Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #638: Host This!

Welcome to the show folks....

Folks are buzzing about the Academy
Awards quite a lot this week. Not because of any of the films, stars, or filmmakers, that might be nominated, but because of the choice of hosts. Actors James Franco and Anne Hathaway will co-host the venerable show hoping to provide some youth and looks to the usually borderline geriatric and overly botoxed program.

You know what, I'm not going to bad mouth the decision.

I know, a lot of you are expecting a smug know-it-all bastard like me to snark on them hiring two young good looking people, probably because they are young and good looking.

But I won't.

Why?

Two reasons.

Reason #1. They have signed up to do a really shitty job. I'll get back to that in a minute.

Reason #2. Who else are you going to give the job too?

Think about it, from the moment they got the job, to about a day or two after the end of the show their lives will not be their own. They have sessions with the writers, producers, rehearsals, having Bruce Vilanch crash on your couch griping at you about how "Whoopi would have made it work!" and let's not forget the costume changes.

If Miss Hathaway is one scintilla less than some bitchy internet commentator's vision of glam-perfection, and have a fresh gown after every commercial break, she'll never hear the end of it. Plus, if the slightest bead of sweat appears on James Franco's collar, then he's on the same boat. I remember when someone asked Roger Moore what was the hardest part of filming the Bond movies, and his answer didn't involve stunts, fights, or pitching woo to an actress with a taste for onions. No, he said the toughest part was filming the tuxedo scenes. If the jacket had a wrinkle, then it was a complete change over, Bond must
always appear perfect, and so must the hosts of the Oscars.

Then there are the reviews. Face it, it's not an
easy job. In the 1990s everyone wanted Letterman to do the job, then he did the job, and after that even Letterman thought Letterman should never do it again.

Both Franco and Hathaway are taking a huge risk by taking on this job. If they blow it, their careers could take a severe shellacking.

Now we come to the question of who do you hire to host such an event. First thought is to hire a comedian and / or television talk show host. However that's not always the best idea.

I mentioned Letterman, who tried to turn the Oscar telecast into a super-sized version of his Late Show. Chris Rock was snippy
and hostile. trying to be edgy in an edgeless event, and proving to the world that Sean Penn can't get a joke if his life depended on it. Whoopi Goldberg and Ellen Degeneres were ultimately forgettable. John Stewart came off as smug and stand-offish.

They forgot the key rules to hosting the Oscars, rules
established by the people who set the gold standard for the job, I'm talking about Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, and Billy Crystal.

The rules are:


1. THE SHOW IS ABOUT THE MOVIES NOT ABOUT
YOU!

Bob Hope only intruded into the show with the quick line: "It's time for the Academy Awards, or as we call it at my house: Passover" and then pretty much stuck to the movies and the nominees.

Billy Crystal, during his heyday as host, had a very specific method to his hosting. He acted as if he was a huge movie-fan who somehow stumbled his way into the center of the movie universe. He became the goofy figure of self deprecating fun getting to play among the beautiful celebrities. He made himself into the viewer at home, he was the embodiment of Rule #2:


2. YOU MUST PLAY TO THE AUDIENCE AT HOME NOT IN THE THEATER!

The people in the theater are there on business, not to be entertained. The audience at home are the ones who need to be entertained because without them, there is no industry to support the Oscars. The people in the theater are there to get their mugs on TV, win awards, hold it over the losers, or make the sort of business connections needed to keep their jobs.

3. YOU HAVE TO KEEP IT MOVING!

The show is, at best, 3-4 hours long. Every winner is going to want to speak as long as Fidel Castro on a caffeine bender, and use the podium as a soap-box to let the world know about the plight of the Saskatchewan seal population. When their mike is cut off and the orchestra kicks in it's the job of the host, to move in, make their segue, and move the hell out.

4. YOU HAVE TO BE QUICK ON YOUR FEET!

Never forget that the Oscars are a live telecast. That means that despite how professional and skilled the crew are, things are going to go wrong. A presenter is going to have a drug overdose in the bathroom, there's going to be a fight in the swag room, and the tape for the memorial reel will get scrambled in the control room and reach out to strangle a switch operator.

When these events happen, it falls on the host to cover, to do emergency award presentations, make a self deprecating joke to cover the crash of a falling light, and whatever it takes to keep the audience from discovering what a chaotic disaster the show is backstage.

This requires a quick mind, a sharp sense of humor, and grace under pressure. That's a rare quality to find in Hollywood these days when many stars have total meltdowns when they can't find their favorite comb.

The classic example was David Niven, who was hosting when a streaker came running across the stage as naked as the day he was born. Niven, didn't miss a beat and said something like: "This is a night for awards, not to display one's shortcomings."

So one has to ask oneself: "Who in Hollywood can do all that, and put up with all the crap?" There aren't many, and I'm going to hope that the producers made the right decision.

I'm going to wish the two of them good luck with this job. They are going to need it.

And by the way, a message to James Franco, SHAVE BEFORE THE SHOW!

And if you people think I wrote this piece as a cheap excuse to post pictures of Anne Hathaway, you are very wrong!

I have my integrity.

There isn't much of it, but it's there.

Monday, 29 November 2010

The Rule Of Three Strikes Again...

Welcome to the show folks...

I originally planned to take American Thanksgiving day off, because it's usually a slow time for the sort of news I rant and rave about, but then I got sick, and have been wallowing in my own misery since. I'm not fully recovered but I'm well enough to take on the sad duty that fallen on me this evening.

I'm talking about that all encompassing rule of threes where celebrities die in packs of three within a few days of each other, and it's happened again.

INGRID PITT

Became the queen of Hammer Films in the early 1970s, giving new meaning to the term femme
fatale, but she was also a holocaust survivor, an escapee from communist East Germany, and a writer.

I remember first seeing her when I caught her first Hammer movie
The Vampire Lovers on a pirated pay-TV signal when I was 13. I believe my reaction at the time was "Wow!" However, she was more than just a sex symbol, proving herself a talented actress capable of breathing life in her sometimes undead characters, and the movies she starred in.

She was also the first celebrity I ever communicated with on line. I sort of bumped into her cybernetically back during the glory days of MySpace, and exchanged some polite pleasantries. Very gracious, and classy to fans and, according to reports, colleagues alike.

LESLIE NIELSEN

Spent the first couple of decades of his career playing straight dramatic parts, then at the age of 54 reinventing his image and career as a comedic performer.

He grew up, the son of a Mountie in Western Canada, studied drama, worked in movies like Forbidden Planet, and ended up doing the guest-star rounds in television, playing police detectives, district attorneys, and doctors. No one really considered a comedian.

Then came the film
Airplane. It was a wild surrealist comedy, that the filmmakers populated with mostly straight dramatic actors from television. The casting was a joke in itself, presenting these people who usually played somber, sober authority figures acting crazy.

Nielsen and the Airplane crew then went on to do
Police Squad, that tried to bring that surrealistic style to television. The show died on the small screen, but went to big-screen heaven with the Naked Gun movie trilogy.

Nielsen was reborn as the king of goofball comedy and a box office star, and even though he had been elevated to the 'A-List,' and had an output that outstripped stars that were decades younger, he still kept working in smaller projects in his native Canada, knowing that his name could help a filmmaker get his film or TV show made.

He will always be remembered as a funny, talented and versatile actor, and will be greatly missed.

IRVIN KERSHNER

I will confess, I used to resent Irvin Kershner. Not for anything he did, but because his most famous film,
The Empire Strikes Back, was such a downer.

Spoiler alert for those who have lived in a
cave for the last 30 years, the film ended with Han Solo frozen in carbonite, Luke Skywalker getting his hand cut off and finding out his Daddy's an armor plated half-robot sociopath, and the rebellion's on the run after being chased off the froze backwater they had called home.

Now I can appreciate Kershner's courage. He knew the film was going to be hard going for the audience, being the second downbeat part of a trilogy, and fans of the first film would be hyper critical since he was not George Lucas, but he still put together a finely crafted adventure film. He burned real calories making that film the best he could, and give it the dramatic weight it needed when any someone who treated the project as just a hired gun would have just piled on the special effects.

All three made their own unique contributions to popular culture, and all three will be missed.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #637: Amazon Is Full Of Piranhas!

Welcome to the show folks...

Amazon, the good folks who put your local indie bookstore out of business, are looking to get into the movie business. They are holding a screenplay contest with the promise of all kinds of great prizes and an open door to Hollywood and a bright future.

Except some writers are a little disgusted concerned about the terms of this contest.

Here are some of the things that concern them, and me:
Amazon Studios invites filmmakers and screenwriters from all over the world to submit full-length movies and scripts, which will then get feedback from Amazon readers, who will be free to rewrite and amend. Based on reaction (“rate and review”) to stories, scripts and rough “test” films, a panel of judges will award monthly prizes... You agree to be automatically entered into any future contests for which your work is eligible. The specific contest rules for future contests will be posted on this page when they are announced.
What do you see wrong in that little picture?

First: The fact that this contest is run by
Amazon is kind of fitting, because this contest is essentially tossing a hunk of raw bloody meat (AKA your screenplay) into a pool of hungry piranhas (your new "writing partners").

Literally hundreds, if not thousands of people are going to be "revising" and "rewriting" your script, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it, because you essentially forfeit all rights and control over said script as soon as you enter.

Amazon says it's okay in their FAQ:
Can I make it so that no one else can revise my original work?

No. But if someone makes changes that are bad, their version is not likely to get a lot of attention. And if someone comes along and makes your work better, you’re more likely to win a prize and get your project made. Sometimes other people can bring a different viewpoint or a different set of skills that take the story in a new direction or add new elements that make it even more compelling.
Of course, if your script is particularly heavily nibbled, the judges, and their infinite wisdom may never get around to seeing your original work, because your script is in the midst of blood and thrashing carnage in the dark, murky, and muddy water of the Amazon.

Now the folks at Amazon think they're doing some wonderful new and novel "crowd-sourced" creative endeavor that will make everything beautiful, unicorns will prance down Sunset Boulevard and Zooey Deschanel will show up at my door and declare--- anyway I digress.

What this project does is take the worst habit of the major studios: Taking scripts and passing them around to multiple writers like a doobie at a Phish concert for rewrites, and not only multiplying it at an exponential level, but also my second point--

Second: There are none of the protection for credits, residuals and anything else that might make joining this contest worthwhile for the guy who actually wrote the winning screenplay. If it gets sold to a studio, someone else could do a rewrite, and completely eliminate the original writer from the credits.

The studios have to follow strict guidelines for credits and payment because of decades of legal wrangling and labor disputes forged those rules. They aren't perfect, but they're the best the extremely flawed system can get at this time. Amazon's contest doesn't even offer you that.

And what this about entering your script into future contests where the rules haven't even been decided on?

I mean that's disturbingly vague, wide open for future abuse of writers by Amazon. Whose to say that future contest doesn't involve just taking the winning screenplay and giving the winning writer a flaming bag of dog-shit and a swift kick in the nuts as their grand prize?

And like the unsolicited rewrites by strangers, there doesn't appear to be an opt out feature.

That's not good, not good at all.

Why did Amazon go all James Frey on this contest?

The answer is simple, they got too clever.

I'm sure they sat around the conference room, looking for ideas to justify their continued employment, and someone piped up with the screenplay contest idea.

Then they started coming up with great ideas to "improve" on just having a screenplay contest. They looted the latest hot buzzwords like "crowd-sourcing," and then passed it all over to their lawyers, who then had to justify their employment, by tossing in all sorts of what I call legalistic bend-overs.

Basically, they decided to do something "different" from the Hollywood studios, by then taking all that is bad about doing business with the studios, and amplifying them into the realm of the ridiculous, while dumping all that's good, namely money, credit, and career advancement.

It's a shame, because they could have done something good with this, but instead, they screwed it up royally.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #636: Cautionary Tales For Stupid Children

Welcome to the show folks...

I normally avoid doing celebrity gossip, but this piece of news contains a nugget of wisdom nestled deep within the stupidity inherent within it. "Actress," "pop singer," and overall slutty dresser Taylor Momsen is being phased out of Gossip Girl, a series she's been a regular on since it started on the CW Network.

Now if you're like me, and the majority of the population of the planet, you probably haven't seen
Gossip Girl, and the odds are pretty good that you haven't heard of Senorita Momsen. I hadn't heard of her until Movieline ran this story about Project Runway host Tim Gunn giving the barely dressed raccoon eyed 17 year old a dressing down for being a "pathetic diva."

If you're too lazy to click the link, Gunn was brought on for a cameo on Gossip Girl, Momsen showed up late, didn't know her lines, didn't hit her marks and appeared to find gainful employment as a star of a TV show a bit fat boring inconvenience.

Now they've phased her out, effectively dropping her from the show.

Brilliant move.

You see it all boils down to this.

Time = Money.


The main thing that a production budget for a feature film buys you is time. The time to make the film the way you think it should be made. The more money you have, the more time you have to do the job.

TV is different. When you're doing a weekly hour long drama series and have to grind out anywhere between 20-25 episodes each season it doesn't matter how much money you have, your time is limited, extremely limited. You have to essentially produce half a feature film in the sort time usually spent deciding what color tie Richard Gere should wear in the courtroom scene.

When it comes to TV you must be efficient and you must be fast. You have to get the episode done, and be onto the next one before the ink dries on the script.

If you're an actor on such a show the same formula holds true. You are paid for your time, in the hope that your efforts would make their investment in buying your time profitable. When you show up late, chat on you cell phone, miss your marks, and don't know your lines, you are going beyond being an investment to being a liability.

A certain level of forgiveness can be earned if your show gets great ratings. Because then you're still an investment, even if you eat into their profit margin a little, but act like that on a show like Gossip Girl, whose ratings never matched the hype that it got, and you're on a one way track to Nowheresville, population 2, you and Mischa Barton.

As a TV actor the only thing you can do to your career that's worse than being considered a liability on set is cutting off your mother's head with a samurai sword, and even then it's because your time in prison and mental hospitals will eat into your production time.

Now I don't think Fraulein Momsen will be decapitating anyone soon, that would require effort and hand-eye coordination that goes beyond applying eye-makeup with a paint-roller. However, I do think that she's pretty much ruined her acting career.

Expect things to get worse when she turns 18 and word gets out that she was fired from her sex tape for showing up late and not remembering her lines. Then a contestant spot on House-painting With The Stars, from which she'll get fired for huffing paint fumes and getting into a fight with a second tier cable reality TV star because the cable star got recognized more often.

So take in this cautionary tale kiddies, especially those of you who want to be a actor. Because while it's a great job to be a highly paid TV star, it's still a job, and to keep that job you have to act like a professional.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #635: Buffy The Originality Slayer

Welcome to the show folks....

The internet is probably already burning up with this news, but who am I to spurn a trip on a bandwagon, but in case you haven't heard already Warner Bros. is going to do a remake of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but
without creator Joss Whedon, and with the original movie's weakest links.

Now most of you are probably remembering that cult-classic TV series created and executive produced by Joss Whedon, but this deal is all about the original movie. The original movie was made by the husband and wife producing/directing team of Fran and Kaz Kuzui from a script by Whedon. The original film has its moments, but it's an uneven film at best, mostly due to the Kuzui's desire to make it more of a broad slapstick farce over Whedon's original blend of horror and sly humor.

Whedon was able to get his vision done more or less his way on the small screen, but since the Kuzui's had control of the title, they became the show's co-executive producers.

Now the Kuzui's are hoping to cash in on the goodwill earned by the show by taking that venerable title they own and slapping it onto a whole new script to be made by Warner Bros.

Let's look at the pros and cons of this decision:

PROS:

1. While the original movie was more or less forgotten, a lot of people have fond memories of the TV show's original run, and its reach has expanded through re-runs, DVDs, and a vibrant fan culture on the internet.

2. Since it's the type of movie that won't have any big name stars, it will probably be cheaply produced.

3. There's a chance that the writer doing the script might have a fresh take that no one sees coming.

CONS:

1. The core Buffy fans are at heart core Joss Whedon fans. Most of those fans don't like the Kuzui's original movie, and think of it as an aberration at best, abomination at worst.

2. Those core Buffy fans look at this news
and are repulsed. They don't see the characters and carefully detailed universe from the series they love getting a new lease on life, they see this as a blatant cash grab exploiting the major studio's love of remakes of anything and everything they can get.

3. For the film to succeed the makers are going to need those core fans on their side. So far, all I've seen coming from those fans is some pretty harsh negativity. Something that could have been avoided if there was at least token Whedon involvement, or endorsement of the project. This means that these fans are going to actively work against the "remake" and that's really bad.

Why?

Because outside of the show's core fans, most people either don't know the name Buffy, don't care, or actively don't want to know or care. To make a feature film work they need the core fan community spreading a lot of goodwill around via the internet. That's probably not going to happen barring some sort of miraculous event.

4. The odds of there being a fresh and original take on this material are pretty slim. Remember, this is going to be a major studio movie. That means they're going to do rewrites by new writers, most of them knowing or caring nothing about the source material, and anything else they can think of to justify the expense accounts existence of the studio executives overseeing the movie. My money's on the film coming out as a ditzy PG rated farce about a Paris Hilton type socialite staking vampires in between some low-end fart and wiener jokes and high-end shopping montages.

So you can see that I don't have much hope for this movie.

Leave what you think in the comments.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #634: Selling Out Or Just Doing What You Do?

Welcome to the show folks....

Indie auteur Darren Aronofsky caused some heads to turn when word came out that he was going to direct
The Wolverine, a comic book franchise film. Some said that he had sold out, while his response was that he was just hired to "do what I do."

I think he's right. Sure it's a dramatic change from his early work like the math related thriller
Pi, the somber drama of The Wrestler, or the supernatural / psycho-drama of Natalie Portman making out with Mila Kunis in the upcoming Black Swan.

I can see why he'd do it. He's worked with star Hugh Jackman before in the ill-fated
The Fountain, and I assume that they must have gotten along well and see this as a good opportunity to work together again. It gives him a chance to connect to a wider audience that normally wouldn't see his films, and let's not forget the greatly improved paycheck.

So I don't think he's selling out. He's only selling out if he just coasts and ends up making a lazy and lousy movie.

As Orson Welles once said a poet needs a pen, a painter needs a brush, but a filmmaker needs an army. Armies need money to run and complete their mission. While it's nice to think that one could have a career catering solely to the art house crowd, it's not really possible in the cold harsh light of reality.

To expand on what I said in my earlier piece on the necessity of making horror films it's really a question of attitude and openness. The art film scene can be even more narrow minded and insular as the field of Hollywood blockbuster film-making. It's not healthy to just lock yourself into a particular genre or mindset, and breaking free from that mindset should be applauded. We cheer directors who leave the Hollywood mainstream to make smaller "more personal" films, well why not those who try the other way. Both are merely looking to expand their personal repertoire, and if they do a good job, then good luck to them.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #633: Drippings From My Brain Pan

Welcome to the show folks...

SUPERMAN RETURNS AGAIN

The casting search has begun for a new Superman for the latest reboot, this time overseen by Christopher Nolan and directed by Zack Snyder.

Word is it that they're looking for an unknown actor for the part. That's a pretty good idea from my point of view, because most "A-List" leading men cost too much money, carriy too much baggage and don't have the guarantee with the box office that they once had. Superman is also a tricky role to cast because it is essentially two completely different parts. You have the brave, hunky Superman, and the milquetoast nebbish Clark Kent and making them both believable is very hard to pull off.

Now might I suggest a certain actor who already has some experience in playing a superhero...
Now I know that's not Superman, but it's from my time playing Robin in the un-aired pilot for a 1980s revival of the Batman TV show. Apparently those uptight network suits didn't think an intoxicated, foul mouthed Robin breaking gin bottles on the Riddler's head while cursing like a longshoreman was a good idea for a "family time" show. Bastards.

REALITY TV KEEPS RACING FOR THE BOTTOM

I know this will probably get a contract put on me, but VH-1 has given the greenlight to a reality show called Mob Wives from the Weinstein Brothers and Ben Silverman's new company Electus.

I'm predicting big hair, harsh nasal accents, and a small audience of people who are only watching in the vain hope that the show might get someone killed.

SPEAKING OF THE WEINSTEINS

They've hired some big legal guns for a fight with the MPAA over the ratings given to The
King's Speech (Rated R) and Blue Valentine (Rated NC-17).

My prediction, a lot of legal wrangling that will be used by the Weinsteins as the chief excuse for not actually releasing either movie.

THE MAN FROM H.O.L.L.Y.W.O.O.D.

Warner Bros. is really keen on making a movie based on the 60s spy show The Man From Uncle and are in talks with Stephen Soderbergh to direct it.

Soderbergh is looking for a new franchise for films people might actually pay to see after a few recent disappointments at the box office. However George Clooney is interested in joining the show, despite being a tad too old for the 30 something Napoleon Solo.

That could end up being a repeat of their previous Ocean's 11+ film franchise. That franchise had a good opening, but suffered from increasing costs, coupled with increased audience dissatisfaction and decreasing returns. Soderbergh would be better with casting someone relatively new and unknown actor, or just go and cast John Hamm as Napoleon Solo, and that guy who's currently playing Thor for Marvel as Ilya Kuryakin.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #632: Cry Boy Cry

Welcome to the show folks...

Today, three stories of tears being shed, so break out your tissues.

DON'T CRY FOR NBC JEFF ZUCKER

Jeff Zucker the outgoing, and by that I mean
going out the door, honcho of NBC-Universal has been holding little town hall meetings with NBC staffers, and has been weeping at these meetings.

Why is Jeff Zucker crying?

Here are my theories...

1. He's suddenly realized that he can't fail upwards
anymore.

2. He might actually have to work for a living.

3. He can no longer feed his addiction to taking the #1 broadcast network in the country and putting it behind Nickelodeon.

4. He couldn't work out one of those "production shingle" deals that most exiting Network-Studio CEOs get.

5. He doesn't have a network full of people to kick around anymore.

Put your own theories in the comments....

CLINTON CRIES

Former President Bill Clinton will be filming a cameo for
The Hangover 2. He wept when he found out the film was not going to be a documentary.

NOW IT'S MY TURN TO CRY

It's that time of year again. To most it's the time when
People Magazine names their choice for Sexiest Man Alive, or as it's called in my house: Passover.

This year they picked Ryan Reynolds over me.

Now I simply must call the integrity of the whole Sexiest Man Alive selection process into question.

How could they pick this guy, Ryan Reynolds....
Over this guy, ME....
I mean the choice is obvious, isn't it?

So how can they possibly choose that dingus Canadian over this dingus Canadian?

The answer is simple.

IT'S A SINISTER CORPORATE CONSPIRACY!!!

People Magazine is owned by Time Warner, and this week also marked the release of the trailer for the movie Green Lantern, from Warner Bros. Pictures which is also owned by the Time Warner empire.

Coincidence?

I think not!

It's obvious to me that
People Magazine doesn't believe in honoring men on the merit of their raw sexual power, or that would be ME on that cover. Instead, they are just a pack of whores shilling some no name yahoo over this piece of Grade A Beefcake...
Control yourselves ladies... there's plenty of me to go around.

So I demand a complete Senate investigation into this horrific injustice!, and the arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment of those responsible!!!

Who's with me?

*crickets*

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #631: Questions You Must Ask Yourself

Welcome to the show folks...

It's been a while since I talked about unions but today has brought me a union story. The entire Italian film and TV industry is going on strike on Monday, November 22.

Now I have always had a fondness for Italy, Italian women, Italian food, and Italian movies. The country brought us Fellini, De Sica, and most importantly Sergio Leone and the Spaghetti Western. The strike is to protest the cuts to arts funding that are part of the Italian government's wider austerity program.

I'm not going to debate the cause of this strike.
Economists and politicians have literally wasted decades arguing such things, what I'm going to talk about is the strategic value of this strike. How do you judge the strategic value of anything? You ask yourself important questions.

1. What are my goals for this action?

Before engaging in a strike, the leaders must have
set and concrete goals to attain from that strike. They must also grade these goals by order of importance for future negotiation.

2. How possible are those goals?

The days when people can believe that a strike will make the proletariat rise up, man the barricades, tear down the establishment, and have burly men in overalls breaking wind in the palaces of the mighty are long over.

Unions must set goals that are practical and possible. Impossible goals are merely bargaining chips to be disposed of in negotiation. You must have your minimum targets for a settlement set, and remember that glorious proletariat revolution cannot be one of them.

3. What are the tactical considerations of this action?

How are you going to handle this strike? How will union members pay their bills, get to picket lines? How long will it last? How long can it last? And do you have the resources to handle all this?

If you can't answer every single one of these questions, then you should not be leading a union, or anything of importance.

4. How will our opponents react/exploit this action?

Remember, you're up against media savvy politicians who will do anything and everything to make you look like the tax-fattened leech in the situation. You must figure out what you can do to get and keep the general public on your side, and how to avoid the traps set by both your opponents and the radical fringe within your own union.

I hope the union leaders have thought about these questions, because if they haven't and are just playing political games with the livelihoods of their members they might be in the wrong job.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #630: WTF & Walking Lost?

Welcome to the show folks....

SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF YOUR BRAINS

Well, in fine comic book tradition the folks behind the Spider-Man musical have done a fashion shoot with Vogue to show off their production, here are some of the pictures...



You know, these pictures don't really keep me from thinking that this show will be at least eight kinds of suck. Green Goblin looks like a rejected Cirque De Soleil trapeze act, Swiss Miss looks like Grace Jones covered herself in glue and then rolled across a heap of broken disco balls and into Lady GaGa's closet, and Carnage looks like a 1970's action figure that Little Billy put in the microwave.

I think the investors behind this multimillion dollar clusterfark would have been better off building a musical around this...



Think about it! You could build a romantic comedy around that song, call it
The Elements of Love, cast Radcliffe as a lovelorn scientist, the chick from Glee as his love interest, and Christopher Walken as the ghost of Albert Einstein dispensing romantic advice with a script by David Mamet, and some extra songs by Lady Gaga you would have a monster hit!

IS
WALKING DEAD THE NEXT LOST?

That's what the fragrant folks at Movieline are thinking. Mostly it's because of the show's portrayal of the survivors trying to form a fledgling society without resources and rules of a functioning world to rely on.

Hopefully that's as far as the comparison goes.

Thankfully, unlike
Lost, The Walking Dead has years of story-lines from the original comic book to fall back on. While some folks are cynical that some of the books more horrifying moments will make it to the small screen, The Walking Dead writers won't have to resort to the Lost strategy of piling on inexplicable mystery plot twists, to cover up the holes they've dug for themselves, and then accuse anyone who accuse them of not knowing what they were doing of being too stupid to "get it."

Good luck to The Walking Dead, the reviews are good, and the ratings are excellent. Just keep the drama coming, and if you wrap up the series by having Rick Grimes wake up to find Bobby Ewing in the shower, I will slap someone.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

The Book Report: A Million Little Pieces Of....

Welcome to the show folks...

I've been reading a lot about this new venture by James Frey, the hoaxer author of A Million Little Pieces and other works of fiction. Apparently he's taking it upon himself to form Full Fathom Five a company designed to come up with or cheaply buy Hollywood-friendly ideas, like the upcoming sci-fi YA novel turned movie I Am Number Four, getting some desperate creative writing student to actually write it, claim some form of co-authorship, and no doubt the lion's share of the money.

I have to usher up all my linguistic skills to express how I feel about this....

ME NO LIKE!

Yeah, that sums it up pretty nicely.

I don't like it when I see a "name" author slapping their precious name on top of another lesser known writer's name as the alleged co-author because it makes people like me refer to them as the "alleged co-author."

I don't like when James Patterson does it. Judging by the bookshelf at my local Wal-Mart it looks like the man has a new book out every 48 hours. I just can't see any mere mortal being able to claim any substantial form of co-authorship beyond lobbing a few plot and title ideas at the poor bastard writers and editors who end up doing all the real work.

The whole practice reeks to me of exploitation and in not a good way. You see if it was good exploitation the "co-author" doing all the grunt work of actually writing the damn thing would get more than just some up front pennies and their name at the bottom of the cover in the smallest font possible that will avoid litigation, while the "name" author ends up getting all the attention, publicity, accolades and most of the money.

As for Mr. Frey, well, let's just say that I have a million little reasons for not trusting his intentions with this deal. You may remember how he rode the wave to fame, fortune, and a spot on Oprah's Book Cult Club Reading List on the basis of a "memoir" called A Million Little Pieces that turned out to be fiction.

Now while I enjoy bamboozling the rich and famous, it doesn't mean that I should ever trust the bamboozler in question.

Then there's the deal itself.

Basically if you sign on with Frey:

1. You get $250-$500 for the book itself, as well as a percentage of unauditable NET* revenues generated by the book, the actual percentage dependent on whether or not you used Frey's idea or your own. (No matter what, the bulk of any revenues go to Frey's Full Fathom Five organization)

2. The writer would be financially responsible for any legal action brought against the book. (Something Frey is familiar with)

3. However, despite being on the hook for litigation, the writer will not own the copyright of the work, even if it was their idea, that will be owned by Frey's organization.

4. The author's name can be replaced with a pseudonym at any time for any reason and the writer can't do a damn thing about it.

5. They can also use the author's name if they so choose at any time for any reason and the author can't do a damn thing about it.

6. The writer can't sign any contract that might "conflict" with their deal with Full Fathom Five, except what constitutes a conflict is solely up to the whim of James Frey.

7. The writer has no control over their own publicity, image, or biographical material. Now don't you want James Frey writing your biography since he did such a great job on his own.

8. The writer is liable to a $50,000 penalty if they let slip that they are working for Full Fathom Five without the permission of James Frey.

Basically it boils down to you getting paid up to $500 for your work, your life, your name and your future with little or no guarantee of any real money in the future.

Oh yeah, that's fair.

Another aspect that I don't care for is that this is making the process of writing novels more like the way Hollywood writes screenplays. Hollywood scripts get passed around like a spliff at a reggae concert, with anywhere up to 30 writers working on a single script, leading to all sorts of convoluted union rules and regulations concerning credit and pay that tend to favor the already prominent and powerful over the unknown and powerless.

In Hollywood it's quite possible for someone who created a story, and wrote the script to lose all credit for that script because a "big name" swanned in an did enough rewrites to satisfy some mostly arbitrary regulations interpreted by a panel of the big name writer's friends.

If that starts happening with novels.....

Now I'm not saying that there isn't a way for a big name writer to do a project like this, however a certain amount of real capitalism must be injected into it.

What is real capitalism?

Well it's the only system where all sides of a deal get what they want without fraud or coercion.

How can they do it?

Well, let me explain...

1. Get rid of the "Co-Author" farce: Face it, the only time there is real collaboration in writing fiction occurs between true equals. In any situation where one has absolute power over another it is not collaboration. The big one orders the little one to work, then puts their name on top in big ass letters. Now I'm not saying that a big name author can't work with a no-name author, but it has to be in a way that the no-name author can make a name for themselves. Here's how:

2A. Create A "Presents" System: If you need some more explanation if a famous writer wants to make money with the help of lesser known writers they should create an imprint where it's basically "Famous Author Presents: New Writer That You Will Love Too."

Or

2B. Create A Universe For Other Writers To Use: Basically the Famous Author creates a setting, like an interstellar empire, a fantasy realm, a crime ridden city, etc... and let's other writers use that setting for their own stories as long as they fit within a set of practical guidelines.

Once that is settled you then...

3. Create A Reasonable Rights/Payment System That Treats Writers As Partners Not Suckers: This isn't rocket science, it's supposed to be capitalism. This whole deal reeks to me of the neo-feudalist attitude that infects so much of the business world, but especially the creative industries like entertainment and publishing. The Neo-Feudalist believes that life is a zero sum game and that for them to gain anything they must take it from someone else, and that they deserve to have it all because it already belongs to them by their divinely granted position of being someone in a position of power.

A True Capitalist seeks to make sure that everyone they do business with gets what they want. Why? Because doing that doesn't just get the True Capitalist a piece of the proverbial pie, it creates a newer, fresher, and bigger pie, with bigger pieces for all involved. You want your partners to get rich, because that will make them trust you to treat them right, and make you richer.

Think about it this example for a second. You create a setting for a series of fantasy novels for up and coming authors to use. You mentor them, you promote them, and those with real talent and commercial appeal take off and succeed on their own. If they know you, trust you, and like doing business with you, they will stick around, or occasionally return to your little universe again, and now you have 2 famous authors shilling your series and doing their best for the series.

If they feel like they've been bent over and buggered with a stiff wire brush, they are going to fulfill their contractual obligations, but they aren't going to burn any serious calories to do it, and as soon as it's done, they are going to run away, telling the world what a big asshole you are, and then try to get new people to join your scheme.

It's simple economics meeting simple common sense.

So figure out some way that not only doesn't look at first glance like it's going to screw the writer, doesn't actually screw the writer. If you're the Famous Author and worried about your share of the profits, then follow James Patterson's model and go for sheer fucking volume through mass production.



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*Remember what I say about the net revenues. They are about as likely to be seen by you as the Loch Ness Monster in Albuquerque.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #629: AMC Crosses The Rubicon, Then Crosses Back

Welcome to the show folks....

AMC has canceled the first of its first crop of original dramas, the conspiracy thriller Rubicon.
Now I never saw Rubicon, but I heard many good things about it's intriguing plot, and unique style, but there was one thing I did know from the first moment I heard about it. I knew that it wasn't going to last.

I'm not saying that I thought it was a bad show, like I said, I never saw it. I just knew that it was doomed from the start no matter how good the show was.

How did I know? Did my natural brilliance spill over into the realm of clairvoyance?

No, but it was nice of you to think that.

I knew it wasn't going to last because the core of the show's premise was a conspiracy based mystery.

You see the problem of a show centered around a conspiracy is that sooner or later you're going to run out of conspiracy. You see episodic television is a great medium, but it is by it's nature episodic. It needs something to it that can be wrapped up in an hour's viewing time even if there is some sort of wider plot going on.

You see, the problem with building a show around a big multi-faceted mystery is that sooner or later, you are going to run out of mystery, and you either have to have the answers, or run the risk of completely running out of steam and alienating your viewers. Viewers can smell when a show is getting a little too wrapped up in its own mysteriousness, and will tune out, because when something is as episodic and open-ended as a TV series, they will be made to think that there is no real solution, and they're just going to get their chain jerked season in and season out.

Remember
Lost. They set up all sorts of mysteries, more and more each episode, so many that they confused and annoyed their viewers, who fled the show in droves. They only got some of them back when they promised a definitive ending to the show. Then they blatantly refused to solve 99% of the mysteries they spent the past seasons dumping on the audience, and scolded them for being stupid for wanting things neatly wrapped up, but quietly promising a few more answers if you shell out the bucks for the DVD box set. In other words, they want you to pay extra because they wrote themselves into a series of ever deeper holes.

The X Files was another example of this problem. While it maintained a more procedural structure of FBI agents investigating the paranormal it did have an over-arching sub-plot about a secret alien invasion and a government cover-up. The show caught on and became a monster hit, and was promptly doomed by its success. Unlike the people behind Lost, they actually had an ending to their story, but they couldn't use it. Instead they had to end it, restart it, and not quite end it for real when the series was finally canceled. This left the hard-core fans who were with the show from the beginning feeling alienated, annoyed and disgusted.

And those were just the successful ones, the TV landscape has a sizable cemetery of similarly themed shows, and by the way, there's an opening there for NBC's The Event.

On-going story-lines on TV need to be either wrapped up within a reasonable amount of time, with the show's premise strong enough to continue in a new direction afterward, or have the ongoing story-lines be based upon character development.

Mad Men is the perfect example of this. The staff of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce, Larry, Curly, & Moe have situations that are mostly concluded in some form, but often not permanently, within the episode, while the nature of the characters go through ongoing developments and changes.

Either that, or it's all one big conspiracy.

Dino De Laurentiis RIP

Dino De Laurentiis the prolific producer of 160+ films has passed away at the age of 91.

I think Dino De Laurentiis was the embodiment of the trials, triumphs, troubles and traps that surround an independent film producer. His output ran the gamut from gritty realist dramas like Serpico, the revenge classic
Death Wish, thrillers like Manhunter & the offbeat Blue Velvet, cult-horror like Evil Dead 2, as well as purely ridiculous fare like Orca, King Kong Lives and Maximum Overdrive.

It was either feast or famine when it came to critical and/or commercial success. This fact was slammed home when he tried to start his own studio the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group in the 1980s.

The overly complicated financial dealings that are the bread and butter of the major studios were the downfall of DEG, leading it to declare bankruptcy and sell off its library and slate of unreleased films after just two years in business.

With the collapse of DEG, he slowed down from his usually immense output, getting involved with fewer and fewer projects, going into a form of quasi-retirement.

Regardless of what people thought of him, he was the sort of colorful and intriguing character that you don't see very often in Hollywood these days. His combination of hard bargainer, charming salesman, risk-loving gambler, and shameless showman made him the quintessential movie producer.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #628: Reboots, Remakes, & Reckonings?

Welcome to the show folks....

REMAKE MAKES ME RE-RUN

CBS has tapped show-runners Ron (
Battlestar Galactica) Moore and Naren (CSI) Shankar for a reboot of the 60s spy-fi western show Wild Wild West.

In the spirit of remakes I shall re-run my original thoughts on hearing this news a while ago, and let you read it HERE. Of course I might like to add that it will probably feature more killer robots and really gory crime scenes than I originally thought.

SPEAKING OF REMAKES

Peter Douglas, a producer and son of movie legend Kirk Douglas, is putting together a production company that will be completely dedicated to remakes.

Chiefly they'll be looking at films that were either produced by, or starred Kirk Douglas, as well as several films by thriller master John Frankenheimer including his 60s classics
Seven Days In May, Seconds, and Grand Prix.

Lets look at the pros and cons of this sort of project.

PROS:

1. Hollywood is currently terrified of anything remotely original. Projects stemming from the favorite decade of the baby boomers who run Hollywood (the 60s) are pretty much guaranteed a pick-up by a major studio.

2. If
Seconds and Grand Prix get made by people with actual talent they could become hits. Seconds is an offbeat thriller about an older man who undergoes radical treatment by a mysterious organization to get a new "second" life as a younger man living a fantasy lifestyle. If done right it can still hold a lot of relevance to modern audiences in the age of botox and the unreal expectations of reality television. Grand Prix could be made as pure action-packed melodrama about fast cars, danger loving men and the women who love them.

3. The original films will get some more attention and probably get some play on cable TV, and get some nice "collector's edition" type releases on DVD. That's a good thing.

CONS:

1.
Seven Days In May could become a repeat of The Manchurian Candidate remake boondoggle. Hollywood is not very good at making a politically themed film that can sell commercially. Remember how they changed the plot of The Manchurian Candidate from a Korean war soldiers brainwashed and terrorized by Communist Chinese agents into Gulf War veterans brainwashed and terrorized by the sinister Manchurian Global Corporation to enact an elaborate plot of assassination and skullduggery to accomplish what a few fat campaign donations would do a hell of a lot cheaper and easier.

But I digress....

Seven Days In May is about a rogue military officer plotting to overthrow the President of the USA for being too liberal. Now does anyone outside of Hollywood think that a film casting the members of the American military as the villain, during wartime, will sell the movie to the rest of the country? And let's not forget Hollywood's complete lack of subtlety when it comes to making "hot button" politically themed films like The Manchurian Candidate. I can't see them doing this in any way that will not seem cartoonish in comparison to the taut suspense of the original.

2. If the films in question aren't done really, really well, they are going to clash with not only the memories of the originals, but the inevitable resurfacing of the films in question on cable TV. If they don't amp up the quality over the originals, preferring to just dump in a lot of CGI and over the top nonsensical action, the movies will tank, even the ones that had potential to succeed.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #627: And Now A Look At The Other Side of the Coin

Welcome to the show folks...

Yesterday I wrote about a writer who thought a little too much of himself and his chosen genre, and today I take a look at the flip side of the great coin of stupid and look at an actor who apparently doesn't think much of writers, or much about anything at all.

But first a tip of my sombrero to Nikki Finke who brought me this broadside by screenwriter John August over a comment made by actress and public intellectual Jessica Alba:
Good actors, never use the script unless it’s amazing writing. All the good actors I’ve worked with, they all say whatever they want to say.
Like August, I hope this was a misquote or something like that, because if she really said that, they really shouldn't let her out in public without a helmet, and someone to remind her to breathe.

Oy gevalt.

Now August himself does a pretty good take-down of Alba's totally illogical attitude toward such an important facet of the art of making movies, so I'll look at this from a different angle. I'm going to try to figure out where this sort of attitude comes from.

I think it can all be blamed on stunts and method acting.

First stunts....

No, I'm not saying that Mrs. Alba slipped off her stripper pole and caved in her frontal lobe while filming
Sin City, I'm talking about that old chestnut of "I do my own stunts."

You know what I'm talking about, someone on a press junket for an action movie talks about how they really did cling to hood of a speeding car that careened out of control on a freeway, and how it was an incredible adrenaline rush and that such risks are worth it for their art.... yadda...yadda...yadda...

Well, those stories contain more bull feces than the streets of Pamplona in July. Sure, the actor did cling to the hood of a car. But the car was motionless, in a studio surrounded by green screens and fans, the actor was also strapped in with enough safety harness to pin down an elephant on a roid rage, and there were six guys in "green screen" body suits surrounding them to make sure they don't break a nail.

Why? It's because of the insurance.

You can't make a movie without insurance, and there is no way in hell an insurance company will allow a movie star to do anything with the remotest chance of an injury that may delay or halt production.

Yet studios actively promote the mythology of the actor who does their own stunts because it keeps the reporters and stars at the junket talking about the movie and not their personal lives. The stars go along because the last thing they want the public to know is that they spent the day of the big car chase scene in their luxurious trailer having their assistant check them for butt pimples while a stuntman did all the hard work with the second unit crew. They want to present themselves as a person of action, of achievement, not a pampered overgrown child who is good at looking pretty while repeating the lines people wrote for them.

Which brings me to the second factor.... method acting.

Before the Stanislavsky "Method" broke into the Hollywood mainstream in the 1950s acting was viewed as a job. Sure it was a glamorous job that involved international fame, truckloads of money, and the near worship of fans and the media, but it was still a job nonetheless.

After Method acting broke through suddenly it went from being a job, or a profession, it became something akin to a secular sacred vocation. Instead of being worshiped for their beauty, and success, they were suddenly viewed as being great artists in the most pretentious definition of the word, who were a font of deep and profound insights into the human condition and, above all, more than mere performers, but creators as well.

And since they're the "creators" that are given most, if not all, of the attention by a fawning media that is all too willing to play along with the ego boosting myth-making games they all play, the stars are almost bound by law to get an over-inflated sense of self-worth whether they deserve to have one or not.

Of course without someone to put some intelligent words in their mouth, they are also bound to say stupid things like Mrs. Alba.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #626: Thank You Jimmy McGovern, You Just Proved My Point

Welcome to the show folks...

Jimmy McGovern is a British writer from Liverpool who is responsible for the original British version of
Cracker starring Robbie Coltrane, which was one of the best crime dramas in the history of TV.

It also looks like he is so full of shit I'm surprised it's not leaking out his ears.

I owe a tip of my jaunty fedora to Matthew @MonasticProds whose spleen venting tweets alerted me to Mr. McGovern's very public bout of foot-in-mouth-head-in-ass syndrome.

For those too lazy to click the link Mr. McGovern
decided to piss away decades of goodwill from writers all over the world by taking some column inches in the Observer to declare that anyone who doesn't write exactly like him is not worthy of being television drama because it "doesn't matter."

If McGovern ruled the world all television drama would be strictly of the social realist school and only be about telling the world just how shitty life is in cities like Liverpool and how it's all Margaret Thatcher's fault. There would be no fantasy, science-fiction, or imagination of any kind beyond figuring out what sort of grim urban despair and/or depravity you can heap upon your downtrodden characters.

Anyone who doesn't do what McGovern does, exactly the way McGovern does it, is "irrelevant" and "not serious" in the eyes of Mr. McGovern.

Really Jimmy?

Were you drinking or smoking something you shouldn't have when you made those statements?

Because I can't see any writer "serious" or "relevant" writer making that kind of statement without goose-stepping while they're talking.

Sure 90% of TV is crap that's not worth the tape it's recorded on.

But here's a little factoid that I'm pretty sure Mr. McGovern doesn't know, because if he did, he wouldn't be talking out of his ass like that.

90% of all creative endeavors are crap.

Even the sort of "relevant" social-realist-kitchen-sink-
it's-bloody-grim-up-north-type dramas that Mr. McGovern seems to think are uber-alles are 90% crap. They can easily slip into tedious preaching that is more about reinforcing the writer's own already bloated sense of self-importance and worthiness than making any lasting socio-political point that connects emotionally and intellectually with the audience.

One can't contain the whole of the human experience, imagination, and the other things that "matter" within the narrow confines of a single style or sub-genre. Think of creativity as an orchestra made up of thousands of people, each playing their own instrument, or playing no instrument at all, just their own personal voices. The players are the creators, and their instruments are their genres of choice, and the music they create are the stories they tell.

They all have their role to play in the great cacophonous, and occasionally discordant, symphony of creativity. Each section, or even individual players, can be listened to or ignored depending on the personal tastes of the members of the audience. No one has the right to condemn an entire section of the orchestra to the dustbin of history simply because they don't think their instruments are worthy of being played.

If you don't like that section, go play your own tune, on your own instrument, on your own time, to your own audience. To demand that others must fit into some narrow and utterly subjective definition of worthiness, created by you, is to declare yourself the enemy not just of creativity, but of free expression.

Of course, this self-righteous, patronizing priggishness on the part of Mr. McGovern may all be just staged to generate publicity for his new BBC legal/crime drama
Accused. If true, then he is as destructively narcissistic and fame-whoring as any reality-TV skank. Which makes this whole incident shameful no matter how you look at it.

Which brings me to my other point....

Shortly after Halloween I wrote a piece about how making a horror film should be mandatory for all new filmmakers whether they have any interest in the genre or not. One of the reasons I gave is that it teaches the filmmaker in question humility. McGovern's work has been pretty much all in the one genre he does very well, and he's been rightfully praised for that work, but all that praise has apparently gone to his head. I think an early dose of doing work in an unfamiliar genre, that is guaranteed to get absolutely no mainstream critical praise or awards, no matter how well it's done, is a good learning experience for all who do it.

Because then you will have the humility to know that your importance does not spare you from putting your foot in it like a blind man following overfed elephants in a parade.