Monday, 30 November 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #404: When Is An Adaption Not An Adaption?

Welcome to the show folks...

I'd someone to explain something to me.

You see I saw this story at Sci-Fi Wire about how they're going to do a TV series on the Syfy(llis) channel.

Nothing strange there, but then I read about the details of the show.

The show will be called
Haven, and be about an FBI agent battling the forces of evil in a quaint Maine town housing people living with supernatural curses.

Okay, small town
X-Files, I can see it, nothing too odd about that.

Then is says that the story is based on King's novella The Colorado Kid.

That's the weird part.

You see, The Colorado Kid, isn't about FBI agents and curses, it's about two old men who run a village newspaper telling the story of an unsolved mystery, that may or may not be a crime, to a young intern. It doesn't even have much to do with its own cover, let alone with this show.

How that becomes a TV series about the supernatural is the real unsolved mystery of this piece.

I think SyFy went up to King, and said:
"We want to paste your name on a new show, a sort of X-Files with clam chowder kinda thing. Do you have a book that isn't already optioned?"

"The Colorado Kid."

"We'll take it!"

"But it's not supernatural---"

"Don't stink up the air with facts, here's a truckload of money."

"What facts? Take it away."
That's what I think, what do you think?

Hollywood Babble On & On #403: When You Know You're Going To Fail

Welcome to the show folks...

There was a time when the people that make movies would talk about how their film was going to fill theaters, break records, and teach the world how to love again. Nowadays the trend seems to be to rush to make excuses as to why the film flopped even before its released.

Case in point: The movie
Brothers, starring Toby Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Natalie Portman. It's directed by Jim Sheridan who had a breakout critical success with My Left Foot, and right now Sheridan is rushing to explain why the film is going to fail at the box office.

Basically, he blames the audience, and I quote:
"I think the American people just don't think there is a war on, so why should they have to go to a movie about something that doesn't exist? Their state of denial is hard to overcome," Sheridan said.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Voyage to the Uncanny Valley

Captain's log, Stardate November 29th 2009...

It was an ordinary day on the bridge of the USS Furious when I got a call from Starfleet's Chief of Exposition, Admiral Tellitall.

"How can I save the Movie Galaxy today?" I asked the Admiral as I stroked my manly chin in a way that made me seem both intellectually curious, yet didn't detract from my ruggedly handsome good looks.

"This is a very important mission," replied Admiral Tellitall, "the sort of mission that only a dashingly handsome adventurer like you can pull off."

"Oh please," I said in all humility, as I scoped out my own reflection on the monitor, "you're giving me a big ego."

"I'll cut to the chase Captain Furious," said Admiral Tellitall, "one of Hollywood's top directors has lost his mind."

"That's not exactly uncommon," I replied.

"Except this director seems completely disconnected from common sense," added Tellitall.

"That too is pretty common."

"He's wasting hundreds of millions of dollars!"

"Still pretty ho-hum."

"Listen Furious," snapped Tellitall, "just get to the planet Animatia, find Robert Zemeckis and..."

"Terminate with extreme prejiduce?" I asked.

"No," answered Tellitall, "just slap some sense into him. He's barricaded himself somewhere in the jungles of Animatia, and he's saying that he should get an Oscar category for Motion Capture movies."

"That's one way to get an Oscar without making another Forrest Gump," I said.

"Just beam down and find him."

"Will do sir."


Animatia lay in the heart of the Movie Galaxy's Hollywood Federation, but it was still a wild and unruly frontier. Empires rose and fell on a regular basis, and competition was ruthless.

I decided to avoid the perpetual war zone that lay between Disney and Dreamworks, and beamed down in the former Realm of Independent Animated Features. All around me were the remains of the movie
Delgo, reduced to nothing but bones. Something was sniffing around the bones.

"James Cameron?" I asked.

"Nothing to see here," snapped James Cameron, "I didn't rip them off. They ripped me off! Yeah, that's the ticket, it's not like both stories are from the same grab-bag of hackneyed sci-fi/fantasy cliches, we were both completely original works that have nothing in common! I have an Oscar! I have an Oscar!!"

"I don't care about that Cameron," I said, "I need to find Robert Zemeckis."

"Oh," said James Cameron. "He on the fringe of Disney territory, he's gone past Pixar, and into some dangerous territory."

"Where is he?" I demanded. "Or I swear I'm going to tell you what I really think of
Avatar and completely shatter your illusions of genius!"

"All right!" pleaded Cameron. "He's lost deep in the heart of the Uncanny Valley. But you'll need a guide. Go to the mouth of the Valley and ask for a guy named Moe Capp, he'll take you to Zemeckis. He's the only person Zemeckis will deal with now."

"All right," I said, "now scram," wondering I had started talking like my character in my Private Eye parodies.


"Are you Moe Capp?" I asked, keeping my hand hovering above my phaser, not out of fear but simply because this guy looked like he was going to be very annoying.

"I'm the future man," replied the scrawny man with the raggedy beard and stringy hair, "Mo-Cap is the future. Soon man, we're not going to need actors, sets, cameras, or anything man. All we're going to need is a computer full of motions that we captured!"

"I need you to take me to Robert Zemeckis," I commanded.

"He sees the future man," continued Moe Capp, "he know that the revolution will be digitized!"

"Can you take me or not?" I said cramming my phaser into his face.

"All right dude," said Moe Capp. "But when it's gone, he's gone, there's going to be nothing left but motions, and they'll all be captured!"

"Let's go," I said, dragging him out of his hut, and together we plunged into the depths of the Uncanny Valley.


The trip down the river into the Uncanny Valley was pretty uneventful, sure the boat's crew had all been killed, but since they weren't the star, namely me, they really didn't matter.

"Here we are!" hooted Moe Capp as he danced in glee at the prow of the boat.

Before me was a massive temple built in the shape of a hard-drive, but that wasn't what shocked me.

"I see you noticed that it's made out of heads," said Moe Capp, "well he needed those heads man. To capture their motions man."

The temple was made out of head, their faces covered in little tiny dots to measure and record their movements.

"Wait here," I said, setting my phaser to maximum pimp-slap, and stepping off the boat, "I'm going in."


"Who are you?" asked a voice from the shadows.

"I'm Captain Furious of the Federation," I said.

"You're an errand boy," croaked the figure in the shadows, "send by snack bar clerks to butter the popcorn."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"Quiet," roared as he stood up in the light and I could see that it was Bob Zemeckis, wearing a tropical print mu-mu and his eyes drunk on the potential of technology. "I have another motion capture movie to make. This time I'm going to do a remake of Singing In The Rain, completely digitally."

"Dude," I said, "I'm here to snap you out of your madness!"

"I'm not mad!" snapped Zemeckis, "I'm ahead of my time!"

"No you're mad," I said, "your movies make less money each time, and get worse reviews each time. You're not improving, and that's a creative dead end."

"It's not a dead end," replied Zemeckis, "I just need finer rendering of the pores in Scrooge's skin."

"It doesn't matter how well rendered they are," I said, "they still look like corpses being pulled around on strings. They don't thrill audiences, they make them think of death."

"Go away!" barked Zemeckis. "I'm taking cinema on the next step in evolution!"

"I'm sorry I have to do this," I said as I aimed my phaser, and hit him with a full power shot. Zemeckis flipped over his throne and fell to the floor with a heavy thud. It was a heavy dose of common sense, but any less wouldn't have had any affect at all.

"Captain to the USS Furious," I said into my communicator, "two to beam up. It's time to leave the Uncanny Valley and return to the real world."


Saturday, 28 November 2009

Saturday Silliness Cinema: Light Metal

Welcome to the show folks, time for my usual Saturday silliness break.

Do you like heavy metal, but only with that it wasn't so... heavy? Then check out Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie's musical creation: The Bishop & The Warlord!

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The Book Report: Good Luck With That...

Welcome to the show folks...

It's the week of Thanksgiving in the USA, and Thanksgiving week is pretty much a wank when it comes to business news since all you Americans are busy gorging on turkey, and waddling your gravy sweating carcasses to the local mall on Friday morning to shop yourselves into credit oblivion.

Sorry, I'm feeling a little cranky today.

Since it's a slow for movie news I'm going to talk about something your unfocused brain-dead eyes haven't been in front of for a long time. I'm talking books.


While doing an on-stage confab with director David Cronenberg, prolific author Stephen King let slip that he might, perhaps, someday do a sequel to his classic horror novel The Shining.

So far he has a title,
Doctor Sleep, and a rough concept where a now 40 year old Danny Torrance is working, and using his "shine" with patients at a hospice for the dying.

And that's it, so far.

In other news...


Michael Moorcock will be picking up his quill and scribbling out a new Doctor Who novel.

Now for those adult enough to stop sniggling over the sound of his name, Mr. Moorcock is a prominent, popular, and incredibly prolific author of science-fiction and fantasy, and the creator of the Elric of Menibone saga. He has been a Whovian since the 1960s, and is quite eager to write this book, if he hasn't already finished by the time it took me to write this.

Well, here's what I say to Mr. King and Mr. Moorcock.

Good luck.

Both works will be held up to possibly unreasonably high expectations, so I hope that they at least meet, and hopefully exceed those expectations.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #402: Money-Movie-Muppet Musings...

Welcome to the show folks...


The buzz is that venerable studio turned debt-addled holding company MGM/UA will be put on the block in a process that should begin after Thanksgiving. Here's what I hope comes out of this whole process:

A. MGM/UA will be kept whole, and not sold off in chunks to the fo
ur corners of the media world. There's been too much consolidation in the industry, and not enough competition, making it lazy and complacent.

B. That whoever buys MGM/UA buys it with the intent to get it out of the debt trap it's in and make it a viable independent company, and not just a piece to shuffled around in a game of accounting-go-round.

C. That MGM/UA is reborn as the sort of company that will shake-off the self-fulfilling idiocies of Hollywood, and maybe get the rest of the industry off its ass.


Watch this trailer for the British thriller
Harry Brown...

Like the recently deceased Edward Woodward, Caine, who is 76 years old, is a much more believable action "tough guy" than most of the current crop of alleged action stars.

Where's the next Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, or Clint Eastwood. The sort of guys who look like they could take on a room full of goons and come out on top. Or give an icy glare that could freeze mercury.

I blame three culprits. The 1980s, special effects, and Hollywood's obsession with youth. In the 1980s the rebellion of the 1970s shifted into an obsession with posturing and pithy catch-phrases. Special effects turned the action from gun fight and two fisted brawls into elaborate extravaganzas that violate the laws of physics and divorces movie action from the reality that really tough-looking characters brought to the role. Then there's the obsession with youth, and anyone who looks like someone hardened from combat either on the streets, or the battlefield, is automatically disqualified from having a career, because they'll never make the cover of People Magazine's "Most Beautiful" issue.

It just makes me cranky.


ABC has been flooded with complaints over a performance on its recent American Music Awards, and it's got them so upset that they dropped a guest appearance by the offending star on Good Morning America.

Now I have a little message for all of you who wrote to ABC to complain.


The whole thing was staged for the express purpose of getting you to send a message to the network telling them how offended you are by all that "indecency," so the yahoo in question (whose name I don't remember) can get way more publicity than he would if just sang the damn song and did a traditionally banal interview on morning TV.

The publicity probably won't help his career, but his handlers told him that it was a slam dunk for stardom, and he went for it.

All you will accomplish by writing to the FCC, getting congress to hold hearings, and all the other clap-trap these things start is getting more dance numbers involving bared nipples and simulated fellatio, finally ending with a performance on the Tony Awards that features S&M with Hal Linden and Angela Lansbury.

It's the same thing as when the PMRC got its high-brow panties in a twist about suggestive lyrics, and had warning labels slapped on CD cases. Suddenly everybody wanted one because controversy got them attention, and everyone kept trying to top one another.\

So please, when someone tries to offend you, ignore them, you're outrage is their fuel. Deny them the cheap attention, and they'll eventually shut up.


Here's a little break from all my ranting and raving, just sit back and smile.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #401: Miscellaneous Movie/Media Musings...

Welcome to the show folks...


New Moon, the second installment of the Twilight Saga has the folks at the Summit Entertainment head office dancing with a record breaking first night and a near record weekend take of $142 million.

Well, good for them, invest the money wisely, and put it to smart use, because this might not last.

Sure, legions of "Twihards" camped out in front of theaters from Kalamazoo to Kathmandu to catch the opening night screenings, but such hysteria is a double edged sword.

To bastardize Cole Porter, it's all just too hot not to cool down.

We're talking about teenage girls, sure when they love something it's with a fanatical fervor that can change pop culture, and make an otherwise struggling indie distributor an industry powerhouse.

But they can also change direction sharper than the Flash on a meth buzz, and when they do, they look at what once inspired love and hysteria, and see it as an embarrassment that they don't want anything to do with again.

It's actually easier with male audiences. When they catch on to a movie franchise when they're young, they tend to stick with it. Even when it becomes as limp as the last Star Wars franchise, or as crotchety as the Indiana Jones comeback. This comes less from fanatical devotion, than from the simple fact that once a man tastes something they like, they want the full meal, or they'll feel they're missing out on something. And even if they now consider what they liked before embarrassing, they'll still buy into it, if only for the camp value.

Girls are different, when their tastes change, it changes for good, and woe betide those who are expecting it to last forever.

So I'll repeat my advice to Summit, bank your money, and invest it wisely, because you don't want to end up like all those other indies who rode a trend to the top, and then into oblivion.


Apparently the New Moon is a good time for harvesting sour grapes, as director Chris Weitz says that the failure of The Golden Compass, the fantasy epic that sank New Line was not his fault, but the fault of New Line Cinema. Apparently they took the film away in the editing suite and chopped out 30 minutes that took away the film's "edginess."


Well, let's look at the facts behind the failure of The Golden Compass, and who is to blame for what:

-The movie cost $180 million. That's a hell of a lot, and it doesn't cover the prints and advertising costs, which was at least another $100 million. That's a hell of a lot of risk for adapting a controversial kids book.

Blame: New Line for green-lighting a film that risky, in their eagerness for a Lord of the Rings replacement, and Weitz for spending it.

-The "edginess" the Weitz says was lost in the editing room basically meant more emphasis on the whole saga being about a little girl out to save the Universe by killing the Judeo-Christian God. American audiences don't like to pay to see movies telling them that their spiritual beliefs are inherently evil.

Blame: New Line for buying the book without knowing what they were getting into, Author Phillip Pullman for hyping the militant atheism of the story at the time of the film's release, and Weitz for thinking that more atheism will somehow win the hearts a predominantly Christian US audience.

-Making the film's success completely dependent on the US audience because they pre-sold all the foreign rights to cover budget overages.

Blame: New Line for pre-selling the foreign rights, Weitz for going over budget.

-Releasing an anti-religious film AT CHRISTMAS TIME while the original book's author is on every channel bashing religion, Christianity in particular.

Blame: New Line and Phillip Pullman.

So by my reckoning, New Line gets about 50% of the blame, Weitz gets 40%, and Phillip Pullman gets about 10%.

So you see there's plenty of blame to go around.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Saturday Silliness Cinema: The Return!

Welcome to the show...

I'm back doing my usual thang of posting silly videos as my little break from ranting and raving about the movie business. Today I go to old stalwarts Smith & Jones and their look at the career of Stanley Rogers, film composer. (Warning: It has a lot of "movie geek" humor)

Friday, 20 November 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #400: All Sex All The Time!

Welcome to the show folks...

A tip of my bon chapeau to the fragrant folks at Movieline, who led me to this study that puts a hole in what was considered one of the, pardon the pun, hard and fast rules of Hollywood:

Sex sells.

Well, maybe not.

According to the study movies with nudity and high sexual content usually do much worse, both at the box office, and with awards, than films that don't go for the crotch.

While I myself have no problem with nudity, I can understand why films with overt, and borderline explicit sexuality under-perform, and here's why:

1. NOVELTY OF NUDITY: When nudity first hit mainstream American cinema in the late 1960s it was new, it was daring, it was novel, and it had boobies. But that was 40 years ago, it's not new, daring, or particularly novel. It's old hat. The days when Roger Corman told Martin Scorsese that he could do whatever he wanted with Boxcar Bertha, as long as Barbara Hershey doffed her top are long over, because...

2. EXPOSURE OVEREXPOSURE: When nudity entered mainstream American movies it was extremely rare to see an the naughty bits of a famous actress outside of uncovering some stag film they made in their youth, or a rare photo spread in Playboy. Nowadays, thanks to a combination of the internet, constant and intrusive paparazzi, and poor fashion choices what were once the private parts of public figures have become all to familiar to the world at large.

And let's not forget...

3. NUDITY ABUSE: Remember when I mention Corman telling Scorsese that he could do anything as long as it involved nudity, well not anymore. Nowadays when an actress's nakedness is used as a selling point for a film an alarm goes off in people's heads. That alarm tells them that the film's going to have nothing to offer beyond a usually disappointing glimpse of nipple, and that you can get for free off the internet.

And then there's...

4. THE LITTLE BASTARD FACTOR: Remember that kid's movies are big business because they automatically deal in bulk. You sell tickets to the kids, at least one or more of their parents or guardians, and then little frigger wants to see the flick again, and again, then rent the DVD, and then get their own copy for their birthday. The only way you can lose is if you make a flick that makes the little bastards sick.

That's what I think, what do you think?

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #399: The Hand That Feeds You

Welcome to the show folks...

A tip of the sombrero to reader Kit, who tossed me this link to yet another stupid comment by actress Megan Fox, and since it's a bit slow today with useful topics, I'll give you my opinion:
The actress tells The New York Times that her movie "Jennifer's Body" tanked because "the movie is about a man-eating, cannibalistic lesbian cheerleader, and that pretty much eliminates middle America."
I don't think the comment says a lot about Middle America, but it does tell us a bit about Ms. Fox's own cannibalistic tendencies. Apparently she likes to bite the hand that feeds her.

I suspect that Jennifer's Body tanked at the box office for several different reasons, that had little or nothing to do with the cannibal-lesbian-cheerleader-phobic tendencies of the general audience.

1. The movie sucked harder than a vacuum cleaner hooker up to a nuclear reactor. The Amanda Seyfried character, the emotionally needy nerd, was named Needy. If you need to know more than that to determine if a film was going to be bad, you don't deserve the right to choose what movies you're going to see.

The more we know about Diablo Cody and her writing, the more we appreciate the contribution director Jason Reitman, and the cast made to Juno.

2. The ad campaign was hurtin' for certain. Basically all the publicity and marketing for the film said things like: "See Megan Fox skinny dip," "See Megan Fox Make out with Amanda Seyfried," "See Megan Fox eat boys with lots of gore," and "See Megan Fox as nothing but a bitchy sex object, but don't complain, because Diablo Cody assures us that it's some sort of feminist allegory. Really."

And aside from the fact that the ads gave no impression that the film would be remotely entertaining, it neglected to accept the fact that...

3. Everyone is sick of Megan Fox. The stupid comments about the movies she makes, the people she works with, and the folks who buy the tickets, the constant flood of carefully posed photos where she always looks like she's been interrupted mid-coitus on the red carpet to the Transformer 2 premiere were all just too much.

She's a media star, not a movie star, meaning that she has more appeal to the entertainment media establishment than the general public beyond the occasional early teen boy who may consider her worthy of a file in their personal Spank Bank, but not worthy of shelling out $10 to see in a theater.

Her "stardom" is based upon parts in the Transformers movies that could have been filled by any other young attractive actress. She could be replaced with someone, anyone, else for Transformers 3, and not be missed.

Now that I've explained why Jennifer's Body failed, I will now attempt to explain why she blamed "middle America" for the film's failure.

In Hollywood no one takes responsibility for their own mistakes. The one hard and fast rule is that when you make a turkey, you blame someone else for its failure.

Since you can't blame the people who dole out the parts and those who advised you to take them, you go for the all purpose whipping boy: The Audience.

Sure the audience buys the tickets that ultimately pay the bills, but if recent phenomena from a steady stream of "political films" that no one will pay to see, to Will Ferrell's paychecks, are anything to go by, the audience often plays a very weak role in Hollywood decision making.

It wasn't always this way. The people who made films acknowledged that they were directly dependent on the audience for all that dirty sexy money. When they had a film that was considered "highbrow" they tried their darnedest to sell it to the audience by telling them that it was a "prestigious" work that used art to educate and enlighten.

The prime example I like to cite is the film Gandhi. Here was a film about a skinny Hindu in a faraway country, leading protests against the rule of white English speakers. It shouldn't have sold to "middle America," but it did, because the studio, Columbia, sold it to middle America based not on the differences between them and Gandhi, his people, and his cause, but what they had in common.

Hollywood doesn't seem to do that anymore, and there are two reasons for that.

1. Media conglomeration. The studios stopped being so dependent on audiences for their money when they became mere cogs in massive bloated media empires, and a great tax dodge for investment funds. Sure audience disapproval stung, but the pain was mostly absorbed by the blubber of corporate consolidation.

2. The rise of "indie" cinema come awards season. This created an attitude that in order to get the critical praise and prizes you had to not only make films that are "too good for the audience," but directly hostile to that same audience. The audience became the enemy.

So now when your film tanks, you just say that you weren't stupid for making a bad movie, the audience was stupid for not "getting it."

Plus, I'm pretty sure Megan Fox is an idiot as well.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #398: Why MGM Must Live

Welcome to the show folks...

It's being reported that billionaire investor Carl Icahn, having been rebuffed from his take-over of mini-major Lionsgate, is buying up MGM bonds with a frenzy not unlike me at a book sale.

Now there are people criticizing this deal, saying that Icahn only wants to buy the studio as a gift for his son Brett who has an interest in the movie business.

Well I say: So what, as long as the company survives.

I've probably said this before during the whole Lionsgate battle that we know extremely little about Brett Icahn. All I know is that he's an Ivy League grad, that he runs a hedge fund for his father, and that he has a deep interest in the film business. I don't see him in the tabloid media hooking up or puking up with the other spawn of the rich and that tells me to give him the benefit of the doubt.

He's no less qualified than at least half the people running movie studios these days, and if he has some good ideas to save the company, and the balls to see them through, I wish him luck. In fact, I wish anyone willing to put MGM/UA back in business good vibes.

Now you're probably wondering why I'm so eager to see the Icahns, or anyone really, succeed in turning MGM/UA from a moribund holding company into a viable studio.

Well, the answer is simple.

MGM/UA needs to survive if the movie business is going to survive.

There's too much talk of this studio merging/buying/crushing that studio, and not enough talk about what the really need to be doing.

That's competing.

They're not acting like the hungry competitors they were in the Golden Age. Instead they act like a cozy cartel with no one willing to rock the boat for fear it might disrupt their merger/buyout plans or their ability to land a job at another studio when the one they work inevitably fires them.

What I'd like to see is MGM/UA given a new life, not as a cog in some consortium's holding tank, but as a vital, creative company, whose ownership is directly concerned with its success, and not how they can fiddle around the holdings so they can rack up more corporate debt for things that rarely involve the movie business.

Then, if it succeeds, it might shake the rest of the industry out of the creative doldrums that are currently sucking the life out of it. Sure, the box office may be good for certain films, and companies, but it's not translating in DVD or download sales, or in the sort of films that have perennial appeal to audiences.

There's nothing like a competitor kicking ass to get an industry off of theirs, and that's exactly what Hollywood needs right now.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #397: Indulge Yourself

Welcome to the show folks...

I recently finished reading Peter Biskind's epic Easy Riders & Raging Bulls, about the "New Hollywood" or "Movie Brat" generation that changed Hollywood in the 1970s and ushered in the dichotomy between their creations of the "personal film" and the "blockbuster movie."

One thing that struck me was how so many of that generation of filmmakers followed the same steps:

1. Early success. Consisting of critical praise as a genius auteur and boffo box office.

2. Unprecedented creative freedom. Essentially permission to do something crazy like shooting a film in black and white, or making a movie where all the lead characters die.

3. Indulgence. Essentially going completely ape-shit crazy making a "dream project."

4. Crash & Burn. The failure of the dream project(s), which was both over budget and behind schedule pretty much trashing the filmmaker's career, sometimes for years, sometimes forever.

Folks complain that filmmakers working in the studio system don't have the creative freedom that their predecessors in the "movie brat" generation had in the 1970s. Well, that's the movie brat's fault, and it all happened because of indulgence.

Allow me to explain...

I'll start by explaining exactly what indulgence is in Hollywood. It's basically a tendency to partake in your wildest, basest, or intellectual desires, regardless of the cost, both personal and financial. In the movie business there are two types of indulgence.

ARTISTIC INDULGENCE: This is a desire to break new ground in the field of creativity, or at least what you may
think is breaking new ground.

All too often Artistic indulgence is partnered with...

FINANCIAL INDULGENCE: This is also known as "extravagance" which is a desire to spend, spend, spend. And it goes beyond spending on the actual film, with much being spent on frivolous luxuries that have nothing to do with anything that ends up on screen.

Both forms of indulgence are ego-based.

Artistic indulgence comes from your ego telling you that it doesn't matter that your script is nothing but a half formed sentence scrawled on a bar napkin, or that your leading lady speaks only her native Serbian, or that your film is going to be a musical featuring singing anuses, you're the world greatest artistic genius and that will save the film. You know that you're the world's greatest artistic genius, because all the people who depend on you for their livelihood tell you that you are the world's greatest artistic genius. They have to be honest with you, don't they?

Financial indulgence comes from your ego telling you that shooting on location at New York's City Hall isn't good enough for you, you're going to reconstruct the whole building in the sound-stage, complete with furnished interior, even though you're only going to shoot one exterior scene. It's during this time that your ego tells you that you deserve imported silk sheets hand woven by Hopi shamans in your hotel room, or that you insist on eating only off of expensive antique china plates, that you then smash after every meal to prevent anyone else eating off them.

Now self-indulgence leading to self-destruction is not always immediate. Francis Coppola drove himself and his film
Apocalypse Now, to the edge of ruin through both artistic and financial indulgence.

However, he dodged the bullet when
Apocalypse Now made a profit. That was taken by Coppola as license to go beyond ape-shit on his next film One From The Heart, and that pretty much crippled him financially and creatively for years to come.

Now there is a way to be artistically indulgent and avoid self destruction, but you need to have your brain have final cut over your ego.

Case in point, the Coen Brothers.

They've managed to make their own films on their own terms and be fairly successful at it. One reason, is that when they do something that has deep meaning for them, but may be considered self indulgent by others, they follow a simple strategy.

They do it cheap.

Take a look at their film
A Serious Man. The film is a black comedy (already a tough sell), a period piece, about square middle class people, with elements of obscure Judaica involved deeply in the plot. That sort of project could easily backfire on them and ruin their careers.

However, they did the whole thing for under $7 million and did it ahead of schedule, and under budget.

Even if the film loses money in the theaters, it will be considered a minor loss by Hollywood standards, and the awards and critical praise could easily put it over the top into a modest money maker on home video and TV.

They didn't spend $300+ million to $500 million on what looks like a big screen version of cut-scenes from the computer game
Halo vs Smurfs: This Time It's Personal. They practiced self control, and kept their costs within the range that the film's potential audience would pay for.

It's how they can be personal in their film-making, but still viable enough to keep making movies their way.

That's why they are a couple of the smartest men in movies today.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #396: A-List?

Welcome to the show folks...

A tip of my urban sombrero to reader Nate, who passed on this link to an article by Reuters, which says that Hollywood's finally starting to acknowledge something that I've been saying since the beginning of this blog.

Basically it says that the studios are realizing that the "A-List" stars that they've been lavishing multi-gazillion dollar salaries are not worth the money, and the studios are going to do something about it.

Well no shit Sherlock.

But the fact that it took a global near economic collapse, after years (if not decades) of under-performing stars shows a fundamental flaw in the way the movie business works.

That flaw is glamor.

The entertainment industry, and those in the public eye, get a hell of a lot more attention than they deserve. This attention, called glamor, hails them as being the most beautiful, talented, charismatic...yadda, yadda, in the world, and that they are somehow above the mere mortals who buy the tickets.

The problem is that glamor is an illusion.

The people that run Hollywood live in a world comprised entirely of this illusion. They are surrounded by people that either work for them, want to work for them, or are seeking some sort of grace and favor, all they hear about the people they are investing tens of millions with are the fawning pseudo coverage of the entertainment press. So they reckon that they must be important and have a large audience.

Only that's not exactly true.

If it was true then Nicole Kidman's career wouldn't the black hole that it is, and George Clooney would be able to carry a film without major co-stars or the Coen Bros. carrying him. If you go by the entertainment press, they're the biggest stars of all time, but how many people are actually willing to spend money to see them.

If it was
30 Rock and Gossip Girl would be tied for #1 in the ratings, because they get loads of attention in the media, attention way beyond their ability to attract substantial numbers of viewers.

One of the silver linings in the total collapse of the global economy is that the investors who invest in movies are now asking for something more substantial than the tax write-offs the studios have been delivering, and they're forcing the studios to tear off the veil over their eyes and accept some reality.

So what should they do?

1. Get star salaries under control. Basically, no star is worth $15-$25 million a picture unless they can somehow guarantee a minimum $500 million box office take every single time. Because those salaries add up, and make even popular films unprofitable. Now I think actors should be well paid, they do make an important contribution, but if they can't live on a max $5 million a picture and a piece of the action, then they should solve those problems before becoming a movie star.

2. Studios should stop playing silly buggers with the money. There was a time when people could have a piece of the net profits for a picture, and guess what, they'd get it. The shady accounting is the main reason why the big names demand big money up front, because they're expecting to get screwed out the back end. Stop the screwing. If you owe money, pay it.

Basically, I'm telling the movie business to accept market forces. Trim the dead weights, lower costs, widen profit margins, and make things better not only for the studios, but for the actors still capable of selling tickets.

If you have any other suggestions leave them in the comments.

Edward Woodward R.I.P.

British actor Edward Woodward passed away at age 79.

I first saw him when I was a kid in the Anglo-Australian movie
Breaker Morant, where he delivered a powerhouse performance. He was best known to American audiences though for his 80s action/adventure show The Equalizer.

The Equalizer, Woodward played Robert McCall, a retired operative for a mysterious intelligence organization who rents himself out for free to the harassed, threatened and oppressed as a vigilante.

One of the sad ironies of the old
Equalizer show was that a then 55+ year old Englishman in a nattily tailored suit and impeccable manners made a more believable "tough guy" than most of the current crop of Hollywood's leading men.

He will be missed.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #395: MGM What To Do?

Welcome to the show folks....

MGM got the forebearance it was asking for, landing a stay of execution until January 31, 2010. The forebearance is basically where the holders of MGM's crippling debt accept a temporary freeze on repayment while a plan is put together to make the company a viable movie studio again.

I've been dabbling in what to do with the company for quite some time, and I think I've come up with my own plan. I'll gladly implement it as the new CEO of MGM, and I'll do it for half the salary and perks of a typical Hollywood CEO in exchange for a piece of the action.

Anyhoo, here it is...

1. Swap debt for ownership. Right now every penny that comes into MGM goes to paying off the debt, and most of that goes to paying off interest. This constant outflow of cash is severely hindering the company's ability to raise fresh capital and produce new films and TV shows to make the sort of money needed to make the company viable again. I suggest that this debt be either purchased and/or consolidated, then traded for ownership in the company. The debt-holders aren't going to get the sort of money they need if the company is stripped for parts and auctioned off. It's in their interest to get the company back on its feet and producing again, so they can see some real dividends.

2. Sell off MGM. Now you're probably think I'm nuttier than a squirrel turd by saying that they shouldn't sell MGM, then I go off and say that yes they should sell MGM. I'm not crazy, I do have a plan. You see MGM is a brand best associated with classical movie history, it's not a brand associated with the sort of fresh, vital entertainment audiences will line up in front of theatres to see.

What I'm talking about is selling off the MGM name, to someone who might be able to do something with it, namely Time-Warner who currently own the "golden age" MGM library and might be willing to drop a few shekels for the complete package. The remaining company wouldn't be nameless, I suggest restructuring the company to be reborn as a new United Artists company. United Artists has been moribund so long it's pretty much a whole new brand to most moviegoers.

3. Run a tight ship. Most studios have too many cooks in their kitchen. A revived MGM/UA needs to be lean and mean to keep its costs down, not only at the head office, but in production as well. Reward prudence, punish waste.

4. Find partners. There are many people and businesses who want to invest in the movies but have either given up, or were driven out by the behavior of the major studios. They're sick and tired of seeing the films they invest in becoming big hits, only to be told that their money has gone up in smoke thanks to funky accounting and immensely bloated corporate overheads. Now how do you deal with these production partners? Straight. If the film makes money, then everyone involved makes money, it's simple business. Do the impossible, make movies that actually have net profits.

This will also attract independent filmmakers and producers looking for a distributor who will treat them with a certain amount of decency.

5. Foster fresh talent. Hollywood is in a state that's eerily similar to the one it was in during the late 1960s. They were executive heavy, with an old guard that pursues hipness, and usually fails. This new UA must be open to new talent and train them in a philosophy that they don't need to break the bank to make a simple movie, they just need a decent imagination.

In the 1960s this talent was developed under Roger Corman and American International Pictures. A new UA could fill this gap by creating a production division aimed at filling gaps in the market with lower budget films, and put someone with a sharp eye for talent in charge.

6. Keep the Bond franchise, kill the Pink Panther remakes. 'Nuff said.

Anyone with other suggestions should feel free to leave them in the comments.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #394: Dear Jimmy


Dear Jimmy...

Uh, gee, I'm not sure how I can put this diplomatically, because I was a big fan for a hell of a long time, but I just have to say... you're full of shit.

There, I said it, no one else would, but that's what I'm here for, to tell you what no one else will tell you.

You are full of shit.

Wow, it was easier to say a second time.

I'd say it again, but if I'm going to chip through your ego-powered force field, I'm going to have to do some explaining.

Let's start with this little statement...
"I made Titanic because I wanted to dive to a shipwreck, not because I particularly wanted to make the movie...Titanic was about 'f*ck you' money,"
Dude, do you even listen to the sounds burbling out of your flapping cake-hole?

Let's take a look at the facts of that statement:

1. Yes, you did get to dive a shipwreck, but you could have whipped up a hell of a lot smaller movie, instead of concocting a then record, but now mundane, $200 million mega-epic production.

2. If it was all about "fuck you" money then why did you make a period romantic melodrama with a sad ending, and a budget that made the odds of breaking even, let alone profiting to the level of making "fuck you" money extremely slim. If you think that you knew back then that hordes of tween girls in love with Leonardo DiCaprio's non-threatening sex appeal would buy $1.8 billion in tickets, then the shit's going to start leaking from your ears Jimmy.

3. If it was all about "fuck you" money then why did you sign away your fee and your profit participation to help cover the film's exponentially inflating budget. So if you were so prescient to predict the film's record breaking success, then why sign all that away? Were you honestly counting on the studio bosses to have a sense of shame, and using that to spur them into showering you with money?

That type of determination shows that Titanic was more of a labour of love than a simple cash grabe, so please Jimmy, don't piss in people's ears and tell them it's raining. You're only succeeding in making yourself look like an ass.

Now Jimmy, I'm not doing all this to be an asshole internet troll. This is tough love, because I thought you had some real talent, but it's looking more and more to me like those Oscars must have landed on your head and knocked out all your common sense. Your next film Avatar, is reportedly heading into theaters with $500 million in expenses hanging over it before it's released. If you're expecting the same sort of phenomenon that made Titanic so titanic, then you can't see beyond your own bullshit.

Damn it Jimmy, listen to someone who isn't trying to kiss your ass for a change before it completely destroys you.

Sincerely --

Furious D

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #393: It's A WW2 Movie, Only Without WW2.

Welcome to the show folks...

Warner Bros./DC Entertainment is seriously making me doubt the success of the whole restructuring deal when it starts pulling really bad ideas out of its ass.

The bad idea I'm talking about is the decision to make a movie version of the Sgt. Rock comic book as a Sci-Fi adventure.

What the fuck?

For those who aren't familiar with the character and his oeuvre, I'll do a little recap. Sgt. Rock led Easy Co. a group of battle hardened ass kickers who battled Nazis across North Africa and Europe in World War 2.

It was not a science fiction story, it was a two fisted action story. Take it out of WW2 and you have something completely different.

You have Halo, or, Xenu forbid, GI Joe, or Starship Troopers, you do not have Sgt. Rock and all you'd be doing is wasting a brand on something that will only turn out to be more expensive than if they did it straight.

Many have noticed that the success of Inglorious Bastards shows that there is a market for the sort of Nazi-smacking action that Rock specialized in. So I really don't know what's going on in the heads of those running DC Entertainment. It's like the logic exhibited when an American network purchased the remake rights to Fawlty Towers and then wrote out the main character of Basil Fawlty. What were they spending the money on?

Please Warner Bros. I'm begging you, step away from the Sgt. Rock movie. It's better to have the film remain unmade than to have the entire franchise destroyed by one really stupid decision.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #392: A Brief Note About Death & Words

Welcome to the show folks...


The Writer's Guild of America released a statement about the passing away of AMPTP honcho Nick Counter.
"The Writers Guilds of America, West and East mark the passing of Nick Counter, longtime president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, and convey their deepest sympathy to his family."
Now you'd think a guild full of writers would have come up with something with a little more zing, a little more pizazz, a little more wow, because that offering was as tepid as Hollywood's recent box office stats.


In case you don't remember Nick Counter was the labour lawyer contracted to run AMPTP which handles negotiating the general contracts with all the unions and guilds in Hollywood. Counter was also a shrewd tactician and tough negotiator who perfected the "
sit & wait/divide & conquer" strategic combo that fostered and festered internal divisions within and between the unions, strained their resources, and drove them more or less bug-shit until the AMPTP pretty much got what they wanted.

No matter what you think of the man, or his methods, they were effective and he proved to everyone that he was very good at his job, which just happened to be driving the unions bug-shit. You can hate what he did, but you can still respect a worthy adversary who did his job as well as he did, and wish that your own leadership was as sharp as he was.

However the vibe I get from the bare-bones statement is that all the Writer's Guild leadership could bring themselves to say without slipping into four letter words.

Now I know the Writer's Strike was nasty and unpleasant, tensions were high, tempers were short, and livelihoods threatened, however, letting such emotions dictate union policy was what put the WGA in their precarious position in the first place. You have to handle labour negotiations with the sort of professional, even possibly ruthless, detachment that Counter possessed in spades.

Here's what they should have said:
"We offer our sympathies to his family and loved ones, we can't share their pain, because our relationship with him, was very different. Nick Counter was our adversary during the Writer's Strike. That's a fact. However, he was an adversary in the best way, because even someone you don't agree with can still teach you something. Nick Counter taught us in the union leadership that we must be better organized, and prepared for future negotiations, and we will be. We will miss Nick Counter, as a man, an adversary, and as a teacher, and regret that we didn't have him on our side."
Of course that might be saying too much, and maybe the unions want to have a few surprises in store for Counter's successor during the next contract negotiations.

Sunday, 8 November 2009


Sorry for the light posting this weekend. The 3 1/2 weeks I spent on the road have caught up with me, and flattened me with a wicked cold.

I hope to be posting again tomorrow.



Thursday, 5 November 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #391: The 4 Noble Truths of the Furious

Welcome to the show folks...

Two posts in one day, I'm getting back into the groove, so to speak. However, someone who doesn't appear to be in the groove is former studio exec turned producer Mark Canton.

According to the indefatigable Nikki Finke Mark Canton is alleged to be using a Los Angeles eatery for business meeting while allegedly giving no business to the eatery itself. And according to Senorita Finke's sources, when asked to order something for a change he allegedly shat out a major league hissy fit, complete with cries of "Don't you know who I am?"

If this story is true, then Mr. Canton is more in trouble than he thinks, because he's forgot some key truths about being a movie producer. They're sort of like the Four Noble Truths of the Buddha, but only really shallow, and based more on common sense than any deep philosophical knowledge...

Noble Truth # 1: The Nature of Hollywood Life is Suffering

When you're a really important Hollywood person you have to suffer the constant presence of less enlightened creatures called The Normals. The Normals are the people who feed, clothe, and otherwise service the really important Hollywood people, yet never truly understand the needs, wants, and whims of the really important Hollywood people, leading to much suffering, like having your three bean salad having a taste reminiscent of angry server piss.

Noble Truth #2: The Cause of Suffering Is Ego

Of course that suffering is really caused by the Ego of the really important Hollywood people. The are blinded by ego and think that the Normals really do exist solely to satisfy their wants and whims, and do not have such things as... oh... let's say, a restaurant to run in an age when profit margins are thinner than a Rachel Zoe client. But the Normals do have needs, and ego based blindness only serves to hurt the egoist.

Noble Truth #3: The Way of Ending Suffering

First step in the way of ending your own suffering is knowing when you're ego is going to get you into trouble. Knowing that is easy.

The moment that you are tempted to say "Do you know who I am?" is the time that you should know that you are wrong, and should shut your cake-hole.

The Second Step is to acknowledge that your business is just that, your business, not theirs and that they have their own businesses that must be taken into account. The Normals don't care about your credits, your box office totals, or if you have Julia Roberts' personal assistant on your speed-dial. They have their own lives to live, and don't need you having conniptions in their place of business. It annoys them and makes you look like an ass.

So to stop the suffering, you must stop inflicting it on yourself and others.

Noble Truth #4: How The Cessation of Suffering Can Help You Even More

Using a restaurant table or booth as an office is a Hollywood tradition that goes back to the Silent Era. However, restaurants are businesses that matter to the people in that business, and you must take that second step and acknowledge that their work matters to them.

So some sort of consideration must be made to the owners and staff of the restaurant to make your presence worth their while. Either a straight cash pay-off, some sort of rainmaker deal where you attract customers, or some other sort of barter. You're in a business, and they are in a business, and the point of a business is to make both sides of a business relationship happy.

Then comes the added bonus of being both thought of as a "good guy" by those around you, and the dramatic lowering of the urine content in your food.

But that's just the beginning.

Being good to restaurant staff is a smart business move, the same that it's smart to be good to secretaries, receptionists, and personal assistants.


Because they are human too, and humans see and hear things that you don't because most other really important Hollywood people don't really acknowledge their existence in any meaningful way. Someone who treats them with a little dignity and respect can then learn things from such people that might give them some sort of an edge in business.

Remember, business is all about people getting what they want through peaceful commerce, and in peaceful commerce, and little consideration and courtesy can go a very long way.

Hollywood Babble On & On #390: Don't Call It A Comeback!

Welcome to the show folks...

It's good to be back. It was an exhausting trip, but I'm home, and the old bed has never felt so comfortable, but enough about me, because I'm boring, let's talk business.


The word is that the deal is pretty much done for cable-giant Comcast to buy NBC-Universal, and that all that's left are the structural issues, and approval from the regulators.

What struck me was that while Comcast was keen to acquire the NBC cable holdings, and Universal studios, they are not all that keen on keeping the NBC Network itself.

That is an unbelievably hard kick in the corporate gonads for NBC, who used to be the home of "Must See TV" and housed some of the biggest hits in TV history.

Of course that's the key word, "history."

Which pretty much describes not only the network, but all the shows it airs.

Universal Pictures can be saved. It's just had a string of stinkers that a fresh attitude, the right filmmakers, a corporate shake-up, involving the reinstatement of Zombie Lew Wasserman and his feasting on the brains of the people who green-lit Land of the Lost can turn it around. NBC is a different story. It's more than just a company in trouble, it is a troubled company.

Now I'm no expert, and I'm no insider, so this is all speculation based on what I've heard, but I get an overall negative vibe from the NBC network. From what I've seen, read, and heard, there's an overall negative attitude that's sucked the life from the network, and could possibly sink it.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but my old Spidey-sense tells me that the key to getting ahead in the toxic corporate culture of NBC. At NBC you don't win promotion by making hit shows, or sleeping with your boss, you get the corner office by making everyone around you look bad. So instead of people working together to succeed, they're all running around stabbing and being stabbed in the back.

That's the feeling I get.

Now some are thinking that Comcast will jettison NBC and that Warner Bros. will pick it up to remake it in their own image. All I know, is that if NBC is going to be saved it will have to be torn down to the ground, in order to be rebuilt from the foundation up.

That's what I think, what do you think?

Wednesday, 4 November 2009


Welcome to the show folks...

I'd like to drop a big hello to both of my loyal readers. After 3 1/2 weeks away I have returned.

Anyhoo, long story short. I saw a lot of nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other assorted relatives, internet access was spotty, but now I'm back at what I do best... being an internet know-it-all jerk!

It's good to be back.