Monday, 31 August 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #360: Disney Gobbles Marvel

Welcome to the show folks.

Well, it's all over the interwebs that the Disney Media Empire has just conquered made a deal to purchase Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion.

This tells me something about Disney. The folks in charge have realized that the company's dependency on the mostly autonomous Pixar division, Dreamworks carrying their Touchstone division, and their ever shifting parade of underage pop-tarts and non-threatening boy bands is not as healthy as they would care to admit, so they went back to their strategy from the Eisner years.

They got bigger for the sake of becoming bigger.

Just take a look at this list of Disney assets. I'm sure even current CEO Robert Iger doesn't know what's going on with half of these corporate assets, and in many cases they're actively competing with themselves, and a lot of these assets are more or less moribund. Miramax is merely a shadow of its former self, and back then it was run by the Weinsteins, which is saying something.

Now onto Marvel. Right now it has a very healthy movie division, but comic book sales have been pretty much flat for a long time. Disney's clout could get the company back in the mass-market publishing business again, but, and this is a Kirstie Alley size but, I don't think they're interested in doing that.

I figure that Disney is looking at movies like Iron Man, X-Man, and Spider-Man making mega-spondooliks and want a piece of that action, and really don't care about all the other trivialities. (Forgetting that most of those franchises are in partnership with Fox, Columbia, and Paramount, and those deals cannot be ended cheaply, especially with Paramount, who desperately needs those films for their summer tent-poles, and I don't think Disney will be happy with those companies getting so much sugar from their properties.)

Also, Disney is a like a dog pissing out his territory when it comes to their "brand." Almost everything they own that they can claim some sort of "synergy" with gets Disneyfied, which I don't really think fits with Marvel's trademark brand of angsty super-heroes smashing each other in the face.

Plus while Disney is good at marketing Disney, for the most part, I don't think they have what it takes to make Marvel worth the $4 billion spent on the take-over.

Which brings me to another point. $4 billion is officially a shitload of money. Which leads to one of the problems of such take-overs, too much gets spent on the initial takeover, and not much can be done with it after the takeover. It's the story of MGM over the past 20 years, considering the company's been passed around like a doobie at a frat party, and each owner is left only enough capital to keep the company going just long enough to sell it to someone else.

I fear what might happen to Marvel, because Disney does not let go once it has sunk it's mouse claws into their cheese, and would rather let it fade away into nothingness than let anyone else do anything with it.

As you can see, I'm not too optimistic about this deal.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Saturday Silliness Cinema: Impressions

Welcome to the show folks. Today for my Saturday comedy post, I have a very sharp impressionist named Frank Caliendo doing the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal. Enjoy.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Dear Rob...


Rob, I can call you Rob, right, well, it's all over the internet that you are planning to do a remake of the 1950's science fiction drive in classic The Blob, except you don't want to do it with the evil gelatinous mass from outer space.

Okay, but I have to tell you something, if you do that, IT WON'T BE

It would be called
The Whatchamacallit.

I mean what the hell are you smoking?

What are you going to do next?

Jaws, but without a shark?

The Birds, but with no birds?

Is this your personal artistic milieu, remaking films that promise one thing in the title, but refuse to deliver on that promise?

It looks like that to me, I mean you remade
Halloween and managed to do it without anything actually scary or interesting happening in the film.

And what's with this thing about psycho hillbillies and rednecks?

You're from Massachusetts and you live in Connecticut. Is this the classic New England snobbishness coming out, or is it a symptom of a deep seeded lack of imagination? You saw
Texas Chainsaw Massacre and never let go.

So how are you going to tackle The Blob? A big fat hillbilly from outer space?

And besides, it was already remade back in the 1980s with that guy from Entourage, why bother. I've heard of sloppy seconds, but you're going back for thirds.

~Furious D

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #359: A Couple Of Quick Notes...


The makers of the animated box office turkey Delgo are considering suing the makers of Avatar because of some similarities between the films. The main similarities I see are the fact that multi-millions were spent and many years wasted by the makers of both films on what look like overly wrought cut-scenes from video games about saving the rain-forest.

I don't see the lawsuit going anywhere, too much can be written off on coincidence and the rather narrow mindset of Hollywood. Where everyone thinks alike, things tend to repeat themselves. First as tragedy, and then as farce.


Nikki Finke ranked a "toldja" when she said the NBC-U's Lifetime Channel will be merging with the A&E Networks to form a new partnership between NBC-U, Disney-ABC, and the Hearst Corporation.

So I guess now we can blame three corporations for A&E's slide in the quality department in my opinion.

Anyway, I'm predicting a new age of programming where reality show cameras follow washed up celebrities while plucky, yet scorned, women end up in some sort of formulaic thriller plot.

And Now A Word From Hitler...

Welcome to the show folks...

I don't know why, but these re-subtitled clips from a recent movie about the last days of Adolph Hitler really crack me up. Today, Adolph is disappointed by the previews for Avatar. (NSFW for rude subtitle language)

I'll see what I can whip up about business later, so be sure to check back.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #358: Mitigation Litigation & A Sign of Weakness

Welcome to the show folks...

The William Morris-Endeavor Agency recently took a break from laying off employees to start up a shit-storm with some of those laid off employees, and then to run away when the shit started getting slung their way. (H/T Nikki Finke)

It goes something like this. The merger between William Morris and Endeavor racked up a truckload of costs. To save money, pay off those debts, and preserve the bonuses of the top executives the new merged mega-agency starting laying off agents, assistants, and other employees left, right, and center.

Now many of the agents had contracts that had to be paid out, and many of those agents found jobs with other agencies. Now under the terms of the contract, if the laid off agent found a job with another agency, but for less money than their old WME contract, their old employer would "mitigate" their salary by paying the difference for the remaining term on their contract.

Now this is where the shit-storm starts.

The head grand poobahs of WME decided that some of their former employers were gaming the system, getting deliberately paid less by their new employers in order to screw over their old boss. Now instead of doing some work and finding those who are really playing silly buggers with the mitigation system and calling "shenanigans" they sent out a letter to all their former agents declaring that all mitigation would end ASAP and if they didn't like they could go pound sand.

Well, these former WME agents didn't like it, and they weren't going to pound sand for anyone. Their first reaction was to fight back, and fight back hard, getting one of the feistiest litigators in the biz to take their case to arbitration, complete with the blessings of their new employers.

WME blinked. They immediately backed down, and said that their plan to eliminate salary mitigation has been eliminated for fear of litigation.

Now what does this story tell us:

1. WME has made a lot of enemies. I'm sure the other agencies, tired of their rival's bullying tactics saw an opportunity to strike back, and no doubt did everything they could to support their new employees get back at their old boss.

2. Any attempt by WME to call shenanigans on anyone who really is gaming the system has now been hurt by this shotgun approach. If they try to bring anyone to court or arbitration over the issue the accused will in turn accuse them of sour grapes, bullying, and of using the courts for petty vendettas, whether there is a case or not. Hence adding a whole new level of costs and inconvenience to the whole process instead of just carefully targeting any guilty parties and hitting them hard with all their "i"s dotted and their "t"s crossed.

3. These rivals and former employees are not scared of WME anymore, and are quite willing and able to fight back, and in this case, win.

And those three things tell us:

1. That William Morris-Endeavor have a corporate culture relying almost entirely on their size and prestige to scare anyone and everyone into doing what they want. They don't appear to care that they were making a lot of enemies in the heart of an industry that is built upon interpersonal relationships.

2. That WME isn't willing to do the legwork necessary to root out those they honestly believe are playing silly buggers with the system, instead preferring a scatter-shot approach punishing all without proving that even a few were guilty. Again hoping their sheer size and prestige would protect them when a little strategic forethought would have cleaned up any problems without the feces flinging.

3. They seemed honestly surprised by the strength of the counter-attack, and the support their rival's gave to that counter-attack. This is a bad sign, it shows a lack of insight into the effects their tactics have had on their place in the industry. Their plan to rule by fear as the biggest kid on the block is now on the ropes, because the little kids realize that they outnumber the big kid, and can pelt him with enough rocks to make them let their keep their lunch money.

This could mark a major shift in the whole talent agency eco-system.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #357: A Musical Musing

Welcome to the show folks.

It seems that it's all the rage to put classic, and not so classic, TV shows out in DVD box sets, yet a lot of shows dwell in a strange sort of limbo, the most famous are The Wonder Years, Cold Case, China Beach, and the probably better left forgotten Cop Rock.

Now what do those shows have that set them apart from the thousands of shows currently getting stacked on store shelves across the country?

The answer is music.

The bulk of the shows use some classic music from past eras, or the work of multiple songwriters, and that's where things get complicated.

You see the rights for these songs are managed by music publishing companies, and record labels, and if you think the movie business is convoluted and confusing, let me tell, you the music business is exponentially worse when it comes to doing business.

The music publishers and record labels are making it really hard for these shows to get on DVD by demanding the moon for each and every song. The TV show people are counter-offering dirt, and neither side is willing to budge an inch.

Which is a classic illustration of one of the biggest problems in trying to do business in show business. Everyone is so busy looking for ways to screw each other out of pennies, they don't realize that if they worked together, they could both be making serious dollars.

So what if the music people don't get over $1 million up front for the music like they did for the first season of
Thirtysomething, that shouldn't be the point. The point is getting that music out there, getting the songs earning some reasonable royalties from the sales, and hopefully inspiring a viewer to log onto iTunes, and buying some of their favourite songs. Leaving these shows in limbo is keeping both the TV people and the music people from making any money from either, which is pretty stupid for something that's really nothing more than a territorial pissing contest.

So here's my advice to both sides:
Be reasonable for a change.

It just might work.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #356: The Dreaded Meddle Detector

Welcome to the show folks.

I'm taking a break from griping about breaking news, and talking about how the people in charge of studios screw up, to take you on a different tack. One where I look at Hollywood history and off some advice on how to survive as a filmmaker.

Which is a whole new can of worms on its own.

You see one of the scourges of Hollywood filmmakers are the notes. In case you don't know, notes are the "suggestions," "ideas," and just plain butting in by the studio brass. Now some are very practical, like: "The cannibalism scene doesn't fit a romantic comedy," or "could you please stop using the word 'fuck' so much in the script for
High School Musical 4?" Other times notes are given simply because the executive feels they need to be doing or saying something to justify not only their salary and bonus, but also their existence with things like: "Does Green Lantern have to be green?" or "You hero needs a gay robot-dog as his sidekick," or "you need to include break-dancing into your adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, because I'm pretty sure it's set for a comeback."

Not all productions get the same amount of notes. You see studio executives have something I call the "Meddle Detector." The Meddle Detector is a lot like a metal detector, except instead of finding lost watches, bottle caps, and dropped change at the beach, this device, which I suspect is implanted behind the left ear immediately upon hiring, is designed to find reasons to butt in on a movie production.

There are ways to avoid the dreaded Meddle Detector, it's a series of tricks of the trade that filmmakers have used since the birth of the Hollywood studio system. John Ford used to go out to film a western in Monument Valley, hundreds of miles from the nearest studio suit, and too remote and isolated for them to bother coming down to pester him with notes. Sadly, that tactic doesn't work as effectively these days thanks to the technological advances that allow studio executives to study the daily video output, via the internet, and to bombard the filmmakers with e-mails, text messages, and cell phone calls, or, heaven forbid, actually travel out to the set.

That leaves really only one thing that can avoid the dreaded Meddle Detector, and like just about everything else in Hollywood, its foundation is money, money, money.

You see, money is the key. The more money invested in the movie, the more the needle on the old Meddle Detector swings into the red zone, inspiring the executives to bombard you with notes saying just how great your movie would be if it just had a jive talking alien struggling with illiteracy. This is because studio executives base just about everything on fear, they are scared of a big money flop costing them their jobs, and forcing them to sell their boat to tide them over until they get picked up by another studio. There is a direct correlation between a film's budget, and the quantity of notes, and an inverse correlation between the size of the budget, and the quality of those same notes.

If you don't want those notes, especially the really inane ones, you have to fly low, like a plane slipping in under enemy radar to sneak an elite team of hardened international commandos into hostile territory.

That means keeping your budget reasonable, in fact, the cheaper you can get it, the better your situation will be.

Just look at the directing career of Clint Eastwood. He deliberately keeps his budgets as lean as possible to keep the studios out of his hair, and his own vision on the screen. Just look at his record, the majority of his films were made for amounts normally used to pay the salary of one or two "A-List" actors. This puts his movies way below the range of the average studio exec's meddle detectors, because they have bigger and more glamorous fish to fry and will be too busy worrying about the number of butt shots in the $100 million romantic comedy starring Jennifer Lopez as the plucky ingenue who finds love in some sort of unlikely, yet cutesy way.

Now just keeping your prices low aren't going to keep them off your back at first.

First you need to build trust.

Wait, no, scratch that. Trust is the wrong word to use when discussing Hollywood. Trust is what studio moguls call the funds their daughters use to buy sports-cars to drive up light-poles, make bail, and buy purse sized chihuahuas. When it comes to real trust, well... it just doesn't exist in Hollywood.

I think the more accurate word to use would be

After a while if the studio
expects you to deliver your film on time, and well within the confines of a reasonable budget, they won't be as much of a pest as they are to so many others. I'm not saying that they will stay completely out of your hair, periodically some new kid on the block will try out a little territorial pissing, but if you have the right set of expectations behind you, this will happen less and less. (It will also end even quicker if you make any slowdowns or overruns look like the fault of the guy doing the meddling.)

It will also happen faster if the majority of your films are that right blend of profitability and critical acclaim. Because companies love consistency, so if they expect to make their money back and more, while getting a nice pat on the back from critics and awards committees, then Bob's your uncle.

Of course with all this comes great responsibility.

You, as a filmmaker, will have to be very strategic in your thinking. You can't let yourself go bug-shit crazy, even once, unless you plan to retire, or die, immediately afterward, because that will change Hollywood's expectations of you. Decades of moderate budgets, critical and popular acclaim, and regular profitability will be instantly forgotten because you decided to shoot your big budget epic entirely at dawn and dusk, even the night scenes and interiors, because you like the quality of the light, even though it means only shooting two hours a day,
if your lucky, thus exponentially blowing your budget, your schedule, and putting yourself square in the sights of every meddle detector in the business, and you will never, ever, ever be able to shake them off, ever.

So, to sum it all up:

Studio meddling= Pain in the ass.

Creating positive expectations around you and your career= Less ass pain.

But don't screw it up.

it's just that simple.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #355: Miscellaneous Musings

Welcome to the show folks, it looks like I've survived the onslaught of Hurricane Bill, and here's a little blog to fill the void in your life that only my special brand of cranking and ranting can do....


Actor Jack Klugman, most famous for playing crime-busting medical examiner Quincy on the long running crime show is once again suing NBC-Universal, claiming a share of millions in profits lost to funny bookkeeping. (hat tip to Thierry Attard)

NBC-Uni claims that the
Quincy show lost $66 million despite the $242 million in revenue generated by the show over the past 30 years during both its network run, and in syndicated reruns.

Klugman has sued before, and I've written about it before, and while it was a mistake for Klugman to do his deal on an old-fashioned handshake, Universal's claims of massive losses on a show that simple mathematics say had to have been paid for ten times over is beyond shady.

And the studios wonder why they have such a hard time finding investors willing to work with them.


Quentin Tarantino's
Inglorious Bastards* is performing above expectations, and many who were on Weinstein Company Deathwatch Duty are now claiming that the final bell has not fully rung on the fledgling and usually failing company.

Well, I'm not giving up my post on the watchtower just yet.

The Weinstein Brothers and their unique business model of squandering tens of millions of dollars a year of investors on independent movies that are then sat on until they can no longer run through a projector due to all the accumulated dust, is not tenable. They dug a very deep hole for themselves, and I'm not sure if the rope Bastards has tossed down to them is long enough, or strong enough to get them out.

And let's not forget that after Bastards and Halloween 2 (itself a gamble, because a lot of people were disappointed by the first remake) there are a lot of jokers in the TWC deck that could still bust the company wide open.

So while I can't predict that Bastards will save TWC, my innate psychic acumen tells me that its success, and the doubling of the Best Picture Oscar nominations, will serve to make Harvey Weinstein even more insufferable.

You can take that one to the bank.

UPDATE: It looks like the Wall Street Journal agrees with me.
(subscription needed for the full article, but you get the gist.)

*Sorry, I just can't mis-spell things deliberately, even movie titles, I was the best speller in my grade all through elementary school and I refuse to do it, I just do, damn it!

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Saturday Silliness Cinema: DC vs Marvel

Welcome to the show folks. Here's my usual Saturday comedy video feature, and I'll be back to griping about business later, until then, enjoy.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #354: Shutter Island Shuffled

Paramount has moved moved Martin Scorsese's adaptation of Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island from its October release to February 2010.

Now the point of the October release was to catch the mature audience as well as leave it open to Academy voters in time for the nominations. Moving the film to February kind of puts it into the winter hinterlands. Paramount is saying that it's not a problem, because the recently expansion of Oscar nominations from five to ten opens the possibility of it still being remembered for the 2011 nominations.

But I think that's just window dressing. The main reason for the bump is the plain and simple fact is that Paramount just doesn't have the money to cover the $50-$60 million costs of releasing the movie. Paramount is blaming this shortfall on the recent plunge in DVD sales.

However, I think this whole thing is a case of Hollywood's business practices coming home to roost. The high cost of making movies, coupled with the studio's obsession with big "tent-pole" blockbusters, and the sheer dearth of quality in many of these movies are starting to affect day to day operations.

This isn't some shoe-string indie company struggling to survive, this is Paramount we're talking about, one of the oldest and biggest movie companies in the world. But the Weimar Republic style inflation affliction film production and marketing, is starting to price itself out of business.

If this isn't a warning, I don't know what is.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #353: Special Avatar Preview

Welcome to the show folks, if you spent any time on-line today you've probably heard that they released the trailer for James Cameron's Avatar.

Or at least they tried to release the trailer. So far the only version I've been able to see was a French version, sans any real dialogue, and while some complained that the blue alien critters still looks all CGI, I thought everyone looked like they were CGI, even the human actors.

I don't want to trash James Cameron, during the 1980s and 1990s he was one of my few living film-making idols. Terminator, Aliens, T2: Judgment Day, and True Lies, set a standard for action adventure storytelling. Now I couldn't bring myself to see Titanic, because the whole tween Leomania, and that goddamn Celine Dion song turned me off that movie, but I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and was actually glad for all the success it had.

But I'm really worried about Avatar, he spent too long waiting for technology to catch up to his ego, and I fear it's made him a lazy writer. You already know of my suspicions that the film will be Dances With Wolves in outer space. The preview and publicity stills don't inspire much confidence either, and I'm not talking about the often malfunctioning English language trailer. I'm talking about the creeping cliches...

1. Crippled bitter veteran lingering in a redneck bar while white trash play pool and no doubt some country music plays on the jukebox.

2. Hard-ass (he's got scars to prove it) commander who is probably going to turn out to be a nut.
3. The tough yet sensitive chick who won't let her sensitivity ruin her butt-kicking.

4. The oily bureaucrat/middle-management businessman who represents the sinister military/industrial complex who wears a tie half a dozen light years from Earth.

5. The mature and intelligent doctor/scientist who acts as the voice of reason and cultural sensitivity.

I hope I'm wrong, I really do, but when it comes to Hollywood, I rarely turn out to be wrong, which is actually kind of sad.

Anyway, we can always hope.

Hollywood Babble On & On #352: Money Movies & Madness

Welcome to the show folks...

If you're a regular reader of this blog then you've probably heard that the Halcyon Company, who made
Terminator: Salvation, have filed for bankruptcy, because they owe everyone involved with the film and their brother a truckload of money, and are currently embroiled in a lawsuit with the film's financial backers Pacificor which could cost the company ownership of the Terminator franchise.

Terminator: Salvation made around $370 million worldwide at the box-office.

Think about that for a second, I'll wait.




Okay, did you think about that little tidbit of news and the cognitive dissonance associated with it?

Good, but I will rant about it anyway.

There was a time when if your company's film made $400 million you'd be dancing on the street. You'd be a big time blockbuster success story, and the profits would be so big, you'd actually pay people at least some of their back-end deal.

There was even a time when making $100 million was considered a blockbuster success. In fact, the original Terminator made only around $78 million, and was considered a smash.

Nowadays you can make $100 million, even $400 million, and guess what, you're in bankruptcy court, people aren't getting paid, and reports say that you're in the hole by $50 million.

What the hell happened?

I mean $78 million was pretty good for The Terminator, in fact, it was excellent, so why isn't $370 million not good enough for the prequel?

Well, it starts with the simple fact that The Terminator cost $6.5 million to make and Terminator: Salvation cost over $200 million to make. The first Terminator was a comparatively small film, with just a handful of characters, and modestly conceived but well constructed action set-pieces. Terminator: Salvation was an attempt at an epic, with everything done on an epic scale that would dwarf the first film.

However, if you went simply by the rates of inflation in the 20+ years between films it still shouldn't have cost over $200 million to make even with its grander ambitions.

You see, it's not inflation that's killing Hollywood, it's complication.

Everything is complicated, raising money is complicated, spending the money is complicated, and earning back the money is even more complicated.

Why is it so complicated?

Well the complicating started because studios and producers didn't like having to share the profits with the people who actually make the film, and started making every damn thing involve 50 pages of legalese. Because with complications come opportunities to screw people out of their money.

Feeling screwed, people started demanding more up front, and more from the back end. Prices started to go up, way up, beyond the rates of inflation, and that's just production. Prints and advertising rates also skyrocketed, especially after the "synergy" supposedly created by having all the media companies merge into mega-conglomerates.

Unable to pay for making films on their own, studios and production companies need outside investors. But to find those investors you need to sign on with specialist deal-makers, adding another mouth to feed, and you need to constantly find new investors, because a lot of studios can't maintain healthy relationships with investors (for obvious reasons).

Things just keep getting more expensive, and even though technology has made the means of making a professional quality movie a hell of a lot cheaper, the actual costs of making and releasing a movie have gone up so far that a $370 million box-office take isn't even enough to break even.

It's pretty sad when you think about it.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #351: Flogging a Dead Horse & Possibly Raising The Dead

Welcome to the show folks, here are a few quick thoughts to fill that empty void in your life that only my griping about business can do.


Director Christopher Nolan has dropped his plans for a big screen adaptation of Patrick McGoohan's mind-bending series The Prisoner. Some say it's because he is making room for a third Batman movie, but I think this paragraph from the report shows the real reason:
Nolan's departure has thrown The Prisoner into jeopardy - producer Barry Mendel admits they might not get the green light for the project until movie executives have gauged the success of the new TV version, which stars Ian MCKellen and Jim Caviezel and is set to air later this year (09).
I think he took a look at the project, and saw what happened to the Terminator franchise and didn't want that happening to him. In case you don't recall, Halcyon Productions had a Terminator TV series, and movie, and not to say that they underperformed, but Halcyon did just file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Do you see my point?

When people watch a franchise property they invest themselves emotionally in the characters and their situations. However, if you were to ... Oh, perhaps, put out sequels and a TV series that tell you that all the suffering the characters went through in the first installments were all for nothing, because some studio suit thinks they can boost their bonus. Why bother getting excited about how a show or movie series ends, some executive is going to piss all over it and expect you to shell out to see it all over again because it has a familiar title.

Hell, Universal is reportedly getting Bryan Singer to reboot
Battlestar Galactica. So all you BSG fans out there can just forget all you put into the ending of the series's last reboot (which was mere months ago), because this movie is going to be the definitive version.

All that will do is piss off fans, and judging by the domestic under-performance of
T:S, and the cancellation of the series those pissed off fans will stay away.

I think Nolan didn't want to get caught in that kind of trap, and the sort of nasty chatter such boondoggles entail.


Sharon Waxman over at
The Wrap is convinced that the honchos at Relativity Media are planning to take over MGM. Her proof is a document called "Project Smith." Project Smith details the purchasing of MGM's considerable debt to where they can get enough together to force a takeover of the company, by trading the debt for ownership. And guess what, Relativity's financial backers have started buying up MGM debt again.

Now I've talked before how Project Smith could have just been a trial balloon, and that the backers of Relativity could be buying up the debt to make a quick buck. However, there have been some things that are making people think that they are going for a full takeover.

1. Relativity's pre-existing relationship with Universal Pictures (via Rogue Pictures) isn't all that hot, mostly because Universal isn't all that hot and seems to be operating under some sort of gypsy hex.

2. The prices for the debt are pretty tempting for someone looking for a takeover bid. I'm talking 50¢ for every $1 in debt. Which is a pretty good price because...

3. MGM has over 4,000 titles in their library. Many of them perennial sellers like the Bond movies, and other classics. It also has a domestic distribution system, as well as some valuable TV assets. What it doesn't have is the capital to make new product and properly market the product they have.

So, with all the shuffling going on, there might be a takeover in the offing. We can only watch and see if the venerable lion will roar once again.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Hollywood Babble On & on #350: Do The MGM Shuffle

Welcome to the show folks...

The borderline moribund studio MGM has announced a major shake-up of its management. CEO Harry Sloan has been promoted out of the CEO position, though he will remain as the company's Chairman of the Bored Board. In his place will be worldwide movie chief Mary Parent, CFO Bedi Singh, and vice-chairman/ "restructuring expert" Stephen F. Cooper to hopefully bring the studio's finances into some sort of coherent shape.

And damn, do they need those finances reshaped. The company's $3.7 billion debt has hampered it from making a dent in the movie market despite its massive library and the revenue it brings in, it's just barely able to keep creditors paid off and the company afloat. And while their upcoming movie slate has some promise, I fear their performance may be hurt by the sheer dead weight of the MGM brand.

I would like to see MGM rebound, because I think a healthy, competitive film business is vital to our cultural survival, so I'm going to wishing them luck on this potentially impossible task.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #349: Some News Bits

Welcome to the show folks, here are a few takes on recent movie-biz news.


Dreamworks has finalized their deal for financing from India's Reliance BIG media, and distribution via Disney's Touchstone Pictures.

This looks like a good deal for everyone. There's some real cooperation between Bollywood and Hollywood, and I like cooperation, Disney gets some product for their borderline moribund Touchstone Pictures label, and if things work out they could both stand to make some good money.

I just hope they follow some simple advice:

For Hollywood:

1. Keep things simple. Their vagari
es of international finance complicates things enough as it is. This deal does not need Hollywood bookkeeping making it worse.

2. Remember that Bollywood is bigger than Westerners like us can ever comprehend. It has a built in billion+ audience in India alone, as well as millions of other fans worldwide. While folks like I may jest about the film's simple stories and spontaneous musical numbers, the people behind them are not rubes. They are sophisticated business people who have managed to build a powerful industry in a country with a myriad of hindrances to a successful enterprise, from massive poverty, to bureaucratic meddling. Don't let your Hollywood ego drive a wedge between you.

For Bollywood:

1. I think the best advice I can give comes from some Cold War nuclear arms reduction treaty negotiations. Trust, but verify. Get your own accountants looking in on things.

2. Put some of those stunning Bollywood actresses in Dreamworks movies. If only for me.


Independent producer Halcyon, the folks behind the attempted revival of
The Terminator franchise are suing the hedge fund Pacificor for a variety of financial sins both mortal and venal over the financing of Terminator: Salvation. They are also accusing the man who helped broker the deal of pretending to be Halcyon's agent when he was, they allege, secretly working for Pacificor.

Now do you see why I keep demanding simplicity in film financing. The more complications, the more lawsuits. It's that simple.


Summit, the independent distributor of such hits like Twilight, recently got their ass handed to them on a plate with the release, and crashing of their movie Bandslam.

Now Nikki Finke received a message from someone claiming to be an "insider" at Summit, claiming stubbornness at a high level at the company made them wrongly sell the pic as a High School Musical rip-off when it was more of a John Hughes teen drama, with music.

And despite some people disagreeing with the veracity of the e-mail, you really can't buck the accuracy. The film scored an overall 80%+ at Rotten Tomatoes, and almost 90% with the top critics. That's pretty impressive, and should have done way better than the ass end of the Top 10, with a per-screen average beaten by my home movies of my trip to the hardware store. (Which Roger Ebert declared: "A slapstick masterpiece.")

The film's performance shows an egregious failure at Summit, and puts the continued success of the Twilight franchise into question. I mean, the fury of the Twilight fans can only burn so hot for so long, when it starts to dim, you need a slick and professional marketing campaign that knows the audience to keep the franchise going until the finish line.

Maybe a couple of hot Bollywood starlets could liven it all up?

Damn I got a one track mind.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #348: More Whys?

Welcome to the show, I have a few questions, I while I think I know the answers, I'd like to know what you, all two of my readers, think.


Harvey Weinstein made a rather telling statement to a New York Times reporter that was picked up by The Wrap's Sharon Waxman. It was...

“In the end, I realized that I’m not a good C.E.O., I’m not a good manager.”

Now if I was doing the interview I couldn't resist replying to that statement with a
"No shit Sherlock!" but I'm not working for the New York Times, and will probably never work for them, because I would say something like that to someone who was probably a personal friend of the publisher.

Now Waxman raises some questions that the New York Times didn't raise about the state of the The Weinstein Co., and you can read her piece for them, but I have my own question.


Why move from the low budget/high quality films to the big budget/questionable quality films that will no doubt sink TWC under red ink?

Why did you think that buying films at Sundance because of their festival buzz, and then sitting on them, sometimes for years, until that buzz died completely, and then dump them was not going to eventually hurt your company?

Why invest so much money that you won't admit exactly how much into a "social network site for millionaires," when the sort of Type-A millionaire types you're thinking about are way too busy for social networking? I mean it would basically turn into a bunch of their assistants talking shit behind their boss' back. Why?

Why invest in a myriad other ventures, from fashion to publishing that were so alien to your experience as a movie producer?

I have one answer to all those questions, and it's the word EGO.

What do you think?


Now I'm a man who appreciates a beautiful woman. I've found a variety of women highly attractive, and I think my fantasy file can be described as diverse to say the least.

So why do I not find Megan Fox in the least bit attractive?

According to the media she's the hottest thing on the planet that doesn't involve the processing of metals, yet the most interest I can work up is a weak "Feh." I mean she has all the "parts" of what Hollywood tells me are attractive, yet the whole seems to leave me cold.

It could be the tattoos, I'm a tad old fashioned in the belief that women shouldn't put on anything that could result in scar tissue if removed. But I think there's more too it.

In almost every picture of her, which appear 10 times daily on any website with the slightest interest in showbiz, she's posing with her back arched slightly, her eyes narrowed, her lips parted slightly, and her tongue rolling around her mouth like we've just walked in on her mid-coitus when in fact, she's standing in line outside a theater for yet another premier.

Then there's her Angelina-lite image, skipping the vampirism and adopted children, and the almost constant media speculating on her sex life, usually spurred by some comment she made about her sex life when asked a question about her shoes.

I guess it boils down to her trying too damn hard. She comes across as a pose not a person, and that's not sexy to me.

What do you think?


The heirs to the co-creator of Superman have won control of the rights to Superman's name, basic appearance, and some of his powers, while DC comics has kept custody of Lex Luthor, kryptonite, and Jimmy Olsen.

This comes after decades where DC and its parent company Time-Warner used everything in their considerable power to crush the creators of their flagship character. I mean both Jerry Siegel and co-creator Joe Shuster ended up living in poverty, while Superman raked in hundreds of millions over the years, only getting a small pension from Warners when shamed into it before the opening of Superman: The Movie.

Now I can understand, but not condone, the original owners of National Publications (which later became DC) putting the screws to Siegel and Schuster. Most early comic book publishers operated like fly-by-night operators, desperately scrambling to avoid paying anyone anything because they were expecting to declare the company bankrupt at any minute and wanted to hold onto as much money as they could for themselves.

So why did Warners keep on doing it for decades after.

I know Siegel and Schuster must have had some overwhelmed lawyers for accepting some of the settlements they were given over the years, but why did Warner force those shitty deals down their throats when a little diplomacy, and a decent cut, could have made everyone happy, and make the heirs more amenable to letting Warner/DC keep the copyright?

Right now the character could easily end up in a sort of creative limbo. DC unable to use their flagship character, and the heirs unable to use it in any coherent and recognizable form with anyone else. So why did Warners let it get this far?

Do you know what I think?

I think it's because most media companies are run like fly-by-night operations desperately scrambling to avoid paying anyone anything because it might dock some spare change off their bonus, and since they're usually expecting to be fired at any moment, treat every bonus as their last big jackpot.

That's my theory.

What do you think?

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #347: Why?

Welcome to the show folks, right now I have a question that I need answering.

Here's what I think are the reasons why I think James Cameron's Avatar is going to flop:

1. The plot isn't exactly original, it's basically
Dances With Wolves in Space. American Soldier goes to a civilization that seems primitive and alien to him, learns that their simple ways are superior, and he turns against the evil forces of western industrial civilization that threatens to destroy them.

Now this plot hinges on certain conceits:
  • Centuries into the future humanity hasn't learned how to handle their own pollution even though they appear to have mastered interstellar travel.
  • Centuries into the future humanity hasn't learned how to trade with alien cultures, or in Cameron's view, trade in itself has become a fundamental evil.
  • That these minerals couldn't be found someplace else in the galaxy, or figured out a way to get them that won't result in an expensive war.
  • That the somewhat condescending notion of the "noble savage," won't rob the Na'vi characters of any traits that the audience can honestly relate to, and make them caricatures of angelic primitives yammering a lot of claptrap about a lifestyle that the filmmaker himself wouldn't dare live without the ability to return to his mansion at a moment's notice.
2. James Cameron hasn't made a film in over a decade. His excuse is that technology hadn't caught up with his wondrous artistic vision. That set my bullshit detector into the red-zone. Yes, Titanic was huge, in fact, it was titanic, and it appears to have unleashed the beast of self-indulgence. We've had ten years of anticipation for him to do something, something that he promises to be so huge, he had to wait 10 years for technology to catch up with him.

That gives me the impression he's trapped in the notion that whatever he does, he must top
Titanic in size, scope, and most of all importance.

There's the rub, but it comes with no tug. The moment you start aiming for importance before story, the story will suffer, and that will make the audience suffer. You have to let the importance emerge organically from the story, or you'll end up making some tedious pretentious crap. It happens to a lot of Oscar winners, because the moment they win one, all they can think about, is winning another one.

Years ago I wrote an article, sadly it appears lost, where I advised James Cameron to just get back on the horse and make something completely trivial. A light-hearted action movie, or comedy, something on a small scale, anything really, to break the cycle of self-importance, and remind him that film is supposed to be entertaining. And if people compared it unfavorably to
Titanic, he should tell them to go kiss his ass, he's James Cameron, he made over $100 million on Titanic, and can do whatever the hell he wants.

But he didn't listen to my advice, and now I fear it's going to drop a bigger bomb than the Enola Gay*.

3. The budget is reportedly over $300 million. Or to be more exact:
Three fucking hundred fucking million fucking dollars!!! It would have to be as big as The Dark Knight just to break even once you bring in prints and marketing.

Now that's what I think, I could be wrong, I mean there's a first time for everything, and I want to hear what you think.

Will Avatar sink or swim?

*A Dennis Miller Style Reference Level 2 Alert.

Saturday Silliness Cinema: Yo Joe!

Welcome to the show, it's time for my usual Saturday break from griping about business to have a wee bit of a laugh.

The movie version of GI Joe has dropped 68% in ticket sales since it's grand opening weekend, beaten by newcomer District 9. If you go by Hollywood math, you have to assume that the film would need to pull double its production budget of $175 million to make a profit (that's to cover prints, advertising, etc.) and so far it's hit around $150 million worldwide.

Paramount might end up taking a bit of a bath on this one.

So, here's a video that shows the movie version they should have made:

Friday, 14 August 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #346: Miscellaneous Money, Movie, Media Musings

Welcome to the show folks, here are a few little musings:


Here's the scoop from Nikki Finke. The companies behind the top TV networks are banding together to create their own TV ratings monitor to compete with the Nielsen TV ratings monopoly. The big media boys claim that it's a necessary move because Nielsen's flawed TV ratings collection system is under-reporting the real numbers, and exacerbating the viewer flight from the mainstream networks.

Okay, let's say that the big media boys are right and that Nielsen's ratings system is flawed, something that a lot of people seem to agree with, and the fact that Nielsen is a big lumbering monopoly seems to provide evidence for that claim. I also love seeing companies compete.

But, and this is a big but, I am really suspicious of the major network's claim that they can handle this job objectively.

They live and die by ratings, and the temptation to fudge their results is just too great. Like it or not, Nielsen may be a monopoly, it may be inaccurate, but at least it's independent.

Which brings me to what I think is the major question here:

Where are the advertisers?

They need to have accurate numbers and demographics to judge how effective shows are at reaching their target audience, and if Nielsen isn't as accurate as it should be the solution is simple.

The big ad agencies know market research, so why don't they get together, start their own ratings measurement company, or, better yet, start several companies, with new methods, and more detailed metrics than Nielsen, to either light a fire under the old guard with some good old fashioned competition, or to pool their numbers together to create something hopefully more accurate.

That's my opinion, though I do tend to be right, about everything.

2. WHY G.I.?

Patrick Goldstein, the blogger at the Los Angeles Times Big Picture Blog asked why did so many people go to see
GI Joe on its opening weekend despite reports of its epic crappiness.

The theories are diverse, from the film as sensory escape, to Sienna Miller in a tight leather catsuit. But I think there's a little something else to it.

Take a look at recent movies that feature the US Military.

How many of them cast the US Military personnel as unquestioned heroes?

Outside of the
Transformers flicks, not many. In fact since the start of the Iraq War, Hollywood's created their own sub-genre of anti-war films that portray US military personnel as either intellectually deficient victims of the cruel machinations of Halliburton and their political puppets, or psychopathic rapists who commit atrocities with wild abandon. Even films that try to be either evenhanded, or treat the subject from a purely action-adventure standpoint, can't resist making some sort of statement against the soldiers and/or their mission.

Americans like their soldiers, because their soldiers are their fellow Americans. They like to see them in a positive light.

Now I fear that
GI Joe will not have the legs it needs to make a profit from it's $175 million production budget, once you include prints and advertising. That's because a lot of folks are complaining that they de-Americanized GI Joe, to make them some sort of UN force.

Flyover country might be fooled on the opening weekend, but they're not going to go back if they feel the film lacks the testicular fortitude to wave the flag a little. I'm expecting
District 9 to best GI Joe this weekend.


ABC has announced that they intend to turn the 1980s ensemble movie St. Elmo's Fire into a television series.

The series will follow a group of recent college grads making their way in the real world, in an attempt to replace the long departed
Friends in the hearts of viewers.

Now here's where things get screwy.

ABC is paying money, to redo an 80s movie, in order to win the audience from a 90s sitcom.

Think about that for a second.

Why didn't they just do a show about college grads and make no claim to the movie? I doubt enough people remember the film to make the connection, or put any real value in the title.

They're so scared of anything new, they will buy anything old, no matter what.

It's officially insanity.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #345: Random Rants


Okay, I hereby declared that I can no longer be shocked by Hollywood's seemingly endless appetite for remakes. There's a report that director Bryan Singer of The Usual Suspects, and X-Men 1-2, might be helming a big screen reboot of Battlestar Galactica.

You remember
Battlestar Galactica, don't you? It was a popular series on the recently rebranded SyFy channel until they retired the show THIS PAST MARCH.

We're talking about a big screen reboot of a recently retired TV reboot of a sci-fi TV reboot of the Book of Exodus.

Universal has just officially entered Chapter 11 of Creative Bankruptcy. They show isn't even over 6 months, and they're already doing a reboot.

I think Universal should seriously reconsider the continuing employment of their top management, because it's gone beyond spending too much money for too little reward, to transforming the studio into an endless repetitive loop of never-ending remakes.

When I'm supreme ruler of the world I will place a moratorium on any and all remakes, reboots, and re-imaginings of material less than 20 years old, under penalty of catapult!


Judd Apatow's producing partner Nicholas Weinstock has been recruited by former Fox honcho Peter Chernin's new production company to head up comedy development.

If the comments by the fairly knowledgeable readers at Nikki Finke's blog are anything to go by, he's thought of pretty highly by a lot of people. So I wish him luck and many happy movies and shows in the future.

With Universal cursed like it broke into the mummy's tomb and groped the mummy, Apatow may be following his former partner over to greener pastures.


The William Morris Endeavor Agency is purging after the binge of the merger, with even more layoffs at the storied agency, and the possible closing, or at minimum, drastic reduction, of its Miami office.

If this keeps up, the next round of layoffs after this one will include the letter "W" leaving the agency known only as "ME." Which will be fairly accurate, because by that time the firm will consist of one agent, his assistant, known only as "Hey, You!" and a janitor named Sal whose job consists of emptying the tear stained tissues from the assistant's waste-basket.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #344: A Few Miscellaneous Movie Musings


Warner Bros. has signed a deal to make a movie based on Lego.

Yes, those little plastic building blocks that you never really had enough of to build the fortress where your Star Wars & Buck Rogers action figures could do battle with your Star Trek & GI Joe action figure, are going to be made into a feature film.

When will the madness stop.

Yes, the
Transformers movies made a shit-load of money, GI Joe had a good opening weekend, and Hollywood execs pee their pants at the mere mention of an original property, but it's gone beyond hitting rock bottom, it's going to start hitting Morlocks any minute.

I mean we're talking about goddamn toy blocks.

Will it be followed by a Disney Duplo blocks movie for the little kids?

Damn it, grow a pair and remember that people like stories, not toys, this is just a fad based on nostalgia, but these development deals have now flogged that horse to death, so stop it.


Disney has reportedly signed on playwright/filmmaker/producer/shit disturber David Mamet to adapt a new version of The Diary of Anne Frank.

Now I'm a wee bit uncertain about this. My unease comes from a scene where Alec Baldwin lectures the family that the quietest member of the family wins a Cadillac, the second quietest gets a set of steak knives, and the third quietest gets tossed to the Nazis.

Here's an exclusive photo from the production:
I'm pretty sure this last joke has offended some people, while some others just scratch their heads and furrow their brows in a desperate attempt to understand.

Then my work today is done.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #343: The Day The (Movie) Music Died

It's seems sort of fitting that I should see a report on the death of the movie soundtrack album so soon after the death of writer/director John Hughes.

Hughes was the master of the movie soundtrack, especially when it came to selecting songs that would both appeal to his young audience, and perfectly fit the
mise-en-scene* of the movie.

Those soundtrack albums (yes they were albums back then) sold big too.
The Breakfast Club soundtrack was practically mandatory for folks of my generation.

Sadly, it seems that movie soundtracks aren't really selling these days. Some blame changes in buying habits, but I personally blame what I just found out was iTunes policy. When you go to buy a song from a soundtrack, you can't, because most of the songs on said soundtrack are locked, so that you can only get them if you buy the whole album.

Man, I thought it was the record label's policy, because I thought iTunes was smarter than that.

Maybe it's the combination of stubbornness and parsimony in my mostly Scottish DNA, but when I see that I can't buy the song I want without buying the whole album, my first thought is "fuck you, now I'm not even going to give them one red cent for that." Though it comes out with more of an enraged brogue, and for some reason my hair turns red at those moments, sort of like the Hulk, only I use the word "Och" more.

Anyway, it's a stupid policy in my opinion. Because I'm a grazer, I usually pick up a couple of songs, at first, then I go and splurge on the rest of the album if I like what I hear. However, block me from grazing, I'll just move onto a new field. Especially if the songs are available on another album.

Another thing that bugs me is that you'll hear a bitching song on the trailer, but it's not on the soundtrack. That pisses me off. The studio's already paid to use it, why not make it available as an extra "trailer track." I'm sure the artists would like people to buy their music in a convenient and affordable way.

Also, something could be done about the quality of the music in movies these days.** Why in my day... Damn, I'm starting to sound like my Dad. Only I'm right, aren't I?

* Film school nerd alert.

**Gen-X becoming Old Coot Alert

Monday, 10 August 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #342: $50 Million? Beat It!

I hate writing about Michael Jackson, again, but word has come down from on high that Sony/Columbia will have the rights to the 100 hours of rehearsal footage, music videos, and backstage shenanigans, for something in the neighbourhood of $50 million.

Now, is it just me, or is anyone else getting the feeling that $50 million has just been pissed away into oblivion?

Here's why I think that way:

1. This is not concert footage. It's footage of rehearsals, auditions, and other pre-show paraphernalia. Plus reports from those rehearsals say that Jackson was badly missing the energy and drive he had during his peak as an entertainer. Even if it was a concert film, they don't really make all that much money, unless they involve some Disney pop-tards, and have legions of tweens who would gladly spend all their parents money to see Miley Cyrus wash the dishes in 3D.

2. $50 million is just the beginning. A lot of work has to be done to get that 100 hours into some coherent shape. That costs money, lots of money. Editors, sound mixers, and special effects technicians, etc., etc., don't come free you know. And that's not counting the marketing, distribution, and other ancillary costs (like the lawsuits that Jackson attracted like flies to shit) to get it into theatres. I can see this hitting over $100 million in costs before its premiere.

3. I don't think the audience is there. To break even, this film would have to make something between $100 million +, which is a bit of a stretch, at least domestically. Remember the predictions that millions would flood the streets outside the memorial service? They never did make it, did they? Plus those remaining hardcore fans, may not want to have their illusion of him as a little boy shattered by the skeletal, surgically scarred, drug addled shadow he became before his death. There might be some foreign interest, but I doubt that it could match the immense interest held by the media.

Anyway, that what I think.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #341: A Few Quick Thoughts...


Nikki Finke has a list of the things the union AFTRA are not doing for their members. I looked over the list, and wondered what AFTRA is doing, outside of being troublesome to the Screen Actors Guild.

I mean running a union is a fairly straightforward enterprise. At least it should be. You have to try to get a fair deal for your membership, while expanding the ranks of that membership, and maintaining whatever services promised to that membership that induced them to join.

So far AFTRA, who recently re-elected their leadership, is accused of not doing anything to save the Motion Picture Fund's long term and intensive care facilities, of allowing the networks to fiddle soap operas (which employ many AFTRA members) into oblivion, replacing them with cheaper talk shows, and some rather bizarre behaviour when it comes to dealing with SAG.

According to Miss Finke's report, an important AFTRA official started making comparisons between the leadership of SAG and segregationists, and possibly trying to make this into some sort of racial issue. Now I'm no demographics expert, but I seriously doubt there is any real difference in the racial make-up of either union, and you have to remember that these are actors we're talking about, the most touchy feely sensitive hug everyone bunch ever seen in the history of civilization. Hardly a hotbed of racial intolerance.

Which begs the question: What exactly is the AFTRA leadership doing to justify not only the continued employment of their leadership, but the very existence of their union?


The Financial Times is reporting on a federal investigation into allegations of bribery and corruption between some American movie producers and officials in Thailand over control of a Bangkok based film festival.

Now some are crowing that this may mark the beginning of the end of Hollywood's shady accounting practices that have put the industry in the state where it can simultaneously claim billions in profits, and billions in losses.

Well, as the sub-title says, I'll believe it when I see it.

I think this will probably turn into an isolated case with the politics of convenience rather than justice being the guiding light behind it.

However, there is a way it could turn into the beginning of something major.

Right now Hollywood and the ruling Democratic Party, which has the White House and majorities in both houses of congress, are two peas in a pod. There's no way to deny it, they even got an ex-comedian elected to the Senate as a Democrat.

But this could all change in an instant.

Right now the Democrats are facing increasing criticism from media figures, and common citizens over recent policy decisions. Their poll numbers are dropping, and the 2010 mid-term congressional elections are no longer the shoo-in they thought it would be just a few months ago.

If things get too hairy for the Democrats, especially with Republicans pushing the message that they are "Hollywood's Party," they may decide to sacrifice their Hollywood allies on the altar of politics and opportunistic class warfare. There's been a lot of rhetoric about "sticking it to the rich" coming from Washington lately and you don't get much richer than Hollywood, with the added attention getter of decadent overpaid celebrities living lives that both disgust and titillate the voters of flyover country.

Imagine the ratings the congressional hearings would reap. They'd be so big, the major media companies couldn't refuse airing them, even when they're the ones being investigated. It would be Kefauver and HUAC with more sex and bigger money.

But that's only if they get desperate enough to pull the trigger on some of their staunchest backers, so it's a story that has yet to be written.