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How RunPee Began – A Retrospective on Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong

    Peter Jackson, coming off the high of his fantastic Lord of the Rings saga, was permitted to make a really, really long love letter to Kong, King of Monster Mammals. His big ape movie went on and on and on…for 3 hours and 7 minutes. Dan and I sat there, holding it in…and talked about how we wanted to tell the waiting queue to pee during the vile, unnecessary Valley of the Bugs scene (you know the one, with the Andy-Serkis-slurping slugs. Seriously: gross, man).
    It was so agonizing to sit through this film, that we thought it would be great if there was a website telling people exactly when to run and pee in long movies, so no one would miss the good parts. Thus, the idea for RunPee was born. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Peter Jackson and King Kong.
    But, is this a good movie?
    We’d have to say, cautiously, yes. It is assuredly an epic, often capturing the emotional spirit of the 1933 original. Aside from being wildly overindulgent and often tedious, it’s a credible ride. There are some moments of real heart, and the production values are top notch: Jackson clearly spared no expense. When things weren’t busy being disgusting, the island was super pretty. The dinosaurs were cool, and Kong himself looked amazing. Finally, a Kong that looked real, with expressions and nuance.
    The ape scenes with the girl are the best – sensitive and funny, well-acted and well-written.
    The Skull Island scenes, however, are uneven – while everything with Kong was great, the explorers lacked spark or likeability. In New York we get the same thing – the Central Park scenes with Kong and his girl are adorable, but the finale on the Empire State building is laborious. We wanted the giant gorilla to get it over with and die.
    In the end, it’s a bloated movie. The stuffing was overbaked, and the actors (besides Naomi Watts) didn’t bring anything to the buffet. Jack Black was a muddled mess, and Adrian Brody barely made a showing. No one else was memorable at all.
    It’s been my opinion that Jackson needed a firm editor with his material, to pare things down and keep the pacing tight. This was overkill – like no one wanted to be the one telling the successful Lord of the Rings director when to stop. There’s nothing wrong with a long movie – *Titanic* shows us how it’s done – but there wasn’t enough excitement or depth to fill out the running time. There is plenty of spectacle, and you can feel the loving hand behind this remake, but it’s basically a two hour film padded out to an excessive three. ‘Tis a pity, because this easily could have been an A film. But if it had been, there’d be no RunPee.
B-

Did you mean Rupee?

RunPee has gotten huge props in the media. But the geek in me is really impressed with this: do a Google search for “runpee”

I just love it. Google asks, “Did you mean RunPee?

google: did you mean runpee
It was not that long ago that Google used to ask, “Did you mean Rupee?” As in money, Rupies. I used to tell my wife, “someday, we’re going to enter in Rupee and it will ask us, ‘Did you mean RunPee?’ …that will be something!”

Yeah, honey.

Finding PeeTimes – EXACTLY how I find those movie breaks

A few people have asked how I find those movie break Peetimes for Runpee.com. Well, let me tell you: it isn’t easy, or fun.

What I do to make a Peetime

  • For each movie I try and sit off away from the rest of the audience. That is oftentimes impossible since I see movies on opening day so that peetimes will be available ASAP.
  • I have my phone – ringer off – that I can check the time with. I use a basic timer application on my Android phone to keep track of the time.
  • Of course I can’t RunPee during a movie so I make sure that I don’t drink much beforehand and I use the men’s room right before the show starts.
  • The first thing I watch for is the beginning of the movie. We can’t time peetimes from when the movie is listed to start because commercials and previews can run anywhere from 10-20 minutes. Since the iPhone app will vibrate in your pocket just a few minutes before the upcoming peetime I need to make sure that the start time for each peetime isn’t off by more than a minute or so.
  • As soon as the movie begins – after the previews – I start my timer running. And then I can sit back and relax for the first 30 minutes because peetimes must be at least 30 minutes into the show – you can hold it at least that long, right?
  • Now for the hard part. I watch the movie for scenes that I can easily sum up without missing in critical details to the movie. Many people think that peetimes are just the boring scenes in movies, but that isn’t necessarily true. Some peetimes might take part during a car chase or some other action scene. It just has to be something you can miss and still follow the plot when you return. Take the first peetime for Star Trek. That’s during the scene where they sky dive down to the drilling platform. You’ll be missing some nice action but most of that scene was shown during the previews that everyone saw. The rest of the scene is easy to sum up so that when you do get back in the theater you can slip back into the story.
  • When I see something happening in the movie that looks like it might make a good peetime I write down the current time on my notepad and the cue.
  • The peetime cue is hugely important. It’s nice to have very distinct scenes or lines of dialog to start a peetime with. Users can read through the cue – usually very short – before the movie starts so that they know what to look for during the movie – the timer doesn’t always work. So take for instance the movie Thor. One of the cues for a peetimes reads: Thor carries Erik – the scientist – back to Jane’s trailer after drinking at the bar. That should be very easy for someone to remember – oh, now’s a good time to run and pee.
  • Then I start jotting down notes like who’s talking and the gist of the conversation. If the scene keeps going for a at least 3 minutes – preferably 4-5 minutes – and nothing has happened that makes me say, “Crap, you can’t miss this scene,” then I have a good peetime candidate. Then as soon as this scene ends I write down the time again so that I know how long this peetime stretches.
  • Rinse-and-repeat.

Peetimes are of course subjective but here are a few tips I would offer that would make a bad Peetime:

  • Did something happen that a few people in the theater laughed at?
  • Was there some character interaction that was purely visual and would be difficult/impossible to accurately describe?
  • Say you’re watching an action movie with lots of fighting: was there some amazing scene that might be the best move, or special effect, in the movie. People probably don’t want to miss that.
  • If shortly after your peetime something hugely important happens then really consider not using this peetime unless the person has at least 5 minutes to get back. For example if the movie goes for 3 minutes of watching a clothes dryer spin and then right after that Darth Vader walks up to Luke and says, “Luke, I am your father.” then you don’t want to use this peetime. Someone might not make it back in time.

And here are a few examples that I think make for good peetimes:

  • Music montages that just show a character(s) training or doing whatever it is they do. This is usually very easy to sum up like, “Rocky goes out jogging around the city and eventually fans start following. He ends by running up the steps in front of a big building and then jumping around like a champion.” Now I won’t argue with you that that scene is iconic. But suppose you’re in the theater and you really have to pee and you know you can’t wait until the movie is over. Guess what, missing that music montage would be a whole lot better than missing the fight with Apollo Creed now wouldn’t it?
  • Suppose you’re watching an action movie that has lots of gun fights. A few of the gun fights might be really good but there’s usually one of them that’s just sort of average. That sounds like a good Peetime to me. I would even mention in the description that this gun fight isn’t as good as the other gun fights – or whatever the action is.
  • Something really gross in an otherwise not so gross movie. Take for instance King Kong – the movie that started the whole idea for RunPee – there’s the scene with those huge bugs that eat people. The rest of the movie isn’t that gross and disgusting. There are a lot of people who don’t like scenes like that and so they would gladly miss that part.

Sometimes it happens that I have a good Peetime candidate and then just a few minutes later a much better one comes up. I try not to group the peetimes to closely together so I’ll pick the best one. Or if the are different types of scenes, say one is an action scene and the other is a love scene, then I’ll leave them both so that the user can pick what to miss.

I like to have 2-3 peetimes per movie and I try to group them starting around the 30 minute mark. I usually stop looking for them with about 20-30 minutes remaining in the movie. It is very rare that a good peetime happens near the end of a movie, but there might be exceptions. One that comes to mind is Heat – I’m sure you know what I’m talking about if you remember the end of the movie.

Of course I have to sit in the theater until the credits end to check for those post credit scenes. Then I can RunPee myself before adding the peetimes to the website!

I would love to hear your comments if you have any suggestions for improving this process.

How did this media attention for RunPee get started?

Like with most things this got started with my mother. We were sitting around, chatting about RunPee, after we had gone to see Star Trek. ( I watched it twice on opening day so that I could get real good and accurate PeeTimes. ) She had the The TechGuy: Leo Laporte playing in the background and he was talking about Star Trek and how great a movie it was. My mother is a big fan of Leo Laporte and she suggested that I call in and tell him about RunPee.com. ( This was May 9th)

I didn’t think I’d be able to get through but I did. I told the producer about the site and she chuckled and said it was the craziest thing she had ever been asked to talk about on the show. A few minutes later I hear Leo chuckeling and he says, “I have to tell you about this new site…”

The traffic to RunPee.com was in the 10-30 visitors/day range up until then. On that day it shot up to 600+ and on the following days it stayed around the 300-400 range.

I was then contacted by Amber MacArthur to do a callin with her and Leo on the net@night show that aired on May 20th. We talked for about 10 minutes or so about RunPee. This was my first interview.

Now I’m excited about RunPee.com because it was finally attracting a some attention. You should know that I started this site as a research project. I wanted to learn how to use the Flex framework and tie into a database on the backend. I was unsure if it would ever get enough traffic to be useful but the effort was certainly worth it because I learned so much from creating it.

Google Analytics

The next morning I check Google Analytics. My first thought was, “Crap, where did all my traffic data go?” Because what had been an up/down graph of traffic over the past week was now a flat line. Except for this one dot at the end representing the previous day. That shot up to 32,000+.

Jaw, meet floor. Floor, meet jaw.

My wife and I were very excited. I had an email from one of the producers for NPR’s All Things Considered show asking me to come into LA for an interview. He told me that he found out about the site from Dave Barry’s blog.

What? Dave Barry? He wrote about RunPee?

I don’t know if I can sufficiently express the disbelief over what was happening. Unfortunately the excitement was short lived because we had troubles.

I could tell that the site was getting a lot of traffic because it was very slow. My wife and I were working on some blog posts and then everything went down. It seems that someone listening to the net@night show posted it on Reddit.com which promptly overloaded the server. My host sent me a message that I had violated the terms of service and my account was suspended. I spent a very hectic day moving the site to a completely different host on a dedicated service.

At this time my wife and I were in our RV, which we live in, up in the mountains above Palm Springs. It’s beautiful and has great weather. And almost no Internet access and zero cell phone coverage. So I packed up my desk, PC and other essentials and came to Manhattan Beach, CA – in the LA area – where my mother and step-father live. They have a spare room and broadband Internet access.

Once the interview on All Things Considered was aired I started getting one request after another to come on radio shows and talk about the site. Next week the TV coverage starts. I’m scheduled to be interviewed by Robert Kavacik with KNBC here in LA next Tuesday, June 2nd. He said that he wanted to get me before it breaks in LA. Hopefully other TV stations will follow.

Later today I’m meeting with potential investers. Which is good because my 1995 Pathfinder needs new tires and I don’t have enough money for them right now.

I think the lesson to be learned here about effective Internet marketing is quite clear, “Listen to your mother and do what she says.”