Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #654: Will Success Spoil Your Career?

Welcome to the show folks...

Recently I wrote a piece about the failure of James L. Brooks latest film How Do You Know, and how a romantic comedy with a small cast ended up costing Columbia Pictures over $120 million just to make. That post set a fire under my commenters and some theorized that it's all just another Hollywood money shell game. Of course if that were true, there wouldn't be rumors of Columbia execs having conniptions behind closed doors, and other rumors that James L. Brooks may never make another film after this debacle.

I've also written critically of the Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, where I've royally shat upon just about everything associated with it. I've griped on the songs, the costumes, the script, the stream of injuries, and especially the record breaking $65 million budget, which will no doubt get bigger after the injury lawsuits, both here on my blog, and at my Twitter.

Why were both projects given the green-light even though both had "boondoggle" written on them in big neon letters bright enough to outshine Vegas?

Well, I talked about it a bit in the other blog, but I'll re-state my point here to fill space:

Well, you've heard the term "Too big to fail" when it comes to justifying massive taxpayer funded bailouts. In show business there is something called "Too big to deny." Hollywood is like a small town high school, and Brooks, thanks to his Oscar wins, nominations, and
Simpsons money fountain, is the equivalent of a member of the football team. Maybe not a captain, but definitely someone on the starting line-up.

In the
high-school-with-money world of Hollywood, that person usually gets what they want, when they want it, and it would take the equivalent of blowing the State Championship, like pissing away $120+ million on a failed movie that should have cost 1/6 as much.

The same goes with the
Spider-Man musical. It's being put together by Julie Taymor, who has more Tonies than Southern Italy, and has music by Bono & The Edge of the rock band U2. We are talking about exponentially bigger fish, in an exponentially smaller pond otherwise known as Broadway. You don't say no to these people unless you wish to be a complete outcast next summer at the Hamptons.

Now that I've got that out of the way, I can explain how the artist can do this to themselves, and possibly damage their career.

It's all about freedom.

When you get a certain amount of power and prestige in show business, you get a certain amount of artistic freedom to go with it.

Now artistic freedom is great, but as my regular
commenter Gary T. Burnaska pointed out, you need to temper your freedom with a certain amount of discipline.

You see it's great that you can do whatever you want, but sometimes what you want to do is bad for you. That's why you need someone, a proverbial angel on your shoulder, who can tell you that just because it dripped out of your particularly successful brain-pan doesn't mean that it's going to be greatest creation since the sliced bread slicer.

Knowing that you don't know everything is the first
step toward true wisdom. The sort of wisdom that tells you that $120 million on a romantic comedy is a recipe for disaster, the sort of wisdom that tells you that your latest idea for a musical sounds like something out of a comedy sketch about a disastrous Broadway musical. It's the sort of wisdom that keeps you from committing the sort of epic scale pooch screw that could sink your career.

This is one of the reasons I admire Clint Eastwood as a filmmaker. I don't like every one of his films, but I don't have to.

Do you see my point?

Eastwood's secret is that when it comes to costs, his films seem tiny in comparison to films made by other filmmakers of similar stature. That leaves the studio suits out of his hair, and it gives him a safety cushion to take artistic risks. If a film fails at the box office, it's no biggie, literally. No one is going to lose their job for giving him the green light on a project, because it wasn't a great financial loss, and could probably earn back the investment in future home video and television sales in the long term.

So I guess the point I'm making is that it's great to be the big fish in the small pond, but if you're not careful, you just might end up hooked by your own ego and chopped up as shark bait for all your enemies and rivals.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #653: Spider-Man: Turn Off The Money

Welcome to the show folks...

The slow news time continues, but I am not without material with which to amaze and annoy you. Okay, maybe just annoy you.

Those Taiwanese animators sure can sum things, like this report on the continuing boondoggle over the Spider-Man musical.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #652: Snark Attack!

Welcome to the show folks...

This being the interregnum between the love and fellowship of Christmas and the drunken revelry/debauchery of New Year's, it's slow for the sort of pop culture business news that I like to rant and rave about. So here are a few random snarks to entertain you until something interesting happens.

1. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is reportedly inking some lucrative book and movie deals. I wonder how much he's going to freak out when his galleys and script get leaked on the internet.

2. Hugh Hefner has gotten engaged, again, this time to a 24 year old Playboy Playmate. Now before you pass judgment, I have to say that this relationship is not about sex. It's because this young lady is Hef's perfect match. That's a beautiful thing, because he's really going to need that kidney.

Anyway, his proposal was so romantic. The moon was in the sky, soft music was playing, Hef looked deep into her eyes and said those three little words: "Who are you?"

Even at his age, it's pretty much guaranteed that Hefner will have her screaming during the honeymoon. Too bad it will be things like: "IS HE BREATHING? IS HE BREATHING?"

3. Actor Richard Chamberlain, who is openly gay, said that it's probably better for gay actors pursuing leading man roles should stay in the closet.

Personally, I think all actors should be in the closet, whether they are gay or straight.


Because I'm sick and tired of the constant coverage of celebrity's personal lives. Maybe a nice moratorium on such coverage will help stars get their own lives in order, and teach the world not to waste their time caring about who anyone is sleeping with.

Of course, if that happened I wouldn't be able to do these snarky filler posts.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

A Merry Xmas Message

Welcome to the show folks...

The holidays are upon us, and I will be too busy to post anything for the rest of the week. Until then enjoy these little presents I've left under this digital tree for you, like a malevolent Santa Claus.


Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #651: Random Drippings From My Brain Pan!

Welcome to the show folks...

With the Xmas season starting my posting may become a tad erratic, until after Boxing Day. Please be patient if I'm not up every day, it's a busy time of the year for me, and a slow time for the sort of news that gets my dander up.

So here's some little bits to fill the great void the sits in the middle of your soul....


Not that a major Hollywood conglomerate like Disney/ABC would put the screws to a business partner in the way they are accused of screwing the creators of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. I am shocked and appalled that the court has rejected their first round of appeals of the $300+ million judgment.

All is not lost for Disney/ABC, there are still appeals to be filed, ensuring that the winners of the lawsuit will be getting their pension checks before they get one from Disney.


Lucasfilm has settled a civil action brought by the Justice Department over their little hiring scheme that they hatched with neighbor, and supposed competitor Pixar. The deal was that if one had laid claim to a potential employee, the other would not compete, and that they wouldn't try to poach each others animators or techinicians.

Now at first glance you might think that they're just being civil, but the real reason they did this is to SUPPRESS SALARIES.

You see when competitors compete, they compete on all levels. They compete for audiences in the theaters, and they compete for the sort of talent that puts bums in those theater seats. That means spending money to outbid each other for the best and brightest.

That's the natural order of things, and it is called capitalism.

However, when alleged competitors work together, they can keep salaries artificially low. That is called COLLUSION, and it is a twee bit illegal.

Sounds like Lucas and Pixar were both dabbling in the dark side.


Comedian and talk show host George Lopez has announced that he's running for mayor of Los Angeles. Let's look at his resume and compare to that of current LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (AKA Tony Vilar).

GEORGE LOPEZ is a comedian.

ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA is considered a joke.

GEORGE LOPEZ took his wife's kidney, then they got divorced.

ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA took his wife's last name, then got caught tapping an anchorwoman and got divorced.

GEORGE LOPEZ has worked in comedy clubs, then a sitcom, and currently a late night talk show.

ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA can't practice law because he can't pass the bar exam, so his career has been spent between working for government employee unions, activist groups, and elected offices.

My advice- Lopez's campaign slogan should be:
"I can't be any worse."

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #650: Everything That's Wrong In Hollywood

Welcome to the show folks...

The latest James L. Brooks comedy How Do You Know did rather grimly at the box office in its opening weekend pulling in an estimate $7.6 million in around 2,500 theaters for 8th place.

Now you're probably thinking that it's not so bad an opening since it's a romantic comedy and not some huge sci-fi spectacular.

Well, you'd be wrong, wrong, wrong. Stop being so wrong and get on the first bus out of Wrongsville, population: You.

It seems that this flick, with no big special effects or epic battle scenes cost $120,000,000 to make.

No, you did not have a stroke and saw a bunch of extra zeroes. Conservative estimates put the film's production budget at one hundred and twenty million dollars. When you toss in the prints and advertising, the whole thing probably cost anywhere between $200-250 million.

This pretty much makes the film the symbol of just about everything that is wrong in modern Hollywood.

Let's look at just what went wrong.

#1. THE COST: How the hell did a romantic comedy end up costing $120,000,000 to produce? Well three answers, stars, time, and more time.

The combined salaries of the four leads added up to around $50 million, with the cheapest being Paul Rudd at $3 million, and Jack Nicholson getting $12 million for what appears to be the "buddy-sidekick" part. Then came James L. Brooks' $10 million fee, coupled with his normally glacial shooting schedule, and then, according to reports, they had to re-shoot great swathes of the film to make Reese Witherspoon's character likable.

All this happened because of a complete failure of...

#2. THE CONTROLS: Studio executives have these tiny devices implanted in their heads that I call "Meddle Detectors." They basically tell executives to ask questions, give notes, and otherwise meddle in the making of films that cost above a certain amount. These machines are supposed to be able to detect an unlikable female lead in a romantic comedy before tens of millions of dollars are spent shooting almost an entire feature film. This is especially true when the writer-director's last film Spanglish, tanked at the box office, and was criticized heavily for having an unlikable major female character.

They should have said things like: "You should do these rewrites before shooting." and "We need you to not waste time on this, because you should know that a comedy that skews to an older audience is a big risk these days," and etc., etc....

However, they didn't do any of that. Why? Because....

#3. NO ONE COULD SAY NO WHEN THEY HAD TO: If anyone tried to do that with James L. Brooks, the man in question would have gone straight to the studio CEO, complain about how he's being "held down" by an ignorant studio suit, how he's the man behind the Oscar winning Terms of Endearment and The Simpsons, and that executive who dared to be so impertinent would be unemployed very quickly. It's best to not bother and let the guy upstairs who gave the greenlight take the spray-back when it all hits the fan.

Brooks however has been drifting away from audience appeal, and toward appealing to his fellow citizens of the Axis of Ego in the hope that it will get him another Academy Award. This means that everything he has to be must be "important" over fun, and be built around some sort of important "award worthy" theme and to try to cram story, characters, and humor into that theme, instead of the more organic approach of creating a story and characters and seeing what themes come out of it. Sometimes it works in winning both audience and critics/awards voters with films like As Good As It Gets, sometimes it fails completely, as in Spanglish and I'll Do Anything, and other times it produces great critical success with mediocre box office returns, like Broadcast News.

Why did he do it, why did he spend so much time and money on his movie? I'm no shrink, but there are two theories:

1. IRRATIONAL SENSE OF INADEQUACY: Brooks is plagued by a terrible sense of inadequacy, seeing himself as a lowly "sitcom" guy who fluked into an Oscar for Terms of Endearment. So he has to be constantly playing the "important auteur." How does one do that? Spending massive amounts of money is a pretty quick way to do it. What makes the irrationality behind this theory so irrational is that he did great work on great sitcoms, and there's nothing really to be ashamed about there. However, this is Hollywood we're talking about, rationality rarely plays a role in decision making.

Or it all could be a case of...

2. I'M (FIRST NAME) FUCKING (LAST NAME) SYNDROME: He's got awards from his movies and truckloads of money from The Simpsons. This makes him a big fish in a small town. No one dares challenge you for fear of you declaring that you are (First Name) Fucking (Last Name) and that no one dares challenge them in that way without fear of bloody reprisal. That can twist anyone's brain, and make them do things like waste immense amounts of time and money making what should be an inexpensive and quickly made film. A responsible filmmaker shouldn't even have wanted to spend that much money on making the movie. Because big budgets raise the bar in ways that are extremely hard to meet. However when you have this syndrome you somehow feel entitled to spending massive amounts of other people's money because you think that you are just too damn big to deny anything to, the film is your playground to do with as you please, and especially when you already got your $10 million up-front fee in the bank, so to hell with everything else.

Despite the awards and the praise, his inconsistent box office record doesn't really justify a $120 million budget for a romantic comedy. Someone should have brought this up during pre-production, and the fact that no one did, including Brooks' himself, shows that there is something really, really wrong with how Hollywood does business.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Saturday Silliness Cinema: Merry Xmas Part 3

Welcome to the show folks...

Today I'm extending my usual break from ranting about pop culture and the business behind it for a little laugh. If you survived the ear-splitting caroling of the Doctor Who cast that I posted yesterday, then you can sit back, relax, and enjoy this lecture from a very angry squirrel about people who don't like Xmas and don't want anyone else to like it either.

(NSFW for Language-Rage)

Friday, 17 December 2010

Countdown To Xmas!

Welcome to the show folks...

It's Friday, the news is a little slow today, it's snowing outside, and I'm feeling lazy. So to get all of you in the Christmas spirit, here is the cast of Doctor Who singing a Christmas song.... badly. Enjoy.

I suspect that spirits other than those of the Xmas season were involved in the making of this video.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

A Furious D Exclusive

The other day I wrote about the dearth of Christmas movies this year. Well, I have to admit that I have a conflict of interest in that issue. You see, I made a Christmas movie, based on the work of a beloved author, and no studio or distributor would release it. Here's the poster:

Apparently those stuffed suits thought my blend of sex, savage violence, and Xmas cheer was just a few steps over some precious "line" of theirs.

Hollywood Babble On & On #649: Miramax & The Weinsteins Are Reunited Sort Of

Welcome to the show folks...

One of the major problems faced by anyone buying the mostly moribund Miramax movie company is that you'd have to deal with their founders the Brothers Weinstein. Despite being absent from Miramax for years, they still have a certain amount of say over what can and can't be done to a lot of movies in the Miramax library.

As it happens, the new owners of Miramax seem to be interested in bulking up that library and have just inked a deal with the Weinsteins to co-produce sequels to films from Miramax's golden age like Swingers, Shakespeare In Love, Rounders, Bad Santa, and Clerks.

It seems that this is not a pre-Christmas practical joke, and that they actually are serious about this.

Let's look at the pros and cons of this idea:


1. This project allows the new owners of Miramax to bulk up their library with lots of familiar titles.

2. When it comes to selling or merging film libraries,
which seems to be the ultimate aim of the consortium that owns Miramax, size matters, not box office performance.


1. Most of the films in the Miramax library are built
around specific filmmakers and specific stars. Do you know the odds of those filmmakers and stars going back to make sequels to films they did in the 1990s and early 2000s? Very slim. Not only because of the passage of time, but because the majority of them have bad memories of their past dealings with Miramax.

2. Most of the films are not the sort of concepts you build a franchise around. Can you imagine Good Will Hunting 2: This Time It's Geometry, or Shakespeare In Love Again? Also some have already had sequels, like Clerks II, that came and went barely earning minimum wage at the box office.

3. Remember that this deal involves the Weinstein Bros. How many of their partnerships ran smoothly with everything coming out sunshine and unicorns? Not many. I expect this partnership to last about a year, maybe two, then abruptly end with a lot of anger, threats, and lawsuits aplenty.

The rule seems to be that unless you're one some sort of "Golden Boy" list that exists in Harvey's head, you will do business with them once, and only once if you can avoid it.

So to sum up my feelings, I will actually be surprised if they actually make any of these proposed sequels, and I'll be even more surprised if any of them are any good, or do any business outside of the discount DVD bin nestled between copies of Mansquito 2: Even Suckier.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #648: Cognitive Dissonance At Universal Pictures

Welcome to the show folks...

Universal Pictures, currently in the midst of a takeover by cable giant Comcast & liberation from the misrule of David Zucker, has recently announced that they are starting a new division. The SyFy Channel has been having some success producing and airing low budget creature features with titles like Sharktoberfest* so they're starting SyFy Films.

The purpose of this company is to create around 2 genre pictures a year for Universal to distribute theatrically starting in 2012.

Think about that for a second.

For decades Universal Pictures was the one stop shop for all your genre entertainment needs. They even had their own sub-genre The Universal Horror Movie defined by films like Dracula and Frankenstein, The Mummy, and The Wolf-Man.

They shouldn't need to start a new label to make genre films, their ancestors made genre films for decades.

Of course Universal shot itself in the foot by completely forgetting their history beyond what titles they owned. Those original films were, for their time, straightforward horror movies. Universal tried to "re-imagine" them as epic fantasy adventure blockbusters in the vein of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Lord of the Rings. So The Mummy went from a sinister force of evil, to a massive special effects spectacle, Frankenstein and Dracula were mashed together into the over-priced creative abortion called Van Helsing, and finally ended with the $100+ million boondoggle of The Wolf-Man.

To put it bluntly, Universal forgot how to make the
sort of genre pictures that made Universal. So I find it funny that they are turning to the SyFy Channel to make sci-fi movies after working so hard to take the sci-fi out of the channel.

So what can SyFy do as they dip their toe into the realm of big screen sci-fi movies?

Well, it's simple.


Remember that when selling the genre film, it's all about the premise catching the audience's attention, not about the star, or how much money you spend on making the movie. There has to be a good and catchy idea behind the movie. The sort of idea that would make someone see the ad and go "Hell yeah!" or "I gotta see this because this looks bat-shit insane."

If you have a good story built on a good catchy premise then it doesn't really matter if you spend $100 million on star salaries or special effects. All the audience wants are actors who won't embarrass themselves, and special effects that don't look too ridiculous.

Then it's all a matter of selling the story and creating the sort of word of mouth that gives a genre film the legs it needs to become a perennial favorite like many of those Universal pics of old.


*I think Sharktoberfest is about a mutant shark who drinks beer and eats plump Bavarians, or something like that. (How fast before someone at SyFy makes a movie out of this joke?)

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #647: Marvel Dumps Man Behind Iron Man

Welcome to the show folks....

The interwebs is buzzing over reports that director Jon Favreau is out as the man behind the camera for Iron Man 3.

I went down to Marvel headquarters, which is behind the Taco Bell in Burbank, and asked if these reports were true or not, this was their response...

Since that really told me nothing other than I love to repeat hacky jokes, I returned to my luxurious mountaintop mansion to ponder the issue. The first two
Iron Man movies were very successful financially, and usually studios are wary to drive off who many consider as the goose laying the golden eggs, so if this report is true than they must have some kind of reason behind it.

Let's look at the possible reasons:

1. Favreau is expensive. Jon Favreau isn't a fool and when dealing with major media companies like Paramount and Marvel/Disney he knows that it's a matter of getting what you can up front and holding onto it.

Marvel and Disney would rather find
someone cheaper, no matter how it affects the franchise, because since it's the third film in a trilogy, they're expecting to just coast along.

2. Favreau has too much clout.
One of the biggest complaints against Iron Man 2 was that there were too many villains trying to do too many things all at once. But the blame for that falls squarely on Marvel who insisted on pumping in more characters in the hopes that it would help spur the upcoming Avengers movie. Rumor has it that Marvel is planning to cram every second tier character into Iron Man 3, in the hopes that it will open the door to other future franchises for them to exploit.

It's unlikely that Favreau will go along with that, considering how he was blamed for the overcrowded nature of Iron Man 2, and how fans now openly mock Spider-Man 3, which was product of just going along with Marvel. His box office record's too strong right now, and will be stronger if Cowboys and Aliens clicks with the audience, and Marvel/Disney doesn't want to have to fight to get what they want, when they can just order it.

Personally, I think it's a mistake. Tony Stark is a right wing, defense contractor alcoholic, womanizer, and aside from the booze and broads, Hollywood doesn't have a good record at presenting that kind of character in a heroic role. Favreau and Downey Jr. created the right alchemical mix of charm and brains to pull it off.

Will his replacement be able to do it amid the rumored cacophony that Marvel/Disney is planning? I don't know, but I don't think so.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #646: Miscellaneous Movie Media Musings...

Welcome to the show folks...


Anderson Cooper will be starting a syndicated daytime talk show and will be replacing the exiting Oprah Winfrey in many markets across the USA.

You can't really get more un-Oprah than Anderson Cooper, let's look at the stats.


Oprah Winfrey, female, poor working class, African American, from Mississippi, who went to Tennessee State University on a scholarship while working in local radio.

Anderson Cooper, male, rich and privileged (a Vanderbilt), ultra-white (even his hair), from New York City who went to Yale University.


Oprah Winfrey presents herself as warm, sensitive, friendly and hyper enthusiastic about things she likes.

Anderson Cooper comes across as cold, aloof, un-emotional, almost robotic.


Oprah Winfrey has struggled with her weight for decades and in public.

Anderson Cooper looks like he was born thin.


Oprah Winfrey, started in local radio, and got a spot hosting a local talk show and took it from the bottom of the ratings to the top of the ratings and then national success in syndication and a media empire which includes magazines and her own cable network.

Anderson Cooper, went into journalism over a career with the CIA, and became a major figure by hosting a prime-time show on what was then the biggest cable news network in the country and watched the ratings for his show, its network, and the importance of both dwindle against the competition.

The only thing they appear to have in common is that both are subject to speculations about their personal lives. Personally, I don't give a rodent's left butt-cheek about the private lives of either.

So the question is, after watching Oprah for decades will they watch her exact opposite?


Ron Howard and Brian Grazer's Imagine Entertainment Company is starting what they believe is a radical new experiment that they hope will evolve the creative process.

They're calling it a special "Writer's Lab" and in it
writers will be brought together for a year, put on salary and given other financial incentives to create movies and television shows together.

Now maybe it's just me, but I don't think this is all that radical.

Back in the golden age of Hollywood writers would be brought in from all over the world, put on a generous weekly salary for the time, put in offices, and then put to work on creating scripts for the studio. There would also be extra money to be made rewriting each others scripts, and if two or more worked together to create a script they didn't have to split a single pay-check, because they were both on salary.

Sounds to me like a bit of history repeating.


Saturday, 11 December 2010

Saturday Silliness Cinema: Merry Xmas Part 2

Welcome to the show folks...

It's time for my usual break from ranting about pop culture and the business behind it and have a little laugh. In keeping with my December yuletide theme, here's Brit comedian Peter Serafinowicz with some Xmas themed sketches. Enjoy.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #645: Billionaires, Movies, & Money

Welcome to the show folks....

There's an old saying that nothing make someone a millionaire faster than being a billionaire investing in the movie business. Forbes has an article about the decidedly mixed record billionaires have had investing in the movies. (hat tip: DorothyAtForbes)

At the very best investing in movies is a gamble, and success selling computers, real estate, or cars, doesn't mean that you're going to have success making movies. In fact being a success in one of those fields gives you a very special title when you invest in making movies.

That title is PIGEON.

The movie business is unlike any other industry in the world. The temptations are obvious, it's glamorous, exciting, creative, and sexy, and then there's the money to be made if you have a blockbuster hit. But behind those temptations are a myriad of traps and travails that could leave a once mega-rich player busted flat and wondering what the hell just happened.

So let's have a little thought experiment. Let's imagine that you, gentle fragrant reader, just joined the ranks of the might uber-rich thanks to selling off the mega-successful company you started in your garage. You have billions of dollars in liquid assets, time on your hands, and a passionate love with movies that you want to consummate.

Well, if you're going to do some consummating, you are going to need some protection. Protection in the form of advice from this smug know-it-all like me.

1. REMEMBER THAT ANY IDIOT CAN MAKE A MOVIE. That's true, anyone with money and time can make a movie. However, it takes skill, intelligence, and experience to get that movie into theaters and get people to see it. This requires intense research and planning. You need to find out how every facet of the business works. It's not like selling widgets, it's making movies, and it operates by its own rules. You have to know those rules like the back of your hand, you must know who the players are, how they operate, and who you would like to do business with.

Knowledge is power, but remember that you must...

2. TRUST NO ONE. If you're going to make movies you are going to need par
tners. Co-producers, distributors, whatever, you can't do it all by yourself without investing pretty much everything you've got. You will need an infrastructure to get the film out there, and to sell it to audiences. Now a lot of the people that will want to do business with you see you as a yokel who just fell off the turnip truck. They will promise you huge profits, Academy Awards, starlets at Sundance who will let you into their designer parkas, and anything else that will get you to sign with them.

Don't believe a word of it.

Believe what you can dig up yourself. Keep up with the research advised in step 1, dig deep, and see what lies beyond the curtain and just who can deliver on the promises, and who can't. Remember the industry is based on fiction, on screen and in the account books.

3. ONLY INVEST WHAT YOU CAN AFFORD TO LOSE. This is key. Even if your partners, are as honest as humanly possible, this is still a gamble. Treat it like a trip to Vegas. The money you brought to the table is the price of admission to the big poker game, and you must be willing and able to lose the whole pot, and walk away.

That's why you must start modestly. Keep the budgets under control, aim for commercially viable properties, and if they succeed, you can build a cushion for riskier projects. Going big budget blockbuster, or hard-core art house awards-bait on your first attempt, without a track record could backfire badly.

4. MANAGE RELATIONSHIPS WISELY. If you do make money on your project, and can keep going that's all well and good. But that doesn't mean you can start stomping around like you're King Kong. Hollywood is based on relationships, if you want to build a viable career as a producer, you have to know what relationships you should maintain, and what you should drop like a dead branch off a tree.

Diplomacy, alliances, and even knowing the right times and places to keep your friends close and your enemies closer are all important. You don't want to be known as a bully, or as a doormat, you want to be known as a tough but fair businessman that compared to you there is no better friend, and no worse enemy.

Then, maybe, you might be able to survive with your fortune more or less intact.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #644: Hollywood Foreign Prostitutes Association?

Welcome to the show folks...

It's December, and with the certainty of the tides comes the annual griping about Awards Season. This week TV producer Peter Tolan said this about Hollywood Foreign Press Association
and the Golden Globes:
"just a group of whores from other countries... I'm not prone to hyperbole, but the Foreign Press [Assn] really is a bunch of whores. They can be bought... It's really an excuse to go out with people who don't speak English that well and maybe win a trinket. [A Golden Globe] means shit. Fuck the Globes."
The HFPA is a bunch of whores that can be bought.

Let's just file that under "Well d'uh!"

In the grand schematic of the multiverse Hollywood based award, be they from Associations, Academies, Guilds, Circles, Clubs, and Covens, are all essentially meaningless trinkets that have more to do with the maneuvering of the nominees and the prejudices of the nominators than actual quality of the films and the integrity of the process.

The problem is that Hollywood takes these damn things too damn seriously.

I end up saying this every year, the worst thing to happen to the Golden Globes was when the press thought it was some sort of predictor for the Oscars. Sure, sometimes it did honor films that went on to win Oscars, but that's the same logic that tells you to base your schedule on a broken clock because it's right twice a day.

The thing is that you're not supposed to take the HFPA or the Golden Globes seriously. It started out as a charity fund-raising dinner and the agenda had nothing to do with predicting the Oscars or awarding quality.

The agenda was to get together with your friends and co-workers, get shit-faced drunk, hand out prizes as an excuse to rag on each other, and wake up in the morning with a cocktail waitress and no memory of what happened and why there's a live chicken in your living room, and a trophy with Don Ameche's name engraved on it stuck in your chandelier next to the waitress' panties.

That's why they usually stuck to just releasing the results the next morning. Partly for the public to see who won and partly to remind the participants that they were there.

However, the big media conglomerates want to have glamorous gals in glittery gowns on their magazine covers and something to fill four hours of usually dull winter TV-prime time on Sunday night, so they started hyping it up. They conveniently forgot about the whole Pia Zadora incident, and just kept pushing the glamor and the glitz in the hope of making a quick buck. What was once just a fun social get-together became a stress filled media monstrosity that holds way more sway over an actor's career than it should, because despite it's image as a qualifying play-off to the Oscars, it's ultimately meaningless.

It's a triviality, treat it as such.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #643: Randoms Drippings From My Brain Pan

Welcome to the show folks....


Russell Crowe wants a sequel to his seafaring adventure Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World. I can understand that, he hasn't had a real substantial hit in a long time, and people are starting to wonder about his status as an A-List movie star, especially after his last film The Next Three Days lasted less than three days at the box office.

But what makes Russell so unpopular. He is a good actor, but he does have this image as a prickly and cantankerous bloke, and the whole toss the phone at the hotel worker incident didn't help, but it shouldn't be fatal to a career. So far he hasn't killed anyone or trashed a hotel room with a porn star hiding in the closet.

And it can't be because he's "difficult" in the old Hollywood parlance. If you look at his filmography filmmakers tend to work with him again and again, chiefly Ridley Scott and Ron Howard. These aren't people who are going to waste time with someone who is hard to work with.

Maybe it's a case of expectations. When he first exploded into Hollywood in the 90s he came across as an old school tough guy with some serious acting chops who was capable of playing classic heroic parts. People had high expectations, and maybe that incident with the phone-toss scarred those expectations. Maybe he should have started out as a coked-out drunken asshole, like Charlie Sheen, and then he'd have been immunized.


The Motion Picture Association of America's ratings board has changed their mind about the Weinstein Company film Blue Valentine. The film was originally rated NC-17 over some sexual content, which made people who actually saw the film go "WTF?" but now it will be rated "R" which folks are saying is more reasonable.

Now I could go on about the inanity of some of the MPAA's ratings decisions, but I'll bet dollars to donuts that they'd give the Justice League porn parody a PG-13 if it could get a bulldog like Harvey Weinstein off their backs.

Which only just shows how broken and in need of reform the rating system really is.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #642: Christmas Movies & I See Dead People On Screen!

Welcome to the show folks...


For the first time in my living memory there isn't a single Christmas movie coming from a major studio this December.

Now some may say that this is just another
shot in the ongoing culture war between Hollywood and the predominantly Christian American audience.

I think the answer is much simpler.

Hollywood can't make a decent Christmas movie anymore.

Think about it, what made the Xmas movies you watch every year so great. They were great stories of redemption, belief, and sincere emotion.

Can you imagine anyone in Hollywood capable of producing something like that these days?

Most of the Xmas and Xmas-related movies of the past few years have tanked, mostly because they were either brain dead slapstick farces, dreary FX overloads that had all the warmth of an icicle from Pluto, or something like the direct to DVD flick
Santa Paws, the only Xmas related release of any kind this year is a steaming pile of saccharine hoping to grab cash from harried parents with cute puppies and some regurgitated catch phrases and cliches. It's the sort of film I used to make fun of when I was a kid.

Personally, I don't think anyone can top what I consider the trinity of Xmas movies,
A Christmas Carol (AKA Scrooge) with Alastair Sim, It's A Wonderful Life, and Miracle On 34th Street, and it looks like Hollywood isn't even going to try this year.


....the dead will walk again in Hollywood.

At least that was the rumor yesterday. Comedian and director Mel Smith made a comment that George Lucas was buying the rights to the images of dead celebrities for use in a CGI movie.

Lucas took a moment from rolling around a bin full of $1000 bills to deny this rumor.

Now Smith was probably joking, but his joke was a little too believable and instantly became the rumor that got people going all over the word.

Lucas is notorious for his disdain for working with living actors, his love of old movies, the people who starred in them, and his dream of making a film without actors in the vein of the films that shaped his childhood.

Personally, I think Robert Zemeckis is going to try it first, finally making a mo-cap film where the characters don't look like re-animated corpses by actually casting reanimated corpses.

What do you think about these stories? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #641: Weinstein Company Men

Welcome to the show folks...

Last Sundance festival marked the premiere of the film Company Men. The movie had a heavyweight cast in the form of a resurgent Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, and Chris Cooper, a director crossing over from a successful career in television, John Wells, and a relevant storyline considering the current economic climate. While no one was expecting the film to be a big blockbuster, some said it had the potential to find itself a niche, especially during awards season.

Then the film got picked up by the Weinstein

When that happened I sort of joked that the Weinstein's release plan was to make a lot of promises, then in about 6 months come up with an excuse to bump the film back, and bump it back again, and then finally dump it in the DVD discount bin at a Wal-Mart in Flin-Flon Manitoba.

Well, it turns out that it wasn't a joke, but a pretty accurate prediction, only off by a couple of months.

Now they're promising an Oscar qualifying run in literally theaters, with a wider release in January.

"Sure," he said as the sarcastic irony dripped from his tongue as thick and smooth as tupelo honey, "I believe you."

Which makes me ask this question one more time:


Seriously, because unless it's going to make Bob a lot of cash, or get Harvey qualified for another Oscar, your film is going to get bent over and rogered with a stiff wire brush. It's going to be either re-cut into oblivion, then dumped, or just plain dumped.

Now I know that the indie film market is about as lively as a postmortem Perry Como concert, but it can't be so desperate that the only option is a buyer who buys movies pretty much solely to keep other people from doing anything worthwhile with it.

Sheesh. I'm not the only saying stuff like this, so why aren't these people listening?

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Saturday Silliness Cinema: Merry Xmas Part 1

Welcome to the show folks...

Yesterday was my birthday and I took a day off from the blog, but I'm back today and I'm starting a new Christmas themed series of vids for Saturday Silliness Cinema. First up, my sincerest wishes that you all have the haziest, laziest, craziest, and Swayziest Christmas ever.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #640: Thoughts On CBS Films By A Smug Know It All

Welcome to the show folks...

CBS Films is having some troubles. Its latest release Faster, is going kind of slow at the box office, and in response to yet another under-performer the company is having a management shake-up.

I've written before about the CBS TV network's latest attempt at getting into the theatrical feature film biz. The original concept behind the company is sound. That concept is to produce and distribute moderately budgeted genre films to fill the increasingly vacant middle ground left between the mega-budget blockbusters, and the award baiting art house fare.

Now that I have that out of the way I have to be blunt, and by blunt, I mean savagely brutal. While the concept behind the company is sound, the company itself isn't sound, and it goes beyond the current night of the Sicilian vespers going on at the head office.

Let's look at the company's two biggest problems...


Now the folks at CBS, chiefly honcho Les Moonves, think that it's key that they slap the precious CBS "brand" on the company. Experts will tell you that it's an important selling point for the new business, but it's really mostly to get the CEO of the parent company a few pats on the back at the country club when the company with their "brand" does well.

However, sometimes a successful brand like the CBS TV network can harm a venture, especially a theatrical feature film venture.

Think about it, audience members see the CBS brand and they think television. They think of warm comfortable entertainment brought into their homes and enjoyed from the comfort of their couch. They do not think about theatrical feature films, and definitely
don't think of anything with the CBS Eyeball stamped on it as worth getting off that couch, driving all the way out to the multiplex and dropping some serious coin to see.

CBS would have been much better off calling this new company a completely different name. Maybe start with what the letters CBS mean... Columbia Broadcasting System. They could call it COLUMBIA PICTURES!


That name's already taken?

Dang it!

Okay, scratch that. There is still an entire universe of potential names for this new company that have a different branding than CBS. Someone, somewhere could have figured one out. Legend says that Universal Pictures got its name off a truck shipping plumbing supplies, and that Warner Brothers got its name from some guys who started the company. The point that I'm making is that this new company needed a new brand to get audiences to get off the couch.


Face it, I didn't even know that Faster
was being released into theaters until after it started having underwhelming ticket sales.

That's bad, because I try to pay attention to those sorts of things. If you're not reaching me, then you are definitely not reaching the sort who actually have the disposable income to buy a ticket.

Their movies can't directly compete with the big blockbusters when it comes to advertising. That's a given. However, they shouldn't even try. They can't spend their way out of this jam, but they can think their way out of it. I'm talking about looking for ways to promote the films that don't require mega-bucks spent in ad-buys. This can be done, other filmmakers and companies do it all the time. Study the successes and the failures, determine what they did right and did wrong, and form your own plan from what you've learned. It's a lot of work, but in the end it should be worth it.

Then they might be able to make this thing work.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #639: Walking Dead Writers Get Their Walking Papers

Welcome to the show folks...

Meanwhile another show isn't being exactly welcome to its writers. Frank Darabont, executive producer and showrunner of AMC's breakout zombie hit The Walking Dead has given the shows staff writers their walking papers. That's right, after the huge success of Season 1's six episodes, he's going into the 13 episode 2nd Season by himself, with planned contributions from the comic's creator Robert Kirkman, and some freelancers.


I can't say that I'm all that keen on this idea, now I could snark about it based on rumors that Mr. Darabont is hard to get along with, but I don't like to deal in rumors, because I'm not an insider with insider info, I'm as far out as you can get and still be on the same continent. So, in the interest of fairness, which I rarely practice, I will take a look at the Pros and Cons of the business/creative ramifications of this decision.


1. I'm assuming that this is somehow going to save the show some money, and the original writers might still be rehired under some convoluted Hollywood style accounting scheme.

2. Darabont's defenders state that the series is following a more British style model. The British model is that the series has a limited number of episodes, and a limited number of writers. Many British TV series are written by a single writer as one big sort of 'novel for television.' The closest a more mainstream American series came to the "one writer" plan was J. Michael Straczynski and his sci-fi series
Babylon 5, where he wrote entire seasons by himself for a total of 92 of the series 110 episodes.

3. Other defenders say that the series is pretty
much already written inside the pages of Robert Kirkman's ongoing and long running comic book series.

Now let's look at the...


1. The odds that the original staff writer are going
to be rehired as freelancers under some Hollywood accounting scheme are pretty slim. Resentment can come into Hollywood relationships, and other shows love to poach people with time on hits. Especially a come from nowhere, unexpected hit like Walking Dead.

2. While I do advocate the British model for certain types of TV series, and that some shows do better as a limited run miniseries than as an ongoing. These sorts of stories are small scale, and self-contained with an obvious beginning, middle, and end, and often years between each 'series.'

However, The Walking Dead, by the nature of its source material is a large, long, and ongoing sort of serial drama about survival in a world where civilization has ceased to exist.

Yes, Straczynski did it on Babylon 5, but it kind of showed. I was never a big fan of the show, mostly because of parts where plot-lines were stretched out when they should have been wrapped up quickly, and explanations denied when logic screamed for them because asking and answering questions didn't fit with the show's central plan. This could have been avoided if there was a bit more collaboration with fresh eyes and minds, instead of trying to go it pretty much alone.

3. Yes, the series is pretty much pre-written in comic book form. But that's not as easy a proposition as you think. Adapting a pre-existing work is a huge can of worms, requiring an understanding of the source story, the medium it was told in, and the best strategies for bringing the story, themes, and characters to the screen.

An ongoing story like The Walking Dead requires all these and probably then some, including a level of team work that might not be found with a bunch of insecure freelancers.

Now that I weighed the pros and cons I have to admit that I'm still a tad uneasy with this decision, and will have to wait and see how it's going to turn out.