Friday, 28 November 2008

Saturday Silliness Cinema: A Salute To 4 Yorkshiremen

When I was in junior high (way back in the 1980s) a group of kids, their brains demented by exposure to Monty Python Live At The Hollywood Bowl, did their own version of one of the skits from that movie. It was the first time I would see anyone perform The Four Yorkshiremen sketch. It was about four "self-made men" from Yorkshire sitting at their club enjoying their drinks and cigars, and reminiscing about their past.

And that's when it starts to get weird...

That simple premise created a comedy classic, but contrary to popular belief it was not originally a Monty Python sketch. It was originally written and performed by John (Monty Python) Cleese, Tim (The Goodies) Brooke-Taylor, Graham (Monty Python) Chapman, and Marty (Young Frankenstein) Feldman for their ITV sketch series At Last... The 1948 Show!

Sadly, ITV destroyed most of the episodes of that landmark series, and only a handful survived, luckily, part of that handful was the original performance of The 4 Yorkshiremen.




The sketch would live on in that fine comedy tradition of using whatever works, and was revived by Monty Python for the Hollywood Bowl Show.




The sketch also became a staple of the annual Amnesty International Secret Policemen's Ball show where it's performed by members of Python, and a young upstart named Rowan Atkinson.




And it's not just for comedians, in fact normally dramatic actor Alan Rickman joined in a performance of the sketch at another Amnesty International show, with Eddie Izzard, Harry Enfield, and Vic Reeves.




And as I said before, it's not just for professionals. Amateur theatre/comedy troupes do it to. Like this group the Ullenhall Players of England.



Each performance is subtly different, as each group puts their own twist on an old classic. Enjoy.

The Boob Tube: Rosie's Thanksgiving Turkey

The NBC Peacock turned into a turkey this past week with the disastrous debut of Rosie Live, Ben Silverman's attempt to revive the American variety show with ex-comedian, talk show host, and all around showbiz gadfly Rosie O'Donnell and all her "friends.*"

Now I'm not the type to say "I told you so," but I have to admit, that I did tell you so.

The ratings were tied with a show that's been cancelled, and the reviews from the brave but scarred handful who actually sat through it, will probably go down with the
Star Wars Holiday Special in the annals of specials that were made special by their sheer awfulness.

The networks are all rushing to revive the variety genre, offering every celebrity with a bad home-equity loan their own show, because the reality shows and game shows just aren't cutting it anymore, and they need something that's cheaper to make than dramas and sitcoms.

The problem is that not everyone can host a variety show. It's a rare gift, and essential to the show's success. Rosie O'Donnell does not have that gift. Her "nice" act, which carried her talk show, is not real nice, it's phony Hollywood nice, which is based more on ass-kissing the more famous than actually liking anyone, and her hatreds are too militant, to widespread, and just too open. She's the modern equivalent of Arthur Godfrey firing Julius LaRosa on air, but without the charm Godfrey was at least able to fake.

I think variety can have a comeback. It just can't work without the right person.
*Translation: People forced by their NBC contract, and people who are too scared of her to say "no."

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #197: It's A Settlement, But Is It Settled?

The Writers Guild has a settlement with independent mogul Tyler Perry over the writers fired from his House of Payne show. Apparently it took intervention from the NAACP to help finalize the deal.

The fact that it took the involvement of a group as large and as prominent as the NAACP to help settle what should have been a standard business procedure doesn't bode well for the future of Perry's business, as I explained in my previous post on the matter.

Why don't you give me your opinion.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #196: What Can Unions Do?

Things don't look too good for the Hollywood unions. SAG is going on strike, the WGA is angry about the studios not living up to their agreement, and just about everybody is getting screwed over.

What can they do?

Well, here's a short plan for the unions to eventually get the upper hand.

1. NEVER FORGET PRIORITIES. Too many times unions, especially in show business, get distracted from their ultimate goal by internal politics. The end of a contract term is not a good time for divisions to suddenly pop up. They should be settled long before then, so a strong united front can be presented. This is because the AMPTP has made negotiations into war, not business, and in war, there is only one goal: Getting the best contract they can get.

2. PLAN AHEAD. As soon as a contract is signed, plans should be made for the next contract. That means getting resources together, preparing a grassroots alternative media campaign, and knowing exactly what they want, and how they can get it. This also means putting together a big war chest for the worst case scenario of a strike, and figuring out what your opponent will do against you, and develop the proper countermeasures.

3. REMAIN CALM. There will be problems, and no matter how well you prepare, there will be some who break away. And when livelihoods are threatened, tempers can get short, but you cannot lose your temper. Anger is a tool of your enemy, and whatever they do to you, just shrug it off and enact your plan to neutralize it.

The big media companies will always try to make the showbiz unions look like a conclave of rich spoiled brats having temper tantrums. Do
not prove them right. Always calmly state your case, work to get your word out, and do not let them set you up. You should also never give them anything they can use against you in the future, like publishing a list of people to be shunned for breaking with the union. That just allows the AMPTP to compare you to McCarthy, don't let them do it.

4. BE UNITED. One of the biggest problems with the Hollywood unions is that while their contracts all tend to end at the same time, they all negotiate separately. Now sure, each union has different needs, but they have more in common than they think. Now you will have some union leaders, who shall remain nameless, playing silly games, trying to jockey themselves as the last union standing over the others, but since they usually share a lot of members, there are ways around them by replacing that leadership.

Then all the Actors, Writers, and Directors can present a truly united and powerful front for their shared goals. The AMPTP will try to divide and conquer, but that resisted with strength, leadership, and, most importantly, a plan.


5. FIND ALLIES. The self-fulfilling idiocy of the major studios hurts more than just the writers, directors, and actors. Pretty much everyone is getting a royal screw job by the upper management.

Who can they go to?

Try the agents, they're losing their 10% commission on that lost money, and while this may sound a little out there, they should also look to the individual and institutional shareholders and investors. The silly games played by the studios to keep from paying the creators, are also screwing many of the shareholders and investors out of their dividends. In this uncertain economy, no one can afford to piss away money in a tax-dodge. Every investment has to earn or be dumped.

Promoting a simpler, more cost effective, and more profitable business plan can undercut the standing of the management. That's because in Hollywood, only the management seems to profit, through pay, perks and power, while shareholders and investors often don't see the dividends promised by that management.

The unions should make it very clear to these potential allies, that they are not revolutionaries, out to bring capitalism to its knees while stout men in overalls break wind in the palaces of the mighty, but reasonable people, with reasonable demands facing an unreasonable system.

In real capitalism there is always a way for everyone to walk away happy that I call the "double thank you moment" where both sides say thank you, because both got what they wanted. Studio management doesn't like that, because it whittles down their own cut of the pie, but investors love it, because it not only makes that pie bigger, it makes other, fresher pies.

Hopefully this plan might help someone make a better deal someday.

Hollywood Babble On & On #195: Coming Back Like A Bad Lunch

A tip of my jaunty fez to Nikki Finke for this report about how the movie mogul's association the AMPTP got the National Labour Relations Board to condemn the Writers Guild of America for publishing the names of members that went "fi-core" during the Writer's Strike.

Now for those who need to get their memories refreshed: Fi-Core is short for "financial core" which basically meant that they broke from their union to either keep working, or forge their own agreements with the moguls. The moguls made it easy for writers to go fi-core, and much to the chagrin of the WGA, a group of writers, mostly writer-producers in soap operas, went for it.

Now this is where the WGA made its biggest mistake of the strike.

They published a list of the members who went fi-core as if to shame them, shun them, and cast them into the outer darkness for betraying their comrades in the revolution. I opposed the list from the beginning, seeing it as a both immoral, in a "blacklisting" sense, and a major tactical blunder, and I have been proven right, again. I even proposed an alternative, a form of "truth and reconciliation" meeting to hash out their differences in private, to flush out the bad blood before it taints the union and its work.

Well guess what, it has tainted not only the union, but their work. At the very moment where the WGA is trying to get the AMPTP to live up to the contract they signed, the moguls get them slapped by the NLRB.

This isn't supposed to be war, it's supposed to be business. However, the unwillingness of the studios to reform their dreadful business practises have made this war. The moguls have kept their minds set on one thing, and one thing alone: Victory. Meanwhile the WGA has put ideology, righteousness, and control over victory. The whole fi-core situation was a classic "divide & conquer" move by the studios, and the WGA shouldn't have held it against them, they tried it themselves with their side deals with Lionsgate and United Artists. But the AMPTP just did it better.

The WGA should have known it was coming, and prepared plans and resources to counter it, before it damaged them and their cause. But they didn't, they sat back and hoped that being right would protect them, but being right doesn't put food on the table and pay the mortgage, and then screamed for vengeance against those who went off the reservation to forage for scraps.

I guess the best way to illustrate this situation is to keep with the war analogy. Imagine Army A has a treaty with Army B. Army B violates the treaty, even though it hurst them as well, but believes it will get away with it, because Army A is too busy chasing a handful of deserters into a trap, leaving Army A's territory undefended.

I would like to close with a piece of advice for the WGA: DON'T GIVE YOUR ENEMIES AMMUNITION TO USE AGAINST YOU.

How can they expect anyone in a position of authority to side with them when they gave the AMPTP all they needed to make them look like blacklisting goons, completely distracting everyone from the issue of contract violations. They have only themselves to blame, because they took their eyes of their mission: Victory.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #194: SAG's Gonna Go On Strike?

It looks like the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) is heading for a strike. Talks have broken down, attempts at mediation are being rejected, and the mogul's group, the AMPTP has been crowing about how their last offer was their last, best offer, and that nothing will get SAG a better deal.

SAG doesn't think it has much choice, even if they wanted to accept the AMPTP's last offer, they just have to look at the Writers Guild of America and how the AMPTP has failed to live up to the contract that ended the Writer's Strike.

Now this can end badly for both sides, and here's why....

PROBLEMS WITH S.A.G.:

1. SAG is rife with divisions that delayed negotiations from starting, and it was seen as a terrible sign of weakness by the moguls. They couldn't even agree on at least presenting a united front in the face of their mutual enemy, and those divisions could rear their ugly heads again, during the strike, which could destroy their cause.

2. SAG doesn't have a big enough war chest, most of their members are out of work already to pay for A-List salaries, and the Guild could be crippled financially by a protracted strike. Unlike the moguls, they don't have any parent corporations to carry them.

3. The "A-List" will most likely be no help at all. The top 1% of actors are too busy cashing the bloated fees that allow them to jet off for golf weekends in Dubai, to rock the yacht. Because rocking the boat might lead the studios to taking a long hard look at how much they are really worth, and with most of them unable to sell tickets to a bunker during a nuclear war, it could cost them dearly.

PROBLEMS WITH THE AMPTP:

1. Film finance investors are getting antsy. With the markets in free fall, credit being crunched they are watching the one legal industry to grow during the Depression shooting itself in the foot through bad management decisions, and bad faith negotiations. They are not going to toss their money into a black hole where only the management seems to profit.

2. Parent companies, and individual and institutional investors could also start getting antsy. There comes a time when their so-called "losses" designed to hide money from the tax-man doesn't seem like such a good idea anymore, when the stock values of the only legal industry to prosper during the Great Depression are tanking worse than sub-prime mortgage brokers. They're going to want such constant litigation, labour actions, and the inevitable governmental interference that comes with it, to stop, and these companies to settle their problems and start paying dividends like a real business or fold.

3. It's only a matter of time before someone decides that the movie studios are too easy a target for a nice white collar crime prosecution. As I've said before, it's too tempting, and the moguls are too busy pissing away their power, by pissing too many people off. Their political clout will only go so far, especially when the unions and shareholders realize that they're both getting screwed.

So it looks like Hollywood is intent on giving itself a meltdown, and they don't even see it coming.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Saturday Silliness Cinema: They Come From A Land Down Under

Today we have some comedy from the upside down land of Australia, specifically from the Ronnie Johns Half Hour, starring the comedy troupe the 3rd Degree. Enjoy.






Friday, 21 November 2008

Writing Update...

The book of the blog is coming along all right.

I'm structuring it as a sort of introduction to how the movie biz works (or doesn't) for beginners, and it's giving me a chance to cram in all the history and trivia I've accumulated over the years. I'm adapting some of my older posts, writing new articles, and digging up as much stuff as I can for it.

I have over 40,000 words so far, so I'm really halfway there so to speak.

I'm also adapting one of my script projects as a novel. Why? Because I just can't seem to function until I'm doing too much.

Wish me luck.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #193: Will Waxman Go Hollywood?

I don't normally talk about politics on this blog, but this is where politics, pop-culture, and the business behind pop-culture meet, sort of like an accident where two limos collide.

Nikki Finke thinks the studios should start to worry because Rep. Henry Waxman (D- California) has been named Chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which oversees not only energy policy, but also the Federal Communications Commission and other elements of the entertainment business. The indefatigable Finke is pretty sure that Waxman will go after the studio bosses and their recent shenanigans over paying people what they owe them.

Now I've done a little cursory research on Rep. Waxman, and most consider him very partisan, aggressive, and, according to one Nikki Finke commenter who describes themself as a liberal Democrat, a "muckracker" who goes after "easy targets." My rough research seems to back up that description and it's also turned up some reasons for him to go after the Hollywood moguls.

1. Hollywood has made itself an easy target. As I described in a previous post Hollywood has been shooting itself in the foot over the years with its shoddy, inefficient, and sometimes borderline unethical business practises. Add the glamour of celebrities brought in to testify in Washington about how they've been screwed over, something the TV networks and news channels can't resist, even if they're corporate siblings of the studios being raked over the coals. It's a perfect storm of politics, publicity, and perfidy that very few people can resist, and I don't think Waxman can.

2. The people getting screwed are Waxman's constituents. Waxman's district covers all or parts of Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Malibu, West Hollywood, and other regions of the Greater Los Angeles Area. The moguls are wealthy, and no doubt major donors, but you must know, to a congressman, votes are what matter when it comes to keeping their job. With that in mind you must also know that there are very few moguls in relation to the vast numbers of people these same moguls screw over on a regular basis that live in his district. The moguls may have lots of money and status, but they can't deliver the votes.

Hollywood has dug this hole, and now they have to do something pretty dramatic to dig their way out of it, because if Waxman decides to go after them, even if only to feed his ego, because it's just the sort of thing to spark the interest of an ambitious prosecutor who thinks the path to high office lies at the end of a White Collar Perp-Walk Parade.

But Is It Art?

I'd just thought I'd take a moment for a wee bit of philosophizing.

A member of a writer's forum I belonged to asked about the difference between "art" and "hack" work done only for money. Well, I think that even hack work is art, all creative human endeavour is art, sure 95% is crap, but it's still art. The only division I really see is between well done art, and poorly done art.

A lot of people like to poo-poo on certain books, and films, especially genre fiction and movies as "hack work" and not "art." That's just snobbery said by people who call their coffee "vente mocha-lattes" and still think the Sundance Film Festival is relevant to anyone outside of Hollywood. The most common argument they use is that "such & such was just done for the money," well I say, so what?

Shakespeare didn't write so that high school students could be forced to speak Elizabethan English centuries after his death, he wrote so he could sell tickets to people by telling the best stories in the best way he can.

Does his motivation somehow negate his "art?"

Not in my universe.

The reasons why someone made a film or wrote a novel don't really matter to me. The matter is the end result. Is it good? Does it entertain? Does it make one think? Those are the questions one has to ask when evaluating a film.

Now there are times when someone goes too far, aiming solely for sales because of some trend or fad, instead of a desire to win by telling the best story the best way they could, and while they're still art, they lack that certain something. I'm not saying that such projects are doomed to fail, most do, but some do succeed, but they just don't have the "legs" of truly great art. The rapidly become dated, an artifact illustrating just how silly and tacky the people of past really were, but unable to make that all important emotional connection that will take them through the ages.

That's my opinion.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #192: The Self Fulfilling Idiocy Keeps on Fulfilling, Idiotically...

Oy gevalt.

I just can't understand the people who run Hollywood these days. I mean I can contemplate their motivations, and even theorize about them, but I just can't picture myself doing the same things.

That's because I have the ability to see things beyond the next quarterly bonus.

Too bad no one in Hollywood seems to be able to do that.

The story goes something like this, according to reports by Nikki Finke, the Writers Guild are currently having conniptions and hurling threats of legal actions, labour actions, and any other kinds of actions they can think of at the studio's bargaining body the AMPTP because the promised residuals for "new media" presentations of the TV shows and movies they write are not getting paid.

Can you see the problem inherent in this decision?

If not, I'll explain.

Now the moguls are probably thinking that they're being smart because of all the money they're saving and how it'll boost their bonuses enough to buy Aston Martins for their trophy wives and their mistresses too.

They're wrong.

They're being really, really, really stupid.

Think about it for a second...

Okay time's up.

There are two reasons why all these shenanigans are a false solution that can only succeed in creating more problems or what I call a self fulfilling idiocy.

REASON #1: FINANCIAL
Money is tight right now, investment capital is even tighter. While some studios have some pre-set deals with specialist investment houses to handle financing their films, some, like Paramount, don't, and those deals don't cover everything, and Hollywood needs that money, and lots of it.

Now imagine that you're a wealthy investor, you have a money, and you don't want to play the stock market right now while it's currently nose-diving, and want a safe place to put your money to work.

Would you invest with companies that are willing to risk expensive labour actions, and litigation to get out of paying a bill that's probably no bigger than an average CEO's annual bonus?

If the people who provide the material that makes the industry function can't get paid, can you honestly trust them to pay you a return on your investment?

The answer to both questions is NO.

REASON #2: LEGAL/POLITICAL
Okay, right now the AMPTP's moneyed membership are being accused of fraud on a massive scale and of negotiating in bad faith. The AMPTP thinks they're safe because they're juiced in with Washington, especially with the incoming Democratic administration/Congressional majority, but that's not all it's cracked up to be. Two groups of people can turn the ever fickle Washington against them.

A) The Unions. United, the unions can join with other labour organisations like the AFL-CIO to raise a major stink with the politicians, and while the AMPTP members can provide money and media support (which many critics consider a default anyway), the Unions can mobilize money, volunteers, and votes.

B) Shareholders. The glamour of show-biz can be dazzling, but getting your picture taken with Angelina Jolie at Wolfgang Puck's Oscar party can only go so far when their investment isn't putting any green in their bank accounts. They're going to start wondering why the executives get so much, they get so little because the guys getting so much claim there are no profits to share. They're going to start making their own noise, and pulling their own strings.

And if A and B do this at the same time, the moguls can look forward to real trouble.

All it takes is one ambitious US Attorney, or State Attorney General looking to get loads of face time in the press with indictments that'll spark speculation about which celebrity will testify against who. Sure, the media conglomerates own most of the networks, but even their own corporate catamites can't resist the temptation of an "A-List" star on the witness stand.

Plus, look at the career of former New York State Attorney General Eliot "Pass the Hooker" Spitzer. A smart prosecutor could indict a cocker-spaniel if it was rich enough, sparking publicly humiliating perp walks, firings, and costly consent decrees, and sometimes convictions whether he had an actual crime to prosecute or not. Spitzer became the terror of Wall Street, and got himself elected governor on this before his own sins caught up with him.

And there's a good reason for this...

Grand juries, and trial juries do not like rich men. They'll indict or even convict if enough people claim the evil Snidely Whiplash ripped off their investment. They don't see a successful business man or woman in the defendant's table, they'll see Snidely Whiplash laughing as the orphans are cast out of their home into a blizzard while stroking his evilly waxed moustaches, and they'd vote to hang if they could.

Sometimes they don't even need a crime to do it.

All I can do is beg the people who run Hollywood to step back from the abyss, before it's too late and they end chewed up and spat out by the politicians they think they own.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Why I Can't Get Excited About Star Trek?

Paramount will soon be releasing their "reboot" of the venerable Star Trek franchise with a new, younger, prettier, cast taking over as "young" versions of the characters from the original series, and I just can't get a full blown geekasm built up about it.

And that means something, because I was raised on the Trek, not only the original series, the Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager, and I was one of the few who supported the short-lived Enterprise.

This new version strikes me as the Muppet Babies version of Star Trek, an attempt to rehash the chemistry of the original show in a younger package.

Judging from the trailers and publicity material every character looks like their pretty much fulfilling the same roles they played in the original series with very little consideration for the age differences. When Kirk would have been a recent Star Fleet Academy graduate, Sulu, Chekov, and Uhura would have been in high school at the most, not Star Fleet, newbies or not.

Part of this I blame on Hollywood's ongoing case of Juvenile Dementia where they think that all problems can be solved, and all movies sold if ieverything just appears to be young and hip. Got a franchise that lost its lustre, make it "young" again. Forget about the history of the characters established in the original show, just get someone who will get the tweens to coo about how "dreamy" he is when they see his picture on the cover of a magazine.

The other part of the blame I lay at the feet of Star Trek's fans, or Trekkers as the prefer to call themselves. They love to talk about the show's social commentary, and how the utopian society of the federation (
despite it's fascist undertones) could be an inspiration for our own.

Yet when any deviation from that utopian vision, is spurned by the Trekkers as they would spurn a rabid dog. Case in point: Enterprise. In it there was no Federation, Vulcans were helpful, but had their own agendas, and the captain and crew had to fight, sometimes dirty, to not only lay the foundation for their future utopia, but often for their simple survival.

Trekkers were repelled by the lack of arrogant self-satisfaction and smug superiority on the part of the Federation characters in Enterprise that dominated all of the Next Generation shows and movies.

(Except for Deep Space 9, whose frequent toe-dipping into moral ambiguity, and stories built on the frequent failing of technology and diplomacy kept it from being as popular as the others, which I think proves my point even further.)

All in all, the new film might be great, it might be awful, but either way, I just can't get myself excited over it.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #191: When Is It Time To Go?

The history of Hollywood is littered with the shattered, tattered remains of studio bosses who tried to hold onto power long after their careers had jumped the shark, and instead of retiring with dignity, ended up forced out, their achievements buried under a wave of sour grapes and ignominy. Very few of the original studio moguls retired of their own accord, usually forced out by shareholders with ammunition laid out by the moguls themselves.

The main reason for this is because Hollywood is held in esteem far beyond it's actual importance. Don't believe me? Think back to the wall-to-wall coverage and 'in depth' investigation given to the death of washed up pin-up and Z-List actress Anna Nicole Smith, and compare it, in both quantity and quality, to the media's investigative coverage of the backgrounds of the recent presidential candidates. Celebrities are given way more attention than their accomplishments deserves, with the relatively new phenomenon of people who are simply famous because they're famous.

Glamour is like a drug, just look at the constant fame-whoring of past-their-sellout-by-date performers like Madonna, people who are famous for no good reason like that Kardashian woman, and countless other celebutards who regularly, and publicly, debase themselves for their next fix of fame.


Being the boss of famous people is also like a drug. It intoxicates, clouds the mind, and makes people think of themselves in terms far beyond what their reality can deliver. It also takes the boss' mind of what their main task is, which is to make movies that make money for their shareholders and investors, and put them on paths where no movie mogul should tread.

One path has them producing, or distributing films that aren't intended to earn money, but instead earn pats on the back from their social set for their "courage" in spending other people's money without fear of any reprisal other than the apathy of moviegoers.

The other path is where they completely disdain not only the opinions of the general audience, but of their colleagues as well. They start meddling in everything, insisting that their every brain fart is sheer genius of Einsteinian proportions. There's no room for compromise, cooperation, or even common sense, it's the whims of the mogul, or the highway, with nothing in between.

Either way is not healthy for the company, as money starts to dry up, and shareholders and investors start collecting these sins to use against the mogul that has offended their wallets.

Now how does one know when a mogul is about to head down these dark paths?

In my opinion, the surest way to determine that a mogul's has jumped the shark is the first time they ask: "Don't you know who I am? I'm (insert first name) Fucking (insert last name)!"

The moment any executive says something like that, their mind is no longer on their true business, and it's time to move on.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Saturday Silliness Cinema: A Few More Goodies

Today another episode of The Goodies, this time it's their version of Mad Men with It Might As Well Be String.






Friday, 14 November 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #190: NBC-- Nobody Blames Chief?

A tip of my jaunty fedora to the fragrant folks at Defamer for this report about troubles at the flailing, failing National Broadcasting Company. Ratings for the venerable former home of Must See TV are starting to make them jealous of the CW network, shows are being axed, demands for heads to roll are coming in, and network honcho Ben Silverman is playing Cover Your Ass.

He, or his sock puppets, are leaking the blame all over Katherine Pope, the President of the Universal Media Studio that produces most of NBC's shows.

Sure, she gave the studio's green-light to the just cancelled
My Own Worst Enemy, Lipstick Jungle, and last year's Bionic Woman which ran off into oblivion faster than Jaime Sommers on a meth binge, but she didn't put the shows on the air. NBC did.

NBC currently has all final decisions made by Ben Silverman, or at least he was supposed to make those decisions. Stories abound about his absentee management style that takes all credit for what few successes the network can muster, but passes all blame for failure to his subordinates. Just two months ago he was putting the head of his Executive Vice President Teri Weinberg in the noose for similar failures, just with different titles.

Which brings me to the topic of this post.

Responsibility.

Spider-Man knew all about when his Uncle Ben told him that
with great power comes great responsibility. When you are the boss, you have to act like a boss.

That means setting an example by:

1. Working harder than everyone else below you. You have to be the corporate version of the Marine Corps, being the first one into fray, and the last one to leave. Good subordinates will be inspired by your work ethic, those who don't should be removed like fat at a liposuction session.

2. Giving proper credit for successes where that credit is due. Most executives don't want to share good credit for fear that those who get the credit will somehow supplant them. Well, the opposite can be the truth. People who feel that their hard work is appreciated, are much more loyal, less prone to treachery, and make you look better so that you can take your boss' position.

3. Taking responsibility for failures when they happen. This is not a question of "if," failures in film and television are inevitable and must be handled with speed, intelligence, and a lack of venom. That's when a real boss takes the ultimate responsibility, declaring that the buck stops at his desk, but also already has a plan of action in place to handle the situation at hand before any corporate bloodshed. In television failure is always an option, it's how you handle it is where your own success or failure as a boss is judged.

So far, the management of NBC-Universal isn't exactly inspiring confidence, so if anyone from NBC-Universal's parent company, GE is reading this, here's something you should consider...


Thursday, 13 November 2008

Allow Me To Explain- Take Me To The Pilot

Everybody, for good or ill, watches television, but very few people know about the process of how the shows they watch, both beloved and benighted, actually get on the air.

Now some of you have read my little explanation of what producers do, and the difference between Executive Producers, and regular Producers. It's a little different in television, because in television there are
two types of Executive Producers.

You see the first kind of TV Executive Producer is what I call the "money" producer. They put together initial package for the show, which involves getting a production company or studio to finance the making of a pilot, and makes the sale to a network.

The second kind of TV Executive Producer is also called a "show-runner." It's their job to handle the hiring, firing of staff and cast, picking of scripts, day to day operations and relations with the network.

Okay, now that I have that all clear, we can move onto The Pilot.

And I'm not talking about the guy who operates airplanes, I'm talking about show-biz here.

In TV lingo a pilot is basically a test episode. Where the characters, premise, and overall feel of a show is presented. The pilot is financed by the production company/studio via the deal organized by the "money" Executive Producer and is quite a risky venture on their part, because over 90% of pilots fail to clinch a series, and can cost millions of dollars to make. If they don't sell the pilot, the financiers are out of pocket and unlikely to make it back unless it's made in some sort of stand-alone format like a TV movie that might at least be aired, or released on DVD.

TV drama and comedy, is a very writer dominated business. Most show-runners are writers or former writers, and the other producers, who handle a lot of the many tasks needed in running a major TV show, are usually also writers, their rank of producer or associate producer, showing their rank on the writing food chain, with either the show runner, or another producer acting as head writer.

Pilots that get made into a successful series have hit the jackpot. The network usually pays for all the production costs, as well as staff & cast salaries, and keep all the profits from the initial airing, and first round of repeats. The producers, cast, and studio make their real money when the show enters syndication heaven. Syndication is where a show that has enough episodes to fill a healthy daily rerun schedule gets sold to air on local and cable stations, sometimes in perpetuity. The studio and producers keep all the money they make from syndication.

Now in the age of media mergers with the lines between studios and networks blurring, the networks try to get a piece of that sweet syndication cash. Some networks are showing preferences to picking pilots produced by studios related to them, and then, if they survive, selling those shows (under market value) to rerun on cable networks they own. Some networks, since they're also acting as the studio, are passing on making the pilots entirely, and commissioning whole series from just a pitch.

This "keep it in the family" attitude has had created more problems than it solved, with networks unsuccessfully rehashing old shows, and ripping off low-rent reality shows, and leaving many actors, writers, and producers cheesed off and unwilling to bring their "A Game" to these networks because the rewards are so little. So the old system, in some form or another, will probably return as soon as the architects of the current boondoggle are ousted.

And that's how television is made.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #189: Soul Men Didn't Sell

The Weinstein Company's downward death spiral is continuing with the collapse of the comedy Soul Men starring Samuel L. Jackson and the late Bernie Mac. LA Times blogger Patrick Goldstein had some musings about the possibility of race being involved in the film's failure, but I have to differ.

I think it has more to do with what I call the "Curse of the Weinstein Company" where they act as King Midas in reverse. I'd say everything they touched turns to shit, but at least shit has uses as a fertilizer, the only purpose the great bulk of films they release is to squander millions of other peoples money.

I saw some of the ad campaign and didn't see anything that could make the film appealing. The ads I saw were few and far between, and had no laughs, no warmth, no real connection. Just two middle aged men trying to recapture their youth via a string of comical misunderstandings, and contrived set, a genre that had been born and died with
Wild Hogs.

And let's not forget the absolutely awful hairpiece they slapped on Samuel L. Jackson's head. It looks like he was wearing a squirrel's hide.

The film was an R-Rated comedy about middle aged people and a musical genre mostly listened to by middle aged people. Teenagers will not go for it on principle, and it would have required a hell of a lot more effort to get the target audience, middle aged people out of their homes and into the theatres. That requires a killer ad-campaign, not the limp, drab campaign that seemed to want to coast on the memory of the late Bernie Mac than selling the film's humour.

You can't really sell a comedy off a grave, even the grave of a funny man like Mac, whose recent passing gives the film a tragic note, that would taint the humour before the movie's even seen.

I don't know how funny the film is, the reviews had been mixed, but it tracked well with viewers, and that should have helped, if it had been exploited correctly. Which hadn't.

There were ways to overcome the film's negatives, but they were not taken, making the failure of this film just another sign that the Weinstein Co. seems to have given up on the movie business.

Hollywood Idiot Report

I normally don't make fun of celebrities here, and haven't done it in a long while, but this one was just too much to pass up. It's a list of "demands" ageing pop-tart Madonna insists Guy Ritchie follow during visits by their children.

Here's the list leaked to the media...

Here's my list....I hope she's banking her money to pay for all the therapy the kids are going to need when they're adults.

What would you add to the list?

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

A Moment To Remember

Today is Remembrance Day here in Canada where we take a moment to look back at the sacrifices made by our veterans over the course of two World Wars, the Korean Conflict, and the current conflict in Afghanistan.

World War 1 holds an important place in Canadian history. It was on those bloodied fields of France and Belgium, in places like Ypres, Passchendale, and Vimy Ridge that Canada felt for the first time that it was truly a nation. And it was a Canadian army doctor who composed the poem that captured the spirit of this day.

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Monday, 10 November 2008

You Asked For It?

Today I'm going to answer some questions and comments put forth by my loyal and fragrant readers.
Anonymous Thierry Attard said...

I'm waiting with the highest impatience your analysis about Quantum of Solace's B.O.

Wait no more, though I'm afraid I'll have to be a tad vague for now.

The stellar performance of Quantum of Solace at the international Box Office is pretty impressive, but what would make it either merely good, or really great, are the details of the deal between MGM/UA and its international distributor, which I believe is 20th Century Fox (correction: The Bond films are handled internationally by MGM/UA co-owner Sony.)

Conventionally an international distributor gets about 60% of that box office take to cover their costs for marketing, publicity, prints, shipping, and other expenses, as well as make a tidy profit for themselves, and MGM/UA's cut, while good, is not really Earth-shattering. However, there is another option, where 20th Century Fox Sony is a "hired distributor" where the company is paid a fee for their expertise and resources, and those aforementioned costs are paid for by MGM/UA. If that's the deal, MGM/UA will be getting 100% of that box office, which is pretty damn great as long as they didn't spend too much on marketing.
Blogger Alex said...

Let's see if they try not paying Heath Ledger's estate, under the pretense that his cut doesn't count because he's dead.

I bet they'll lose millions on the video release, too. Great excuse for not releasing Warner catalog titles:

"Sorry folks. We'll never put Brewster McCloud on DVD or Blu-Ray because The Dark Night lost so much money."

Am I jaded or what?

Yes you are jaded. But I doubt they'd try to keep from using Ledger's death as an excuse to not pay his estate a share of the profits, when burying those profits under the industry's mystic and arcane accounting rules will do it admirably, but with less bad publicity.

Stiffing someone through accounting is boring and doesn't get much media attention, but stiffing someone's estate because they are dead, especially someone who died tragically young and left behind a young family, is a public relations nightmare.

And when it comes to releasing movies on video, it's judged by how much money the movie could make on video, and movies that just gather dust in the vault, aren't even trying to make money. It might take them a long time to release a movie on DVD, so if you want them to speed up the process, try using the internet to show the company how much interest there is in getting the movie on DVD.

Now this may change when digital downloading becomes quick and easy, which would let the studios put their entire libraries online for download, at very little overhead cost.
AnonymousFuloydo said...

A question: When the opening credits say a movie is "A Joe Blow" film is that just a fancy way of saying Joe Blow was the director?

Yes, but like most things in Hollywood, there's more to it than that.
What you're talking about is called the "Film By" credit, and you don't see those as much anymore. It came with the popularity of the auteur theory which believed that the director was the ultimate author of the film. There was a time when almost any director could squirm out a "Film By" credit, but that came to a halt a couple of years ago.
You see, the Writers Guild didn't really care for directors being credited as the sole author of a movie when they didn't write the screenplay. New rules to qualify for a "Film By Credit" were hashed out, requiring a waiver from the WGA that agrees that the director in question also contributed greatly to the screenplay.
Tschafer said...

You might be a little hard on Mr. Bond here, D. Bond does have moral values other than patriotism, which we can infer from the things that we see him do, and the things that we never see him do:

-He never sleeps with an unwilling woman, or commits rape;
-He never sleeps with a married woman;
-He niver sleeps with an underage girl;
-He never intentionally kills an innocent person;
-He never lies about his feelings, that is, he never tells a woman he loves her just to get her into bed;
-He is coniderate to those who work for him, or who are his subordinates, and he is loyal to his superiors, and he often risks his life for both;
-He never boasts about his exploits, or uses them to bag chicks; if anything, he downplays them;
-He only kills those with whom he is at war, or those who who try to kill him.

In fact, James Bond pretty much sticks to conventional Judeo-Christian morality, the only exception being his sexual exploits with consenting, unmarried, adult women; but of course, even real knights were known for having that sort of weakness. Bond as depicted in film and story is a flawed man, a sinner, just like the rest of us; but he's is certainly not amoral.
I'm afraid we're going to have to agree to disagree on this subject. Ian Fleming apparently had no problem with other men's wives, so it's highly likely that his creation wouldn't have one either. And he seduces the wives, mistresses, and girlfriends of his villains many times. The fact that he isn't a rapist or a pederast merely says that he's not a complete psychopath, not that he's essentially moral. His treatment of women, as a seducer than abuser, comes from his own image of himself as the knight on a mission for Queen and Country, and one does not sully the Queen's honour with such nasty behaviour.

As for not knowingly killing the innocent, well, he wouldn't have any reason to kill innocent people, unless they somehow jeopardized his mission, then I wouldn't think he'd even blink before "neutralizing" the threat. Those guards at the embassy at the beginning of Casino Royale weren't inherently evil, or even at war with him, they were just reacting to the arrival of a crazy man shooting the crap out of the place. And just look at the way he drives through busy city streets doesn't say much for his consideration of others.

His considerate behaviour, though in the movies, he often annoyed the hell out of Q, his loyalty, his modesty, and his treatment of superiors and subordinates comes from his background as an officer of the Royal Navy, which is a facet of his patriotism. Officers follow certain rules of decorum, because they do not represent just themselves, but the honour of their Queen and Country as well.

I'm not saying Bond is evil, he is the hero after all, but he's a deeply flawed one, and he knows it. If you've read all the books, Bond is a lonely man, who will never enjoy things like family, real friendships outside of work, or even a long term relationship outside of flirting with Moneypenny. He's a weapon, he knows it, and will die alone and mourned only by Moneypenny, and a handful of restauranteurs, and he has accepted his fate because that oh-so British stiff-upper-lip attitude pretty much commands him to do so. The villains are like him, except they don't accept their fate, and try to go beyond it. Try reading my first Cinemaniacal post for more details.

I hope I was able to answer your questions.

Talk Among Yourselves: How Fast?

Warner Bros. is as happy as a pig in its own feces with reports that The Dark Knight is well on its way to topping the $1 billion mark in total box-office.

Now my question for you, my loyal and fragrant readers, is: How much time will pass between Warner Bros. last brag about the film hitting $1,000,000,000, and the moment they declare that film lost money and made no profits they have to share with anyone?

My prediction is that the upper management of Warner Bros. will achieve speeds faster than the speed of light to make that announcement, accidentally casting the Chief Financial Officer backwards in time to the reign of the dinosaurs.

What do you think?

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Allow Me To Explain- But What I Want To Do Is Direct...

Okay, last time I talked about the various kinds of Producers are the people that get a film made, today I'm going to be discussing the person who actually makes the film.

I'm talking about The Director.

The Director, otherwise known as the auteur, the filmmaker, the genius, the visionary, the no-talent hack, and the dictator, has a very simple job on the surface, but below that surface is a whole truckload of complications. Yes, it is the director's job to make the movie, but it's really the director's job to be the centre of everything.

You see film-making is highly collaborative with loads of people contributing, from the writers, designers, cinematographers, and just about every buddy and their cousin from Newfoundland. It is the job of the Director to cut through this clutter with their own vision to create the film, and to take the elements, ideas, suggestions, and orders from his collaborators to hone and improve this vision.

It wasn't always like this. Directing came from the theatre, and the first film directors just handled the actors, using whatever sets, props, and locations, were at hand, while the cameraman handled the technical aspects, and most cases, even the props, and the editors just took whatever takes were done right, and slap them together into a finished film. But that began to change when directors like D.W. Griffith started taking more control of things beyond the actors, to how the film looked, and how it was finally put together. I'm not saying that people like Griffith started doing everyone else's jobs, that would be nutty, but the collaboration system began. And as the technology of film-making grew more sophisticated, films needed some at the creative centre of the film to ensure that the stories being told were just as sophisticated.

When the studio system kicked in full steam in the mid-1920s most directors became salary-men, grinding out films assigned to them by their bosses, at a fairly regular rate. Yet even in this system some directors stood out because the qualities they instilled in their films made them critically and commercially appealing. Certain studios, usually the ones lacking in major stars, began vying for these filmmakers, even luring some in from the thriving European cinema scene, especially Germany.

In the 1950s the French magazine Cahiers du Cinema presented a new theory about Directors, popularly known as the Auteur theory. The micro version of this theory was that even in the restrictions of the classic studio system directors like Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Howard Hawks, and others, were the true authors, or auteurs, of their films.

Interestingly, this revelation coincided with the slow death of the studio system, transforming directors from studio employees to freelance artists. Now everyone wanted to be the Director, and the new phenomenon of film schools began turning them out by the classload.

That's not to say that film-making
became a happy kingdom where Directors made films the way they wanted to. He who pays the piper ultimately calls the tune, and only a select few of commercially successful director-producers had the sort of complete independence with their films for good or ill. Although reasonable producers, working with reasonable directors, usually have their creative issues settled before a single frame is shot.

Now what about those other "Directors" you see in the credits.

ASSISTANT DIRECTORS (AD): These fellows handle the little details so the auteur doesn't have to. Their responsibilities range from doing errands, passing along orders from the director, all the way to directing background players (or "extras").

DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY (DOP): This person supervises the technical aspects of lighting, camera work, and their relation to sets and physical effects. They take the director's vision and makes them into images on film.

2nd UNIT DIRECTORS: Almost every major feature film has two "Units." The first unit has the director, the DOP, the main cast, and the main crew. The 2nd Unit handles all the things that don't involve the main cast. This can include everything from major stunts, to "inserts" like close-ups of hands, feet, or props that don't need the original stars.

Next time, I'll explain how a TV show gets made.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Saturday Silliness Cinema: The Goodies

Today we're going to take a trip into the darkest recesses to see what truly warped my childhood. You see, when I was a little kid the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation used to carry a lot of British programs to fill time. One of those shows was The Goodies, possibly one of the strangest TV productions ever.

Officially, it was a family oriented sitcom, but it was in fact a seriously twisted and criminally underrated live-action cartoon that took physical comedy to extremes and back again. The premise was simple three men, money & fame obsessed Tim (Tim Brooke-Taylor), mad-scientist Graeme (Graeme Garden) and hyperactive hippie Bill (Bill Oddie) shared a small apartment and ran a small business called The Goodies. The business was to help anyone, anytime, anywhere. Each episode would feature a new job or get-rich-quick scheme that would lead them on strange and hilarious adventures.

In real life, all three men were graduates of Cambridge University, and had done a spell with the Cambridge Circus live show, as well as various TV projects with the likes of fellow Cambridge alums John Cleese and Graham Chapman. Tim, Graeme, and Bill had just completed two series of a sketch comedy show called Broaden Your Mind when the BBC asked them to come up with a family type show that every age can laugh at. After running through some ideas, they finally came up with The Goodies, and a legend was born.

Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie did the bulk of the writing while Tim Brooke-Taylor added material when needed, it's believed that Brooke-Taylor got top billing in the credits because he was also the show's main stuntman. The show was quickly recognised for its elaborate physical humour, sly and subversive satire of politics and culture, and loopy, cartoonish plots.

One story about the show's production was about a British media decency crusader named Mary Whitehouse, who wrote a letter to the BBC praising the show as wholesome entertainment. The makers decided to do everything they could to offend her, culminating in a show called "Gender Education" aka "Sex & Violence" in which the Goodies are hired by a decency crusader named Desiree Carthorse to make a sex education film without any references to sex in it. They deliberately upped the ante on sex and violence on the show, but still couldn't get her goat. They finally succeeded in offending her in 1980 with a Saturday Night Fever parody which featured Tim in a pair of underwear with a cartoon carrot printed on the front.

It also became known as the only officially recognised comedy to actually kill a man. 50 year old Alex Mitchell laughed so hard at the episode "Kung Fu Kapers" that he literally had a heart attack and died. The entire episode isn't available, but I do have this clip from the episode about the mysterious Lancastrian martial art of Ecky Thump.



The show ran throughout the 1970s until the BBC began to balk at the expense of the show's trademark elaborate sight gags, and the moved the commercial London Weekend Television for their final season in the early 80s. Sadly, LWT also balked at the show's high cost, cancelled it, and blocked them from performing together as The Goodies for years afterwards.

The show also languished for years in television purgatory, rarely repeated anywhere outside of Australia, and underrated as "just a kids program."

So to give you more of what you crave like the salivating dogs that you are, is the entire classic Goodies episode "Kitten Kong," in three parts. Enjoy.





Friday, 7 November 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #188: History Repeats Itself

A tip of my turban to Nikki Finke, who took some time off from her time off to post about Gov. Schwarzenegger of California is going to start fighting for tax breaks for the movie industry.

Hollywood and the state government of California have a lot in common. Both are very large, heavily bureaucratic organizations, that take in billions of dollars every year, that, more often than not, have nothing to show for all that money
in the end. Now California's mad that too many of Hollywood's productions are going out of state to far flung places like New York, South Carolina, and even Nova Scotia. They are going to these places to take advantage of generous tax breaks, cheaper labour, and well... everything else being cheaper than just staying at home in the Greater Los Angeles area.

Which strikes me as funny, because it was a situation a lot like this that made Hollywood the movie capitol of the western world.

Yep, I'm going to give you a little history lesson.

You see, back at the dawn of the movie industry production was centred in and around New York and Chicago. But the technology had limits. They needed a lot of light to shoot those early silent films, and the best source of enough light was the sun, so things were either shot outdoors, or in glass or open roofed studios.

Which meant that shooting in Winter, or on cloudy or rainy days was tricky at best. So folks we
re looking for a place with a variety of locations, cheap land, cheap labour, and most importantly sunny weather. A handful of short films were made on location in California, but they tended to be western stories that were actually set in California. That began to change when the Famous-Player Lasky Co. (later Paramount) was going to shoot their feature film The Squaw Man in Albequerque. But it was raining when the train carrying the location scouts arrived, so they went on to the end of the line, which was a little town outside the little city of Los Angeles called Hollywood.

Soon the occasional visits became a full fledged migration as film companies headed to Southern California where land & labour prices made it affordable to build large studios, the sunny weather made outdoor shooting cheap and easy, even when indoor lighting became practical, and use the widely varied landscape of deserts, palm trees, and forests, to simulate the entire world in a very small area.

Now this is where things start to go wrong.

The very success of Hollywood soon destroyed the elements that made that success possible. The population exploded, land prices went up, in some cases beyond fair-market value, and the resources of water and power grew strained from the consumption. Labour prices went up when the feudalistic tendencies of studio chiefs created a unionized backlash, which made the studios closed shops with ever increasing labour prices. Plus, that sense of "anywhere" was lost, buried under layers of suburban sprawl.

The big studios and unions are now trying to stem the outmigration of productions by trying to get tax breaks from the state and federal governments, but I'm ambivalent about it.

The class warfare part of me is annoyed by big government giving breaks to millionaires to somehow ease the problems caused by their own mismanagement.

The libertarian economics wonk part of me doesn't care for those tax breaks, because they are not based on the overall reduction and simplification of bloated and inefficient tax codes, but on the further complication of those codes to satisfy the politically connected elite.

And another part of me, the history wonk, thinks that this might be a natural migration, guided by the immutable forces of history, and the unwritten bylaws of business. Technology and economics have changed drastically in the intervening 90 years, movies can now be made anywhere, at any time of year. You can shoot in the rain, the snow, and the sunshine. Filmmakers no longer need to rent the "small town" set at Universal anymore when they can just fly to South Carolina, and shoot the real thing at half the price.

This might, in the long run, be a good thing for the movie business. It's been centred for too long in one city, creating an isolated, inbred, and narrow minded corporate culture that is as disconnected from the audience it's supposed to entertain as you can get and still be physically on the same planet.

So I think a case can be made to just let nature take its course. The forces that brought the industry to California, may very well scatter it to new places. It'll be unpleasant, radical evolution often has its problems, but it just might save the industry in the end.