Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #586: BATTLES! BATTLES! BATTLES!

Welcome to the show folks....


Two big budget World War 2 movies are reportedly in development. One is a 3D retelling of the Battle Of Midway, and the other project is a Hollywood/China co-production about the Flying Tigers to be directed by action-meister John Woo to be shot in IMAX.

For those who don't know their history, the Battle of Midway was a huge air and naval battle between the USA and Japan over a tiny but strategically crucial island in the center of the Pacific called, naturally, Midway. It marked two major developments in military history. It destroyed Japan's brief period of naval supremacy, and it showed that aircraft carriers, and the planes they carried were more strategically valuable than the more traditional battleships.

It was also a story of cracked codes, and a simple yet brilliant deception operation that completely exposed Japanese war plans. And if you like your movie history, legendary director John Ford was actually on the island itself, and was wounded while filming the battle.

Before America's entry into WW2 The Flying Tigers were officially a unit of mercenaries working for China's Nationalist government fighting the Japanese. Unofficially they had a nod and a wink approval for their actions from the American government. A connection this story has to film history is that the Flying Tigers' executive officer was Merian C. Cooper, the producer/creator of
King Kong and other films.

Personally, I like a well done WW2 story. Everything from attempts to recreate specific historical events, to blatantly fictional action-adventures. So I have to say that I wish them luck.


Three major broadcast networks are vying for
producer Darren Starr's latest concoction. It's a soap opera set in the upscale suburbs of Dallas and is based on a novel called... wait for it.... Good Christian Bitches.

Now I'm only mildly psychic, but I'm willing to bet dinars to donuts that whatever network wins the bidding battle the winner will want a name change.


I don't think 3/4+ of the population of the USA will be too keen on that title. Aside from the minority that will write angry letters, and the even smaller minority of that minority that will utter threats over it, the majority of people who would take offense at the name will simply flip the channel to find something that doesn't piss on them from the rarefied heights of Beverly Hills.

My suggestion for a new title:


You see, it rhymes with
An Embarrassment of Riches, but includes the whole 'bitch' meme they seem to be going for.

However, if you use it, you're going to have to pay. Not just for the title, but for saving your bacon.


Carl Icahn has upped his offer to buy Lionsgate to $7.50 a share, but only if they stop the stock for debt dilution scheme with his former
apprentice Mark Rachesky. Some think the recent success of The Expendables and The Last Exorcism will help Lionsgate management fight Icahn.

It might, and it might not. The Expendables is doing pretty well, but it cost $82 million to make, and probably that much for prints and advertising. So while the $100 million box office take is nice, Hollywood "loses" money on $1 billion movies. Kick-Ass is having a decent second life on DVD, but is it enough to mitigate its dismal turn at the box office? Their best money-maker is The Last Exorcism which was the sort of low budget genre acquisition that used to be the company's bread and butter, which Icahn wants to go back to, and let's not forget the fortune lost by Lionsgate's intended summer tent-pole movie Mr. & Mrs. Smith Knight & Day Killers.

This fight is not over.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #585: The Audience Is Just Not That Into You

Welcome to the show folks...

Came across this piece that said that Hollywood's most recent crop of romantic comedies just haven't been wowing the crowds the way the once did. The Julia Roberts vehicle
Eat, Pray, Love had a big opening with truckloads of hype, even though it was in second place to the testosterone dripping The Expendables, but crumbled into dust extremely quickly. What the studio hoped would be a love affair turned out to be a one night stand and no one called in the morning. Even the allegedly mega-successful Sex & The City 2, only did a little more than half the business of the first movie.

I think there are five reasons for the dwindling success of a once reliable genre:

1. LAZINESS. There is nothing creatively lazier than a modern romantic comedy. There was a time when seeing a romantic comedy meant dialogue that snapped, crackled, and popped more than your breakfast, multi-layered plots based on misunderstandings involving complex social mores, and characters you actually wanted to see together. Each one had to be different in order to stand out, now they're all pretty much the same with increasingly contrived situations around the relationship in question. There was an attitude with the studios that women will buy anything marketed as a "chick flick" regardless of quality.

2. INSULARITY. Is it just me, or do most modern romantic comedies involve a woman from New York who "has it all," including a glamorous fantasy job, finding love by changing some dorky hunk of manhood into someone she finds acceptable. Can we have someone who doesn't have a glamorous job in New York? This could also be a symptom of the laziness inherent in the genre with every writer pitching them as just like the last one to actually make money.

3. CONSUMERISM. Can we have a romantic comedy that doesn't have a montage scene about shopping or makeovers? I know the chicks love to shop, and talk shopping, but even they have a limit when it comes to product placement being shoved down their throats at the expense of plot and character development.

4. POOR CHEMISTRY. Chemistry is hard to find. It's where two actors work so seamlessly, so naturally together on screen that the audience wants them to end happily ever after. The actors in question can hate each other off screen, but on screen, they're electrifying. It seems harder to find today. Most on screen couples these days are pretty to look at but just don't click.

5. COST. There was a time when romantic comedies were reliable moneymakers. They were cheap to make, and could actually pull a profit on a $100 million box office take. One of the most successful romantic comedies of 2010 was Garry Marshall's Valentine's Day. It made $100+ million at the box office which is good, right? Wrong. The film cost $52 million just to make, and at least that much in prints and advertising. The very best case scenario is that it might break even. Why did the film cost so much? Because the people starring and making romantic comedies saw the studios raking big money from the big hits, and demanded more up front. When the receipts started to shrink, they started cramming in more 'stars' into movies like Valentine's Day, and He's Just Not That Into You in the hope that it would make them a blockbuster. It didn't work.

Is the romantic comedy dead?

No, people will always love stories about love.

I do think it needs some reform. Maybe a little more originality and intelligence coupled with some real on screen chemistry.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #584: Why Rupert?

Welcome to the show folks...

As I mentioned the other day the head of the BBC is going after Rupert Murdoch, his son James, Rupert's company News Corp. and their Sky Network for well... being the competition. There is also talk in important circles in the USA about bringing in a "fairness doctrine" to bring some sort of government control over the content and style of Fox News, another Rupert Murdoch enterprise. Then there's the almost constant controversy over his many newspapers, with many citing them, and their owner, as the chief cause of the complete fall of civilization itsel

Now his critics will say that he's biased and right wing, as evidenced by his company's recent political donation. That as a controversy is a fart in a thunderstorm. Other media companies, their senior executives, and on-screen talent give generously and campaign for political parties, or to be more exact, one political party in particular, and it's not the party News Corp gave to, but I'll get back to that later.

First a little history...

All this controversy over political stances is very ironic because back when he started out he, and his fledgling Australian newspaper empire, was attacked for being biased and left wing. Despite his personal political beliefs, which have shifted to the right after his Oxford/Labour Party days, his first papers leaned left because there was a gap in the market that he sought to exploit.

When his rivals tacked left, his companies tacked right.


Because the gap shifted, and he moved in to exploit it.

It's just that simple.

Same thing with Fox News. There was a gap in the market that he decided to fill, and make money from. If all the other cable news channels were like Fox, he'd have the network swing the other way, because it means that there's an audience, and their money, that's being ignored.

Now this is where people talk about how all consuming News Corp is, and how we must fight such media consolidation.

Yet you almost never hear that sort of talk being leveled at Viacom, a just as rapacious conglomerate that, thanks to MTV's masterful use of pre-packaged corporate friendly rebellion, has destroyed more young minds than syphilis and pinball combined. And the other mega-conglomerates like NBC-Universal, Disney-ABC, or Time-Warner, incites such passionate calls to be regulated, punished, or crucified.

Why is that?

It's because Rupert Murdoch is, in the words of my grandfather, a fellow who would rather fight than eat.

You see, the other big media conglomerates give each other a pass because, well, they give each other a pass. Before Murdoch started rocking the boat you really didn't see ABC News run an opinion piece saying that they disagree with how CBS handled a story. The most that might be said would be a little gentle chiding on a Sunday morning political panel show, because for the most part they don't disagree over anything.

It's a nice cozy country club kind of atmosphere among the top echelons of the media giants. They all live in the same neighborhoods, vacation in summer homes in the same areas, attend the same events, vote the same, etc., etc...

Enter Rupert.

He not only disagrees, he DELIBERATELY disagrees. He hires people like Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck to host opinion/discussion shows because he knows that they will enrage his competition. These same hosts then publicly challenge the shibboleths of their competition, knowing that their competition will have a collective conniption fit, because that sort of thing is just not done in their country club, and attack.


Two reasons:

1. Entertainment value. If you're going to watch people talk politics, you don't want a bunch of people who all agree sitting around a table agreeing. Viewers want to see controversy and disagreement, they want debate, if not outright arguing done in a colorful if not extravagant way, because it makes dry subject matter palatable.

2. Free publicity. From my own experience since I got a satellite dish is that every time I turn on MSNBC, someone is complaining about Fox News. You can't buy that kind of time.

People see the controversy and the complaining, and then tune in to see what it's all about. Some see things that they like and stay, others wonder what the fuss was about and stay because they find it lively and entertaining, while a small percentage gets turned off completely and return to what they were watching before. No matter how much you criticize him Murdoch, and his companies, make a net gain from that criticism in the end.

He wants to be the bogeyman, because by being the bogeyman, he's getting his competitors to be his biggest booster. News Corp's recent donation to the Republican Governors Association was a deliberate and calculated move to spark some convenient, and ultimately profitable outrage from his competitors. While these tactics won't get him invited to some of the swankier parties in the Hamptons, he doesn't care, because he's too busy laughing all the way to the bank.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Saturday Silliness Cinema: Look Around You 6

Welcome to the show folks...

Time for my usual break from ranting about the business behind popular culture for a little laugh and what I think will be the last installment of Look Around You for now. Today, THE BRAIN.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #583: Snarky Snippets

Welcome to the show folks...

Late August/early September is when most of Hollywood takes their little holiday break. Leaving poor bastards like me, who need their stupidity for blog material, in a lurch.

Lacking big items, I dug up some little items, and will snark about them. Enjoy.


Brit director Neill Marshall has inked a deal to direct a horror thriller about a chef caught up with secret underground supper clubs specializing in "extreme cuisine."

It's going to be about cannibalism. Sure, they'll deny it, but come on, unless it involves eating a hobo, it won't be any more horrifying than an episode of The Supersizers Go..., which can be pretty horrifying when they whip out the boiled calf's heads.

Now if they really wanted to do something really daring, they could go in this direction....

The decor is extremely louche and decadent. The diners are all wealthy fat cats and their gorgeous trophy wives, all elegantly dressed and wearing colorful masks in the style of an old Venetian Carnivale.

TROPHY WIFE- Oh the food here is so...

FAT CAT- Extreme?


FAT CAT- That was just the appetizer. Wait until you see the main course.

The CHEF comes out of the kitchen carrying a covered tray.

CHEF- Here is your extreme meal.

The Chef removes the cover with a flourish, everyone gasps in stunned awe because it's a pair of... CHEESEBURGERS & ONION RINGS.

FAT CAT- Egad, that is so extreme.

TROPHY WIFE- (biting onion ring) Oh my, I can taste the trans-fat. It is so--

FAT CAT- Extreme? (bites cheeseburger) Whoa, there's a flavor here that I remember, but I can't recall it's name.

CHEF- It's salt.

FAT CAT- This place is truly to most extreme dining experience in New York City.
Then have the police raid the place for violating Bloomberg's food regulations, forcing our chef to go on the run, and you have yourself a thriller.


Here's the situation. The UK Film Council is going to be shut down by the Tory/Lib-Dem coalition government, so what do they do?

The spend tens of thousands of pounds of their taxpayer provided funding to hire a Labor Party connected lobbying firm to fight for their survival.

For people in the film biz they don't know much about optics.

The Tories are shuttering them for being a home for partisan hacks suckling on the taxpayer's teat, they go ahead and drop a truckload of taxpayer money on Labor Party connected lobbyists.

If they spread a little of that royally printed cabbage to some Tory hacks, they might improve their chances, but now all they did was shoot themselves in the foot. I haven't seen such tactical brilliance since World War 1 where the generals thought it was sheer genius to march slowly into machine gun fire.


Oh Auntie Beeb.

The head of the network recently attacked Rupert Murdoch, his son James, and their Sky network for doing well and spending relatively little on domestic British programming.

I think the closest allegory to this situation is someone taking time to piss on their neighbor's lawn while their own house is on fire.

I don't need to make any sort of allegory to tell what old Rupert's reaction is. He is laughing all the way to the bank.

My suggestion to Mr. BBC Boss is that he forgets attacking the Murdoch family, because they'll just attack back, and get more viewers and make more money doing it, and try to find out why the BBC is doing so poorly against the burgeoning Sky Network. His mindset is still set in the 1950s and 1960s when the BBC had a virtual monopoly on national broadcasting and any private broadcaster had to do so at the pleasure of the ruling BBC bureaucrats.

It's called competition, try it, because even public broadcasters have to do it from time to time.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #582: Kids These Days...

Welcome to the show folks...

We have another reader question, and since this reader didn't follow my comment policy about using names they must face the branding! Bwah-hah-hah-hah!
DIRTY DINGUS MCGEE ASKED-- Here's a good question for Furious D, what films are watched by large numbers of younger film goers? Scott Pilgrim was supposed to be their kind of film, but they did not turn up in large numbers to see it.
Some studios and media companies spend millions every year trying to find out what kids, specifically teenagers, these days want, and it isn't easy.

It was easier in the 1950s to the late 1960s when the "youth" or "teen" market in movies was dominated by American International Pictures, and its boss Samuel Z. Arkoff. Arkoff followed his ARKOFF formula for making movies that sold to teenagers. It went something like...

Action- Excitement, danger, and melodrama.

Revolution- Controversial or edgy subject matter.

Killing- Violence, fighting, shooting, and explosions if you can afford them.

Oratory- Catchy and memorable dialogue.

Fantasy- Acting out common audience fantasies (racing cars, visiting outer space, exotic travel).

Fornication- Sex appeal. (Just enough to get attention, but not enough to get censored)

They also had another plan for finding out what kids were looking for in movies, which they called the
Peter Pan Principle:
a) a younger child will watch anything an older child will watch;

b) an older child will not watch anything a younger child will watch;

c) a girl will watch anything a boy will watch

d) a boy will not watch anything a girl will watch;

therefore-to catch your greatest audience you zero in on the 19-year old male.
Now you're probably wondering how things have changed.

Well, they no longer targ
et the 19 year old male. Because nowadays he's in his first year in college and is too busy discovering beer, casual sex, sleep deprivation, and credit card/student loan debt to be the taste-maker that they once used to be.

Right now, the target audience is the 12-14 year old girl.

They have money, they will spend it, and spend it freely, over and over again.

So how do you tap this market?

You tell them what to like.

Disney mastered this with the younger set, and you can do it with the teeny-boppers too.

Some of you will say I'm talking pure balderdash, at least the Edwardian aristocrats among you will, but hear me out.

It's not just a matter of saying "Buy this and be cool." You have to make it "their thing" something that no one else would even
want to like.

Look at the music performers the younger teens are swooning over. It's all fingernails on a chalkboard to any older demographic. So they go for it with both hands, spending freely on the music, the merchandise, and all the other assorted crap.

The moment adults begin to endorse it, they run away screaming to find another corporate contrived rebellion to spend their parent's money on.

Which brings me to my theory for the failure of Scott Pilgrim VS The World.

This film was heavily marketed to the youth market.

But the pop-culture references, subject matter, and style found in the film made the over 25 audience go "Oooh, that's kick-ass!"

That was the first ring of the death knell.

The kids saw the older people going all fanboy over the movie, and opted to stay away.
They only want stuff that only their demographic wants, not what anyone else might want.

The older people saw the youth-oriented marketing campaign, and opted to stay home and catch it on home video because they didn't want to be stuck in a theater with a pack of dead-eyed, slack-jawed teeny-boppers who won't get all the jokes, partially because of ignorance, but partly because they'll be busy exchanging catty text messages during the movie.

So you ended up with both demographics avoiding the film in the theater, while still "trending" about it on Twitter.

That's my theory, what's yours?

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

You Might Be A Geek When...

Welcome to the show folks...

Those Hollywood people are starting to cheese me off by all going on vacation and not doing the sort of stupid, unethical, or possibly illegal things that I like to rant and rave about.

So I'm going to take a moment and help you, my readers, to see if you're a member of a certain community, the GEEK community to be exact. To find this out, I'm going to become a comedy hack and rip off 90s era Jeff Foxworthy by saying--

--Your fantasy sports league has hobbits and dragons on its roster.
--You would rather meet a Cardassian than a Kardashian.

--The word "cosplay" can also mean "foreplay."

--You think Hollywood is stupid for not treating Felicia Day like the mega-star she deserves to be.
--Finding out that Wesley Snipes was almost cast as Geordi LaForge causes you to and your friends to argue about what could have been.

--Ray Bradbury turned 90, you played the above video in his honour (NSFW).

--Coming out of the closet means you just returned from Narnia.

--You got every joke and reference in the above video.

What are your signs that you might be a geek? Leave them in the comments.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #581: 87th Precint TV & A L'il Q&A

Welcome to the show folks...


Lionsgate TV, and actors turned producers Steve Buscemi and Stanley Tucci are developing a TV series based on the 87th Precinct novels written by Ed McBain (aka Evan Hunter, aka Salvatore Lombino).

McBain wrote 50
87th Precinct books over 50 years, from 1956 until pretty much the day of his death in 2005. Now the producers have two directions they can go with this series:

1. Do a standard police procedural, with the McBain characters, but not the original stories.

2. Take a more British route. It's a radical departure for an American network series, but hear me out.

Do the books.

That's where you begin. But it's just a beginning.

Adapt the books into 2-3 part teleplays, and set them in the period they were written in. Do the 1950s to early 1960s books one season. Later 1960s-early 1970s the next season. Etc...etc...

Sure people may snark about the character who don't appear to age as they go through 5 decades in five seasons, but screw those nitpickers as long as it is a quality show. Plus it allows you to be more faithful to the original books, and avoid trying to contrive reasons for them to solve crimes without today's forensic technology.


The United Kingdom Film Council is dead and gone. But the British government still has some film financing commitments, and wonder what to do next.

Well, I'm leery of government financing of film production, while the idea of 'free' production financing sounds great, the reality can become too cliquish and promotes films that are more anti-audience than pro-art. So how can they avoid this?

1. TERM LIMITS: The head of the organization should only serve between 1-2 years then they're out. This keeps them from forming the cliques that dominate such groups.

2. EXPERIENCE ESSENTIAL, BUT NOT PREFERRED: If you must, the person that takes the job must not have pre-existing connections to the industry. Because those are automatic indicators of favoritism, if not downright nepotism. Recruit some hard-ass from the City who knows money, loves movies as a fan, and is willing to put up with producers for 2 years in exchange for scoring young actresses and a knighthood.

3. RESPONSIBILITY: If the films they finance don't sell any tickets, then that should reflect on the new council's budget. Seek a return on investment.

4. SMALL STAFF: In bureaucracies the more staff that gets hire, the more little empires are formed. This new group should be more like the original British Screen organization which only had 4 employees.

Then, maybe then, you might be able to get something functional.

At least until the next election, and the new government changes every around again.

Blast Hardcheese asked... D, how much impact do you think a film like "Inception" will have on the overall decline of 'tentpole' movies? It seems to be doing well (~$600M worldwide) and is by far the smartest and most satisfying 'big' movie I've seen in the last couple of years. With this and Pixar as examples, is there a chance they'll realize that they need to re-focus on well-written movies if they want to raise total ticket sales?
Sadly, probably none.

Hollywood is all about surface and the people running Hollywood avoid discussion of story. This is because story involves things that can't be solved simply by throwing money at it. To solve those things you need creativity, originality, talent, and discipline. Those are things that scare the living piss out of the powers that be in Hollywood.

Besides there's always the multi-billion dollar elephant in the room called Avatar.

That's what Hollywood really wants, it's all surface, cost lots of money, made shit-loads of cash, and had a thin sliver of a story ripped off of Dances With Wolves meets Ferngully.

Intelligent storytelling takes a lot of work, talent, and taste. Redoing Avatar over and over again only takes money, specifically other people's money, and lots of it.

So while small groups of filmmakers may make intelligent films in studios where they have a certain amount of financial clout. Those who hold their fingers on the green-light button in most studios will continue adapting board games and spending hundreds of millions of dollars on them.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #580: Recession In Session?

Welcome to the show folks....

Patrick Goldstein of the LA Times suspects that Hollywood is heading for a prolonged recession. Here are his reasons, peppered with a few of my own...

1. Major studios like Disney, Universal and Sony are cutting back on developing new movies. Disney because they're only interested in increasingly narrow genres, and Universal and Sony are cutting back because they already spent all their development money.

2. Only Warner Bros. and Fox are maintaining their normal production output, which is still down from their golden age peak. Paramount is still releasing movies, but isn't financing the production for most of them.

3. Revenue is up, but not actual ticket sales. The revenue has gone up because of the spike in prices over 3D movies. When that novelty goes, so goes the market.

4. Wall Street investment isn't around as much as it used to be. Causing a lot of gaps in the money field.

5. There are way less buyers for independently produced films than there used to be. The studio owned faux-indies are mostly dead and gone, and indie distributors like Lionsgate, Summit, and Overture, are all looking to become major studios of their own.

6. The studios are turning more and more to a 'mostly blockbuster' release slate. Cutting out the middle ground that used to fill screens between the Summer mega-hits and the Fall/Winter Oscar baiting orgy.

7. Despite technology supposedly making things cheaper and easier, it is in fact more expensive and harder to make, distribute, and promote films.

8. The value of film companies, and especially their libraries are plummeting, despite wider market opportunities for their product through TV (broadcast/cable), home video, and internet viewership.

9. There's a huge salary crunch where only the absolute top players can command the sort of up front deals that were once so common in Hollywood.

So why is Hollywood slipping into a recession?

If you say it's because of the general economic recession I will slap you with a dead Chilean sea bass.

Remember, Hollywood's golden age, both creatively and financially, was the 1930s, otherwise known as THE GREAT DEPRESSION. Times were a might bit tougher back then, with 25%+ unemployment, 75%-90% upper end tax rates, and a dust bowl choking out the Midwest.

Which brings us to the reason Hollywood is creating its own recession:

It's Hollywood.

All of Hollywood's economic injuries are self-inflicted. Would you invest tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of your hard stolen dollars, in a major studio film knowing full well that even if it makes a billion dollars at the box office, you will still lose money. Why? Because the accounting practices of the studios make Bernie Madoff look legit in comparison. The latest trick is to take the studio's share of a film's budget out as a 'loan' from the studio's parent company. The interest paid on that loan matching whatever that film should make at the box office and then some, guaranteeing a loss, no matter how much money is made.

Then there's where they spend the money they do have.

Musclebound muscle-head The Situation from MTV's white trash festival Jersey Shore, is looking at making $5 million this years from his show, and related spin-off deals, including an autobiography.

I will bet dollars to donuts that the publisher won't make back that advance. I mean the man's an advertisement for illiteracy. How many of his fans will be able to read, let alone want to read, whatever drivel his ghost-writer, who also has to be paid, puts on the page.

Do you think that inevitable attempts at making movies and TV shows around him will produce anything profitable?

No, he's just another Heidi and Spencer. He'll end up broke, off the air and trying to sell sex tapes of his co-stars within a couple of years, and millions will be wasted on him by Hollywood, and for nothing.

Then there are the films themselves.

Too many of Hollywood films fall into two categories: Slightly dim mega-budget tent-pole films looking for the widest audience, and built around familiar pre-existing brands, like remakes, comic books, and even board games, but are themselves forgettable, sparking little desire to re-viewing. Then there are the Oscar films. The fake sincere melodramas aimed at wowing Academy voters with their importance, while boring or insulting the rest of the audience.

The first kind is becoming too expensive to make, even without the funny book-keeping, and the second kind of film is doing everything it can to repel audiences, equating popularity as some sort of scarlet letter of shame.

Is there a silver lining?

Well, there is, if you have the money and clout.

The middle ground of intelligent, modestly
budgeted films, that don't need a billion dollars to break even, is becoming a wide open market. Multiplexes need a variety of product, even more so as the studios continue to contract in their pursuit of a magic bullet for success, be it spending mega-bucks or going 3D.

Someone who uses new technology to produce intelligent, entertaining material with wide appeal, smart budgeting, honest accounting, and shrewd, penny-wise/pound-wiser marketing strategies, could start whittling away at the dominance of the major studios. Then maybe the majors might be forced to evolve or face extinction.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Saturday Silliness Cinema: Look Around You 5

Welcome to the show folks...

Time for my usual Saturday break from ranting and raving about business to have a laugh and some education.

Yes, it's another episode of Look Around You. This time they'll tell you everything you need to know about iron, whether you want to learn it or not. Enjoy.

Friday, 20 August 2010

The Case of the Starless Star

It was a hot August day in Hollywood. The wags were saying that it wasn't bad because it was a dry heat. So is your oven at 400 degrees, doesn't mean I'm going to crawl inside and enjoy it.

Anyway the heat was putting a damper on the sort of business news pieces I usually gripe about, leaving me to do one of my parody detective stories where I get all meta-fiction and acknowledge that I'm actually in a story.

There was a rap at my door.

It was something by the Fat Boys, which sparked a terrifying flashback to the 1980s. When I regained consciousness I heard a thump at the door.

"Open up Furious D," demanded the voice from outside, "and let me in, for I am a PRINT JOURNALIST!"

I got up off the floor and made my way to the door. I opened it and there was a paperboy, carrying a bag of newspapers.

"Who are you?" I asked.

"I'm Patrick Goldstein," answered the paperboy as he jabbed me with a rolled up newspaper, "I'm an entertainment reporter with the Los Angeles Times."


"A print journalist."

"What's that?"

"Listen I got a case for you," said Goldstein, "do you want it?"

"Will I get paid?"

"Take this case and I'll bury the story about all your sleazy personal life," said Goldstein.

"How are you going to do that?" I asked.

"I'll print it, but not put it on the website."

"That would do the job," I said, "except I'm too poor and boring to have a sleazy personal life."

"Damn, you called my bluff!"

"Why not offer to pay me money?" I asked.

"I work for the LA Times," answered Goldstein, "we haven't got any money."

"Just hand over what you got," I demanded, "and I'll take your case, we've dragged out this scene way too long anyway."

Goldstein passed me a handful of seven quarters, six dimes, two nickles, eleven pennies, and a ticket stub to a screening of Eat, Pray, Love.

"Will you take my case?" asked Goldstein.

"What do you want," I said, putting the coin in my piggy bank, much to the pig's consternation.

"I want you to find out why Jennifer Aniston's a movie star," said Goldstein.

"Sounds tough," I said, "but tough is my business."

"I thought trouble was your business?" asked Goldstein.

"I do have a life outside of trouble you know."


I hit the streets looking for the truth, but that hurt my knuckles, so I started asking people. The first person I asked was Bill Simmons of ESPN. I found him in a sports bar that was next to the crow bar watching a football.

Not a game, but a football, just sitting on the table.

"Hey Simmons," I said loud enough to heard above the cawing from next door, "I need you to tell me your theory as to why Jennifer Aniston's a movie star."

"Sure," he said, not taking his eyes off the motionless football, "she's like an athlete who never made it to the championship game. She lost her husband to Angelina Jolie, then they started popping out kids like Mormons, while Aniston has a crappy personal life, and a mediocre professional life."

"You mean all those forgettable movies that don't make much money?"

"Yeah," said Simmons.

"So you're saying it all boils down to sympathy?" I asked.

"Yep," said Simmons, still staring at the football.

"But Hollywood has about as much sympathy as a sociopath komodo dragon," I said, "so there has to be more too this."

"Have it your way," answered Simmons, "I'd join your crazy quest, but I'm too wrapped up in the excitement happening right in front of me."

I left the sports bar and pounded the pavement again, but this left my knuckles even more sore than when I hit the streets. So I thought I'd go right to the horse's mouth...


The horse told me that I was looking in the wrong place, if I wanted the truth I should go to where they decide who becomes and stays movie stars.

I stepped into the checkout line of the grocery store, and asked the lady in front of me if she knew who gets picked to be movie stars in Hollywood.

"Oh," said the lady, pointing to herself and the other ladies in the line, "that's us."

"Really," I said. "I thought it had something to do with box office appeal, and charisma, two things Aniston is kind of lacking."

"How naive," said the lady. "Look around you."

I looked at the shelves and found literally dozens of Jennifer Anistons staring back at me with their blank expressionless eyes.

"Great Caesar's Ghost!" I exclaimed, and was immediately sued for copyright infringement by Perry White of the Daily Planet. "She's everywhere!"

"And we buy those magazines and tabloids," said the lady, "we buy them by the millions."

"We also watch her on TV where she begs for privacy from the media," said another lady, "in a series of so-called 'exclusive' interviews on every entertainment news show."

"The studio people see the magazine sales, and the ratings for her interviews," explained the first lady, "and they assume that we'll pay money to see her in a movie."

"But you don't," I said. "Her movies usually close the day after they open unless she's got at least 15 other co-stars or a dog carrying the picture for her."

"We know," said the first lady. "We don't really like her acting, we just like hearing about rich good looking people being miserable."

"We love schadenfreude," said the second lady.

"But studios are losing millions casting her in these forgettable romantic comedies," I said, "do you realize the waste you're causing?"

"Of course," said the first lady, "but they'd just waste the money on some other crap."

"And if they didn't," said the second lady, "we wouldn't be able to derive joy from her misery in constant media coverage."

"It's a carefully balanced self perpetuating cycle," said the first lady, "one you nominally touched upon in an earlier blog."

"Are you saying that this story is just rehashing some points I made before?"

"It's August," said the first lady, "there are bound to be some reruns."

I nodded in agreement and declared...


Thursday, 19 August 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #579: When Good Ideas Die Horrible Deaths

Welcome to the show folks...

I was visiting the i09 website when I read that Harlan Ellison's Phoenix Without Ashes was going to be adapted into a comic book by IDW press. And it got me thinking about how sometimes good ideas die terrible deaths, and if it's possible or right to help them live again.

The story of
Phoenix Without Ashes is one of the saddest stories in the history of television that doesn't involve the untimely deaths of child actors. That's because the comic book in question was adapted from the script for the pilot of the disastrous television series Starlost.

This tale of woe began in the early 1970s. A TV producer from 20th Century Fox approached SF legend Harlan Ellison to come up with a new sci-fi TV show. The original concept the producer wanted was something along the lines of
The Fugitive in Space. As usual Ellison had his own idea, and it was a pretty good one.

The premise was that Earth was destroyed, but before it's destruction the entire human race built a massive spaceship to escape the coming cataclysm. This ship's size was measured in the thousands of miles, and comprised dozens of self-sustaining environments enclosed in huge domes and spheres. It's mission: to take humanity to a new home, a voyage that will take centuries.

After a few centuries the spheres develop their own cultures, isolated from each other, and over time they even forget they're on a spaceship. One of these cultures is in a dome called Cypress Corners, which has an Amish-lite lifestyle. A young man named Devon is an outcast from this community for asking
pesky questions, and for getting pissy about his beloved Rachel being forced to marry his frenemy Garth. Devon and Rachel run away from Cypress Corners, pursued by Garth, and make a shocking discovery. Not only do they discover that they're on a spaceship, they learn that the ship's bridge was destroyed, and if someone doesn't get to the back-up bridge and correct the course, the ship and its billions of inhabitants will fly right into a sun.

Sounds like a good premise, doesn't it.

It has a dramatic countdown to save the ship from disaster, it has dozens of isolated biospheres loaded with strange new cultures, or revived old ones, and it's even got the potential for aliens.

It sounds even better when you hear that SF legends A.E. Van Vogt, Frank Herbert, Joanna Russ, Thomas M. Disch, Alexei Panshin, Phillip K. Dick, and Ursula K. Le Guin were all hired by Ellison to write scripts or develop stories for the show, and Ben Bova was hired by the producers to be the science and technology consultant. FX legend Douglas Trumbull was an executive producer, and was going to use a new process called the MagiCam to produce radical new special effects.

But it starts to go downhill fast.

First, network support from the BBC or an American channel failed to materialize. A new deal was made to syndicate the show and produce it in Canada in partnership with the CTV Network. The problem is that CTV has no money for such an ambitious production. The budget gets slashed down to whatever change the network boss can find under his couch cushions. Without the money to do it right the MagiCam doesn't work, and is scrapped, replaced with a cheap newsroom chroma-key system.

The scripts and stories from all those legendary writers are dumped, new Canadian writers with no experience, expertise, or involvement in science fiction are brought in as replacements. Everything about the show is dumbed down, even the title of the pilot episode (From: Phoenix Without Ashes to Voyage of Discovery).

Trumbull leaves the show. Ellison leaves the show, and gets his name taken off the production, replacing it with his pen-name Cordwainer Bird. Bova gave advice, but was ignored, and was unable to leave or take his name off the show for contractual reasons. Sixteen episodes were made, Fox saw what a stinking pile the show became in both quality and ratings, and pulled the plug.

Now I can say that I actually remember watching the show when I was about 10 years old. The show had been about 7 or 8 years dead, but it's CTV policy to rerun anything and everything they have until the tape wears out. Even as a kid I accepted it as camp, riddled with bad directing of terrible dialogue, leading to overacting and production values that could have been topped by a high school production of Camelot.

But something compelled me to watch it beyond the simple enjoyment of mocking the cheap little Canadian show. It was Harlan Ellison's original concept that intrigued me. They could have done a season where they navigate the various cultures on their way to the bridge. Then they could have reached the bridge, corrected the course in the second season, and then deal with outside threats appearing as they search for a new home. Then comes the dealing with the different biosphere cultures, and the question of will they get along at their new home, or just bring back old hatreds or grow new ones.

With the right writers and producers, having a passion for the project, and a decent budget, it could have worked.

Which brings me to my point.

Sometimes an idea should be remade. Declare a mulligan, and try again using the material that made the concept so attractive in the first place. Not only dig up the original scripts written by the original 'dream team' of writers, see what can work, what doesn't, and recruit other great writers with a passion for the genre and fresh ideas to join in as well.

Of course, studios don't want to redo failures in the hope of making them successes, they just want to repeat successes, because they think it's some sort of guarantee. It isn't a guarantee, because the fans of the original material can often develop resentment when you don't meet or exceed their expectations. The real key to success is to find a case like Starlost where there was a good concept but poor execution. People are intrigued by the idea, but have low expectations from the original, so they'll be pleasantly surprised, if not blown away, by the quality of the new version.

In a way it's not remaking a show, it's more like resurrecting a show.

I'm available to be the executive producer, I'll do it for whatever Jerry Bruckheimer gets for his shows. ;)

That's my thoughts, what are yours.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #578: Memorandum Mania

Welcome to the show folks...

The Wrap recently got their hands on a memo, purportedly about Paramount Pictures upcoming movie slate. Well, since it's seems to be a slow news day for me, I thought I'd indulge my inner internet wanker, and pass harsh and unfair judgments on films that haven't even been made yet.

TRIPLE FRONTIER- Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, (wins awards, doesn't sell well), starring Will Smith (sells tickets) Javier Bardem (unknown quantity) Christian Bale (sales can be iffy), and Sean Penn (powerful enough box office poison to drop a T-Rex.)

YOUNG ADULT- Diablo Cody figured out that she needs Jason Reitman, or she's going to have another Jennifer's Body on her hands.

DUNDERHEADS- A heist movie starring kids. Nuff said.

HANSEL & GRETEL- If this film was with Warner Bros. it would have been made by Tim Burton, star Johnny Depp as Hansel, Helena Bonham Carter as Gretel, Helen Mirren as the Witch, and make a billion dollars. At Paramount, who knows?

WILL- Won't.

MY MOTHER'S CURSE- Why do I fear that the curse will be felt by the crew during the making of the film.

WORLD WAR Z- Brains.... need brains.... need brains....

GI JOE 2- GI No.

THE ASSOCIATE- Shia LaBouef as a lawyer. Is he defending the little heisters from Dunderheads.

THE DICTATOR- Sascha Baron-Cohen being obnoxious? It worked so well with Bruno.

TWILIGHT ZONES- David Chase of The Sopranos is making this one. The twist at the end of each story is that everyone has onion rings, then everything stops dead.

MI3- Is this supposed to be the next Mission Impossible, which is the 4th, or is it something else entirely?

STAR TREK 2- Probably make a shit-load of money.

JACK RYAN- A killer concept, if this was still the 1980s.


HASBRO FACTORY- It's a 90 minute long commercial, and like with regular commercials, folks are going to see what else is on.

ZOOLANDER 2- Finally something to play after each of Zoolander's six weekly airings on TBS.

7 MINUTES IN HEAVEN- 90+ minutes in hell.

LUNA- Already dead in the water.

WHAT MEN WANT- I can answer that question: NOT THIS MOVIE.

AU REVOIR CRAZY EUROPEAN CHICK- I can imagine the pitch session for this movie: "It's like Killers meets Knight & Day, but different, this time the chick's the assassin, like Salt." What could go wrong?

BAYWATCH- Run into the ocean in slow motion, and keep running until the water comes up over your head. Then keep running.

I WANT TO _____ YOU SISTER- Nothing like a title that can get someone beaten up at the box office.

HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME?- What's plaintively wailed by the movie goer who got smacked down by the ticket taker after telling him that he wanted to ______ his sister.

NEVADA SMITH- Mandatory remake time.

DADDY'S HOME- And the audience is going to stay home with him.

Minimum box office.

UNTITLED AFRICAN SAFARI- I'm wrong, we're not back in the 1980s, we've gone back to the 1930s.

LICENSE TO STEAL- What wasting $125 million on this flick really is.

The title's going to have audiences renting David Cronenberg's Existenz thinking this is the sequel. Good for Cronenberg, bad for Paramount.


KID TABLE- The concept sounds just as rickety as my family's old 'kid table' and no doubt it will be folded up and forgotten even sooner.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #577: Distribution Blues

Welcome to the show folks...

I'd like to open with a simple statement of fact.

Any idiot can make a movie if they have the money and the time.

It's no guarantee that the movie will be any good, but it can be done.

However, not everyone can distribute a film.

That's the point of this little screed.

An illustration of this point can be seen in sitcom star Josh Radnor's feature directing debut, the pretentiously lower-cased
happythankyoumoreplease. The film had a great opening at Sundance, got all sorts of good buzz going for it, they signed a deal with the relatively new indie distributor Hannover House, and everything was supposed to be all sunshine and unicorns.

But it didn't work out that way, and the filmmakers have now severed all ties with Hannover House and moved it over to indie home-video/theatrical distributor Anchor Bay.

What went wrong?

Well, I could go the sarcastic route and say that Hannover got a hangover, but I won't, because I'm not into making bad jokes. Instead I'll just slip the bad joke into a statement about how I'm not going to make a bad joke, and go all meta on you.

But seriously....

The filmmakers pulled their film because they didn't think Hannover House could release their film in any proper way. Possibly fearing that the company will lack the resources to do it, especially after Hannover House got on the possible litigation shit-list of the owners of The Terminator franchise.

This isn't the first time this has happened recently, it's getting to be a trend. The producers of I Love You Phillip Morris starring Jim Carrey & Ewan McGregor have pulled their film from it's original distributor Consolidated Pictures Group, and Metropolitan Pictures lost the Kevin Spacey film Casino Jack. Both were because the start-up upstarts were believed lacking the money for the required prints and advertising (P&A) needed for those films.

Which brings me to the point of my... um.... point...

If you don't have the money, know-how, and clout to get a movie into theaters and store shelves, then you are not really a distributor. You're just some guy with the rights to a movie that know one is going to see.

Here's why:

1. MONEY: Most people think that making the film is the most expensive part of the movie business. Close, but no cigar that is just a cigar, my muchachos. In fact, the costs of P&A can often match, or even exceed the cost of making a movie. Prints for theaters are very expensive to make, and if you're planning any sort of release beyond a few festivals, you are going to need hundreds, if not thousands of prints made, at $1,000-$2,000 a pop. Advertising is also key, because what's the point of releasing a movie if your target audience doesn't know that it's playing. That means buying space in print publications, internet ads, TV commercials, Radio spots, and bribing critics for good blurbs with free food & booze at press junkets (which also cost money).

2. KNOW-HOW: Let's say you have the money to release the film. Then the question is do you have the knowledge to deliver it to your target audience? It's not as easy as you may think. You can't just dump a movie into as many theaters as you can and hope for the best. You have to know the film's target audience, what kind of theaters would attract that audience, the locations of those theaters. Then you have to create and structure your advertising and marketing plan. That takes a lot of brain power, experience, and sheer gut instinct. Not everyone has that combination, and you really need it when you can't afford to do the sort of carpet bombing releases of the major studios.

3. CLOUT: Theater chains don't want your indie film. What they want is the latest Hollywood blockbuster with the cast on the cover of every magazine. An indie distributor needs to have a certain amount of clout to bully convince theater chains into showing your movie.

It's not easy to be a distributor, and being an indie distributor is even harder. Which is one of the reasons why the indie film business is in such a mess these days.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #576: ACTION!

Welcome to the show folks...

Oh my, it looks like old Sly Stallone still has it. His action ensemble The Expendables opened at #1 at the box office. Not everyone sees this as good news, some see it as the forerunner of more 80s style good vs evil testosterone dripping action flicks, and that would wrong in our complex and nuanced world.

I say: So what?

Sure the world is complex, loaded with gray areas, but people get that everyday from the news. They go to the movies to see evildoers get royally smacked down by good guys that remind the audience of themselves, not be told that it's all their own fault because of their country's foreign policy. And let's not forget Hollywood's recent attempts to make action movies that reflect this 'moral complexity,' they all had the same plot. If you're too lazy to click the link, it goes something like this hero gets screwed by CIA, hero fights CIA, hero wins against CIA and the sinister man-in-a-suit who is behind everything. (I get into more detail in that post)

If people imitate this film and open up the range of villains, and schemes the villains are up to, I'm fine with that.

However, there's a catch.

Hollywood is a little thin when it comes to action heroes, especially ones under 50 years of age. A lot of people blame this on Hollywood's 'feminizing' of increasingly 'metro-sexual' male stars, but I beg to differ.

It has nothing to do with gender preferences and sexuality or any of that stuff. It all boils down to what I call Hollywood's severe case of "Juvenile Dementia."

Hollywood is obsessed with youth, in all its forms. Anyone who dares to look like their own age gets banished from big budget movies, to doing yogurt commercials.

This has led to an entire generation of actors who still pass as teenagers and twenty-somethings well into their thirties, and keep trying to do that into their forties. This is a problem, because an action tough guy has to have some signs of hard experience etched on their face, not look like someone out of Lisa Simpson's favorite magazine Non-Threatening Boys.

But enough about Hollywood's problem with baby-face machismo, what makes a good testosterone heavy action movie:

1. Tough Guy Heroes. Hollywood thinks it's all about muscles, 6 pack abs, bulging arms, and beefy pecs. It's not. What makes a good tough guy is the sense that if you're ever caught in an old west style saloon brawl, this guy will watch your back. Most Hollywood stars look like they'll scream "Not the face!" and run away to hit on your girlfriend while you're getting your ass kicked. Not good.

2. Threatening Villains. As I said about creating superhero stories, your heroes are judged by the quality of your villains. They have to be a tangible and credible threat to your heroes. They can be scheming, craven, and manipulative, but most of all, they have to be dangerous.

3. Don't Go Overboard. CGI is wonderful at creating richly detailed fantasy worlds. The problem is that action movies need at least one foot, or tiptoe, in reality. Which means that you forgo the CGI fantasy, in favor of physical special effects, and keeping the stunt work within the realm of human possibility. That's not to say you can't stretch it. I say a good rule of thumb is that it would take an episode of Mythbusters to prove or disprove whether your stunt was possible.

4. Drop The Shaky Cam. That's a personal beef with me. I find it a cheat by filmmakers too lazy to do some actual film-making. Don't leave James Cameron the only one left who can do coherent action scenes.

What do you think about the future of action movies?

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Saturday Silliness Cinema: Look Around You 4

Welcome to the show folks...

It's Saturday, time for my usual break from ranting about business stupidity, in order to bring you some video stupidity. Today, I have some more educational material for you, this time it's all you will ever need to know about sulfur.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #575: Dumb Dee Dumb Dumb

Welcome to the show folks...

Just when you thought you hit the bottom of Hollywood's Marianas Trench of stupid, someone starts digging.

The latest nostril nugget to grace the Kleenex of ideas is yet another
Terminator movie.

Now I've repeatedly stated that the whole franchise is hexed because of the three production companies that made
Terminator movies, NONE of them are around today. One is defunct (Hemdale) and two went bankrupt (Carolco, Halcyon).

But don't worry true believers, the folks setting themselves up for future penury say that this time will be different. This time the film will be PG-13, and.... drumroll.... ANIMATED!

These are the times I stop and wonder if I'm looking into some strange Bizarro world where reality is just something that happens to 'other people.'

The thing that sold the first Terminator film was that it was dark, violent, science fiction. It was definitely NOT a kid's movie, and that's why 12 year old me wanted to see so damn bad. Attempting to reboot it as some sort of semi-Disney franchise is beyond ludicrous, it's idiotic. The hard core geeks will avoid it, and badmouth it on the internet regularly. Then there are the parents who remember the nightclub massacres, the hearts being ripped out, the douchebags tossed through walls, and the skin getting blasted of Ah-Nuld's face, and they'll take their kids to see the latest Disney pop-tart instead.

And to top it all off, the people making the film will probably end up spending too much on it, and go belly up like all the others.

So please, let the glowing red eye fade to black as it should have years ago. If you don't want to do for the sake of good taste, then do it for your own solvency.

UPDATE: Pacificor, who got the leftovers from Halcyon's bankruptcy, sent a cease and desist letter to Hannover House Productions the people behind the proposed animated movie, claiming they can't do it, because they don't own it.

Eric Parkinson of Hannover House, claims that he was given the animation rights when his former employer Hemdale Pictures took a dirt nap. Pacificor says nay nay, and are threatening to unleash the Kraken of litigation.

You see, the franchise really is cursed.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #574: Spooks Going American?

Welcome to the show folks...

It's a slow day for news that blows up my kilt with excitement, so I have to take what I can get. I just saw on Deadline that ABC-TV is interested in adapting Spooks with Kudos (a part of Elizabeth Murdoch's Shine Group). If that name doesn't ring any bells you may have seen it when it aired on A&E under the name

The premise of the show is fairly simple. It follows the work of an elite unit of counter-terrorism / counter-espionage agent for Britain's domestic security service, otherwise known as MI-5.

Now Americanising the show will take the burning of a few creative calories. The USA doesn't really have the equivalent of MI-5*, leaving those duties to specialist sections of the FBI who treat such operations with a more law enforcement as opposed to counter-intelligence style.

It's not that big a deal though, 24 had their fictional CTU, so it's not hard to toss a few more letters into Washington's alphabet soup.

So let's take a gander at what can help it and what can hurt it--


1. The original, at least the seasons I watched on A&E had a very high quality in the story and character department. You got to know the people involved and care about them.

2. The premise has great potential for suspense and adventure dealing with terrorists, both foreign and domestic, as well as spies and betrayal, both foreign and domestic.

3. The unpredictability. The original is notoriously ruthless with its characters, regularly offing regulars on a regular basis.... wha? Often doing it as a complete surprise out of the blue for maximum dramatic impact.


1. The high quality may not survive an American network. There is a very good chance that the producers of Spooks USA may end up hiring writers who don't really feel the passion about the material as the original's writers.

2. Comparisons to 24. These will be inevitable, and folks may enter expecting action, action, action, instead of the slow burn of building dread the original specialized in.

3. Political correctness. There's a very good possibility that a new Spooks USA show will completely ignore the radical Islamic terrorism we see in the news, in favor of plot-lines where every story ends with some middle aged American guy in a suit being behind everything.

4. The ruthlessness of the original may not be copied in the American version. The idea of casually knocking off the show's star is terrifying to an American TV executive. Though I must say that it's a great tool to have when it's contract renegotiation time.

5. I'm not sure any spy series could really match the gritty and grim realism of The Sandbaggers from the late 1970s.

The show, created by naval officer turned writer Ian Mackintosh captured the paranoia, fear, and almost overwhelming stress faced by intelligence officers during the dark days of the Cold War. While I liked the first 2 seasons of Spooks/MI-5, it just didn't stick with me the way The Sandbaggers still does, and I haven't seen that show in 25 years.

I wish the people behind the new show luck. I'm just not sure that a mainstream broadcast network is the right home for this kind of show.

*That we know of.... and by that I mean that they haven't had their existence leaked yet.