Thursday, 28 February 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #992: What Variety Of Variety?

Variety shows used to be a staple on American television. Back in the day there wouldn't be a night without a show featuring sketch comedy, music, and other acts performing in front of a live in-studio audience being broadcast nationally.

However, prime-time variety is pretty much dead in America, and has been dead since the mid-1970s. It still thrives in other parts of the world, but in America TV history of the last 30 years is littered with the corpses of failed variety shows.

The main reason for networks to keep trying to bring back variety shows are that they're relatively cheap to produce when compared to one hour television dramas that can cost anywhere between $3-$6 million an episode. You need a studio with a stage, a few props and costumes, and some inexpensive sets you can roll in and out, and a roster of guest performers who are there more for the exposure and the promotion of their next project than for the money.

It was the ease of making variety shows that killed it. Starting in the 1960s the networks started giving out variety shows like candy at Halloween. By the 1970s anyone who had the slightest bit of fame had their own variety show, whether they could carry one or not. People started to get sick of them, and then the networks saw that the audience was beginning to skew older for those shows, and they started dropping like flies.

But hope springs eternal, and now several networks and studios are in talks with comic actress and Saturday Night Live and Bridesmaids alumni Maya Rudolph to star in her own variety show.

Now I'm not an expert on her or her work, since I haven't been able to sit through an episode of SNL in ages, but I am going to assume that she has the requisite talent to make a good go of it. 

However, it doesn't really matter how much talent she has, because the format has many traps and pitfalls that can sink it before it's even begun. The smart thing would be to look at the last truly successful prime time variety show and see what they did right.

That was The Carol Burnett Show. It ran for 11 seasons and 278 episodes and not only do those who remember it think highly of the show, people who see it for the first time tend to like it too.

What did they do right?

It all boils down to the star's ego, or lack thereof. Carol Burnett was the name in the title, but she didn't have to be the centre of attention in every sketch or segment. In fact, they would have whole segments where she would be relegated to either a small supporting role, or not appear at all.

The big mistake other shows make is to assume that the "star" of the show has to be the star of every segment. The whole point of the format is "variety" which means having a variety of performers playing a variety of characters. Rosie O'Donnell's abortion abomination variety show failed because she had to be the centre of every bit, and she could only do one character, and that was Rosie O'Donnell.

The audience was sick of the sight of her before the first commercial break.

So, if Rudolph is going to make this work, she needs to take a few simple steps.

1. Get as many Harvey Kormans as she can get. 

Carol Burnett often attributed the hiring of Harvey Korman as the key to success of her show. He could carry sketches on his own, and was a master straight man who only Tim Conway could crack. 

For Rudolph's proposed show to work she needs to get at least one, but preferably more than one, performer(s) who are capable of doing material on their own, while being able to help and carry others.

The makers of a variety show can't trust the networks/studios or even the big agencies to provide you with these sorts of players. The networks/studios don't want anyone who might outshine the star, for fear they might have to pay them a bigger salary. Meanwhile the agencies will try to foist the usual suspects of old timers on the show because they need to maximize the 10% fees they collect to stay in business.

That conflict could get the show stocked with has-beens and never-weres. Which is not healthy.

To get the right cast for the show, emphasizing versatility and talent, you have to go out and look for them. The internet can make that easier, but nothing beats burning through some shoe-leather  checking out improv and sketch groups at both theatres and colleges.

2. Get good writers. 

Everyone in Hollywood thinks they can write, especially in comedy. That's a huge lie. Only few can write decent comedy consistently, and when it comes to sketch, the backbone of any variety show, it's very much a young writer's game.

A good strategy is to hire a select group of skilled old pros to act as mentors to the young bucks. Where will you find the young bucks? Well, like with the performers you are probably going to have to go out and look for them.

There is a way to use the internet to do this. First you can set up a system where people can send in their sketches. Set up a classification system that pays set amounts based on the size of the sketch,  and if a sketch makes it to air, they get a cheque and an on screen writing credit.

Another way to use the internet is to comb through YouTube and other video sites to find people who make funny short videos. You set up a relationship with them, and buy an exclusive window to premiere their next sketch video before they premiere it online.

3. Don't let regular characters become TOO regular.

Every sketch performer has a stable of regular characters, and the networks and studios love regular characters, because they love familiarity. The problem is that when it comes to variety/sketch shows familiarity can breed contempt. A variety show star could have a killer character, and the network and the studio could then demand that character appear in every episode.

However trying to come up with fresh material for that character will get harder and harder, especially when you're being forced to do it. The quality goes down, and the character that the audience used to love, becomes the one they now hate because they're sick of the sight of the bastard. Plus it also prevents new characters and material from finding a place in the show.

It's best to only use regular characters when there's good material for those characters.

4. Don't let sketches run too long.

Shows that perform in front of a studio audience come with a pitfall that every sketch has to fill the time between commercial breaks. This can lead to sketches that were funny at 3 minutes getting stretched out to from almost seven to ten minutes.

That's because it's technically more complicated to do more than one sketch on stage between the commercial break because you have to change the sets and the all the other technical frummery. However, that's why you make relationships with the short video makers. They can create the pre-taped bumper material you can use to segue between the on stage in studio performances.

That way you get the reputation for being fast paced and if something doesn't work, there's always something else coming up before the temptation to flip the channel takes over.

And that's how you can prevent any variety show she does from becoming a Mayan apocalypse.

Get it?






*crickets*







Philistines.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

You Asked For It!: What Does The Future Hold?

You have a question, so I will pretend to have an answer...

Kanothae asked... 
I'm curious what the movie industry is going to be like in 20 years. The medium is not going anywhere, especially since the technology to film is available to pretty much everyone with a cellphone, but can the same be said about the studios, especially if movie theaters were to go down? For now they are kept afloat by the parent companies, but how long do you keep a lame horse? I wonder how soon we're going to see a really competitive online distribution scene for independent productions (seems unavoidable) and if that changes anything in Hollywood.


I'd love to know what the movie industry would be like in 20 years, I'm sure the guys running the studios would like to know if they gave a rat's left butt about anything beyond their next bonus check.

Theatre owners would probably like to know, because feature films are the core of their business. They're what attracts the people who buy tickets, and more importantly, the snacks at the concession stand.

There are two ways theatres can weather this storm.

1. Bring back the glamour of the movie theatre. Back in the golden age first run movie theatres were veritable palaces of cinema. They were places people gathered to be entertained and to socialize with fellow moviegoers. That changed after the Canadians invented the multiplex theatre that turned moviegoing from a social event to an industrial event. Socialization was traded for getting people in, and getting them out, all as fast as possible, with each screening room have just enough seats to avoid having to provide wheelchair access.

People aren't going to go through all the hassle of going to a theatre to sit in an undersized seat in plain black box that is only interested in them paying for their ticket and getting the hell out as soon as possible. You're going to have to provide some glamour, some comfort, and some perks to get people going to the movies again.

After that the theatres are going to have to find something beyond what the studios are putting out. That means...

2. Alternative programming. Digital technology means that cinemas can do more than just show movies. Now they can "narrowcast" things like live concerts, plays, and other things people will be willing to pay money to see something they can't see at home.

That probably the two most glaringly obvious ways theatres can ensure their own survival.

Now the studios will survive the collapse of theatres because they're getting deeper and deeper into television, and online streaming through Netflix, Amazon and their own outlets.

As for the second part of your question about how long it will take for an effective form of online distribution for independent entertainment.

It's easy to get your movie released online. In fact, anyone can do it. But there are two pitfalls.

1. Getting people to pay attention to it. There are literally thousands of films of every variety available online. But how do you get people to know about your particular movie. You need money and marketing expertise, and they're not easy to get.

Let's not forget that the big studios can and will use their money and marketing expertise to effectively bury any and all potential competition.

2. Getting people to pay for it. There's literally an entire generation of kids who think art grows on trees and that the people who create it don't have bills to pay. 

That means any online distribution would need the backing or support of some sort of large and powerful corporation like Amazon, Netflix, or a big media conglomerate to overcome those pitfalls.

I hope that answered your question.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #991: Forget The Oscars What's Happening To The Money?

Last night was the Academy Awards, Hollywood's big collective hand job, but I'm not going to talk about the show. Seth Macfarlane tried to host the show, but the format's too big and clumsy, and it's a no-win situation for the host.


Today I'm going to talk about money. Dirty, sexy, money.


Chiefly I'm talking about how the pre-tax profits of the major studios, like Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, Universal, Sony/Columbia, Disney, and Paramount have dropped 40% in the years between 2007 and 2011.

I think the phrase "HOLY SHIT" is appropriate for this little tidbit of news.

A drop that precipitous can't be blamed on the usual studio accounting games, because it goes along with the movies being a shrinking part of their parent company's empires. They're currently at about 10%, but are expected to drop to being just 5% of their parent companies in the next few years.

That's not a healthy business at all.

Now the article I linked to quoted film financier Amir Malin of Qualia Capital saying that the whole business model of the movie business is broken, and he's right. It is broken on just about every level.

Let's look at the facts...

1. HOW IT'S RUN: If you were writing fiction about a poorly run business and made your fictional business as poorly run as Hollywood, you'd be condemned for being unbelievable. It all started with their needlessly complicated bookkeeping schemes, designed to screw people out of their profit shares and royalties. That caused the salaries for anyone with the slightest hint of clout to skyrocket, because they knew they couldn't count on getting any piece of the action, so they were going to get everything they could get up front. 

Then came digital technology which made the means of producing movies cheaper than ever before. What do they do with it? They use it as an excuse to spend millions upon millions of dollars more than they did when they were using expensive film stock.

Why?

Because the chief thing a film's budget buys you is time. When you're using film stock, it's expensive, it takes time to prepare, time to light for, and time to develop. Digital camera tech is cheap and easy, so it's not so much of a hassle to do way more takes than you would do with film, and then do and redo expensive special effects. So you waste more time and money.

Now they're trying to curb expenses. Slashing star salaries, and hiring first time directors over experienced hands because they're cheaper, and cutting their output.

And that's the trap. The stuff they are putting out is trending upwards budget-wise. They're making fewer movies, but the fewer movies they're making are costing on average between $150-$200 million to make and between $50-$100 million to market. That means that the old model of making many reasonably budgeted movies, with just a couple of big budget "prestige" projects each year has been flipped.

Now the studios are making only a handful of movies every year, and the bulk of that shrinking number have immense budgets, and they are increasingly sequels, prequels, remakes, or adaptations of previously popular material. They think those things are "safe" investments, but there is literally no way to guarantee a hit.

These films have to break records just to break even, and when they bomb, they bomb huge.

2. HOW IT'S SOLD: When the studios started merging with networks and cable channels it was supposed to create "synergy" which would save money in marketing and promoting movies.

It didn't. Instead it became just another black hole where money goes in and very little comes out.

The big pictures get massive saturation ad campaigns, which bury and any all competition who aren't able to drop $50 to $100 million for marketing. So films that might get an audience are lost amid all the hullaballoo over the latest overpriced bomb.

3. HOW IT'S SEEN: The days of walking down to the neighbourhood Bijou to catch the flickers are long over. Getting to see a movie is an incredible and expensive pain in the ass for the bulk of moviegoers.

You have to pay for gas to get your car to multiplex, then pay for parking, then wait in line to pay for tickets, then wait in another line to pay for snacks. Then you have to find a seat where talking and texting teenagers won't ruin the experience for you.

It's better to just stay at home and either wait a little while to watch the movie on DVD or pay-per-view type streaming, or just watch television which is going through a new golden age of both quantity and quality.

Now Hollywood should be trying to reverse these trends and get bums back in theatre seats. But that would require courage and imagination, and those are things that just aren't allowed in Hollywood anymore. 



Thursday, 21 February 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #990: Fat or PHAT!

Sorry for the title that sounds like it was made up by a suburban junior high kid trying to look cool, but I couldn't help it because it was so appropriate to answer this question from reader Kit:

I have been thinking about how actress, Jennifer Lawrence, when she appeared in Hunger Games was attacked by some as "fat". Now these attacks obviously had no impact on the movie's success. But she has had other quotes such as "In Hollywood, I'm obese". Now this could be Jennifer Lawrence being Jennifer Lawrence, making bizarre (and funny) hyperbolic comments. She also had the quote "I want to look like a woman. I don't want to look like a little boy". As a straight male, I want to say that she is probably the only woman under 25 that actually looks like a human woman.  
Anyway, to the point of my query, I've noticed something about the claims she is "fat". They come almost entirely from within your "Axis of Ego". So I was wondering, could they be a part of what you say is Hollywood's "Juvenile Dementia"? 

The face of obesity? Seriously?
For those of you who are new to this blog the "Axis of Ego" is my name for the mindset of the Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Malibu community. And the term "Juvenile Dementia" is my name for Hollywood's obsession with youth.

Now let's get back to Jennifer Lawrence, or as Hollywood sees her: "The female Dom Deluise."

Now if you ignore her smash hit The Hunger Games, or the fact that she's got 2 Oscar nominations at the young age of 22, you will notice that Miss Lawrence has a certain something that a lot of starlets her age lack.

That certain something is looking like a woman.

What is Hollywood's problem?
She's not anorexic, bulimic, or have any other sort of apparent eating disorder, and that freaks the hell out of Hollywood.

In Hollywood thin is more than in, it's an obsession, especially if you're a young actress looking to get hired. If your ribs aren't showing, you're more or less a pariah fit only to play the "fat friend" who says "You go girl!" to the skinny lead actress.

Now there are some usual suspects that get blamed for this emaciated state of affairs.

1. CAMERAS: They get the blame because it's believed that they add ten pounds to a person's appearance and that you must be unnaturally thin just to appear normal.

2. MEN: Men are sexist pigs who force women to be super-thin because they somehow like it that way. Oink-oink!

But there's a problem with those theories.

Camera's have added this 10 lbs since the invention of the camera. So why when you watch old movies the female stars don't look morbidly obese in comparison to modern stars, the super-thin modern stars look unhealthy. Wouldn't it be better to follow the example of the golden age starlets?

Then there's men...

Actually ask men, and they will tell you that they love women like Jennifer Lawrence, and the way they're built. It's hard-wired into men's brains.

So what's the real reason for Hollywood love of starved starlets?

1. MAGAZINES: Actresses can't rely on their box office appeal to maintain their careers. The ticket buying audience is too fickle, and the movie choices too questionable. To justify their paycheques most actresses need to be consistently in the public eye to make it look like they can sell movie tickets.

That means magazine covers, and lots of them.

To get on magazine covers you have to be accepted by the haute couture industry, and their standard of beauty involves women being reduced to glorified coat hangers.

2. JUVENILE DEMENTIA: Hollywood is obsessed with youth. To be part of the in crowd you must look young, act young, and have to stay that way far beyond the realm of possibility. Now most people are thin when they're young, and get a bit thicker as they get older. So by Hollywood logic the thinner you are the younger you must be. The moment you gain weight, especially when you're actress, is the moment you get demoted from lead to character actor.

It doesn't quite gel with real world logic, but that's never stopped Hollywood before.

3. CONFORMITY: Hollywood likes to present itself as a community of free-spirited individualists, but it's the most narrow-minded, groupthink obsessed, and conformist place outside North Korea. The fact that Lawrence doesn't play their games, and her success as both an actress and blossoming box office starlet, just adds to the confusion and frustration she makes them feel.

I hope that answers your question Kit, and I have to say that I did this post solely to answer your question, and not as an excuse to post traffic attracting pictures of a beautiful actress.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #989: Retool This Post

When you're making a network television series there are two words you fear the most.

The first fearsome word is "cancelled" but it's like a bullet to the head, one shot and you're pretty much done and dusted.

The second fearsome word is "retooled." Unlike "cancelled" it means that your troubles are only just beginning. If I were to stick with the bullet metaphor, it's like getting shot in the gut. It hurts like eight kinds of bitch and it's going to take a while for you to die.

"What is 'retooling' you ask?" furrowing your brow in a feeble attempt to understand. Well, retooling is when the people running a network think they can make your show more popular by changing stuff about it.

These changes can be subtle, like making a recurring character a regular on the series, modest, like adding a completely new character, or drastic, like turning a police procedural about cops solving gory murders into a family sitcom.

Right now the networks are on a bit of a retooling binge, changing elements of shows like Touch, and Body of Evidence, and NBC is retooling the sitcom Up All Night so radically it will probably need a new female lead.

Now has retooling a show ever worked?

It's hard to say. Because if it's done subtly it can just look like the natural progression of the show's central story, like characters getting married, moving to a new home, etc... However, drastic and radical changes  that look like they're the brain-farts of a committee of network marketing executives usually do more harm than good.

When you retool a show that has a modest but loyal audience you run the risk of driving away the existing audience while attracting no new viewers, because hardly anyone is going to start watching a show they don't already watch just because it has a new coat of paint.

A classic example of retooling killing the golden goose was the 70s sitcom Mork & Mindy.

The show, a spin-off of Happy Days, had a killer first season as the #3 show in the country.

Now you would think that the network would leave the show alone in a case of "If it ain't broke then don't fix it." Thinking like that is why you're not a network executive.

The folks running the network thought that while was doing great, it could do better. So they started tinkering with almost everything associated with the show. The changed the theme song, where the characters hung out, dropped some regulars and brought in new ones.

Did it work?

Nope.

Ratings started to decline in the second season. The network panicked, brought back some of the regulars they had dropped in season 2, and tried to recreate some of the magic of season 1.

Did it work?

Nope.

The decline in the ratings became a plummet. The network renewed the show for one more season, and ordered even more drastic retooling, pulling an offbeat variation of the "Cousin Oliver" by adding comedian Jonathan Winters as an alien baby.

Did it work?

Nope.

The fourth season was the last one, giving the show a long and painful death.

So I guess the lesson here is that when it comes to retooling, one should only do it if they absolutely have to, but even then it has to at least look natural in the context of the show to avoid driving away the audience it already has.

Monday, 18 February 2013

The Basics: The Flavours of Fame

We live in the age of fame.

It's all over the place, it's being treated like it's a solid commodity, like gold, or pork bellies, and there's a generation of children who when asked what they want to be when they grow up just say: "Famous."

THIS IS FAME.
However, fame is a not all that concrete. It's more like a no-name gelatine desert with too much water in the mix, it's mushy, it's wobbly, it can fall apart at any minute, and it comes in many flavours. All those flavours can seem sweet at the start, but some have a bitter aftertaste, and a lot can go totally sour very early.

So let's look at some of these flavours....

1. HYSTERICAL FAME: This kind of fame hits when you're very young. It's super intense, causing floods of money, hype, and the adoration of millions of young girls. But there's a catch. Adoration can turn to revulsion as quickly as flipping a switch. And since the people who have this sort of fame tend to be very young and at the mercy of managers, agents, parents, media executives, and accountants, they usually end up broke and working at a dry cleaners, only appearing as a curiosity on some sort of "where are they now" special on deep cable.

2. MEDIA FAME: This kind of fame occurs when you're the darling of other famous people. If you have this sort of fame you may find yourself in the middle of a great schism between the amount of attention/adoration you get in the media, and your ability to generate revenue from the audience.

George Clooney is the classic example of this. To be considered a commercially viable movie star you have to show an ability to get people in the general audience to pay money to see you in movies to the tune of at least $100 million.

Now if you go only by the coverage Clooney gets in the media you would assume that his movies rake in the big money.

Not so.

Clooney's actual box office record is pretty weak, showing that over the past ten years he's been unable to crack the $100 million target without a large group of big name actors backing him up, like in the Ocean's 11 movies. Even then, they got so expensive to make, due to cast salaries, they became economically untenable.

Now Clooney's the lucky one in that Hollywood keeps tossing him big roles in big movies. Sometimes you can be media famous, and while it goes great at first, with TV/movie deals, big money book deals, and the adoration of the critics and award voters, it's a double edged sword. When you have that sort of fame, and are subject to fawning coverage almost every day, the audience can get sick of the sight of you without seeing anything you've done, and the well of money and adoration eventually runs dry.

3. TYPE FAME: This is where someone becomes famous for doing a specific type of thing. Like playing a certain kind of character, or performing a certain style of music.

Mary Pickford, America's Canadian born sweetheart, became rich and famous playing the young ingenue. The problem was that the audience actively refused to accept her playing any other role. Even when she was in her 30s, the audience would only accept her playing young girls. It was insane and it ultimately destroyed her career because she wasn't allowed to break from that "type."

The flip-side of this is when a performer decides that he or she achieved some state of perfection doing a certain type of thing a certain way, or in conjunction with a specific image. Then they start to do everything to polish or promote that image even though it's long past its "Best Before" date and the audience might like to see them do something different.

4. QUALITY FAME: This kind of fame where the audience associates the performer with a certain quality of entertainment. This is for good or ill. Some performers get associated with good movies, music, or TV shows, and some get associated with bad movies, music and TV shows, making this both the best and worst flavour of fame you can get.

5. CULT FAME: Imagine you're a performer, and your performance in a certain project has won you the love and loyalty of a niche audience. Now this can take your career in two ways. One way it can pigeonhole you in the type of role that won you your cult in the first place, which is not good. The other way, which is better, is that your niche audience will follow you into more mainstream projects, giving you some a certain number of guaranteed bums on seats no matter what you do.

6. TRASH FAME: This is the sort of fame one associates with either scandal, reality TV, or both. It's similar in flavour to Media Fame, because the sweetness lingers within the media world long after it's turned bitter to the wider world. This can't last long because inevitably people will ask: "Why is this person famous?" and then expect an answer.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #988: Hunting & Gathering Hollywood Style

Let's have a little thought experiment.

Let's pretend that you're pursuing a career in show-biz, as either an actor, writer, and director, and to do that you need an agent. Now let's imagine that the impossible has happened and multiple agencies are interested in signing you.

But what kind of agent do you sign on with?

Wait, you ask, furrowing your brow in a feeble attempt to understand, there are different kinds of agents?

Yes, there are two kinds of agents, there are HUNTERS and there are GATHERERS.

HUNTERS are the kind of agents who actively go out and seek jobs for their clients, most agents consider themselves hunters.

GATHERERS are a little more complicated. Their clients are either flooded with offers that have to be sorted through, or their clients have the power to start projects, and it's up to the agents to negotiate with producers and studios to take it up. Gatherers are most common among the very top tier of the mega-agencies who rep only the highest echelons of the A-List.

Now unless you are at the very top of the A-List and are both flooded with offers, or have the money and clout to start your own projects you would probably want a hunter.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Book Report: Judging A Book By It's Cover Part 2

The other day I did a post about inappropriate book covers. Today I decided that I need to do a few of my own. So I took a couple of novels that many consider classics and livened them up with way better cover art, take a look...



I finally made those books cool.

No need to thank me.

Just send money.

Friday, 8 February 2013

The Book Report: Judging A Book By Its Cover

We live in an age of terrible book covers. The self-publishing revolution and the spread of graphics software means that anyone can put out a book and design a cover for it, whether they should or not. Don't believe me, check out this site.

Sadly, this seems to be spreading to some professional publishers as well. Take a look at the cover for the 50th anniversary edition of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar.
I'm no expert on Plath, but this cover looks like it should be re-titled Bridget Jones' Suicide Note.

But it's not the only big publisher cover art fiasco. The latest involves Anne of Green Gables. Now everyone has an idea about what the title character looks like, she's a skinny adolescent girl with red hair and freckles. The Japanese, who have a veritable Cult of Anne going on, even used that idea for their anime adaptation as seen here:
Turns out we were all WRONG

WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!

Anne of Green Gables is not a skinny little girl with red hair, freckles, and a spunky adventurous spirit, no matter what that hack Lucy Maude Montgomery said. She is, in fact, a well built early 20something blonde with a "come-hither" look. 
Oh, wait, are you saying that Lucy Maude Montgomery was right, and that this cover design had to have been done by someone who knew absolutely NOTHING about the character?

Well, I'll be. Who could think that the same publishing industry who gave a book deal to the Geico Gecko could possibly do something incompetent?

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #987: Games Workshop Hates Writers & Customers

Copyright and trademark law has become extremely complicated in this age of online file sharing, and outright piracy. Companies need to make sure people pay for their intellectual property in order to stay in business, so you can understand why they can be a bit militant when it comes to protecting their property.

However, what you can't understand is when they use the protection of intellectual property as an excuse to act like complete and total idiot douchebags who do more damage to their "brand" and their business than the alleged "theft" they claim to be combatting.

The latest purveyor of this new style self-fulfilling idiocy is Games Workshop, the people behind the Warhammer games franchise. They claim that they own the "common law trademark" to the term "Space Marines" and are threatening to legally harass an author into the bottomless pit of penury for sinning against them by using the term in the title of a story.

Now their claim is inherently nonsensical since the term "Space Marine" goes all the way back to the pulp magazines of the 1930s, and the first recorded use was by a writer named Bob Olsen. Since then the term has been used in hundreds of science fiction stories, novels, games of all kinds, movies, and television shows all over the world.

But that's not going to stop Games Workshop. I'm assuming their plan is to target some authors who don't have the resources to fight a long legal and pin a few of their scalps on the wall to create the "chilling effect" they need to get a monopoly going on the use of Space Marines.

These shenanigans proves that Games Workshop has some rather big gaps in their knowledge:

1. They don't know that people who buy their products tend to be science fiction fans.

2. They don't know that science fiction fans tend to have internet connections.

3. They don't know that those internet connections are used to access online social networks.

4. They don't know that those very same social networks are now telling the world what a pack of greedy, evil, predatory douchebags Games Workshop really are.

This fits my definition of what I call a self-fulfilling idiocy.

Someone at Games Workshop imagined a problem that really didn't exist (not owning the words "Space Marines") and thought up what they thought was a solution (bullying an author) that serves only to create a bigger problem (Games Workshop now looks evil & everyone thinks they're assholes).

I've never owned a Games Workshop product, and now I never will because the last thing I want is to give a penny of my hard earned grift to people that greedy, nasty, and above all stupid.

________________

BTW- I know the United State Marines Corps has plans for outer space, and I'm sure they'd like to use the term "space marine" when those plans come to fruition, what do they think about this?

Monday, 4 February 2013

2 Random Appreciations...

The weather outside is abysmal. It was raining for most of the night, then it froze over and now it's snowing like a bastard outside.

It's time like these, especially when most people are talking about Super Bowl commercials, that I let my mind wander over various topics.

APPRECIATION #1 - TCM

I recently started getting Turner Classic Movies, and it is like crack to a classic movie fan like me. Over the last couple of decades I've noticed a dearth of classic movies playing in syndication, or on the hundreds of cable channels, meanwhile the same cheaply made Lifetime women-in-peril movies appear to run on a loop until the tape wears out.

I think TCM's motto should be: "Where All The Watchable Movies Went."

But I've come to two conclusions from watching TCM.

1. Seeing films restored from original negatives for high definition viewing has made me love the look of classic Technicolor movies. 

Growing up, back in the dark ages when classic movies were played on television the tapes used were made from scratchy old theatrical prints. So often the picture was grainy, scratchy, and the colour, when it was an older colour film, was either washed out to the point of being black and white, or the tinting was all wrong making old movie stars look orange, or to be more exact, modern reality TV stars.

But looking at the versions TCM airs, taken from the original negatives, and carefully restored by experts using the latest technology I am blown away. I recently watched The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn and Olivia De Haviland and saw an appreciation of colour as both a special effect and a storytelling device that you don't really see done so fully these days.

2. I've also been watching some of the classic action and adventure movies on TCM. The old fashioned swash-bucklers like the aforementioned Robin Hood, and the other Errol Flynn vehicle Captain Blood, as well as two-fisted crime films like Point Blank with Lee Marvin.

Those movies gave me an appreciation for old fashioned action and practical special effects. Too many action/adventure movies these days rely on tossing in fantastical elements to justify spending big on CGI. The ones that don't take the plunge into total fantasy as a genre do it as a style. Too many modern action heroes are superhuman ninja-kung-fu masters, whether they could possibly be, or not, and they almost never run out of bullets.

I like the old fashioned, grittier, brawling style of movie action. It required filmmakers to use composition, montage, and choreography to do it, where too many modern filmmakers believe in tossing in CGI and shaking the camera a lot. Let's see more of it.

APPRECIATION #2: BRITISH ACTORS

If you're a regular reader of this blog you probably already know that I appreciate British actors a lot, and recently saw some new evidence of their work ethic.

I like to watch British crime dramas. Have the word "Inspector" in the title, and the odds are pretty good I'll give it a chance. One such show is DCI Banks a British crime series which is based on books written by a Canadian. In the first episode is a character named Lucy Payne, played by actress Charlotte Riley. She's an in demand actress who works quite a lot in British film and television, and, barring any spoilers, plays a pivotal role in that episode.

Over a year later, the character returns in another episode, but with a twist. Her character's paralyzed, disfigured beyond recognition, and only appears on camera for a few minutes in total. During that appearance she doesn't speak, or even move.

Now any actress could have played the character, since no one being able to recognize her is a major plot point and she doesn't even move, but Charlotte Riley returned to do it.

Can you imagine many busy in-demand Hollywood actors being willing to give up possibly a couple of days in heavy make-up for what is essentially a non-speaking, non-moving cameo that couldn't possibly pay all that much?

Not many.

That's why you got to love those British actors.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #986: In A World Of Their Own


It's also a common belief that Hollywood is all about money.


It is, but there's a catch.

You see the management of the conglomerates that own the major studios and TV networks expect it to be all about money, and the people who manage those studios and TV networks like people to think it's all about money, but this is where the catch comes in.

The catch is that the people who run Hollywood as a business are trapped in Hollywood as a state of mind.

I often refer to this state of mind as the Axis of Ego. It is almost like an alternate dimension where things don't follow the same rational laws of physics and economics that rule our world.

In this world a show like HBO's Girls can average less than a million viewers be considered the voice of a generation, and its creator Lena Dunham be the most influential thing in popular culture. And nothing says you have a true connection with the concerns of the average person than starting a new series with HBO about a personal shopper for New York's rich and famous.

Meanwhile over at NBC they just wrapped up the seven year run of 30 Rock. Seven years of celebrity guest spots, critical adoration, a constant shower of Emmy awards, and probably the most dismal ratings seen on a network show that lasted more than one season. It was usually the 110-130th ranked network show after a high of #69 in its 3rd season.

Looking at all the people mourning its loss online I have to say that some of them have to be lying.

But that's not all. NBC is also considering a new show starring ex-comic/sitcom star Roseanne Barr. This comes after the failure of another pilot, called Downwardly Mobile, which reunited her with her former co-star John Goodman, the failure of her basic cable reality show, Roseanne's Nuts, and some public political statements that put her beyond the fringe into the realm of the wacky.

Now HBO can explain away doing niche shows that cater to a small audience, because they're a subscription service. They attract subscribers by providing a steady stream of big movies, truly popular original shows like The Sopranos and Game of Thrones, and by producing niche shows whose target audience are the people who go on TV, print, and the internet telling the world how cool HBO is.

NBC is supposed to be a different story. It's a broadcaster in every sense of the word. It's supposed to be pursuing the broadest possible audience. Which raises two questions:

1. Why keep a show for seven seasons that had to struggle to break the top 100 and then only did it for one season? 

2. Why start developing a sitcom with a star who is notoriously difficult to work with, best known for insulting massive segments of the audience, and about 20 years past her "Best Before" date?

As for 30 Rock, it wasn't about money, it couldn't be with those ratings. It seemed to me that it was all about feelings. Within the Axis of Ego the show was HUGE. It was the show that made Hollywood feel good about itself. It allowed them to say "Look at me, we can laugh at our own foibles, that means we have credibility and artistic integrity."

The fact that the general audience couldn't connect with that was seen as the audience's fault, and the most important thing was that it got you pats on the back from the cool kids at the Emmy after-party.

As for Roseanne, her self-titled sitcom was a groundbreaker in what was then a field full of Cosby imitators. It spawned a flood of imitations, but stayed at the party too long, and ended a bloated testament to an ego run rampant. She hasn't accomplished anything positive in ages outside of some kudos for not going completely bat-shit during her Comedy Central Roast. Mostly she's considered a negative when it comes to winning a wide audience.

So why try again and again to get her back on network TV?

Because in the narrow community of the Axis of Ego she's big, really big. She gets attention when she opens her mouth. Sure, that attention usually comes in the form of revulsion, but they honestly believe that  there is no such thing as bad publicity.

Too bad in the real world there is bad publicity, and it really does influence the audience. It tells them to stay away.

These Axis of Ego based decisions cost money, and lots of it. Yet, the distorted world-view that leads to these costly decisions are protected, to a certain extent. There are layers upon layers of executives, corporations, and parent conglomerates that create a cushion of money to maintain their little insulated world. Now there are limits to how much protection they get, because even the biggest company will eventually turn and ask for some sort of a return on their investment. However it usually doesn't kick in right away unless it's an unmitigated disaster that even the most optimistic executive can't deny.