepsi or Coke at the outset of the individual interviews. Those who had seen the branded clip made a significantly different choice of drink. The responses to the interviews suggest that it is not simply exposure to the film but rather previous exposure together with a reminder in the form of recent exposure that affects choice.

Advertisers are increasing the resources put into product placement on television as a way of circumventing not just our ability to ignore (or change the channel or fast forward through) commercials but also restrictions on the limited time available for commercials. Joe Mandese wrote in Media Post that “One of the fastest forms of TV-related marketing wasn't advertising at all. It was the burgeoning practices of program product placement. While Nielsen's new product placement tracking service does not provide explicit dollar values to such deals, Nielsen said the top 10 brands more than doubled the number of product plugs compared with the first nine months of 2003. The top 10 brands generated 8,145 ‘occurrences’ on network TV during the first three quarters of 2004, led by Coca-Cola Classic (2,245 exposures) and Pepsi (1,109). The top 10 programs that featured product placements accounted for 18,454 brand occurrences. American Idol tops the list, largely due to the program's relationship with Coca-Cola. Other reality programs that feature frequent brand occurrences include The Apprentice, Pepsi Smash, and Big Brother 5.”

In February of this year, the Federal Trade Commission ruled that consumers do not need to be informed that product placement in television shows may have been paid for and could constitute an "advertisement." The children who saw Are We There Yet? were exposed to product placements from: Akademiks, Atlanta Braves, blue marlin, BMW, Boston Celtics, Boston Red Sox, Capri Sun, Coca-Cola, Detroit Tigers, eBay, Ecko Unltd, Fairmont Hotel, Fila, Ford, Formula 409, Fram, Gumout, Icekol, Jordan, Kenworth, Lincoln Navigator, Major League Baseball, Mastercard, Minnesota Twins, Motomedia, Motorola, Nextel, NFL, Nike, Nintendo, Oakland A’s, Paul Frank, Phat Farm, Pittsburg Pirates, Porsche, Portland Trailblazers, St. Louis Cardinals, Tommy Hilfiger, U-Haul, VIA Rail Canada, Victorinox Swiss Army, Visa, Wilson -- that averages out to just under one product for every two minutes of screen time. Advertisers pay billions of dollars to get these products in movies, television programs and now even in hip-hop songs because they believe it will make consumers want them, yet will not allow them to be considered "commercials."

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Comedy is a Man in Trouble

Alan Dale is an almost completely cool guy who "knows what really matters:

1. structure
2. structure
3. structure
4 virtuosity
5. sex
6. violence
7. music
8. [reserved]
9. [reserved]
10. ideas"

Well, he knows what really matters in movies. His book, Comedy is a Man in Trouble
is a brilliantly insightful and stunningly erudite discussion of slapstick and other kinds of physical comedy from the silent era to the present. His essay,
What We Do Best: American Comedies of the 1990's manages the ultimate high-wire balance -- serious scholarship with a sense of humor about itself. What keeps him from being completely cool? For some reason he has decided to stop teaching and become a tax lawyer. But he's still seeing movies and, thankfully, still writing about them. Beautifully.

Comedy Is a Man in Trouble: Slapstick in American Movies

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Stop them before they produce again

I'm all for people taking control of their destiny and having artistic decisions made by artists, not guys in expensive suits. But too often we get the worst of both worlds when artists become businessmen. Three recent films show what happens when the deal and the brand become more important than the story and the characters. Miss Congeniality 2, Guess Who, and Beauty Shop all suffer from "Emperor's New Clothes" syndrome.

Because the stars were signing the checks, no one was in a position to tell them that the movies, while designed around their talents, were just not very good. It's not a coincidence that they are a sequel, a remake, and a spin-off rather than anything fresh or creative.

And while it's not strictly speaking a sequel or a remake and he doesn't strictly speaking produce his own films, the same applies to Woody Allen and his latest, Melinda and Melinda. It's great that he has found a group of people to work with that he respects and who make him feel comfortable, but he is feeling too comfortable these days. This is just a tired rehash of his previous themes. A couple of good wisecracks and a great premise can't compensate for the failure to include even one appealing character. It makes

Sort of makes you wish for the good old days when the studios ran things. Yes, they treated the talent like commodities, but it was better for audiences than having the talent treat themselves that way.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Order the Mom's Guide (Second edition)

Dueling reviews of the week -- Washington Post on D.E.B.S.

I love the Washington Post because it has reviews in both its Style and Weekend sections, and their critics are all smart, fun, and funny. When the movies are good, they are very, very good, but when they are bad, they're better.

This week, Style's Stephen Hunter and Weekend's Michael O'Sullivan have opposite reactions to spy spoof with lesbians D.E.B.S. Hunter enjoys it as "a spoof inside a parody concealed in a Cinnabon" (he seems a bit dazzled by the combination of tiny plaid skirts and heavy artillery) but O'Sullivan thinks it has "less sense of pacing and visual composition than a real estate agent training video."

My review concludes that "It runs out of steam and ideas after about 20 minutes and that's giving it an additional 10 minutes' grace just because the girls are so fetching in a Britney Spears "Hit Me Baby One More Time" era sort of way."

Thursday, March 24, 2005


MCDONALD'S BUYING WAY INTO HIP-HOP SONG LYRICS Indispensible watchdog group The Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood busts McDonald's for a reprehensible attempt at stealth marketing -- paying hip-hop artists to plug Big Macs in their songs.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Twist and Pout - Readers in a twist over twist endings, plus The Ring Two. By David Edelstein

Twist and Pout -- By David Edelstein Another one of my very favorite movie critics is Slate's David Edelstein and this essay -- with a little help from his readers -- about the all-time worst twist endings in movies is lots of fun. For those of us who felt like making Edvard Munch "scream" faces at the big "reveal" in some of these movies, it is also deeply satisfying as well. Other candidates welcome.

Transcript of the Brookings Briefing on "The Impact of the New Media"

Brookings has posted the transcript of yesterday's conference.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005 :: Daniel W. Drezner :: Blog :: Daniel W. Drezner :: Blog Not only did he spell my name right -- he liked my questions! The conference at Brookings this morning about "The Impact of the New Media" (mostly bloggers, a little talk radio) was a little meta meta meta, with not just a webcast but real-time in-person bloggers providing running commentary. But it was a lot of fun.

Monday, March 21, 2005

James Tauber : SxSW: Southern Belles

James Tauber : SxSW: Southern Belles Another critic calls Laura the "real find" of the film. Movie News: #1 Movie News: #1 Another rave review for Laura Breckenridge!

Movie Review - Southern Belles - eFilmCritic

Movie Review - Southern Belles - eFilmCritic My good friend Laura Breckendridge has been getting rhapsodic reviews for her performance in "Southern Belles," which premiered at the SXSW Film festival. I can't wait to see the film.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

INTHEFRAY Magazine | seeing the world through different Iens

INTHEFRAY Magazine | seeing the world through different lens I had a delightful online chat about images of women and girls in the media with a terrific group of very bright and thoughtful girls who will soon challenge Hollywood executives at the Turn Beauty Inside Out conference on April 13-15.

keanuvision: Las Vegas [hearts] Constantine

keanuvision: Las Vegas [hearts] Constantine Jeanette Catsoulis is one of my favorite critics. She's smart, knowledgeable, fearless, and funny. And she writes like a dream, wonderfully muscular prose, especially when a movie like this one gives her something to get excited about. Can't wait to see what she has to say about "Sin City."

Classic Musicals on DVD

The Classic Musicals Collection -- Broadway to Hollywood includes some of the best musicals ever: Easter Parade (Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, and "Steppin' Out With My Baby," "We're a Couple of Swells," and the title tune) The Band Wagon (Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse and "Dancing in the Dark," "Triplets," and the sizzling "Girl Hunt Ballet" and, of course, "That's Entertainment"), Bells Are Ringing (Judy Holliday and Dean Martin with "The Party's Over," "Just in Time," and "The Midas Touch"), Finian's Rainbow (Fred Astaire and Petula Clark and "How are Things in Glocca Morra" and When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love"), and Brigadoon (Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse and "Almost Like Being in Love," "The Heather on the Hill," and "Waiting for My Dearie"). Who could ask for anything more?

Six deliriously funny screwball comedies are available in one glorious DVD set with all kinds of extras. Check out "Classic Comedies" on DVD with "The Philadelphia Story," "Libeled Lady," "Bringing Up Baby," "Dinner at Eight," and "Stage Door." Posted by Hello

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Nell Minow Posted by Hello

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Media Mom column on Teaching Kids to Learn the Difference Between Advocacy, Information, and Reporting

Help children learn critical thinking skills

By Nell Minow
Special to the Chicago Tribune
Published March 9, 2005

Columnists get paid to promote Bush administration initiatives; bloggers expose the mistakes in a network news broadcast; and young people are more likely to get their headlines from the self-described fake news of Comedy Central's "Daily Show" than from newspapers.

These days, it seems like we all could use some extra guidance in telling the difference between data, reporting, opinion, advocacy and advertising. Developing this life skill is part of growing up, and parents can help kids practice how to evaluate the validity of what they read, hear and watch.

Even the youngest child can learn to think critically about the data they digest. As a starting point, watch for characters in books and movies who test the information they are given to make sure that it is accurate.

In current movies, for example, characters in "Pooh's Heffalump Adventure" jump to conclusions about someone who is "not like us" until Roo figures out that the Heffalump just wants to make friends. Opal, the little girl in "Because of Winn-Dixie," finds out the local "witch" is just a nice lady who doesn't go out much because she can't see very well.

Families who see these movies together can talk about how Roo and Opal learn the importance of making judgments based on facts and how they decide which facts are more important than others.

Slightly older children need special discussions about truth and the Internet, because that's where they turn for so much information.

When we did our homework, my generation used reference books and encyclopedias that had been carefully fact-checked before they were published. But today's schoolchildren run to Web-based search engines such as Google to point them to the answer for any question from the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly to the highest score in the history of the World Series.

The Internet is wonderful for finding things out, but kids need to realize a site that turns up on a search engine isn't guaranteed to be trustworthy or authoritative, and information they find on the Internet isn't necessarily correct.

Reliable ones near the top

One reason Google is so popular is it uses a formula for ranking search results that is likely -- though not guaranteed -- to put the most reliable ones at the top. Google also gets points for putting its "sponsored links" -- sites that pay to be listed -- off to the side and labeling them clearly so that users can tell they are ads.

But not all search engines play by those rules, and children need to know that. They also need to understand that no search engine guarantees the information it points to is factual or even unbiased.

The same applies to some popular online reference sites like the Internet movie database at The Internet Movie Database, and Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia. The entries in both are written and assembled by amateurs and volunteers -- which doesn't mean the entries are wrong, but it doesn't mean they are right, either.

Skepticism is an important research skill, and parents should make sure even the youngest children learn to ask "Who says so? How do they know? Are they fair?"

Middle school children are old enough to join in debates about opinions and the way information is presented. Current topics might include banned books, "intelligent design" (a theory designed to get Bible-based theories classified as science) and the Focus on the Family objections to the "We Are Family" video message about tolerance featuring SpongeBob SquarePants and other characters.

Parents may also want to discuss recent news stories about Buster the bunny, a cartoon character who makes video postcards about different communities and cultures he visits for his friends back home. On his PBS show, Buster has met such diverse families as Muslims, Mormons, Orthodox Jews and evangelical Christians. However his visit with a group of children whose parents included lesbian couples was controversial enough for some PBS stations to keep it off the air.

Teenagers are natural challengers of authority, so adults can help them sharpen their skills at sizing up information before they use it.

A good point of discussion with teens as well as younger children who use the Internet for research is how a Web site establishes credibility. One place to start: Look on a site's main page for a link labeled something like, "about us."

On Wikipedia, the link "About Wikipedia" is at the bottom of the home page. It takes readers to a detailed, annotated page that explains the Wikipedia project, among other things.

A more sophisticated discussion is how an organization or individual uses the Internet to answer critics. The Nizkor Web site links to the claims of those who deny the Nazi Holocaust occurred and refutes them, point by point. Similarly, Michael Moore's Web site offers detailed responses to the people who challenged his presentation of the facts in the film "Fahrenheit 9/11." Parents and older children can debate whether these techniques make the Web sites more believable, and why.

Teens also are sophisticated enough to understand the value in recognizing a Web site's point of view -- and using it. The Democratic National Committee's page and the Republican National Committee's page are unlikely to agree on much, but reading both for information about a proposed law will give a teen more insight than one without the other.

Backing it up

Similarly, the Heritage Foundation, a self-styled politically conservative think tank, does a good job documenting its perspective on current events -- as does the Brookings Institution, which describes itself as independent and nonpartisan.

Consulting an array of views helps a teen better understand an issue and form his or her opinions.

There's no substitute for a child learning to develop and apply his own judgment. Parents can show their children that Web sites, television shows, even newspaper articles are just the starting point for finding an answer, that information is not just the accumulation of data but requires sifting, analysis and a sense of proportion.

Giving children the skills they need to evaluate what they see and hear will help them from feeling so overwhelmed that they don't trust anyone.

The best way to keep them from being cynical is to train them to be skeptical.

Nell Minow reviews movies each week for Yahoo! Movies and 20 radio stations across the country. Her e-mail:

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Interview with Tony Jaa about "Ong-Bak"

Martial artist does it the real way

By NELL MINOW Special to The Kansas City Star

“No safety nets. No computer graphics. And no strings.”

That's the selling point for “Ong-Bak; The Thai Warrior,” a new martial arts film starring Tony Jaa that opened Friday.

Jaa works without wires or special effects. His stunts are dazzlingly gymnastic. To use a line from another movie, he has “the hang time of a helium balloon.” Our interview, conducted through a translator, began by watching some stunts Jaa performed for a basketball half-time show.

What's the difference between fighting in competition and fighting on screen?

On stage, people fight for points. On screen, viewers feel the beauty of the sport. On stage, you try to hit as hard as you can, but film is about what you show, not what really happens.

What did you enjoy most as a child?

I lived in the very rural outer provinces, and for me the most special thing was movies. I would go 10 kilometers to see a movie, especially if it had martial arts. I would come home and practice all the moves, showing my elephants what I had learned.

Tell me about your pets.

I have two elephants, named Flower and Leaf. They live in a forest by my home (in rural Thailand). They are important to me because they were passed down by my grandparents, along with the traditions and culture that come with them. Elephants have played an important role in Thailand, once during wartime but now more for ceremonial purposes. They bring luck and family.

Which action stars influenced you the most?

From Bruce Lee, I learned swiftness, from Jackie Chan, use of props and surroundings, and from Jet Li, I took his fluidity of movement and combination of different martial arts. I also watched the Thai action movie hero, Phanna Rithikrai, who became my teacher when I was 10 and is still my teacher. He is like family, a father/brother/friend. He has also taught me more deeply about Buddhism and meditation. Another influence was my father, who was a Muay Thai boxer. That is the discipline I study.

Why is Muay Thai so important to you?

From studying the martial arts you learn selflessness and humility, respect for elders and masters, and the most important thing — love for the peoples of the world. The philosophy of martial arts is not winning over your opponent, but winning your own heart.

What makes Muay Thai special?

All martial arts have roots in nature, but tradition and culture change the art of each one. The kicks may be the same, but they have different names. There are three types of Muay Thai: Boran, the ancient form shown in the movie, with more beautiful and defined movements; stage boxing, with rules and a point system; and amateur, where the greatest importance is on the use of elbows and knees.

Why didn't you want to use special effects or wires?

This was the first time Muay Thai was shown on film, so it had to be real.

What did you learn from the director, Prachy Pinkaew?

He taught me a lot about acting, how to become natural on screen. I can't keep up with the technical parts of making a movie, so he fills in the gaps. I had worked as a stunt man, where you don't want people to know you are not the leading man. So I was glad to do my own stunts, combining acting with martial arts. I tried to show my character's readiness and willingness to do the task.

Many Americans love Thai food. Is there any American food you like?

KFC! Especially the cole slaw.

And what's next?

A movie with the same director called “Tom Yum Goong” (the name of a Thai soup), featuring Muay Thai Baran and the use of elephants. It opens in Asia on Aug. 12, which is our Mother's Day.

Any plans to make a movie in the United States?

I like the independence I have in choreographing my own stunts, and I like building roots in Thailand and putting our traditions and cultures in films seen by everyone, but maybe some day!

Friday, March 04, 2005

A PG-13 Rating for "Gunner Palace" following an appeal to the MPAA

Asking the MPAA to Mind Its Language

A Common Sense View

March 4, 2005
By Nell Minow

In the opening minutes of “Be Cool,” the sequel to 1995’s “Get Shorty,” the main character explains that you can use the f-word only once in a PG-13 movie. Then he uses it. Once. Because while “Get Shorty” was rated R, the sequel is rated PG-13, and the movie is taking a sly poke at the rating system. Indeed the MPAA ratings board will allow one use of the f-word in a PG-13 movie -- but only if it does not refer to sex. Recently, a few movies have managed to sneak the word in twice.

This is an absurd rule with absurd consequences. If we are trying to protect young children from the f-word, why allow it in the movie at all? Why permit it in a violent or threatening context but not a sexual one? And why allow a movie like the PG-13 “Austin Powers” series to sneak under the R-rating radar by substituting fake sound-alikes like “frickin’?” If we care about the language in movies, why does the current PG release “Son of the Mask” include lines like “Hell, no!” and “the crappiest piece of crap in crap-town” or words like “bite me” and “boobs” in Disney’s PG “The Pacifier?”

The first sign that a more thoughtful approach may be developing came with the announcement this week that the MPAA has granted an appeal from the makers of the documentary “Gunner Palace” and changed its R rating to a PG-13. The movie is about soldiers in Iraq and it allows them to tell their own stories. They are frank, astute, open, and direct, and they talk like soldiers, using the frank, astute, open, direct, and often profane language frequently used by soldiers to describe their circumstances and their feelings about them. Under the formulaic -- and arbitrary -- ratings board approach to language, the movie would be assigned an R rating just on the basis of its colorful and often profane vocabulary. Yet many parents would consider this compelling and authentic film far more worthwhile for mature teens than the dumb sex comedies and action picture multiplex fodder from studios that know how to get around the ratings board’s rules.

Michael Tucker, co-director of “Gunner Palace,” said, "As Americans, one way we can support the troops, is by listening to what they have to say. To do this, to honor and respect their experience and sacrifice, we ask the MPAA to constructively work with us to bring the soldiers story to an audience that will include teens who are mature enough to see this film." The MPAA agreed, and, in an unusual step that indicates a more nuanced and substantive approach to these issues in the future, it issued a joint statement with the National Association of Theater Owners to make sure that parents “understand the special context of this rating decision” and advise them that the film has stronger language than they are used to in a PG-13. The next step for parents is to show that they can appreciate this approach. And the next step for the MPAA is to be equally thoughtful when it comes to gratuitous language and stop permitting words like “crap” and “boobs” in movies rated PG.