First, we throw you this gossipy bone (and then we’ll tell you about the science applied to “Al’s Brain,” and results of $12,000-worth of polling, and the fair’s big visions for the future):
It was spring. The script for Weird Al Yankovic’s somewhat controversial 3-D movie contained the crucial line, But Al, how does the brain work? It would be delivered by “a celebrity,” the script said.
But who? The $2.5 million project’s premiere at the Orange County Fair was just three months away. And Weird Al wanted none other than Paul McCartney to deliver the line. (McCartney, reportedly a Weird Al fan, had nonetheless declined to grant Al permission to turn “Live and Let Die” into “Chicken Pot Pie.”)
In April, McCartney was headlining the Coachella Music and Arts Festival. So Weird Al rushed to the desert with camera and crew, barged into the former Beatle’s dressing room, and finally captured McCartney delivering the critical line.
A celebrity, indeed. “My career is complete,” Weird Al reportedly said. “I have directed Paul McCartney.”
This story was told to us by Fair CEO Steve Beazley (below right), who was relishing that feeling of taking a chance and emerging mostly intact, despite all the naysayers nipping at his heels (yours truly included). We wondered aloud last week if the Orange County Fair took any scientific measurements of its somewhat controversial $2.5 million foray into film production - and the answer is yes, of course. (Beazley is that rare fair exec with a doctorate in clinical psychology and a background in theater, so, what else did you expect?)
Clickers counted attendees at the 3-D “Al’s Brain” - and the fair spent $12,000 on polling to see what people thought of it, and measure what they managed to learn. According to a draft report:
- There were about 45 showings of “Al’s Brain” each day.
- About 250,000 people saw the film - roughly one of every four fair-goers.
- That’s about 11,000 people per day, or 244 per show.
- They were disproportionately female - about 60 percent.
- 63.2 percent of those polled said that the “Al’s Brain” attraction had influenced their decision to attend the fair that day.
- They liked it! On a scale of one (bad) to five (awesome), the movie got a 4.4, and the exhibits surrounding it got a 4.1.
- 70 percent said they’d probably see it again next year, if it was offered.
- And they learned something!
LEARN AND LAUGH
To figure out whether people actually learned anything, the pollsters asked questions before people entered the exhibit, and after they left.
What type of cells make up the human brain?
- Before the movie, 76.4 percent knew the correct answer was “neurons” (though 8.6 percent of these boneheads said “muscles,” and another 4.9 percent said “tendons”).
- After the movie, 97.2 percent knew the answer was neurons (and we’ll assume that the 2.7 percent who continued to say fibers, tendons and muscles visited the beer garden immediately preceding the film).
About how much does a developed human brain weigh?
- Before the movie, only 26 percent knew the correct answer was three pounds (while 23 percent said less than one pound - insert joke about your most despised politician here - and 44 percent said four pounds or more).
- After the movie, 96 percent knew it was three pounds.
What color is the human brain?
- Before the movie, only 35 percent knew “pink” was the correct answer (while 44 percent said grey, 6.1 percent said red, and 3.1 percent said dark purple).
- After the movie, 88 percent of people knew it was pink.
Brain plasticity refers to the fact that:
- A. The brain is not hard-wired, it can adapt to situations
- B. The brain has a smooth and shiny finish like plastic
- C. The brain is made of the same chemicals as plastic
- D. The brain is hard like plastic and cannot be broken
- E. Unsure
Before the movie, 58 percent knew that A was the correct answer (though 19 percent picked B, for goodness sakes).
After the movie, 82 percent knew it was A - but 11 percent persisted in thinking it was smooth and shiny like plastic.
One could argue about the educational importance of knowing how much the brain weighs, or what color it is - but if it sparks kids’ imaginations and makes them want to learn more, it’s a job well done, Beazley says.
RED CARPETS OR CATTLE DRIVES?
Some purists objected to the fair’s foray into film production when it was canceling the cattle drive, but to Beazley, these results are a vindication. “We knew this would be uncomfortable to some people because it is different,” he said. “Some people are going to love it, some people are going to hate it. That’s why I wanted to take really great metrics of the exhibit.”
The survey of 326 people was done the first weekend of the fair. About 85 percent of folks said they would recommend the exhibit to others.
Will there be more big special projects like this? “I don’t know about movies,” Beazley said, “but I can almost guarantee we will do more feature exhibits. It’s the wave of the future for fairs.”
The fair’s board took a leap of faith on this one, he said. It took four years to put the exhibit together - but the next one won’t take that long. Expect to see it in 2011 or 2012. “What is the next possibility to educate while entertaining?” he said. “We’re waiting for the muses.”
AL’S BRAIN FOR SALE
Now, the fair begins selling “Al’s Brain” to other fairs. Part of the pitch is that people can attend a concert once, at one set time - but people could see “Al’s Brain” all day long, at their convenience. Prices haven’t been set yet, but it will rent for some $20,000 a day. “I think we can make back our investment,” Beazley said.
Will “Al’s Brain” become a profit center? That remains to be seen, but “it’s not designed to do that,” he said.
Now, indulge us by enduring a joke:
So a brain walks into a bar and orders a shot of tequila. The bartender frowns and says, “Sorry. Can’t serve you.” “Why not?” the indignant brain asks. ”Because you’re clearly out of your head,” the bartender says.
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