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Sunday Synopsis: 52 Weeks to Live, Technical Hurdles and Movie Snacks

@MadlabPostOver the years I've made New Year's resolutions but didn't consider them to be “resolutions.” They were more like mental notes comprised of broken promises to myself that spilled over from the previous 365 days and rarely changed....make more money, be more productive, work smarter, be happier, be nicer to my mother, and overall be a different and better version of myself than I was in years past.

Mostly, however, I resolved to doing something big and life-changing. It must be something so epically awesome that I would finally be able to look back on my life when New Year's Eve rolled around again, and be proud of what I accomplished and who I became. This rarely, if ever happened and is an unfortunately reality of my tendency to approach end-of-year moments with a sense of disappointment at all that I lost, all that I missed out on and all that did not get done.

So this year, I decided to do something different by vowing to myself that I would just let go of the wheel and live life on a whim. No goals. No resolutions. Just going with the flow of wherever the day takes me. That way, I would lower the risk of being disappointed at the end, right?! By mid-January, however, I became anxious because it felt like I was walking around aimlessly with no care in the world…which may seem ideal in theory but as it turns out, all this does it make you bored as hell. So this New Year's declaration of freedom from concrete goals  led to apathy; the transition was too extreme and laid back for me. So I chucked that plan in favor of one that gives me a sense of direction without having to worry about whether certain things get done or not. This plan, vow or whatever it shall be called, is to live like I will be dead in a year.

Storyboard frames I worked on a while ago for short video assignments.Wanting to embark on a 52 week project that would make me excited about life led me to several possibilities. I considered writing poems, drawing pictures, making mini-movies or completing several television episodes in 52 weeks and even doing random jobs like Sean Aiken did but none of these ideas felt like they would stick. Most importantly, they appeared to be focused on a single quest of sorts that might not even matter to me by the time it's all said and done. So, I decided to make my 52 week project about doing the best with what I have.

Rather than chasing a particular career-oriented goal or pursuing life-affirming goal, I intend to basically figure out what would truly matter to me if my doctor told me I would be kicking the bucket in 365 days, and in turn focus on the things that I want to do before I die. What would make me as content on my deathbed as Maggie in Million Dollar Baby was following one of her critical hospital visits? That is the question I aim to answer during such a fairly short period of time. To some this may seem like a morbid way to approach the day but it's the only thing I can think of that will give me the kick in the butt that will lead me toward taking action and not giving in to the bullshit that gets us sidetracked on whatever we want to make of our life. Plus, I've been on a path to prepare for death for some time since realizing how much our society is made up of millions of people who are either in denial of or fear (or both) of their eventual demise.

I just want to speed up my awareness so that I don't waste more time and look back on my life with anger, disappointment and sorrow every time New Year's Eve rears its burdensome head. While I understand that for some people, birthdays also come with a lot of mental and emotional turmoil, it doesn't really matter what occasion sparks a sudden sense of urgency, reflection and regret....they’re all in the way of peace and happiness. This reminds me of a book I read in 2012 called One Year to Live by Stephen Levine -- one of my most favorite pieces of non-fiction. During that year I also read Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl and later recorded a video, discussing Levine's book, plans for this blog going forward as well as the state of my outlook on where I was at that time and much gratitude to those of you who read this blog.

Clock image courtesy of Niklas RhöseAlthough I could not bring myself to post the whole video here, for a few reasons, I'm adding a shortened clip about the book. It’s funny how we like to put off the reality that we won't live forever. I began my 52 week project in June after pushing it back for some abstract date in the future when it seemed more convenient for me. Aren't we so lucky to have the luxury of believing that there will always be time to get started on a task?!

It sounds fine and dandy except there isn't an infinite amount of time for anyone on this earth so I deliberately wrote down reminders of this project so I can start counting the days, or weeks rather, that I have left to live out my life. It was a Friday, June 5th. Up until then, I didn't think I was ready. I wanted to wait until my hair was washed, until the laundry was done, until my meal planning was underway and until I had the morning ritual, daily practice and business tips that have been working on in the bag.

But if I kept waiting until the right time or the perfect time, I will not only have delayed the act of "living" life as opposed to being philosophical about it, waiting would also cause me to end up looking back at my life on New Year's Eve 2015 and wondering, yet again, where all the time went. There came a time in June when I had to stop playing games and face this thing head on, regardless of whether I was ready to do so or not. That's the thing about time. It's always moving. We either have to move with it or we'll get left behind. Either way, the world turns and we'll be sure to miss out if we're not paying attention. Many people are hit hard by this realization on their deathbed.

(Some of) The video I recorded in 2012:

Just looking back at the last month, I wasted a lot of time in June. That is unnecessary. When put in the perspective of having 52 weeks to live, that's four weeks and 30 days already gone, which leaves around 47 weeks remaining. The clock is ticking. What am I going to get into during this time? Whatever I feel like being involved in. Although I still haven't zeroed in on all I’d like to experience before my 52 weeks have come to a close, I do know that my actions, thoughts and behavior should be predicated on one simple question: Is this the last thing I want to be doing?

My year-long death sentence will go by much smoother and be more fulfilling if I do things I want to do and not do anything that I don't want to do. It is such a simple concept that a lot of people understand and agree with but, unfortunately, do not put into practice and I am one of these people. That all must change. How many things do you do in a week that you really would much rather not do? I'd be willing to bet there are at least one or two activities or habits that you would love to drop. Lucky for me, blogging is one of the things that I do want to do and so this will remain until it doesn't anymore.

I like blogging, discussing movies and different subjects with people and I like the feedback that I've gained from doing so as well as the new things I've learned from readers who leave insightful comments here. So of course, that's why I'm aggravated at the computer difficulties I've experienced since Spring that have worsened, making it harder for me to blog as well as I would like. Among the items on my editorial calendar for this is a new series about movie theater concessions; I planned to run the series over the course of one week. Unfortunately, the computer I use to blog on is usually as slooooow as snails, which makes the research, writing of several drafts, formatting the final piece and publishing the post, a much longer process. Sometimes it feels like I'm using dial-up….even when offline.

The snack themed week is now a long-running series titled "Popcorn & Paninis."Because the computer goes at its own pace, I have to adjust the way I blog and that means this will have to be converted into an ongoing series of posts that go up as they are completed. Hence, what was Snack Week is now Popcorn & Paninis. On one hand, this also makes room for us to discuss various topics involving food as it relates to the motion picture industry, beyond the snack counter.

On the flipside, it’s still upsetting to have to drag out something that I’ve been planning for at least two months. There are cell phones that operate much faster than the computer on which I use to blog. That’s bad. Especially since aside from being ridiculously slow, it crashes frequently and turns off abruptly whenever it wants to on other occasions. I know I need a computer. However, I also need some furniture and am planning to travel out of town, so unless some miracle happens, that computer won't be had anytime in the near future. Just know installments to the Popcorn & Paninis series are still in the works and will be posted between this week and the next. Meanwhile, John Legend said it best when he uttered...

We’re just ordinary people. We don’t know which way to go. ‘Cause we’re ordinary people. Maybe we should take it slow!


Monday Movie Meme – What Does PRIDE Mean to You?

In honor of Pride Month, the theme for this week’s Monday Movie Meme revolves around what it means to be proud of who you are. June 28th marked the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots -- a violent, six-day standoff between members (and allies) of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) communities and the New York City Police Department. What is “acceptable” in terms of ones social scene hasn't changed much in America regardless of whatever sexual orientation (or race, class, gender, age, religion or political affiliation) or sub-cultures you belong to.

So, I have a lot of respect for people who are unabashedly themselves in a world that tells them their “self” is not worthy of basic civil liberties that are bestowed upon others, such as being free of harassment and prejudice, and treats them as such. Share on your blog or in the comments section, movie characters that embody what “Pride” means to you. The term itself encompasses different meanings for me including the importance of two things:

Detective Mike Lowry (played by Will Smith) in 'Bad Boys II.'Taking Pride in your Appearance

There is a scene in the action film Bad Boys II when Miami police detective Marcus Burnett and his partner Mike Lowry are on their way to retrieve an inmate who has information that would help them bust a drug operation.

After noticing Mike wearing a nice suit, Marcus sarcastically asks “are you a cop, or a model?” to which Mike rebuffs “I threw something on, I like looking good.” I believe that Mike embodies what it means to take pride in your appearance because he practices a form of self-care that makes him feel good about himself. In addition to being prompt, articulate and well-educated, Las Vegas teacher Eugene Simonet in the drama Pay It Forward is also an example of what it means to take pride in one’s appearance – his clothes and hair are always clean and neat.

Although Mr. Simonet wears sneakers with his dress pants most of the time and might not hold a candle to Mike Lowry’s fancy wardrobe selections, this strict teacher still keeps himself well put together and I believe that makes a huge difference in whether you’re able to face the outside world with confidence or not.

Hiding away in unkempt frocks may feel comfortable but showing yourself that you are worth the effort helps in being proud of who you are; it’s nice when you like what you see when you look in the mirror!

Taking Pride in your Work

One of the film festivals that I submitted my military homecoming drama Abyss: The Greatest Proposal Ever to for consideration has a rule stating that filmmakers must only submit a movie they are proud to screen and promote. Since reading this idea it has sat with me for a long time and I am coming to understand more and more how important it is to do work that you can be proud of, especially you’re putting it out into the world. Elderly librarian Brooks Hatlen in the drama Shawshank Redemption comes to mind when I think of some of the movie characters who are proud of the work they do. Although Brooks was in prison, he found purpose in delivering books to other inmates, caring for a stray bird and making it possible for prisoners to transport goods throughout the cell blocks.

Brooks Hatlen (played by James Whitmore) in 'The Shawshank Redemption.'Where pride is concerned, however, this isn't exclusive to film. It’s about being proud of your work and standing behind it, whether that be artwork, literature, music, cooking a delicious meal, planning (or hosting) a party, raising kids well, keeping a healthy and physically fit body (whatever that entails for each individual), or having a stellar job performance in the workplace.

What movies or film characters embody YOUR definition of Pride?


From Popcorn to Paninis: The Evolution of Movie Theater Concessions 

The snack counter at Marcus Theaters offers White Castle burgers, ice cream and more.As vaguely recall, my last in-theater dining experience involved chicken tacos that I washed down with a glass of wine (or was it rum punch? They’re pretty much the same thing, right?!). Accompanied by a friend enjoying a small bowl of mac & cheese, I watched the evening’s feature presentation while seated near people eating cheesesteaks and sipping martinis.

Those tacos were mighty tasty, yet, it’s rare for you to find me snacking on goodies from the concession stand at the multiplex. Sometimes I buy nachos or Twizzlers. On most occasions, however, I eat nothing during my trips to the cinema. Given that theaters usually make an estimated 85% profit from concession sales, accounting for nearly half of their overall profits, you can understand how much of an anomaly I am where movie snacks are concerned.

Unless you've been living in a cave, you know that the way to the industry’s survival is through moviegoers’ stomachs. Modern day theaters are even focused on gourmet level dining and offer an expanded menu to make your night out at the movies similar to a Broadway show, according to Natasha Geiling at Smithsonian. If history has taught us anything, however, it’s that popcorn may always reign supreme at concession stands in America.

Even actress and comedian Lily Singh aka Superwoman doesn’t go to theaters to watch the movie -- she goes for the “buttery popcorn,” which Rachel Friedman at Bon Appétit notes as the #1 best seller followed by soda, pretzels, nachos and hot dogs. That said, the motion picture industry’s relationship with snack food has not always been a match made in heaven. Their courtship began as a rather rocky one since the early 1900s when popcorn was being sold pretty much everywhere except at the cinema. Although this snack gained popularity at carnivals, sporting events, etc. theater owners refused to tolerate any food whatsoever inside their venues.

Harry Davis' Nickelodeon theater is featured in "The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1907, Volume 1" by Charles Musser. These vaudeville theaters – showing short films in between live performances such as musicals, juggling acts, comedy and stage plays -- considered popcorn to be beneath the sophisticated impression they wanted to make on middle-class patrons. They viewed popcorn as disruptive and associated it with unruly crowds that were common at burlesque shows and nickelodeons -- makeshift storefront theaters that spread rapidly throughout the U.S. after Pittsburgh tycoon Harry Davis opened one in 1905.

Although nickelodeons did not sell food inside their theater, patrons bought snacks and drinks in from nearby candy shops, writes Friedman. Nickelodeons also allowed self-employed vendors to roam the aisles, selling popcorn and peanuts to audience members. When Hollywood introduced feature films, admission tickets started to rise and the nickelodeon theater craze phased out, as larger venues proved to be stiff competition with varied offerings in terms of new films and live shows.

Later, movie palaces came along in the 1920s; these venues had crystal chandeliers, antiques, marble-lined hallways and fancy carpets but were not built to accommodate concessions. Movie palaces lacked adequate room for a designated snack counter and they didn’t have ventilation. However, these limitations on concessions didn’t stop movie goers from smuggling Baby Ruths and other snacks in with them, according to Friedman. Street vendors would also set up popcorn machines near theaters and sell snacks. Since movie palaces were not keen on food littering their floors, Geiling says, managers hung signs outside coatrooms, requesting that patrons check their popcorn with their coats.

Built in 1925, Chicago's Uptown Theater was among the greatest movie palaces of its time. Photo courtesy of jetergaAround 1927, the advent of sound pictures aka “talkies” opened theaters up to wider audiences, since literacy no longer determined whether you could go to the movies or not. Geiling also writes that sound could muffle snacking noises, which meant talking pictures also brought more opportunities to profit from concessions…but…cinemas still wouldn’t budge on offering food to patrons.

Theaters of this era believed any potential profit was not worth the hassle of cleaning up spilled popcorn and stains from soft drinks on their expensive rugs. During the Great Depression, movie theaters had a difficult time staying in business so they started leasing lobby privileges to popcorn vendors for $1 a day. Since many cinemas didn’t have a lobby, the vendors would rent space outside in front of a theater, which gave them an opportunity to profit by selling to moviegoers as well as passersby on the street. While the industry was finally warming up to popcorn, theaters did not allow peanuts because of the messy shells. A young man named Kemmons Wilson, who dropped out of high school to support his family during the Great Depression, was among these entrepreneurial vendors who capitalized on movie concessions.

According to Filmmaker IQ and Wilson Hotel Management, LLC, he purchased a popcorn machine on credit for $50 and got permission to sell it in front of a Memphis theater. Soon, he was earning more profit than the cinema and eventually, the theater manager kicked him out. Wilson then went on to run a successful franchise of pinball machines among other ventures, hiring other people (including his wife) to work for him. He also founded the Holiday Inn hotel chain and even opened 11 movie theaters, after vowing to his mother that no one would ever take his popcorn machine away from him again.

Concessions booth at the Capawock Theater in Massachusetts. Photo courtesy of bicyclereporterA lot of movie theaters went bankrupt in the 1930s and those that remained in business did so because they started offering refreshments to their patrons.

As soon as cinemas noticed that popcorn was selling like hotcakes due to its aroma, they added popcorn machines to their lobby as well as soft drinks and candy machines while word spread about how lucrative the snack business is for the motion picture industry.

1930s theaters were more modest in design compared to movie palaces of the 20s. Cinemas of this period also incorporated space for concession stands in their layout, helping to keep snacks an integral part of the movie going experience. According to Jill Pellettieri at Slate, theater owners also offered homemade bonbons, chocolates and candy apples, in an attempt to attract highbrow customers.

In Milwaukee Movie Theaters, Larry Widen writes that Coca-Cola, which sponsored Viktor Fleming’s 1939 romantic drama Gone with the Wind, insisted that theaters offer their soda throughout the entire run of the film. During WWII, the candy industry had setbacks due to sugar shortages and rationing, as exporters such as the Philippines were unable to reach the United States. Popcorn, which was cheap to buy, flourished during this time. Overseas, M&Ms became popular among GIs who received these candies as their rations.

The Carolina Theater (turned Roger L. Stevens Center) in Winston-Salem provided a snack bar in the 1940s.When sugar returned to the U.S. after the war ended, this helped M&Ms obtain market growth and later find its place at movie theater concession stands among other new candy such as Junior Mints, Goobers and Milk Duds.

Soft drinks were also flowing and snack sales increased dramatically with movies aimed at children. Comedies brought in the highest profit from snacks while horror films generated the lowest sales, according to Andrew F. Smith in Fast Food and Junk Food: An Encyclopedia of What We love to Eat. Drive-in movie theaters, which opened after World War II, thrived as they offered luncheonettes and cafeterias. So, traditional movie theaters took a hit. 1950s art cinemas served free espresso coffee to increase ticket prices without raising operating expenses, writes Emanuel B. Halper in Shopping Center and Store Leases, Volume 2.

Skittles also made its way to the Cineplex after being imported from Europe in 1979. Soon, fast food companies wanted a piece of Hollywood’s concession stand pie. Burger King became known as the pioneer of movie tie-ins after inking a promotional deal with George Lucas’ 1977 epic adventure Star Wars. Then McDonald’s partnered with Disney and later switched to Burger King for a 10-movie deal that included films such as Aladdin, Toy Story and The Lion King. Amblin Entertainment approached Mars, Inc. in hopes of using M&Ms in Steven Spielberg’s 1982 Sci-Fi family flick E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial but they were turned down, writes Smith.

These days, moviegoers like Chlo L. can opt for a cheeseburger, Oreo milkshake and edamame at some theaters, as the concessions menu continues to get an upgrade.The producers then reached out to Hershey, which had a new candy on the block called Reeses Pieces. Both parties came to an agreement that allowed E.T. to munch on this candy in the movie, which resulted in millions of dollars in sales for Hershey, helping Reeses Pieces gain a foothold at the concession stand. While I would like to say the rest is history, my guess is this is just the tip of the iceberg regarding interesting factors that shape the snack menu offerings at theaters across the country.

So the next time you visit the multiplex, remember that food at concession stands have come a long way from its days of being hawked on sidewalks and in aisles of 5-cent nickelodeons.

Would YOU still go to the movies if concession stands were banned?

Do you like YOUR popcorn served in a bag, a bucket, or some other type of container at the cineplex?

How well do YOU think vending machines or self-service food counters would be received at movie theaters?

Popcorn & Paninis is my rolling blog series exploring how food plays a role in the motion picture industry. Have some tidbits you’d like to add or a film-meets-gastronomy topic you think should be featured in this series? Ask away!

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