Five Super Bowl Ads That Got Sacked by Social Media

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Companies spend big money on Super Bowl ads because they want their brands to be part of the conversation. Advertisers can't live in fear of offending small portions of the viewing public if they want to project an edgy, attention-grabbing image, and on some level, good publicity and bad publicity both serve the same goal. But when it comes right down to it, most companies would rather raise their profiles without immediately raising the ire of Twitter users accusing them of exploitation, prejudice, and plain old bad taste.

None of the ads shown during last night's Super Bowl seemed to deliberately push viewers' buttons, but some of them rubbed viewers the wrong way. Is criticism of these ads social justice at work or hypersensitivity in action (or maybe a little bit of both)? You be the judge. Here's a look at the spots that raised a ruckus online.

Quicken/Rocket Mortgage – What We Were Thinking

A better title might be "What Were We Thinking?" In a year when one of the front-runners for the Best Picture Oscar, The Big Short, is literally an explainer about the subprime housing crisis, it might have been the wrong time to go big with a commercial message that suggested mortgages are being handed out to anyone with a cell phone and a pulse — as easy as buying shoes, the VO promises. Many Twitter users shook their heads, and the Consumer Financial Protection bureau immediately issued a tweet urging consumers to proceed with caution. 

It's true that Rocket Mortgage is just a convenient service for legitimate home buyers who would, presumably, qualify for their loans with or without using the product. But tone counts for a lot, and Quicken's tone of irrational exuberance felt a bit too familiar, even if it's unlikely to usher in a new housing crisis.

Colonial Williamsburg – It Started Here

If you can possibly help it, it's probably best to avoid including actual footage of people dying out of your commercial message. For some, the inclusion of footage of one of the World Trade Center towers collapsing (running in reverse, to surreal effect) derailed the message about exploring American history.

You could make an argument that the almost 15-year-old event is fair game, but anyone who lives in the U.S. should understand that the subject remains a sore spot for many — and its commercialization is a live wire.

OICIsDifferent.com: Envy

It was the best of poop-related advertising, it was the worst of poop-related advertising. AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo aired what the Daily Mail described as "a troubling commercial about opioid-induced constipation." The subject of the ad was a little out of the usual wheelhouse for Super Bowl spots and its serious tone, complete with moody black-and-white cinematography, left some viewers dumbstruck. 

Xifaxin mascotInterestingly, a similar spot promoting IBS medicine Xifaxan. "Relief," was a sleeper hit. The difference? The Xifaxan ad didn't feature a middle-aged white guy moping around outside restrooms. Instead, it featured a walking, talking intestine — the Xifaxan Gut Guy. People loved it, proving that broad humor remains a pretty safe way to tackle uncomfortable topics.

Doritos: Ultrasound

Entrants in the annual Doritos "Crash the Super Bowl" spec ad contest generally embrace irreverence, and "Ultrasound," with its corn-chip induced birth, didn't disappoint. Australian director Peter Carstairs says he made the ad on a shoestring — his stated budget was $2,000 — inspired by images of his second child, Freddy, on an ultrasound monitor. It's a sweet story, but that didn't insulate the spot from criticism, including a tweet from NARAL slamming it as "sexist" and "antichoice," for starters.

Does Doritos necessarily mind a controversial ad? Nah. The problem is that this ad started a controversy about abortion, which is almost as much of a third-rail topic in American politics as, well, 9/11 (already seen above). 

If any publicity is good publicity, as long as people are talking about the ad, does it matter that they're talking about being "grossed out" and "freaked out"?

Snickers: Marilyn

It seems unlikely that Snickers meant to court controversy with this ad. The company scored points last year by editing a scene from The Brady Bunch so that Marcia was played by Danny Trejo. The resulting spot ran all year long. But if Snickers plans to repeat that success with "Marilyn," it may have to contend with accusations that the commercial is sexist and transphobic. 

It's fairly easy to see how this happened. Media-savvy advertisers of a certain age know the scene of Marilyn Monroe standing over a New York City subway grate as a train passes underground, blowing up her dress, as an iconic tableau that defines Hollywood glamour of a certain era. If anything, this spot pokes fun at the famously sexed-up image by putting an angry-looking Willem Dafoe in the picture. But younger viewers, tuned in to feminist and transgender issues, are less enamored of what the original image stands for — and more sensitive to images that seem to mock the idea of gender fluidity.

Budweiser USA: #giveadamn

Budweiser set itself up for this one. The direct slams against drunk driving were universally appreciated. Dame Helen Mirren's presence was widely applauded. But the presence of that beer bottle on the table in front of her, the stylized "B" of the Bud logo turned toward the camera, brought out the Twitter wags who noted that the spot cuts away before she has a sip — and doubted that ever, in her life, has that woman allowed Budweiser to cross her lips.

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Sundance 2016 By the Numbers

Birth of a Nation

The flurry of snowflakes and press hype surrounding Park City, UT, may be soon slowing to a halt, but the reach and influence of the Sundance Film Festival will last long into the coming year. Here are a few interesting factoids from this year's festival, which runs through this Sunday, January 31.

How many films get distribution deals? In 2014, it was four out of five.

This 2015 infographic from Cultural Weekly shows you the many ways to slice and dice Sundance figures but the graph about distribution deals, counting figures through 2014, is the most telling: 95 Sundance films picked up deals in 2014, up sharply from the rare few—12, in fact—that did in 2010. What changed? The streaming revolution (see below), pushing the exponential upward tick of deals through the last several years. That fact has, no doubt, sharply increased overall submissions to the festival in the past few years, though the same infographic shows a leveling off through 2015.

Who is buying the most films this year? Netflix and Amazon.

Netflix bid a staggering $20 million for Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation (top), the story of preacher Nat Turner and the most successful yet bloody slave rebellion in American history. In the end, the filmmakers left that deal on the table, opting instead for the slightly less lucrative offer of $17.5 million from Fox Searchlight. With the #OscarsSoWhite crisis forcing the industry to examine how more filmmakers and actors of color can compete earlier and more often for Academy Awards, a theatrical release makes sense on many levels. The film got a resounding and prolonged standing ovation at its Sundance premiere January 25, sparking an immediate bidding war. "My responsibility to the project is to make sure to find a partner that is as passionate as we are about it socially, so if that meant we had to take less money, then those were conversations I was willing to have," Parker told The Hollywood Reporter, which also cited sources who said Parker and the producers wanted "a large theatrical experience …. so people would be rallied to action," just as they had been inside the festival's Eccles Theatre. 

But in most other deals, Netflix and Amazon continued to outbid the traditional studios.

Swiss Army Man

How many films were cut with Adobe Premiere Pro? Just under half.

Adobe revealed recently that 51 of the 120+ films, not including shorts, selected for this year's festival were cut with Adobe Premiere Pro CC, double the number touched by the editing software last year. Those include the documentary Richard Linklater – Dream Is Destiny, directed by journalist Louis Black, the Man on the Moon/CIA thriller Operation Avalanche, and Swiss Army Man (above), which features Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse (above).

Southside with You

Number of films that could influence how people vote in 2016? Six.

Don't quote me on that number, since one could argue that all documentaries are sociopolitical change agents at the most fundamental level, but a few of this year's films stand out for how they will likely impact the current political climate. And documentaries aren't the only influencers. In addition to Birth of a Nation, another work of timely historical fiction at this year's festival is Southside With You, (dir. by Richard Tanne), an account of the "epic first date" between Barack and the future Mrs. Obama in the summer of 1989. The docs that will likely influence votes include those on gun control (Newtown, directed by Kim A. Snyder), the sexting scandal of Anthony Weiner, husband of Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin (Weiner, dir. and shot by Josh Kriegman), Gasland director Josh Fox's How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can't Change and the abortion rights film Trapped, directed and co-written by Dawn Porter.

Wiener-Dog

Number of Grand Jury Prize-winning debut directors returning, at long last, this year? Two.

Kenneth Lonergan won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize in 2000 for You Can Count on Me, which he wrote and directed, and he's back this year with Manchester by the Sea, a working-class drama featuring brooding performances from Casey Affleck, Kyle Chandler and Michelle Williams (see below). Netflix just picked it up for $10 million. Joining him is Todd Solondz, whose Wiener-Dog (above) is also a kind of return to weird and wonderful Dawn Wiener country and Solondz's first Sundance premiere since his 1996 festival-winning debut, Welcome to the Dollhouse. Greta Gerwig stars as a grown-up Dawn. Zosia Mamet, Danny DeVito and a lovable dachshund are along for the ride. Cinematographer Ed Lachman captures the eccentric characters, as well as the scatological adventures of the canine star, in loving detail.

Love and Friendship

Number of period dramas? Five.

Whit Stillman has returned to Sundance with an adaptation of Jane Austen's unpublished novella, Lady Susan. Love & Friendship (above) is a 1790s English comedy of manners starring Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny, and it joins Birth of a Nation and Southside with You, in the tales-from-another-time category. John Carney, director of the Sundance Audience Award-winning breakthrough hit Once, returns this year with Sing Street, another youthful musical story set, this time, in 1980s Dublin. Sophie and the Rising Sun, a mixed-race American love story further complicated by the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, comes from Sundance alum Maggie Greenwald.

Antibirth

Extra Credit: Number of films starring Michelle Williams? Two.

Number starring Natasha Lyonne? Three.

Michelle Williams appears in both Kelly Reichardt's Certain Women and Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Seabut Orange Is the New Black's Natasha Lyonne tops her with three films at Sundance this year. She can be seen in The Intervention, actress Clea DuVall's directorial debut; in Kevin Smith's Yoga Hosers alongside Johhny Depp and his daughter Lily-Rose; and in Antibirth.

Roger Deakins Says Shooting Film Is “Over”

Scarlett Johansson and Josh Brolin in Hail, Caesar!

Kodak won't be sending Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC, CBE, any valentines this year — not following comments he made to Variety reporter Kristopher Tapley about his aversion to shooting 35mm film.

"It's fine," he responded when asked about his anxiety level when shooting film for Joel and Ethan Coen's new Hail, Caesar! (pictured, top of page), but then elaborated:

We did have some problems. We had some stock issues and stuff like that, which was really disconcerting. And I’ve heard that’s happened to a lot of people lately, you know — stock and lab problems. That’s unnerving. I mean, I never really remember having those kind of problems before. But it makes me nervous now. I don’t want to do that again, frankly. I don’t think the infrastructure’s there.

Deakins did say that when working with the Coens he'd be willing to shoot one of their movies on anything from film to a cell phone — which is the bottom line for any cinematographer hoping to collaborate with a favored director. But he made his point again: "As I say, just the technical problems with film, I'm sorry, it's over."

The negative remarks come after Hollywood's concerted effort to keep Kodak's film production lines running, with supply agreements brokered with six studios at the urging of directors including Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino. And film still has artistic credibility — DP Robert Richardson, ASC, earned an Oscar nomination for shooting Tarantino's The Hateful Eight in 65mm anamorphic, as did Edward Lachman, ASC, for shooting director Todd Haynes' Carol on Super 16.

Moreover, there is renewed interest in exhibiting film, with rumblings that Warner Bros. may be considering a 70mm release of the shot-on-film Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice. And given their past preferences, it seems likely that film-friendly directors Christopher Nolan and Paul Thomas Anderson must already be in the planning stages of yet-to-be-announced but high-profile film projects. Let's see what happens in 2016 to keep all those once-abandoned film projectors brought back into service for The Hateful Eight from gathering dust.

Five Things the TV Industry Needs to Know About VR

VR is potentially a killer app for the TV industry — but it's way too early to say for sure what real opportunities it presents. That was the gist of presentations at a webinar presented this week by StudioDaily sister publication Cablefax, where panelists discussed the emerging VR market and what it means for television as we know it. A lot of ground was covered during the 90-minute session, which is available for viewing on demand, but we've distilled five of the most relevant nuggets of wisdom for you here.

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1) Not everyone can (or should) be a pioneer. According to Joel Espelien, a senior analyst at The Diffusion Group, the presumed young male target demographic for VR means that a good proportion of the successful early-adopter applications will be first-person shooters and, yes, porn. "Adult may be more prominent than people would want, or be comfortable with," Espelien said. "If I'm Disney or Pixar, I'm not necessarily racing to be right next to that stuff, but if I'm Vice or Red Bull, being early in VR can make sense."

2) Early VR distribution will take cues from videogames. Julian Reyes, lead VR producer for Fusion, an ABC-Disney joint venture, talked about creating 360-degree video content using the Unreal Engine. An upcoming project, Mars 2030, is being created in partnership with NASA to look at current progress on an upcoming mission to Mars. Fusion hired game developers from other AAA titles to help work on the project. "Since Fusion is a channel that's geared to millennials, and a lot of us are gamers ourselves, we definitely liked the idea of incorporating videogame mechanics into our storytelling," Reyes said. Fusion is also leveraging existing videogame distribution channels. "We are approaching the videogame market by putting these titles on the Steam marketplace," Reyes explained. "The Mars experience will be available for the Oculus Rift, but we are porting it to create a slimmed-down version for the Samsung Gear VR and, in the near future, porting it to the PlayStation VR."

3) Live sports may become lucrative. Looking at opportunities for a multichannel provider that could provide authentication for broadband delivery of VR, Time Warner Cable Executive VP and Chief Video Officer Melinda Witmer suggested live sports may be a killer app for the mainstream VR market. She credited a conversation with Golden State Warriors co-owner (and Mandalay Entertainment CEO) Peter Guber with opening her eyes to the excitement surrounding sports VR applications. Still, it will require a lot negotiation. "Electronic sports rights are pretty heavily wrapped up with the major television networks," she acknowledged. "Somewhere between working with the leagues and the teams — as well as their rightsholders, like the ESPNs and Foxes of the world — I wouldn't expect to see that content winding up too far from an authenticated experience in the future, so I think [multichannel] operators could be helpful in making that work."

4) VR shoots are easy; VR post is hard. Cory Key, interactive creative director for Discovery Communications, says Discovery VR's production needs have been met so far by nothing but 360Heros VR rigs and GoPro cameras. "The bottleneck is post-production," he said, especially the need to have the multiple GoPro images manually stitched after the shoot. "There are no previews on GoPro, so you're putting it down and crossing your fingers that you're getting a good shot." The Nikon KeyMission 360, a 4K UHD consumer actioncam with two lenses and sensors facing forward and backward that debuted at CES, may be a game-changer when it's released later this year, Key said, since it stitches the captured images together in camera to create a 360-degree image.

5) VR still needs to overcome the 3D stigma. Witmer said content companies who made an outlay to be a pioneer in 3D are looking askance at claims that VR will be the next big entertainment format. "What probably doesn't help right now is that one of the things that happened with 3D was different formats, different kinds of glasses, some of which were really expensive, the experience depended on the equipment you had as well as the content — from how it was created down to the lighting in your room where you were watching. And 3D turned out to be a dud for the industry. So there is some healthy skepticism out there about whether or not investing in VR is going to pay off."

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Five Hot Takes on the 2016 Oscars

creed

1) #oscarssowhite

Last year at this time, The Atlantic ran a headline complaining, "The Oscars haven't been this white in 19 years," noting that 2015 was the first time in since 1996 that all 20 acting nominees were white. Well, the Academy made it a double feature, going a second straight year without nominating people of color in the acting categories and giving a second wind to Twitter's #oscarssowhite tag. Making matters worse, while two films about mostly black characters — Creed and Straight Outta Compton — got nominations, those nods went to only white people associated with them (Creed supporting player Sylvester Stallone and Straight Outta Compton's screenwriters), not the black actors who starred in them or the black directors who made them. Though AMPAS is known as a fairly homogenous group — in 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported that Oscar voters are 94 percent caucasian — it's not entirely fair to blame the Academy for this. If Hollywood were a more welcoming environment for people of color in the first place, there would be more opportunities for the Oscars to recognize their work. Either way, even the Academy knows it's in a bad spot when it comes to diversity. Said AMPAS President Cheryl Boone Isaacs when asked about the issue by Deadline, "We have got to speed it up."

Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett in Carol

2) Year of the Women

Diversity advocates might take some solace in the fact that women took a dominant role in this year's Oscar race. Competition in the lead actress category is so fierce that Rooney Mara, who clearly gives one of two lead performances in Carol (and was recognized as a lead by the Golden Globes), was busted down to supporting in campaigning by The Weinstein Company, which was desperate not to split the Carol vote between her and Cate Blanchett. What's more, many of the nominated films are stories specifically about complicated and realistic female characters, which can be in short supply at Oscar time — Carol, Room, Joy, 45 Years, Brooklyn. Make no mistake, Carol partisans feel that the lesbian-themed film was robbed of nods for Best Picture and Best Director. (As eminent blogger Nathaniel R points out, it's highly unusual for a film to earn six nominations and still be shut out of Best Picture.) Still, representation across both genders is pretty strong this year, and that's refreshing to see.

Mad Max: Fury Road

3) The Year of George Miller and Mad Max

It didn't win any acting nominations, but Mad Max: Fury Road is another woman-oriented story (some called it feminist; others argued it was simply humanist). Along with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it bucked Hollywood's longstanding trend of male-dominated action movies. Action movies and sequels rarely generate much Oscar interest (The Return of the King is a big exception in recent history), but director George Miller's apocalyptic epic was so awesome in so many ways that it galvanized the Academy across multiple categories, from directing and cinematography to costume design and VFX. It's also one of the best reviewed movies of the year, per Rotten Tomatoes. Miller's take? "Who would have thunk it, eh?"

Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight

4) The Cinematography Spread

Remember when it was a novelty to see a digitally shot feature film (Slumdog Millionairewin the cinematography Oscar? 2009 sure seems like a long time ago, now that the industry has shifted to predominantly digital capture. But this year saw film roaring back as part of a grab bag of acquisition formats. Ed Lachman shot Carol on Super 8. Robert Richardson shot The Hateful Eight on 65mm anamorphic. Emmanuel Lubezki shot The Revenant with the large-format Alexa 65. Just about the only format not well-represented among the nominees was 35mm — who would have thought the once-standard format would take a backseat to 16mm and 65mm in a shot-on-film revival?

Alicia Vikander and VFX in Ex Machina

5) Ex Machina: The Little Movie That Could

How on earth did Ex Machina, a $15 million indie film, end up in the final five nominees for the VFX Oscar? Well, you have to look first to the quality of work itself, and Ex Machina's fembot, performed by Alica Vikander with a significant CG assist, is certainly a convincing character. You have to look also at the significance of the VFX work in context of story and character, and it's clear that Ex Machina's VFX work contributed to a queasily surreal atmosphere that underscored its themes of (SPOILERS!?) artifical intelligence, fetishism and sexism, and finally liberation. VFX is most often employed as a vehicle for escapism, which is great. Ex Machina proved that it can also be used in seriously philosophical, morally fraught ways. It's unlikely to win — not in a field where it competes with a Star Wars movie — but you know what they say: it's an honor just to be nominated.

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