Friday, June 6, 2014

The Art of the Deal ... WHY?

As many of you already know, I have just purchased a new car - a procedure that strikes fear in the heart of mortal men and women. When you buy almost anything else, you know what the price will be before you go to buy it, and that is the price you pay. With a car ... not happening! Two identical cars sold in the same showroom on the same day can vary by as much as $10,000 depending on the negotiating skills of the buyer, and most buyers, no matter how good their negotiating skills are, can't compete against a car dealer who does this many times every day.

Most people buy a car every 5-8 years. The last car I bought was for my wife and was now 8 years ago. The car I was replacing was my Saturn which I bought 12 years ago. In fact, it was one of Saturn's selling point that they didn't negotiate prices, they priced each car with a set price, so you knew exactly what you would pay up front.

I had done all my homework before I stepped into the dealership, so I knew what car I wanted and exactly what I wanted to pay for it. I had an advantage I hadn't had in the past, I didn't need a new car (my old one was still running well and in good shape), but I wanted a new car. In the past when I shopped for a new car, it was because the one I was driving (or my wife was driving) was about ready to stop performing that basic function. Not so this time. I could be picky as to what i got and how much I paid. I could easily walk away from a deal which wasn't exactly what I wanted ... or better!

My negotiating skills are good, but I am not kidding myself, I am sure someone with better skills could have done even better, but after doing all the online research (something that was not available for most of the 8 cars I have purchased in my life) I knew exactly what I wanted and what price I was willing to pay for it - and that included how much I would be willing to pay for financing. Having done this dance a number of times in my life, I knew the tricks that dealers pull to bring the price up, and as expected, the first offer came with a list of features that I didn't want - or more correctly, didn't want to pay for. I had test driven 2 different models and selected the one I wanted. The one I test drove had all of the extras that it could have - and in fact, was a Limited Edition of only 5000 cars. It was amazing, but had much that I did not want to add on to the final price. I negotiated for a model with only the features I wanted and rejected the list of add-ons originally presented to me. In the end, In the end - after an hour of back and forth negotiating - I got exactly the price I wanted to pay, at the finance rate I wanted (0%) and the price for my trade-in that I expected ... dealer incentives and rebates included. When I asked about the car I was finally getting, I was informed that I could have the car that I test drove ... with all the bells and whistles that I refused to pay for. I had gotten a good deal and a better car than I had originally planned on. (I later found out that during that holiday weekend, the dealership had a quota that the manufacturer had placed on it. That also played a part, and I knew that when I picked that day to make my purchase.)

But the question still remains - why does this have to happen? How many people pay more than they really have to because they don't know or understand the tricks that a dealer uses, or aren't very strong negotiators? I certainly have nothing against the dealer making a profit, but he always has the upper hand. Who decided that cars wouldn't get a set price and why has the public accepted it? Saturn (a GM division started in 1985) attempted to do things a different way. The brand was discontinued in 2009 and with it went the only car that had a set price. (There is a local dealership that advertises a no-negotiating price policy but I don't know how they price their cars so I don't know if this is in the buyers best interest or not.)

How about you? Do you enjoy the game of negotiating for a car, or would you prefer a set price when you walk into a dealership? What do you think of this policy?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Broadway ... on Television

There was a time - within my lifetime - that LIVE was synonymous with TELEVISION. Names such as Playhouse 90, Studio OneOmnibus, and others bring back images of live drama in the early days of television. Soap operas, the staple of daytime TV, were performed live well after all the others went to film or tape.

Actors found ways to adapt and although you might have found chaos on the set, what came through the tv was some of the finest material ever presented on TV. It didn't have the polish or production quality that today's shows have, but the content was remarkable. This was the incubator for some of the finest playwrights of the day ... including Rod Serling who gained fame for his Requiem for a Heavyweight, and went on to create The Twilight Zone.

Among the source material for these shows, was often dramas which had been successful on Broadway. However, the Broadway musical was a challenge that was very rarely attempted, and when it was, it needed to be a big network special.

When I was growing up, there were two musicals that everyone waited anxiously for their yearly broadcast. The first was the now classic MGM musical, The Wizard of Oz. The other was taken from the Broadway stage and featured Mary Martin as Peter Pan.

The first few years it was broadcast, it was done so live, with Mary Martin reprising the role she created on Broadway. In its later years, the show was committed to video tape, but for us watching it, that made no difference at all. The once a year NBC special broadcast was an event. I know I looked forward to it with just as much excitement and anticipation as I did for the Thanksgiving night broadcast of The Wizard of Oz. However, while the Wizard of Oz was a huge Hollywood spectacular, Peter Pan had the intimacy of the Broadway stage.

In 1960 it had been taped in a longer TV version from the earlier live ones - at the Brooklyn studio that was just around the corner from where I lived. Mary Martin, once again playing the boy who wouldn't grow up, was now appearing on Broadway, as Maria Von Trapp in The Sound of Music. Then it was gone. The Wizard of Oz continued but Peter Pan disappeared from our small screen It made its final TV appearance in 1999, but that was the first time it had been on TV since 1973! (The show was revived twice on Broadway - once with Sandy Duncan and once with Cathy Rigby whom I saw in it in 1990.)

Saturday Night Live - which also broadcast a few episodes in 1976 from the Brooklyn studio (and if you buy the DVD set of the second season, you can see my wife and myself in the audience) - became the only live show on TV.

Broadway musicals performed live on tv became just a memory ... until a few nights ago. NBC once again attempted to present a musical performed live. Ironically the choice of musical was The Sound of Music! However, rather than casting someone who had played the part on Broadway, for the leads, the producers went with names from the current celebrity pool and surrounded them with a few Broadway veterans, such as Audra McDonald whose Broadway prowess is legendary.

For the role of Maria - they cast Carrie Underwood, a country singer who gained recognition as a winner on American Idol. She had no background in acting and her style of singing was not what was needed for this show.

Carrie Underwood's acting was very poor - I won't say amateurish as I have seen some wonderful amateur actors in the more than 40 years I have worked with community theater - and there were some technical flaws with the broadcast. I would have expected better from a national network broadcast special.

However ... having said all that, I thoroughly enjoyed the show ... and have now watched it twice. 

Rather than bash Carrie Underwood - as so many did, both on social media as well as traditional reviews, I give her full credit for attempting something so far out of her comfort zone. She needed to not only act, but change her style of singing drastically. I think she accomplished the singing part very successfully. (I was not a Carrie Underwood fan going in - but I respect her now, at least for the courage she showed and the work she put in!) In fact, I would say that her best acting was done while she was singing. Perhaps if she were given more time and extensive coaching in her acting, I believe she could have pulled it off much better. I hope she gets the opportunity again after some work in that area. Bottom line for me was that I thoroughly enjoyed watching it.

Yes, I could pick it apart with the best of them, but isn't it all about enjoying a performance? Well, I did. I hope this is the first in a long line of Broadway musicals brought to TV. There is still a lot they need to learn, but I hope they learn from their problems and continue to present live musical theater to the TV viewing public.

Update: Since writing this, a lot of people have complained about the broadcast - mostly comparing it to the movie rather than the Broadway show, which came first, starring Mary Martin as mentioned above. (The show opened in 1959 - the movie premiered in 1965! The movie would never have been made if the show had not been a huge hit.) Many complained how musical numbers were not in the "proper" order. They seem unaware - or have forgotten - that this is the Broadway book and it was the movie which switched the musical numbers. I have heard more than one person say that no one could step in to the shoes of Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. I agree, but those weren't the shoes they were trying to step in to. If anybody's shoes were being stepped in to it was those of Maria and Georg Von Trapp!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Makin' Memories

Yesterday, I created this video for a group in which I participate. Each day we share a song - occasionally with a theme. The theme was "A Memory" and I immediately thought of this song - many of you will recognize it as part of a long gone pre-show at the Kodak sponsored Imagination attraction at EPCOT in Walt Disney World. I couldn't find it on You Tube or Vimeo, so I made my own.

I thought some of you might enjoy it ...

Sunday, September 22, 2013

There's No Place Like Oz!

It was Thanksgiving and the family - filled with turkey and all of the fixin's - was sitting in front of the small black and white TV about to continue an annual ritual ... watching the once a year broadcast of The Wizard of Oz. There was no home video so this was the only chance to see it during the year, and we looked forward to it from the moment it ended the year before. This was a truly magic movie, even in black and white and with commercials, and the whole family - as many as four generations - would sit and watch it.

Over the years, my love of this movie would propel me into learning as much about it as possible, and I studied everything I could find that was written about it. I read many of L. Frank Baum's earliest Oz stories. I have even ridden through Munchkinland (in the Great Movie Ride at Walt Disney World). I would purchase an 8mm film version of highlights, then a VHS copy, followed by a DVD copy and my last purchase was a restored version (with lots of extras) on Blue-Ray.

We bought our first color TV too late in 1969 to watch it that year in color, so the first time I ever saw it in color (and without commercial interruption) was when it was shown in my college one weekend. (Remember that this was the early 70's and we were all college students, so the "atmosphere" was one which made the viewing ... errr ... how should I put this ... enhanced?) We saw the sepia toned beginning and end ... and the color ... when Dorothy opened the door and saw Oz (with us) for the first time was truly an experience different from watching it on a small black and white television set.

Years later, when I read to my son and daughter at bedtime, it would be from the Oz stories. We got through many of the earliest books before bedtime stories ended.

Five years ago, for the 70th anniversary of the movie, it was shown for one showing only - in IMAX. Naturally my wife and I had to go see it. It was an Event (capital "E")! There were many Dorothy's (with or without Toto) as well as Wicked Witches, and a few Scarecrows, Tinmen and Lions (well, maybe one Lion) and a scattering of Munchkins. When the movie came on it was amazing at that size! You could see things that you never would even have imagined on that small black and white TV.

This week - and for this week only - they have gone one better ... it is showing in IMAX 3D! My wife and I went yesterday to see it. Since it is showing for a full week with a complete daily schedule during the week, it didn't have the Event status that the earlier one did five years ago, but my wife and I found ourselves good seats in the exact center of the theater and couldn't wait.

Right from the moment Leo (the MGM lion) appeared on screen, I knew we were in for a treat. I find it somewhat sobering that the movie starts with these words ...

Since those words first appeared on movie screens in 1939, 74 more years have passed - almost three quarters of a century - and those words are still true!

As for the quality of the film itself, considering that it was filmed on some of the very first color stock and not the top quality digitally produced high definition films we have gotten used to seeing, it was amazing. You had to look closely and want to see the grain for it to be visible. The color (it was a very early Technicolor film) was just beautiful. Even after all these years, when Dorothy first opened the door into Munchkinland, I still got goosebumps! The color was brilliant! Not the oversaturated colors one might see if the movie where made today, but a palette that would have made Baum proud. Not "in your face" but stunningly beautiful.

Of course, at this size, you are going to see things that you weren't meant to see even in theatrical releases on the screens of 1939. While the texture of the Scarecrow's burlap "skin" was sharp, so were the skull caps and the borders of the prosthetics used on other characters, particularly in the case of Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion. But that didn't detract from the movie, in fact, perhaps I might not have noticed many of these things if I weren't looking for technical details.

However, what I did notice above all else, was the fact that you could see in Judy Garland's eyes, each and every kleig light in her field of view. In fact, in the Technicolor scenes, you could even tell how many there were, and which were key lights and which were fill lights. At times she had as many as four catchlights in each eye which when looked at closely were the kleig lights. Technicolor in those years required a huge amount of light. (In the sepia scenes, less light was needed so only two lights were ever visible.) Oddly enough, it was only in Dorothy's eyes that they were so visible. 

The 3D effect was good, but subtle as it should have been. Since the movie was not made in 3D, no cheesy 3D effects were included - and the one place where it could have been done - when the Winkies point their spears at our heroes, and the shot has them pointing directly into the camera - passed quickly and was not exaggerated for 3D. The 3 dimensionality only enhanced and never intruded.

For a movie in which I know every line (though I did catch one I don't ever remember hearing before) and every song ... it never gets old!

I will leave you with a bit of trivia about the movie, that the studio did not use as part of the original publicity for fear that it was such an amazing coincidence that they didn't believe the public would believe it ...

When putting together the wardrobe for the movie, they gathered a lot of the costumes for the Kansas scenes from thrift shops. One of the pieces that they obtained was the smoking jacket that Frank Morgan wore as Professor Marvel. A slip of paper in the pocket and the initials LFB lead the production crew to believe it might be somehow connected to the movie in a way that no one had anticipated. It was verified by Maud Baum, the author's widow, that the jacket had indeed once belonged to Lyman Frank Baum - the creator and author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from which the movie was adapted.