Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1014: TV Tidbits

ABC BANKS ON IMPERSONATION

The ABC network is ordering an American version of a European reality TV format where F-List celebrities work on their impressions of musical legends with the help of elaborate make-up and costumes.

I don't know about you, but I can't wait to see Gary Busey do Sammy Davis Jr. 

SPEAKING OF REALITY TV

Momentum Entertainment Group, a production company, which was started by a marketing company, has restructured their company and is getting out of the reality TV business in favour of scripted shows

Now normally a marketing company would go feet first into reality TV because it's cheap, it's easy, and wide open for less than subtle product placement. This dumping of reality TV by the people who would normally rush to it arms flailing in anticipation says a lot.

SPEAKING OF OTHER REALITY TV

Redneck is all the rage in what I call "slice of life" reality TV. Shows like Duck Dynasty, American Hoggers, Swamp People, and others are kicking butt in the ratings on cable. Some are theorizing that elitism plays a part in the popularity of these shows, saying that they are watched by two types of people, those who come from that world, and those who like to mock the people from that world.

Now I won't deny that the whole schadenfreude element plays a part in the viewership of some shows, like Buckwild, and Honey Boo-Boo, but if you look deep, those shows, despite the media attention, are probably not the most watched, even among the redneck shows.

The most watched shows are the ones I cited at the beginning of this piece, and I've watched some of them irregularly, and Swamp People pretty regularly. I am neither of the "redneck world" nor do I care to mock them. I watch because of these reasons, and I think a lot of people share them:

  1. I'm fascinated by people that thrive in an environment where I would either end up as gator-scat or run away screaming like the soft suburban girly-man that I am within an hour of my arrival.
  2. The people on the show are not stupid. They possess skills and knowledge that I do not have, and would have a hard time learning. They are survivors and I'll be fleeing to redneck country when the zombies start marching down main street.
  3. There's a great sincerity with these so-called rednecks. Their family lives seem truly real as opposed to the carefully scripted and edited melodramas found on MTV and the E! Network. When something funny happens, it's a real funny event, not something staged because the focus groups told the network's marketing people that humour sells shoes.
  4. Rednecks seem to be the only people in America that are allowed to have fun these days.
That's what I think, let me know what you think in the comments.

There is no reason for this picture other than it makes me laugh.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1013: You Want Star Wars? Then Choke On Star Wars!

I meant to get to this earlier but Disney announced that they're hoping to put out a new Star Wars movie EVERY FREAKING YEAR.

Let's look at the PROS & CONS of this idea:

PROS:

1. People are hungry for more Star Wars, and this will be more Star Wars happening than ever before.

2. They're following the model that their division Marvel's been following when it comes to a nearly constant output of Marvel movies.

CONS:

1. This means a nearly constant stream of bogus "leaks" by the minions of JJ Abrams spreading rumours of things that probably won't be in the movies.

2. This could create a logjam within the studio considering how inefficient studio development can be.

3. The Marvel model may not be the exact thing to emulate, since it is, in fact, half a dozen individual franchises that are only connected via the elements of The Avengers franchise. Star Wars is different because all the movies have been centred around Darth Vader and his family. The rumours coming out, which might be all lies since this is a JJ Abrams production, is that they're probably going to somehow continue along that vein. 

That is 1 franchise, not a half-dozen franchises set within the same universe.

To make it viable they need to create new characters and new franchises within the greater Star Wars universe. Some can be found in the "expanded universe" material done in books and comics, but Disney hasn't given any sign they're interested in doing anything with that material. In fact, there are reports that they intend to scrap it all.

Which makes me worry about this plan.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1012: Random Nuggets of Knowledge...

First up, I'd like to respond to a reader's comment...

Blast Hardcheese asked... 
I'm wondering if there's an opportunity for Netflix here. I've just burned through 'House of Cards' and looooved it. If they cut a deal directly with the theater chains, that might be another avenue for their original content. And not just standard movies, either - what if you did a miniseries-length production like 'Game of Thrones', one new episode every month or so?
Hmmm.....

Interesting thought.

Scheduling a theatrical release for a miniseries might be tricky, because it's so hard for so many to get to the theatre with any regularity. Especially with the big studios doing these 2,000-3,000+ super-wide releases of their big blockbusters.

Now I'm not saying that these alternative broadcaster/producers are completely out of luck. You see too many of those 2,000-3,000+ screen releases tank, and theatre owners are left without anything to replace them on short notice.

This is where the alternative broadcasters can get involved. They can organize special screening events that can step into an area on short notice. They can screen two or three hour-long drama pilots, or up to six half-hour pilots, in the form of a mini-festival roadshow. The theatres get things to show, the alt-casters get a means of promotion, and they can work together to promote the screenings.

How much would it cost Netflix & Amazon to add "Check You Local Listing For A Special Big Screen Event" to the ads they produce for their original programming.



SPEAKING OF ORIGINAL PROGRAMMING

Amazon is putting out 14 pilots as part of their plan to produce original programming by new creators.
Artist's Conception of an Amazon user voting for a pilot.

Well, I saw some new programming, but almost everyone involved in those new shows have been hip-deep in show biz for years, if not decades. So much for bringing in the fresh blood.



SPEAKING OF WATCHING TELEVISION

A blog about Canadian television called TV, eh? has posted a piece about getting Canadians to actually watch Canadian made TV and makes quite a few cogent points.



SPEAKING OF TELEVISION

NBC is pulling an episode of their crime/horror series Hannibal because of the Boston marathon attacks. The episode is about a woman manipulating and brainwashing children into killing each other, which someone at NBC thinks it might have some resemblance to a terrorist attack performed by two adult brothers from Chechnya....?

Not sure about the logic behind that, but this is NBC we're talking about here. They've got the first hour-long drama I've found worth watching in years, it's also doing pretty well in the ratings, which means they'll probably cancel it.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1011: Everybody Against Everybody Else!

Cinemacon, the big annual convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners is going on and they're talking some serious business. It's extra serious this year since, despite the occasional upticks, the overall box office is in a seemingly endless decline.


Theatre owners say that the studios are putting out too many R-Rated movies and releasing too many of their blockbusters during the summer and key holidays. The boss of Universal agrees with the theatres about releasing too many during the summer, but blames the overall decline of R-Rated movies on too many "strange" R-Rated movies.  The decline is also making theatres look into alternatives like airing operas and other live events and becoming more like restaurants.

Right now I'm going to talk about how the whole system has devolved to the point where people and institutions that should be working together are instead at each others throats. I'm talking about filmmakers, studios, theatre owners, the MPAA, and the audience.

The theatre owners would like to have more films that are G to PG-13. They have a wider audience than R-Rated movies and generally do better with more repeat customers. It's a basic fact of life.

I get the sense that too many filmmakers like the R-Rating. I suspect there are two reasons for this.

1. Street Cred: Having an R-Rating seems to be treated like some sort of badge of honour, telling the world that the people who made this film is mad, bad and dangerous to know. To go for a PG to PG-13 rating is to be a "sell out," pandering to the censorious urges of corporate philistines who don't get "art."

2. Laziness: This is especially true in comedy, where instead of burning calories trying to come up with something clever and funny, just toss in some boob and dick jokes.

The studios too would like more G to PG-13 movies for the same reasons the theatres like them. They also don't like to spend too much money on R-Rated movies, and aim for a PG-13 sweet spot, but what should be simple has become needlessly complicated thanks to the MPAA's rating system.


The ratings system is dysfunctional and based a lot on whimsy on the part of the board's members, and regularly accused of bias preferring studio films over independent films, and often with cause. 

This means it's next to impossible to figure out exactly what will get a film rated PG-13 or R. Often the ratings board will slap an R on a film but not be able to give any specifics as to why they did it.

This leads to films getting effectively neutered trying to reach that sweet spot, but usually succeeding in only making the entire system seem intellectually, artistically, and morally bankrupt.

Then there's the timing issue.

The major studios are cutting back their output. They're making fewer movies, but want those movies to make the same money, so they're making movies that are bigger, more expensive, and have what they hope is a built in audience. This means lots of big budget comic book movies, special effects heavy epics, and tons of remakes, sequels, prequels, and rehashes.

They also want to hedge their bets by releasing as many of these big films during times of peak audience availability. This means summer, holiday weekends, and other peak times.

This creates a near feast or famine atmosphere in theatres. Veering wildly between big blockbusters, Oscar bait, and near dead zones where the films that the studios don't believe in get dumped.

Now some, like that lad at Universal, know that it is possible to make $100 million in theatres during these so-called "dead zones." The problem is that $100 million is nowhere near enough for many studios to turn a profit on their $150-$250 million budget blockbusters.

So the theatres, which have to run year round, are trapped in a system where most of their profits come during several narrow windows that are literally stuffed like a clown car with each film opening on 2,000 to 4,000 screens at a time. 

Another problem for the theatres is that with so many big movies out at once, and on so many screens simultaneously, some of these big flicks are going to get lost in the shuffle, and some are going to bomb outright. This means that the big chains are, during these narrow windows, stuck with thousands of screens running a movie that has no bums in the seats, and they have nothing to replace it because the studios are slashing their output.


Meanwhile the audience feels like they've been left out of the equation and are staying home watching TV.

These conflicts are pointless and ultimately destructive. The only people in this big fat hostility equation that should be at each other throats are the studios themselves, via market competition. This fighting with filmmakers, theatres, audiences, and even the MPAA is not helping anyone.

What can be done to fix this?

Well, studios could try to go beyond the rather narrow demographic targeting that they're doing now. Hollywood seems to think that there is no middle ground between family films, like Pixar's output, or R-Rated violence or raunch fests. They also need to know that you can make money on films released during quieter times by not spending an ungodly amount of money on the making and the marketing.

The problem is that to accomplish those goals requires some serious calorie burning. That's not something executives looking only at their next quarterly bonus are too keen on trying.

So it's maybe the theatres themselves should do it.

Two chains AMC and Regal have already started Open Road Films, to some mixed success, mostly because they're trying to, in a limited sense, imitate both the major studios and the indie companies that came before them. What they really should be doing is creating a new business model by pursuing the gaps in the movie market more aggressively.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Trailer Trashing: Man of Steel.

There's a new action-centric trailer for The Man of Steel take a gander kiddies...


First thought: If Kal-El is worried that people will reject him, a hunk in a cape, simply for being an alien, then poor Martian Manhunter is doomed to develop an eating disorder.

Second thought: The trailer shows Zack Snyder's visual flair coupled nicely with Christopher Nolan & Co.'s ability to update and expand on the modern folklore nature of the superhero story. Finger's crossed that the script keeps that up.

Third thought: The action looks properly "super" with lots of high speed heavy walloping.

Fourth thought: Amy Adams looks like she can pull off Lois Lane, which is not an easy job.

Fifth thought: Superman's biological and adoptive father were both Robin Hood.

MIND BLOWN!

Those are my thoughts. 

What are yours?

Monday, 15 April 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1010: You Gotta Question, I Gotta Answer!

A reader has a question and I have the ability to pretend I have the answer...

Robert the Wise asked... Why do they only hire the stupidest people to run entertainment companies?

That's a bit of a loaded question, or at least it's asked in a rather loaded way, but it does raise the issue of hiring at the major studios and the television networks, the social milieu of these executives and how it creates the appearance that only the stupidest people get to the top in many major media companies.

This appearance owes itself to three major factors:

1. HIRING PRACTICES.

2. GLAMOUR.

3. SOCIAL ISOLATION.


Now let's dive into the details.

1. HIRING PRACTICES.

There's no way you can learn to run a major media company in a classroom and be ready to leap into the corner office. A certain level of apprenticeship is required to learn the ins and outs of management and administration of a business that isn't like many other businesses.

In the old days bright youngsters with hustle were talent spotted by more senior people and given entry level jobs usually in the mail-room. In some cases, especially with the talent agencies, college was preferred, but not essential. If these youngsters showed, drive, ambition, and street-smarts they earned their way to becoming assistants, then junior executives, and, when the time came to stab their mentors in the back, senior executives.

This system brought the world talented moguls as diverse as Universal's Lew Wasserman and David Geffen.

That began to change in the 1960s and 1970s and I blame country clubs.

Back in the golden age Hollywood moguls weren't exactly welcome in the rich WASP elite enclaves otherwise known as country clubs. This was mostly due to antisemitism, but also due to what the elite considered the unseemliness of the entertainment business.

However, during the blockbuster era things began to change. Hollywood became huge business, and way too big for even the most elitist antisemitic snobs to ignore doing business with. So the moguls began to join the country clubs.

Then the moguls began to recruit from the country clubs.

Not the valet parker or the caddy who showed some savvy and moxie to start in the mailroom. No, they started hiring the children of people they played golf with. They also created two career tracks and only led to the top.

On track was where everything is based solely upon merit, but this one led only to middle management, and barring a miracle, no further. The other track which leads straight to the top, is dictated by politics.

Now when it comes to politics I'm not talking about which party they vote for, I'm going by a bastardized version of a definition David Mamet gave which is "all the nonsense that has nothing to do with accomplishing the task at hand."

To get on this track you have to have gone to the right Ivy League school, preferably Harvard, and have someone in your family/friends who is either a person of authority in Hollywood, or connected to a person of authority in Hollywood.

That can get you an assistant's position in Hollywood, naturally these assistant jobs pay less than shit for the hours they're expected to work and the image they are expected to present. This means that those who stay in the assistant position long enough to advance can only do it if they have some other means of support, like having rich parents or a spouse with a well paying job.

If you're really, really lucky, you can get the right assistant's job with the right person. The right person is someone who has the ear of those who make decisions, and the internal political clout to be appeased by giving an assistant that person likes a job that can help expand that person's internal political clout.


You can work really hard and show real talent, but if your immediate superior doesn't have the clout, you're probably shit out of luck when it comes to reaching the top without a miracle, and will probably have to settle for middle management at best.




2. GLAMOUR.


Having a position of serious power in Hollywood is amazing.

You're paid really good salaries, have tons of benefits, live in barely imaginable and everyone is kissing your ass, including many of the most famous people in the world.

That can have an intoxicating effect on even the best of us. In this environment you can start to think that you are somehow above things like making mistakes.

Suddenly you start making decisions as you're a 17th century French absolute monarch and not the employee of a corporation whose mission is to make movies and/or television that make money for the corporation's shareholders by winning audiences.

Since no one wants to risk their jobs by telling you that you're making a mistake, or even ask questions, the executive can enter a spiral of bad decisions, which is made even worse by the position's innate...

3. SOCIAL ISOLATION.

When you're in an elite position in Hollywood the world of Hollywood will soon become all you know. You socialize with the people you work with, you take a vacation, it's usually to the same spots as the people you work with. You read the same books, or at least get the gist of the same books from your assistants, you get your news from the same sources, and you watch the same shows, or at least claim to watch the same shows.

This leads to a strange disconnect and a warping of priorities. Decisions are made not on the basis of winning an audience, but on appealing to your immediate social circle. The problem is that this social circle is pretty well cut off completely from the outside world.

So when you see a studio boss making seemingly inane decisions they're not doing it because they were hired for their stupidity. They're making those bad decisions because their career was based more on internal politics over merit, they're awash in glamour that makes them believe that they're infallible, and that those stupid decisions are the right ones, because they seem right in the tiny world that they live in.

If any of you readers have anymore questions, then leave them in the comments.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1009: SyFy Wants To Do Sci-Fi?

After a couple of years of trying to get away from being the "Science Fiction Channel" to the point of changing their name to the nonsensical SyFy, it looks like they're trying to embrace science fiction again. They're developing new shows with outer space settings, and are looking at miniseries adaptations of the classic science fiction novels Ringworld by Larry Niven, and Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke.


Science fiction fans are both excited and worried about these developments. They're excited because it's been a while since there's been a new show set in outer space, and they'd love to see adaptations of their favourite novels, but they're worried because SyFy's record is not all that hot, especially with adaptations which is the main thrust of this post.


The channel twice tried to adapt Phillip Jose Farmer's beloved series of Bangsian science fiction novels Riverworld, and both attempts were considered failures by non-science fiction fans, and complete artistic abortions by fans of the source material. 

The channel's poor record with adaptations extends to popular fantasy novels as well. The channel's attempt to cash in on the popularity of Lord of the Rings led them to attempt to adapt Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea novels as a miniseries. Like their two attempts at sailing through Riverworld, it bored non-fans and repulsed fans of the source material.


I now have to wonder what SyFy is going to do with these adaptations. Is it possible for them to learn from their past mistakes? There are examples out there for them to follow, but the question is, will they follow, or just lead themselves down into disaster... again.

I SUGGEST THAT THEY DON'T OFFEND THE FANS! 

SyFy operates on the assumption that people who watch TV adaptations of novels have not read the novels, and that the people who have read the novels don't watch television adaptions.

That's insanity.

They appeared to have treated the source material like they were spec-scripts written by first time unknown authors who didn't have a single fan in the world. They looked like they ground them through machinations of so-called "experts" and market research focus groups trying desperately to find some sort of magic bullet to create the perfect television show.

How about being at least slightly respectful of the source material to win over the material's core fans.

What those focus group gurus don't tell you is that if the source material's fans are flooding the internet with what a big steaming pile of shit you've put on the air, the other key demographics won't tune in no matter how homogenized and hip-chasing you make the show.

If the core fans like the show and see that it's at least respectful to the source material, they will let the world know via social networks and the viewership will spread to people who aren't familiar with the source material.

That helped make Game of Thrones a hit, and Walking Dead a sensation. Science fiction is loaded with books and book series that could be adapted for television, and a quick flip around the dial would tell you that you can make successful TV out of books. 


So why not SyFy? 


The biggest problem is that the channel seems to be run according to a corporate culture that doesn't seem to understand how to properly connect with hard-core science fiction and fantasy fans because they're not "hip" enough for Hollywood and seem genuinely baffled when people watch a decent science fiction or fantasy show.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1008: More Random Drippings From My Brain Pan


There are three reasons behind this decision...

1. Baldwin apparently been doing a popular podcast, though I haven't heard it myself, since I have enough podcasts on my listening plate.

2. NBC has a two year retention deal with Baldwin that was inked after his acclaimed but little watched sitcom 30 Rock ended its miraculous 7 year run and a late night talk show is an inexpensive way to keep him in the family since they're already paying to do that.

3. Since Baldwin is part of Lorne Michaels' rep company of "hosts-on-speed-dial" it will most likely complete the Canadian ex-pat's plan for total control of all of NBC's late night TV programming.

If Baldwin takes the deal, instead of doing things like David Letterman's Stupid Pet Tricks, he's going to do "Stupid Messages To My Children."

_____

Artist's conception of Stroumboulopolus with stomach trouble.
Speaking of talk shows, Canadian interview maven George Stroumboulopolus (yes that is his real name) is leaving the tax-supported bosom of the Mother Corp (aka the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) to do a talk show for Jeff Zucker's CNN.

It's a major event because it's the first time a Canadian in showbiz has crossed the border to seek a smaller audience.

_____

If any of you remembered the long canceled but much beloved sci-fi show Firefly you would know the reference to "Jayne's Hat."

If you don't the reference I'll explain. The show featured a character of a man named Jayne. Jayne Cobb to be exact. He was a big, tough, amoral mercenary, and in one episode got a gift from his mother in the mail, a home-made knit hat that looked ridiculous, but don't dare say that to Jayne's face.

Now Jayne's hat has been a popular prop among cosplaying fans of the show, and fans make and sell home-made copies to other fans.

That's where Fox got involved...


You see, they had already licensed an "official" Jayne hat to another company, and felt that these hats put those official hats in danger.

But I think the folks at Fox and the licensee had to weigh what this knitted "piracy" was costing them as opposed to what looking like big corporate nimrod-bullies will cost them in the long run.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1007: Go Global, Why Not?

Television is not only already global, it is becoming more and more global every day. Cruise the industry's news sites and not a day goes by without talk about some format being brought from one country to another, TV shows being not only being shot in multiple countries, but being produced by companies from different countries, or some actor from another country signing a deal to work in Hollywood, or about a Hollywood actor signing a deal to work in some international co-production.


I think you would have a hard time finding a show on any major American network that doesn't have at least one Canadian, Brit, or Australian somewhere in the cast or crew. It's even more prevalent on cable, where outright Canadian shows like Lost Girl, and Continuum, do great business on the SyFy Channel, and the Canadian/British/Irish produced but Hungarian shot drama The Borgias does well on Showtime, and the American based History Channel's first scripted drama Vikings, is not only a hit, it's a Canada/USA co-production shot in Ireland.



Now some see this as a reason to be concerned, feeling that it will somehow dilute national identity, and create something akin to what the Brits called "Europudding."

Europudding was coined to describe the first attempts at international TV co-productions in Europe in the 1980s to take advantage of European Union trade rules and local tax breaks and funding opportunities. The problem was that in an attempt to appeal to everyone, especially the government funding and tax break dispensing agencies, by creating the blandest and broadest shows most of these productions failed to appeal to anyone, and sank like a stone.

But I think the situation now is quite different, and we won't be seeing any more "Europuddings" or what some might call "Atlantic-puddings."

First thing is that while tax breaks and production costs do play a part where these shows are being made, they don't dictate the creative side. Not only that, but this round is not being driven by government agencies and public broadcasters trying to fulfill some sort of bureaucratic spending target. The bulk of these international productions are being driven by private broadcasters and producers, and they don't seem to be trying to create programs that are processed and homogenized for global audiences out of whole cloth.

The process now seems to involve someone coming up with a premise or story, then that gets taken by a producer who then takes it around to other producers and broadcasters from other countries who might be interested in pitching in. If they're interested, they buy in. If they're not, they don't, and have to buy a dubbed version later if it becomes a hit in the original countries of origin.

You see, homogenizing programming fails because it is based on the premise that audiences in different countries have different tastes. They do, to a certain extent, but there are certain things that all audiences share. They like stories where lots of things are going on. They like action, suspense, and soap-opera melodramatics. Give it a historic, fantastical, or science-fictional setting, and your audience gets even wider.

Also co-producing in the Europudding era was all about doing shows as cheaply and as quickly as possible to fulfill some mandated quota or take advantage of some financial scheme that was probably both ethically and fiscally unsound. Which meant that the production values were often very weak.
These days you can't get away with cardboard sets, flat lighting, and tinny sound and expect to sell your show anywhere, let alone in the whale of TV markets the USA.

Good production values are now cheaper than ever, but they're even cheaper when producers and broadcasters from different countries work together sharing the costs.

Now kitchen sink dramas centred around hyper specific local phenomena probably won't qualify as an international co-production. But on the bright-side, the profits made by successful international co-productions can pay for making them if the producers so desire and their domestic audience wants them.

So I say bring on the co-productions.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1006: Random Drippings From My Brain Pan...


A group of writers for the Joan Rivers' show Fashion Police have filed suit saying the E! Network show is in violation of California's labour laws and owes them over $1 million in unpaid wages.


Now I have only seen commercials for Fashion Police, and those commercials give the impression that it's Joan Rivers and a bunch of other catty self-professed fashion experts sitting in a cheap little studio making catty comments about what celebrities are wearing.

Which raises the question: Just how lame are the people on that show that not only do they need writers to provide them with the cattiness they pretend is coming off the top of their heads, they work them to the point of owing them over $1 million in unpaid overtime?

I would ask Joan Rivers, a former writer herself, for a comment, but she is probably at a loss for words.

***

Both Paramount's World War Z and Marvel's Iron Man 3 are having specially edited versions released in China to appease the government's censors.

World War Z is reportedly removing scenes from the book that imply the communist country is the epicentre of the zombie plague due to a government cover up. However since the movie doesn't appear to have anything to do with the book, it might be a moot point.

Now I'm not sure what changes they have made to Iron Man 3, but I suspect that they're changing the name of arch-villain the Mandarin to the Englishman, and Tony Stark has a speech about the glories of Chairman Mao.

But seriously, this is a pitfall of what I call the Chinese Movie-Trap. China has a massive population, one that goes to the cineplexes to see movies far more regularly than people in North America and Europe, so it's a huge potential market.

However, like I always say, it is not a free market.

The Chinese government, despite recent market reforms, is still a dictatorship. It controls what people see, and how they see it, especially movies from the west, only allowing a handful to be released there each year. It also restricts the amount per-ticket that the studios can collect to some of the lowest levels in the world.

The Hollywood studios are facing declining numbers of theatre goers at home, and skyrocketing costs. Any attempt to reverse the negative trends in the west would require a lot of work and the challenging of some of Hollywood's fundamental shibboleths when it comes to their attitudes towards their own management practices and how they treat the audience.

It seems easier to just deal with a handful of elite politicians in China in the hope that they will provide the magic pill they need to save their jobs.

***

David Ellison, sibling of indie darling Megan Ellison, is expanding his blockbuster financier Skydance Productions into television.

Why?

Because that's where the real money is.

Sure, everyone likes to point at the hundreds of millions of dollars raked in by big budget blockbusters at the theatres, but those numbers are mostly an...
Because when a big budget movie makes big money at the box office the profits have a tendency to shrink into nothingness.

However, if you get a show on TV that has a long and healthy run you pretty much have a license to print money. You have the broadcast license fees, repeat fees, home video and streaming, merchandise licensing, and international broadcasting fees.

It all adds up to some sweet sweet greenbacks.

So if you're a producer it's just good business to get into television.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1005: How To Kill Crowd-Funding

Yesterday Deadline: Hollywood posted a story about an experienced film finance maven that has just opened BlueRun Crowd-Fund, a consulting firm that specializes in organizing film-based crowd funding campaigns.



First thing that struck me when I read the headline was: "That should kill crowd-funding."

Bear with me for a minute, because I'm not just playing the cynical bastard, I really do have serious concerns about this.

After Veronica Mars shattered records in both speed and amounts raised for a project I got a nagging feeling in the back of my neck that the floodgates will open and crowd funding will de-evolve from a spontaneous way for fans to express themselves to just another way for Hollywood to do business as badly as they do all their other business.

One of the problems Hollywood has is that all of their business affairs are run by alleged "experts." These "experts" aren't really expert in anything other than convincing other "experts" into believing their theories on managing businesses.

Crowd-funding is all about artists connecting with fans directly without the meddling of big corporations and their "experts."

In the aftermath of Veronica Mars, now the corporations are saying "me too," because it's more or less free money for them, and with the corporations come the "experts" and their snake oil recipes for guaranteed crowd funding success.

I fully expect the crowd-funding sites to become flooded with projects that are not the sincere creations of struggling artists but are the creations of "experts" and focus groups not for their creative merit, but based on what the focus groups tell the "experts"  to then tell the other "experts" in the corporations what they think the key demographics who donate to crowd funded projects supposedly want to see.

The trick is that the people who back crowd-funding tend to be a bit savvy when it comes to manipulation. Give them something they truly want to see, and they'll give generously. However, if you present some pasteurized homogenized and sterilized project conceived by consultants and executives something isn't going to smell right to those people, and they'll stay away.

With the websites flooded with these projects, truly independent projects run the risk of being lost under the tide of corporate goo, and then everyone loses.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1004: Poor Mouthing & The Price Of Minimums

A group of prominent filmmakers and producers in France have signed a petition against the passing of a law that would set minimums for wages and sizes of film crews operating in the country.

The unions for the crews, and some politicians want these minimums put in place because they think it will protect them from being screwed over by greedy producers, however, when it comes to economics, such actions are a double edged sword.

I don't know what the French call it, but around here the phenomenon that they're trying to protect their workers from is called "poor-mouthing." That's where a producer tries to squeeze as much as they can in concessions from the crew by pleading poverty.

I can understand the crew feeling some resentment when they take a 20% pay cut and the producer then uses the money to buy themselves a Rolls Royce and charge it to the film, or, since we're talking about French producers cases of wine and cigarettes and a nice holiday with their mistress to make up for him paying to much attention to his wife and his girlfriend.

However, not all producers are faking when they're poor mouthing. Sometimes the concessions are the one thing that might actually get the film made because the film is too artsy, or the subject matter too controversial.

If this law passes, then the option of negotiating up-front pay cuts in exchange for a piece of the back end will end. That means that the costs of production will go up, many films will not get made, and lots of crew-members wouldn't get any jobs, let alone jobs with reduced pay.

Another factor is that they're also demanding guidelines that determine the minimum size for crews.

This too is a double edged sword that can do just as much, if not more, harm than good.

Sure, they claim they want these minimums to ensure that crew members aren't overworked, and takes away the power of hiring and firing from the greedy producers and in the hands of the unions who are solely out there for the good of the workers.


Well, maybe in a perfect world where unicorns frolic in the fields, unions are run by saints, and Karen Gillan is writing me passionate love e-mails, but we all know that perfect world can only be found in a realm of fantasy.

Unions, like corporations, are run by people, and people have agendas that don't involve the mission they're supposed to do. Corporations are supposed to create wealth for their shareholders, but too often end up the personal piggy banks of the senior executives who loot the company and leave everyone high and dry. Sadly, unions can become hotbeds of cronyism where minimum crew sizes get fattened up to create do-nothing jobs for the friends of the guys who run the unions or the politicians who pass the laws.

So you get production costs going up even more, fewer films getting made, fewer new jobs being created, and the jobs that do get created are snapped up by cronies.

Also, low budget productions are the gateway for new people to get into the business. If the costs go up and fewer smaller films get made, then fewer new filmmakers, fewer new actors, and fewer new crew-members get their collective foot in the door.

You're probably wondering what can the crews do to avoid getting screwed, but without falling into the traps that the proposed laws could cause.

Well, the first they could do is make a list.

List all the working producers in the country. It shouldn't be that hard for them since they do business with these people every day.

Then they divide that list into FULL PRICE producers and DISCOUNT producers. Obviously, the Full Price Producers have to pay full price in not only salaries, but in crew sizes, while the Discount Producers qualify, naturally, for discounts in salary and crew sizes if they meet certain criteria:

1. The project in question really needs those discounts in order to be made.

2. The producer in question actually fulfills promises when it comes to paying back end promises.

If the production or producer fails to meet those criteria, then they have to pay full price or they just won't get what they want.

New producers could be given the benefit of the doubt, but if they don't fulfill their promises, then it's full price for them from now on.

It's not rocket science, it's business.