Monday, 31 December 2007

Furious D's Hollywood Dictionary: C is for....

Time for another installment of my Hollywood dictionary. If you have any suggestions for terms, just drop me a line in the comments.

For folks who are new to this feature, the first definition is for what the term used to mean in Hollywood, the second is what the term means now.


1. A mythical list of actors who intermittently worked Poverty Row studios and low rent 'educational' films.

2. Washed up celebrities who don't work enough to make a living, and try to exploit their one past success by doing reality TV.


1. Famous stars.

2. Anyone who can get their face in front of the cameras and stay there, whether anyone wants to see that face or not.


1. Young actors who achieved success at an early age.

2. Future rehab patients.


1. Dislike or disdain.

2. What Hollywood feels towards the average American moviegoer, filmmakers, and non-celebrity actors.

Friday, 28 December 2007

Hollywood Babble On & On... #18: Quo Vadis?

I've done more than my share of ranting and raving about what's wrong with Hollywood but for a change I'd like to talk about things Hollywood could do to stop its death spiral.

So here is my plan.


Millions of dollars are spent each year in Hollywood to maintain the most inefficient and costly bureaucracy in human history. And within this bureaucracy legions of lawyers, accountants, and MBAs practice the sort of advancement through turf wars and personal destruction not seen since the days of the old Soviet Politburo.

To simplify studios must:

a) Realize that their business is not creative accounting and tax shelter investments but the telling and selling of stories to entertain a mass audience.

b) Trim the executive fat. The business office of the average film studio can be reduced by about 2/3s.

c) Base executive salaries and bonuses on performance, not on internal office politics and greed.

d) Divide the posts of Chairman and CEO between two different people. The Chairman and the Board are to represent the interests of the shareholders. Any executives on the board must abstain from all votes pertaining to salaries and compensation. Having one man occupying both posts leads to too much power in too little hands and lead to ego trumping common sense.

e) Stop playing silly buggers with the accounting. Once studios start showing that offering net profit participation is not a form of cheating creators they will see that up-front salary demands, and gross participation demands will go down. This will reduce costs and make films cheaper and more profitable. Transparency is key.


Every year the cost of the means of production goes down while the actual costs of making films skyrocket beyond the rates of inflation. This reduces not only profitability, but creativity. Huge amounts of money are being spent to solve problems that they filmmakers used to solve using their imaginations. Audiences also feel cheated, hearing about film's with massive budgets and not seeing that money on the screen.

To cut costs studios must:

a) Realize that the star system is dead. It died of exposure on the slopes of our 24/7 "celebrity" tabloid media industry. Stars used to be glamorous, mysterious figures of aspiration. Anyone who aspires to be like most modern celebrities, with their wretched pitiful lives, plagued by constant scandal, addiction, botched plastic surgeries, all under the unblinking eye of the paparazzi hordes needs major brain surgery.

b) Stop paying massive salaries and gross point deals to stars who can't deliver audiences. I have nothing against actors being well paid, but studios should draw the line at salaries that could have covered the film's entire budget a mere 5 years ago, especially if that actor couldn't sell tickets to the Second Coming.

c) Stop the whole practice of 'packaging.' Tell agents that no 'star' is worth doubling if not trebling the budget of any film to pad the agent's commission by hiring all of his other clients at higher than deserved rates, and that they can always find someone else. It'll sting at first, and a few of the 'big player' agencies may even collapse, but the agents and agencies willing and able to actually work for their clients will survive, and it will be better for everyone involved.

d) Each studio needs a corps of elite production managers (or line producers) who answer directly to the studio and whose job is to keep costs in line. I'm not saying that these production managers should be rigid martinets, but they should promote the use of creativity and imagination over money to get films made.

e) Look to new technology as a means to cut costs, not create new ones.


Despite a steady growth in population, viewers numbers for movies and TV are in decline. Part of this is the wealth of options people have for entertainment, including video games and the internet, but a big part of it is dissatisfaction with the material being produced by Hollywood.

To reconnect they must:

a) Realize that the audience is not stupid. The audience, especially teenagers, may enjoy big dumb spectacles, and broad farcical comedies, but they do have the capacity to enjoy more intelligent and adult (not that kind of adult) fare, if it can connect to them on an emotional level.

b) Realize that the phrase "challenging" is often code for "insulting." The recent failure of films portraying America, and especially American Christians as villains shows that the audience will not pay to be insulted. They can accept fare that is really challenging, that presents an artist's point of view in a way that is intelligent and thought provoking, but that seems to be a lost art because the filmmakers don't really believe in their stands, but only think that they should believe them, because it's what's fashionable in Hollywood.

If the film-maker's really believed what they were saying they wouldn't be afraid to present fully developed characters engaged in intelligent, and fully developed discussions of controversial issues. Audiences may not agree with an artist's point of view, but they will pay to see that view expressed if it's done in an intellectually honest manner.

c) Studio executives must stop looking down on people. Yes, studio execs are rich and powerful people, but they are just people, and once they realize that, and that the opinions of people who aren't part of that Malibu- Beverly Hills- Los Angeles Axis do matter they may have a chance to reconnect to the audience.

Let me know what you think.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Hollywood Babble On & On... #17: Twas The Strike Before Xmas

'Twas the strike before Christmas, when all through Hollywood
Not a creature was writing, and that is not good;
Studio executives hung in their dungeons with care,
In hopes that their Dominatrix soon would be there;

The big stars were nestled in each other's large beds,
While visions of Oscars danced in their heads;
TV was all reruns or reality show crap,
And the audience gave up for a long winter's nap,

When out on the street I heard a terrible clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Pulling up my pajamas to cover my ass.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the luster of mid-day to objects below,

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a stretch limousine ran over my plastic reindeer,
With a big passenger, both well-dressed and slick,
I knew in a moment it must be Counter-comma-Nick.

More rapid than eagles the other moguls they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
"Now, Lynton! Now, Meyer! Now, Brad Grey and Chernin!
On, Zucker! On Sloan! On, Iger and Moonves!
To the top of the heap! To the top of them all!
Throw cash away! Cash away! Cash away all!"

As critics from a junket preview do fly,

To escape a bad movie just mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the moguls they flew,
With the limo of bad contracts, and Counter, Nicholas too.

And then, in a scurrying, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each executive hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney Counter, Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in gold, from his head to his shoes,
And his paycheck was massive despite bad box-office news;
A net full of profits he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a burglar just opening his pack.
His eyes -- how they twinkled! His botoxed dimples how merry!
His suit was hand tailored, his contract demands scary!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
But Variety says he's as white as the snow;
Peter Bart's leash he held tight in his teeth,
And it encircled Bart's neck just like a wreath;

He had a shrewd face and a personal trainer toned belly,
Hollywood shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.
He was hard and was tough, and not jolly old elf,
But I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon told me that I had everything to dread;
He spoke not a word, even though that was his work,
And left negotiations; and writers called him a jerk,

And giving writers the finger & thumbing his nose,
And refused to pay them for online downloads;
He sprang to his limo, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew treating writers like gristle.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-strike!"

Friday, 21 December 2007

The Millisecond Men Part 7: Time Waits For One Man

I know it's been a while, but here is the conclusion to THE MILLISECOND MEN, my little act of improv sci-fi writing.
Part 7: Time Waits For One Man
D.R. MacMaster

"You know where the Stone of Time is?" asked Quo Vida.

"Yes," answered Bob. "It's at the old make-out spot about a half mile east of here."

"Hmmm," said Quid Civitas, the ghost in the alien's machine, "But the Treskarians went west."

"It could be some sort of distortion in their temporal scanning devices," said Quo Vida.

"Or they could be just stupid," said Bob. "Let's take advantage of the situation and save the universe."

"I'll wait here," said Quid Civitas, "what with me being dead and all."

"Let's go," said Quo Vida to Bob, but then she paused and turned to the hologram of her dead colleague. "And when this is done, I'm going to go back in time and kick some sense into your head when you were alive and stop you from starting this mess."


"Can you do that?" asked Bob as he and Quo Vida ran across the high school's football field. Since everything and everyone around them had been frozen in time and space, he wasn't really bothered anymore by being out in public in his pajamas and housecoat.

"Do what?" asked Quo Vida, running a good clip despite her impractical looking purple high-heeled boots.

"Go back in time and prevent this from happening?"

"That's what Quantum Agents do," said Quo Vida. "Though we are only allowed to directly interfere when someone, like the Treskarians, tamper with the timeline."

"Cool," said Bob.

"Where's the Stone of Time?" asked Quo Vida.

"Over there," said Bob, "behind the bleachers."

The pair ran around the bleachers until the both stood before a massive slab of stone.

Quo Vida took out her Does-All and scanned the edifice.

"This is it," said Quo Vida, "it's the stone of time... oh?"

"What's the 'oh' for?"

"I now know why you weren't frozen in time like everyone else," said Quo Vida.

"I'm full of tachyons," said Bob resting his hand on the ancient stone, "you explained that."

"But I couldn't explain why you're full of tachyons," replied Quo Vida. "Now I can."


"You were conceived on this rock," said Quo Vida, pocketing her Does-All. Bob retracted his hand.

"One word," said Bob, "eeeewww."

"Well," said Quo Vida, "there's only one thing we can do to set everything right. We have to destroy it."

Bob drew the Treskarian pistol. "I guess it's good that I brought this."

"Threeble!" screamed a high pitched voice behind them.

Bob and Quo Vida spun around to see the remaining Treskarians, weapons drawn, staring at them with their blank masked faces. The center Treskarian was holding some sort of glowing staff in his hand.

"Oh crap," said Bob, pulling the trigger on the strange looking weapon.

It was then he realized that he was holding it wrong again.

A brilliant orange flash went right by his head and struck the Stone of Time directly in the center. There wasn't a roar of destruction, but rather a strangely anti-climactic popping sound. Then a ring of white light shot out from the stone.

The Treskarians collapsed, first their flesh and bones turned to ancient dust, then their spacesuits began to rust and crumble.

"What's happening?" asked Bob.

"The time stream is going back to normal," said Quo Vida, "you did it. You saved the universe."

"I got to get home," said Bob.


Bob shook the dust from the alien vessel, now decayed into a flaky green dust, of his father's shotgun and put it back in the closet. Although things still looked frozen to him, time was passing, and quickly for some people.

By the time they returned to the Treskarian ship, it was a pile of rust and the alien that once menaced them was now only dust. Only the shotgun remained unchanged.

Bob ran to the kitchen, pulled a cup from the shelf and crouched down beside the blob of coffee that still hung in the air, though a millimeter lower than when he left it.

"One...two... three..." said Bob, and the coffee splashed into the cup.

The sound of cars passing outside, and the shower running upstairs returned.

Time, and the universe were now safe, thanks to Bob.

Bob took a swig of coffee. It all seemed like a strange dream now, and with the passing of just a second, all trace of the alien attack, and his heroism vanished.

Footsteps came down the stairs.

"Is the coffee ready honey?" asked Jennifer, in her bathrobe.

"Yep," said Bob, pouring her a cup.

"What's that in your pocket?" asked Jennifer.

Bob looked down, sticking out of his housecoat pocket was the Treskarian pistol. It was then that he realized that it had somehow survived the transition, probably due to that tachyon thing Quo Vida talked about.

"This?" said Bob. "Well, it's a bit of a peculiar story..."


Thursday, 20 December 2007

Hollywood Babble On & On... #16: Sympathy for the Devil's Advocate

Hat tip to Nikki Finke who posted this story about how the Alliance of Motion Picture & TV Producers (AMPTP) declined participating in hearings held by the Los Angeles City Council about the economic impact of the Writer's Strike on the LA economy.

Instead the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) their chief lobbying body submitted a statement into the record, but refused to testify or answer any questions.

Now before Variety's Peter Bart accuses me of having "drunk the Kool-Aid" and becoming a shill for the sinister "organizers" of the WGA, (as if he would read this blog) I will say that the AMPTP could
argue, that since the MPAA was best equipped to handle the hearing because it represents the same people and is designed for and experienced in dealing with municipal, state and federal governments.

But, and it's a big but...

The MPAA didn't handle the hearing. It merely had a rep submit a statement into the record.

Hearings are about testimony. Testimony is about people presenting their case before the governing body, God, and the American public.

Submitting a dry statement conceived by public relations firms that lack the sense to put a lock on the .com address for their website is not testimony, and it is not going to win any friends or influence people.

At least not anyone who doesn't live in Beverly Hills or Malibu.

It amazes that the people who run an industry based upon image can't see the image that they're creating for themselves.

The only way they could have handled that meeting any worse was if AMPTP honcho Nick Counter showed up dressed like Snidely Whiplash and declaring, whilst twirling his waxed mustaches, that once they crushed the writers they were going to get the widows and orphans next.

They could have let the MPAA handle the hearing, but like I said, they didn't try to handle it.

And that's a sign of incredible weakness and contempt, the chief poison in the apple of Hollywood.

Weakness because the moguls and their spin doctors lacked the imagination and will to handle it. Public hearings are all about making a case, and if you don't have a case other than your own contempt and greed, you need more spin than a top balanced on a centrifuge.

But the AMPTP/MPAA didn't even
try to spin their way through the hearings.

It can't be because they are concerned about what people think of them. The majority of Americans think they're jerks. Spinning like one wouldn't have dug that hole any deeper. In fact, there's a slim chance it might even help, but that requires imagination, intelligence, hard work, and most of all, a sense of respect for your opposition and the general public.

But they don't have that. Instead they have contempt.

What else other than contempt would compel the moguls, people in the business of telling and selling stories, to believe that they don't need stories as long as they have equity investment from Dubai and European Union tax shelters
to keep them afloat.

What they don't seem to realize is that those investments and shelters are worthless without stories to tell and sell, that this strike, which could spread to include actors and directors, could cripple, if not destroy, the industry, and that in this destruction they are casting themselves as the villain.

And pretty lousy villains as it is.

One of the fundamental truths about good storytelling is that the villain, no matter how evil their deeds, must believe that what he/she does is right, even if it's only for the fulfillment of their own wants and desires.

The AMPTP is acting like the villain, but not
a modern sophisticated well rounded villain, with depth, intelligence, and the ability to at least make a case for their villainy, but a old fashioned cartoon villain who does villainous things just because they think it's what they should do with no logical rationale behind it.

It's also a tactical error. No tactician would suggest not trying to make a case for being right, no matter how wretched, without some sort of grievous head injury. Even if your arguments are all wrong and based on a foundation of lies and greed, at least you tried, and that might actually convince some people. (It happens in politics all the time)

And it's not an impossible rhetorical exercise. In fact, it's a centuries old tradition.

In the old days, when the Vatican was deciding on the canonization of a saint, no matter how holy and pure the person in question was, there was a man appointed to be The Devil's Advocate. It was his job to argue against sainthood, and to compose believable and intelligent arguments for that argument, even if the person personally didn't believe any of it.

And even though they may have disagreed with the presentation they were making, they were intellectually honest enough to admit that the argument was necessary, if not to themselves, but to the search for truth.

Now the AMPTP/MPAA have apparently given up on playing their own Devil's Advocate and the only explanation for not even trying is that they hold anyone who is not a fellow mogul in too much contempt to even lie to their faces about the issues at hand.

People can understand being greedy, and they can understand spinning, and even lying, but they don't like being looked on as unworthy of being included in the discussion.

Of course if Hollywood's moguls weren't crippled
with contempt their industry would be in a lot better financial shape than it is now.

That's why I'm continuing my ongoing campaign to replace Robert Shaye as head of New Line Pictures.

I even have a catchy poster, and image is everything you know...

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

They've Convinced Me...

I now think the AMPTP is right about everything. Just look at this video that explains their position...


Now I know all those WGA strikers are all Communist radicals instead of hard-working creative people who just want their fair share of some enormous profits.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Hollywood Babble On & On... #15: The Happy Hobbits of Hollywood...

A big hat tip to Hollywood source Nikki Finke for the story about Bob Shaye, my rival for the position of CEO of New Line, making a settlement with LOTR auteur Peter Jackson for him to executive produce The Hobbit which New Line and MGM will co-finance.

So, what does it really mean, aside from a new line of cosplayers at every comic book and fantasy convention after the films are made?

Well, it's an obvious ploy by Robert Shaye to save his own hide.

He's hoping that this 'all is forgiven' attitude will extend to the New Line shareholders who are increasingly unhappy with his dysfunctional management style that managed to alienate filmmakers and audiences alike.

But will the board of New Line forgive and forget and renew his contract?

Only if they forget that Shaye started the feud with Jackson, delaying the continuation of a so far $3 billion+ franchise by years.

Only if they fail to notice that The Hobbit will cost the company mega-millions before a single frame is shot just to settle a massive lawsuit with the executive producer instead of just paying what was owed, when it was owed, which was a time when the company was more flush with cash and assets. (You know it has to be huge money considering the often childish bad blood Shaye created with Jackson that kept the feud going way longer than it should have and the original suit was for something like $100+ million.)

Only if they forget that Jackson was just one of many money-making filmmakers that Shaye drove away from the company with a mix of greed, contempt, and verbal vitriol.

Only if they forget the debacle of opening a $250+ million film (The Golden Compass) that presented religious people (especially Christians) as the villains at the beginning of CHRISTMAS TIME, which despite the company's spin will fail to turn a profit despite middling to good overseas box-office. (This is because New Line doesn't distribute outside the USA, leaving approx. 60% of box-office revenue in the hands of foreign distributors depending on their arrangement with New Line)

And there you have it.

It should take more than just a hug and an on paper deal to save Shaye's hide, in fact it's the studio management equivalent of putting one of those car air fresheners in a fertilizer factory. It's just a little hint of pine in a sea of shit.

That's why I'm keeping my name in as his potential replacement.

I think my campaign slogan says it all...


PS: I'm starting a pool where people can post their predictions of how long it will be before Shaye screws up The Hobbit deal.

I predict that he will drive away Jackson from The Hobbit within 48 hours of getting his contract renewed. (Taking into account the time zone differences between LA and New Zealand)

What do you think?

Monday, 17 December 2007

Hollywood Babble On & On... #14: A System for Idiocy

There's a term I've used a lot over the years, and some of my friends have used it too. (without giving me any credit, but I'm not bitter)

The term is: The Self-Fulfilling Idiocy.

It's sort of like a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it has more to do with stupid actions creating more stupid actions until everything goes totally ape-feces in your face.

Now the classic self-fulfilling idiocy is what's happening in Hollywood.

But before that, a little history.

In the very dawn of cinema, actors didn't get any credit at all. In fact, the leading female actress of the Biograph company was simply known as The Biograph Girl.

However, that situation didn't last long.

We are talking about about actors here, and there's nothing they like more than seeing their name written in very big letters.

So during the Silent Era of the 19teens and 1920s two systems rapidly emerged: The Studio System and the Star System.

The Studio System boiled filmmaking down to factory like efficiency, because each studio had to produce at least one to two new films a week to show in the theatres they owned to stay afloat.

The Star System was where each studio had a stable of 'stars.' Actors whose talent, charisma, and public persona could help sell a film to the general public.

These actors were usually signed to 7 year contracts that meant that pictures were assigned to them by the studio, not picked by themselves. Those that disobeyed the studio got suspended, or even blacklisted as 'difficult.'

This system of gilded servitude lasted throughout the 1930s and 1940s as a form of symbiosis. The studio needed the stars to sell their films and the stars needed the studios to pay them, protect them, and provide work.

But then things started to change. First came World War 2 with many top names going overseas to fight fascism, second came the consent decree.

The Consent Decree was a move by the US federal government that meant that studios could no longer own the theaters that showed their films, because it constituted a form of monopoly.

Then the actors who served in the war decided that they weren't going to take the studios crap anymore and demanded greater independence. Some even becoming producers of their own films.

Then came TV.

Suddenly the studio system's monopoly on entertainment was on the wane. Many companies skirted bankruptcy, and most of the smaller studios collapsed. The old style moguls who built the business were forced out, and many studios were taken over by big multinational conglomerates. Suddenly Paramount became just another corporate subsidiary, logged in the books right next to the division that made widgets.

Hollywood flailed around during the 50s and 60s, trying to recapture lost glory with massive screens and grand technicolor extravaganzas.

Most of these projects failed.

The power of 'big stars' to demand big money also waned. Thus you started to see in the 60s and 70s big names appearing in grand epics one week, low budget foreign made schlock the next.

Then came the movie brats.

They were a generation of filmmakers raised on Hollywood classics and brought into the business through Roger Corman's low budget exploitation factories at American International and New World Pictures suddenly found themselves at the top of the cinematic food chain.

They made movies that the public wanted to see, and the normally closed shop of Hollywood suddenly blew wide open.

This led to a wave of creativity unseen since the emergence of the 'talkie' in the late 20s.

It also led to what I call the 2nd Star System.

This time it was the stars who called the shots.

They wanted control over their projects, big money, and a piece of the profits.

The studios, desperate for a piece of the success they promised, agreed.

Now this is where the self-fulfilling idiocy begins.

By the time of the 1980s the directors and stars that made their name in 70s were getting fat on big money from big movies.

The studios became a closed shop once again, no new talent or skilled tradespeople welcome. (Except for a brief moment in the early 90s during the 'indie-Sundance-boom but that's another story)

These developments led to movies becoming more and more expensive.

To protect their investments the studios started playing with the books, so suddenly profits began to disappear. Huge blockbusters were mysteriously written off as money losers, because they had less successful films attached to their budgets.

Suddenly the big names decided that having a piece of the profits wasn't enough if there weren't going to be any profits. They wanted big money up front, and a piece of the gross revenue, from the first ticket sold to the last VHS tape rented.

Production costs went even higher.

Then the 90s brought in what I call the Super-Agent System.

A select few elite agencies got control of all the top star actor and directors. If you wanted that star to be in or to direct your studio's movie, you not only had to pony up the big money, but you also had to hire some of the agent's other clients for big money. 10% doesn't grow on trees.

This was called 'packaging.'

But even that time came to pass. Especially when some of these 'super-agents' became heads of studios, and realized that they weren't super managers as well.

However it left Hollywood crawling with actors and directors who are on the so-called 'A-List' because their agents got them big money on the coat-tails of their more successful clients.

This system was maintained by a new system, what I call the Publicist System.

The 80s and 90s saw an explosion in celebrity driven media, from tabloid newspapers, magazines, and TV shows. These outlets needed a steady stream of 'stars' to populate the gaps between ads for zit cream and time-share opportunities in Boca Raton.

To get the 'A-list' actors, they had to appease their publicists, which meant that they not only had to treat their top clients with kid gloves, barring anything short of a murder charge, they also had to treat their less famous clients as if they were big stars as well.

So you had the media appeasing the publicists promoting actors beyond their star-power, so their agents could demand big money and pieces of the gross revenue.

This causes costs to go way up beyond inflation, despite new technology, revenue to go down in the real world, and not just on paper, and everyone except the select few at the very top, getting the shaft.

So to boil it all down, the studios, being greedy, started denying that films made money. This led to more up-front costs, and pieces being taken from the back end gross revenue.

Thus ensuring that films don't make any real money, no matter what the box-office take. And even though it's killing them, the studios are still being greedy, and still trying to screw everyone instead of reforming and simplifying the system.

And that is what I call a self-fulfilling idiocy.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Hollywood Babble On & On... #13: The Fresh Prince of the Box Office

Will Smith is one of Hollywood's last true movie stars.

He might very well be the only actor in Hollywood that can be considered "bankable." Especially now since his sci-fi/horror flick I Am Legend has broken the record for a December film opening.

Now many are wondering why his movies are usually profitable when so many others on Hollywood's 'A-List' couldn't fill a theater if it was the only place on Earth safe from a rampaging horde of poo-flinging, blood drinking, brain-eating
vampire-zombie monkeys.

I can answer that.

The audience trusts him and Will Smith trusts the audience.

Will Smith knows that his fortunes ride on the good-will of the American public, not on the whims of fashion as dictated by Hollywood's select few, or the by who the paparazzi stalk the most.

He lives outside the epicenter of the Hollywood frenzy, and only appears for the paparazzi at premieres, charity events, and award shows. You don't see him in the tabloids, cocaine caked on his nose, being dragged out of his mansion by police. In fact, he makes a point to have a personal life that, despite his wealth, is as boringly normal as everyone else.

This aura of normalcy, combined with his easygoing charm, and his talent as an actor, allow him to connect with the audience on an emotional level.

Plus there's also his careful selection of projects.

Most 'A-List' stars base their decisions on ego, money, and acceptance by their Hollywood neighbours. But what your ego, banker, and your Hollywood-type neighbours want to see are not what the average American wants to see.

Will Smith's choices are based on what he thinks the audience wants to see, primarily what he would pay money to see if he was an average middle class American.

They want a good guy who fights bad guys, action (it is called the Motion Picture for a reason) thrills, chills, and some humour. They don't want to see boring, repetitive tales of suburban angst that have more to do with life in Beverly Hills than the average suburb. They don't want to see films where they are insulted through 1 dimensional caricature for being religious, patriotic, or not being as fashionable as the folks in Malibu.

Plus they know that Will Smith works hard at his job. He doesn't blow off work to go party and drive drunk. He's an entertainer and he knows that it is his job to entertain the general public, and that it is a job that he has to do to the best of his ability in order to stay on top of the food chain.

The audience knows that on an emotional level, and they respect it.

And that's why he's one of the last movie stars in Hollywood.
"What did you say Lassie? Hollywood's profits have fallen down a well?"

I can beat large numbers of children! Hooray!


Thursday, 13 December 2007

Hollywood Babble On & On... #12: Gandhi, Oscar, & Making the Audience Your Enemy

Last night I was reading My Indecision Is Final: The Rise and Fall of Goldcrest Films... by Goldcrest founder Jake Eberts and business journalist Terry Illiot. Specifically I was reading the chapter on the making and selling of the Richard Attenborough's epic bio-pic Gandhi to Hollywood and the American public, and it shows how much Hollywood has changed since the early 1980s.

But first, a little background.

Goldcrest Films was started as a film finance fund by Canadian Jake Eberts and a partnership with British conglomerate Pearson-Longman. It rapidly grew to become a major independent player, dominating the Academy Awards in the early 1980s, and produced a series of modestly budgeted, intelligent, mature, and ultimately profitable films.

Sadly Eberts left the company for a better paying job, turf battles arose among various factions in the company, it got over-extended when it tried to out-epic Hollywood, and soon collapsed.

But that's another story.

What I want to talk about is the film Gandhi.

For years actor/director Richard 'Dickie' Attenborough had fought to bring the life and work of Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi to the big screen. After decades of struggle he convinced Goldcrest, the Indian government
and other investors to put up $24 million* dollars to make the epic.

After the film was made, on schedule, and under budget, Goldcrest then tried to sell it to Hollywood.

Fox was interested at first, and their executives
praised the film, but the passed. They didn't think the film was 'commercial' enough for the American audience.

Goldcrest then went to Columbia Pictures with Gandhi.

They loved it.

Then Columbia did something shocking.

They bought it.

They accepted that selling the film was a challenge, it was about a topic they weren't familiar with (the independence of India from British rule), set in a country the average American wasn't familiar with (India) and starred a then unknown stage actor named Ben Kingsley as Gandhi.

But they took that challenge not as a minus, but a plus.

They carefully marketed the film in a way to make the audience want to see because it promised not only spectacle and drama, but taught them something new, not only about the history of India, but about the human condition in general.

Elements of the human condition that the audience could relate to on an emotional level.

It showed that despite the cultural differences on the surface, the average American, and the average Indian held many of the same things in common.

The film was marketed not only on this universal emotional connection, but also to make the audience feel smart by going to see it. You may never go poor underestimating public taste, but if you can make them feel better about themselves, you will be pleasantly surprised by their good taste.

The audience came to Gandhi, felt that connection, felt smarter and better about themselves which helped them enjoy the film, and they repaid the film with excellent word of mouth.

The film then went on to be one of the major box-office hits of the year, win Oscars for just about everyone nominated, and then landed $20 million dollars, a then unheard of price for an independent production, for the US television rights from Embassy Pictures, who then sold it to HBO for $23 million.

Everyone involved enjoyed both critical and commercial success.

Now what would happen if Gandhi was made today?


A studio wouldn't make it today.

They'd take one look at the script and not see the universal themes that would appeal to the average American, but only a skinny Hindu in glasses doing a hunger strike for freedom where the average Hollywood starlet does it for magazine covers.

Besides, marketing such a film takes actual work and imagination, two things that seem to be avoided like death in Hollywood these days.

So instead of doing actual work to find out what connects with the average moviegoer, Hollywood has shifted to what they think is supposed to be challenging.

So you end up with:
  • Whiny tales of suburban sexual ennui, that claim to challenge conventional mores, but really only serve out the same cliches as the last film about suburban sexual ennui.
  • Boring, one-sided political lectures that present the side Hollywood opposes as cartoonish bloodthirsty villains, dimwitted buffoons, or both.
  • Outright condemnations or insults directed at the religion of the average moviegoer by presenting them as inherently evil, stupid, and/or hypocritical.
These aren't challenges to moviegoer to learn and expand. A challenge presents an honestly felt belief through a serious and intelligent argument. Intelligent and serious arguments require work and serious thought.

These sorts of films are not based on serious thought, but a rather cynical ploy to appeal to Hollywood's elite inner circle by presenting what they think is challenging.

The audience votes with its wallets, and most of these 'challenging' films end up circling the bowl financially. Yet they end up dominating the awards that Hollywood loves to give to itself, because they think they have to honour them because it presents what they think they have to believe in to be true artistes.

So Hollywood keeps making movies that lose money, and poison the art of film-making confident in their belief that they're doing the right thing, because they keep praising themselves for doing it. They start to think that these films fail because the audience, the great unwashed in flyover country, must be wrong, stupid, bigoted, and the enemy of quality.

Thus creates what I call a self-fulfilling idiocy.

Mainstream films get dumber and dumber with more attention and money paid to create CG effects and .

The majority fail to make a profit, because they don't connect emotionally with the audience, and only offer empty spectacle, but when some do hit it big, the studio suits think it only confirms their theory of audience stupidity and keep their fingers on the dumb button.

And more 'artistic,' 'serious' films, or 'independent' films (produced and/or released by major studio subsidiaries) aren't geared towards the general population anymore, but more to appeal to various and sundry political, social, and sexual fetishes of Hollywood's elite.

So you see the Academy Awards honouring more and more films that fewer and fewer people see. Critics scolding the general public for not spending their hard earned dollars on seeing a film that the critic only gave a thumbs up to because he felt he had to in order to get invited to all the good parties.

Box office suffers, the quality of films suffer, and culture and general suffers.

And then it all ends.

Not with a bang.

But with a silent theatre.

*I was stunned to see that budget figure.
That wouldn't pay for J-Lo's dressing room furniture these days.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Hollywood Babble On & On... #11: 7 Kinds of Stupid

This is the real AMPTP web site that offers their side of the Writer's Strike.

This is a spoof of the AMPTP web site, probably organized by some writers with too much time on your hands. (h/t Nikki Finke)

Now what do these two sites tell you?

And I'm not talking about how producer's site somehow makes dishwater look exciting.

I'm talking about how the AMPTP, and via them, all of Hollywood management thinks.

Still don't get it?

Okay, I'll explain it, slowly, so even a Hollywood executive can figure it out.

The mere existence of a spoof site, using the .com address shows that the AMPTP's membership and management possess a mix of contempt, arrogance, and stupidity.

I've discussed contempt before. So I'm going to stick to arrogance and stupidity tonight.

Now .com is the most common address on the internet. It is just about everywhere. In fact many people type .com simply out of reflex, even though they intend to go to .org, .net or whatever...

So it's natural for any organization to buy the .com address for their site, even if they intend it to be something else. It's basic common sense to prevent fraud-artists, pornographers, and parodists from using an address similar to your and getting to visiting them instead of you.

However, common sense seems to be lacking in Hollywood.

The brainiacs of the AMPTP who secured the .org address without securing the .com address probably didn't think that they would be parodied. They lacked the foresight, or even the basic imagination to realize that they're up against people who use their imagination for a living, and that a large number of those people write comedy.

They are arrogant enough to think that they're dealing with people as uncreative and narrow minded as they are. Underestimating their enemy is one of many mistakes.

Of course they probably are also blind to the fact that the people who use their imaginations to make a living, are also key to the AMPTP members making a living too.

The AMPTP has had it too good for too long. Hollywood's been the dominant supplier of entertainment for almost a century, and that dominance has made it smug and stupid.

Smug in the fact that it assumes that it will always be the world's #1 source for entertainment, and that those who actually create that entertainment will have to do their bidding and call it ice cream, because they think they will forever be the only game in town.

Stupid in the fact that while technology should make production cheaper and more efficient, costs are going up beyond the rate of inflation. Yet other countries are using this new technology to produce entertainment that catching up with Hollywood in production values without the expense.

Of course I'm talking about companies that dole out massive bonuses to executives whether the company profits or not.

Which goes beyond stupid and arrogant into the realm of either corruption or insanity.

To save itself the AMPTP has to trim the fat, starting with the clotting wads that lie between their ears. They must shake off old inefficient methods, streamline the executive suite, and realize that their main business is the telling and selling of stories, everything else is just icing on the cake.

That's why I'm campaigning to replace Robert Shaye as head of New Line. Sure, I don't know what I'm doing, but neither does anyone else in Hollywood.

But at least I know that I don't know what I'm doing.

That makes me overqualified.

Furious D's Hollywood Dictionary: B is for....

Here's part 2 of my Hollywood dictionary. If you have any suggestions, drop me a line.



1. A mythical list of actors whose specialty was at starring in low-budget films designed to appeal to kids, teens and fill out the 'B' section of a double bill.

2. A mythical list of actors who have to work for a living.


1. What the A-List used to be.

2. What the A-List ain't no more.


1. A film that makes more than a profit, but a mega-profit.

2. A film that went overboard on FX and marketing, that might make a profit if it's really luck.


1. The life's blood of Old Hollywood. It was the money earned by a movie through ticket sales.

2. The least important factor in determining if any film gets a green-light these days.


1. Challenging people's preconceptions about a controversial subject through art, that presents a thesis and antithesis blended to present the artist's personal view.

2. Pretending to be a courageous artist by making material that's condescending, derogatory, or downright insulting to any group least likely to respond with legal action or outright violence.


1. Word of mouth among the general public about the quality and appeal of a particular film.

2. Word of mouth among a select group of elite media figures.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Hollywood Babble On & On... #10: New Line's New Beginning?

Well, it looks like The Golden Compass couldn't find an audience, victim to bad word of mouth about it's anti-religious origins, and over misgivings over the quality of the film.

And it looks like the chief of the studio that made the film, New Line Cinema's Robert Shaye is most likely to not get his contract renewed in 2008.

Now this is not just because one over-expensive film bombed, it looks like the final in a long line of nails in the New Line chief's coffin.

First a little history, thanks to Wikipedia.

The company started out in the late 60s by co-founders Robert Shaye and partner Michael Lynne doing roadshow exhibitions of Reefer Madness at college campuses. During the 70s it distributed films by independent filmmakers like John Waters but it really hit its stride in the 1980s.

During the 80s it hit the big time with A Nig
htmare on Elm Street series as well as other low-budget horror, sci-fi and comedy films. It started to grow and grow.

In 1994 New Line was purchased by media mogul Ted Turner, who then sold out to the Time-Warner media empire.

The company kept on growing, but things started to fray around the edges.

Especially when it came to the company'
s most active co-CEO Robert Shaye.

Shaye became the symbol of everything I consider wrong with Hollywood, a loud bullying figure making more enemies than movies.

The most famous incident was when Shaye tried to screw writer/director/producer Peter Jackson out of the DVD profits for The Lord of the Rings trilogy that earned billions for th
e company.

He also sought to somehow prove himself as being more important to the success of the LOTR trilogy by trying to find an
other fantasy-franchise that would bear his mark as an studio honcho, and not the mark of some silly auteur who only made the movie.

Sadly, having already alienated filmmakers, he then alienated the other key element of a successful film: THE AUDIENCE.

The audience wants films and stories that they can connect with on an emotional level.

The problem is what the average person emotionally connects to is totally different from what folks in Beverly Hills and Malibu emotionally connect to.

So New Line ended up making a New Age kid-movie with the unfortunate title of The Last Mimzy (directed by Shaye himself) and then topping it off by making a $200 million dollar epic derived from a book written by a militant atheist with a serious hatred for Catholics, and opening it during the CHRISTMAS SEASON.

As my Grandpa used to say, that is 7 kinds of stupid.

So now New Line's bleeding money, and Shaye's contract is up in 2008 and it looks like it won't be renewed.

But I have a proposal.

Name me as CEO of New Line Cinema.

That's right, me Furious D, CEO and movie mogul.

Do I have experience?


Experience doesn't seem to help those in power in Hollywood either, so it's not really helpful.

Here's what I'll bring to the table.

*I love movies.

*I love making movies.

*I'll work for 1/2 of what Shaye gets and a piece of the profits. I'm not greedy, just smart. I will have to perform to make the mega-bucks.

*I will keep profitable filmmakers working for New Line, instead of driving them off with shady deals and obnoxious meddling, so they can keep making money for us. If I can't trust someone to make a film right, I won't hire them in the first place.

*I will not hold the audience in contempt. I will actively seek projects that the peasantry will pay money to see. They want stories they can connect to that don't insult them.

*I won't abuse my expense account.

*I won't let my ego be the driving force behind major decisions.

*I will keep movie budgets within reason. What's the point of a blockbuster film if your great-grandchildren have to wait for it to make a profit. I will insist on creativity over money to solve production problems.

So, pass the word around, especially to the board of Time-Warner/New Line. There's an affordable alternative out there. And it's me.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Hollywood Babble On & On... #9: Popping the Bubble

I'd like to give a hat tip a friend to told me check out conservative blog Libertas for this quote from a recent piece about Tom Cruise's business partner Paula Wagner and the revival of United Artists in the Wall Street Journal. This quote specifically deals with the box-office failure of United Artist's debut film Lions for Lambs.
Ms. Wagner adds that UA is evaluating what kind of movies audiences want to see. "There is a learning curve and a process when you're starting out," she says.
Does anyone spot the cognitive dissonance in that little statement?

Why the hell are they evaluating what audiences want?

Both Paula Wagner and Tom Cruise have spent decades as consummate Hollywood insiders, an industry with the most advanced and sophisticated market research machine since Og asked Oog if he liked the cave painting of the wooly mammoth.

They, of all people, should know what the audience wants.

But they don't.

And the reason is simple.

They're Hollywood insiders.

They've spent so long without coming into any real contact with the peasantry that actually pays to see movies, that they have no real idea what they want.

They live surrounded by personal assistants, toadies, flacks, hacks, and minions, who act like their every cerebral fart is pure genius. The civilians they do meet are either people trying to get into the business, or blinded by the glamour of it all.

They eat together, sleep together, party together, and even when they travel they only seem to go to places where other Hollywood people congregate. It's a strange form of artistic incest.

The press used to be the link between the 'Beautiful People' and 'groundlings' during that brief period between the collapse of the studio system and the rise of the unholy publicist legion, but they're thoroughly cowed now.

You see, if you displease a publicist, your media outlet suddenly loses access to the 'A-list' stars they tell you to adore. And since, like high school with money, no one wants to be in the 'out' crowd they want to be with the 'in' crowd, so they don't ask too many hard questions unless the celebrity is having a career meltdown, then it's open season.

Which is the reason why Britney's in the news all the freaking time.

Now Lions for Lambs wasn't made for the regular movie goer. It was made for the Hollywood In Crowd so they would let Tom back in after too many couch hops.

Sadly, the In Crowd doesn't pay to see movies, and United Artists loses $25 million dollars in investor's cash.

This creates a strange bubble where the Hollywood folks live in.

They use their fame and their glamour to suck in investment capital, but then piss it away on movies no one would pay to see. The other Hollywood types and the media praise them for their 'courage' in taking on people who don't respond with violence, so they think they're on the right track.

But this track leads away from the audience.

Without the audience there is no Hollywood.

And then the bubble bursts.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Furious D's Hollywood Dictionary: A is for....

Hello folks...

I've started a new feature. I'm creating a 'Hollywood' dictionary, where I translate certain showbiz related terms and phrases.

Now some of the terms have changed in meaning over the years, so I've set up a simple system to help you navigate it. The first definition (1.) stands for what the term used to mean in the days of Old Hollywood, and the second definition (2.) is what it means now.

Let's begin with the good old letter....



1. A mythical list of actors whose charisma and popularity with average would attract large audiences to pay for big budget pictures.

2. A term describing any actor with a publicist that can get them lots of magazine covers, and an agent able to squeeze big money out of studios regardless of real box-office appeal.


1. A big budget epic with an all-star cast and a 'classy' story designed to appeal to a mass audience.

2. A film that went over-budget in production on actors and special FX and can never make a profit.


1. Someone who plays roles in movies to bring the characters to life.

2. A pretty face and bland personality that the industry believes to be the most important element in filmmaking.


1. The most important element in filmmaking. Without an audience you're just making home movies.

2. The least important facet of filmmaking. They must take your crap and call it ice cream.

If you have any showbiz related terms you'd like to see featured in this dictionary, let me know. I'll be posting updates semi-regularly, and will post a final 'full' dictionary when it's completed.