Monday, 30 June 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #122: My Kind of Movie?

A tip of my jaunty busby to the indefatigable Nikki Finke for this report that says that Warner Bros. has decided to actually release the remake of The Women, because of the profits made by Sex & the City, instead of condemning it to straight to DVD limbo.

Now I'm man enough to admit that
The Women is not my kind of movie, and according to some sources, it's not the Warner CEO's type of movie either, but there comes a time in the life of every studio executive when they must accept that not every movie they green-light has to be their kind of movie.

The audience ha
s been balkanized to previously unimaginable levels. It seems that each demographic will only see movies that appeal directly to them, and only those movies. Cross-over appeal is rare and reserved for an elite collection of blockbusters. So it's only natural for a studio mogul to accept that their own personal tastes can't be the only arbiter of what movies get made and released, and the refusal to do so, is a sign of ego making decisions over ambition, or even greed.

Now the key is to make sure that the production/marketing budget is relative to the movie's target demographic, and often you'll find that many times that it's a problem that solves itself. Pictures aimed at a mature female demographic like S&TC and The Women, don't have over the top special effects, epic battle scenes, or giant monsters. So while the market for "women's pictures" may never be as big as the male teen audience, or the even larger G-rated kids film audience because of repeated viewings, but as I keep saying when it comes to smart budgeting it doesn't have to be as big.

Studios must break from this "everything must set a record" mindset and accept that you don't need to spend multiples of $100 million on every movie, especially when there is an under-served audience willing to spend that beautiful disposable income on smaller budgeted films with smaller marketing/distribution costs.

Sure, not every one of these niche films are going to succeed, but when your exposure is lower, and your marketing plan is carefully structured and targeted, you can have the reward outweigh the risk.

I know that if I ran a studio, it would not totally conform to my tastes, because I doubt any studio should only put out spaghetti westerns and samurai films.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Fictional Freakouts: The Phantom Brigade Issue #5

Here's another episode of my ongoing blog-based story that I'm making up as I go along. If you just stepped in on this, then check out the earlier chapters here:

"OK, Tanaka, Fahey, you're with me and Emma," said Thorn, as he marched out of the meeting room and into an underground garage lined with vehicles. The rest of Thorn's 'team' kept up with him and nodded at his orders, Emma tried to keep up with their brisk pace. "Cohen, Montgomery, I want you and Hawkins working on tracking that thing. Make sure it doesn't hurt anyone."

"Open rules?" asked Cohen.

"If necessary," said Thorn. "This one might not be lobotomized, and we might be able to communicate. So try to stun it first."

Cohen and Montgomery nodded and headed for a plain looking black minivan. Emma watched Tanaka and Fahey head for another van, marked with a courier company logo. Emma was going to go with them, but Thorn pointed her to a non-descript sedan.

"Where are we going?" asked Emma.

"We're going where those things always seem to go," answered Thorn. "Your place."


"Report," said Thorn into a headset as they entered Emma Grail's condo.

IT'S IN THE SEWERS, said a voice from nowhere that Emma recognised as the telepath they called Professor Hawkins. IT'S APPROACHING A MANHOLE NEAR ECHO PARK, IT'S IN YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD.

"Nice place," said Mitsou as she came in, a black box under her arm, "a little out of the way for the celebrity set."

"That's why I picked it," said Emma with a shrug. "I'm not really part of the Hollywood scene, and there's no paparazzi here. Plus, it's an older building, and something about it appealed to me."

"What exactly?" asked Thorn, looking around at the condo's somewhat plain decor.

Emma shrugged again.

"We're getting something," said Fahey. "Quantum thread activity."

"Is it the creature coming?" asked Thorn.

"No," said Fahey, "it's too strong, it's already in the building, and it's stationary."

Thorn put his hand to his headset, and listened for a few seconds.

"Cohen has a visual."


"This one is extra ugly," said Cohen as he watched the creature step into the alleyway. It shook its narrow head and blinked its eyes. The sunlight seemed to bother it.

Cohen slipped his plasma pistol out from under his coat, and adjusted the setting to stun. Lydia Montgomery came up behind him, a netgun in her hands.

"I'll knock it out," said Cohen, "you wrap it up."

"I know the drill," answered Lydia annoyed that they still treated her as the 'junior member' even after six months on the team, as if she still hadn't earned the place her family had carved out for her in the Brigade.

The creature sniffed the air, and it looked confused. Then it took a step forward.

Cohen aimed his pistol, and Lydia prepared her tool, but instead of the sharp crackle of the plasma pistol, Lydia heard the squeal of a truck's air brakes, and the thud of something being hit, hard.

"I'll call a clean up crew," said Lydia while she thought Hawkins we need a memory wipe too for the driver.


"It got his by a truck," said Thorn. "It's dead."

"I'm still getting that Strand activity," said Fahey, studying his instruments. "I think I got it pinpointed downstairs."

"I do have a basement," said Emma, "it's right this way."

"Do you go down here very often," said Thorn as he led the way, a strange, looking pistol in his hand, followed by Tanaka, carrying an identical weapon.

"Not really," said Emma.

"There's a full blown rift forming," said Fahey, pointing to some dials on his scanner.

Thorn looked over and saw some light seeping from beneath a door at the far wall.

"Is that an exit?" asked Thorn.

"No," answered Emma, "it's a closet."

Thorn opened the closet, revealing a stone path, brilliant coloured plants and flowers, and a large white sun, hanging in a brilliant blue sky.

"It's not a closet now," said Tanaka.


Friday, 27 June 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #121: Here In My Car...

A tip of my trusty old tricorne to the often outrageous and always outraged Nikki Finke for a taste of some of the anger sparked by New Line's acting honcho Toby Emmerich's acquiring of a new Lexus, as over 550 of his colleagues get pink slipped (and not in a good way).

Now there are some Emmerich defenders, yes they do exist, who say that he was simply caught in a situation with his lease that would have cost him a lot of money if he didn't get new wheels, and that it's petty to criticize him for his shopping habits rather than his poor executive decisions.

Well, I think showing up in a new Lexus during a drastic mass-downsizing not seen outside a communist party purge is a bad executive decision.

Aside from a brown-nose any executive needs these traits.


The ability to show a little sensitivity to those around you. Especially to those who are in a less fortunate situation than you. And while it is tempting to rub the faces of the vanquished in the dung of disaster, using tact and diplomacy can lead to....

Good Corporate Karma.

I know it sounds hippy dippy, but it is founded in hard, ruthless reality. 550+ people were let go from New Line. Some of those people are going to stay in the movie business and work for other studios and production companies. Some of those folks may even get senior and important jobs at these other companies. Emmerich is currently the acting captain of the corporate equivalent of the Titanic. The old captain, CEO Robert Shaye, and Emmerich, the then navigator, ran the ship up the proverbial iceberg. Then Old Captain Shaye has took the only lifeboat, leaving Emmerich at the helm and everyone else to be tossed over the side into the North Atlantic.

Soon he's going to have to stroke it for shore himself, he might think that the success of Sex & The City will save him, but it's more of a pair of water-wings than a real lifeboat. He's going to need to find a new home somewhere like all of his former colleagues.

Now do you think that those former colleagues would allow their new employers do business with someone who inspires so much venom over something as mundane as the lease of a car?

I think they'd put the blade to him and whatever deals he tried to make. Something that could be avoided if the executive in question showed a little...


This is the most important skill an executive can have. It is basically the ability to conceive all possible outcomes of their decisions, and having the wisdom to prepare for those contingencies.

If you possess foresight, born from common sense, your displays of tact to earn good corporate karma may be seen as phony and insincere. But it at least shows that you're intelligent enough to at least make an insincere show. Remember, doing nothing, does nothing for you. It leaves you open to be attacked over your stupid car.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

All About Me: A Blast From My Past

This post by Nikki Finke talks about a big shake up happening at Sony/Columbia and reminded me of an old friend I thought I heard the last of:

David Manning.

For those too lazy to click the link David Manning was a non-existent film critic for the small town paper The Ridgefield Press cooked up by folks working Columbia's "creative advertising" department headed by one of the people currently being shook up, a fellow named Josh Goldstine. During Manning's brief career he hyped the then fledgling star Heath Ledger as "Hollywood's Next Big Star" several years before he actually achieved stardom and his current post-mortem cinematic immortality, and called Rob Schneider's The Animal, "Another Winner." However the whole thing got blown when a reporter actually asked the Ridgefield Press if they even had a film critic, which they didn't, and they certainly didn't have one named David Manning.

Why does it bring back memories of those innocent salad days of my misspent youth in the year 2000-2001?

Because David Manning marked one of my very first published pieces about the movie business, in fact, the whole boondoggle. It was to indie film site Film Threat before I was found to be too poseur deficient for them, so I thought I'd reprint it here:
An Open Letter From David Manning
From the Desk of David Manning
Film Critic for the Ridgefield Press

This is an open letter to address the recent revelations about my work and the fact that I am "non-existent."

First things first, I'd like to point out is that the term "non-existent," is a highly offensive term to use towards who I prefer to call "People of Fiction." It shows a prejudice held by the "real world" media against those who are reality impaired, and I am both shocked and appalled by it.

This prejudice rears its ugly head when these same media pundits go on like my opinions aren't valid. I may be a Person of Fiction, but I have a right to declare a movie "a winner," even though the best part of the film was that witty orang-utan and that the chick from "Survivor" was just so damn cute. In addition, I can award any actor I think deserving the title of "hottest star of the summer," whether or not I've actually seen his film or really exist.

To paraphrase the Bard, if you prick me do I not bleed?

Of course not. I exist only the imagination of the Sony Pictures ad-department, and thank the stars their imaginations aren't that vivid.

This brings us to the big questions of existence. Not your existence, I'm fictional, not philosophical. I'm talking about my existence. I'm as baffled as you are as to why some marketing toady even thought it necessary to create me in the first place.

Let's face facts here kiddies. I'm as necessary as a brassiere on a bull. If you want a nice glowing blurb for your posters, all you have to do is invite any one of the hundreds of "safe" critics to the nearest press extravaganza.

They'll eat whatever dung you shovel out and call it ice cream in exchange for a chance to shake Cameron Diaz's hand at the press junket for "Charlie's Angels 2: Bosley's Revenge." Since we're a field of the media where Roger Ebert is our best looking member, these critics would probably consider that the most profound sexual encounter of their lives.

You can't accuse me of selling out my credibility for press junket perks. In my time working for Hollywood, I didn't get squat from them. Wait a minute; that can't be fair. Sure I'm fictional, but I have my dignity.

At least I should have my dignity. Coming up with nice things to say about the detritus Hollywood's been pumping out has probably sapped that out with the last of my credibility. Not that it really matters, the kinds of folks who go to these kinds of movies don't read the blurbs, I doubt they read at all.

As I write this, I'm thinking about how poorly treated I've been by my creators and that I should start a movement for my fellow People of Fiction. We could call it the Fictional Liberation Front, the dreaded FLF. Yeah, we could get organised and start a strike.

Imagine a world with no imaginary people populating your movies, TV shows, books, and conspiracy theories. It's a scary thought. Imagine the chaos this would cause in the tabloid industry alone.

Hey, that would make a great movie, it's got mystery, suspense, and as much sex as you want. It could be the biggest blockbuster of all time. A SMASH HIT & ANOTHER WINNER! HEATH LEDGER AS DAVID MANNING IS THE BIGGEST STAR OF ALL TIME!

David Manning
Film Critic for the Ridgefield Press & President of the Fictional Liberation Front

So interesting to see how far I've regressed matured over the years.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #120: Quo Vadis Paramount?

Yesterday I wrote about how Paramount's report that they are the first studio to hit the billion dollar revenue mark this year and how it my not be as grand as they make it out to be.

Don't get me wrong, a billion dollars in revenue is a wonderful thing, I'd love to rake that in. But in Hollywood, there's a certain amount of illusion involved.

Now I explained all this before in one of my first posts, but that was a long time ago, and for those who are too lazy to click the link I'll explain it again.

Now everyone hears about the big numbers in ticket sales raked in by the blockbuster movies and you hear a lot about "gross revenues" and how big name movie stars land big "gross point" deals, yet you don't hear anyone discussing the net profit in anything outside of litigation. That is because no one gets a net profit, because in Hollywood a net profit is akin to the Loch Ness Monster with fewer reported sightings, and absolutely no photographic evidence.

So I guess I should start explaining and stop using mixed up mythical metaphors.

You buy a ticket to see a movie and it costs X amount of dollars. Those $X is gross revenue earned by that movie, but that's not the end of the story, it's only the beginning.

A piece of the $X is kept by the exhibitors, to cover the overhead costs of actually showing the movie and is called the "house nut." What's left of that $X is called the "rental" and goes to the distributor.

Then the rental goes on to cover the studio's overhead costs of distributing and marketing the film, and then whatever is left is then divvied up between the producers, gross-profit-point players, and other investors. What's left is called the "net profit," but since it's never seen, it's not really worth talking about.

Now while this all sounds straightforward, it's actually darker and more arcane than the devious machinations of some secret society that does all communications in pig-latin. The money path is not a straight line, it's more like a maze designed to confound and confuse all who dare to understand it.

So now you can understand why Paramount's $1 billion isn't as hot as it sounds.

And with DreamWorks moving on as soon as it's legally possible, Paramount will be without not only its top content producer, but its biggest hit-maker.

So what is the venerable and still formidable Paramount to do?

Well there are some strategies they can use:

1. SIMPLIFY: Any corporate mission statment should eliminate all of those meaningless buzzwords like "synergy" and "maximization." The mission statement should simply be: MAKE MOVIES THAT MAKE MONEY.

2. REDUCE OVERHEAD: Basically trim un-needed executive fat, every major media company has it. Look into new technology to reduce the costs of marketing and distribution and look into new markets, and what products you might produce for those markets.

3. REMOVE THE SCREW FACTOR: Independent producers and investors will find any studio that isn't going to financially sodomize them much more appealing than the others. Remember that while everyone else scrambles for a piece of a shrinking pie, you can use smart business sense to make a whole new, and potentially bigger pie for yourself.

4. FOSTER NEW TALENT: I know this sounds like a gamble, but it's still better than handing over a $100 million dollar film to a guy who did a music video that aired on MTV, and only got that job because he met the lead singer in rehab. Use the internet to reach out to find new filmmakers that are interested in giving the audience what it wants. Not what appeals to the Axis of Ego. So you can pretty much forget Sundance as a source, especially now that Paris Hilton hangs out there.

5. SENSIBLY MANAGE FRANCHISES: Don't let a single star dominate a good franchise. You can do Mission: Impossible without Tom Cruise and it would probably be cheaper too. When you do want an actor to come back for a sequel, use the non-screwing policy to woo them with real profit participation in exchange for a lower fee. Long term financial security can be a selling point if you pitch it correctly.

6. WOO A COMIC BOOK COMPANY: Comic book franchise films are big business. So, you could try for the now self-financing Marvel to sign on with Paramount full time as their distributor, or you can do what Universal did with Dark Horse, and forge a formal alliance to produce their books into films. You could try the various comic-studios at Image Comics, or try buying up properties left by companies wrecked during the big comic market crash of the mid-90s.

7. CONTROL PRODUCTION COSTS: A company can do very well without having every film be a blockbuster if each film doesn't have to be a blockbuster to be profitable. New technology doesn't just mean selling movies to be downloaded onto an iPod. It can also reduce the costs of making the movies themselves. Filmmakers used to use their imaginations to get around tricky and expensive problems, and they made better and more satisfying films because of it. I'm not saying you should be stingy, but you should promote imagination over expense.

And that should get the proverbial ball rolling.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #119: Is Paramount a Billion Dollar Baby?

A big bully and hurrah for Paramount Pictures, who announced that they are the first major studio to hit the $1 billion in revenue this year. (tip of the stovepipe hat to Nikki Finke)

But...and this is a big but, I'm talking a positively elephantine but, there appears to me that there's an onion in the ointment.

If you read the report in the link you'll see that most of the blockbusters cited in that report were made by DreamWorks, Lucasfilm, and Marvel. So one has to wonder if this report really is so rosy or is it all an...
Sorry, couldn't resist any chance for a Doug Henning reference, considering I actually voted for him once.

You see, Paramount had very few of those pics developed in house, and in some cases, as with Iron Man, it was solely a distributor. So we don't know exactly how much of that $1 billion + will actually end up in Paramount's coffers, because these partnership/distribution deals are often more byzantine, arcane, and hermetic than the minutes of a joint session between the Knights Templar and the Illuminati at Duffy's Tavern. And with DreamWorks going Bollywood in their bid for a return to independence Paramount might be stuck in a bit of a lurch for stuff to put on screens, maybe not this summer, but possibly next summer.

So, what does the future hold for Paramount?

What do I look like a psychic?

I don't know, but what I do know is that they need to start making more stuff in-house, or remodel their business as a distributor.

But it is something to think about.

George Carlin: RIP

Legendary stand-up comedian George Carlin passed away. His tombstone will only have seven words.

But I'd like to remember him not for his death, but for his work. So here's a variation on one of his most famous routines (Language warning NSFW)

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Comic Book Confidential: DC = Downward Crash?

Comic book sales are down, attempts to make movies on any character whose name doesn't rhyme with Fat-Can are either trapped in development purgatory, or emerge as overpriced, bloated, whiny, rehash-jobs on previous cinematic incarnations (you know who you are).

Now I'm the first to admit that I am an outsider when it comes to the comic book industry, but from what I've been able to glean from my research into the industry and its problems, that maybe an outsider's view might help, it certainly couldn't hurt it any worse.

But for those of you who are even farther out of the loop than me, which is basically a goatherd in Kazakhstan named Ugash who is too stingy to upgrade from dial-up, I will offer a little history. (Please remember internet fanboy trolls, this is a blog, not a definitive history, so don't go nit-picking the way you do about the colour of The Riddler's tie. ;p)

Comic books started out in the early 1930s as basically nothing more than monthly collections of newspaper comic strips. However, dealing with the big newspaper syndicates were a pain in the butt for smaller publishers, many of them with, how shall I put it, colourful backgrounds to pay for the big name strips, so they decided to start making their own material.

Most of the early comic books featured detectives, spacemen, cowboys, pulp-style vigilantes, and funny talking animals but they were soon going to meet the character that was going to ultimately define the medium in the...


SUPERMAN, created essentially by two kids, Joe Seigel and Joe Schuster, was the first classical superhero, and paved the way for others superheroes like Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, and Captain America.

Comic books were a major cultural force through the 1940s and were available on every newsstand in North America, even managing to survive during the paper rationing of World War 2 because of their importance as a propaganda medium, and morale booster.

But things changed in the 1950s.

Dr. Frederick Wertham, a German-American psychiatrist, came out with a book called Seduction of the Innocent. In the book he claimed that the fact that juvenile delinquents read comics was indisputable proof that comic books cause juvenile delinquency. (Overlooking the real fact that about 99% of children at that time read comic books, but only 1% of them actually committed any crimes.) He also claimed that comic books, Batman especially, created homosexuals, and that Wonder Woman was a lesbian. (The themes of S&M and bondage in Wonder Woman comics were intentional on the part of the creator.)

After Senate hearings and threats of censorship the Comics Code Authority was created to tone down the violence, death, and eliminate just about all references to sex, drugs, alcohol, infidelity, official & political corruption, cannibalism, rebellion to adult authority, and outright banned creatures like werewolves and zombies.

Superheroes dwindled in popularity, sci-fi became the craze, so the rest of the 1950s and 1960s saw Batman stop fighting gangsters, and start fighting aliens. Overall sales began to slip, and many smaller publishers folded, leaving DC comics and what became Marvel Comics as the two biggest players. But all was not lost true believers, because we were about to enter the...


The early 1960s saw a brash young writer/editor named Stan Lee play midwife to the rebirth of the superhero with the co-creation of Spider-Man (with artist/legend Steve Ditko) and what became a new model for the superhero. These heroes weren't all dashing millionaire playboys. They had realistic problems pestering them during their times out of costume, and often difficult choices to make when in costume.

Superhero titles saw a revival with both major publishers, creating new characters, and reviving others who had previously been consigned to the dustbin of history. However, they were still constrained by the restrictive Comics Code Authority in terms of content, but for the most part kids didn't seem to care as they went into the...


The Silver Age really didn't last that long. Demands were being made to make comics more relevant to the social turbulence and rapidly changing trends of the late 60s and early 70s. New writers and artists came in who wanted the visceral thrills the old comics gave them. The most obvious example being the team of Denny O'Neill (writer) and Neal Adams (artist) and their return of Batman from the campiness of the TV show to his roots as a gothic vigilante searching dark shadows for evildoers. More depth was given to characterisations, and plots became more challenging. (I remember this especially because I was a huge O'Neill/Adams Batman fan as a kid)

A lot of the titles that emerged during the Silver Age were cancelled, as the major players contracted their line-ups to more manageable sizes.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s titles were released that didn't have the Comics Code Authority seal of approval, and they were deliberately marketed to an older and more sophisticated reader. It also marked the rise of the "star" writers and artists like Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and others. Also new "indie" publishers like Dark Horse emerged as we saw the beginning of the...


This time also saw the rise of the specialty comic book shop, and the collector's market, which sort of lead to the problems plaguing the industry today. The casual comic reader was discounted, with companies aiming their product increasingly toward the collector's market.

The collector's market reached the point of dementia in the 1990s. Prices, even for new books, went way-way-up, special "event" story lines and multiple "special editions" of the same comics were created just for the collectors. The market blew a gasket in the mid to late 1990s with people's collections plunging in value, comic shops closed, and the entire market contracted on an unprecedented scale.

Now we have entered a new age, where the comic book industry is facing new opportunities, but also dealing with long standing problems.

The opportunities are movies. Superhero films have never been more popular, and lucrative, and a well received movie can greatly boost sales of the original comic book.

But that's where the problems come in:

1. CONTINUITY: Comics have become a continuity nightmare. If you aren't a major fanboy with a full slate of subscriptions since birth, and want to get back into reading comics, you have a tough road ahead. Marvel has tried to combat this by starting the Marvel Ultimate line that essentially reboots characters to their roots, but so far DC's attempts to re-organize their 70 some odd years of convoluted and often contradictory continuity went from serious attempts like Crisis on Infinite Earths, to become mere marketing stunts, that have become so numerous that even the most hardcore fanboy feels mostly apathy towards them. To win back casual fans and earn new readers, something, potentially drastic must be done. Exactly what is a matter of debate.

2. DISTRIBUTION & MARKETING: The comics industry major blunder was transitioning from a mass-market business to a niche-market business. There was a time when you could buy comics at any drugstore or convenience store. Nowadays you have two options, you can either find a comic book store (which are usually only found in bigger cities) or shop for them online, something that's a real pain in the ample buttocks for wooing back the essential casual reader.

The days of a casual reader being hooked in by seeing a clever cover on a magazine rack were discarded by publishers in the 1980s. Comic Book companies have to do something major to get their products back in non-specialty shops, and tell readers that they are still out there, and available to read. The collector's market is not going to support a company, and pandering to that market will only repeat the mistakes that almost sunk the industry in the 1990s.

Price can also play a role in this. Comic prices are pretty darn high compared to when I was a kid and was outraged at a 45 cent price tag, but new technology makes production more efficient and cheaper. With gas prices eating away at disposable income, an inexpensive form of entertainment that can take them away from their everyday trials with tales of action, adventure, and over the top heroics can succeed. Remember the entire industry was born during the Great Depression.

So I guess I should conclude by saying that if the comics industry is going to thrive, let alone survive, they need to drastically rethink their business model and try to win back the mass audience.

Saturday, 21 June 2008


It's back, that game that confused and frustrated all two of my readers. But don't worry, I'm not going to be as hard on you as last time.

The object is simple. I've taken some famous quotes, and run them through the Babel Fish translator, from English--to another language-- and then back to English. It's your job to figure out which movies these quotes come from. The person with the most correct answers wins a fabulous prize.*

And I'll even toss in a clue. They are all from 80s action movies.

1. You want to know the secret to the æreo travel of survival? After that you obtain where you' king to go, removes your ice-skates and your socks therefore walk around on the foot knot of the blanket and make the fists with your tips.

2. I have got no time to draw off

3. The machines names of ash of the core fire. Their war humanity from to row for decades had raged, but the definite battle would not be fought in the future. , In our present here are fought. This night…

4. YOU are the sickness, and I' m the treatment
It should be easy for action movie aficionados.

*Fabulous prize exists only in the blogger's fevered imagination and is not actually real.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Fictional Freakouts: The Phantom Brigade Issue #4

If you missed the previous "Issues" of this experiment in literary improv, you can use these links:



"Well," said Thorn, as the hologram vanished and the office lights came up. "You should answer your phone. Jake's going to call you."

Emma's phone rang. Her custom ring-tone, the music from the shower scene from "Psycho."

"Are you psychic?" asked Emma.

Thorn shook his head. "No," he answered, "you told me this would happen. Or to be more exact, you will tell me this will happen. You should answer that."

"Hello," said Emma.

"Where are you Emma," it was Jake Carson, Emma's companion on her abbreviated studio tour. "Studio security says your with a friend."

"I am," said Emma, "sort of. Sorry to bail on you like that."

"Just wanted some confirmation on your okay," said Jake. "They're taking me on a tour of the model shop for Shadowknight's Revenge. That is just too freakin' cool."

"Have fun," said Emma, "I have to talk to you later, boring Hollywood stuff."

After their goodbyes Emma hung up and turned back to Thorn.

"What are you talking about?"

Thorn rose from his desk and went to the door.

"We deal with portals that go through space, time and alternate dimensions," said Thorn. "To you, this is the third time we've met, but to me, this is actually the fourth. To you, it hasn't happened yet, but to me, it happened a long time ago."

"This is very confusing," said Emma.

"You don't need to tell me," replied Thorn as he guided her back to the hall, "because you're talking to a man who once crashed his own wedding."

"You're married?"

Thorn shook his head.

"Long, long story," he said. "No time to talk, because we have to meet the team."

"You have a team?"


"She seems shorter in person," said a big burly man with close cropped black hair and a neatly trimmed goatee. He was dressed all in black, giving the impression of a massive black wall.

"All movie stars are shorter in person Leo," said Thorn. "I know for a fact that Humphrey Bogart was only four foot six."

"I'm not a movie star," said Emma, "I'm just an actor."

"Leo Cohen," said the big man, shaking Emma's relatively tiny hand in his massive grip. "I'm in charge of tactical operations."

"Mitsou Tanaka," said a tall slender woman with a slight Japanese accent. "I'm the deputy tactical person. I loved your movie."

"Jim Fahey," said an voice with a definite Irish lilt and Emma turned to see a tall, gangly fellow with hair almost as red as hers, and carrying a large plastic case. "I'm the token tech guy, and I'm helped by Lydia Montgomery. She's coming behind me."

"Don't listen to the Irishman, I'm not just the helper," said a woman with a very posh English accent as she came in behind Fahey, carrying another case, "I'm a bloody scientist."

"You have a little United Nations here," said Emma.

"We're part of a multi-national organisation," answered Thorn. "We protect the world, so you don't have to."


It was a voice, but it wasn't coming from anyone, but to Emma it seemed everywhere.

"You shouldn't do that," said Thorn, "you're going to scare the girl."

"Should I be scared?"


This time the voice was different, it was vaguely feminine.

"You better introduce her to the Eight," said Montgomery. "Get it over with."

Thorn walked across the meeting room and pressed a red button on the far wall. The top half of the wall began to rise, revealing what could only be described as an aquarium filled with a luminous green liquid and...

"Are they aliens?" asked Emma.

NO said another voice, a man's voice, WE ARE HUMANS THOUGH WE UNDERSTAND THE CONFUSION

They were people, at least they vaguely looked like people. Their heads were out of proportion to the rest of their bodies, which seemed frail, if not entirely withered. They were swaying gently in the green liquid, held in place by what could only be described as an elaborate life support system.

"I'd like to introduce you to the Eight," said Thorn, "led by the fellow floating in the centre. His name is Hawkins."

"Why are they in a tank," asked Emma, "and how can they talk to us."

WE'RE TELEPATHS answered another feminine voice.

"They have a condition discovered by my grandfather," said Montgomery, "called Montgomery-Austin syndrome. The symptoms are terrible physical weakness coupled with exponential mental power."

"Outside the tank," added Thorn, "they are weak, crippled, and racked with constant agonizing pain. The suffering so intense they can't develop their mental powers. Inside the tank, they are free from their pain, and to a certain extent even their physical bodies."

THE SOLAR SYSTEM IS OUR WORLD said a chorus of voices that Emma realized were in her mind.

"They can sense activity in the quantum belt, and the threads," said Fahey.

"They also protect this planet from alien invasion," added Cohen.


"Aliens have invaded?"

"Tried," said Thorn, "but they can't get close, thanks to the Eight, and their fellows across the world."


"Any idea where?"

ODD said the voice called Hawkins.

"What's odd?" asked Thorn.







"Where is it?" asked Thorn, nodding to the others who went out the room to a door marked GARAGE.





"Okay Emma," said Thorn, "there's no time to socialize, it's time to see what's happening."


Thursday, 19 June 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #118: Letting Your Ego Sell You & Your Films Short

A tip of my rain-soaked Sou'wester to the indomitable Nikki Finke for the stories I'm going to cast my cynical gimlet eye on today.

1- One thing I can definitely say about Robert Shaye is that he has a seemingly infinite capacity for instilling feelings of deep schadenfreude in the cockles and sub-cockle areas of people all over Hollywood.

It seems that Senor Shaye took a bit of a bath trying to sell Marvel stock short after the box-office success of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. Now to those of you who aren't as hep to the intricacies of high finance, unlike me who watched Traders on Canadian TV, selling short is a tricky way to make money on someone else's failure.

Let me explain it in a bare-bones fashion:

Selling Short is when Speculator A is certain that the stock price for Company B is going to go down further than a Hollywood starlet on a bender.

So Speculator A borrows some Company B stock from Shareholder C.

Speculator A then sells the borrowed stock at the current price, waits for it to plunge in value, buys the now cheaper shares, and returns them to Shareholder C, while keeping the extra cash.

However, if Company B's stock goes up, Speculator A has to buy back the more expensive stock, and henceforth loses a pretty packet of ye olde spondoolicks.

Which is what happened to Shaye.

Now if you didn't read Nikki's post, you might wonder why Shaye decided on what, in hindsight and to some in foresight, seems like a pretty foolhardy move.

Well the answer is ego.

Shaye had the rights for a big screen Iron Man, but had demanded changes to the character and his powers that didn't mesh with the comic book mythology Marvel's successfully carried for over 40 years. When Marvel went into self-financing their movies Shaye was so certain that they'd fail without his genius, he started his short-sell scheme, and when that didn't work, did it again with the Incredible Hulk.

Which brings me to the bare essence of what appears to be the problem with Shaye as a businessman and why so many people in his industry seem to revel in his every setback and petard hoisting: his ego.

He drove New Line into the ground by making business decisions based not on a business cost/benefit criteria, but on a desire to "stick it" to the people who were responsible for the company's successes, which he alienated in the first place. That's why The Hobbit was held up for so long, and might be still end up dead in the water due to the unending lawsuits over profit shares. It's why he squandered millions on The Last Mimzy, and hundreds of millions on The Golden Compass. There was no positive creative drive behind those projects, but a negative ego-based drive to show his own superiority over the people behind New Line's hit franchise The Lord of the Rings.

And it looks like he still hasn't learned his lesson, and it's starting to cost him his own money. My advice, is that Shaye should look up the definition of insanity, and then take some time to really think about how it applies to him. Then maybe he should take up gardening.

2. The second story delves into the realm of horror. It seems the current head of Lionsgate is looking to cast the horror movie Clive Barker's Midnight Meat Train into the outer darkness of direct to DVD oblivion. This has enraged horror fans who have been buzzing like caffeinated bees over this movie, and have been jonesing for some hard R-Rated horror with a pretty thin selection this summer.

Now let's look at the brass tacks of this situation. Meat Train cost $15m to make, it's already had millions in free promotion by online fans, thanks to the imprimatur of approval from source author Clive Barker, and has a decided lack of competition in the genre with only the relatively weak buzzing flicks The Strangers, and The Happening the only direct genre competition in theatres.

This situation is a perfect storm of making a quick buck in the movie business. So you must wonder why Lionsgate, which spent millions on Bratz: The Movie, won't even give this film the steam off its pee.

The answer is ego.

Meat Train got the green light by Lionsgate's old regime. The new regime doesn't want any of their projects to be a success, fearing that it would make themselves look bad in comparison.

Now I think that every studio should have a codicil in the contract of each and every major decision maker that any decision based on ego instead of money, would get that person fired, possibly out
a window, immediately without a traditional golden parachute.

And it's not just about having $15m pissed away upwind, and turning horror fans against your company as a whole, but it's about not seeing the opportunity this situation presents.

You release the film. If it's a hit, you take credit for your brilliant marketing and distribution plan. If it fails, you blame the whole debacle on the old regime and say you only released it on the slim chance of getting back your investment. Because one of the key ingredients for a good CEO is seeing beyond personal ego and agendas to see opportunities for profit and ways to exploit them.

Which is why I want the Lionsgate board to consider...

You can't blame me for trying. Do you see what those studio guys get paid these day?

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #117: I & I

Now when most folks hear about India, the first thing that comes to their mind are the British Raj stories of Rudyard Kipling, the Taj Mahal, and those absolutely stunning Bollywood actresses.

But there's something else about India that doesn't get as much attention in the western mind. India is probably the world's fastest growing economic superpower.

After achieving being led to independence from the carcass of the British Empire by Ben Kingsley Mahatma Gandhi in 1948 the country followed a quasi-socialistic economic model. This meant a lot of central planning by state bureaucracies, and heavily restricted trade with other nations. And while India did achieve a modicum of self-sufficiency in many areas, an amazing feat for a country hitting a population of around a billion people, it was still plagued by a seemingly crippling poverty afflicting the masses.

Then a major shift began to happen in Indian economics. They realized that true capitalism isn't just about grabbing a piece of the proverbial pie for yourself, it was about making a whole new, bigger, pie with the filling of your choice, and that the key ingredients of this pie were openness, simplicity, education, and infrastructure.

Basically they opened the country up for international trade, made it easier and simpler to start and run a business in the country, and then took the revenues earned from that economic growth and invested it in education, and essential infrastructure. That meant more schools, roads, communications, and utilities.

These investments led to more economic growth, which lead to more investments, and so on, and so on...

Now poverty levels are going down, and while many assume that this growth is from cheap labor factories and call centers, India is carving a niche in what many call "Brain First" industries, like engineering, medicine/pharmaceuticals, high technology, aerospace, and others. And all of this without the easy money of big oil revenues.

This means that India is now a major money-making player in the world economy. And since they are making a lot of that money from doing business with Americans and American companies, they are making a lot of American dollars.

They have to do something with those American dollars, and they believe that the best thing is to stake out a piece in the economic big leagues by investing in American companies, goods, and services. As Ned Beatty's character in the movie
Network likes to say: "It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity. It is ecological balance..."

Now it's said that the Dreamworks folks are going to run up some debt to pay for the rest of their liberation. But I have another idea.

Try Ireland.

Yep. Ireland, the land that's given the world the Blarney Stone, legions of drunken poets, the ancestors of Alyson Hannigan, and the leggy hoofers of Riverdance is currently the economic engine of Western Europe. They did it by following a similar plan to India's by investing in education and infrastructure while opening up formerly closed markets to trade and investment and simplifying the ways to start and run such investments. Ireland now dominates the pharmaceutical industry as well as carving an ever-growing niche in international finance.

And not only does Ireland have the money to invest in this new venture, there's another, more entertaining reason for the Dreamworks guys to pursue Irish venture capital. They can call the new company:


Get it?

Come one. The two "i"s stand for India and Ireland, while at the same time stand for the Roman numeral two.

Sheesh. Try to put in a little Roman numeral humour, and no one gets it.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Cyd Charisse RIP

Legendary dancer and musical star Cyd Charisse passed away at the age of 86. She was a graceful, sexy, and classy presence in those MGM musicals and I think we should remember the way she was meant to be remembered, dancing up a storm...

Hollywood Babble On & On #116: As The Stomach Turns-- Meanwhile in Rome



Establishing shot of St. Peter's Cathedral.
Welcome back to As the Stomach Turns... In our last episode poor Essay Gee was about to get her noggin flogged by Amy P. Teepee, and we're not going to tell you what happened next. Instead we're joining movie producer Sam Slick in Rome where he has a special audience with the Pope.

SAM SLICK a well dressed movie producer with fashionably messy hair is standing in front of THE POPE who is sitting on his papal throne.

Our request is simple we would like to shoot some scenes from our movie in some of your churches.

And what kind of movie are you shooting?

It's a big budget film, strictly "A-list" all the way.

You still haven't answered my question.

It's a prequel to "The DaVinci Code."
The Pope does not seem impressed.

Yes. It's a big movie, we got Ron Howard directing and Tom Hanks in it.

I did enjoy "Splash."

Then you'll love this movie. It's got action, adventure, and romance.

Let me think about it. Hmmmmm.... no.

Why not your Holiness?

Gee, let's see, your last movie made us out to be a bunch of sociopathic nutbars who use albino assassin monks to kill people because our almost two-thousand years of contributing to spirituality, theology, philosophy, and history is just something a conspiracy pulled out of its ass.

I don't see the problem?

And as if any conspiracy would let a complete and total flake like Leonardo DaVinci be in charge. If anyone's pulled anything out of their ass it's Dan Brown and that stupid plot.


I'm not done kiddo. And let's not forget the albino killer in your last movie. We only have one Albino monk, and Brother Guiseppe wouldn't hurt a fly, and now people are scared of him. You didn't think of poor Brother Guiseppe did you?

Well, no... but--

So what reason would I have to allow you to make a film that if it was about any other religion would be hounded into oblivion as racist propaganda, and poorly written propaganda at that?

I can introduce you to Tom Hanks.

If your bony ass isn't out of the Vatican in ten seconds, I'm going to sic the Nuns on you. Trust me, you don't want that.

Will Sam Slick get his movie made? Will the Pope make good on his threat to have Slick nun thrashed? Does anyone really care? Tune in another time whenever the writer of this blog decides to another one of these stupid mini-skits.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #115: As The Stomach Turns

Today I've dug up a script from a classic old-time soap opera that I found very prescient. So let's slip back to the TV show of yesteryear that tells us all about the Hollywood of today....
It's time for another edition of As The Stomach Turns. When we last left the people of the quaint small town of Holly Woods local society lady Essay Gee was returning home from shopping to make a terrible discovery.


Door opens, light comes on, revealing a man and a woman in bed.

Sweet Chopra on chutney! It's my fiance Haf Tra and he's in bed with Amy P. Teepee, my mortal enemy.

Honey, this is what you think. I am just working in the best interest of my member.

I'm sure you are.

Come on, you know I'm the only one who can make Haf Tra happy.

(to Amy P. Teepee)
This doesn't involve you!

I don't want to talk about it.

Well I do. Let's debate what you've done, since Amy P. Teepee is your mortal enemy too.

I said, I don't want to talk about it.

Let's debate this issue like adults.

Essay Gee doesn't see that Amy P. Teepee is sneaking up behind her with a baseball bat.

Will Essay Gee see that she's let this heartbreak leave her open for a serious floggin' about the noggin? Will Haf Tra talk about his feelings, and his sinister plans? Will Amy P. Teepee get away with all this? Tune in next time for another edition of As The Stomach Turns.


Various reliable sources are reporting that the deservedly legendary special-effect master Stan Winston passed away too soon at the age of 62.

He was a master of cinematic illusion, making the impossible look real, an almost lost art in this day and age of producers throwing money at CGI as some sort of cure-all when all that was needed was the imagination of rare people like Stan Winston.

I offer my sympathy to Stan Winston's family and friends, this is a terrible loss for them, and for cinema fans around the world.

Rest in peace Stan.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #114: Points to Ponder

I guess I should open with a tip of my saucy sombrero to the always edifying & erudite Nikki Finke for these stories...

1. SAG has released a statement declaring consensus on the key demands for their next contract. Sadly, I think it is too little too late. This statement, or something like it, should have been released jointly with AFTRA months ago. However both unions had their own agendas, which seem to be mostly slagging not only each other, but their own respective memberships.

This whole contract has been a strategic and tactical boondoggle from day one. They will both probably have to eat a real stinkbug of a contract this year, so I suggest that both unions immediately find more amenable leadership, solve all internal issues, and take off the blinders that their real adversary is the AMPTP.

2. Sony and Fox are trying to get the WGA writers of a new prime-time animated show put under an IATSE contract the predominantly Saturday morning animation writers work under. And reports are saying that both Sony (the producer) and Fox (the broadcaster) repeatedly assured the writers and show-runners that they would work under the WGA contract.

Now this is a recipe for failure. The art of producing movies and television is all about relationships, especially in TV where people, especially writers, work together day to day for sometimes years on end. I'm not saying that the studio has to be a doormat, but diplomacy is important, because resentment and hostility is not a solid foundation for a long running hit show. Especially when the resentment and hostility is sparked even before the show hits the air. It shows a major blunder on the part of the corporate management, and IATSE to start playing silly games with the talent at this stage, because what's the good of a show, if the channel can't show it, the audience can't see it, and advertisers can't buy time on?

3. The large and semi-demi-godlike Creative Artists Agency who won't even get out of bed for anything less than a
$10 million contract, are being criticized for how they treat their assistants. Apparently the poor benighted assistants have to dwell to an underground cavern and wait half the lifetime of a Fox TV drama to get their car out of stack parking.

Now with the past WGA strike, and the most likely upcoming SAG strike in their air I started thinking about just what would happen if Hollywood's assistants went on strike.

The following joke started as one of my lame comments at Deadline Hollywood, but I figured I'd share them here, and flog the dead horse for a bit.












Now that's a terrifying vision of things to come.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Fictional Freakouts: The Phantom Brigade Issue #3

New to this blog serial, then check out the other issues...
Issue #1
Issue #2

"Have you seen enough Miss Grail?"

Emma thought her heart stopped.

"Well," asked Thorn, "Doctor Chambers could open him up again if you want to see more? Though I must warn you, it's very disgusting."

"And smelly," added Chambers.

Emma stepped out into the window of the observation deck.

"You knew I was here," said Emma.

"We knew when you were coming when you called your friend," replied Thorn through the glass. "Who is probably talking to studio security now."

"He knew you were coming here," said Dr. Chambers. "I thought you were just going to take the tour, now I owe him a steak dinner."

"And not a cheap one at that," added Thorn with a smile. "It's the only way he'll learn to never bet against me."

"What's going on?" asked Emma.

"Let's go to my office," said Thorn as he came into the observation room. "I'll explain what I can."
"Is that really an alien?" asked Emma as she sat on a dark blue couch across from Thorn's broad oak desk, that looked more at home in the office of a 19th century bank than the cool modernism of the office.

Thorn nodded. "It's an alien."

"As in from another planet?" asked Emma. "Not just from another country or something like that?"

Thorn shrugged. "Another planet, another galaxy, possibly another dimension, or even another time. The only thing we're really certain of is that he's not from this Earth. Can I get you something, coffee, juice?"

Emma shook her head. "I'd rather know what's going on. Why was that thing in my driveway, why did I come here, and why--"

"Were we in a plane crash," said Thorn, "where the plane didn't really crash?"

Emma nodded.

"This is the cool part of the explanation," said Thorn, taking a small remote control from his desk and pressing a button. The office went dark, and a sphere, sketched in light appeared in the middle of the office. "Free standing holograms aren't very practical as an information medium, but they sure are cool looking."

"Whoa," said Emma and the hologram shifted from a wire-frame diagram into a solid orange sphere, "what's it supposed to be?"

"That is our sun, otherwise known as Sol," said Thorn. "An unremarkable star that shares traits with thousands, if not millions of stars just like it in this galaxy alone. But there's something about all stars that most scientists haven't even imagined of, let alone discovered."

Thorn pressed another button and a semi-transparent blue belt encircled the sun, covering the center third of the orb.

"This is the quantum belt," said Thorn, "and the second most amazing thing about quantum belts is that they each function under a unique frequency, and if you send a simple, tightly focused radio signal in a frequency matching another star at this belt, a rift, or gateway opens, allowing travel to that other star within seconds."

Emma looked at Thorn, there he was telling her that there was an absurdly simple way to violate the laws of physics and travel faster than light.

"You must be kidding me," said Emma.

"Remember," said Thorn, "that there is a dead alien down the hall."

"Then what's the most amazing thing about these belts?"

"This," said Thorn, pressing another button, and thousands of thin hairlike strands emerged from the blue belt and started waving wildly, like the strands of a spiderweb in the wind. "We call them quantum strands, possibly millions of them. They radiate off the belt, and run through the solar system's heliosphere. Including Earth's orbit."

Another button clicked and the hologram zoomed into a narrow quadrant showing the strands coursing through a blue-green hologram of Earth.

"At any given moment thousands of quantum strands course through Earth," continued Thorn, "running unnoticed through the very fabric of everything and everyone."

"Are they dangerous?" asked Emma.

Thorn shook his head. "Only when they touch each other. Mix that with the soup of radio signals that coat Earth's atmosphere and you get rifts."


"Portals," answered Thorn, "not just through space, but through time and other dimensions. Now the bulk of them only last a few milliseconds, and form either in the upper atmosphere, or miles beneath the surface, and even then, most are also only a few millimeters in diameter, so the odds of the average person encountering rift phenomena are pretty slim."

"What does this have to do with me?"

"You, or I should say, we," explained Thorn, "went through a rift during that plane flight. On the other side were aliens from another dimension, they were studying the rift, and their research accidentally opened it wider than it should have, and our plane went in."

"Why don't I remember that?"

"They wiped our memories," said Thorn, "at least they tried to wipe mine, they repaired the plane, fixed our injuries, and sent the plane back to that corn-field."

"But you weren't on that plane when we woke up," said Emma.

Thorn shrugged. "Bit of a screw up," he answered. "I got separated from the plane and returned to a different place. I'm not important, this is your story here."

"So what's happening?"

"Long story short," said Thorn, "that thing that attacked your car came to Earth through a rift, a big one. Another one had come through earlier, we spotted it and tracked it, and found it sniffing through their garbage."

"My garbage," said Emma, "why me?"

"I'm getting to it," said Thorn. "It's the same reason you came here. This studio, this facility beneath the studio, were built on a quantum strand that is locked to Earth. In fact, it runs randomly through the planet, coming to the surface here, in Rio De Janeiro, Cleveland, Kiev, Cardiff, Osaka, and Halifax. All hot-spots for rift activity. When someone has gone through a rift, even if they don't remember the experience, they develop a sensitivity to rift activity. You could sense the quantum strand surfacing here, and was drawn to it. It was one of the reasons our memory wipe didn't really hold with you."

"You wiped my memory?"

"Not me personally," said Thorn. "A telepath who works here named Hawkins tried to replace your memory of the attack with a car crash. I told him it wouldn't work, it rarely does with rift-riders, and now you're here, and I'm owed a curry dinner."

"This is all too weird," said Emma, "but you still haven't answered 'why me.'"

"Whoever these things are," continued Thorn, "they seem to be sensing the remaining rift energy around you, and that is drawing them to you. You are in essence, alien bait, and will be until we somehow figure this out."

"For some reason I knew everything was going to get weird when I came to Hollywood."

Thorn laughed. "You have no idea. Which is why I'm being so honest here. The Phantom Brigade wants to protect you until we figure out what's happening."

"Did you say 'Phantom Brigade?'"

"What were you expecting," replied Thorn, "that we'd be called Men in Black."

"Sounds kind of hokey."

"Blame it on Churchill," said Thorn. "When World War 2 broke out Churchill asked a man named William Stevenson to do two things. First was to create a network of spies to 'set Europe ablaze,' and, more secretively, to create a 'brigade of phantoms to haunt Hitler's nightmares.' The name sort of stuck. Officially we don't exist, neither does our work, and right now, we are the only people who can protect you."

"What do I have to do?"

To Be Continued...