Monday, 30 June 2014


Time for another Q&A blog.

So if you have a question about ANYTHING to do with pop culture and the business behind it, leave it in the comments, and, depending on the response, I will post the answers on Friday or Monday.


Friday, 27 June 2014

Hollywood Babble On & On #1157: CBC Does Canada, Lohan Does Mamet!


The venerable and long tumefied Canadian Broadcasting Company, Canada's taxpayer & commercially supported national broadcaster announced that they will trim their staff by 20% by 2020.

Now this will be played in one of two ways.

The most sensible way to handle these reductions through simple demographic attrition. That means that a lot of in-front-of and behind-the-scenes people that have been working in senior high-paying jobs in CBC's Toronto HQ since the government of Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson would retire and collect their pensions.

However, that sensible way is also the most unlikely way.

The CBC and its employees have a rather unique status. It's considered not only a bureaucratic position, promising lifetime employment & benefits, but also the centre of Toronto's elite society as well as what passes for celebrity in Canada.

That means that some people get branded as "institutions" and stay around long past their sell-by date. Every show, whether drama, news, or general entertainment have to involve the same mostly Toronto-based troupe of actors, journalists, and performers. A classic story was when CBC inked a deal for a Canadian franchise of Antiques Roadshow. They announced that they were looking for a young, hip, and previously unknown host for it. They ended up hiring a fifty-something host who has worked for the CBC off-and-on for the previous 25 years.

So here is what's going to happen.

The CBC will not use retirements and sensible fat-trimming in the executive suite to make these cuts. Instead they will lay off the younger, popular on-air personalities, arbitrarily cancel shows that people actually watch, and find other ways to punish the audience. All the while saying through their allies: "Don't blame us, blame the evil Tory government that we actively campaign against who won't give us unlimited money."

This is explained by something called "Public Choice Theory," or as I like to call it, PCT.

PCT explains that people in government, politicians and bureaucrats, are still human beings despite their claims of working for "the public good."

That means they spend most of their time catering to the special interests that will protect, promote and extend their own personal fiefdoms, whether that does anything for the public they're supposed to serve or not.


Actress and professional club-hopping train-wreck Lindsay Lohan has been cast in a West-End production of David Mamet's 1988 play Speed The Plow.

Now it seems an odd choice since, unlike movies, TV shows, or fashion shoots, a live play can't really tolerate someone who is prone to show up 11 hours late if she shows up at all. In fact, movies and TV can't tolerate that behaviour for very long, since, as Einstein discovered: time is money, which is why she's considered unemployable.

However there are up-sides to this casting:

1. PUBLICITY: People on both sides of the Atlantic are talking about a non-musical production in London. Which is probably why the producers cast her. Schadenfreude is a great ticket mover.

2. OPPORTUNITY: Lohan's understudy will most likely get lots of stage time and media exposure.

So, barring Lohan burning down the theatre and all inside it, this stunt is not much of a gamble for the producers, more of a scam, but not a gamble.


Speaking of literacy: My e-novella MINDER is available from Amazon for 99 cents.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

The Book Report: The Big Book Crisis?

Reader Nate Winchester likes to nudge me with topics, the other day it was my piece on satire, and then he dropped a couple of links in my inbox about the publishing business.

Now I don't write about about the business of books very often, the last time I wrote about the feud between mega-publisher Hachette and mega-retailer Amazon, and that's feud is the topic of the first link, a discussion between popular authors J.A. Konrath and Barry Eisler. The second link was author Sarah A. Hoyt taking a look at what she considers a fundamentally flawed business model.

I suggest reading both posts and then come back here for my thoughts.

I'll wait.























Read them?


Now let's talk the book business.

I'm on that hamster-wheel-made-of-psychological-razors called being an author looking for a publisher. During my quest I've accumulated many rejections, but I've also encountered many wonderful people who work in the publishing business, but among the many diamond I've also had a few really abysmal experiences at the hands of the publishing industry.

One was a now-former agent who sent an instant auto-reply rejection letter to a personal e-mail that he asked me to send him.

Then there was a science fiction publisher, who regularly brags about how well they treat new authors, whose rep claimed that my book had been highly recommended and was being carefully considered at the top levels of the company, only to get a rejection letter from a bottom rung slush pile reader after 6 years and 11 months of chain jerking.

It's not just the unpublished losers like me who get this sort of treatment. A famous story was told by Stephen King. After the release of Carrie the prolific author's books were breaking sales records worldwide and he was his publisher's biggest seller probably of all time. Despite that his editor had to re-introduce him to the company's grand poobah's at every meeting because the people running the company literally had no idea who he was or what he did.

King soon went to another publisher as soon as he legally could. However, even that relationship eventually soured, and King is now with a third publisher, still churning out best-sellers.

Now these and hundreds of other stories show that the publishing industry, whether totally doomed or not, is in an unhealthy, dysfunctional state.

Let's look at some of the problems that I've seen, and let's not forget I'm not an expert and if I'm making a mistake let me know:

1. Retailer Woes: If the publishers are having trouble with Amazon, it's because they took the path of least resistance and allowed Amazon to crush or swallow any competition. The publishers could have fostered better relations with potential rivals like Borders and Barnes & Noble, embraced new technology, and made it easier for independent bookstores to obtain special orders as fast as Amazon, but they didn't. Now they have a leviathan at their door wanting more and more, and they don't know what to do with it.

2. Best-Sellers?: Know what it takes to make the New York Times Bestseller List?

The fact is, no one outside of the NYT is supposed to know because how the list is put together IS A SECRET.

The Times says that their methodology is kept secret to keep people from "gaming the system." However, using the same algorithms and metrics for the past few decades probably means that someone, somewhere in publishing has figured it out, and knows full well how to play it like a violin. 

Which means that we have no way of accurately knowing how many individuals are buying what, and e-books, whose sales should also be easy to tally are also buried under obscure metrics.

Basically those more knowledgable than me are saying that bestseller lists are inaccurate and easily manipulated. That's not healthy.

3. Advances or Setbacks?: We all hear about how celebrities of varying degrees of fame and/or talent getting huge advances to "write" everything from their memoirs, to fiction, to fiction masquerading as memoirs.

What we don't hear is just how many of these advances pay off.

For those who don't get the jargon, an "advance" is a payment a publisher gives an author that's put against future sales of the book in question. If the book makes more money than what was paid in advance the author then qualifies for royalty payments based on sales. Royalties from a major "legacy" publisher are usually between 10-15% of the book's cover price.

Now lots of famous people get huge advances for books and I'll bet dinars to donuts that the majority of them don't pay off at all. Come on, who honestly believes fans of Snooki or the lesser Kardashians really buy any books, let alone theirs?

This comes at a time when major publishers have slashed their "mid-list" of commercially viable but not NYT qualifying books by about 90%.

How many mid-list books could have been bumped into more mainstream success with the resources wasted on a tell-all by someone no-one wants to hear from?

4. Selection: As I just mentioned the major publishers have slashed and burned their mid-lists. This means that thousands of books and hundreds of authors were dropped off into oblivion.

Now I had known that the mid-lists were being metaphorically massacred, but until recently I didn't know how far the slaughter had gone.

Then it got me thinking about the last time I bought a new book. I'm too poor for hardcover prices, but I quickly realized that outside of a tiny team of authors, I haven't bought new fiction in ages. If it's nonfiction that I need for research, or it's about a topic, like film & business, that I'm interested in, I will save up to get it. As for fiction, I usually just stock up on a lot of dead authors I find at the annual library sale, or in second-hand bookshops.

Why do I do that?

Because I find too much new fiction is too much alike. Too many, in every genre, are trying to hard to be the other book that just came out, but bigger, and if you want something out of that mould, you're better off looking into the past for some variety.

I don't really see the situation getting any better since those who are supposed to be in control of the industry don't appear to see a problem on their side of the equation.

Now I'm perfectly willing to admit that I don't know the whole story here. There are things I am probably not seeing, and I'd love to have someone in the industry explain how everything's just fine.

If you have any thoughts of your own, please let  me know in the comments.


Monday, 23 June 2014

On Comedy: What Is Satire?

A tip of my jaunty beret to Nate Winchester who mentioned in an e-mail that an online critic called Paul Verhoeven a "master of satire" due to Robocop and Starship Troopers, and how it got me thinking about what constitutes satire and what constitutes what I consider real satire.

Let's look at what the dictionary says:

SATIRE (noun): The use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

So I guess Verhoeven's films might count as satire, if you go with a broad interpretation of that definition. His films do use irony, tons of exaggeration, and heaps tons of ridicule on their targets.

However, are they good satires, and is Verhoeven a master of the art form?

No, not really.

In fact, I think it's easier to find hen's teeth than decent satire, especially over the last few decades, and even more so from Hollywood.

So let's take a look at what ingredients make good satire, and why so many attempts at satire fail:

1. CHOICE OF SUBJECT MATTER: Usually the subject matter is in the mind of the wannabe satirist before they consciously decide to satirize. It's usually something that annoys or angers the satirist.

That's something shared by both the good and the failed satirist.

2. KNOWLEDGE OF SUBJECT MATTER: The good satirist makes a point to know as much as they can about the subject they intend to satirize. It's like being an impressionist, you must learn the tiny details and nuances to get your schtick right.

The good satirist must fully understand their target. Where bad satirists, like Verhoeven, fail is that they just gloss over a few surface concepts and base their satire on a total misunderstanding of the subject matter.

Take Starship Troopers for example. Verhoeven saw that the future society of Heinlein's original novel was a democracy where only those who do a minimum of two years of "Federal Service" are allowed to vote. The term "Federal Service" covers work in the military, natch, or work in civil or charitable services.

Now Heinlein intended the concept as a satire of people who vote to get things from the government, while being unwilling to do anything for the greater good of society as being inherently destructive. So Heinlein posited that in order to qualify for suffrage you had to prove that you're willing to sacrifice and suffer for the greater good. Everyone is given a chance to attempt to earn suffrage, but then must endure physical and mental trials, as well as an intense education, if not indoctrination, that teaches them that their role in society was to serve, and not be served. They're taught that unless they're  100% dedicated to making the world a better place, then they shouldn't be in a position to decide the fates of others.

Verhoeven saw the surface, assumed it was an endorsement of fascism, Aryanized the book's multi-ethnic cast, dressed everyone up from the Hugo Boss Wermacht collection, and called it "satire."

Nope, it wasn't even a good science fiction film.

3. PRESENTATION OF SATIRE: Whether broad or subtle presentation is key to good satire. This is where a lot of TV political humour fails for me is that their idea of "taking down" or "destroying" a target is to just mug at the camera and go "Ooooh, aren't they a bunch of stupid evil stupid Hitler assholes!"

It's worse in movies where targets are presented as horrid grotesque gargoyles incapable of reason or morality at best, downright insane and evil at worst.

There's no reason for this.
Satire, like any comedy or drama, works better if even the people being mocked can be understood as being humans with lives and agendas of their own, not grimacing puppets. 

Now we take a look at two ingredients missing from most modern satire:

4. ELEMENT OF DANGER: Let's face it, most modern "satirists" in Hollywood are masters of playing it safe while pretending to be "risky" or "edgy." 

This is because Hollywood is an extremely predictable place when it comes to likes and dislikes. Those likes and dislikes are, especially when it comes to politics, and they are usually the inverse of the likes and dislikes of the general American audience. So while insulting and attacking the sensibilities of the general audience while granting immunity to the sensibilities of those in power in Hollywood.

Now Hollywood will say that there's an element of danger in attacking the audience, and there is, it's called "low ratings" or "poor box office." However, insulting the audience may result in failure, but that failure does not preclude getting work in the future where their salaries are usually not commensurate with their audience. 

5. INTELLECTUAL HONESTY: "A plague on both your houses" is not a line one would associate with comedy, since it comes from Shakespeare's most famous romantic tragedy, but it holds true.

The audience is smart, it knows that both sides of any issue have their own quirks, and fumbles because they're human beings.

A classic example is Monty Python's heretical classic Life of Brian. In that film the religious authorities were portrayed as obsessed with rules over morality, the imperialist Romans were thuggish and oppressive, while the "freedom fighters" of the People's Front of Judea are portrayed as addle brained wannabe revolutionaries more comfortable debating over ideological minutiae rather than doing anything constructive or even destructive.

All engaged in nonsensical behaviour, all missed the point of what they were supposed to be doing, and that film became a classic that can be watched again, decades after it was made, and it still holds up.

You see, what Monty Python engaged in was a bit of intellectual honesty. Unlike a lot of modern Hollywood "satirists" they accepted that all sides call for ridicule, and delivered.

Too many satirists these days feel they must present one side as saintly, and the other side as satanic because too many of them consider themselves more political/social activist than comedian. That leaves audiences feeling unsatisfied and their material weak and very quickly dated.

Anyway, that's what I think.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Hollywood Babble On & On #1156: Random Bits...


Paramount Pictures, which practically founded Hollywood in its days as Famous Players-Lasky, has announced it's slate for the next two years and one thing is for certain: The don't pay much attention to what the Chinese are thinking because it's going to be almost all sequels, remakes, reboots, and rehashes

I said "almost" because they are releasing one movie that isn't a sequel or remake, and I'll wager dinars to donuts that they're only doing it because it helps fulfill a deal with Transformers director/producer Michael Bay. They're even doing a sequel to Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, which tanked in North America, but sold better overseas, in the vain hope that it will somehow transform (get it) into a profitable franchise.

This is the same company that licensed a good chunk of their classic film library to Warner Brothers because they didn't know what to do with it, and are making stumbling steps back into television after giving it away during all the internal Viacom-CBS-Paramount shuffles.

I really get the feeling that the people running Paramount aren't really all that interested in the effort that goes into running a Movie and Television Studio.


Chelsea Handler's leaving her E! Network talk show and has signed on to do a talk show for Netflix.


The Netflix watching model, especially for TV series is to pick a show and binge watch it in a marathon session. Talk shows are all about being "in the moment" talking to people and about things that happened that day. There's a real good chance that, despite her small, yet rabid fan base, this show could easily be lost in the shuffle. And will her perpetual party girl image, which was getting a bit long in the tooth on cable, and failed utterly on the network, endure or annoy in this medium?

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Trailer Trashing...

Bit busy today, so here's some trailers and I hope to get back to my usual erudite mix of analysis and sarcasm soon…


The upcoming Cinemax series about Victorian surgery called THE KNICK

It's been directed by Stephen Soderbergh, who said he was going to be long retired by now. Anyway it promises lots of drama, lots of gore, and since it's on Cinemax there has to be lots of nudity that has nothing to do with the story.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Hollywood Babble On & On #1155: Trouble A Brewin' #2 - This Time In The East

For the last decade the studios have looked at the dwindling number of North Americans willing to pay money to see their endless parade of remakes, reboots, re-imaginings, and sequels of over the top effects heavy superhero-action-fantasy pictures and said: 
"That's all right, we will always have the foreign audience. They love explosions and simplistic repetitive story lines. Especially China, and China's massive and growing audience will solve all of our economic ills!" - Bob Hollywood, President of Every Studio.
Are these experts, these insiders, these Ivy League educated Masters of the Universe right?

Not exactly.

That's not good.

That's not good at all.

I've discussed China's status as a cure for all of Hollywood's financial ills before. I explained that while it is a growing market, especially for movies, since the Chinese love movies and the theatre going experience, it is not a free market, and that comes with its own set of troubles. I also discussed how the Chinese government won't allow their market to become too free, because that could cost them their power.

What I didn't expect was a shift in taste.

I feel kind of stupid about not seeing that coming.

Like the studios I just assumed that effects-heavy action was what translated best around the world. Humour, romantic/sexual ideals, and cultural references differ wildly between countries, and even between regions, but explosions, shoot-outs, and over-the-top chases and stunts were fairly universal.

That was stupid of me, and stupid of Hollywood.

But I have an excuse, I'm just some dork on a computer, I don't have an Ivy League degree, and a fat salary and expense account based on my alleged expertise.

What I think we, Hollywood and myself, forgot are the first principles that made Hollywood movies the standard of quality and an inspiration to artists around the world.

Okay class who can tell me what Hollywood was created to sell?


Movies are a medium. They are a means of getting a product to a customer, they are not the product itself. So try again.



Have a cookie.

Selling stories is like selling produce, you know, fruits and vegetables. You might get away with selling a bunch of bananas one at a time, or selling the same orange over and over again for a while. However, eventually, you will either run out of bananas, and your orange is going to rot.

If you want to stay in business you have to have a steady supply of fresh and tasty product. Sure, some things don't sell to everyone, but there are buyers out there, even if only a few, so you only buy what you think you can sell for a profit.

The problem is that the studio's business practices are pricing themselves out of the market. Despite the "synergy" they allegedly have with their sibling media outlets, the costs for making, releasing, and advertising a movie have skyrocketed.

The studios feel they need to release a mega-movie to attract blockbuster size audiences to cover these sky-rocketing costs. They dumb down stories thinking that helps them translate better.

This dumbing down is probably the reason why home video sales are down, because that's for movies you want to see again, and how many recent films do you want to see again, especially with so much good stuff on TV these days?

How many recent big Hollywood movies have been better than television in anything other than scale?

What Hollywood needs to do is to think "Story First."

It probably won't happen, since it requires effort, intelligence, and taste and those are not considered virtues in Hollywood.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Hollywood Babble On & On #1154: Trouble A Brewing #1- The Stars

Kyle Smith at the New York Post has posted a list of movie stars whose careers are in trouble.  You can read the full thing by clicking this link, but I'll post my own thoughts about them here.

1. RUSSELL CROWE: I actually think this is a shame because Crowe actually is a good actor, but there's something about him that leaves the bulk of the audience cold. Some think it comes from the incident where he threw a phone at a hotel employee, but I think there's more to it than that.

2. GEORGE CLOONEY: Funny that folks are only now talking about how Clooney's main audience is within Hollywood and not the ticket buying public, I've been SAYING THE EXACT SAME THING FOR YEARS. Congratulations on finally catching up to me all you so-called "experts."

3. COLIN FARRELL: Farrell was hurt by becoming famous relatively early in his career which he squandered with cliched "bad boy" behaviour like drugs, womanizing, and even a sex tape scandal. Even though he's matured and become a much better actor over the years, attempts to make him a blockbuster star have failed pretty consistently. 

4. STEVE CARELL: Carell's a second banana that they tried to make into a movie star, and it didn't work. Recent developments say he's going for more diverse character roles, which is probably for the best.

5. ADAM SANDLER: Sandler thought he had a perfect formula. Be loud, be crass and keep the costs relatively low, and he couldn't lose. Well, the costs started creeping up and up, and Sandler and his posse got lazier and lazier when it come to creating material which is a dumb move considering the comedy competition from Seth Rogen and his band of pranksters using the same plan, but adding hard work into the mix. Now he can lose, and will probably keep losing until he does some pretty drastic reinvention. 

6. JOHNNY DEPP: Depp has been sunk by too much praise. When he first broke through people thought his eccentric stylings were novel and original. Now, outside of Captain Jack Sparrow, it looks like a guy playing "look at me and my wacky affectations." Plus, movies he's in have a tendency to bloat in budget way beyond what's delivered on screen and him being the biggest common denominator puts a lot of that blame on him, whether he deserves it or not. Costly and a bad box office bet is a terrible combination.

7. WILL SMITH: Will Smith used to be considered one of the shrewdest stars in Hollywood. He and his management worked out a formula for success, and for a long time it seemed to work. However, there is no perfect formula for success, but Smith's refusal, possibly ego driven, to step out of this master plan has caused him to refuse jobs that might have opened new doors for him, like Django Unchained. Also his attempts to win critical acclaim under his own terms have come across as shallow, low grade, Oscar bait. The less we talk about his attempts to foist his family on the moviegoing public, the better.

8. VINCE VAUGHN: Won a lot because of charm, and then tried to coast on it. Should consider doing something radically different to show people he can, you know, do stuff.

9. MATT DAMON:  Made his name as an actor, then tried to turn movies into activism. He made a movie about the evils of "fracking" called Promised Land, that not only tanked at the box office, but was also criticized for taking Middle Eastern oil money to make a movie condemning American oil production, making him look like a spoiled rich hypocrite. And then he made Elysium, a socialized medicine PSA disguised as a sci-fi action movie that I criticized for having totally batshit economics. He dwells in what I call the "Offend Bore Matrix." His "political" message movies offend those who disagree with him for their ham-handedness, and boring those who do agree with him because it's preaching for a choir who don't have to attend if they heard the sermon before.

10. TOM CRUISE: Outside of Mission: Impossible Tom has a problem getting people to pay to see him in the numbers necessary for those movies to make a profit. Maybe Tom should do deliberately smaller films outside of his flagship franchise, get people interested in him as an actor, over being a major movie star that he did so well in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He's not getting any younger, and could use a lightening of the physical workload. He also shouldn't have split with Paramount to try to turn United Artists into the Tom Cruise studio. No star is big enough to carry an entire studio, and the move cost him precious time and effort.

Now let's look at stars in trouble who were not on the New York Post list:

WILL FERRELL: His films get more expensive but their box office shrinks. Even his big "comeback" picture Anchorman 2, where he and his cronies took big pay cuts to get it made, really only did just okay when you calculate in the immense amounts spent on marketing and releasing the picture.

MIKE MYERS: Myers won't give up the levels of control he enjoyed when his career was on fire in the 1990s, but that control gave the world The Love Guru. Since then the only thing he's done is a documentary about someone very few have heard of and even fewer people will see. Not a good comeback vehicle.

TINA FEY: The most heavily hyped non-entity in entertainment. Her most successful vehicles only do just okay, most just fizzle out and fade away, her TV series had ratings lower than shows that were cancelled. Her career is based on her popularity within Hollywood, but inevitably they cold hard facts of economics will make even her most powerful patrons think twice. 

SACHA BARON COHEN: He exploded onto the scene with Borat, and then promptly fizzled. Possibly because people realized that he did his schtick on Americans, because people in other countries were more likely to violently beat him up. He's now digging up characters from his TV days in the 90s hoping to be relevant again, which is unlikely.

RUSSELL BRAND: Is constantly hyped as the next big thing in American entertainment, and then the movies flop and his US TV shows get cancelled, because too few people actually give a shit about him. It won't stop him getting work for a while, but eventually, it will catch up with him.

NICOLE KIDMAN: One of the few cases of someone actually undergoing petrification and living.

EDDIE MURPHY: When was the last time Eddie Murphy did something really watchable?

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: He's too old, but still thinks he can kick ass the way he used to. He used to be cartoonish, but in a super heroic way, now, after time as a pretty impotent politician and low rent philanderer, he just looks ridiculous.

JIM CARREY: Carrey's digging up Dumb & Dumber in the hopes that it will jump-start a career that's been more or less moribund for years.

Anyway, that's what I think, what do you think?

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Hollywood Babble On & On #1153: Give My Regards To Broadway

Sunday night I watched 2/3s of the Tony Awards.

Now that may not sound like much of an achievement, but for me it was borderline miraculous. You see, the time zone I live in means everything comes on an hour later than in the east coast of the USA, and I generally get bored of award shows and change the channel somewhere in the middle of the first acceptance speech.

Not so with the Tony Awards. It was actual physical exhaustion that drove me to sleep's perfumed bosom, and not boredom with the show itself.

That's pretty impressive.

I don't know much about what's happening on Broadway. I haven't seen any, and heard of only about half of the shows running on the Great White Way, but I watched.


Three reasons:

1. EFFORT: The hosts I've seen, like Sunday night's Hugh Jackman, and last year's Neil Patrick Harris,  burn a massive amount of calories. Jackman's bouncing dance number made me winded just looking at it. Then they hit the stage and sing, and dance, and tell jokes, and keep the show moving as quickly as they can. Same goes for the presenters, and the performances from the shows up for awards.

There's no sense that anyone is just coasting on the alleged importance of the event in question. It's a show about entertainment, and everyone is busting their back to entertain people.

2. SINCERITY: When Sophie Okonedo won for her role in A Raisin In The Sun, she looked sincerely surprised to win. Same with Audra McDonald who looked truly moved by her record setting win of 6 Tony Awards in all four actress categories. Unlikely, and ironic for a show about the theatre, their onstage thank-yous were not theatrical, but actually real.

With the Oscars everyone takes themselves too seriously, and yes, I will admit, its critics are huge nitpickers, creating a sort of falseness that hang over the whole production.

3. AUDIENCE: The singing, dancing and acting denizens of the former Wickquasgeck Trail appear to have remembered the importance of the audience. They remember that while the show really isn't about giving out prizes, it's supposed to be about promoting New York's live theatre industry.

That means making people want to shell out their money to go to Manhattan, buy tickets, and plant their bums in seats. That means they have to appear as interesting and entertaining as they can possibly be.

Unlike the Oscars and the movie industry most Broadway producers outside of Disney are not cogs in massive media conglomerates. That means that these producers don't have many buffers between them and their investors in what has always been and always will be a feast or famine market. They have to at least attempt to appeal to an audience commensurate to the size of the investment being made in the production.

Unlike the Oscars, the Tonys are not a quasi-genre, and there is no way to produce a play that is guaranteed to get at least a Tony nomination, let alone a win. The roughly 42 member nominating committee changes regularly, and the roughly 700 final voting members covers many facets of the community, and there are no set blocs that can be used to lord over others.

If they make a show for a niche audience, they make a niche audience sized investment, and fully expect that the niche in question has to include people outside the small theatre making community.

The Oscars could learn a lot from the Tonys, but I doubt they will. They're way too important for that.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Hollywood Babble On & On #1152: Random Nonsense


Reports say that Robert Downey jr. is taking a page from the "write what you know" school of thought and developing a TV series for Showtime set at a California rehab centre in the 1980s.

The idea does have potential for both serious gritty drama, comedy, and even sharp satire if the scripts are good, and I hope they are. 


Filmmaker Lexi Alexander wrote a blog post about Hollywood being the "real pirates." Now she makes some points. The majors are spending too much on movies that need to break records just to break even, while screwing over just about everyone they rely on to actually make the damn movies. Their anti-piracy operations are ham-handed and effective only at making things difficult and more costly for the law abiding.

However she lost me when she said: "Oh and PS: Hollywood is Republican now."

Does she work in Hollywood?

Has she ever talked to anyone from Hollywood?

Has she ever talked to a Republican? 

Her evidence to this drastic shift in allegiance is a link to a Wall Street Journal article that says the MPAA is trying harder to lobby Republicans since the Republicans have a shot of majorities in the House and Senate after the next midterms, as well as an even money crack at the White House in 2016.

However, she then shoots her whole argument down in the very next paragraph by mentioning that the head of the MPAA is a former Democratic Senator named Chris Dodd, the author of the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law.

Now I've done a little research on this topic, and I've learned two things.

1. Republicans HATE Chris Dodd. This is because while in the Senate he was considered one of its most partisan members who many blame for creating the increasingly toxic relationship between parties in the formerly civil Senate.

2. Republicans HATE the Dodd-Frank law. Republicans consider Dodd-Frank a boondoggle that creates acres of needless regulations, promotes political cronyism, and enshrines government bailouts of politically connected corporations.

If "Hollywood is Republican now" then they're not doing it very well. Back when Jack Valenti was the head honcho of the MPAA the organization was a model of playing both sides of the political aisle like a fiddle.

Not so anymore.

By most accounts the MPAA is in a pickle. The Democrats take them and their support for granted, while the Republicans view the MPAA with disdain, and the head of the MPAA as their personal enemy.

And that's not even counting the movies and television shows that cast Republicans, Christians, and conservatives in a bad light. People write whole books about them, and I don't have enough time to put them on this blog.

So why would a smart person like Lexi Alexander make such a silly statement that essentially ruins what started out as a reasoned argument.

I suspect that she's trying to protect herself. Using martial arts strategy to use the opponent's attitudes to shield her own career.

The main thrust of her complaint is that Hollywood is lousy at doing the whole diversity thing it demands of others. Just about every major Hollywood job both on and off screen is dominated by white males. Now the last thing anyone in the Hollywood elite wants to be called is prejudiced, it's a career killer for them, nor does anyone want to openly call Hollywood's elite on their hypocrisy, which is a career killer for the whistleblower. Saying "Hollywood is Republican now" gives the accused elite a way out and protects her as the accuser. They can look at the post, look at their invitation to latest fashionable political fundraiser and say: "Phew, she's not talking about me, she's talking about those other guys, I won't have to destroy her career."

It hurts her case, but it protects her career.


The LA Times is concerned that studio blockbusters are suffering precipitous box office drops of 50-75% between the opening weekend and their second weekend.

When I was a kid I noticed that the really big movies were ones that people paid to see it in the theatre more than once. Remember, when I was a kid and if you wanted to see Empire Strikes Back again, you either had to buy a ticket, or wait God-Knows-How-Long before it broadcast on network television.

Nowadays fans see a movie on the opening weekend, and once the thrill of being among the first to see it passes, they're done. If they like the movie, a lot of them figure they'll just buy the Blu-Ray, or see it on Netflix.

The only people these days who want to see something in the theatre more than once are little kids who put flicks like Frozen into the box office stratosphere.

Yet another argument for bringing a little fiscal probity to filmmaking budgets and studio management.