The Elements of Product Placement

The objective of this lesson is to have students look at existing product placements with a critical eye and develop a product placement plan for an existing product.

Product placements in movies and television shows have become quite a common practice in media. Companies commonly use product placements to promote their brands in an unconventional and sometimes hidden way. If you pay close enough attention to any movie or TV show, you can probably spot a few cleverly placed products ranging from sports drinks to electronics to clothing brands. An example of product placement can be seen in Steven Spielberg’s hit movie E.T. with his inclusion of Reese’s Pieces and television shows like American Idol, which has Coca-Cola logos strategically placed throughout the competition.


Adding It Up: How To Budget A Hollywood Film To Make A Profit

Hunger Games: Mocking Jay Part One was one of the highest grossing films of 2014, earning $713 million worldwide with a production budget of approx. $125 million.

You need to make a lot of money in comparison to your total budget, and that’s where things get tricky.

We know that big blockbuster films can make millions — sometimes billions — of dollars at the box office. But what you might not know is how much they cost to make, and how much they depend on huge global sales to make back all of the money they require not only to make the films (the actors, the creative professionals and crew behind-the-scenes, and the special effects, to name only a few) but to market them as well. In fact, just the marketing campaigns for major blockbusters can add tens of millions of dollars to the total budget to get the films talked-about and, hopefully, seen.

That means that you need to make careful calculations about how to spend money, even though at hundreds of millions of dollars, budgets can seem just about endless for major blockbusters. “A-list” acting and creative teams responsible for the production and post-production (including things like special effects and editing) are expensive, and after budgets and marketing costs are added up, even hundreds of millions in box office revenue may not be considered a true “hit.”

To be really successful, you need to have a high margin of profit — that means that just making a lot of money isn’t enough. You need to make a lot of money in comparison to your total budget, and that’s where things get tricky. The more big name actors, heart-pounding action, special effects, and other explosive, eye-catching aspects you have, the higher the budget, and the more you’ll need to make back later.


Paranormal Activity (2007), the most profitable movie of all time grossed nearly $200 million with from a shoestring budget of just $15,000. What percentage did they return on their investment?


That’s one reason why big-budget blockbusters tend to revolve around globally famous characters (like superheroes), big action sequences, and animation. All of these techniques are easy to alter and export from one country to the next by changing the language or inserting country-specific scenes (like these different references used in Captain America 2: Winter Soldier that appeal to different countries’ cultural events).

Do you have what it takes to plan a blockbuster that won’t make you go bust?

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Dystopia in Pop Culture: Fiction or the Future?

The most frightening fictional dystopias are recognizable extensions of our current world. 

Dystopias have become a staple of popular entertainment, and despite predictions to the contrary, they show no sign of tapering off. Yet most of us have only the vaguest sense of what a dystopia is.

For starters, a dystopia is the opposite of a utopia. A utopia is a pretty old concept; Thomas More created the term in 1516 to describe a perfect society. “Dystopia” is a more recent term, dating to the 19th century: it comes from the Greek ”dys” meaning “bad” and “topia” meaning “place”. While a utopia is an ideal civilization, where everyone has their needs met, a dystopia is a society that is essentially harmful. The central arc of dystopic fiction almost always puts the hero in conflict with the government or the group of people in charge.

The most frightening fictional dystopias are recognizable extensions of our current world. These worlds answer “What If” questions about the future with the most pessimistic of responses.
What if the earth runs out of oil?

What if we stop having as many children?

What if the government used reality TV as a form of propoganda?

What if there was no law and order?

What if we lived in a military run state?

Dystopian fiction imagines the worst-case scenarios for our future. However paranoid these imaginings may seem, they also expose important truths about our current reality.

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Marvel Civil War: Whose Side Are You On?

The first promo art of Captain America 3: Civil War was just released. With the latest chapter Avengers: Age of Ultron upon us, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) will carefully start to shift the story towards one of the greatest conflicts in comic book history, Marvel’s Civil War. In a sure sign that comics were getting awesome again, Marvel built in a story arc where the Avengers fought each other. This has happened before in comics, usually because one superhero gets mind-controlled by a villain. In the Marvel Civil War, though, the Avengers were instead fighting because they had different interpretations of rights. Both sides’ views were supportable by some interpretations of the Constitution. But would either have stood up in court? If the Avengers had taken their differences to court, instead of to the streets, which way would it have gone?

Which side are you on? Try the quiz below to find out!

The Plot of the War The Marvel Civil War was told in seven comics, released from 2006-2007. It takes place after most mutants have been killed, or have fled in secret to Xavier’s school. Having dealt with mutants, the United States government turned their attention to superheroes. The government wasn’t a big fan of superpowers. Untrained superheroes kept stepping up to villains in crowded areas, getting themselves and others killed. In one case, a couple of new superheroes tried to fight Nitro in a mall, leading to the deaths of over 600 people. In addition, superheroes, especially the Avengers, were also interfering in politics. Nick Fury was fired because he led a coup against one of the United States’ allies (in fairness, that ally was an evil cyborg). Finally, the government decided to act. Congress passed the Superhero Registration Act, forcing all superheroes to take off the masks, register their abilities, and work for federal law enforcement. They hired Tony Stark (Iron Man) to help enforce  the law. Captain America violently resisted. Both sides escalated in force.

The Arguments
The pro-registration arguments, supported by Tony Stark and Mr. Fantastic, include:

Superheroes cannot veto a Congressional decision
Regulation of use of powers will be required by law
The government may restrict the rights of some to protect the rights of many

The anti-registration arguments, supported by Captain America, include:

Privacy protects superheroes and superheroes have a right to it
The majority should not legislate against minority rights
The government should not restrict rights in the present because of possible events in the future.

Do either of these arguments carry legal weight? This lesson below explores the legal precedents at play.

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Star Wars: Should Fan Fiction be Added to the Star Wars Canon?

Canon is the material of a story that is accepted as official and is decided upon by the creator of the story or the person or business that owns the story.

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What’s Wrong With The Star Wars Prequels?

Before Star Wars exploded into the franchise it is today, it started with three movies: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. A whole universe of stories written by a whole slew of authors branched out from these movies. Then the official prequels were made. There are many diehard fans who hated the Star Wars Prequels; the boring plotlines, the demystification of the world, and the overuse of green screen and CGI. Above all, the poorly developed characters are widely considered to be George Lucas’ worst offense. Since the celebrated release of The Force Awakens and the upcoming release of Rogue One, there has been a rise of positivity around the prequels. This may be because fans want to protect the Star Wars franchise.


Can’t Keep The Stories Straight? You Need A Canon!

Star Wars is just one of the many epic franchises out there. Star Wars, like a myriad of other celebrated stories such as the Avengers, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter have inspired numerous official and unofficial prequels, sequels, and spin-offs. These narrative creations have taken a variety of forms; from fan-fiction and fan YouTube videos to television series, video games, and books. With so many elements and sub stories, it can be difficult to keep up with the real storyline and know what the creators, owners, and fans actually consider the true plot and subplots for the franchise. This confusion is why canon is needed! Canon is the material of a story that is accepted as official and is decided upon by the creator of the story or the person or business that owns the story.



We Think You Can Do Better

A lot of fans think that the Star Wars prequels spoiled the rest of the series by demystifying the working and fleshing out characters with dull uninteresting stories, character motivations and morals. Many people have postulated ways in which the prequels could have handled the characters and their storylines better, which has created whole new set of sub-stories and subplots.

Characters in any story must be, above all else, believable and consistent. And as a story grows and evolves the characters must do the same whilst retaining those qualities. In Star Wars Episode VII, The Force Awakens, we see the return of old characters and, though they have changed in many ways, we can understand how they got to that place and why their past decisions led them there. When writing about characters, respecting their consistency is integral to broadening their stories. In this lesson we will look at the Star Wars franchise in more detail and go beyond to create our own franchises with their own ever evolving cast of characters.


Asteroids, Meteors, Meteorites, and Meteoroids! From Sci-Fi to Reality

In this lesson, students will learn to differentiate between asteroids, meteors, meteorites, and meteoroids, they will think about their definitions and representations in science and popular culture, and they will consider ways to go about further explaining these phenomena to an audience through a critical, creative-writing piece.

Adapting a Novel into a Movie: A Different Kind of Book Report

In this lesson, students learn about the process of adapting a piece of literature to a feature film. They will examine how the story structure changes and discuss why screenwriters decided to make these changes. They will practice this process themselves by choosing a novel and writing a synopsis of their selection’s film adaptation and casting 3-5 principle characters.

Man of Steel: Eugenetics of Krypton

In this lesson, students take a bio-ethical look at the planet Krypton and its practice of growing individuals to fulfill specific roles in its society.