Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1236: Random Drippings From The Brain Pan...


British TV giant ITV has passed on buying the TV arm of The Weinstein Company, which could have meant hundreds of millions of dollars for the Weinsteins which would have been a nice cushion for their feast/famine business model.

Now some are wondering why ITV is walking away from the deal.

I think I know why ITV backed out, but I'm wondering why it hasn't ended in a lawsuit, which is usually how deals with TWC usually end.

Then again, the day is young, legal papers could still be filed.

Anyway, back to why ITV pulled out. I think they looked at TWC, looked at their history, and looked at how they had to trade over 200 films from their library to avoid bankruptcy a few years ago and said: "Maybe this is not for us."

Remember, television is all about making shows and airing them when you promise to air them. It's all about regularity, predictability, and reliability.

TWC's business model seems based almost entirely on Harvey Weinstein's whimsy, especially when it comes to things that should be simple, rational, business decisions. Whimsy can get expensive.

Then there's trust.

TWC's flagship TV project is Project Runway, a fashion themed reality show. It's run for 13 seasons, they license foreign versions all over the world, and it's a solid ratings earner for the Lifetime Channel.

Now it wasn't always on Lifetime, in fact, for the first five seasons it was on NBC-Universal's Bravo Channel. It was during negotiations for Season 6 that Harvey Weinstein literally buried NBC-Universal boss Jeff Zucker under a ton of aggrandizing horse-shit about how their deal was as good as done because they were the truest friends.

Meanwhile, Weinstein had already inked the deal to sell the show to Lifetime.


So now you can probably understand why ITV chose to avoid getting into bed with TWC.


Disney's theme park ride turned sci-fi-fantasia film  Tomorrowland is underwhelming at the box office, hitting number one during a shockingly sluggish Memorial Day weekend.

I had a feeling this would happen the moment I saw George Clooney at the centre of the ad campaign.

Hollywood's grim determination to make him a star even though he's dropping more bombs than Curtis LeMay is starting to look both sad and ridiculous.

Clooney's only truly successful film in the last decade was Gravity, and that was essentially Sandra Bullock's movie, he had a glorified cameo, and he didn't feature in any of the ads.


It's becoming a trend when a celebrity dies that their family start hurling accusations and counter-accusations and everything goes straight to hell. Casey Kasem seems to be the most famous and drawn out case.

I fear it's going to spread, like a virus, and will happen every damn time someone famous dies.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1235: 37's Not Old, But Hollywood Is Silly.

There's a scene in Monty Python & The Holy Grail where King Arthur "rides" up to a peasant and says: "Old woman!" only to get "I'm a man, and I'm only 37 and 37 is not old!"

Hilarity ensues.

In reality, the discussion of whether 37 is considered "old" becomes silly, stupid, and annoying, but not hilarious.

Recently actress Maggie Gyllenhaal sparked a wave of outrage on the internet by telling the world that, at 37 years of age, she was told that she was "too old" to play the love interest for a 55 year old leading man.

You know what.

I believe her.

There are several reasons why I believe her:

HOLLYWOOD'S JUVENILE DEMENTIA: Hollywood believes that anyone over the age of 21 is already set in their ways, and thus are not likely to fall for the ads or product placements that help pay to get movies and TV shows made.

This means that everything in show business must be young, and if you can't be young, then at least appear to be as young as surgically possible, as well as hep, and with it, as the kids say these days.

That means that as many movies and TV shows  as possible must appeal to the fickle tastes of tweens and teens. Now I'll get to the boys in a second, but first I'll discuss the girls. The market research gurus are telling the Hollywood mucky-mucks that the last thing teenage girls want to see is a leading lady that reminds them of them, not their mom, no matter how old the leading man is.

Which brings us to the boys and their…

FRAGILE MALE EGOS: Young males watching movies and TV shows care only about two things when it comes to casting the female love interest. That she is physically attractive, and that the show successfully sells the lie that a goof like them can have a chance with a woman like that.

Selling this lie becomes an article of faith with both leading men and studio executives. The leading men want to believe that they are still the manly, virile, hunks they were in their 20s even though they qualify for membership in the AARP and are sporting more of a keg than a six pack in the abs department.

The audience is somewhat forgiving for this, usually out of nostalgia for those days when that star was such a hunk of man. Then it becomes silly, and then it becomes sad, which usually results in that star's movies ending up in the discount bin at the local big-box store.

As for the executives, they are a predominantly male club. Being a predominantly male club causes a lot of testosterone to waft around the air and that can cause some serious dips in the old IQ points. One effect is making casting choices not on who is right for the part, but on which actress they would most likely want to have sex with.

And since, like actors, they like to see themselves as young, virile, masters of the universe, their roaming eyes usually drifts toward younger women.

And then there's...

She does look better with long hair
SIMPLE STUPIDITYTelling her she was too old to be cast opposite a 55 year old revealed a stunning lack of awareness on the part of the teller. Gyllenhaal could have been told it was because of the short haircut, which, to be honest, does nothing for her.

Then that blunt person would just be horribly sexist, which people already know Hollywood is, and not ageist, egocentric, silly, and stupid for throwing more kindling on an already burning fire of outrage.

However, you can never fail underestimating the tactical stupidity of people in Hollywood.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1234: Friends, Romans, Countrymen...

Last night David Letterman broadcast his last episode as host of CBS' Late Show, paving the way for his replacement, former comedy central host/faux pundit, Stephen Colbert.

I should mourn Letterman's retirement, because I was a fan of his blend of comedy and performance art when I first stumbled upon him on a summer night in the mid-to-late 1980s. He was different, he was daring, he was edgy, he seemed sincerely interested in his guests and their work, and he wasn't afraid to tweak the noses and the expectations of not only the audience, but the elite New York corporate establishment that signed his pay checks.

Back then it was him and the audience against the stuffed shirts of the establishment, and it was exhilarating. It showed that late night talk shows, which were becoming stuffy institutions had possibilities to be something more than just a place for celebrities to plug their next product.

He made the talk show cool again.

Then it died.

Not quickly. It was a slow and painful death, but it was a death nonetheless.

The first was the severe thrashing he got at the hands of NBC in the War of the Tonight Show succession between him and Jay Leno. At first it looked like Letterman had the upper-hand, since he was the handpicked successor of the retiring Johnny Carson. However, neither he or Carson saw just how bloody this war was going to get.

Leno won the Tonight Show, through a combination of what the network thought was his more mainstream appeal and compliant personality, as well as the ruthless machinations of his then manager.

It was a bitter victory for Leno because the Tonight Show struggled in the ratings for quite some time after he took it over. It was so bad in that early period that NBC offered the job to Letterman who had been finishing off his contract with NBC. Johnny Carson advised Letterman to jump to CBS and free himself from the constant internecine warfare that dominated NBC's internal politics.

For the first while on CBS it was great. David Letterman seemed to be winning the war for late night supremacy, then came Hugh Grant.

The Tonight Show scored Hugh Grant for his post-hooker-scandal mea culpa and it caused a seismic shift in the late night audience. Suddenly Leno started getting better ratings than Letterman, and that must have burned Letterman.

Letterman's style changed, becoming harsher and more caustic, and not against his old establishment targets. Instead his eye was now aimed at the audience that he saw as failing him by preferring Leno.

He also seemed to lose interest in his guests. The main purpose of the interviews changed. On Leno's Tonight Show it was all about getting the plugs done in time to make it to the next commercial break, and on Letterman's old show it was all about having fun. But in the mid-90s Letterman's interview style went from having fun to proving himself superior to his guests.

An air of smug arrogance took over Letterman's whole milieu. It was no longer him and the audience versus the establishment, he was now a fully paid up member of that establishment versus the audience. The establishment welcomed him with open arms, because he gave them a safe veneer of rebellion without challenging any of their own pet shibboleths.

Then audiences for late night talk shows in general began to shrink. A lot of people dropped out, souring on the declining returns from the talk shows, and the wider temptations of cable television.

The days when a late night powerhouse like Johnny Carson could earn over 25% of NBC's total revenue was gone and Letterman and Leno were part in parcel of that decline.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1233: Will DuVernay Do Marvel?

There have been reports that Kevin Feige the brains behind the Marvel cinematic/TV universe wants Selma director Ava DuVernay to direct a Marvel superhero movie, possibly either Black Panther or Captain Marvel.

Naturally this sparked outrage about how racist and sexist it is of Marvel to consider a female African-American woman to direct either a female or African character.

Pretty nonsensical, because if they offered DuVernay Avengers 3 the same people would condemn Marvel for asking her to make a movie about a team that's mostly white and male.

It's literally a no win situation when it comes to the outrage of the perpetually outraged, but it could be a win-win situation for DuVernay.


Because there are three kinds of film every filmmaker should do at least once, regardless of their personal tastes.

They are:

1. Action film.

2. Horror film.

3. Comedy film, but not a vehicle for an established comedy star.

Why should they do these films?

Because they are challenges that brings out a filmmaker's real talents and prove their worth for all time.

If all you do are action films, you can coast on CGI and explosions. If you only do "important dramas" then you can coast on the quality of your actors and the script. If you only do comedies for established stars you can coast on that star's popularity and charisma. If you do only horror films you can coast on gore and cats jumping out of closets.

However, doing a variety of projects can only help establish your credibility as a filmmaker.

DuVernay's background was mostly backstage in broadcast journalism, public relations, documentaries, and very serious dramas. If she sticks with that strategy she will expect to be the director equivalent of Sean Penn, someone whose career only exists for Oscars noms and internal Hollywood adulation. That can only offer diminishing returns because Hollywood people don't pay to see movies. After a while you risk reaching a point of no return, where even if you try to go more mainstream, you can't, the audience just isn't into you.

However, DuVernay is still relatively a new comer to the wider pop culture world. That means she can use the cachet she earned from Selma, to land a big mainstream action adventure gig, and if she does a good job, proving she can make commercially viable vehicles, then she can write her own ticket.

It's not that big a stretch. If she has at least one big box-office blockbuster under her belt, that she delivered on time and on budget, and pleased both fans and critics, do you think she'd have a problem raising financing for at least one smaller scale serious drama?

Filmmakers need to learn that the mainstream is like running water. It's where the water is deep, clean and makes the water running on the edges possible. There's no shame in swimming back and forth. In fact, it's probably a very smart strategy.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1232: We Gotta Question!

Reader Nate Winchester sent me an e-mail asking me this question about the Weinstein Company's most notorious business practice:
Forget how they get other people to go along, why do they keep doing this???  

HOW does a company survive a repeated business plan of "I'll cut off my nose to spite my face." 

Satan just has to be involved.
Now the link is for this video from Good Bad Flicks investigating the cult film All The Boys Love Mandy Lane.

Here is the video, but be warned, he gets into spoilers after he talks about the film's troubled history.

If you're too lazy to watch the video, or want to avoid spoilers, I will give you the gist of what happened to the film, and then we'll try to figure out why it happened.

All The Boys Love Mandy Lane was made in Austin Texas by some aspiring filmmakers for around $750,000. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival where it became the darling of the 2006 Midnight Madness slate, which is normally seen as a great sign for it future success.

A bidding war ensued. Every indie distributor wanted to get their hands on it, but it was the Weinstein Company that won, paying out $3.5 million for the privilege.

TWC then held a test screening, and declared that the results were so awful, the film did not deserve to be released.

The film gathered dust on a shelf for a few years. But online pressure inspired TWC to sell it to another distributor, who promptly went bankrupt. Then more time passed, just about everyone involved in the film went on to bigger and better things, and after seven years in limbo it got a token theatrical release, and then was dumped on home video, with pretty much all momentum lost.

Which brings us to Nate's question:
HOW does a company survive a repeated business plan of "I'll cut off my nose to spite my face." 
Satan just has to be involved.
Satan is probably not involved, as far as I know, but there are some theories as to how this keeps happening.

First the Weinstein's are masters at convincing people to go along with them. They can point to their Oscars, their hits, as well as their personal wealth, and say "Look at what we did for them, and we can do it for you."

The problem is for every Oscar winner or box office hit they probably have about a dozen films that either sink completely, or are just not released at all.

So why buy a film and not release it?

There are two reasons for the Weinsteins to do that. One is financial, the other is psychological.

The financial reason has to do with accounting rules. According to those rules a film that they bought for $3.5 million goes on their books as an asset worth $3.5 million.

If they release that movie, they must then deduct the cost of its release from that value, and then add any profits that comes in.

If the film bombs then it's considered a loss.

So it's better to just have it sit there gathering dust.

As I said, the second reason is psychological. From everything I've ever read or seen about how the Weinstein Brothers do business is that they must win EVERYTHING, even contests they're not truly interested in. Also, not only must they win, everyone else must LOSE.

The history of Miramax and the Weinstein Company shows a repeated strategy of buying films they have no interest in for the sole reason of making sure that no one else can do anything with them. 

Now this business model isn't as successful as the Weinstein Brothers would like you to think. First they almost bankrupted Miramax, but was saved by selling out to Disney, only to have Disney force them out of Miramax when they repeated those antics. Just a few years ago TWC had to hand over the rights to almost its entire film library up to that point to its creditors to avoid getting crushed by the debt they piled up to acquire those films.

Basically, their entire business model is based on hustling. Hustling Wall Street for capital, hustling filmmakers for movies, hustling academy voters for prizes, and only occasionally hustling audiences for ticket sales.

TWC does not have a model for a self-sustaining film company. Either they will run out of steam, filmmaker goodwill, and other people's money, or an ill-timed heart attack will bring the whole house of cards down. Then TWC will be nothing more than a footnote in film history.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1231: On Comics, Costumes, & Coitus...


They released the first picture of most of the cast from DC/Warner Bros. upcoming Suicide Squad movie. If you're not familiar with the property, it's about a team of super villains who are recruited by a shadowy government agency run by bureaucrat Amanda Waller to go on, you guessed it, suicide missions, led by professional commando Colonel Rick Flagg.

Before we go any further, here's the picture of some of the cast in full costume:

Now the standout in the picture is Margot Robbie who is playing The Joker's sidekick/life partner Harley Quinn. Where everyone else is trying to look tough and scary, her broad smile, pigtails, and the pent up energy in her body language, looks like she's committing 110% to this inherently over the top and madcap character.

My only problem is with her costume.

It doesn't scream super villain.

It screams "club kid who took too much Molly and now they can't stop grooving to bad EDM and texting 'OMG' repeatedly to her friends until her iPhone screen cracks."

I think we need to go back to the character's origins.

The character of Harley Quinn was created in the early 90s for Batman: The Animated Series. The reason for her creation was obvious, they needed someone for the Joker to talk to because thought balloons don't really work on animated shows.

However, her distinctive look, and high nasal voice made her an instant fan favourite. Over time they developed her character, backstory, and relationship with The Joker. It was revealed that she was originally his psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum, but she lost her heart and her mind, and became his partner in crime and life. They're onscreen relationship was the height of dysfunctional and even downright abusive, sparking Harley to split with Joker and form an occasional partnership with Poison Ivy.

Her popularity on the show led to Harley Quinn being adapted into the comics, including the Suicide Squad.

However, comic book publishers decided that it wasn't enough for a character to be interesting. They had to SEXY.

But not just sexy as in physically attractive, they had to look like strippers.

A classic example is the Suicide Squad's top boss Amanda Waller who went from looking like this...

 To this...
And it was decided that Harley Quinn needed to be improved as well, and she went from this…

To this…
Went from looking like a comical villain, to what you might find on a porn website if you put in a search for "Goth skanks."

Is it really an improvement, or is it just another failed attempt at sexy resulting in something that just looks sleazy, and makes the comics and its readers look sleazy.

I'm a bit relieved they didn't go full skank for the movie, but I would have liked if her outfit was just a bit more ridiculous. Remember, a comically ridiculous appearance masking a homicidal maniac is the essence of the character. Also it would make a nice counterpoint to the deliberate drabness of the outfits of her squad-mates.

But powers that be at DC/Warner Bros. apparently want that stoned club kid look.


It's been noticed that Marvel's Black Widow, the sexy-secret agent played by Scarlett Johanson, is missing from most of the Avengers: Age of Ultron merchandise, especially when it comes to toys like action figures.

Now the first reaction to this was to assume that Disney, Marvel's parent company, is a sexist monstrosity that won't acknowledge female fans of female characters, ignoring that their empire was built by little girls seeing Disney Princess movies and buying Disney Princess merchandise.

However, that's probably not the reason.

The reason is the fear of the outraged mother.

I'll bet dollars to dungheaps that somewhere in the bowels of Disney's headquarters they were looking at designs for Age of Ultron toys, and realized that if they released a Black Widow action figure that remotely resembled how the character looks on screen or in the comics, it would most likely spark some internet outrage from angry mothers worried that little Timmy might look at that action figure and figure out some unclean actions.

They then calculated that the outraged mother boycott would cost them more than an outraged feminist boycott, and dropped Black Widow from most of the merchandise line-up.

That's my theory.

Which is probably right.