Saturday, 31 July 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #567: NBC Dons The Cape

Welcome to the show folks...

The once venerable, now barely functional, National Broadcasting Corporation has been making some big moves recently. They're being bought out by cable giant Comcast, and are pledging to stop the race to the bottom in both budgets and quality philosophy that has dominated NBC during the reign of current honcho Jeff Zucker.

The network is hoping to reassert its dominance and hopefully win back some viewers from the cable channels by backing away from cheap quickie reality shows, and spending serious moolah developing new scripted programs.

One of those new scripted programs is a superhero action-adventure series called
The Cape. The premise is pretty straightforward, an honest cop in a crooked town finds himself framed, disgraced, and declared dead. He then trains to become a martial artist/vigilante with the help of some circus folk, and goes out to fight bad guys dressed as his son's favorite comic book character.

Now the makers of the show know that they are going to be compared to NBC's last superhero themed show
Heroes. If you're like a lot of people and you forgot Heroes after they saved the cheerleader and saved the world, I'll recap what happened for you. The show had a huge first season, was the talk of the town, so to speak, and got renewed for a second season.

That's when the trouble started.

You see the people behind
Heroes didn't really have a clue what to do after the first season. They pretty much shot all their creative ammo during that first season, which lead to firing, hiring, and a lot of lame plot-lines pulled out of the collective asses of a writing staff who didn't know where they were going, what they were going to do when they got there, or if someone else was going to have their job next week. That showed in both the quality of the show and the ratings, which got steadily worse even by NBC standards.

The folks behind
The Cape say that they're going to avoid that trap by following a more mystery/procedural formula. Basically instead of long involved plots with little clues being dropped every episode, they're going to stick with one and done weekly story-lines for the most part.

Good luck with that.

But I'm not exactly holding out much hope for this show making it to a second season.

Here's why:

1. The superhero has that damn permanent
5 o'clock stubble thing that bugs the living shit out of me. That does not scream righteous justice, that mewls a phony tough guy pose decided by a focus group of dull eyed Burbank dwellers addled with faint memories of Miami Vice. Either shave, or grow the damn beard, that's what Batman would do.

2. The superhero itself. This sounds a lot like one of those things whipped up by committee at some network or studio office:
NBC BOSS: Superheroes are hot at the movies, we need to get some of that on this network that won't suck like Heroes.

MINION #1: We could adapt a popular book as a series.

NBC BOSS: Are you high!?! Then we have to deal with the creator, and the publisher and give them a share of the profits. We need to make up our own superhero.

MINION #2: I got one, Super-Man.

NBC BOSS: Hmmm... I like it.

SECRETARY: Warner Bros. on line 1, to tell you that they'll sue if you do Superman.

NBC BOSS: How did they know? Okay, forget Super-man. What makes superheroes special?

MINION #1: Super powers?

NBC BOSS: Super powers mean special effects and those kinds of special effects cost too much.

MINION #2: The wear masks.

NBC BOSS: We'll call him The Mask!

SECRETARY: Dark Horse Entertainment on line 2 to tell you that they're going to sue you.

NBC BOSS: Fine, we'll find something else to call him.

MINION #1: A lot of them wear capes...

NBC BOSS: That's brilliant! He will be The Cape. Make sure he has some manly stubble to make sure viewers don't mistake us for Glee, and we have a hit.
3. The premise that The Cape is inspired by a kid's favorite comic book character. The average comic book reader is somewhere between 18-45. Kids don't read anything longer than a text message. That sort of shows either a certain lack of knowledge of the nature of comics and comic readers, or they're willfully ignoring it as an excuse to toss in a cute kid.

4. I worry about the villains. A superhero is only as good as the villains he faces. They have to be diverse, colorful and interesting all on their own. I have a bad feeling that this show will turn into a 'gangster of the week,' rotating among the various ethnic mobs, to biker gangs, the occasional ill tempered scientist, and back again. One of the chief problem with Heroes that they had one villain that anyone actually remembered, and kept going back to him, over and over.

Are there any positives to this show?

The show has given Summer Glau some work, which is a good thing to me. I enjoy ogling her, but there's a caveat I must add.

I first noticed her on Firefly, one of the unfairly canceled show in recent history. That set a standard for me that has to be met in order to set my geeky fanboy heart aflutter.

Is it possible to make a good superhero show?

I think so. Maybe I'll talk about what makes a good superhero show another day.

Saturday Silliness Cinema: Look Around You 2

Welcome to the show folks...

Since you loved last week's educational segment so much I'm doing it again. This time the good folks at Look Around You explain the world of mathematics. Enjoy, and learn something...

Friday, 30 July 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #566: Billionaire Boys Club

Welcome to the show folks...

The fat cats are strutting their stuff this week, so to speak. Two billionaires, Ron Tutor, and Richard Branson are both jumping head first into the movie business this week. Ron Tutor finalized his purchase of Miramax from Disney, costing around $600 million and having his picture stitched onto a voodoo doll in Harvey Weinstein's basement. Richard Branson has opened a new production company called Virgin Produced , and has tapped former child star turned producer Justin Berfield and his business partner Jason Felts to run it.

They're not the first. Clothing magnate Sidney
Kimmel's been in the racket for years backing indie darlings like Lars & the Real Girl.

Ah, to have a few billion to toss around. Now you're probably wondering why would these normally shrewd businessmen get involved in a business as crazy as the movies.

Well, there are several reasons.

1. Glamor. There's rich, and then there's MOVIE RICH. Being rich and in the movie business adds a whole other dimension to the ego stroking a rich man gets. The most beautiful people in the world will line up to kiss your ass, sometimes literally, and that's a hell of a lot more exciting than sitting in a room full of accountants, engineers and lawyers discussing oil leases, or shipping schedules for your widget vendors.

2. Money. Despite the risks, which are great, the potential for rewards are greater too if you nail a few big hits. This appeals to those who love...

3. Excitement. The movie biz is a feast or famine roller coaster ride. It's the ultimate thrill for those with a gambler's soul. Big risks, big rewards, and a chance to play the artist.

Okay, now we know the reasons why they would get involved, what should they know if they get involved?

That's a good question, if I say so myself. Well there are many things they should know:

1. If you want loyalty in Hollywood, get a dog. The great philosopher Confucius once told me during a poker game that when it comes to Hollywood and money, you should trust no one farther than you can throw them. Confucius then cleaned me out with a straight flush.

But my old friend makes a good point.

A common mistake of the billionaire turned movie-maker is that they usually partner themselves with a large, major studio to handle their distribution and marketing. That's not healthy. Because a lot of the major studios see a billionaire and they see a sucker. The majors can easily trap a self-financed producer who spent tens of millions of dollars to make their movie into a situation where they either have to eat the studio's dirt and accept a smaller piece of the profits, if any, or spend tens of millions of dollars more of their own money to get what they think is their fair share.

Most just make a couple of movies, get frustrated and walk away, bitter at how they were treated and muttering that Hollywood is not run like a proper business.

Branson however is doing his deal in partnership with Relativity Media and their Rogue Pictures imprint, most likely to be distributed through their recent purchase of the Overture Films marketing and distribution department. In this partnership Branson is the alpha dog, able to crush his partners out of sheer bulk if push comes to shove. Or as my pal Confucius would say: He can throw Relativity pretty far if he has too. In fact, with reports that Relativity is going to go public, Branson's Virgin Empire could own a sizable chunk of Relativity as well.

2. Watch your spending. When you're a billionaire playing movie mogul there are going to be forces trying to get you to spend your money wildly. That's because you'll be spending that money on them, their clients, and their buddies. They'll stroke your ego, and any other part they can get their hands on, promising you riches, awards, critical praise, or just a snog with that hot starlet you met at Sundance. Don't let that happen. When it comes to making movies, be penny wise and pound wise. Learn what your money can really get you.

Maximize your company's potential by minimizing overhead. Only have the staff you absolutely need. Only offer the salaries and perks you need to keep them. And remember, you don't need the biggest office in Hollywood, or the biggest yacht at Cannes. That's your ego talking and messing with you. You just need the best movies that make the best profits.

3. Stars don't shine the way they used to. Stars are famous, glamorous, and sexy. They also don't sell tickets like they used to. Check the top moneymaking movies of the past 40 years and you'll find that a bulk of the record breakers made stars instead of being carried by stars. Look into what any 'name' actor can bring in at the box office and the home video market before you blindly sign a check for more than they can deliver.

4. Be passionate about movies. If you're a billionaire getting into movies, you need to love what you do. You must love the hustle, the histrionics, the hype and the hysteria. If you don't have this passion for the game, you might as well be selling widgets to the other billionaires. Because if you don't love what you're doing, it will drive you mad. If you love it, it might still drive you mad, but at least you'll be enjoying the ride.

5. Trust your gut. When you're a billionaire in the movie biz, there are going to be dozens, if not hundreds, of people who will present themselves as experts on the movie biz. They will offer their advice, and their guidance whether you want it or not. Well here are the simple facts about that kind of expert advice:

A. At best it's no better than your own gut instinct. There are no hard and fast scientific rules guiding success in Hollywood. Most of the time success is based on instinct, that chill down the back of your neck that tells you that this is the sort of movie you want to pay money to make just so you can see the finished product.

B. At worst such advice is dictated by agendas that center around the giver's own attitudes, prejudices, ego, or schemes, rather than the success or failure of the advice receiver. Remember, if it doesn't feel right, it isn't right, and move onto to something that does.

6. Don't let them get to you. That's pretty self explanatory.

If any billionaires are reading this, and if it helps them navigate the tricky waters of Hollywood, I require 5% of all the profits they make fas a result of this advice. I'm not greedy, and I need the work. I applied to replace both Simon Cowell and Ellen Degeneres as the main judge on American Idol. I told Fox TV I was viciously acid tongued and horrendously unqualified, and they turned me down.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #565: Bits & Bites

Welcome to the show folks...


Brit comedian/professional image Russel Brand has expressed interest in doing a historical action comedy where he plays legendary medieval mercenary John Hawkwood. For those not well versed in the history of late medieval Condottieri, Hawkwood was an English mercenary who went on to command the armies of various factions in war torn Italy.

I'll admit that I'm not a Brand fan, and I have the bad feeling that he'll play the character, like he plays all other characters like a washed up 80s rock star. My prediction, he'll drop out screaming "I can't ruin my image!" the moment he finds out that he needs a haircut to look like Hawkwood.


Fox and Ridley Scott have reportedly hired Damon Lindelof, the former head writer of TV's Lost to work on the script for the planned prequel to Alien.

My prediction: The movie will features various humans and aliens wandering around an island where nothing makes sense, then it will have a vague ending that won't answer any questions raised during the movie.


TV mogul Haim Saban has asked CBS honcho Les Moonves to pull Oliver Stone's Secret History of America from Showtime's schedule as punishment over Stone's recent comments about a so-called Jewish dominated media preventing Hitler from being seen "in context" and for making the Holocaust "a big deal."

Haim, I'm sure you're a lovely guy, but I have to say that this sort of talk is not how you deflate an obnoxious windbag like Oliver Stone. Get his show taken off the air and suddenly Oliver Stone is a martyr in the sort of places where he seems to seek approval, like among the rulers of Venezuela and Iran. You need an all new tactic.

Stone is basically one massive ego who thinks he knows everything about everything, and that everyone else is just a puppet of some shadowy conspiracy between the US Military/Industrial Complex, Big Oil, the Freemasons, that's secretly being run by Will Wheaton, otherwise known as TV's Wesley Crusher. If he hadn't made such big movies in the 80s like Platoon and the first Wall Street, he'd be living in a shack in Idaho writing manifestos on an old Smith Corona about how the antlers of the local deer conceal hidden devices designed to steal his brainwaves.

So here's what you do: You mock him. You make fun of his documentary. You get a bunch of historians a platform to discuss his factual errors, trust me, they will find them. Make him a laughingstock.

Make him a martyr and he'll never shut up. Make him a walking joke, and he might just clue in if he has any brain cells left.

Then you make him apologize for Alexander. Egad that was a steaming POS.


A lot of people are making hay over reports from observers that model turned singer turned First Lady of France Carla Bruni-Sarkozy screwed up her silent cameo in a Woody Allen movie by looking at the camera, possibly up to 35 times.

Well, when you stunt cast you gotta accept that there will be some risk involved. Film acting isn't as easy for some as people would like you to think it is. In fact, it's loaded with tricks and traps that long time pros don't even think of after they've corrected their screw ups for the 100th time. This is especially true when you stunt cast someone who spent somewhere around 20 years engaging the camera by looking directly at it with a sexy 'come hither' look when she was a model. You need a cattle-prod to break that habit.


Guillermo Del Toro has signed on to adapt HP Lovecraft's novella At The Mountains of Madness with James Cameron producing.

The novella's the story of a 1920s
expedition to the Antarctic that uncovers some ancient horrors that defy imagination. It was a direct inspiration for "Who Goes There," the story used as the basis for the classic 80s horror film The Thing. Now if there ever was someone born to do Lovecraft on film, it's Del Toro. However, I do have some advice for him.

A. Macho up the characters. The average Lovercraft protagonist usually faints at the sight of horror and then goes mad. Audiences aren't going to dig that. Someone's going to have to take some sort of stand when the Great Old Ones start sliming up the joint.

B. Don't let Cameron write the script. Let him sign the checks, but don't let do rewrites. If you do, he'll toss in some deranged ex-Marine who goes bat-shit crazy and tries to kill everyone for no good reason.

C. Make a film that will work in 2D too. I know the theaters are saying it's the wave of the future and will remain forever, but audiences are already starting to get a little tired of sub-standard film-making hiding behind a 3D bush. By the time you're done post-production, the whole craze could be deader than Mel Gibson's image.

D. Don't let James Cameron anywhere near the script. Seriously, it's for your own good and the good of the film. He'll slap in the plot from Ferngully and that will be bad for everyone.


The Weinstein Company has announced that it will boost it's release slate in the coming year.

Translation: They might actually try to release a movie into theaters instead of just announcing they're going to release it several times, only to play it in one theater in Utah, then dump it into the nearest DVD discount bin which is their usual practice.

Sure, I'll believe it when I see it.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #564: Hawaii Five No?

Welcome to the show folks...

The CBS TV network is hyping the holy hell out of their remake-reboot-rehash of legendary cop show Hawaii Five-O. At a recent press event the new Steve McGarrett Alex O'Loughlin stated that if this show doesn't work, he doesn't know what would.

Well, I'm not so sure that Hawaii Five-O Redux will work Senor O'Loughlin.


Look at his picture, and a lot of the publicity material, and you'll see that the new version of super-cop Steve McGarrett is sporting a five o'clock shadow.

Still wondering what my point is?

Well allow me to explain...

There's a reason for the stubble, it's the one thing that allows the actor in question to avoid being mistaken for a cast member of Glee. But that's not the thing about it that bugs me.

It tells me that there's a lot of thought about
the style and marketing of H5-O, but I'm getting a twee bit concerned that they're not paying attention to story, or characters.

I can just picture the pitch meeting:

CBS BOSS: All right, we need a new show for the Fall and we need it fast. And if there's a way to work in at least an appearance by Julie Chen, all the better.

MINION #1: We could do a remake of Hawaii Five-O.

CBS BOSS: Brilliant! Consider yourself the new vice-president of programming! Can we get Julie Chen in it somehow?

MINION #2: I don't see why not, maybe a cameo somewhere or a guest spot.

CBS BOSS: Brilliant, now you're the vice president of programming, because you have ideas! Now we have to make it hip and happening.

MINION #1: We'll cast a hot babe to be in the team, and cast a very young looking actor to play McGarrett!

CBS BOSS: That's the sort of thinking a new vice president of programming needs, but what if people think he's too young?

MINION #2: He could have some stubble.

CBS BOSS: That's the sort of problem solving a new vice president of programming needs! You're a genius. You, the other one, get out of my sight, you make me sick! You're fired!

MINION #1: But sir...?

CBS BOSS: But nothing! You're fired!

MINION #2: Tough luck.

CBS BOSS: You're fired too! Everyone's fired! I'm fired too! Bwah-hah-hah!

Okay, maybe I exaggerate with that little
reenactment a little bit for humorous effect, but I guess the point I'm trying to make is not what they were talking about, but what they were not talking about.

The material promoting the show just screams
very shallow thinking over the series. I see no signs of any real plots, character development beyond some basic types and stereotypes, or any sign that the show might go beyond the gloss of bikini clad beach bunnies, to look into the complex societal structures and problems of modern Hawaii. There's a lot of material to be mined from those crowded little islands, but I don't think they're going to do any real digging.

Instead, they rehash the quintessential square authority figure with bullet proof hair of McGarrett into some sort of baby-face-gets-stubbly pseudo-rebel who doesn't really project any authority, or power. Then they toss in a lot of chicks in bikinis in the hope that it will titillate viewers enough to forsake the more powerful titillation they can find on cable.

In conclusion, I'm just not that into this new Hawaii Five-O.

What do you expect?

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Time To Waste A Little Time

Welcome to the show folks...

Not much in the way of big news to blog about today, so I'll do some little stupid things:

1. Pop singer Rihanna has been signed to star in Universal's movie version of the board game Battleship. She'll be playing a crusty sea captain serving under an even crustier Rear Admiral played by Justin Bieber.

2. Daniel Craig has been signed to star in the American version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Putting him in the title role struck me as a little odd, but I guess that just makes me old fashioned.

3. Oliver Stone has apologized for claiming that a "Jewish dominated media" hadn't been portraying Adolph Hitler "in context." What's this world coming too when Oliver Stone can't stand by his nutty anti-Semitic beliefs.

3a. In a related story, Oliver Stone has started development on a remake of Fiddler On The Roof, with Mel Gibson as Tevye.

4. Carl Icahn has filed a lawsuit against Lionsgate over its management stock dilution scheme. This story is immediately filed under "W" for "Well D'uh!"

5. The US Government is investing money in developing an "anti-sex" video game. Someone should have told them that playing any video game too much does a lot to prevent the player from having sex all on its own.

That's all for now folks. Hopefully something interesting will pop up.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #563: UK DK OR OK?

Welcome to the show folks...

The relatively new Tory/Liberal Democrat coalition that's running the show in the British Parliament has ordered the scrapping of the UK Film Council. For those who the UK Film Council doled out taxpayer dollars to British filmmakers to promote British film-making.

Now such an entity is a double edged sword, which is why I must admit that I'm a twee bit ambivalent about this news.

Allow me to explain:

In theory, a taxpayer, non-profit type organization like the UK Film Council, or its Canadian cousin Telefilm Canada, is supposed to finance and promote the making of films that are free from the shackles of mainstream corporate considerations like profit, loss, and risk. They are supposed to foster and promote new talent, open doors, and develop an entertainment industry independent of Hollywood corporate interference.

In theory.

In theory, communism works.

Reality is often a different story.

Instead of opening doors and fostering new talent, most government film finance agencies tend to become even more closed than the Hollywood studio system. The studio system is always looking for novelty, new faces, and the 'next big thing,' because they have to be. The studios may be really lazy and bad at doing it, but they at least stumble around attempting it nonetheless.

Where talent and looks might get you noticed in Hollywood, they won't get you noticed in a government subsidized system unless you are in someway already juiced into that system. That means that you need someone in the system, either a political, familial, or professional connection to grandfather you in. If you don't have someone like that to open the doors for you, you are out, and will never, ever, get in.

Now since these organizations are free from considerations of profit, loss, and risk, they are also free from considering other factors like distribution, marketing, and above all the general audience.

The word "entertainment" in such circles becomes synonymous with "shit," and a whole new paradigm is established. Entertainment is eschewed, in its place is importance. Importance means that it has to tackle taboos (but in the least titillating manner possible), make political-social statements, and win awards at film festivals because those are the only places where they're going to play before they become a ratings black hole on the late night schedule of the country's public broadcaster.

On the political front such taxpayer supported bodies also become incredibly lopsided, favoring one party or ideology over another. I'll bet dollars to donuts that you are not going to find many dyed in the wool Tories in the management of the UK Film Council either. Which while they may complain about the group's shuttering, they must understand that if you live by the whims of the ruling party, you also face the risk of dying by the whims of the ruling party.

In conclusion, these groups do succeed in creating a film scene that's independent of Hollywood. But that scene is not an industry, and it's usually totally dependent on the government and its favors. Any industry that manages to survive on their own usually do by making some sort of accommodation with Hollywood instead of standing completely against it.

So you can see what I'm getting at. I like the idea of an organization like the UK Film Council, or Telefilm Canada, but I'm all too aware of the traps that are inherent in such an organization.

Now it's your turn to tell me what you think about this news in the comments.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #562: Where Have I Seen That Before?

Welcome to the show folks...

I've been seeing a lot about the upcoming film
RED, starring Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and others. It's based on a graphic novel written by Warren Ellis and is about elite government operatives who are hunted by their former employers and have to kick the ass of the US government to save their lives and the day.

Where have I heard that before?

Let me think about that for a minute....

Oh, yeah, I heard that story before in:

The A-Team
Green Zone
The Losers
The Bourne Identity
The Bourne Supremacy
The Bourne Ultimatum
Mission: Impossible 1
The Long Kiss Goodnight

Those are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head. I think they were planning to do the same plot if they went through with the proposed, yet never made, third installment of the
Agent Cody Banks movies.

These stories are the ultimate in formulaic. You can use this randomly determined form to make your own Hollywood spy action-thriller:

My lead character(s) is/are a


that the


has declared a



in order to further a conspiracy of



involving the


Now that you have your plot, just toss in some car chases, shoot-outs, and a truckload of explosions, and you've got a movie.

It will probably lose money, like
The Losers, and The A-Team, but that won't stop Hollywood from doing it over, and over, and over again.


Multiple reasons:

1. CLICHE: Hollywood has a complex relationship with cliches, they both crave them for their familiarity, yet want to be seen as original and daring artists, especially when they're not original, daring, or artists. They look at the classic espionage plot of a foreign power or warlord plotting evil against the west, and say: Leave the foreign villains for the more or less foreign James Bond franchise.

But if you can't do that, then what are they going to do? Well, they have to do something, but not anything too daring, because that might alienate a target demographic somewhere. So they look at some movie somebody made years ago about someone running & fighting the CIA, and go for that.

2. MISUNDERSTANDING THE CIA: Hollywood's understanding of the CIA is that it is an omnipresent, omnipotent organization run by shadowy right wing zealots who are capable of committing untraceable assassinations, disappearances, and regularly do surveillance of every aspect of a target's life with the press of a button.

Reality is a little bit different. The CIA failed to connect the dots on the overthrow of Cuba's Batista regime, the fall of the Soviet Union, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the 9/11 Attacks, and literally hundreds of other incidents, most of them still classified, leaving the agency to keep a scintilla of dignity. That pretty much debunks the myth of omnipotence and omnipresence. Assassinations, or "wetwork" was banned from CIA operations in the 1970s, and they also banned doing business with shady people at around the same time. (Which pretty much puts you out of most intelligence gathering) It also leaks like a sieve, with many major operations ending up on the front page of the New York Times as a matter of course.

3. POLITICAL CORRECTNESS: The classic example of political correctness rewriting movies that's always cited was when Paramount changed the villains in the movie version of The Sum Of All Fears from Middle Eastern terrorists, to Austrian-German Neo-Nazi businessmen. The main motivation for that was a deep seeded fear of offending a potential ticket-buying market that might threaten a boycott, accuse them of racism, or toss death threats at their executives.

Of course if you ask the studios making these movies, they'll say that they're merely avoiding cliches, by constantly replaying other cliches.

4. MISGUIDED NATIONALISM: This is different than patriotism. Patriotism wouldn't be using the government as the villain. Misguided nationalism means that the people green-lighting these rehashes believe that someone who isn't American could not possibly be tough or smart enough to be a credible threat to an all-powerful American hero.

This means that the villains have to be their hero's fellow countrymen, usually from the very same agencies or branches of the military that the hero came from to make them credible in the eyes of Hollywood.

So we have basically the same movie being released over and over again, with minor variations on the same theme. Will it stop? As long as one or two make money, they'll keep tossing them out. It's a hell of a lot easier than having to come up with something new.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Saturday Silliness Cinema: Look Around You

Welcome to the show folks...

Time for me to take a little break from my usual ranting and raving about the business behind pop culture and have a little.... education?

Yep, for a change I have a very educational film from England called Look Around You, it's all about about Water, and remember to take notes, there will be a test:

Friday, 23 July 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #561: Everything Relativity?

Welcome to the show folks...

Two posts, one night, who'd have thunk it.

Anyway, to the business at hand, film financier Relativity Media has just dropped a few million to take over the marketing and distribution operations of Overture Films from its parent company Starz, who are moving out of theatrical features and more into making content for their cable TV assets.

My question is why?

Yes, owning a distribution company is good, I once scolded Relativity Media for spending millions on buying Rogue Pictures from Universal when it had no distribution capability, and nothing more than a name that they tried to turn into a 'lifestyle' brand, and a decidedly lackluster film library.

But here's my point, the original sale offer included Anchor Bay home video and it's very sizable library of cult films, TV shows, and other cinematic assets.

So why buy the marketing and distribution arm, and leave the home video company, and its valuable library, behind?

If you're going for distribution and marketing for your films, why just do theatrical, which is a nightmare if you are not a major studio pumping out blockbuster after blockbuster, and eschew home video?

I'm sure Relativity has their reasons, but I really can't see them myself.

Hollywood Babble On & On #560: Cutting Off The Saw...

Welcome to the show folks...

Lionsgate Pictures has announced that upcoming seventh
Saw film in 3D will be the final nail in the coffin of the venerable torture porn franchise. For those who don't know, the Saw films centered on the victims of a super-genius serial killer named Jigsaw who kidnaps them and forces them to go through horrendous suffering to teach them a lesson about valuing life or some such bullshit.

The main point is that first three made big money, over $100 million a piece with the sort of production and marketing budgets usually spent on teeth whitener for Julia Roberts. The following films started to slip at the box office, but it didn't matter, they were still done cheap enough to be profitable. Now they've come to realize that when they felt they had to do the next one in 3D the whole thing was past over. Too bad they didn't come to that realization before pissing away millions on making it a 3D movie.

There are two hard and fast rules in the world of low budget horror film-making:

1. If the movie makes money, there will be sequels.
That's inevitable. When horror fans find something that scares them, they will want more, and the companies will be glad to provide them. However, doing the sequels leads to rule two...

2. After the third installment the movies will become self-parody. The plots will get really repetitive, the gore effects will go far beyond the laws anatomy and physics, and the killer/monster will reach a point of total unbelievability that even the supernatural can't carry.

With rule two in effect the producers will try all kinds of stunts, especially in the torture porn/slasher genres. They'll announce that the killer will get his comeuppance, only to be replaced by a 'new generation' killer, then the original killer will somehow come back from the dead, yadda, yadda, yadda...

Then even the hardcore fans will say: "Why bother? It's doing nothing but setting up another sequel," and start to stay away. Then they start spending more money on bigger stunts... like doing it in the new and expensive 3D, and watch it start to lose money.

So here's some sage advice when you have a horror franchise:


Assume that sequels will be in offing, so come up with a plan where you can make a nice, neat trilogy, a quadrilogy at the complete most, and wrap it up. Then move onto the next franchise with fans who don't have a sense of bitter resentment from watching you flog a dead horse.

It's not rocket science, it's entertainment.


Welcome to the show...

It looks like Darth Vader has gone over to the dark side.... again.

I asked his former colleague Yoda for a comment and he said...
"Tweaking on the meth, this one is."

I know Lucas banned him from conventions, but this is harsh.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #559: Little Things Mean A Lot

Welcome to the show folks...

It's nice to see some folks are liking the new look for this little blog. I'm hoping you find it easier to read and navigate and all that. But enough about the new streamlined look, this blog needs the sort of irate obnoxious content that I do best, and that you all know and love.

So let's get started with a few smaller stories...


Sometimes you can sum up all the problems with the literary scene in one neat little package. Here's the story, but if you're too lazy to click the link, I'll sum it up. A writing contest was started in honor of the groundbreaking science fiction scribbler HG Wells. Sounds fairly simple, but it wasn't, especially when you see the rules:

-All entries must be handwritten.

-All entries must be about life in the British county of Kent in the year 2010.

That means--

-No fantasy,

-No horror


Not surprisingly, they didn't receive a single entry. Especially when you look at the fact that most HG Wells readers tend towards being technophiles, and fans of science fiction.

I'll leave it to you, my gentle and fragrant readers, to figure out for yourself how this reflects on the publishing business/literary scene in general.


As I predicted when I gave him his Magnificent Bastard Award, takeover maven Carl Icahn has opened the doors of the cages and unleashed the fury of his attorneys on Lionsgate for their recent poison pill stunt.

A poison pill is when a company prints off more shares in order to dilute the ownership of major shareholders. Now Lionsgate's management tried this a couple of months ago, but was denied by Canadian regulators, because when you dilute stock, you will inevitably devalue it. Lionsgate's management is claiming that they were cleaning up the company's debt, when they printed off more shares and traded them to major shareholder/former Icahn ally turned management ally Mark Racheskey in exchange for the $100 million in debt that he bought from their creditors.

I don't know the ins and outs of high finance law, but I suspect that Icahn feels that he has a case, especially if he points out how this plan was tossed before by regulators when it was under a different name.


The Walt Disney Co. has inked a deal with film-making fantasist Guillermo Del Toro to make a new movie based on their Haunted Mansion theme park attraction.

For those with short memories, Disney did make a Haunted Mansion movie back in 2003. It starred former comedian Eddie Murphy, and it was an un-funny, un-scary steaming pile of shit.

Now when I was a kid, I loved old haunted house movies, especially the ones that sprinkled some humor among the ghostly ghoulishness like The Cat & The Canary, or anything involving Abbot & Costello, so there is precedent of this genre succeeding. Also a good scary movie doesn't have to be "R Rated" and graphic. Look up The Changeling directed by Peter Medak and starring George C. Scott. It has no graphic violence, no gore, and no obvious monster, but it's one of the scariest movies I've ever seen, and still is. Compared to
CSI, it's downright bland, but the suspense is almost overwhelming. So you can make a movie that is scary, and palatable for a wider family audience. (Though I don't think most parents were like mine allowing me to see The Changeling on TV when I was 12 years old)

I wish Del Toro luck. He's got a very hard job ahead of him consigning the last version into the dustbin of cinema history where it belongs. It's not impossible, just tough.

New Look

Welcome to the show folks...

I decided to take the plunge and give this old bird a new look and some new features like a "share" button that allows you to post links to this blog by e-mail, twitter, facebook, etc...

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Not much to crank about today...

...well, aside from the beastly heat out here on the ranch.


Anyway, I'm hoping to have something to write about tomorrow. So check with me then, and until then, feel free talk among yourselves in the comments.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #558: Magnificent Bastard Award!

Welcome to the show folks...

Today is a rare event, a time when I have to acknowledge someone's clever maneuvering, and present them with the rarest of honors. Yes it's time for me to present....

Today's Magnificent Bastard shows that sometimes when you're in the middle of a fight you can sing give peace a chance and then use it to sucker punch your opponent.

Today's Magnificent Bastard is...

10 days ago the takeover maven and Lionsgate's management called a truce in their long fight for control of the mini-major, saying that they were going to look into "merger & acquisitions" opportunities together. It was then reported that Lionsgate was looking into merging/acquiring that black hole of debt once called MGM.

Suddenly Lionsgate's share value took a dive, the truce expired and Icahn made a new offer of $6.50 a share. 50¢/share lower than his recent $7.00/share tender offer, and in comparison to the wobbly share price, it looks pretty reasonable. At first Lionsgate tried to sound even handed over this development, but meanwhile they were leaping head-first into a seemingly desperate stock dilution plan, where they trade debt for stock, in order to whittle down Icahn's stake from 37+% of the company to approximately 33%. Now I'm no financial law expert, but I'm pretty sure Icahn's lawyers are currently looking for ways to use it to screw this plan by Lionsgate's management, either through getting it tossed by regulators, or goading other shareholders to sell out before their own holdings get further diluted and ultimately devalued to nothing.

So Carl, you managed to use the egos of Lionsgate's management to drive down the share price, increase discontent among the shareholders who aren't part of the ruling inner circle with share dilution schemes, and set up a situation for you to buy more shares at a lower price, do you have anything to say about being getting this blog's coveted official Magnificent Bastard Award.
Well, since it looks like you're heading for a real battle, all I can say to both sides is to at least try to keep the company in one piece. The film business can't afford to lose a viable competitor.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #557: POST #1,000

Welcome to the show folks...

Just as I logged on to write this post I saw that it would be my 1,000th post. So let's mark this ultimately pointless milestone by sending me large amounts of money. Who wants to send me some cash?


Fine, be that way.

For my 1,000 post I am looking at two stories of cashing in when you can.


Ryan Murphy, the co-creator of Fox TV's hit show
Glee has inked an extremely lucrative deal to stick with his hit show, and to develop new shows. I won't go into too many details, except to say that he will now sleep in a solid gold house atop a king-sized bed with a mattress stuffed with $100 bills, and pillows stuffed with feathers from birds that went extinct centuries ago that were hand plucked by Rupert Murdoch himself during a time travel expedition. This goes on top of his already lucrative screenwriting work, the latest being the up-scale New Yorker finding themselves by traveling, eating & shagging, epic Eat, Pray, Love.

I say good luck to him, and that he should get as much as he can, while he can.


Because it can't last.

I laid out some of the possible reasons for Glee to crash and burn when I heard it was renewed for a third season before it even finished its first, and it doesn't involve 18 year old guest stars getting botox.

For those too lazy to click the link, I'll summarize:

1. The fandom and hype around
Glee is just too intense. It's like the old Nat King Cole song, it's just running too hot not to cool down. The hotter the show, the faster the chilling, and the colder it gets, sometimes completely freezing everything and everyone involved. Only the most charismatic and talented can survive that sort of hype-storm, and Fox putting the Glee performers in as many Fox related things as they can is not going to help them in the long run. The odds are really good for people to turn it on during season 2, wonder why they got so excited the previous year, and change the channel.

2. The cast is already in their mid-20s and will be hitting their late 20s during season 2. Passing them off as high-schoolers will get tougher. Plus, they should be all graduating at the end of season 2. What then? Do they get a new glee club together? Does the teacher follow them to college? Do they forget graduation and try to go all
Head of the Class and try to keep them as high school seniors when they're actually closer to senior citizens?

So I say to Mr. Murphy, get as much as you can while you can. Get as many new shows up and running as fast as possible and hope that they hit it, so that when
Glee does crash and burn he has an escape hatch.


The CW Network has purchased the sitcom 18 To Life from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), joining CBS's police dramas
Flashpoint, The Bridge, (co-produced with CTV) and ABC's Rookie Blue (co-produced with Canada's Global Network).

I was actually surprised to hear that CBC, Canada's tax subsidized 'public broadcaster,' actually went with this deal. Usually when one of their shows attracts considerable foreign interest they cancel it as fast as they can. Apparently the show was originally developed for ABC, but they passed and CBC caught it, and has now joined the other networks in selling their shows over the border.

Personally, I think it's a good thing.

90% of programming watched by Canadians are shows imported from America, with a sprinkling of British shows on our cable networks. Our domestic TV producers are usually geniuses at missing opportunities. Alliance-Atlantis TV, our biggest producer, produced the immense CSI franchise with American mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and what did they do this success? Did they use it to sell their other shows? Did they use that clout to expand and grow into a new market?

No, they pretty much dissolved themselves into
a mish-mash of companies incapable of doing much of anything substantial.

That's why I'm rooting for the Canadian shows that sell south of the border, and it's our own damn fault that we didn't catch on and break out of the cable/syndication ghetto into the prime-time network big time long ago.


1. Shows set in Canada and dealing with Canadian situations aren't all that alien to our American cousins. Our accents are understandable, our institutions are a little different, but not in any insurmountable way.

2. We have an excellent roster of talented performers and comedians who usually end up going to the states anyway, so it's nice for them to stay home and make a living.

3. It's just plain cheaper to make television in Canada. Canadian TV production doesn't have a lot of the baggage piled on it like ones made in California.

The American networks actually need Canadian shows, because they pretty much screwed up their own development systems following the twin false prophets profits of corporate synergy, and reality television. The myth of synergy has alienated a lot of talent, and pretty much cut them off from any access to the network higher ups. Reality shows stopped being the cheap panacea they were originally conceived of being, becoming more and more elaborate and expensive to stand out among the pack. This coupled with the decline in the popularity of reruns as summer viewing has left American networks with a black hole in their schedules.

Unable to develop the new scripted programming that advertisers demanded themselves because of all the walls they erected between them and the talent, the networks needed programming that was easy to sell and already put together. They found that material in Canada.

So good luck, I hope the Canadians do well, they could use it.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #556: My Pet Peeve

Welcome to the show folks....

The weather here at the ranch is hot, humid, and just plain crappy. This is making me extremely cranky, so I'm going to do some cranking here so you can derive entertainment from my rage. I have a pet peeve that needs to be addressed, and address it I shall.

It really, really, really annoys me when I see yet another report that a movie version of the failed sitcom
Arrested Development is in the works, only to be debunked the next day. Yet at least once a month, someone announces that the movie is on, then retracts, or denies the statement as soon as possible.

Here's a little note to all the website editors who keep reporting these stories, and those who leap on them as some ray of sunshine in their drab empty lives: IT IS NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN.

There, I said it, and I'm going to stick by it, and here's why:

1. The Audience: Had a talented cast, and lots of critical acclaim, but it never had a large audience. By the time they scraped by into a 3rd season, they had lost most of their most ardent fans who knew it wasn't going to last. Unlike
Star Trek it did not have a renaissance in syndication, and no company will think it worth the...

2. Cost: Sure Jason Bateman and Michael Cera have had some big screen success, and some failures, but their status, and the show's small audience, no matter how passionate, is going to justify the cost. Hollywood can't make a romantic comedy with no big stars without pissing away $50 million minimum. Is the studio that owns it willing to spend that sort of money adapting a movie from a short-lived, never truly popular show that managed to have an underlying theme of incest in almost every episode and involving almost every character.

3. Time: The show was canceled about two lifetimes ago in Hollywood terms, and exists only as a faint memory among a small audience. Where will the movie pick up? Will it restate the plot-lines? How will it explain the years that have passed since the end of the show? How is the movie going to restate the complicated relationships to the new audience that it needs to in order to justify its existence?

So please stop posting those Arrested Development movie reports, and those who loved the show, refuse to let these people play with your hopes. I liked the show, but like a lot of people, I sort of lost interest during the third season, and drifted away, but I know that a movie isn't the answer to a show that just didn't catch on with the general public. Let the cast and the writers move on to other things, and leave the show in the past. It's over, it's done, let it go.

What do you think of those reports of the Arrested Development movie?

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Saturday Silliness Cinema: Jimmy Carr

Welcome to the show folks...

Time for me to take my semi-regular break from ranting and raving about business to have a laugh. Today, Britain's king of the 1 liners Jimmy Carr.

Be warned, his material can be very NSFW and deliberately button pushing, so don't come crying to me if he offends you.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #555: Where Does All The Money Go?

Welcome to the show folks...

Today I have a question:
je pressman asked: Also FURIOUS D this film has made over 300 million dollars worldwide, when did a figure like that indicate disappointment or why are the financial hurdles set so damn high?
Once upon a time a worldwide box-office take of $300 million was the signal to start doing the happy dance at studio headquarters because your movie just made a truckload of money. Nowadays not so much. Now there are reasons for this, and it goes beyond simple production costs. That's because production costs are just the beginning, or to be more exact, the middle.

It all starts with...

DEVELOPMENT: This is the stage where pitches are green-lit to become scripts, in the hope that those scripts would someday be green-lit to become movies. Back in the day it wasn't a very expensive process. Usually the producer developing the project had a writer they trusted working on the script, and others only stepped in when the original writer was stumped.

Nowadays it's done differently. A studio buys a property, like a novel, a comic book franchise, an old TV show, or even a board game, then hires anywhere from five to fifty writers to work on their own drafts, then try to piece together something coherent from drafts written by the others and vice versa. These writers are all getting paid to do this, so are the producers overseeing this cluster-fuck, usually far better than the writers. Unless a script that meets the approval of about twenty studio executives, as well as their wives, mistresses, and illegal immigrant housekeepers is found right away, it becomes an extremely expensive process.

But even then it's not over. Directors are hired, so are their own writers, leading to more rewrites, production designs, firings, more hiring, etc. etc.... It all adds up.

An extreme example of script development run amok lies behind the
Superman Returns. Producer Jon Peters literally pissed away over a decade of time and $50 million+ of the studio's money before a frame of film was even shot. All development costs, and then some, are then slapped onto the 'negative cost' of the film.

Then you can begin...

PRODUCTION: This is often blamed because it is horrendously expensive to make a movie, and is often the source of many misconceptions. Many think, even I thought this too, was that big budgets were supposed to result in big stars, big sets, and big special effects. Well, that's only partly true. The key thing that a big budget buys a filmmaker is time. Remember, cast and crew are all very well paid professionals. Their time is worth money, a lot of money, and the more time spent making a movie, the more money spent.

Which brings me to salaries, one of the key budget killers. People like actors, directors, writers, producers are referred to as "above the line costs." Many of them are due residuals if the film makes money. However, studio accounting makes the mob running the Central States Teamsters Pension Fund look positively clean, and they know that they're going to get screwed on those residuals. That's why anyone of these "above the line" people with the slightest amount of clout demands as much up front cash as they can get their grubby little hands on. Their agents, who get 10% of that up-front cash, gladly play along.

So you end up with a film like Judd Apatow's
Funny People, which has no special effects, no major stunts, big fancy sets, or even a long production time, getting saddled with a production budget of $70 million. Pretty much all star salaries. Toss in big special effects

Now just when you thought it was over, it isn't, because then you have to pay for...

THE RELEASE: It costs money to make movies, it also costs money to get movies into theaters. These costs are called P&A, or Prints & Advertising. The bigger the film, the bigger the P&A costs, because they aren't going spend $100-$200 million on making a movie without spending a commensurate amount, usually the same if not more than the production budget, getting it on as many screens as they could with as much hype as money can buy.

Now you'd think that the studios all being owned by big media conglomerates would help them save money on advertising through the TV channels, newspapers, and other outlets that are owned by the same parent company. Well if you did,
you'd be wrong.

If a film released by Warner Bros. wants ad space on Time-Warner owned channels like CNN, or publications like
Time or People magazine, it has to pay through the nose for those ads. Often paying more than if they were buying ad-time from a competitor, because they don't have to buy those ads from the competitors, and are thus more prone to the rules of the free market.

Now that you have the ads bought, then come the ticket sales. The theater chains have to take their cut, called the House Nut, which generally leaves the distributor getting about half of the ticket price, an amount called The Rental.

A simple formula for determining the break even point of a film is to take the production budget, double it, and see if the domestic box office meets or exceeds that amount.

Why domestic?

Well, to answer that we need to look at the...

FOREIGN BOX OFFICE: This is because while most studios handle their own domestic distribution, and collect all of their own rentals, foreign distribution is a different kettle of fish. Only a handful of major companies are able to handle releasing films in every territory in the world. A lot of the time they have to license their film to be released by local distributors.

Those local distributors in the other countries then have to collect the rentals from their local theaters, shave off their own cut, and send the rest to the American distributor. So while the studios like to trumpet the foreign markets to make films look successful, they are, in fact, far less successful than they want you to think.

Then it all drops into the bizarre world of....

STUDIO ACCOUNTING: This is a strange world where madness reigns, nightmares are made flesh, and only the bravest auditors dare fear to tread it, and few of them return from these Lovecraftian realms with their sanity intact. Here are some of the more common black holes where the money vanishes:

1. LOANS: The studio borrows money from their parent company to make the film, but that loan comes with an interest and repayment plan that makes Knuckles the neighborhood loan shark look positively sweet-natured. Suddenly tens of millions of dollars vanish just to pay the interest on money loaned from the right hand to the left hand.

2. FOREIGN RELEASE: Remember those foreign distributors I mentioned, well, even the ones owned by the same multinational conglomerate that owns the studio are going to gouge a big cut out of the international release income. It's going to the parent company, but it's not going to the movie.

3. HOME VIDEO/TV: The home video company may have the same name as the movie studio, but it is, in fact, a legally independent company that license the movies from the studios in exchange for about 20% of the profits made on home video. The same trick is also pulled with selling the film to TV, one division licenses the film to another, to sell the film, at a deep discount, to the same channel that made this movie pay so much extra for ad space. So if you have a deal giving you 5% of the home video profits, you are due 5% of the 20% given to the studios by the home video company, and that's only if you're lucky because there's always...

4. STUDIO OVERHEAD: These are supposed to cover the costs of actually running the studio. However the definitions of what constitutes proper studio overhead is amorphous at best. It could include things from executive salaries, office and studio infrastructure expenses, to the new Lamborghini sports-car the CEO's daughter got for her sweet 16 birthday, as well as the party it was presented at.

All of these things eat away at the box office take until there are nothing but losses left. A
Harry Potter film with a global box office take of over $900 million has allegedly lost $167 million according to Warner Bros. Pictures.

If you're a big name in Hollywood with a lot of clout, you might be able to get some money out of a picture if you have what's called a "Dollar One Deal." That's where you can get anywhere from 5%-25% of every dollar from every ticket sold from the first one. These deals are rare, reserved only for the most powerful stars. More common are what are called "adjusted gross" deals where stars get a percentage after the film earns an amount past a set amount determined in the contract. Studios love to play around with these, so it's still a struggle to make what many consider their fair share, so most just ask for tens of millions up front as well as these adjusted gross deals.

An urban legend is that the last film to pay net profits to those with shares was the movie Splash, and only because it cost so little to make, made so much, so fast, the then struggling Disney company couldn't hide the money fast enough. Jim Carrey allegedly made money from a "net profit" deal, but from what I've seen it looks more like an adjusted gross deal, with iron-clad target numbers set in concrete.

And that's the story of Hollywood, money, and how they manage to lose lots of money even when they sell lots of tickets.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #554: Bruckheimer's Bucks

Welcome to the show folks...

The Wrap has a piece analyzing the box office performance of blockbuster kingpin Jerry Bruckheimer's recent productions. The costs have been creeping up, while the box office take is going down.

His most recent film The Prince of Persia raked in only $89 million domestic, and they're crowing about it making $230 million globally, but that's not all that hot. The film cost $200+ million to make, and Disney probably spent at least that much again for prints and advertising. Add the simple fact collecting the money from foreign distributors and exhibitors is a nightmare that never really gets you every penny you're due, and the film would need to clear a minimum of $400-$500 million just to break even.

Which brings me to the point of this little sermon.

Bruckheimer spends too much.

The secret of his success is that where people just did it, Bruckheimer overdid it. His specialty was producing bigger, if not necessarily better, than everyone else. Big, epic visual spectacles was his stock in trade, and could very well be his downfall.

The problem with Bruckheimer and his movies is that they are built on the premise that spending more money solves every problem. All you need are bigger explosions, bigger special effects, and bigger hype.

But audiences aren't flocking to movies that put spectacle over story in the numbers they used to. It's like the millions who bought the Avatar DVD and then watched it at home without the 3D, mega-screen, ultra-surround sound systems suddenly felt cheated. The sense of wonder created by being bombarded with digitally generated special effects is just plain burnt out. Folks want stories to go with their special effects. Millions even bought tickets to Shyamalan's Last Airbender despite the bad buzz in the hopes that they can get a sequel with a better filmmaker because they loved the story found in the original source material.

My advice to Bruckheimer-

1. Get better stories. Audiences are willing to pay for stories that go beyond excuses for special effects now more than ever. Pair good stories with good story tellers, and Bob's your uncle.

2. Control costs. A film should never have to make $1 billion worldwide just to make a small profit at best, or even still lose money at worst. It just shouldn't.

If Bruckheimer wants to keep his crown as King of the Blockbusters he should follow that advice. Do you readers have any suggestions for him?