Saturday, 27 February 2010

Saturday Silliness Cinema: Breakdowns of 1938!

Welcome to the show folks...

It's my usual time to take a break from ranting and raving about the movie biz and have a little giggle. Today I look at a tradition from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Back in the day Warner Bros. would have a big end of the year party, and at that party they'd show a reel of bloopers, bleepers, and boners from many of the world's biggest stars.

Well, here's the real for 1938. See how many classic movies you recognize.


Friday, 26 February 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #462: Will the Unions Unite

Welcome to the show folks...

The lovely and fragrant folks at The Wrap made an interesting point today. It seems that the four major union contracts between the AMPTP which reps the studios and the actors/on air talent (SAG/AFTRA), Directors (DGA), and the Writers (WGA) will all be coming due at around the same time in the Summer of 2011. The WGA's contract will be coming up first, but the others will be wrapping up within a month, on the same day.

The time to prepare is now.

Actually, the time to start preparing was exactly 5 minutes after signing the last contract, but folks in Hollywood tend to only freak out about deadlines when time's almost up.

So I guess it's more accurate to say that the time to freak out is now.

But at least something can be done in time to get ready.

And what should be done?

One word: UNITY.

For decades the studios were able to have their way for the most part with the unions because the unions almost never form a united front. There were almost always divisions both between and within the major unions. This meant that the studios could always sacrifice a little by making nice with one, while putting the screws to another.

Now I know that most folks in Hollywood are of the high strung variety, and they love their melodrama, but letting the studios play divide and conquer is taking money out of their pockets. If they are going to have a chance of getting remotely ahead, they have to stand as a united front. The studios can't make movies and TV shows without them, and maybe, just maybe they can bring about some serious change in how Hollywood is run, which is poorly.

Which brings me back to my old standby when discussing union strategy, my good buddy Sun Tzu, and his
Art of War, the definitive tome about getting things done.

His first piece of advice is to:

KNOW YOURSELF & KNOW YOUR ENEMY.

I can't tell the union leaderships much about themselves, but watching the moguls in action, I think I've come to understand them. The most common comparison is with the shark, but that is not the case. Yes sharks consume everything they can, but unlike executives they rely on constant forward motion, or in human terms actual achievement, to survive.

Studio CEOs are very different creatures. Once they reach the corner office with the private luxury bathroom, and the mistress on standby, the average Studio CEO enters a state of cozy lethargy, preferring to have things brought to them, but raise hell if someone dares to interfere with their comforts.

Does that sound familiar?

The CEOs want people to think of Jaws when they're discussed, when they are actually more like Garfield. Sure they'll pounce on the occasional mouse, because it justifies their existence to their masters (parent companies) and also gives them something to play with and eventually snack on.

This is actually an opportunity for the unions.

How?

Because the methods of these fat-cats are starting to affect the bottom line of their masters, the parent companies, and investors. They let them run free when the economy was good and they could use their financial shenanigans for some clever tax avoidance. However times have changed, the economy is a lot tougher, and these same investors are watching billions coming in at the box office, and from TV and those same billions vanishing into the accounting ether once the CEOs are through with them.

If the unions are smart, they can do an end run around the CEOs, and right to the investors. Tell them: "Look, we wanna make money, you wanna make money. Where is all our money going?"

It might not work, but it could scare the living piss out of the CEOs.

Which brings us to the next lesson from our favourite ancient Chinese military philosopher.

THE 5 CONSIDERATIONS OF WAR
1. THE MORAL LAW
2. HEAVEN
3. EARTH
4. THE COMMANDER
5. METHOD & DISCIPLINE

1. THE MORAL LAW The Union leaders, and the Rank & File must ask themselves just how much do they believe in the rightness of their cause. Is it worth the sacrifice, the toil, and maybe even their very careers, and will they stand by each other no matter what happens? If they answer yes, then it's time to fight.

2. HEAVEN This is all about the conditions you will be under during negotiations and any possible labor action. This is in three dimensions:
  • Physical/Ecological- Covers everything from the physical health of members, to the conditions they will be toiling under during a labor dispute. Basically, are they in good enough shape to handle a picket line in the middle of a SoCal summer?
  • Psychological/Emotional- The unionists must be psychologically ready to face stress and relative hardship. Morale must be kept up if victory is to be achieved.
  • Financial- A war chest, and a really big one is essential. The unions don't have big parent conglomerates to look over them, and need to be ready if they are going to win.
3. EARTH This is about logistics, and logistics are all about getting things done. I'm talking about organizing the very real ways to handle the three dimensions of heaven that I just talked about. This could mean everything from paying bills, to organizing potty breaks for picketers. The devil is in the details, and if you don't have him ironed out, he's going to bite you on the backside.

4. THE COMMANDER Who is going to be ultimately in charge of this united union effort? Too many union leaders either turn into doormats for the AMPTP, or think they're the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky ready to man the barricades, raise the red flag, and break wind in the palaces of the mighty. Either way is a recipe for disaster. Well, sometimes you need an Eisenhower. Someone pragmatic, organized, with the ability to diplomatically soothe over stung egos, not get carried away with his own ego, but still be ruthless enough to make hard decisions and fight where they can.

5. METHOD & DISCIPLINE Unions must ask themselves: How will we achieve our objectives? and Are we disciplined enough to see things through? This means knowing what you want, making sure they are within the realms of reality, and then everyone knowing their jobs, and how they can get the job done.

I hope someone finds this advice helpful.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #461: Youth Without Youth

Welcome to the show folks...

According the Deadline: Hollywood the British film company Revolver Entertainment Group has started an in-house production company called Gunslinger, whose purpose is to make films for the youth market.

Good luck with that, because you're going to need it.

The movies have actively pursued the
youth, or to be more accurate, the teenager market since the 1950s. That was when Hollywood, or to be more specific, low budget independent producers realized that America had millions of teenagers, and those teenagers had disposable income.

One of the most successful of these teen-market entrepreneurs was Samuel Z. Arkoff who ran American International Pictures. He summed up his secret to success with what he cheekily called the A.R.K.O.F.F. Formula. It went a little something like this:
  • Action (exciting, entertaining drama)
  • Revolution (novel or controversial themes and ideas)
  • Killing (a modicum of violence)
  • Oratory (notable dialogue and speeches)
  • Fantasy (acted-out fantasies common to the audience)
  • Fornication (sex appeal, for young adults)
The American International marketing department had a formula of their own about what their target audience really was, and it went a little something like this:
  1. a younger child will watch anything an older child will watch;
  2. an older child will not watch anything a younger child will watch;
  3. a girl will watch anything a boy will watch
  4. a boy will not watch anything a girl will watch;
  5. therefore-to catch your greatest audience you zero in on the 19-year old male.
Now both sets of rules have their points. Good points too, but they will not guarantee any company success in the youth market, and that's because of these three simple truths:

1. The Hip Trap: Everyone would love to be young and with it. The problem is that by the time you're in a position to make a movie for the youth market, you are not a youth. It doesn't matter how much botox you get, or how tight your surgeon makes your abs, you are not a teenager, and trying to be one, will only make you look ridiculous. So you have to handle your work in a rational, and logical way and not fall into the trap of targeting the youth market by going after what the "kids are into these days," and by that I mean trends, fads, and fashions.

But here lies the trap, trends, fads and fashions come and go faster than ever before. What's literally the in thing one day, is completely and totally melvin the next. At least until the day that "melvin" somehow comes to mean cool. By the time you've got your movie made to cash in on a fad, it's already too late.

But let's have a little thought experiment, and imagine that you've done the near impossible. You have produced a movie that captured a teen fad, and are releasing it right when the fad is about to reach its peak, then you fall into the second trap of...

2. Trying Too Hard: There's a fine line between serving and pandering, and teens can smell pandering from a mile away. If they think you're trying to manipulate them, they will know that you assume that they're idiots, they will rebel, and go in a completely different direction.

A master of using this was director/producer Roger Corman. When every other producer was trying to make films with hot-rods and rock & roll starring the teen sensation of the day, he went the other direction and made old fashioned horror films with middle aged actors and source material from their target audience's English class, specifically Edgar Allan Poe. His Poe films shouldn't have worked, but they made damn good money, and from teenagers.

This is because Corman understood that...

3. Not All Teens Are Alike: This is even more true today than ever before. Back in my day we pretty much had the regular Breakfast Club mix running from the dinosaurs who hunted us on the way to and from school. Nowadays there are strata and sub-strata of teens that could keep an anthropologist going for their entire career.

These facets all have their own tastes, trends, and interests that are not only wildly different, but extremely fickle. They may want rock and roll one day, hip-hop the next, and Argentinian Gaucho folk song the day after that. They also communicate instantly via the internet, and can sink a film overnight with bad word of mouth.

So what's a film company to do?

Arkoff's formula is still the closest thing to a recipe you have, teens love novelty, adventure, and a little edginess to piss off their parents. You just have to remember the traps, don't try to be hip, don't treat your audience as idiots, and don't target too specific a sub-group, don't target their differences, target what they still have in common.

Even then it's a gamble, but at least the dice aren't rigged to roll snake-eyes every time.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #460: 1 Hero, 2 Governments, 1 Cranky Blogger

Welcome to the show folks....

THE MAN OF BRONZE GETS A POLISH

Writer/Director Shane Black, who gave the world
Lethal Weapon, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, has announced that he's going to do a movie adaptation of pulp novel hero Doc Savage, the legendary Man of Bronze.

For those who don't know their pulp-fiction
history Doc Savage was the lead character of a series of pulp magazine novellas of the 1930s and 1940s. He and his merry band of cronies (The Fabulous 5) would travel the globe, having adventures, battling bad guys, finding lost cities, saving damsels in distress, and saving the world multiple times before breakfast each day.

It sounds like the perfect recipe for a good action adventure, but here lies a trap, and it's in the very nature of Clark "Doc" Savage.

You see in the original stories Doc Savage is quite literally perfect in every way. He's the richest and smartest man on the planet, master of every scientific discipline, is built like
Terminator-era Schwarzenegger, and can fight like Bruce Lee. He's never scared, never does the wrong thing, and always wins clean in the end.

In other words Hollywood could do it three ways:

1. Go decadent: Portray Savage as basically a hypocritical egomaniac, and everything is done in some sort of camp fashion.

2. Go cartoonish: Do it as a period film, with Savage reflecting those period values. Sadly, this was done the last time someone attempted a Doc Savage movie, and it pretty much ended the careers of everyone involved.

3. Go deep: Find something in the nature of Doc Savage and his relationship with the world, that speaks to something more than just the surface material. Then a filmmaker can fashion something that can stand up with the likes of The Dark Knight.

Also casting will be tricky, because it'll be very hard to find someone to play that role that doesn't either induce laughter or the gag reflex.

Now for the government talk:

WOE CANADA- NOW HIRING AMERICANS!

The head of Telefilm Canada wants to loosen the rules and allow Canadian movies to hire more American actors.

Now a statement like that is probably confusing you, so I'll have to do a little explaining. You see, films made by English Canadian filmmakers cannot get English Canadian ticket-buyers to pay money to see them. That's because most watching most English Canadian cinema is akin to watching paint dry or grass grow.

This means that English Canadian cinema needs government funding to survive, via the agency called "Telefilm," or they might actually be forced to make something that might actually make money. The government, since they love to make rules, decided that each film made must be distinctly Canadian, and have measurable levels of "Canadian content," otherwise known as the dreaded CanCon. That meant that the bulk of people involved had to be Canadian, the setting had to be Canadian, the subject matter Canadian, and the overwhelming percentage of the cast had to be Canadian.

Now there was always a slot open for about one American or British actor, mostly because the majority of Canadian actors are in California doing guest spots on
CSI. But now the head of Telefilm wants to open up more slots for American actors. This is because most Canadian actors who stay in Canada can star in a TV series on CBC, and appear in a commercial, AND IT'S NOT A CELEBRITY ENDORSEMENT, it's just an acting job so they can buy groceries.

So the head of Telefilm has wisely deduced that English Canadian films need American actors to make them remotely viable. This could lead to a rehash of what happened in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Tax shelter laws made Canadian movies wise investments,
especially if they lost money, and hundreds were made very quickly with a lot of American and British actors in them. Canada became the place where stardom went to die.

Which brings up the question: What American actor with
any serious box office appeal would do a Canadian film?

OUR LITTLE GENIUS - FCC'S LITTLE SHIT FIT

This strikes me as a bit of a stretch, but the Federal Communications Commission is launching an investigation of Fox Broadcasting. Apparently someone was playing around with the answers on the never-aired pilot of the game show
Our Little Genius. The producers and the network found out, and pulled the plug on the whole thing, because in the wake of the 1950s game show scandal, it's just not worth the hassle.

Now you're probably like everyone else outside of Washington and asking "What the hell?" The show never aired, the network and producers acted appropriately when they discovered the malfeasance so why is the FCC investigating.

There are three possible reasons:

1. There weren't enough nipples exposed during the Super Bowl or cartoon characters who might be gay for them to investigate.

2. The FCC needs to justify its existence in a world where media is slipping away from the broadcast networks into realms it doesn't regulate.

3. Someone decided to be a pain in the ass for Fox Broadcasting, which has a lot of enemies in Washington right now.

Either one seems pretty logical, about as logical as this piece of vaguely worded legislation to give them the jurisdiction:
(4) To produce or participate in the production for broadcasting of, to broadcast or participate in the broadcasting of, to offer to a licensee for broadcasting, or to sponsor, any radio program, knowing or having reasonable ground for believing that, in connection with a purportedly bona fide contest of intellectual knowledge, intellectual skill, or chance constituting any part of such program, any person has done or is going to do any act or thing referred to in paragraph (1), (2), or (3) of this subsection.
Legalese makes my eyes bleed.

Anyway the FCC is saying that it gives them the jurisdiction to investigate any shenanigans involving any game show whether it aired or not.

Personally, I think it's a stretch, but it's the nature of bureaucracies to stretch in order to get as much power as they can get. It doesn't matter if they waste a few million dollars, it's not like it's their money they're burning, it's the taxpayer's money.

The FCC's next mission will be to find out why Joe Biden's sitcom pilot "That's My Veep," never made it to series.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #459: A Couple of Quickies

Welcome to the show folks...

The bidding for Miramax is down to the final five four bidders. Summit, has dropped out, ruining my plans to rename the company Summiramax, as well as indie film vet Amir Malin and his backers, leaving only these guys in the game (with appropriate commentary):

1. Lionsgate (Could use the name to market more upscale fare from Lionsgate's bread butter horror movies and whatever Tyler Perry manages to shit out. Plus the library will provide them some needed roughage for when the home video market finally levels out.)

2. The Weinstein Company (Apparently backed by some hedge funds, because without them their offer would have been some of Harvey's bedroom furniture, and Bob's pet ocelot Chester.)

3. Platinum Partners run by Sam and Tom Gores (This is a mergers and acquisitions firm, not a film company. So they may only be interested in the assets, for future division and sale, or they have a real interest in getting into the movie biz.)

4. Russian billionaire Len Blavatnik (I have no clue about this guy, other than he's Russian, has $7 billion in the kitty, and is also bidding for MGM. So it looks like he's got a serious hankering for a movie studio.

In other Weinstein news...

Harvey, Bob, and company have inked a deal to have TWC's productions distributed, and marketed through Sony.

Now all they have to do make some films people actually want to see, and they might have a chance at survival.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Saturday Silliness Cinema: Garfunkel & Oates

Welcome to the show folks...

And if you guessed from the title that Art Garfunkel and John Oates are going to make an appearance on this blog, then you are wrong, wrong, wrong.

Instead Garfunkel & Oates are Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci, and they're a musical comedy act.

But before the music, let's play a little game with them called "Kanye or Hitler?"



And now their song explaining what you need to heed if you want to get legal weed in California.


Friday, 19 February 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #458: Conan King of the Road?

Welcome to the show folks...

This is interesting. It seems that Conan O'Brien, unable to appear on television due to his exit deal with NBC, is planning on a nationwide live performance tour.

Personally I think that if it's done right, it's a great idea, and more importantly, it's something that Conan can use to put the screws to Jay, and NBC.

Here's how-

The tour should be more than just Conan, and probably Andy Richter. He should bring along a rotating troupe of up and coming comedians (stand up / sketch), musicians, and.... wait for it... local performers. I'm talking about sending out point men to scope out all the best local comedians, bands, and sketch performers, and give them a spotlight on the show.

The point of this is to create a spotlight, and a shot at national exposure for literally an entire generation of young performers. Especially when the best of the best get a slot on a television special put together from the footage made by a video crew recording every minute of the tour.

Young performers who will all feel they owe Conan something, but owe Leno and NBC the steam off their pee.

Jay's already going to have to screen guests for anyone that may replace him, or embarrass him for his perfidy. Which means that only an extremely small percentage of worthy performers will appear on Jay's reconstituted Tonight Show. This further taints the well, and with Jay having to scrape the bottom of reality TV's barrel to find guests, Conan will be able to move to a new network, with a whole cadre of performers who will support him, because he supported them.

Revenge is a death best served cold, and in show biz, on stage.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #457: Hey Bub, Wanna Buy A Studio?

Welcome to the show folks...

Sharon Waxman at
The Wrap is seeing all the movie companies for sale, and saying that it is definitely a buyer's market. Very few folks seem interested in buying companies like Miramax, Overture Films, (rumored that Summit's being considered for sale as well,) and the once venerable, now borderline bankrupt MGM, and the few that are, are not interested in paying the prices the movie companies think they're worth.

So let's boil down the reasons why to something that's easy to understand:

HOLLYWOOD HAS ONLY ITSELF TO BLAME

Really it does. It got drunk on other people's money during the great age of mergers and acquisitions, and while prices went up, value went down.

Making movies has become prohibitively expensive. Look at the budgets of the "small" movies like romantic comedies, and you'll see amounts that 10-20 years before were paying for "big budget" epics with large casts and mucho special effects. I've written extensively on why movies are so costly to make, and that I call it a "self-fulfilling idiocy," so I won't repeat them here. I'll just stick with saying that such inflation is unnecessary, and artificial, it was not created by natural market forces, so it is inherently unhealthy.

One of the things that used to woo bidders were the studio libraries and the revenue they could produce via home video, television, and other mediums. However, those libraries aren't raking in the green they used to. There are three reasons for this:

1. DVD sales are down. Folks aren't as free with their discretionary spending, and they aren't going to spend good money on something they can't eat, wear, or live in. Add to that the format uncertainty over regular DVDs, Blu-Rays, and online downloads, and you've got a recipe for instant boondoggle.

2. The independent libraries are too small. Most of these companies don't have the capacity to command the proverbial shelf-space whether in stores, or on TV channels, to be considered worth the money they're asking for. Toss in many of the extra jokers being held in those decks, and the value goes down even further. The major studios have literally decades worth of material in their libraries, which brings me to my third reason.

3. The major studio libraries are not well managed at all. My local satellite TV company is doing a free preview of Turner Classic Movies, and I have to admit, that channel reminded me what made me love movies. They aren't the overwrought noise factories being dumped into theaters for no other purpose than to create some sort of techno-based thrill ride. Which makes me ask: WHY ARE THESE MOVIES ONLY ON TCM? Think about it, why is TCM so popular, but these very same movies can't be shown on local stations on rainy weekends the way they used to be when I was a lad. They'll show the goddamn Hunt For Red October on five different stations on any given weekend, but they won't show Casablanca, or Vertigo, or 55 Days At Peking.

Of course I probably already answered my own question, which is corporate synergy. Time-Warner owns TCM, and the great majority of movies shown on TCM. They own it, and they want to be the only ones making money off of these movies. Which strikes me as a bad strategy. I probably won't be getting TCM once the free preview is over, because while I love the movies, I probably can't afford it. Another problem is that the local and basic cable stations would rather show the same piece of shit Woman in Peril pseudo-thriller scraped from the bottom of the Lifetime Channel's dumpster three times a day, than something in black and white, or cinemascope, for fear that stoned teenagers won't put down their iPods and Nintendo Wiis to watch it.

Well, how do they know if they don't try. TCM's popularity seems to show that people will watch it if you show it. But a combination of monopolistic greed (called "synergy" in corporate speak) and ignorance is keeping them from trying it.

The studios need to be selling the films, and that means going beyond just making them available. They should be really pushing them, and using their clout with local and basic cable stations to do it.

How can investors trust their valuation of these libraries, when Hollywood itself can't see the potential of it all?

But I digress....or rant...

Anyway, when you add in the attitude that glamor somehow equates value held by many of the people who run Hollywood, with the brutal reality of the real economics of it all, you have a perfect recipe for a disaster.

That's what I think, what do you think?

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #456: A Snarking I Will Go!

Welcome to the show folks...

After yesterday's juicy bit of corporate takeover strategic games, I'm now stuck with another day of minor bits that I can only snark about. So a snarking I will go!

1. Director Wes Anderson, who just a month ago defected from United Talent Agency to William Morris Endeavor has just defected right back to UTA. There are two possible reasons for this swinging back and forth.

A) Wes Anderson is a chip in the inter-agency poker game, which is held in Swifty Lazar's mausoleum on the second Friday of the month.

B) Wes Anderson is as indecisive and neurotic as one of his characters.

2. NBC is #1 in prime-time for the first time in years because of the Olympics. So Jeff Zucker is canceling NBC's entire line-up, except for Jay Leno's
Tonight Show, and replacing it with all Olympics all the time. Sure the Olympics only occur every 2 years, and NBC is expecting to lose $200 million, but Zucker doesn't mess with such petty details.

3. Speaking of petty details, a tip of my jaunty beret to our local Media Warrior, for this link about troubles with Jay Leno's return to the
Tonight Show. To sum it up, he's lost his bandleader, and is probably ditching his announcer, but to me that's the least of his troubles. Old Jay does have that teensy problem about booking anyone he thinks might replace him, add to that the "team Conan" people who might call him out on his perfidy in his late night coup, and the only guests he's going to book will be the cast of the Jersey Shore.

4. A company has announced plans to make a movie based on the "Erector Set" toy. I think that this whole toy-based movie thing has gone way past too far, and now arrests, summary trials, and deportations to hard labor camps in Antarctica have to be made.

Not only does this show a complete bankruptcy of imagination, it will be the first film with the word "Erect" in the title to be offered anywhere outside that back room at the video store. Not that I've ever been in a room like that, I'm just going on what I've heard.

5. George Lucas has taken over the film Red Tails, about the heroic Tuskegee Airmen of World War 2, and will direct the re-shoots himself. I guess he felt the acting wasn't wooden enough, and that the film needs a cameo from Jar-Jar Binks.

Hmmm... isn't a producer taking a film away from its "auteur" one of the things that George Lucas and his generation rebelled against? Could it be that baby-boomers engage in hypocrisy?

6. Disney has no interest in doing a sequel to their recent Sandra Bullock mega-hit The Proposal, despite the film raking in over $300 million in profits. There are two reasons for this:

A) Disney really doesn't want anything they can't turn into a ride at one of their parks, and then back into another movie, a line of toys, and other products for sale to kids.

B) Sequels to romantic comedies are troublesome, because it basically means that the struggles and happy endings in the first film, were all for nothing. You're not talking about James Bond, who can go from mission to mission, or
Star Trek going from planet to planet for adventures, you're talking about people finding true love and pledging undying love at the end. Having that love die in some vain attempt at scoring a quick buck, does not please the audience.

And finally...

7. Lionsgate and Sony's joint attempt to scoop up the Terminator franchise has failed.

Thank Xenu for that.

Lionsgate and Sony will no longer be in danger of joining previous
Terminator producers Hemdale, Carolco, and Halcyon in the realm of corporate oblivion.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #455: Icahn Doubles Down?

Welcome to the show folks...

Corporate raider and shareholder activist Carl Icahn has made an offer to up his stake in mini-major Lionsgate from around 18% to almost 30%.

Now if this deal goes through, it would have two major effects.

1. There is the possibility that the holders
of a revolving debt thingy would speed up their collection. Now the reason for this is because their contract stipulates that anyone buying more than 20% of the company will be considered by the lenders an "event of default," and they can demand their money faster. I'm not sure why, but the vagaries of corporate finance is where madness dwells. This rapid maturation of their debt, could compel the company to sell more shares or debt to Icahn, giving him more power over the company.

Now Lionsgate can get special permission from their lenders to allow this sale to go through without the "event of default," but even if they get that, it could still result in Icahn getting something he wants. That brings us to the second major effect.

2. If this deal does go through, with or without the special consent of lenders, Lionsgate will have to drop out of its bid for MGM. The reason on paper is that a Lionsgate purchase of MGM will bring on not only the venerable studio's library, but also MGM's rather massive debt. The most likely strategy Lionsgate could use to purchase MGM is to offer shares in Lionsgate to those stakeholders, thus diluting any value this purchase give Icahn.

But like I said, that's the reason on paper, in the real world it can mean something very different.

And this is where it gets tricky.

You see Carl Icahn is also buying MGM's debt like a sailor on shore leave, which when combined with his work on Lionsgate, if it works out, could land him a studio, no matter which one.

1. The fewer bidders there are vying for MGM, the odds of a deal that could please the stakeholders decrease. Leading to those stakeholders, Icahn chief among them, to convert their debt into ownership in the company. Icahn FTW.

2. If Lionsgate does buy MGM, they get MGM's debt, and could trade that debt for stock ownership in Lionsgate. Icahn instantly gets a bigger chunk of Lionsgate this way as well. Icahn FTW.

3. If someone else, like Time Warner, or News Corp., buys MGM, then Icahn has a more stable platform for him to make some money of off MGM's debt, with less risk. He can then use that money to either continue pursuing Lionsgate, or buying Overture, or Miramax. Icahn FTW.

4. If Lionsgate turns down his offer, their stock value could be hurt by the uncertainty, their creditors could get uneasy, and then let Icahn make his move, which he can do at a lower price. Icahn FTW.

Either way, Icahn seems intent on getting himself a film company, it could be Lionsgate, it could be MGM, it could be both. We'll just have to watch and find out.

Hollywood Babble On & On #454: Miscellaneous Movie/Media/Money Musings

Welcome to the show folks...

JAMES CAMERON TO WRITE AVATAR NOVEL

That's right, Cameron's taking his war against plot and character development to a whole new front by announcing that he is writing a novel inspired by his film Avatar.

Since it took Cameron 15 years to make
Avatar the movie, the quickest route is to take the novelization of Dances With Wolves off his Kindle and doing a "search & replace" so that "train" reads "spaceship." He still won't explain what unobtainium is supposed to do, because he probably doesn't know himself.

And the really sad part, apart from actually reading it, will be that he will get a huge advance, a massive marketing blitz, sell several million copies, 90% won't be read past the first chapter, and several thousand better writers, with actual stories to tell with actual characters in them won't get published, let alone similar treatment by publishers.

Plus Amazon won't let them charge an extra $5 bucks to see the text in 3D.

SOME FILMS HAVEN'T SOLD YET... WHY?

Two scripts with "big names" attached haven't sold yet. They are
Abducted, which has the soon to be omnipresent Taylor Lautner attached, and Contagion, from Stephen Soderbergh, Participant Productions and has Matt Damon, Kate Winslet and others attached.

So let's look at the reasons these films haven't sold yet.

ABDUCTED

This script pretty much all rests on the appeal of star Taylor Lautner, and the major studios currently have the screaming thigh sweats for him, but this frenzy could end in two ways:

1. They discover that Lautner's appeal is completely entwined in his role in
Twilight, and that he cannot sell tickets to lifeboats on the Titanic outside that franchise.

2. Lautner does have appeal outside of
Twilight, but his target audience quickly becomes sick of the sight of him because of overexposure.

It's actually about time that someone takes a wait and see approach to see if the young man is worth the money, and how to avoid strangling the golden goose before it lays a few golden eggs.

CONTAGION

This is supposed to be one of Soderbergh's "commercial" films like his
Ocean's 11 movies, a thriller about a killer disease, and an all-star cast. Of course that's what they said about his last film The Informant! which was marketed a wacky crowd pleasing comedy about corporate malfeasance, and only became an "art film" when it failed to make back its prints and advertising budget at the box office.

Also Participant Productions was created by its billionaire founder to be a "politically activist" film company. That is pretty much telling everyone that is hoping to make some money off of this film that there's going to be some sort of heavy handed political message in this "commercial thriller," and recent history shows that most attempts Hollywood make at being political fail unless its buried under tons of 3D CGI and big battle scenes.

CRUISE & PARAMOUNT'S IMPOSSIBLE MISSION

As reported everywhere else on the planet Tom Cruise is back at Paramount, and planning to return to the
Mission Impossible franchise that's dominated his career for the past 15 years. However, Cruise is not getting the usual "dollar one gross" deal that he had with the last movie.

For the uninitiated a "dollar one" deal means that on top of his $20-25 million up front fee, Cruise also got 22.5% of the money made by
MI3 at the box office from the very first dollar to the last. With the film's bloated development, production, and distribution budget the film made $400 million internationally, Cruise pocketed $80 million of that money, but Paramount barely got the bills paid.

That deal is the perfect embodiment of what I call the self-fulfilling idiocy of Hollywood. The big studios used to offer a piece of the net, which meant that folks like George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, and several major actors made a lot of money when their films hit it big. However this big blockbusters attracted big corporations who absorbed the studios as part of their new media conglomerates. The new conglomerates decided that they wanted to keep those net profits for themselves, and suddenly they mysteriously disappeared into the arcane realm of corporate bookkeeping.

Except this happened to coincide with the age of super-salaries for the A-List. So any stars and agents with clout started asking for huge up-front payoffs, and the dreaded "dollar one" deals for the really big players expecting to get screwed. Then the studios saw costs skyrocket, their net profits disappear for real, and their gross profits shrink into nothing, while they ended in a futile chase for a steady stream of blockbusters that needed to break records just to break even.

Cruise's deal is now for a big upfront payment and a piece of an "adjusted gross." Adjusted gross means that the studio gets to have the film's bills paid before they have to start paying Cruise his cut. Now one can hope that Cruise's reps have negotiated a deal where the numbers the film has to reach these adjusted numbers are set in stone, because the studios will take advantage of the slightest vagary to get the whole self-fulfilling idiocy rolling again.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Slooooow News Alert

Welcome to the show folks....

It's a crushingly slow day for biz news, probably because it's some sort of holiday down in the USA, and since I spent all Valentine's Day wallowing in bitterness, rejection, and cheap homemade gin, I haven't produced much of the bloggy goodness that you all crave like the salivating dogs that you are.

So I'm going to dip my toe in the bubbling cauldron of random Hollywood news bits in the hope that something interesting pops up.

1. Barbra Walters has announced that this years pre-Oscar interview
special will be her last. Leaving celebrities at a loss for lame soft-ball questions, and cheap excuses to cry on television.

2. Kevin Smith was ejected (not literally) from a Southwest flight for being a "safety risk." Now most are saying that it was over his weight, but I suspect that the pilot was worried that he would make people watch Jersey Girl as the in-flight movie.

3.
Valentine's Day, the movie, just happened to be a big moneymaker this past weekend. Yet all the Hollywood business press are acting like a romantic chick flick doing well on Valentine's Day weekend is some sort of sign of the rapture. WTF? I know Avatar's been dominant this winter, but other movies still exist, and people don't need to see every goddamn thing in 3D CGI.

4. Chris Pine from
Star Trek is reported the front runner for the role of Captain America. He's in the lead because the studios have yet to figure out how to clone Taylor Lautner in time for the shoot to begin.

5. NBC is raking in good ratings for the Vancouver Olympics. No doubt Zucker is probably telling advertisers that NBC is back on top, and I'm pretty sure that those same advertisers are thinking: "Sure, you're doing great with the Olympics, but they only last a couple of weeks, and after that we're back to the sort of crap NBC plops out as usual."

And not say that there's something a little off with NBC's Olympics, but during the medal ceremony for one of the skiing events, the Gold Medal winner was replaced by Jay Leno.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Saturday Silliness Cinema:

Welcome to the show folks...

It's Saturday, which means it's time for me to take a little break from my usual ranting about pop culture and the business behind it, for a little laugh. So here's a little stand up before I go back to the sort of posts that you all crave like the salivating dogs that you are:


Thursday, 11 February 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #453: Overture, Brand, & The Terminator

Welcome to the show folks...

LIBERTY WANTS TO BE FREE OF OVERTURE

Liberty Media is looking to sell Overture Films, their indie film distribution arm after a string of phazed cookies and only the occasional modest money maker.


That means that MGM, Miramax, and Overture are now for sale, and Lionsgate in a position (slightly bent over) where if things don't improve, and soon, it's going to get nailed with a hostile takeover. There is quite literally a glut on the market for independent film companies.

So here's my offer for Overture Films:

I'll give you $10 for it.

Remember, there's an expiry date on this offer, so don't dawdle.

WARNER BROS. LOOKS TO GET "BRAND"ED

Warner Bros. has inked a deal to do several projects with British "comedian" Russel Brand. I put "comedian" in quotation marks because I can't actually bring myself to remember any of Brand's material. I mean I've seen him at work, but the moment he walks off the stage, total blank.

He's the comedy version of singer John Mayer, I mean I can't remember anything he's sung, and like Brand, he's better known for shagging chicks and being obnoxious than what he's supposed to be known for.

I've said it before that Russel Brand leaves me cold. There's too much carefully sculpted artifice for him to be his real self, or even a character, he's an image. But he's not just any image, he's the image of the corporation friendly rebel. He dresses in black, carefully tailored to look "rock star" ragged, with his hair, semi-beard, and eyeshadow constructed for that "Oh, he looks like a junkie, he must be rebellious, dangerous and deep" look. He also delivers precisely crafted "outrages" very careful not to step on the shibboleths of his corporate masters, that also serves his own career. Take the incident that marked his departure from the BBC. He didn't challenge the attitudes or politics of the fashionable set that dominates the management of the media industry in general. Instead he made a bunch of sexually explicit crank calls to a beloved and very elderly performer about the sex life of the man's granddaughter.

That outraged listeners, and gave him the excuse to walk away from the BBC to the greener pastures of Hollywood, but it made the hearts of media executives flutter. The message was, he's obnoxious enough to attract a lot of attention, but knows enough to not say anything that might offend the people who write his checks.

Personally, I think this rush to sign Brand to everything is a mistake that's even bigger than Taylor Lautner being signed to every potential movie franchise being made for the next ten years. At least Lautner, is a young actor and has the potential of doing something different with the right script, and right director. Brand is so wrapped up in his image of the "rockstar rebel wannabe" that his idea of playing a different character is to put on a hat. (as illustrated)

I also read that one of these films is a remake of Arthur, which means that Dudley Moore's charming tippling gadabout will now be a rude and obnoxious junkie who refuses to wash his hair.

But he will be wearing a hat to show you that he's acting.

WISHER WISHES MORE TERMINATOR

William Wisher, the man who I now suspect made the scripts for the first two Terminator films coherent says that he hopes the folks who now own the franchise will give him a shot at making T5 and T6.

While I wish Mr. Wisher well, I just think that the whole Terminator franchise is a dead horse that's been flogged into oblivion. The giddy thrill from the novelty of an unstoppable killing machine with an unintelligible accent, is gone, and has probably lapsed into parody.

And let's not forget the curse. Every company that's made a Terminator film has either gone defunct, or went bankrupt. The movie biz is just too unstable to lose another company to this hex.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #452: Superman May Fly Again?

Welcome to the show folks...

Christopher Nolan, the auteur behind the revival, both creatively and financially, of the
Batman franchise has been tapped to "mentor" the revival-reboot of their former flagship hero Superman.

Now some folks are looking at this news and see an attempt by Warner Bros. at turning Superman into The Dark Knight, making him all dark, moody, and broody, instead of the idealistic Man of Steel fighting for truth, justice, and the American way.

Well, yes and no.

Nolan's success with the Batman franchise comes from the simple fact that he understands the nature of that franchise, what made it so popular, and translated it very carefully onto film.

All he has to do, is repeat that with Superman.

To do that he has to ask questions like these:

1. What is the nature of Superman?

Superman is an immigrant success story, a refugee who literally arrives with nothing, has his special gifts brought to life by his new home, and uses those gifts to become that new home's greatest champion.

2. What is the nature of Superman's relationship to his world?

Superman is both an idealist, and an ideal. He's god-like in his power, yet humble in his attitude, believing that his power should serve a greater good. He's a ray of sunshine in a world rampant with cynicism and opportunism.

3. What can be done with the Superman story?

A lot can be done with Superman, especially when the script doesn't waste over half the movie with him mooning over Lois Lane like a whiny emo-kid. It's about a man out to save the world whether it wants to be saved or not. I say plan a trilogy to be played out over the next decade, with a definite beginning, middle, and ending. You can skip the origin story, everyone knows it by heart, and just leap right into battling baddies like Brainiac. (The franchise needs Brainiac, too much Luthor was one of the factors that stank up Superman Returns.)

I also would like to suggest to Mr. Nolan that he consider input from animator Bruce Timm, and writer/producer Paul Dini. They defined the characters for a generation of fans for the past 20 years, and have a deep understanding of those same characters, their status as modern folklore, and how to adapt those characters for changing times.

I think together they could take the franchise to a whole new level.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #451: Some Drippings From My Brain Pan

Welcome to the show folks...

FIRST, A LITTLE BUSINESS CHATTER

Corporate raider and shareholder activist Carl Icahn is apparently still buying up stock in mini-major studio Lionsgate. This is happening at the same time that he's buying up the debt of sinking former major MGM.

Now you're probably wondering why.

This is what you call strategic positioning.

You see I suspect that Mr. Icahn & Co. want to get into that crazy business we call show, partially for its potential for profit, but also to make a point about how studios are run, which is poorly. I suspect that he's planning to reform the company he gets his hands on according to his philosophy of responsibility to the people who actually own the company. MGM, Lionsgate, both, it doesn't really matter, he's put himself into a position to act on the best target at the best time.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

Director Terence Malick has begun casting on his next film project, and this time he's taken his turtle's pace into account in his decision making. He's cast actress Dakota Fanning as Grandma Moses, and figures she'll be the right age by the time the cameras start rolling.

Actor Charlie Sheen's car was found at the bottom of a cliff. Apparently it saw an episode of
Two & A Half Men, realized that's how it was paid for, and took its own life in shame.

Director Kevin Smith is holding an online fund-raising drive to raise money to make his next film. He's calling the people giving the money "donors" instead of "investors" or the more accurate term "suckers." He's also still calling the film, which portrays politically conservative and Christian Americans as psycho-killers,
Red State, instead of the more accurate title of Red Ink.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Cinemaniacal: On Bullets

Welcome to the show folks....

A couple weeks ago I sat down and watched Magnum Force, the second Dirty Harry movie and I put on the audio commentary by John Milius who created the story and wrote the bulk of the script. He made an interesting statement that has stuck with me, to bastardize paraphrase it he said that back then, when people in action movies used revolvers, the shootouts were more important because every shot had to matter.

Damn, he made a point with that.

Pretty much since the 1980s the shootout has gone from an event that essentially made an action film into just a piece of cinematic punctuation. Shootouts have become the movie equivalent of a comma. Just something to create breaks between plot exposition and shower scenes for the lead starlet.

I use the 1980s as the beginning of the end of the shootout as an event because the sole point of action movies of the 1980s was to top the early action movies of the 1960s and 1970s. So the heroes became freakishly muscular, their stunts became more outrageous, and the firepower had to grow on an exponential scale. Revolvers just stopped being "macho" enough for action heroes, and nothing that hurled less than three digits of bullets a second were good enough for Hollywood.

They all want to recreate the visceral force of the finale of The Wild Bunch, but only see the surface values of blood, bullets, and sheer size of the battle, while they ignore the cinematic and narrative elements that gave that battle its emotional weight.

But that's only one reason why it's hurt action movies more than helped. The second reason is suspense, or the lack of it.

Suspense comes from questions, and if your action movie doesn't ask: "Does he have enough bullets to stop the bad guys?" "Can he reload in time?" and "Can he survive being outgunned by the bad guys and their superior firepower?" then there is no suspense.

With the suspense gone it all became about a ballet of carnage, where the heroes and villains hurled millions of slugs at each other while they dance around the set, and there is no uncertainty at all about the outcome. This became worse in the 1990s, reaching a new height, or nadir with the gravity mutilating antics of The Matrix and its sequels. The Matrix literally had guns and ammo appearing out of nowhere, something most action films since have tried to imitate, even though they're supposed to take place in the real world.

Which sort of bugs me, because I can still enjoy many of those old action movies, but a lot of the new ones, just turn into white noise for me.

Things I Learned From Twitter

Welcome to the show folks...

I've been a member of Twitter for a few weeks now and I've learned a few things.

1. No matter how successful or famous a person can be in their chosen field, they can still spend a Saturday night exchanging 140 character bon mots with total strangers over the internet, while in their underwear, or in my case, silk pajamas and matching smoking jacket surrounded by my seraglio of shapely servant girls.

2. Even great writers are prone to making teh occasional typo, but not me.

3. Some folks Twitter about things that folks really don't need to know about.

4. Roger Ebert hates people who disagree with him about politics. I mean he HATES them, and spends more time posting hissy fits about them than talking about movies.

5. Some people can say a lot with 140 characters, but most don't.


6. A lot of people like to post Tweets that have no meaning because they think obscure non sequiturs make they seem cool and mysterious.

7. Posting obscure non sequiturs do
not make a person seem cool, or mysterious.

8. Among my "followers" include companies that I haven't said a single nice thing about. It's a good thing such menial tasks as following tweets are done by poor pathetic junior assistants who don't really care what's being said about their employers.

9. If I don't get more followers than David Letterman within 7 months NBC is going to replace me with Jay Leno, and Letterman isn't even on Twitter!

10. Twitter allows people to find out just how obnoxious I really am without having to take the time to read my blog. It's a marvel of efficiency.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Saturday Silliness Cinema: How Avatar Should Have Ended

Welcome to the show folks...

I'm taking my usual Saturday break from ranting about business and such in order to give you a little giggle. This time it's HOW AVATAR SHOULD HAVE ENDED!


Friday, 5 February 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #450: More Random Thoughts...

Welcome to the show folks...

1. David Letterman has hired a female writer for the first time in years. Make up your own jokes about the situation of a woman working so close to the notoriously lecherous Letterman. I'm sure she's already heard them all by now.

2. The bidding for Miramax is heating up. Disney's eager to sell because the Pulp Fiction Experience at Disneyland featuring The Gimp's Playhouse, just wasn't working out. One of the bidders is Capitol/ThinkFilm's David Bergstein, which strikes me as interesting, because last I heard anything out of that company they couldn't even get a film finished, let alone buy another company. But who am I to understand the whims of investors and what they invest in.

3. Speaking of Miramax, its former owners, the Brothers Weinstein has purchased The Tillman Story. My condolences to the makers of The Tillman Story on the news that their film will never be seen again.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #449: More Drippings From My Brain Pan

Welcome to the show folks...

GUNSMOKE RIDES TO THE BIG SCREEN?

CBS Pictures, the pet movie studio project of TV mogul Les Moonves, has given the green-light to a big screen remake of venerable western TV show
Gunsmoke.

For those of you who are ignorant of North American cultural history
Gunsmoke was a western radio show from the 1940s that migrated to TV in the 1950s, and ran well into the 1970s. It centered on tough but fair US Marshall Matt Dillon, his sort of girlfriend saloonkeeper / madame Miss Kitty, and the other residents of Dodge City as they dealt with a never-ending parade of outlaws, racists, rapists, pimps and killers.

Now right now CBS is considering Brad Pitt and Ryan Reynolds for the role of Marshal Dillon. Now this is where they could take a hint from the making of the original series.

When the show was first started CBS wanted John Wayne to play Dillon, but John Wayne was at that time too big a movie star to stoop down to a TV series, but Wayne recommended his friend James Arness for the role. At the time Arness was a character actor and not considered a star, but
Gunsmoke made him a TV star.

Do you see what I'm getting at?

Big stars don't mean big box office these days, something CBS Pictures learned the hard way from that medical drama with Harrison Ford. So I suggest that they consider looking for an unknown, someone who can be the hard but honorable Dillon. Someone who looks like they can not only dish it out, but take it, get back up, and start dishing it out again.

Most "name" actors in Hollywood just can't deliver that believable anymore.

Or, CBS can just say to hell with it, and cast Matt Dillon as Matt Dillon just to mess with people's heads.

STAY CLASSY NBC

This is a real sign, and it's content will shock you...
Can you believe it, all that for $7.50?

I know it's racist, but it's also a steal!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #448: Murdoch Goes Metro?

Welcome to the show folks...

Apparently Rupert Murdoch's News Corp is making an offer to buy the struggling MGM, and not only buy it, but the offer declares an intent to keep the venerable MGM independent and viable as a movie company.

There's a similar offer from the Qualia Capital investment firm, but it's the wily Rupert's offer that catches my eye. You see, despite what you might think of old Rupert, he's one sharp customer and he doesn't make offers like that lightly.

It can only mean that he sincerely thinks that he, or to be more exact, someone he assigns, can turn the long struggling company around and make it a success. He's the kind of person who looks at all the angles, and doesn't make a move unless he's going to make a lot of money off of it.

Personally, I suspect that Rupert might want to get MGM for his daughter Elisabeth Murdoch and bring her back into the family/News Corp fold. She'd be an inspired choice, starting Shine Ltd. in 2001 and in 9 short years transforming it into a major television production success story. So far she's been pretty adamant about her independence from the Fox/News Corp empire, but having her British based TV powerhouse merge with a major Hollywood studio, one that would take a tough, intelligent leader to turn around may be too tempting to pass up.

Also it fills in nicely with News Corp's existing businesses, since 2oth Century Fox studios is currently distributor of MGM's home video and international releases. No need to renegotiate with outsiders when that contract runs out, though I'm pretty sure she can drive a hard bargain as good as Daddy.

That's what I think. What do you think?

Hollywood Babble On & On #447: Mini Musings...

Welcome to the show folks...

MACGRUBER/MACGYVER

Lee D. Zlotoff, the creator of MacGyver, wants to put the kibosh on the upcoming parody movie MacGruber. In keeping with the spirit of the show he will stop the movie with an airplane made from paperclips, chewing gum, a lawnmower, and a bed sheet.

But seriously folks, he claims the parody hurts his plans to develop a MacGyver big screen adventure, and that it violates his rights as the owner of any big-screen MacGyver movie.

Sorry Lee, but I have to call bullshit on your little parade, and here's why:

1.
MacGruber is a PARODY. Parodies are protected under freedom of speech and do not constitute any violation of copyright. Any lawsuit brought against it will only serve to cost Senor Zlotoff money and lots of it.

2. The only thing keeping the memory of
MacGyver alive is this movie, and the occasional episode of Mythbusters where they usually debunk the TV hero's antics. Come on, it's not like MacGyver was I, Claudius, it's essentially a bit of 80s camp, appreciated only on an ironic level by the folks who made MacGruber. It's the best commercial for the show than the show ever was.

So why is Herr Zlotoff trying to sink
MacGruber if he doesn't have a chance. Well, methinks he's trying to get his movie out of the development sinkhole by raising a ruckus.

MIRAMAX GOING WEINSTEIN AGAIN?

There's a report going around the Weinstein Bros. have somehow talked two hedge funds into backing their bid to buy the now defunctified Miramax back from Disney.

I never thought it would happen, but I actually had a glimmer of pity for a hedge fund.

If this report is true I'm guessing the hedge fund managers were impressed by getting to shake Gwyneth Paltrow's hand at a party in the Hamptons, that Harvey's got Hillary Clinton on his speed-dial, and the Bros. Weinstein's seemingly unending capacity to woo someone until they get what they want.

Because once they get what they want, things will get ugly.

Really ugly.

Don't just take my word for it, just ask
every single person who ever did business with the Weinstein Bros.

If you look at it from another angle it's a perfect hedge fund investment. It's got all the chaos and uncertainty of mortgage backed securities, and derivatives, with all the glamor of having obscenities hurled at you by someone who is supposed to be busy making you money.

RUPERT WANTS AVATAR 2 & FAST

News Corp/Fox honcho is so happy with all the money Avatar is making that he is pushing for a sequel. However since it took Cameron 14+ years to make the first
Avatar, it might come too late, too late being about 5 minutes after people stop being wowed by the visuals and start looking for a story with actual characters.

Personally, I see this as an opportunity for Hollywood's only working screenwriters Robert Orci and Alexander Kurtzman. Personally, I see it as a vehicle for Jim Carrey!

Come folks, you know it's inevitable.