Friday, 30 April 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #499: Summit Buys Fair Game

Welcome to the show folks...

Summit Pictures, the folks behind the
Twilight franchise, are branching into the realm of Oscar baiting by snapping up feature drama Fair Game, dramatizing the story of CIA agent Valerie Plame (played by Naomi Watts) and her husband Joe Wilson (played by Sean Penn).

All I can say is that I hope Summit didn't pay too much for this movie, and here's why:

1. The Stars: Naomi Watts is a good actress and a beautiful woman, and she's even been in a few successful films. Yet ask the average bloke on the street about her, and they'll say: "Naomi Who?" To which you would have to respond: "You know, the chick in King Kong?" and then you might get a nod of semi-recognition. She doesn't exactly inflame the passions of the movie-going/ticket-buying public.

Her co-star Sean Penn does inflame audience passions, but not in a good way. The average movie-goer sees his name on a marquee and they move along to anything that doesn't feature Sean Penn. You could actually advertise movies with the tagline: "100% Sean Penn Free," and boost your ticket sales. His audience are Academy voters, whose support is the foundation of his entire career, without them he'd probably be homeless, or worse, doing a reality show on cable.

2. The Story: It's one of the most divisive, and misunderstood stories of the past decade, and still generates controversy and arguments, so any interpretation will spark debate, so...

Here's the basics- On the eve of war with Iraq, intelligence agencies from half a dozen countries said that Saddam Hussein sent his top nuclear expert to Niger to try to purchase "Yellow Cake" uranium. The attempt to buy the uranium failed, but the attempt itself was still considered a violation of the sanctions against Iraq. Valerie Plame, working at CIA HQ in Langley, suggested her husband Joe Wilson, a former Ambassador, to go to Niger to investigate the claims, despite having no experience in intelligence gathering. Wilson is sent, by his own words "sits by the pool" at his hotel, talks to a few local contacts, and accomplishes nothing. Wilson returns home and writes an article for a major newspaper claiming that he was sent by the State Department, under the order of VP Dick Cheney, and found nothing.

The State Department retaliates to his story through Under-Secretary Richard Armitage who leaks to columnist Robert Novak that Wilson's trip was Plame's idea, not theirs, and that she works for the CIA. A media firestorm begins, and a special prosecutor is appointed to investigate the leak. Richard Armitage, the actual leak, is never charged, or even seriously investigated. Despite accusations against senior Bush aides like Karl Rove, the only person convicted is a Dick Cheney aide named Lewis "Scooter" Libby. He ended up convicted of perjury and obstruction, mostly over giving poor answers to the questions of the special prosecutor.

Valerie Plame quit the CIA, signed a multi-million dollar book deal, and released
Fair Game, her memoir of the affair, which despite tons of hype, disappeared from the sales chart fairly quickly.

Yet, very few people know the full story, and judging from reports about the movie, the film isn't anywhere near the full story which will spark...

3. The Right's Reaction: Talk radio, Fox News, and conservative pundits are going to eat the movie alive. According to early peeks, and previews, the film doesn't mention the real leak, Richard Armitage, once. That's like All The President's Men not mentioning the actual Watergate burglary, and it's red meat to those who view the film as yet another exercise in Hollywood political posturing and narcissism under the guise of cinematic "importance."

People do listen to these pundits more than they do the mainstream movie critics, and it's going to nullify the inevitable critical praise those mainstream movie critics are going to lavish on the film. To sell a film like this you really need to make people want to see them, and having some of the loudest voices in the media shitting on it, isn't going to give ticket-buyers the nudge they need.

4. What The Film Is: The Hurt Locker was last year's biggest Oscar winner, but also the weakest box office performer to ever win Best Picture. People tend to avoid any film involving Washington and/or Iraq like it was dripping with plague bacillus. Fair Game the movie is not meant to make money, or even entertain, it is meant to get Oscar nominations for its cast and crew. The audience knows this, realize that they are not part of the formula, and will not be participating.

I just hope Summit knows that as well, and understands what it's getting into.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #498: Miscellaneous Musings

Welcome to the show folks...

Just a couple of quick notes tonight...

1. Michael Burns and Lionsgate management are saying that the company's numbers are orgasmically great this quarter, they're bragging about it on TV, and declaring themselves the winner in their ongoing battle with takeover baron Carl Icahn.

Carl Icahn's calling bullshit on all this crowing and cawing, and says that the fight will go on, whether he gets his 51% majority or not.

All I have to say is...

FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!

2. Two cable channels OWN, and E Channel, are both doing reality shows about eating disorders.

Bastards.

I pitched them a sitcom about an anorexic actress and her morbidly obese roommate called
Thick & Thin, and they both passed. It had everything a sitcom needs to be a hit, especially the cruel mockery of emotionally crippled characters. Plus it would have meant work for both Nicole Richie and Kirstie Alley.

Now that bit is either going to get me booed as the heartless insensitive bastard that I am, or get me a development deal with NBC.

3. Paramount has axed the proposed sequel to Anchorman, even though the cast and director were willing to cut their salaries to get the film made. Personally, with Will Ferrell's recent box office record, and the decidedly unpromising looking action comedy
The Other Guys coming out in August, I can understand Paramount's decision.

4. Conan O'Brien will be appearing on 60 Minutes to discuss his side of the recent Tonight Show wars. It also gives people under 70 a reason to watch
60 Minutes.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #497: I have returned from the wilderness!

Welcome to the show folks...

Sorry I didn't post anything yesterday. It's spring cleaning & renovation time down here at the ranch. Yesterday, some work was being done in the basement, and someone, who shall remain nameless, felt the cord that connected my high-speed internet was in the way, decided to not find out what it was for, and cut it.

24 hours without internet until the repairman came and re-spliced it this morning.

But I'm back, and I'm finished dispensing brutal punishment on the cutter in question, so I can get back to delivering the bloggy goodness you crave like the salivating dogs that you are.

ICAHN SPITS OUT THE POISON PILL

The management of Lionsgate's plan to fight off Carl Icahn's proposed buy-up of the mini-major's stock with a so-called "poison pill," has bit the dust. The plan was to dilute the shares by offering additional shares at a discount to investors, making it harder for the Icahn Group to get the controlling interest they want because of the sheer volume of shares being made available.

However, the British Columbia Securities Commission put the kibosh to that plan.

Now you're probably wondering why a company head-quartered in Santa Monica has to get the blessing of the Securities Commission of a Canadian province for their poison pill.

Well the answer is simple.

Lionsgate is technically a Canadian company. It was started in Vancouver, home of the Lions Gate Bridge, as a distributor, grew, bought Artisan Entertainment, and became the company it is today. It's maintained its status as a Canadian corporation, because of film tax incentives, and that it's just plain easier to be registered in Canada than the USA from a corporate tax perspective.

Okay, history lesson over.

Back to the poison pill.

I don't like stunts like that. The management says that Icahn's offer is "opportunistic, coercive, fattening, and can lead to baldness," but the whole thing reeks of management trying to protect their own positions over the welfare of the company and shareholders.

The company's shares are up slightly, $6.87/share according to my most recent peek, but still below Icahn's $7 offer, and are going up because of interest over the take-over,
not because of Lionsgate's steady stream of hits. The management is spending millions of dollars to fight this take-over, but I'm not convinced that it's for the good of the company, and not for the security of the positions of the upper management.

There are a lot of folks who don't like Icahn. That's natural when you do corporate takeovers, and some of his critics say he can't have a studio, because he's not an artist, he's a businessman.

I have to ask those critics:

How many studios are being run by artists?

They're all run by businessmen with artistic pretensions, not artists. Studios are supposed to be run by businessmen.

Besides, it's not like Icahn will be running the studio himself. He'll hire someone to do it for him. It will be that person who will make the creative decisions, and if that person green-lights projects and deals that make money, Icahn will probably leave that person alone. That's because the day to day managing of a movie company is a nightmare for a hard-boiled New York biz type like Icahn. The east coast money men of the Golden Age of Hollywood knew that, and left the Louis B. Mayers, and Darryl Zanucks alone as long as they made a profit. If they didn't make money, then the money people found someone who would, and that was that.

It's the nature of the beast.

THE MAGIC 8 BALL PREDICTS!

Paramount's inked a deal to make a movie based on Mattel's Magic 8 Ball.

Let's see what my own Magic 8 Ball says about this project:
Well, my Magic 8 Ball is never wrong.


IN HOLLYWOOD IDIOT NEWS

There are reports going around that singer John Mayer has quit Twitter.

I don't know how accurate those reports are, but Twitter's "Douche Level" has plummeted at least 36%.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #496: Are Comic Book Movies Dead?

Welcome to the show folks...

According to the box-office,
The Loser lost, and Kick Ass didn't kick all that much ass, and some wags are saying that it's a sign that the comic book movie is, if not dead, dying.

Well, I don't think so. There are reasons for failure that are very specific to each film that don't translate to the genre as a whole.

Let's look at the facts:

WHY THE LOSERS LOST:

SOURCE MATERIAL: The film is based on a relatively minor title out of the DC Comics adult oriented Vertigo catalog. It's not a part of the cultural zeitgeist like Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man, nor does it have the novelty, humor, and charm of Robert Downey Jr's portrayal of Iron Man. And to top it all off, it's a so-called "edgier" remake of a mostly forgotten 1960s comic series about WW2 soldiers who do dangerous missions as penance for mistakes that cost the lives of their comrades, with the notions of penance and self-sacrifice replaced with old fashioned vengeance.

CLICHE PLOT: How many movies have been made about battle hardened tough guys that always seems to end up fighting the CIA itself? Dozens at least. The Bourne films have rehashed the plot to the point of self-parody, and the simple reality of those who "know to much" in the CIA usually ending up profiled in the New York Times to plug their book deals makes it all seem silly.

Now there are two simple reasons for always going back to the CIA as the all purpose villain / conspirator. Reason #1 is political correctness, which dictates that foreign villains are automatically assumed to represent, and therefore insult, entire ethnic communities if they appear in a Hollywood movie, and the Reason #2 is a form of subtle, unintended, racism where non-white non-American or non-European villains are subconsciously considered unworthy adversaries of the predominantly white American or European heroes.

I like to think the most blatant example was the lowly Bond movie Die Another Day, where they literally turned a North Korean Colonel into a white Englishman via plastic surgery. Why couldn't he be a North Korean? Were they afraid of being banned in a country that already bans all western entertainment for everyone but their "Dear Leader?"

MARKETING: Judging from the commercials it looks like just another cookie-cutter, shaky-cam, action pic, whose central theme seemed to be Zoe Saldana cavorting in her knickers. There's nary a hint of what made it any different from the upcoming A-Team movie beyond an absence of humor and 80s nostalgia.

WHY KICK ASS DIDN'T KICK ASS:

SOURCE MATERIAL: The original miniseries is fairly obscure compared to the more mainstream super-hero fare, and had a darker, more nihilistic edge to it than the usual heroics.

NATURE OF THE MOVIE: Kick-Ass had "cult" movie written all over it. It had an R-Rating, over the top violence, gore, and language. It had a budget that's normally spent paying off one actor, which meant that the financiers understood that its profitability was going to come from an extended shelf life on DVD and good word of mouth among fans.

LIONSGATE'S EXPECTATIONS: I'm afraid that Lionsgate's management let their ongoing war with Carl Icahn's takeover bid affect their judgment on this movie. They went on an all out publicity blitz expecting Kick Ass to be the blockbuster they needed to justify their hanging onto control, not realizing that just because it was in the same genre as many big blockbusters, wasn't a guarantee that it was going to be mega-huge in ticket sales.

If they had just downplayed their desire for a monstrous opening weekend, and used its cult-like nature to the film's advantage, they may have avoided the probably unfair stench of failure clinging to the film.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #495: Analyzing the Analysts

Welcome to the show folks...

Lionsgate has broke from the other movie companies and tossed their support behind Cantor Fitzgerald's proposed Box Office Futures Exchange. Some say they're doing it as a way to offset risk, others say it's because of top Lionsgate honchos being connected to the play-money Hollywood Stock Exchange, and Cantor Fitzgerald. I don't really care why.

What I do care about is that it's a really dumb idea.

I've explained why I think the exchange has all the makings of a royal boondoggle.

What I would like to do today, is to further explicate one of the reasons I discussed in that article, the tyranny of analysts.

Box office analysis is given way more weight than it really deserves. In a perfect world it's a scientific discipline where coldly methodical brain-boxes study past ticket selling performances of actors, directors, genres, MPAA ratings, and coordinate them with outside factors like the time of year, number of screens, the state of the economy, target demographics and even the weather. They then take all these factors and use them to construct a rational, logical, and objective opinion of how they think the film in question will perform.


The problem is that we don't live in a perfect world. Instead we live in an extremely imperfect world, that's populated by extremely imperfect people.

Extremely imperfect people have agendas.

These agendas taint these analysis by tempting them to skew them one way or another, and not just for their own movies, but for the films of other studios as well.

That's because their estimates are taken as The Gospel From On High, and if a movie beats their estimate, it's hyped as the second coming of Avatar, if it doesn't, it's touted as the biggest bomb since the last time Nicole Kidman made a movie. So the estimators skew away, either to put lipstick on the proverbial pig, so that a film will look more successful than it actually is, or to hide its light under a bushel to make it look like a failure when it comes time to pay off the back end deals.

This means that the analysts who make box office estimates, even the ones that work for media outlets and not directly for the studios, are under tremendous pressure. This pressure warps things in weird directions.

Now imagine thousands of gamblers investors all over the world with millions of dollars riding on these analysis. The pressure to skew will increase exponentially and completely destroy whatever integrity the current process may have left.

And even if it doesn't, it still doesn't matter, because no matter how you paint it, estimate is just a fancy word for a guess. An educated guess, but still a guess nonetheless.

But it looks like this betting pool exchange is going to go through, so it's only a matter of time before it makes Enron look like shares in a Canadian bank.

Constantin Films Doesn't Like You Making Fun Of Hitler!

Welcome to the show folks...

German movie company Constantin AG decided that 2 years of free publicity for the obscure German language film Downfall just wasn't good, so they've demanded that Google take down all those Hitler parody videos, and Google is folding faster than the Flash on laundry day.

I guess Google's motto of "Don't be evil" really means "Don't stand up for free speech."

So take a moment and watch what will probably be the last Hitler parody before the legions of Constantin's jack-booted lawyers get it taken down...


Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #494: A Couple Of Mini-Bits

Welcome to the show folks...

IS DRAMA DEAD?

The London Book Fair managed to get a few attendees despite the Icelandic volcano screwing up air travel, and some of those attending talked about movies.

Specifically, they talked about how "drama is dead."

According to some speakers the big studios are turning away from dramas for two reasons:

1. The sort of talky dramas that win awards and critical praise, just aren't enough to get bums in seats. Folks want big shows with big budgets and big FX if they're going to drop the kind of filthy lucre needed to get to a movie theater, let alone get a seat in one.

2. Television is doing drama way better than the movies have done in a very long time. In fact, many are saying that we've entered a new golden age of TV drama, if mostly on cable and not as much on the mainstream networks.

Now I have to say that if drama is dead, which I doubt, it's Hollywood's own damn fault, and here's why:

1. Too many filmmakers and critics think that drama is like cod liver oil, it's good for you, so you should accept that it tastes like a sea creature's bung-hole and take it. If you don't get that metaphor, I'm saying that if a film is considered entertaining, it's usually spurned as being "unworthy." Trust me, I went to film school, and sat through many a "worthy" movie where absolutely nothing happens. Tedium isn't seriousness, it's just tedium. Look at many dramas from the golden age of movies, the classics are both serious and entertaining, so why can't modern dramas be both?

2. Too many filmmakers & studios think high concept films can't be good drama, and hence give up on quality, and let the special effects department take over. That's laziness. It's extremely rare for a story to be beyond the rescue of anyone willing to put the talent and effort into making it worthwhile.
The Dark Knight showed that you can even make a quality drama out of superhero story. All it takes is talent and effort.

My suggestion, is that filmmakers up the quality in the fields of story and character department, while makers of drama up the entertainment factor in their films. Then maybe we can find some sort of equilibrium.

MARK CUBAN WANTS REVENGE?

Billionaire investor Mark Cuban has publicly declared that will do all that he can to put the kibosh to the Weinstein Bros. campaign to spend $625 million of Ron Burkle & Fortress-Colbeck's money to buy back Miramax.

Three possible reasons for this:

1. The effects of Harvey's hypno coin have worn off and Cuban realized that he was talked into investing in "9" and Inglorious Bastards, and probably hasn't seen a penny from either.

2. The leprechaun that lives on his shoulder that only he can see has told him to do it.

3. He's feeling pissy today. Which might also involve the leprechaun.

If he's successful and somehow ruins their bid, it could open the doors to Tom & Alec Gores, the billionaire brothers of uber-agent Sam Gores to renew their courtship, or Disney honcho Bob Iger could keep to his strategy of trying to dump Miramax on someone who can't do anything with it, and sell it David Bergstein's Pangaea Media & their future litigants backers.

We'll have to wait and see...

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #493: License To Kill...Suspended?

Welcome to the show folks...

MGM's ongoing troubles with money, or to be more specific,
the lack of it, has hurt its biggest franchise. I'm talking about the James Bond 007 franchise, whose 23rd film has been suspended indefinitely.

There is a rumor that EON Productions is shopping around for a new home for the secret agent. I'm not sure how accurate those rumors are, because it would require knowledge of facets of the ownership arrangement they had with MGM that I don't have.

What I can do is bitch and moan about the suspension for a while.

Bitch.

Moan.

Bitch.

Moan.

Okay, now that I have that done, let's see what can we do to save the world's fave secret agent.

So let's make a plan.

1. MGM must get its house in order. If that means the creditors trading debt for ownership, so be it. If they have to make some sort of deal with the folks willing to help finance new production, then so be it. They can't sell it for any decent money, and if the company loses Bond, they might as well throw in the towel.

2. Bring Bond's budgets under heel. The Bond movies always set a standard for big scale action adventure. Yet the last one,
A Quantum of Solace, was the most expensive Bond movie ever made, and had the narrowest profit margin. That's not good. I'm not talking about making them on the equivalent scale of some the old Cannon films of the 80s, but there has to be some way to keep up the level of quality that audiences expect without breaking the proverbial bank.

3. Remember what makes Bond, Bond. The most common complaint about
Quantum was that it tried to hard to imitate other movies like the Bourne flicks with it ADHD editing and FX heavy action scenes. Bond films are about sex, violence, and high living in exotic locales, done in a cold, elegant, and above all, clear style. Suspense is key with Bond, and you can't have suspense if your audience can't tell what the hell is going on with editing done as if by an over-caffeinated jackrabbit in rutting season.

4. Take full advantage of the "reboot." Why not go back to the books for new movies. Sure most dealt with Cold War issues, but some clever writers can easily update them for today's world. And if it means making some sort of deal with the estate of Kevin McClory, who owns a piece of uber-villain Blofeld, then do it. They can't do anything constructive with Blofeld without Bond, so some sort of reasonable accommodation is possible, if both sides behave rationally.

Do any of you readers have any suggestions for saving James Bond?

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #492: Take My Advice Please

Welcome to the show folks...

The Weinstein Bros. and the victims of Harvey's hypno-coin Ron "Paper or Plastic" Burkle, and hedge fund Fortress-Colbeck have set up an "exclusive negotiating window" with Disney to buy Miramax to haggle over their offer of $625 million.

So now it's time for me to offer my advice to the other major bidders, David Bergstein/Pangea Media, and Tom & Alec Gores/Platinum Equity whether they want it or not.

WALK AWAY.

That's right, just walk away. Let the baby get its ba-ba, and by "baby," I mean the Bros. Weinstein, and by "ba-ba" I mean Miramax.

Let me explain, and the reasons are different for both contenders, so I'll address my advice to them individually.

DAVID BERGSTEIN / PANGEA MEDIA- Your companies are being picked apart by creditors and forensic auditors. It's only a matter of time before they find something to screw you. If there's one thing I've discovered about white collar prosecutions they don't really need to find anything actually criminal to stick you in a cell with a biker named Bubba who wants to know if you're "open-minded," and it isn't your mind he's talking about.

This is especially true when you try to play clever dick with a bunch of different holding companies, shell corporations, and a constantly shifting financial situation. All a jury needs to see is just how convoluted your businesses are, and they will convict, because they will assume that you have to be guilty of
something, reasonable doubt be damned.

So here's my advice: Give up on Miramax, try to make some sort of deal with your creditors, and maybe pay some of the bills you already owe, before racking up any new trouble. Because that's all you're going to get, if you keep chasing Miramax, more trouble.

TOM & ALEC GORES / PLATINUM EQUITY- Now I'm offering the two of you different reasons for walking away from Miramax.

Chiefly, your bid is too serious. This
negotiating window with the Weinstein's shows that Iger has no intention of letting anyone who might actually do anything productive with Miramax have a chance of winning unless they pay waaaay tooooo much for the company.

$625+ million is definitely hitting the realm of waaaay tooo much, especially for what is basically a name and a library of films of limited profitability, whether it be in TV/home video sales, or remakes, and convoluted rights management. Those same ownership rights means that you'll be stuck having to deal with the Weinsteins with almost every single decision made over that library.

So here's a new plan.

1. Leave the bidding for Miramax.

2. Buy Overture Films, and its home video sister company Anchor Bay.

3. Restructure Overture Films with a new lean structure, possibly new management, and more importantly...

4. A new name. Overture Films is possibly the dullest name on can get for a film company. Summit implies reaching for heights, Lionsgate implies an exotic and powerful animus, with endless possibilities lying just beyond some sort of gate. The name Overture comes across as snobby, dull, and pretentious. Plus, it has a great big goose egg at the opening of the name, a big fat zero. Find a name that implies energy, drive, and most of all excitement.

5. A new mission for the restructured/rebranded Overture Films. Lionsgate seems too wrapped up with fighting with Carl Icahn, and the majors are too wrapped in turning everything into overpriced 3D mega-busters with a frenzy that will only ensure that the whole thing will crash and burn very quickly. That means that there will be gaps in the market that you can exploit inexpensively. Corner that market, in alliance with independent producers/financiers left otherwise in the cold by the others.

Then, once you've built this new company up, you can...

6. Buy Miramax. That's right, walk away now, win later. How? It won't be too long before the Weinstein Bros. bring the company, and possibly their financial backers to ruin. That will create an opportunity to swoop in and buy out the library and the name completely, without the Weinsteins involvement and at a price more in line with their actual value.

Well, that's my smug-know-it-all advice, and I hope you take it.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Saturday Silliness Cinema: Yes Minister

Welcome to the show folks...

Last night I wrote about how the British sitcom Yes Minister/Yes Prime Minister set a very high standard for politically themed comedy. So today, in my usual break from ranting and raving about the business of popular culture, let's have a taste of the show...

In this clip Sir Humphrey Appleby, career senior bureaucrat, explains Britain's role in the European union to his newly appointed minister Jim Hacker.



In this clip, Sir Humphrey meets another senior bureaucrat from the environment ministry to discuss how they can save an art gallery from being demolished.



It's really a thinking person's style of comedy.

Friday, 16 April 2010

On Comedy: Can A "Political" Sitcom Work?

Welcome to the show folks...

Tonight, I'm going to step back from my usual ranting and raving about the movie business, and look at comedy. What works, what doesn't, and why they work or don't.

Recently I read that Arianna Huffington, gadfly pundit and founder of The Huffington Post, is producing a sitcom pilot about freshmen members of congress.

If it's picked up for a series, it will not last a season.

That's the fate of the majority of politically themed shows in American television, especially politically themed sitcoms. Only a handful lasted more than a season, and the most successful, NBC's
The West Wing, was a drama. Politically themed sitcoms like most of Norman Lear's failed attempts at a TV comeback rarely last more than a handful of episodes before oblivion.

So why do they fail?


In order to explain their failure I must use an example of what I consider a truly successful political sitcom, a show that not only deftly handled politics, but is still watchable today. I'm talking about the British show Yes Minister, and its sequel series Yes Prime Minister written by Sir Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn.

The premise is deceptively simple. It begins with politician Jim Hacker (Paul Eddington) being appointed to run the fictional Ministry of Administrative Affairs for the British government. Upon his appointment he engages in a war of wills with his Deputy Minister, a career bureaucrat named Sir Humphrey Appleby (Nigel Hawthorne). Hacker has ideas to change things, Appleby has a desire to maintain the status quo, and both are willing to do whatever it takes to get their way.

Now here is why the show worked and why American shows don't:

1. It dealt with politics, not issues. Most American attempts at political sitcoms dealt with issues that were specific to the time and place where the show was made. YM/YPM dealt with the absurdity of getting things done in government, the nitty gritty mechanics of politics. The issues really didn't matter, just the machinations the characters engaged in to get their way. I just recently started watching the reruns on my satellite dish, and for a show that ran 30-25 years ago, it's still very fresh and funny, and outside of name of the now defunct Soviet Union, still surprisingly relevant.

Watch most politically themed American shows, and they seem well, very dated, and become that way very quickly. I doubt even the long running drama
West Wing will be watched very much in reruns for very long.

Why do the creators stick to issues instead of politics? Because the people behind the show want the sort of short term relevance that'll get them awards, accolades, and invites to all the smart parties, instead of creating a true, evergreen, classic.

2. Characters. When the show first started Minister Hacker was naive, publicity hungry, and often easily played by the sharp Sir Humphrey. As the show progressed Hacker evolved into a shrewd politician, who learns from his mistakes and can if not best Sir Humphrey every time, at least do it some of the time, or in rare cases, finagle some sort of mutual victory.

Neither character is portrayed as being wrong or right, good or evil. They are both either trying to do what they think is best for the country, or at least doing what they can to personally survive or get ahead.

This is where shows with political setting fail in American comedy. There is an unstoppable impulse to brand one side right/good, and one side wrong/evil. Those who act as mouthpieces for the political beliefs of the folks running the show are portrayed as occasionally quirky, but always on the side of the angels. Those with whom the show-runners disagree politically on those pesky dated issues are portrayed in broad strokes as either clownishly idiotic, cynically hypocritical, or downright corrupt and evil.

These characters never change, they never learn, they never adapt. The only way the saintly political heroes can't win every time is if the show's runners decide they want to make a statement about how corrupt and evil "the system" really is.

That may make good political stance, but it doesn't make good sitcoms. In YM/YPM there are no total saints, and no total sinners, just human beings trying to do what they think is the best they can do in the situation.

3. Audience alienation. In America there are about 35-40% of voters who are the die-hard "base" of their political party of choice, and the rest are independents who wobble, but overall, tend to lean a little more to the center-right than Hollywood would like to admit. That means that any mainstream entertainment program that portrays one political party as intellectually or morally superior over the other, is guaranteed to piss off at least 50% of the viewing public at any given time.

This is especially strong when characters are held up for ridicule not because of what they do, but of what they believe. When a patriotic or religious character is made out to be an idiot or hypocrite at best, or a downright villain at worst, a lot of patriotic and religious people are going to tune to something else that feel doesn't insult them or their beliefs. Like cable TV, the internet, video games, or talk radio.

The beauty of YM/YPM was that you never learned what political party Hacker belonged to, because it wasn't important. He was a professional politician, Sir Humphrey was a professional bureaucrat, and that was all you really needed to know.

Toss in Jay and Lynn's intricate plotting, and cleverly constructed dialogue that makes sweet love to all facets of the English language, and you have a classic that can still be enjoyed decades after its initial run.

So, let's see if this new show is going to make it to air, and if it does, how long it will last.

Hollywood Babble On & On #491: Looking Into The Future!

Welcome to the show folks...

Some folks got some egg on their face yesterday by reporting rumors that the Weinstein Bros. regained their company Miramax, but Disney was quick to poo-poo those reports, and say that the auction was still on with no clear winner yet.

Which got me thinking. The Weinstein Bros. are backed by supermarket billionaire Ron Burkle and hedge fund Fortress-Colbeck, and I wondered if the Freres Weinstein would treat them the same way that they have reportedly treated investors in the past.

Luckily, my hobby is mad science, and that would provide me the answers I seek. So I cranked up COLOSSUS my mega-super-computer, hooked it up to my time machine, hooked both of those to my alternate dimension portal generator, making me able to record a telephone call from a possible future where the Weinsteins win back Miramax, and reproduce the transcript here for you.
TRANSCRIPT OF PHONE CALL BETWEEN BILLIONAIRE INVESTOR RON BURKLE & PRODUCER HARVEY WEINSTEIN.
RECORDED ON MAY 27th, 2013 FROM ALTERNATE FUTURE 318-OMEGA-B.


BURKLE- Hi, Harvey, it's Ron here.

HARVEY- Burkle baby, how the f*ck are you?

BURKLE- Well, Harvey, I've been talking to the guys over at Fortress-Colbeck--

HARVEY- What the f*ck are you saying? Are you f*cking talking sh*t about me behind my f*cking back!

BURKLE- No one is talking sh*t Harv. We just have some concerns about how Miramax is being run.

HARVEY- What the f*ck do you know about the f*cking movie business you grocery peddling f*ckwad! I'm Harvey f*cking Weinstein, I've forgotten more about the f*cking movie business than a f*cking cabbage f*cking f*ckface will ever f*cking know!!

BURKLE- Calm down Harv.

HARVEY- I AM F*CKING CALM!! CAN'T YOU HEAR JUST HOW F*CKING CALM I AM!

BURKLE- We're not questioning your experience Harvey. We just want to know why, after we spent over $600 million to buy the company, and several hundred million dollars more for productions and acquisitions, yet there hasn't been a single film released.

HARVEY- You can't f*cking tell me where and when I can f*cking release the f*cking movies I spent f*cking millions of your f*cking dollars making or buying! If I want to f*cking sit on a f*cking movie until all f*cking interest in it is f*cking wasted, and along with it all that f*cking money, I'LL SIT ON THAT F*CKING MOVIE! I'm f*cking rich, and that proves I'm f*cking right!

BURKLE- Technically Harv, I'm actually a lot richer than you--

HARVEY- You f*cking rat soup eating f*cking honky motherf*cker! You f*cking think you know better than me! Do you!?! I'll f*cking sink this f*cking company and you won't f*cking see a single f*cking dime from this sh*theap! NOT ONE F*CKING DIME! You'll never get that f*cking Oscar I f*cking promised you either! I'll f*cking sink that f*cking movie with f*cking Kate Winslet as the f*cking mentally retarded f*cking Nazi with terminal f*cking cancer who f*cking teaches f*cking inner city kids how to f*cking love f*cking Shakespeare through f*cking interpretive dance!

BURKLE- Sheesh Harv, don't you think you're over-reacting?

HARVEY- Are you f*cking saying I'm f*cking over-reacting? YOU F*CKING BAG-BOY! I'LL DESTROY THIS F*CKING COMPANY & YOU WON'T F*CKING GET F*CKING ANYTHING! NOT ONE F*CKING DIME!

BURKLE- Is that how you feel about this Harvey?

HARVEY- Don't f*cking push me you donkeyf*cker! I built this f*cking company, and I'll f*cking destroy it if I f*cking want to! Now f*cking gimme another f*cking $300 million, or I f*cking swear, I'll f*cking burn this whole f*cking thing to the f*cking ground!


BURKLE- Oh, Harvey, you so crazy. How can I stay mad at you?
A stunning vision of a possible future, if I do say so myself.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #490: A Couple of Little Bits

Welcome to the show folks...

Not much to blog about today. Carl Icahn has upped his bid for Lionsgate to $7 a share, and billionaire gadfly Mark Cuban has bought 5% of the company. Like Nikki Finke, I too have no idea what his involvement means, so I won't speculate.

Maybe he wants the company to merge with
his hobby company Magnolia Pictures?

Maybe he thinks he can make a quick buck off the fight?

Maybe the magic leprechaun that lives in the sandbox behind his house told him to do it?

I don't know.

What I do know is that there will be millions of dollars that could have been spent on production and distribution for profit being spent on more of the war of the words and "poison pill" financial gamesmanship between Icahn and Lionsgate Management.

In other news....

Just read a post at The Wrap about Tom and Alec Gores and their bid for Miramax. The more I read, the more I suspect that they seem very serious into turning the once proud indie into a viable concern. Though Tom Gores' involvement in Lindsay Lohan's I Know Who Killed Me, shows that they will need some good people in the development department.

Now I must restate that their seriousness is the biggest threat to them winning the battle for Miramax. Disney may not be interested in creating anything that may compete with them on any level. That's why they are still considering bids from the flailing Weinstein Bros, and the crashing and burning ThinkFilm conglomeration. Both parties are highly unlikely to do anything with Miramax that can possibly challenge Disney.

So let's keep our eyes open, and see where things are going.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #489: Time Fer Sum Lernin!

Welcome to the show folks...

Yesterday we all had some shits and giggles about an indie film company naming a partner's teenage granddaughter a producer, but today, I'm going to use the to try to get some real information crammed into your head.

I am going to attempt what many call an impossible task. I'm going to explain what a producer does.

Now there are many different kinds of producer, and each type of producer comes in many different flavors. So I'll start with a very simple 1 sentence definition:
While a director makes a film, a producer gets the film made.

Does that make any sense?

Okay, I'll expand on it. Orson Welles once said: "A poet needs a pen, a painter needs a brush, but a filmmaker needs an army."

That's actually a good analogy. Film crews are essentially small armies sent into the field to complete a mission. They require the marshaling of large numbers of people, and large amounts of resources. To do this marshaling, you need what's called a chain of command.

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER

This is where the process of producing begins. The Executive Producer is like the commander in chief of any given theater of operations. At any given time an Executive Producer, like a military commander in chief can have multiple "armies" operating under them.

It is their job to select the objective of each "army," namely picking the script, then hiring the people needed to complete this objective, like the Producer, the Director, and the principal cast, and bringing together the resources needed to complete the objective. This means making the deals necessary with the studio or financial investor(s) needed to pay the bills and hopefully get the film released. Once this "package" is put together, and either goes into production, or is given up, the Executive Producer moves on to putting together another one.

Then we move on to the responsibilities of the...

PRODUCER

If the Executive Producer is like Eisenhower, in commanding an entire theater, then the Producer is like a Patton, or a Montgomery, in that they are running a specific army set to achieve a specific objective. (If you don't recognize those names, then shame on you and read a goddamn book!)

It's supposed to be the job of the producer to make sure things run smoothly and within the budget. That means working with their staff of associate producers, line producers, and production managers to handle the money being spent, the hiring, the firing, and the all important schedules.

They have to make sure that the director (if it's not a director/producer one-man combo) is not going over schedule or over budget, and that their creative work is not hindered by the myriad problems created by large numbers of people working with lots of expensive equipment and lots of other people's money.

All a Producer must do is make sure the film is done on time, on budget, and is good enough to put some bums in seats.

Now unlike Directors or Writers who have large guilds backing them up and carefully defined contracts regulating who can be called a Director or a Writer, the position of Producer is a vague one at best and often used and abused. Usually credits given out as favors are usually limited to the even more vaguely defined position of "Associate Producer," but recent economic shifts in Hollywood have changed things. Now anyone with a remote interest in a movie can be named a "producer" if they have the right connections, without doing the real work of actually getting a movie made.

I would like to see some sort of industry set standard be made about who really does qualify as a producer. Because if we keep getting the sort of incidents like the one I was mocking yesterday, some yahoo in the government is going to get involved, and then everyone's going to regret it.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #488: What Makes Someone A Producer?

Welcome to the show folks...

The Producers Guild of America is officially having a hissy fit over this story where they accuse Millennium Films of giving a producer credit to Millennium bigwig Danny Dimbort's teenage granddaughter.

Well, I have to say that I am just as shocked and appalled as they are. There are rules, nay,
traditions about who qualifies for a bogus producer's credit, and in a Furious D Show exclusive, I have the list.

THE FOLLOWING PEOPLE QUALIFY
FOR BOGUS PRODUCER CREDITS
UNDER THE GUIDELINES OF THE
PRODUCERS GUILD OF HOLLYWOOD


1. Otherwise unemployable in-laws of studio/distributor/financier's CEO.

2. People owed money/favors by the other producers.

3. Ex-wives of producers as part of divorce settlements.


4. People with incriminating pictures/video/documents involving studio CEO.

5. Winner of the "Producer's Pot" Poker Game held in Jerry Bruckheimer's basement on the first Wednesday of every month.

6. Actors who think a producing credit means that they'll actually get their share of the back end. (HA!)

7. Chico from the sandwich shop, because he knows a thing or two about pastrami.

8. Studio CEO's personal astronomer, because he has better accuracy than the box office analysts.

9. The adult children of influential politicians in order to keep the government out of the studio's books.


10. The occasional mistress/dominatrix.

Can I deliver the inside scoop? Damn right I can!

Monday, 12 April 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #487: Take-Over Tid-Bits & Other Business!

Welcome to the show folks...

We've got a couple of take-over tid-bits to gnaw on tonight.

THE BATTLE FOR MIRAMAX

There's been a slight shift in the bidding for Miramax.

The Weinstein Bros. have proven that they will not give up their former baby again without a fight as long as they have Ron Burkle's money to pay for it. They have increased their bid to an all-cash up front offer of $600 million in a not-so secret meeting with Disney honcho Robert Iger.

David Bergstein's wad of corporations are still in the bidding. Reports say he has the highest bid, but is not considered a serious challenger, considering every civil litigator in Southern California is sending his backers (Deutsche Bank & an as yet unnamed Saudi) their cards "just in case." Yet, I have a theory about why he's still in the game, which I will get to in a second.

The best challengers to the Weinsteins to not only buy Miramax, but turn it into a viable company again, is still the Gores Bros. As I mentioned before, the Gores are reported interested in buying distributor Overture Films which comes with home video company Anchor Bay and its diverse and considerably sized library.

Which means we need to take a little visit into the mind of Iger.

Iger is the man who makes the ultimate decision of the fate of Miramax. His main goal is to sell the company and its library and get as much as he can for Disney and its shareholders.

But what is his secondary goal?

Disney is an company with what I call an old-school feudal mindset. That means its corporate culture hates competition, because competition means that they have to work for their money instead of just steamrolling over a facet of the market place and dominating it through sheer bulk, and non-stop marketing assaults.

So you must ask this question:
Is Disney willing to sell Miramax to anyone that might succeed where they had failed?

That's why I think they're keeping Bergstein in the bidding. It's a longshot that he'll succeed, but if pigs start doing aerial cartwheels and he does win, Miramax will be immediately sucked into the vortex of litigation that's currently sucking all his other companies into the depths of bankruptcy court.

It's a similar story with the Weinsteins. Sure they founded the company, made it an indie powerhouse in the 90s, but they also drove it to the brink of destruction several times, and made truckloads of enemies, before moving onto their own company TWC, which has a better track record of wheedling, then evaporating investment capital and angering filmmakers than in making profitable movies.

The more I think about, the more I think that the sheer seriousness of the Gores Bros. bid might actually
hurt their chances of winning.

Sure, Disney's moving almost solely into entertainment that can made into toys and merchandise, and a revitalized Miramax would be mostly competing against Lionsgate, Summit, and Focus Features at this stage, but is Disney willing to bet on it staying that way?

We will just have to wait and see.

THE BATTLE FOR LIONSGATE

The management of Lionsgate sent out a letter to their shareholders that they should reject the bid being made by billionaire Carl Icahn, calling it "inadequate, opportunistic and coercive."

Let's look at the facts:

1. I think it's up to the individual shareholders to decide if it's inadequate. No one wants to sell their shares at a loss. So the best way to win this fight, is to increase the value of those shares out of Icahn's price range.

2. As for it being opportunistic, well, all business is opportunistic. You see a way to make money, called an "opportunity" and you take it. The key to avoid being the subject of an "opportunistic" take-over bid is to not create such opportunities.

3. Coercive? Really? Is it as coercive as writing codicils in debt covenants that could seriously screw up the company for millions of dollars to keep outsiders from buying 30% or more of the company? I don't know much about Icahn's practices, but if he was going around holding guns to shareholder heads, he'd be facing some legal difficulties. No one can legally force shareholders to sell their shares.

I wish that both sides would realize that this little war is distracting to management and harmful to the company, and its shareholders. I wish that they could come to some sort of mutually beneficial agreement, where they can both get what they want, a profitable company making money for all of them, rather than a battered battleground that's not doing anything for anyone.

WHY CAN'T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?

_______________

PS- It's come to my attention that someone in Beverly Hills has been trying to find out who I am. Though it's not really as big a secret as, let's say, a weekend meeting between Bob Iger and the Weinsteins, I try to not make a big deal out of it.

If this person, and
you know who you are, is still interested, then you can drop me a line at screenanon(at)yahoo(dot)ca, and we can have a hopefully friendly chat.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #486: The Importance of Purity

Welcome to the show folks...

There are no two words that put sheer terror into the hearts of CEOs the world over: Forensic Accountant.

Now you're probably scratching your head,
and furrowing your knobby brow in a futile attempt to understand, so I'll do a little explaining, and I'll start right at the roots.

The roots of the name comes from the words "Forensic" meaning: "suitable for use as evidence in a court of law," and "Accountant" which means: "boring guy who figures out where all the money went."

Alone they are subject for hit TV shows, and someone you go to when you can't understand your taxes. Together, they are a CEO's living nightmare, because it is never a good sign when a Forensic Accountant starts sniffing around your company. That's because Forensic Accountants are called in when companies are being sued for megabucks, going bankrupt, or under investigation from law enforcement. They are a small elite brotherhood who are masters of sniffing out the slightest sin, both mortal and venal, and bringing them into the light.

Now you're probably wondering why am I discussing the usually arcane and tedious world of accountancy on my humble little pop-culture blog?

It's because of this story.

For those too lazy to click the link, I'll do a little explaining.

David Bergstein runs ThinkFilm, Capitol Film, and about half a dozen other independent film-related companies. Those companies are all going tits-up in bankruptcy court, but that's not stopping Bergstein from making a bid for Miramax, but that's another story.

What's important is that every single person that this cluster-fark of companies ever did business with is currently suing them into oblivion. To guide it into this oblivion the court has appointed a trustee, a former FBI analyst and forensic accountant named Ronald Durkin. Durkin's job is to sort out the mess left by Bergstein and see what action, be it civil or criminal, is to be taken.

The folks suing the ThinkFilm conglomeration are hailing this appointment, figuring it's just what they need to nail David Bergstein's hide to the wall, and they are accusing him of everything from using company money to cover gambling debts to being the movie biz equivalent to Enron.

Now I'm not going to say whether or not Bergstein did any of the things he's being accused of. I'm not a mind-reader, and I can't make those kind of judgments until after the forensics accountant has had his way with the company's books.

What I can judge him about is why he is in this situation.

Because it's all his own damn fault.

It doesn't really matter if he's innocent or guilty, because he's worked so damn hard to look as guilty as possible. He fired Chief Financial Officers on a basis so regular, it has to look suspicious, with some reports saying he went through 5 CFOs in 22 months.

He made deals, even though he was completely unable to raise the money to close those deals. Created complicated and convoluted webs of interconnected shell companies and corporations so no one really knew just who or what they were doing business with at any given moment, even trying to get one of his shell companies to buy the film library of his bankrupt company. Then he let bills go unpaid, and generally got everyone he did business with pissed off at him.

If he isn't guilty of some malfeasance, then he tried damn hard to make everyone think he did, and that's just plain dumb.

I've said it before, and I've said it again, when you are in a position of authority, you must be like Caesar's wife, you can't just be pure, you have to appear to be pure in everything you do.

That's because of two things, the first is risk, and the second are the enemies you will make.

The movie business is risky when you're not a big studio. Even when you're a big studio you're prone to powerful feast or famine cycles. Those cycles are exponentially more powerful when you're an independent producer or distributor. You are literally walking a high wire, and even when you do everything right, the whole deal can turned to parboiled shit overnight. When you're independent you don't have a big parent company with deep pockets to see you through the lean times, and most companies don't survive.

Then there are the enemies you're going to make. Now I preach that one should do whatever they can to minimize the enemy making through good manners and common sense, but you can't please all of the people all of the time. There are going to be people that don't like you, it's inevitable.

So when your business goes to pot, you don't want a legion of enemies screaming for your pelt. A few are allowed, because they can be drowned out by allies who believe you to be fundamentally honest.

Do you get my point?

When you're honest in all your dealings, and also appear to be honest in those same dealings, your allies will defend you, and your enemies will have nothing to attack you with.

Your sins, whether real or imagined, are your enemy's ammunition.

It's up to you to make sure their cannons are empty, because if you don't, you end up with a forensic accountant picking apart your life.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Saturday Silliness Cinema: Maria Bamford

Welcome to the show folks...

Time for me to take my usual break from ranting about pop culture and the business behind to have a little laugh. Today, the laid back neurotic stylings of stand up Maria Bamford.



BTW- I am open to suggestions with this feature. If you know of a comedian/troupe/funny idiot with a YouTube video, just drop me a link or a name in the comments, and if I like'em, I'll post'em.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #485: Tales of Brotherly Brotherliness

Welcome to the show folks...tonight, 1 Blog, 2 Stories, 3 Sets of Brothers!

GORIMAX?

There have been some developments in the ongoing sale of 90s indie powerhouse Miramax Films. From what I've been able to gather there are three major bidders. One is silly, two are serious, and one is very serious.

SILLY: Pangea Media, which is operated by David Bergstein.

WHY IT'S SILLY: David Bergstein is currently being sued by almost every single person, company, union, and financial institution he has ever done business with over the bankruptcy of his complicated web pf production and distribution companies. He's also being accused of malfeasance, misappropriation, and just about anything else his creditors can find, and they, and their lawyers and forensic accountants, will come down on any attempted deal like the wrath of an angry deity.

WHY IS DISNEY PAYING ATTENTION: It's either because Bergstein's legendary skill as a smooth talker are even better than we think, or the Disney exec handling this auction just wants to get as many in the list, whether they are real bids or not.

SERIOUS: Harvey & Bob Weinstein, making a play to get their hands back on the company they founded, built, and almost destroyed.

WHY IS IT SERIOUS: The Weinstein's have the support of billionaire Ron Burkle, who has obviously fallen under the influence of Harvey's notorious Hypno-Coin.

WHY IS DISNEY PAYING ATTENTION: If the Bros. Weinstein didn't have Burkle and the other investors backing their bid, they'd be just a filler name like Bergstein. Remember, their own company TWC is on life-support, and unable to raise the minimum $600 million necessary to make a remotely viable bid.

VERY SERIOUS: Tom & Alec Gores, brothers of Paradigm honcho Sam Gores.

WHY IS IT VERY SERIOUS: Alec & Tom are each billionaires, with track records of buying troubled companies, and either making them part of their growing personal business empires, or selling them for a profit. They have the combined cash for the buy, and the industry connections through their brother uber-agent Sam Gores. And I think it's also interesting to note that they're also looking into buying indie distributor Overture Films, and its related home-video co. Anchor Bay.

Combine Miramax's library & cachet, with Overture's distribution infrastructure, Anchor Bay's home video library and distribution capacity, they've got an integrated mini-major that could compete with Lionsgate and Summit, and literally have it overnight.

Personally, more I read about them, the more I think the Gores Bros. should win this auction. Partly because I think they have a plan to make Miramax a viable company, but mostly because Harvey's inevitable conniption fit over the loss will be clearly visible from space.

So good luck Gores.

WILL MGM GO SCOTT FREE?

This piece just caught my eye. Ridley Scott and his brother Tony, two major league directors and producers, have offered their services to run MGM once its financial future is settled.

Now while it makes me infinitely curious as to how it would turn out, part of me just knows it might not work out. Both Ridley and Tony would have to enforce the sort of budgetary discipline that neither of them have had to face in their careers since they've hit the A-List. So they would either surprise everyone with their management skills, which they might have in spades, or completely implode the company and themselves.

Maybe I can use my hobby in mad science to visit an alternate universe to see what happens? Then again, last time I did it, I ended up being chased by a dinosaur, and by dinosaur, I mean Larry King.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #484: A Plan For MGM

Welcome to the show folks...

After a long run of bad luck, including a fizzling movie, and a fizzled auction, Relativity Media and its Wall Street backers have tossed MGM a possible lifeline. Basically, they're offering $500 million in production funding to get the next James Bond movie and
The Hobbit made, and hopefully put the once great studio on the road to fiscal solvency.

They're not the only one. Both Rupert
Murdoch's News Corp., and Amir Malin / Qualia Capital have made similar offers that would provide the production funding MGM needs to start making new movies as an independent company.

Which got me thinking.

Why not work together?

Just hear me out.

MGM has one thing going for it, it has the infrastructure needed to get movies into theaters. What it lacks is the money needed to make fresh movies, and market them successfully.

There are companies out there, independent producers, financiers, and others, who have the resources to make movies, but lack the infrastructure to get them on screens.

Do you see where I'm going with this?

Why don't these independent companies make a deal with MGM's owners and creditors, who should probably swap debt for ownership, where they work together.

Here's how:

1. Restructure the company. First sell the MGM name to Warner Bros. who probably want it for marketing the pre-1986 MGM library. It won't be for much, but any cash is welcome. Then get Tom Cruise & Co. out of United Artists, and re-brand the company with that name.

The MGM brand is only effective selling movie history, it's terrible at selling new movies. United Artists has been effectively moribund for so long, it will be like starting over fresh with an all new company. If that doesn't work, re-brand it as Orion Pictures. Either way, find a new identity not reeking of the stench of corporate death.

2. Form an Independent Producer Consortium. Essentially all the independent producers and financiers interested in saving MGM would get together and basically take over providing content for MGM's outlets, namely theaters, broadcast/cable TV, and home video/online downloads. A simple, straightforward profit sharing deal would be forged, that says that where money is made all partners get paid. No silly games, no shenanigans. MGM's management must be kept deliberately lean, and efficient.

In the 1950s and 1960s, where most of the major studios were floundering, United Artists was flourishing. Why? Because they didn't have a big office, with lots of executives and overhead. They didn't even own a camera. What they had were deals with independent producers and financiers to provide them with content. Why can't they do that today?

I think you could get quite a few independent producers and financiers interested in this deal, because it's better for them to have as many viable studios/distributors around. Because the more competition, the better the deals they can make.

3. Make allies. Now who would ally themselves with this new company? First up Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. which owns 20th Century Fox. Why would they help, like Murdoch's offer, to keep MGM independent? It's a form of enlightened self interest. Fox handles MGM's international theatrical distribution, and domestic home video distribution.

Old Rupert's a canny cat, and doesn't want to lose those deals in some bankruptcy court. He likes the income generated by a viable MGM, and could be approached to aid the consortium help get the company back on its feet, and making new product for him to make money distributing.

4. Make as much money as possible, as fast as possible. Once everything is set up, this new MGM (whatever name it's finally called) They have to do everything they can to make money. That means lean budgets, and projects with either wide commercial appeal, or what I call profitable niche appeal, like low budget horror films, comedies, and action pics.

I hope that something positive does happen to MGM, and that it's literally reborn as a new viable company, because Hollywood does need it.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #483: What's A Lionsgate To Do?

Welcome to the show folks...

Carl Icahn's battle of wills with the management of Lionsgate Pictures caused LA Times blogger Patrick Goldstein to ask a question: "Is Lionsgate well run?"

For those too lazy to click the links, I'll give you a little background.


In the past decade Lionsgate went from being a small scale distributor from Vancouver Canada, to an indie powerhouse. It hit it big with low budget horror franchises, to Tyler Perry movies, to Oscar bait like
Crash and Precious.

But all has not been golden. The company tried to "grow" and compete with the major studios, and took a bit of a pasting with some big budget turkeys like
The Spirit and the fizzling, via overkill (pun intended) of their flagship Saw horror franchise. The stock went from a high of $12, to a low of $4.85, and is now lingering around the $6 mark. Enter corporate raider and shareholder activist Carl Icahn. He thinks the management is not doing its job in the field of providing value to their shareholders, and thinks that his 19% should let him get a spot on the board, and the right to buy up the rest of the company at $6 a share.

Now the Lionsgate management, backed by its two biggest shareholders, say that the price is "insulting." However the analysis wing of JP Morgan Chase, who is the company's main banker, says that it's actually a pretty fair price, from the state of the company, and the market.

The management have a lot to be afraid of if Icahn gets his way. Currently there are 4 people at the top of the Lionsgate heap, Chairman/Chief Executive Officer Jon Feltheimer and Vice Chairman Michael Burns, co-chief operating officer Steve Beeks, and Joe Drake as president of Lions Gate's motion picture group. All four are making pretty big money, and perks, while a $600 million debt hangs over its head, its stock languishes, as well as most of their films, aside from a few acquisitions from independent producers, and millions of dollars get spent fighting Icahn instead of making and releasing movies.

So what can Lionsgate do?

Well, I think it's time to look back at one of my past pieces and adapt it and update it for this situation:

1. DON'T DO WHAT THE MAJORS ARE DOING, DO WHAT THEY ARE NOT DOING.

Right now the major studios are all about mega budget fantasy adventures shot in ultra-expensive 3D, mostly because they can charge more for a ticket. This leaves the smaller scale 2D market wide open. Non epic action films, comedies, and that old stand-by horror can be all yours, if you want it.

2. DON'T WASTE MONEY ON MAKING YOUR FILMS.

Keep your budgets tight. These are lean times, and a company like Lionsgate doesn't have the depth of money and resources that the big boys do. So blowing $100 million on a movie is a severe no-no.

3. EMBRACE THE AUDIENCE.

Audiences are flocking to the story-light/effects heavy blockbusters right now because they just aren't happy with a lot of the stories that Hollywood is putting out. Find the stories that the average ticket-buyer wants to see, then give them what they want.

4. AVOID THE BLOCKBUSTER MONEY TRAP.

Chasing big record breaking box office returns is tempting, but that chase is loaded with all sorts of pitfalls. The bigger the production budget, the bigger the marketing budget, and the bigger the risk. For every studio release that breaks records, there are ten that don't, but had to in order to make money. Which is why you need to follow steps 1, 2, and 3.

5. EMBRACE NEW TECHNOLOGY BUT DON'T LET IT HYPNOTIZE YOU.

Digital video technology can save a company millions in production costs. Digital theaters can save millions in distribution costs. 3D productions and conversions COST millions of dollars above and beyond the regular costs. Add the theater owners constant jacking of the prices, audience dissatisfaction with the 3D effect in some of the "converted" movies, and the whole tulip mania air around the whole thing, and it can sink a company rather than float it.

Look for opportunities to save money, not stunts that only increase the risk.

6. FORGET ABOUT THE STAR SYSTEM.

Big stars are on the way out. The proof, Sam Worthington. He's in two of the biggest movies of the year, yet most viewers don't seem to remember him after the show.

No actor is worth a $20 million payday, and 40% of the dollar 1 box-office. No one. Pay them well, and pay them their fair share, but don't go freaking nuts about it.

7. FORGET ABOUT WINNING HOLLYWOOD.

The critics and media personalities that used to guide public tastes are going the way of the dinosaur. Forget them.

8. MAKE PARTNERS & TREAT THEM AS PARTNERS, NOT SUCKERS.

There are a lot of independent producers out there who have the ability to make films, but not the ability to release them on themselves. They don't want to be dependent on the Weinstein Co. as the only one willing to do acquisitions anymore, because they're not in the business of releasing movies anymore.

So find some good indie companies, ones that are efficient, creative, and well organized, and make some partnership deals with them. Then treat them as partners, and not suckers you can jerk around. Treat them right, and soon you will be the first choice of independents.

9. MAKE DECISIONS WITH YOUR BRAIN, NOT YOUR EGO.

Always base decisions on how it will help your company, not whether it will get you an invite to one of the more star studded parties. If you run a successful company, they'll be clamoring for your attention, so forget them.

10. SEEKING AWARDS CAN ONLY LEAD TO SUFFERING.

Films like Crash and Precious are all well and good, especially when they make money and win praise. However, constantly chasing awards aren't going to help your company, because in this day and age, awards don't always mean money in your company's pocket.

I hope that advice helps.