The 'New' United States of America

Evidently it's map week on my website. Ben Blatt at Slate:

"Most state borders were drawn centuries ago, long before the country was fully settled, and often the lines were drawn somewhat arbitrarily, to coincide with topography or latitude and longitude lines that today have little to do with population numbers. I wanted to know what the country might look like if we threw out all of the East’s ancient squiggles and the West’s rigid squares, and reconstituted the country as a union of states of equal population."

Some of the maps he came up with are hilarious.

Predicting "The Last Jedi"

The trailer for The Last Jedi is out! Tickets are on sale! I've unsubbed from r/StarWars because I'm on spoiler alert! That means it's time to start guessing how much The Last Jedi is going to make at the box office!

Back when The Force Awakens came out, we all knew it was going to be big, but we were struggling with how to define it. When you're working on box office projections, you look at the soon-to-be-released film, compile a list of similar films to compare it to, and then use the box office performances of those films to come up with a guess of how the film in question will perform. For example, I would bet that 99% of people coming up with box office projections for Blade Runner 2049, a sequel to an 80s sci-fi thriller, compared it to Mad Max: Fury Road, a sequel to an 80s spec-fi action film.

There was nothing for The Force Awakens.

There was some who immediately wanted to compare it to Avatar. It too was a major blockbuster that had a December release, so surely The Force Awakens would perform similarly. A smaller opening weekend compared to your summer blockbuster—Avatar only made $87 million opening weekend—but it'll make up for that with long legs. But that comparison didn't feel right. Compared to The Force AwakensAvatar had been a quiet release. Star Wars hype was everywhere leading up to December. With every trailer, the fanbase would get more excited—from what we could tell, every problem and quibble we had about the prequels was being addressed. Industry tracking about audience awareness indicated that 100% of Americans knew that a new Star Wars film was coming out. You would've had to live in the mountains with no internet or human contact for at least five years to not know that a new Star Warts film was coming out. The hype was real.

Yet people still persisted in comparing The Force Awakens to other December releases. No December release had an opening weekend over $100 million, they'd say. Maybe Star Wars can, but there's no way in hell it'll cross $200 million. The most it could do was $175 million, and that's if the pun-intended stars aligned. r/boxoffice was convinced that anyone who thought it could hit $200 million on it's opening weekend was a fanboy, and had no idea what they were talking about. It's not that these people were necessarily wrong or foolish. They were trying to apply conventional wisdom to a film that increasingly looked like it would have an unconventional performance. I bucked the conventional wisdom. and sometime in November I had settled around a $215 million opening weekend. But as the opening day approached, I had good reason to doubt my numbers. A contact in-the-know offered insight into Disney's internal numbers: The Force Awakens had already sold $175 million in tickets for opening weekend, and we were still a week-and-a-half from release. After the initial sale of tickets in October, ticket sales had seemingly flatlined, but as we approached opening day, people were buying tickets almost as fast as theaters were putting them on sale. To this day I'm surprised this info never leaked—there's a reason why I noted that my $215 million estimate was conservative.

A few weeks before The Force Awakens opened, I was talking with the theater's then programmer and its former programmer—these were the guys who scheduled the showtimes and did the internal box office projections for our location1—and one posited the theory that we needed use a "historical comp" for The Force Awakens. Conventional box office prediction looks at recent releases; anything older than three to four years is out of date. Even comparing The Force Awakens to Avatar was pushing it, and the only reason Avatar was even brought up was that people were struggling to come up with recent films that felt like an accurate comparison. During our conversation, we concluded that the only film that had the same cultural awareness and hype was The Phantom Menace.

The only thing you can use to predict Star Wars is Star Wars.

When Rogue One was getting closer to release, I decided to test this theory. Management at the theater was prepping for Rogue One to be only slightly smaller The Force Awakens. I argued that The Force Awakens was a statistical outlier. Since we couldn't find good comparisons for The Force Awakens, we then shouldn't use it to make predictions. It was its own beast, and to even think that anything would come close again in the near future was foolish. I decided that the best comparison film was, of all things, Revenge of the Sith. I felt that Revenge of the Sith had two things going for it. 1) It had been received warmly by the fanbase. 2) The latter two prequel films had little appeal in the general audience. Rogue One's marketing, and Disney's own expectations, made me think that they were expecting this film to appeal mainly to the fans, and not so strongly with the general audience. And since the fans had been energized by The Force AwakensRogue One would be greeted by an appreciative audience.

BoxOfficeMojo has a handy little feature that lets you adjust a film's box office gross as if it had been released a different year. The tool is by no means scientific, but it's good enough for what I needed. I adjusted Revenge of the Sith to get a 2016 estimate and got this: Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith - $380,270,577 Actual / $513,157,600 Adjusted to 2016Rogue One would go on to gross $532,177,324, a variance of $19,019,724, or 3.574%. So, while not perfect, it's pretty damn good.

At the time, I hadn't thought to try and use Revenge of the Sith to estimate an opening weekend gross for Rogue One. How audiences see movies has changed since 2005—over time, opening weekends have increasingly represented larger and larger chunks of the total gross. So, instead of looking at Revenge of the Sith's opening weekend numbers, a better idea would be to apply a multiplier to the anticipated total gross. If you've never followed box office results before, a multiplier is basically another way of saying how much of the film's total was made on opening weekend. For example, a multiplier of 2 would mean that a film's total gross will be double what it made opening weekend. A multiplier of 3 would mean its total gross would be three times the opening weekend numbers. In short, a higher multiplier is better. The average 'well-performing' blockbuster typically has a multiplier in the 3.0-3.5 range. So, if we take the adjusted Revenge of the Sith gross, and divide it by your average multiplier, 3.3, you would get an approximate opening weekend total of $155,502,300Rogue One made $155,081,681. So while the math is by no means perfect, it can at least get us in the ballpark.

So now, for The Last Jedi, the trick is figuring out what exactly we should use as a comparison. So let's look at all the Star Wars films, in release order and with adjusted grosses:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - $936,662,225
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - $532,177,324
Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith - $380,270,577 Actual / $513,157,600 Adjusted to 2016
Star Wars: Attack of the Clones - $302,191,252 Actual / $449,906,100 Adjusted to 2016
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace - $431,088,295 Actual / $733,743,200 Adjusted to 2016
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi - $252,583,617 Actual / $700,506,300 Adjusted to 2016
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back - $209,398,025 Actual / $682,158,400 Adjusted to 2016
Star Wars: A New Hope - $307,263,857 Actual / 1,234,649,200 Adjusted to 2016

Here's that info as a handy dandy chart:
 

"Star Wars" Box Office Grosses (Adjusted)

Total Grosses adjusted using BoxOfficeMojo.com

While we might be quick to jump on the first obvious trend—that the second film each trilogy sees a considerable drop—I think using that to deduce potential box office numbers for The Last Jedi is a trap. The drop from A New Hope to The Empire Strikes Back is a whopping 44.75%, and Attack of the Clones sees an equally stunning 38.78% drop from The Phantom Menace. If The Last Jedi were to see a similar drop from The Force Awakens, the box office gross would only be $545 million. There are easy explanations for the earlier drops. Not only did The Empire Strikes Back receive a mediocre response upon its releaseA New Hope was such a massive hit, anything following was going to see a considerable drop. And Attack of the Clones was not only poorly received, but many in the fanbase felt like they’d been burnt by The Phantom Menace. However, a $545 million gross would align this film with the performances of Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One. If this ends up being the final result, I see two possible reasons: Critics and the fans find The Last Jedi to be lacking, or the potential gross of the average Star Wars film is around $550 million. Either way, a result like this would be troubling for Disney and Lucasfilm.

However, I think we can take a more optimistic appraisal. First, both The Force Awakens and Rogue One were well received by fans and critics alike, so there's definitely more goodwill going into The Last Jedi. Secondly, Deadline already has tracking indicating that presale tickets are outperforming Rogue One, and are "just under" The Force Awakens. Finally, I think we should look more closely at the box office performances of The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and The Phantom Menace. Why these three films instead of any of the others is simple. Both A New Hope and The Force Awakens are such extreme examples, that it's best to consider them to be statistical anomalies—including them would only skew the results. Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith had been released to a leery fanbase and disinterested public after The Phantom Menace. While there is definitely an instinct to lump in The Phantom Menace with the other prequels, from a box office perspective, the film was largely unaffected by the scorn it developed among the fanbase. And Rogue One was intended to be a "smaller" release compared to the "Saga" films. That leaves The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and The Phantom Menace. If these three films are indicative of the average performance of a Star Wars saga film, than the average potential domestic gross is around $705 million.

But how about the opening weekend? The Force Awakens had a multiplier of 3.78 and Rogue One had a multiplier of 3.43. I would hazard a guess that The Last Jedi will perform closer to Rogue One than it will to The Force Awakens—it was the sequel many had been waiting over 30 years for, it was destined to over-perform. So let’s guess that a typical Star Wars film performs with a 3.4 multiplier. So, a $705 million gross with a 3.4 multiplier gets us an opening weekend number of $207 million.

The method used to get these numbers is by no means scientific, but this gives us decent guidance for The Last Jedi, and possibly for future Star Wars releases.

The Soviet Military Program that Secretly Mapped the Entire World

Greg Miller at National Geographic:

"During the Cold War, the Soviet military undertook a secret mapping program that’s only recently come to light in the West. Military cartographers created hundreds of thousands of maps and filled them with detailed notes on the terrain and infrastructure of every place on Earth. It was one of the greatest mapping endeavors the world has ever seen."

Fascinating.

After Trump tweets threat to free press, FCC’s GOP commissioners remain silent

Former FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler, on the silence of the Republican commissioners regarding Trump's unconstitutional threat to 'revoke' NBC's license (which, by the way, isn't actually possible, they'd have to revoke the licenses of all NBC affiliates):

"There is nothing nuanced here. The suggestion that the government, through its broadcast regulator, should act to suppress free speech and freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment shows a lack of respect for basic constitutional principles. The press can be uncomfortable (believe me, I know), but the First Amendment requirements that government officials respect press freedom whether they like the coverage or not. That’s not news, that’s the Constitution.

The president may decide he can walk away from his oath of office, but the FCC commissioners have also sworn to uphold the Constitution. Despite this, they are AWOL. Why the silence from the Republicans at the FCC? The two Democratic commissioners, Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel, immediately spoke up on this constitutional affront."

And:

"By their inaction, the Republican FCC commissioners have already violated their oath to uphold the Constitution. That sacred document is clear: The government is not to suppress ideas and opinion. There is no ambiguity in the First Amendment.

The commissioners owe it to the American public and the Constitution they swore to uphold to issue an immediate and clear statement that speech is a protected right, and that it has no role in the matter of broadcast licenses."

 

Vulgarlang

For me, the creation of a new universe starts with the map. For others, it's the languages. I've always wanted to be the kind of person who could delve deep into the languages and philology of the worlds I created, but I would never get any further than creating a few simple words. This tool is great for someone like me: it'll do all the work for you. I've also seen praise from conlang-era who find it helpful if they need to quickly flesh out a language they've been working on.

If you're into worldbuiliding in any way, Vulgarlang is definitely worth checking out.

50,000

Monday this week, Blind, a short film I made back in film school, crossed 50,000 views on YouTube. But I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t look into what that number actually means.

There are some spoilers below, so if you haven’t watched Blind before, go watch it. Besides, if you’re reading this, we are probably friends, which means you should’ve seen it before now anyway [insert fake guilt trip here].

So the fun little bits of info:

  • Blind was uploaded to YouTube in April 2013, and by the end of May 2014, only had 630 views. After that—for reasons I still don’t know—viewing numbers exploded. By the end of June it was up to 942, an increase of almost 50%. By the end of July it had more than doubled, with 2288 views.
  • From August 31st-December 20th of 2014, Blind was being viewed over 500 times each week. Views peaked the week of September 28th-October 4th, when it was viewed 773 times.
  • Since January 2015—with the exception of a three week period around the 2016 New Year—Blind is viewed at least 135 times a week. But the first week of January 2015 was also the last time it was viewed more than 500 times in a week.
  • Views for Blind have begun to slowly tick back upward. Since the start of 2017, Blind has been viewed at least 200 times per week.
  • 83% of views are generated by YouTube’s suggested videos—the list of videos that appear beside the comments and at the end of a video.
  • While Blind has 50,000 views, the actual number of people who watched the full film is closer to 6500.
  • 50% of viewers stopped watching by the 30 second mark.
  • Only 18% of viewers make it to the 3 minute mark.
  • Somewhere between 1500-2000 people stopped watching after she knocks the glass off the counter.
  • Only 13% of the audience, roughly 6500 viewers, will get through the sequence where she walks through the glass. But—assuming I’m reading the data correctly—approximately half of them will go back and rewatch the moment she knocks the glass off the counter. 
  • That 13% will keep watching until the credits roll. Only 3% watch all the way through the credits.
  • Blind has 94 likes, and 21 dislikes. Or, if it was a Rotten Tomatoes score, an 82%. Blind is certified fresh!

Six days in September: NFL players seized control as league scrambled

Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham for ESPN:

"And so on Tuesday afternoon, 48 hours after the protests had defined a football Sunday, about 25 team owners entered the league's headquarters at 345 Park Avenue in New York City for routine committee meetings that quickly became anything but. Many barely paid attention during a stadium finance presentation. Finally, in the late afternoon, there was a meeting with owners and league executives to discuss what had happened. By then, Trump had tweeted nearly two dozen times attacking the NFL and its players. Tempers were hot."

I'm not a football guy—or a sports guy of any kind really—but if you're interested in some of the behind the scenes of the NFL players' protests during the national anthem, this is a worthwhile read.

Hollywood’s biggest names are ready to fight the ’liquid diarrhea’ of TV motion smoothing

I've never heard it called "liquid diarrhea" before, but good god, that's perfect.

I briefly sold TVs before I moved to Los Angeles, and one of the other salesmen loved motion smoothing. He'd show it off to potential buyers, praising how 'good' it made movies look. All I saw was artifacting. Artficating everywhere. Motion smoothing, higher refresh rates, smart TVs, and 3D were all gimmicks to try and sell you a new TV.

YouTube tightens rules around videos with external links

Adi Robertson at The Verge:

"Users must now join the YouTube Partner Program in order to add end cards with external links — a common way for YouTubers to point fans toward merchandise or Patreon pages. This limits the cards to channels with 10,000 total public views or more, once YouTube has approved them for the program."

YouTube is shit for creators. It's always been shit and will continue to be shit for the foreseeable future. But now it's especially shitty when you're a new creator starting out.

It’s time for Congress to fire the FCC chairman

Gigi Sohn—who served as counselor for former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler—in an op-ed for The Verge:

"The Senate vote on Pai is imminent. When it happens, it will be a stark referendum on the kind of communications networks and consumer protections we want to see in this country. Senators can choose a toothless FCC that will protect huge companies, allow them to further consolidate, charge higher prices with worsening service, and a create bigger disconnect between broadband haves and have-nots. Or, they can vote for what the FCC is supposed to do: protect consumers, promote competition, and ensure access for all Americans, including the most vulnerable. It shouldn’t be a hard decision, and what we’ve seen over the past eight months makes the stakes clear."

Remember how we thought the fight to preserve net neutrality was over? Ajit Pai is the reason we have to continue that fight.

Meet the internet’s go-to inside source for film’s booming trailer culture

There is definitely a huge part of online film culture that is centered around trailers. I personally would love it if studios would put more effort into making the trailers a part of the story, like the ancillary material that is being released for Blade Runner 2049. These not only deepen the story, they lure you into the world. But, as much as I prefer those, a movie theater isn't going to run a seven minute short film in the universe of an upcoming film during the trailers, not without some form of consideration from the studios. Until that changes, the two minute spoilertastic trailer will remain the norm.

Kneeling for Life and Liberty Is Patriotic

Conor Friedersdorf for The Atlantic:

"These original patriots risked death and pledged their sacred honor to those truths, for which they are properly honored, even in spite of their serious failures. Now as then, allegiance to those Founding principles is what defines a patriotic American, not whether he or she stands or kneels while an anthem about the flag is performed."

Trump is not a patriot. He is a self-aggrandizing narcissist with racist and fascist sympathies who used race-batiing and fear-mongering to further his own fortunes. He does not care about America, or it's dream. He doesn't care about its people, just himself and select progeny. The real patriots stand—or kneel—in opposition to Trump.

Reading

Growing up, whenever we traveled for vacation, I would inevitably have a bag filled with a half-dozen books in tow. They could be library books or books that I'd read a thousand times, but inevitably, I would’ve made my way through most of the books by the time our vacation was over.

Now, I've never really stopped reading. I spend hours a day perusing various news sites, online tech journals, and reading entertainment industry trades. In all honesty, I probably read as much today as I ever read in the past. The only difference is I stopped reading books.

This has always been one of those odd battles for me. I’ve never struggled with reading, but even as a kid, my mom—ever the teacher and librarian—would struggle to get me to read fiction. She even credits my discovery of Star Wars—and my desire to consume everything related to it—with getting me to read something other than a history book. But after the English classes of middle school, high school and college filled with classic pieces of literature, fiction has once again fallen to the wayside. I would still read, but I wouldn't be shocked if I was averaging only one-to-two books of fiction per year after I transferred to film school. In high school, I would’ve been reading one-to-two a month.

While the internet is a worthy replacement for non-fiction and news, I decided that my reading habits needed a kick in the proverbial behind. So, a few weeks ago, I started reading. A lot.

In the past three weeks, I’ve read the first three books in The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey, two books by John Scalzi (if you are a Trek fan, you need to read Redshirts), and, even though it was non-fiction, I also read Wil Wheaton’s Just A Geek. And because today is Hobbit Day, I’ve also started doing an in-depth re-read of The Lord of the Rings, something that’s been on my to-do list for awhile. Now, much of this reading onslaught is due to me currently enjoying hashtag funemployment, so it’s inevitable that I will eventually slow down. But I hope that this current effort pays off to become a good habit.