Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #965: Disney Declares Star Wars!

A real whopper hit the world last night. Media megalith the Walt Disney Company inked a deal to give George Lucas $4.05 billion, yes, that's BILLION, in exchange for his company Lucasfilm and all its assets, including the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises and special effects powerhouse Industrial Light and Magic.

Disney also announced that they have a new Star Wars movie trilogy mapped out and will start with Episode 7 slated for release in 2015.

Time for us to look at the PROS & CONS!


1. Lucas has managed to become the richest filmmaker in the history of Hollywood.

2.  Disney now controls two of the most commercially successful franchises in recent movie history, namely Star Wars and the Indiana Jones franchises. They come with not only a history of lucrative movies, they have immense merchandising empires (including toys & games) as well, which are literally a license to print money.

3. Disney also has ownership of one of the longest running and most successful special effects houses in movie history. 

4. Disney has had success buying franchises and making them lucrative money machines like they did with Marvel comics.  


1. Lucasfilm's record doing anything outside their core franchises is pretty dismal. Not including the first American Graffiti movie Not only did a lot of these films lose money, you could put together the collective box office of Willow, Radioland Murders, Tucker: A Man & His Dream, Howard The Duck, Labyrinth, Mishima, and Red Tails and it probably wouldn't add up to the take brought in by 1 of their blockbuster core franchises.

2. The Indiana Jones franchise is essentially built around Harrison Ford and Stephen Spielberg, and even though Crystal Skull made money at the box office, a lot of the core fans think Ford's getting too old to be the action hero, his potential replacement Shia LaBeouf is more like "Where's The Beef," and Spielberg struck many as uninterested in the whole franchise, which isn't good for a director.

3. George Lucas pissed off a lot of the core fans who grew up on the first trilogy. First he started changing the movies, like making Greedo shoot first to nullify Han Solo's origin as an amoral bad-ass who redeems himself fighting the Empire. Then he worked out ways to piss them off even further by denying them a decent DVD version of the untampered originals simply because he felt like it.

Then came the prequel trilogy which, while profitable, were considered a creative disappointment with bad-ass villain Darth Vader starting out as Anakin the Whiny Bitch, and acting that couldn't have been more wooden if the casting had been held at an Ikea store. By the end only the real die hard fans and the kids who didn't grow up with the awe inspired by the originals gave a shit about the prequel trilogy and the related spin-offs.

Disney might be able to appease those lost fans by releasing a nice DVD/Blu-Ray of the originals in their original form.

4. $4 billion is a lot of money. Disney is going to need hits and fast the way they did with Marvel. If they don't make hits, they won't be moving the toys and games and other merch at levels that will get them out of hock as quick as they want.

If SW7 becomes another John Carter, or if Johnny Depp gets involved and blows out the budget, they will have a hard time covering the costs. Then the whole thing could become a white elephant the size of the Death Star.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Chill List #3: Thoughts On Slashers...

As a child of the late 1970s and early 1980s I witnessed the birth and golden age of the so-called "slasher film." I'm not as expert on the genre as those who are true horror-hounds, so I'm going to stick with what I know.

The genre's aunt and uncle were the "giallo" movies that were coming out of Italy by directors like Mario Bava and Dario Argento.  "Giallo" literally means "yellow" which was the color Italian publishers put on the spines of their crime-thriller novels.  The giallo movies were essentially "whodunnits" but with more sexuality, and the violence and blood cranked up to 11, as amateur sleuths tried to solve mysteries while black gloved killers ran amok.

The cult-popularity of those films opened the door to American filmmakers to stories that featured higher body counts and more gruesome methods of mayhem. However, for the most part the major studios weren't really interested in making these kinds of films. It fell upon independent producers to break the blood soaked ice, but they had limitations.

Specifically one big limitation, that was money.

They didn't have very much of it.

That means to make this sort of horror thriller work the script needed to have certain qualities:

1. Limited Locations.  This sort of film doesn't have the budget to be a James Bond style travelogue visiting major cities all over the world. The fewer places you have to film at the better.

2. Compressed Time. Costumes cost money. So it's better to have the whole story occur in a very narrow time frame so the characters aren't constantly changing from one outfit to another. If it all happens in one day, that's perfect.

3. Tight Schedule. The film needs to be shot, edited, and released very quickly if the producers have a chance of making their money back. That means very little in the way of special effects, elaborate stunts, and large scale set pieces.

4. Predominantly Unknown Cast. Stars cost money, nowadays way more money than they're worth. To make a low budget horror film you can only at best afford one or two "name" actors whose roles that can be shot in a minimum of time and per day fees. Every other part has to be cast with relative unknowns, so making the characters young is a plus in every direction.

This formula was congealed by an Bob Clark, an American director working in Toronto, Canada, with his film Black Christmas about a sorority house besieged by a killer and obscene phone caller named Billy.

It turned out that the formula to save money made the films more compelling. The compressed time frame created suspense and pacing,  the limited locations created a sense of claustrophobic dread, and the mostly unknown cast made it look like anyone could get whacked. Also having a young cast appealed to a young audience.

Now the original Black Christmas only made a tiny blip with the general public, but the seeds have been sown. Other producers, with the modest ambition of making a quick buck tried it out.

One of those producers was Irwin Yablans who recruited filmmakers John Carpenter and Debra Hill to put together a horror movie inspired by urban legends of babysitters and escaped maniacs creeping around the house. They also had to be able to shoot it for about $320,000 from producer/financier Mustapha Akkad. Other than that, they were given complete creative freedom.
The little film Carpenter and Hill came up with was Halloween. The story used the formula formed in Black Christmas to great effect. It drips paranoia, claustrophobia, and uncertainty in every frame.

Then came the ending (SPOILER) where Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) confronts escaped homicidal maniac Michael Myers before he can kill Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and empties his thirty-eight revolver into him. After assuring Laurie that it was over, he looks out the window to see that Michael's skedaddled. (END SPOILER)

That ending was a major shocker to movie audiences used to films being wrapped up neatly and helped make the film a phenomenon when it was released, raking in over $70 million at the box office. 

That success opened the floodgates.

Soon everyone with a camera and a recipe for fake blood was making their own slasher films.

The most successful of these Halloween imitators was Friday The 13th (1980). The first film had more of a whodunnit vibe with the identity of the killer remaining a mystery until the ending.

The film was profitable and spawned a quick sequel that dropped the whodunnit mystery angle and introduced the killer and hockey safety gear enthusiast Jason Voorheez who became the star of the series.

The makers of Halloween thought they had pushed their luck with having Michael Myers survive getting shot, so they attempted to wrap up his story and spree in Halloween 2 by having him and Dr. Loomis get incinerated in an exploding hospital.

There was an attempt to change the nature of the Halloween franchise by having independent storylines set during Halloween. However that attempt, Halloween 3: Season of the Witch tanked critically and commercially, so the producers, sans Carpenter and Hill, went back to the antics of Michael Myers.

The producers of the Friday the 13th series also tried to break from the formula of the first 3 films by having Michael Myers die in the fourth installment and then be replaced by a new masked maniac.  However, like Halloween, the producers dropped that idea, and just returned Jason back from the dead, again, and again and again.

These new beginnings for old killers marked the beginning of the end of the genre as a vital proving ground for new talent with clever ideas for shocks. Instead it became a search for excuses to keep bringing back the killers, no matter how far fetched, and make them completely unstoppable, while ratcheting up the blood spillage and body counts.

While the films still made money, it became a parade of up-scaling the gross and diminishing grosses. The indestructability of the killers in these movies leached out all suspense since the audience knew there was no way to stop him, and the plots became repetitive and predictable.

They even sent Jason into outer space. 


The Halloween series became a narrative mess with sequels delving into a mish-mash of supernatural nonsense to keep Michael coming back.

This dive into self-parody meant the genre was ripe for parody. The Scream series cast an ironic eye on the genre and the "rules" that it operated by. The first films were very successful, and over time the big studios saw this and said "me too."

They started buying up franchises like Halloween and Friday the 13th and tried to revive them. The H20 movie and its sequel tried to create a new storyline that ignored all the other sequels after Halloween 2, but that fizzled out by the second film. Then came remakes of My Bloody Valentine, Black Christmas, Friday The 13th (technically a remake of Part 2), and the first Halloween movie.

Most fizzled, some made some money, and they even made a sequel to the Halloween remake,  but even that fizzled out as a creative disappointment.

Why were the remakes considered disappointments?

Not just because they were remakes.

A lot of the time they attempted to explain the killers.

The originals had the simplicity of the urban legends that inspired him. There was no explanation for why Michael Myers went batshit at age 6. He was just evil and out to do evil.  Pamela Voorheez wanted revenge for the death of her mentally handicapped son which was caused by horny negligent counselors by killing all horny counselors. Jason took up the killing in the second movie, because that's what his Mama would have wanted him to do.

It was simple. 

Filmmakers of the remakes were trying to create more depth and complexity in the characters of the killers by trying to explain why they are what they are, while at the same time ratcheting up the bloody bits.

However, explanations, especially of masked maniacs, ruin the uncertainty. In the original Michael Myers just pops up in the middle of classical American suburbia for no obvious reason. That tells the viewer that it could happen anywhere to anyone, even the audience!

You see what I mean.

Anyway, I generally stick to the original classics, before they were infected by sequelitis.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #965: Random Penguin Update

It looks like it's official.

Penguin Books, one of the biggest publishers in the world, and in operation since 1935 is going to merge with Random House, as per an agreement between their parent companies, the media giants Pearson and Bertelsmann.

This is after posting my own objections to the merger, and Rupert Murdoch getting some giggles by having News Corp bid for Penguin, probably just to make the elite literati shit a collective brick.

I'm not particularly happy with this news. It's going to start a contraction in the publishing industry that will hurt writers and readers.


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Friday, 26 October 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #964: Two Drips From The Brain Pan

Greeting readers!

Today, two mysteries that I think need to be solved.

First up...

The venerable British Broadcasting Company is being rocked by a scandal centered around former TV host the late Jimmy Savile.

In case you've been living in a cave Jimmy Savile became a celebrity hosting the BBC's Top of the Pops and other shows. After his death last year it was revealed that there was apparently no perversion Savile didn't indulge in, repeatedly, and allegedly with hundreds of defenseless children.

Now it looks like the BBC organization used its massive weight and political/social clout to cover up Savile's perversity and the investigation is just starting to pick at the tip of this iceberg.

Now I've made 1 conclusion and have 1 question about this case.

My Conclusion: The BBC has managed to make the phone hacking by the now defunct News of the World newspaper seem fairly tame in comparison to letting a pedophile rapist not only run amok among defenseless children but cover up his crimes for decades.

Rupert Murdoch probably can't stop laughing at the heads that will be on pikes over this scandal.

My Question: How was anyone able to meet Jimmy Savile, the man at the center of this scandal, and NOT just assume he was some sort of raging scrofulent pervert at first?

Here's an experiment. Find an artist who knows nothing of the scandal, ask him to draw a picture of a rich, flashy, pedophile pervert, who tries to look hip decades after he should have given up simply because he hopes it will get him closer to underage girls.

This is what that picture would look like:
Am I right?


The estate of the late Southern literary legend William Faulkner is suing Sony Pictures for the atrocity of distributing a movie (Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris) where a character quotes a line by Faulkner.

Now they're not suing Woody Allen himself, even though it was him who dug up and cruelly sodomized the corpse of the literary lion by quoting the author in the context that he expressed a great truth.  

There's a very good reason for that.

Woody Allen is an individual who will most likely fight the case in court, using the arguments of freedom of speech, that the use of the quote counts as an uncompensated endorsement of the author's work, yadda yadda yadda.

Sony Pictures is just a cog in a massive international conglomerate that is much more likely to just shell out a cash settlement for the estate, and its lawyers to drop this nuisance suit rather than let the high priced law firms they keep on retainer fight it.

The Faulkner Estate Lawyers are also hoping that if it does go to court they can get a jury to vote for them simply because Sony is a big corporation and the movie itself made over $140 million at the box office.

Personally, if I ran the studio, I would come down on them like the wrath of an angry god. This is a nuisance suit cash-grab and should be tossed from court and the people who filed it fined the court costs to teach them to stop wasting the court's time.

Then maybe horsewhipped with a wet noodle.

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


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Thursday, 25 October 2012

The Book Report: Random Penguin?

There are reports all over the interwebs that publishing mega-companies Penguin Books and Random House are considering a merger. This would reduce the number of major international publishers from 6 to 5, and give the new merged mega-publisher control of approximately 25% of the US/UK book market.

They say it's to deal with rapid shifts in the market caused by the rise of Amazon, and e-books being read on devices iPads, Kobos, and Kindles.

I think the key reason  they're having trouble competing is because they're already so effing huge and unwieldy. The publishing industry, especially the mega-pubs are even worse than the major studios when it comes to operating quickly and efficiently, or being able to deal with change.

Here's what I think will happen:

1. A lot fewer books will be coming out of any new Random Penguin Company.

The first instinct of a freshly merged company is to start slashing and burning to pay for the money spent on the merger. That means they'll probably be firing or laying off editors and other staffers, and will most likely reduce their output of books in any format to the numbers roughly equivalent to the output of just one of the original companies.

Authors on the so-called "mid-list" who sell, but not on New York Times best-seller levels will probably also be dropped because...

2. Publishing will become even more "celebrity" and fad obsessed than it already is.

I've been noticing a trend in bookstores where more and more books are being "written" by celebrities whether they have a story to tell or not. Sometimes these book deals are part of the complex machinations of the publisher's parent company, but most of the time it's a desperate attempt to prove that because someone, or something is famous people will buy books associated with them.

This has taken many forms. There are the big money deals for autobiographies, essay collections, or works of fiction by celebrities, to actor Johnny Depp getting his own publishing imprint at rival mega-pub HarperCollins to pump out books about Beat Poets and folk singers, to another publisher releasing the autobiography of Uggie, the dog from 2011 Oscar winner The Artist.

Because you know that the people who loved the movie The Artist are just dying to read a book allegedly written by the dog.  

Now the publishing industry won't tell anyone just how many of these celebrity projects make back the massive advances they pay out. I suspect that very few of them really pay off, but just enough of them succeed to keep the industry hurling money at people just because their name seems vaguely familiar to marketing focus groups.

As for those who actually write as a vocation, expect only the major superstar best-sellers to keep their place at the table. But this leads to a trap.

Sure, they're prolific and best selling authors now, but sooner or later that's going to end. Either they drop dead, stop writing, or eventually lose their mojo with the book-buying public.

Since the industry's already set up to keep the discovery of anything or anyone new an extremely rare million to one shot replacing established stars will become tricky. So there will be scrambles to cash in on passing fads that will be exponentially more intense than they are now.

Oversized mega-corporations are not creators of new trends, they can only follow.

3. More and more publishing mega-mergers will come.

In the end, there can be only one.

Then it will collapse in on itself.

Then new smaller, more efficient, companies will rise to pick up the slack in the market thanks to advances in sales and distribution.

Then they will grow fat, inefficient, and slow. Then they will start merging, until there is only one, and the cycle will begin again.

It's the circle of life! 


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Give it as a gift that will amaze your friends, worry your family, and help a struggling author survive this age of mergers and celebrity madness.

If I sell over a thousand of these I will stop bugging you.

Until then I will be relentless.

Time For A Plug...

Sandy Peterson, a great fan of this blog, is also an award winning and successful game designer, and he has a Kickstarter campaign for his latest project, and I'll let him do the talking...

So kick in what you can!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #963: Legendary Rejects Cruise Control

Here's the story boiled down to the bare bones.
Warner Bros. is a major movie studio based in Hollywood.
Legendary Pictures is a major American film financier/production company that has a partnership deal with Warner Bros. which is behind such hits as 300, Christopher Nolan's Batman franchise, and the upcoming reboot of the Superman franchise. This partnership centers on a lot of the big "fanboy" franchise type pictures that dominate the summer box office.
Village Roadshow is a major movie producer/financier based in Australia, that also has a very lucrative partnership with Warner Bros. that's resulted in dozens of movies of every variety.
Warner Bros. is currently starting up production of a movie adaptation of All You Need Is Kill to be directed by Doug Liman. It's from a Japanese "Light Novel" which can be summed up as a cross between Groundhog Day and War Of The Worlds. A soldier is caught in a time loop reliving the first day of an alien invasion where he gets killed again and again, but has to change how the day ends to save himself and the planet Earth.

In the movie version the soldier caught in the loop will be played by...
Actor Tom Cruise, who has seen a bit of a career comeback with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and a bit of a setback with the musical Rock of Ages.

Sounds like a perfect partnership between Warner Bros., Legendary Pictures, and Village Roadshow.

Not really.

Legendary Pictures has pulled out of the $140 production. In fact, they are denying ever being involved in the first place, despite what the Warner Bros. press office said earlier.

Now we have a bit of a mystery.

Why has Legendary dropped out?

Well, the prevailing theory involves Tom Cruise and money.

Tom can still sell tickets around the world, especially in the action genre as MI:GP proved.

But Legendary might be thinking back to what happened to Mission Impossible 3

MI3 made a lot of money worldwide. However, so much was spent developing, making, and marketing the film, that any profit margin that film had was thinner than a starving starlet.

A lot the reason why Tom Cruise was in the career wilderness wasn't just because of his couch jumping on Oprah. It was because a lot of the blame for MI3's troubled and expensive production was put squarely on his 4 foot 9 inch frame.

While Legendary's movies have big budgets, they pride themselves on putting every cent spent in production on the screen. Also, when it comes to casting parts, they show a preference for "actors," over "stars." Check their filmography and you'll see that the overwhelming majority of their films do not star so-called "A-Listers" like Tom Cruise or Johnny Depp.

That's because stars can be a lot more expensive than the cost of their fee. A-listers can demand rewrites, hiring, firing, and re-shoots, and then there's the costs of the perks, including hotels, trailers, entourages, per-diems, and hundreds of other expenses that just keep adding up when an A-List star's involved.

Legendary's strategy seems to be to recruit talent that's on the way up, make them stars, and make sure that they're already signed up for the sequels.

So I can understand why they didn't want to get involved with All You Need Is Kill.

That's my theory, what's yours.


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