Sunday, 31 August 2008

The Case of the Missing Movie Mogul

It was a quiet day in my office at the corner of Hollywood and Reality. The sky outside the window of my meagre little office was a dull slate grey. The cause of the utter lack of sunlight was that a bunch of celebrities had formed an impromptu parade of their SUVs to protest global warming. Poor Ed Begley Jr. lay on the sidewalk, gasping for air, as he tried to explain the irony of their actions.

There was a knock on my door.

"Come in," I said.

The door opened with a creak, then creak stepped aside, and in walked a tall leggy bottle-blond who I recognized as Marseilles Metro the party-girl and movie heiress, her business partner, a lion named Leo Goldwyn, and the ghost of Louis B. Mayer. They worked as a combo called M.G.M..

"Are you Furious D," asked Marseilles, "the Private Dick?"

"I could be," I answered, my tone both manly and cynical, yet with a hint of noir-tinged heroism.

"Then you're the man we need," growled Leo Goldwyn the Lion.

"I don't even know why I'm here," said the ghost of Louis B. Mayer rattling the chains that covered his impeccably tailored suit, "I'm not only dead, I've been out of the company for over 50 years."

"Why don't you sit down and tell me your troubles," I said, "but leave out anything that involves itching and burning sensations, that's not my bailiwick."

"Read this," said Leo, passing me a slip of paper, which was impressive since he didn't have opposable thumbs.

I took the slip, it was a printout from the IMDB movie news section:
Who's Running United Artists?
28 August 2008 10:01 AM, PDT
While several trade reports indicated this week that Paula Wagner will not be replaced as CEO of United Artists, leaving Tom Cruise in charge of the studio, Cruise himself is balking at the notion that he will take over Wagner's responsibilities. "I don't run United Artists," he told syndicated columnist Liz Smith. "I just own it." (So, tech
nically, does Wagner, it would appear.) Commenting on Wagner's decision to leave UA, Cruise said, "I love Paula Wagner, but she wants to produce elsewhere and in her own venue, and I don't intend to stand in her way. I'll say this of her leaving United Artists -- whatever Paula wants is what I want her to have! And I hope we'll continue working together on future projects."
"What does this have to do with me?" I asked.

"We own the majority of United Artists," said Marseilles.

"I don't," said the ghost of Mayer. "I never did. I don't even know why I'm even involved."

"It's your penance for Patricia Douglas, Ted Healy, William Haines, and Paul Bern," growled the Lion.

"Oh yeah," said Mayer, "all that."

"Can we get back to talking about me and my part in all this?" I asked.

Leo Goldwyn turned to face me, "Look our operation's been in rough shape for a long time. It's not getting any better with equity investors being scared off by Hollywood's accounting practises, and we have United Artists, a company with a $500 million credit line, and nothing is getting done, and now the company doesn't have a head. We need you to find out what the hell is going on over there."

"Have you tried asking them yourselves?"

The trio shrugged, then Marseilles answered: "We probably haven't asked because we're just made up for the purpose of this stupid little story."

"Okay," I said, "I'll take the case. But since you're fictional, I want cash up front."


Cash in hand I went down to MGM headquarters in one of the seedier parts of Beverly Hills. Outside was what I thought was a homeless man, but then realized it was Harvey Weinstein.

"Hey bub," said Harvey shoving a film can into my hand, "take this, now it's officially released, so give me some more investment money."

"Scram," I said, "before I take do a knuckle polka and give your noggin a floggin!"

"What," said Harvey, "I don't get your hard-boiled lingo."

Damn, I hated lingo jams. I was going to have to be crea

"Hey," I said pointing over Harvey's shoulder, "there's a promising independent film you can buy and bury!"

"Where!?!" asked Harvey, scurrying off to find it.

I had just reached the door to the MGM/UA office when I heard a bad buzz, and it wasn't about the production of
Valkyrie. It could only be one thing....


"Elliot Gould?" I asked when the Killer Bees swarmed around me.

"Yeah," said Gould, "whaddya want?"

"I'm here to find out who's running United Artists," I said, "what's the buzz?"

Elliot Gould shrugged.

"I haven't heard a thing," said Gould, "I've been too busy waiting for an
Ocean's 14."

"Too bad," I said, as I passed by into the MGM building.


"Hello Sweetycakes," I said the United Artists Receptionist, Sweetycakes McGee.

"Hello Furious," she said as she filed her nails, according to size, and whether they had been galvanized or not. "Whaddya want, because I gotta file some hammers after these."

"I need to see Tom Cruise," I said, "I've been hired to find out who's running this joint."

"Do you really think that you can just swan on in here," said Sweetycakes, "without an appointment, or any advance warning, and just think that you can talk to one of the most important movie stars in the world?"

"Yeah," I answered.

"Okay," said Sweetycakes, "he's in his office. It's down the hall, and has his name written in crayon on the door." She then passed me a lunch box with a picture of Fred Flintstone on the front. "And you can take him his lunch while you're at it."

I thanked her and headed down the hall to see Tom Cruise.


I knocked the door, but when insulting the inanimate object didn't get it to open, I instead turned the knob and walked in.

The office was empty, except for a life size cardboard cut-out of L. Ron Hubbard, next to the desk.

"Hello?" I said, looking for trouble, and I found it.

Out from behind a desk popped a puppet, a sock puppet to be exact, made from an old tube sock with a pair of buttons sewn on for eyes.

"Who are you?" asked the puppet with a high squeaky voice that I realized was coming from beneath the desk. "Go away!"

"I can't tell you who I am if I go away," I said.

"Damn you and your riddles!" grumbled the puppet.

"I'm Furious D," I said, "I'm a dick."

"There are a lot of them in Hollywood," said the puppet.

"I'm looking for Tom Cruise," I said, playing along as I inched closer to his desk.

"He's not here," snapped the puppet, "go away."

"That's a shame," I said nonchalantly, "because I have his lunch right here." I opened the box and took a sniff of the contents. "Ooh, it's a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, an apple, and a chocolate milk."

"Chocolate?" asked the puppet, hunger reflecting in its button eyes.

"Yep," I answered, placing the lunch box on the desk.

The puppet slid closer the lunch box, smacking its 100% cotton lips in anticipation.

Then I struck. I grabbed the puppet by it's puppet neck, and yanked.

Out popped all four feet and nine inches of Tom Cruise, and he looked scared.

"Ouch!" growled Cruise, "That hurt."

"I'm looking for some answers," I said.

"Well I don't have any."

"I wanna know who runs United Artists."

"It's Paula Wagner," said Tom Cruise.

"No it isn't," I said, "she quit."

"But I just own the company," said Cruise, his voice cracking like a schoolboy. "I don't run it. Really I don't."

"Somebody has to," I said, "there's a company to run and people's jobs are stake."

"That's a lot of responsibility," said Cruise. He was trembling, so I let him go and passed him his carton of chocolate milk, after helping him get the straw in, I continued my spiel.

"It is," I added, "especially when you have a $500 million credit line to get this company moving again."

"That's a lot of money," said Cruise, taking a sip of his chocolate milk. "What am I supposed to do with it?"

"Make movies," I said. "Preferably ones that make money, so you can make more movies."

"This is too damn complicated," said Cruise. "Paula was always so good at doing the thinking for me."

"It's not rocket science," I added, "it's business."

"But I'm an actor!" mewled Cruise. "I don't have any actual or useful skills. I mean I made an anti-war movie, and Hollywood's still doesn't like me."

"Yeah," I said, "the first lesson is that the opinions of Hollywood doesn't mean crap. I mean
Lions for Lambs was a bungle of the first odour, and that' ill-will is probably going to hurt Valkyrie too."

"I was hoping for an Oscar nomination," said Cruise.

"Right now," I said, "Oscars are about as useful as a brassiere on a bull. What you need to do is to do the kind of movies where you played the cocky, obnoxious, but sort of likable go-getter having crazy adventures doing crazy jobs."

"Will that make Hollywood like me?"

"Screw Hollywood," I barked, "it's the audience that matters. If you put
their bums into theatre seats the rest of Hollywood will have no choice but to kiss your bony ass. Because who brings in the green is the one who will ultimately make the scene."

"Really?" asked Cruise, hope starting to glint in his eyes.

"Yes," I said, "all you have to do is make your movies crowd pleasing, and for a modest budget. It'll be a lot of work but--"

"WORK!" screamed Cruise, as he leaped from his chair and ran headlong into the closet, slamming the door shut behind him.

"I'm not using that gag," I said, turning to leave the office. I did find out who was running United Artists, it was nobody.


Saturday, 30 August 2008

A Little Weekend Fun With Fry & Laurie

A little break from my usual, rants, raves, rambles, and ruminations with some clips from the late 80s and early 90s absurdist Brit-comedy classic A Bit of Fry & Laurie, starring Stephen Fry, and a pre-House Hugh Laurie.


Friday, 29 August 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #158: Lincoln and Sun Tzu Went to a SAG Meeting


Tell that little Lincolnesque tidbit to the Screen Actor's Guild (SAG), they're not only divvied up into factions with names like United 4 Strength and Membership First, and making snide little shots at each other, there is also fighting starting between the Hollywood SAG and the New York SAG.

Now I'm not going to pick any side in these internal feuds, but I can off the sort of foresight that only an outsider can offer:

No matter which side you're on,
you are screwed.

I tried to prevent this, I offered advice, both strategic, and tactical to the members and leadership of SAG, but it looks like actors don't check out any blogs that don't offer gossip about themselves. So, in an effort to be helpful and prevent the chaos and financial reaming that SAG is setting itself up for, I will offer a condensed version of my advice where I hearken back a few millennia to the wisdom of Sun Tzu...

KNOW YOUR ENEMY & KNOW YOURSELF. You must understand not just the nature of your enemy, their wants, needs, strengths and weaknesses, you must also know that about yourself. The most common misconception about the studio moguls is that they're akin to sharks, but that's a myth. Sharks require constant action, and must be constantly moving forward in order to survive.

That's not a studio mogul.

Studio moguls are more like cats. Spoiled, fat, selfish, and narcissistic Siamese house-cats to be more specific.

And like cats they exist in a pampered world where their parent companies tend to their whims like overindulgent cat fanciers. They prefer maintaining the status quo, with them remaining pampered, coddled, and well-fed, taking time to swat at the occasional mouse for entertainment, as long as it doesn't take too much effort. They live in terror of any shift in that precious status quo that requires them to do work.

These divisions in SAG are catnip to the AMPTP, ensuring that no matter who wins supremacy over the union, they will be in no shape, financial, or emotional, to survive a strike, while the AMPTP can rely on their parent companies to support them, while SAG starves itself into submission.

THE 5 CONSIDERATIONS OF WAR. Sun Tzu said that anyone going to war, or negotiating with cats, has to take 5 things into consideration.

These are:
  3. EARTH
1. THE MORAL LAW: Where the leadership and the rank and file share the same belief in the rightness of their cause, the nature of their goals, and how to achieve those goals. SAG is not united in either the rightness of their cause, the goals they must achieve, or in agreement on how to achieve their goals.

2. HEAVEN: This doesn't mean prayer, though it probably wouldn't hurt. This is about knowing the conditions you will be operating under, both physical, economic, and ecological, and how these conditions will affect your operations. None of the factions seem to realize the importance of a war chest, the weather they'll be walking pickets under, or how their enemy (the AMPTP) can use those conditions against them.

3. EARTH: This is all about logistics. What are logistics? Well, it's about the seemingly mechanics of getting things done. Getting bills paid, strikers to their picket lines, getting them fed, sheltered in bad weather, etc., etc... So far, the SAG factions seem more interested in getting organised against each other, rather than the AMPTP. This will put them in a state of weakness when negotiations start over that they might not recover from.

4. THE COMMANDER: This is all about pragmatic leadership. What is the leader's ambitions, do they synch up with the greater good of the cause, and what plans and considerations does this leader make for the negotiations and the potential strike? This is not a position for an idealogue or a fanatic, because they tend to lose sight of the Earth and Heaven, thinking their own destruction is enough to prove the rightness of their Moral Law. So far the leaders of the SAG factions are more interested in proving themselves right over each other than providing victory for their union.

5. METHOD & DISCIPLINE: This means having a good, detailed plan, and the discipline and unity to not only see that plan through, but be flexible enough to handle any disasters that may befall the plan. So far the SAG factions appear to have neither method or discipline. They have no plan to take on the AMPTP, and they have no united front to even compose such a plan.

I guess this explains why I'm so cynical when it comes to SAG and this contract.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #157: Or Get Off The Pot


It's getting so you don't really know who's doing what anymore.

According to Nikki Finke, and in defiance of official denials, others are reporting that MGM/UA is still up for sale.

Now I don't know what's really going on in the heads of the people who own MGM/UA, I'm not a psychic, nor do I actually know any of the people involved, I'm just a face in the crowd, but I do have suspicions.

I feel that there's a certain amount of confusion over what to do with MGM/UA. Part of the consortium, of which Sony/Columbia Pictures is a major player, would like to see the company succeed, not only for the potential profits, but because having a healthy company, even a competitor, is a key ingredient in a healthy industry.

It's one of the immutable bylaws of business, competition
improves efficiency, profitability, and the quality of product. The whole concept of the world as a zero sum game where everyone has to grab their piece of the pie or starve is a lie, because we live in a world where you can always make more pies, that are often bigger, tastier, and definitely fresher.

But then there's the other part of their mind. The deep, dark, reptilian, irrational part that is repulsed by the very concept of competition. This part doesn't want to run a business, it wants to run a kingdom, with no other kingdoms taking a piece of the pie. It wants to stomp on all other pies, even the ones it can have a piece of, and sit in its meagre garret, sucking on its few remaining crumbs, and thinking it's the smartest dude in the world.

It's that conflict, which affects most business decisions in Hollywood, which is why the MGM/UA sale story keeps coming back like an 80s horror movie killer. Too many companies, especially movie companies, have been razed into the ground by that irrational reptilian brain, so it's not much of a stretch for folks to assume the worst.

But, as that old maxim goes:When you assume, you only make an ASS out of U and ME.

This time, I'm going to hope for the best, think positive, unlike that other time I assumed the worst, and believe that the better angels of their nature will prevail and make MGM/UA a going concern again. So I've prepared a few simple steps the owners of MGM/UA can follow to get the company rolling.

1. LEAVE MGM'S HISTORY TO THE DVD DIVISION: One of the few things that work really well for MGM/UA is their home video division, even in my dinky small town, the company is usually very well represented at local stores. Now there's the temptation to try to recreate the age when MGM was bigger than big, and boasted more stars than the heavens, but those days are gone, and they're not coming back. When it comes to selling the classics, the old MGM brand is just fine. However, when it comes to selling something new, they need to redefine the brand, (I know, I hate corporate buzz-speak too) and get people thinking of more than just old classics when they hear those fabled initials.

2. PAY EQUITY INVESTORS FIRST: One of the main problems plaguing Hollywood is the so-called "credit crunch." Despite what they may say it's not caused by all those bad, fraudulent, and poorly managed loans, it's caused by equity investors, the people who actually put up the money to make the movie, being the lowest on the totem pole, and the last to be paid, if they get paid at all.

So-called "A-List" stars and directors usually have deals giving them big pieces of the box office revenue, right from dollar one, and when the equity investors get their turn, there's usually not even the steam off the studio's pee left for them. Now I'm not saying that actors and directors be screwed over, in fact I don't want anyone to be screwed over, but they're also getting massive paydays up front in the tens of millions of dollars. Simply tell them, they can have one, or the other, not both, and even then, base their pay on their actual ability to draw an audience.

When it comes to investors, if you pay them, they will come.

3. BASE BUSINESS DECISIONS ON BUSINESS REASONS, NOT EGO: This shouldn't need explaining, but doing something that will cost the studio money, just to prove a point, or to make the boss feel good about themself is not the way to run a railroad. There is no better deodorant than success, and success always makes the top boss look good.

4. SIMPLIFY: Let this be your business plan, MAKE MOVIES THAT MAKE MONEY. You can't afford to blow millions on John Cusack's or Brian De Palma's latest anti-war screed, even though it's other people's money, and it'll score you a good table at the next Obama fundraiser. It's just not good to piss away money, and MGM can't afford it. Crass commercialism will have to be the buzzword, and I suggest you do it by trying to fill commercial niches the major studios seem to be ignoring, like non-comic book action/adventures, thrillers, horror, and modestly ambitious science-fiction/fantasy.

5. PROMOTE EFFICIENCY: The means of production are supposed to be cheaper, thanks to new technology, use that to your advantage. Big stars are superfluous when you have a good story, that's well told, and properly marketed to the right audience. Look for young and hungry filmmakers, foster their talent, promote loyalty to the company, and teach them that just tossing money at a movie is not the best way to make a movie, when a little imagination will do the trick.

6. DON'T BASE YOUR FORTUNES SOLELY ON BLOCKBUSTERS: Right now every studio seems stuck on the mindset that every film has to play on 4,000+ screens and break box-office records just to break even. However, if your films are well made, and done with some efficiency, they don't have to be blockbusters to be profitable. This way, the mega-hits become icing on the cake, allowing you to make more movies that make more money.

7. DON'T BASE YOUR FORTUNES SOLELY ON REMAKES: Sure, some remakes do catch on, but a lot don't, and there's always the desire to make the remake bigger, and way more expensive than the original. You can get a film done cheaper when it's something the filmmakers are passionate about, and they're willing to do what it takes to get their film made. And when they're loyal to the studio, because they're treated firmly, but with actual respect, they're less likely to go ape-shit on the budget.

I know I'm just a voice in the wilderness here, but I just gotta keep banging my drum, and mixing metaphors, because someday, somewhere, these lessons might actually sink in.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #156: A Few Rainy Day Ramblings...


I fear for the Screen Actors Guild, they're in the middle of what are supposed to be negotiations for a new contract with the AMPTP, but instead they're having an election, various factions are at each other's throats, bickering with other unions, and they're even declaring that outsiders should avoid getting involved, or else.

This is the problem with SAG. They either roll over and play dead when it comes to negotiating deals, because the big stars don't want the boat rocked, or they raise the black flag, scream "WORKERS REVOLUTION!" and start building barricades in Beverly Hills, because they think they can bring down capitalism. Neither way is healthy.

My suggestion, SAG shouldn't have an actor, or a professional union activist running the unions and any negotiations. What they need is a hard nosed, brass-balled, businessperson who has a stainless steel fist hidden beneath their velvet glove. They're not in a performance, and they're not in a worker's revolt, they're in a business, and as long as they fail to recognize it as a business, they will continue to get screwed.

And with their war chest depleted, membership divided, and bitterness reigning supreme, no matter who wins this election, either way, they're screwed.


I'm starting to think that Tom Cruise's production of Valkyrie is haunted by the ghost of Von Stauffenberg who is pissed off that when Hollywood finally makes a movie about his attempt to kill Hitler, they cast a 4'11" Operating Thetan.

The latest chapter of this neverending story is that some extras are suing United Artists for millions because they were injured falling off a troop truck with defective railings. There are even reports that UA knew the truck wasn't in good shape, via an internal memo, but still used it without fixing the problem.

Where was the safety guy? Where's the production manager/line producer to say: "I don't care if you're Bryan Singer and Tom Cruise, that truck will cost us more by not being fixed, than by taking the time to fix the damn truck."?

The devil is in the details, and if you don't pay attention to them, he'll jab a pitchfork in your ass.


Speaking about details: A blogger called The Mystery Man has posted a Channel 4 documentary called Stanley Kubrick's Boxes. A fascinating look at the evidence of a man who made precision and details into high cinematic art. Well worth a watch.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #155: Everything Old (& Cancelled) Is New Again

It's pilot pickup season, and ABC has announced some of the new shows on its upcoming fall slate.

Of course the word new, is a tad inaccurate.

You see one of the shows on ABC's fall schedule is called
Cupid, a cutesy-poo romantic comedy series about a guy who thinks he's the ancient love god Cupid, and just might be, but without the little wings and the heart-tipped arrows made famous on so many crappy Valentine's Day cards.

Now if that premise seems familiar in the back of the reptilian part of your brain, well, you're not crazy, because it is familiar.

You see, about 10 years ago, the same writers and the same network made the
exact same show, starring Entourage's Jeremy Piven, hyped the crap out of it, landed some good reviews, and then cancelled it about halfway through its first and only season.

Now this could be a whole new strategy in network programming. Since the remakes of old hits usually sink into oblivion faster than you can say "Bionic Woman" ABC is giving failed shows of the past a new lease on life, hoping against hope that this time will be different.

It probably won't.

But I suspect that there's more to ABC's stratagem than meets the eye.

You see Hollywood, network TV especially, lives in absolute, abject terror of any and all new ideas. Present them with something no one has seen before, and they'll leap up on a chair, screaming, like someone who saw a mouse in an old cartoon.

And here's why:

New ideas, especially successful ones, bring in new people. These new people could have more new ideas, which bring in even more new people, and before you know it, being the nephew of the CEO's cardiologist and surviving as an assistant for more than 6 months might not qualify you for a network Vice Presidency anymore.

New ideas must be crushed.

Also, ABC is also under the watchful eye of foreign TV producers and their lawyers over a memo outlining how to rip off premises from foreign shows. That means that any new show that bears even the slightest scintilla of a resemblance to anything they've done will result in lawsuits galore.

They need a premise that they already own, that even if it resembles something down in another country, they can fight off the foreign litigation hordes with the original. They also need a show that was more or less forgotten, and less likely to get fans griping on internet forums about how "the original was better."

Hence the resuscitation of Cupid.

I'm waiting for the revival of My Mother The Car, as a police drama.

Now that would be a hit!

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #154: Will the Lion Choke Instead of Roar?

There are reports going around that Goldman Sachs is shopping around MGM/UA for another round of musical owners.

If it's true, then get out your burying shovels, because the company will be well and truly dead.

The report's say the current ownership consortium is looking $5 billion to unload the company, because they went to all the trouble of getting the company, while not having a real plan for what to do once they actually owned the company.

MGM/UA has two tangible assets.

The biggest is a massive film library, consisting of films made by MGM, United Artists (natch), Orion, American International, Filmways, Samuel Goldwyn, Cannon Films, Polygram Filmed Entertainment, ITC Entertainment, Atlantic Releasing, Hemdale, and about half a dozen other smaller companies.

That's a spicy meatball, of literally
thousands of films and television shows, a big asset in an era of 5000 channels with nothing on but the same movies replayed on a weekly basis.

MGM/UA's second most tangible asset is its distribution. It can get films into theatres nationally, and has an international output deal with 20th Century Fox. The international deal was necessary since MGM/UA pulled out of UIP it's international distributor co-owned with Paramount and Universal.

The problem with MGM/UA is that it's not making any new films to distribute outside of co-producing Bond movies with Sony. It just doesn't have the filthy lucre in the kitty to get its own flicks made and released. And a film company that doesn't make movies isn't really a film company, it's just a name on an office door.

Kirk Kerkorian has offered to buy MGM/UA for $3 billion, but that offer was rejected. I'm sure Kerkorian's a lovely guy and all, but his obsession with owning and selling MGM over and over again just isn't healthy. I suggest that he take a break from buying MGM for a while.

Now I think I know what can be done.

Sony covets the MGM/UA library for it's Blu-Ray discs, and sure, Blu-Ray is the the winner of the hi-def war and they don't need to directly control it anymore, but the library is a valuable asset, so here's my proposal.

- Sony keeps the library.

- Sony keeps James Bond.

- Sony keeps Tom Cruise.

- Sony restructures the company as a distributor of films and DVDs called United Artists.

A new consortium of the major independent film production companies, and film investment funds, can then purchase the company at a reduced price. This makes sense outside of the snakepit of my mind because a lot of these companies and equity investors are being screwed by the big-boys. So why not have their own distributor with, most importantly,
their own accountants. Also they can fulfill certain niches that are opening in the film business.

- Lionsgate, the current champion in independent distribution, is stepping away from distributing films for a fee or percentage, preferring to focus on their own productions. This new United Artists distributor can fill this gap, and since Warner Bros. is shopping around their extra films in the wake of the assimilation of New Line, they can fill a slate pretty quickly.

- Despite their profitability, Lionsgate is also stepping away from the low-budget horror and comedy films that made their name, aiming for more "mainstream" fare, and hopefully some award nominations. This new United Artists company can't afford to be mainstream, it can use these films to make relatively quick money, and fill their coffers, and have a relatively reliable revenue stream.

I'm starting to think that MGM as a brand name, is dead when it comes to new movies, and that this new program, with a new company, is the only way to go.

And if the new owners need someone to run it, then they know where to find me.



UPDATE: According to Nikki Finke MGM's honcho denies that the company is up for sale. Though this development doesn't mean that they don't have to do something drastic to revive the long moribund studio.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #153: The Hero & The Darkness

Oh dear.

DC Comics' parent company Warner Bros. is about to engage in a major pooch screw when it comes to adapting their superheroes to film. In this article (h/t Dirty Harry) in the Wall Street Journal, Warner Bros. plans to reduced their slate of films, and to make the films that they do produce, bigger, and more "bad-ass" than ever before.

This philosophy will be exercised the most on adapting the superhero properties owned by subsidiary DC Comics, as illustrated in this disturbing quote:
Like the recent Batman sequel -- which has become the highest-grossing film of the year thus far -- Mr. Robinov wants his next pack of superhero movies to be bathed in the same brooding tone as "The Dark Knight." Creatively, he sees exploring the evil side to characters as the key to unlocking some of Warner Bros.' DC properties. "We're going to try to go dark to the extent that the characters allow it," he says. That goes for the company's Superman franchise as well.
Oooh, that does not sound good.

Not good at all.

You see, Superman doesn't brood.

Batman can brood, because Batman has limitations, both physical, due to his mortality, and faces many ethical challenges because of those limitations. He's forced to lurk in shadows, using mystery and fear as weapons, because he can't just use X-Ray vision to find the villain's hideout, then punch his way through the brick wall and tie up the evil-doers with a readily available steel beam.

Batman walks a fine line to remain "the good guy" in the face of evil, and it's hard, because his job is hard to do for even an above average man.

Superman is an extra-terrestrial with god-like powers who can wander free in the sunshine. His only limitation is Kryptonite, and when it comes to exploring his evil side, well he doesn't really have an evil side.

Batman is a lone man struggling mostly alone against evil. Superman is a symbol of American power, an immigrant, raised on the corn-fed Judeo-Christian morals & ethics of the American Midwest. Superman could smash cities to the ground during a temper tantrum and declare himself emperor of the world, but he doesn't, because that would be violate the code taught to him by Ma & Pa Kent. He doesn't have to worry about becoming the bad guy, because in his brightly day-lit world, lines are usually very clearly drawn.

Any attempt to make Superman "brooding" would turn him into a whiny little emo bitch-child with a new all-black super-suit, his hair parted all to one side like he showered in a wind tunnel, and spends his free time cutting himself with a kryptonite razor. And I think the whining, and moping were what turned people off the Superman Returns reboot forcing yet another reboot.

Does it mean that Superman can't face any serious moral and ethical challenges?


But whoever does the film must remember the essential themes behind Superman, which is essentially optimistic.

Plus, I think Warner Bros. is making a mistake by thinking that "dark" is the way to go.

Yes, The Dark Knight is a dark movie, both in themes, manner, and lighting. However, the film is not about darkness. It's like all the other summer comic book blockbusters, it's a tale about a fundamentally good person pushed to the extremes of his abilities to survive and ultimately overcome a powerful and terrible evil.

In a world where most mainstream drama leans toward nihilistic or pointlessly rebellious anti-heroes in the name of "artistic truth," the comic book movie goes right for the primal archetype of the hero.

The hero does the right thing, the hero endures terrible hardship, pain, and sacrifice, not for some tangible reward, not to "stick it to the man," but to do it because it is right.

Part of these movies is wish fulfilment. The average viewer wants to see the good guys win, they want heroes, and they only seem to get these "pure" heroics, without politically based judgements or moral equivalence, with superheroes.

So to sum it all up in a way that even a senior studio executive can understand:


Thursday, 21 August 2008

Comic Book Confidential: What Next?

Pop on down to Word Balloon, the "comic book culture podcast" and listen to the following episodes:

Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead, offers a challenge for creators to go out on their own, away from corporate characters, once they reach a certain level of success.

Brian Michael Bendis, mighty maven of many Marvel mags, begs to differ.

Then pop back here and offer your opinion, either in the comments, or the sidebar poll.

If no consensus is reached, both men will be sent to THUNDERDOME!

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #152: Paramount Goes Straight To Hell DVD

The good news: Paramount Pictures is going to be producing more movies instead of relying on Dreamworks and Marvel to fill their slate.

The bad news: They're increasing their slate of straight to DVD sequels, remakes, re-boots, and re-imaginings of films already in their library via their
Famous Pictures imprint.

You know what I'm talking about, you find a DVD in the discount bin at Wal-Mart or on the shelf at Blockbuster, and it has the name of a
famous movie in the title, and a number following that, but you don't see any of the original stars or filmmakers associated in any way. And to top it all off there's usually a busty blonde in a low cut outfit on the cover, whether she has anything to do with the movie or not.

They're like those CDs you see in the big box stores during the holidays that promise THE GREATEST HITS OF YOUR FAVOURITE BAND/SINGER FOR $4.99 in large print on the cover, and "performed by the Buggerville Singers" in small print somewhere on the bottom. And while the tune may be familiar, it lacks the creativity, energy, passion and the success of the original. I mean, I don't think I've ever seen anyone actually buy one of those CDs, and I'd like know who does, as well as who buys/rents these knock-off sequels and remakes. I just get the feeling that when the people who do buy these knock-offs turn off their CD or DVD players, they feel a twee bit cheated.

But enough about me, let's talk about Paramount's situation, and why it will most likely end up like a wet firecracker, something with the promise of a boom, but delivers nothing more than a fizzle.

Now there's a bit of history associated with Famous Studios/Pictures etc.. It's a play on both the name of the founding company of Paramount, Famous Players-Lasky, and it's former animation unit formed after the takeover of the Fleischer animation studio.

And in keeping with this theme, the revived Famous Pictures will be putting out flicks that should be history.

Now I'm sure some marketing gurus sold the Paramount mucky-mucks that this is going to be a great idea, and will have money rolling in hand over fist, and will use such buzzwords as "name recognition," and "familiarity" doing most of the marketing for them.

But how many of these knock-off films actually become hits, (translation: very profitable) even by straight to DVD standards? I'll bet dollars to dingleballs that it ain't many.

And how many knock off movies catch on with viewers, and become real cult hits, with devoted followings? Probably not many, if any.

Why is that?

Because the people assigned to make these knock-off flicks have no personal investment in these films. There's no passion, or even much interest, on the part of the people making them. Their only interest is getting their mortgage paid because doing commercials for used car dealers, or writing ad copy for a free weekly newspaper printed on hemp-paper ain't cutting it anymore.

Now don't get me wrong, I like low budget movies. In fact, many of my favourite flicks were low budget genre films.

What I don't like seeing is a, probably not golden, but possibly silver plated, opportunity, get lost in a sea of marketing snake oil.

Low budget films are a great way to scout new talent, and that's what Paramount has to do if they want this Famous Pictures to be known for more than just filling space on store shelves and discount bins.

Sequels and knock offs have expectations set by their successful predecessors, expectations that films lacking passion, effort, or budget could possibly meet. What Paramount should do is use Famous Pictures as a way to foster and develop new talent via low budget straight to DVD genre pics.

Make it a door into Hollywood, where young filmmakers are challenged to prove their worth by not only showing their talent, but by being able to work within a limited budget. Put out challenges to new talent, an old trick is to get aspiring writers to adapt material to fit sets you've already built for a bigger project or locations you've already rented. Appeal to their egos, to make the best damn horror, comedy, thriller, or action film they can.

Don't just hold them to straight to DVD oblivion, let flicks that meet a strict criteria of quality have an actual theatrical release. With everyone trying their best to get into the theatres, they will invest more of themselves into the movies, and make better movies. And if people actually find a straight to DVD movie they enjoy, word will get around, especially with the internet.

And if you treat them right, then when they're ready to go mainstream, they'll view Paramount as their home, and not an enemy.

Thanks to new technology, the ability to make professional looking work is cheaper than ever, while mainstream films become more expensive, mostly due to "star" salaries. Paramount can reclaim mainstream's Hollywood place in the field of cult cinema.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

The Boob Tube: The Secret of Seacrest!

Nikki Finke mentioned that American Idol host Ryan Seacrest will most likely be looking for a new agent because his current agent will be handling the consolidation of Seacrest's considerable media mini-empire.

Now this fellow has his haters, declaring that he symbolizes everything wrong with Hollywood, because he's successful when he has no appreciable talent.

And that's his job. The secret to his success is that he has no talent.

Allow me to explain....

I'm no Seacrest expert, I don't watch much more than few minutes of American Idol at a time, and only when whatever I was watching was on commercial, so I'm not as engulfed in the Sea of Seacrest as some people are. But I think I've seen enough of him to figure out his secret.

He's a star, because he doesn't try to be a star, and he works very hard at not being a star.

And that's a rare gift, rarer still in today's Hollywood.

Seacrest's gift, is as a host or master of ceremonies, he comes on, does his intro, makes the occasional crack at Simon Cowell, segues to the next singer, and then promptly gets the hell off the stage. He doesn't sing, act, dance, or tell very good jokes, and he doesn't even try.

He's the avatar of the audience, the blandly pleasant, occasionally sympathetic, everyman surrounded by people who have more talent than he has, but couldn't do his job. Because someone with more of the traditional show-biz talents would try to outshine the singers and judges, and make the show about themselves. He seems to understand that the show isn't about him, it's about the competition and the people playing and judging that competition, and he accepts that.

He's also hard working, with TV and radio projects going on 24/7-365, and I believe that audience likes a hard worker. They like to see people trying to make their money honestly through that Horatio Alger-like mixture of pluck and luck, and rewards them accordingly. He knows he has a limited range and lifespan when it comes to a career in showbiz, and he is just trying to make sure he doesn't wind up broke in a dumpster behind a rehab clinic.

Another secret is that he knows when to shut the hell up. You don't see him flying off to the Middle East to hug dictators or terrorists, and make broad pronouncements on the good and evil natures of certain politicians/policies. He doesn't run around condemning the audience that ultimately pays his salary because of their religious/cultural/political beliefs. On those issues he remains a cypher, an unknown, a blank slate, allowing the audience to relate better to him, because when they see his face, they don't see Saddam Hussein, or even think about politics.

So I guess you can say that the secret to Seacrest's success is that he knows his place, and how to make that work for him.

The Case of the Whipped Watchmen...

It was a sunny day in Hollywood, and I had spent the morning breaking the news to Mike Myers that I had solved the mystery of why The Love Guru tanked, it wasn't funny. He took it hard, crawling under my couch with a bottle of my cheapest, nastiest, bourbon, which I was using to sterilize my combs, and begging me to take the case of his missing talent.

I told that I'm not a miracle worker.

He called me a dick.

And he was right, I'm a dick, a private dick.

There was a knock on my door. Not just any knock, but one heavy with foreboding and menace. Then I realized that I left my collection of suspenseful background music playing on my iPod.

"Come in," I said, and in came trouble, in the form of one of the morbidly obese Warner Brothers. I believe it was Time Warner, the older brother and leader of that particular portly pack.

"Don't come any closer," I said, drawing my Colt .45 and taking a swig of malt liquor.

"I won't," answered Time Warner, "because I'm stuck in your door."

"Yeah," I said, putting away my Colt .45 and took out a .38 Special and pointed it at him.

"Put away that old school Southern Rock band," said Time Warner. "I want to hire you."

"Why me?" I asked, "we didn't get along that well the last time."

"Your driving a tank through my office wall shows you have gumption," said Time Warner, "and obviously good credit to rent it. I admire gumption, almost as much as I admire small companies that I can take over."

"What's your problem?" I asked returning .38 Special to the closet they shared with The Knack.

"I can't use the Watchmen," said Time Warner.

"Don't you have too much anyway?" I asked. "You got producers showing product to other companies left and right, your precious synergy at work, and you're delaying big projects for specious reasons, why not one more."

"Quit bringing up our weak business practices," said Time Warner, "I want to find out the real reason why we can't have the Watchmen. They've all been locked up, and I want to know why!"

"Don't you already have lawyers and that to figure it all out?"

"Yes," grumbled Time Warner, "but they use big words, and big words make me tired. Solve this case and I'll let you keep the wallet you and Harry Potter stole the last time."

"All right," I said. "But on one condition."

"Name it."

"The next Superman movie can't suck," I said, "damn he was a whiny bastard."


My first stop was to get the story right from the horse's mouth.

But the horse didn't have the gift of speech, being a horse, which made me wonder why I kept going to him for information.

So I went to talk to the Watchmen themselves.

They were locked up in a special prison downtown, and were normally denied visitors, but since I wasn't normal, I was let in.

"They're in the last cell on the left," said the guard, a surly man who thought Right Guard was only for his right armpit, "next to the cast of
The Hobbit."

They were all there, Dr. Manhattan, Silk Spectre 1 & 2, Nite Owl, Rorschach, The Comedian, and Ozymandias.

"Hey pal," said the Comedian, "what's the deal with airline peanuts?"

Damn it, he wasn't going to be any use, he was doing early Seinfeld.

"Does anyone know who I am?" I asked.

"I do," said Ozymandias, "but I won't tell. Because if anyone else knew what I knew, I wouldn't be the smartest man in the world anymore."

"Am I blue..." sang Dr. Manhattan, obviously driven insane by his incarceration.

"Oooh-oooh! Mr. Kotter! Mr. Kotter!" said Rorschach, forgetting that he wasn't Horshak.

"Let me cut to the chase," I said, "I'm a private dick hired to find out why you're locked up."

"We don't know," said Nite Owl.

"I know," said Ozymandias, "but I'm not telling."

"Shut the fuck up you cracker bastard," snapped the Comedian, moving into Richard Pryor.

"Try asking the lawyers," said Silk Spectre 1, flashing me a wink.

"Don't be such a skank," snapped her daughter Silk Spectre 2.

"Ladies," I said, "you can both share when you get out."

"We weren't fighting over you," snapped both women. "We were just fighting."

"Here we go again," said Nite Owl.

I knew that further questioning wasn't going to get me anything but references to history, poety, William S. Burroughs, and pop culture, so I left to see the lawyers.


"Hello Sugarbuns," I said the receptionist, Sugarbuns McGee.

"Hello Furious," she answered while giving her extensions a flirty flip. "What can Screwem, Hard, & Long do for you?"

"I need to know why the Watchmen are locked up?" I asked.

"There's nothing we can do about it," she answered, "their lockup was ordered by the Fox."

"Michael J. Fox?"

"The Fox," answered Sugarbuns, "the 20th Century Fox."

"Then I should go pay this Fox a visit."


The 20th Century Fox lived in a castle made entirely of recycled tabloid newspapers. I gave a short rap to the front door, but the front door didn't respond to my particular brand of freestyle hip-hop, so I knocked.

"Who's got the cobblers to bother me!" growled a voice with a distinctive Aussie flavour, "I was just about to toss another shrimp on the barbie!" Then came the shriek and sizzle of a little person being tossed on a grill. "I'll beat their arse!"

A face, attached to a head, which was stuck to a body, peered over the battlement.

"What d'ya want you arsehole?" said the Face.

"Are you the 20th Century Fox?"

"I preferred to just be called Fox," answered The Fox.

"I came here to find out why you locked up the Watchmen," I said.

"That's easy," responded the Fox, "they were supposed to work for me, but then they went to work for the Warner Brothers, but I own their asses!"

"If you own their asses," I asked, "why didn't you do anything when they tried working with the other studios, why lock them up now?"

"Because those other jobs didn't go through," growled the Fox, "but the Warner Brothers actually got them working, and to top it all off, the trailer looks pretty bad-ass, and since my business plan of driving away all potential hitmakers kept me from having any $100 million+ hits this summer, I decided to be a dick about everything and sue."

I shrugged, it was the only thing that came close to making sense in Hollywood.


Monday, 18 August 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #151: Age Before Beauty?

A tip of my weatherbeaten stetson to Nikki Finke for this little notice that there might be the beginnings of a settlement between Hollywood and a group of television writers who have filed a class action lawsuit against studios, networks, and agencies, over ageism. It seems that in the 1990s the major networks stopped hiring many writers over 40, because the nets didn't think these wizened scribes could sell soap to the young'uns, and these writers, being Americans, filed a lawsuit.

This is an example of what I call Juvenile Dementia, the condition that afflicts almost every facet of business in Hollywood. You see the marketing gurus tell Hollywood that the youth market is the only target worth aiming for, because once you hook them to whatever brands you're shilling, you'll have them for life. So Hollywood then aggressively pursues not only the youth market but the idea of youth itself. Maturation is looked at like cancer, something to be avoided at all costs, and if it does happen to you, then you must fight it with Botox and cosmetic surgery, which is the Hollywood equivalent of chemotherapy, until your face is not only devoid of all signs of age, but of human expression as well.

Now it wasn't always like this.

Which means we're going to get a little history. This is more than a blog, it's an education.

For a good chunk of the 1930s the number one box office star in the world, the entire freaking world, was Marie Dressler, a chunky 60-something vaudeville actress from Canada who could never be mistaken for the sylph-like yet curiously buxom nymphettes Hollywood wants for ever role these days.

Her appeal was based on her talent for comedy and drama, and her ability to make her characters, even the unpleasant or outlandish ones, sympathetic and human. And she put more bums in theatre seats the world over than anyone else in show-biz.

Thus the Golden Age of Hollywood had stars of different ranges in age and looks, their status based on their appeal to the general audience.

But when World War 2 ended everything changed. Economic prosperity coincided with a massive explosion in the population, call the Baby Boom, and it would reshape society for good or ill.

The 1950s saw the origin of a separate teen culture, founded on rock & roll, mild rebellion, and movies marketed directly to this teen audience, and this got even more profound in the 1960s when the Baby Boomers started feeling their oats in a haze of pot smoke, bad hair, and ugly clothing.

During the late 1960s and 1970s the first baby boomers started to infiltrate the aging closed shop of Hollywood, thanks to the wide open back door of successful independent producer/director Roger Corman.

This generation was different from the "Greatest Generation" that preceded them who endured the Great Depression and fought Nazism in WW2. The Baby Boomers generally lived a life of comparable priviledge, never knowing the hardship their parents knew at their age, and they defined themselves by their comparative youth, summed up with the pointless slogan of "Don't trust anyone over 30."

They took this ethos with them, driving out the old guard bit by bit, and putting their own particular stamp on popular culture. A stamp which was essentially obsessed with youth, mostly their own youth. If yo
u grew up in the 1980s and survived the inundation of 60s nostalgia.

Of course the folks that followed Boomers really didn't care about that shrill pointless decade of the 1960s, putting the Boomers in power in the position of the Hollywood old guard they replaced. Everything now had to skew young, young, young, not only to perpetuate the myth of Baby Boomer's perpetual youth, but to hit that magic money formula the marketing gurus told them to look for.

Which creates the quandary Hollywood is in right now.

One part of that generation of 60s-70s kids wants to be the kings of the sandbox forever, while another part, usually the part in power, wants to shed what they consider the dead weight in order to make thems
elves feel "hip" and "with it."

So the middle agers in power, dump the middle agers below them, and bring in what they think will be young and hungry talent. (Specifically young and hungry enough to work cheaper and with a weaker understanding of their rights as creators sometimes the money drive and ego drive work hand in hand)

But this new talent may be young, hungry, & cheaper, but the blood ain't as fresh as it should be. Their relative inexperience, both in running businesses, and with the real world leave them completely unde
r the thumb of their elders in the head offices. Elders whose idea of connecting with youth is to slap together some trend chasing, catchphrase spewing, abomination completely devoid of creativity or originality so masterfully satirized in the episode of the Simpsons which saw the creation of the character Poochie.

So in their pursuit of youth, they end up driving youth away to things like video games and the internet. I wouldn't criticize it that badly if it worked, but it doesn't work at all.

My advice, well, kids don't really care about the age of the person writing the story, because that info isn't usually included in the credits. All they really care about is a good story that entertains them. Once they pass the Miley Cyrus/Jonas Bros./Disney brainwashing age, they're usually repulsed by shameless pandering.

So perhaps judge writers not on their age, but on their merit. I know it's a lot of work, but it does makes for a better product. And when looking for fresh blood, look for real fresh blood, I'm not talking about hiring younger and younger folks. I'm talking about recruiting way outside the narrow confines of the Axis of Ego, for folks who don't follow the Hollywood mindset that was locked in during the 1970s.

Who knows, Hollywood might start creating trends again, instead of chasing them.

Triumph At Comic-Con

Good ol' Triumph the insult comic dog bites the geeks at Comic Con in San Diego.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

The Case of the Waylaid Wizard

The sky above was smoky grey as forest fires munched on Malibu mansions in the distance. The neon sign outside my office window buzzed and flickered like the products it advertised in the store below my office. But I didn't sell those kinds of pleasures, what I sold was peace of mind to people with too much fame, too much money, and too little intelligence, that's right, I worked for Hollywood. Hollywood needs me, because I'm Furious D, and I'm a Dick, a Private Dick.

My intercom buzzed, the surprise snapped me out of my impromptu siesta, not only because it held the promise of a case, but because I didn't own an intercom.

"There's a lady here to see you," said the voice of my secretary over the intercom. Which also surprised me because I didn't have a secretary.

"Come on in," I said, running a comb through my hair with one hand, popping mints to hide the scent of gin with another, and straightening my tie with the other.... What other?

The door opened, and in walked a helluva dame, Dame Judy Dench to be exact.

"Is this office of the William Morris Agency?" she asked.

"They're down the hall," I replied, "Go to the Janitor's closet and knock three times."

"Thanks," said Judy Dench as she left, and in walked a tall cold drink of water.

The drink of water was in the hands of a long legged femme of the sub-species fatale. I knew those legs that went all the way from the feet to the hips, those ruby lips, red like... um... rubies, with matching hair, swaying seductively, thanks to the wind machine that followed her, and an attitude.

"Well if it isn't Gladiola Hassenfeffer," I said, "I haven't seen you in a long time. Weren't you killed off the last time?"

"Who has the time to read through all that," said Gladiola, "and this is a blog story that's made up on the spot, who really cares about continuity. Don't you recall I like my friends to call me Lola."

"I don't recall us being friends," I said.

"Then think of me as a client," said Lola as one hand dipped into her ample cleavage, pulled out an envelope, and tossed it on my desk. I picked it up, it smelled like lavender and Vick's vapo rub, and it was stuffed with $100 bills. I'm talking money, cash, payola, spondooliks, moola, mucho dinaro...

"Will you stop coming up with slang terms for money in the narration," asked Lola, "I need a dick."

"I'm sure you do," I said, leering lasciviously.

"I don't have time for the usual innuendos," snapped Lola, "I have a case for you."

"What kind of case?" I asked. "Briefcase, suitcase, valise, trunk...?"

"Put down the fucking thesaurus," snapped Lola, "and quit trying to fill out this story. It's a missing person case."

"Oh," I said, slipping the envelope into my pocket. "Who's missing?"

"Harry Potter," said Lola.

"That's big," I said, "and by 'big' I mean expensive, costly, overpriced..."

"Cut it out and find him," said Lola.

"Who is he?" I asked.

"The boy wizard," said Lola.

I shrugged.

"Biggest publishing phenomenon since Guttenberg's Bible?" added Lola, her green eyes sparking with anger.

I shrugged again.

"They also make movies from these books," said Lola, "big movies. The latest one was supposed to be out this fall, but now he's missing, and might not be seen until July."

"Oh," I said, faking my way through it, "that Harry Potter. So you want me to find this punk, and what do I do when I find him. Want his legs broken? Cause that costs extra."

"I just want him found," said Lola. "People are worried that his next picture is going to suck harder than an electrified sucking machine, and we need to hear the truth!"

"All right," I said, "who was he last seen with?"

"He's been hanging out with the Warner Brothers since he got into movies," said Lola, "I suggest you start there."

"They're a heavy crew," I said.

"One of the heaviest," added Lola, for no real reason before sashaying out my office. While I hated for her to go, I did enjoy watching her leave.

"Quit ogling my ass you perv," snapped Lola.


"Hello Toots," I said to the receptionist Toots McGee.

"Hello Furious," replied Toots, flashing me her $1200 smile, and some of her $5,000 cleavage. "Are you here as a dick?"

"I'm here on business."

"What kind of business?" she asked.

"Bad business," I answered.

"How bad?"

"As bad as this faux-noir banter," I said. "I need to see the Warner Brothers."

"What about?"

"It's about a kid named Harry Potter."

"I'll see if they're available," she said, picking up her phone.

"I'll wait," I said. The Warner Brothers were big players here in La-La Land, running all the rackets they could get their hands on. Movies, TV, magazines, books, comics, and just about anything else that could be watched, read, or otherwise geeked out over.

"They're sending someone to collect you," said Toots.

Suddenly a big black shape appeared in front of me.

"Christian Bale?" I asked.

"I'm Batman," replied the shape with pointy ears. "And you have to go."

"Listen Bub," I said, "I want to talk to the Warner Brothers, and I'm going to talk to the Warner Brothers."

"You'll have to get past me first," replied Batman.

"If that's how you want it," I said, "but I ain't your momma, and I must warn you that I know Judo." To be specific, it was Judo Johnson who ran an Orange Julius stand at the mall.

I was just about to get into my proper fighting stance when he smacked me with a big bag of money.


When I regained consciousness I was in a dumpster outside the headquarters of the Warner Brothers.

"Get out of my office," growled a voice.

I looked up and saw Robert Shaye shaking his fist, the sleeves of his tailored imported suit were frayed, and he reeked of disgrace, humiliation, and Rub A535.

"I gotta production company to run!" he grumbled as I climbed out of the dumpster which had a crudely scrawled cardboard sign stuck to the side declaring it the hq of Unique Pictures, "I gotta a lot of work to do on the sequel to The Golden Compass!"

As I left Shaye to his rambling dreams of comebacks, I realized that if I was going to get to the bottom of this case I needed to be subtle.

And for that I needed a tank.


"So," said Ted, of Ted's Tanks & Artillery Rental as he pocketed the cash, "what do you need the Abrams for?"

"I need to talk to some folks about Harry Potter," I answered, client confidentiality was never a strong suit with me, "he's missing, and needs to be found."

"I thought he went missing because he was flashing his weeny in that play on Broadway," mused Ted.

"That's a New York thing," I said, "and what happens in New York, stays in New York."

"I thought that was Vegas?"

"I doesn't really matter," I said. "Besides, if anyone really cared and wanted to stop him, all they had to do was go to the dress rehearsal and yell: 'I've seen more meat on a dirty fork.'"

"True," said Ted.

"And not only that," I added, "unlike us, the kids who watch Harry Potter only really care about the stories, and don't really care too much about the actors unless they're somehow unable to do their job, or obnoxious adults shove it in their faces."

"Good point," said Ted, as he tossed me the keys to the tank. "Have fun."


"Damn it," grumbled Batman from beneath the tread of my rented Abrams tank.

"Now can I see the Warner Brothers?" I asked.

"Hell no," grumbled Batman. "They're making me rich, nobody bothers them!"

Since I couldn't appeal to his sense of reason, I decided to appeal to his sense of fist.

"All right," said a voice after I whaled on Batman for a while, "enough with the beating, we'll see you."

"You know," croaked Batman, "you could have said that ten minutes ago!"

The door opened and I walked in to be the first outsider to go to face to face, mano e mano, toe to toe with the famous Warner Brothers.

"So," moaned a figure whose physique made Marlon Brando at his worse look like Nicole Richie after a purge splurge. "I should introduce myself, I'm Time Warner."

"I'm Aol Warner," said the second brother, (pronounce A-hole) even fatter than the other. His suit, which was tight, had been a circus tent in a previous life.

"And I'm C.N.N. Warner," said the last brother, the folds of his multiple chins, more numerous than the Chins in the Beijing phone book, jiggled with each word.

"Do you know why I'm here?" I asked.

They attempted to nod, but their neckfat got in the way.

"Where's the Potter kid?" I asked.

"He's safe," said Aol Warner, a young hand poking out from between two folds of flab, before Aol pushed it back in again, "and he'll come out in July."

"I thought it was January?"

"You're an illiterate," said Time Warner.

"And you're ugly too," said CNN Warner.

"Well at least I'm the thinnest man in the room," I said. "Hand over the kid. Before I break out the shop-vac and start doing some home liposuction."

"You can't harm us," said Time Warner, "we're too big!"

"Too rich," added Aol.

"And too powerful," said CNN.

"We also have a secret weapon," said Time Warner.

"A powerful weapon," added Aol for no other reason than hearing the sound of his own voice.

"It's called Synergy!" concluded CNN. "A perfectly running corporate machine. You see, we made a lot of money off of the Dark Knight."

"A helluva lot of money," added Aol, provided nothing of any use, again.

"And we figured that having Harry Potter open in the fall would be too much too soon," said Time Warner. "So we bumped him back to July of next year."

"Don't you see what that's done?" I asked. The Warner Brothers just stared at me with blank looks on their obese faces.

"Folks are now speculating that the movie's going to suck," I said, "or that you're angry over the actor appearing Equus and that it'll somehow change the film into a nudity fest, and your own magazines aren't cluing into the plan in time to change their cover stories."

"Yeah," said Time Warner, "that did piss me off."

"So why not let the kid go," I said.

"And admit a mistake?" they all said horrified. "Never!"

"Besides," said Aol Warner, "we've got a movie called Twilight taking over the tentpole position this fall. It should do great!"

"I don't think you guys made Twilight," I said.

"Shit," said Time Warner.

"But we make everything!" blurted out CNN Warner. "Don't we?"

"No," I said, "there's still some competition left."

"We must stop this thing called competition!" declared Time Warner.

"Damn right!" added Aol.

"It might force us to do actual work!" stated CNN Warner.

They great bulky forms started to move, and I saw my chance. While they were slowly waddling to the door I lunged toward Aol and shoved my hand into the roles of flab. It was like sticking my hand into a vat of meringue, but I felt another hand, grabbed it and pulled.

"Thanks a lot bud-dy!" said the poor creature I pulled out.

"Pauly Shore!" damn, wrong lost person. "Get back in there and send Harry Potter out."

I shoved Pauly Shore back into the folds of corporate flab, and out popped Harry Potter.

"Let's run for it kiddo," I said, "there's an army of eager kids and geeky adults waiting to see you."

"Thank you sir," said Harry Potter, "how can I thank you?"

"What have you got?" I asked.

"Aol's wallet," said Harry holding up a wallet stuffed with large bills, that had been made from the skins of smaller media companies.

"Then it's humvees for everyone!" I said, and we made a run for it.