Thursday, February 24, 2011

Extreme Close Up

Sunday is the Oscars! Streets have been closed all week. Hairdressers have been working overtime. The paparazzi are in position. Excitement is in the air. 41 million viewers in the U.S. watched last year – with a global audience nearly of 1 billion.

We watch not only to learn who the approx. 5,500 Academy members have chosen as “Best” in a range of film categories, but also to see the stars in their finery. It’s royalty American style. The red carpet has its historical reference in 483 BC in the play Agamemnon and became the modern status for the elite in 1902 when The New York Central Railroad used plush crimson carpets to direct people as they boarded their 20th Century Limited passenger train.

Movies are about 6% of U.S. exports. 308 movies were released in 2010 that generated $31.8 billion globally. I saw 42 of them (or about 14%). 6.3 billion people go to the movies worldwide with India having the largest attendance – double the U.S. These statistics don’t include ancillary viewing of films via DVD, television and a range of other methods that would expodentially grow the figure. Movies are universal and the annual anointing of the “Best” of is harmless escapism.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences that oversees and hands out the Oscars generates the bulk of its income from the annual awards broadcast. Tweaks are constantly made to the show – and this year there will be some traditions that return (performances of nominated songs) and some that go away (movie genre montages). There is one new addition that I hope doesn’t stick.

For $4.99 anybody can buy an “all access backstage pass” to the Oscars. 
Oscar All Access is a new premium service that gives Oscar fans the ultimate view of Hollywood's biggest night. Beginning with the Red Carpet, and continuing through the Governor's Ball, Oscar All Access members will get unprecedented, behind the scenes access and see the event like never before. With exclusive access to our groundbreaking "360 cam" technology, members can direct their own Oscar experience with just the touch of a mouse.
So we can see the stars back-stage getting their make-up touched up, adjusting their gowns and ties. We can follow them from the moment they arrive at the red carpet to when they leave the stage. We control the camera. We can peek at the Ball to see who’s dancing with whom. Voyeurism has hit a new low.The money generated from this experiment will be dwarfed by the $1.7 million per 30-second ad the broadcast will earn – approximately $80 million going to the Academy. (Their expenses are limited as all of the licensing fees from the films are waived and the stars appear gratis and the network covers a portion of the production costs.) Going deep behind the scenes will take away a large part of the wonder and magic that is the very ethos of the ceremony itself and won’t contribute significantly financially.

What’s next? Cameras in the locker rooms and dugouts to see and hear what athletes are saying and thinking? (Well, actually, that one might be quite the draw, but for totally different reasons...and I think there’s a whole other industry that already has that market handled.)

I’m all for transparency – but this incremental intrusion takes away perspective.  It deteriorates the big picture. Consider the trend in the past 30 years in political coverage. The preponderance of stories today are “process” oriented. Palace intrigue!  Insider coverage! It’s juicy!  Process has a place in our discourse certainly, but it seems to be the bulk of the coverage with the policy issues being secondary.

The result is that the nuts and bolts of governance is of greater import than policy based on the media coverage. Seeing how the sausage is made has its place, but certainly the entire plate of cooked sausages and how they interact with other foods and is digested is ultimately more important than the squeezing and mixing of ingredients.

The current budget debate in Washington D.C. is a good example of process over fact.  Center stage is President Obama who is self-portrayed as making “tough choices.” Off to the right is John Boehner, Speaker of the House who led his chamber last week to pass a budget with $60 billion in cuts to the proposed budget. Off to the left is Harry Reid of the Senate that hasn’t weighed in yet but is plotting approaches. Each of their movements is reported in the context of the political landscape of the 2012 election and who’s up and who’s down on an hourly basis as if the budget were a ballgame or horserace. The important narrative isn’t how the budget is presented but that the President submitted a $3.7 trillion budget that has a shortfall of $1.7 trillion and the House passed a $3.6 trillion budget that has a shortfall of $1.6 trillion and the Senate hasn’t taken up either.  We're half-way through the budget year and a budget isn't in sight.  Certainly budget facts are less dramatic, but ultimately the facts are more important than the story, no matter how exciting it is told.

We know that provocative stories make for excellent entertainment. Wouldn't it be nice to keep it in the movies where they belong.  And let's hope the Oscar's retain some of their mystique and glamour and the All Access Pass bombs.

My picks for Oscar 2010 are:

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