Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1051: Once Again I've Been Proven Right

Because I'm essentially pessimistic I hate being proven right.

Despite some big hits this summer there have still been some massive bombs, and some large scale under performers, and when compared to some previous summers things are looking down, even the fathers of the modern blockbuster Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas say that a meltdown is imminent because the industry is too dependent on blockbusters, something I've been saying for years as any long-term reader of this blog can attest.

But that's not the main topic of this bit of online gloating.

The main topic is something I've been griping about a lot lately, and that's Hollywood abusive relationship with China.

I've laid out the Pros & Cons, making sure to explain that while China is a big economy, it's not a free economy. An unfree economy is prone to political interference, cronyism, and corruption on a scale you won't find in a free economy.

I also explained how the powers that be that rule China will not allow economic reform to go too far, because too much economic freedom leads to political freedom. Just ask Pinochet.

But that's not made Hollywood act with anything remotely resembling caution. They're leaping in head first with their eyes closed because they're convinced that a market of over a billion regular moviegoers will solve all their problems. 

Pissed away the gross domestic product of a small European nation on a Western?

No problem, they believe, China's market will solve it somehow, if the Chinese government allows the film to be released, uncensored, in the country, and it sells enough tickets to make the small percentage of the ticket price that the studio gets worthwhile.

Well, it's looking more and more like a total pipe dream.

Those receipts from China, the money that was going to save Hollywood, is now either in a state of flux as the more diplomatic put it, or just not being paid out at all, as others put it.

Either way, the Chinese government has the money, but it ain't going to the people who earned it.

Now no one is sure if this non-payment is because of a new Value-Added Tax the Chinese government has imposed, that just happens to suck up exactly all of their profits, or just someone in the government being a dick, which shows another problem with depending on an unfree market.

Unfree Markets tend to be controlled by the greediest and least competent members of that society. That's because the abilities of surviving in a truly free market, like adherence to the rule of law, long term thinking, and the willingness to let partners profit too, are positive hindrances to getting ahead in a unfree market. Getting ahead in an unfree market is all about your political connections, and your skills at treachery, conniving, and grabbing as much as you can for yourself.

It's a lot like doing business with gangsters. Sure, you can get along well enough with the really smart ones, however, they're the exception to the rule. Most of the time you'll end up dealing with someone who wants everything for themselves, and you can go pound sand. Forget about the rules, these guys make them up as they go along.

Remember my rule of being a cynic: You're never disappointed, and often pleasantly surprised. I'd like to be pleasantly surprised some time, but I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1050: Under The Dumb?

When CBS announced that they were doing a mini-series adaptation of Stephen King's obese science fiction novel Under The Dome, I gave them some tentative kudos. I've long advocated that television was a good medium for adapting large works of fiction that would otherwise be butchered by any attempt to squeeze them into the limited running time of a feature film.

I was tentative because I know how major broadcast networks think, and I know that if there was a way to screw up a good idea, networks executives would find it, and jump on it.

I had hoped that CBS was smart enough to avoid the temptation, but hope is the handmaiden of disappointment.

CBS has found the way to screw it up, alienate their audience, and butcher the source material.

How did they screw it up?

That means that they've reneged on their promise of a faithful adaptation of a best-selling novel, and will butcher it in the opposite direction of feature films by trying to transform it into an open ended serial.

Now I can understand that the show is doing well in the ratings, and when something does well, the urge among TV executives to try to stretch it out forever.

However, that wasn't the sales pitch that got people to watch the show.

The sales pitch was that the show promised a set beginning, middle, and ending.

Now that sales pitch is out the window, and those who have watched the show, can now just forget about resolution, because the network's going to start plopping Lost-style out-of-our-ass plot twists to try to keep this gravy train rolling.

Of course, it'll stop being a gravy train, so the network would then scramble to win the ex-viewers back and it all becomes an exercise in flogging a dead horse. Eventually it'll be cancelled, probably on a cliffhanger season finale because they thought they were going to squeeze out a third.

Now was there a way for CBS to avoid this screw up?


It boils down to branding.

When CBS first announced Under The Dome, they should have referred to it as the first "CBS Novel For Television." And when it started doing well they should have bought another hefty best-seller and put it into production as the next "CBS Novel For Television" and promoted it as such.

Then, when Summer 2014 approached, the audience that enjoyed Under The Dome would see the ads for the next "CBS Novel For Television" and think: "Oh, I think I'll give that show a chance."

Then CBS would have a franchise that's not based on any single story being stretched beyond its limits. As long as they maintain a standard of source material, and production quality they could probably maintain a healthy viewership.

But that would take a little more effort than just ordering a second season and letting the poor show-runners figure it out for you.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1049: Two Television Tidbits

Today we've got two stories about television....


Paramount is getting serious about getting back into the TV production business. They've hired a new boss to run the thing, and are saying that they will make TV for any channel, platform, or site, if it can get to an audience.

That's all well and good, in fact, you should start pitching to Netflix... but that's another story...

Let's take a moment and put on our smug know-it-all hats and offer Paramount some advice on how to not screw things up.

Here are some of my suggestions...

1. TREAT CREATORS RIGHT: The main business of television is the selling of stories. Good stories that are well told can not only sell in the present, they can sell well into the foreseeable future. To get those stories you need to attract the best and brightest writers, and figure out a way to keep them working for you.

To do that you can't just treat them as disposable assets. The audience is starting to pay attention to who is making the shows the like, and will pay attention to shows from those creators. So it's good business to foster positive relationships with writers, and that means making sure they get paid what they're owed, and aren't jerked around, or fired for arbitrary, if not whimsical, and petty reasons.

2. DON'T BE AFRAID OF NICHES & RISKS: The audience is factionalized in ways that were unimaginable 20 years ago. The days of getting the big ratings by playing it safe with what the marketing department thinks is the widest appeal are over. 

Take for example The Walking Dead. When it was first bought by AMC everyone outside the comic's fans thought they went off their nut. A grim show, about people surviving a zombie plague and the end of civilization, that's loaded with gore, and a constant air of downbeat desperation doesn't sound like the recipe for a hit. In fact, the focus group gurus would piss themselves in terror at the prospect.

But look at its ratings. It's getting more viewers than most mainstream network shows. 

Yes, it's going to be a gamble, but playing it safe is basically playing dead. The good way to hedge your bet is to...

3. PRACTISE FISCAL SANITY: It's a common practice in Hollywood these days, when faced with a problem, to just throw money at it, then complain when something goes over budget. Some common sense, tied with a little diplomacy, and imagination, can solve a lot of problems, without costing any extra.

4. DON'T JUST REHASH OLD TITLES: The urge is to take old movie titles and try to revive them as TV shows. If you're going to do that, you have to do some radical re-imagining to the point that what comes out is completely new. Audiences want novelty, not reruns.


If you spent the 1990s in a cave I'll do a little explaining. 12 Monkeys is a remake/expansion of a short film from France called Le Jettee.

In it Bruce Willis plays a convict from the future who is given a chance at parole if he participates in a high risk time travel experiment aimed to discover information on the plague that wiped out most of humanity & rendered the surface of the Earth uninhabitable. The only clue is a reference in the records to a group called the "Army of the 12 Monkeys."

There are twists, turns, and everything wraps up into itself the way a good time travel movie should.

Now I'm not going to go on about the injustices of remakes, and how hard it will be to transfer something that is a perfectly encapsulated story, that literally goes full circle, into an open ended TV series.

Instead, I will use this story to explain what is a fundamental flaw in Hollywood.

The original 12 Monkeys was considered so original, so "out there" that everyone involved had to take a cut in their up front pay to make the $29.5 million budget, which was about half what a studio was normally paying for a science fiction movie at that time. The tight budget was a necessary condition by Universal, because they considered the project as nothing more than "filler" and were literally betting all their money on what they thought was a sure-fire hit called Waterworld.

Soon 12 Monkeys became not only a hit movie, but a certified genre classic that can be enjoyed in repeat viewings, and while Waterworld had a bigger global box office, mostly out of curiosity, it lost a ton of money, and basically became a punchline for jokes about Hollywood bloat and ham-handed "statement" movies.

Now Universal, because of its terror of doing anything original, is picking at the carcass of something they originally didn't want to do at the time, because it was too original for them.

I don't know if that's ironic, or just sad.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1048: What's Next For Netflix?

Video streaming & rental service Netflix is flush with the critical praise and viewers its first forays into original programming are bringing in, and are already thinking of expanding their production slate.

Personally, I say go for it.

But what should they make?

They're already considering making original movies (good idea), news programming (bad idea), and talk shows (so-so idea).

Original movies are a fine and dandy idea. Netflix can either acquire independently made films for broadcast, or develop and produce them in house. If they keep an eye out for quality, and keep costs down they can do pretty well out of it.

News is a different story. There are so many cable and network news outlets the competition is cutthroat and setting up a television news operation from scratch would be prohibitively expensive. 

However, that doesn't mean they can't be topical. A broad selection of documentary programming can be either made or obtained inexpensively, and if sold well can find an audience. Just remember that I'm suggesting a broad selection of documentaries. Only deliver one sided lectures and you'll end up offending one side of the political fence and boring the other. Audiences love it when differing opinions clash and having their own challenged with reasoned arguments.

Talk shows are a tricky beast. TV history is littered with the corpses of failed talk shows. If Netflix is going to do it, they must avoid doing anything that a mainstream network or syndicated show might do. I'm talking going for niche target audiences, more long form discussions involving interesting people and topics.

So what else can Netflix look into?

Let's think...

SKETCH COMEDY: Nowadays network television cannot do sketch comedy if their life depended on it. A lot of sketch on cable aims to be "topical" which means that it will be "dated" about a day after its debut. However, it can be made cheaply, and a cruise through YouTube shows that there is a wealth of talent out there waiting to be cruelly exploited.

I would suggest a show featuring rotating groups of sketch performers recruited either on-line, or through an aggressive talent hunt. To help promote the shows include sample sketches as "Bonus Features" on comedy programming aimed at similar target demographics, and release them via the YouTube and other sites.

LITERARY ADAPTATIONS: This is an offshoot of the original movies and miniseries idea. There are loads of books, and book series that can be adapted into movies, miniseries, or even full series that don't because dealing with most of the studios and the mainstream networks is just too gruelling and unsatisfying.

Make that experience creatively fulfilling and financially fair and you could become the first choice for all the big best-sellers for less than what the studios pay out.

Those are some of my ideas, what are yours?

Monday, 22 July 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1047: A Tale Of Two Scary Movies

While the summer box office has been dominated by superheroes, supervillains, and grand epic fantasies, the biggest story, I think of this summer has been the surprise success of two "little" horror films.

Those films are the science-fiction home invasion thriller The Purge, and the haunted house horror story The Conjuring. Both debuted at #1 even though they were surrounded by bigger, more publicized movies, with The Conjuring did better at the opening, but I think that it will do better in the long run, both at the box office, and as a franchise with the inevitable sequels.



"Legs" is the showbiz term to describe if a movie will enjoy a long run. Over time it has evolved to include not just a run in theatres, but in home video and television. A movie with "Good Legs" can make a film worth of repeat viewings, and in rare instances, status as a cult or mainstream classic.

I suspect that The Conjuring has better legs than The Purge, and the reason is a phenomenon I call "forced relevance."

The Purge is hindered by forced relevance, and be warned, this discussion contains SPOILERS.

The premise of The Purge is that a radical "right wing" fundamentalist Christian government movement took over the USA and instituted the titular annual event. Basically for 12 hours all crime is legal, including murder. So unless you want to be slaughtered, you barricade yourself and battle all comers for your life. Though it's implied rather clumsily that most of the "purging" is done by the rich who go out that night to hunt the poor for sport.

The film then follows an upper middle-class family battling a clan of purge-happy home invaders.

Simple, and it had one hell of a great first week, but after that disappeared almost completely. Not only from the top five, but from the public consciousness.

Now some will say that it doesn't matter. That most hit horror films make the bulk of their money in the first week, and since the film only cost $3 million the $76 million total means it had a nice fat profit margin.

But I think it might have done better if it hadn't tried to create forced relevance with their political stance, which only served to reveal the filmmakers ignorance of the political movements they sought to satirize.

First up, right now crime is not really considered all that important an issue by Mr. & Mrs. American and all her ships at sea. All crime is down, and aside from a handful of dysfunctional cities and the panicked reporting of the media, even murder has dropped almost 40%.

I've done some research, and the political right is not all that obsessed with crime these days, and when asked about it, simply ask for effective law enforcement. From what I've been able to dig up, their concerns are over debt, entitlement spending, government intrusion, and Washington's buddy-buddy relationship with Wall Street.

Not exactly the sort of movement that would vote for an annual purge.

Then there's the religious angle. It's pretty blatantly stated that the ruling "New Founding Fathers" are fundamentalist Christians, and that there's some sort of religious basis for the titular purge.

Now I'm no religious scholar, but I do know that Christianity has a very rule when it comes to evildoing. It's called NOT DOING EVIL.

There's no purging of your urgings. You don't do morally wrong things, because it's morally wrong. Do the morally wrong thing, and you end up in Hell.

I don't really see the religious right endorsing something like the titular purge.

So why did they pile on the political/religious stuff, even though it served to insult and alienate a good chunk of the audience?

I sense the pitch and story conference went something like this: 
WRITER: The idea is that there is a period of 12 hours where all crime is legal, and a family has to fight home invaders to survive. 
PRODUCER: But why would the government allow that to happen? 
WRITER: A scary government would do that! Well what kind of government is scary? 
PRODUCER: The Tea Party and the Bible Bashers scare me. If they get elected it'll be really scary.
WRITER: They are scary, but I don't really why they're scary? 
PRODUCER: I don't know either, all I know is that they scare me and my friends in the industry. Make it all their fault, because you know everyone will agree with us, because everyone here in this room thinks the exact same thing.
Uh... no... not everyone thinks the exact same thing. The human population is loaded with diverse viewpoints. The secret of making a political statement is to present your ideas without insulting those who disagree with you, or accusing them of attitudes and beliefs they don't have. 

If a right winger made The Purge and blamed the slaughter on liberal politicians, it would have the exact same stubby, and quickly tiring legs. It's an attempt to appear relevant, but without any real connection to the actual attitudes of its time and place. Instead all you get is a portrait of the prejudices and shibboleths of the film's makers.

One of the secrets to the success of The Conjuring is that it looks like it was done without any prejudice. There's no attempt to take anyone down, just a story of ordinary human beings battling supernatural evil. They're not tearing anyone down for their beliefs, and if they are making any sort of statement, it's being done in a subtle and, in the long run, more effective way.

The effect shows in the response of critics and audiences, who give The Conjuring much better ratings and word of mouth than The Purge.

So I guess the first rule of giving a project legs, is that if you're going to insult a swathe of the audience for their political/religious beliefs, you better do it in such a way that nobody notices it immediately.

Friday, 19 July 2013

The Letter....

I've been a bit busy to come out with a new post today, so here's a nice little video that anyone who loves comedy and wordplay should enjoy...

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1046: We'll Only Censor You A Little

The Chinese government has announced that they are going to loosen their censorship rules for film and television to help foster their growing relationship with Hollywood.

While most "experts" are touting this as a great advance, I fear it's not going to go far enough, and will probably not last as long as anyone outside the country's rulers would care for.

As I like to say, like a broken record if anyone can remember those, is that while China is a big economy, it's not a free economy.

That's important.

The rulers of China hold the final word on how everything is to be allowed to operate, and while they may allow some things through. Like loosening some censorship rules, and allowing some free markets, they won't allow things to get too free.

Because they know their history and they remember...

Augusto Pinochet and the Chilean Junta.

When they overthrew the Marxist Allende government the economy was in a shambles. All the industries had been taken over by the government, unemployment was skyrocketing, and inflation was out of control. At first the Junta tried to manage the economy themselves, but quickly learned that they were in way over their head.

Needing people with real economic knowledge they turned to a group nicknamed the "Chicago Boys" because they had studied at the University of Chicago under economics guru Milton Friedman.

Friedman preached total economic freedom as the key to creating prosperity and stability. Friedman predicted that after some initial chaos and distress on the road the now free markets would find their own equilibrium and spur ongoing growth.

Desperate the Pinochet regime opened up the economy creating a weird sort of schizophrenia. It was brutally oppressive politically, but economically was wide open.

How did that end?

Well, eventually Pinochet and the Junta were eased out of power, replaced by democratically elected governments, and Chile remains one of the strongest economies in South America.

That's because you can't have economic freedom without it leaking out into political freedom, and vice versa.

Friedman was heavily criticized at the time for advising Pinochet, but he set the wheels in motion for the dictator's ouster without firing a single shot.

China's ruling elite are smart people, who are, for the most part, not blinded by irrational ideology. They like being in power and they want to stay in power. That means they will free up bits and pieces of the economy, but they will only go so far and no further, because they don't want to be unemployed dictators. They may loosen the rules now, but can tighten or change them any time the whim hits them.

Which is why I will keep saying that Hollywood's belief that China is the cure for all their self-inflicted ills is, for now, a pipe dream.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1045: SnarkNado

It's hot.

I'm feeling cranky.

So it's time for a RANDOM SNARK ATTACK!

Jennifer Lopez is being criticized for earning around $10 million singing for various dictators and tyrants.

I must ask these critics: Where do you think she can go to get that kind of money?

She's got a lavish, fiscally irresponsible, lifestyle to maintain, and she can't expect to get it from album sales and movie deals.

Have you thought about her entourage?

They're people too!

Speaking of leftovers....

Aging bimbo Jenny McCarthy, queen of the anti-vaccination movement, has been named a co-host of The View.
"I have boobs I don't need facts!"

Producers said that this move is part of their ongoing plan to never be taken seriously or considered even remotely intelligent, plus they hope to tap into two demographics, ant-vaccine cranks and 13 year old boys from the 1990s.

They originally hoped to attract the children of anti-vaccine cranks, but they don't appear to live long enough to appeal to advertisers.

Speaking of nut sacks...

The Westboro Baptist Church has announced that they intend to protest at the funeral of Glee star Cory Monteith.

First, if the funeral's being held in his native Canada, the "Church" might have trouble getting in since they're on the Canadian government's shit-list and we don't have things like freedom of speech if that speech annoys or offends anyone.

However, I'm getting tired of people referring to them as a "Church" since their "Church" consists of the relatives of founder Fred Phelps, and about half a dozen others, and at least two of them are probably investigative reporters looking for a story.

That's not a church, that's a nutty bunch of relatives and friends.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1044: ShartNado

The SyFy Network is beating the drum that their latest low rent crap-o-rama SharkNado, about a tornado dropping sharks on people, was a huge success.

Their metric was that the movie generated over 5,000 tweets a minute about it during its premiere.

However, in the real world, their original movie was a ratings disaster, generating only a little more than 1.3 million views, which is pretty bad, even for cable.

So what happened?

Basically the whole thing had the air of a really bad joke right from the beginning. People were willing to joke about it, in fact lots of people were willing to joke about it, but very few people were willing to invest the time and mental/emotional/aesthetic punishment required to actually watch it.

And that's the root of the problem with SyFy's original movies.

They're bad jokes.

Bad, lazily composed, jokes with even worse CGI.

Even I joked on Twitter that SharkNado got the green-light because they have two big wheels at SyFy HQ, each covered in random words. They spin the wheels and whatever words come out on top are combined and that's the premise of the next movie. They then reach into a barrel filled with the names of washed up or otherwise unemployable "stars," and voila, they gotta movie!

I now realize that such online japery is part of the problem. SyFy is now using it as a sign of victory, and while it's obvious that such strategies don't work, I've never met a media company that's found a bad idea they just couldn't give up.

And the saddest part is that it is possible to make watchable entertaining science fiction, horror, and fantasy, for television on a low or even micro-budget. Going for badness in the name of "campiness" is a cover for extreme laziness and unoriginality.

I know it's possible, because I've seen it done.

When I was a kid some of the scariest movies I saw weren't R-Rated slash-fests that were all over the theatres back then. They were TV movies, shot with low budgets and tight schedules, and made up for their limited resources with two little things called story, and creativity.

There's no reason why those can't be used today to make science fiction, fantasy, and horror films for television other than laziness and fear of originality.

It's what makes hits, and while it requires actual work, the results will be way more satisfying.

Damn, I'm sounding like a cranky old man.


You kids!


Friday, 12 July 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1043: Being An Official Producer.

Disney, Warner Brothers, and Paramount have signed onto the Producer's Guild of America's guidelines, thus meaning all of Hollywood's major studios are now signed on.

Now you're probably sitting at your computer, furrowing your brow in a feeble attempt to understand what I'm talking about, so I'll do a little explaining.

The title "producer" is the most heavily abused bit of vocational nomenclature in the movie business. There are many different kinds of producer, and the definition of the title is vague enough to drop on people like confetti at a parade.

You see a director is traditionally thought of as the person who makes a film, however, it is the producer who gets the film made.


You see while the director is off directing, it is the job of the producers to arrange the financing, they make sure that the budgets and schedules are kept to, and that all the resources needed to make a film are available and ready to use.

However, that's what a real producer does.

But not all producers are created equal because it's really easy to get a producer's credit whether you actually do any producing or not. 
Artist's conception of a Producer at work

A producer could be an investor, someone who introduced the studio to investors, a movie star's manager who gets a credit as part of the star's contract, or is the nephew of the studio boss because his sister's bugging him to help the kid get something on his resume other than "surfer dude."

Now this is a real hindrance when it comes to dispensing royalties, and awards. When a movie wins Best Picture at the Oscars you can see up to seventeen people all claiming to be the producer.

That's where these new guidelines come in.

Basically, if you're the real producer who did all the work, you will get a little "p.g.a." next to your name, whether you are a member of the guild or not. It just means that you meet their guidelines for being a real producer and not just a name in the credits.

Personally, I hope this works.

Clearing up the mishegaas over producers and producing might be the first baby step the industry needs to start acting like a real business.

I'm not saying that there isn't a way to screw it up, Hollywood is great at finding them, I'm just going to wish them lots of luck on making it work.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1042: Is It Really Fair After All?

It seems these days that there isn't a genre character that people aren't calling for a change of gender, race, and sexual orientation, in the name of "fairness." Folks are also fond of saying that anyone who disagrees with that idea is a racist sexist homophobe who is totally and completely unfair.

While some of the opposition to these seemingly weekly brainstorms can be called racist, sexist, and homophobic, those noxious trolls, who are in the minority, are being used as a cudgel to stop any serious critical discussion of the issue.

Chief among the undiscussed is: Just how fair would this be?

Let's look at the facts.

We live in an incredibly diverse society. Actually, we've always lived in an incredibly diverse society, but that level of diversity has increased and popular culture has started to notice.

However, I am a little leery of just taking an already existing character and changing the character's ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation to fit someone's notion of fairness.

I think it's a form of tokenism.

You see, fictional characters are reflections of their creators that the core audience can relate too. They encapsulate their creator's hopes, fears, attitudes, as well as their own ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Even alien characters, like Superman, is really founded as an illustration of the Jewish-American immigrant experience of his creators and how it connected to others on a human level.

I also find it interesting that the people demanding changes to popular characters never ask that their own creations be changed. It's usually a character where the creator is either dead, or has no direct control over anything. It's also usually done in a situation where the "fairer" version of the character can easily be tucked away in an alternate universe,  recast, or completely dropped without explanation the moment it becomes inconvenient or unprofitable for the owners of the character. 

It also creates a sense that somehow original creations that are women, gay, or members of an ethnic minority are somehow not good enough to make it. So they should just accept the occasional token gesture and be happy for it.

That's not really very fair for anyone.

In fact, it strikes me as kind of insulting.

What would be fair, would be opening the door for the creation of new, more diverse characters by a crowd of new, more diverse creators.

The market does need a more diverse range of fictional characters, and a lot of catching up is needed. But it's not impossible. Many will fail, but then again most new characters fail anyway. The ones that truly connect with people on a human level, the level that exists beyond concepts of gender, sexuality, and ethnicity, will be the ones that survive.

However, I just can't bring myself to believe that changing a pre-existing character is the way to go. In fact, it strikes me as more of a hindrance than a help.

How can it be a hindrance?

Because the most such changes generate are some brief flurries of media hype, but not much when it comes to increasing the audience. Then the companies look at those numbers, then look at the writer or artist trying to sell them a new character from an underrepresented demographic, and say: "Sorry, the market just doesn't exist for it." And you can't question their decision because they made a token gesture and that's supposed to be good enough.

Well it isn't.

We need to go beyond all this posturing and then maybe me might reach a level where it just doesn't matter, because everyone has characters they can relate to.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1041: Rivers, Writers, Legendary's New Home, & A League


The WGAE is mad at Joan Rivers over the treatment of the writers for her show Fashion Police on the E! Network. The non-union writers are claiming that they're owed over a million in back pay by the show, get no benefits, and are otherwise denied any decent treatment on a show that has a profit margin thicker than a castle wall.

Joan Rivers, as the chief show-runner, and grimace gargoylesque face of the show is getting a lot of the blame for the problems, and rightfully so. She started her career as a joke writer for talk shows and game shows, and should remember how hard it was for her then, and for her employees now, but she's acting like she doesn't.

This can mean one of two things. 

1. Either she's completely clueless about the causes of the dispute.

2. She's just pretending to be clueless, but is in fact a rather heartless hypocrite.

The WGAE is right to do whatever it takes to fix this dispute. She's deliberately warping the market and enriching herself by literally taking from her employees. She knows better and should act better.


Legendary Pictures has inked a new deal to co-produce movies with Universal Pictures starting in 2014.
Forbes explains what Legendary will be bringing to the revivified Universal. Which is basically its very deep pockets, its founder Thomas Tull, his good instincts for pairing projects and filmmakers, and his good relations with some of the top money-making talent out there.

Anyway, it looks like a good deal for Universal.

Let's hope they don't blow it.


The Fox Network has commissioned a "put pilot" based on Alan Moore's comic book The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

A "put pilot" is a TV pilot where the network has to pay the producers and stakeholders a cash penalty if it doesn't go to series. It's the sort of deal a network gives if they're pretty sure that the show has a lot of potential.

Now a lot of people may disagree after the disastrous 2003 maladaption that Fox plopped onto movie screens. A failure so bad that its star Sean Connery literally quit acting after it.

Will this proposed TV series be any better?

It can't be any worse. Any better, well that's a very tall order.

Hollywood Babble On & On #1040: The Lone Ranger Autopsy.

First an apology.

Sorry I haven't blogged in a while. Long story short, I was busy last Thursday, then I got sick on Friday, and really didn't start recovering until early Monday.

However, my absence didn't cause anyone to lose a projected $150,000,000+ so my July 4th Weekend so I guess I'm doing a hell of a lot better than the folks at Disney.

It looks like Disney's The Lone Ranger has suffered a fate similar to ITC/Universal's Legend Of The Lone Ranger in 1981 except on an exponentially bigger scale. In fact, the whole thing seems to be a case of history repeating.

Let's look at the facts of the case.

1. The Source Material: If you're not familiar with the story behind the story, The Lone Ranger started as a radio show in the 1930s, then moved into movie serials, comics, until it reached its peak in the 1950s with a popular television series. Up until the end of the TV series it was probably one of the most popular western franchises in pop culture.

In the case of Legend the last instalment of the franchise had been the 1950s TV series and the two spin-off feature films that ended by 1958. Both the TV series and the films had played in syndicated reruns in the ensuing 23 years. In fact, Clayton Moore, the star of the TV series was still making a living making personal appearances as the Lone Ranger at public events.

The 2013 Ranger was made 31 years after Legend, which was a terrible commercial/critical bomb, long after the reruns faded from syndication, and 10 years after the WB network made a Lone Ranger pilot that was seen by so few, most don't even know it even exists.

So where Legend had fond childhood memories of the franchise going for it, and it still failed, 2013's Ranger had either nothing, or the sour memory of a huge bomb.

2. The Genre: The Western was dead, but on life support in 1981 when Legend was released, but even that life support had been pulled by the time the 2013 Ranger was released. The Western had been crushed to death by the weight of imposing the weight of an overly simplified but horribly complex history onto what was essentially a simple genre.

3. Bad Buzz: 1981's Legend was afflicted by bad buzz from day one. First was the brilliant idea the producers had of getting a court order to ban Clayton Moore, the TV Lone Ranger, from continuing his sideline of doing live appearances in costume.

This made the producers look like greedy bullies picking on an old man trying to eke out a living from his past glories.

That's not a good image to have.

Then came the actors...

The lead actor, Klinton Spilsbury, was a complete unknown, then came word of bad on-set behaviour and that all of his dialogue had to be dubbed by another actor. By the time the film was released, Spilsbury was a complete unknown again.

Thankfully, at least for Armie Hammer, there haven't been any reports of bad behaviour on his part, nor was he needed to be overdubbed. Plus, unlike his predecessor, he's worked before and will probably work again.

However, the same cannot be said for Johnny Depp. Not that he was behaving badly, just that the whole project, and especially Depp's performance reeked of movie-star over-indulgence. Too many quirks, too many affectations, and the return of the insulting "Tonto-talk" that annoys Native Americans that at least 1981's Legend had dropped. One critic called it a cross between Depp's Jack Sparrow character and Jar-Jar Binks.

And that's not including the controversy of Depp's casting. Despite what the actor may believe about his genealogy he's considered a "white" actor, and by adapting the most offensive mannerisms of the old TV stereotype heavily ladled with Depp's own love for playing dress-up only made things worse.

Ironically doing the exact opposite of another film Depp starred in, Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man, which fought to break such stereotyping. Including the casting of actual native actors in the role. There are talented Native American actors out there, Canada alone has loads of them.

Then came the budgets.

Everyone at the time thought the budget for Legend of the Lone Ranger was too high at $18 million. Disney wishes that their version had only 10X the cost, because then they might have had a chance of breaking even. Instead they spent somewhere between $215 million to $250 million to make the film, and probably over $100 million in prints and advertising costs.

The whole project reeked of over-indulgence by all involved, star, director, and producer, and of a studio powerless to stop them.

Now there are those will say that such business talk doesn't affect a film's box office. Not enough people pay attention to the sort of backstage nonsense you read about in this blog.

While it's true that the percentage of people who pay attention to business news is small, it's not true that such talk has no effect.

The zeitgeist of our popular culture is like a big bowl of very loose gelatine. A small smack on a relatively obscure corner can ripple right across. The average moviegoer may not know the details, but they do get a feeling from a project, and if it's not a good feeling, they will stay home.

That's what I think, feel free to tell me what you think in the comments.