Friday, 30 September 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #815: Then Unpaid Now Unemployable

Here's the story.

Some folks who worked as unpaid interns during the making of the movie Black Swan are now suing the makers of Black Swan demanding that they be paid because they were exploited by their employers, especially after the film made $300+ million worldwide.  They're also fishing for class action status so they can include other past interns.

That's the bad news.

The good news for these interns is that they'll never have to worry about being exploited by a Hollywood employer ever again.

Now they're saying that Fox Searchlight violated Federal labor laws that regulate unpaid internships, saying that fetching coffee, cleaning up, and other menial tasks were not educational enough to be worth their time.

I think that it's not a failure on the part of Fox Searchlight to teach, but a failure on the part of the interns to learn.

You see classroom education can only go so far when it comes to movie making.  A certain amount of hands-on experience is needed, and being an intern is a good way to learn the industry.

Here are some lessons these interns should have learned from their experience:

1.  Small films are big work: When you're making a low budget film like Black Swan it's an "all hands on deck" situation.  Big films have big money, that means the work is divided among very large crews over a much longer period of time.

A small film, like the $13 million Black Swan, doesn't have the luxury of a big crew or a long schedule.  Fewer people have to do more, with less material and money, and have to do it faster as well.  That means working your ass off at whatever needs doing.  If they didn't learn that, then the onus of the program's failure is on them.

2.  Scut work is more about character than work: When you're doing what I call "scut work" or scuttling around fetching coffee, picking up dry cleaning, and even sweeping floors it's not really about the work being done, but the person who is doing the work.  Hollywood has a hell of a lot of assholes running around, and when you get to people in authority the percentage increases exponentially.  People in film are constantly looking for non-assholes to leaven the mix, because non-assholes are good to work with.

Scut work at the bottom of the movie-making scrotum totem pole is the best test to see if someone is not only a non-asshole, but also see if they have the passion and the drive to do what needs to get done to get a movie made.  That is a necessary ingredient whether you're going to be a filmmaker, a producer, or even an executive.

3. You can't manage until after you've been managed: You can't be taught how to manage people in a classroom.  To learn to be a good manager you must first be managed.  That means getting assigned low level jobs, doing those jobs, and while you're at it, observing your bosses and studying their techniques and methods of getting people, including you, to do their jobs.

If you're too busy grousing about fetching coffee and picking up laundry to pay attention to how your bosses work, then the failure of the program is square on your pointy little head.

I'm a huge advocate for starting at the bottom rung of the ladder and working your way up.  Hollywood worked this way during its "Golden Age."  At first the major studios were run by the men who literally built them from scratch.  When their time ended the leadership of the studios passed onto men who worked their way to the top, men like...
LEW WASSERMAN
Lew Wasserman is considered by many to be the last studio mogul of the classical Golden Age mold.  His show business career began in high school where he made contact with the then mega-agency MCA to negotiate bands to play at his school dances.

The then head of MCA liked the kid's hustle and hired him to work in the mail-room.  This was the lowest job in the agency, with the worst pay, and involved way more scutwork than just sorting the mail, but it gave the young lad two things, his foot in the door, and a chance to make himself noticed by his bosses, and not for filing a lawsuit because he had to work too hard.

Wasserman made a point to memorize every contract he packaged and shipped.  He then made himself available to quote chapter and verse when needed and saving his employers the hassle of digging up the contract.  This hustle impressed his bosses, and soon he was an agent, then in short order he was running the company.  When MCA bought the then struggling Universal Pictures, he took that over, saving the studio and making it a powerhouse in television. Later on he made the company a home for new young filmmakers like Stephen Spielberg and John Landis, and helped usher in the "Blockbuster Era."

Today's system of finding and hiring executives is based not on work ethic, grit, or hustle, but on coming from the right Ivy League schools and having friends and relatives in the right social circles.  Wasserman had none of that, he was a kid from the old neighborhood with no preexisting connections and no Ivy League pedigree who showed guts and nuts to the right people.

His reign at Universal wasn't perfect, but it did show more vision and adaptability than most of the disposable pseudo moguls that run Hollywood today.  Plus, since his career was built around Universal, he had more of an emotional investment in the company and his/its legacy beyond his next quarterly bonus.  So there is something to be said for starting at the bottom.

He certainly wasn't dumb enough to file a lawsuit that would make him permanently unemployable in the movie business.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Comic Book Confidential: Sex & The Single Superhero

There are some mixed reviews of the big DC Comics reboot.  Some are liking what they're seeing, some are hating what they're seeing, while others are just confused and annoyed at what they're seeing.

The chief thing that seems to be annoying and confusing these readers is how DC is treating some of its female characters.  Chiefly they seem to be bumping up the sexy, while possibly sacrificing everything else, I'm talking character, story, and quite possibly readership.

Now I'm no prude, my family's Latin motto is Fremitus pro mamillas, or Hooray for boobies, but even I think it's getting past sleazy to ultimately destructive.


Let's look at the evidence....

Amanda Waller, was, when first introduced, a career bureaucrat behind a variety of covert government programs that involve DC superheroes and supervillains in various ways, and she looked like this...
She was supposed to symbolize the sort of covert governmental power that didn't require a hot bod clad in spandex.

However, since the reboot, she now looks like this....


Now she looks like Halle Berry's sister, but you know that she's not supposed to be a sexpot because she's only showing about three inches of cleavage.  (Which is considered demure by comic book standards.)

Then there's Harley Quinn. She was created in the early 1990s as by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini originally as just a walk-on minion for an episode of Batman: The Animated Series, but ended up becoming The Joker's on/off sidekick and girlfriend, and was incorporated into the comics regular continuity.  When she was created, she looked like this...

There are some curves, but it succeeds in creating a seemingly harmless mask to cover the fact that she's a complete psycho and far more dangerous than she looks.

Oh how things have changed, because she now looks like this...

Now she looks like a porn star that specializes in XXX parodies of Marilyn Manson videos.  As for masking the fact that she's a really dangerous psycho, forget it.

Then there's Catwoman, who was always drawn to be a sexy femme fatale, so this really isn't much of a stretch--

--Well, not much of an imaginative stretch, though that pose can't possibly be comfortable or even possible in the first place without some painful stretching.

But wait, there's more.

Instead of going for the usual "Will they or won't they?" sexual tension of the Batman/Catwoman rivalry/relationship, they just hop right into a nice final page humpfest in issue #1...
However, this isn't considered the most egregious move.

That involves the DC Comics character Starfire, a super-powered alien princess most famous for her debut in the 1980s as a member of the Teen Titans.  Back then, she looked like this...
Not exactly demure, but it's not her only look.  In fact, a lot of her younger fans know her looking like this...
Which is how she looked in a popular animated version of The Teen Titans from the 2000s.

But she doesn't look like that now.  Now she looks like this...
But that's not all.  Originally her character, and powers were based in and around her emotions, but now she doesn't seem to have any feelings other than boredom and horniness.  Plus, her massive breast implants seem to be throwing her entire spine out of whack.

When a seven year old girl called DC out on these changes,  DC Comics responded by basically telling people that "kids probably shouldn't read their comics."

That response got me thinking.

When I get thinking, I start to realize things, DC Comics should try it sometimes.

The whole attitude shown by DC Comics about this whole affair shows exactly why comics has gone from being a mass market medium into a niche market medium.  When asked about the over-sex and under-action, the usual response is something along the lines of "These are modern comics and they ain't your Daddy's comic book."

Of course it ain't my Daddy's comic book.  When my Dad read comic books individual titles had monthly sales in the millions, sometimes the tens of millions. Nowadays, if a book sells more than 100,000 copies, it's considered a massive major blockbuster event.

The comics industry is crumbling.  Readership is shrinking every year, as current readers get older and give up on comics, and newer readers (translation: Kids.) are kept from starting.

I've discussed this matter before, but they can be summed up as:

Comics are...

...Hard to get. You can only get monthly paper-copies or (floppies) of your favorite titles at a shrinking number of specialty stores. This is because mainstream retailers find them pain in the ass to stock.  You might find trade paperback collections of "graphic novels" in some of the larger bookstores, but just popping down to the corner store for the latest issue just isn't going to happen.

...Hard to understand.  Even if you do manage to find a comic book, they are not designed for casual readers.  If you don't have the background to get a reference to a plot point from the October 1965 issue, you're are just not going to get a damn thing.

There's no really budging with mainstream retailers, but e-book versions might fix the sales problem.  The DC Reboot is supposed to fix the whole confusing continuity thing, but it looks like, in the long run, it will just add to the confusion the way their last attempt Crisis On Infinite Earths did back in the 1980s.  Then there's the issue of all this rampant "fan service" which creates more problems, especially with future sales.

Kids are being turned away, not just by parents upset by sexual content, but more by the simple fact that kids read comics for action of the "fist in the villain's face" variety, not action of the "reverse cowgirl ending in a Rusty Venture" variety.  And if their mothers finds them with an issue of Starfire frolicking in her next-to-nothing, or Catwoman in heat, those books are going in the trash, and the parents are going to work to make sure they don't buy any more.

Adult male fans don't want people to look at their comic book collection, adorned with scantily clad vamps and/or vixens, and not see the big scale action/adventure performed by mythic characters, and assume that it's some sort of pervy hand-drawn titillation for those too much of a loser to go on the internet to beat off to photographs of real girls.  When they have to hide their comics under their beds like they were skin mags during their adolescence they'll stop buying.

Then there are female fans.  Never large in number, but they are out there.  Does the comic book industry really need to promote out of this world body-image issues to go alongside the out of this world powers and story-lines? They can't relate to freakishly built characters in physically impossible poses, while acting out prurient post-pubescent male sex fantasies. In fact they will be more likely than not be insulted and/or offended, and they will stop buying.

But it's not going to stop anytime soon.


Comic Publishers won't give it up because they, like TV networks, still think that "sex sells."  And even if it doesn't, the majors have big media conglomerates as their parent companies, and all the parent companies care about is a steady supply of movie/TV franchises and related merchandise.  The books, and who buys them and why, really don't seem to matter to them anymore.

Too many Comic Creators also refuse to give it up because it allows them to be "edgy," "adult," and "daring," without actually doing anything that's particularly "edgy," "adult," and "daring."  They also seem to share network TV's mindset that if you toss enough boobage and "mature content" people will gloss over their shortcomings when it comes to character and story.  Remember, character and story are hard to do well. Sex, however, is easy to do, and doesn't really have to be done well in the first place.


It looks like the comic book industry is really content to run itself into extinction.  Which is sad.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #814: PTC Cries Victory / I Cry Bullshit!

The perennially pissy Parents Television Council is crying victory because some sponsors dropped their support of NBC's Playboy Club, which the PTC believes is the cause of not only society's collapse, but dropsy, gout, and chronic flatulence.

So it's time to cue their spokeswoman, Mrs. Lovejoy...

But I feel that it behooves me to offer a slight correction to the PTC's theory.

It's wrong.

Completely wrong.

It couldn't be more wrong if it was wrapped in wrong, placed in a box made of wrong, then buried in the world's deepest shaft where they mine wrong from the bowels of the planet Wrong which orbits Star Wrong-343245 in the Wrong Galaxy.

You see there are two other, interconnected reasons, for the sponsors to drop the show, even if they tell the PTC that they're doing it all for them.

Nobody watches The Playboy Club.

The Playboy Club isn't a good show, and will probably be cancelled before mid-season.

I knew the show was doomed without the input of the PTC when I was channel surfing the night of the premiere I saw that The Playboy Club was on, so I flipped over to NBC, and saw a scene of two people having sex in the employee washroom.

That was when I knew the show was doomed.

It's like a curse, I've never seen a show that has a scene of people having sex in an office / bathroom / other semi-public place last a complete season.  It's the sort of thing network executives insist on having in the pilot in a vain attempt to make the show "sexy" and "edgy" in the vain hope that the audience won't notice the fact that there is no story.

Hollywood thinks sex still sells the way it did in the 1970s when their brand of light titillation could seal the deal.  It worked because "sexy" content could only be found by leaving your house to the movie theater (R-Rated and X-Rated) or the closest magazine rack with a stock of girlie magazines.

But people have the internet now.  If they want to see some ladies who ain't got no clothes on doing things that you will never see on network TV they just need a computer, a wireless connection, and a firm, but soft grip.

Audiences have become incredibly jaded, and now see attempts at being "sexy," and "edgy" as being code for not giving them what they really want when they sit in front of the TV, a good story.

I even wrote about this topic before, but it's obvious no one at the PTC was paying attention, or they would have developed the modicum of shame needed to admit to their intellectual dishonesty.

So shut the hell up PTC, the show was sunk by its own suckiness.

The Whisperer In Darkness -- Trailer

Here is the trailer for The Whisperer In Darkness, a micro-budget adaptation of HP Lovecraft's classic tale of supernatural/alien/inter-dimensional terror, done in the style of the films of the 1930s.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #813: RANDOM SNARK ATTACK!!!

Bit of a slow news day, so it's time to unleash another barrage of the vitriolic snarking that you all know and love...

1.  I was shocked and appalled to hear that TV shrieker Nancy Grace had a wardrobe malfunction during Dancing With The Stars.  Not about the nip slip, accidents happen, but that Nancy Grace is considered a "star."

2.  Andy Rooney will retire from 60 Minutes. He first made his name as a reporter when he asked: "What did you think of the play Mrs. Lincoln?"

3. Michelle Rodriguez will be joining Milla Jovovich in the 5th installment of the seemingly undead Resident Evil movie franchise.  Which struck me as odd considering she was in the first Resident Evil movie, and was killed off.  

Another thing that struck me as odd was why was I expecting a scintilla of logic in a Resident Evil movie?

4.  NBC is planning to stream episodes of  their new sitcom Whitney on the internet and will not stop until they are paid....

100 BILLION DOLLARS!

The bastards.

Speaking of poor bastards, is it just me or does the guy in the Whitney ads....
  
...look like he really wishes he had a better agent?

Not to say he looks unhappy, but the wardrobe department won't let him have any belts or shoelaces.

Anyway, let's hope there's some business like story I can rant and rage about tomorrow.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #812: History Repeats Itself...

CBS has made a deal for a new legal drama called Legacy, and will be co-produced by Dreamworks TV.

But that's not the greasy bit about this story.  Not by a long shot.

The premise has been created by James Frey's Full Fathom Five ripoff idea factory.  So you know that it's going to be chock full of originality and creative integrity.

BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE!

The premise is about a former US President who becomes a street level lawyer after leaving office.

If that doesn't sound familiar, then maybe this will jog your memory...
Still doesn't?

Well, that's not much of a surprise, since about three people actually saw the show during its truncated run on NBC in 2010.  But the show was about a conservative Supreme Court Justice quitting the highest court in the land to become a liberal street level lawyer.  Each week he'd tackle some issue that teaches him and the audience just how wrong he was to be a strict constructionist.

The problem with the show was that it was basically one big lecture about how evil you are for disagreeing with him.  The people on the right were insulted, and the people on the left were bored, and hence no one watched the show.

Those behind the show will most likely declare: "This time is different, this isn't a Supreme Court Justice, this is a President we're talking about."

And they will be full of bullshit.

It will not only be so much like its predecessor in the dustbin of TV history, it will join it there very quickly.

Here's why.

Hollywood is not known for its imagination or open mindedness, especially when it comes to "topical" or "political" subject matter.  So there are precisely two ways they'll handle this show:

1.  The ex-President will be a conservative Republican who has a "Road To Beverly Hills Damascus" moment and like Outlaw, become a liberal lawyer out to undo all the evil things he did while in office.

or

2.  The ex-President will be a liberal Democrat who goes around lecturing people about how evil and stupid they are for disagreeing with him about the issues tackled on his show every week.

Now how will this end up?

Conservatives will be insulted.

Liberals will be bored.


Neither will watch the show.

But that's not all that I think will doom this project to failure.  There's also the way it's been created...

Now if you've read my past writings on Frey and his so-called Full Fathom Five scheme, I made a fairly obvious prediction. 

The FF5 contract is designed to keep those who actually burn the calories creating the material in a state of relative anonymity in comparison with their padrone, with no rights or control over their creations, and a profit share plan that consists of the steam off James Frey's pee.  I predicted that such a contract will keep Frey's scribbling serfs from bringing their "A Game."

Turns out, I was half right.  They're not even bringing their "B," "C," or "D," game.  We are in strictly "Z Game" territory.

Sticking to the upper echelons of the alphabet means that the peons will at least be ripping off and mashing up previously successful franchises.  His I Am Number Four was a mash up of Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Twilight, so you could understand it having a chance to succeed.  However this project is a pretty blatant rip-off of what was an obviously bad idea that only someone living in the rarefied air of Hollywood could think would sell. 

But Frey will be getting paid, which means even more of his sleazy Full Fathom Five nonsense in the future.  Which makes an already bad idea even worse.

There must be something in the water over at CBS these days.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #811: Adaptation Palpitations

When I was a kid and heard that a major studio was going to be making a movie version of a book that I liked I'd get a case of the giddies.  I'd be so eager to see the characters I read about on the big screen I'd be sending good vibes down Hollywood way to speed up the development process.
Oh, how times have changed.

Let me illustrate my point...


I should be happy.  I should be excited.

But I'm not.

Instead, I can't help but find myself agreeing with this fellow, who finds that the only passionate emotion he can summon up is anger about what will most like be a complete creative abortion.

Why am I so cynical?

Because if there is one thing Hollywood has become brilliant at, it's the fine art of disappointment when it comes to adapting classic novels, especially science fiction novels.

Science Fiction novels, especially the classic ones, succeed because of the ideas at the heart of the book.

However, Hollywood is convinced that science fiction novels, especially the classic ones, are only good for providing familiar sounding titles for bombastic action thrillers that have little or nothing to do with the source material. 

Case in point...

I, Robot, a collection on interconnected stories by Isaac Asimov about the development of robotics and artificial intelligence.  It's all about what constitutes a "sentient being" as well as issues of morality, and if mankind can create an ethical machine.  Pretty weighty stuff.

It languished in development purgatory at Warner Bros. for decades, it even had a screenplay draft by noted writer/curmudgeon/litigant Harlan Ellison.  Then Warner Bros. dropped it and 20th Century Fox picked it up, promptly turning it into this...

A loud, bombastic, cliche addled action movie about a loose cannon cop who plays by his own rules fighting a nasty robot rebellion that actually started out as a completely different screenplay, but Fox slapped on the title because they hoped the familiarity would give it a veneer of class and make it sell better.

It did make a lot of money worldwide, so I fully expect Fox to run Caves of Steel through the rewrite ringer until it comes out I, Robot 2: I Hard With A Vengeance

Now I'm not going to declare that every adaptation of a classic book has to be done to the ink of the source material.  Far from it.  Literature and cinema are two radically different art forms, and thus taking a story from the page to the screen while keeping the spirit alive is a lot tougher than you think.

But it's not impossible.

Blade Runner has a radically different narrative from Phillip K. Dick's original novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep.  It has to be different, because the book goes down the rabbit hole a few too many times for a writer to faithfully adapt for a mainstream movie audience.  However, the movie is faithful to the books themes of isolation and empathic connection in the never ending quest for identity and humanity.

Sadly, Blade Runner didn't do very well in its original release, only becoming a classic on home video and TV, and no studio executive wants that kind of classic, because it only happens after they've been fired.  So best to go all Michael Bay with explosions and loose cannon cops who play by their own rules going: "Aw hell no!" at appropriate times.

Now do you see why I'm so cynical?

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #810: The Return of Scarface

Universal Pictures has announced that they're going to do a remake the 1983 gangster movie Scarface, which was directed by Brian De Palma and starred Al Pacino as Miami drug kingpin Tony Montana.

Now before you start growling about Hollywood pissing all over the classics of the 1980s you have to remember that the Al Pacino/Brian De Palma
Scarface is in fact a remake of the 1932 movie Scarface which was directed by Howard Hawkes and starred Paul Muni as Chicago liquor boss Tony Camonte.So we're actually talking about a remake of a remake. Now that doesn't reach the Nikita* levels of cognitive dissonance, but it's getting there.

I think this calls for an attack of the PROS & CONS!!

Yay!

PROS: 1. FAMILIARITY: While only a modest seller in theaters the movie had a big time afterlife on home video and on television where the editing for language and violence made it an unintentional comedy. Universal needs some familiarity.

2. POTENTIAL FREE PROMOTION: Rappers love the 1983 movie preferring to ignore its "crime doesn't pay" message. So as long as the remake contains enough macho posturing and conspicuous consumption they will praise it to heaven and back again.

3. COST: A contemporary crime story with a sensible producer/directing team at the helm, is going to be inherently cheaper than a big science-fiction or fantasy epic. Blanks, squibs, and crashing cars are a hell of a lot cheaper to do than dinosaurs, superheroes, or alien invasions. Universal needs a movie that can be done for less than $100 million if only to learn that it's still possible these days.

CONS: 1. MORAL PANIC, OR THE LACK THEREOF: The original Scarface (1932) was made at the right moment, the tail end of Prohibition and right when the Depression was turning into a Great Depression. People were pissed off at the lawlessness caused by the banning of alcohol, and scared at the rise of Italian immigrant gangs on their city streets. The 1983 Scarface was inspired by the wild west atmosphere of the Miami streets as it went from sleepy beach resort/retirement community, to cocaine capitol of North America, and by the fear of new violent gangs caused by the chaotic Mariel Boatlift of 1980.

For those who can't remember the 80s, Fidel Castro, then living communist dictator of Cuba agreed to let anyone who wanted to leave to get out. About 125,000 Cubans fled to the closest piece of the USA they could get to: America's Wang, otherwise called Florida.

Castro decided that all the law abiding, hard working, freedom yearning refugees fleeing his country needed a little spice. So he peppered them with approximately 10,000 undesirables, mostly from Cuba's delightful prisons and mental hospitals. While the US government tried to round up as many undesirables as they could, enough made it through to become soldiers in the then exploding South Florida cocaine wars. Those wars scarred Miami, and especially the image of its Cuban community, and inspired the moral panic behind the second
Scarface.

Right now America is in the middle of a Great Recession, but there hasn't been explosion of lawlessness that we've seen in during Prohibition and the Cocaine Wars. In fact, crime rates in most areas of North America are either staying steady, or declining. Society in general isn't freaked out about crime, and they aren't especially freaked out about legal immigrants, and that brings us to another Con in this little soup...

2. POLITICAL CORRECTNESS: Both Scarfaces were made at times when you could point a finger at an immigrant community and scream "J'accuse!" for the latest crime wave. And even then, both films had to make a point to show that not all of the immigrant communities they were pointing at were inherently criminal, just the criminals, because they didn't want to be racist or perceived as racist. That's not enough now, and I think the inevitable protests will keep this puppy in turnaround unless Tony Camonte/Montana is whiter than Conan O'Brien after 6 months in a coal mine. But even the closest contender, the Russian Mob is no longer considered the mega-villain they were in the 1990s and early 2000s, having already been done to death. Even Russian gangsters go "That's a bit of a cliche" when they see their fictional counterparts on the screen.

3. REPETITION: Whoever does the remake will be tempted strongly to repeated a lot of the 1983 version, because it is just so quotable and over the top. If audiences smell a rehash, they will stay away in droves and watch Al Pacino on their flat-screens at home.

4. COST: I was just kidding when I included "cost" as a pro. There's no way anyone is going to do what will be one of Universal's tent-pole releases for less than $100 million.

That's what I think. Let me know what you think in the comments.

----------------------------

* The TV series
Nikita is, in fact, the American TV remake of a Canadian TV series, which was itself a series remake of an American action movie, that was a remake of a French action film called La Femme Nikita.

Say that 3 times in front of a mirror fast enough and Bridget Fonda will appear behind you. Which sort of explains where she's been for the past ten years.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #809: This Is Where I Try To Be Helpful

Last week I expressed some doubts about DC Comics character The Spectre becoming a viable TV series. I thought the character was too powerful, almost god-like, and the now that I think about it a little more, too much of a cypher, to make interesting weekly viewing.

This week, I'm not going to be a Negative Ned, and try to offer helpful advice on adapting comics characters to the small screen. Let's face it, with their choices being
The Spectre and that David E. Kelly Wonder Woman TV pilot debacle, they need it.

And who better to give it, than a smug internet know it all.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin.

1. PICK THE RIGHT SOURCE MATERIAL:

For too long DC Comics have been trying to adapt characters into big screen blockbuster franchises when they could have done a lot better on television.
Jonah Hex is a good example, he could have a made a nice, gritty Western TV series, instead they tried to make him into Batman, and not the Christopher Nolan Batman, or even the Tim Burton Batman, but the Joel Schumacher Batman.

Do you see what I'm getting at?

Anyway, I digress.

When searching for a comics property to adapt they need to ask these key questions:

A) Does the premise fit an episodic format? Remember a lot of comics are built around a single set story arc that will get easily used up in an open ended TV series. What a TV series needs is a premise that can do both one-and-done adventures, with what I call "background arcs" that can lead to a nice whopper of a season finale.

B) Can the audience relate to the character(s)? Networks like to base everything on likability, but it's really the ability of an audience to relate to a character. Don Draper of Mad Men isn't really likable, he's a selfish, self-pitying, chronic lying philanderer with the impulse control of a three year old, however, we can relate to him, because everyone's had a time when they've done something Draperesque, or at the very least felt like it. He's human, even tragic, and people can relate to that.

They can't be too powerful and/or too ethereal, however, you can't just go full Allan Moore and make a bundle of psycho-sexual neuroses, because that's been done to death. The character(s), especially the super powered ones, have to be both heroic and human. An appeal to the better angels of our nature, neither an apex or a nadir, just people with abilities trying to do what's right in a world that can often be wrong.

C) What drama can we extract from the nature/powers of the character(s) in the show? This is pretty important when you're dealing with "super-powered" characters. Their powers are going to affect their lives, and anyone planning on adapting them for TV better figure out how to wring some drama out of it, without flogging a dead horse.

2. MAINTAIN THE SPIRIT OF THE SOURCE MATERIAL:

Every book, comic book, or story has its own spirit. If you can find that spirit and figure out how to bring it to the screen you can have a successful adaptation. An example of an adaptation missing the spirit of the material is the 1990 TV adaptation of the DC Comics hero
The Flash. The show was slick looking, had pretty good effects for the era, but it was missing something.

Iris West (later Iris Allen).

You see the creators of the show went back to the original Silver Age Flash Barry Allen, but they grafted on Tina McGee the love interest of the Post-Barry Allen 1980s Flash Wally West onto the show. Half of the content of each Flash story was about Barry Allen and his relationship with Iris West, culminating in their marriage, and some really wild twists and turns. It was the core of the comic book, its spirit if you will, and it was left out.

That created a big gap in the whole series that the people behind it couldn't fill, and I think it hurt the show and hastened its end.

3. HIRE PEOPLE TO MAKE THE SHOW WHO ARE AT LEAST FANS OF COMICS:

The showrunner and writers hired to make the show don't have to be fans of the specific character, although a certain amount of love is best. But I think being a fan of the medium, the genre, and the style of story is key. Too many times have I seen comic book heroes adapted to TV, and realize that the writers and showrunners have probably never seen a comic book because they're wasting their heroes powers and time fighting street thugs trying to get someone off their struggling Dude Ranch so they can steal the diamond mine underneath it. That sort of thing may have sold in the 70s, but television viewers and comic book fans are way more sophisticated now, and when they tune in for fantastical adventure, you better know how to deliver.

4. DON'T FORGET THE VILLAINS:

This is important when you're adapting superheroes, because every superhero needs a nice legion of super-villains to fight. Every character has them, and the fans want to see them in action. They need to be powerful enough to be a viable threat to either the hero, or his/her loved ones, faithful enough to the source material to woo the core fans, and they must be well written and well played by writers and actors capable of breathing some life and reality into some pretty outlandish characters.

Well, that's my advice. I wonder if anyone at DC will listen to it.

*crickets*

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #808: Random Drippings From My Brain Pain

STRAW DOGS STRAW MAN

You've probably missed the news, but Hollywood has remade Sam Peckinpah's domestic horror story
Straw Dogs. If you've spent the last 40 years in a cave in Kazakhstan I'll fill you in on all the gory details.

The original
Straw Dogs (1971) was adapted from the novel The Siege Of Trencher's Farm, and was about an American mathematician (Dustin Hoffman) and his young British wife (Susan George) move to a farm outside of her quaint home village in Cornwall. What starts off as snide teasing by some local yahoos quickly escalates to rape, and an orgy of violence where the normally pacifistic mathematician summons his inner barbarian and becomes a killing machine.

Now the original was shocking beyond its graphic portrayals of violence and rape. It was also shocking in setting. English villages, in the mind of American moviegoers, were places where quaint goes to die. They're where Bertie Wooster and Jeeves get tangled up in various romantic misunderstandings and the only violence that's supposed to happen in these places occur at Lord Autumnbottom's manor house and are promptly solved by either sharp-eyed little old ladies or nattily dressed Belgians on a country weekend.

The remake decided that instead of reversing expectations like Peckpinpah, they would reverse the reversed expectations. Instead of going for the shock of the unexpected, they went for the pretty exhausted cliche.

They changed the setting from where quaint goes to die, to the land where originality in screenwriting goes to die. They moved the setting from Cornwall to Mississippi, and instead of British thugs, its the classic cliched "Killer Southern Rednecks" rearing their nasty heads again, and some real Southern people and other folks aren't happy about it.

And let's not forget that they changed the lead from being a mousy mathematician, to a surprisingly handsome screenwriter from Hollywood. (Oh yeah, that's realistic.)

Now what really bugs me about these developments is that Hollywood has managed to make doing a remake even lazier than usual. It's nothing but rehashed cliches, and Hollywood self-aggrandizing itself at the expense of a good chunk of the movie going public.

What also bugs me is the simple fact that it's a gloriously missed opportunity for what could have been a side splitting comedy.

Picture it: A Hollywood screenwriter moves to a small town in Mississippi with his hot wife for some peace and quiet so he can write the sequel to
Bucky Larson. The locals try to make him feel welcome, but since he's lived his whole life in Hollywood, all he knows about Southern people are the cliches Hollywood dishes out on a regular basis. He sees their every attempt to be friendly as some sort of threat and grows increasingly paranoid. It all comes a head when the locals spot a rabid badger crawling under his house. They come to warn him about the vicious rabid animal in his house, but he assumes its a home invasion, and everything explodes into an orgy of slap-stick carnage. Sort of like if Sam Peckinpah made Home Alone. After slaughtering his neighbors, he cries out "I got them all!" only to be savaged to death by the rabid badger.

Now that has hit all over it.

Or something that rhymes with hit....

DISNEY GOES AVATARD

The Walt Disney Company are planning new additions to their parks based on James Cameron's movie Avatar.

Well, I have a few suggestions for rides....

IT'S A SMALL SCRIPT AFTER ALL: The visitors board a boat and float down a man-made river lined with singing animatronic figures from the movies that Avatar's script ripped off like Dancing With Wolves, and Ferngully.

JAMES CAMERON'S HAUNTED MANSION: Here the visitors get lectured about environmental awareness and how consumerism is bad by the digitally rendered ghosts of James Cameron's integrity as they're taken through a thrilling ride up and down the halls of Cameron's massive, carbon spewing, Malibu mega-mansion complex, ending with a terrifying visit to his collection of cars, SUVs and private jets.

MAD HATTER'S 3D TEA PARTY: An animatronic James Cameron tells you that 3D is the future of movie going, because it beats telling an original or interesting story.

If any of you have ideas for more rides, leave them in the comments so I can steal them and sell them to Disney for millions.

BWAH-HAH-HAH!

Monday, 19 September 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #807: "REPENT HOLLYWOOD!" Said The EllisonMan

Ever since I was a kid, I've been a Harlan Ellison fan. The man can do more with a short story than most writers can do with a novel. He's also a scrapper for the rights of writers to get paid for their work, and will come down on you like a grumpy deity with a thunder-making hammer if he thinks you poached said work and claimed it as your own.

Well, he's doing it again. This time he's suing the makers of the upcoming science fiction movie In Time, claiming that it's too close to his short story "Repent Harlequin," Said The Ticktockman. He's not only demanding monetary damages, he also wants to block the film's Oct. 28 release.

Now I normally cheer on Ellison's suits, it feeds that little "stick it to the man" goblin that sits on my left shoulder. However, this time, the goblin's noticing that it may not be as fresh and tasty as all the others.

Let's look at the facts....

"Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman

This 1965 short story is a satire about a dystopian future when everyone's lives are strictly scheduled. You must do everything the state says and, this is really important, do it
when the state says you should do it. Being late is a crime, and when you're late a proportionate amount of time is deducted from your estimated lifespan by an agent officially called the Timekeeper, but nicknamed The Ticktockman. Commit enough crimes against time to use up your estimated lifespan, and he'll kill you with a device that stops your heart. Into this society pops up The Harlequin, a rebel in a clown outfit who tries to throw a spanner into the societal works with surreal pranks and stunts.

In Time

It's set in a "retro-future" where aging doesn't happen beyond 25, but to control the population everyone has a built in timer. When the timer runs out you die. However, time is literally money in this culture and if you play your cards right you can accumulate enough time to become effectively immortal. The main plot involves a poor young man (Justin Timberlake) who inherits a fortune in time, and then gets blamed for murder. He goes on the run with a hot chick (Amanda Seyfried) to clear his name and avoid policemen, called Timekeepers, who will stop his clock if they catch him.

Now apparently the heart of the suit is by the use of the name "Timekeepers" and their ability to shorten or stop someone's life if they see fit. That makes this different from Ellison's other suits. Ellison's past litigation had to do with the core idea of a story. The core of
"Repent Harlequin" is all about the use of time as a form of state control. Be on time, doing your duty, or die.

In Time is about immortality, the timers implanted in people in the name of population control, and how those timers led to the use of lifespan as a currency that can be traded, or accumulated. The fact that the people who regulate this trade are called "timekeepers" like Ellison's punctuality enforcers doesn't strike me as coming from a desire to "rip-off" Ellison, but from the simple fact that there really isn't a better word to use.

It's like someone suing everyone who has ever made a movie about space travel because he wrote a story about space travel that used the word "spaceship."

Now if the leader of the
In Time Timekeepers is called The Ticktockman, then he might have a case, but right now I'm not feeling it.

What I am feeling is a bit of unease over Ellison's demand that the producers not only pay him damages, but that the film's release be cancelled. I hope it's just a bargaining chip Ellison is setting up for the settlement negotiations, because demanding a film be essentially banned because someone finds it displeasing enough to sue is a tad discomfiting coming from someone who claims to be a champion of free expression. If someone made a film that displeased Rupert Murdoch, would he support Murdoch's call to ban the film?

All in all I find that he's suing more over a vague concept, one which only lay at the fringe of his 1965 story, which the creators of In Time use as a central conceit of their film, and they're using a radically different interpretation that had no place in Ellison's story. I'm sure the Ticktockman would be consider the use of lifespan as currency as needlessly chaotic and a promoter of tardiness.

Because of that I find myself unable to bring up my usual ardor for this new crusade of Ellison's. They'll probably settle to shut him up, but I think he's gone a step too far this time.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #806: Wait, Did Someone Listen To Me?

Paramount has dropped Warren Beatty's proposed movie about eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, which has since been picked up by New Regency Pictures, which is partnered with 20th Century Fox.

Now no one is saying why Paramount, which has a long relationship with Beatty, dropped out, but I will bet dollars to Daleks that it was all about money, specifically the film's budget.

You see, the chief thing a movie's budget buys a filmmaker is time. Warren Beatty takes an unholy amount of time to make movies, and unlike fellow directorial tortoise Stanley Kubrick, doesn't really include the time in his budget estimates. Beatty's last film
Town & Country was a pretty generic romantic comedy and Beatty was just supposed to be the star, but Beatty's demands for rewrites, retakes, and re-shoots, meant that it took over 3 years to make, had a production budget of $90 million, another $15-$20 million in marketing and distribution costs, and lost $100 million at the box office.

Now usually when a star of Beatty's tenure and stature goes to a studio to get a movie made the studio traditionally just hands over a blank check, because nobody says no to a big star. It was a practice that led to the
Town & Country boondoggle, and while I didn't suggest dropping the film altogether, I did suggest that the studio have a very serious chat with their star.

If you're too lazy the click the link, I'll summarize. Basically I said that if I was the boss of the studio, I'd sit Beatty down, and tell him, bluntly if I had to, that if he wants the film to be made he'd have to do it differently from anything he's done before. Beatty's method is to take horrendously long periods of time, and horrendously large amounts of money to make movies. If his demands can turn a romantic comedy into a $100 million+ loss, then what will he do with a period piece that is, by it's nature, a more expensive film. I'd tell him that if he wants to make his movie, he'd have to do it for reasonable money, and within a reasonable frame of time. If not, as the Catalan oath goes, then not.

Well, it looks like Beatty's chosen the "not" because the film is gone from Paramount, and now at New Regency, which is run by Arnon Milchan, a long time friend. I wish him luck, and I hope that he makes a good film at a reasonable cost, so that films that don't involve superheroes can be seen as commercially viable entertainment again.

Now I must come to the scary part of this blog.

Either someone at Paramount actually read my post and took my advice, or, someone in Hollywood has actually tried to act with a little common sense.

Which I think is a sign of the rapture.