NOTE: I started this out with the intention of posting something fairly short that explains why I’m not getting as many blog posts up every day as normal — then as I realized that readers might be able to help me with a couple of things, it turned into a very long, somewhat technical post explaining the whole process I’m following to get all issues of sourcing and attribution fully “right” before releasing the book. Realizing it may qualify to some as “most boring post ever — I want to draw attention to the fact the there are two “requests for assistance” in helping me find some data I’m looking for — so if you’re interested in helping with that but maybe aren’t interested in wading through my long explanation of sourcing and attribution issues — just scroll down and look for the bold portions.
I’ve been very fortunate over the last couple of weeks to get some great insights and advice from some scholars, publishers, journalists, and editors who have been very generous with their time in going over the Advance Reading Copies of John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood with a fine-tooth comb and have given me some good advice that is helping me make sure that I’ve crossed all “i’s” and dotted all “t’s” on little things that in the normal scheme of things might not seem so important — but which those familiar with the world of academia and journalism assure are very important. The theory, it has been explained to me, is that if you can’t, for example, follow the correct format for footnotes, titles of movies, titles of articles, titles of books, etc, etc, etc, then how can your research or your assertions be trusted? This is particularly true in my case, since while I have a track record of professional writing, I don’t have a track record writing heavily researched, heavily footnoted articles that put forward a potentially controversial thesis and which needs to stand up to scholarly review, journalistic analysis, and other types of scrutiny and hostile review. Given the fact that I don’t have a background as an academician with many peer-reviewed articles or books, or an accomplished investigative journalist with a track record in that field, it would be understandable for readers to be skeptical of the thoroughness, attention to detail, and reliability of statements made and thus it is important for me to “go the extra mile” in making the book as “bullet proof” as I can make it.
Against this background, I have come to understand that it is very important, to attend to both the big details of proper sourcing and attribution (more on that in a minute) and to attend to the smallest details of formatting, spelling, typos, etc — in order to establish as much credibility as possible. This won’t win the battle — but it will keep me from losing the battle before it even gets started. Fortunately, although I have not lived and worked in the academic world since my time at NYU Graduate Film School a million years ago, I did spend 10 years collecting intelligence and writing detailed, properly sourced intelligence reports for policy-makers in Washington and this has, I think, helped me “get” the importance of this process. (A side note: Intelligence reports have a different way of footnoting in that we don’t name the source — but sources are all registered and there are approved “source descriptions” that describe the source without compromising his/her identity, and all statements unless clearly labeled commentary or analysis need to be firmly attached to a source. It’s a very rigorous process that is a good corollary to this kind of writing.)
PICKING THE NITS
Back to the current situation, getting the correct format for a footnote may seem simple — but as I have delved into this I have discovered that there are a lot of different footnote types, each with slight variances the way the footnote should be presented — so much so that I’ve had to create a cheat sheet that contains the detailed way of presenting each of the following types of sources:
- A book by one author
- An anthology
- A book by two or more authors
- An article in a reference book
- An article in a journal
- An Article in a newspaper
- A document or page from an internet site
- An entire internet site
- An online book
- An article, document, or page from an online database
- An article from an online periodical, blog, or media outlet
And then, to make things more interesting, the format is slightly different the first time you cite a source, and subsequent citations. And JCGOH has about 270 footnotes. So this is a tedious process that is not exactly substantive — but if left unattended to will create a situation where scholarly authors conducting what amounts to “peer review” of the book would be more skeptical than if they look at the footnotes and say okay, he was thorough and followed the correct format throughout. Same with italics, quotation marks, spelling, typos, etc.
Many of the footnotes are just of interest to academicians. F0r example, where did I get the info that All-Story Magazine raised its price from 10 to 15 cents and raised its page count from 192 to 240 pages just as Under The Moons of Mars was finishing its serialization? The general reader doesn’t care too much; academicians would expect the source to be cited, properly formatted etc. So I’m attending to this thoroughly and diligently.
A LARGER ISSUE WHERE I CAN USE A LITTLE ASSISTANCE
But while many of the footnotes are utilitarian and minor, some of them (probably 20%) refer to things that relate directly to the argument that the John Carter marketing campaign had a “measurable deficiency of effort” in comparison to other comparable movies. This is the portion of the book that is more likely to draw fire if improperly handled, and thus it is extremely important that everything relating to the “slacker promotional effort” that went into the John Carter release needs to be completely bulletproof. Fortunatley I’ve been able to make this case almost entirely using full attribution with citable, verifiable sources. But virtually all of the sources are links to online articles, web pages, databases, etc. As long as the sources stay available online, the claims (which are all completely factual and verifiable) should stand up to any type of hostile scrutiny. But what if an article, page, document, or database disappears — as online links sometimes do — then what? Once it disappears it’s gone forever — and assuming it was never a print publications that exists anywhere other than the internet, the result of its disappearance would be to undercut the credibility of the book. So….what I’m doing now (and should have done earlier) is create a PDF archive of every cited article, web page, document, post, or database. That way even if something goes offline — the sourcing will not be compromised.
The process of saving articles to PDF is going fine and there are no issues. More interesting, and challenging, are large databases that need to be captured. These include key data from the Internet Movie Database (IMDB Pro, specifically), and Twitter and Facebook. And while I’m doing pretty well in terms of getting everything I need — there are a few glitches/issues where I can possibly use some help in excavating some data.
IMDB, TWITTER, FACEBOOK DATA
The three most important databases that come into play throughout the relevant portions of the book are the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB), Twitter, and Facebook. One thread that goes on throughout much of the analysis is that I have compared in a number of ways the “measurable effort to promote” three movies that were all spring releases and which are “comparables” in certain obvious ways —
- John Carter ($250M tentpole sci-fi adventure released in March)
- Avengers (a $250m sci-fi/adventure tentpole released in May, and also a Disney “stablemate” to John Carter)
- The Hunger Games (a sci-fi/adventure released in March, a competitor to John Carter).
These three are “comparables” in the sense that they each are high profile releases that came out within 8 weeks of each other during the spring release frame, and all of which arguably need an “all-out” effort. John Carter and Avengers in particular were $250M investments. Hunger Games was a lower budget but clearly a high profile release. Of the three, John Carter is certainly the “Avis” of the bunch, meaning it had to “try harder” because it didn’t have a pre-existing fan base on the scale of the other movies. Thus the analysis looks carefully at the measurable “effort to promote” across the various platforms, comparing John Carter to the other two — not so much in terms of the buzz generated (although I look at that too), but more specifically at “actions taken to generate buzz”. Did the John Carter promotional campaign in fact “try harder”, or even “try as hard as” the other two movies — or did the other two movies in fact “try harder”? As you might expect having followed the campaigns, the answer is pretty clear that the other movies, who were in a far more comfortable “existing fan base” position than John Carter and hence could have coasted, did not coast but in fact repeatedly outworked and out hustled John Carter.
Anyway … I began collecting data in December but of course I had no thought at that point of writing a book that would need to stand up to hostile scrutiny. I incorporated a lot of that data into a White Paper I presented to Disney on January 11, 2012 — so I have the data. But now, as publication is about to happen, I’m finding that a few of the data points have disappeared or are at least difficult to retrieve. This does not compromise the overall argument in any way — but ideally I would prefer to not have to exclude important data points because the underlying data disappeared sometime between December when I first gathered it, and July when I was writing the book and went looking for it. To put this in perspective — this concerns only 3 or 4 out of maybe 100 data points…..but I don’t want to lose even those three.
For example, during December and January I was keeping track of the number of Message Board Pages on the IMDB Message Board for John Carter and some of the films which it was in competition with. I made a record of what was there …. but didn’t print out or make a PDF of what was there. And now if you go back, the IMDB message boards for those movies don’t go back all the way to December and January. So although I have my records and can in effect certify them to be correct, there is no way for an independent third party to check those numbers.
If you go to the IMDB message boards today for John Carter, The Avengers, Hunger Games, and other films, the message boards seem to end on May 5, 2012 — basically 120 days look back. In other words, message board posts more than 120 days old drop off and can’t be seen. The reason this is relevant is that one of the measures that Disney had available to it in December and January was — how much message board activity on IMDB and other movie boards was their promotion generating? For example, it was apparent as early as mid December that Hunger Games was light years ahead of John Carter — 59 pages of message board posts for Hunger Games compared to 13 pages for John Carter. I captured this information in December when it was available, but now if I seek to go back and re-verify this data point, I can’t do it because those pages have all dropped off and the farthest I can go back is May 5, 2012. This is not a huge point — and so if I can’t confirm it, I’ll probably just leave it out but I’d obviously rather be able to verify it and be able to leave it in, because it’s a brick in the foundation of the argument that Disney had all kinds of evidence available in December (when there was time to correct the problem) that the promotion wasn’t catching the imagination of potential audience members, yet did nothing to course-correct, etc.
ASSISTANCE NEEDED: Does anyone know how to go back farther on the IMDB Message board records? As noted, currently they go back to May 5, 2012, for all three springtime release movies that are the main points of comparison — John Carter, Hunger Games, and The Avengers.
As noted, the most important data for the analysis is data that helps shed light on the effort and strategy of the respective marketing and publicity teams, and in that regard, there is good data available that is not limited by time:
- The IMDB Pro MovieMeter “Data Table View” — this is a data table that is updated weekly. Each week, IMDB monitors a comprehensive selection of global entertainment media outlets and captures all articles from these outlets and puts links to those articles into the data table. So you end up with a “MovieMeter” rank for each film for the week, and then links to all the articles monitored by IMDB for that week. By looking at the overall article count — and the number of different stories (thus eliminating the “replay” factor), it is possible to gain insights into the level of effort and scope of output of the different publicity and marketing teams.
- Facebook — thanks to the Facebook “Timeline” feature, you can go all the way back to the day that the page in question “joined Facebook”, and keep track of exactly how many posts or stories were posted, and what they were. (Note: Another place where someone might be able to help. There seems to be an anomaly regarding The Avengers Facebook page. Can someone please check this out? If you notice, for John Carter and Hunger Games (and all other movies I checked), it lets you go all the way back to the day they joined Facebook. But in the case of Avengers, it only goes back to May 4, 2012, and says “Opened” on May 4, 2012. Huh? Avengers had a Facebook page long before May 4, 2012.
- Twitter — a nice feature of Twitter is that when you “open full profile”, if you scroll down it will basically keep opening posts until, eventually, you reach the day that the account was opened. You can then print a PDF and be sure that you’ll always have a record of every Tweet from day one. Now …. this morning when I tried to print PDFs of everything, in the case of John Carter and The Avengers it went all the way back to the beginning, but in the case of Hunger Games it kept getting stuck at March 12. I don’t know if this is a browser thing, or a temporary glitch
- ASSISTANCE NEEDED: This morning I tried to update my records by doing PDFs of the full Twitter histories of John Carter, Avengers, and The Hunger Games. John Carter and Avengers were fine — I was able to get the Twitter log going back to the day they joined Twitter. But in the case of The Hunger Games, it freezes when it gets back to March 12. If anyone can get it to go all the way back to the beginning — please save it as a PDF and let me know. I am going to keep trying– but I’ve tried with a couple of different browsers this morning and each time it goes back to March 12, then freezes.