Based on Actual Events

Ever wonder what it means when a movie claims it is “Based on Actual Events?” The new Nicolas Cage vehicle, the “The Frozen Ground,” makes that claim.

Frozen Ground publicity still

But what does that mean? For clues, let’s look at the Nicolas Cage character in the film.

According to IMDb, Cage plays “Jack Halcombe.” Allegedly, he’s the Alaska State Trooper who brought Hansen to justice. That’s strange, because if you look at the definitive account of the Hansen murders, “Butcher, Baker,” you will not find a character named Jack Halcombe.

That’s because there is no “Jack Halcombe,” at least in the context of the Alaska State Troopers and serial murderer Robert Hansen. Jack Halcombe is a fictional character. Nicolas Cage plays a fictional character.

The actual cop who brought Robert Hansen to justice is named Glenn Flothe. Early reports about the movie listed Flothe as the Nicolas Cage character. That changed. I’m guessing (educated guess) the reason that changed is because:

The filmmakers made up a lot of shit. Shit that Glenn Flothe was not comfortable signing off on. And to use Glenn’s name, he had to sign off on it. In the movie business, it’s called “Life Rights.” As in, I can say anything I want about you — true or false — if it helps the movie. You signed off on “Life Rights.” You can’t frickin’ sue me.

It turns out that Glenn Flothe wasn’t the only one who didn’t sign off on the made-up-shit. Here’s the complete list.

Fictional Characters in Frozen Ground

  • Jack Halcombe (Nicolas Cage) = Glenn Flothe
  • Allie Halcombe (Radha Mitchell) = Cherry Flothe (Glenn Flothe’s wife)
    This one should be obvious.
  • Fran Hansen (Katherine LaNasa) = Darla Hansen
    Hansen’s ex-wife, Darla, has no incentive to cooperate with the filmmakers.
  • D.A. Pat Clives (Kurt Fuller) = D.A. Pat Doogan
    Pat Doogan is a good friend of Glenn Flothe, who played a critical role in getting an arrest warrant for Hansen when the local D.A. wasn’t being entirely cooperative. I’m guessing you can’t get one (Doogan) without the other (Flothe).

Ok, so it’s a fairly short list. A short list of very important characters. And when the filmmakers couldn’t navigate a closer tack to the “truth,” they bailed. Call it creative convenience. Call it “based on actual events.” Call it made up shit.

Whatever you do, don’t call it true. For that, you have to read, “Butcher, Baker.”

Take Two: Frozen Ground Trailer

For the moment, there seems to be a site where the Frozen Ground trailer actually works. Thanks, Emmett/Furla Productions. Our collective breath is, um, not exactly being held… UPDATE: The PC-friendly version was Gone in 15 Seconds. Or should I say, Gone In 60 Seconds.

However: The trailer still works on my iPad. And my smartphone. So, we recommend mobile devices for viewing the trailer. It’s the only way. Go figure.

Frozen Ground Trailer

And if nothing else you can always read the original. Butcher, Baker, is available at Amazon. Highly recommended.

Frozen Ground: The Trailer

The trailer is out for Frozen Ground, the film inspired by [1] Butcher, Baker. Here’s a screen capture of Vanessa Hudgens as stripper and prostitute, Cindy Paulson. Not much left to the imagination, I’d say. So much for her Disney image.

Vanessa Hudgens in Frozen Ground

Well, let’s correct a few things. The trailer was available for a little while (week of August 19th). More than a few sites purport to have it; the trailer quickly went viral. But if you’re in the U.S., you’ll get a not-so-cryptic ERROR MESSAGE. Seems there are some problems about the rights. Both copyright and country rights.

Message on U.S. Trailer Sites
Frozen Ground: Copyright Warning

Interestingly enough, one gets a different error message when trying to view the trailer on the French site, Cinema Teaser. UPDATE: Cinema Teaser now reports that its trailer was also pulled for copyright issues. We’ll keep you posted.

Message on EU Trailer Site
Frozen Ground Trailer: Cinema Teaser (France)

ANSWER ME THIS
Here’s the question: if you’re going blockbuster, why play games with the trailer? Why NOT make it broadly available? I’m educated-guessing here, but I tend to agree with Brad Brevet on Rope of Silicon.

Lionsgate is distributing the pic with IMDb reporting a November 30 release date, but this feels like one of those limited release/VOD titles if you ask me with a DVD/Blu-ray release about a month later.

In fact, I’ll go one step further and posit that the limited release will initially focus on Europe. Hence, the Cinema Teaser video from France, among the first sites to feature the trailer.

The fact that there is a European trailer at all tells you where the money is; U.S. domestic sales are falling, international sales are not. There’s also this telling tidbit from The Numbers on box office statistics. The key columns to watch are 1) Weekly Gross, 2) Theaters and 3) Per Theater. Limited Release = Limited Butts in Seats = Limited per Theater Revenue.

Butts in seats still count. And realistically, Frozen Ground already made its money. Film subsidies. State of Alaska.

Global Boxoffice: MPAA

NOTE: Another explanation is here. It shares a similar assessment, expecting a lag in the U.S. theatrical release. Hmmmm…

[1] Maybe I should say “appropriated” because the arc of the movie is absolutely identical to Butcher, Baker. Opens with the escape of the teenage prostitute. Segues to the sensitive Trooper. Yeah. I’ve read the script. Oh, and I wrote the book. First published in 1991. Before the internet existed. Answer me that.

The Publicity Sales Bump

Butcher, Baker is in its fourth, and perhaps final, print publication cycle. I say perhaps because I’ve been wrong before. But the last year has provided me an eye-witness perspective on the difference publicity makes in book sales.

One of the “jobs” I’ve had over the last year and a half is to track Butcher, Baker sales. We wanted some independent accounting in our discussion with Todd Communications. As it turns out, Amazon has some amazing tools for tracking book sales, with data from Nielsen BookScan.

The numbers tell quite a tale. I’ll let them do most of the talking… In the first graph, you can clearly see three sales spikes:

  • First, when the film was announced (The Frozen Ground)
  • Second, when Todd Communications re-published Butcher, Baker
  • Third, when Christmas sales took over

Butcher, Baker Sales: 2010-2012
Butcher, Baker sales, 2010-2012

In the second graph, you see the magnitude of the Christmas spike. Book sales jumped to a recent high (highest sales were during the book’s first printing in 1991; we sold close to 100K). Of course, you can also see the steady decline in sales from that high-point onward. Indeed, Butcher, Baker, is headed back toward “normal” levels (note the pre-July 2011 line in the graph above).

Butcher, Baker Sales: September 2011-June 2012
Butcher, Baker sales, 10-2011 to 6-2012

Go See: The Frozen Ground, the movie inspired by Butcher, Baker. Opening in theaters December 2012.

Most Anticipated Movies 2012: The Frozen Ground?

IMDb, the movie database, has a social feature that encourages fans to put together lists of their most anticipated movies. It’s a fun feature, not to be taken too seriously, but a peek into the psyche of the devoted movie-goer nonetheless.

My question is this: where does The Frozen Ground, the movie inspired by Butcher, Baker, show up on these lists?

The answer is “pretty high up.” Here’s a sampling. Of course, this is a very selective sample. What did you expect? There’s more than a few lists where… um… The Frozen Ground is nowhere to be found. You can find those lists on your own!

Movies We HAVE to see in 2012 (lulie1810)IMDb - lists

30 Most Anticipated Movies of 2012 (simon-evgp) IMDb - lists

Movies That I Can’t Wait Till They’re Released (lbtrev) IMDb - lists

Most Waited to See in 2012 (cristianoumberto) IMDb - lists

The Most Anticipated Movies of 2012 (romtonkon) IMDb - lists

Stills From “The Frozen Ground”

IMDb is featuring still photos taken from the Butcher, Baker inspired movie, “The Frozen Ground.” Here’s the link to the IMDb slideshow. Some creepy stuff, for sure. My spine be tingling.

Nicolas Cage as Alaska State Trooper Detective
Nicolas Cage in The Frozen Ground 2012 Voltage Pictures

John Cusack as serial killer Robert Hansen
John Cusack in The Frozen Ground 2012 Voltage Pictures

Cereal Killers & All That

Nice to hear some buzz about “The Frozen Ground,” the movie inspired by “Butcher, Baker.” But then you come across a piece like the one below in Yahoo! Answers and you, ah, start to wonder. I’m quoting:

Is anyone looking forward to “The Frozen Ground”?

Its a movie about the 1980s Alaska hunt for the cereal killer Robert Hanson. Its got Nicholas Cage and John Cusack, it looks fantastic. Its in filming now and comes out in theaters on the 1st of December.

At least the Best Answer sets the record straight. Whew. Gotta love the image of Frosted Mini Wheats trying to run away from bad Bob Hansen…

The Frozen Ground Promo Poster

I recently came across a graphic that purports to be a promo poster for the Robert Hansen movie inspired by “Butcher, Baker,” The Frozen Ground. It allegedly comes from the American Film Market 2011, an industry confab where film buyers meet.

The Frozen Ground teaser art

Ok, I think it captures a mood. And with a link from IMDb, it seems authentic.

But is it?

I searched the American Film Market for signs of something — anything — about The Frozen Ground. Nada. Nothing. Zip.

UPDATE: Note the similarity between the Cusack photo shown here and the one from IMDb. Ok. Authentic.

eBook Prices & Monopoly

The classic construction has it that monopolies enforce higher prices. And in the current suit by the U.S. Department of Justice, accusing book publishers of price collusion on eBooks, the bad guys are the ones raising prices. By that definition, Amazon could not be a monopolist. They want lower prices. Way lower prices.

The reality is a little more complex. But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Amazon is not a monopoly. Where does that lead us?

The business literature is filled with examples of how firms use lower prices to gain market share or competitive advantage. In the Amazon case, we have the example of “penetration pricing,” or price discrimination. That’s exactly what they’re doing:

Setting lower, rather than higher prices in order to achieve a large, if not dominant market share.

The question, of course, is whether any of this can lead to an eBook monopoly for Amazon. This much we know:

  • When any firm gains competitive advantage, it can begin to dictate terms to its suppliers. Take Wal-Mart, for example. Or Apple’s iPhone/iPad supply chain.
  • Before Apple and agency pricing, Amazon had 90% market share. They had the eBook market to themselves and were pricing aggressively to gain competitive advantage. The adoption of agency pricing, to my mind, proves they were on their way.
  • With the advent of agency pricing, Amazon’s eBook market share fell to 60%. Barnes & Noble gained 25%, Apple gained 15%.
  • Almost as soon as the U.S. DoJ announced a settlement with three of the six parties on the collusion allegations, Amazon announced it would again lower eBook prices.
  • As it must. Under the settlement, the publishers are required to “to grant retailers – such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble – the freedom to reduce the prices of their ebook titles.”

REPLAY: Amazon gains 90% share of the eBook market?

The sad thing here is how many apologists (sorry, I lack a more elegant term) contend that there is “spin” involved when making the argument that Amazon is lowering prices to gain competitive advantage. In the most egregious example, Peter Scheer makes the specious claim that Amazon cannot be simultaneously selling eBooks AND Kindles at a loss.

Now, both of these statements can’t be true. It’s not possible for Amazon to both (1) sell e-books at a loss in order to reap big profits on Kindle devices, and (2) sell Kindles at a loss to reap big profits on e-books. It may be doing 1 or it may be doing 2, but it can’t be doing both at the same time.

Of course, Peter Scheer is correct. Unfortunately, he’s casting the question in such a way that the only logical answer is the one he wants. Getting to first causes, let’s pose the question differently:

To gain a dominant market share in eBooks, Amazon is willing to sell eBooks AND Kindle Readers at a loss. Because, really, you can’t have one without the other.

Still sound “impossible?”

Again, think Wal-Mart. They sell lots of things, make money on many of them and can afford a few losses elsewhere. Same for Amazon. The idea of using those few losses to gain a dominant position in one corner of a business has to be… Ummm… Appealing. And, up to a certain point, it is perfectly acceptable business behavior. There are other examples… Take Dell. Or Nokia, just for starters.

We grant that this strategy doesn’t always work, or doesn’t work forever. But it’s always nice to have powerful friends helping you out along the way.

Sanford & Sons

Sanford, Florida, that is. Where now, according to Michael Miller of the Miami NewTimes, Armed Neo-Nazis are patrolling the neighborhood. Prepared for a violent Trayvon Martin backlash. Or, I think they put it, “race riot.” Ok. Crazy.

The neo-nazi story prompted me to write Walter Gilmour and get his response. He said a lot of things, most of which I won’t repeat here. But I do think he got to the nub of the issue. Here’s what he said:

At this time Alaska Law recognizes that a person does not have to retreat in their homes, or cars, if they feel that their life is in danger. Any one electing to use deadly force must be able to articulate three things.

  • That they were faced with a deadly threat
  • That the threat was imminent
  • And if the threat was carried out, they would/could be killed or seriously injured

The key word for me is “electing.”

The question is, when you are faced with an imminent deadly threat that could get your ass killed — how much “electing” are you doing? I am taking “elect” in the sense of it being “to determine in favor of (a method, course of action, etc.).” In other words, conscious action. Conscious action that puts all three factors — deadly threat, imminent danger, injury or death — into consideration beforehand.

Unless you’re a trained professional, I doubt much of any of that happens in imminent danger situations. Because imminent danger is… imminent. One has to act fast, not think about it. It’s either be quick or be dead.

So how do you sort it out? Maybe that’s what law enforcement and the criminal justice system get to do. After the fact. They get to sort it out. Hmmm…