What’s the best way to make money? Give things away for free. This seemingly counterintuitive business model, utilized by tech giants such as Google and Facebook, is a more benign version of the old bait-and-switch. Free social interaction, instantaneous answers to the most burning questions, cat videos on command—all they ask for in return are bits and bytes of information. Why then, is information more costly to acquire than it is to give away? Continue reading Bits & Bytes: The Cost of Free News
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I remember that evening my dad woke me up to take me to the movies. I was eight-years-old and it was way past my bedtime. The theater was busy, as hundreds of moviegoers poured in at 11:30 P.M. on a Thursday. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace came out at midnight. The magic of a midnight release showing was new to me then, but throughout junior high and high school it became an almost religious fixture in my life. Blurry eyes and beaming smiles filled every auditorium, because the silver screen deserved our attention. The theater held my imagination hostage and I was more than happy with my Stockholm syndrome. These days I struggle to remember the last movie I saw in theaters.
The night out at the movies is the cornerstone for Americans everywhere. The first movie theater in history was the Nickelodeon, built in Pittsburgh, Penn in June 19, 1905. The weekend event, the weekday matinee, the classic first date, the movie theater experience is one that most can’t imagine a world without. In 2016, theaters hosted 1.3 million moviegoers, outnumbering both sporting events and theme park attendees. Nonetheless, movie theaters seem to be facing an existential threat.
While silver screen isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, the way the cinema operates is taking a beating—and recent box office numbers show a disheartening trend for zealots of the theatrical ceremony.
Marlene Virelas, a former senior manager at Century at Pacific Commons in Fremont, California, offers some insight on how these bombs are handled at the the box office.
“If we knew movies were going to flop, or after they had bad premiere weekends the amount of showings were scaled down,” Virelas remembers.
“There’s a constant pressure on a movie theater to turn a profit because most if not all the sales from the box office goes to the studios, theaters really make their money from concession stand sales.”
ARTIST: DYLAN PEMBERTON
The sheer uptick in the amount of box office failures—commonly referred to as “bombs”—is staggering compared to previous years. In 2016 alone, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Allied, 2016’s Ben-Hur, The BFG, Deepwater Horizon, The Finest Hours, Ghostbusters, Gods of Egypt, The Great Wall, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Live by Night, Monster Trucks, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows all boasted losses of over $60 million.
Movies from 2017 aren’t spared either. Ghost in the Shell, Power Rangers, and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword are already critically declared bombs, with the later suffering a loss of over $150 million according to Box Office Mojo.
For reference, 2015 had ten box office flops under its belt, 2014 only had one, and 2013 only had to claim five to its name.
American University film graduate Chelsey Cartwright offers a unique perspective. As a member of the millennial age group, she is part of the disappearing moviegoer, and yet as a film major she still tries to make it out to the movies as often as possible.
“Convenience and cost wise, it’s so easy to justify not going to the movies because I can watch a hundred things on Netflix or Amazon or Hulu. I no longer go to the movies if I’m bored,” points out Cartwright.
“These days my trips to the theater are often to pay homage to a film that has plowed its way through the many stages of film-making and is being displayed gloriously on the big screen.”
It is obvious that there is a problem with Hollywood that is keeping moviegoers from putting their butts in seats. When you dig a little deeper though, the butts that aren’t seated seem to belong to solely the ever elusive millennials. According to the Motion Picture Association of America, the 25-39-year-old group makes up the majority of film attendees with 22 percent, while the other 88 percent is spread among the other age demographics. The theater’s main demographic is steadily de-butting movie seats.
“I see videos everyday on my news-feed,” says Cartwright.
“I consume news and gifs and interviews and all things social media. I’m inundated with visual media, so off the bat the idea of a major motion picture isn’t as novel as it once felt.”
These days I struggle to remember the last movie I saw in theaters.
So where is Hollywood getting its money? The answer seems to rest in overall movie ticket prices. Complaining about rising cost of ticket prices seems have always been a constant, but acclaimed director Steven Spielberg predicted a breaking point back in 2013.
“You’re gonna have to pay twenty-five dollars for the next Iron Man, you’re probably only going to have to pay seven dollars to see Lincoln,” Spielberg told The Hollywood Reporter at the time.
“There’s going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen mega-budget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that’s going to change the paradigm.”
It’s only been four years, but Spielberg’s words are quickly changing from prophecy into problems. Many movie studios have attempted to avoid the coming “implosion” by relying on big budget blockbusters. In the infamous email hacks on SONY, studio co-chair Amy Pascal emailed a note to her chief lieutenant Doug Belgrad. Assessing Sony’s lineup for 2015, she wrote, in all caps, “THERE ARE TOO MANY DRAMAS/NOT ENOUGH TENTPOLES/NO OBVIOUS BREAKOUT HITS.”
ARTIST: DYLAN PEMBERTON
These “tent-pole” movies are still massive risks. If a studio puts all their eggs into one basket and fails to draw in that millennial 25-38-year-old group, they’re stuck with an unfortunately ugly omelet. The less obvious casualty of this method of movie-making though is the makers themselves.
Hollywood directors are becoming a dime a dozen. Blockbuster director of Jurassic Park, Colin Trevorrow was set to direct the still untitled ninth Star Wars film. Just this past month it was announced Trevorrow was stepping down as director of the project.
“Colin has been a wonderful collaborator throughout the development process but we have all come to the conclusion that our visions for the project differ,” Disney said in a statement.
“We wish Colin the best and will be sharing more information about the film soon.”
Since then, episode nine of Star Wars called back Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens visionary J.J. Abrams. It seems that franchises reign supreme in Hollywood right now, and no director’s vision can supersede a company’s need for profit assurance.
Famed director Christopher Nolan spoke with the Los Angeles Times recently about this pressure. When asked if he would ever consider doing another super-hero or “tent-pole” film, he made sure to weigh both options.
“The responsibility that comes with a large film at this stage of things is always very daunting. But having made tiny films and dealt with the flip side of that, which is just trying to get anyone to see your film, that’s awful in its own way, admitted Nolan.
“Any independent filmmaker can tell you, going to a festival, hoping a distributor is going to like your film and put you on ten screens somewhere — that’s very, very tough and very demoralizing in its own way.”
Echoing Chelsey Cartwright’s words on the movie novelty, Nolan also took time to unpack just what studios need to be looking for with breakout hits.
“What’s interesting about that whole paradigm is, you can’t fault the studios for looking to likely hits, for looking for areas where people seem to want more of something. But Hollywood and the studios have also always understood that novelty, freshness, is one of the magical ingredients of movies. And I don’t think the studios ever want to risk losing that completely,” says Nolan.
Still, the future of Hollywood may be found in the voices of those who criticize it. Cartwright has studied were movies are going with both pencil and popcorn. She thinks there’s a bright future if the box office can find it.
“The film industry is finally catching up in terms of diversity, like women in major leadership roles and expansion beyond white heterosexual plots. But it’s a slow going process,” admits Cartwright.
“If it wants to hold on to audiences, the movies will have to speed up. We’re smarter now. Twitter educates us on feminism, Facebook opens our eyes to police brutality, Reddit examines government corruption. Everyday people are coming to expect more out of the media they consume. People loved Wonder Woman. That’s a pretty solid example of people wanting a strong atypical heroine and a subsequent box-office smash. People are ready to push the limits.”
The issues that plague the box office are many, as are studio’s’ attempts to find a solution. The interesting piece of all this is its moviegoers – people who get to decide what technique works. Whatever movies people choose to actually go see, those are the types of strategies studios will continue to use. It is not impossible to imagine that studios just don’t quite understand what audiences want in these changing times, and new kind of relationship is still possible. Something that benefits viewers, producers and creators may be out there. The numbers don’t lie though, and Hollywood needs to find the answer soon.
Everyday, thousands of students from across the Bay Area commute to San Francisco State University. For a university that is consistently known for its commuters, you’d think the school’s administration would strike a deal with San Francisco’s public transit. Fear not, they finally have!
We want to make our students commute cheaper and more convenient. We want to make life in this city better.
Last Spring, SF State’s Associated Students Organization, a student run government, along with SF State administrators, State Senator Scott Wiener, Nick Josefowitz, a member of Bay Area Rapid Transit’s board and the Gator Pass Project team, negotiated with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) and the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) in order for SF State students to receive a Gator Pass. A Gator Pass, similar to a Clipper card, gives students access to unlimited rides on Muni and discounted rides on BART.
Once negotiated, students at SF State voted on the proposition. More than half of student voters supported the proposition in May of 2016, leaving the Gator Pass Project Team about a year to negotiate with transit agencies, design the layout, and print 30,000 Gator Passes.
SFSU students patiently waiting for the Muni to open its doors. In San Francisco, CA. On Monday September 25, 2017.
(Golden Gate Magazine/Cristabell Fierros)
“Technically if you look at our timeline, we had about a year and three months to complete all 30,000 cards,” John Gates, Director of Fiscal Operations at SF State, says.
“A lot of that time was consumed by negotiating and coordinating between the different transit agencies. The process of actually making, printing, and delivering the specialized and customized Clipper Card, took six months alone. We had to move quickly.”
In May of 2017, Gates and the team printed 23,000 cards in order to distribute them as quickly as possible. They wanted to hand the cards off to students before the start of summer. They chose to do this in order to minimize the amount of time students spent in lines. By providing students with more opportunities to pick up their cards, the lines shortened, saving students time.
SF State is one of the last universities in the Bay Area to implement discounted transit fares for students. University of San Francisco has been discounting their students Muni rides since 2001, while UC Berkeley followed in 2006. However, SF State is the first university to score a deal with BART.
The deal negotiated with Bart gives students a 25 percent discount on rides arriving at the Daly City Bart Station.
SFSU student’s tapping their Gator Pass on the Muni in San Francisco, CA.
On Monday September 25, 2017. (Golden Gate Magazine/Cristabell Fierros)
Muni is the only form of public transportation that is provided to students at the University of San Francisco. UC Berkeley also only provides AC Transit, Berkeley’s form of public transit, for students.
Associated Students, administrators, Wiener, and The Gator Pass Project Team knew that without BART, students wouldn’t have voted for the proposition. According to a study done by the university, nearly 20 percent of SF State students use BART when commuting to school.
“We want to make our students commute cheaper and more convenient. We want to make life in this city better.” Alexander Kozulin explains. He is the project manager and the brains behind the Gator Pass.
“Reducing the university’s carbon footprint. By implementing the Gator Pass, we’re definitely doing that,” Gates added as an additional goal of the Gator Pass.
So, all of this seems too good to be true. What’s the catch?
Not only are all enrolled students required to pay a one-hundred eighty-dollar fee per semester, but the pass only works during Fall and Spring semesters, leaving Winter and Summer student commuters empty handed. The fee has caused frustration among students who don’t use public transportation as a way to get to school.
“I would say the feedback from students has been overwhelmingly positive because of the unlimited rides on Muni and the discounted rates on Bart,” Gates says.
“There are some students who don’t take public transportation and are like ‘hey why do I have to pay this $180 fee?’. The fee is to benefit the university as a whole, not to buy out transit passes,” concluded Gates.
Gates, along with his fellow Gator Pass team members, took into account that some students wouldn’t be using public transportation. They came up with the one hundred eighty dollar fee after considering those factors.
While some students see the Gator Pass as a buy out, the majority of SF State students are enjoying it. The Gator Pass allows students to use their passes throughout the city. So whether or not students are using it to get to school, they’re still able to use Gator Passes around the city as long as school is in session.
“I use the Gator Pass to get to work in the Marina a couple times a week,” says Juliette Leite, a twenty-one-year-old senior, studying communications at SF State.
“It’s nice that students are able to use their Gator Pass throughout the city. It makes the fee totally worth it.”
Leite is right about the Gator Pass saving students money. In fact, it saves students one hundred and fifteen dollars each semester. That’s if students are using Muni seven days a week. The 2017-2018-fall semester is approximately seventeen weeks long equaling to one hundred and eighteen days. If students rode on Muni everyday without the Gator Pass, they’d be spending close to three hundred dollars each semester.
University of San Francisco and UC Berkeley also provide their students with a similar deal. Both University of San Francisco and UC Berkeley issue their students stickers to put on their ID cards indicating free transportation. SF State, however, uses a Clipper card which students scan when riding Muni. SF State is the first university in the Bay Area to partner with Clipper.
The Gator Pass Program team, along with Alexander Kozulin and John Gates, worked extremely hard over the course of a year in order to get the Gator Pass up and running.
“Alexander does this thing where when he’s worried about something he like pulls the hair on top of his head. I thought he was gonna go bald there for a couple months,” Gate continues as the room laughs.
SF State, administration, Nick Josefowitz, the Gator Pass Program Team, Kozulin and Gates went above and beyond to make sure are SF State students were well taken care of and that their needs were met.
“It’s a great feeling having this completed. There’s still work to be done. We’re thinking about the next steps. ” concluded Gates.
Thanks to everyone’s help, SF State students are sitting pretty on public transit.