Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #174: It Doesn't Just Rain, It Pours...

If this stuff keeps up there's a chance, albeit slim, that I might begin to pity Harvey Weinstein, despite the words "horrible human being" popping up in just about every account people have of dealing with him. First a judge puts the kaibosh on his rather sneaky move of Project Runway from Bravo to Lifetime, MGM is reported as dumping his films from their release slate, then he puts his foot in his mouth offering a million bucks to charity if Nikki Finke can produce an e-mail outlining his antics at Sydney Pollack's deathbed, which she does, which then makes him a target of cruel mocking by internet louts like me, and, as the cherry on top, producer Scott Rudin confirms not only the existence of the e-mail, but the veracity of its content.

Now what does this tell us, not about Harvey Weinstein specifically, but the situation that he's in?

Well, it tells me that he is in a truckload of trouble, with a few more truckloads lining up to dump on him. And this goes beyond simple karmic realignment, with all the abuse he's dished out coming back to haunt him like a tainted burrito.

While the animosity against him is the root of all this, fact that it's all happening now is that no one in show business, who isn't under his direct employ, is scared of him anymore.

There once was a time, during the glory days of Miramax, when he'd stomp and scream, and howl like a sasquatch with road rage, and all would kowtow before him, because he was Harvey-fucking-Weinstein and he wasn't going to let anyone forget it. Academy Awards just couldn't happen without him, and everyone had to kiss his ass and call it ice cream.

Then came the string of stinkers, with only the occasional modest money-maker, stripping the sheen off what was once indie film's golden boy. Couple that with exponentially increasing numbers of actors, writers, directors, producers, and investors expressing their displeasure not only with the company's poor performance, but also its business practises.

Then came the shenanigans over Project Runway, which put Harvey in the sights of the massive NBC-Universal conglomerate.

That was the ultimate nail in the coffin of Weinstein's power. In a way, Hollywood is like a wolf pack, a fat and relatively slow moving wolf pack, but a pack nonetheless. In this pack the major studios are the alphas and the smaller independent producers the betas. When Harvey pulled of that Runway stunt, his beta swiped a piece off of NBC alpha's deer carcass.

Do you know what an alpha wolf does to a beta wolf that pulls a stunt like that? The alpha pins down the beta, and pisses on the beta's head. It's essential to establish dominance in the pack.

In Harvey Weinstein's case, not only will NBC-Uni seek to re-establish their dominance, the other "alpha" players will get in on the act, to make sure that the incident doesn't inspire similar shenanigans. In order to preserve the movie business food chain, Harvey Weinstein is going to be on the receiving end of the business equivalent of a golden shower party.

And any man with a target that big on his back, will not be able to bully and get revenge, being too busy trying not to drown.

So, what sort of lessons can we glean from this whole brouhaha:

1. Act with integrity: While you might think you're being clever by backstabbing people, it's an illusion, an intoxicating illusion. If you get away with it for any length of time, you will get drunk on the illusion of your own cleverness, and you will do something stupid. Something like pissing off someone much bigger than you. And then you'll discover that you have no allies, because no one trusts you enough to watch their back to watch yours. Having your word as your bond, and being a person that honours their commitments, will save you a fortune in both litigation and frustration and make you a more appealing partner.

2. Be Diplomatic: I'm not saying that you should take shit from people, but a certain level of tact and people skills can take you a long way. Especially in a business where image is everything, and if you have the image of being someone who, while not a doormat, is not an exercise in frustration, you can get a lot more done with less hassle. Bullying people is a self-defeating strategy, because it requires a level of paranoia that no one can really maintain. You guard will stumble eventually, and that's when your past victims will pounce.

3. Remember That Like Attracts Like: You set the attitude of your company. A dysfunctional company will not only attract dysfunctional people, but turn normally functional people into dysfunctional wrecks as long as they're in your sphere of influence. A healthy, happy workplace, where pride in work and success takes precedence over fear and treachery, is more productive, and more profitable for everyone involved.

4. Remember, It's Business, Not War: While the strategies of Sun Tzu and Macchiavelli are helpful when dealing with hostile entities, you can't forget that you are in a business. The purpose of business is that everyone is supposed to walk away with what they want. That precious "double thank you" moment is what you are aiming for. It's not about grabbing your piece of the pie out of the mouth of the other, it's about getting the right ingredients together, and making a fresher, bigger pie with the filling of your choice. For you to win it is not essential that the other person much lose. With reasonable business people there is always a win/win option somewhere. It just takes a little imagination and work to find it.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Harvey Weinstein The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Oh, Harvey, you obviously didn't read my letter to you. Shame on you. Though I did hear that you challenged Nikki Finke to produce an e-mail about your relationship with Sidney Pollack, and that you offered to donate $1 million to charity if she did it.

Well, she did it.

Now you have to drop that million to a deserving, or be called a double-talking four-flusher, again.

But I'm here to help you Harvey, help you help yourself, by helping me.

I suggest donating the million to the Furious D Foundation for the Improvement of the Lifestyle of Furious D. Its mission is simple, to help me live the lifestyle that I wish to become accustomed to, and your donation could be that first step, to not only helping me, but in helping yourself.

So...



Sunday, 28 September 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #173: Dear Harvey

The following is an open letter to Harvey Weinstein, head of the Weinstein Company.

Dear Harvey-

Now I'm not the type to butt into someone else's business... okay, maybe I am, but that doesn't change the fact that I have something important to say.

Things have not been going well for you lately. Not only are some folks reporting that your films have been dropped by distributor MGM, but NBC-Universal managed to get a court order to block you from moving Project Runway, your company's only successful TV project, from their Bravo Channel to rival Lifetime, because of allegations of negotiating in bad faith. And to top it all off, your company's movies haven't exactly been burning up the charts, many are forgotten before they're even released, if they get released at all, hell, you can't even finance a Quentin Tarantino movie and have to go around, hat in hand, to get it made.

If you can't see that you have hit cinematic rock bottom then you need a smug-know-it-all like me to tell you.

You've hit rock bottom.

Especially when you started playing silly buggers during the negotiations with NBC-Universal over Project Runway. I can understand wanting more money, it was the Bravo channel's top show, and I can even understand trying to squeeze a few broadcast contracts for some of your company's more lacklustre productions, but when you allegedly said this to NBC honcho Jeff Zucker:
"You can only have in your life five true friends and I consider you one of my five friends. And I'm telling you I will not embarrass you."
When you dish out the Oprah-esque treacle to the head of one of the biggest media companies in the world, and then spit in his face by selling the show behind his back to someone else, that's not being a Hollywood player, that's a suicide attempt.*

The fact that Zucker didn't see the knife being sharpened when you spewed that bit of faux-spiritualism is his problem, and might be the subject of his own intervention, but we're not here to talk about him, we're here to talk about you.

What the hell were you thinking when you pulled that stunt?

Obviously you weren't thinking very much, or you wouldn't have done that.

While you may think of yourself as a major player in the movie biz, which you are to an extent, you are not of the sheer immensity of an NBC-Universal. This is not some independent filmmaker hungry to get a deal signed at Sundance before Washington Mutual foreclosed on the mortgage he took out on his parent's house to pay for his film. This is a massive multinational, multi-faceted, multifarious, multi-dimensional, conglomerate. They swallow up other corporations for lunch, and the Weinstein Company isn't even a snack.

And like him, or not, respect him, or not, Jeff Zucker is the man in charge of that conglomerate, and to bastardize paraphrase The Godfather's fictional studio boss Jack Woltz, you made him look ridiculous, and a man in his position cannot be made to look ridiculous.

No matter what you think of the man in charge, the vast weight of the entire corporation is now targeted against
you personally, because you made this mess personal with that little
Runway stunt.

Now I'm not saying that you should have taken their deal. If the Lifetime deal was really much better you should have taken it. What I am scolding you about is, if the reports are accurate, the appalling display of bad faith shown during the negotiations. If things didn't work out with all cards on the table, then there may be some griping, but otherwise not much bad blood, after all, business is business.

However, your actions during the negotiations, and the fact that there was enough evidence of that bad faith to convince a judge to use the weight of the law to block Lifetime from picking up the show, is what soured the milk.

And the problem Harvey, is you.

Or to be more specific, your attitude.

There seems to be this mindset in your company that in order for you to win, someone else must lose.

Well, true business is not supposed to work like that. True business is all about making both sides win. Everyone is supposed to walk away happy, and have that precious double thank you moment, because you both got what you wanted, and if that wasn't possible, then to walk away semi-amicably, knowing well that it was an issue decided by self-interest, and not a desire to somehow hurt the other, leaving the potential for future transactions wide open.

It looks like you did not handle the Project Runway negotiations with any intent other than to embarrass the "true friend" that you pledged to never embarrass. You couldn't just win, you had to make Zucker lose, and that's not a healthy way to do business.

Especially when the "loser" has the power to crush your relatively tiny company on a whim, let alone a vendetta. If you honestly think NBC-Universal, or any of its subsidiaries, will do any business with The Weinstein Company, then your ego is writing checks that your business can't cash. That bridge is burned to cinders.

And let's not forget all the other companies. How many will be willing to do business with someone who pulls a stunt like that? How many major networks and studios will be willing to get into bed with someone who pulls stunts like that?

Not many, and not for long.

Harvey, you have to pull your head out of your ass and remember, that you're a businessman, not a monarch. Your word is not law, subject to your whims and caprice, it is your bond. Times have changed, the money situation has changed, people aren't just going to base their decisions on a few past hits from the glory days. They want more than just an increasingly distant record, they want, no, they must, be able to trust the person they do business with.

And if you don't know that, you really should find another line of work.

Sincerely
Furious D

*It's also a very confused metaphor, but my point is made.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Paul Newman RIP

There are reports going around that Paul Newman, one of the last generation of actors that could be considered truly legendary passed away at the age of 83 after a long battle with cancer.

He came along during the waning days of the studio system, and made his name playing rebellious men, who despite the opposition of the greater society, or even rationality, never really gave up, because their rebellion was often all that they had.

He will be missed, but his legacy will live on through his work, not only in film, but in charity with his Newman's Own products and The Hole In The Wall Gang.

Be sure to check out his work in such films as:

Cool Hand Luke
The Sting
Hud
Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid
The Hustler
Slap Shot
&
Dozens more...


Saturday Silliness Cinema: Time For Some Education!

I've got a lot of great educational films, so pay attention, and maybe you'll get some learnin!

Sociology: All You Need To Know About the Working Classes


History: All You Need To Know About Hitler


Science: All You Need To Know About Life In the Future

Friday, 26 September 2008

Cinemaniacal: A Matter of Identity

I've been watching the PBS/American Masters miniseries on the history of the Warner Bros. movie studio, and it got me thinking about what made the studios so powerful, and the pictures they made so great in that long lost golden age.

It was identity.

Each of the major studios of that era had a specific identity.

Warner Bros, were the tough, gritty studio, that made street level films, filled with raw emotion and sometimes unsubtle social commentary.

MGM had "more stars than in heaven" and created a universe of glamour and glossy beauty filled with sunny songs and happy endings.

Universal looked into society's fears and foibles through the lens of fantasy and horror.

Paramount dealt in style, wit, sophistication, and romance on a grand scale.

Twentieth Century Fox, had their westerns and historical dramas, using the past to interpret their present.

And that's just what I'm rhyming off the top of my majestic cranium.

Now I'm not saying that Warner Bros. was incapable of making a witty sophisticated romance, or MGM a good crime movie. They did, quite often, but that didn't change the fact that they had an identity, a stamp that put a real meaning behind the logo at the beginning of the film.

And nor was that identity intentional. It was often based on gut instinct, specifically the instinct of the people who ran those studios. The original moguls were thinking about making money with one side of their brain, and leaving a lasting legacy with the other. They may be remembered as tyrannical, and meddling, but remember, they had a deep personal investment, of money, ego, and honour, in every picture. A personal touch lacking in today's movie studios.

Today's studios are now merely cogs in massive, ponderous mega-conglomerates that make Jabba The Hutt look positively svelte. The people that run them, faceless, uniform drones, who get hired, get fired, and are usually quickly forgotten. Their mark on the studio and its output fading quicker than it takes to cook minute rice.

Today's minute-moguls don't run the studios with the intent of putting themselves into the company. It's not their name on the watertower over the production office, and most of the time they have no real substantial stake in the company enough to invest their own identity into the company. There are simply their to see what they can take out of the company.

And I just don't think that's a healthy way to run a business built on art, or an art form based on business.

But that's just my opinion.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

The Case of the Wild Weinstein

It was a Thursday in September, and I was pondering about whether or not to make this a Hollywood Babble On & On post, or just knock off one of my cautionary parables in my Case Files. I decided to go with the meta-fiction, because I hadn't done it in a while, and there was a knock on my office door. There's no rest for the wicked when you're Furious D, Private Dick.

"Come in," I said pulling out a Colt .45 to handle any surprises. The door swung open and in stormed Harvey Weinstein, and he was about 10% more livid than usual.

"Gimme a swig of that," barked Harvey as he grabbed my malt liquor and downed it two gulps.

"I'll bill you for that," I said.

"Fine," he growled. "Listen, I need a private investigator."

"So," I said, "we're not going to run around with the 'private dick' jokes this time."

"I don't have time for that bull
spit," growled Harvey, then he paused. "What happened to my ostentatiously colourful language?"

"
Dang it," I said, "I'm being edited for television. Fudging censors!"

"Forget them," said Harvey, "I need someone to find out something! Some really serious ship is happening. There are reports that MGM has dropped almost all of my movies from their fudging release slate!"

"I was hoping that you were going to ask me to find out why independent filmmakers still sell you their flicks," I said.

"That's none of your business," snapped Harvey.

"Or why anyone would still invest with your company."

"Enough of the snide commentary on my
fudging business practises! Will you take my case?"

"Got nothing better to do," I said, "but like all of my Hollywood deals, it's cash up front."

"
Fudging heck."

***

"Paging Mr. Hoshana," said a voice on the intercom as I drove by the headquarters of Dreamworks. "Will Mr. Hoshana please report to reception." I s
miled at the misunderstanding, and remembered my days as a Shabbas Goy for a non-observant family, it was a good job, not much to do, but good work nonetheless, then I realized that despite all my skills, I was a really bad driver.

When I regained consciousness my classic '38 Lincoln Zephyr was halfway up a palm tree, which was really odd, because I was driving a Toyota. But I was just outside MGM headquarters.

***
"Hello Sugarbuns," I said to the temporary receptionist Sugarbuns McGee, her twin sister Sweetycakes worked over at United Artists.

"Hi Furious," she said, flashing me her pearly whites, then she smiled at me.

"I need to someone in charge," I said, speaking crisply, like iceberg lettuce in a badly botched metaphor, "someone in the know, someone with his pulse on what's going on in this meshugginah company."

"You need to see Mr. Leo," said Sugarbuns.

"Right away," I said, "all snappy like."

"Do you think you can just swan in here and speak to the head of a major studio without even an appointment?"

"Do you think we can repeat a joke from another story," I said, "somebody might actually read these things."

"Well, he's in a lunch meeting with some folks from William Morris," said Sweetycakes, " so he's gonna need something to wake him up, go right on in."

***

Leo The Lion was MGM's top honcho, the headman, the big cheese, the grand kahuna, the Royale with Cheese, and all those other metaphors. He was also the logo for the company, and a lion.

"Hey Leo," I said, as I came into the office. The agent from William Morris turned from his Waldorf Salad to face me, royally
passed off.

"You can't just walk in here like..." I then took out a mirror, and the agent was instantly enraptured by his own reflection.

"Hey Leo," I repeated so I could be heard over the sound of Leo munching on his lunch gazelle.

"Hi Furious," said Leo.

"What's the rumpus," I asked.

"What rumpous?" asked Leo, cocking his heavily maned head to one side, to show of the grey streaks he had died in to make himself look respectable.

"The word on the street," I asked. "There are reports that you've dumped the Weinstein Company's product."

"Well they dump product every day," said Leo, "hell, I forgot that they were even in the business of releasing movies."

"What about the Kevin Smith film?" I asked.

"Oh that," said Leo, daintily wiping some gazelle from his chin with a napkin. "Listen, who is going to take their date to a movie with the word 'porno' in the title? And it's not like his movies have burnt up the box office lately. I mean he's got some talent, and his films are cheap, but we need crowd pleasers, and outside of 1408, the Weinstein Company hasn't been making many crowd pleasers. In fact they've been mostly stinkers."

"Whaddya mean?"

"They stink up the joint, they're money-losers, no one would pay to see them if they were the last movie on Earth," said Leo, "even they don't like their movies. Hell, they even started a whole new company to dump them where no one will see them."

"So it's nothing personal," I said, "it's just business."

"Business is personal in Hollywood."

"Good point," I said.

CASE CLOSED

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #172: Random Autumnal Thoughts

SILVERMAN SPINS IT RIGHT ROUND BABY, RIGHT ROUND, LIKE A RECORD BABY, RIGHT ROUND, ROUND ROUND...

I'm almost starting to feel sorry for NBC's Ben Silverman, almost. In a recent interview with CNBC (h/t-Nikki Finke) he sang the praises of his network to its finance minded subsidiary, bragging about how it recently whupped the competition in the ratings.

He neglected to mention that what did the whupping was the Beijing Summer Olympics and that none of the other networks ran any serious competition against the venerable sporting event. And he also neglected to include the little tid-bit that any programming put out by NBC without Michael Phelps winning a gold medal makes the CW look like a fountain of hits.

Some might call this putting a "spin" on things, but it's more like a frantic Jim Carrey-esque flailing of the limbs, and doesn't really create much confidence in how the NBC network is run.

But on the bright side, he at least showed up for the interview. With Silverman's reputation for missing things that's a major step in the right direction.

THE UNIVERSAL THEORY OF RELATIVITY: U+R=$

In sort of related news, NBC's sister company Universal Pictures has inked a new deal with financiers Relativity to finance a healthy chunk of Universal's production slate. (h/t-Nikki Finke)

Now some folks are wondering how this is possible with the global credit crunch going on. Well, the money is out there, I've been telling folks that it isn't the end of the world, more of a speed bump than a crevasse. And all you need to attract that money is be a good place to do business.

Now when it comes to Relativity Media LLC , I'm going to bastardize Teddy Roosevelt when I say that they must speak softly and carry a big law firm if they do business with Hollywood on this level.

I salute you Relativity, you've got a pair of stainless steel ones.

An Open Letter To David Blaine

Dear David Blaine.

I try to stay out of meddling in the lives of celebrities, but your antics in recent years have driven me to do it.

Please, please, get your head out of your ass.

I'm begging you.

You were once a pretty skilled illusionist, but these stunts have made you a walking joke. So what if you get encased in ice, starved for two weeks, hung upside down, or have starving rabid ferrets inserted up your anus, it's become boring. The only entertainment value left with you is the fleeting schadenfreude they feel when one of these lame stunts finally backfires and your eyeballs pop out of their sockets.

Have you considered doing magic?

You know, the thing that first made you famous before you decided to become the king of lame endurance stunts?

You used to be pretty good at that, and I know coming up with new illusions is tough, when the temptation to go the easy attention grabbing route of almost killing yourself on an annual basis, but no one outside of the media cares.

Right now magicians are having their second golden age, with salaries and bookings reaching levels unheard of since the golden age of vaudeville. I know it's may go against your image as a hipster rebel, and requires a level of non-self-flagellating showmanship you are possibly incapable of, but you don't have to wear a tux, and maybe you can hire a hot assistant to distract the audience from your rather bland personality.

So let pulling your head out of your own ass be your greatest stunt.

Sincerely
-Furious D

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Strictly Business: The Roller Coaster Ride Continues

Stocks are still going up and down like a whore's drawers, but there are a few rays of light at the end of this tunnel. First, Warren Buffet, King of the Investors, is putting $5 billion of his own moolah into the battered Goldman Sachs, after their transformation from being an investment bank to a commercial bank.

Now some of the experts are saying that Buffet's actions are born from decades of weathering storms going back to McKinleynomics. Also many of these experts are saying that while housing prices may fall further still, the Mortgage Backed Securities are worth even less. And even the worst case scenario says that around 10% of mortgages may default, that still leaves 90% paying their mortgages on property that's still worth more than the paper the mortgages are written on. So even the defaults could turn profitable.

There are also reports of the FBI possibly calling shenanigans on the goings on at Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and AIG. This comes after allegations of profit overstatements, phantom mortgages, and other monkey business.

So just stay calm. This will end, but the world won't.

And since all I did was talk about money here's a picture of the stunning Zooey Deschannel to brighten an otherwise dry post. Thanks.


Monday, 22 September 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #171: Money Makes The World Go Round Unless You're Paramount

Yes, the stock market is having a bit of a freak-out this week. That's inevitable as profit taking mixes with hysteria, but like I said before, it's not the end of the world.

And as the always ebullient Nikki Finke reports, while Paramount is forced to find investment money on a picture by picture basis, Media Rights Capitol, an independent production company, had their application for a $350,000,000 line of credit oversubscribed by potential investors.

Now why is a relatively small company fighting off investors, while such a large company with such a storied history is having to go, hat in hand, for money?

Well, it's simple really.

Despite the roller-coasting of the stock
market, the money is out there. In fact, expect a rash of buying, as people buy up woefully undervalued assets at bargain basement prices. There are also billions of dollars in international investment capital is being pulled out of Russia every, due to the aggressive, autocratic, and kleptocratic Putin regime. The oil-plutocrats of the Middle East also hold billions in their cash reserves. All that money has to be put somewhere where it will grow, and despite the recent upheavals America is still a model of stability in the investment world, and movies a tempting and glamorous target to invest in.

Movies are high risk as an investment, with a lot of films failing to make a profit, but also high reward. One blockbuster could make your year. Plus there's the cachet of being a "big wheel" in the movie business, which,
for some reason, makes you out as being more important than a cancer researcher or peace-making diplomat.

However, dealing with major Hollywood companies ranges from annoying, to frustrating, to downright maddening. While people can expect to lose money if the film fails, and can accept that as being part and parcel of a risky business, what they can't accept is when the film makes a bundle at the box-office, and they still lose their shirts because the CEO's investment in Bolivian tin-mining got nationalized.

Paramount didn't help themselve either by almost becoming completely dependent on Dreamworks, and Marvel for major releases, collecting only distributors fees, and having a lot of their in-house productions vanishing without a trace. And even their biggest in-house hit Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull left Paramount with the steam off of Spielberg and Lucas' pee once their massive dollar-one gross cuts were taken.

That ain't healthy.

MRC is comparatively small, and comparatively new. It has potential to be very lucrative, and its relatively small size means it can't bury investors the way the major studios do daily.

So right now could turn out to be a good time for an independent producer and/or distributor. The money is out there, it's looking for a home, and doesn't want the hassle of dealing with the big boys.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #170: Does Anyone In Hollywood Entertain Anymore?

A tip of my Bob Fosse-esque porkpie hat to the effervescent Nikki Finke for this little piece about Dolly Parton.

To sum it up, Dolly was in Los Angeles for a preview run of her stage musical adaptation of the 1980 movie 9 to 5. There was a glitch, some of the scenery broke or something, and the start of the show was going to be delayed. Dolly got up from her seat in the audience, and led them in an impromptu sing-along of her hits while the problem was fixed, and by reports, a good time was had by all.

Now think for a minute if it hadn't been Dolly Parton in the audience.

Imagine one of the new crop of stars and starlets being in that position. How do you think it would turn out?

Probably with them storming off to go nightclubbing, pausing only to have a hissy fit at the play's staff for ruining, just ruining their show, and then land a DUI on their way home at 4 AM. Meanwhile the audience waits, stews, and develops a resentment, whether intentional or not, towards the show.

So why did Dolly Parton get up and sing?

Because she's a pro, and that she understands the true nature of her profession.

She knew that it was her show, with her songs, and that she promised the audience entertainment, and she did what she could to keep that promise, no matter what.

That's what a professional does.

And why do I believe that most modern actors and singers couldn't do it?

Because they've never worked without a net.

In the old days, known as The Golden Age, most actors, singers, and assorted entertainers had done their time trodding the boards in the Vaudeville theater circuit, and later in nightclubs before becoming big stars. Dolly followed a similar path playing many a backwater redneck bar. These were the sort of places where if you sucked, the audience let you know, by hurling verbal abuse if you were lucky, rotten tomatos if you weren't luck, and furniture if you were really unlucky. To make it you had to be committed 100% not only to your own career, but to honing your talent, and especially winning the hearts and minds of the audience.

Most of today's "young set" are picked up pretty much out of puberty and coddled, protected, and essentially spoiled. They've never had anyone outside of an anonymous internet forum tell them that they sucked, and even then their posse of assistants, publicists and hangers-on run interference for them. They've never had to work in actively hostile environment where the folks around them not only didn't kiss their ass, but thought they were lower than dog-dirt unless proven otherwise. They've never tasted the sting of bombing, or appreciated the rush of winning over a hostile crowd.

The only commitment young stars make these days is to their image, and image is illusion. They don't operate without a legion of assistants and technicians to prop them up. If things aren't perfect, complete with a dialogue coach, and electronic voice enhancing, they don't just soldier on like an old school vaudevillian, they fold up faster than The Flash on laundry day. Couple that with a bizarre sense of entitlement that since they're famous, that they must be right about everything, and they start taking themselves way seriously, and embarrassing not only themselves, but the entire industry.

To them appealing to the audience is considered pandering, and beneath them, because they are real "artistes" who are somehow above entertaining people. Forgetting that entertaining people is how art is accomplished, and that those masses of the great unwashed are the folks who pay their salaries by putting their bums into theatre seats.

And it's hurting Hollywood as a whole. Despite a few broken records, attendance is down, ticket prices keep going up, and the vast majority of the public writes off the folks in show-biz as "Hollyweird." Now the public expect their stars be a little eccentric, that's part of the entertainment value, but annoying, self-righteous, and narcissitic are things they just won't abide.

My advice, whenever Hollywood picks some unknown to be the "next big thing" I suggest sending them to do stand-up, or play music, whatever, in some of the nastiest, rowdiest, and openly hostile venues available. Maybe being taken down a peg or two, will make them appreciate the view from the top and just who really put them there.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Saturday Silliness Cinema: Sex Ed Time

Okay kiddies, time to take a break from my usual cogent, bitingly witty, and oh-so humble discussions of the movie business and get some education rammed down your pie hole.

Today I have two videos that will teach you all you need to know about sex.

A Guide To Venereal Diseases:


A Guide to You Conjugal Rights:



Mucho gracias to Harry Enfield and his chums for these frank educational films.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #169: Dreamworks Goes Bollywood, Paramount Sulks

It's official, the men behind Dreamworks have won their freedom from Paramount, thanks to Indian media conglomerate Reliance and its $500 million in equity and $700 million in debt. Which tells you a lot about the strength of the fast-growing economy of India, which will be a power to watch in the near future.

Paramount seems a tad ambivalent about losing one of their major sources of films, (you know, the thing Paramount is supposed to produce to make money?) and released this statement: (h/t Nikki Finke)

"We congratulate Steven, David and Stacey, and wish them well as they start their newest venture. Steven is one of the world's great story-tellers and a legend in the motion picture business. It has been an honor working closely with him and the DreamWorks team over the last three years and we expect to continue our successful collaboration with Steven in the future.”

“To facilitate a timely and smooth transition, Paramount has waived certain provisions from the original deal to clear the way for the DreamWorks principals and their employees to join their new company without delay.”

"The acquisition of DreamWorks has been beneficial both creatively and financially for Paramount and accelerated our strategy of focusing on our world-class franchises and brands. It gave us a solid slate of films to fill out our lineup, a valuable catalog we were able to monetize, and a development pipeline that will bear fruit for us for years to come. The acquisition jump-started our rebuilding plans, which are now well underway and include promising upcoming releases such as Star Trek by JJ Abrams, G.I. Joe by Stephen Sommers, Transformers 2 by Michael Bay, David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, among many others."

While I don't mind Paramount taking a moment to shill what they have coming down the pipeline, the statement really makes no mention about the massive entangled relationship they had with Dreamworks. Ever since the purchase it was often hard to find out where one company started and the other one ended.

Now I'm no legal expert, but I do know how things usually end in Hollywood, and I figure that a lot of lawyers are going to make a lot of money sorting this out. Yet another thing to distract Hollywood from actually making movies.

Oh well, it may not be much, but at least it's a cheap excuse to talk about movies, and a cheaper excuse to post a picture of Bollywood Goddess Aishwarya Rai.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Strictly Business: Don't Panic!

At the time of this writing it looks like the economic apocalypse many in the media have been predicting has been averted as the stock market, media companies especially, rebound after the massive plunges I discussed earlier.

Now I'm not saying that the roller-coaster ride
is over. The stock market, like everything, follows patterns, and in situations like this, things will go up when folks start buying to take advantage of the bargain basement prices. Then, when they have their profits, they will sell those stocks, causing the prices to go back down, though probably not as badly. So the market will be going like a pair of whore's drawers for a while yet, then things will calm down.

So don't panic, it is not the end of the world.

Now I don't want to sound like a know-it-all, two days of losses that I
even though that is my usual tone, but I actually did see this coming. Especially when it came to those sub-prime mortgages and the overheated housing market. I had one of those epiphany moments, much like the probably apocryphal tale about a Wall Street Bigwig in 1929, who was getting his shoes shined one day. While getting his shine on, the shoe-shiner bragged about how he made a killing on the market by buying stocks "on margin."

Buying on margin meant that the broker "loaned" up to 2/3s of the stock's price to the buyer, and thanks to the 1920s literally roaring with prosperity, speculation abounded, with everyone getting into the game.

The problem with buying on margin is that if the Stock Market does anything other than keep skyrocketing beyond the realm of reason, that shoe-shine boy, and hundreds of thousands of other small investors were looking at bad debts at best, complete ruin at worst.

That Bigwig, knowing the nature of markets and the inevitability of economic tidal gravity, saw what was coming and got his money out of the market.

I had a moment like that bigwig. I enjoyed the first season of an A&E show called Flip This House, where a South Carolina real estate developer took run down properties, rebuilt them, and sold them for a profit. The most entertaining part of the show was that no matter how crazy his scheme sounded, it always came together in the end. That and I developed lusty thoughts for the developer's positively adorable southern belle sidekick Ginger Alexander.

Now dozens of other shows popped up on just about every cable channel that could get away with it. I checked out one of these other shows, and in it a woman in Los Angeles' Echo Park neighbourhood was flipping a hundred year old house. She literally did everything wrong, and I mean everything, and she still ended up selling the house at a profit.

I then realized that there had to be thousands of similar amateur flippers roaming the cities and suburbs of America, drunk on cheap sub-prime mortgages, knowing nothing of what they were doing, and still making money despite their incompetence, because the real estate market was overheated and overvalued.

The turd of stupidity can only float so long before it gets flushed, and like those margin stock-players these people were accruing massive debts that relied on their market to keep shooting skyward, in order to avoid disaster.

Now Real Estate has always been considered the safe bet f
or investment, because as Lex Luthor said: they ain't making any more of it. And after the CEO perp-walk festival of the early 2000s, and in response to the wave of new regulations governing corporations, everyone, institutional investors included, were getting into real estate big time.

So, we ended up with a perfect storm. Amateur flippers walking the tightrope thinking it was the straight and narrow path, banks, backed by a completely dysfunctional Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac, doling out mortgages like candy at Christmas, and institutional investors buying up those freshly bundled mortgages as investment securities. Like tulips, margin stocks, dot-coms, derivatives, and all the other boondoggles, everybody got into the game, and they got in way over their heads, confident that everything was going to be all right.

It was all bound to come crashing down.

Except when you're on the heights, it's hard to see the bottom until your nose is slammed into it. Then comes the hard work of rebuilding and starting over.

So expect some mergers, acquisitions, and other activity for the next while, until things calm down. Too bad I don't have any money, because the past few days was a great time to buy.

All you have to do is not panic.

Damn, I did a whole post without mentioning movies. Somebody in Hollywood better do something crazy tomorrow.

I can't just write about money without relating it to the movie biz. I'm too narrow minded.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #168: Does Attention Whoring Really Work?

A recent commenter at this post talked about how stars have lost their air of mystery via the 24/7/365 bottomless tabloid chum bucket, and in turn have lost their real power as stars. I've written in the past of how the quality of stardom has gone way down since Hollywood's Golden Age, and I've even formulated a scientific solution to determine who are real stars and who aren't.

But I'm going to look at a single facet of this modern age of post-stardom, where celebrity is handed willy nilly regardless of ability or appeal. Today, I'm going to talk about attention whoring.

My definition of attention whoring is when a "star" plays along with the whole tabloid chum bucket game in order to promote or extend their own career.

A classic example of this is the recent behaviour of "actress" Megan Fox.

Megan Fox is an attractive girl, though the tattoos are a turn off for me (call me old fashioned) and she's been in the successful Transformers movie, and has landed a some more work, and been a regular on the gossip blogs and tabloids. But I guess that she's feeling a little left out lately because yesterday she got more coverage than the collapse of Lehmann Bros. by confessing to having an affair with a Russian stripper when she was 18.

Is it just me or does this all seem a tad contrived?

I mean it comes across as the sort of movie pitch lobbed in Chatsworth rather than Hollywood with hot girl on girl barely legal action (Google's gonna be sending me the pervs for weeks) and appeals to the most prurient elements in humanity. Toss in a lusty plumber arriving to "fix their pipes" and you've got the plotlines of over a dozen back-room rentals. It also got her scads of media attention, way more than anything she's actually accomplished professionally, you know, with her acting, and will no doubt guarantee her more work.

But will it actually help her career as an actress?

Probably not.

If such shameless attention whoring was truly effective, Paris Hilton's The Hottie & The Nottie would have outshone Titanic and The Dark Knight at the box office.

Because there are two kinds of fame an actor can have.

Real Movie Star Fame (RMSF) is where an actor is someone that people would gladly pay $10+ to spend 2 hours with in a darkened theatre because the audience knows that this actor is appealing, talented, and carries a certain guarantee of quality, if not for the whole film, but at least for their work in it.

Tabloid Schadenfreude-Plank-Spank Fame (TSPSF) is basically where an actor's career is based almost entirely on people feeling superior to the sort of folks getting caught snorting cocaine off the buttocks of a Thai prostitute, while committing Hollywood's gravest sin of being fat, or because the dirty-raincoat brigade has a hankering for collecting their upskirt shots, or shots of them tanning topless to put in their fantasy file. (I'm going to get perv swarmed, I just know it)

Now those few with RMSF can have long, and healthy careers, as long as they avoid the trap of taking what many think is the easy road of TSPSF. It seems like the easy way, because the tabloid chum bucket loves it (they have spaces to fill and a lowest common denominator to reach) but it's a road lined with landmines, booby traps, and quicksand.

I'm not asking that actors live like nuns, I know that impossible for them, they are actors after all, I'm just asking that they act with a little discretion, or maybe even a little class.

With the way Hollywood is right now, that would be an incredible novelty.

And for those folks who have come looking for pictures to fit all the "keywords" Google's going to find in this post here's a picture for you:

Take that as a learning experience.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #167: The Bull, The Bear & The Bullshit

Hollywood is in a tizzy right now because there's been some upheavals a transpiring on Wall Street yesterday and today. The sub-prime mortgage boondoggle has already brought the venerable merchant bank Lehman Brothers into bankruptcy, and caused Merrill Lynch to be sold to Bank of America, as well as other upheavals. The Bull Market, which has been dominant, off and on, since the 80s, is on one of its off phases.

Now how does this affect Hollywood?

Well money is the life's blood of the movie industry, and if you go by the word of the studios, Hollywood movies, especially the blockbusters, don't make any money. To stay in business they need a steady supply of suckers investment capital from Wall Street.

Most of the major studios, minus Paramount & MGM, have long term deals with outside financiers, and it's uncertain how, or even if these upheavals in Wall Street will affect them, but a lot of people are predicting doom and gloom for the economy in general and film financing in particular.

I have to differ.

I'm not an expert, or an economist, but I have seen the ups and downs in the markets for most of my life. I remember the gas shortages and malaise of the 70s, the recession and interest rate freak-out of the early 80s, the swings between the "Greed is Good" 80s which saw highs, crashes, and all sorts of shenanigans, the S&L bailout, the go-go 90s, the dot-com boom and bust, the early millennium CEO perp-walks, and everything in between.

Despite what many say, America is not entering another Great Depression. Approximately 6% unemployment is a long way from 25% unemployment, and while Wall Street is entering a period of uncertainty and unrest, things will settle down and recover. This is what happens when Wall Street puts all of its eggs in one basket, it's happened before, and it will happen again.

Now there is a way for Hollywood to turn this upheaval to its advantage. Remember this is an industry that actually thrived during the Great Depression, so riding out this unpleasantness should be easy.

Easy if it pulls itself out of the death-spiral it's put itself into.

Financiers are already leery of getting into bed with Hollywood, even when times are good, and lately have been willing to only put in money it could afford to lose, or to take advantage of some sort of Bizarro world tax-shelter scheme where losing money is transformed into a plus.

So how can Hollywood ride out the Bear till the Bull comes back.

Easy.

Eliminate the Bullshit.

That's right, Hollywood will have to follow this simple plan to keep their industry solvent. And they can have it all for the low-price of 5% of all gross profits earned with this plan. (I'm not greedy.)

1. SIMPLIFY: I know I'm a broken record on this issue, but it's essential. Too much Hollywood business is built on hare-brained, overly complicated schemes that make Ponzi schemes look positively rational. People are now suspicious of such vehicles, especially since the chief reason the sub-prime mortgage market collapsed (apart from giving away mortgages like candy in a grossly overinflated market) was that when things started to backfire, no one knew who owned what due to the incredibly Byzantine structures of these deals.

2. EMBRACE REAL CAPITALISM: The purpose of real capitalism is that both sides in any deal are supposed to walk away happy. It's the reason why both you and the clerk at the sandwich shop both say "Thank you." You both got what you wanted out of the deal. This means treating investment partners as investment partners, not marks.

If a film loses money, they will understand not making any money on it, but when a film makes money, and in some cases, lots of money, and they still don't see a dime, they're not going to stand for it anymore. End the silly games that screw people out of money, and pay people what they are owed, when they are owed it. Don't let every deal end in litigation, it'll cost more in the long run than anyone can imagine.

3. END STAR SALARY MADNESS: I've talked before about how too many "stars" are being paid too much money for delivering too little at the box-office. The day of the "star" being the main selling point of a film is pretty much over, thanks to the bottomless chum-bucket of our celebrity tabloid culture. I don't mean that stars should get paid nothing, no, I think they should be paid a rate in accordance to what they're worth. A standard should be set for determining how many dollars a star actually brings in, and how that relates to their salary. Most films these days lose their profit margin simply because its star got paid too much for what they can deliver. Also the policy of paying massive up front fees and large pieces of the gross deals has to end.

I like people being paid well and getting a piece of the action, but not when the practise is used as an excuse to not have any profits at all. That not the way to win any new investors.

What must be done is to slash the up-front salaries of the top ranks of the under-performing A-List to something more in line, sweeten the deal for those who can deliver with a piece of the action, and actually pay that piece, even if it's a piece of the net, don't jerk them around. If an actor can't live on $5,000,000 - $10,000,000 a picture as an up-front fee, and a piece of the profits, then they have bigger problems than anyone can solve.

4. CONTROL COSTS: Technology has made film/tv production cheaper to do, yet costs usually have an inflation rate that goes beyond Zimbabwe or Weimar Germany. Why? Star salaries is one thing, but inefficiency, managerial incompetence, extravagance, and an attitude that uses money over imagination to solve film making problems are also big contributors. Look back in film history, and some of the greatest, funniest, scariest, and most thrilling moments in cinema have been born from the necessity of completing a film on time and on budget. Every producer and director, when faced with a problem to solve in a film should say to themselves: Yes, we have the means to produce eye-popping effects, but is it as satisfying as some of the simpler tricks done in more frugal times?

5. EMBRACE THE AUDIENCE: Too many films are being made to appeal to Hollywood under the guise of "art" and not Mr. & Mrs. Average Moviegoer, leaving only the big blockbusters as the only source of real entertainment left. Bring back the middle-ground, movies with good guys and bad guys, laughs, thrills, and anything else that will appeal to people, and most importantly movies that don't insult them, or their beliefs.

No one is going to pay money to see a movie whose purpose is to make them feel bad about themselves, simply because it makes some Beverly Hills millionaires and their butt-kissing toadies in the critics corner feel superior to the great unwashed masses as if the average ticketbuyer was an enemy to be spurned instead of the foundation of the industry.

Mass entertainment requires a mass audience, and until recently, there was no one who brought in the mass audience better than Hollywood, and it's time they did that again. Better economic times can support darker, more cynical fare, but for now, it's time to take a break and make some money to afford that brand of snobbery.

It's not that hard, though it will take hard work and integrity, two things that seem to be missing in Hollywood these days.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #166: NBC, The World, and The Human Factor

A tip of my sun-baked pith helmet to the fragrant folks at Defamer for this report about the latest antics of NBC, and if it's true he is not long for his corner office.

If you're too lazy to click the link, I'll try to sum it up for you.
You see Silverman thinks he's found a brilliant new business model that he claims will capitalize on NBC's 4th place status.

One of the facets of this cubic zirconium of managerial brilliance is the use of international co-production to supposedly make NBC shows "bomb-proof," by making them profitable, even if they don't attract many viewers.


Now I'm all for international co-productions, co-operations, foreign sales, and all the wonderful capitalist goodies that lay in dealing with the wider world. But I don't think Silverman gets the point, not only of co-productions, but also of being the head of a major television network.

1. International co-productions exist so that producers and broadcasters can share costs and resources to maximize profits where the project would be untenable if any one partner was to try it alone. There's nothing wrong with it, and it can be a profitable deal if you have the rights and ownership issues settled and locked in iron before the first frame is shot.

2. When you are the head of a network, you do not, repeat not, run your network on the assumption that your network's ratings are going to suck.

That's essentially a declaration of surrender. Advertisers do
n't like people who surrender to low ratings, because they pay to get their messages out, not to have it clog time on shows people do not watch.

The head of a network has to have one goal, be the head of the number one network in the country. There's no glory in being #2, and waaaay less if you're #4 and have to worry about being beaten by the freakin' CW network.

There's a key ingredient to network success that every TV Mogul must at least acknowledge, but Silverman seems to have more or less forgotten.

THE AUDIENCE

The audience is the raison d'etre of the TV network, the object of the TV Mogul is to get as much audience as possible. Not settle for a little number on a chart.

And that just might be the core of Silverman's problem as a TV Mogul. The audience is just a number on a chart to him, not people with likes, dislikes, and dreams of their own. To him, it appears that ratings is simply mathematics, and not about people and winning them over.

This may come from the fact that Silverman's a product of a system where the denizens of the executive offices are more inbred than the darkest Deliverance themed fantasies of Appalachia. His family was in the business, pretty much all of his work has been in the business. The only people he encounters that are not in the business, are either wannabes, who are trying to get into the business and will thus kiss his ass, or the guy who mows his lawn.

Mr. & Mrs. Average American and their 2.5 children are just data points, not people. He doesn't seem to care what they like, or want in their shows, because he doesn't seem to encounter them in his daily life.

And that can only hurt NBC unless something drastic happens.

The Case of the Livid Lee

My office was located on the 13th floor of the Hassenpeffer Building on the edge of Hollywood. An old art-deco behemoth built during the days when Hollywood made money by making movies. The morning sun was shining as usual as SUVs driven by intoxicated starlets swerved wildly on the street that went from the nightclub to the rehab clinic.

I checked my answering machine. Nothing but the usual raging, screaming message left by Alec Baldwin, this time it was something about Republicans and ocelots, but I didn't pay much attention.

There was a rap on my door.

"Go away MC Hammer," I said, "this isn't your fan club!"

"Then why are you wearing the puffy parachute pants?" asked MC Hammer.

"It's a comfort thing," I said, shooing the rapper away. Then came the sound of trumpets. Sprightly nymphs, dressed in gold-chain-mail bikinis danced down the hall, sprinkling rose petals as they went by. Then four heralds, dressed in silvery and gold thread livery, entered, they blew on their trumpets.

"Hear ye! Hear ye!" said the chief herald, whose name was Harold, by coincidence, "all bow down to the great and profitable glory of Judd Apatow!"

"Judd Nelson?" I asked.

"Judd Apatow," repeated Harold the herald.

"Bud Flatow?" I asked.

"JUDD APATOW!" yelled Harold the herald.

"I know," I said, "I was just messing with you."

The heralds blew their trumpets one more time and in came a sedan chair made from compressed $100 bills, and it was carried by Seth Rogen, Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, and John C. Reilly. On top of that sedan chair was Judd Apatow.

"Greetings commoner," said Judd Apatow from his lofty height.

"Why don't you come down and you can tell me your problem," I asked.

"Great idea," said Seth Rogen, "My shoulder's killing me, and I've got a bad case of the munchies."

"Quiet you," snapped Apatow as he climbed off his sedan chair, "without me you'll be stuck playing a wacky neighbour on a sitcom on the CW!"

"Yes master," said Rogen.

"Now go wait for me in the parking lot," said Apatow, "I have important business to discuss."

The minions bowed and backed out as I guided Apatow into my office.

"Now that we have the exagerrated mockery of your commercial success done with," I said, "why don't you tell me your problem?"

"I think Spike Lee doesn't like me," said Apatow. "Word's going around that Spike Lee didn't want a poster for his new movie hanging next to a poster for one of my movies!"

"And by word going around you mean Nikki Finke," I said.

"I want you to find out why Spike Lee doesn't like me," said Apatow.

"I don't think he likes anybody," I replied.

"But I'm the closest thing to loveable you can get in this town," said Apatow, "my films are cheap, most make buckets of money, and I think the fact that so many come back to work with me, means I'm easy to get along with. That's why I need a dick."

"A private dick?"

"Let's not flog a dick joke," said Apatow.

"You do in your movies."

"Just find out why he doesn't like me," said Apatow, plunking a bucket of money on my desk, "I got eight movies coming out today, I don't have time for this!"

***

I found Spike Lee at his home in New York City.

"How did you get here from Hollywood so fast?" asked Lee.

"Editing," I answered. "I've been hired by a guy named Apatow."

"I know who he is," said Lee.

"He wants to know why it's being reported that you don't like him," I said.

"Well," said Spike with a shrug, "It's simple really. I want to keep working."

"What do you mean?"

"My output's been uneven at best," said Lee, "and my public image has hurt my ability to sell to the general audience. So I need to be in a feud with someone more successful than me to keep work coming."

"That's why you picked the fight with Clint Eastwood last year?"

Spike Lee nodded. "Sure there weren't any black soldiers raising the flag on Iwo Jima, but I had to jump in, so I could get my own war movie, Miracle At St. Anna, made."

"But the film's done, and it's coming out soon," I said, "why start another feud?"

"Because the film is overlong, slow moving, and most critics are saying it lacks a cohesive narrative," said Lee. "I need a distraction. It was either pick a fight with Judd Apatow or let my films stand on their own merits, and that takes a lot of work and the risk that Hollywood may forget about me."

"So it's nothing personal?"

"Just business."

CASE CLOSED