Thursday, June 25, 2009

Oscar® Update: Best Picture category announcement

Outgoing Academy President Sid Ganis made a surprise announcement Wednesday morning in Beverly Hills, Calif. As most media outlets reported, the number of nominees for the Best Picture category will be doubled to 10 at the 82nd Academy Awards, which will be presented on March 7, 2010.

At the beginning of the press conference, Ganis said, "This morning's event is about the Academy Awards, but it may not be exactly what you think it is.

“We'll be casting our net wider and in casting that net wider who knows what will turn up,” he said, adding that a documentary, animated or foreign language film could be included in the larger field.

"And what do you know, maybe even a comedy in that group of 10," Ganis added sardonically.

The reason for the change is somewhat retrospective and retroactive.

For nine years there were 10 nominees; the 16th Academy Awards (1943) was the last year to include a field of that size; “Casablanca” was named Best Picture. In 1931/32, there were eight nominees and in 1934 and 1935 there were 12 nominees, according to the press release.

Another possibility for the announcement may be "intense lobbying by the major studios," according to blogger Nikki Finke, and maybe a little enmity from the general public by disregarding well-made films such as "The Dark Knight" for Best Picture nomination.

“I would not be telling you the truth if I said the words ‘Dark Knight’ did not come up" during the nominations discussion, Ganis said during the press conference.

Roger Ebert noted on his Web site, however, that an increase in the number of nominees doesn't exactly mean a ticket to the Academy Awards for mainstream blockbusters.

"As the number of Academy voters has grown, they have been increasingly willing to step outside the mainstream," Ebert said. "While this would mean a highly-regarded hit like 'The Dark Knight' would almost certainly be nominated, but the new 'Transformers' film, which could become this year's biggest blockbuster, would have no chance even if the category grew to 20 films. Taste does remain a factor."

David Carr, Oscar blogger and aficionado for The New York Times, discussed a great angle of the story that I hadn't quite considered.

"The clear winner is the academy," Carr said. "At a time when many believe that the academy’s taste had become too rarified for its own good, the move to broaden and democratize the signal category of the industry’s signal event puts the Oscars right back in the news and perhaps in the middle of American moviegoing conversation."

As I reported earlier this year, ratings for the ceremony have hit record lows. Having bigger and more mainstream movies attached to the ceremony may drive more viewers to the small screen. Or not.

We'll have to wait and see what the true outcome of this announcement is when Oscar nominations are announced Feb. 2, 2010, and after next year's ceremony airs on ABC Sunday, March 7, 2010.

View the press conference on YouTube.

On a side note: Here is a cool time-lapse video I found of the 81st Academy Awards setup at the Kodak:

Photo of Sid Ganis from the press conference: Todd Wawrychuk / ©A.M.P.A.S.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Week one in Chautauqua

Looking out the window of the tour, I thought to myself, "Where am I? What is this place?" That was last Tuesday afternoon, June 16th. Today, I'm still asking that same question to myself - if only to a smaller extent.

I am spending the summer as a design editor at the Chautauqua Institution's daily newspaper, the Chautauquan Daily. I'll be here at this utopia-like place until the end of August. That may answer the first question I asked myself, but there's still the second...

Trying to describe the Institution is very hard. Over dinner Tuesday night, Institution president Tom Becker gave us a better idea of the place. It's like chocolate in that it's incomparable to anything else, he said.

For me, Chautauqua is like many things: a resort, a summer home or lake house, a small college town, Disney World and, in a sense, Monaco.

On Monday, resident archivist and historian Jon Schmitz stopped by the newsroom and helped describe the Institution anecdotally. If you were to describe an elephant to someone, you might say its trunk is like a snake or its leg is like a tree trunk, he said. Everyone who comes to Chautauqua experiences a different aspect and defines the place intrinsically by that experience.

In future weeks, I hope to to show and describe what I'm doing here as a way to indirectly describe this place to you.

Now, I will recap my first week here in Chautauqua, New York - a quick drive north of Jamestown, New York, and an hour east of Erie, Pa.

The drive
I left Tuesday morning, June 16th with my friend and colleague at the paper, Gail. It took us approximately four hours to get to the Institution. The drive was not too long and, thankfully, not as boring as driving from Toledo to Chicago. (Cleveland helped break up what could have been a monotonous road trip.)

The Cottage
After arriving, Gail and I split and went off to our separate cottages before the staff meeting in the afternoon. My living quarters for the summer is Aqua Casa #2, a quaint little house on Hidden Valley Road. I share a bedroom - freshman year dorm style - with Kent student Justin. My other cottage-mates include Tony, a summer tennis instructor for the Institution, and Jordan, the assistant editor for the Chautauquan Daily.

The cottage next to ours houses four females interns from the paper. It's nice to be close to more interns and hang out together after work. In the one week we've been here, our two cottages have hosted a party, had puzzle nights (something for which I am responsible and the reason why I'm known as the "puzzle master") and have thrown a frisbee around in our big yard before the bats came out to play. A cool tidbit: bats are the unofficial mascots of the area.

One amenity our cottages do not provide: Internet. Also, for the time being, our cable is not on. It has been rough for us city people, but we have adapted.

View Chautauqua, New York in a larger map

The Institution
Chautauqua comes alive during the summer, having a density higher than Manhattan - something we learned on our tour last Tuesday. The season begins this Saturday and I should see an antithetic change once people begin arriving. What is the semi-empty campus now should be a bustling, much-to-do Institution this weekend. Beaucoup events keep our reporters very busy. But more on the newspaper to come.

Each season, there are approximately 2,100 events and 150,000 visitors, according to the fact sheet I was given in the newsroom. This summertime mecca was founded in 1874 by Lewis Miller (an Akron, Ohio, inventor and manufacturer) and John Heyl Vincent (a Methodist minister and later bishop) as a training camp for Sunday school teachers.

Since then, the program has expanded not just on the grounds but around the world with the movement itself. The term "chautauqua" can be found in the dictionary to mean: "any similar assembly, esp. one of a number meeting in a circuit of communities" (source).

There are four pillars to the Institution's summer program: arts, education, religion and recreation. This can be seen through the schedule of events, called "the grid."

The events I am looking forward to are as follows (hopefully I can attend them!):
Sesame Street Live
• Lecture by Gary Knell, president and CEO of Sesame Workshop
• Lecture by Kobie Boykins, NASA engineer of the Mars Expedition Rovers Programs
• Play: "The Glass Menagerie"
• Lecture by Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize winner, author of "Night" and Holocaust survivor
Jason Alexander, who played George Costanza on "Seinfeld"
• An Evening with Ken Burns

There are many, many more events. These are a few. At the beginning of each week, I will highlight the events to watch.

The Daily
First published on Thursday, June 15, 1876, the daily newspaper of the Chautauqua Institution is the official record for everything that happens. Initially called the Chautauqua Assembly Daily Herald, its now the Chautauquan Daily (a title which evolved in the first 30 years of the paper). The Chautauquan Daily title emerged in 1906 to provide uniformity among other publications, according to research by the Daily's own archive reporter George Cooper.

"The newsroom has been a newswriting and reporting training camp for well-known journalists such as investigative reporter Ida Tarbell and current Time magazine editor-at-large Nancy Gibbs," according to the Daily official Web site.

This season, there are approximately 24 interns (that I can count) that are in college or that have, like me, recently graduated. It is very neat to have such a young and new staff making up a majority of the paper. There are also returners from the area; one is returning for her 16th season.

I am part of a four-member design team. On Thursday, we'll start designing and laying out our first issue, which comes out on Saturday. The paper is a daily broadsheet. The Saturday and Sunday issues are combined into a weekend edition, which is published on Saturday mornings.

It's now time to get to work. We have a paper coming out on Saturday!

More info and photos to come throughout the summer. Follow my journey here and on Twitter.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Road to Chautauqua

Left my home in Toledo for a cottage along Chautauqua Lake in western New York. It's a four-hour drive - essentially like driving to Chicago.

What waits for me there is a design internship at the Institution's daily newspaper. I'll give you the details some time tomorrow. Off to New York I go until the end of August!

Friday, June 05, 2009

'Talent' update: Voting Percentages

As promised in Monday's post, here are the percentage breakdown figures for the public voting on the "Britain's Got Talent" finale, in order of highest percentage:
Act % of vote in SF Diversity 24.9% Susan Boyle 20.2%
Julian Smith 16.4% Stavros Flatley 16.3%
Aidan Davis 6.5%
Hollie Steel 3.9%
Shaheen Jafargholi 3.8%
Flawless 3.6%
Shaun Smith 3.4%
2 Grand 1%

It looks like Susan Boyle did not lose by too much. Doing a simple calculation, based on the reported approximately 4 million votes, Diversity received around 996,000 votes; Ms. Boyle received around 808,000 - a difference of 188,000 votes. The difference between Julian Smith and Stavros Flatley, however, is VERY CLOSE: approximately 4,000 votes, according to my estimates.

Well, that's it from me and "Britain's Got Talent." I wonder how the producers will top this amazing season next year... Remember, "America's Got Talent" premieres Tuesday, June 23 on NBC.

Image: Screen grab of finale

Monday, June 01, 2009

What a season for 'Talent'!

Saturday evening was full of "Talent" for all of Britain. And it appears the country was all tuning in to find out which act would walk away 100,000 pounds (approx. $159,000) richer and get a spot to perform for Queen Elizabeth II at the Royal Variety Performance show in December.

A remarkably large 19.19 million viewers tuned in to the finale, making it the most successful TV show in the country for five years, according to the show's official Web site. More than 71 percent of people with a TV on had it tuned to "Talent."

Granted, 19.19 million viewers seems average compared to the American standard. The final night of "American Idol" garnered more than 23 million viewers (source), which was considered low. Of course, one must also consider the size of the United Kingdom, which has a population more than five times smaller than the United States (source).

Here are a few more interesting facts from the show's site:
• That many people haven't watched the same show since England played Portugal - and lost - in the semi finals of footy tournament Euro 2004.
• Thought to be the highest ever peak audience for a reality show on British TV
• Almost 15.5 million people sat on their sofa for two hours earlier in the evening to watch all 10 acts perform
• A peak of 18.02 million (75% viewing share) were all watching at 8:10 p.m.
More than four million votes were registered
The official Web site will publish voting percentages per act on Monday

Thanks to the show's recently made global celebrity Susan Boyle, by now most of you reading this blog post, know that she was not crowned winner of "Britain's Got Talent" season three; she was runner-up to dance group Diversity.

Saturday night's finale kicked off at 6:45 p.m. (again, trying not to compare this to American TV) with performances by all 10 finalists, listed below in alphabetical order:

2 Grand, Aidan Davis, Diversity, Flawless, Hollie Steele, Julian Smith, Shaheen Jafargholi, Shaun Smith, Stavros Flatley, Susan Boyle

After the audition round when Susan Boyle emerged as a global gem, I began watching various auditions. Only at the end of last week, when the finalists were announced, did I basically go nuts over the show and watched the two videos associated with each of the finalists (their auditions and semi-final performances).

When Saturday night's finale aired across the pond, I was ready. For a five-minute recap of the finale, visit the official Web site.

Here are my favorites from the evening, in order of most-liked...

• Shaheen Jafargholi, 12-year-old singer:

• Diversity, winning high-energy dance troupe:

• Susan Boyle, 48-year-old globally-known singer from a small Scottish village:

• Aidan Davis, 11-year-old dancer:

• Stavros Flatley, bizarre father-son comedy/dance duo:

• Julian Smith, soprano saxophonist:

Susan Boyle sang "I Dreamed a Dream" again in the finals. The Scottish singer was the first runner-up. "The best people won," she said. "They are very entertaining lads. I wish you all the best."

Third place went to soprano saxophonist Julian Smith.

"As for the finale itself, words almost (only almost, mind...) fail me," said judge Piers Morgan on his blog for the show. "It was one of the most stunning events I can ever remember." Read his full comments here.

I am pretty jealous of NBC News' Meredith Vieira, who was in the audience for the finale! She also interviewed Morgan on TODAY Friday morning (before the finale):

You can easily view the entire season, including all 10 finale performances and the results on the show's YouTube channel. Exclusive videos can be found on the official Web site for "Britain's Got Talent."

For a nice summary of the finalists, read TV Guide's assessment.

Here is the recap from NBC News' Jim Maceda, reporting from London on Saturday night's "Nightly News":

Image courtesy: