Saturday, May 30, 2009

Promoting Pixar's 'Up'

Starting yesterday, Pixar Animation Studios released its tenth computer-animated feature.

In "Up," the story revolves around the main character, Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Edward Asner), who, frustrated with his mundane life and impending enforcement into a retirement home, ties thousands of balloons to his house and sets off for adventure in South America. A small boy named Russell (voiced by Jordon Nagai) who is trying to earn his last Junior Wilderness Explorer badge for helping the elderly accidentally ends up on board, and hilarity ensues. The film is distributed by Walt Disney Pictures and "Up" is also Pixar's first 3D adventure.

Having seen the movie premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, critics boast that the film continues to exemplify Pixar's flawless record in never releasing a bad film.

The film is a "captivating odd-couple adventure that becomes funnier and more exciting as it flies along," wrote Variety's Todd McCarthy. "The two leading men are 78 and 8 years old, and the age range of those who will appreciate the picture is even a bit wider than that."

After seeing "Up" for myself, I could not help but fall in love with it. The plot line of the movie will touch audiences hearts. The 3D effect is remarkably and tastefully done unlike other 3D films in recent years (i.e. Spy Kids 3D, Shark Boy and Lava Girl). In this case, you truly feel as though you are in the movie. But even if you see "Up" in the traditional 2D format, you are still in for an epic adventure.

Now that I'm back working at Regal Entertainment Group's Westbrook Cinema 4 for my last summer, I wanted to get the lead out on my promotional technique by doing something for this film in particular (mostly because I'm an avid Disney/Pixar fanatic). Since Westbrook is typically the short stick of the draw when it comes to getting promotional materials it created more of a challenge (though welcomed) for me.

Before opening yesterday I assembled a cut-out, with a cardboard backing, of the the house used in "Up" to attached to the marque box for theater hall one. Then I went out to get a few helium balloons to attach behind the cut-out using a dead weight to hold them in place. On the bottom side of the marque I attached a cut-out of Fredricksen holding on to the garden hose to make it appear as though he is holding on to the house.

I'm happy to say that as families came into the main lobby, quite a few of the small children would tug on their parent's shirts, pointing at the promotion and/or yelling out "Look at the balloons!" Knowing that the younger guests enjoyed the display was all I needed to see for the display to be a success.

And one specific note I want to mention about "Up" before I close was Pixar's triumph in the animation of the balloons. For this feat they used a process called procedural animation which uses an algorithm, or set of equations, as well as Newtonian physics which allowed software to simulate the actions of each individual balloon without animators having animate each balloon themselves. To read more about what it took to create the amazing sequences, read's report "How technology lifts Pixar's 'Up'"
Above photo: The promotional display above theater one at Westbrook Cinema 4.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

pr-IMPACT on Improving Press Releases

Today I happened upon an interesting Public Relations website called by PR pro Jerry Brown. On his site, Brown promotes a practical, effective approach to promoting PR to stakeholders through his e-books. Deciding whether to purchase his e-books is a personal call but the site does provide some great insight. The following exerts from his section on "Improving Your Press Releases."

Three reasons press releases fail:
1. They’re too self-serving. Reporters won’t write stories about you for your benefit. They write for the benefit of their audience. Give your audience a reason to care about what’s in your press release and reporters who write for that audience will be more likely to use it.
2. They’re boring. Reporters are competing for the attention of readers or viewers. They work hard to make their stories interesting – with the language they use and the way they tell their stories. People who write press releases often do just the opposite, then wonder why their press releases didn’t get used.
3. There’s no clear objective. You can’t succeed unless you know what success is. Getting a “positive” story isn’t specific enough.

Five tips for writing really good press releases:
1. Give your audience a reason to care. Everybody’s favorite subject is me. Make your press releases relevant and interesting to your audience.
2. Localize your story. Reporters are always looking for a local angle for their stories. Provide a local angle in your press releases. Localizing your press release often is about geography. But it can also be about community of interest. You can “localize” a press release by providing an angle that makes it interesting for trade or specialty publications.
3. Humanize your story. News is about people and things that affect people.
4. Use the Big Four. Do one or more of the following four things (they’re not mutually exclusive) in a way that affects enough people and turn almost anything into news:
– Solve a problem or create an opportunity. Flip sides of the same thing.
– Provide useful information (tips)
– Identify a trend. Better yet, tell me how to take advantage of it or avoid being harmed by it.
– Help the community. Charity events for example.
5. Optimize your press releases for the Internet search engines. Press releases aren’t just for reporters any more.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Overby Center Internship

Yesterday I concluded my semester-long internship as student assistant at The Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics.

The Overby Center is funded through a grant from the Freedom Forum, a foundation dedicated to educating people about the importance of a free press and the First Amendment. The Center's mission is to create better understanding of the media and politicians and the role of the First Amendment in U.S. democracy.

The Center features programs, multimedia displays and writings that examine the independent and interrelated relationships of the media and politicians; past, present and future. Because many leaders in media and politics have come from the South, the Overby Center pays special attention to Southern perspectives.

The Center is named for Charles L. Overby, editor of the Daily Mississippian at the University of Mississippi from 1967 to 1968, executive editor of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson from 1982 to 1984, former vice president/news of the Gannett Co., former member of the management committee of USA TODAY, and now chairman, chief executive officer of the Newseum.

During the semester I worked for and did research for Overby fellows Curtis Wilkie and John Hailman. Wilkie is a revered Southern journalist and author and was a reporter at The Boston Globe for over 25 years before teaching journalism at the university. Hailman, a federal prosecutor, also teaches at the university and was a wine columnist for the Washington Post and was nationally syndicated for over a decade by Gannett News Service.

Under Curtis (as he prefers his students to call him), I transcribed phone calls for a book he is working on involving one of the most recent Mississippi fraud cases. For Professor Hailman, I worked on typing and editing the chapters for his next two book projects, Midnight to Guntown and Good Wine. Both fellows were unique personalities to work with and it was great getting to know them.

For Dawn Jeter, the Operations Manager of the Overby Center, I helped set up for different forums and speakers that visited the center throughout the semester. I also handled other administrative assistant work that she needed.

My time with the Overby Center also provided me with a chance to meet and work with many journalists and politicians such as NBC broadcaster Sander Van Oker, Oxford Mayor Richard Howorth, state representative Jim Evans, Pulitzer Prize writer Gene Roberts, and NBC anchor Tom Brokaw who I had previously worked for during the presidential debate last fall.

Although at times, work was rigorously fast-paced and seemingly over-whelming, I did enjoy my time interning there. It was my first job where I had my own three-sided, oak desk and how cool is that! Since yesterday was my last day, Professor Hailman gave me a signed copy of his book Thomas Jefferson on Wine and a 2007 bottle of Hogue white Riesling wine. As a dessert wine, the Hogue is wonderful and the book has been added to my on-going book collection.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Saying Goodbye to Sacred Heart

After eight seasons, Scrubs, the sitcom I watched throughout high school and most of college, finally ended tonight.

For those who have never seen the series, Scrubs is an comedy-drama that premiered on October 2, 2001, on NBC (which I still remember watching) and follows the lives of the employees of Sacred Heart hospital. The show's title is a play on surgical scrubs in addition to “scrubs” being slang for the inexperienced.

The show is primarily viewed through the eyes of the central character, John Michael "J.D." Dorian (Zack Braff) and his adventures with his friends; Christopher Turk (Donald Faison), Elliot Reid (Sarah Chalke), and Carla Espinosa (Judy Reyes). Great characters in the show like Chief-of-Medicine Bob Kelso (Ken Jenkins), J.D.'s mentor Dr. Perry Cox (John C. McGinley), his nemesis "the janitor" (Neil Flynn), and Sacred Heart Lawyer Ted Buckland (Sam Lloyd) continued to bring the laughs and added depth to the show.

Each episode of Scrubs is amazing because of the show's plot lines that always have good morals and values mixed in with overwhelming humor. It is probably why I love watching Scrubs so much. Unlike most shows it is not just an escape from reality, but instead the journeys of the characters relates to viewers in a way that inspires them with positive perspectives to make it through their own every day hurdles. By the end of each episode, Scrubs taught viewers lessons on life.

Some of my favorite episodes include "My Musical," "My Way Home," "My ABC's," "My Fallen Idol," "My Catalyst," and "My Overkill."

Another unique aspect of Scrubs is that it is filmed on location at the North Hollywood Medical Center, a real decommissioned hospital located in the North Hollywood neighborhood of Los Angeles, Calif. However, the location of Sacred Heart Hospital within the fictional world of Scrubs is left ambiguous, leaving it easier for its audience to connect with the characters. It's probably another reason I've been able to relate with the show. It has never been about where Sacred Heart is, but the experiences of the lives within the hospital.

During the seventh season more than a year ago, NBC announced that it would not renew the show. To make matters worse for the show's future, in November, the Writers Guild of America went on strike, which put the production of the show's seventh season on hold. When the strike started, only eleven of Scrubs' eighteen planned seventh season episodes had been completely written. The show's creator and director, Bill Lawrence refused to cross any WGA picket lines to serve any of his duties for the show, so ABC Studios had non-WGA members finish episode twelve, which the studio had unsuccessfully pressured Lawrence to rewrite as a series finale prior to the strike.

Shortly after a very weak, ill-fitting seventh season finale, ABC announced that it had bought the rights to the show and on January 6, 2009, the eighth season of Scrubs premiered on ABC. Once again, Lawrence and the cast of Scrubs were able to rekindle the heart-felt reasons many viewers had come to know from the earlier seasons of the show.

Even the last episode kept true to the same themes that have carried the show since the beginning: people grow and change, but life at the hospital just keeps going. People leave, people die, someone makes a life-changing decision, and life just keeps going. To Quote:

"I'm real sorry there, newbie. But this is not a special day for me. It's just a day," Dr. Cox almost-convincingly said during one of J.D.'s attempts at getting an emotional goodbye from him. He was right. And Sacred Heart did not make much of a big deal out of J.D.'s departure.

And as J.D. walks out the exit for the last time, he reflects on the individuals that influenced his life during his years at Sacred Heart. Then he starts to daydream about the the future. And as always he sums up with an important life lesson:

"It's never good to live in the past too long. As for the future, thanks to Dan (J.D.'s older brother), it didn't seem so scary anymore. It could be whatever I want it to be... Who's to say this isn't what happens? And who's to say my fantasies won't come true just this once?"

For all of the wonderful memories, laughs, and lessons learned; I have to say thank you to Lawrence, Braff, and the rest of the cast and crew of Scrubs for an incredible eight years.