Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #422: TWC- Totally Wants Cash

Welcome to the show folks...

The fortunes of The Weinstein Company are not looking very well. First, the $300 million success of
Inglorious Bastards* hasn't really trickled down to TWC, since Universal sucked up most of that, and what ever leavings TWC did get were not only sucked up by that movie's P&A costs, but by the extremely underwhelming box-office performance of their all-star musical Nine.

And to add insult to injury, there are
reports that Ambac, the company that's insuring TWC's $500 million debt, is possibly skimming the event horizon of bankruptcy itself.

That's not good, not good at all.

In fact, Goldman Sachs, who holds the bulk of that $500 million debt could come down on TWC and chop it into a million pieces, like Harvey himself has done to so many independent films over the years.

The problem with that plan is that TWC's assets, like its film library and the dust that's coating it is not likely worth the $500 million the company needs. Apparently buying and producing a truckload of movies, and then not releasing them is not a good business strategy.

Now the Weinsteins, ever masters of spin, are spinning like nuclear powered tops to try to put some lipstick on this pig of a situation. They're saying that they sold the foreign rights of the $64 million
Nine for $50 million, and that the film might still make money, completely ignoring the millions spent on prints, advertising, and their traditional hyper-expensive Oscar whoring, and let's not forget that the film is carrying the Curse of Nicole Kidman.

They're trying to use this same formula in an attempt to restructure the company's finances.

Which I predict will transform The Weinstein Company into a major studio.

The problem is that studio is United Artists after
Heaven's Gate.

Okay, I exaggerate.

But not by much.

It's actually a lot like MGM-UA.

Allow me to explain: TWC needs money to make the movies they need to make the money they need to get out of debt and become viable. The problem is that to get that money they need to make those movies, they need to rack up more debt and sell the foreign rights. Selling the foreign rights means that they're going to make a lot less money off those films, thus putting them in what strikes me as a hand-to-mouth on a grand scale situation.

And that's if each and every film they produce makes a profit domestically.

Unlike MGM, I don't see many outside investors rushing to play the white knight for TWC, not with the weak value of the library and the Weinstein brothers' reputation for just being hard to do business with. No one in their circle has the money or the time to waste propping them up so they can repeat the cycle that pretty much sank Miramax as a major player and is currently sinking TWC in a sea of red ink.

While I won't totally count the Weinsteins out, they are harder to get rid of than herpes, I don't really see this situation ending well for the company.

What do you folks think?

*I refuse to misspell and pander to Tarantino's pseudo-illiterate pretensions. Quentin, you are not too important to use a fucking spell check.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #421: Rue Brittania! Brittania Rules the Stage!

Welcome to the show folks...

Web site Cinematical recently posted a question: Why are British actors so versatile? And while the example they used was a German-Irish actor, he is still British trained and British based, which shows that what makes an actor "British" and "versatile" is not so much ethnicity, but
attitude.

You see the British Attitude toward acting is that it's a job, or a skill, like being a plumber, or an electrician, it is not a birthright, an elevation to some state of nobility, or even royalty. The British attitude is all about the work, the Hollywood Attitude is that it's all about fame and money.

This attitude and the versatility that goes with it, derives from a very primal instinct, and that instinct is survival.

Being a British "star" is not like being an American "star." The money isn't anywhere near as big, hit British films are rare, and even if you have a hit TV show in Britain, you're only going to do about 8-10 episodes a season, not the Hollywood standard of 25 episodes a season. If you're a British "star" you're going to need to keep working to make a decent living, and that means doing whatever movie parts you can get, TV guest spots, theater roles, and anything else that comes your way, even commercials.

When you're a Hollywood movie "star" that is your full time job, and not only that, being a Hollywood star comes with an "image" that must be maintained at all costs. Doing television is considered "slumming" or a "come down" no matter how successful the show may be. Doing low budget independent films are not considered slumming, as long as they fit some narrow "art house" mold, and help give themselves some "street cred." And don't talk about a "movie star" doing commercials, unless it's safely done far away and in another language.

For a British actor, there's no such thing as slumming above amateur porn, there's only
working. When they're feeling insecure career-wise, they take whatever work they can get, once they feel secure, they then become more selective, aiming for creative challenges, or working with people they like, over big paychecks. What I call the "Michael Caine Path."

A compressed example of this is
Harry Potter starlet Emma Watson, who, thanks to the franchise, was the top money making actress of the past decade, and yet she's doing a British television movie called Ballet Shoes, airing in America on PBS. Now there's a good reason for her doing television, it's work, and British actors like work.

Then there's the very practical acknowledgment that she does not carry the Harry Potter franchise on her own star power, is just an extremely lucky actor, and has to show the sort of versatility and professionalism a British actor needs to survive in the long term, even though she probably has way more financial security than other actors her age, and can afford to be more choosy about the parts, who she works with, and has even publicly contemplated retiring from movies entirely if faced with working in the Hollywood style.

If she had the Hollywood attitude, she'd be demanding $20 million a picture, luxury trailers for each member of her entourage, a personal drug dealer, and trying to get an Academy Award for playing a mentally handicapped hemophiliac quadriplegic with terminal leukemia who teaches the stuffy stockbroker how to loosen his tie and feel alive.* And no one can dare say no to this person, because they were the "star" and thus their every brain-fart is pure genius, until they crash and burn, and quickly forgotten.

I've been reading Peter Biskind's Down and Dirty Pictures, about the indie film boom and bust of the 1990s and 2000s, and found what I consider the prime example of the Hollywood Attitude, and it's the one actor that everyone cites as the "un-Hollywood" guy: Robert Redford. One of the recurring tropes of the books are people complaining about how impossible it is to do business with Redford, because everything has to run on "Redford Time." Which means that your schedule and finances don't mean anything, but his whims mean everything, and you're the villain if you dare to call the star on their behavior when it threatens your livelihood.

Anyone who tries that in British pop culture finds themselves savaged in the press, who are way more aggressive than the publicist dependent US media, and finds themselves having a hard time finding work.

That's my theory, what's yours?

*Just watch, someone at Universal is probably copying and pasting that idea as a log-line for the company's next Oscar season tent-pole pic starring Charlize Theron and Ben Affleck.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #420: You Have A Question I Have An Answer

Welcome to the show folks...

Reader Blast Hardcheese, which I assume is his real name, had a question for me:
My question is, does Avatar really need to do Titanic-level BO to be considered a success?
My answer is.... probably.

I've tackled this topic before, but every once in a while I think it's good to offer a little refresher course on Hollywood and money.

You see the box office take is big, but it's not exactly what the studio sees.

Here how it works...

Step 1. You buy your ticket.

Well a portion of that ticket goes to the theater in what is called the HOUSE NUT. The House Nut is what it costs to run the projector once, divided by the number of seats in the theater, if it's a sell-out, or the number of tickets sold. (The specific amount of the House Nut is a better kept secret than anything done by the CIA.)

You're probably wondering how the theater owners make a profit, when the House Nut only covers the break even cost of showing a movie. The answer is very simple. Movie theaters are not really in the movie business. Movie theaters are in the candy business, and they make their profit margin selling you popcorn, M&Ms, and watered down cola that makes you need to pee during the climactic battle scene.

Then the money left over enters...

Step 2. The Distributor Gets Their Piece.

Now this might not happen right away. In fact, the theater chains are notorious for holding onto ticket receipts until the very last minute. Why? Several reasons, one of them is being able to hold onto the interest earned by that money, and the second is to use it as a form of collateral when they apply for loans or financing.

The big distributors don't cause much stink, because they need the theaters to show their movies, and the theaters don't push it too hard, because they need the movies to attract the people to buy the candy.

Anyway, the distributor gets the money, now called a RENTAL, and then...

Step 3. The money is transformed!

The money gets transformed, mutated if you will, into three forms....

1. GROSS RECEIPTS: This is the money from dollar one of the Rentals. It is the biggest single amount, because it doesn't take into consideration the cost of the movie, the cost of the marketing and distribution, or the studio's day to day overhead. If you have a chance to get a piece of the profits, then ask for gross, you do not ask for...

2. ADJUSTED GROSS: This is the gross rental income, but with some, but not all, of the film's production, marketing, distribution, and studio overhead costs deducted. The actual nature and amounts of these costs are deliberately vague, and can lead to some screwing over, but they are not as bad as the...

3. NET PROFITS: You have more luck seeing Bigfoot shopping with the Loch Ness Monster in downtown Manhattan than seeing any net profits. These are the receipts with the total costs of production, marketing, distribution, and studio overhead deducted, and that pretty much sucks the box office dry.

But what are these costs that make adjusted gross and net profits vanish into the ether?

Allow me to explain...

PRODUCTION COSTS: This is the amount needed to make the film from development to post-production.

MARKETING & DISTRIBUTION: Also called Prints and Advertising (P&A), and it's the cost of getting films into theaters and bums into those theater seats. Because it costs money to make prints, getting them into theaters, and to buy the advertising in print, TV, radio and the internet. It's not uncommon for the P&A costs to be equal to, or even greater than, the costs of making the movie. Usually the bigger the movie, the more P&A spent, because they need to hype the film to the maximum.

STUDIO OVERHEAD: These are the day to day costs of running the studio, and are so vaguely defined it could include everything from employee salaries, to a certain "happy ending" given to the CEO at a certain massage parlor. The definitions of studio overhead costs are more obscure than a serious Canadian novel, and form a black hole for money.

Once it's all said and done a film has to make
at least double its production budget to be considered a "break even" movie.

As for
Avatar, I think someone is playing silly buggers with the numbers, because before the film was released word was that the production budget alone was $500 million. After the film was released, that amount was magically reduced to $350 million on production with $150 million allegedly spent on distribution and marketing.

I suspect that's all just a little too neat and tidy, and fits the narrative of making the film look more successful than it actually is.

But then again, I might be paranoid.

I hope that answers your question.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #419: I'm King of the Assholes!

Welcome to the show folks...

You have probably figured that I'm loathe to link to gossip/paparazzi/schadenfreude site TMZ, but even a broken clock is right twice a day, and this time they have a whopper, namely a video of James Cameron not only refusing a fan an autograph, and doing it rather rudely, but calling that same fan an "asshole" for calling him on it.

So the rest of this post is personally addressed to James Cameron, or Jimmy, as I like to call him.

Oh, Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy... what am I going to do with you.

Remember Jimmy you've been married how many times?

Five?

Don't you might stop for a second and think that there might be a scintilla of a possibility that
you could be the one with the interpersonal problems?

Probably not.

Because you've spent the past 12 years getting your own asshole kissed by Hollywood because you were the first filmmaker to break the $1.5 billion mark for
Titanic. I'm willing to bet dinars to donuts that the fan in question was the first person to ever speak in a contrary manner to you since 1997, because there's nothing Hollywood loves more than a really rich bully.

So what? That doesn't give you the right to be rude, especially to a fan.

Sure, they're a pain with their constant requests for autographs, but they are the people that pay your bills, and yeah, you're richer than Xenu right now, but a couple more divorces, and you might find yourself in desperate need of those fans and their money, money they are not going to spend on someone who calls them an "asshole."

Now you're not going to be able to fulfill every request for an autograph, that's normal, and there are going to be times when someone asks for one at a time when you're tired, cranky, and ready to tear into them the way I almost tore into a certain "express" checkout clerk, but you have to remember, these people pay the gas bills on your hobby submarine. Remember, folks are accusing you of pulling the trigger in the "death of storytelling" because face it, the plot from
Avatar isn't exactly original, or particularly clever. I guess it really misses the alleged input of Harlan Ellison.

Sure Avatar is making a lot of money now, but does it have the legs to be a real classic, or nothing more than a 3D amusement park ride soon to be outshone by the next big amusement park ride? You have to hit near Titanic levels of box office just to break even on this puppy, so you need to be at least a tad diplomatic.

Remember, you're supposed to be Canadian, and that comes with certain responsibilities, one of these responsibilities is being polite, even when you have to say no.

So since you love technical stuff, I will give you a technical solution.

First, sign a shitload of stuff. Headshots, posters, and other cheap otherwise disposable stuff.

Second, print a shitload of business size cards, with each card having a web address and a code number.

Fan asks for autograph, you say: "Sorry, I don't have time to sign your poster," then have a minion give them a card, with the web address and code number. They go to the web-site, enter the code, and they could get one of the autographed items for the cost of shipping and handling or a self addressed stamped envelope of the appropriate size.

The sensible fan can see this as a reasonable alternative that offers them a cool collectible and not think that you're an arrogant, obnoxious, Hollywood phony who looks down on anyone whose lifestyle doesn't resemble a cross between a 17th century French monarch and a James Bond villain.

Hell you can even do some short cuts, have your secretary, assistants, or Harlan Ellison sign the items for you, or use an auto-pen, I don't care, because I'm trying to keep you off TMZ.

You probably won't listen to this advice Jimmy, because I'm speaking some brutal truths, and money trumps truth in Hollywood. So unless everyone on the planet stops seeing
Avatar right this minute, you're going to keep getting worse and worse.

Why do I try?

It's cheap material really.

Now this is for my readers. What do you think about the whole James Cameron/Fan brouhaha?

Hello, I'm Back...

Welcome to the show folks, I hope you had a Merry Christmas.

I did, in fact, I spent a good part of Christmas Day beating the snot out of my nine year old niece....

....in boxing on the Nintendo Wii.

Which I must say it is a workout for a someone with a metabolism akin to a tree sloth like myself, but it was all in good fun.

As the family's chef in residence I was put in charge of roasting the family turkey, which I did to perfection, but the road to that perfect poultry almost led me to murder.

You see, my sister, who was hosting our Xmas feast, needed a new roasting pan that was big enough for the monster bird we purchased. So I went down to the local big box store to get a roasting pan, simple right?

Wrong.

First, I found the very last large roasting pan in the entire store. Lucky for me, or was it?

Now the pan had a price tag that said $19.97, and I went to the "Express Check Out" for speedy service because my ride was waiting for me outside.

As the wise man Apu once said: "The express line is the fastest not always."

I got to the checkout, and there we found that someone had ripped the bar code off the box. I thought that wasn't going to be a problem since it had a price tag, but the pimply faced teen working the check-out told me that he didn't have the authority to accept the price tag, and called his supervisor.

His supervisor, a delicate flower of a lady with the ink still wet on her prison tats, showed up and said that the pubescent clerk had to go to housewares and look for some sign of the price. I tried to explain that there was nothing there other than the price tag on the box, but they had to investigate it themselves, leaving me to stew at the "express" checkout for what seemed like an eternity and a half.

Now I'm a fairly laid back person, who is slow to anger, and I'm even more laid back at Xmas time, being chock full of peace on Earth and good will toward men, but this was starting to try my patience. Then the teen titan clerk returned, admitted that I wasn't lying about there being no other roasting pans or any signs saying "Roasting Pans $19.97" and then proceeded to call his supervisor again.

The supervisor then called the manager, who then must have consulted the Elvish runes of his Dark Lord Sauron, because he soon called back and gave them permission to use the company's own price tag.

All the while I was fighting the urge to just Hulk out and completely ruin everyone's Xmas with a flurry of fatal cash register beatings up the corporate food chain, going all the way up to the store's CEO. It wasn't the morality of committing fatal cash register beatings during the Xmas season that stopped me, but the fact that I don't like to Hulk out without my stretchy pants on.

By the time it was over I had literally spent over half an hour at the "express" check out trying to pay for my purchase like an honest man.

Anyway, everyone got out alive, so it truly was a Xmas miracle, and another miracle was the turkey I cooked on that pan, which was perfection itself.

The toughest part of cooking a turkey is getting the dark meat of the legs cooked without drying out the white meat, and I stumbled on the solution.

The key is to start the cooking with the oven at 450 degrees. Yes 450. You put the turkey in the oven at that high temperature with the
dark meat side up for an hour.

Then you take the bird out, turn down the heat to 325 degrees, flip the bird with the
white meat now facing up, and cook it for the recommended time per pound, basting periodically, but not as much as you'd think.

The turkey will be done when the dark meat's internal temperature is at 185 degrees, so an instant read thermometer is a must have.

It creates a perfectly juicy turkey that everyone will love.

Anyway, that was my Xmas adventure, I hope yours was comparatively free of contemplated homicide.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

A Visit From An Executive

'Twas the night before Christmas, while I was getting soused
Not a movie was playing, not even Animal House;
Smoke from spec screenplays went up the chimney like flares,
Because it's all remakes now and no one really cares;

Studio moguls were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of bonus checks danced in their heads;
And Oscar season promising only pretentious crap,
I was bedding down for a long winter's nap,

Then from my DVD player there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the den I ran like the Flash,
Tripped on a rug and had a bad crash.

The room around me spun around really slow
Cause my over-sized head took an over-sized blow,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But old Michael Bay, and an eight pack of beer,
I said Trans-2 couldn't sell me a ticket,
He said "screw you I'm rich," and then told me to stick it.

After Bay left the studios, they came,
An Executive whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
"Now, Paramount! now, Warners! now, Disney and Pixar!
On, Sony! on Uni! even, Summit and Dreamworks!
To the top of the heap! to the top of the wall!
Hide cash away! cash away! cash away all!"

As dry heaves that come before the wild vomiting fly,
When they meet with an audit, they run your legal bills high,
So up to the house-top the studios they flew,
With the sleigh full of movies, and that Executive too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The cheap excuses and buck passing of that little goof.

As I collected my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney the Executive came with a bound.
He was covered in expense account checks, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were an expensive Italian handmade suit;
A bundle of fan-boys were watching his back,
Because he made comic book movies that hit them like crack.

The Executive's eyes -- how they twinkled! his wallet how merry!
His forehead was botoxed, his tie colored cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the rims of his nostrils were dotted with blow;
A script in turnaround he held tight in his teeth,
And burnt development money wrapped his head like a wreath;

He had a sculpted face and a lipo-sucked belly,
He green-lit movies and shows that played on the telly.
He was smug and self-important, not a jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know my script would never be read;

The Executive spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And hid all the net profits; man what a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up his nostril coke rose;
He sprang to his jet, to his pilot gave a whistle,
And away he flew leaving nothing but gristle.

But I heard the Executive exclaim, as he flew out of sight,
"I got my job from my uncle, and my ass you can bite!"

Merry Christmas everybody. I'll be away from the blog for a couple of days, but I'll be back soon.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #418: A Post Where I List Reasons Why

Welcome to the show folks...

WHY NEWS CORP DROPPED OUT OF MGM AUCTION

That's right, News Corp and its benevolent tyrant Rupert Murdoch has pulled out of the auction for the future of MGM, citing the "restrictive" conditions of the non-disclosure agreement for their withdrawal.

Now MGM has the non-disclosure agreement because they don't want all their inside information scattered to the four winds by a potential suitor. They don't want that information all over the place because the creditors and investors behind MGM want to use this auction to test whether they can get a better return on their money by selling off the pieces, or by keeping the company for themselves and trying to make a go of it.

Now there are two possible reasons for News Corp's withdrawal.

1. The folks behind News Corp, who already own 20th Century Fox, may not believe that MGM library (it's biggest, best asset) is worth the hassle and expense, and have dropped out of the auction, using the non-disclosure agreement as their excuse.

2. Someone inside the MGM investor/creditor coalition that crafted the conditions of the non-disclosure agreement, is trying to make the process as unpleasant as possible, in the hope that it will drive off suitors, collapse the price, and enable their faction, or its backers, to sweep in and get MGM for itself without the competition.

What do you think?

WHY I CAN'T BRING MYSELF TO SEE AVATAR.

James Cameron's CGI-Mo-Cap orgy Avatar is currently raking in the mega-bucks all over the world, and might squeeze in a justification for its current spot as the most expensive film ever made by eventually turning a profit.

But I can say pretty well that none of that money will be mine.

I just can't bring myself to see it.

Why?

Let me count the ways.

1. VISUALS ARE ONE THING, BUT I NEED A STORY

I pretty much had the entire plot and characters figured out be looking at some stills a few months ago.

Sure the technology is magical, and miraculous, and the visuals will make your brain burst from all the wonderfulness, but that don't move me at all. When I see a movie I expect a story. I don't care if you can individually render each blade of grass, and created 17 new shades of blue just for the Na'vi's digital backsides, if you don't have any potential to surprise me, you will only bore me.

Why have the military guy and the businessmen be the ultimate villains? Sure the American military/industrial complex is the default villain for the baby-boom generation of filmmakers, but that cliche has been done to death. Why not try a twist, introduce a third party, maybe a rival alien race, a clan of rebellious Na'vi who want the mineral for themselves, or something, anything, that actually requires narrative, rather than visual imagination?

He could have broken away from the "Dances with Smurfs" cliches and made it a film about a planet and a people that realize that the galaxy is bigger than they are, and that they must adapt, without losing their cultural heart, or die. The humans could be desperate, not only for the mineral, but to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, which I suspect they would be 145 years into the future, hence the Avatar Program. Meanwhile some hostile force wants them all to fail, in the hope that it will lead to their mutual destruction. It could have been a richer, and more morally nuanced story, but since story comes second to visual technology, that opportunity was lost, and Cameron just slapped together some cliches to give him an excuse to use all the contents of his CGI tickle trunk.

2. TOO MANY PLOT HOLES

This is part of #1, but I think needs its own spot on the post. To
o many elements of the plot seem like major league contrivances to create the excuse for the movie's hero to "go native" and fight against those evil Earth people. I'm talking about things like:
  • Right now, I am talking about the present day, the United States Military is keeping soldiers who have lost limbs in combat on active duty. Does Cameron, honestly think that they would let a Marine remain crippled when the technology existed to repair him and send him back on duty? Even if you looked at it from a cold "numbers only" perspective, the cost of the surgery would have to cost as almost much as a James Cameron CGI budget to make it cost effective to recruit and train a new soldier over simply repairing an experienced veteran.
  • The film's mineral McGuffin "Unobtainium" not only has a really lame name , I would have just called it McGuffinite, but Cameron's deliberate refusal to explain what it does actually hurts the story. You see, you don't need to explain the McGuffin in a thriller involving criminals or spies, because you expect treachery from those kinds of people, and all you really need to know is that the contents of the briefcase are valuable, important, or dangerous. Avatar is based on the premise that seemingly ordinary people of the 22nd Century will be willing to commit genocide simply because a rock is considered valuable by someone. This is not a crook stealing a briefcase from another crook, it's a pretty big leap and needs a pretty big explanation.
  • Basically the premise of the film is also based on the concept that Earth will somehow achieve the ability of interstellar travel, but still be unable to negotiate a mutually beneficial trade pact. Come on, no matter how spiritually in tune someone is with their environment, there is always something they need to make their lives a little more better that comes from someone else. That's the reason why we start families, that create clans, that expand into tribes, that then build nations that go on to form civilizations.

3. THE HYPOCRITE FACTOR.

If there is one thing that bugs me is when a wealthy man who lives a life of luxury spends millions, of other people's money, to tell ordinary people that their lifestyles are worthless in comparison to some mythical "noble savage" archetype that never really existed on this planet, and probably not any other planet either.

I can say pretty clearly that if Cameron had to really live like his blue creations he'd probably toss himself off the nearest floating mountain once he's realized that he can't access fanboys singing his praises on the internet. Of course that's only if he's not chewed up and shat out by one of his elegantly rendered CGI beasties, or even if he survives that, dying in agony from some minor injury that's beyond the ken of their primitive medicine.

Then there's the whole racial condescension factor.


There's practically an entire sub-genre of stories about white men going off to live among some variety of cultural or ethnic "other." Followed by learning their ways, falling in love, and declaring that their society is worthy of being led by a white man to save them from the other less noble white men.

That's a bit of a left-handed insult to just about all folks of the non-Caucasian persuasion, including blue aliens. Why can't a Na'vi lead the Na'vi against the evil humans?

Why can't the humans just tunnel under the sacred magic tree?

Or does that count as another plot hole?

I guess my biggest problem with this film is that it's the not only the result of 12 years of technological development, but also 12 years of no one being brave enough to say "no" to the man who made the $1.5 billion Titanic, which led him to believe that his every brain-fart was solid gold as long as he spent enough money on special effects for it.

Anyway, Avatar may break even on it's $300-$500 million budget, and might even make a profit, but not even that could make me want to sit through it.

I just can't do it.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

What the Hell?

Reports are coming in that actress Brittany Murphy, who starred in films like Clueless, and Sin City, died today at age 32.

Now 32 year old actresses don't just drop dead, so the internet is already buzzing with rumors of drug use, which, if true, compounds the tragedy.

It compounds it because if it does turn out to be a drug related death, then all her work, her talent, her appeal, and everything else that made her unique is now gone, wiped off the board by the sheer banality of being yet another Hollywood drug casualty on a long line of Hollywood drug casualties dating back to the Silent Era.

I don't want to mock her tragic death, and I offer my condolences to her friends and family, but if it turns out to be purely natural causes, I will be relieved.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

A Little Xmas Special

Welcome to the show folks...

Normally on Saturdays I post a humorous YouTube video here, but this week I got a rare opportunity to link to a video that humorously deals with some brutal truths about the movie/TV industry.

So pop on down to Nikki Finke to see the video, come back and let me know what you think.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Jennifer Jones & Dan O'Bannon RIP

These things do seem to come in threes.

Right after the death of Roy Disney comes news that actress Jennifer Jones passed away at the age of 90, and that science-fiction and horror screenwriter Dan O'Bannon died at age 63.

Jennifer Jones won the Academy Award for Best Actress for the film Song of Bernadette in 1943, but to was also known to film buffs as the wife and muse of powerhouse independent producer David O. Selznick, her second husband.

Dan O'Bannon wrote and/or directed some of the wildest, scariest, and occasionally disgusting movies ever made. From the chest bursting classic Alien, to the downright WTF naked space vampire film Lifeforce, and the first intended zombie comedy Return of the Living Dead.

Both made their marks on movie history and will be missed.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #417: Some Miscellaneous Musings...

Welcome to the show folks...

It's been a slow news day for me, so here are just a couple of quick mini-musings.

BRYAN SINGER TO DIRECT X-MEN: FIRST CLASS

Maybe both he and Fox are trying to atone for the general suckiness of
Superman Returns and X-Men 3, but the real question might be is this too little too late.

Sure, the drooling fanboys will drop an easy $200 million on a film of a dog turd drying in the sun if it had "X-Men" or "Wolverine" in the title, but I'm talking about the long term improvements to profitability that come with quality. I'm talking about people shelling out to buy the DVDs, upgrade to Blu-Ray, watch it the seventeen times a day it's rerun on cable. They're not going to do as well in those fields if the movie smelled worse than The Beast's bathroom after an all you can eat curry buffet.

BRECK EISNER TO REMAKE THE BROOD

I have the same reaction that everyone else who has seen the original film of The Brood by David Cronenberg when they heard that it was going to be remade.

NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!

BAD HOLLYWOOD!

BAD BAD HOLLYWOOD!

DON'T MAKE ME RUB YOUR NOSE IN IT!


Guess how I really feel about it.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #416: Not Clever/Clever

Welcome to the show folks...

CAPITOL SPENDS CAPITAL ON COURT

When I have those dark tea-times of the soul where I wonder if the movie industry is the worst run industry in the world, I just step back, look at the music industry and realize that movies are only the second worst run industry in the world.

The same industry that brought us the eternally wonderful format of the 8-track, has fallen to its default position when it comes to running their business, the pointless lawsuit.

The latest exercise in lame litigation is over this video and others like it:


Apparently Capitol Records considers people making videos "lip-dubbing" to songs copyright infringement, and are suing the user-created video site Vimeo, because they blame the site and its parent company for starting the fad.

I have my personal beefs with the music industry* but I think I can put my bitterness aside and offer an objective, nay clinical, view of the whole thing and boil it down to its essence.

THE MUSIC INDUSTRY IS STUPID!

It really is. They failed to capitalize on just about every advance in audio/video technology since Edison unveiled his first wax cylinder recording of
Shine On Harvest Moon, and they sued him because they thought it would hamper sales of sheet music. They literally had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, and they still don't know what to do with it.

Now the record industry will tell you that the videos they are enriching lawyers over are the cusp of the slippery slope of music piracy.

Guess what music industry, there is no slippery slope, it's a cliff, and you fell over it about ten years ago. In fact, I'm pretty sure the impact has driven the industry's collective head up its collective ass. They still fail to see the fact that the main motive behind music piracy is the notion that it's a victimless crime, because they believe they're stealing from some big faceless corporation that artificially inflates the price of music while screwing and suing the artists out of their royalties, and stunts like this don't do much to dissuade this image.

The "screw and sue" image also blinds the music industry to opportunities.

I have to agree with the article's author, Dylan Stableford, and say that these "lip dub" videos are not piracy.

They are
FREE ADVERTISING.

Millions will see these videos online, and if 10% actually go out and buy the song, that means hundreds of thousands of extra sales that may not have happened because folks sure aren't going to see one of the official music videos on MTV.

What the record companies should have done was team up with a TV channel and hold a "lip dub" reality show contest, where teams can win money, concerts by the bands in question, or some other lame ass prizes. I'm sure Paula Abdul could use the work as a celebrity judge. Slant the finalists to the back-list, and you can unload a lot of product that's just sitting and gathering digital dust.

Goddamn it music industry, opportunity knocks, and you go and sue the knocker.

And that internet company's owned by Barry Diller, who has some sharp elbows and will make any fight cost them big time.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Anyway.... here's me saying something nice about someone.

RUPERT MURDOCH IS A MAGNIFICENT BASTARD

Yep he really is, and the big clue is this story at Deadline Hollywood Daily.

For those to lazy to click the link it says that the Wall Street Journal, which is the biggest newspaper in the country right now, has switched over their representation from Creative Artists Agency, over to United Talent Agency. (Possibly because UTA still validates parking)

Now you're probably wondering why a newspaper needs a Hollywood agent, well it's simple. Newspapers carry stories, stories can be made into movies, and agents negotiate a price for those stories.

Now you're probably wondering why a newspaper owned by a man who already owns a movie studio, a TV network, and numerous cable outlets would want one of their newspapers to have a talent agency to negotiate prices with other studios.

That's because Rupert Murdoch has a cunning plan.

Think about it, media conglomerate synergy is all about taking material from one outlet and using it cheaply through other outlets. But sometimes another company will pay more money for the same material, then the original company gets to put the financial screws to their rivals, and then get those same rivals to pay them all over again for advertising space with those same newspapers and TV channels.

Rupert Murdoch, you are a magnificent bastard, and for that I salute you.

Roy Disney R.I.P.

Roy E. Disney, the nephew of animation legend Walt Disney, influential businessman, and last member of the Disney family to be active in running the company that bears its name passed away at the age of 79.

While the Disney Co. and I have had our differences, I must acknowledge that Roy Disney was as important to the company as his famous uncle, if not more so.

While Walt started the company, and Roy's father made sure it was financially stable, it was Roy E. Disney who kept the company alive and helped transform it from a sinking ship ripe for a takeover, to the media behemoth that takes over other companies.

He was a tireless boardroom warrior who led two successful campaigns to save the company. When it came to doing his job he looked beyond his quarterly bonus, and considered such things as the company's long term health, and the legacy of not only his uncle, but himself as the representative of the Disney family.

Rest in peace Roy.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #415: Silly Season Has Begun!

Welcome to the show folks...

Awards season is upon us like a rutting moose on an unsuspecting lawn chair, and like that moose and the lawn chair, everyone's going to feel a little worse for wear when it's over.

The opening salvo is the release of the nominees for the Golden Globes by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), and it's bringing out everyone's inner bastard.

For those who don't know, the HFPA is a perfect microcosm of everything that's wrong with Hollywood based awards. The voting pool is small, only about 95 members, this same voting pool is notoriously easy to sway, their management, methods and motives behind the granting of nominations and awards is more secretive than the Freemasons, and the people in Hollywood take the Golden Globes waaaaay too seriously.

It wasn't always that way. Back yonder in days of yore the Golden Globes was treated more like a roast than an awards show, the stars would get drunk, make fun of each other, and everyone would have a good time, and not take them very seriously. In fact, they refused to take it seriously, because there was absolutely no way it could be taken seriously because the system behind it was so capricious and silly from the start.

Oh, how things have changed.

You see some time ago someone noticed that once in a while Golden Globe winners would also win Oscars. Suddenly a primarily fun social event, became deadly serious business, an attitude that got even worse when they started televising the Golden Globes as a sort of pre-Academy Awards playoff game.

The capricious and system didn't change one whit, but the campaigning, finagling, and outright bribery burst out exponentially.

The Oscars aren't that much better, being decided by a slightly larger, yet even more elitist group, that might not be convinced by the outright bribery, but they can be swayed via other means that have nothing to do with the quality of the work in question.

I also love the emergence of the annual tradition of pre-awards hyping, sniping, and blatant griping. Not only are the denizens of the Axis of Ego pushing for their own awards, they are trying to bad-mouth the competition out of the game. They are calling each other spendthrifts, anti-semites, racists, sexists, homophobes, homophones, and if they're really feeling nasty: closet Republicans.

In the case of that lovable teddy bear Harvey Weinstein, he's being sniped and griped by the very same people who should be hyping him and their film Inglorious Bastards. Apparently, someone at the Weinstein Co. (but not Harvey) didn't fill in a form correctly and lo and behold, all of Harvey's partners, the very same people who plucked the film from TWC's financial meltdown, and got it made and into theaters, were left out from the nominations.

What a coincidence.

Anyway, let the games begin, because the politicking, pimping, and back-stabbing usually turns out to be way more entertaining than the movies their supposed to be honoring.

*Knock Knock*

Whose at my door?

Kate Winslet?

POW!

Ow, my ass!

Monday, 14 December 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #414: Making The Most Out Of Very Little

Welcome to the show folks...

The other day I wrote a few bits of advice for Paramount Pictures and their new "microbudget" initiative where young filmmakers would be given $100,000 each to make a movie. Well, in the intervening time I've done some drinking thinking and I've come up with another tidbit of wisdom I'd like to share with Paramount to make the whole thing run a little smoother.

Think of as a formula the new filmmakers could use when making their films.

MONEY=TIME

Big budgets can buy you fancy s
pecial effects, big sets, and famous stars, but those things can be worked around on the cheap. What money best buys a filmmaker is time. The time to rehearse, the time to get those extra takes, the time to perfect the edit, etc., etc...

When these filmmakers are recruited Paramount should put these wannabe directors and producers through a sort of boot camp teaching them how to maximize their time management. And key to that sort of management is preparation. Preparation for this sort of micro-budget project is essential, because without it, time and money is wasted.

Being a director is more than just knowing where to put the camera, and how to get an actor to hit their marks and say their lines believably, a director must do all this, and hundred other jobs efficiently. Doing this job efficiently means making the most of the time and resources available, and being prepared for any contingency is key. That preparation must begin during the writing of the script, where the filmmakers must tailor their stories to match the resources they have. Then they must pre-plan what they need for every scene, every shot, and every frame. All questions about production must be answered before filming begins, because unanswered questions cost time and time costs money. Once these questions have been answered, then filming can begin with a modest comfort zone of time and money to play with.

Some think that guerrilla film-making is all improvisation, and while it can embrace the improvised, successful guerrillas, in war and movies, plan ahead, marshal their resources, and uses them to the maximum while wasting neither a penny or a second. Plus, these are excellent habits to have when moving onto bigger projects, because a reputation for fiscal responsibility and prudence can help take a filmmaker places their talent alone can't take them.

Hollywood Babble On & On #413: Actors & Agents

Welcome to the show folks...

Actor Shia LaBeouf* has recently and amicably dropped his agents at the William Morris-Endeavor Agency, but instead of going to someone else, he has elected to go commando in the agent department.

I don't know.

The kid's had a string of great luck getting the spot as Hollywood's default under-30 male actor and landing spots in the
Transformers and Indiana Jones franchises, but, and this is a Rosie O'Donnell sized but, going agentless at this stage of his career is an extremely risky move.

For those who don't know agents are the guys who troll through all the offers a successful actor gets, help that actor pick which ones work best both monetarily and career-wise**, and then negotiates their contracts with the producers, all for a 10% piece of the action.

LaBeouf is electing to put this job with his career management team. Managers have the job of running a successful artist's day to day business decisions, as well as helping guide their career. Among actors who decide to go agentless, Managers take on a more pro-active role in developing projects for their clients instead of just finding projects being developed by other people. (All for a percentage that ranges from 10-15% of gross income, to 20% of net income, depending on the manager/client contract.)

Agents are barred by law from taking such a direct role in producing projects, but managers are not.

In theory this career path is supposed to have greater rewards in the form of more control of choice of projects, and the potential for greater profit, without having to drop 10% on an agent who wasn't even allowed to work on the project.

In theory.

In theory communism works.

In practice this method comes with incredible risks, chiefly the "vanity project" aimed to change the actor in question's image to make him look more heroic, more romantic, or land them an Oscar, and a lot of these projects fail miserably, and do more damage to a career than help.

The agent acts as a layer of protection for a movie star, filtering out anything that may hinder their client's ability to rack up commissions. Sure, they may also filter out something that may be a bit daring, but also "right" for their client, but that's why a star has to pay attention to their career and the people who manage it.

A lot of people are comparing this move to one made by LaBeouf's idol Leonardo DiCaprio who has been without an agent for quite some time, and yet still has a viable career. Except DiCaprio has something that LaBeouf doesn't have: Martin Scorcese.

Scorcese casts DiCaprio in everything, whether he's appropriate (
The Departed***) or not (Gangs of New York) and it's only a matter of time before Scorcese casts DiCaprio in the title role of The Martin Luther King Story. No matter what DiCaprio does between these Scorsese projects, he will always have a fallback that comes with a great deal of artistic, and sometimes commercial cachet.

That sort of slavish devotion is extremely rare in Hollywood, and sometimes bordering on creepy, and will soon be featured in an episode of A&E's
Intervention, but it leads us to the main question of this post.

Who does Shia have?

He's done a couple of films for Michael Bay, and Stephen Spielberg. Like all the on-screen actors in the
Transformers movies he's ultimately replaceable, and serves only to serve as straight man to some special effects. Hell, people were more excited about the casting of the voice of Optimus Prime than they were about poor Shia. As for Indy 4, while it made a lot of money, it left a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of fans, and many of those fans dumped the blame, probably undeservedly so, on Shia himself.

Unless he does things just right, he could soon find himself replaced as the default under-30 actor by Joseph Gordon Levitt, who is slowly and surely building a base for himself via independent films, and an "I don't take stardom seriously" attitude that otherwise keeps him out of the tabloids.

Personally, I don't think Shia made a right move. Perhaps changing to an agency that's currently not undergoing the upheavals of a major merger, and was more capable of the sort of personalized attention he was looking for would have been smarter.

At least it's not reversible, and he should be able to find an agent soon if he chooses to do so, and I think he should do it ASAP.

IN OTHER NEWS...

Speaking of Leonardo DiCaprio, the actor has reportedly signed on with actor-director Mel Gibson to star in an as yet untitled projected about Vikings.

Like Gibson's previously directorial efforts, it will be shot in the Vikings original language, and I have an exclusive photo of the linguist who will translating the script for Gibson:
As the great linguist said: "Peerbjorn, de-peerbjorn, doo-bork-bork-bork!"

Sorry, couldn't resist a little humour.


* Shia LaBeouf is actually Norwegian for "Corned beef on rye."

** Mostly monetary, they have to make the most out of that 10%.

***He and Damon were appropriate for the parts of essentially boy-men seeking the approval of father figures, both real and false. As for Gangs, he was just a little too baby faced for the part of a street thug.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Discount Bin Film Club: The Hammer Strikes Twice!

Welcome to the show folks...

It's been way too long since I took you all along with me on a dip into the wealth of entertainment opportunities that can be found in your local big box store discount bin. Today I'm going to tell you about the Hammer Horror Double Feature DVD (Warner Home Video) I got for $5, and it's two features:
The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Taste The Blood of Dracula (1970).

But first, a little history.

Hammer Productions was founded in the 1930s by music hall comedian William Hinds (aka Willy Hammer) and later evolved to include Exclusive Films, a distribution company formed in partnership with theatre owner Enrique Carreras. The mission of the company was to make "quota quickies" low budget productions, mostly comedies and thrillers, made to fulfill trade regulations imposed on Hollywood productions.

Hammer didn't survive a slump in the British film industry and went bankrupt in 1937, but Exclusive kept on chugging through the vicissitudes of the Great Depression and World War 2 until a new generation took over, revived Hammer, and gave it the identity we associate with it to this day.

James Carreras and Anthony Hinds stepped in after WW2, and took Hammer Films into new and fantastical directions. Most horror films of the 1950s were contemporary settings, shot in black and white and dealt with science fiction themes, and while Hammer had creative and critical success following that trend with
The Quatermass Xperiment, they wanted to start their own trend with...

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN

You see, I was going to eventually get to the movies.

This was Hammer's new plan.

1. Make "period" horror films inspired by the classic monsters Universal made history with in the 1930s and 1940s.

2. Make those films in glorious technicolor instead of black and white.

3. Use classically trained actors to play the characters, human and inhuman alike.

4. Add subtle soupcons of gore and sex to liven things up.

The first one of these films was
The Curse of Frankenstein starring Peter Cushing as Baron Frankenstein, Robert Urquhart as his frenemy Paul Krempe, and Christopher Lee as The Creature, with a script by Jimmy Sangster, and directed by Hammer auteur Terence Fisher.

First thing you must know about Hammer Frankenstein films is that they really are films about Frankenstein the scientist, and not the monster. In fact, the monster doesn't really appear until at least halfway through the movie, and even then is only on screen a few minutes. The horror comes from the doctor himself, he at first comes across as an idealist, someone who believes that all problems can be solved through science. The problem comes from how he uses science to solve these problems. What starts as grave robbing escalates to murder to get the "material" he needs for his plans, something that horrifies his former tutor, turned partner, turned enemy Paul Krempe. Krempe acts as the voice of morality and reason, trying to get Frankenstein to back away from his experiments, because they can only lead to horror and death, but Frankenstein, confident in his own abilities, keeps plugging on.

Which brings us to the Creature itself as played by Christopher Lee. Although it's a killer, you almost pity it because it's had its brain bashed about, shot, and then poked and prodded by Dr. Frankenstein. It just lashes out, unable to control itself, or even understand why it does what it does. Something that Dr. Frankenstein uses for his own benefit when it involves a pesky chambermaid who actually believed the Baron's promise to marry her.

Which brings me to the surprisingly ambiguous ending the film has. The story was structured as a tale told by Baron Frankenstein to a priest as he awaits execution for all the people killed because of him. He begs to be believed, and gets his former friend Paul to come in and tell them that the monster was real, but Paul, the only other person to see the monster in action and survive, denies that it ever existed outside of the deranged scientist's mind. Paul might be telling the truth, and the the monster never did exist, or he's deliberately lying, knowing full well that his former friend would not stop his experiments, no matter how many had to die to prove himself right and that the guillotine is the only way to stop the "Curse of Frankenstein."

The film itself is surprisingly bloody for a 1950s movie, with subtle hints of gore. All you see is a glimpse of the top of a severed head before it's disposed of in an acid bath, blood runs down the Creature's hand and face after it's been shot in the eye, and the Creature itself gets increasingly disfigured as the film goes on.

Terence Fisher eschewed the usual gothic trappings of dark shadows and creepy cobwebs, shooting it instead like a fairy tale with lush colors, including the blood, making those subtle touches of gore stand out even more. It brought back my childhood memories of watching the film on
The Great Money Movie on snowy afternoons and I still have a fond place for it.

TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA

This 1969/70 film starring Christopher Lee, Linda Hayden, Geoffrey Keen Anthony Corlan, and was written by John Elder (pen-name of Anthony Hind) and directed by Peter Sasdy. It also marked the beginning of the end of Hammer's dominance of the horror market. Audiences were drifting away from Hammer, looking towards more aggressive fare like
Rosemary's Baby, and Hammer tried to fight back by upping the sex and violence with some glimpses of boobage in the brothel scenes, and more blood than its predecessors.

The plot was fairly straightforward. The previous movie
Dracula Has Risen From The Grave ended with Dracula being impaled with a metal cross and crumbling to dust, and this film picks up right at that moment. A British salesman of fluid ethics is lost in the woods when he stumbles across the dying Dracula. Seeing an opportunity he takes Dracula's cape, personalized cape-clasp, and most importantly, the old Vamp's dried blood.

Later on in England three wealthy older men, Hargood, Paxton, and Secker, project the image of upper-class Anglican respectability, but in reality, like to spend their free time doing "charity work" at a brothel where they indulge themselves in sex, booze, and, by implication, drugs. Always looking for excitement they hook up with Lord Courtly (Ralph Bates) a disowned aristocrat that even their favorite pimp considers a "bad sort." He promises immortality and an eternity of decadent wickedness, all he needs is some of their money to buy Dracula's blood.

Courtly then takes them to his family's old chapel, long abandoned, and personally desecrated by Courtly himself, for a black mass where they will all taste the blood of Dracula. The three not-so-wise men balk at drinking the bodily fluids of the undead, but Courtly goes ahead, and immediately freaks the hell out. The three men also freak out, promptly beat Courtly to death with their canes, and get the hell out of there.

They think they've gotten away with it, but they haven't. Courtly may be dead, but he is soon transformed into a reborn Dracula, who is pissed off, out for revenge, and perfectly willing to get their own children to do it for him. What follows is the sort of murder, madness, and mayhem you would expect, with ample heaving bosoms courtesy of female lead Lynda Hayden. In fact, while watching the scene where Dracula gives her that intense stare that puts her under his power I was expecting her to stop in mid-hypnosis, and say: "Hey, Drac, my eyes are up here!"

It's not a perfect film. Hammer was suffering from a combination of dwindling budgets and rising expectations, and it shows in this film. Lee as Dracula isn't burning many calories in the role, though his natural charisma burns through, and his appearances are kept to a minimum. Also there are some narrative problems, the original concept was to have Courtly himself be reborn as Hammer's new vampire franchise, but Warner Bros. the US distributor wanted Lee back, or wouldn't finance the movie.

But there are some rather interesting ideas in this film. While a lot of late 60s movies were about youth in revolt against the mores of their parents, the young people in this film are positively puritan in their chaste attitudes. They all want to get jobs, get married, have families, and live the sort of respectable lives that their parents pretend to lead. It's only when the old neck nibbler gets involved in their lives do they start acting up and acting out.

Also the notion of the hero trapping Dracula by reconsecrating the abandoned chapel, is a clever idea. Another interesting addition featured Dracula trying to escape the reconsecration by driving his fist through a stained glass window decorated with a cross, which actually makes him hallucinate that the chapel itself is alive again and that an unseen clergyman is performing mass in Latin. It's a psychedelic scene that sort of sums up the film, a collection of interesting notions that were held back from achieving their full potential by the limitations of budget, movie-making politics, and the film-making techniques of the time.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #412: Paramount Goes Small Time...

Welcome to the show folks...

Paramount, the studio that has defined "big" movies for decades, has decided to go small. buoyed by the $100,000,000+ plus earned by the $15,000
Paranormal Activity they are starting a new division, which will aim to make 20 films a year for $100,000 or less each.

The point of these micro-budget exercises is to find the fresh blood that Hollywood so desperately needs, create "calling card" films that could lead to bigger projects, and hopefully find the next Blair Witch or Paranormal Activity cash cow.

I wish them luck, it's a good idea, but it's often blown in the execution. Here are a few hints for Paramount to avoid some of the pitfalls that lie in their way.

1. Don't call it Paramount Atomic. You know what I'm talking about. I know folks with degrees in marketing are demanding that you brand it like a Texas longhorn, but remember, this about guerrilla film-making, not your "brand awareness." Fight the temptation to slap the name Paramount-MTV-Viacom or whatever your conglomerate is called this week on this as yet unnamed company. Create something that separates it from Paramount's gloss and reputation for overpriced under-entertainment to something that just screams under-priced over-entertainment. The name Furious D Pictures is affordable. ;)

2. Don't look for another
Paranormal Activity. Another "found footage" horror film would sink this puppy faster than you can say well... Paranormal Activity. It will brand the company as the "flog a dead ghost" company. Look to other genres or variations thereof, that can be done cheaply, especially with modern digital cameras that look as good as film. Crime, different kinds of horror, and even some kinds of small scale science fiction can be done cheaply with today's technology. Don't be limited to one style or storyline, have an open mind.

3. Don't treat this like Paramount Vantage. You want to nurture talent that can tell good stories well with limited resources, not pimp for Oscars. You must aim for the "real" or "paying" audience, who live in the rest of the country and not your immediate neighborhood. In fact, I would actively seek out filmmakers who live outside the immediate axis of ego, and even outside of California. Cruise film schools, regional film co-ops, and other groups for people willing and able to take up the challenge.

4. Hire the right person to run it. Might I suggest that you....
You can't blame me for trying, and I haven't done this in a while.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #411: Quo Vadis Universal?

Welcome to the show folks...

DEBBIE DOES UNIVERSAL & WHAT SHOULD SHE DO NEXT?

The times they are a changing over at NBC-Universal. The company's going to have new owners once the regulators give their blessing, which is inevitable because new owner Comcast and outgoing owner GE have gone out of their way to kiss the right asses in Washington.

But this isn't about politics, this is about that wacky business we call show, so let's get down to that...

Another change at Universal is the hiring of Debbie Liebling as the new VP of production. She has a background in comedy, being behind such things as
South Park, and Borat, back before the concept got flogged to death with Bruno.

That's a plus for her, considering comedies like
The Hangover did surprisingly big business recently, and are traditionally cheaper than the big money blockbusters.

However, even though legend says that Universal was saved from bankruptcy by the success of the Abbot & Costello movies, a modern studio can't survive on comedies alone. So here are a few hints for Debbie from a smug internet know-it-all.

1. Don't let the stars blind you. Basically, few stars can deliver consistently these days. Don't let their position on the People Mag 50 Most Beautiful list fool you. If they don't put bums in seats, they don't get the big money.

2. Control costs. I know I harp at this, but movie budgets are freaking insane. $150 million for
Land of the Lost? Too much for too little, and what happened to The Wolf-Man? I mean $100 million spent, and they have to go back for reshoots? Someone has to crack the whip.

3. Stop being the studio that flogs dead horses. One of the oldest traditions at Universal is to take something that may have been successful, in some form, in the past, and then flog it to death.
Jaws did great, Jaws 2 did okay, Jaws 3D stank like dead fish, but that didn't stop them from spending even more money on Jaws 4: The Revenge. And it's not a recent thing, they killed their own classic horror franchises of the 1930s and 1940s via over-exposure. Lately that trend has gone from sequels that no one wants to remakes of old movies and TV shows that no one wants. Don't be afraid to be original, there was no Hangover series in the 1980s, and Taken wasn't a cheap children's show in the 1970s.

WHY ARE PEOPLE NOW LAUGHING AT FUNNY PEOPLE?

Christmas time is a special time in Hollywood, and it's not just about the holiday box office, or the annual rash of out of control menorah fires, it's the beginning of Oscar season. It's the time the companies release their Oscar pics, and run "for your consideration" ads for the films that were already released.


Patrick Goldstein, the Big Picture blogger, seems to be amused at Universal's attempt to get a Best Picture nomination for the Judd Apatow/Adam Sandler dramedy Funny People.

But I can imagine a situation where he wouldn't be smirking at the ad campaign, and trying to explain Universal's motives behind, and it all has to do with smell.

You see in Hollywood, it's all about smell, and sadly the people who made Funny People gave the film a funny smell.

You see the film divided critics, but that rarely effects films that Academy voters consider Oscar worthy, and not that it's a comedy, the expanded Best Picture roster means that a comedy about surviving cancer and coming to terms with stuff might actually have a shot at a nomination, what will probably kills its chance is the stench of failure.

You see the film made about $50 million in domestic box office. Which isn't bad, except the film cost about $75 million to make, not including prints and advertising.

And that gave it the stench of failure.

You see Apatow should have seen that his labour of love's mix of humour, cancer, and relationship melodramas may have been a bit of a hard sell and aimed low. Remember what I said about "self indugence" and how the Coen Brothers were smart? No? Too lazy to click the link? Fine. Basically, I said that the Coens did the smart move and took their movie which was a hard sell and did it cheaper than cheap, this creates insulation on two levels.

1. Reduction of risk. Doing a self-indulgent film on the cheap exponentially increases the chances of it at least breaking even, or possibly even making a profit.

2. The Noble Failure. Even if the film tanks at the box office, the sacrifice of eschewing big salaries, luxurious trappings, and obese expense accounts, will give critics, pundits, and more importantly Oscar voters to view the film more charitably.

Sadly, Funny People didn't do the Coen thing, Universal, drunk from the success of Knocked Up, and all the other Apatow related projects, were tossing money at them with both hands, and Apatow & Co., confident at his Midas digit, grabbed with both hands.

Funny People shouldn't have cost $75 million, but it did. It's what cost it's chance at profitability, and it probably killed its chance to win any awards or critical respect either.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #410: A Dog Day Kind of Posting

Welcome to the show folks...

1. THE WOLFMAN GETS AN R.... BUT...

...is it really necessary to make a good horror movie?

The Horror-Squad seems relieved that Universal's long delayed remake of 1941's
The Wolfman is getting an "R" rating. In fact, they say that many fans would consider it "neutered" if it got an PG13 rating.

Now that strikes me as peculiar.

When I was a kid some of the things that scared the living piss out of me weren't really gushing with blood and gore, and a lot of the films that were rated "R" when I was a kid are now broadcast, with blood and violence uncut, on weekend afternoons.

And then there's CSI. I mean people are getting massive doses of gizzards, innards, and grue on a thrice daily basis thanks to the CSI franchises and their ever present reruns. Which leads us to a paradox.

Horror fans consider anything less than an "R" rating an insult, but with audiences so inoculated to gore and violence horror filmmakers have to crank up the blood, guts, and sadism to get that "R" but often at the expense of what gives the horror genre its real strength, which is suspense. People lose the fear they feel over the fates of the characters, and simply wait for the next gore-spouting money shot.

Or maybe it's just me.

Be sure to let me know what you think in the comments.

1b. WHAT'S UP WITH THE WOLFMAN?

Is that production cursed? It was originally marked to be released in November 2008, then February 2009, then April 2009, then November 2009, and now February 2010.

Come on, it's a werewolf movie, it's not supposed to be Ben-Hur, what the hell's going on with that production. It's been bumped back so many times I'm starting to think it was a Weinstein production.

Sheesh.

2. REALITY TV HITS BOTTOM/STARTS DIGGING

ABC is starting a new show called Conveyor Belt of Syphilis Love, and the premise is simple. Men go by on a conveyor belt and try to convince women to pick them for a one night stand and if they're lucky, a cover story on a tabloid over their "unauthorized" sex tape. It's an idea so morally and creatively bankrupt, I thought it was NBC show.

Why do the networks keep doing these increasingly sleazy pseudo dating shows?

1. They're cheap.

2. They don't need big ratings to make money.

3. There will always be an audience willing to watch people debase themselves on television and dreaming that someday it could be them on that conveyor.