Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Just a quick note...

Welcome to the show folks...

I'm on the road right now, Michigan to be exact. The trip over was an adventure in itself.

I had to make a connection from Toronto airport to Detroit, and had to take a bus ride to the "special" terminal, that had me pass through Michigan twice. Then I boarded a prop plane that was so old, the first man who flew it, used it to shoot down the Red Baron.

Hopefully I'll find some time to do some the showbiz vitriol I do so well, but that will be tricky while I'm traveling.

So, feel free to roam the archives, because things tend to repeat themselves in Hollywood, and much of it will still be fitting.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Going Down The Road...

Welcome to the show folks...

Sorry I wasn't able to post my usual vitriol today, because I was busy packing. I'm going to be traveling for a spell, and my postings may be a tad more irregular in timing than usual.

But be patient, I'll be back. And since I'm Canadian I do not fall under the FTC's threatened regulations of blogs, so come on big studios, BRIBE ME!

Anyway, to help assuage the undoubtedly ravenous hunger you have for my material, I'll just post a quick list of what I think will be the top stories during my travels...

1. The Weinstein Co. will continue to implode.

2. NBC will continue to make really stupid decisions and soon be whupped in the ratings by the Lawn Channel, all watching grass grow, all the time.

3. Hollywood folks will continue to do things that make the people that buy the tickets shake their heads in a mix of confusion, despair, and disgust.

4. Hollywood in general will continue to be a confusing, confounding, and anarchic business, because no one there will acknowledge that it is a business.

I'll try to post while I'm traveling, so until next time...

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #389: The Return of the Miniseries?

Welcome to the show folks...

When I was a kid in the early 1980s you couldn't turn on your TV without having a big bombastic mini-series popping up on your screen. TV Miniseries were big stories, with big casts, ran in 2 hour installments either weekly, or nightly, were hyped as big events, and all seemed to star Richard Chamberlain.

The trend seemed to burn out and fade away with the 1980s. Sure, the occasional two-part TV movie would pop up, but the glory days of the mini-series was over.

Well, the folks at The Wrap, think that the miniseries is going to make a comeback, thanks to desperate networks in desperate need of a new business model in desperate times.

Personally, I think it's a pretty good idea, and here's why:

1. You can adapt material that's too long for a feature film, but perfect for a more episodic format. When I was a kid, big period dramas with large casts and twisty plots, were all the rage

2. You don't feel compelled to flog an idea to death. Some formats like the police procedural or other form of mystery show are perennial. They are not reliant on a single concept to keep them afloat as long as real crimes continue to display such originality. However other concepts have a "best before" date and really should have a set ending to aim for.

A case in point is NBC's Heroes, the first season it was a sensation, dominating the ratings and media conversation. But since the second season, it's been on a precipitous decline. Why? Because they don't appear to have a real plan beyond season one, and have even stooped to lesbian kissing to save the show.

3. Audiences can be more comfortable with a show that has a definite ending. I couldn't get into Dollhouse, even though I've enjoyed a lot of Joss Whedon's work in the past. Why? Because I just knew, from it's Friday night death slot, that it was going to be inevitably canceled, and leave me hanging, the way they did with Firefly. Now if they said that Dollhouse was definitely going to run for a specific, guaranteed period, and had a locked in and definitive ending, I'd have watched it.

4. "Video novels" can help revive the flagging DVD market. If you sell 4 to 12 hours of entertainment at a decent price, people will buy, especially if it's something they've developed a certain amount of affection for. But don't start pumping out multiple "editions" of any given title, people aren't falling for that crap anymore, just do it right the first time.

5. Richard Chamberlain can use the work. Come on, give the guy a job!

What do you think of a mini-series comeback?

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #388: TV, Sex & Sensibilities

Welcome to the show folks....


Watch this clip...

Now here's where I think Letterman missed an opportunity.

I would have called Ferguson up and told him to go after me hammer and tong, to leave no stone unturned, no line uncrossed, and no possibly conceivable joke unused.

Now you would probably think that would be a dumb idea, but it's not.

Right now Letterman needs to realize that he can't deflect the scandal, he must deflate it, especially with the National Organization of Women putting him on their shit list because of the frequent dipping of his pen into the company ink.

If Ferguson, someone Letterman trusts, was to completely mock the whole affair(s) into the ground the issue becomes trivialized, and anyone else who raises their head to take their shots comes across as hackneyed and old, because all that material would be already done to death.

Obviously, Letterman didn't take the shot, or really give Ferguson the green light to do it for him. They might think it's the right thing to do, that it might somehow stem the public humiliation of Mrs. Letterman, but remember, he's already publicly humiliated her to varying degrees, and by his own admission, multiple times with multiple other women. Watching her lecherous wannabe Don Draper of a husband getting a royal roasting might actually help her feelings of humiliation and powerlessness.

2. Overheard at the Heroes Writing Room:

"Our ratings are tanking! Why are people tuning out?"

"We're poorly marketed."

"We're on NBC. The gold standard of suck."

"We didn't have a clue what to do past season one."

"All you Ivy League dingbats are wrong! The reason we're tanking is because there's not enough barely legal lesbian action! Get Hayden Panty-what-ever, and get her tongue flossing another girl pronto! Instant ratings success!"

"Ooooh. Now I know why you're the boss!"

And by the way, I posted this picture simply to illustrate my point that faux-sapphic story-lines are the last refuge of a sinking show desperately praying for some sort of attention, and not to titillate the pervs who probably read this blog.

Besides the pic is poorly lit.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #387: Tighten That Belt!

Welcome to the show folks...

It looks like the big studios are going to have to tighten their belts after a pretty harsh year of big budget turkeys. Production costs have been going up steadily for decades beyond the rate of inflation, and a lot of major films, ranging from $75 million to $100+ million spent on just production, and mega-millions spent on prints and advertising sank like stones. It was also the year where underdogs exceeded expectations, with films like
District 9 making mucho dinars, and the rampant buzz over the $15,000 ghost story, Paranormal Activity putting the film already in profit, solely with midnight shows and word of mouth over marketing.

What does this tell us?

It tells us that Hollywood spends too much money, creating too much risk, for too little reward. Margins are wafer thin, with most major studio releases needing to exceed anywhere from $200-$300 million just to break even.

I mean they spent $70 million of Judd Apatow's
Funny People. Now I admired Apatow's ability to deliver hits at reasonable rates, but he broke the first rule you're supposed to follow when you aim to wallow in directorial self-indulgence: DO IT CHEAP SO IT CAN EVENTUALLY MAKE MONEY & YOU DON'T LOOK LIKE AN ASS!

Since the film was essentially people walking around and talking, the main cause of its bloated budget has to lie at the feet of the cast, most of whom were cheap relative unknowns just a couple of years ago, but it looked like each one cashed in their chips for the big payday, and pretty much cashed out their box office cachet with this film. Completely ruining Apatow's business model of doing productions on the cheap, reducing the financial risks, while cushioning their creative risks.

But I digress.

One thing the studios are talking about are chopping star salaries, specifically the "20 & 20" deals, which means $20 million up front, plus 20% of the gross from dollar one. I don't like seeing anyone getting screwed over when a film's a big hit, but if I was running the studio it would be:
You can have one, or the other, but you can't have both, and even then it would only be the select few whose audience appeal is guaranteed beyond the ability of any member of the dim constellation orbiting Hollywood these days.

But here's the money quote so to speak, that sums up modern Hollywood.
Top talent will continue to command a premium price, according to Barry Katz, president of New Wave Entertainment, which represents stars such as Dane Cook.

“I can guarantee you that the big stars aren’t going to take a pay cut,” he says. “Studios need them to bring in the audiences.”
Think about it for a second.




What did you glean from that quote?

Well, I'll tell you what I gleaned.

I gleaned that Hollywood in general doesn't know what sells to the general audience.

Who is the client, the brightest star in his firmament, that the article, probably at the Mr. Katz's insistence, mentioned?

Dane Cook.
Dane Fucking Cook

Yes, I'm talking about one of the most over-hyped box-office toxins in Hollywood. His box office record is so poor, he doesn't even rate a page at Box Office Mojo.

Yet he's the prime example of stardom that they seemed fit to mention. Sure, he does well enough at stand up for his brother to steal $10 million bucks from him, and I won't bring up the other incidents of theft associated with his career, but he's the box office equivalent of mustard gas. He's the male Nicole Kidman!

Right now, it's never been cheaper to make a professional quality looking movie, thanks to buckets of new technology. But the studios are spending too much on "stars" and too little on actually trying to connect with the general audience in a meaningful way.

It's a repeat of the malaise that affected the industry in the 1960s, where the studios were driven to near bankruptcy by overpriced bombs, cast with has-beens and never-weres, and an all over inability to make anything that connects to the audience in any meaningful way.

Marx did have a point when he said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #386: Random Movie Musings..

Welcome to the show folks....


Miramax Films the one time indie powerhouse of the 1990s, and current art house division of the Disney Studios has just had its distribution and marketing staff cut.

Disney is claiming that they are just restructuring to save money by having the big Disney distribution/marketing machine handle the handful of films that Miramax manages to squeeze out every year. But I fear that's just a claim.

Disney's marketing machine is geared toward big productions aimed at wide audiences, which essentially relies on saturation bombing marketing campaigns.

The sort of smaller, occasionally more mature, product that Miramax dealt in is a whole different kettle of fish. Saturation ad bombing, and souvenir toys at McDonald's doesn't necessarily work for these sorts of films. Say what you want about the Weinsteins, at their peak, they did have the hustle to sell a lot of independent films.

Also, according to Nikki Finke, the head of production and the head of acquisitions have just left the company.

You know what that tells me.

It tells me that Miramax has passed on! It is no more! It has ceased to be! It's expired and gone to meet 'is maker! It's a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace! If it didn't have some films left on its slate it'd be pushing up the daisies! Its metabolic processes are now history! It's off the twig! It's kicked the bucket, it's shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisibile!! THIS IS AN EX-COMPANY!!

Do you get my point?

Miramax, which was at the forefront of the indie film boom of the 1990s has joined Paramount Vantage, Warner Independent, and a bunch of other indie and pseudo indie companies that have been rendered moribund and ultimately shuttered in recent years. Ironically, this leaves Rupert Murdoch as the independent filmmaker's best friend, because not only is Fox-Searchlight the biggest studio-indie division left, they don't treat it as a loss-leader for Oscar bait and scoring chicks at Sundance. They really seem interested in making it a commercially viable company.


Universal Pictures has had a major shake-up at the top of the company after a real crappy year all around for the company.

I would like to take a moment to wish the new regime at Universal good luck with putting the company back in the black again. They're going to need it.


Michael Mann, a tad singed around the edges by the under-performance of his $100+ million gangster film
Public Enemies, has announced that he's working with Columbia Pictures on a biopic of legendary war correspondent Robert Capa.

He promises that this time the film will gritty and
low budget.

I should hope so.

I've been reading Peter Biskind's book
Easy Riders & Raging Bulls, about the rise of the 60s and 70s generation that took over Hollywood. The thing that struck more than the tales of drugs and studio politics were the numbers.

A movie was considered a smash hit with a box-office take of $36 million, let me write that out for the numerically illiterate
THIRTY SIX MILLION DOLLARS and it was considered immensely profitable. Nowadays if your big studio film doesn't make that on its opening weekend, you're not even going to cover the cost of your top cast-members. This can't be written off on inflation, at least not the inflation that affects the real world. It's a special sort of Hollywood inflation, where despite the means of production becoming cheaper, the costs keep rising at levels unseen outside of Weimar Germany.

I wonder how gritty and low budget Mann's film will be, because it seems that Hollywood can't film a fart for less than $60 million these days.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #385 / On Comedy: If You Dish It Out, Be Prepared To Take It Too

Welcome to the show folks...

Comedian Jeffrey Ross, the man other comedians call the Roastmaster General, because of his skill at skewering people's foibles said that the first and most important thing a comedian needs to have is
a really thick skin.

We're going to see just how thick or thin David Letterman's skin really is.

In case you've been living in a cave for the past few days, the host of CBS's The Late Show helped authorities catch a rogue CBS News producer who was attempting to blackmail David Letterman over his inappropriate relationships with his employees. Letterman came as clean as he could, confessing on the air to his peccadilloes, and already some folks are making jokes about it. But that's not the end of it, because some people are criticizing those folks for picking on poor Letterman.


If the shoe was on the other foot, and it was discovered that another TV show host was having dipping his pen in the company ink, so to speak, he'd be all over it like Harvey Weinstein on an Academy Award. If that person was someone that Letterman had some personal or political beef against, he'd keep dancing along that theme, long after the story and those involved passed into irrelevance.

Letterman made his name by needling the rich and the famous as if his Midwestern origins made him somehow apart and above all of them. This was especially true of celebrities or politicians that he didn't like, and he would assume a stance of smug moralistic condescension as he skewered them, and if they complained, he'd accuse them of being whiners who can't take a joke.

Now it's Dave's turn to see if
he can take a joke.

I don't think the seriousness of the situation has fully sunk in with Letterman, and his defenders, and I think he needs to hear a cautionary tale about a man who was in a similar situation.

The man in question was a British comedian and actor named Angus Deayton.

Deayton achieved massive success as the host of a BBC show called
Have I Got News For You. It was technically a game show where panels of so-called "experts" were quizzed about current events, but was more of a comedy show skewering the great and good for their moral lapses.

Deayton stood out particularly when it came to viciously satirizing the amoral decadence of politicians and celebrities in an outwardly suave and sophisticated package.

Then it happened...
The combination of hookers and blow can definitely saw out the legs on someone's moral high horse.

Deayton tried to go on with
Have I Got News For You, but had ended up becoming the target of his co-stars', comedian Paul Merton, and editor/libel magnet Ian Hislop, own scathing humour and was ultimately fired.

Now you're probably thinking something like:
But he's just a comedian, he's not a politician, or a religious leader, he shouldn't be held up as any sort of moral standard!

And the answer to that would be: He held himself up to be some sort of moral standard, and then tore himself down. So it's really his own fault that folks start pissing on the ashes.

Remember, like Letterman, his specialty was viciously going after people beset by scandals, now he was faced with those same people saying back at him:
I may have done something wrong, but at least it didn't involve hookers, blow, and a midget in a leather speedo.

So the next time Letterman makes a joke about someone cheating on their spouse, people won't be catching the punchline, but seeing a lecherous old multi-millionaire mocking others for what he apparently did on a regular basis, and with women he had power over.

How long before the sexual harassment suits start flying?

With his public admission the floodgates will open, because Letterman himself admitted to multiple acts of illicit sexual congress with employee
s, and that means plural. How many will come forward with stories of threats by Letterman to put out or lose their jobs, and CBS lawyers telling them to keep their mouths shut or face career and financial ruin?

It doesn't matter if such cases are true or not, the door is open, and it's only a matter of time before someone walks through it.

What will be the most telling is how Letterman himself handles this. So far his strategy is to handle it like he handles his extra-marital affairs, do everything on his own show, where he is in control, and hope that it inoculates the audience, and closes that door he left open along with his zipper. However, if he feels that he's losing control of the situation and in a petulant fit starts lashing out at those who make mock of his situation, then he's sunk.

Because then he'll become the whiner who can't take a joke that he's always saying his critics are.

Just to help Letterman learn how to take it, I'm going to dish it out a little, so here's...
Justify Full

10. Not only was it shocking that David Letterman was being blackmailed about sex, it was even more shocking to find out that Letterman was having sex worth being blackmailed over.

9. I guess his "Worldwide Pants" were down around his ankles.

8. Working on the Late Show really puts the ASS in production assistant.

7. Dave's trap for the blackmailer, the $2 million was in the form of a TV deal with NBC!

6. While having sex with assistants, Dave kept screaming out:
Oprah! Uma! Oprah! Uma!

5. We now know how Paul Schaffer got his job.

4. Dave's new assistant Monica Lewinsky!

3. Dave's assistants feel less screwed than the audience from that time he hosted the Oscars!

2. If you're working on the show and Dave asks if you want to see his "stupid pet trick" run!

1. Dave's new motivational slogan for his staff:
If you want to get ahead, you've got to give head.

I'm sure you folks can do better.

Saturday Silliness Cinema: A Time To Sing...

Welcome to the show folks...

Today I've got a little musical comedy from duo the Doo Wops.

I'll be back to ranting about business later.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #384: Miscellaneous Movie Musings...

Welcome to the show folks...


MGM may have the forbearance they asked for from their bondholders, staving off bankruptcy. The trick is that reports say it's not for as long as they originally hoped for and the remake of
Fame isn't going to live forever, and it isn't going to learn how to fly.

So if this deal goes through, it's only a stay of execution for the venerable studio and not a pardon.


Who knows these days. The possibility of a sale of Vivendi's 20% stake led to reports that the rest might be sold by parent company GE to everyone from Time Warner to Comcast. Now after some denials, they're even more chatter that the company may actually be sold, spun-off, or some other arrangement if the right deal is found.

All I can say is that I think it would be best if NBC-U is reborn as a separate company and not just a cog in a massive conglomerate.

Plus, a lot of new faces in management couldn't make the situation any worse.


Tom Ortenberg, who left Lionsgate for the Weinstein Co., and recently left the Weinstein Co. when he realized that it was the Weinstein Co. has hung up his own shingle.

One Way Out Media will offer consulting and financing services for small budget independent films. The new company motto will be "I survived the Weinsteins and so can you!"

Good luck Mr. Ortenberg, in this economy, you're going to need it.