Sunday, 31 May 2009

Hear All About It!!

Here's an embedded audio player with the Mike Hanson Sha'Daa: Tales of the Apocalypse interview on the Dark Fiction Show. I'm listening to it myself right now.

And if you want to order the book, then click my widget...

Sunday Survey Question: Guilty Pleasures

Today I'm going ask you, my occasional readers to offer up a confession, if you will, to your movie-pop culture related guilty pleasures.

I'll start. My guilty pleasure for some reason are British murder mystery TV movies. If a show featuring Inspector Morse, Adam Dalgliesh, or the corpse of the lecherous Lord Autumnbottom turning up in the vicar's rose garden, comes on, I'm going to watch it, and if it's well done, I'll probably enjoy it.

I'm not sure where it comes from, having been inducted into crime fiction via Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Jim Thompson, I was positive that I'd be solely into film noir, and other more "gritty" productions, and eschew the unhip "cozy" genre, but while I love film noir, they are not my secret movie crack.

So what are your pop-culture guilty pleasures?

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Saturday Silliness Cinema: 2 Bits of Fry & Laurie

Time for my usual break from ranting about the business of show business to have a larf.

Before he became the curmudgeonly Dr. House, Hugh Laurie was part of the comedy team Fry & Laurie, with longtime comedy partner Stephen Fry.

Today we have a couple of choice bits from their BBC TV show.


Friday, 29 May 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #294: More Miscellaneous Movie Musings


Word is out that a Hollywood studio is looking to remake Girls Just Want To Have Fun, a 1980s high school comedy that was otherwise forgotten as anything but a trivia question because it marked some of the first movie work of Helen Hunt and Sarah Jessica Parker.

My only question is: Why?

The original film didn't really make any sort of effect other than giving some then unknown actresses a paycheck. Plus, it's title was just a blatant attempt to cash in on the popularity of a Cyndi Lauper song. This remake is already dated before it's been made. If they want a high school comedy, just hire some young writers and directors to make a new one for you. It worked for Superbad.

Don't be so scared of new ideas that you're already scraping way below the bottom of the barrel for material.

And don't get me started on the reports that Fox wants to remake Alien.

It was done right the first time!


The inventor of the wall of sound will spend 15 to life staring at a wall of concrete. That's right, Phil Spector was sentenced this week, and it looks more like a life sentence at his age. Of course Lana Clarkson, the poor actress he shot, got the death penalty for something that made sense only in the snakepit of Spector's mind.

Didn't Spector know, that when you're rich and insane, you are supposed to be eccentric, not homicidal.


Word is that Jim Wiatt, the exiting CEO of WMA, will be getting $16 million as part of his exit package during the merger with Endeavor to form WME.

Now I don't know the details, but I am assuming that they're going to put some sort of non-compete fee into his final severance package. A non-compete fee is when the new management of a company pay the outgoing management an agreed upon sum to ensure that the outgoing management won't start up their own company and compete with them. Usually they have an expiry date of about five years.

This $16 mil might only be the beginning, and I hope that Wiatt gets WME to include a promise not to prosecute him over a non-compete fee. Newspaper mogul Conrad Black was indicted for taking such a fee for himself when he sold some of his newspapers, which led to his ouster from the company by board members who claimed that they deserved a piece of it. Those same board members then drove the company into ruin within a matter of months, proving that it was right for Black to get the money. (Black was ultimately convicted of "obstruction of justice" for moving boxes of records that he had been asked to move by his accusers, it's currently under appeal)


The race for the leadership of the Screen Actors Guild is reportedly between actors Martin Sheen, and James Cromwell.

I personally think that whoever wins, they need someone who won't be blinded by ideology, and remember that they are in a business, and that people's livelihoods are at stake, and not to be sacrificed for a cause.

They also need someone who can end the rifts, both internal, and with the other unions, that have plagued SAG throughout this situation, and get the union in fighting shape.

I wish them luck.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

A Quick piece of Self Promotion...

Mike Hanson, the creator of Sha'Daa: Tales of the Apocalypse, a novel-anthology hybrid to which I contributed Chapter 6: Dixie Chrononauts, will be appearing on the Ben Eads Dark Fiction Show, on Saturday May 30th, at 11 PM EST.

If you can't catch it live, you can download it as a podcast and listen to it at your leisure.

And if you would like a copy of the book then click my widget...

Hollywood Babble On & On #293: Miscellaneous Musings


The Time Warner mega-conglomerate spat out its one-time dominant partner AOL after about 9 years of slowly sinking so it can become an independent publicly traded company.

When the merger happened all the self-proclaimed "experts" were saying that it was the greatest thing the business world had ever seen, and dropping lame buzzwords like "synergy" in all directions like a monkey hurling feces. Now myself, who is not an expert, figured that it was probably going to be an even bigger business blunder than New Coke.

Guess who turned out to be right?

That's because companies are a lot like people. They can grow, but once they hit a certain line they stop getting big and start getting fat, and then have a big corporate coronary.

At the time of the merger both companies had hit the extent of their growth, and decided to do the corporate equivalent of cleaning out an all you can eat buffet solo.

This was the peak of the dot-com bubble, so AOL was extremely overvalued, and when the bubble burst, it ended up with a lot of debt and a business that can be described as stagnant at best.

But that wasn't the only thing that didn't pass the smell test with me when I first heard about it.

You see, in business, companies have a comfort zone, and both Time Warner and AOL were going way past their comfort zones, simply because the dot-com bubble was making promises that no industry could keep. It was a merger based not on sound business principles, but on financial hysteria, like tulip growers merging in 16th century Holland, it just couldn't work in the real world.

But what do I know, I'm not an expert.


An anti-smoking group is going around Hollywood with this vehicle: (ht- Nikki Finke)
Now I know that movies have the power to sell, that's a given.

However, and I don't mean to sound brutal, but I think a case can be argued that any kid who willingly takes dried leaves bathed in toxic chemicals and wrapped in paper, sets it on fire, and then puts it in their mouth in order to inhale the known toxic gases it emits, for the transient yet addictive joys of nicotine and pretty much inevitable death by lung cancer, just because they saw Hugh Jackman puff a cigar in Wolverine, is not really a tragedy, but natural selection at work.

I mean we've had 30+ years of anti-smoking education, and anyone choosing to smoke these days, should probably puff themselves into oblivion before dipping their toe into the gene pool.

Yes, movies can sell things, history is loaded with examples, but can the "bad-ass" attitude of Wolverine really compete with a human lung riddled with tumors, slowly oozing black slime, and reeking of tar, medical preservatives, and a subtle whiff of putrefaction shown at a school presentation? Because people still have free will, and if it is their will to choose tumor tar lung, then that's their choice and they will have to live with the consequences.

Besides smoking is expensive, inconvenient, and really limp making in a sexual sense to me. If I see a woman smoking a cigarette, no matter how hot she may look, she's automatically deleted from my fantasy file. I'm afraid it's because my imagination is a little too vivid, and there's nothing like the memory of tobacco breath to act like anti-viagra.


Okay, I just caught a preview of Werner Herzog's "re-imagining" of Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant, and it raises the question: What does this film have to do with the original?

I mean it looks like it has a different plot, location, themes, and leading character. In fact, the only similarity I can see is that both films feature police lieutenants with drug and corruption problems.

So why didn't they just give the film a different title and avoid the remake controversy altogether?

I mean I'm used to some strange logic in film-making, but this makes less sense than usual.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #292: Marketing & Free Markets

Despite record breaking box-office tallies the major studios are asking the marketing firms that handle trailers and advertising to take some pretty major cuts. In response the marketers made this video: (ht Nikki Finke)

If they wanted to make the video more in keeping with the real situation, the people trying to get out of paying for what they want should tell the vendors that they want to keep the money so Grampa, the CEO of the family so to speak, can piss it all away on slot machines.

This whole affair, and this video specifically, illustrates that the people who run Hollywood don't know the first thing about real capitalism.

First, in a truly free market, free of fraud a coercion, the price that's available is what the market can bear. Now some have a little wiggle room for haggling, but that's rare, and even then it's not much wiggle room. The object costs because that's what it costs.

Second is that capitalism is the only system designed to give both sides of every deal what they want. Because in a capitalist system without fraud and coercion everyone is supposed to walk away happy. The buyer gets what they wanted, and the vendor got a good price for what they were selling.

It's simple logic really.

However, this is Hollywood we're talking about, and logic doesn't hold sway in this magical little kingdom.

In Hollywood all business is based on fraud and coercion. From tricking people into signing for a piece of the net, which is never seen, to bullying suppliers with the threat of starting their own internal marketing departments to drive them out of business.

Which takes me to the second stupid thing about this situation.

The marketing agencies that the studios are currently feuding with, were created because the studios didn't like paying so much for running their own marketing departments and shut them down in favour of cheaper freelance contractors.

It's the circle of stupid.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #291: Flogging a Dead Franchise

In the aftermath of Terminator Salvation's lukewarm reception producer/director Fran Rubel Kuzui has decided to reboot the Buffy The Vampire Slayer franchise for the big screen sans creator Joss Whedon, or definitive Buffy Sarah Michelle Gellar, or Alyson Hannigan as nerd-goddess Willow.

This shows one of the fundamental problems with franchise films. Hollywood studios are just a little too eager to revamp, reimagine, and reboot any franchise at the drop of a hat, with little or no thought as to whether or not that franchise can be rebooted.

You see, Buffy has already been rebooted and completed. The first incarnation was an uneven and mostly forgotten bit of cinematic camp Kuzui directed almost 20 years ago. The reboot was handled by creator/show-runner Joss Whedon and it became a cult classic that brought a level of wit, charm, and well developed characters to the horror/dark fantasy TV genre.

It also had an ending.

Do you see what I'm getting at?

Then allow me to explain.

The Buffy TV series went farther narratively than the usual "monster of the week" that would be delivered by a lesser series. The characters had arcs, they changed over time, they made new friends, enemies, lovers, and loathers, and it all wrapped up in a big final battle that wrapped everything up and left the characters off to find new adventures in other places.

While the characters live on in a Whedon overseen comic book series at Dark Horse, those who only know it from the TV show, have a sense of completion. It's over, it's done, and let's all move on.

A reboot of a product like that, with already well defined characters, and storylines, seems like nothing more than a shameless cash grab, rather than the promise of something new. Creating new characters and plots for the franchise is essentially pissing in the ears of fans and telling them that it's raining. It's telling the fans that the story and characters they invested so much in during the show's run, was nothing, ignore it, forget it, and give me money for this whole new thing with an old familiar name, because my last Hollywood credit was in 2004. It makes fans feel cheated.

And the promise to make this new project somehow "darker" and "edgier" shows a lack of knowledge of the show that Kuzui is credited as executive producer. The show dealt with grief, depression, insanity, corruption, murder, and often killed off popular characters to serve the story. You really can't get much darker than that, unless you make Buffy a drug addict who only hallucinates vampires and is actually slaying small orphan children.

Buffy is what I call a "Story" franchise, and like the Terminator, it had a beginning, a middle, and an end. And when it was finished, folks accepted the ending and moved on.

Now not all franchises are Story Franchises. They are what I call Premise Franchises. Now it is tricky to tell them apart, but it can be done.

The classic example are the James Bond series. Unlike Buffy it is a story that never ends, because it is really just a premise. James Bond is a secret agent, and he fight international super-villains. That's pretty much it. Some of the stories have character arcs within them, but Bond will still be Bond by the next movie, and there will always be another super-villian. Unlike Buffy, he will never have a final battle and close the hellmouth that attracts supervillians like moths to flames.

That's why Bond goes on, through half a dozen actors, and even more writers and directors. The same can be said of superhero franchises, which deals more with the hero meeting new villain premise over an overarching storyline.

Now many thought Star Trek was a Story Franchise, but recent events show that it's actually more of a Premise Franchise. The premise being Kirk goes to Uranus to wipe out Klingons, visit strange new worlds, etc... etc...

Maybe that was because the original series already established the potential for alternate timelines, several times over, and the reboot using that premise didn't offend the geeks.

Buffy doesn't have alternate universes, it just has Sunnydale, and a once ditzy girl and her friends being forced to grow up in order to save the world.

So if you want to reboot a franchise, you must first establish whether or not you're going to make people feel cheated by seeing it.

It's just that easy.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #290: Terminated By Greed?

Sorry for the late posting, life does get in the way sometimes, but here I am.


Terminator: Salvation opened in second, to what many consider a lukewarm opening. Those many are already branding the film a failure. It might end up failing, it was very expensive to make, and it really needed a killer opening weekend to put it over the hump.

Their second mistake was opening it against a big budget family
oriented fantasy sequel like Night At The Museum: Battle of the Gift Shop. They should have aimed for a weekend with less overt competition, even if it meant sacrificing a 3 day weekend take.

But their first mistake was in screwing up the franchise big time.

To get that precious opening weekend for a sci-fi/fantasy franchise the franchise has win over the geeks, the hard core sf fans who line up down the block to buy tickets, and who then see the film several more times if they like it.

But in order to attract the geeks, the franchise has to have some value to it, and it has to at least make a little bit, a scintilla, if you will, of sense.

You see
Terminator 3 played around with the continuity established by T2. Some folks forgave them for that, because T2 did the same to T1, and sci-fi fans can accept some playing around with time travel. But then came the Sarah Connor Chronicles, which screwed the continuity up so much you don't know what the hell happens to John Connor, and you just stop caring.

That's what happened to me when I realized that they were doing a
Terminator TV series, as well as a new planned trilogy of feature films. It struck me as a desperate attempt to milk a franchise that new owners probably paid too much for to begin with. You knew that there will never be a final victory in the war between man and machine, because some executive will then hire some scribbler to come up with a cheap excuse to start it all over again. Sure, time travel creates some pretty convoluted plots, but there's a line, and when you cross that line, you've screwed your story into the ground, and I don't think it will get out.

The geeks may not be able to express it, but they smell that desperation, and despite Bale's charisma as an action star, which is what I think brought in the $50 million, I just got the feeling that they just couldn't forgive the new owners for what they did to the

Sunday, 24 May 2009

An Evening With Jon Peters

An Open Letter
To Hollywood
special guest
The Greatest Movie Producer
The World Has Ever Known

I just don't fucking believe it.

First everybody shits a kitten when Nikki Finke gets her mitts on my book proposal and starts blabbing about it all over this
enter-web thingy, and I get all sorts of threats of lawsuits and shit if I don't pull out of the deal like Catholic birth control.

Well, I pulled it out, are you happy now?


I thought you people were my friends?

Sure, none of you have anything nice to say about me, and my book didn't have anything nice in it about you, but come on. It would have been a fucking bitching book!

And I know books, I read one once!

It has fucking, it has bitch slaps, it's got even more fucking, and the ending where I beat up that giant fucking
mekanikal robot spider was the greatest thing ever written.

But what do I get?

I get the most powerful people in all of Hollywood looking to put my
tastekels testekels balls in a sling over it.

Goes to show that I still got it.

Because getting all those
emportent big people coming after me shows that I am still the biggest ballsiest bad-ass producer in all the land, and not someone who once had the run of a studio and all he got done was getting himself dismasst shit-canned for wasting millions.

I am still the king!!

*As determined by the Jon Peters Institute for Measuring the Greatness of Producers.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Saturday Silliness Cinema: 2 Canadian Stand-Ups

Sorry for not blogging yesterday, too much to do, too little time. But I do have my regular Saturday comedy video break for you all to enjoy with another installment of Canadian stand-up comedians.

First up John Wing with a touching song about a break-up...

Next up Erica Sigurdson explaining why she doesn't have children, but what she'd do if she did...

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #289: Miscellaneous Movie Related Musings...


Word is going around that a major studio is planning to do a movie version of the board game
Battleship. It was this news that inspired me to start my internet rumour about a movie version of Hungry-Hungry Hippo. (Which I expect you to spread everywhere.)

Now I don't know why Hollywood decided to pay a toy company lots of money to license the movie rights to a game when there are literally hundreds of naval battle stories in the public domain known as
history. (Sure, some life rights may need to be cleared, but that's minor)

There's the sinking of the Bismarck, Midway, Coral Sea, and if you want to go way back, try Trafalgar, Lepanto, and the good part is that the really ancient battles are free, totally free!!!!

And if you're the studio that's made movies about the Bismarck or Midway, then you're halfway there already, because you probably already own the remake rights.

Sure, there's that hobgoblin of small minded marketers called "name recognition," but that's not all it's cracked up to be. Millions know the name of Nicole Kidman, but they won't pay good money to see her in a movie.

Speaking of remakes...


Chinatown producer Robert Evans is heading up a big screen adaptation of the short lived British series UFO. Now some may wonder why Evans, who was a major force at Paramount in the 1970s would try to make a movie based on a show that was really only a minor cult favourite?

Well, I think I know why. The premise of the story is that Commander Ed Straker runs a secret organization called SHADO, whose mission is to protect humanity from aliens intent on harvesting our organs. Straker's cover story is that he's the
CEO of a movie studio.

Face it, this is the closest it will ever come to a Hollywood CEO being cast as a hero.

I'm surprised Evans was the first to try for a remake.


Former hairdresser turned producer and former Sony Pictures boss Jon Peters is floating around a proposal hoping to attract a publisher to his autobiography. You have to read it for yourself to believe it, so read it, and come back. I'll wait....


Did you read it?

Man, wasn't that a tad self-aggrandizing?

If I didn't know that it was serious, I'd have thought that it was a parody.


The plan is to call the book
Studio Head, but I think it needs a different, better, and more accurate title. So here are my suggestions:

-A Boy & His Ego

-Hollywood Ozymandias: Look Upon My Wang Ye Mighty & Despair

-I Slept With Streisand, I Earned That Credit!

-Everything Goes Better With A Giant Mechanical Spider!

(If you have your own suggestion for a title, leave it in the comments)

A little humility goes a long way, especially when you have collected half the enemies that Peters has allegedly collected over the years.

I predict that Peters will get a couple of million for the book, and the only way it'll every be profitable is if the publisher sells it for $500,000 a copy. Because I'm very doubtful that anyone outside of the attorneys of the people mentioned in this book will buying it.


No it's not a letter from Jon Peters' lawyers, he hasn't found this blog yet. I'm talking about William Morris-Endeavor telling other agencies to stop poaching their people.

It's natural, Hollywood agencies are the most like sharks, not because they devour people, that depends on the individual agent, but because they have to be constantly moving forward.

When word of the WM-E merger got out, I'm certain that every other major agency in town smelled the coming layoffs like blood in the water, and instantly made a wish-list of agents and clients they wanted, and swooped in.

You can't blame them. They're just doing what nature intended, and it's perfectly natural for WM-E to protect their turf.


I'm still looking for one, as I reported yesterday. Today involved some research and the preparation of a new synopsis/cover letter for my novel
Joe Average. Just the drudgery of getting the work out there. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009


By now you've probably heard that some British newspapers have picked up a joke made on Defamer about Martin Scorcese casting Jamie Foxx as Frank Sinatra, and run it as a real story.

Well, I think it's time for another internet rumour tainting the news, and I think it should start here.

So I want you, all two of my loyal readers to pass around an alleged "test" poster of a film allegedly in development at Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment. I want this all over the internet and I want major newspapers running it on their front page as soon as possible.
Start spreading the word because I want to do more than just analyze the news, I want to make the news, even if it's complete hippo-shit.

Hollywood Babble On & On #288: Miscellaneous Musings


What are they up to at Relativity Media? First they buy Rogue Pictures, a company with no distribution and a questionable library, from Universal, then they go into a lame "brand awareness" deal for Rogue with the Hard Rock Casino, and now they're buying up MGM's debt.

MGM has a lot of crushing debt that's keeping the company from moving forward, and Relativity could be buying it up in order force a bankruptcy and gain control of the company, either as their own distributor, or to strip it down and sell off the assets for a profit.

I've already discussed what should be done with MGM, and a commenter added that some money might be had selling the MGM trademark to Warner Bros. (Who own the MGM golden age library), but the question is, does Relativity have what it takes to do what needs to be done. Saving the venerable studio is really not an option anymore, it's history, it's toast, it's done and dusted, what has to be done is a complete reinvention of the entire shebang.


Director and suspected thespian Kenneth Branagh has picked an Aussie actor Chris Hemwsworth for the title role in Marvel Comics movie adaptation of The Mighty Thor. Now I noticed that some of the commentariat at Nikki Finke's site are a little miffed that the role didn't go to an American actor.

Well there are two reasons for this:

1- Method Acting. Too many American actors are wrapped up in the whole "method" made famous by the Actor's Studio. Now while in the right hands method acting can provide an element of realism to a role, it's not that great when you're playing the Norse god of thunder.

The role of Thor, even without the faux Shakespearean dialogue, requires a certain amount of bombast that would come across as hammy from a method actor. Any actor doing the role of Thor requires a certain amount of classical background, or the capability to be moulded to give a classical theatrical performance. It has less to do with "being" the role, than "selling" the character.

2- Machismo. Face it, too many American actors in the Thor age-range are a little lacking in the testosterone department. Clint Eastwood, who is pushing 80, looks like could take all of them on, and dole out the harshness upside their pretty, carefully coiffed, heads.

Hollywood has wasted too much time looking for faces that could go on a magazine cover, that they have none that look like they could take a punch.

When casting an "action star" you need someone who looks like they could back you up in an Old West saloon brawl. Most of young Hollywood look like they would scream "NOT THE FACE!" and run away to put the moves on Miss Kitty while you're getting your ass handed to you on a plate by the Clantons.

Now I'm not sure about Thor wrestling crocodiles while yelling "crikey, she's a big'un!" will be appropriate, but I'll give Branagh the benefit of the doubt.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #287: A Rarity Indeed

According to the always indefatigable Nikki Finke, Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton offered to reduce his own pay to reflect a recent downturn in the company's fortunes.

This report stunned me so bad I really couldn't write about it for a few days. It's like seeing a Bigfoot but rarer, and more unbelievable.

I should probably should explain why I was so shocked by this event. Usually when a company hits a bad patch the CEO then goes to the board and demands raises and bonuses far beyond the performance of them or the company. These demands are usually made in the name of "retention," basically a polite form of blackmail where the CEO says: "Pay me more, or I'll walk".

Usually the CEOs who make these demands, are the very same people who put the company in the bad spot in the first place, but since the boards tend to be comprised of their friends and cronies, they usually get what they want. So we have a system where companies pay out tens of millions of dollars to keep people whose sole claim to fame was already costing the company tens of millions of dollars in losses.

Which is what makes Lynton's offer so incredible.

He actually wants his salary based upon his performance. When the company hits a bad patch, then he has to ride it like everyone else, and not resort to layoffs just to cover his own butt and income.

Now some have tried to say that Lynton's offer is no big thing since he comes from family money and can probably survive a pay cut. I disagree. Most CEOs are paid in the millions every year, and if they can't save some rainy-day money when times are good, they really shouldn't be running a major corporation.

Lynton's offer, which was ultimately refused by the Sony parent company, shows a certain amount of seriousness about his role as the Chief Executive Officer. He has offered to link his own success to the success of the company, in good times and bad, and it's an admirable stance.

I think Sony should have taken him up on his offer, if only to shame the other CEOs bleeding their company's dry into doing something to make them worthy of their salary.

Anyway, I wish them luck. Anyone who views the company as a serious business, than a means to fatten their egos and wallet is someone who deserves it.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Saturday Silliness Cinema: Happy Victoria Day!

This is a long holiday weekend in Canada, thanks to the lovely Queen Victoria, and in honour of that holiday, I'm posting a couple of videos that highlight two truly Canadian stand-up road warriors.

First up is Ron James, who started out as a sketch performer with Toronto's Second City in the 1980s. After an unsuccessful sojourn as an actor in Los Angeles James was inspired to turn his Hollywood experiences into a stand-up show called "Up & Down in Shakey Town." The show was a huge hit, and turned him overnight from a failed actor, to one of Canada's top stand-up attractions.

He's continued with a series of specials for the CBC about Canada and Canadians, in this segment he discusses that ever-present Canuck institution, the Tim Hortons Donut Shop.

Up next is Derek Edwards, who is considered the comedian's comedian, being praised by his peers for his unique delivery and clever material. In this clip he's discussing an outbreak of Mad Cow disease in Canada.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #286: MGM-- Must Get Money

Pity poor MGM.

Once it was the grandest and most glamorous movie studio, boasting "more stars than in heaven," and a trademark gloss to everything it did.

Nowadays it's lucky to co-produce a Bond flick, or a remake that shouldn't be done, like the Pink Panther, and is currently trying to renegotiate the company's substantial debt. One of the plans being floated is to sell United Artists, but I can't see it earning much without the library, which MGM needs to stay afloat, and its deal with Tom Cruise is hemorrhaging epic amounts of cash on script rewrites alone without pulling in the green necessary to make the scene.

Now there are ways for MGM to survive financially, but it will take more than a cash infusion to keep the company running beyond the next quarter.

So let's have a little thought experiment, I want you to imagine that MGM has the financing necessary to keep themselves afloat for another year. Then you have to ask: "Now what?"

Well here's the plan, which I call Dump/Dump-Make/Make...

1. Dump Tom Cruise. He'll be happier back at Paramount, you'll be happier with him at Paramount, and Sumner Redstone's probably forgotten their split by now and will be grateful to have someone willing to work for them. Let him be their problem, and get him out of United Artists, because that's the next step of the plan.

2. Dump MGM. Not the whole company, just the name when it comes to new productions. The name Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has a lot of history, but not much of a future. Back in the golden age it stood for films that were big, slick, glossy, glamorous, and often epic in scope. Nowadays it stands for films that want to be big, slick, glossy, etc...etc..., but just doesn't have the money to go big the way they used to. In branding a studio content truly is king, but in MGM's case their content is in conflict with their company's history.

The name United Artists, outside of the Tom Cruise boondoggle, is pretty much an unknown to modern moviegoers, being more or less moribund for years, if not decades. In a way it would be like starting a whole new company. One with a library of thousands of movies pulling in half a billion a year in revenue. Use MGM to sell the old films on DVD and television, use United Artists to sell the new one.

4. Make Friends. A lot of the independent film financing investment houses and indie producers aren't happy with a lot of the major studios. The majors screw them at every opportunity, which wasn't bad when times were good, and film investing could be a tax write-off, but those days are over, and folks want investments that pay off when the film's a hit. Don't screw them over, and keep them coming to you as the studio-distributor of choice.

5. Make Money. Do whatever it takes to bring in the cash. I'm talking low budget horror flicks, get someone from the Judd Apatow money factory to make a cheap but profitable comedy, I don't care. Forget winning awards, forget wooing critics, they don't pay the bills. I'm talking about pimping everything you've got to make the most money fast. If you don't want these films to taint your "brand" then take one of the moribund companies in the MGM vault like Orion and release it through them.

Just get the money coming in and keep it coming in. This is not about prestige, it's not about glamor, it's about survival.

Now get to work.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #285: When Good Brands Make Dumb Mistakes

Imax, the Canadian invention that takes the "big screen" experience to a whole new level is getting a bit of a blog-based bitchfest aimed at it over their Imax Digital movie theatre system. Folks are paying an extra $5 a showing, expecting a monster-sized picture, and discovering that the screen really isn't much bigger than a conventional movie screen.

How Imax did not see this coming in blazing sharp definition is really beyond me.

While they may that it was a good idea to slap their name on this new digital projection process, all in the name of promoting their "brand," it was in fact a bad idea. A really bad idea.

The Imax "brand" is identified with ginormous motion sickness inducing mega-screens, not slightly larger than average screens. This Imax Digital controversy has now associated their precious "brand" with ruined expectations.

And the sad thing is that it could have been avoided.

All Imax had to do was to come up with a cool sounding name that was different from Imax, but associated with Imax. Something like DigiMax, or HiMax, but less lame. (Just look at Hollywood history at the dawn of widescreen cinema for inspiration)

Toss in a marketing campaign that told audiences that the Imax folks invented a new system that improves the ordinary theatre experience in quality and quantity, and you could have avoided the whole backlash.

But instead they listened to the so-called marketing gurus, who told that the Imax brand itself was the be all and end-all, and they gacked it, big time.

The lesson here is that sometimes to protect your brand you need to create a new brand.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #284: NBC- NAME BRAND CRAP

The flailing and failing NBC-Universal empire is marking the fifth anniversary of their aberrant union by starting a new ad-campaign to promote awareness of the NBC "brand," and paving the way for people like Nikki Finke and myself to mock them.

And mock them we shall.

Looking at the condition of NBC's current schedule, and it's upcoming fall boondoggles, I have to ask:
What value does brand awareness have, when your brand is known for crap?*

In movies and television content is king. Right now CBS has half the shows in the Top 20, and the reason for that is because each show is all about delivering what the audience wants. I don't watch shows simply because they're on CBS, I watch individual shows for individual reasons.

Right now, NBC doesn't give me individual reasons to watch many of their shows, and trying to sell all of them as an "NBC Brand" is like rearranging deck-chairs on the Titanic.

The only way a network or a studio can establish themselves as a "brand" is to have a consistent level of quality that might, just might, entice viewers to give a show a chance.

I'd rant more, but I'm still not 100% recovered from my cold, and need a bit more recuperation before I can return to my usual level of vitriol.

*(Yes, I still haven't forgiven them for canceling
Life, the bastards.)

Monday, 11 May 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #283: Beam Up The Money Scotty

Phew, I have a wicked head-cold that keeps me from getting any serious work done, but I think I can squeeze out a short post....

Star Trek has phaser set on "cash" because the alternate-time-line reboot is bringing it in with a shovel. I have no doubt that Paramount is going to declare itself saved by the success of this flick. Well, I think it's a little too early to hit the warp drive, because while the success of the film is a nice beginning, it is just a beginning.

The film may very well have legs and make a mint and a half, before it's theatrical run is over, but there are still a myriad of ways that Paramount can still screw this up. Remember this is Hollywood. The first way is for the studio to take all the credit for the film's success, completely forgetting the filmmakers, and the cast who actually made the movie, and screw them out of any promised profit share. This would build resentment, and in Hollywood resentment costs money, lots of money.

Of course Paramount would then try to play divide and conquer, showering love on the two top leads, Pine and Quinto, while trying to squeeze the other cast-members either into obedience, or out on their ear. Or try to play the whole cast against J.J. Abrams, whom they are probably already scheming to replace with the always pliable Brett Ratner.

And I'm not even including the Paramount shareholders and financial investors who actually paid for the movie to get made. Because when it comes to pleasing shareholders and investors, or buying their CEO a new mansion, the CEO always wins.

So when the Paramount bigwigs start tooting their own horns and declaring a new golden age, don't believe the hype, because they can still blow it big time.

I gotta go clear my head.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

The Often Delayed & Obviously Misnamed Friday Fiction Feature

Hello. I got the fifth installment of Tooth and Claw up at my writing blog. So feel free to check it out. If you want to catch up, or remember what I've been up to, please check out the other installments of my little literary improv experiment. And be gentle with your criticisms. I've been really busy with family business, and I have a wicked head cold, so be warned, you may end up reading some bizarre fever dream from the snake pit of my mind. ;)

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Saturday Silliness Cinema: More Smith & Jones

Here are a couple more bits from Smith & Jones. I will probably have my often delayed Friday Fiction Feature up sometime later today, or tomorrow, and I'll probably be back to griping about the business of showbiz on Monday.

Language warning (NSFW)

Friday, 8 May 2009

The Fabulous Furious D Fall TV Freakout!!!

Tis the season for for the networks to announce what coming down the pipeline to go on the boob tube this fall. The always indefatigable Nikki Finke has the rundown, and since I've already done NBC's line-up hopefuls, I might as well do the others.


UNTITLED NCIS SPIN-OFF (CBS-Paramount) This is considered a shoo in. Since I caught the "phantom pilot" running during NCIS and know that it's about an elite undercover unit, I think they should avoid giving it a title of its own. In fact, they should just give it a different name each week. Sort of like the show about undercover agents, going undercover. What do you think? Still a better idea than Cop Rock.

THE GOOD WIFE (CBS-Paramount/Scott Free) a female driven legal drama starring Juliana Margulies to replace the last female driven legal drama starring Juliana Margulies that failed on Fox last year. The lesson, never give up.

U.S. ATTORNEY (CBS-Paramount) I'm gonna venture a guess that the pilot episode will feature two hot-looking young lawyers getting into each others legal briefs in the courthouse closet.

MIAMI TRAUMA (Warner Bros/CBS-Paramount) This is Jerry Bruckheimer doing a Miami based medical drama. Which will raise the question: "How many accidents can occur involving women in bikinis.

THREE RIVERS (CBS-Paramount/Deuce Three) Sadly the three Rivers of the title are going to be Joan Rivers, Rivers Cuomo of Weezer, and the ghost of River Phoenix as a trio of vaudevillians in the turn of the century.

THE EASTMANS (Warner Bros) the buzz says that it's about a family of doctors, but without the procedural stuff that people actually watch. Probably would have been better if they made it about the Kodak people.

HOUSE RULES (ABC TV Studio/Mark Gordon Co) A political drama about congress. Probably last as long as those supreme court shows did a few years ago.

WASHINGTON FIELD (CBS-Paramount) comes from the executive producer of Criminal Minds, but I can't tell from the title weather it's about politics, crime, or football.

BACK (CBS-Paramount/Storyline) will be what people will be saying about the time they wasted watching this.

A MARRIAGE (Bedford Falls) will be divorced from viewers.


ACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE (CBS-Paramount/BermanBraun) is the big Jenna Elfman comeback vehicle.

HAPPINESS ISN'T EVERYTHING (Sony TV/Paramount/Tantamount) and neither are viewers apparently.

WAITING TO DIE (Sony TV/Tantamount) this won't have long to wait.


SONS OF TUCSON (Twentieth TV/J2 Pictures) will soon be disowned by Tuscon.

GLEE (Twentieth TV) not even Disney has attempted to make High School Musical a weekly series, and there's a reason for that. It's because a weekly musical series set in the whiny angst filled world of high school will fail.

HUMAN TARGET (Warner Bros/DC Comics/Wonderland) a remake of a failed show that starred Rick Springfield. Every old is new again, as well as everything failed.

MAGGIE HILL (Twentieth TV/Imagine) saggy swill.

MASTERWORK (Twentieth TV) Da Vinci Code meets National Treasure meets bitter failure.

BROTHERS (Sony TV/Tantamount) a football comedy. Which means that each episode will run over three hours, have fifteen minutes of actual jokes, and the rest will be colour commentary as the cast mill about the stage wondering what to do next.

COP HOUSE (Twentieth Century Fox TV/Adelstein) foreclosed.

ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS (BBC Worldwide/Sony TV/Tantamount) absolutely crapulous.

EVA ADAMS (Sony TV/Fanfare) don't know what it's about, and don't care, neither does the network according to Nikki Finke.


MODERN FAMILY (previously My American Family) (Twentieth Century Fox TV) officially picked by the network, but probably not by viewers.

FLASH FORWARD (ABC-TV Studio/Created By) based on a Canadian sci-fi novel, (I use the word sci-fi to annoy the "purists") and it'll probably turn into Lost redux when they use all the novel's ideas in the first half of season one.

COUGAR TOWN (ABC TV StudioDoozer/Coquette) Courtney Cox playing the titular cougar. It's gonna need a lot of friends.

THE BRIDGET SHOW (Sony TV/Tantamount/Hagada Hey) lemme guess, a show about a perky talkative gal on the go.

ROMANTICALLY CHALLENGED (formerly the untitled Ricky Blitt Project) (Warner Bros) and probably creatively challenged too.

THE LAW (ABC TV Studio/DreamWorks) is an ass.

CANNED (ABC TV Studio/BGTV) deserves to be.

UNTITLED DAVE HEMINGSON LEGAL SHOW (Twentieth Century Fox TV) it's hot, it has no title, and it's another show about a lawyer. Adjourned.

HAPPY TOWN (ABC TV Studio) is described as being like Twin Peaks, but most likely lacking the entertainment value.

EASTWICK (Warner Bros) from the movie based on the book about magical women. BURN IT! BURN IT!

V (Warner Bros) a remake of a successful mini-series turned failed weekly series. Hollywood has never met a mistake it wasn't willing to repeat.

THE FORGOTTEN (Warner Bros/Bruckheimer) probably better left forgotten.

INSIDE THE BOX (ABC TV Studio) a show about Washington journalists from the folks who brought you Grey's Anatomy, because we all know how the average American respects and loves Washington journalists. That's why newspapers are selling better than ever.

SOLVING CHARLIE (ABC TV Studio/Francie Calfo Prods) I have the solution to Charlie, stop wasting people's time.

EMPIRE STATE (ABC TV Studio/Mark Gordon Co) unless it involves King Kong and some climbing, I won't get excited about it.

LIMELIGHT (Warner Bros/Wonderland) dim light.

SEE CATE RUN (ABC TV Studio/Gross Entertainment) see Cate flop.


MELROSE PLACE (CBS-Paramount) everything old is new again, oh well, the ghost of Aaron Spelling needs the work.

THE BEAUTIFUL LIFE (CBS-Paramount/Katalyst Films) Ashton Kutcher producing a show about models starring Mischa Barton. Oh yeah, it's a lock for classic status.

VAMPIRE DIARIES (Warner Bros/Alloy Entertainment) will definitely suck in more ways than one.

GOSSIP GIRL SPINOFF (Warner Bros/CBS-Paramount/Alloy Entertainment): for some reason the network chose to not spin-off a show whose ratings performance doesn't get anywhere near the hype it recieves.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #282: The Law of Relativity Goes Rogue

Come gather round children and I'll tell you a little story about keeping your eye on the ball.

A while ago Universal Pictures started Rogue Pictures to make low budget horror and action flicks, with decidedly mixed results.

Then along came Relativity, a film investment company that already had a relationship with Universal financing many of their productions. For some reason the folks who run Relativity decided that a film company with a lackluster box-office record, a mediocre, at best, library, and no independent distribution capability would make a wonderful purchase.

Now Relativity has started a whole new campaign in partnership with the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas to re-create the Rogue brand as a "film and lifestyle property."

I'm not sure how low-budget horror movie remakes are exactly a "lifestyle" and I'm definitely not sure how this deal is going to help either company. You see Rogue Pictures is going to slap their name on a theater, a few slot machines, and I believe a some bar-stools to do some grandstanding to boost the company's "brand" standing.

Which brings me to the point of this little fable, which is: This is not going to work.

Why won't it work?

When was the last time you paid money to see a movie because you liked a studio's logo?

Please, take a moment to think about it, I can wait.

Still can't come up with an answer?

Well I'll bet dinars to donuts that none of you have ever gone to a movie out of some sense of "brand loyalty" to the studio. People go to movies because they want to see that specific film, not because it was made by Warner Bros., Fox, or even Rogue. Movies are not chewing gum, and despite the factory like approach most studios would like to take in making them, each film is an individual project, designed for a specific facet of the audience.

Disney can do it to a limited extent, because they dominate the kids market. They know it, and they sell to it, and only it, but even that has its drawbacks, just look at their latest profit-report.

Rogue makes the sort of movies that teenagers and adults view as campy schlocky guilty pleasures at best, and unwatchable tedious dreck at worst. Folks are not going to decide to base their "lifestyle" on The Hitcher remake, or American Pie Presents: Beta House.

The only way a movie company can create a "brand" for itself is through its movies. They have to make movies that people will pay money to see, hopefully several times over. Then and only then can a company really claim that your company has a "brand" and even then you can only be know for doing the best you can do.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #281: Sony Ponies Up

According to the usually indefatigable Nikki Finke, Sony Pictures has hired a major PR firm to promote the films put out by their faux indie division Sony Pictures Classics. The company's been outperformed by Fox Searchlight, and many figure that they're sick and tired of it all, and want to make a name for themselves.

Plus, I think it marks a change in the way these faux-indies are run.

Since the collapse of the indie-film boom of the 1990s, and the assimilation of the independent distributors by the major studios, independent films were not run as a business, or as an art.

They were treated as a ego-playground.

You see these companies were not run for profit, or to expose people to the wonders of independent film-making, they were run to win awards, woo critics, and get the people who run the parent companies proverbial pats on the back at the better dinner parties for how "courageous," "daring," and "artistic," they are while they pick up young starlets at a Sundance Festival mixer.

The films they buy would then get half-hearted releases, and marketing that's tepid at best, and non-existent at worst. (At the extreme end was the Weinstein Plan, which involved buying films and then never releasing them.)

However the economy really isn't in the shape to support that sort of thing anymore, so now they have to get out there and pound the pavement to get the films they buy at Sundance making money. I'm sure that the main reason Fox-Searchlight has outperformed SPC is that Rupert Murdoch looked at the books and said: "Bloody 'ell, you can't just buy films and let them gather dust! That costs me money!! Get off yer arse and get people buying tickets for these films before I break me boot off in it!! Someone get me my diggeridoo and a boomerang, that dingo's got me baby!!"

That's how I imagine Rupert Murdoch talks.


I think it's a good thing that Sony is going to try to sell their films, and that it becomes a model for all the other faux indies. Yes, indie films are a tough sell, but it's not a good reason to not sell them at all.

So here are three suggestions for Sony and how to handle this new era...

1. Dump "Classics." Rebrand the company, because calling it Sony Pictures Classics gives the impression that you're selling foreign films as a corporate afterthought. Create a new brand, with a new identity that says: "I have intelligent and daring movies that you want to see." And the words: Classics, Independent, Art-House, etc... are verboten for this new company name.

2. Fill A Niche. Face it, indie films are supposed to give the audiences what the big studios are not giving them, not just act as Oscar bait. Look for what's not being done, and what films do that.

3. Sell, Sell, Sell. By hiring the PR people shows that you might be serious about selling these films, and I hope you are. Because indie films need to be sold, and sold well.

On a personal note: Family business may make my posting a tad erratic for the next week or so. Please be patient, I'll try to be back at griping at and about Hollywood as soon as possible.

The Boob Tube: NBC's Fall Schedule

The flailing, failing NBC network just announced their Fall TV schedule. They canceled Life, and renewed Medium (at a reduced episode count because you needed to be psychic to know it was back on), Law & Order, and Law & Order: SVU (because Dick Wolf scares them) and a handful of other shows.

But I'm going to take a look at some of their new shows and offer you, my loyal reader, the opinion of a smug know-it-all about them.

PARENTHOOD- Basically it's a copy of ABC's Brothers & Sisters, but with fewer viewers.

UPDATE: I just saw a report that says that it's a TV series version of the 1989 Steve Martin/Ron Howard film of the same name. Which bring to mind the popular internet saying WTF?

That was already done as a series in 1990, and it failed. I know they're scared of ideas, but what the hell?

TRAUMA- The boost in the ratings for the ER finale appears to have made NBC forgive it for being a dead weight on their schedule for the past 8+ years, because they're going to do it all over again, but this time it'll have more outdoor scenes. At least, they will have more outdoor scenes until the budget get slashed by the network about three episodes before cancellation.

MERCY- Grey's Anatomy with overworked, underpaid nurses instead of oversexed, under-brained doctors. Been there, done that.

DAY ONE- CBS's Jericho meets ABC's Lost which means lots of struggling for survival, with the writers pulling clues for the show's central mystery (why civilization collapsed) out of their ass, because they probably don't know the answer themselves.

100 QUESTIONS- 100 questions-12 episodes max. The premise of the show is a plucky single gal (is there any other kind) looking for love by answering a 100 question form on a dating site, causing flashbacks to past relationships, and wackiness ensues. These sorts of 100 problems/100 episodes kind of premises always seem cursed from the get-go, especially when it's a romantic comedy. Plus, even if it does succeed, to the viewers it's going to look like it's taking this poor woman at least four years to fill out a form.

COMMUNITY- Folks say the pilot, about a lawyer trying to repair a revoked degree by taking classes at a community college has a lot of promise. Hopefully, they didn't blow their load in the pilot, and have enough stories, ideas, and characters to keep the show going. Though the presence of Chevy Chase in a supporting role does weigh heavily upon it.

I'm not holding out much hope for NBC. Especially since cancelling Life has not endeared them to me.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #280: The Wisdom of Comedians & Kenny Rogers

You gotta know when to hold them
Know when to fold them
Know when to walk away
Know when to run

There's a certain amount of wisdom in those simple homespun country lyrics that can help someone not only in gambling in the old west, but in modern show business as well.

As I've said before, one of the main reasons top executives and CEO get bladed and brought down is that many of them only know how to hold them, not when to fold, they definitely don't know when to walk away, and the certainly never know when to run. It's like that scene in American Gangster where the Asian drug lord informs Harlem gang-lord Frank Lucas that "it's not really quitting when you quit when you're ahead."

Of course Lucas goes in for one last score, leading to his capture by Russell Crowe, and the downfall of his empire. In the movies Louis B. Mayer tried hang onto power and still run MGM the way it had been run in the 1930s, the problem was that it was the 1950s, and his attempt to please his ego, ruined his relationship with his shareholders, and ultimately his ouster from the company that bore his name.

It's also like a comedian, when they're doing stand-up they know that the key is to end on a high note. Also know when you've reached the end of your time, hit him with a real knockout punchline, say "goodnight everybody," and walk off the stage, leaving them hankering for more.

However, unlike comedy, this is not a search for subtle cues among an audience in a dark nightclub. The signs that it is time to walk away (or run) are pretty obvious, you just have to have the eyes to see them. Now I've mentioned some of these things before, but like any good lesson, they bear repeating.


1. When you are no longer thinking about it as a business, but as an extension of yourself.

When you run a studio, especially a major founded in the 1910s, you are not the company, but merely a steward. Your mission is to create profits for your shareholders, and when you do go, which is inevitable, to leave the company in better shape than when you found it. Sadly, too many CEOs start to think that the company lives and dies around them. It's like a French monarch declaring that "apres mois les deluge," which fundamentally means "without me, there is nothing."

That's a delusion. Without you, the company will go on, with someone else at the helm. The best you can hope for is that when you do leave, people will look back at your time as a golden age, when the company was run well and everyone did good work that made money.

When you can't imagine yourself without the company, or the company without you, your mindset shifts from doing your job well, to just holding onto power. And that really hurts your company, and your own reputation and career.

2. When you start letting your ego make decisions.

The first obvious sign of this is the moment you first yell to some valet parker / waiter / prostitute / police officer- "Don't you know who I am? I'm (Insert First Name) Fucking (Insert Last Name)!"

That means that you have let your hunger for status and power override your common sense, and good manners. It is at this stage that you no longer make business decisions for business reasons, but by how many folks will kiss your ass at swanky parties. That is not good, because the only opinion you should care about, are the opinions of the audience, and your shareholders. Because when you make the audience happy, your shareholders should get happy very soon after, and while they may not feed your ego, they will feed your bank account, and that's what matters.

3. You don't know how to respond to criticism.

This is when Sign 1 and Sign 2 join together and separate you from reality. CEOs that let their ego run the company, attract criticism like a dead goat attracts flies. When the only response they have to this criticism of their management is to declare that they will somehow achieve immortality to keep running the company, and keep everything exactly how it is. They can't see that they are the problem.

So how does one avoid this problem of, well, becoming a problem?

The answer is a simple 3 point strategy...

1. Have someone who isn't afraid to tell you that you are full of shit. This is important to keep you grounded in the real world, because there's nothing worse than a room full of yes men.

2. Have goals. Plan ahead, say I intend to make this company do this and that, and then once I have these goals met, I will retire by a certain age.

3. Have an exit strategy. The beauty of being a mogul who retires on good terms is that you pick your successors, and you can use that good relationship with your successor to have a post-CEO career as a producer, financier, beach bum, or any other position you might find fun and challenging.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Saturday Silliness Cinema: WOLVERINE!!!

Sorry for the light (nonexistent) posting yesterday. Things popped up and I got really busy. Anyhoo, let's take a little break from my usual rantings about business for a larf.

With Wolverine slicing up the box office like a villain's minion I've stumbled onto this outtake from the movie. Enjoy.