Thursday, 28 April 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #718: Random Snark Attack!

I'm still sick folks. But that doesn't mean you have to go without my unique brand of bloggy goodness. So instead of doing the sort of in depth analysis that I usually pretend to deliver, I'm just going to be all snarky and cranky, and hopefully these fevered ramblings will make some semblance of sense.

Let the snarkasm flow as freely as my nose.... that's too much information, isn't it?

1. Armie Hammer, most known for double-teaming
The Social Network as the Winklevoss twins has been cast as The Lone Ranger, a role that did wonders for the acting career of Klinton Spilsbury. He joins Jonny Depp who has already been cast as the inaccurately named Ranger's partner Tonto.

All that's left is to find cast the love interest.

Ahem, ain't that just like homophobic Hollywood. They already have Tonto. Sheesh, don't you think a smart fellow like Tonto would hang around with a masked cracker who is always getting him into dangerous situations if they did not partake of the love that dares not speak its name?

Leave it to Hollywood to ruin a perfectly good relationship.

I wonder if the plot is going to be about the Ranger and Tonto finding an old Confederate officer trying to restart the Civil War. Because that would be so original and not seen before at all, except in the last
Lone Ranger movie, the Wild Wild West movie, and the Jonah Hex movie, and we all remember what blazing box office successes they all were.

2. Teen haircut Justin Bieber is set to make a movie with Mark Wahlberg, the involvement of the Funky Bunch has yet to be determined.

Anyway, the film is to be about urban street level basketball players, because nobody embodies the concept of "street" more than Justin Bieber.

3. Venerable comic book hero Superman, tired of his every action being interpreted as acts of US foreign policy, is set to renounce his American citizenship in Action Comics #900. At least that's the official story. The real reason is that he got sick and tired of Donald Trump's demands to see his Kryptonian birth certificate.

Anyway, it's a moot point, since he is technically an illegal alien.

4. Producer Chuck Lorre has reportedly come up with a way to save hit sitcom Two & A Half Men without Charlie Sheen. In an exclusive scoop I have the details of the show's new format: Since the kid's getting too old to be the "Half Man" and Charlie Sheen is off his nut, the new show will start after the funeral of Sheen's character. At the reading of the character's will, Jon Cryer's character and his son learn that they now have to share the house with the Sheen character's last "true love," a mid-op transsexual named "Lola" played by Ron Perlman.

Let the hilarity ensue!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Sick Day Blues...

Sorry folks... I am apparently coming down with something that is simultaneously attacking my throat and my sinuses, rendering me unable to give you the sort of detailed and intelligent vitriol analysis that you expect.

However, all is not lost. In a recent post I wrote about the disrespecting of genre fiction I got some interest in having a phrase used in the post put on a T-Shirt. That phrase was "Viva The Genrevolution" and I, thanks to Cafe Press, it's now available on your choice of T-Shirt. Here's a sneak peek at the design.


Show the world that you like genre fiction, and won't be disrespected because of it.

I also made some other stuff, and if you, my fragrant readers like it, I'll make more stuff. In fact, let me know of anything from this blog that that you want to see on a shirt, a mug, or anything else, and I'll give it a shot.

It's a win-win, you get something that let's your freak flag fly, and I get money. It doesn't get any better than that.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #717: Desperately Seeking Scribblers

Hollywood is not a good place to be a writer right now.

It was never a great place, don't get me wrong, but right now it's never been harder. The major studios are making fewer movies, many of them sequels and remakes of blockbuster franchises, and appears to be hiring only the members of a rapidly shrinking circle of writers to do the screenplays. New talent with new and original screenplays that doesn't already have membership in the club, can pretty much forget about joining.

Well, 20th Century Fox is going to attempt to buck that trend. They are starting a new writers program. The purpose of this program is to find new "emerging" writers that they traditionally ignore, and hope that they come up with the sort of fresh original material that can become the remakes of the future.

Which begs the question: How will they screw it up?

Don't get me wrong, if any studio was going to try this, Fox has the best chance of success. The management philosophy is to never do anything that doesn't have any chance of a concrete return on their investment. This is the company whose Fox-Searchlight division is still chugging along while almost every other "indie" division is long gone.

However, this is the company that started Fox Atomic, lost focus of what it was supposed to do, while slapping it with a weak "B-Label" brand, only to have to fold it.

So you can see, that while they probably have, if not the best intentions, at least as much good intentions as a major Hollywood studio can have, their execution could result either into a whimpering, simpering fizzle out, or a complete disaster.

Let's look at what they need do to make this program work.

1. A SYSTEM TO FIND THESE WRITERS:

The old standby of asking agents who is new and novel in the world of screenwriting is not going to work as well you might think.

Agents, especially the ones from the big powerful agencies don't look for new writing talent, they poach writers from the smaller agencies who do, after said writer has made a few sales, meaning that they aren't as fresh as Fox is looking for. These big Hollywood agencies also have bills to pay, and are not going to burn major calories, and money only to take a risk on some who is untested, and most importantly unsold, where even if they do make a sale, it won't be near the money the more established scribes get.

They have to protect their own interests in the Hollywood shark tank, and many can't afford to take the risk.

So Fox is going to need a new system. One that comes to mind is the sort of Triggerstreet/Authonomy style system, where thousands of people gather on-line to read and criticize each other scripts, and hopefully the cream will rise to the top.

But here there be dragons, as they would say on old maps.

Often getting to the top of the heap relies more on the winning writer dedicating their lives to gaming the system, usually trading good reviews with other members, than with the actual quality of their writing product.

I use to be active in a similar system but made the mistake of being honest with my reviews. One script was presented as a "sexy thriller" but it didn't work that way, and I told the writer that he needed to rewrite it as a satire of Hollywood, and this pissed him off. It could have been a great satire, but he took it as a personal attack, and made a snippy comment about my "ignorant" review.

If Fox is going to do it right, they are going to have to go old fashioned, and burn some shoe leather. That means hiring professional readers, usually bitter unsold writers themselves, giving them a stack of unsolicited scripts, and giving them a stamp for what file they go into: Must Read File, Might Read File, & Circular File.

But this only after sifting through all the entries that don't use the right format, are written on toilet paper, or written in blood. It's a lot of work shoveling through dung, but it's the only way to reach the diamond.

Thanks to the internet Fox can recruit pro-readers from all over the world to work without stepping foot in the Axis of Ego. They could use a pay-per-report deal, using overlapping assignments to help weed out the scammers faking it, and toss cash rewards to readers who find quality scripts that get the green-light, and a bigger reward if it becomes a success.

2. THE NERVE TO TAKE RISKS & THE BRAINS TO MITIGATE THEM:

Showbiz used to be the domain of gamblers. Men who regularly risked their jobs, fortunes, and reputations to make movies. Making movies is, was, and always will be a risky business. You might believe with all your heart that you have a sure-thing, but it could easily go down in flames taking everything you have with it.

Movies have become extremely expensive to make and market, mostly because of the studio's own piss-poor business practices. This has made the major studios extremely risk averse, and putting them on their current path of remakes and overpriced tent-pole flicks.

When it comes to the new, the novel, and the unproven, there is usually a tremendous failure of nerve on the part of the studios.

It doesn't have to be this way. When you're an outfit as big as Fox, you can mitigate those risks, and here's how:

1. Aim low. Look for the middle ground that most studios are ignoring. Smaller scale crime/action films, horror movies, comedies, etc., that have commercial appeal, but don't require huge stars, big FX, and long shooting schedules.

2. When you've found the golden goose, don't beat it. This means that you treat your new writers right. Pay them on time, pay them what they're owed, and don't go around playing the silly ass games with their money and time that makes writing screenplays such a pain in the ass.

Basically make it so that the writers who do good work will consider working for another studio a major blunder. Make them want to stay and do business with you instead of anyone else. Sure a studio may offer them slightly more cash and points in their proposition, but if they know that a deal with you is as good as having that money in the bank, there's a damn good chance that they will opt for security.

Now all this will take a hellacious amount of labor to accomplish.

Is Fox ready to do what it takes to make it work?

We will have to wait and see?

Monday, 25 April 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #716: Hollywood Gets Religion... Just Kidding

My Grand-pappy used to sat that if you want to start an argument start talking about religion. That's because everyone has their own ideas either about religion, or against religion, and they all are damned certain that they are right.

Well, according to this report from
Deadline: Hollywood, the movie industry is itching for a fight with four potential movie projects that tackle religion, mostly Christianity, in ways pretty much designed to piss off the religious, and get praise from the sort of people who think saying stuff along the lines of: "Your two millennium spiritual and moral-philosophical tradition is just a fairy tale," and expect people to suddenly convert to atheism from the sheer depth of that argument.

Lets look at the projects, the likelihood that they will be made, and how well they might do with audiences.


1.
The Final Testament of the Holy Bible, by James Frey. I talked about this book before. It's basically James Frey's attempt to recover from his long running pariah status by plopping out a book that is essentially critic proof. It's about the second coming of a promiscuous bisexual Jesus, who supports abortion, and anything else that might hopefully get religious people riled enough to protest, and hopefully get a few fringe wing-nuts to demand it be censored, or even toss out a few threats. That way, he goes from being the hoaxer with the bogus bio, and book packager with probably the worst packaging deal I have ever seen to be born again as a "courageous rebel" getting pats on the back from critics and literary journalists, because if they dare to say anything negative about Frey, or the book, they will be branded as "tools of the religious right."

Now back to the proposed movie version. There is no deal to make a movie yet, just agents from William Morris Endeavor shopping it around to various studios and producers.

The likelihood of the film getting made is slim. Making the film would be the equivalent of taking all the money needed to make and market the film, piling it up in the studio parking lot, and setting it on fire.

The only difference is that the fire would attract a larger audience. The religious would be repelled by the movie as much as they are by the very idea of the book, and atheists are just too few, and too apathetic to make the film profitable.

I'm not saying that the film will never be made, but the odds are extremely slim, and even then it would be a bigger bomb than anything dropped by Curtis LeMay.

2. Jesus of Nazareth by director Paul Verhoeven. This is based on the Showgirls auteur's own novel, which retells the New Testament story without the religious or spiritual elements. The immaculate conception is replaced by a rape by a Roman soldier, and the miracles are just plain left out, making over Jesus into a more secular version of Gandhi.

Once again, anyone making the film would be better off with the fire in the parking lot. The tone of the project, as well as Verhoeven's own inability to present or understand subtext that doesn't fit within the narrow confines of his own world-view (remember Starship Troopers?) and
his love of cheap, sleazy, shock-value will repel all but the most trash-curious.

3. The Master by writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson. Now this film doesn't involve Christianity, but about a man who creates a new "belief system" in the 1950s that then spreads "like wildfire." While this project is the least likely to offend large portions of the audience, it is actually the least likely to get made, here's why:

The proposed budget is at $35 million. That usually covers the costume budget for the traditional "trying on dresses" montage of the typical Hollywood romantic comedy, but it's a massive amount for a period drama about philosophical, moral, and spiritual beliefs.

It also hits too close to Hollywood's home. We're talking about people who traditionally leap
into whatever fad is going, from fresh squeezed religions AKA "spiritual movements," to campaigning against vaccines because Jenny McCarthy told them too. A movie about a man starting a cult simply must involve the conversion of Hollywood celebrities, and that's not just too close to home for Hollywood, it's practically in their living room, watching their TV, and asking what's for dinner.

Now some independent folks with deep pockets are interested in making the film, but it will have a fight finding distribution and wrangling a decent release.

4. The Book Of Mormon by Trey Parker & Matt Stone. This is already a hit Broadway show, and while some have found the show's style and content to be offensive, it's not subject to any massive campaign to get it banned. It also has the best potential to not only get made as a movie, but to sell to a wide audience.

Why?

Two reasons, one for getting it made, and one for it doing well with a wider audience.

It might get made because Mormonism is currently persona-non-grata in Hollywood because it's blamed (technically incorrectly) for the successful blocking of legalized gay marriage in California. The Mormons are also a relatively small religious community, that prefers to ignore Hollywood for the most part, and non-Mormons don't really know much about them and their history. So it could be viewed as a calculated risk.

Now here's why it might catch on, and it rests completely at the feet of South Park's creators, and authors of The Book Of Mormon, Trey Parker & Matt Stone. They are probably the truest and purest satirists operating in Hollywood these days. They don't just take the knee-jerk easy route of sharing the prejudices of their Hollywood peers, they take aim at hypocrisy and inanity of all sorts, from all sides with their razor barbed comedic arrows.

Unlike Frey and Verhoeven, there is usually real value in their shock value that a wider audience can catch onto better than the people in Hollywood. That's how they've been able to produce a continuously fresh satirical comedy for 15 years that still wows viewers and critics. Cut through the lowbrow humor and the crude language and their mission is not to insult, or to degrade, but to challenge. That's a subtle difference, but it's extremely important.

I could sum it up by saying that Hollywood would make it for the wrong reasons, but it might succeed for the right reasons.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #715: Independent Film- Great For Lawyers

Okay, the other day I cranked about how they should unseal the records on the whole David Bergstein/ThinkFilm debacle so that people may someday learn from it. The report/records have now been unsealed. Grab a copy before they get sealed again, and maybe glean something from the acres of legalese and needless complications.

But that's not the only courtroom based action going on right now. The Weinstein Company is suing Relativity Media over who has distribution rights to a remake of The Crow. You may remember
The Crow as the film about a ghostly avenger that claimed the life of actor Brandon Lee in an accident with an improperly prepared blank. It also spawned a cluster of rapidly forgotten sequels and a short lived Canadian made TV series, during which a stuntman was killed in an accident. To sum it up, not only has the franchise suffered from exponentially diminishing returns, it also has left at least two people dead that I know of.

If the Weinsteins were suing to keep another remake / reboot / re-imagination / rehash / regurgitation of a spent franchise I might give them a little "you go girl" in the manner of the token gay and/or black friend of the female lead in a romantic comedy. However, since they're just fighting over distribution rights, I will spit out a hearty pshaw and fie on the whole deal.

Naturally Relativity Media is responding , and have even released a list of open lawsuits against the Brothers Weinstein.

Here's the list if you're too lazy to click the links:

Open Lawsuits Against The Weinstein Company:
  1. Brem v. TWC
  2. Browder v. Q. Tarantino, TWC
  3. Cat Entertainment v. TWC
  4. Dannez Hunter v. Bob Weinstein, TWC
  5. Degeto Film v. TWC
  6. Flowers v. Glowing Report, Ltd, TWC
  7. Tony Leech v. TWC
  8. Lionsgate Films v. TWC
  9. Moore v. TWC
  10. NBC Universal v. TWC
  11. Pariah v. Dimension Films (TWC)
  12. Rodriguez v. Klum, TWC
  13. Stratus Film v. Miramax et al
  14. Summit Financial v. TWC
  15. Herrick Co. v. TWC
Open Lawsuits Filed By The Weinstein Company
  1. TWC v. Skip Huston
  2. TWC v. Collins
  3. TWC v. Derrickson
  4. TWC v. Columbia Pictures
  5. TWC v. Nu Image
  6. TWC v. Smokewood
  7. TWC v. Lionsgate
  8. TWC v. Sloss
  9. TWC v. Walker
To sum it up there are currently 15 open lawsuits against the Weinstein Co. and 9 lawsuits that the Weinstein Co. has filed against others, making a total of 24. That's just the ones that are open and pending, I'm sure a complete list of past lawsuits, including out of court settlements, would make this one of my longest blog posts ever.

Now I want you to sit back for a minute and ponder this question:

What does all this lawsuit business tell you about The Weinstein Company and the state of independent film?

The first it tells me is that when it's all boiled down, the biggest winners in the independent film business are the lawyers. If things keep going the way they are Harvey & Bob Weinstein are going to have to sue each other, and then file lawsuits against themselves. It's no way to run a railroad.

But it's an all too common story in the world of independent film. A company is started, it has some success, then the people behind the company start acting "clever" when it comes to how they run said business. This "cleverness" creates complications, these complications create more problems than they solve, then the lawsuits start.

After enough litigation people start thinking that despite whatever mojo they once had, it's just not worth the hassle and expense to do business with said people anymore, and they just stay away. It's already hurt them in the past, and have only been able to survive another by handing over their entire film library to their creditors.

So why do independent film companies follow these convoluted, and usually suicidal business plans?

Mostly because the big boys do, and they want to play in the same sandbox.

Only there's a lot of pee in that sandbox, and while the big studios have big parent companies to protect them from that pee with the copious fiduciary wet-wipes stored in their big deep corporate pockets, independent companies just come out of the sandbox reeking of piss, and if the smell gets bad enough, no one will play with them anymore. Sure you might have grabbed a few toys for yourself out of said sandbox, but when they smell like pee too, the sense of accomplishment is tainted for all but the most emotionally stunted.

Which brings me to the point of this rambling jeremiad.

The first step of being an independent film company is to acknowledge the fact that you are a small independent company, and not the tax write-off scam of a massive multinational conglomerate. You need to create a business model that reflects that simple reality. One based not on elaborate accounting scams schemes, but on doing your best to make money out of movies.

The movie business is rife with risk just by the fickle nature of audience tastes and film-making talent. It doesn't need the people running it to be a risk all by themselves, because then the only people making money will be the lawyers.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #714: Break The Seal, Break The Cycle

It's that time again...

Yep, it's time for me to gripe about something really blatantly obvious.

Today it's about new developments in the ongoing sinking saga of indie film impresario David Bergstein. Recently arguments were being made in bankruptcy court about unsealing the business records of Bergstein's ThinkFilm/Capitol Film indie film production and distribution debacle. They had been unsealed for about 15 minutes before Bergstein and his lawyers got them re-sealed, claiming that he needed to keep them secret.

Well, I say a hearty pshaw and fie on that, these financial records should be unsealed, and made public.

Here's why:
David Bergstein appears to be in the litigation crosshairs of just about everyone he's ever done business with. Unions, banks, investors, vendors, and probably his local paperboy are all suing him.
Businesses where things are done right do not attract that Michael Jackson level of litigation. We, and by "we" I mean all people remotely interested in the business and economics of pop culture need to sort through the stories, the counter-stories, the rumors, and the speculation. We need to know who got paid, who didn't get paid, I'm talking about the complete whos, whats, wheres, and whys of this whole debacle.

Why?

So hopefully we, and by "we" I mean all people interested in the film business, especially potential future investors/creditors/filmmakers, can hopefully avoid having history repeat itself with another independent film company crashing and burning, taking people's money and careers with them.

We need to break that seal, see where things went wrong for all involved, and hopefully break the unnatural cycle of boom followed by self-inflicted bust, that have claimed so many independent film companies in the past.

Isn't that obvious?

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Elisabeth Sladen RIP

Actress Elisabeth Sladen, best known as Sarah Jane Smith, Dr. Who's most definitive companion and star of her own spin-off series has passed away at the age of 63.

The Book Report: Disrespect The Imagination At Your Own Peril

Apparently the BBC did a special about books. What people are reading, what they should be reading, etc... etc... except they forgot a little something. That little something being so-called "genre fiction" things like science fiction, fantasy, and horror, preferring to refer to anything other than high-brow "literary fiction" in a condescending, even insulting manner. This was quickly noticed and a large number of genre writers (technically called a "whoop of writers") signed a letter to protest this treatment, and will tonight sneak into the BBC cafeteria and loosen the caps on all the salt/pepper, and sugar dispensers.

But why did this happen in the first place?


It's because of a fundamental schism in the world of literature, publishing, and the people who live in that world. In that world genre fiction, or as I prefer to call it, "fiction of the imagination" is looked down upon as mere trivial commercial entertainment for the great unwashed at best, nonsensical garbage that's eating away at the fabric of culture at worst.

Garson Kanin is believed to have said that the problem with movies as an art was that it was a business, and the problem with it as a business was that it was an art.

It's the same with publishing, only with less efficiency, and even less in the field of business fundamentals.

A story that best illustrates this is one about Stephen King. At the time of the tale he was his publisher's biggest selling author, breaking sales records with each new book. However, when he'd go to their New York headquarters for a meeting with his editor, no one outside that editor even knew who he was.

The main reasons for that being that he was a lowly "genre" hack, and despite his sales, or maybe because of them, he wasn't considered a proper "literary celebrity" within the narrow Manhattan-centric publishing world. Because within that world it doesn't really matter if you're liked by the people of the world, if you are not liked by the "right people" you might as well not exist. If the company was run more like a Hollywood studio, he would have at least scored a lunch with the head honcho. Naturally, the cost of said lunch would be put in the ledger as part of the advance on his next book, but at least the existence of his success would be acknowledged.

Which brings me to the fundamental schism affecting publishing. The desire for "literary" critical and academic street cred has caused literary fiction to turn increasingly inward. Too many "literary" authors have lost the ambition of writing the "great American novel" that will capture a time and a place, and win the hearts and minds of the general public. Nowadays all they seem to want is to get enough critical and academic praise to win a spot on a university class's mandatory reading list and hope the students buy new instead of just picking up a copy somebody used the year before.

The critics and academics enable this, because many of them are part of the same tiny daisy chain, and most literary fiction has become pretentious chores and snores produced by boors for whores who want to be boors.

And the sad part is that winning over the high "literary" orthodoxy has become so damn easy. Take James Frey as an example. First he pissed off Oprah and readers with his bogus memoir/novel/scam, then he pissed off writers with his Full Fathom Five scheme where he offered to pay writers pennies for their work which he would then claim, for the most part, as his own.

He's basically a pariah, so what does he do?

He concocts a new novel that's guaranteed to woo back the literary elite that so recently scorned him. How does he do that? He does the literary version of the Madonna/Lady Gaga route and does something to offend Christians because they're the safest group to offend next to Amish. The worst they'll do is complain, but the odds of being beheaded, are pretty slim. He slaps together a book about the second coming of Jesus, makes him a promiscuous bisexual with a hooker girlfriend who has an abortion, making sure to hit all the right buttons, sit back, and watch the glowing reviews and the acceptance of his literary peers come gushing back.

Writing experimental and literary fiction used to be a struggle, it required imagination, perspiration, and more than plenty exasperation. A friend once asked James Joyce how the new novel was going, he said "I got six words done today." The friend replied: "That's progress." "Not really," answered James Joyce, "I have the words, but I don't know what order to put them in." Nowadays to be a literary celebrity you just have to pick a soft target that fits in with the prejudices and shibboleths of your peers, and let fly so you can get patted on the back for your "courage." There's no real effort involved anymore.

Naturally, they don't sell as well as they used to. The publishing companies, panic, and assume that it's not the writer's fault, it's the audience's fault. The audience must be stupid, and that's why they aren't buying, so they think that if the audience is stupid, then the publishers will give them stupid.

So you have publishers rushing to give book deals to everyone but writers. I'm talking about reality TV skanks, washed up actors who lost weight, and while some do sell, the most fail to make up for the immensely bloated advances the publishers dished out for them. When it comes to fiction, jumping on every fad like it's going to be the one and only thing for all time to where it comes to a point where one book is indistinguishable from another.


Meanwhile, people writing serious genre fiction, and
by that I mean people who write in genres to find new and original ways to explore ideas, imagination, and even socio-political issues tend to be forgotten as boring "mid-list" business. This forgets the one fundamental truth about genre fiction, it is the gateway drug of reading.

They attract people with their tales of adventure, mystery, exploration, or the fantastic, and the good writers get the readers interested in finding more good writing. Soon many expand into other genres, and some even dip their toe into the so-called mainstream "literary genre."

Sure, 90% of it is crap, but remember Sturgeon's Law, 90% of all human creative endeavor is crap, including a lot of the so-called "important" works currently clogging up university reading lists. The key is that the good 10% does more than just tell a story, they create a connection between writer and reader that gives the reader a hunger for more.

The BBC made a terrible mistake not using the opportunity to promote well done genre fiction. They had a shot to get people looking beyond the pot-boiler airport/shopping mall best-sellers, creating more readers buying not only more books, but a greater variety as well, but their own blindness and narrow minded condescension prevented them, and they blew it big time.

__________________

UPDATE: If you like to have "Viva The Genrevolution" on a T-shirt, then pop over to my Cafe Press shop and get all your Mother's Day, Father's Day, Halloween, Christmas, and birthday shopping done early.

47 Years of Dr. Who In 6 Minutes

Monday, 18 April 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #713: Adaptation Palpitations

Right now Hollywood is adaptation crazy. It's currently adapting every public domain fairy tale it can get its well manicured mitts on, and since these imitation Twilight flicks aren't exactly burning up the box office, they've cast a covetous eye to classic science fiction.

Recently Hollywood began development of big screen adaptations of Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey's first Dragonriders of Pern novel, and Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles.

I'm not familiar with the Dragonriders books, but despite the presence of fire breathing dragons, they are science fiction, and not fantasy. Instead of magic, the dragons are genetically engineered and they battle not wizards or orcs, but an ecological threat called The Thread that periodically drops in from a passing planet.

I am more familiar with Bradbury's
The Martian Chronicles, because I not only read it as a child, I also remember the underwhelming 1980 TV miniseries adaption starring Rock Hudson. In fact my childhood was marked by a huge ABC (Azimov, Bradbury, Clarke) reading binge where I went through everything my library had.

Anyway, let's get back on topic, which is adaptation. I don't know exactly how cinematic
Dragonflight is, but flying, fire breathing dragons, and a weird alien menace sounds like it could play out really well on the screen.

I just hope that they remember that it's a different story, and not a sequel to How To Train Your Dragon.

The Martian Chronicles are a totally different kettle of fish.

First up, it's really a traditional novel. It's what used to be a fairly common tactic in mid-20th Century genre-fiction publishing called a "fix-up."

A fix up is when they take a bunch of previously published short stories, edit them so that they all sort of fit together and put them out as a novel. The original stories were, in their original form, mostly unrelated other than they all involved Mars and people exploring and colonizing the red planet. It lacks the cohesive single narrative thread that a Hollywood feature film needs, and I fear that giving the film that thread could just bastardize it from the impressionistic sci-fi classic it is into a stupid "shoot-em-up" action film like Hollywood did with I, Robot.

Second, the book was written at a time when we didn't know a hell of a lot about Mars. In the book it has a breathable atmosphere, liquid water, and pesky living Martians. To do all that today, after decades of study of Mars, would require a suspension of disbelief that I don't think the audience is quite willing to give for anything that doesn't involve superheroes.

Third, I am suspicious whenever Hollywood seeks to adapt a "classic" sci-fi novel, especially when there isn't a director or producer behind the project who is passionate about the source material, and has the power and drive to see that passionate vision come to fruition on the big screen. They either spend eternity gathering dust in the purgatory of studio development, or they get completely bastardized into something completely unrecognizable except the familiar title, which is all the studio wants anyway.

So while I'm going to wish the people making these films luck, I'm not going to hold out much hope.

Friday, 15 April 2011

A Lot More Studio Notes for Literary Classics

If you're one of my regular reader then you know that I like to goof off on Twitter by making up bogus "Studio Notes For Literary Classics" and posting these neural drippings here each Friday.

The rules for creating them are simple, pick a prominent, and acclaimed novel, short story, poem, or play, then offer advice on "improving" it that completely misses the point of the source material.

In keeping with my Friday tradition, let's have some more....

To. D. Trumbo. Re. Jonny Got His Gun. Book will work better if lead character gets rebuilt as an ass kicking cyborg.

To. JD Salinger. Re. Catcher In The Rye. Don't get the dislike of phonies. Phonies need love too.

To. Z.N. Hurston. Re. Their Eyes Were Watching God. There could be money if their eyes were watching CSI: Miami.

To. T. Capote. Re. In Cold Blood. The grim story could hamper getting a toy line off the ground.

To. G.B. Shaw. Re. Man & Superman. No Superman, no Lex Luthor, no Lois Lane. I felt gypped.

To. E. Rostand. Re. Cyrano De Bergerac. No one will like a lead with a big nose. Can't he have a bad haircut instead?

To. D. Mamet. Re. Lakeboat. Would work a lot better if rewritten into a reboot of "Love Boat."

To. R. Bolt. Re. A Man For A Seasons. If you re-title this "A Man For Four Seasons" we can get a hotel promo deal.

To. C. Dickens. Re. Martin Chuzzlewit. Don't care for title character's name. What do you think about Steve Chuzzlewit?

To. J. Swift. Re. Gulliver's Travels. Lilliput isn't sexy enough. Think Rio during Carnivale!

To. H. Lee. Re. To Kill A Mockingbird. Needs new ending. How about Scout & Boo engineer a jailbreak with a shootout?

To. N. Mailer. Re. The Naked & The Dead. Needs a lot more naked and a lot less dead if we're going to sell this.

To. M. Mitchell. Re. Gone With The Wind. Civil War is passé. Drop the war, the slavery, & make it about models.

To. E. Ionesco. Re. Rhinoceros. Can't the people transform into bunnies or kittens? They're way cuter.

To. A. Miller. Re. Death of a Salesman. Just a couple of quibbles, needs some laughs & the title's a bit of a spoiler

To. B. Brecht. Re. 3 Penny Opera. Can "Mack the Knife" have that name because he's a chef? Foodies have deep pockets.

To. S. Beckett. Re. Krapp's Last Tape. Think about rewriting this as a musical vehicle for Justin Bieber.

To. E. Gibbon. Re. Roman Empire book. Read the book & found nothing about Ray Romano, just a lot of dead foreigners.

To. C. Bronte. Re. Jane Eyre. "Jane" is such a bland name. Try calling her "Derry" it sounds much hipper.

To. R. Heinlein. Re. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. Was expecting infidelity & a dominatrix, but it's all space stuff.

To. A. Nin. Re. Delta of Venus. Um, it took me minute to realize that this isn't sci-fi. Might affect sale to Disney.

To. F. Hayek. Re. The Road To Serfdom. This book's about economics, not surfing. I was very disappointed.

To. WS Burroughs. Re. Naked Lunch. Love the book, but the drug stuff will ruin the deal for a Saturday morning cartoon.

To. HG Wells. Re. Dr. Moreau story. Instead of human animal hybrids can't it just turn out to be a furry convention?

To. R. Bradbury. Re. New book. If something "cuddly" this way comes we'll have a lot more merchandising deals.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #712: Downside/Upside

The ABC network has cancelled venerable soap operas All My Children and One Life To Live, to replace them with cheaper talk/lifestyle shows. If you don't know your TV/pop culture history, soap operas go back to the days of radio, and they were essentially daily melodramas created for the express purpose of entertaining housewives while they did their cooking and cleaning. They got their name because of their overwrought, melodramatic, even operatic, story-lines, and almost all of the original soap operas were either sponsored or produced directly by rival soap companies.

The soap opera's been having a bit of a rough time lately, network's see them as overly expensive because of their large casts and crews, and audiences just aren't as eager or able to indulge in this guilty pleasure as much as they used to. So one by one, or in this case, two at a time, they are being cast into the dustbin of television history.

So let's look at the downside of this decision, and then try to end on an optimistic note by trying to think up an upside.

DOWNSIDE:

1. A lot of people are out of work. Soap operas have large casts, large crews, and provide a lot of employment. All of the on-camera jobs, and the majority of the behind the camera jobs will not be picked up by the new "lifestyle" shows because they use much smaller crews, way fewer writers, and almost no actors.

2. Soaps are the gateway gig for a lot of young actors. Look at a lot of people in movies and TV, and quite a few of them got their first jobs doing small parts on soap operas. Some spent time as soap regulars, and it taught them how to work hard and to be prepared, lessons a few members of the so-called "A-List" could use.

3. I'll be willing to bet dollars to donuts that the shows replacing the soaps will make their soapiest silliest story-lines look like an episode of
Firing Line, featuring John Maynard Keynes debating economic price systems with F.A. Hayek.

UPSIDE:

1. It's an upside for filmmakers because people with lots of soap experience can be worked like rented mules, and think it's a vacation. Soap schedules are brutal, and they instill a pretty solid work ethic in actors, writers, and crew. Many who move to working in movies or prime-time television usually find that work a hell of a lot easier. So if you're a producer looking for reasonably priced actors and crews willing and able to work fast, you're in luck, some will soon be available.

As you can see the downsides badly outnumber the upsides. Personally, I wish the casts and crews of the two cancelled shows good luck finding new work. They're going to need it in today's entertainment market.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #711: Open Road Gets The Ball Rolling

Open Road, the distributor started by theater chains AMC & Regal, is now filling their executive suites in preparation for their grand opening.

I wish them luck, they're going to need it. Film distribution is a tough business, and the studios and their conglomerated parents aren't going to be lending any helping hands. In fact, they will probably do whatever they can to hinder this project, because they don't take well to any competition.

Now I've offered advice to independent film companies, and potential distributors before. (Feel free to search through the archives for them.) But if there's one thing I love, it's flogging a dead horse, so here's some more advice.

1. READ THE SCRIPTS. I honestly didn't think this would be necessary, but apparently, a lot of people just don't read the damn scripts anymore. Now I know a lot of deals would be with people with films already in the can, but it's inevitable that you will eventually get involved in films before they're made, it's the nature of the beast. Please read what you're getting into before you jump in head first.

2. THE K.I.S.S. PRINCIPLE. That means that you must KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID! The fashionable strategy when setting up a film company is to make things as complicated and convoluted as possible. That might be fine and dandy like sour candy when you're already a massive multimedia, multi-variant, multifarious, mega-conglomerate with more divisions than Zhukov, but when you're an independent distributor, it's more harm than good.

Remember the troubles of David Bergstein and his ThinkFilm debacle. The last thing you want are news media reports like this one about courts having business documents unsealed, then resealed, sparking all sorts of unpleasant talk that can only serve to make you look bad, whether you deserve it or not.

Such things always spring from unnecessary business complications whether you are actually guilty of doing anything wrong or not. If things are kept simple, then there are fewer things to screw everything up, and a lot fewer things you can get blamed for.

3. MAKE FRIENDS. I know I say this all the time, but bear with me. Theatrical releases are all well and good, but there are other markets. Chief among them are the forms of home video and television that have the same need for better product, in both quantity and quality, as the theater chains that are forced to become distributors. To crack that market you need friends. I'm talking NetFlix and independent cable channels and local broadcast stations. They're getting jerked around by the big studios too, both in terms of money, product, and these silly games with release windows. Develop partnerships, based on mutual enrichment over one-sided exploitation. Then you can create a new business model that can outperform the clanking wasteful, behemoth otherwise known as the major studios.

I hope someone finds this helpful.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #710: Is It Worth It?

There's a hell of a lot of chatter about the "Premium Video On Demand Service" being set up by a coven of four studios (20th Century Fox, Sony, Universal & Warner Bros.) that will allow people to stream movies at home, via DirecTV, just 60 days after their theatrical opening for just $30 a movie. Google's think-bots seem to think that it's viable, but are unsure about the price, meanwhile the theaters, pissed over losing their precious release window are hatching all kinds of retaliation plans, from boycotting movies released under this plan, to reducing the number of trailers they show, to putting flaming bags of dog poop on the front steps of Studio CEOs all over Beverly Hills.

The question I have to ask is: Is it worth it?

Now that question has two meanings. One meaning is for the consumer, and the other meaning is for the companies behind this plan.

FOR THE CONSUMER

Okay, let's play a little thought experiment and
imagine that the service is up and running, and the telemarketer has just interrupted your dinner to tell you that it's available in your area.

Do you really think it's worthy to pay $30 to see a movie 60 days after its theatrical opening, when, if you waited a few more weeks, you could see it, and literally dozens more, via Netflix screening for $7.99 a month?

Or barring that, buying it on DVD, usually for less than $20, and have the extra features that film buffs enjoy.

The coven's main selling point for this VOD plan is the simple fact that going to see a movie in a theater is a pain in the butt. You have to get there, burning precious gasoline, or paying for public transit. If you drove, you have to get parking. Then there's your ticket, snacks, and after the show is over, there are the various and sundry expenses to get your butt home. If you have kids, then it's a whole other nightmare, because society seems to frown on just locking them in a cupboard until you get home.

But in the theater, you have it on a big screen. One that fills your vision from one edge to the other. You also miss the social aspect of being with a crowd of people, the extra electricity of an opening night, and the subtle pleasure of just getting the hell out of the house and interacting with other human beings once in a while.

Sure, you could invite people to come join you when you drop the $30, but the decision to stream a VOD movie is usually a spur of the moment thing, brought on by overwhelming ennui over the vast wasteland of television. If you're going to hold a "Watch A Movie At My House" party you have to take into account the need for a really bitching home theater system, plus food, beverages, etc..., to make it worth the while of your friends and family to attend over just streaming it at their own home.

Now you must ask yourself, is all that really worth it?

Now onto...

THE COMPANIES

The guys who thought up this plan are probably thinking they are really clever fellows. Setting up the service won't cost all that much, and they don't have to share the revenue with pesky theaters, only DirecTV.

But the costs of setting up the service is just a short term, tangible, there are other, more intangible costs out there that could be a lot pricier.

I'm talking about making enemies.

As I mentioned earlier the owners of the big theater chains are plotting their vengeance. I wrote a while back that AMC and Regal are even opening up their own movie distributor, called Open Road, and NetFlix is starting to produce original content to compete with the studios that aren't putting out enough product to make up for the duds. The coven's DirecTV plan could put a turbo-charger on those plans, and if they succeed, they could seriously damage the major studios.

Remember, the studios suffer from a fundamentally dysfunctional business plan, that causes feature film production/distribution/marketing costs to rise, profit margins to shrink, and quality to suffer. If these new rivals break free from that dysfunctional tradition, and make movies that are reasonably priced with wide audience appeal, then the studios will have to deal with a dwindling market share as well.

So now they have to ask themselves: Is this plan really worth it?

Monday, 11 April 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #709: How To Succeed In The Media Without Actually Succeeding

Katie Couric is getting ready to leave her job as the anchor for the CBS Evening News, ending a run marked by viewership numbers going down, and the few remaining viewers being old enough to remember "Taftonomics," while they wonder why Walter Cronkite is looking so dag-gum effeminate lately.

You're probably thinking that her career prospects are pretty dim right now because of that failure.

Well, no.

Currently reports and rumors say that she's fielding offers to work on 60 Minutes with CBS, NBC, ABC, and even a daily talk show with former Today Show co-host Matt Lauer, masterminded by former NBC-Universal CEO Jeff "Screw It Up Royally" Zucker.

So why are the major networks running to hire someone who had done so poorly?

Well, it's not because to succeed in major network media, you don't really need to be successful, you just have to be important in the world that the TV network decision-makers dwell. The folks who do the hiring and firing at the big networks and media companies live in a world that is smaller and more insular than even Hollywood. They literally only know each other, and if you are important in their social circle, then they assume that you must be important to the rest of the planet.

Sure you might have a reputation of being hard to work with, you might be really expensive to employ, and you might not be able to attract the ratings making the hassle and expense worthwhile, but that doesn't matter. If you're one of the chosen few belonging to the right boards, committees, and clubs, you're in and only the most extreme, disastrous, putrescent failure is going to get you out.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Even More Studio Notes For Literary Classics

In what's becoming a semi-regular feature, I've concocted some more drippings from my brain pan in the form of the sort of notes that major studios or networks would give to literary classics. Enjoy.

To. CS Lewis. Re. Narnia books. Does Aslan have to be a lion? Penguins are cheaper & make cuter toys.

To. V. Woolf. Re. Orlando. Continuity error: You forgot your lead's a man in the middle of the book. Glad I caught it.

To. ER Burroughs. Re. Mars book. Got a great idea for a title: The Face On The Barsoom Floor. Great, isn't it?

To. J. Verne Re. Submarine book. Needs a new ending, how about they land in Miami?

To. D. Defoe. Re. Robinson Crusoe. Does Friday have to be a dude. There's a lot more story possibilities with a hot chick.

To. B. Pasternak. Re. Dr. Zhivago. Setting it in Russia puts a crimp on any sexy beach scenes. Reset it in California.

To. WP Blatty. Re. The Exorcist. Do they have to be priests? Personal trainers look better on the cover.

To. S. Jackson. Re. The Lottery. I don't see them selling many lottery tickets with such a lousy prize.

To. R. Matheson. Re. I Am Legend. The vampires don't sparkle. Real vampires sparkle.

To. HP Lovecraft. Re. New stuff. When you pitched doing a "dream cycle" I thought it was going to be about choppers.

To. J. Thompson. Re. The Killer Inside Me. If there was a dancer inside him, the story would be more uplifting.

To. J. Wambaugh. Re. The Choirboys. I'm confused, there's no singing in the entire book.

To. C. Woolrich. Re. The Bride Wore Black. Not to be a nit picker, but brides traditionally wear white.

To. J. Thompson. Re. The Grifters. Do they have to be con-artists? Would sell better if they were a teen boy band.

To. J. Heller. Re. Catch 22. I think we need to start this franchise at Catch 1 before jumping ahead to #22.

To. R. Condon. Re. Manchurian Candidate. Is Manchuria like Oz or Wonderland? Try someplace more realistic, like Malibu.

To. M. Puzo. Re. The Godfather. The whole book's a tad grim & violent. Think making it more like the "Fockers" movies.

To. P. Straub. Re. Ghost Story. We think the title is a little too "on the nose" so to speak.

To. EL Doctorow. Re. New novel. Ragtime music isn't exactly hip these days. Think retitling book "Emo."

To. FS Fitzgerald. Re. Flappers & Philosophers. Needs more flappers, fewer philosophers. Nobody likes philosophers.

To. B. Orczy. Re. Scarlet Pimpernel. First Wally Scott & now you! There are no damn pimps in this damn book!

To. Sir W. Scott. Re. Ivanhoe. The title's about a Russian pimp, but the book's about knights & stuff. Confusing.

To. A. Dumas Sr. Re. Three Musketeers. This book really needs a big ass airship chase.

To. R. Connell. Re. The Most Dangerous Game. I don't get the title, I didn't see any games, just a lotta hunting.

To. J. Steinbeck. Re. Grapes of Wrath. The Depression/Dust Bowl stuff is, well, depressing. Needs a funny talking dog.

To. H. Walpole. Re. Castle of Otranto. Italian castles are out this year. Think Malibu beach house.

To. B. Tarkington. Re. New novel. The Ambersons could be really "magnificent" if they were a family of acrobats.

To. D. Hammett. Re. New character. Is a "continental op" some sort of European gender reassignment surgery?

To. M. Cervantes. Re. Don Quixote. Continuity error: your lead is called "Don" when his name's Alonso & not Donald.

To. GG Marquez. Re. Love in the Time of Cholera. Cholera isn't exactly sexy, nymphomania sells better.

To. WS Maugham. Re. Of Human Bondage. There's no S&M in the book, we could be accused of false advertising.

To. A. Haley. Re. Autobiography of Malcolm X. We think the book will sell better with a hot blonde chick in the lead.

To. J. Joyce. Re. New novel. I think it would sell better with the title: "Portrait of a Sex Machine."

To. L. Wallace. Re. Ben-Hur. Love the story, but it's got a bit of a preachy streak. Needs a comical sidekick.

To. U. Sinclair. Re. The Jungle. The tone of the book is endangering our cross promo deal with Hormel. Lighten it up.

To. T. Wilder. Re. Our Town. This play would be sexier if your town was set in my 90210 zip code. Think about it.

To. PS Buck. Re. The Good Earth. Are you married to the idea of setting it in China? The Jersey shore is hot this year.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #708: Please Elect Me Supreme Ruler

Okay people I think it's time for a change.

I think it's time for you to elect me the Supreme Ruler of the Planet. See, I already have my appropriately regal outfit picked out.

Because it's as your Supreme Ruler I will be a brutal but completely unfair tyrant who will finally bring a little common sense to the planet through savage oppression and creatively bat-shit punishments.

I will hereby ban and render punishable by catapult:

1. Any more movies about action bad-asses going to war against their own evil CIA masters for some inanely contrived reasons. It may have been clever at some point, but for the love of Cthulu, look at this ever growing list:

Hanna
Salt
The A-Team
Green Zone
The Losers
The Bourne Identity
The Bourne Supremacy
The Bourne Ultimatum
Shooter
Mission: Impossible 1
The Long Kiss Goodnight
and many many more....

And that's not even a complete list. Face it, when it comes to spy movies, it looks like the Bond franchise is the only one allowed to use villains who don't work for the CIA. Get another goddamn plot, find another goddamn villain, or I'll catapult you into the Hollywood sign.

2. Stupid studio notes. The history of Hollywood is riddled with inane "notes" those inane neurological farts executives like to toss at projects claiming to improve them, but really only to justify their own existence. Under my tyranny, if you're an executive and your note doesn't include anything constructive, or helpful, it's onto the catapult, and straight into the LaBrea tar pits.

3. Bad remakes. I'm talking about the sort of logic that makes Universal drop $150+ million on redoing Land of the Lost, simply because it was an old piece of shit with a familiar name. Now if someone has a very specific vision that could breath new life to an old story, then consider it. But if it's all about name recognition and digital effects, it's a one way trip on the catapult into the empty shell of a closed Blockbuster outlet.

4. Celebrities being made into cartoon characters. Sorry Stan Lee and Arnold Schwarzenegger, your grand plan to have Arnold as The Governator wearing Booster Gold's second hand cast-offs fighting second hand Go-Bots to save the environment from somebody... or something... either way, it's straight to the catapult with you for a one way trip into that billboard in Hollywood advertising that wannabe actress who looks like an octogenarian drag queen pretending to be a half-melted Barbie doll.

5. Shitty reality shows. If all you have for a concept is putting a bunch of raging narcissistic assholes together to act like a bunch of raging narcissistic assholes, then get on the catapult and prepare to be launched off the Jersey Shore and straight into the Atlantic.

6. Shady studio accounting. From now on bills will be paid, in full, and on time. Contracts will be simplified, as well as any and all other obnoxious and destructive business practices. Anyone violating this edict will be immediately catapulted off the highest point in Beverly Hills, and into Rodeo Drive.

If you have any other suggestions for my coming tyrannical rule of the planet, feel free to leave them in the comments.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #707: Things I Shouldn't Have To Explain!

You know, the world is full of things, events, happenstances, if you will, that have roots that should be pretty damn obvious to all and sundry involved. Yet here I am compelled, nay, forced, to explain those roots because some folks just don't get it.

DOWN DOWN ALL THE WAY DOWN WITH HELL-HOUNDS ON YOUR TRAIL

Total box office revenues are down 20.3 % from last year, and overall movie attendance is down 21.5%. Even big family films, usually guaranteed money machines aren't raking in what comparable films did in times past.

Now right this minute studio executives are sitting in their offices scratching the heads and furrowing their brows in a feeble attempt to understand why this is happening. They gave the audience lots of remakes, lots of 3D movies, and lots of overwrought, overpriced, over the top extravaganzas, so why aren't people going to movies?*

None of them seem to realize a very simple truth.

Too many of their movies suck.

The major studios are paying too much attention and money on superficial nonsense and forgetting why people go to the movies in the first place.

They don't go to see product placements.

They don't go to see special effects.

They don't go to wear bacteria addled 3D glass that give them a headache.

They don't even go to see stars anymore.

What audiences want are stories. Fun stories, scary stories, silly stories, sad stories, happy stories, and exciting stories.

This is exactly what happened to the major studios in the 1960s. With the coming of television the studios went into a long period of decline desperately hoping to find a magic bullet in technicolor, widescreen, overwrought epics, and the exploitation of fads long after they were done and dusted. It wasn't until the baby-boom generation of the 1970s that stories people wanted to see came back to the forefront. This sparked a second golden age of cinema, both critically and commercially that well into the time when those baby boomer filmmakers started repeating the mistakes of their elders that eventually led us to the period, and trouble that we're in now.

I really shouldn't have to explain this.

*I'd add that they'd be worried about their jobs, but in this age of the platinum handshake that's really not much of a worry for them.

30 ROCK BOTTOM?

Tina Fey made an interesting comment
where she blamed the consistently dismal ratings of her NBC sitcom 30 Rock on the polarizing effect of her impersonation of former Republican VP nominee Sarah Palin. You see, despite the critical praise, the awards, and honors, the show's highest ranking in the ratings was #69 (Season 3), with a second highest ranking #86 (Season 4) and an all time low of #102 (Season 1).

While I'm sure that a small group of people may have tuned out because Fey's Palin impression, it's not the real reason why the show has struggled to connect with the audience. Come on Ed Asner is politically nuttier than a squirrel turd, but that didn't keep people from paying money to hear him grumble in Disney/Pixar's
Up.

The real reason why
30 Rock has failed to connect with the audience is that 30 Rock wasn't made for the audience.

30 Rock is made by Hollywood, for Hollywood.

I know the show is set and filmed in New York, but I'm referring to Hollywood more as an entertainment based community rather than a single location.

Now that we got that piddly nit-picking out of the way I can finish explaining.

30 Rock is all one big in-joke for the in-crowd, and those who want to be among the in-crowd. I tried to watch it when it first came on, but found it kind of smug in a "look at me and how clever I am" kind of way. And I'm pretty sure that's what a lot of other people who don't watch the show, and apparently they are legion, thought too.

Need proof? Look at its lists of guest stars. Hardly an episode goes by, at least since Season 4, without some cameo or guest spot by a movie star or celebrity eager to prove their wit and ability to "laugh at themselves" in a peer approved venue where there's no risk of them looking bad. I mean when I heard that Tom Hanks was going to appear in the upcoming Season 6, my first thought was: "You mean he hasn't done it already."

This insider nature is one of the key reasons the show has stayed on the air despite its poor ratings. It's a great entree into the Hollywood smart set to be the guy who green-lit another season of the show, and allows its fans to sit around and tut-tut about how simple minded the great unwashed masses are for not worshiping the show in the way they do.

It's really not that hard to figure out.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #706: Closing The Window?

If there's one thing the brain-trust that runs Hollywood is good at, it's diplomacy.

No wait, April Fools is over, sorry about that, in
fact, they are really, really lousy at diplomacy.

Recently a coven of studios announced a deal with DirecTV that creates a new premium Video On Demand window. For $30 DirecTV customers get a 48 hour viewing window to watch movies just 60 days after their initial release in theaters. Naturally the theater chains are having a royal shit fit over this deal threatening to boycott any and all films released on this plan, and former Fox honcho Bill Mechanic dropped in his 2¢ in a video interview for Bloomberg.

Mechanic thinks this deal is beyond fixing, his main points revolve around the fact that the movies need theaters, because they are the opening salvo in what is actually a long and multi-stage campaign. The biggest single source of revenue comes from ticket sales in theaters. If the film doesn't make a profit right away in theaters, they then have such things as video on demand, DVD sales/rentals, and television replay rights to help bring in money over the long run that might lead to eventual profitability.

Whittle down the theatrical release window down to next to nothing hurts the other revenue windows, because you run the risk of losing the vital word of mouth that movies need to be considered worthy of rental, purchase, or viewing on some commercial TV outlet. Then there are the smaller films, the ones that are not mega-budget tent-pole movies who show surprising legs in theaters thanks to good, yet modest audience response. The audiences who might pay to see them in the theater, might skip that entirely and wait the 60 days for this new VOD window.

I also see something else, an expression of extreme arrogance. Theater chains AMC/Regal are opening their own distributor and Netflix is going into making their own content, because, as I've written before, the studios are not doing their job producing the quantity and especially the quality of product they used to.

This after the studios pushed theater owners to spend billions on more screens, digital projection, 3D technology, and upgraded picture/sound systems.

Then they go ahead and pull this whole premium VOD stunt, and effectively threaten to pull the last rug out from under the theater owners, without a scintilla of consultation.

The theater owners are naturally pissed, and all the studios are saying is that they have to do this because of the skyrocketing costs of making and marketing movies.

Yet, as Mechanic says in the interview, and I've said since I've started this blog, those are Hollywood's very own self-inflicted injuries. They own the major networks that carry the advertising, and charge ever increasing amounts, for ever decreasing returns. They spend too much to make too little on sub-standard stories, and remakes in the vain hope that this time it will work for some reason, and then they go ahead and enrage their only real ally in this racket, the theater owners.

Arrogance and stupidity are a bad mix, and I don't see this possibly ending well for anyone.