Thursday, 1 October 2015

The Book Report: When Is A Contest Not A Contest?

Mysterious Press is a long running publishing imprint which is part of the Grove Atlantic Group. It specializes, naturally, in mystery and crime fiction, and is very selective about who it even considers publishing. To be looked at your novel must be submitted by an accredited literary agent, and I'm pretty sure that agent being someone they know and do business with regularly, and author having a publishing track record, probably doesn't hurt either.

That's why it surprised me to see them announce that they were having a contest. Writers could submit their novels to them and the winner gets published and a cash prize of about $25,000.

Sounds like a great contest, doesn't it?

Maybe, but it doesn't look like much of a contest to me. I'll get to that in a second, but first I need to give a bit of an explanation:

You see, to get published a writer needs to win the lottery, multiple times.

First you have to get someone at an agency or a publisher to read your work and like it enough to pass it along up the industry's food chain.

Second, you have to have someone higher up the publishing food chain like it and give it the green-light to be published, and not get what happened to me.  One time a novel of mine went right up to the publisher's desk, but he died suddenly, the replacement management lost it for 2+ years. Then an assistant editor found it and asked me to give them a second chance, I agreed, and I didn't hear from them again until 6 years and 11 months after I had originally submitted my novel. Then a bottom rung volunteer slush pile reader sent me a terse rejection letter that pretty much said that all my previous dealings with the company meant nothing, and those that had been promised to look at it, had never looked at it during all those years. And this was by a company that bragged about how respectfully it treated writers in their allegedly open submission policy.

Then your book has to be deemed good enough for them to market aggressively in the hope that it will find an audience. And let's hope that management or ownership doesn't change during this period, because the new regime might just dump your book for reasons that have nothing to do with quality or sales potential.

Then the book has to find that audience and sell well enough to open the door wide enough for the author to get another book published.

At each step a writer is basically buying a lottery ticket with their blood, sweat, and tears, and each ticket has about 1,000,000 to 1 odds against it.

Which is why when a publisher announces a contest looking for new novels the hearts of writers who haven't won any of these lotteries brightens a little bit.

Then they looked at the rules and wondered why they were calling it a contest at all.

You see writers, both new or established, cannot enter their novels into Mysterious Press' contest. The novels must be entered, both electronically, and in print, by the writer's accredited literary agent.

Basically, the contest is them operating as usual, looking only at the people they would normally be looking at who already won at least one of publishing's lotteries, and would probably give more attention to someone who won two or more. And the prize, when you look at from that way, looks like a pretty standard publishing advance.

Why call it a contest if the company isn't changing any of its procedures and only pre-existing winners need apply?

Contests for writers are supposed to be about beating the odds, and selling the myth that quality is all a book needs to be discovered, not pre-existing connections to the publishing world. This "contest" totally flops in that respect.
It reminds me of an institution in Canada that was started in the late 1980s by some up and coming Canadian film and television companies. It's mission statement was to foster NEW Canadian writers to write NEW Canadian films.

I called them and asked them what it took to qualify for the programs. Their answer was that to qualify as a NEW Canadian writer you had to have had 2 feature films produced in Canada by a company they recognized, and at least on screenplay under option with a Canadian company they recognized.

At the time there were about 2 writers in Canada under forty who might have qualified as "NEW" but even that chance was slim.

I asked an employee what they expected to accomplish with these guidelines and they just shrugged and said they didn't know. It did make the companies sponsoring this foundation look like they were doing something about the image that Canada's film industry was a closed shop run by a bunch of middle aged bureaucrats and near-bureaucrats who didn't give a toss about new people or even audiences.

This looks like that mindset has spread to American publishing.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1252: An Open Letter To Quentin Tarantino

Dear Quentin Tarantino.

I respect, and even understand, your love of the look and feel of classic film stock. The hyper-vivid spectrum seen when watching early technicolor epics in high definition is a look and style I really love.

But I don't get this whole "I hate Netflix and still tape everything on VHS" thing you're going on about. VHS was a mixed bag with many pros and cons.

One big pro for VHS was that it made renting and owning a movie that a movie lover can watch whenever they want a possibility. I have a reminder of the golden age of VHS because right next to my desk is a set of shelves where I still keep my old VHS tapes. (Among them Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction)

However, there are many cons to VHS.

#1. The initial picture quality ain't that great. It's like watching a washed out print, and most movies released on VHS were "pan & scanned" and badly at that, damaging even further the viewing experience when compared to a theatre, or even a decent television broadcast.

#2. VHS tape decays over time. I'll bet a diddle-eyed-joe to a damned-if-I-know* that most of my old VHS collection, the youngest being 20 years old, are just plastic bricks with overwrought cover-art.

#3. Recording something onto VHS from a modern hi-def cable-box is just a real pain in the ass when most have the option of a DVR included.

I'm not saying that online streaming services are perfect. They have their pros and cons, and being someone who loves collecting movies, I like being able to physically own a copy that I can keep on a shelf to watch whenever I want and not be dependent on the whims and algorithms of a streaming service. That's why, when I can, I get the DVDs and Blu-Rays of the movies I really love.

Now most are writing this off as "Oh there goes eccentric Quentin again" but I'm not.

I suspect that this is not out of a deep seeded eccentricity, but a very shallow affectation.

Look deep and ask yourself: "Am I doing this because I really feel that I need to, or am I doing this because I think this is the sort of thing I'm expected to do?"

That is the difference between a real eccentricity, and an affectation.

If you're honest with yourself, you might be surprised by the answer.

-Furious D.

*Reservoir Dogs Reference Alert.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1251: The Stonewall Mystery

Director Roland Emmerich, best known for his tendencies to spend massive amounts of money to pretend blowing up landmarks on screen, and for a dubious taste in home decor has a new film out called Stonewall, about the 1969 Stonewall Riots, and guess what: everybody hates it.

Critics are calling it a disaster, the gay community, whose story the film claims to tell, is calling it an abomination, and most likely audiences are going to call it a miss.

Now this presents a mystery that I would like to solve, but before I get to that, I think you might need a little background.

Our story begins in the late 1960s. At that time there was no gay rights movement. In fact, most of what is now called the LGBT community were more interested in not getting assaulted, locked up, either in prison or a mental hospital, or blackmailed. Places for them to socialize were rare, and the few that did exist were usually owned by gangsters, and regularly harassed by the police, either through constant raids or demands for payoffs.

One such place was The Stonewall Inn in New York's Greenwich Village. It was often described as a dive. The place was ugly, seedy, usually crowded, with more than a few shady customers, the staff wasn't big on checking ID, or doing their jobs all that well, and the less said about the state of the bathrooms, the better.

But Stonewall was relatively large, it allowed the customers to dance, another rarity, and its mobbed up owners usually made sure the NYPD's Public Morals Squad were paid off, making it a bit safer than many of the other places in the city. One night in 1969 something went wrong. No one is sure if a payment was missed, or if the cops were just feeling ambitious, but the place got raided right at the peak time for trouble. The place was packed, the weather was hot, and the crowd's mood was fired up by a combo of intoxication and anger at years of regular harassment.

The raid didn't go to plan, the cops lost control of the situation quickly, and a full scale riot broke out.

That riot sparked what is now called the Gay Pride movement, and is seen as a pivotal moment in the history of America's gay community.

It's a story that's more dramatic and complex than my little summary could possibly tell, full of colourful characters, and is the sort of underdog story that might take it from beyond a niche audience to somewhat wider appeal.

Which brings me to the mystery of the Stonewall movie: Why did they give the green-light to Roland Emmerich?

The Stonewall story requires a filmmaker who can express and explain the complexities inherent in it. Someone who can bring the stories of the real people to life, and use it to possibly bridge the gaps between the LGBT community and the wider "straight community."

Emmerich is not that filmmaker, and in no possible way can he be mistaken for that kind of filmmaker.

Emmerich's the crass vulgarian spawn of blind commercialism and a particularly childish kind of post-modernism where as long as he looks down on what he's doing, he doesn't have to try to be good at it. His specialty is destroying famous landmarks with CGI while cardboard cut-out Hollywood-marketing-executive-friendly stereotypes recite hackneyed dialogue written with a shovel from a compost heap of cliches.

He's also known for tossing scientific and historical accuracy out the window. And not for taking liberties in the name of narrative cohesion, character development, or even to compress events for time. Emmerich does it for stuff he thinks looks good in the trailer.

The investors and producers who financed this film should have known that.

They also should have known that we live in the Golden Age of Offence. People get horribly outraged over little things, so the people behind the film should have known that something as inherently politicized as the story behind Stonewall would be nitpicked for so-called micro-aggressions and macro-douchebaggery.

Getting the film would require diplomacy, and class, two things Emmerich doesn't have.

When asked about why he downgraded all the real people, who were predominantly black and hispanic, to focus on a fictional caucasian lead/saviour, Emmerich replied by saying he knows what sells and they don't.

That's only going to make it worse, especially in this hypersensitive day and age. It only serves to alienate the core audience the film needs to take that step towards a more mainstream audience.

You see it is possible to take a story like the Stonewall Riot, and make a film that's both compelling and possibly successful. You just have to follow these simple steps:

1. Be as accurate as you can be. Everyone knows that liberties and changes have to be made when bringing a true story to the screen, but there's a limit to how far you can go. It may be necessary to create a fictional "gateway" character that would allow the audience to get the know the milieu they're being brought into, but that character should not overshadow, or outrightly replace the real people at the heart of the story. A good gateway character would be a tabloid journalist, assigned to write a lurid exposé about an underground subculture witnessing history and learning about the shared humanity I'll be getting to shortly. That way you have a someone who has an excuse to witness events without taking anything away from the actual participants.

2. Don't offend the core audience. If the front line of people most interested in the Stonewall story are going to feel short-changed or even insulted by your film, then your film will fail on every level. The only way you can defuse criticism is by embracing as much of the truth of the source material as you can. If they say "I don't like that part" the only viable defence is to say: "I'm sorry, but that's what actually happened, and I'm trying to tell the truth." If you're just making shit up, and that angers the core audience, you have no defence.

3. Emphasize what's shared. For any film about the Stonewall Riots to succeed it would need to cross over to at least part of the mainstream audience. Now Emmerich fails because he thinks along the lines of marketing, by casting someone who goes too far when it comes to identifying with the mainstream audience. According to some reports they just barely stop short of giving him a girlfriend, which sort of defeats the purpose.

You don't sell a film about a minority to the majority by trying to hide the differences. Instead you acknowledge those differences quite clearly, but emphasize what they share on a deeper human level.

Going just be surface appearances the average American doesn't look like they have much in common with the average citizen of India. So how did Gandhi become a success in an era less "diverse" and "politically correct" than today?

Because when they sold the film they emphasized that the characters, despite their ethnic/religious background, were human beings facing the all too human problems of being outcast and harried as the underdogs.

Emmerich doesn't seem remotely interested in shared humanity. He seems interested in padding his resume with what he thinks will be Oscar bait simply because of its subject matter without the work and sensitivity to make something that does justice to the subject matter and the audience.

Anyway, if the people who financed this picture still have some money lying around, and still want to make movies, call me. For a reasonable fee, I can do research about subjects and people to help save you the hassles you're facing now.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1250: Deserving Better Than A Remake?

Here's a great video about Remakes from Good Bad Flicks (h/t Nate Winchester):

Which is a good segue to today's topic, which is the news that MMA fighter Ronda Rousey will star in a "re-imagining" of the 1989 Patrick Swayze vehicle Roadhouse for MGM.

When I heard the news my first thought was that she should beat up her agent.


Because if she's serious about a movie career would remaking a movie that marked the death knell of the 80s action movie golden age that started with The Terminator.

You see, by 1989 Hollywood was worried that action movies about cops, soldiers, and secret agents were passé and tried to reinvent any occupation that might throw a punch as some sort of ninja-combat master.

Which is how we ended up with a movie about a ninja-bouncer taking on a small town gangster whose whole operation looked like it came from a rejected script from the A-Team.

The film fizzled at the box-office, but gained a cult following on home-video and cable by those who watch cheesy movies to enjoy them ironically. It also marked the beginning of the end of mainstream street-level action movies that went on to become more and more dominated by special effects and eventually superheroes.

This has given MGM the delusion that the general audience is hungry for more Roadhouse, ignoring that they already had a 2006 sequel that came and went on DVD without even the studio noticing.

I think shoving her into an over-priced un-imagining of a film that left most of the audience cold when was first released is a big mistake when it would be so easy to come up with a catchy original premise for her to star in, that would be hers and could mark the beginning of a new franchise.

She's young, attractive, and can kick ass with extreme prejudice. Coming up with starring vehicles she can call her own would be the easiest thing to whip up.

To show you how easy it is I will pull some out of my ass right here, right now:

THE LONG DROP: Rousey's a rookie detective sent to pick up a witness working in a half-completed skyscraper. The witness is the only one who knows where a fortune in laundered money is hidden. When she arrives the place is crawling with hired killers, gangsters, and thieves, all out to find the missing money, including her own partner.

Ass-kicking, rescuing, and dangling from great heights ensues.

There, you got everything you want to kick off a good two-fisted action franchise without the baggage and nonsense associated with a remake.

THE STARLET: This is more of an action comedy premise which would depend heavily on her comic talents. Rousey plays a seemingly harmless and slightly klutzy actress who is targeted by crooks either to be kidnapped for ransom or because she has or knows something they want. What the crooks don't know is that, despite appearances, she has a devastating punch and a knack for foiling their schemes even unintentionally.

Naturally, lots of slapstick insanity ensues.

See, two very different and lively original premises that are guaranteed to work better than remaking some old nonsense.

Plus, my premises are for sale. 

Cash up front please.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1249: An Open Letter To International Audiences

Dear Movie International Movie Audiences.
Stop it.
You know what I'm talking about, if not, here's a little reminder from the twitter feed of Exhibitor Relations, the service that monitors the global movie box office:

Now do you see what you've done, or do I have to rub your nose in it?
You took two movies that North American audiences had the good sense to spurn as one would spurn fly-laden dog turd and you made them, not successful, but given them the APPEARANCE of being successful.
You see, Hollywood operates along a philosophy of appearance over substance.  
But to understand it, you have to understand how films make money.
It's next to impossible for a major Hollywood movie to profit in the theatres. It just costs too damn much to make and release a so-called blockbuster these days. Even including the international markets doesn't help, because the studios don't have as big a share of the box office, called "The Rental," in Asia and Europe as they do in North America.  
If the film is going to turn a profit it needs to be seen as worthy of repeat viewing either on DVD, Blu-Ray, or licensing to television channels and video streaming services like Netflix, or Amazon.
To key is the licensing deals. They are where the profits lie, but there's a catch.
The people who run TV channels, and streaming services will only pay the big bucks to license hits, or, what look like hits.
That means that the studios can now take a dropped deuce like Adam Sandler's Pixels and say: "Look, it was a huge success internationally, you show things internationally, so give us some big money."
Then there is message the international audiences give studios, filmmakers and stars.
Companies that went under after making
a Terminator movie.
In the case of Tyrmynatyr: Gynysys it means that producers won't take the franchise off the life support it's been on for 20 years, and will keep grinding out more installments, regardless of quality, or how many producers go bankrupt.
In Adam Sandler's case it means he'll just keep on squeezing out the lazy, tedious, and unentertaining movies and not stop and buckle down, and put his nose to the grindstone to do something that might actually be entertaining.
This makes you, the international audience, the equivalent of an uncle who greets his nephew, who is fresh out of rehab, with a celebratory crock of rum and a dime bag of heroin.
Is there a way to stop this?
Not really.
That's because Hollywood doesn't see that it has a problem, because the "international audiences" seem to love what they're doing, and it gives them the illusory appearance of not only success, but of being cosmopolitan and shrewd.
It's just that, an appearance, and it's a lie, but appearances are all that matters.
So if you're a member of the international moviegoing audience, and you're wondering why Hollywood keeps putting out so many bad movies, take a look in the mirror.
You're a part of the problem, please become more discerning, and then you'll be part of the solution.

--Furious D.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1248: A Matter of Sex?

Director Colin Trevorrow is the latest target of the Twitter outrage mob, but it's not for stealing jokes, instead his sin appears to being successful while in possession of a penis.
Trevorrow's career is being touted as an overnight success story, ignoring the fact that he spent well over a decade struggling to get things made before he finally was deemed employable on a major gig with the offbeat and critically acclaimed sci-fi film Safety Not Guaranteed. That film got him the gig on Jurassic World, and Jurassic World went on to make over $1.6 Billion at the box office, and that led to him getting signed to direct an upcoming Star Wars movie for Disney.
Naturally when someone explodes into success like that there are critics who imply that Trevorrow's success isn't due to his hard work, that he had some sort of privileged "in" with the industry. In the old days that alleged "in" was a rumoured relationship with someone high up, be it familial or sexual, but these are modern times, and the critics now say it's all about gender, which one you have, and which one you would like to have sex with.
Overnight Trevorrow went from indie darling to twitter's favourite cisgendered boogeyman who only gets the big jobs because he has the correct genitalia.
When asked directly on twitter Trevorrow made a horrible mistake, he tried to defend himself:
Now some say that Trevorrow chose the wrong words, but let me explain something about crises like these:
Nothing he can say or do, short of announcing that he's quitting Hollywood to join a monastery in Tibet, and can somehow magically force all the jobs he's signed for, and will ever would be signed for will now go to women directors, whether they want to do those jobs or not.
If he explains how he got the job then he's "mansplaining," and is thus officially worse than Hitler, and if he says nothing, then he's acting disdainful towards women, and is officially worse than Hitler.
It's the ultimate Catch-22 of the Internet. Be damned for existing, be damned for defending yourself, or be damned for not defending yourself.
Now I'm not saying that Hollywood doesn't have a gender problem.
It does have a bad gender problem. 
When Sandra Bullock, who is a pretty reliable box-office player, capable of carrying a dead weight like George Clooney into blockbuster land, has a hard time finding a decent role, Hollywood has a gender problem.
The problem's roots are not a bunch of men sitting around a conference table saying "How many qualified women can we deny employment this month?" If it was, then it would just be a matter of getting around or rid of those guys.
Only the problem is more complex, and the solutions aren't coming because of these major problems:
Imagine that you're a studio mogul and you hear that not enough women are working in Hollywood your first thought will be: "Those other guys must be horribly sexist." That's because you can't conceive that you might contribute to the problem in any way. There are lots of women working in your office, you might be a woman yourself, you also hold fundraisers for the correct candidates and the correct causes, and you vote for the correct candidates. There's no way in your mind that you can see that you're causing this inequity, and you won't hear it from the critics because...
Now Colin Trevorrow did not hire himself to direct Jurassic World. He was hired by Stephen Spielberg's production company and Universal Pictures to direct the movie.
So why is Trevorrow the target of so much anger and blame?
Because Trevorrow is essentially powerless when it comes to people's careers. Amblin and Universal are not. If they're doing a Google search on a female director they're considering hiring and find her bad-tweeting them as sexist pigs, they're not going to hire that person.
However, if they see her picking on some other hired gun, then it won't matter to them, because unless they're mentioned by name, they can't imagine that they're involved in any way.
Trevorrow's defence mentioned cases of female directors turn down the big monster and superhero heavy blockbusters the studios are dependent on, and he might be right.
I don't know, and you don't know, because neither of us can read the minds and souls of other people, and fully understand why they take or turn down jobs.
It's the same problem with the whole women are paid 75¢ for every $1 a man is paid. People are led to believe that a female teller is paid less than a male bank teller with the same seniority because he gets a magic 25% penis bonus. 
That's not true.
The inequity in incomes comes from the simple fact that it encompasses all occupations. That means that the women who choose to take a lower paying retail or office jobs over the high paying, but dangerous male-dominant job of Alaskan oil rig roughneck because they don't want to give up a few fingers for cash, are skewing the results. 
Ironically, Hollywood who is a big proponent for the 75¢ myth is the one workplace where actresses actually are paid less and have a smaller choice of roles than actors of equal box-office appeal. 
So what can be done?
Well, many moons ago I worked out a formula to determine star power, and thus the appropriate salary, and it'll solve this problem, because it doesn't include genitalia in the calculations.
Here it is:
(A+B)-C= B.O.S.S.
B.O.S.S. stands for "Bums On Seats Status" or if you want to be more scientific sounding "Box-Office Sales Status" and is a fair and accurate assessment of what a movie star's real box-office appeal is.
So here is how you do it.
A: This is a percentage of how many profitable films the star has been the lead in for the past 5 years. 
Don't go by the studios profit/loss statements, they contain more fiction than a Barnes & Noble superstore. 
For the purpose of this formula you take the production costs of the film, double it, and add $30 million. This will give you a rough estimate of the total costs of the film, including prints, marketing, distribution as well as the theatre's piece of the action. If the box-office take is more than this amount, it's profitable, if it's less, it's a money loser.
B: Now this is the only part of the formula where market surveys are used. You do a poll of average moviegoers about the star in question and take the percentage of people who say that they would pay to see that star in a movie, and deduct 90% of that value. 
I call for the chopping of the 90% because the majority of people who answer the poll are just being polite, or so lonely they will talk to anyone and say anything to keep the talk going.
Trust me, I know how wildly inaccurate they can be having been involved with a clever sketch comedy pilot that was bastardized into a sitcom about mischievous angels based on a cream cheese commercial because of market research.
C: This is a percentage of movies that have been negatively affected by the star. Now this can be interpreted in several ways. The most concrete involve profitability lost due to the over-sized salary or unprofessional behaviour of the star in question. A star who drives up the budget isn't really worth it.
Now you add all that up together and you should get a score between 1 and 100, you then compare that score to this easy to read chart.
SCORE 0-10: This actor's next role should feature the line: "Do you want fries with that?"
SCORE 11-30: This actor might be okay cast as a wacky neighbour on a sitcom on the CW network.
SCORE 31-50: This star could be either on the way up, or on the way down. Stick to supporting roles in big-budget projects, leads in small budgets.
SCORE 51-70: You can call this person a "star" but unless you have a good script and a good director making a good film, it will still be a bit of a crap-shoot. They should get good money, but not so much that it cripples the budget, and points only if they are willing to take a cut in the up front money.
SCORE 71-90: The word 'bankable' might be used now. They have the charisma to sell a picture, and may even be forgiven the odd stinker or two, but you shouldn't push it too far. They should get good money, and a modest points deal.
SCORE 91-100+: These actors can sell out a theatre with dramatic readings of the Peoria Illinois phone book. They are worth every penny they can get, and a heap of points too because you're going to be swimming in money like Scrooge McDuck on a meth binge.
My solution is rational, logical, can be adapted to handle hiring behind the camera as well, and it leaves gender out.

Which means it will never be used.

Monday, 17 August 2015

On Comedy: Stop Thief!-- Joke Stealing Is No Laughing Matter!

Hardly a week goes by without Twitter exploding in righteous indignation about one offence or another. Be it a dead lion, or an insensitive quip, livelihoods and lives can be ruined by a wave of righteous torch-bearing mob-indignation. Normally I steer clear of such outrage, but this time I just had to comment.
It all started when someone on my timeline retweeted this:

Before this post, I had never heard of Josh Ostrovsky who tweets and instagrams under the nom-de-douche "The Fat Jew," but I felt compelled to investigate.
Because while jokes are inherently silly, joke theft is not. 
My research, thin as it was, revealed that Ostrovsky fancies himself a "performance artist" and the "curator or aggregator of the internet." Those titles require a little translation. "Performance Artist" really means unimaginative hack who seeks to get paid for acting like a pretentious hipster dickhead, and "Curator or Aggregator" is pretentious hipster douchebag-speak for "guy who steals other people's jokes and passes them off as his own." Not only has he been stealing jokes from hundreds, maybe thousands of people, he's been, according to professional Canuck shit-disturber Gavin McInnes, doing it for years.
Now if he just stuck to just tweeting stolen jokes, he'd be nothing more than a nuisance. However, Ostrovsky landed TV and radio gigs with E!, Comedy Central, Apple's Beats Radio, and representation with CAA, one of Hollywood's most elite agencies on the basis of his douchebag image, and his alleged wit on social media. 
Now he's making serious money off of the work and sweat of others, which makes his thievery more of a crime against comedy than a nuisance. He's literally taking money out of the pockets of real joke-makers.
Sadly, crimes against comedy aren't punishable under the law, but we can name, shame, not only the thief, but the media companies and agencies who are literally rewarding him for being a thief.
Joke theft is not a new phenomenon borne from the internet. It goes back to the stone age when Ag stole Ug's one about the hunter and the gatherer's daughter.
Ug responded by clocking Ag on the head with a rock.
And thus the concept of intellectual property was born.
A more civilized response was one done by Bob Hope against fellow vaudeville star Milton Berle back in the 1920s. Showbiz insiders considered Berle most famous for two things; he had the biggest schlong on the circuit, and he was terrible for stealing jokes.
Hope and a young writer, who both just made successful leap to Broadway, wanted to teach Berle a lesson. So Hope and the young writer made a careful and exact plan of attack, and waited for the right moment to strike.
That moment came on a fateful Monday night.

On Monday's the musicals traditionally go "dark" or don't perform, because they're doing an extra matinee on Sunday and the cast needs a break. Back in the 1920s they used to use the theatres on Mondays for charity variety shows called Benefits.
Benefit Night, as it was known then, was a big deal. All the top show-biz people and New York power players were in the audience, and it was the perfect spot for an aspiring vaudeville comic like Berle to get off the circuit and into a major Broadway show.
Now every theatre would be having a benefit show, and it was common practice for comics to perform in one theatre, run up the street, perform there, and so on, literally until the wee hours of the morning.
Hope and his partner arranged to perform right before Berle, which was literally the time Berle was closing his act in the last theatre and he was literally running to the next one. Berle would arrive just as Hope was leaving the stage and heading for the next theatre.
Berle would then go on stage, start his act and....cue the cricket sound.
You see, Hope would go out and do Berle's mostly stolen act, verbatim, which meant that it looked like Berle was just repeating Hope's act.
Berle learned his lesson and didn't steal another joke...for a while.
Now there isn't one kind of joke theft, and some is not really theft at all, and I'll attempt to explain most of this probably incomplete list.

  • COINCIDENTAL: Now this doesn't really count as joke theft, but is often mistaken for it. The world is big, there are literally billions of people and if it's something topical, then more than one person is going to make the same joke. I know, it happens to me all the time, probably because my sense of humour is so obvious and banal, and I'm probably even a victim of it as well. When that guy threw a shoe at President Bush I sold a joke to a comedian for $50 about how the Shoe Thrower was hired as MSNBC's new pundit. The comedian used it in a web video, and two days later it was in Jay Leno's opening monologue. I'm sure that was purely coincidental, he said while rearranging the pins in his Jay Leno voodoo doll.
  • SUBCONSCIOUS: Now this does count as joke theft, but it lacks one key ingredient that separates it from what I consider criminal joke theft: INTENT. It happens when you hear a joke, forget where you heard it, and then blurt it out fully convinced that you just came up with it out of the blue. Robin Williams used to be bad for this, but I don't recall anyone resenting him for it, because it was mostly because his memory and rapid fire style was better at remembering the joke itself rather than the source. 
  • AMBITIOUS, YET INSECURE: Now we're delving into the realm of deliberate joke theft. Theft, and intent are arm in arm in this one, but motive can be a contributing factor. You see intent means that you mean to deliberately commit a crime, but MOTIVE is your reasoning behind your intent. Many comedians, Berle being a classic example, can often let their ambition outrun not their talent, but their faith in their own talent. They want to reach the top, but aren't sure if all their material is "A Grade" so they poach material that they're sure works because they've seen it work with someone else. Often these kinds of joke thieves present a cocky and brash exterior to hide the mouldering bucket of anxiety worms that makes up their psyche.
  • MALICIOUS: These kinds of joke thieves are the lowest and worst kind. They know they are deliberately stealing material from people who burnt the calories needed to create original material, they just don't care. They also aren't acting out of insecurity, but entitlement. They assume that they are entitled to fame and success but don't want to actually work for it beyond making sales pitches to surprisingly gullible media insiders who all yearn to be one of the "cool kids." If getting that fame and success requires stealing, then that's just fine, because this joke thief's victims aren't viewed as cool enough to be worthy of consideration. When caught, they usually try to brush it off with lame excuses/double-talk, and/or jump straight into attacking their accusers.

That Josh "The Fat Jew" Ostrovsky committed joke theft is pretty much beyond doubt. What's being discussed here is what kind of joke theft did he commit, and that, ladies and gentlemen of the jury of public opinion, I leave to you to decide.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1247: Friday The 13th The Series?

Flush with success from DC superheroes, magicians, and a pregnant virgin, the CW Network now thinks it can work miracles by raising the dead. The stinking foetid corpse in question is the Friday The 13th franchise which they hope to adapt into a TV series about the people of Crystal Lake facing the return of a more "grounded" version of the unstoppable killer.

Now I've never been a fan of the franchise, it came to embody the worst of the 1980s slasher-horror boom, coming up with lamer and lamer excuses to ramp up the gore and keep Jason coming back no matter what happened to him. It got very silly and very boring, and it showed in the diminishing returns at the box office.

Even a big budget remake failed to revive interest in a franchise that was deader than a Voorheez victim.

The funny thing is that the franchise had already branched into TV back in the 1980s.

Sort of.

Back in 1987 the producers of the Friday the 13th movies were branching into television with a Canadian-USA syndicated late night horror series that was originally going to be called The 13th Hour.

They decided that title was too obscure and went with the more famous "brand" even though the show had nothing to do with Jason Voorhees.

The premise of the show was pretty straightforward. An antiques dealer named Louis Vendredi made a pact with the devil for wealth and immortality. To cash in the stock in his store had been cursed to lead those who buy them into madness and murder by bombarding them powerful temptations.

But in the pilot Louis had an attack of guilt and broke the pact, and ended up dead and in hell.

Two distant relatives then inherited the store, which they then cleaned out in a huge sale. Shortly afterward, with the help of their uncle's ex-partner, they discover the curses and spend the rest of the series trying to get the stuff back and locked up safely in a supernaturally fortified vault.

Now I was just a kid when I saw it, and it ended 25 years ago, but I remember that it was one of the scariest things I had ever seen made for TV, and that includes Dark Night of the Scarecrow.

As far as I can remember, it sure was scarier than anything the Friday the 13th movies dished out.

Which is why I'm not holding out much hope for the CW's idea.

They should stick to DC superheroes.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1246: Can Relativity Media Be Saved?

As a regular reader of this blog will know indie production company and distributor Relativity Media has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection because it has about $500 million in assets and about $1 billion in debt.

Can it be saved?

The answer is "Yes" but with caveats. It would have to meet certain conditions if it is going to have a second chance. 

1. Dump Ryan Kavanaugh. Sure, the Hollywood business press seems to love him, and he seemed to be really good at getting investors to pony up the dough for a while, but he still managed to rack up a hell of a lot of losses and debts in a whole variety of hare-brained schemes that were heavy on sales jargon but low on results. I know he's a major shareholder, but if former newspaper mogul Conrad Black can be forced out of two companies, one where he was the sole proprietor, on the basis of crimes that the appeals court ruled hadn't actually happened. If that's possible then you can get rid of Kavanaugh for driving the company into the ground.

2. Trim Fat/Find Money. One big problem the company has is that there isn't enough money coming in to service the debt and keep the company running. Naturally a selling off of assets will have to come. The sports agency, the "branded content" agency, and all the other schemes will have to be either sold off, or shuttered completely. Then there's the company's distribution capability. They may have to open themselves to even more distribution only deals with other independent producers than they already have.

3. Stick To The Core Business. Relativity was originally founded to produce, and eventually distribute, movies and television shows. 

Maybe it needs to do that and only that.

It should also avoid trying to compete with the studios for the massive blockbusters. The new Relativity should target the middle ground, smaller scale pics that the big studios don't seem to make anymore even though, back in the day, they were seen as the profitable backbone of the industry. They should also be budgeted tightly to decrease risk, and increase the potential for reward.

They should just follow this simple formula:


No more wacky schemes to produce only hits, no more "lifestyle brands" and no more BS, just stick with making stories people would enjoy seeing more than once.

Then Relativity might have a shot to live again.