Thursday, 29 November 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #970: Dear Pete

An Open Letter To Peter Jackson.

Dear Pete.

I can call you Pete, right?

Okay, Mr. Jackson.

I'm writing to you because I'm worried. I'm worried about The Hobbit, and I'm worried about you.

I started worrying when you announced that you were stretching The Hobbit out to two movies, and I got really worried when you then announced that you were achieving new heights of Procrustean excess by trying to make a book that was shorter than the slimmest volume of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy into a trilogy of big budget epics, scouring the appendices Tolkien included in The Return Of The King for extra material.

I can understand the studio wanting to do it, they see the money being made by extending the last Harry Potter and Twilight books into 2 movies apiece and think that the fans will shell out the big bucks for anything from their beloved franchise, whether it's necessary or not. It's not much of a stretch for a studio to just assume that stretching out a comparatively slim book first into 2 movies, then 3 movies would be fine because the geeks will take their shit and call it ice cream as long as it's connected to the Lord of the Rings.

What I don't get is why you, Peter Jackson, the cinematic king of Middle Earth, would go along with it. 

You had a lot of clout, an enormous amount of clout, in the aftermath of LOTR, so folks would naturally expect you to put your foot down and make a stand for the "integrity of the narrative and the source material."

Except I fear that you may have spent that clout.  You got a record setting deal for your dream project remaking King Kong, and while it sold a lot of tickets and DVDs, the big budget, your cut of the rentals, and other factors made any profit margin wafer thin. Also it really wasn't the groundbreaking turning point in the cultural zeitgeist that LOTR was. Then came The Lovely Bones which was supposed to be your entry into mainstream Oscar-bait supremacy pretty much written off as a disaster by critics and audiences. (And let's not forget that you spent $70 million making, and $80 million promoting what was essentially a domestic drama with a thin veneer of the supernatural.)

The Adventures of Tintin, which you co-produced with fellow movie-mega-star did okay thanks to  foreign markets, but really didn't connect as well with the North American audience everyone hoped it would.

Sure, District 9 was a surprise hit, but most of the glory associated with its success fell on its director Neill Blomkamp. When you're dealing with Hollywood if you're not in the middle of the spotlight, you're in the dark.

So, I can understand you having some concerns about your ability to attract mega-million dollar paydays to maintain the lifestyle you've become accustomed to. 

Insecurity's a bitch, and in Hollywood it can be used as a weapon.

The studio logic dictates that they franchise out The Hobbit as much as they can get away with while avoiding paying any more money to the Tolkien Estate.

I have a theory as to how they convinced you to go along. They gave you the creative equivalent of a blank check.

Want to shoot it in 3D at 48 fps, because James Cameron says motion blur is bad, even though it can make things look like a soap opera from the 1970s?

Fine, go right ahead. The geeks will pay big money to see every episode and buy the merchandise just to complete the LOTR experience.

Want to take a long time to shoot?

Fine, go right ahead, we've already stated our reasons.

You see, the studio doesn't mind if you indulge yourself if they think they've got a sure thing like The Hobbit.

The studio doesn't care if the hard-core Tolkienistas think you're dry humping their favorite literary memories on a big pile of money. They saw Spielberg and Lucas rake in mega-bucks from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull even though nobody seems willing to admit to liking it, and they are screaming "ME TOO!" 

So you can see why I'm worried, Mr. Jackson.

Sincerely - Furious D.  


By the way, if you've ever wondered what if the great books of humanity's literary canon were made like modern movies, then you should read my Kindle E-Book STUDIO NOTES FOR LITERARY CLASSICS available from Amazon for $2.99 in the USA or £1.93 in the UK.  

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #969: 2 Tales Of Not Knowing

Singer, songwriter, actress, dancer, entrepreneur, and raging diva Beyonce is adding documentary film-maker to her curriculum vitae. She's signed a deal with pay-TV giant HBO to direct a documentary about the world's most electrifying, vibrant and stunning superstar who just happens to be Beyonce.

Now documentaries are supposed to tell people new information, and this documentary has done that before it's even been made. It's told the world about Beyonce's shocking lack of self-awareness.

Only someone who has spent every day since their teens being bombarded with praise from sycophantic opportunists about their beauty, talent, and overall genius in all things, and believing every single word they say, could possibly think that making a documentary about how wonderful they are would not make them look like a flaming A-bomb strength narcissist.

What also really bugs me is that the "documentary" will be just another fluff piece glorified commercial while completely missing the opportunity to do some Andy-Kaufman-messing-with-the-audience style performance art.


Indie mogul Harvey Weinstein is hoping his new film Silver Linings Playbook will get him the Oscar nominations he needs to keep his company afloat in investors and naive filmmakers, so he's out there shilling it like a bastard.

One of those shillings involved the NFL Network airing an interview with the film's star Bradley Cooper. Harvey figured it's a natural fit since there's a major sub-plot in the film centering around the relationship between Cooper's character and his father, played by Robert De Niro, and lots of football.
However that football sub-plot involves characters betting on NFL games. The NFL officially frowns on sports-betting, so they cancelled the appearanceHarvey Weinstein is now out banging the drum and scream "CENSORSHIP! CENSORSHIP!" like Quasimodo on a meth binge.

This reminds me of a story told by playwright Tom Stoppard about a group of radicals in the 1960s who demanded that a big newspaper turn over their front page to their manifesto. When the newspaper refused, they screamed "censorship" not unlike Comrade Weinstein is doing now.

Tom Stoppard thought this odd since the newspaper wasn't committing censorship, but editing.

In the case of the NFL Network, they're not acting like censors, they're acting like producers.

Producers have to get their product out their, and they try to avoid anything that might cast a negative light on their product. In the case of the NFL Network, they feel that they must avoid references to illegal betting on sports for fear that making such a reference may be construed as an endorsement, and that's a huge can of worms.

Like that London newspaper, the NFL Network is a private organization and they have the final say on what they put out in the world, and what they do not put out in the world. No one has a right to force them to do anything they don't want to do.

It's not censorship, they're just doing their job, a job Harvey should understand, which takes his whole "censorship" argument to new depths of phoniness and insincerity.

Sunday, 25 November 2012


You have questions and I pretend to have answers so let's get it started...

Tweep @Kanothae linked me to a podcast that contained a discussion about video games being made into movies that raised an interesting question. That question was over how easy crappy movie versions of video games get made, while anyone trying to make a "quality" video game movie usually ends up in development hell?

That raised some further questions...

Are the studios trying to sabotage such films, partially out of jealousy over the massive grosses video games rake in, and is selling them as a stand-alone traditional blockbuster, a la Prince of Persia, works best at connecting them with a wider audience?

Well, I'm sure the studios are jealous of the grosses video games rake in. The latest entries in the big name Halo and Call of Duty game franchises are guaranteed to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars within days of their release, and I'm sure Hollywood would love to have that too.

However, to get those sorts of grosses they would have to charge $30-$60 a ticket the way video games charge per unit.

My state of the art game console system.
And that's where the trouble begins.

Big name games rake in MASSIVE MOOLAH, that's a fact. But the size of those grosses create an illusion of the game's impact on the zeitgeist.

While they may out gross the  big movie release of the weekend, usually more people actually saw the movie, and since they're not spending dozens of hours trying to beat the game, either alone or in the company of fellow gamers, they're out in the world talking about the movie they just saw within their social circle, which then moves outward.

This creates what I call the video game movie paradox.

Studios see the money video games rake in, and think that if they slap that game's brand onto a movie it'll be guaranteed to find an audience willing to spend money on it.

However, that audience isn't really a big enough portion of the population to warrant much in the line of risk. So the studios either look to make & release it as cheaply and quickly as possible, or exploit some element that can sell it beyond the game's original audience.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was sold as a traditional fantasy adventure and raked in $300+ million at the international box office, now the film cost somewhere between $150-$200 million to make, so at best it broke even.

The most successful video game movie franchise that I know of is the Canadian/German/American produced Resident Evil franchise. I'll bet dollars to donuts that the bulk of the audience who watch the movies have probably not played the games they're allegedly based on. The producers have made the movies more successful as they went on by focusing their sales pitch not on the games, but on the over-the-top action and stunts being performed by model/actress Milla Jovovich in impractically skin-tight and/or skimpy outfits.

Hence the paradox. While the brand sells as a video game, it is not guaranteed to sell as a movie. So the best way to sell the movie is to move beyond the game.

Which brings me to the saga of the Halo movie. 

The makers of the Halo games want to retain some control over any potential movie franchise. The studios want the Halo brand, but when they see the game's makers not only want control over the franchise, but want it done by a big money "A-list" filmmaker with a "A-list" star playing Master Chief, they decide that it's just too much money and hassle for a genre with an already iffy track record, and dump that puppy in turnaround.


Reader Kevin J. Waldroup had a heck of a lot of questions...
Do you think Hollywood is dead ?
No.  It's not healthy, but it's not dead. It still has the capacity to produce and release large scale entertainment beyond the capability of any Internet entertainment entrepreneur.

Hollywood does need a shake-up like the one it had in the early 1970s. It needs to go beyond just tossing money at the familiar and try on some new blood with new ideas.
What do you think of Baen books?
Not much.

I'm going to be honest here and admit that Baen and I have a history, and, while I don't want to go into any details, it's not a nice history. So I'm probably the last person to offer an unbiased opinion of the company.

For those who don't know what I'm talking about Baen Books is a publishing imprint that specializes in science fiction and fantasy, and is best known for their long running book series involving space navies, and alternate histories. They are also known for giving away e-book versions of the early books of their more popular series for free to hook in fresh readers.

So while I don't wish them any ill, as my grandpa would say; I wouldn't piss on Baen Books if they were on fire. 
What do think about Baen books going to movie business?
I've heard rumors about this series, or that book being sniffed around by Hollywood, but, judging from my own experience with them, I really doubt anything will come of it.
What do you think of Libertas Film Magazine?
Libertas Film Magazine is a website offering film reviews and discussion from a politically conservative
angle, similar to Breitbart's Big Hollywood site.

Personally, I'm all for as many different people offering as many different opinions of cinema as possible. Diversity breeds new ideas, and Xenu knows Hollywood needs new ideas.
What do you think of The Arroyo: Official Trailer?
Here's the trailer...

The film looks like an indie Southwestern version of Death Wish where the ranchers and residents of the US side of the border with Mexico take on the criminal cartels that are exploiting illegal immigrants and smuggling drugs into the country and terrorizing any and all who they think are in their way.

The production values could be a little slicker, and the acting a bit more "method," but there does seem to be some sincerity on the part of the people making the movie which is rare these days. Whether it's an accurate taste of what the film will be, has yet to be seen.

The fact that its production company Declaration Entertainment has openly professed itself as a politically conservative filmmaker means that they will get nothing from the mainstream critics and press regardless of the actual quality of the material. If they want to make it a viable business, they need to get around that.

Helen asked...
Is there any relief in sight from ridiculously long trailers that give away crucial plot points? I see nothing but complaints from moviegoers yet it only seems to be getting worse. There's north of 20 minutes of trailers at AMC now.
Nope, there is no relief in sight from spoiler-heavy trailers. Marketing studies say that audiences don't mind spoilers in trailers, so the studios go the easy route and just put out miniaturized versions of the movies themselves.

Personally, I like a little mystery in my movie trailers. The guessing makes them more entertaining than the ones that just recite plot points.

Any more questions?

Thursday, 22 November 2012


Since my recovery has coincided with a relatively slow news week, I'm putting out a call for questions for me to answer on this blog. Anything about pop culture and the business behind, I will either answer them, or fake my way through them.

So click on the comments and get asking, I'll start posting answers when I feel I have enough!

Monday, 19 November 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #968: Building A Mystery?

ABC has cancelled the drama series The Last Resort by not giving it a "back 9" order after its initial 13 episodes.

It's a shame, because the show had good people working on it both in front of and behind the camera, but I had a nagging feeling that it wasn't going to last right from the moment I first heard about it.

The business pundits are saying the show didn't catch on because of its time slot, because of its very masculine style and ABC's very feminine demographics, but I think the show's demise can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the concept of the mystery.

Specifically the fact that the series' premise was built around a mystery.

If you haven't seen the show it's about the captain and crew of a nuclear submarine who get mysterious orders from a questionable source to fire their nuclear missiles. When the captain calls headquarters for confirmation, they get fired upon by their own ships while someone else nukes their proposed target.

The crew then sail to a remote pacific island and take it over, making it into the world's smallest nuclear power while they, and others, try to clear their names and find out what the hell is going on.

That's where I think the problem arose.

Lots of shows are built around mysteries. Police procedural shows deal with a fresh mystery every week, and other shows, some even successful, have mysteries that extend through the whole run of the show.

So why did Last Resort fail while the others survive?

Because Last Resort had no reason to exist if the central mystery was solved.

If they exposed the conspiracy that made them into fugitives, they'd probably go home, and that would be that.  There was no way to solve the mystery without completely deflating the premise's reason to exist.

Recently there was a short lived series called Missing, where Ashley Judd played a retired spy who scours Europe looking for her missing son.

While many thought Judd's return to show-biz playing a kick-ass secret agent running around exotic locations was a guaranteed hit.

Audiences thought differently, and the show fizzled out after one season.

If you're presenting the audience a show based around a central mystery there must a way for that show to operate without that central mystery being involved in every episode.  Because if there isn't, then the vast amorphous mass-mind known as the television audience gets a buzz on their bullshit meter.

It means that their questions will not be answered, ever, so why bother getting emotionally and intellectually invested in the show. ABC's show Lost tried to beat that by piling on mysteries like toppings on a stoner's pizza order, but even then had to deal with flagging ratings and a audience that was greatly disappointed by the fact that the writers behind the show were going to a lot of trouble to distract them from the fact that they had no answers to give them.

So here's the deal, if your show idea has a mystery at the heart of its premise, then you must structure it in a way that tells the audience that not only will the central mystery be solved, but that the show can operate after it's solved chasing new mysteries.

Then you might be able to survive.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #967: How Canadian!

What is the purpose of cinema?

You could say the answer is expression, be it artistic, narrative, or emotional, and while that's all well and good, cinema doesn't really serve any purpose if nobody sees it.

Someone at Telefilm Canada seems to think that way so the film financing branch of the Canadian government thought it would be nice to acknowledge Canadian films that Canadians have actually paid to see.

Well this has raised the hackles of Ontario's film-making community and they have announced plans to protest this acknowledgement, because how dare Canadian films that are seen by Canadians get any sort of attention.

And that's why English Canadian cinema is pretty much dead in the water.

Back in the 1990s there was a TV comedy sketch about Canadian movies where the filmmaker declares with pride that not one person would pay to see his film. That says so much about the way Anglo-Canadian movies are made.

In Canada English-language movies are, for the most part, not made for the general ticket buying audience. They're mostly made for funding agency bureaucrats, film festival organizers, Toronto based film critics, and awards committees. A handful of filmmakers do try to reach wider audiences, and those are the ones Telefilm's trying to recognize, but even they are usually rebuffed because the Canadian audience gave up on Canadian movies decades ago.
The protestors are saying that they're fighting against the commercialization of Canadian cinema to keep it open to new talent.

Now I know they're full of shit.

The Canadian entertainment industry is exponentially more closed off and inbred than Hollywood.  A classic example I like to bring up is something I encountered in film school. This group announced a new program to find NEW talent by bringing NEW writers with NEW ideas into the Canadian film industry.

This got me interested, so I got more information, it was then I discovered their definition of NEW.  To be considered a NEW writer in Canada you had to have had at least 1 feature film produced and released in theaters.

At the time there wasn't 1 writer in Canada under the age of 40 who qualified as "new." This alleged search for new talent was really just an excuse to give money to people already deeply embedded in the industry. 

Getting into the Canadian film industry is like getting into a medieval guild. Someone who is already deep in it has to bring you in, and even then you have to wait for someone to die or move to Hollywood to advance your own career.

Canadian television isn't as badly inbred as feature films, because most television productions are more audience dependent and have to keep a steady stream of novelty for their viability. So the days of seeing episodes of three different TV shows, broadcast over three national networks being written by the same man seem to be over for now.

It's at times like these, when English Canadian filmmakers declare their readiness to fight to be unseen, I wish they were more like Quebec's film industry. Quebec films are not only critically acclaimed and regularly net Oscar nominations, they actually get seen by the wider Francophone audience, and often outperform Hollywood imports. This is because there is a bond of trust between the filmmakers and the audience where the filmmaker pledges to entertain as well as challenge. A bond that is completely lacking in English Canadian cinema.

So instead of whining about the government being mean by rewarding people who get their movies seen, maybe they need to look at what Quebec is doing and wonder why they can't do it themselves.


Ever wonder what it would have been like if the greatest works of humanity's literary canon had to deal with the meddling that goes into today's movies?

Find out in my Kindle e-book Studio Notes For Literary Classics available from Amazon USA for $2.99 or  British readers can get it from Amazon UK for £1.93 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Trailer Trashing: World War Z

Hello.  It's been a while, I know.  I'm still sick, and it's rare for me to be sick this long, but here I am, attempting to do something reasonably coherent.

I'm going to take some baby-steps back into blogging by nitpicking a movie trailer, this time World War Z, starring Brad Pitt, and is sort of based on the best-selling novel by Max Brooks.

Here's the trailer...

Here are my thoughts on the obvious points.

1. They spent a shit-load of money on this movie.

2. Brad Pitt is the producer in more than just title, he had more say than usual, because he didn't get a shave or a haircut for the role even though the odds are pretty good that a senior UN employee would probably be clean-shaven.

3. Having a UN employee as the hero shows that the film's makers do not know anything about how the UN really operates. Standard UN procedure for handling any crisis is to appoint a commission of professional bureaucrats, mostly from Europe, to look into it, spend millions of dollars, and all you get is a report condemning Israel, because anything else would get vetoed by the Russians.

4. Judging from the reactions of fans of the original book there is NOTHING from the novel in the movie. No familiar characters, scenes, or even zombies.

5. Which brings me to the zombies themselves. What make them so unsettling is that they were once human, but now are soulless, unthinking, predators who only want to rip you apart and feast upon your innards. Traditional zombies move slowly and awkwardly and are most dangerous in swarms that can overtake you.

Judging from the preview, this movie not only ramps up their speed, but makes them form into huge amorphous masses of computer graphics like The Blob, but made from body parts.

6. I also get a sense of the widely reported problems they had with the script's third act, they didn't have one. There's no sense of a destination, or a target, just a lot of running around with no clear idea where they're supposed to be going.

Verdict: This flick's going to have a hard time competing against the undead drama of The Walking Dead.


Ever wonder what it would have been like if the great works of literature had to deal with the same mindless meddling that goes into modern feature films?

Then buy STUDIO NOTES FOR LITERARY CLASSICS, a collection of over 200 mind-bending dollops of literary lunacy for your Kindle.

$2.99 at Amazon USA.

£1.93 at Amazon UK.

Read it, love it, give it as a gift that will amaze your friends and worry your family.