Friday, 29 July 2011

ASK ME A QUESTION!

I'm really busy today to write a blog, but I am opening the door to more questions.

If you have a question about pop culture, like movies, TV, comics, whatever, ask it, I will answer it, or at least fake my way through it in a pompous and obnoxious way.

Ask in the comments or via twitter using the hashtag #AskFD

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #773: QUESTIONS & ANSWERS!

I got two questions from a reader, and I'm going to bluster and fake my way through them...
ILDC asked... Where do you get your info/research? Are you experienced or just have common sense?
When it comes to experience and common sense, I like to think that I have a little of both. As for experience I'm a film school graduate and spent some time scurrying along the outer fringes of Canadian film-making. I did score a TV appearance as a holocaust survivor in a documentary's reenactment scene, which is ironic since I'm the last person you'd ever imagine being cast in that part*, but it worked because all they used was my shadow. Other than that I spent most of my time being told that the only way to beyond fetching coffee in the Canadian TV and Film industry was to already be in a senior position in the Canadian TV and Film industry. And they wonder why our business is mostly stagnant.

And that's why I vent my bitterness and bile on this blog.

As for the common sense I suspect that I was born with it, and it's sort of this blog's mission, beyond my own bitterness and bile, is to get other people to use their common sense when thinking about the business.

As for the research.... some of it I was taught in film school, I was the only one who paid attention in the Business of Film class, and a lot of it I learned on my own through reading books about the business, and business news websites like Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood are great sources not only for research, but also up to date news.
ILDC asked... Do you think My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic can be the next SpongeBob and make a huge profit off of both kid and adult fans? I'm only asking you this because you posted a brony mashup video.
I really can't judge, because all I know about the show are the mash up videos like this extremely offensive and NSFW video (h/t Topless Robot)...



If it can go beyond mash-up material to Spongebob levels of mainstream success I can't really say.




*that's code for "Fat Bastard."

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #772: Pitfalls of Independence

Yesterday I came across this article about producer Brett Saxon. Before this article Saxon was best known for working in infomercials, books about schmoozing celebrities, and producing the indie poker comedy The Grand, nowadays, his biggest claim to fame is as a target for lawsuits.

He's the target of lawsuits from investors claiming that he's misappropriated about $7.8 million in investment capital, fees, and loans, and an arbitrator has already ordered him to pay back one investor $2.25 million. Saxon's defense is that he's just been unlucky, especially at the box office since his biggest film
The Grand only scored a little less than $115,000 at the box office.

Now I'm not going to pass judgement on whether Brett Saxon is guilty of all the malfeasance that he's being accused of, because it doesn't really matter. Business wise he is screwed six ways from Sunday, and could easily be litigated into the Stone Age.

So why am I talking about this guy?

Because it's a fate shared by too many indie film producers and companies, from the over litigated David Bergstein to the outright criminal shenanigans of the Q Media Assets/Cinamour scandal.

Which is a terrible shame, because right now is the perfect time to get a independent film company off the ground. The major studios continue to shrink their output of theatrical releases, huge gaps are forming in the marketplace, and while the risks are high, the potential for rewards are great. That's why there are film finance funds popping up, new distributors being formed, and even the Megan and David Ellison, the spawn of billionaire Larry Ellison are getting in on the act, working together on the hit western
True Grit.

So how can these new companies avoid trouble, and the billionaire Ellisons avoid ending up millionaires, if they're lucky?

Well, they can start by listening to me, and my smug know-it-all butt-insky advice.

1. INFORMATION IS POWER: This is true, know thy enemy and know thyself as Sun Tzu once said to me at Machiavelli's barbecue. Before you invest a dime you learn everything you must learn three important things:

A) YOURSELF: Look inward, think if you are really ready for the meat grinder of the movie business. Ask yourself: What kind of movies do you want to produce? Are you in it for the money, the love of film, or a combination thereof?

B) THE BUSINESS: Learn everything you can about every facet of the business. Learn how movies are made, released, and marketed. Learn how the game is played, and how you can use those rules for your own benefit.

C) THE PEOPLE: You're going to get involved with a lot of different kinds of people in the movie business. Some are great, some are not. Look into who you're doing business with before you get in bed with them. Find out if they're fit for the red carpet premiere walk, or the perp walk. Do some digging, or better yet, have professionals do the digging for you, if you can afford it. Don't fall for a charming smile and a smooth pitch. Get the facts on your side.

2. SIMPLICITY: This is the best advice whether you're financing your own films, or dealing with investors, and here's why: PROTECTION.

If things are simple you are protected. If you have all the information about your business at your fingertips, and more importantly, understand that information, you can avoid trouble. The complicated bookkeeping games played by the majors only really work if you have a multi-billion dollar multinational conglomerate covering your ass. When you're an independent complications cause trouble. People can manipulate those complications to use against you, either to steal from you, or to show that you're playing crooked games with your books.

You see, indie film is extremely high risk at the best of times. That's why need to be as clean as the driven snow, and be able to show, upon demand, that your financial house doesn't have any dark corners where nasty things can hide. Because if you don't, investors and investigators can see that as a sign of trouble, and it can end in either litigation or prosecution.

You don't want that. You want to make movies in peace. That's the most important part.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #771: Acting Like A Douchebag

Today two stories of some pretty douchebag behavior....

MARVEL ACTS LESS THAN MARVELOUS

Right now the two major comics companies Marvel and DC are doing their big summer "events." Marvel is doing Fear Itself, and DC is doing Flashpoint in preparation for their big reboot.

Word is that
Fear Itself is outselling Flashpoint, which is understandable, since probably a lot of even the most ardent DC rats are just going to wait it out until the reboot happens in September. However, that's not enough for Marvel.

A report is out saying that Marvel is making a somewhat douchebag style offer to comic retailers. For ever 50 ripped
Flashpoint covers sent into Marvel, those retailers will get a free variant cover issue of Fear Itself that they can sell for a higher price.

That don't seem right to me.

I'm all for competition, but real competition does not involve bribing retailers to destroy your competition's products. It's like GM telling car dealers that they'll get a free luxury car to sell for top dollar if they destroy a bunch of Ford sedans.

Douchebags.

But wait, there's more...

WAY TO BE AN ENTERTAINER

Dave Chappelle, famous for his Rick James
impression, and for walking away from a $50 million TV deal, added another item to his curriculum vitae: douchebag.

Apparently he went on stage in Florida, hemmed, hawed, sighed, and checked his text messages, instead of delivering the laughs the audience paid good money to see. And this disaster went on for 46 minutes.

And it that's not enough, it was at a CHARITY EVENT.

Now that's a woefully unprofessional behavior, when you're an entertainer, you are supposed to entertain. That's your job. That is what you are supposed to do.

To go out on stage and act like an ass because you're allegedly too important to do the job you profess to love says that your ego is writing checks your talent can't cash. Doing it at a charity event is just the gravy on a shit sandwich.

It's also a bad career move.

Let's have a little thought experiment...

Imagine that you're a big name in stand up comedy like Chappelle. You can pack big theaters and command big fees all over. So you think: What's the harm if I blow off a gig or two, I'm a big player, they have to eat my shit and call it ice cream.

That would make you wrong.

You see the market has its own form of karmic alignment. Bad behavior, especially if it impinges on someone's work, has a way of coming out and ruining everything for you.

You act like an ass. Word gets around, suddenly the big theaters aren't willing to pay you the big fees you used to command. Why? Because they now think that you are a risk. They think that you are going to piss off the audience and make them demand their money back, which the theaters cannot afford to do.

They have bills to pay, mouths to feed, and loan sharks to keep off their backs. They don't need another headache, and don't need to look at your face and see a problem instead of an opportunity. Then your bookings begin to dwindle, right next to your bank account, and the next thing you know you're living in a scuzzy studio apartment above a bankrupt meth lab and muttering to yourself that you're still king of the world.

It's simple logic.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #770: Dimension Warms Up The Scanners

Word is buzzing around the telepathic ether that Dimension Films the genre arm of the Weinstein Company is developing a TV series based on the movie Scanners.

For those who don't know their sci-fi cinema, or read my Discount Bin Movie Club posts, Scanners was a 1980 Canadian movie written and directed by a then up and coming David Cronenberg. The plot concerned a group of people affected by a drug called Ephemerol that their mothers took while pregnant. The in utero exposure to the drug gave these telepathic and telekinetic powers, meaning that they could read minds, called "scanning" in the film, as well as do things like this: (not for the squeamish)



The downside is that the constant mental chatter of everyone around them makes them social misfits and often misdiagnosed as schizophrenic unless they get regular doses of Ephemerol to control their powers. Then there's ConSec, a global security firm that doesn't know if they should use the Scanners or kill them, and a competition between scientist Dr. Paul Ruth and rogue Scanner Darryl Revok over who can play god the biggest.

There were sequels made in Canada in the 1990s, but their connection to original film and filmmakers was tangential at best, and they were generally forgotten about a day before they were released in theaters. Dimension Films eventually got their hands on the rights to Scanners, originally planning to do a remake, but that project died in development. Now they're talking a TV Series.

So let's look at the pros and cons of this idea.

PROS:

NARRATIVE LEGS: Unlike a lot of movies, Scanners ended with a lot of questions unanswered. (SPOILER ALERT) Cameron Vale, the film's "good guy," lost his body in the final battle, but took over the body of his rival Darryl Revok. ConSec was badly battered, but not destroyed, and Revok's meddling with Ephemerol has possibly created hundreds if not thousands of new Scanners all over the world.

That has possibilities, especially if they pick up the story after where they left off. That new Scanner generation will be turning 30: How did they turn out? What are they up to? What happened to ConSec in the aftermath? What eventually became of the Vale/Revok hybrid thingy created at the end of the movie? These are all open doors that lead to a variety of narrative directions. So yes, it can be done and go in interesting directions.

CONS:

WHO WILL AIR IT?: Despite their constants attempts major networks don't do "imagination" genres very well. Science Fiction and Fantasy rely on a singular, clear vision of a project from beginning to end with set parameters defining the nature of the fantastical elements. Major networks are all about meddling, muddling, and trying to create something called the "least objectionable programming."

They also have a habit of giving a show like this the greenlight, only to completely screw the hell out of it if it's not a blockbuster straight out of the gate, ensuring that most get canceled within a season or two.

If the show is to succeed it would probably do better on a cable channel with a track record of genre programming.

WHAT ABOUT THE WEINSTEINS?: Don't forget Dimension Films is a division of the Weinstein Company. TWC has a bad habit of making questionable creative decisions, unnecessary enemies, and alienating business partners. That's bad enough in the movies, but a guarantee of certain death in television.

While I think the show does have possibilities, I'm just too convinced that the Weinsteins will find some way to screw it all up, and kill it in the development process.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #769: Another Name For My List

If you're a long time reader of my blog you probably know that I have a pet peeve for a certain type of film. Chiefly 90% of non-James Bond spy thrillers that come out of Hollywood.

Why?

Because, as I wrote here before, they all have the same goddamn plot. If you're too lazy to click the link here's a summary: Some secret agent/special forces soldier/assassin/other kind of elite butt kicker, or combination thereof if it's about a group, is betrayed and marked for death by his former secret squirrel spy-masters (usually some variation of the CIA) for reasons that make sense only to said masters, and forced to run around kicking ass until they're completely ass kicked out.

It's been done to death in movies like...

Hanna
Salt
Red
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 that's just a partial list compiled from my fragmented and possibly demented memory.

Now we can add Steven Soderbergh's next movie the thriller Haywire.



I find it hard to believe the reports that say that Soderbergh's not going to retire, because this film looks like he's already retiring from original storytelling.

Anyway the reasons I get so pissed about it is that it's a rare combination of being:

1. Politically correct by refusing to have a "foreign" or "ethnic" villain for fear of offending anyone in a potentially profitable international markets.

2. Sort of racist because in these movies no "foreign" or "ethnic" villain can possibly be a match for a usually white American hero, and any that do appear, are merely the ignorant puppets of some sinister middle aged white guy in a suit.

And let's remember that it's--

3. Really, really, really lazy writing because it's been done to death already and requires no effort or imagination to create. Just drop a little nonsensical dialogue onto the same plot as the last movie, and leave everything else to the stunt coordinators and their crews.

The only spy thrillers that don't involve the hero having to fight their own government usually involve British spies like James Bond or George Smiley. I know Hollywood thinks it's a fresh twist on the genre, and maybe it was... in post Watergate 1973, but that was a very long time ago. It's time to try something fresh, like having spies fight spies from other countries. That's such an original idea Hollywood will never touch it.

I wish they would, because I'm sick and tired of rewriting this damn post every goddamn time.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #768: You Asked For It!

Got a question from my last post that I should answer, mostly because it feeds my need to pontificate with a level of pomposity unseen before in the memory of mortal man.
Hominey Grits asked... Do superhero movies pass in and out of vogue in a cyclical fashion?
That's a good question, and that question deserves a straightforward and complete answer.

I don't know.

Nobody knows.

If anyone tells you that they know, rest assured in the fact that they are a damned dirty liar.

You see, this is not like horror films, or thrillers, science fiction, or slapstick comedies that can come in and out of fashion on the big screen, and have many times over. The current superhero situation is fairly unprecedented.

Before breakthrough success of the X-Men film in 2000 the number of big budget comic book superhero movies were comparatively small, and consisted almost entirely of the Superman and Batman movie franchises. Beyond those two the bulk of superhero projects were either low grade "B Movies," serials, or small scale TV shows, the bulk of them animated and/or aimed at kids.

Before 2000, superhero films were considered a gamble at best because they required a lot of special effects, that meant lots of money, and, judging by the original 80s Superman/Batman franchises, doomed to degrade in both quality and performance. X-Men was a game changer, developments in digital FX meant that super-heroics were no longer the budget buster or technical impossibility they once were, and that if the film was well done, and possessed appeal beyond the source material's core audience, it could make some decent bank even if the original comic wasn't as integral to the zeitgeist as Superman and Batman.

The rest as they say is history. Seeing big money the studios started pumping out more movies, and in their desire to top each other they started spending more and more money. Soon the superhero films became the predominant 'blockbuster' genre, but then faced the danger of becoming repetitive, even boring due to FX fatigue. Toss enough of the impossible at people, and pretty soon even the impossible loses its ability to astonish. Profit margins shrink, or disappear completely, and audiences start losing interest.

Now is the potential "death of the superhero" just a cyclical phenomena?

Remember the western?

There was a time when the western genre dominated popular culture. People couldn't get enough tales of cowboys, Indians, and outlaws riding the range. Then, sometime in the early-mid 1970s the western more or less died with its boots on. Westerns still get made, occasionally, but usually only as curiosities, cross genre mash-ups, or cinematic homages to an era gone by.

Will that happen to the superhero?

I really can't say.

The genre has unexploited potential, it harkens back to our most ancient hunger for tales of fantastical adventure, and when I was a kid it was the gateway drug to reading. But if the superhero comics continue to wither, and the films suffer from the abuse the studios are putting them through it could easily end up riding into the sunset next to cowboy.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #768: Death Of The Superhero?

Looks like some clever little brain-boxes are telling the Hollywood studios that they should prepare for the "death of the superhero."

Basically what these chaps are saying is that the major studios must get ready, because the superhero franchises they depend on for so much are going to die out on them and leave them with nothing.

Well, I'm not going to deny it. The superhero movie could die out very
easily, so let's take a look at the cause of death.

1. OVERUSED: Once you go beyond the big names of Superman, Batman and Spider-Man, you're dealing with characters that are only on the fringes of the mainstream cultural zeitgeist. Sure some films outside that inky trinity have caught on big like the X-Men and Iron Man, but they succeeded on merits that went beyond their comic book origins. The first 2 X-Men played more like well done science fiction movies, and the first Iron Man fed on the audience's desire to use advanced technology to punch terrorists and the people that enable them into putty.

However, flood the market with characters from the aforementioned fringes who don't fulfill those "beyond comics" needs, plunge into the comic's more obscure mythology, or just repeat was done in a movie made less than a decade ago, and mainstream audiences start to feel like they're being left out.

2. OVERPRICED: Here's a question the studios should have asked themselves: Does every comic book character belong on the big screen?

Some might have played out better on television. Some might have done well as just a comic book. The belief that every superhero needed a movie with the budget the size of the national debt of Portugal was probably extremely misguided. Green Lantern, with its long complicated and often cosmic story-lines might have worked better as a sci-fi TV series like Star Trek instead of a movie with a budget sometimes estimated at $200+ million. The film failed to break even by any stretch of the imagination, but they're still going ahead with a sequel, because they don't know what else they can possibly do.

3. UNDERWHELMED: Another problem with this dependence on big budget movies is that the source material is suffering. You'd think that big movies should have won over new readers, but it didn't. Mostly for reasons I've discussed repeatedly in this blog. The major companies that own the two biggest comic publishers Timer Warner and Disney have done some less-than-half-assed attempts to woo new readers. All these companies wanted were more big budget movies, and more merchandise for the pre-existing fanboys to gush over, and who gives a crap if anyone reads comics anymore.

There was a time when comics sold in the tens of millions of copies every week. Nowadays if an issue sells a few thousand they think it's the bloody second coming of the Golden Age.

That's not a way to run a railroad.

So the superhero could very well die, and soon, on the big screen and possibly on the page, and unless something drastic is figured out, there won't be any comeback.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Comic Book Confidential: It's A Bird... It's A Plane... It's...

A guy in jeans, a t-shirt, and some sort of silly looking half cape thingy.

Oooookay.

Apparently this is the look Superman will be sporting in Action Comics, which will be telling the tales of his first five years as a superhero. Apparently this period will be defined by his desire to look like a reject from the Village People. A more armor like version of his classic super-suit, sans exterior scarlet undies, will be in all the other Superman related titles.

But that's not what I'm here to rant at you about.

What I'd really like to talk about is some of the changes being made to the Superman story during the DC Reboot.

So let's take a quick look at some of them.

1. Superman and Lois Lane are no longer man and wife. That I can understand. Do a reboot, have them meet for the first time, and slowly fall in love, etc... etc... Not sure how they're going to incorporate all the back-story that they're not getting rid of into all this, but that's a problem for DC and the audience to furrow their brows about in a feeble attempt to understand.

2. Ma and Pa Kent will be dead. I can understand this as well. Being a double orphan was a key part of Superman's original origin story back in ye olde Golden Age, so it makes sense to me.

3. Superman is "going to me more Kal El than Clark Kent," and feel like an outsider from normal Earthling humanity, something that will cause him to feel the dreaded ANGST.

This I'm not so keen on because it probably misses the point of the entire character.

What was the point of the character of Superman?

Essentially he is a big blue-costume-wearing-
crime-fighting metaphor for the Jewish experience in America.

He wasn't intended to be a metaphor which is why he is so good at it. Unintended metaphors are the best ones.

Think about it, Superman was driven from his home by disaster (the destruction of Krypton/pre-Holocaust Diaspora), he's taken in by America (personified by the Kansas farmers Ma & Pa Kent), and thanks to his new home realizes his true potential (The sun giving him his powers / American society giving the Jewish people a pogrom free home) and becomes a great asset to his new home (patriotic superhero / Jewish American scientists, artists, jurists, etc.).

Because of this Superman's supposed to embody optimism, be a symbol that there isn't a problem that can't be solved. That's why he clicked with audiences during the Great Depression, that's why he remained popular during WW2 as a symbol of democracy's battle with fascism.

Despite his origins as an alien, Superman was not created as a misunderstood angst-addled outsider like the members of the X-Men, nor an angry emotionally scarred vigilante like Batman. He's a supremely gifted immigrant, who was assimilated into the great melting pot, and is now using his gifts to give back, big time, which makes him a beloved figure.

So the first question is, does this desire to inject "outsider angst" into Superman spring from the intentional pursuit of a once original idea turned lazy cliche, or does it unintentionally reflect some sort of spiritual and/or philosophical ennui on the part of the creative team now behind the long running character?

The second question then is, if this is an unintentional reflection of the creative team's ennui, is it right for them to re-imagine Superman this way when the greater audience might want or need him in his more traditional role as an optimistic ideal?

Only time will provide the answer.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #767: Superheroically Stupid Idea

The Cartoon Network is going to produce a live action movie version of the 90s eco-kitsch cartoon Captain Planet & The Planeteers.

Why?

One theory is that
Li'l Abner was already spoken for.

The other, more rational theory, is that it's all a combination of rich man's guilt and what I call the "Revenant of Relevance."

If you're not familiar with the background the Captain Planet cartoon was created by billionaire broadcaster Ted Turner and some poor bastard writer who probably had to do most of the work putting it all together. The premise was simple, Gaia, Goddess of the Earth, decided that polluters had been having their way with her a little too often, so she decided to put the fate of the world in the hands of some teenagers. These plucky young neo-pagans were given magic rings representing Earth, Wind, Fire, Water, & Heart, and the mission to use those rings to fight evil mutated polluters who were compelled to despoil the Earth for reasons that only made sense to them and the creators of the show.

Naturally, the kids would screw up and get in over their head. But not to worry, they could then combine their powers to summon Captain Planet. The good Captain sported a superhuman green mullet and would save the day from the polluters, unless one of the villains possessed his one weakness, which was ... pollution.

Sort of like sending Superman into a Kryptonite mine every day, but logic was never the show's strong suit.

What was the show's strong suit was making celebrities feel better about themselves and their lavish lifestyles. You see by spreading "awareness" of the environment, celebrities felt that they had done their penance and were free to parade themselves and their entourages around in flotillas of gas guzzling SUVs from their private jets to their multiple mansions with more square footage than sense, all with power chugging air conditioning running 24/7 whether they need it or not. In my experience, the louder the celeb is about the environment, the more hypocritical they tend to be. I think Ed Begley Jr. is the only the one I know of who actually walks the walk, but I digress.

Need proof? Just check out the cast lists, which included Whoopi Goldblum, Jeff Goldblum, Meg Ryan and lots of other actors who had actual viable movie careers in the 1990s. Of course once all the initial hype died down, most of the celebrities left the show, and it was renamed and recast with cheaper, no-name actors.

While I was a little old for the show, most who were kids at the time thought of the show as a preachy self-righteous joke, and I suspect that the only reason it ran so long on the Turner Broadcasting System was because Ted Turner, the channel's then owner, was credited as co-creator.

So why revive it?

Partially because of the aforementioned penance, but then there's the pretense of relevance.

Citizens of the Axis of Ego think that because they pretend to obsess about the environment from the comfort of their Malibu beach houses, and everyone around them does nothing but agree with them, then everyone must obsess about the environment as much as they pretend to, and would love to spend their money to be lectured about it by a guy with a green mullet. Then they think of the Captain Planet toys and related merchandise they can sell to kids eager to show off their green bona fides. Sure, they'll be manufactured in coal-powered factories in China using toxic chemicals, but, as with everything when comes to Hollywood & the environment, it's the thought that counts.

I suspect that the whole thing will fizzle out in development. If Green Lantern, the world's 25th most popular superhero can't sell a movie, I don't think Captain Planet will.

Hollywood Babble On & On #766: Who, What, When, Where & Why?

Just when I think I'm out, Hollywood drags me back in!

I'm talking about that egregious egoist and poster boy for mind bending chemical Charlie Sheen has made an official announcement that he and Lionsgate/Debmar-Mercury will be putting together a new sitcom based on the movie
Anger Management.

Which begs these questions:

WHO WILL RUN THE SHOW? Sheen has managed to establish that he doesn't really play well with others, even those who take them from career oblivion to the highest paid actor on TV. If a sitcom is going to work it's going to need a top of the line show-runner to act as head writer, handle hiring, firing, and creative decisions.

Right now the majority of experienced show-runners who could make the show a going concern wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole that was wrapped in latex and soaked in Purel. And let's not forget that Sheen will have a "substantial ownership stake" in the show, which means that any show-runner will be subservient to a star with a history of erratic behavior and questionable decision making.

This leaves the producers a choice between the desperate or the hopeless. That's not good if you're going to make a successful sitcom.

WHAT ARE THE COSTS FOR THE SHOW? What's is Sheen being paid? Probably a shit-load on top of his ownership stake. What will the insurance cost? Probably an amount similar to the national debt of Greece. What will you pay the rest of the cast? Probably a lot to get them to work with Sheen. Will the costs be worth it? Probably not.

WHEN WILL PRODUCTION START & WILL SHEEN OR THE SHOW SURVIVE IT? The word is that they're going to follow the Debmar-Mercury model used on their Tyler Perry sitcoms. That means shoot a first season along a normal schedule, then, if the ratings look good enough, grind out 100 episodes as fast as they can. Can Sheen survive that sort of schedule? Will the show's format of a therapist using elaborately contrived scenarios to help his patients survive the sort of schedule that requires having 90% of the action take place in 2-3 rooms.

WHERE WILL IT AIR? Right now there is no commitment from a specific broadcaster, though many are saying that TBS is the most likely candidate since they've done business with Debmar-Mercury on the Tyler Perry shows. Are they willing to take a bet on Sheen, especially with the costs that will be associated with the show?

WHY? Seriously why. Yes, I know he's famous, yes I know he just left a #1 sitcom, but let's look at the simple facts.

1. He's hard to work with.

2. He's expensive to work with.

3. The audience is pretty damn sick of him, his antics, and his withered emaciated face that looks like a meth addict after 6 rounds with Mike Tyson in his prime. Sure, he sold tickets to his live shows, but those people were there to see if he would die on stage, and I'm talking literal, not show-biz figurative dying.

I guess another question will be "Why am I even bothering with this issue?" Something will pop up to screw this all up, either that or Sheen himself will blow it.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #765: Alternate Realities

I'm fond of griping about "reality TV" and calling it the bane of civilization because I'm a writer by inclination and will always preach from the gospel of scripted television, which is currently going through a golden age by any definition.

However, I will confess that I do watch some "reality" shows. Now before you light the torches and break out the tar and the feathers, allow me to explain myself. You see, there are three kinds of what I call "alternate realities" in the reality TV racket.

In my opinion there's the "good" reality, and then there's the "evil" reality, then there are the shows that look like the "good" reality, but if you look closely you can see that it's sporting a sinister goatee, I call them the "Evil Twin" reality shows.

GOOD REALITY: Another name I have for this is "Slice Of Life" Reality TV. This is where they show has its cameras aimed at a segment of society, or way of life that you, the average North American viewer doesn't see a lot of. The most popular of these shows center on people earning a living, whether it's running a pawn shop, hunting gators, restoring cars, guns, or antiques, or crisscrossing the nation in the search of collectibles and a nice profit..

EVIL REALITY: I call these "schadenfreude" shows. The main thrust of their appeal is that they make the viewers feel better about themselves by watching narcissistic assholes stab each other in the back, and generally act like narcissistic assholes.

EVIL TWIN REALITY: These are reality shows that pretend to be a slice of life type show, but are in fact, pure schadenfreude. They claim to show you the real lives of people that are "interesting," "glamorous," or "exciting," but usually crumble into grand displays of assholery as the subject's lives self destruct.

Now a lot of Evil Twin shows are deliberately created to be evil twin shows, mostly through casting vain, shallow, narcissistic, borderline personalities, who are willing to do or say anything for fame.

Others start out innocently enough, hoping to capture something normally unseen on video. But then they start to devolve, partially through previously undetected character flaws, and partially because there's a goddamn camera in the room.

You see, one of the fundamental truths of capturing reality on film is that the camera is more than just a recorder, it's an amplifier. People who know they are on camera amp up their emotions, especially in moments of conflict. This is mostly because something inside them feels that they have to be proven right, not only to the person they're in conflict with, but to the whole world in general.

Suddenly things that in ordinary life pass like trivial water under the bridge of life, become massive traumatic events that call for some sort of melodramatic response.

And that's all you need to know about Reality TV.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Comic Book Confidential: When Originality Becomes A Cliche?

In my last post about comics I offered some suggestions for how DC can do their much hyped reboot for real, and hopefully get some new readers putting their peepers on their books. One of my regular readers/commentators, a chap named Blast Hardcheese, dropped a dime on an independent comic book series Atomic Robo, and more importantly, the pledge they made to their readers.

It goes like this:

- No Angst
- No 'Cheesecake'
- No Reboots
- No Filler
- No Delays

That's a noble mission statement on the part of the creators. Now the part about not having any "filler" and having no delays are declarations about how they run their business, and bully for them for pledging to work extra hard. I like it when people work at their business, but that's not what this post is about.

This post is about the first three pledges. The irony of it is that those three main ideas, angst, cheesecake, and reboots, were once considered original and daring. Now they have become dreaded cliches that often keep new fans from getting into comics. Let's take a stroll down the back-roads of comic history and see how they started, and how they became stinky cliches.

ANGST: The Oxford Dictionary defines "angst" as:
a feeling of deep anxiety or dread, typically an unfocused one about the human condition or the state of the world in general.
In superhero comics this often manifests itself in the forms of doubt or anxiety about their
methods of combating evil, the rightness of their mission, or even a bit of self loathing about their status as a "mutant" or outsider. These days you're hard pressed for an issue to go by without seeing your favorite superhero sitting on a rooftop, soulful expression on their face, wondering, and worrying about what he does, why he does it, and if it's worth doing in the first place.

You can blame it all on one man, Stan Lee, and one character in particular Spider-Man.

Now at the time having a superhero with real world worries was a brand new thing. Bruce Wayne was rich, and didn't need to worry about how he paid the bills, all Clark Kent had to worry about was keeping his glasses on when Lois Lane was around, so this was all new and original.

Lee had slightly dipped his toe into the pool of angst during the creation of The Fantastic Four, and how team member Ben Grimm really wasn't happy with being a great big rock monster called The Thing, but he dove in head first with Peter Parker and Spider-Man.

Spider-Man lived in a perpetual state of anxiety. He was always broke, because the Daily Bugle was always trying to get out paying him for his work and there are no other news outlets in New York City for him to deal with, his Aunt May was always in some sort of trouble, he had girl troubles, and all that was on top of super-villains trying to kill him.

When angst reared its ugly head people suddenly thought: "Hey, that gives my superhero character greater depth and maturity." And it did. For a while.

It reached its peak in the 1980s. Works like Alan Moore's
Watchmen, Frank Miller's Batman: Year One, and other works used angst to great affect. They looked at the greater effects of vigilantism, on both the vigilantes and the society they meant to protect.

That was all well and good, but then it became a form of shorthand to create the illusion of depth. Had a story that was going nowhere? Have your hero bemoan his life because it makes his private life untenable because of poverty or time lost to crime fighting. If the character has a patriotic image, have him discover that love of country is for suckers because of something Nixon did, and lose his faith in his country. Or slap on a revelation that punching super-villains in the face makes him just as bad as the super-villains he's punching in the face.

Where the early works had organic angst that was natural to the story being told, too many times stories were conceived, or more accurately,
contrived, to do nothing but create excuses for the heroes to whine about their lives.

That's not fun, and fun is what comics are supposed to be. What used to be daring and original, quickly became a lazy ass cliche.

CHEESECAKE: I like the ladies, and have been known to bellow "Hooray for boobies!" when the situation demanded it, but even I think cheesecake in comics has gone a tad too far.

Just look at the picture next to this section of the cover from the
X-Men spin-off Emma Frost. That's one of the character's more modest outfits. Now what would any parent's reaction be if their 8 year old brought that home? They'd assume the little bastard's bought a porno and trash it before anyone bothered to look inside.

Now back in the early days of comics sex was verboten. Outside of the occasional Freudian slip, sometimes involving Wonder Woman's magic lasso, they avoided references to sex of any variety. It went beyond the simple puritanism of the time that was enforced by the comics code authority. The simple fact is that kids don't want to read about sex when they pick up a superhero comic. In their half formed little minds it's confusing, complicated, involves parts of the body they use in the bathroom, and may lead to cooties.

In the 1960s underground comics began to rebel from the strictures of the comics code authority. They produced comics with all sorts of sexual material, but it generally stayed underground. Meanwhile in the mainstream, the power of the Comics Code Authority began to wane, mostly because of the often inane standards they imposed on comics made them looking increasingly ridiculous. In the 80s the mainstream publishers experimented with more adult content for their older readers, to mixed success. These attempts, like the early dabbling in angst, were organic and were aimed at exploring deeper regions of character and story.

This changed drastically in the 1990s.

During this time the comics market exploded, and the mainstream publishers realized that kids weren't the cause of it. The old maxim of "sex sells" found a new variation in a little something called "fan service." Fan service is when the publishers "serviced" their predominantly adult and male fans by giving them loads of cheesy cheesecake pictures involving their favorite female characters. Soon female forms, already a tad exaggerated from artistic licentiousness license, became near freakish conglomerations of erogenous zones run amok.

Costumes became even skimpier, making Ms. Frost look positively demure, and the excuses for making them so skimpy became even skimpier. One classic example was the lead character in Witchblade whose "battle armor" consisted of some demonic looking pasties and thong from the Cthulu's Secret catalog.

When the comics market crashed, publishers and artists had even more incentive to sex things up in the vain hope that it would help move copies.

It didn't. Potential new readers saw the cheesecake as cheap attempts to titillate the sexually frustrated, or as something they didn't want their parents catching them reading, and a lot of existing fans only went along because it made cosplay at the conventions way more interesting. As for titillation, well, when you have the photos and video of the internet as you digital spank bank, drawings really don't measure up, no matter how well the women drawn measure up.

What was once daring, quickly became boring.

REBOOTS: Judging by the description the Atomic Robo people give in their more detailed mission statement, a more correct term would be "Retcon."

A reboot is when the people making the story go right back to the beginning, and start all over again from scratch, as if nothing from the first go-round of the story's past had happened.

A retcon is a more complicated beast. The term "retcon" is short for "retroactive continuity." That's when you take an existing long form story, like a long running comic series, and then tweak parts of its history to fit your current vision.

The first real example of "retconning" that I know about, I'm no historian, is the legend of Lex Luthor's hair. Originally Superman's arch nemesis had a full head of red hair. Legend says that a problem suddenly arose when a clerical error led to the artist doing the daily Superman newspaper strip to start drawing Lex bald.

Oops.

Not wanting to deal with letters to the editor from confused children the people doing the monthly comic books made up an excuse for Lex to go bald, and he's been sporting a shiny pate ever since.

This was the gateway drug.

When superheroes fell from favor in the immediate post-war period almost all major superheroes had their comics cancelled, except for Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. When the great superhero revival of the Silver Age began DC decided to bring back some of their Golden Age heroes.


Well, bring back their names anyway.

Many new characters were brought back with new identities. The Flash went from wealthy chemist Jay Garrick, to police forensics scientist Barry Allen. The Green Lantern went from Alan Scott, the
owner of a magic lantern and ring that couldn't affect anything made of wood, to Hal Jordan, intergalactic space-cop with a science based ring powered by his will that couldn't affect anything that was yellow. The Justice Society, became the new Justice League.

Rather cheeky references were made to the Golden Age heroes in the new Silver Age
comics. Those references said that they were fictional characters who inspired the more "modern" heroes like the Barry Allen Flash.

Both DC Comics and fans learned to regret that decision.

You see some people were still interested in the Golden Age heroes, and DC wanted to make some money from that interest. But how do they explain not only the references to them being fictional, but the presence of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman in their ranks.

Enter the first universe wide retcon. The Golden Age heroes didn't exist in the past, but an alternate universe where certain heroes started out decades earlier than they did in the modern books.

This was a new and novel idea. It literally
opened up an entirely new world for DC to explore.

But it was also a can of worms. Other dimensions were opened up, stories became more and more confused, and readers were starting to be turned off.

How do you fix a problem caused by a retcon?

Even more retcon. The cowbell of comics.

Crisis On Infinite Earths was supposed to be a reboot. But no one was serious about giving up all that history, and marketable characters, so they started undoing it almost as soon as they started it. Of course the means of enacting these retcons became more and more silly, even by comic book superhero standards. (And DC isn't the only purveyor of this particular peccadillo, anyone remember Peter Parker's marriage to Mary Jane and how it ended?)

Now nobody knows what the hell is going, or what went on, because everything they thought they knew was subject to change. What started as a risky leap of the imagination became a cheap way for creators and companies to put their mark in comics history, by literally rewriting it.

So I tip my hat to the Atomic Robo people. They have a vision, and are willing to commit to it, even at the expense of their own ego.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #764: Stupid & Cold

I'm going to start off by telling you all that I am not a "Gleek."

Never really watched a complete episode of the show. In fact, I haven't watched any series with a high school setting since Buffy The Vampire Slayer. But I will acknowledge that the show is popular, and that it inspires a schizophrenic mix of adoration and repulsion from its fans. It is also a business phenomenon, making oodles of dollars, and showing some hard truths about the business of television.

The latest story involves the show's Svengali, executive producer Ryan Murphy. He recently announced that several major cast members will be "graduating" in Season 3 and will not be returning for Season 4.

That's not surprising, at least to me. One of the problems with shows set in high schools is that cast people age, and if they're already in their 20s when the show begins, they start to look kind of creepy.

The show has two choices to avoid that fate. They could do what was done with
Buffy and 90210, and have the show follow the kids after graduation, or have the kids graduate go away, and move in new kids to take their place.

If they follow the kids, they lose the school, the teachers, and their plot-lines, while trying to contrive excuses for them to keep on singing together. So it's easier to just have new kids come in.

That's the understandable part.

The part that is not understandable is how Ryan Murphy decided to tell his stars about this situation. He told the media that the actors were getting shit-canned before telling the popular Glee actor Cory Monteith.

Dude, that's cold.

Not only cold, but kind of stupid.

As I said before
Glee's fans have a very schizoid relationship with the show. Watching the twitter feeds of Glee viewers during the airing of a new episode is like riding a roller coaster designed and operated by a clique of bi-polar engineers. One second they're raving about a how wonderful their latest cover song performance is, the next second they're raging about an unfinished plot-line, or hackneyed story twist.

It's a thin line between love and hate, and treating popular actors like so much past-due lunch meat, might give viewers the excuse they need to cross that line.

It also breeds resentment among those being canned, as well as suspicion and mistrust among those who come in to replace them. That does not help you create the sort of happy workplace you need to create a consistently successful television show. If everyone is expecting to be back-stabbed the way their predecessors were, they're are going to subconsciously start acting out their own preemptive treachery.

And let's not forget the upcoming Season 3.

Does Murphy honestly think he's going to get those he's just unceremoniously canned to give him their "A Game." No, they're going to be too preoccupied with lining up their next gig, at the expense of the show that they're on, because they have absolutely no debt of loyalty to it now.

Murphy should have been up front about it from Day 1. He should have said that while they may be starring on the show, the school's glee club itself is the real star. Three seasons, then they graduate with a real whopper show. Coach them right from the beginning to inspire them to go out with a show-stopping bang, instead of a sullen resentful whimper.

It's the mix of diplomacy and planning that you need to do if you're going make a show last.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Comic Book Confidential: Time For Positivity

Okay.

I'll admit it.

I've been doing a lot of bitching about how half-assed, botched, and boondoggled the whole DC Reboot is going to be. It's not going to correct any of the continuity problems that are keeping new readers from getting into it, and, judging by the underwhelming performance and convoluted storyline of
Green Lantern, it's bleeding into their once super-lucrative superhero movie business.

So today, I'm going to be positive. I'm going to offer suggestions and ideas on how a reboot can be done right. Feel free to offer your own ideas or opinions in the comments, just remember, I'm always right. ;-)

Here they are in no particular order....

1. REBOOT FOR REAL THIS TIME: That's right, do it all from the beginning. Don't try to pick and choose bits of past continuity to appease the fan-boys or the merchandising department with visions of action figures in their heads, you must start from scratch. That means having Clark Kent arrive in Metropolis and think that donning blue tights and a cape might be the right thing to do. Having Batman working as a lone avenger, soon to adopt a young orphan, as a protege. Barry Allen is a young CSI lab tech who is just about to have an encounter with a bolt of lightning and a shelf full of chemicals. Hal Jordan's about to get some new bling, and a young woman named Diana leaves her isolated island home to find a whole new world, and decides to become its defender.

It's not rocket science.

It will entail some sacrifices. You're going to have to hold off on merchandising some characters before they're introduced in the comics, but trust me, it's for the greater good. Stories that make sense to readers who don't already have an encyclopedic knowledge of comics history have a better chance of breaking through to mainstream audiences.

2. CREATE A COHERENT BACK HISTORY & STICK WITH IT: The DC universe was all about legacy. There is a way to integrate some of the "Golden Age" characters and stories into this new rebooted universe. Simply lay out that in the 1940s there was a super team, The Justice Society, that protected the country from spies and saboteurs, but they had fallen out of favor in the 1950s, and either retired, or went underground. Barry Allen Flash can be a Society history buff who seeks out a retired Jay Garrick to help him understand his powers & their story provides inspiration for the formation of the Justice League. Etc...etc...

Don't make the mistake they did during the Silver Age rebirth of the super-heroes, by at first denying the existence of the Golden Age characters, then creating Earth 2 in a vain attempt to make it work. Just leave Superman and Batman out of the Justice Society this time, and make their version of Wonder Woman Diana's mother. It's not hard, just don't screw it all up, like you did in the 1990s when the whole continuity thing got so convoluted no one knew which way was up. Create a history for them with a beginning, a middle, and an end, then stick with it.

3. STRAIGHTEN OUT THE GEOGRAPHY: One of the things I liked about DC was that it was using made up cities like Metropolis, Gotham, Keystone, etc... It said that this was their own world and not beholden to any pop cultural/political fads going on in the real world.

It's also been one of DC's major problems. The locations of the cities seemed to change with every writer. Sometimes Gotham
is New York City, other times it's near New York City, but is actually in New Jersey. Metropolis is sometimes in the Midwest, sometimes on the Atlantic, sometimes other places. Acknowledge that every city can't be an analog to New York City, give them set locations, then stick with them.

4. CONSIDER ALTERNATE FORMATS: Digital formats are considered the "in thing" but it shouldn't be the only format considered. The "floppies" aren't popular with mainstream retailers because they are hard to stock, damage easy, and have a thinner profit margin than regular magazines. Consumers just don't think $3+ is really worth the half hour or so distraction a single issue can deliver, especially when you include the hassle of finding a specialty comics shop in your area that carries the titles you want.

Erik Larsen, Image Comics partner & creator of
Savage Dragon, offered an idea for a new format, one closer to Japanese manga. He suggested taking all the multiple titles related to a character like Batman, for example, breaking up the 20-25 page issues into 5 page chapters, then putting all the chapters from the different titles together into one large format 60+ page weekly Batman magazine that sells for around $6. The stories, once completed, could then be collected into trade paperback graphic novels.

Another alternative is to put 3 complete issues worth of thematically related comics stories into one 60-70 page monthly magazine that, like Larsen's plan, can sold in convenience stores the way comics used to be sold at a price that seems equal to the entertainment value.

5. REMEMBER, COMICS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE FUN: Yes, it's great that Alan Moore showed how comics can become great works of psycho-sexual-sociological dissection or explorations of political disaffection because of the policies of the Nixon administration. However, we have to remember that if comics are to survive as a medium, they need to be read by kids. Kids want action, adventure, and colorful characters. They don't have to know about how Gorilla Grodd once touched Barry Allen in a bad place, and that's why he's impotent on his wedding night with Iris, and they don't want to know.

I'm not saying that comics should be sanitized to the point of being Dora The Explorer. You can be dark, kids like darkness and moral ambiguity when it's in nice, safe, ink and paint form, but if that's all you give them, they're going to get bored. They want good guys punching bad guys in the face, danger, monsters, magic, mad science, exotic locales, some light PG titillation, and in the end; the unequivocal victory of good over evil. It's a hunger that goes back to the dawn of civilization, and it's roots lie in our earliest mythologies. Comics creators need to remember that this need is primal, not neurotic, tap into that primal nature, and you might get kids reading them again.

This is not just the grumblings of a disaffected ex-fan-boy. Even if you look at it from the cold calculating view of business, it makes sense. New readers breed new fans, new fans buy comics, and merchandise, and watch movies and TV shows based on their characters. Play your cards right, and you might get these characters making money for another 60-70 years.

Any more suggestions, leave them in the comments.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Comic Book Confidential: Crisis On Infinite Bullshits

The more I hear about the DC Reboot, the more I think that whole damn thing is going to be a pointless waste of time and money.

A reboot is necessary. There are no new readers, they are too expensive for what you get, they are too hard to obtain, and even if you do manage to get your grubby little hands them, you then have to wade through decades of back-story to understand what the hell is going on. To get new readers the major publishers like DC need to attract new readers with an affordable product that they can actually understand. Digital comics can get it into people's hands, but if they still need to reference events that occurred before the birth of their parent's it's not going to work out at all.

The reboot should be simple. The basics of the characters have entered into popular folklore, so it should be fairly easy to get back to them.

But DC Comics isn't.

Everything I've seen shows that the whole thing is going to be a half-assed boondoggle. Look at these examples:

1. Superman: The Lois Lane/Clark Kent marriage is over. Okay, that seems logical to have them meet for the first time in a reboot, since they are supposed to be starting over again. They are also adding a collar to Superman's uniform, and also doing stories where he's wearing some kind of super T-shirt and jeans combo while he's starting out as the first superhero, about 5 years earlier. Sounds kind of silly, but I'll give that the benefit of the doubt. However, the recent big "events" like
Blackest Night, Final Crisis, etc., etc., have all still happened. The problem is that Clark/Superman is married in most of those stories. How are they going to explain that without making things even more of a mess?

2. Batman: When this reboot begins Batman can only fit logically fit into this new narrative by being an active vigilante for 4.5 years at the most. Now you'd think that they'd start out with him being the lone avenger, gradually introduce the villains, then the sidekicks like Robin, and Batgirl, but you'd be wrong. During the very short window of opportunity Batman has lived through
Final Crisis, where he "died," mentored three Robins into adulthood, and saw Batgirl mature into a crime-fighter, get crippled by the Joker in 1988's The Killing Joke, become Oracle, and then go back to Batgirl, without any logical explanation. And let's not forget Batman Inc. you see, instead of being the lone mysterious crime-fighter, standing out from the others because what he lacks in superpowers he makes up for in attitude and bad-assery, he's going to be running an international army of Bat-men, including former Robin, Dick Grayson. Oh, and did I mention that he's on his fourth Robin, who is Batman's 10 year old son by a fling with Talia Al Ghul, the daughter of enemy Ras Al'Ghul.

And that's just a few of the half-assed changes coming with this reboot.

So you must be sitting there, staring at the screen, furrowing your brow in a feeble attempt to understand why they would be creating such a mess even though they know it's not going to do a lick of good, and probably do a truckload of harm.

Well, let's have a look at the people responsible and their reasons, because they are all to blame, in descending order of importance:

1. Corporates: Remember, DC Comics is just part of the massive Time-Warner media empire. To them its primary purpose is to provide fodder for film/TV franchises, and cartoon faces to slap on merchandise. If DC was to do a proper reboot they would have to get rid of a lot of superheroes and villains whose origins have to be put off after the "core" characters have some time on the main stage. You can't sell movies and merchandise with a character's face on them when they haven't been properly introduced in the original comics. So they have to keep all the characters, and their plot-lines, just in case they stumble on some way to cash in on them. Logical narrative be damned if there publicity over the reboot creates potential for a Batman Inc. toy deal with Hasbro.

2. Creatives: I'm talking about the writers and artists who make comics these days, especially those who work on the top titles for the major publishers. They have more rights than the creatives who came before them, and lots of clout with fans, since many of them have their own loyal followings. They are also heavily invested in the history of their medium, being major league fanboys themselves, especially the parts that they played a part in creating. Starting all over again might be beyond their abilities since the bulk of DC's recent storytelling, especially Blackest Night, and Final Crisis, has been based heavily on the past history of DC's superhero universe. They are all very ambitious, and want to leave their mark on the medium by putting together some sort of big event that heavily involves said history, and make a place for themselves in it.

3. Consumers: Comic book buyers, AKA Fanboys, are just as heavily invested in DC's history than the Creatives, possibly even more so, because they get really, really annoyed when the Creatives rewrite that history. Of course, these folks have the least amount of power in this little troika, since their ability to affect the decisions of the Corporates & Creatives is minimal at best. Comic sales don't really have any major affect on the corporate bottom line, movies and merchandise do.

Those are the people responsible for the coming boondoggle, and their reasons for it.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #763: Careful What You Wish For

I'm going to try to explain the situation as best as I can in case you've been living in a cave recently.

It begins with the
News Of The World, AKA the Screws of the World, one of Britain's longest running and probably most salaciously notorious tabloid newspapers. For over 168 years it fed the British people's hunger for low behavior in high places. It was low class, obnoxious, sued regularly for libel and wildly popular, selling in the millions, even today, when most dead tree media is gasping for breath.

However, it's ongoing quest to see how low the rich and famous will go, has led them to go way too low for anyone's taste. The paper hired private investigators to hack the mobile phone's of the rich, the famous, the infamous, and even the victims of crimes, and the families of fallen soldiers, looking to for the elusive scoop. Important messages were deleted by the hackers, police investigations were hampered, and now there's talk of policemen on the paper's payroll, and a former editor's been arrested for his part in the scandal, and more arrests are on the way, if not already happening.

Rupert Murdoch, the grand poobah of
NoW's parent company News International has ordered the entire newspaper shut down. In fact, it's last issue is already out, and no doubt wrapping fish and chips as you read this.

But that's not enough for some people.

Some are demanding that the government bar Murdoch and News International from turning their majority ownership of Brit Pay TV network BSkyB into total ownership, for fear that the editorial stance of this reorganized network won't play well with their media competitors at the Guardian newspaper, and BBC News.

But even that is not enough for some people, especially these people:
They want the government to jail Rupert Murdoch, and his top executives, and replace the toothless Press Complaints Commission with a more muscular government body. This new agency would forcibly break up the New International media conglomerate, and then regulate what they, and other media outlets, can print or say, so their content doth not offend the sign waving folks in the picture.

The scientific term for these people are "Idiots."

You don't have to agree with Murdoch about anything to know that state regulation of media is a really stupid idea.

That's because states are run by governments. Governments are run by politicians and bureaucrats. Politicians and bureaucrats are interested in only two things:

1. Getting power.

2. Keeping power.

Do you want those people controlling the only means the people have of finding out what they are really up to?

Sure, it sounds great and all when your favorite party is the one in charge, and that party's talking points are already being parroted in your favorite media outlets, but guess what:

Governments change.

Yep, they can screw up so bad, even their friends can't save them anymore, and then you get a government you don't like in power. Suddenly your favorite media outlets are being told that they can and can't say, and how they can say it by the government.

Then what do you do?

Do you complain?

Well, guess what, you can't, you're not allowed to complain anymore under the media control rules that you demanded as a way to "get Murdoch."

You have to sit on your hands, and wait until everything pretty much collapses to the ground before you can see things change, but there's no guarantee that said change will be the one you want. If it isn't the change you want, forget about saying anything about it, because once the government takes over something, it is extremely rare to get them to let go of it without anyone standing in front a wall pockmarked with bullet holes, and spattered with bloodstains.

Now I know that a lot of people want to see Rupert Murdoch jailed because his opinions are different from yours, but remember, you need Murdoch in order to be free enough to disagree with Murdoch.

I've written before that Murdoch's entire modus operandi is to look at a media market, see what the competitors are
not doing, then do what the competitors don't do in such a way as to goad them into a frothing raging frenzy. This frenzy then provides his outlets with loads of free publicity that attracts the all important eyeballs he needs to make money.

Do I think he ordered the hacking?

I don't think he did, and here's why:

1. Murdoch tends to delegate day to day management of his outlets to the people he appoints to run them. I've never seen any reports of him micromanaging individual outlets over content, preferring to stick to the big picture of buying, starting, or selling more media outlets. He sets a publication's attitude through hiring management he is supposed to trust, but otherwise moves on to the next challenge.

2. Murdoch's not stupid. He wants full ownership of BSkyB more than anything right now and he knows that people will oppose the buy-up just because it's him, regardless of what he intends to do with it. Murdoch could personally invent a cure for cancer and a noisy segment of the population will call for it to be banned under the banner of the "save the tumor" movement. He has to be cleaner looking than Caesar's wife during a time like this, and having one of his bigger newspapers in one of his bigger markets going bug-shit with bugging could completely bugger the deal, and that will really, really bug him. And let's not forget the decades of litigation that's going to follow this scandal, and the millions it's going to suck from the company's coffers and his own wallet. I doubt he'd think getting the scoop on Hugh Grant's latest sexual conquest would be worth all that.

So unless they find unadulterated video of him directly ordering all this mess, and signing notarized memos reiterating such orders, I will take all demands that he be jailed with a grain of salt. Those who are making those sorts of demands, or otherwise reveling in his troubles should step back and think twice about it, like I have.

It's easy to complain about Murdoch and his companies, but remember, without them and all the stuff they do that makes you complain about them, you might not be able to complain about anything at all.

That's the magic of free speech.

It only works if people are allowed to say stuff you don't like.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Saturday Silliness Cinema: An Important PSA

Time for my blog to take it's erratically scheduled Saturday Break from ranting about pop culture & the business behind it, and post a video.

Today is a very important Public Service Announcement from Nathan Fillion, the star of Castle and Firefly.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #762: You Have Questions I Have Answers

You gave me questions, now it's the time to give you the answers you crave like the salivating dogs that you are...
Gary T. Burnaska asked...

Do you think that DC with them releasing their books in digital format can at least help sagging comic book sales? Or at least help make them more accessible to the younger tech savvy audience?
It could, but it also couldn't.

How's that for a sophist answer?

I guess I have to go into more detail.

Kids are more tech savvy, where they won't buy a comic off a rack, they might download one from an online store.

But here's the kicker.

Why would they want to do it?

The online world is literally chaos incarnate. It would take a lot of work to cut through all this chaos and get your brand out there in a way that will make kids want to buy the comics.

But if they still have to sift through 7 decades of back-story to understand what the hell is going on, then they are not going to bother. They're looking for entertainment, amusement, and excitement, not some sort of semi-secular-semi-sacred vocation interpreting references made to stories from the 1940s so they can understand the hero's deep sexual dysfunctions because the people making the comic think they are the second coming of Alan Moore.
Gary T. Burnaska asked...

Disney with their ownership of MARVEL. Do you think they could actually become a savior of the comic book industry by making marvel books more age accessible or just make ones based on their shit Disney channel shows?
With a lot of things it depends on their motive for buying Marvel. They could have bought Marvel to make age accessible books that will get kids reading again, but I doubt it.

I suspect that Disney bought Marvel so they could get some of that sweet superhero blockbuster movie & merchandising money that all the other studios were making. They're probably not really interested in the characters, the stories, or keeping the medium alive, just having familiar brand names to slap on movies and merchandise.

As for comic versions of their own shows.... well, comic book adaptations of TV shows tend to have shorter lives than the shows they were based on. Unless you have a perennial science fiction or fantasy adventure franchise like Star Trek that is passed down from one generation to the next you're not going to have much of a shelf life.

Let's also look at the nature of Disney's programming.

Most of their live action shows are kid oriented sitcoms. That alone is a medium that hard to translate on the page without broad cartoon anvil-on-head slapstick. They are also heavily fad based. Kids go completely ape-shit for these shows, then they turn 12 or 13 years old, and they don't want anything to do with them, because they consider them "lame" or for "little kids." They're here for a good time, not a long time, and that's how Disney likes them, lots of cash up front, and then forget them and move onto the next thing the second the cute wears out.
CrisisEraDynamo said...

Do you think an anime or manga-based movie stands a chance in America if its origin is carefully hidden from the audience? The only such movies I heard of are Speed Racer and Dragonball Evolution; neither hid their origin, and both didn't do too well.
While Japanese manga-anime projects have their fans in the West, they have yet to break through to mainstream popularity. I remember being a big fan of Star Blazers when I was a young'un and this TV station from Maine would run them after school.

But there lies the rub, the show I so fondly remember from my childhood was an Americanized version of the Japanese show Space Battleship Yamato, that was heavily re-edited and re-dubbed for Western consumption. That's a process that's been done many times over the years, and creates a conflict of which version gets made into a movie. The purists want the original Japanese story, which is often more convoluted, and load with content that might make Western producers uneasy, but the Western version would have wider appeal. So if you go either way, you end up pissing off a great portion of the potential audience. Because adaptations need the support of the original's core fan base to make a dent with the wider audience. But if the original requires membership in an elite "in-crowd" to understand it, then the wider audience will stay away.

Here's a story to illustrate my point...

A major studio has the American movie rights to the Japanese manga/anime film Akira. Now the original story was about teens in Tokyo, mentally mighty mutants, and motorcycles. What does the studio do, they start tossing around names of 30-40 something white actors to play the Japanese teens. The core fans flipped out, the studio, sensing a public relations backlash backed down, now Akira is back in development purgatory and unlikely to ever come out again.

Then there's the nature of the stories themselves. Western superheroes can hit it big on the big screen because their origins can be summed up and understood very quickly. Superman, last Kryptonian, sent to Earth, where he got super-powers. Boom! Batman, rich kid, saw parents murdered, now kicks ass in a crazy outfit & fights other crazy people. Bam! Spider-Man, loser teen gets bit by mutant spider, gets spider powers. Pow! Iron Man, rich drunk weapons maker makes ultimate weapon and decides to do the fighting himself. Wham! All is said and done.

Western comics need that simple background because they are intended to run for years, if not decades. The fundamentals of their stories are like modern folklore, and are more engrained in the Western zeitgeist. Japanese manga haven't reached that level yet, possibly because of all the really big hair their characters all seem to have.

Of course the comics business seems so intent on putting themselves out of business, so who really knows where this all might go in the end.
Don H asked...
Okay, So who do you think will be the next Star Trek villain? Can they avoid Khan forever? Are they afraid of the comparison or what?
Don H
Forks, WA
(new and improved without vampires!)
First, congrats on your town being vampire free, they're harder to get rid of than roaches.

I won't attempt to read the minds of the people behind the new Star Trek films, but I don't think they'll jump right for Khan just yet. Remember, what made Wrath of Khan so cool was that it was a sequel to an actual episode of the original series. Kirk and Khan had a back-story that most fans knew, and most non-fans could catch onto quickly. The movie was just one big battle of revenge that literally shook the franchise to its foundation.

Plus they had Ricardo Montalban bringing his charisma to the part, which made audiences forget the fact that he and Kirk were never in the same room together, which usually mandatory for these sorts of stories.

If they were to do Khan now, it would be the first meeting between Kirk and Khan, there would be no back-story. They would be meeting for the first time, and they'd have to answer some key questions:

1. Who will play Khan? You can't just give the role to anyone, because they're going to compared to the man who literally made the role leap off the television and onto the big screen.

2. How will you explain the Eugenics War of the 1990s to a 2012+ audience? What was the "future" to the makers of the original series in the 1960s is now the distant misty past to modern moviegoers. Will they say it was a covert operation, fought in the shadows to explain the sketchy records? Will they just forget trying to explain anything, something JJ Abrams is fond of.

3. What will Khan do to make it "big screen" and somehow top Wrath of Khan?

If they can find suitable answers to those questions, they might go for it. If they don't, then it might be better to have all new villains for this all new universe.
Fuloydo asked...

Who was the best Star Trek Captain?

April (I'm assuming you mean Archer)
Pike
Kirk
Picard
Sisko
Janeway

Secondary question...Who was the best first officer? Spock doesn't count. Old school Trekkie here. Nobody beats Spock. :)
Real geek theme with the questions today.

Hmmm... it's a noodle scratcher. You know what, I won't say who is the best, because everyone has their favorite, but I will say who was the most overrated and who were the most underrated...

Overrated: Capt. Katherine Janeway of Voyager. Too priggishly moralistic, and judgmental, and after the first season or so the show sort of gave up the whole "struggling to survive" theme and became just another exploration show.

Underrated: Capt. Benjamin Sisko of Deep Space Nine. Starts out as tightly wound and priggish as all the other Next Generation officers, but quickly evolves into a more fully rounded character who is willing to break Federation morality if it means the Federation's survival. Even going so far as to participate in the assassination of a major Romulan politician to do it. I didn't care for the "whisked away by energy beings" finale though, it didn't gel with such a "grounded" character for me.

As for Archer, I think the jury is still out on him and may never give a proper judgement. The show Enterprise had so much potential, but was hobbled by insider politics, and a studio unwilling to pull the trigger and take the "all out" approach that the show needed.

Thanks for the questions. If you have any more, feel free to ask.