Computer Generated Imagery… Not!

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Practical Effects

You Thought Were

Computer Generated

One of the most important aspects of the film-making is keeping the audience immersed in the world it’s being shown. Whether the characters are in a fantasy world or jumping out of a moving car, the audiences’ willingness to go along with the story is, in large part, due to the viewer’s willingness to suspend disbelief. The goal of a filmmaker is to keep the audience so entranced that it’s only afterward that they begin to question or wonder how some of the amazing feats were accomplished.

And because of the advancements in CGI, many audience members simply write off the incredible as ordinary. Many believe that the stunts are simply CGI when, in fact, some of the most powerful scenes in recent memory have been real, practical, extremely dangerous stunts.

10. The Dark Knight

Christopher Nolan is something of a realist. One of the best directors of his generation, he has resisted the switch to digital and has continued to shoot on film; it’s not surprising, then, that he’d do everything in his power to make CGI as limited as possible in his blockbuster works. A daring filmmaker who continues to tell stories in a unique narrative style and voice, Nolan was at the helm of the revitalization of the Batman franchise. In one of the most iconic scenes from The Dark Knight, Batman attempts to save Harvey Dent from the Joker, who is determined to blow up a police escort. In the well-known tunnel sequence, the Batmobile rams into a garbage truck. The scene left many scratching their heads, marveling about the realism of CGI. The truth is that it was real. Every bit.

Nolan and his team constructed a one-third scale model of the Batmobile, as well as the truck and that particularly part of Chicago’s lower Wacker Drive. Nolan’s stunt team placed both models on a guide and smashed them into each other to create the scene. The same strategy was used for the semi-trailer truck that flips on its head. All in all, the plan was executed brilliantly and viewer is left marveling at the world they created.

9. The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan was at it again in the final installment of his Batman trilogy. According to Nolan, one of his proudest moments was executing the opening scene, where Bane escapes from the CIA plane, mid-flight. It’s an exhilarating sequence, that – again – did not use CGI. The scene was filmed in Scotland, over the Cairngorm Mountains of the Scottish Highlands. It’s the highest mountain range in the UK and is described as incredibly cold, with incessant winds and an unforgiving climate. The CIA plane used in the film was a Lockheed C-130 Hercules, commissioned by the US military. It was a perfect fit for the stunt with a stall speed as low as 111 miles per hour. Nolan and his camera crew were able to follow the plane in a helicopter, recording the exterior action. The particulars are so difficult to describe in detail that when Nolan was asked about the stunt, he said “It was sort of an incredible coming together of lots and lots of planning by a lot of members of the team who worked for months rehearsing all these parachute jumps.”

The action inside the plane was much more straightforward. It was accomplished by building a simulator, where Nolan could rotate, shake and twist the fuselage, making the actors almost weightless inside the device. Put together, Nolan was able to add another jaw-dropping scene to his filmography.

8. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

One of the most highly anticipated films in recent memory, Star Wars: The Force Awakens made sure to capitalize off the hype, introducing several real props, creatures, and locations. Probably the most notable prop was the droid BB-8. JJ Abrams and crew made sure they had a BB-8 for whatever sequence they were filming. They constructed a BB-8 that could show emotion when held be actors, a BB-8 that could be thrown around and stay upright, a BB-8 controlled by rod puppeteers, and even a fully functioning droid that could roll around like a possessed bowling ball.

Abrams and crew didn’t phone it in with CGI when they really probably could have, either. Don’t get us wrong; there’s obviously a ton of CGI in a movie featuring literal spaceship battles. But even small effects like Rey’s food materializing was real. A sequence that was on screen for seconds took more than 3 months to develop and execute. And while it may not seem worth it, the smallest things can take a viewer out of a world, and The Force Awakens did a great job of refusing to allow the audience to easily fall astray.

7. Apollo 13

One of the best films depicting NASA astronauts is Ron Howard’s Apollo 13. Starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton, the film depicts the aborted 1970 lunar mission, which became a mission of survival. Instead of using CGI, Howard wanted to create an atmosphere or experience that allowed viewers to truly appreciate the fear and unease that the astronauts experienced. Howard utilized NASA’s “Vomit Comet” KC-135 airplane, designed for one purpose: creating a zero-G environment on Earth.

In order to accomplish such a feat, the KC-135 does a series of parabolic arcs at very fast speeds; this results in a window of weightlessness for the passengers. According to reports, it took more than 600 arcs for Howard to get the take he liked. It’s now clear that he knew what he was doing: the movie was nominated for 9 Academy Awards and grossed more than $355 million worldwide.

6. Skyfall

Good filmmakers certainly know how to catch an audience’s attention. The opening scene from Skyfall is no different. Every kick and punch thrown in the scene is actually performed by Daniel Craig and his counterpart on top of a speeding train. The only thing keeping them from falling is a wire that’s as thin as one’s finger. Bond films are notorious for real stunts that push the boundaries.

In Spectre, the follow-up installment in the Bond franchise, filmmakers set a Guinness record for stunts in a single production. So next time you’re watching a Bond film, make sure you take a second to appreciate the risks that some of these men and women are taking for our entertainment.

5. Mad Max: Fury Road

This is one of the most unique examples on our list because of its utilization of both CGI and real stunts to make compelling scenes. In that iconic scene where Tom Hardy is dangling perilously close to the ground, that’s completely real. All that was keeping Hardy from being roadkill was a thin cable. The sequence in question was also filmed while Hardy’s son was on set, too. Director George Miller, when asked what would happen if the cable snapped, remarked, “He’d probably go under the wheels.” Good one, George. Miller is known for pushing the limits of ordinary film practices. He hired “Cirque du Soleil performers to rock around on Chinese acrobat poles while a camera rig weaved through them at up to 100 mph.”

If that wasn’t enough, the film’s production also saw the invention of a new way to flip a car: a “nitrogen-powered metallic blade” was designed to pop down on the car, forcing it to make those ridiculous flips in the movie. Not bad for the director of Happy Feet and Babe: Pig in the City. That’ll do, George. That’ll do.

4. Mission: Impossible (Pretty Much the Whole Film Franchise)

Tom Cruise is notorious for doing most of his own stunts in his films. Shooting the upcoming installment in the Mission: Impossible series, Cruise even broke his ankle trying to jump to an adjacent rooftop. This wasn’t the first time Cruise has put himself into harm’s way. In the original, he dangled from a ceiling; in the sequel he hung off the side of a cliff. In Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, he scaled the side of Burj Khalifa. And in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, he clung to a side of a flying plane.

Each of these stunts was performed by Cruise, without the use of stuntmen. Talk about courage (or lunacy… or maybe a little bit of both). In Rogue Nation, Cruise only had wires attached to his body as he gripped the side of a flying plane. We suppose that’s why they pay him the big bucks.

3. The Amazing Spider-Man

One of the unique bits of the Spider-Man reboot was director Marc Webb’s decision to make the web-slinging aspects of the film real. In past Spider-Man movies, the web-slinging was mostly all CGI and it became apparent in scenes that took many viewers out of the movie. Instead, The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel relied mostly on stuntmen and Andrew Garfield himself, who was willing to participate in the action. Stunt coordinator Andy Armstrong described in an interview the difficult process of executing such a stunt. Through his research, he found that the difficulty in the execution was based, in part, on the past versions of Spider-Man depicting his downward swing as the same as his upward motion.

Armstrong and his team constructed “a track being pulled by a high-speed winch to help emulate Spidey’s web-swinging ways.” He’d go on to describe it as cracking a whip. A stuntman would “drop into the bottom of the pendulum, and as he reached the bottom of his arc, someone driving the winch would pull a dolly along to the next spot.” With a little digital effects to boot, The Amazing Spider-Man films created a whole new way of looking at one of our favorite superheroes.

2. The Matrix Reloaded

Don’t jump down our throats. We know The Matrix Reloaded relied on a heavy amount of CGI. However, it’d surprise most readers to know how many of the action sequences actually relied upon real stunts. One of the most memorable sequences in the entire trilogy, the Agents chasing Morpheus and Trinity on the highway, was no exception.

Although the Agent seen jumping from the hood of a vehicle was added later in post production, the chain reaction of car crashes and the actual implosion of the car was real. The Wachowskis managed to oversee the use of special rigs, cannons, and ramps to create the massively destructive sequence. The filmmakers choice to use real stunts and props is one of the major reasons The Matrix series has, for the most part, continued to stand the test of time.

1. Inception

Hey, we couldn’t end our list without another Christopher Nolan movie. The uncompromising auteur has managed to consistently create stunning visual sequences without relying on CGI. Probably the most memorable scene in Inception was Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page’s characters conversation at a coffee shop in Paris. Suddenly, an explosion sends debris, and broken glass into the air. All the while, DiCaprio and Page remain in the center of the storm.

The sequence was executed by production designer Chris Corbould, shooting a series of air cannons while director of photography Wally Pfister shot at 1,500 frames per second. It made for one of the most memorable parts of the movie, introducing the audience to the idea of Inception. Not to be outdone, later in the film there’s a fight scene featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a hotel room and hallway, in which the room continues to rotate, allowing the combatants to run up the walls and on the ceiling. As you’ve no doubt guessed by now, particularly if you watched the video up above, that was all done entirely with practical sets and stunts.


Computer Generated Imagery… Not! –

WIF Gadgets

The NULL Solution = Episode 146

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The NULL Solution = Episode 146

…The world-wide public cannot get enough; so intriguing, so foreign to those with the least bit of an astronomical leaning…

Astronomy Picture of the Day – NASA

“If I can interrupt, my favorite moment was when we drove Solution into a river. What a kick to see how she handles underwater!”

It certainly was a kick, just not quite for the reasons he described. He leaves out the juicy parts, like the actual force field enforced by a riddle-master; a two-way closed door that is stuck shut. AND that, in everyone’s qualified opinion, he is back with his family and Rick is back tending to his nuts, is a flat-out miracle.

“Let’s take a look at the pictures your drone took, after you men were safely inside the drone and on your way back to Earth. I hear you named it the Martian Mule.

While she speaks, the director in the control room is showing file footage. That “structure” is visible in the distance, as will be the ash plume that rises just as high, without strong prevailing winds to spread it out.

“We were happy to have Mars in our rearview mirror,”… that and an alien behemoth {Collapsar Axis}. No footage of that though. This is a time for celebration not worry.

Pistachio Growers Association Incorporated. PGAI

“Lt. Commander Stanley, Prez Roy tells me you have officially retired?”  People want details and Randi Gilbert II delivers.

“Yes, I bought a little pistachio grove in California. A few cattle, some chickens and a small herd of quarter horses too.”

“Sounds like that will keep you busy.” She turns, “What about your plans Gus McKinney… with your time off, I mean?”

“Well, my daughter Marscie is growing like a weed. I think I’ll watch her develop, teach her about space stuff, maybe do a little sky watching on the side.”

“Aren’t you tired of looking at stars?”

“There’s more out there than stars and planets Randi …”

Bzztt… Fresh pictures of the Green {formerly red} Planet abruptly pop onto the broadcast. The public cannot get enough; so intriguing, so foreign to those with the least bit of an astronomical leaning. It seems someone in the studio control room was afraid that Gus may be referring to approaching unmentionable alien fortress.

RG II thanks her all-star guests and signs off from this exciting and informative new episode of Good Morning Mission Control.


The NULL Solution =

Episode 146


page 144

The NULL Solution = Episode 145

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The NULL Solution = Episode 145

…Rick Stanley digs deep for a way to frame his description about really happened on Mars…

Good Morning Mission Control’s current purpose is to direct attention to the recent homecoming of two heroes of space and their incredible story of riding the plume of a volcano to break free from Martian gravity.

“We didn’t have enough fuel achieve escape velocity,” is Rick Stanley’s explanation.

“Not if we wanted to get back home,” adds Gus to this already flawed storyline. “We came back with 2 tons worth of samples; vegetation, soil, water, you know, for our boys in the Lab. They wouldn’t let us land if we came back empty handed.”

“That’s right Commander McKinney! We needed the heat thermals to get our butts out of the atmosphere.”

“And yet you didn’t bring any pictures back to share?” RG II goes off-script to ask the question most viewers would ask if they had the chance.

“We were so busy doing the calculations required for liftoff that I guess we forgot.” Stanley is the most convincing of the pair.

“Then could you describe the Martian landscape to our viewers?  We are receiving that very question from a million people across the world.”

Rick Stanley digs deep for a way to frame his description.

“In one of my favorite author Robert Heinlein’s book Farnham’s Freehold, a family already in their bomb shelter, is bombed into the future. Not to a different spot, but one where there are no roads or buildings near where their house once stood. Only the hills and trees and rivers are there, barely recognizable to the keenest observer. The rest of the book is about pretty graphic social interaction, so I won’t bother you with that.

“In our case, Commander McKinney had us land on the other side of Mars… from that structure… not sure it is manmade or not. We managed to traverse the full ½ of the planet circumference…

“…and back.”

“Good thing, right Gus? We weaved and climbed and dodged our way on some of the same ground covered by Spirit and Opportunity, except back then the rivers were dry and we’re not sure anything was ever green and growing. So are maps were mostly Image result for tap dance gifuseless.”

“And not a single hydrogen station to stop and ask directions from.”

“We could only travel by day, even though Solution was equipped with a virtual star map.”

“Just like the ancient mariners we were!” Gus tries to keep things light. The public has seen nothing but press releases and publicity photos ever since the 1st SOL test flights. All that served to do was enhance his legendary family’s space lore. “If I can interrupt, my favorite moment was when we drove Solution into a river. What a kick to see how she handles underwater!”


The NULL Solution =

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The NULL Solution = Episode 144

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The NULL Solution = Episode 144

Good Morning Mission Control is a space agency production. As Chief Media Relations Czarina, Francine Bouchette-Crippen sets the scene for a firsthand account of the newest biggest story…

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

 Tall Tales

On the ocean liner Titanic, after the ship hit an iceberg and began to sink, Bandmaster Wallace Hartley and his fellow band members started playing music to help keep the passengers calm as the crew loaded the lifeboats. Many of the survivors said that Hartley and the band continued to play until the very end…

… With Collapsar Axis bearing down on a quasi-unsuspecting planet Earth, Gus McKinney and Rick Stanley are encouraged to recount a censored version of their adventure on Mars. Taking a cue from the Holy Roman Catholic Church, NASA endeavors to control the message, even after some pretty amazing images of that tall building {only NASA knows the name of} bleed into the intrusive inter-web world.

Good Morning Mission Control is a space agency production. As Chief Media Relations Czarina, Francine Bouchette-Crippen sets the scene for a firsthand account of the biggest story about space since the SOL program produced results.

GMMC hostess Randi Gilbert II is the daughter of Randi Gilbert and niece of Sandi Gilbert. Both Gilbert women were KHST TV reporter/experts in the days of Space Colony 1.  RG II is a spacenuts’ best friend. She has the knowledge of a genuine geek, with the look of everyone’s girl-next-door. Her sole current purpose is to direct attention to the recent homecoming of two heroes of space and their incredible story of riding the plume of a volcano to break free from Martian gravity.

“We didn’t have enough fuel achieve escape velocity,” is Rick Stanley’s explanation.

“Not if we wanted to get back home,” adds Gus to this already flawed storyline. “We came back with 2 tons worth of samples; vegetation, soil, water, you know, for our boys in the Lab. They wouldn’t let us land if we came back empty handed.”


The NULL Solution =

Episode 144


page 142

WABAC to The Hollywood Blacklist

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Fascinating Facts

About the

Hollywood Blacklist

“Where is the WABAC Machine going to take us this time, Mr. Peabody?”

“We’re going back to some pretty dark days in Hollywood, Sherman My Boy.”

Following the end of World War II, the fear of nuclear war with the Soviet Union caused many organizations to buckle down on what they considered to be American values. In Hollywood, it was no different. In 1944, the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals (or “MPA” for short) was created. Any screenwriter, director, or actor who was even suspected of being involved with the Communist party was blacklisted from the industry.

10. Fair Wage Protests

After the Great Depression, many people feared that they could lose their jobs, and many workers were being underpaid. This led many of the workers to form unions. In 1933, a union called the American Federation of Actors was formed, and the Screen Guild extended to technicians who worked in the film industry. Most of these organizations were created by members of the American Communist Party. Over 6,000 workers picketed for their rights in the 1930s, and it forced the Hollywood executives to give in to the demands for a livable wage.

Many of the screenwriters and directors who showed their support for cameramen, set builders, and those in the technical professions of Hollywood were duly noted, and later targeted for their Communist philosophy of giving everyone a wage they can actually survive on. Today, it’s normal for the Screen Actors Guild and the Writer’s Guild to go on strike when they feel as though they are not getting paid enough. Strikes in Hollywood are no longer associated with Communist ideas.

9. The Wrath of Hedda Hopper

Hedda Hopper was a former actress who spent her later years writing a gossip column called “Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood” for the Los Angeles Times. She was extremely conservative, and wrote negatively about anyone she did not like, which of course included anyone who was suspected of being a Communist. Her work spread to radio and TV, and she used her influence in the media to frighten people into conforming, for fear of having their reputation ruined.

Hopper pretended that this crusade against the “Red Menace” was because of her loyalty as an American, but she was singlehandedly responsible for ruining the reputations of hundreds, if not thousands of people, whether it was due to being a ‘Communist’, gay, or generally “immoral.” In multiple cases, the people she humiliated actually committed suicide. A British actress named Merle Oberon once asked Hopper why she enjoyed ruining people’s lives so much, to which she replied, “Bitchery, dear. Sheer bitchery.”

Hedda was such an over-the-top character that has been dramatized in a few films: RKO 291 (1999), Trumbo (2015), and inspired Tilda Swinton’s character in Hail Caesar! (2016). The FX series Feud: Bette and Joan from 2017 also showcases a scene (which you can watch above) where Hopper threatens to ruin her friend’s reputation with old nude photos from her youth, and she revels in the lives she had destroyed.

8. The Hollywood Ten

It was a truly Catch-22 situation, because if one denied being a Communist, they would only be questioned more. If they admitted to being a Communist, they were constantly asked who else they knew in the party. The House Un-American Activities Committee asked all of the suspected Communists to admit that they were part of the party, and the only way they could free themselves was to betray their friends and give the names of other party members.

A group of 10 screenwriters refused to answer the questions, which was their right under the Fifth Amendment. One of the most famous among them was Dalton Trumbo. None of these men actually committed any crimes, since they had every right to express their thoughts under the First Amendment, and yet they were all sent to jail for Contempt of Court and blacklisted from ever working in Hollywood again. Many of these writers, especially Trumbo, continued to work as a writer, only under fake names or by ghostwriting for friends.

7. The Company Man

In a 1936 movie called The President’s Mystery (the whole thing is available on YouTube and embedded above), the wealthy owners of a factory decide to shut it down after the Great Depression, but it wasn’t because the company went bankrupt. They just wanted to save money by cutting jobs that they felt were unnecessary. People lost their livelihood by getting laid off. That movie was written by Lester Cole as an adaptation of a novel originally written by Sinclair Lewis. Cole would later become one of the Hollywood Ten.

Companies do, in fact, lay off their employees in order to save money. However, if a screenwriter ever portrayed corporations as being “the bad guys” or showed men who were unhappy with their job, it was considered to be Un-American and punishable by blacklisting. This is why, in the 1940s and beyond, male characters were always portrayed as happy with their 9-to-5 jobs, and that attitude influenced the general public. It became part of “The American Dream” to find a job, stay loyal, and keep working until retirement. By these standards, the movie Office Space would have been the most “Communist” movie ever.

In the 1980s, laying off employees for budget cuts became far more common. By the early 2000s nearly everyone knew someone who had experienced this. Once the Great Recession hit in 2008, there was no denying that corporations were filled with corruption. Rather than suppressing that truth, Hollywood began coming out with movies like The Big Short that portrayed the real greed of Corporate America.

6. Killing Feminism

One common thread among “red” filmmakers was that they put a lot of feminism in their films. In fact, most of the films that were released inside of the Soviet Union had strong female lead characters, usually played by a beautiful brunette named Tatyana Samoylova, who is best known for her performance in The Cranes are Flying.

The 1940s had wonderful feminist movies in Hollywood, but they began to disappear after the end of World War II. When husbands came back from war, they had a hard time convincing their wives to give up their income in exchange for being a full-time housewife. The MPA was frightened that this could mean the end of the traditional American way of life. In the movies released by the Soviet Union, women worked hard and still somehow managed to raise their children. The MPA considered anything along these lines to be Communist propaganda.

In 1951, a movie called I Can Get It For You Wholesale premiered. It was about a woman named Harriet who turns down a marriage proposal in favor of advancing her career as a fashion designer in New York City. In the end, Harriet realizes that friends, family, and love are far more important than money. While the movie had so many pro-Capitalism messages and celebrates the All-American entrepreneurial spirit, the fact that the character who succeeded the most was a woman, and the final moral of the story was deemed far too “un-American.” The movie was banned from theaters, for fear that it would “brainwash” the masses.

Abraham Polonsky wrote and directed I Can Get It For You Wholesale and was brought in for questioning, and he was also blacklisted from the film industry. After that point, writers were afraid to portray feminism in their scripts, because they did not want to accused of being a Communist. It took decades for Hollywood to rebound from the blacklist on feminism. This is why, during the 1950s, in nearly every single film, we see the perfect image of a stay-at-home mom who has dinner ready by 5:00 p.m.

5. John Wayne Supported The Witch Hunt

John Wayne was an actor who is most remembered for his portrayal in movies about the Old West. One of the movies that John Wayne had a huge issue with was High Noon. There is a scene where the people in the town are disrespectful towards a corrupt sheriff. He believed that this was very un-American, and reported it as potential “Communist Propaganda.”

According to Vanity Fair, the screenwriter Carl Foreman actually wrote High Noon as an allegory for the witch hunts of the McCarthy era. Despite the fact that he won an Oscar for the movie, Foreman was sent a subpoena to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He admitted to being involved in the Communist party when he was young, but he quit. When he refused to give up names of other Communists, he was blacklisted from the industry, and forced to become a ghostwriter and let other people get credit for his Oscar-worthy work.

In 1974, John Wayne was asked during an interview if he regretted his participation in the witch hunt, in retrospect. He responded that he believed it was necessary, and that they wanted to stop “radical liberals” from taking over the film industry.

4. Walt Disney and the MPA

During World War II, Walt Disney released several propaganda films for the US Government. In those films, it was easy to see that he was obviously against the oppression caused by Nazi Fascism. So, it only made sense for him to become the Vice-President of the MPA. In their mission statement, the MPA claimed to remove hidden Fascists and Communists from the movie industry, which would lead Walt Disney to believe that the fight against Nazism wasn’t over just yet.

As a beacon of wholesome, American family entertainment, Disney wanted to help the organization identify potentially dangerous content in Hollywood. However, Disney was not as vocal in the over-zealous identification and persecution of Communists as Sam Wood, the president. There is very little record of Disney’s participation in the MPA, except that he got into many disagreements with Wood about how they were running the organization.

Not long after, Disney was removed from his position as vice president. In the late 1940s, during a labor strike by the artists at one of his studios, Disney blamed the Communists for orchestrating it. However, he never tried to identify or fire any individuals he thought may be Communist. He just believed that some of the Communist ideals were beginning to change the younger generation.

3. Ronald Reagan Took a Stand

Long before he became President of the United States, Ronald Reagan began one of his first leadership roles in the Screen Actor’s Guild. In 1946, he mediated a dispute between two different Hollywood unions. One of the groups was a lot more unruly, and it was led by a member of the Communist party. He saw this as proof that all Communists really were trying to take over Hollywood and destroy the American way of life.

In 1947, Ronald Reagan became an informant for the FBI, and began giving names of known Communists in Hollywood. His first wife, Jane Wyman, asked for a divorce the next year. Despite the fact that Reagan was on a crusade against Communism, he agreed to remove Nancy Davis from the list, and married her. These experiences are what began Reagan’s interest in politics, and he eventually went on to become Governor of California, and then the President of the United States.

2. The Committee for the First Amendment

After the persecution of the Hollywood Ten, a lot of people in Hollywood began to stand up for their rights. A lot of famous actors and actresses like Lucille Ball, Lauren Bacall, Judy Garland, and Humphrey Bogart became part of the Committee for the First Amendment. The vast majority of these people were liberal Democrats. Despite the fact that they were not Communists themselves, they could see the corruption and the total disregard for the Hollywood Ten’s Constitutional rights.

However, all of these people who tried to speak up for the rights of Hollywood Communists became targets themselves. In 1948, Humphrey Bogart wrote a piece called “I’m No Communist,” explaining how his involvement in the Committee for the First Amendment caused friends to turn against him, calling him a Communist. He was getting letters in the mail, and harassed out in public. Just like the members of the Hollywood Ten who were asked to only answer in “yes” or “no” statements, Bogart compared this onslaught of accusations to someone asking, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” and the only option for answers being “yes” or “no.” You’re doomed either way. The pressure was enough for many of these actors to buckle under.

1. Breaking the Blacklist

For years, blacklisted screenwriters continued to work as ghost writers. Dalton Trumbo actually wrote the incredibly popular movie Roman Holiday and gave it to his friend Ian McClellan Hunter. The script won an Academy Award. Decades later, his credit was finally restored.

King Brothers Productions was willing to hire Trumbo for low wages to B-movies at a fraction of the pay he was used to earning for his screenplays before being blacklisted. He eventually wrote an Academy Award-winning movie called The Brave One in 1957 under the pseudonym “Robert Rich.” In 1960, Kirk Douglas was the star of the movie Spartacus, and he used his influence to make sure Trumbo’s real name was included in the credits for the screenplay. The events of Trumbo’s life were so inspiring that in 2015, the movie Trumbo was made based on his life, starring Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston.

Even though Spartacus was the symbolic gesture that the Hollywood Blacklist was over, the House Un-American Activities Committee continued to exist until 1975.


WABAC to

The Hollywood Blacklist

Christmas All-Time All-Stars – WIF Pop Culture

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 People Who Helped

Define Modern Christmas

Christmas-001

Christmas All-time

 

All-Stars

Advertising HOF – WIF Consumer Corner

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Advertising Campaign

Hall Of Fame

It might seem hard to believe for many people, but commercials are a cherished part of the pop culture landscape. As much as viewers are willing to pay extra fees to stream movies and television shows without ad breaks, commercial compilations are still extremely popular on YouTube and catchphrases from them are as likely to enter the zeitgeist (“Where’s the beef?”) as anything from the best programming. The sheer amount of market share or public interest that they can generate when they’re done right is staggering. The commercials here might not be some of your favorites, but for the companies behind their creation, they were golden geese. Sometimes that was the case for years, or even decades.

 10. GEICO Cavemen

In 2004 the auto insurance giant GEICO aired a commercial where the joke was that an announcer said saving money with their insurance was “so easy a caveman could do it!” This offended the caveman that was working with the crew for the shoot as a boom operator, causing him to yell “not cool!” and storm off the set. As the concept of political correctness was at the time, and continues to be, a hot button issue, the small joke struck such a chord with audiences that variations on the premise of easily offended, urbane cavemen were made by GEICO for the next three years even though the initial plan for the campaign was to only make three commercials about offended cavemen.They became such runaway successes that in 2007 Joe Lawson, the writer that started the whole phenomenon, joined forces with directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck to sell ABC on a series for the cavemen. The series was not a hit with critics or audiences, but it was still much more than a one-off joke that you’d expect to be skipped or fast-forwarded through could ever reasonably hope for.

9. Erin – Esurance

In 2004, with a fairly meager budget of $60,000 (in an industry where commercials average about$350,000), a marketer named Kimberly Brewe hired three independent animators to create a female agent for auto insurance who fought thugs on rooftops and infiltrated secret headquarters. Within five years she had been featured in 30 commercials on national television and made the up and coming Esurance a household name even though there’d been no brand awareness of Esurance before that ad campaign.

Esurance received actual fan mail for the character almost immediately after test broadcasts were made in Sacramento. It was a strong indication of just how much the cartoon character connected with audiences since, in 2004, action heroines were more of a novelty. Unfortunately, some would argue that she ended up connecting with audiences a bit too much. Foremost among those making that argument would be Esurance itself, whose management cancelled the character in 2010 when it was learned that she was a popular character in online pornography.

8. “It’s Only a Movie…”

Wes Craven’s 1972 debut film Last House on the Left is one of the most influential, if not really celebrated, horror films ever made. It was a mainstream success with more graphic, disturbing content than almost any film from its time and ushered in a wave of more intense horror movies, even though it’s so badly made that Craven disowned it after moving on to hits like
Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream. What really made Last House on the Left a hit was its memorable ad campaign, with a trailer that told the audience that to avoid fainting they would have to tell themselves, “It’s only a movie, only a movie, only a movie, only a movie” while showing relatively little footage.As film critic Joe Reid explained, it was an especially effective ad because of a combination of sheer confidence in telling the audience that they’d need to “distance” themselves from the action onscreen to be able to keep watching it at all, and the lack of information about the plot left audiences more intrigued. Shame it couldn’t have been used in the service of promoting a better movie.

7. Carl’s Jr.’s Racy Ads

In one of the highest profile examples of the notion that there’s no bad publicity in advertising, Carl’s Jr.’s sexually provocative Super Bowl ads began in 2006 with an ad featuring Paris Hiltonwashing a car and quickly got more ridiculous. This promotional campaign has been a boon for supermodels such as Kate Upton and Charlotte McKinney, who owed much of their subsequent careers to pretending to eat burgers in a suggestive manner or while dressed in very revealing ways. It’s also been a source of considerable irritation for people who believe the ads demean women.

CEO Andy Puzder claimed that the publicity brought by the commercials saved a fast food companythat, before the sexual ad campaign, was on the brink of bankruptcy. Puzder also pointed out that the ads are no more graphic than the covers of magazines. Whatever the truth of that, in March 2017 Carl’s Jr. so completely changed their marketing campaign that they made a commercial explicitly denouncing their previous advertisements. Allegedly the change in direction was because Millennials are more concerned by the healthiness of their food than they are titillated by relatively tame commercials when the internet exists.

6. Verizon’s Test Man

There may be no statement that seems less likely to launch someone to fame than, “Can you hear me now? Good.” Still, in 2002, cell phone coverage was limited enough that being unsure about getting reception depending on where you were standing was a sentiment the average telecommunications customer understood. So when Verizon began airing commercials that year featuring Paul Marcarelli just repeating that same question and answer over and over in a variety of locations to illustrate how thoroughly Verizon was allegedly expanding its coverage, people responded to it in a big way. USA Today reported in 2004 that the campaign had aided in a 10% boost to Verizon’s customers the first year and a 15% one on the second. It even was credited with dropping their customer turnover rate by over 25%.

For all that, it was a very mixed blessing for Marcarelli himself. Since he was famous almost exclusively for asking the same question over and over (despite being a successful screenwriter) inevitably people on the street hounded him over it for years, even at a funeral. In 2016 he went over to the rival telecommunications company Sprint in commercials that claimed that basically all carriers offered equally good services. It must have been very gratifying for him to be allowed to say anything other than the same six words.

5. Maytag Repairman

It’s amazing how long a simple joke can play out in the world of television commercials with very minor variations. In 1967, Jesse White played a senior repairman for Maytag appliances dressing down his trainees. The joke of the commercial was that they never got any work in their jobs because Maytag products never needed to be repaired. It’s at least good for a smirk, but audiences so enjoyed it that White played the part 60 times over the next 22 years. The role later went to Gordon Jump, famous for his role on WKRP in Cincinnati and that one episode of Diff’rent Strokes in which he played a pedophile. Yeah, that happened. Jump played the role of the Maytag Repairman from 1989 until 2003.

Somehow, interest in the Maytag Repairman built back up until the character was resurrected, played now by Colin Ferguson, who you may recognize as the star of Eureka or from his role on The Vampire Diaries, and who took up the mantle in 2014. A study by the Maytag company found in 2011 that 85% of those surveyed recognized the character and 18% considered him one of their favorite characters, demonstrating just how much the simplest ideas can be the most successful.

4. The Most Interesting Man in the World

In 2006, Jonathan Goldsmith was hired to promote Dos Equis brand beer. He didn’t so much play a character as he embodied a persona: A man who was the embodiment of worldliness, sophistication, and experience to such an absurd degree that his life experiences became wordplay (e.g. the commercial’s narrator saying that “his two cents is worth $37.”) He went truly viral on sites such as Reddit. Thousands of posts were made of an image of him with text superimposed over it that paraphrased his catchphrase “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.” The campaign meant four straight years of growth for Dos Equis, including one year where it shot up 26%.

Touchingly, Goldsmith was able to parlay his internet appeal for very noble causes. In 2014, he reached out to Reddit, among other sites, to promote efforts to remove landmines from Cambodia. Other charities he has supported include Free Art for Abused Children and the tiger protection group the Sabre Foundation. Maybe this doesn’t make him the most interesting man in the world, but it sure doesn’t hurt.

3. Speedy the Alka Seltzer Boy

You might think an anthropomorphic Alka-Seltzer tablet or a customer with indigestion would be the ideal mascot for the antacid. Indeed, one commercial featuring a man yelling “Mamma mia! That’s a spicy meatball!” spawned an enduring catchphrase. But Alka-Seltzer’s first approach was to make a cherub-faced, red-headed child named Speedy in 1952. By the time the character’s initial run ended in 1964, he had been featured in 212 commercials and appeared opposite such stars as silent film legend Buster Keaton, rendered both in 2D and in stop motion.

But the character seemed to keep coming back. In 1980 he was featured in a commercial for the Winter Olympics. Then the character was rebooted in 2008 because he was “retro cool.” Oddly, the publications the ads were featured in were skin magazines Maxim and Playboy, which don’t feel like the most natural fit for this kind of character.

2. How Many Licks

If you are a television viewer of a certain age, it’s pretty much impossible for you to have not seen this cartoon commercial that first aired in 1969. In the initial, minute long version, a human boy walks up to three animals and asks them how many licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop before being told to ask the owl. As you know, the owl licks it three times, then bites it before concluding the answer is “three.”

Instead of being remade or having spinoff commercials, the cartoon itself was so popular that rather than remake it or do variations, it was merely shortened to just a turtle and the owl and then rerun for decades. The silly central question was so firmly imprinted on the public consciousness that several colleges, such as New York University, and independent study groups found time to determine the answer for themselves. The current accepted answer is approximately one thousand.

1. Honda’s Cog Commercial

Not many commercials have ever instilled a sense of wonder in viewers. In 2003 Honda pulled it off with an elaborate commercial for their Accord model that featured a very elaborate Rube Goldberg machine that had audiences everywhere saying, “that had to be fake.” But the truth was that aside from digitally cutting two takes together, it was completely live action. It just happened to take six months of planning and a week-long shoot with a staggering six hundred takes to get every extremely precise reaction right.

The doubtless extremely frustrating work paid off handsomely when the commercial quadrupled Honda’s web traffic and tripled outreach to their contact center. This was in no small part because there was so much controversy over whether the commercial was done for real or not that Snopeshad to write an article vouching for it. But good luck convincing any company to not do something like this with CGI today.


Advertising HOF

– WIF Consumer Corner