Thursday, 31 January 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On... #38: Random Ramblings About Oscar...

A hat tip to conservative film site Libertas for linking me to this article that says that aside from sleeper comedy hit Juno and the long lasting ticket seller No Country For Old Men the other nominees aren't exactly putting bums in seats.

Now some will say that this is because Hollywood is out of touch with the average moviegoer, and some others will say it's because the average moviegoer doesn't want quality, just lots of explosions and fart jokes.

In a way, they're both right.

But not in the way they think.

Yes Hollywood is disconnected from the average person. You just have to look at the seemingly never-ending parade of "political" films that portray the nation that makes their expression possible as the font of all evil, corporations who pay to make these films as sinister conspiracies, and the regular portrayal of American Christians as deranged and often homicidal hicks in movies and television shows.

This has created a sense of suspicion on the part of
moviegoers when it comes to films that are labelled "serious" by Hollywood. The audience avoids these films because no one wants to go to all the hassle of going to a theatre, paying too much for their tickets and popcorn, only to be told by a Malibu Millionaire that their lives are worthless empty seas of ennui, their morals are just masks for hypocrisy, and that their existence is a cancer on the world.

The audience wants stories that make them laugh, cry, think, cheer, scream and feel good, they don't want whiny lectures that don't even have the intellectual honesty to present the "other side" as anything other than cartoonish villains.

So you end up with a lame spoof like Meet the Spartans being #1 in the box office for the sole reason that while it will definitely insult their intelligence, it's not likely to insult the audience itself.

Stupidity has become safety.

But there's another element to all this.

Once in a while Hollywood makes a serious film that is not an attack on the average person by the rich and famous. Serious films, that challenge rather than merely attack and have the potential to make that all important connection with the audience.

Of course you have to work hard to sell these films, especially in a age when "serious" has become code for boring, depressing, and often insulting.

And Hollywood doesn't believe in that sort of hard work, because they hold the audience in contempt. To Hollywood the audience is a mass of great unwashed peasants who are too stupid for anything that's really intelligent because they failed to lap up the tripe that Hollywood thinks is serious.

The audience fails to do the required lapping because such films are based more on the narrow, isolated world view of Hollywood's elite and their prejudices than any actual desire for intelligent discussion of serious and controversial issues.

So the challenging gets dumped in distribution purgatory. Playing on too few screens in too few places, with too little advertising, and then the Hollywood suits pat themselves on the back, and declare their failure as proof that the great unwashed are too stupid to enjoy these films.

But I've griped about all that before.

Now let's talk about the Oscar and the Writer's Strike.

Reports are leaking out that the informal talks are making some sort of progress.

I think that's great, but I am also suspicious.

You see the AMPTP could merely be playing at being agreeable in these informal talks, then they wheedle a waiver for the Oscars, and then head right back to acting like a herd of hungry Huns demanding everything and offering nothing.

That's why I say that I hope that no waiver for the Oscars be signed until a good, solid deal is signed, sealed and delivered.

That's my opinion.

But I must remind you that I am always right.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On... #37: When $100,000,00 Is Not Enough

A big hat tip to the eerily accurate Nikki Finke who brings us this tip about Universal's plan to revive one of their classic monster franchises with a remake of The Wolfman.

Word is that music video and commercial director Mark Romanek quit the movie (his 2nd feature) because the film's $100,000,000 budget wasn't enough to fulfil his "artistic vision" of the film.

If this report is true, and Ms. Finke is uncannily reliable, it compels me to ask a question of Mr. Romanek:

Are you an idiot?

I'm wondering how you could spend all of $100,000,000 to make the movie, let alone spend more?

It's the freaking Wolfman.

The original was made for about the half the amount Romanek spends on production assistants for one of his music videos, and it's become a horror classic.

What the hell was in his "vision" of the film?

Legions of CGI werewolves doing elaborate dance numbers down the streets of London (rebuilt entirely at Pinewood Studios) to the music of Nine Inch Nails, Julia Roberts, George Clooney and Nicole Kidman getting $15,000,000 a piece for cameos as a lovably wacky gypsy family, or perhaps a recreation of the Battle of Agincourt, performed entirely by trained chimps wearing solid gold armour?

The man just committed career suicide and for what?

Well it's obvious that he didn't give a rodent's rectum about the film itself. If he did, he would have found a way to make the film within that generous budget, using what directors have used since the dawn of cinema: imagination and determination.

Sadly Romanek appears to be of a school of thought that puts their own image as an "auteur" ahead of the work, forgetting that an auteur is made by his work, not his affectations.

I'm not the type to psycho-analyze, but I can't resist it. My theory is that Romanek's career in music videos ruined him. He became used to working with spoiled rotten rock stars who got their every whim fulfilled by their label (just before cheating them out their royalties) and forgot how to work within budgets by using imagination and hard work.

He did make a small budget film called 1 Hour Photo that gets minimal box-office, but good reviews, and more importantly positive buzz that's strong enough to convince Universal to give him a $100,000,000 budget to re-imagine one of their classics.

And he pisses it all away.

I'd love to have $100,000,000 to make my first major studio feature, hell, I'd love to have $10,000,000 to make a feature film, and I sure as hell wouldn't stomp off like a spoiled brat about it while in pre-production.

But, if this report is true, Romanek values his own ego over his art, he was given the one of the ultimate movie fan-boy dream projects on a $100,000,000 plate and he pissed it away, and I doubt any other studio boss not afflicted with brain damage to ever sign him for another film.

And a filmmaker who doesn't make films, isn't a real filmmaker, he's just a crank, complaining about the injustices of Hollywood on his blog...

...but I digress.

So here's my new proposal, with my attempt to replace Robert Shaye as CEO of New Line on the back burner, I now offer my services to Universal Pictures to replace Romanek as director of The Wolfman.

I've made a couple of music videos, and I'll not only bring in The Wolfman for under $100,000,000, I'll give him a flea dip and neutering for free.

So if anyone from Universal Pictures is reading this:

Sunday, 27 January 2008

One Little Snag...

A snag has hit my campaign to replace Robert Shaye as head of New Line Cinema.

Former Time Warner co-chair Terry Semel is considering a Hollywood comeback, and is considering eithe
r running New Line, or buying it outright from Time Warner with some partners for as much as 2 billion spondooliks.

That's a bit of a onion in the ointment, because the recent sub-prime mortgage concerns have tied up some of my cash, and with the current exchange rate I'm a little short of that asking price by about $1,999,999,995.25.

But all is not lost.

Like botox coming out of a needle in a Beverly Hills clinic, hope springs eternal.

Semel's a smart man, and he knows he's going to need fresh blood to do a lot of the actual running of the company. He needs someone tough, ruthless, smart, affordable, and who owes nothing to anyone other than him and the other partners.

That man is, naturally, ME.

I want all you, my loyal minions, followers, fans, hangers-on, groupies, and toadies, to find out how to contact Terry Semel and his partners and tell them that I'm the best man to run the studio for them.

I have no Hollywood experience, but that also means that I have no bad Hollywood habits.

So pass the word:

Hollywood Babble On & On... #36: Gore, what is it good for?

Now before I get pummelled by rampaging hordes of Al Gore fans, this post is not about Global Warming, or, judging from the weather outside my meagre garret, the lack thereof.


This about gore with a small 'g' I'm talking about the awful gross squishy bits of blood and mutilated organs used in horror films to make the audience go "eeeewwwww."

But at the heart of this piece lies a question.

Is gore even shocking anymore in the age of CSI?

First, lets start, as usual, with a little history. Now if you've read my post on shock in films, then you know all about the Hayes Code, so I won't repeat myself.

Europe didn't have the Hayes Code, so their films were slightly freer to look at darker themes, and when you get dark, you often get violent, and when you get violent, blood is gonna spill.

Hollywood dipped its toe into the pool of blood with films like Psycho, and stuck its foot in with Night of the Living Dead (both films, according to legend, used chocolate syrup for blood) and got up to their ankles with Jaws and The Excorcist, but the Europeans by then were taking full belly flops.

Most of these Euro-horror films were little more than schlock using blood, guts, and boobies to cover up a severe lack of coherent plotting and directorial talent. But a few roses of artists grew in this pot of fertilizer like Mario Bava and Dario Argento who brought a unique visual style to the bloody horror genre. Dario Argento's giallo and horror films like Deep Red revelled in new levels, or depths, of blood and sadism.

Argento went to America to produce George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, which revived the American zombie sub-genre and brought new levels of gore to American audiences as grey-faced cannibalistic ghouls munched down on the living in what was considered graphic detail for the time.

Soon gore and horror became a pair of pickled foetal siamese twins found in a
side-show jar. Gross, tacky, but having enough interest to compel folks to shell out their two-bits a gander.

At around the same time saw the rise of the "slasher" horror genre where various masked maniacs sliced, diced, and occasionally sawed nubile teenagers.

Now the first modern "slashers" like John Carpenter's Halloween, and Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre, despite their horrifying subject matter, were not particularly bloody. At least not on screen, preferring to let the audience's imagination fill in the blanks, to a more cost-wise, and disturbing effect.

However, their imitators, and they were legion, didn't have that much fait
h in the audience's imagination and bombarded the screen with constant decapitations, dismemberments, disembowelments, and rivers, and rivers of blood.

This trend dominated the horror market well through the 80s and 90s, as horror became more and more disreputable as a genre, with more and more horror films being condemned to straight to video oblivion.

There were occasional burst back into the mainstream, like the Scream movies (which were tongue in cheek parodies), and the indie film The Blair Witch Project, but most horror films were forgotten,
drowning in their own fake blood.

Then along came CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. To those readers who spend their lives in caves in remotest Borneo, CSI is a TV crime-drama centring on forensics experts, and is a huge hit, with two successful spin-offs.

The show was the closest thing to a Dario Argento or Mario Bava style giallo that American television has yet seen, with its hyper stylish cinematography, editing, production design, and its highly detailed and explicit presentation of the remains of gruesome violence.

Having dismembered bodies, and chopped up organs on 3 times a week in prime-time, and several times a day in syndication did a lot to take the shock out of blood and guts.

In fact Dario Argento's recent giallo Il Cartaio (The Card Player) struck this viewer as a slightly souped up episode of CSI: Italy.

So horror began to shift into two paths.

There was the J-horror craze, which was a mix of psychology and the supernatural, inspired by the horror films of Japan, but when it came to gore you had to see the fad most folks call "torture porn."

Torture porn started out with the film Saw, which shocked and surprised people with its sadistic twist on the slasher genre. But it spawned legions of imitators, whose only creative input into the genre was to up the ante on the sadism.

These films quickly slipped into self-parody with their super-intelligent serial killers using seemingly god-like powers and unlimited resources to play sadistic games with their victims before killing them, and always managing to escape, or recruit an heir in the end to keep the sequels coming.

Now it looks like the torture porn fad is fading, and the performance of the J-horror films at the American box-office have been uneven at best. So what's next for the genre now that blood and guts have become banal?

Boris Karloff, the horror film legend, preferred to call his films "Terror Films" because he thought the term horror contained what he considered an unseemly element of disgust when what he wanted was pure fear.

Maybe we should think of a new 'terror' genre?

What do you think? Is gore boring?

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Hollywood Idiot Report: The Economics of Crazy.

Want to know why no one is giving Britney Spears the mental help she needs.

Because there's too much money being made watching her melt down.

This guy crunches the numbers.

Hollywood Babble On & On... #35: Shocking! Simply Shocking!

One of my anonymous readers dropped me an off topic note about a film appearing at Sundance called "Downloading Nancy." The film is about a woman into self mutilation played by Maria Bello who recruits a man she meets online to kill her in cruel and sadistic ways.

Now the anonymous reader wanted to know why actors with fairly decent careers would make a film, which I haven't seen so I won't judge it myself, but most reports describe as "unwatchable," and one called it "the worst of Sundance."

Well, like most things it starts with a history lesson.

The Silent Era in movie history was an amazing time of experimentation, not only in the techniques of narrative cinema, but in subject matter as well.

Many silent films tackled controversial topics like sex, religion, political and social corruption, violent crime, and morally ambiguous themes.

These films were often seen as shocking to America's still predominantly rural population, and many groups, inspired by the militant Protestantism that created Prohibition were started to demand more "decency" in popular entertainment.

What was considered even more shocking were the scandalous exploits of the stars themselves, a life of fame, wealth, liquor, drugs and casual sex all reported with salacious detail by the fledgling tabloid press who managed to get past the studio's publicity police. (the more things change the more they stay the same.)

One of the events that brought things to a head with the arrest and trial of Silent Screen comedian and director Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle for a rape and murder that didn't actually happen. Even though he was acquitted and the jury presented a written apology the mainstream and tabloid press attacked him so viciously with bogus tales of sexual perversity and violence, he wouldn't work on screen again for 10 years.

Because of this frenzy many of the "decency" groups demanded some form of government regulation and censorship of the film industry. The moguls of that time, all shrewd businessmen, didn't want government involvement at all, so they hired ex-Postmaster General Will Hayes to oversee an industry-run regulation and censorship system officially called The Production Code, but popularly known as The Hayes Code.

I won't go into too much detail about what the Hayes Code demanded of film-makers, but it was strict, and it was strictly enforced well into the 1960s.

Some filmmakers thrived under the code, using their imaginations to find out clever ways to get around it, or doing things simply to annoy, confound and confuse the Code's enforcers. The entire genre of Film Noir was pretty much built on pushing Code buttons.

Like everything else, things began to change in the 1960s. Television's rise meant that movies didn't have to be all things to all people anymore. A new system rating films for their content was created, allowing more daring, and occasionally shocking films to be made. Many of those films have become critically acclaimed hits like The Wild Bunch, Psycho, Last Tango in Paris, The Silence of the Lambs, A Clockwork Orange, etc...etc...

As time went by, what was considered shocking on one era, became after-school television in another, but there was always a desire to push past the boundaries of popular taste to see if fertile creative ground lay beyond.

But not all makers of shocking films are that noble or curious in their intentions.

Others seek shock for the sake of shock in order to cover for a lack of narrative or cinematic quality.

Sadly these films are in the majority, and are able to attract backing and actors to appear in them for two reasons. Partly, most backers and actors, like most people, have a hard time discerning truly groundbreaking work, from talentless hack-work, and can be tricked into thinking it's good because it's shocking. The other reason is a latent but still powerful desire to rebel against the Hayes Code and derive some sort of joy from shocking and disgusting the 'peasantry.'

So you will periodically get films who sole purpose is to shock, disgust, and mostly annoy the general public. Thankfully, the really crappy ones will disappear into the nether-regions of cinematic failure.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On... #34: Trust Me... really... I mean it sincerely...

It looks like the WGA and the AMPTP are heading back to the table and it looks like the WGA has dropped it's demands to unionize reality tv writers and the already unionized animation writers.

I've always thought those two items were 'giveaways.' Giveaways are my term for items in a negotiation that someone really doesn't want, but could want, that can be dispensed with during the negotiations as a face-saving measure for both.

Now did the WGA push for their giveaways too hard in the beginning, causing the AMPTP's infamous walk-out, or were the AMPTP just being dicks?

I don't know for sure, you can't be more of a Hollywood outsider than me, but I do have my theories.

There are those in the WGA leadership who may have pushed to hard one way, and the industry pushed too hard the other way, and there's a reason for that. The reason being the serious lack of a very important commodity.

That commodity is trust.

Trust doesn't have to come from the belief in the sincerity, honesty and integrity of the other. Hell two royal bastards can trust each other simply when they know that working together is a mutually beneficial situation.

The royal bastards trust each other because they know the other is not stupid enough to ruin a mutually profitable situation.

The problem with Hollywood is that it's so obsessed with it's own form of Hollywood Darwinism that Hollywood people will eagerly shoot themselves in the foot if means putting the screws to someone else.

The history of the industry, especially in the corporate-mogul era, is chock full of such cases. Executives alienate profitable filmmakers and stars in petty territorial pissing contests, and vice versa.

And this Darwinism isn't survival of the fittest, but the survival of the most treacherous. Executives with disastrous records running businesses get promoted, literally 'failing up' to top posts simply because they 'marked their territory' with internal political games.

The same can be said for the artists, who get hailed as being 'rebellious artistes' for simply having a lack of diplomacy, tact, and basic negotiation skills.

So the common sense that would maintain a mutually beneficial relationship get pounded into the nether-regions of stupid, because it's no longer about business, but about ego.

Business and art be damned, Hollywood is all about image, and everyone wants to look like the top dog, whether they've got the bite or not.

So you end up in a situation where negotiations that should have been simple, become needlessly complicated because both sides know the other is egocentric enough to do something really stupid if only for the brief, often illusory appearance of having the leg-up on the other one.

This is how it boils down.

1. Ego destroys common sense.

2. The loss of common sense destroys the capacity for trust.

3. The lack of trust and common sense leads to unreasonable, even irrational behaviour on both sides. Reasonable negotiation becomes impossible.

4. What should be symbiosis becomes adversarial and you get a strike that should have never happened and an entire industry hurting because of it.

Another way to put is this little Hollywood parable.

A frog meets a scorpion in the bushes by the banks of a wide river. They both need to cross a river to get to Hollywood, but the scorpion can't swim, and the frog knows that there's a bird waiting to eat him as soon as he's out of his hiding place in the bushes.

After a brief discussion of their situation the scorpion asks to ride across the river on the frog's back.

The frog initially says: "No way dude, you're a scorpion, you'll sting me and I'll die."

The scorpion replies: "If I sting you, I'll drown, and what good will that do for any of us, besides: my being on your back will scare away that bird that wants to eat you. It's a mutually beneficial arrangement."

The frog thinks about it for a moment, and then agrees.

All goes swimmingly until they reach the middle of the river and POW!

The scorpion stings the frog.

The frog feels himself dying and with his last breath says: "Why did you sting me, now we're both going to die."

"Yeah," said the scorpion, "but I looked really cool stinging you."

Then they both died.

At least, that's my theory. What's yours?

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On... #33: Turning a Page

As a Nova Scotian I am witnessing a media frenzy over an local actress not seen since Ruby Keeler hit it big doing movie musicals in the 1930s. All the talk is about Ellen Page, star of the hit comedy Juno and recently announced as an Oscar nominee.

She even made it to the front page of our
province's paper of record The Chronicle Herald, bumping the attack by 50 ft long mutant lobsters on Lunenburg to page three.

I'm glad for her success, and a wish her more of it, but, like I said in my Oscar preview I don't think she should win the Academy Award even if she deserves it.

I'm not wishing her ill, I'm actually wishing her well.

An Oscar is a double edged sword. Sure, the honour is nice and all, but it can also be a trap. Movie history is replete with actors and actresses who win an Oscar at a very young age, and then their entire career collapses.

A nomination is a good thing, but a win can kill a career. So I'm going to do something I haven't done since 2002 and offer advice to a celebrity.

Here's how the Oscar can destroy a career.

The most dangerous trap after winning an Oscar is to try to immediately win another one. This leads so many actors down the yellow brick road to
ruin that I call Oscar Whoring.

I think you know what I mean. An actor wins an Oscar and their very nex
t film is an overwrought melodrama where they emote their asses off while teaching hokey life lessons from the point of view of a terminally ill or mentally handicapped character, or starring in a film that makes a faux-courageous stance against people who won't actually do anything against them.

Another piece of advice I'd offer is to not play the Hollywood game.

Now I'm not talking about wearing dark glasses indoors and dressing badly for junket interviews and talk appearances. I'm talking about not getting all wrapped up in the whole 'fame game' that is currently
killing Hollywood.

There's an old story that I think is applicable where the writer Harlan Ellison was talking to the late great writer Charles Beaumont and he considered quitting writing fiction and going full time into writing for TV and movies. Beaumont told him to keep with the fiction declaring something like: "If all you do is w
rite for Hollywood they'll treat you like one of their whores. Keep writing books and short fiction and they'll treat you like prince from a far away land."

Basically Beaumont's advice says that a person who is successful in Hollywood shows a life that's not only outside of Hollywood, but independent of Hollywood they get a hell of a lot more respect than
someone who spends their whole life in the cocoon of celebrity.

Now I'm sure she's flooded with advice from publicists who demand that she get 'out there' and get photographed by the ravenous hordes of paparazzi at all the best spots, surrounded by all the best people.

That too is a trap. Those who claim to be in the know say that exposure, and name recognition is key to success in Hollywood, but it's not actually like that.

You see, everyone knows who Paris Hilton is, but very few are actually willing to spend money and/or time to see them in a movie or TV show. This is especially true when the celebrity is over-exposed due to their antics and personal life.

My advice for Ms. Page is to only attract attention for her work. A certain amount of mystery is essential to create a real movie star, and people respect those who respect themselves enough to keep their private lives private.

So I guess I can boil down my advice to Ellen Page to these basic points:

1. Avoid winning the Oscar.

2. If Oscar is won avoid all roles that people offer that they claim will win another Oscar. Especially if the roles involve terminal disease or mental handicaps. Do the exact opposite of what they say.

3. Keep a life outside the spotlight, and keep all contact with Hollywood strictly business.

4. Avoid over-exposure. Easy as long the celebrity train-wreck parade keeps going to distract attention.

I think that just about covers it.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

A Change of Pace...

A little something different to get your mind off all the coverage of the wasted life of Heath Ledger...

Hollywood Babble On & On... #32: Heath Ledger is dead & I don't feel too good myself...

In case you've been living in a cave the actor Heath Ledger of Brokeback Mountain and the upcoming Batman: Dark Knight was found dead at the age of 28.

Unless the coroner discovers a previously undiagnosed heart defect, or some other natural cause, it looks like yet another Hollywood star dead from a drug overdose.

It's both an tragedy and an outrage.

It's a tragedy because Heath Ledger was one of the few actors in 'Young Hollywood' that appeared to be maturing. He even had a young family, which makes the story even more tragic.

And then, on the cusp of his biggest most anticipated premiere as The Joker, he's found dead next to what reports describe as a 'bottle of pills.'

If it is a drug overdose, and not a spontaneous stroke, or aneurysm then I have to ask this question:

What the hell is wrong with people in Hollywood?

Why does Young Hollywood feel the uncontrollable desire to deep fry their nervous system with harsh and usually highly toxic chemicals?

Isn't wealth, fame, and success enough, why do they feel the need to be accepted by predatory paparazzi, brain-dead club-kids, and drug dealers?

It's all such a waste.

Hollywood Babble On & On... #31: As Your Fearless Leader

A big tip of the hat to Libertas for their support and their link to this humble little blog, especially making me the star of a post. Thanks.

As reported by Nikki Finke at her site, New Line Cinema CEO Bob Shaye and his partner and co-founder Michael Lynne are not getting their contracts renewed by their Time-Warner bosses. And to the 2 to 3 people who have read this blog before, you probably know that I've been campaigning to replace Shaye as CEO of New Line and have made some plans as to what I would do if I ran a studio.

Now most folks think that Warner Bros. will fold New Line into the parent company like it did with one-time successful indie producer Castle Rock.

I think that's a mistake.

Time Warner has an opportunity here to create a new, more profitable, business model for Hollywood.

And the first step is the name ME as CEO of New Line.

Then they should look at these ideas for what they can do with New Line:

1. Most studios have divisions geared toward releasing independent film, but they're nothing more than just slapping the word 'Classics' of 'Independent' at the end of their corporate logo.

And since they were created more for prestige than profit most of these divisions have become a black hole for independent film, being too small a cog in a big machine to be truly effective.

New Line has a sizable and pretty effective domestic distribution system and a pre-existing international sales force. It should take over the purchase and domestic distribution of independent films, and it will market them not only for prestige but for profit as well.

It's status as an autonomous subsidiary will also give it some leeway in negotiating deals with indies who will see it as a smaller, more reasonable company to deal with who won't forget them in the crush of bigger films.

Then New Line should create relationships with independent producers who handle projects with actual commercial appeal if marketed properly to produce films in partnership with New Line. These partnerships will be maintained, not through the constant cash payoffs to stem litigation over shifty accounting, but through real trust, born from fair treatment and a simplified business model.

2. The success of the film 300 showed that you do not have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a successful film. So-called movie stars are not only unnecessary for a film's success they can often prevent a movie from becoming profitable. New Line shouldn't hire stars, but make stars, by being on the lookout for new talent to star in films that couple reasonable costs with wide commercial appeal. Watch this video that I have posted before:

That's right, 3 men and a cameraman recreated the D-Day landing for a fraction of a single star's salary.

Now any Time Warner board members who are reading this are probably wondering why they should hire me to run a revived New Line.

Well, if Tom Cruise can get a studio, why not me.

I even graduated university.

But seriously, I may not have any direct experience, but I do have common sense and will not be blinded by glamour or driven mad by power. If filmmakers make money, then I will hold onto them, and not drive them away.

Plus, I'll do for half of Shaye's salary, and 10% of the gross profits. If you don't profit, I won't profit.

So remember:

And he might even be better!

Hollywood Babble On & On... #30: The Nominations Are In!

Okay, I have the Oscar nominations and I'm going to offer my opinion of them, because that's what I do best.

Best Picture:

British, pretentious, and somber in tone and story. Didn't do well at the box-office, so it's a likely winner.

Commercially successful, critically acclaimed comedy made by a Canadian director, no chance.

"Michael Clayton,"
Box-office turkey, but stars Hollywood insider George Clooney so it has a chance if Academy voters think it could get a bounce in DVD sales.

"No Country for Old Men,"
Critically acclaimed and a surprise sleeper hit of the winter. But the Academy doesn't much care for the commercially successful.

"There Will Be Blood."
Still in limited release, seen mostly by Academy members who might vote for it because they think they have to.


George Clooney
"Michael Clayton"

Like most Clooney films it tanked, but since it was the sort of faux-sincere drama the Academy loves this may get him the prize as consolation for losing Best Picture.

Daniel Day-Lewis
"There Will Be Blood"

Almost universal critical praise for this performance, pretty much demanding that he get the Oscar, most likely jinxing it for him.

Johnny Depp
"Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street"

A modestly popular musical starring an actor who is popular among other actors. Slim chance.

Tommy Lee Jones
"In the Valley of Elah"
A critically savaged film that hardly anyone not related to director Paul Haggis saw, but it could get Jones the Oscar as some sort of anti-war (more anti-Bush) statement.

Viggo Mortensen
"Eastern Promises."

Critically acclaimed, modestly successful film, might be viewed as 'too commercial' as a thriller to be 'worthy' of an Oscar.


Cate Blanchett
"Elizabeth: The Golden Age"

Loved the first Elizabeth film, but like 99% of the world, I didn't even know that the sequel had been released. Slim chance.

Julie Christie
"Away From Her"

Might win for her overall body of work, and as the token 'indie' winner for the year.

Marion Cotillard
"La Vie en Rose"

Space-filler nomination thanks to a dearth of decent roles for women, no real chance to win.

Laura Linney
"The Savages"

An Actor's Actress, but starring in a film no one has seen. Has to beat Julie Christie's entire career to win.

Ellen Page

I should be rooting for her to win, but an Oscar win at her age, even though deserved, will kill her fledgling career. Plus, she's not married and won't be able to get divorced within a year of winning the Oscar.

Supporting Actor:

Casey Affleck
"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"

Acclaimed film, but fell victim to a dreadful release plan from the studio, which might get Affleck the award as consolation.

Javier Bardem
"No Country for Old Men"

Praised for his scary performance, but the dusty old fossils of the Academy don't care for scary, unless the actor is British. Slim chance to win.

Hal Holbrook
"Into the Wild"

Could win more for his long and respected career than this film which was seen by two people: Sean Penn and his soon to be ex-wife's divorce lawyer.

Philip Seymour Hoffman
"Charlie Wilson's War"

His performance is considered a high point in an otherwise jumbled and wishy-washy film that failed to make a profit or much a connection with the audience. But it is the sort of film the Academy loves to honour: politically correct. Medium chance of winning.

Tom Wilkinson
"Michael Clayton."

British actor in a film no one saw, his chance is slimmer than Amy Winehouse.

Supporting Actress:

Cate Blanchett
"I'm Not There"

She's a dude! Too much of a stunt in a film no one has seen. Slim chance.

Ruby Dee
"American Gangster"

Like Christie and Holbrook could win for her entire career. The fact that the film was also commercially successful is also in her favour.

Saoirse Ronan

Since no one knows how to pronounce her first name, no one will vote for her for fear of angering the presenter who has to read it.

Amy Ryan
"Gone Baby Gone"

The title of the film also describes her chance of winning.

Tilda Swinton
"Michael Clayton."

Another nomination for a film no one has seen. Her only chance of winning is if voters deny Clooney both Best Picture and Best Actor.


Julian Schnabel
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"

A film barely seen outside of Academy voters. Pretty good chance of winning.

Jason Reitman

Made a commercially successful comedy, kryptonite to Academy voters.

Tony Gilroy
"Michael Clayton"

Good chance, made a faux-sincere drama starring Clooney which will make Academy voters feel better about working for heartless corporations by honouring a film denouncing heartless corporations.

Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
"No Country for Old Men"

Critically acclaimed and commercially successful. The Academy hates that.

Paul Thomas Anderson
"There Will Be Blood."

Either he'll win or he won't, it's a 50/50 draw for him.

Adapted Screenplay:

Christopher Hampton

Sombre, pretentious, and pompous commercially struggling melodrama. Good chance of winning.

Sarah Polley
"Away from Her"

Essentially a darker Lifetime movie of the week, it's also Canadian, slim chance.

Ronald Harwood
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly";

Sincere but rarely seen film, good chance.

Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
"No Country for Old Men";

Commercially successful thriller, slim chance.

Paul Thomas Anderson
"There Will Be Blood."

Only as consolation for losing Best Director.

Original Screenplay:

Diablo Cody

Dialogue was a bit Gilmore Girls, and it's a comedy, so it's got a very slim chance.

Nancy Oliver
"Lars and the Real Girl"
Could call it Lars and the absent audience. Middling chance.

Tony Gilroy
"Michael Clayton"
Front runner, faux-sincere anti-corporate politically correct melodrama.

Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava and Jim Capobianco
It's about a rat that cooks. No chance.

Tamara Jenkins
"The Savages."
Sincere family drama hardly anyone has seen. Middling chance to win.

On Comedy: Questions About Monsters...

Thanks for your comments and questions, and I will try to answer them here.
StevenC asked...
Is that why Shaun of the Dead worked so well? Outside of Ed at the end, the monsters basically were still flesh-eating zombies and it was the interaction of the group Shaun was leading that was the comedy.
Okay, I won't be too specific about Shaun of the Dead, because I keep missing chances to see the whole film. But I'm assuming that this Ed, as a zombie, does something funny at the end.

Well, my theory is that monsters are allowed some sort of funny business especially when the film leans more toward comedy than horror, but it's best to leave that sort of thing for the finale of the film, where it becomes a pleasant surprise.

On the flip side, if you're making a horror comedy and it ends with your slapstick heroes being eaten alive, or shredded into meaty bits, would be too much of an unpleasant surprise that replaces the laughter the audience just had with a sense of uneasiness. Which defeats the purpose of comedy.
Forlourned asked...
How would you rate the '82 classic "Gremlins" then? Those little monsters where typically the comics and the humans where for the most part the straights.
I've always considered Gremlins more of a kid-friendly fantasy adventure than a horror-comedy. It was also heavily inspired by cartoons, specifically Golden Age Warner Bros. cartoons, where outrageous creatures do outrageous things. This puts the humans in the role of straight man, but the film's cartoonish style makes them also capable of doing funny business in their own realm as well as in reaction to the Gremlins.

I hope these answer your questions.

Monday, 21 January 2008

On Comedy: Play The Monster Straight


It's been a while since I did one of my "On Comedy" posts, so here it is, and it's about monsters!

I was channel surfing one snow swept Sunday afternoon recently and one channel the movie Tremors was playing and the film 8 Legged Freaks was playing on another channel. Being bored and having the attention span of a gnat on meth I was flipping like a fiend between them.

I had seen Tremors before, several times, and always found it to be exactly what it is, a light, fr
othy little diversion perfect for a day when the wind is howling and it's too cold outside.

8 Legged Freaks, was another story.

I just couldn't get into it.

I really couldn't.

Now they are similar films. Both are about isolated small towns
being attacked by nasty giant creatures (Man-eating worms/Tremors, Huge Spiders/8LF) and both were horror comedy hybrids. They should rate about the same on the entertainment scale, but they don't.

Now I won't go into full fledged reviews about character development, plot points, or anything like that, this post is about comedy and I'm going to look at it from what I consider the most important rule of horror/comedy.

I call it the Abbott & Costello Rule, and it goes something like this:

"When you're making a horror/ comedy movie play the monster straight."

I'm not saying that the spiders in 8LF were playing it 'gay' this has nothing to do with 'orientation.' But it has everything to do with comedy.

In classical "Team" comedy there's the "comic" and the "straight man." The comic is the guy who does the pratfalls and the punchlines and gets the laughs.

But he's not the really important part of the team.

The real important part of the team is what's called the Straight Man.

The Straight Man literally plays it straight. He doesn't do many pratfalls, almost never gets the punchline, and generally has to play things relatively seriously.

But it's the job of the straight man to set up the rhythm, the tone, and the structure of the joke. The straight man has to be the voice of the audience, showing curiosity, annoyance, outrage, or any other emotion that any reasonable person would be feeling in the situation playing out on the screen.

The straight man has to maintain intense self-control and h
e can't break into laughter, or goofy mugging, or it would ruin the gag. A mediocre comic can be covered up by a good straight man, but a poor straight man can kill an act.

That's why, in ye olde vaudeville, the straight man got 60% of the take, and the comic got 40%.

Now when a team is taken from a simple 2-man stage act, to a larger ensemble in a film, the rest of the cast has to take on the straight man role for the comic
antics that involve the team interacting with them. That's why Groucho Marx worked so much with Margaret Dumont, because she could play it straight no matter what he got up to around her.

Now let's get back to monsters.

In the 1940s Universal got Abbott & Costello to star in a series of films as comic foils for the studio's stable of monsters and madmen. The best of the bunch being Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein where they yuk it up with not only Frankenstein's Monster, but the Wolf-Man, and Dracula too.

Now a lesser film would have had made the monsters ham it up, but that's not their job. They're monsters, they have to be the straight man reacting to the comic antics of Abbott
& Costello.

Back to Tremors and 8LF.

In Tremors the monster was a monster. Pretty much all the humour in Tremors came from the humans the monster-worm was munching on. The monster played it as a monster and didn't try to do shtick.

In 8 Legged Freaks, they tried to make the spiders funny. They made silly noises, they were comically sped up as they spun webs around their victims. Trying to make the monsters funny weakened the horror, and practically killed the comedy.

So here's the lesson for today.

When making a horror-comedy hybrid, the humour comes from the people, not the monsters.

The monsters have to play it straight, or you won't be making a horror-comedy, but a film that is neither horrifying or comedic.

And there you have it.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Did you know...?

The Green Bay Packers were first known as the Acme Packers after the company that owned the team. The team decided to change their name to their hometown when Acme was bought out by Fudge Inc.

Saturday, 19 January 2008


Here's a video of the future of TV if the AMPTP gets their way... (h/t THE OUTFIT)

Forget Cloverfield

I have an exclusive scoop you won't see anywhere else.

It's the poster art for Cloverfield's sequel PLUS a picture of the monster.

You can't get any better than this.Now that's scary.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On... #29: We have a question.

Forlourned said...

D, I'm not too sure about how being pre-sold in europe is a bad thing. It's earned over $240+ million (est) there.
The concept of "pre-sold" eludes me. Could you explain it briefly?
It depends on what kind of a 'pre-sale' deal your film has.

Okay, here's how it goes.

Let's say that you're making a film and you can distribute it in the USA by yourself. You have a big star in your cast, but you need up front cash to make the movie.

You go to foreign distributors and say:

"Hey, I have a movie with a big star, lots of boobs and explosions. Will you give me $X,000,000.00 for the rights to distribute the film in your country and you get to keep anywhere between 60%-100% of the box office take in your territory."

They give you the money and keep whatever the movie makes in their territory according to your contract.

You then release the film domestically, and keep 100% of the distributor's share of the box-office take depending on the amount of up-front cash and how much box-office potential the film has.

Independent producers use pre-sales a lot, especially for films with good domestic box-office appeal. It helps raise production funding and can keep a thinly capitalized company afloat until the film starts earning money.

Now most big studios don't pre-sell, preferring to distribute internationally through their foreign subsidiaries.

New Line, though a Time Warner company, has its own domestic distribution system, and no international distribution.

Normally it has a deal with foreign distributors to release their films in exchange for around 40% of the gross. But, according to reports, cost overruns in the making of Compass coupled with internal cash flow troubles compelled New Line to drop that plan, sell the rights for up front cash, and rely just about entirely on domestic distribution for the film to make a profit.

Compass tanked in the USA, and of that $240+ million in foreign box-office New Line might see only a few million, and that isn't enough for a film that cost over $250 million to make and market.

For a film to be considered profitable, it has to earn at least 200% of its production budget. To learn why, click here.

I hope that answers your question.

Hollywood Babble On & On... #28: The Negative Zone

That film The Golden Compass, is the turkey that keeps on dishing up leftovers. Apparently the film's director is upset that New Line has scotched his plans for the sequels. (h/t- Libertas)

Now the film did relatively okay in Europe, but since it was pre-sold in those markets, New Line is highly unlikely to see a dime of that money, but even if they did, that income couldn't cover the film's massive production-marketing budget.

And the massive expenditure, on effects, 'stars' and marketing couldn't overcome what was the film's biggest problem.


I have a theory that the audience is a lot smarter and more sensitive than people realize. They can smell negativity coming from a film the way dogs can smell fear.

And the Golden Compass was literally swimming in negativity.

1. The source material. The original novels were written not from a desire to create, but a desire to destroy. The author Bill Pullman composed his Dark Materials trilogy as a way to some how destroy C.S. Lewis and his evergreen Narnia series in a literary way. Desiring to top a previous author is one thing, it is based on achieving a higher level of quality. However Pullman's desire was to crush not only Lewis, but his beliefs by making Christians in general, and Catholics in particular, the villains. Source material derived from prejudice infects not only film, but also the entire process with an air of negativity.

2. The studio. I'm no mind-reader, but I have my own theory of the motives behind New Line picking to do The Golden Compass. It had very little to do with the quality and the appeal of the trilogy, but on a desire to screw over Peter Jackson, whose success with New Line's Lord of the Rings trilogy resulted in litigation and a very costly settlement that was not only costly to New Line but embarrassing to Shaye. Shaye wanted to show that he could make a blockbuster trilogy without an auteur like Jackson at the helm, and hence hog the credit and the money for himself. So he first directed The Last Mimzy, which turned out to be the first failure, and followed that up with The Golden Compass disaster.

3. Casting. The casting of Nicole Kidman as the lead villain, and her multi-million dollar pay cheque, showed a certain amount of contempt for the audience. Her box-office record was, and is, plain-awful, yet she continues to score big roles for huge money, not because of audience appeal, but of media appeal. The interest of the media in Nicole Kidman greatly exceeds the desire of the general public to pay money to see her and others like her on screen. But in Hollywood these days, the audience is supposed to be sheep-like and buy into whatever the media dumps on them, whether they want it or not, and that is so not true.

4. Word of mouth. During the making of the film, the only word leaking out wasn't about how entertaining it could be, what I call the 'cool factor' but was instead all about script and production problems, and the arrival of the 3rd and most blatantly anti-Christian book in the trilogy. The ballooning budget led the studio to 'pre-sell' the film to foreign markets, thus making it almost 100% dependent on the American market. A market that is 95% Christian, and all they're hearing about the film are about expensive production problems, and how the author of the original novel hates them. That is not good. Couple that with lacklustre reviews and it's a recipe for disaster.

That's why New Line's board must appoint me Furious D to be the new CEO of the studio. Because I'm positive that the problem is being negative! ;)

Hollywood Babble On & On... #27: Author/Auteur

The Director's Guild of America has beaten the odds and inked a tentative deal with the AMPTP. Read all about it here, here, or here (h/t-Libertas)

I was predicting that the AMPTP would repeat the same bad-faith stunts
they pulled during the negotiations with the WGA and storm away.

I was wrong.

But I can admit a mistake, especially when it proves my larger point.

Now some are saying that this is part of some Machiavellian ploy by the AMPTP to split the WGA rank and file and force them into accepting a bad deal.

I don't think they're that clever.

So allow me to explain.

I've said in the past that Hollywood is essentially High School with money and in this High School the Moguls are the hyper-active keeners who ran Student Council, the Directors are the Jocks, the Actors are the cheerleaders and the Writers are the nerds who do everybody else's homework in order to avoid daily wedgies, noogies, and the dread Rear Admiral.

Do you see where I'm going here?

Directing a film is a glamorous job. It's the only job where being an anal retentive, abusive jerk can get you praised as a genius, an artist, an auteur.

Like I said, the moguls are the student council kids, with pretencions to braininess, and a certain amount of political, if not business savvy. They'd love to have the acceptance of the film world's equivalent of jocks (Directors) and of the Cheerleaders (Actors) because it makes them feel like they're part of the creative process.

Directors and actors have to be collaborative in nature. You cannot direct a film, or act in a film completely alone. They have to do their jobs in front of others, and in the case of directors, they have to command those people in order to get the film made.

That creates an element of glamour that people remember.

We all know Alfred Hitchcock directed Psycho, but who wrote the screenplay? Those who know their film history know it was Joseph Stefano, but Hitchcock is the household word.

So why are writers the nerds of Hollywood High?

Writers mostly work alone (sometimes in pairs) in dank little rooms, lit only by their computer screens and their collection of glow in the dark Star Wars memorabilia.

Sure their work is necessary, but it sure isn't glamorous and it isn't going to get much glory from the press, or respect from the moguls.

So writers become the nerds. Necessary, but not wanted.

I guess the question is, will the writer's use the DGA deal to get the AMPTP back to the table.

Logic would dictate a speedy settlement, with the Oscars on countdown to destruction, and at least one, and possibly two TV seasons being completely scotched.

But the moguls haven't exactly acted logically in the past.

Especially when you're blinded by glamour.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Furious Food-Fight: Long Lasting Sauce

Since I wrote about cooking yesterday, I might as well do it again.

Here's a recipe for what I call "Freezer Sauce." Basically, it's a really big batch of tomato sauce that you can make, use what you want, and freeze the rest for a couple of weeks.

You need:

2 large cans whole plum tomatoes (sometimes called Italian tomatoes)
1 can tomato paste
1 jar sun dried tomato pesto (if not available use another can of paste)

1 small-medium package extra lean ground beef.
2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce.
1 bay leaf

1/2 green pepper
1/2 red pepper
1/2 yellow pepper
3 large onions
3 segments from a clove of garlic
4 large mushrooms

Toss ground beef into frying pan with bay leaf, and balsamic vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce.
(If you have Italian sausages, break one up and toss it in)

Put vegetables in food processor and run it until it all becomes a big mush. (There's a reason for this)

When ground beef is 3/4 cooked, remove bay leaf, toss in mushed veggies.

Toss plum tomatoes into a blender. Blend until smooth, add paste-pesto and whatever spices you like. (I recommend oregano, a little basil, red pepper flakes, a pinch of thyme, and some chili powder.)

Use a slotted spoon to move the cooked beef-veggie mix to a pot/slow-cooker and let it stew at medium-low heat for an hour in the pot, 5-6 hours in the slow cooker.

Put it on pasta.

Eat it.

Take the leftover sauce, put it in freezer safe containers, and freeze them.

The mushed veggies freeze better than bigger chunks and it will stay fresh longer.

To reheat, put a frozen slab of sauce into a pots with a tablespoon of water.

Heat is slowly, stirring frequently, until it's sauce again.

Enjoy again. It should last a few weeks before getting freezer burn, but rarely stays that long.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On... #26: And the Award Goes To...

The producers of this year's Academy Awards are declaring that "show will go on" in some form or another despite the writer's strike.

This comes in the wake of the Golden Globes becoming a televised press conference without stars willing to cross the picket lines. Though delivery of the awards will be a boon for Los Angeles area bike couriers.

Apparently the producers are preparing two versions of the show. One to go if the strike is settled, and some sort of emergency version to air if the strike is still on.

With the AMPTP refusing to negotiate at all, let alone negotiate in good faith, the second emergency option is more likely.

Johnny Carson once quipped while hosting that the Oscars was "two hours of pure entertainment, in a four and a half hour show."

He was right.

I used to watch the Oscars. Then it began to change. Outside of LOTR: The Return of the King most of the Oscars went to more and more films, seen by fewer and fewer people.

It transformed from a recognition of achievement to a way for Hollywood to make itself feel superior over the audience.

"Sure you're film tanked with the public, but it won you an Oscar. That means you're too good for them!"

What the hell?

The movie business is supposed to be about pleasing an audience.

Without the audience there is no movie business.

Just ask Uwe Boll, who is reportedly shooting his next feature film with a handycam and starring the man from the convenience store and his wife.

In fact, Oscar and the audience used to be more sympatico.

Just look at my post about Gandhi there was a film about a skinny man in a far away country, yet it swept the Oscars and made a damn good profit with American audiences as well.

You couldn't do that now.

Because now the audience is the enemy.

Hollywood considers the average American movie-goer to be too, what's the word?... stupid, to enjoy the sort of intelligent films built on grand themes that used to dominate the Oscars.


Snobbery mostly.

A good example is a segment from the Ted Kotcheff and Mordecai Richler's film The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. In it a young Richard Dreyfuss played Duddy, a streetwise kid from Montreal looking to make his fortune. He tried every scheme (legal and otherwise) in the book, and makes up a few of his own.

One of these schemes is to set himself up as a movie producer. He talks a wealthy family into letting him make a documentary of their son's bar mitzvah and hires a blacklisted alcoholic film-maker (played by Denholm Elliot) to direct the film.

The completed film is an incoherent, surrealistic mess, that makes no sense, and has very little to do with the bar mitzvah in question.

The trick is that no one in the family is willing to call it a mess for fear of being perceived as "not getting it."

Hollywood is that family sitting in the theatre, wondering what the hell is going on, but too afraid to bring it up for fear of being called 'uncool' and 'not getting it.'

So they produce films with deliberately limited audience appeal, and slap themselves on the back for their 'courage' in making films these films because they're cool enough to 'get it,' and then they give those films awards to prove it.

However, once in a while a film will slip through, that is considered by many to be intelligent, and entertaining.

That's a no-no, so they sabotage it.

Take for example a film that is considered Oscar worthy, and had great potential for audience appeal, like The Assassination of Jesse James, they deliberately let the film die.

Yep, there was a film with solid critical acclaim, positive word of mouth, and people outside the normal art-film centres eager to see it, but the studio won't let them.


Two reasons.

1. Selling it would require effort and imagination.

2. Letting it fail justifies their belief that the audience is still somehow beneath them for not "getting it."

So snobbery, and contempt, keep on killing Hollywood.

It's a tragic story.

One worthy of an Oscar.