After my article a few weeks ago on the soft drink, Mello Yello the marketing team noticed and contacted me to let me know they appreciated my dedication to their product. You can see their comments from that first contact at the bottom of that posting.I have only ever drank one kind of soft drink, and that is Mello Yello, so I was particularly impressed to come home on Friday to a box from the Coca Cola company in Atlanta, Georgia. Inside the box were a number of Mello Yello marketing items that the company had sent me that made a good day even better.
They sent me a T-shirt, a long sleeve shirt, a hat, a pen, a notebook, and a thank you note, which meant a lot coming from a company that I have silently been very loyal to for a number of years. I had just enough time to open the box and scan through the items before getting ready to take my kids and their significant others out to the movie theater to see the long-awaited Prometheus. So I put on my new Mello Yello T-shirt, and my Mello Yello hat, and I grabbed the Mello Yello notebook with pen to give to my oldest daughter, and we left for the movie.
Of course I looked like a walking billboard for Mello Yello when my daughter let me into their townhouse where I gave her the notebook. She tends to write almost as much as I do, so I knew she would put it to good use. I also knew my kids would get a kick out of seeing all the Mello Yello gear, because in our family, it’s well known my love of Mello Yello. We don’t all get together as easily as we used to because we all have busy lives, so getting the Mello Yello clothing in time for our long-planned movie was a nice addition to a wonderful evening.
For Prometheus my wife wanted to see it on the IMAX screen at Showcase Cinemas in Springdale, which I think is the best movie screen in the Cincinnati area. Of course the film was in 3D like they all are these days, just like film producers promised when they flew me out to Los Angeles a few years ago to do a fire whip sequence and prove out the use of a 3D camera system for Real D 3D with Peter Facinelli. I had at that time a lot of skepticism that audiences would flock to theaters to put on 3D glasses and watch a movie with just a little extra thrill factor. Women who go out on dates spending a lot of time fixing up their hair just right I didn’t think would be interested in putting on glasses that would smear their make-up. People who naturally wear glasses have to now look through two glasses to see anything in a 3D movie, which is a pain in the neck. But Hollywood was committed to the idea of 3D just prior to Obama becoming president because they were pushed by theaters owners all over the United States to justify their investments in state of the art projection systems, giant theaters, and comfortable seating.
Hollywood like the education industry is facing the same kind of economic bubble that the housing industry has already experienced, and it’s bursting. In Hollywood, it was the films of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg in the 1980’s that set the modern idea of what a “blockbuster” was. Every year since the release of E.T. and the last of the original Star Wars films Hollywood has tried to copy the box office numbers of those films by pushing for larger stunts, larger and louder explosions, and faster paced film techniques driven largely by the music video generation created by MTV. Most of the films Hollywood produce each year falls short of executive expectations, but the pressure has been on for quite some time to get larger box office totals as the entertainment unions have driven up the financial expectations higher and higher. Leading actors now for a picture make between $20 million to $30 million, so budgets for a typical summer blockbuster are now up over $150 million dollars routinely. Hollywood has increasingly had to rely on overseas sales to complement their box office take domestically in order to justify their massive up front investments. Revenue streams are changing for the industry as well, as ticket prices have went up to compensate the increasingly high budgets for films, technology has made it so people can often watch films at home more comfortably than at a movie theater. Just the other day I was at Wal-Mart where I looked at a beautiful 70” big screen LCD television that was just over $2,000 dollars. Hollywood now has to find a way to give people an experience at the theater that they can’t get at home, so 3D is their solution. And it’s failing.
I say 3D is failing not with pleasure in my voice, but sadness. I love the movie theater experience, which is why I made a tremendous ritual of taking all my kids to a movie and spending $100 on tickets that cost over $15 each to see Prometheus with my Mello Yello gear on to create memories that will last a lifetime. I wanted them to have a great night out at the movies where going to the theater is like going to a sacred mythic temple as modern mythology is bestowed upon the moviegoer.
Prior to our film beginning I watched the previews for the newest rendition of Spiderman, and Batman, and half a dozen 3D extravaganzas that I could see will end up in the same scrap heap as Battleship and John Carter. It’s not to say that those films are bad, or don’t have a market niche to fill, but studios are forced to spend over $100 million to make those films because of expectations, and ticket prices are simply too high, most people will wait to watch those films on video, or Netflix. Every movie cannot be Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Pirates of the Caribbean, or The Avengers. Most Hollywood producers are fearful to attempt these days to develop original material because the risk is simply too great. Even a popular book like John Carter may not be enough to guarantee success. As I watched the previews prior to Prometheus, I knew that 75% of those films would be box office disappointments. They were dead before they have even arrived, because of the laws of quality described in Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The Hollywood producers and entertainment agents more than ever are chasing dreams like the founders of California’s gold rush. They are digging for gold where it’s been discovered instead of looking where nobody has discovered it yet, because they are functioning in the back of the “train” so to speak.
Needless to say the film I took my family to Prometheus was spectacular, and it should have been for $100 bucks. I had no regrets in seeing that movie especially since everyone enjoyed the film tremendously. But as I stood in the lobby of Showcase Cinemas afterward in my bright yellow Mello Yello gear a wave of sadness swept over me realizing that the financial structure that made the whole movie theater business run was about to bust. Prometheus represented the best that Hollywood had to offer, and at $15 dollars a ticket, it barely seemed worth it. I can’t image paying that kind of price for a lesser movie, yet the movie industry is counting on it, and they will be disappointed.
The same holds true in the movie industry as it does with President Obama not understanding that European economic models built around socialism is the cause of their failure, and The United States allowing for a mixed economy of a little socialism here and there sprinkled with bits of capitalism is what has caused Obama’s failed economy during his presidency. He’s as clueless as the typical film executive who will find themselves out of a job in a couple of years because their films failed to meet the market expectations. Hollywood is looking for the Justice League to fill the market void of George Lucas retiring. That was on my mind because just a few days before Mello Yello sent me all that merchandise I received a press release from Lucasfilm stating Lucas was officially retiring, and that Kathleen Kennedy was stepping in to help fill the void at that billion dollar film company. Kennedy is a long time assistant to many Spielberg films and now she’s going to work full-time at Lucasfilm. This is a serious indication that Hollywood’s creative core is aging, and moving on to other things, and the next generations of Hollywood filmmakers and other above-the-line talent are functioning from the back of Pirsig’s quality train, and will fail under the heavy expectations.
I thought it was appropriate that I was wearing a Mello Yello T-shirt on a night when I was having all these thoughts. Way back in 1994 and 1995 I wanted to buy a Mello Yello T-shirt, but then frustrated executives at Coca Cola were upset that the soft drink did not perform equivalent to Mountain Dew, so they pulled the drink for a bit and changed it to the soft drink “Serge,” so I didn’t get my Mello Yello shirt. This went on for a while until executives at the Coca Cola Company realized that this would not boost their sales, so they had sacrificed a very good drink just because it arrived late to the marketing gate, and if they had held strong, they might have made real gains through the late 90’s into the next century. Mello Yello made its triumphant return slowly, and is just now beginning to be purchased in the northern states of America. The same day I went to Wal-Mart to see the big screen television, they had three 12 packs of Mello Yello on their shelf. My wife bought all three of them. A couple of years ago, Wal-Mart in Ohio did not carry Mello Yello at all.
Mello Yello has always been a great drink, but it was judged based on the blockbuster success of Mountain Dew, and it suffered as a result. The same thing is about to happen in the film industry. Many films will suffer as film executives lose their jobs in the years to come due to the entertainment bubble collapsing under the enormous weight of expectation. And like Mello Yello, I have my brands of filmmakers that I support valiantly, and Ridley Scott is one of them. When my “brands” make a film that I know they poured their heart and soul into it, I go and see them. The next film I feel passionate about will be Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit. I will pay top dollar to see that movie as a kind of vote for what I think success in a movie should be, to help curb the disappointment from an industry that expects too much, and is collapsing under inflated opinions. Twenty years from now, like my previous twenty years of supporting Mello Yello, I’m sure some of these very good film studios will re-emerge from the wreckage that is about to become of the film industry, and I’ll be there to support them as I was to see the great film Prometheus and one of the great offerings of the year from 20th Century Fox.
I proudly put my Mello Yello gear away when I got home that night and contemplated all that you read here today. And because of that, it means more to me than the moment that I opened it. In capitalism, whether it’s a movie, or a soft drink, the idea came from the mind of a capitalist, and millions of people enjoy the results of those thoughts—and every instance is a thing of beauty. I cherish Mello Yello because it’s been through so much as a company and even with all that, they still have the swagger about them to send me a box full of Mello Yello fun on the eve of taking my family to see the film Prometheus. It was an evening of ideas, and capitalism, and crushing expectations. But at the end of the day, it is the ideas that burn not so much brightest, but longest that survive. And Mello Yello survives, in the same way that many others will endure as great minds who think at the front of the train emerge to give great ideas a place to materialize. Each time I wear my Mello Yello T-shirt, it will not be out of blind devotion to a soft drink, but out of reverence to a company that I cherish because it makes a great product, and has had the tenacity to weather the storms of economic betrayal to arrive at a day when it can please the taste buds of millions.