I initially posted this a few years back after my dad passed away, but I realized that after the past several dismal years it seemed like a really good way to end what’s over and head into a New Year.
This is the Phil Och's song, "When I'm Gone." It's not his version, though, but an absolutely exquisite cover by two groups, Kim & Reggie Harris and Magpie. I first heard it years ago when the long-running Saturday night show, The Midnight Special on the classical music station WMFT in Chicago played it as their closing song each week. They used it for a great many years, and as far as I know they still may be. I just haven't heard the ending of the broadcast in about five years. But they were still using it then.
My folks absolutely loved the song. Loved it. They enjoyed The Midnight Special, a great deal although they liked it more in its earlier years and not the selections as much in its (and their) later years. But they always listened and, if not always all the way through, they always made sure to listen to the ending, just to be sure to hear The Song.
The song is about all the things to do in life now, because this is your chance to see them through.
Let’s include this addendum to the “No, the story is not going away” document. But the George Santos debacle actually got even worse today. And yes, that’s possible. Someone found a tweet of his from two years ago where he claimed to be part black!!! Here’s the article on it and tweet –
As the folks at The Problem with Jon Stewart describe it, “The year is almost over and we’re going out with a bang! Entrepreneur Mark Cuban is here. Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa is here. Whip-smart journalist Julia Ioffe is here. Come on, you can’t beat that lineup. Join us as we break down some of 2022’s biggest moments: Elon’s Twitter tumult, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the coming AI apocalypse, and, of course, the collapse of crypto and Sam Bankman-Fried. Come for the copious amount of Yiddish, stay for a look back at the year that was, the year that wasn’t—and the year that, God willing, will never be.”
Happily, though a podcast, the show now seems to be posting an audio Zoom version of the episode, so that's what we'll go with. And you can watch it here.
Yesterday, I posted a song that Steve Goodman sang and co-wrote, “Face on the Cutting Room Floor.” He co-wrote it with a couple members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Jeffrey Hanna and Jimmy Ibbotson,. I’ve always liked the group, so I thought it would be nice to have a video of them performing it on stage, in this case at a Members Concert for the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2015.
There was a court case the other day, where two guys sued Universal Studios because the trailer for the movie “Yesterday” had Anna de Armas in it, and so they each spent $3.99 to stream it -- but she had been cut out of the movie. So, they felt they had been tricked and sued.
The judge ruled in favor of them, saying that movie fans could sue over misleading trailers.
But it’s worse. He awarded them $5 million.
This is insane on so many levels. And as someone who once wrote movie trailers for his work, I’m going to take a point of personal privilege to explain why this is so insane. (I’ll leave the whole “5 million” part because that speaks for itself.)
By the way, to be clear, I only wrote the narration for the trailers, I wasn’t involved with edited the movie footage.
But this decision is insane.
In fairness, from what little I read, Universal lawyers were wrong-headed arguing that this was a First Amendment case. They should have argued that this is not only a stupid case, but an utterly insane one because it has absolutely no bearing on how trailers are made or why.
First, I am aware of no studio ever putting out a movie trailer where they knew someone was not in the movie and thought, “Hey, let’s release a trailer and put that actress in it, even though she was cut out, and fool people.”
Sometimes, when they put out an early teaser trailer when the actor is in the current cut of the movie. But then, as the film gets more editing, actors get cut out – “The girl on the cutting room floor” is a long-standing, historic phrase in Hollywood lore. And then when they make a final trailer, that actor is not used.
Sometimes, though, an actor cut out of the movie is in a trailer. But –
Usually an actor cut out of a movie is a very minor character, maybe a day player or not much more than that, because if you edit out a major character, you risk screwing up the plot. So, usually some scenes get cut with supporting actors in their only scenes. But few people go rushing out to see a movie because a supporting actor they like is clearly in a small role (“Clearly” because they’re probably only in one scene in the trailer and only have a line or two).
Further, leaving an actor in a trailer who was cut from the movie is generally (or never) done to be deceptive. It’s probably be done because ad departments have to get the trailer ready and out in the theaters many weeks before the movie is completed – so that they can promote the movie! And so, they haven’t even seen the final cut of the movie and have no idea who’s in it or not. Nor would they likely even notice if a small character in a trailer is still in the movie
Or – if, by some remote chance, they actually do know the actor isn’t in the final cut of the movie, they nonetheless still might include a scene with him in the trailer – but not to be deceptive. Rather, because the scene has a funny line or a dramatic line, or because a plot point is made in a particularly effective way for the trailer. And so, it’s helpful to include that plot point, or joke or line, in the trailer. Because, in fact, it does help describe the movie well and accurately. Which is the very opposite of deceptive.
So, let's pause a moment and go from the general back to the specific.
Here's is the trailer for Yesterday. It's clear what the story is. It's clear that the two stars are Hamish Patel and Lily James -- it's says so on the screen in REALLY BIG LETTERS. Ana de Armas is in one scene in the trailer (and in an earlier cut of the film, that was later deleted). She plays a guest on The Late, Late Show with James Corden! And doesn't say a single word. And for that, these two guys sued -- and the judge not only ruled in their favor and awarded them $5 million!!
By the way, the deleted scene (again, just one scene) is posted online. Ms. de Armas has about 2-1/2 minutes of screen time, only a couple of lines of dialogue and spends most of her time in the movie listening to the main character singing a song. In other words, audiences got almost as much of her in the trailer as she is in the movie!
And for that, the judge ruled in the plaintiffs favor and awarded them $5 million.
To put this in more perspective, the filmmakers could have left the scene in the movie, the two guys would have gotten about two extra minutes of Ana de Armas largely just sitting on a couch, and they wouldn't have been able say they were "tricked" and sued and been award $5 million by a lunatic judge.
This is insane. On so many levels.
Here's the trailer --
By the way, what Universal could have done is offer the plaintiffs their $3.99 back and given them the URL on YouTube where the one deleted scene with her IS POSTED, so they could see it!!!! (I wonder if their lawyers even mentioned this. "Your honor, if the plaintiffs are upset that they didn't get to see the *one freaking scene* with Ana de Armas, here it is. In fact, if the court insists, we'll even edit it back into the movie and let them watch the whole film in chambers.")
For what it's worth, the cut scene is nice (which is a moot point to the lawsuit), and adds a bit to why Lily James (the actual female lead in the movie) starts to feel she's losing the closeness to her friend and feeling a bit jealous. But -- it's not needed at all for telling the larger story, and also we do get at least a sense of the relationship loss without the scene. I just figure that since the sequence takes four minutes, the filmmakers felt it hurt the pace of the film and didn't add anything nearly enough to include. And so, they cut it after the trailer was made and released. For those interested, this is the cut scene --
There, I just saved you the burden of having to file a $5 million lawsuit. You're welcome.
Sometimes, yes, a trailer can be a bit deceptive, though not dishonest – like all advertising can be a bit deceptive, though not dishonest. When I worked at a studio in PR (I was not working on trailers there), we had a family movie with Richard Pryor and Cicely Tyson called. Bustin’ Loose.
The movie was nice, though not great – it had some humor in it, but mainly, it was a warm family story (I think it was about an ex-con helping a social worker transporting a busload of kids) -- and the reaction to the trailer wasn’t good. But Richard Pryor was really hot then, having just made the big hit Stir Crazy with Gene Wilder. So, the studio re-edited the trailer using real scenes from the movie, of course, using real jokes from the movie, using more Richard Pryor footage than Cicely Tyson, and they made the movie seem a lot funnier, and more like a pure Richard Pryor Comedy, than the lighthearted dramatic-comedy and romance it was.
It was absolutely 100% honest in all the actual-movie material it used – it just made the movie seem funnier than it was. And a whole lot more “tricky” than the trailer for Yesterday was, which only cut out a brief reference to a minor character in the movie. Should The Bustin’ Loose trailer have gotten the studio sued for tricking people? Everything in its trailer was in the movie. The movie was funny – just not that funny. How many times have we all see a trailer that it turns out used most (if not seemingly all) the best lines – so the trailer was A LOT funnier than the movie. Should all these studios be found guilty of “tricking” the audience? And pay whoever sues $5 million??
Furthermore, sometimes you know a movie is wonderful and there's a good chance people would love it if they see it, but on the surface it's not the kind of movie an audience might not think is good. So, you promote it in a way that they would like more, do your best to get them in the theater, and (hopefully) discover that they actually loved it. Is that being too tricky -- and worth suing for $5 million? Finding out that you liked it more than you thought you would? Bustin' Loose wasn't great, but it was a nice movie. In fact, it could be argued that it was a richer, more interesting movie than the goofy comedy it seemed to be from the trailer. Some might not have liked it more, maybe most wouldn't (I don't know), but maybe some did. But I'll bet that everyone has gone to a movie not expecting much from the trailer and ads, only to discover that, "Hey, that was better than I thought."
Studios try to make their movies look as good as possible. Absolutely. Just like every advertiser tries to make their products look as good as possible. Will a laundry detergent make your clothes as bright and sparkling white as an ad might appear? Will a new car get beautiful women gaping at you as you drive by? Will every server at the fast food restaurant greet you warmly with a huge, fresh-faced, ear-to-ear smile that lights up the room?
Studios try to make their movies look as good as possible.
I have a feeling that the judge didn't grasp a core concept of the hurdle of every trailer. You have only three minutes to get across what a full, involved, detailed two-hour movie is. In three minutes, studios try to make their comedies look as funny as they can. They try to make their thrillers seem as exciting as they can. Their love stories feel as romantic, their dramas as involving, their sci-fi epics as monumental as they can. Should they be sued for millions of dollars if the movies didn't live up to the expectations set in three minutes? Especially since sometimes they actually do live up to those expectations.
Herman Melville took 427 pages to write the intricate philosophies and action of Moby Dick. The filmmakers had to tell that story in just an hour and 56 minutes. And the trailer had to get everything across or some things across or one thing that might be most interesting across about Moby Dick in three minutes. Moby Dick is about an obsessed sea captain trying to get revenge against a white whale. Putting aside that that might not sound terribly interesting on the surface to a lot of people, the story of Moby Dick is a whole lot deeper than that. Should the studio have been sued because it "tricked" audiences and didn't tell the fullness of Moby Dick in three minutes?
And in the end, sometimes the final, release version of a movie is simply different than the early-version rough cut an ad agency is given months before the film is released. For any number of reasons. None of which are usually (or more likely, ever) – “Let’s leave this secondary, supporting actress in the trailer who only has two scenes, even though we know she’s been cut from the movie because we think people will rush to the theater to see her, only to be disappointed.”
If a studio knowingly, intentionally goes out of its way to commit a fraud on the public, sure they should be held accountable. But that isn't what happens, studios want audiences to like their movies, not feel tricked by them, because then they'll tell their friends, and word of mouth is what ultimately makes a movie a success. Even with a dud and wanting to get as much money the first weekend, you still are limited to using the actual, real footage of the movie you have.
And in the specific, deceiving the audience certainly isn't what happened with Yesterday. It was two guys so upset that a beautiful actress they like wasn't in the final movie and didn't get to see her sitting on a couch for two more minutes, so they sued for $5 million. And won, because the judge was an idiot who didn't know what in the world he was doing.
Usually when people are unhappy with a movie -- for actual reasons, like it was lousy or the print was scratchy – such people ask for their $13 back at the box office. And generally will get it. Or not. By comparison, $3.99 is a bargain.
I hope Universal appeals. And that every other studio signs on in support.
Because this ruling was insane. On so many levels.
I rarely need a reason to post a Steve Goodman song, but when I do have a good reason, like right now, I’ll grab it. Especially when I love the song.
This is a massive treat for Tom Lehrer fans. As you may know, before and after he wrote wonderful comedy songs, Tom Lehrer was a mathematics professor at MIT and later at the University of California, Santa Cruz. I’m not exactly sure what this is but – I think this comes from his days at UC Santa Cruz, and probably when they were having some department event. And for it, Lehrer entertained and brought out a bunch of old math songs he’d written over the years and were sitting in his proverbial trunk. Most of the songs aren’t Prime Lehrer – and most will only be really funny to mathematicians. But any “new found” songs by Tom Lehrer is a treasure. But still, the final song, that he wrote for the Children’s Television Workshop, though it never got on the air, is a lot of fun, “That’s Mathematics.”
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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