Friday, 30 March 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #875: I Hope This Is Someone's Idea Of A Joke

I am sincerely hoping that this is all an elaborate April Fool's Joke.  Really I am, because if it isn't then Hollywood in general and Universal Pictures have just filed for complete Creative Bankruptcy.

What I'm talking about are reports that Universal Pictures and Montecito Productions are developing a sequel to the 1988 comedy Twins.  Now since 24 years have passed since the original movie was made I'll give you a quick recap.  It was a buddy comedy starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito as Jules & Vincent, twin brothers created by a genetic experiment who are reunited and go on a road trip to find their birth mother, and wackiness ensues.

It was a cute inconsequential confection of a movie that had some laughs, especially with the novelty of Schwarzenegger and DeVito going around telling people that they're twins.

But I don't really think it's worthy of a sequel, at least not after the early 1990s when people still remembered it.

But that doesn't seem to be stopping Universal, because their plan is to add another brother to the experiment that created Jules and Vincent.  The part of the extra sibling is being tailored for Eddie Murphy.

That's right, Universal wants to spend huge money to reunite the stars of a movie that will be at least 25 years old by the time shooting starts with a notoriously overpriced and difficult actor who is actually a negative with audiences.

The best box office performance Eddie Murphy has had in years was with Tower Heist, and that only a modest moneymaker and he was co-starring with a big ensemble cast including Ben Stiller and Matthew Broderick.  Hell, co-star Alan Alda had a more positive contribution to that film's box office than Murphy.  His last starring effort A Thousand Words did so poorly most theaters pulled it before the opening credits were finished.

And if this is an early April Fool's joke, then it's a cruel one, because right now poor Eddie Murphy's getting his hopes up that he's still a huge movie star that can do whatever he wants and have the studios cater to the every whim of himself and the members of his entourage.

If Eddie Murphy is going to salvage his career as a comic actor, he needs to have the studio rug pulled out from under him. He needs to hit bottom so he can learn that he has to climb his way back up bare-handed.  He can't just coast on his golden days anymore, he has to work his ass off, because his golden days are getting farther away each day.

If it isn't a joke, then the people running Universal should gather all the staff together, tell them that the company is officially out of ideas, send everyone home, and lock the gates.

Sheesh.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #874: What Good Is The MPAA?

How can an industry be considered remotely functional when the body created to represent that industry is so bloody dysfunctional.  I'm talking about Motion Picture Association of America, from now on referred to as the MPAA.

Like the industry it is supposed to represent, the MPAA has completely forgotten how to do its most basic duties and it's becoming a bigger laughing stock every day.

Now I know I've talked about some of this before, but I will reiterate some of my points before I get to the main reason why I'm on this latest diatribe.

The MPAA has 3 primary functions.

1. To act as the chief lobbyist for the movie industry.

2. To administer the movie ratings system.

3. To combat piracy of intellectual property.

Now let's look how they're blowing it...

1.  As a lobbyist they're a complete failure. The current MPAA CEO/Chairman, former Senator, Chris Dodd can't even get politicians to attend free movie screenings.  Politicians would sell their own mother for a box of chicken McNuggets, and he can't even get them to attend a free movie with free popcorn?

One of the main reasons for this is because the US government is a two party system, and the MPAA has put everything they have into one party; The Democrats.  That means the Democrats take the members of the MPAA for granted, knowing that they will support and donate big money to the Democratic Party even if they nominated Lyndon LaRouche for President with a "ban all movies" platform.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, the Republican Party, which currently controls the House of Representatives, views the members of the MPAA as an active enemy.  A view that was only cemented when they appointed former Democratic Senator Chris Dodd to head the group.  Dodd was known as one of the most partisan members of the Senate who a lot of Republicans truly despise.

That's a lousy choice for a lobbyist, whose job is to be a friend to those in power.

Love him or hate him, Jack Valenti, who was the longest serving head of the MPAA, could play both sides of the aisle.  It wasn't his job to make enemies, and that's something the pugnaciously Manichean Dodd seems incapable of figuring out.

2. The ratings system was created to replace the outdated "Production Code" that censored movies from the 1930s to the 1960s.  
 
There were two main reasons the Code had to be replaced. Television had replaced the movies as the "medium for all ages" while the capricious and erratic enforcement of the code's many rules had become comical, while the rules themselves plumbed new depths of absurdity.

Now the ratings system has become as capricious, erratic and absurd as the old Production Code.  There's no logic or reason behind many of the ratings decisions, where a movie where children kill each other gets a "PG-13" rating, where a documentary that has one too many f-bombs gets an "R" rating.

It's insanity.

3.  Now this is the main reason for this rant.  Recently the MPAA headed up a move in the American congress to pass the SOPA and PIPA laws which were intended to fight piracy of intellectual property.

The laws were badly written, and would have been a nightmare that would have crippled large chunks of the internet.

When pushing for those laws, which eventually died in Congress, the MPAA put out this press release claiming that piracy cost the American economy $58 billion.  Then this chap came out and said that his calculations told him that the MPAA's source overestimated these losses by about $50 billion, and that piracy can be blamed for roughly $8 billion in losses.

This is one of the stupidest things you can do.  It's like lying in court when you're under oath, one little fib gets found out and all your other testimony, no matter how truthful, is thrown out the window.

$8 billion is still a sizable chunk of change that does real economic damage.  Pumping it up from "problem" to "financial apocalypse" is a stupid move that damages their entire argument way more than just presenting the smaller, more accurate number.  Now people will look at that and say to themselves: "Those rich movie studio fat cats fudge the numbers anyway, so it's not going to do any harm for me to download this movie, or pirate these songs."

I think the MPAA has stepped beyond being reformable, and must be dismantled and something completely new being built in its place.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Case Of The Comic Contract Kerfuffle

It was a dark and stormy night in the beginning of the novel I was reading, so I threw it away. I can't stand stories that open with cliches.

Anyway, I was sitting in my office, which had become quite dusty since it had been almost 2 years since I last did one of these silly private eye parodies.

Suddenly there was a knock on my door... or to be more exact a knock went through my door. My door made like a banana and split right down the middle crumbling into pieces on my floor.
 
"Come on in," I said nonchalantly, "the door's open."

"Sorry about that," said a tall good looking guy in blue tights with matching red cape and boots. "I'm here because I need a dick."

"I'm sure you do," I answered, "and while I may be flattered, I don't really swing that way."

"Not that kind of dick," snapped the big blue cheese, "I need a shamus, a peeper, a snooper, a gumshoe, and/or a private detective."

"Then you've come to the right place," I said, "have a seat and start by telling me your name."

"Which one?" he asked.

"What do you mean which one?"

"I have three names," answered the big guy in blue.  "My Kryptonian name, my Earthling name, and my professional name."

"Let's keep this professional," I said as I poured out a belt of Scotch, and realized I now had a wet belt that smelled like cheap Scotch.

"My name is Superman," answered the big guy.  "Maybe you've heard of me?"

"Once or twice," I said, "what kind of case do you want me to solve?"

"It's a custody fight."

"I don't do divorces," I answered, "I only do cases that allow me to satirize show business stories in the style of a hardboiled detective story with lots of 'meta' self-awareness tossed in for cheap laughs."

"It's not a divorce," answered Superman, "the company that owns me and the heirs of the guys who created me are having a fight over who owns me, and the Warner Brothers want to take it to open court.  It's like watching your parents fight and it's tearing me apart."

"What do you want me to find out?"

"I want you to find out why they're fighting like this.  They won't tell me and if I don't know why I can't make them see reason."

"This is Hollywood buddy," I said, "reason often has very little to do with anything.  This is the same studio that put Jon Peters in charge of the Superman movie franchise and he pissed away $50 million before shooting a single frame of film."

"Just find out for me," said Superman.  "You can find anything. Remember that day you found Bridget Fonda?"

"Who could forget," I said, it was one of my toughest cases. 

"I have to go now, Lois usually does something really stupid and dangerous by now.  UP! UP! AND AWAY!"

And with that my new client took to the skies, too bad it was through my ceiling and the offices of the accountant upstairs. Not the brightest bit of kryptonite.

I hit the streets looking for answers. But the street wasn't talking because it's just pavement, and I think I broke my knuckles.  Anyway, after I left the emergency room I went straight to the horse's mouth.

I was too late, the horse had accepted a job on HBO's Luck, and ended up as glue and discount BBQ. I poured a 40 of malt liquor on the track in his honor, he would have wanted it that way.

That left me one option. I had to go to see the Warner Brothers.

I drove my 1976 AMC Pacer out into the wilds of Burbank.  The guard at the gate wasn't going to just let me in, because he knew me. I had to subtle.

Thankfully, I just happened to have towed my catapult out to Burbank with me.

When I regained consciousness I was inside the Warner Brothers studio, now I had to charm their receptionist to see the men themselves.

"Hello Sugartits," I said arching my left eyebrow (AKA My Sexy Eyebrow) to the comely receptionist.

Sugartits McGee just sighed and said: "I thought you were dead."

"Just on a long vacation," I said, "I need to see the Warner Brothers pronto."

"There is no Warner Brother named Pronto," said Sugartits McGee.

"I mean right now," I said.

"Sure," she said, knowing that we had flogged this scene long enough, "they're in the big office."

I went into the big office from which the Warner Brothers ran their empire.  Wally Warner had Willy Warner in a headlock and was dishing out some pretty hardcore noogies.  Willy retaliated with a barrage of purple nurples.

"Mom liked me best!" yelled Wally as his nipples were twisted.

"Liar!" screamed Wally as he was noogied bald.

"Hey!" I barked, and the two let each other go.  "I need to talk turkey with you two."

"I don't talk Turkey," said Willy, "I can only speak English."

"I mean serious business," I said, "you got a superhero who is all torn up about going to court because you can't settle with the heirs of his creator."

"Why should we settle?" asked Wally, rubbing his bald spot which was now as red as a baboon's ass.

"Because you can't do anything with Superman if they win," I answer, "and they can't do anything with Superman without the resources and properties that you two own.  So it's in your best interests to settle and get all this over with."

"We offered them a big deal," said Willy.

"Huge deal," added Wally.

"It would have made them millions," said Willy.

"But they wouldn't have it," added Wally.

"Why?" I asked.

"They insisted on putting it all in writing," answered Willy.

"Yeah," added Wally, "they wanted a contract with every term clearly defined."

"Nobody in Hollywood signs contracts," said Willy.

I had to laugh.  This was the funniest double act since Abbot & Costello.

"Are you two kidding?" I asked, because if they weren't they'd be nuttier than a squirrel's turd.

They shook their heads.

"Nobody does anything with a major studio without having all the terms clearly defined, all the 'i's' dotted and all the 't's' crossed.  Samuel Goldwyn wasn't wrong when he said a verbal contract wasn't worth the paper it was written on."

"But if we did that," said Willy, a look of horror crossing his face, "then we'd actually have to pay them what they're owed."

"We didn't get to be this big paying people what they're owed," added Wally. "Hell, if we did that we might actually have to do something concrete about the shrinking audiences for comics."

"That would be too much work," said Willy, being extremely honest for the personification of a company that hasn't anyone named 'Warner' involved in it for over 40 years.

Well, I had an answer for my client. It wasn't a great answer, but sadly it was the truth.

CASE CLOSED

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #873: What The Hunger Games Can Teach Us?

The Hunger Games, a movie based on the first book in a best-selling trilogy of Young Adult novels is currently raking in the bucks at the box office. By the time this blog hits the net, it'll probably have banked $200 million in North American ticket sales, and even more big money overseas.

Now some are posting articles like this one about lessons Hollywood should learn from this experience, and while they make valid points, I think they miss some important points.

1. STREAMLINE THE DEVELOPMENT PROCESS:  

Producer Nina Jacobson got the rights from author Suzanne Collins very quickly, and began working with Lionsgate within a year of its publication.  One of the reasons it took three years to develop the picture was mostly because they were waiting for the rest of the trilogy to finish and see how well they held onto their audience.

Even without the wait for the rest of the trilogy, three years from buying the rights to getting it on the screen is really fast by modern studio standards.  It is not uncommon for a property to spend ten years or more in development.  This relatively speedy process shows that producer Nina Jacobson knew what she wanted from the story, and stuck with it.

2. KEEP BUDGETS UNDER CONTROL:

Right now The Hunger Games is coming close to breaking even before its first week in theaters is even done. It had a production budget of $78 million and probably a further $50-$70 million in P&A.   

Now that is a lot of money to mere mortals like you and I, but by Hollywood standards it's a different story. We're talking about a science fiction movie with a large cast of characters, with lots of action and special effects.  For that sort of film any budget under $150 million is considered "small."  From what people are saying, it looks like every dollar is on the screen.

3. ONLY USE CGI WHEN ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY:

While I haven't seen the movie yet, the one thing I get from critics is that they seem impressed by how "natural" it looks.

The movie isn't just a non-stop bombardment of imagery that is impossible in the real world which passes for film-making at a certain level these days.

Since the filmmakers don't appear to be using CGI as a shortcut to everything in this movie, the dangers facing the characters have real emotional weight to the audience.

When computer imagery is overused a sense of unreality infects the film and the attitude of the audience. They look at the hero facing some danger and go "ho hum the hero's going to do some impossible trick and save the day."  But use physical effects, real stunt performers, with only a dusting of CGI to hide the strings and wires, and suddenly the audience can buy into the danger.

Those are some lessons that Hollywood can learn, but probably won't.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Trailer Trashing - Who?

Had a really busy day that was compounded by bad weather, and having work done on my street's water main. So no new business blog today, but in its place I give you a taste of my inner nerd with the preview for the new series of DOCTOR WHO starring Karen Gillan as Amy Pond and some guy in a bow tie playing The Doctor...

Friday, 23 March 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #872: Why 1984?

Shepherd Fairey, the artist most famous for the "Obama Hope" poster during the 2008 election, is setting things up to produce a movie version of the George Orwell novel 1984 with Ron Howard and Brian Grazer's Imagine Entertainment.

First thing they need to do, make sure Fairey has the rights he needs from Orwell's estate to make the movie, he has a bad habit of forgetting that sort of trivia especially if the source material belongs to someone else.

Second thing, reconsider the whole idea.

I'll get to my reasons why, but first a little history for the blatantly ignorant among you.

1984 was written by George Orwell and was released in 1948.  It's about Winston Smith, a minor functionary in a grim socialist dystopia called Oceania.  His job is go through old photos and news articles and remove all references to people who have fallen out of favor with the regime, personified by "Big Brother," an all seeing, all knowing symbol of the ruling elite.

And boy is Big Brother all knowing, because you can't fart without someone in the ruling "Inner Party" knowing it, thanks to round the clock surveillance, most famously via the "telescreens." Telescreens beam propaganda into your home, and beam out everything you do. 
 
 Even the language is being rewritten into a new government creation called "newspeak" that promises communication without any actual human connection.

Smith begins a tragic love affair with a co-worker named Julia, crosses paths with an Inner Party puppet master named O'Brien, and then... well you should just read the damn book the way I did in the seventh grade.

Now there have been several adaptations of the book. First as a radio play, then a 1950s BBC TV version starring Peter Cushing, a 1956 movie from Columbia Pictures starring Edmond O'Brien that butchered the story so badly, and did so poorly, the Orwell estate was able to get it pulled from circulation once its initial release was finished.

The last version, made, fittingly in 1984, was pretty faithful to the novel, and marked the last performance of Richard Burton, but it didn't make much of a dent with audiences.  Because who wants to see a downbeat movie about surveillance and oppression when Police Academy is playing at the cineplex.

But now Hollywood is considering doing another version, and all I have to say is...

LET IT GO.

Now if you know my record in trying to get Hollywood to listen to common sense you know I'm going to have to explain my point. So let's look at the... PROS & CONS!

PROS:

1. The original novel is a classic about the perils of a socialist society that must suppress individual identity and freedom in order to hold onto power while the lives of everyone but the ruling elite gets grimmer and more desperate.

2. People have been thinking a lot about the novel's themes of surveillance, sexual/intellectual freedom

CONS:

1. Hollywood is completely incapable of doing anything remotely coherent that has a political theme. Especially if that theme is critical about socialism.  Recent developments in American politics has made Hollywood very unlikely to say anything bad about socialism.  

I fully expect the story to be rewritten to the point where the atheistic socialist society of Oceania, is replaced by a Christian fundamentalist capitalist society run by the Oceania Coporation, whose logo is Big Brother, who bears a passing resemblance to whatever Republican politician/talk radio host is the right wing bogeyman du jour.

It'll bomb horrendously, but the filmmakers will get pats on the back at the country club for their courage with other people's money.

2. The whole surveillance paradigm made famous by 1984 is now completely upside down.

Thanks to the internet and ever present and unblinking cameras the government can't fart without EVERYONE knowing about it.  And where Winston Smith and Julia sought to hide from the ever present gaze of the camera lens, people are running towards it, in the vain hope that it can make them a celebrity.

So just pay off the Orwell estate and let the 1984 remake just fade away in development. It'll be better for everyone that way.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #871: MGM Update

Not much to talk about today, except there's some motion going on with the once venerable, but until recently long moribund, studio MGM.

First up, they recently told shareholders that they're going to take a loss on the $100 million thriller The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, but expect to make a profit from the surprising performance of the more modestly budgeted action buddy comedy 21 Jump Street.  

Both films were co-produced with, and distributed by Sony Pictures.  The report said that they're interested in participating in sequels for both films, but are using Hollywood code to say that if they're going to make The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest, they're going to have to be done much cheaper. Which is Hollywood code for replacing director David Fincher.

In other news, MGM has regained full ownership of United Artists.  Now some of you are saying "United Who?" or "What Artists?" and to that I say shame on you.

United Artists was founded in 1919 by a group of powerful stars, producers, and filmmakers who wanted to make films free from the control of the then dominant movie studios, First National (later taken over by Warner Bros.) and Paramount.

The business model was simple, United Artists acted as a sort of distributing mother-ship for independent producers who pretty much ran their own show.  Results were mixed at first, and the studio almost collapsed a few times before it hit its stride.

That stride came in the 1950s and 1960s. Where the other majors were struggling to survive the onslaught of television and were weighed down by their massive overheads caused by their huge production infrastructures and bloated executive suites, United Artists thrived because basically all they had was a comparatively small head office, and a handful of managers. 

This success made it a tempting takeover target and it was purchased by the insurance giant Transamerica.  At first the system kept chugging along, but Transamerica eventually sought to exert more control and managed to drive out all the executives and partnerships that made the company a success. (They went on to found Orion Pictures days after leaving.)

United Artists went on to produce the epic Western Heaven's Gate, directed by Michael Cimino, who was hot after his Oscar winning hit The Deer Hunter.  The budget of Heaven's Gate skyrocketed to the then immense sum of $44 million, and had a total box office take of $3 million.

United Artists was essentially bankrupt, and was sold to MGM, whose films they had been distributing since 1974.  This transformed United Artist from a once successful distributor, to just a division of a slowly sinking ship.

The company faded for the most part, with occasional attempts to revive it during the almost constant reorganizations of MGM/UA.  Then along came Tom Cruise.

In 2006 MGM made a deal with the actor for him and his partner Paula Wagner to take over United Artists.  Sadly, this takeover coincided with a bad slump in Cruise's career, and the whole deal fizzled out.

Now I always thought the deal with Cruise was a mistake. Yes, most of the major founders of United Artists were actors, but it's success came when it separated itself from being the playground of movie stars, into being a serious business partner for independent producers.

This is where my Monday morning quarterbacking comes in.  MGM eventually shut down its distribution arm as part of its latest restructuring. What they should have done, was folded distribution into United Artists, and sold it as a distributor.

Then it may have had a chance of being more than just a name on corporate register.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #870: Whither Touchstone?

Thanks to reader ILDC who asked this question:
ILDC said... Apparently Disney is considering selling its "adult" film imprint Touchstone. Maybe it's because of different staffs, but Disney seems to be doing okay with brands like ABC, ESPN, Hollywood Records, and Marvel. Why are they so clueless when it comes to grown-up movies these days? They even seem to consider movies like Wild Hogs and The Proposal flukes, having turned down sequels.
Well, to answer this question we must delve back into the depths of history..... the 1970s and 1980s...

Back in those grey days the Walt Disney Co. was in piss-poor shape, having suffered a string of flops, flagging merchandise sales, and general malaise.  One way out was to expand their market from strictly "G" rated fare to "PG" and beyond.

However their first attempts at PG material failed on just about every level. Disney is probably the only studio whose specific "brand" actually has some sway with audiences, and those same audiences weren't buying tickets to see mature comedies and thrillers from Disney.

So the powers that be gathered and in 1984 they formed....
The purpose of Touchstone Pictures was to create a corporate identity or "brand" that was separate from Disney and capable of releasing the PG to R rated movies that Disney couldn't.  Its future looked bright when its first feature, the $8 million fantasy comedy Splash raked in just under $70 million in domestic box office, and launched the careers of director Ron Howard, and actors Tom Hanks, and Daryl Hannah. (Which got a lot of free publicity from its brief shot of Daryl Hannah's tush appearing in a "Disney movie.")

During the 1980s Touchstone Pictures and its TV division helped save the Walt Disney Company.  Their tactic was simple, get stars whose careers were either coming up, or in need of a revival, put them in a comedy or thriller that could be made for a relatively modest budget, and if they caught on, great, if it didn't, there wasn't much of a loss.

The formula was so successful that in 1990 Disney decided to do it all over again with Hollywood Pictures.

Then it all began to change, because the nature of the parent company began to change.

In 1993 Disney, it's family movie/TV biz revived and thriving, bought indie powerhouse Miramax.  Now Disney, the center of all family entertainment in North America, had 3 studios geared toward adults. (4 if you count Miramax's then genre division Dimension Films.)

Touchstone shifted its model to be mostly the distributor for Jerry Bruckheimer's productions like Con Air and Armageddon, Hollywood Pictures started to be lost in the shuffle going dormant in 2001, and Miramax chased Oscars.

Eventually Miramax was sold off, Hollywood Pictures was revived as their low budget genre arm, with some lackluster results.  Touchstone still had occasional hits, but there was a problem...

Disney didn't care about Touchstone anymore.

Disney's main business model is to make movies that kids will see multiple times in the theater, annoy their parents to buy all the related merchandise, including the DVD/Blu Ray.  

That model made it a juggernaut in the entertainment business, and if projects, like the Pirates of the Carribean franchise looked especially promising, they poached them from Touchstone for Disney proper.

Touchstone became an afterthought.

When Touchstone has hits, its Disney masters did tend to pass on sequels.  Why?  Because making a sequel to a hit movie is a pretty expensive proposition, because everyone involved will want more money.

Without the gravy of toy lines and Happy Meal deals it was better to be one-and-done and move on.

Now this policy is hurting their ability to retain talent, with most going off to other studios as soon as they can. This means that Touchstone isn't developing successful franchises on its own, and the company's output deal with Dreamworks isn't the money machine they hoped it would be. So it's not that big a stretch to imagine that they might put it on the block.

But what is the studio worth?

Well, let's look at the PROS & CONS of buying Touchstone Pictures...

PROS:

THE LIBRARY:  Touchstone has a lot of movies and TV shows in its library, some of them have a fair bit of value. 

CONS: 

THE LIBRARY:   However, a lot of them haven't aged well, and don't have that sort of intrinsic value since they're not exactly "classics" of their time. Then there's the very good possibility that Disney will simply keep the big blockbusters for themselves, and leave you with the tossed cookies.

THE DISTRIBUTION:  All of Touchstone's distribution was done through Disney's Buena Vista division. That means if you buy it, you either have to set up your own distribution, or pay Buena Vista to do it for you.  So unless Disney tosses in some sort of distribution capability with Touchstone, you'll probably be better off just using the money to start your own company from scratch, or buying Lionsgate/Summit.

I hope the answer to your question is in there somewhere. I do tend to ramble.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #869: What Went Wrong?

Remember a little over a week ago I wrote that people weren't sure if Disney's John Carter was a bomb or not, well, I guess it's official because Disney has announced that they're taking a $200 million bath on the production.  You know we can always take the word of Hollywood studios when it comes to movie money.

Well, this is a case where we can put on our smug know it all caps and try to figure out what went wrong, so the mistakes made on this film are not made again.

Let's begin--

1. THE PRICE WAS TOO DAMN HIGH.  When all the audience is hearing was how the budget of a movie could have fed a Third World country for a year, they're going to get suspicious.  When it was released most critics were unable to see beyond the price tag, and seemed to hold it against the movie.

2.  THE TITLE.  Calling it John Carter, instead of the original working title of John Carter of Mars was reportedly the idea of director, Pixar auteur, Andrew Stanton.

Bad idea.

The source material is about 100 years old.  Those who didn't know who the hell John Carter was, they saw cowboys, they saw aliens, and assumed it was some sort of rehash of the disastrous Cowboys & Aliens instead of a story of a man from Earth having adventures on Mars.

3. THE MARKETING. Selling this movie was extremely lackluster. For every ad that looked interesting there was five that made it look like yet another soulless CGI fest. They should have emphasized the fact that John Carter is an old fashioned hero in every sense of the word, sans post-modern irony, meta-commentary or obnoxious posturing.

Then came the failure to capitalize on the fact that most ordinary movie-goers who went to see it, enjoyed it. Disney failed completely to use that positive word of mouth to the film's advantage.  This throwing in the towel when they couldn't just throw money at the problem is making poor old Walt Disney spin in his cryogenic storage chamber.

4. THE 3D.  There are only two ways 3D can still sell a movie. 

A) The movie is marketed towards really stupid children who like to see candy colored cartoons shill them products between annoying catchphrases and slapstick antics.

B) The audience already knows it's going to be a great movie.

Unless you have one or both of those factors working for you 3D is a negative.  That's because most movie goers have been burned too many times. They pay the extra money, wear the glasses that give them a headache, and what do they get for their trouble? A lighter wallet and a headache.

Now that you know what I think contributed to John Carter's failure, tell me what you think in the comments.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #868: Making A Channel

The other day I wrote a piece about the failing and flailing Oprah Winfrey Network's cancelling the Rosie Show and how people were asking "What went wrong?" when they should have been asking "What could possibly go right?" on the day Oprah pitched the idea.  The piece drew this comment from regular reader Kit who said:
It doesn't help that a quick look at the website shows that everything OWN shows is a cross between Lifetime and TLC.
That little comment got me thinking, specifically thinking about what it takes to create a successful cable channel.  Because if all you're offering can be found elsewhere, then it's going to be hard to get off the ground.

So let's have a little thought experiment.  Imagine that you have inherited a company that owns a nice chunk of cable bandwidth, and the money to stock it with programming. The question is "Now what?"

1. IDENTIFY AN AUDIENCE:  First you need to figure out what kind of audience do you want, and how you can go beyond them. Entertainment has become balkanized on a level never seen before.  The concept of being all things to all people when it comes to entertainment is dead and gone. 

However, you have to find an audience that isn't already being serviced by other channels.  As Kit said OWN's trying to peel their target audience, middle and upper class Caucasian women, off of Lifetime, TLC, and half a dozen other channels that target the female market and are more established than OWN.

What a new channel needs to find is an audience that is sizable enough to be commercially viable, but one that hasn't been serviced yet.

Once you've figured that out you can do step...

2. ESTABLISH A BRAND: Now the temptation is to go all Oprah and name the channel after yourself, but remember these little facts of life:

A) It will look like a massive ego trip instead of a source of entertainment and enlightenment.

B) All programming must reflect upon you, the person the channel was named after, in a positive way. That extremely limits what you can air. In television, limitations are bad.

So what kind of brand should you go for?

Since you can't be everything to everyone you need a brand that:

A) Appeals to your target audience.

B) Has the potential to appeal beyond your target audience.  Remember OWN, it's targeting middle to upper class white women, and offers literally nothing of any interest to anyone else. That's one of its biggest problems.

C) Defines the identity of your channel, but does define specific programs.

This is because if you're going to survive you need to--

3. PRESENT A WIDE VARIETY OF PROGRAMMING: As I said before, limitations are bad.  You need to be able to able to use your brand as a selling point, but you can't let it limit you.

One temptation is to buy a package of reruns and movies that fit your niche market and just letting them run over and over until the tape wears out. But it's not as great an idea as it sounds. 

Yes, reruns are cheaper than making new shows, and I'm not saying that you're theoretical channel shouldn't use them. What I am saying is, don't over-use them. Because if you flog certain shows to death, guess what happens, they die.  The audience gets bored with them and flips the channel to see what else is on.  Pace yourself, bring in shows that fit your niche, but can't be found anywhere else, to spread the love around. 

Turner Classic Movies is a good example. Their niche is old movies from Hollywood's Golden Age and beyond, but they keep a wide variety of them playing. Classics lay beside the less than classic, there are no limitations when it comes to genre and style, and even some original special programming about the movies they show.

They also don't flog any single film to the point where the audience gets sick to death of it. Too many "movie channels," especially here in Canada, run only a small number of films so many times you can set your watch by them. "Oh, they're showing that movie again, it must be the second Tuesday of the month."

Your channel can't be a dumping ground for your parent company's leftovers.  That's why anyone starting a channel must have the infrastructure and resources to not only buy content, but to produce their own.

Then, you might be able to set up a channel worth watching.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #867: What Went Wrong? What Could Have Gone Right?

Well it happened a lot sooner than I expected, but after five low rated months and several re-vamps Rosie O'Donnell's talk show on the Oprah Winfrey Network has been cancelled.  Now this has sparked some discussion about "What went wrong?" when I think think the real question should be "What the hell could have possibly gone right?"

If someone had the balls to ask that question when Oprah floated the idea of spending tens of millions of dollars more on a network that's already hemorrhaging cash to start a talk show hosted by someone who repels a massive segment the population of the country, then they may have avoided the whole debacle.

But no one dared.

The decision made sense to Oprah because in her realm of rich media people Rosie is a big star.  It doesn't matter that she believes that "Fire doesn't melt steel" and that little brain nugget proves the Bush administration was behind the 9/11/2001 World Trade Center attacks, and that anyone who doesn't agree with her 100% on everything is the epitome of evil. It doesn't matter that her last attempt at a TV comeback was a variety show that even NBC wasn't dumb enough to allow past a first episode.

While Rosie does have her fans, and they're extremely vocal about their adoration of her, the rest of the country views her as a repulsive symbol of everything that's wrong with modern celebrity.

So why didn't anyone tell Oprah that her idea made no sense in the real world where everyone else lives?

Because those who had to tell her exist on the fringes of Oprah's world, and even if you exist on the fringes, Oprah is just too damn big to deny. To deny her could get you tossed right off the fringe and completely out.

This is why I am such a strong advocate of people in show business, no matter how powerful or successful, having someone who is not afraid to speak the truth to them. The Emperors of Rome, during their triumphal parades, used to have a guy sitting beside them whispering "All fame is fleeting" in their ear.  In medieval Europe the Court Jester was considered inviolate when it came to the things he said, allowing him to dole out real, sometimes harsh advice, under the guise of "jests."

When you're in the upper echelons of show-biz you exist in extremely rarefied circumstances.  You're essentially immunized from the ups and downs that are felt by real people out in the real world, and everyone around is either at your feet, or at your throat.

Plain speaking is extremely rare in these circles.  People are usually telling you how great you are to your face, and saving the harsh truth for behind your back.  That's why you need someone you can run ideas by, who is fearless enough to ask: "Are you high?"

Then you might be able to avoid debacles like this one.

The other question that comes up from that the show was cancelled so relatively quickly.  Usually something that pops up from the Siamese twin phenomena of Hollywood's social isolation, and "too big to deny" are at least given a couple of years to sink completely.

This shows that OWN is a lot closer to total collapse than I think anyone is willing to admit.