Behind Bars Volume 1

Adam Mico
5 min readSep 25, 2019

a gonzo contribution by Zach Bowders

Credit: Zach Bowders — Nic(h)olas Cage: Beyond Fresh and Rotten

Before Zach unleashes his gonzo brand of vizardry… I just wanted to share that if you stick around to the end, you will be gifted with access to his freshly-hatched interactive creation…

My Tableau Viz of the Day (featured on 09/17/19) began with an episode of Community.

Nicholas Cage: Good or Bad?

The question was a call of adventure from Professor Garrett to his students who had made the dubious choice of enrolling in a Cage-centric film class.

The on-the-spectrum otaku of the show, Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi), spectacularly melts down in the middle of class having watched “ENOUGH” of Cage’s films.

Rather than blunt my brain cells against Wicker Man and Vampire’s Kiss, I decided to lean on data.


Nicolas (Coppola) Cage is an esteemed actor who’s won a Golden Globe, SAG award, and received 2 Academy Award Nominations.

Nic Cage ALSO has a half dozen films that have SINGLE DIGIT Rotten Tomatoes scores and even one with a 0% score. (1)


Ok… so people are complicated, and Cage is no exception.

I love movies and I love movie reviews, always have.

I used to keep clippings of the Siskel and Elbert reviews for movies I wanted to see (no joke). (2)

One of the big perks of Rotten Tomatoes as it’s matured is the fact that they include both audience and critical scores.

Critics can be swayed by access from studios or how they’d like to be perceived based on what they say is hot or not.

Audiences can be dumb and capricious, rewarding movies based on schadenfreude or punishing films over internet nonsense.

But. BUT.

When we take both together, we can begin to see where the gaps emerge.

The closer we get to agreement between the two constituencies the closer we get to “truth”, or at least as true as you can be with movie reviews.

That was the central premise behind what became Nic(h)olas Cage: Beyond Fresh and Rotten.

Yes, I did misspell Nicolas.

So this is a whole lot of rambling and preamble, but Adam gave me pretty much no editorial oversight and I’m not anticipating gads of people hanging on this long to read about bar charts. (3)

Originally I pictured this VIZ as a vertically-oriented DNA chart. Something along the lines of THE DNA OF NIC CAGE. (4)

As I thought about the dataset though, I struggled to conceive of how or why I’d do that.

I basically have three different measures.

1. Audience Score

2. Critic Score

3. Variance between both scores

A vertically-oriented DNA chart would have similarly featured a progression from largest gap in favors of audience trending towards parity and then expanding back out to gap in favor of critics.

That sounds fun, but I’d need a central axis that can mount all of this data on. And what arbitrary measure am I going to define to do that?


I do public data vizzes because I like art projects. I’ve always been a doodler whether on notepads at school, stickies at work, or my iPad Pro at home.

So how do I take some bars and make them something I care about much less something anyone else would care about.

Because that’s the REAL question. Now how do I pull off a cool technical trick, but how do I make someone care.

AH… ok now I actually have a topic for this guest blog! (I’m so so sorry Adam…this is what you get for hosting guests). (5)

BEHIND BARS with Zach Bowders: Why Should You Care?

The big temptation with public viz work is trying to show off all of your tricks. Go back and look at my early Tableau Public stuff like my UFO Viz.

I was essentially making whimsically themed work dashboards.

More looks exciting. More looks flashy.

But. BUT.

If you don’t have a clear through-line telling a story, if each thing on that screen isn’t in service of that, more is the ENEMY.

Get out of the way of your data.

Lately I’ve been trying to tell viz stories with as few “brush strokes” as possible.

One upside of this is creating very clean, minimalist vizzes, which is a discipline I wanted to practice.

Another is cutting through noise to make a specific point.

So I resisted my impulses. I didn’t go for a novel chart type or a flashy graphic (though I did do poppy colors).

I got out of the way of the data.

This Nic Cage dataset was something I wanted to explore because I love movies and schadenfreude. I’m a nerd, I like Green Lantern and Batman, I viz video games and Avengers movies.

Being curious and passionate about your data is going to take you a lot farther than if you’re working on something you aren’t particularly interested in.

And that’s ok. If you were a painter, would you keep painting still lives when your passion was bucolic outdoorsy scenes?

Of course not!

But why should anyone else care about Nic Cage?

This is why I added my two movie callouts at opposite ends of the spectrum.

I love viz-in-tooltip, actions, interactivity, so I always try to build goodies into a viz, but it’s no fun if no one ever actually makes it far enough to see them.

By showing two large examples of disparity between the audience and critics, I was able to draw curiosity, to draw the mouse, to expose that hidden data Behind Bars.

Now for the new viz…

Credit: ‘Happy Birthday’ by Zach Bowders

As shown, Zach worked on a slamming area chart with dynamic corner charts (automatically customized by the names selected). Just enter a name and gender(s) to compare popular names provided by birth year. This is the type of viz that would even be fun for non-’data’ people! Here’s the ‘birthday’ viz!

Mico’s Footnotes

(1) Scoring is a percentage of ‘positive’ reviews vs. all reviews. If 5/10 reviews are scored/implied ‘positive’ by Rotten Tomato accredited critics; the movie’s ‘tomatometer’ is 50%. Single digits means less than 1 of 10 reviewer gave a movie a positive review. His lowest scoring movies are Deadfall (1993) with 0% of (only) five reviews and Left Behind (2014) with a robust one critic of 68 giving it a positive review (or 1%).

(2) Besides the World Almanac, Roger Ebert’s Movie Home Companion was a must annual read for me — yes, I was TONS of fun!

(3) Grrr… I identify with that remark

(4) Aren’t we glad Zach didn’t go with the DNA of Nic Cage?

(5) It’s cool — Ramble On, Zach

Credit: Zach Bowders and Memphis PD



Adam Mico

Data Visualization and Enablement Leader | Data Leadership Collaborative Advisory Board Member | Tableau Visionary + Ambassador | Views are my own