Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1243: The Last Theory of Relativity?

Relativity Media, the upstart film financier turned producer and distributor run by Ryan Kavanaugh is having some pretty serious money troubles that threaten to sink the whole company.

When I saw that report, the first thing that popped into my mind was "How come this didn't happen sooner?"

If you're a long-time reader of this blog you might already know that Relativity Media, and it's propensity for questionable decision is a regular subject of this blog. The earliest posts were about some of their questionable decisions, and lacklustre box office that I soon learned were based on their use of a computer program they thought could predict hits. Then came more questionable decisions like wanting to "crowdsource" screenplays, using really obvious sock-puppet accounts to praise their movie trailers, releasing movies they produced alone to directly compete with movies they co-produced with important partners, alienating other investment partners, and spending big money buying the name of Universal's low-budget horror division, Rogue Pictures, to re-imagine it as a "lifestyle brand."

Yet, the company was able to survive this litany of dumb ideas and stay afloat, at least they were until recently.

So why are things coming to a head so brutally?

Well, being an independent film financier is like a bastardized version of Margaret Thatcher's explanation of how socialism ends: eventually you're going to run out of other people's money.

There is only one way to prevent that, and that's to show some kind of return on investment.

Movies are a glamorous and confusing business, and  wealthy big money investors tend to be forgiving when they realize that being a "movie producer" is better at picking up starlets than being the biggest fertilizer dealer in the Midwest.

However, there is a point when the glamour and the sexiness no longer blinds, and the investors take a look at the numbers and say: "Where's my money going?"

You will have to do better than rehashing old sales pitches about how you're on the cusp of finding that magical golden ticket that will create only hits. Investors stop believing in that snake-oil when all the revenue from the occasional smaller profitable films arez burned away by over priced "blockbusters" that fail to bust blocks.

You can go in search of new investors, but guess what, word gets around, and you will quickly find yourself in a series of ever decreasing circles heading downward.

It's kind of sad to see yet another independent company go down the same path as so many before it, and many more after it. 

Friday, 24 July 2015

Mass Murder-Mass Media-Mass Hysteria

There's been another mass shooting, this time a movie theatre in Lafayette Louisiana that was showing the comedy Trainwreck. As I'm writing this half a dozen people have been injured, two people are dead, and the shooter killed himself.
As usual after every mass atrocity there are the usual declarations by pundits, politicians, and even ordinary people that says if America bans guns, movies, religions, books, video games, politically incorrect comedians, or flags, then it will never happen again.
The trouble is that it will happen again, and it has to do with the difference between causes and excuses.
Shootings are not caused by guns, movies, religions, books, video games, comedians or even flags. Those are just excuses.
The causes of mass shootings are the shooters, and their real motives. The motives they admit to are, like I just said, excuses. The real cause is a hunger for power, fame, and a certain kind of immortality.
Look at the average profile of the mass shooter and you will have someone who can be politely described as a loser. They tend to fail at life, but have delusional senses of self-esteem. They feel that their brilliance is unappreciated by the philistines of the world and that it unfairly denies them the power and fame that they believe they deserve.
They look at the media coverage and the public reactions to other mass murders and those narcissistic losers who have a psychopathic disregard for human life see a way to get that power and fame. 
Murder a lot of innocent people and these losers are no longer a waste of air and groceries, they are transformed into near deities. Pundits, politicians, and people will demand laws be changed, expressions be censored, and society put in upheaval, all in their name. Meanwhile the media is repeatedly discussing and dissecting their every brain-fart 24/7 in some vain attempt to "understand" their excuses as if it was a great mystery until the next atrocity steals their publicity.
This gives the mass shooters the power and fame they crave, dead or alive, it doesn't matter than them, because they are your gods now.
Gun control won't stop them.
Censorship won't stop them.
There is only one thing that will stop them.
Deny them their godhood.
Don't publicize their name.
Don't publicize their so-called motives.
What you do is throw them in a hole, dead or alive, and build an outhouse over that hole. Then you open a global spicy food festival.

They care more about their image, and giving that image power over people's lives, than life, even their own. If all they have to look forward to is anonymity and an ignominious disposal of their soiled carcass, the power they crave more than life is gone.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1242: The Sin of Wages

A reader asked me this question:
Recently I was reading articles about Jennifer Lawrence and Amanda Seyfried getting significantly less money than their male co-stars. 
The argument was that this was a result of sexism but surely isn’t this more the fault of their management/agents?
This is a tricky question, because we don't know the specifics, and the devil is hiding in those details.

The problem with Seyfried's case is that the reports are pretty vague on the details. We don't know the film, we don't know the co-star, the respective size of their roles, and, as my reader mentioned: the comparative competence, greediness and clout of their respective representatives.
If you don't know the details, you can't really, with any accuracy, determine if sexism was behind the difference in salary.
It's a lot like the oft-repeated trope that women make 77¢ for every $1 a man makes. If you look at the surface of the arguments that use that statistic you have no choice but to think that male bosses do nothing but complicate their accounting as well as leave themselves open to lawsuits and   maybe even criminal prosecution because their sexism outweighs their need for survival.
However, if you look at the details, you get a different picture. It's not, as many politicians and activists claim, cases of, let's say, a male sales clerk getting paid more than a female colleague despite having the same job and seniority because of the secret "penis bonus." The statistic comes from an overarching study of all occupations held by men and women irrespective of the nature of that occupation and how that affects salary.
If you totally believe the politicians, then sexism must be the only reason a 37 year old male oil rig roughneck, with 16 years experience, makes more money than an 18 year old female sales clerk working part time at an Orange Julius while she's going to university.
However, sexism isn't the only reason, in fact, it's likely that it might not be a reason at all. Those reasons include, the roughneck's seniority, the greater value put on delivering massive amounts of oil over small amounts of orange juice, and the greater probability that a roughneck is far more likely to have limb ripped off on the oil rig, than a counter worker is at the Orange Julius.
Artist's depiction of the Committee For Deciding Salaries
A close study of the details shows that on average women are more likely to accept lower paying jobs that can guarantee a certain quality of life over more lucrative jobs with high rates of death and dismemberment.
That's not to say that no women ever take those kinds of jobs. Many do, however, they are nowhere near enough numerically to make up the discrepancy in salaries when all are piled together to create the 77¢ statistic.
Which brings us back to actress salaries.
As I keep repeating myself, the devil in this issue lies in the details. Jennifer Lawrence was paid a lot less than her male co-stars on American Hustle, despite her box-office/Oscar status putting her on a more equal footing with them. We don't know the full details. 
Lawrence has a good working relationship with director David O. Russell and might have volunteered to take an up-front pay cut to help get the movie made. That's not uncommon in Hollywood, especially if the project can only help boost the prestige and star-power of the actor in question.
However, I'm not going to just let the people who run Hollywood off the sexism hook.
Because Hollywood is run by people, and all people carry petty little prejudices and idiocies. It's what bonds us all as a species.
In Hollywood though, such prejudices and idiocies can be exacerbated because many in Hollywood think their sins don't count. Many in Hollywood honestly believe that it's perfectly okay to have a carbon footprint bigger than a Third World country as long as they support the correct politicians and get seen at the correct fundraisers. It's not hard to believe that it's the same with how they treat women.
Also Hollywood's behind the scenes history is loaded with sexist behavior, and I'm not talking about the notorious casting couch. During the Silent Era there were many female directors, and film editing was an almost exclusively female. However the coming of sound was used as an excuse by the unions to squeeze most women out of the director's chair and the editing room.
Which means I should probably get around to the point I'm trying to make.

I don't doubt that some, possibly many, people in positions of power hold some sexist attitudes that they think they can buy off with politically correct indulgences. However, if we're going to stop sexism in business, we need to conclusively prove sexism in business, because just accusing makes people feel good, but it really gets us nowhere. We need to know the tedious little technical details, because that's where the line between sexist piggishness and misunderstandings hides.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1241: Got A Billion Dollars?

The investor cluster that owns the once powerful and feared Miramax Films is considering putting it up on the auction block, and they're asking for…

Now I only have one reaction to that price…


Okay, that's a little mean, I guess a more accurate reaction would be:
But seriously folks, let's take a look at what the company has to offer which is mostly the film library of 700 titles.

Libraries have value, because movies don't really make serious money until they are licensed to what are called the ancillary markets after their theatrical release. That means home video, television, and online streaming services.

A lot of money can be made this way, and the bigger the film library, the more money you can make. In fact, a lot of studios view the box office earnings as just gravy, and that the real money is in those ancillary markets.

However, there's a catch.

Several catches to be exact.

700 movies may sound big, but in the grand scheme of things it's actually not that big, especially when compared to the majors. The major studios literally have thousands upon thousands of titles in their libraries and regularly churn out new material by the pound.

Miramax has been more of less moribund for years, only sporadically putting out a handful of new films under the current ownership.

That's not good.

Because having seven hundred films is fine and all, but any film library, even if every film is as evergreen in popularity as Casablanca, your company is going to reach a point when the outlets you're selling to will say: "What else you got?"

And that's if every film in your library is as perpetually popular as Casablanca, and Miramax's stable is pretty light on films like that.

A lot of that has to do with how the company was run under the Weinstein Brothers. Under their reign Miramax had two business models; one was to acquire independent films for a theatrical release, and the other was to acquire independent films for the sole reason of keeping other distributors from getting them.

That means that for every movie Miramax released during that era, there were several that haven't been seen by a living soul since their Sundance Festival debut in the 1990s. This practice brought the company to the brink of collapse before being bought up by Disney, and it's what made Disney force out the Weinsteins a few years later.

Even if all of the films in question are brilliant, it's next to impossible to sell, for a decent price, rights to a flick that no one can remember, and many of films in the Miramax library are not brilliant at all.

That means that out of the 700 films in the library, maybe about 200, at most, are sellable.

That ain't healthy.

"But what about remakes?" you ask, waving your hand and hooting like Horshak. "Couldn't you remake Miramax movies into big blockbusters?"

Well, you could do remakes of some of the films in the library. But remaking the Oscar winners would offend fans, and remaking the unknowns would just befuddle people. You might as well just make an original film from a script no one has heard of because at least then you could avoid being entangled with…
The Weinstein Brothers.

You see, as both the producers and studio bosses of those pictures they made sure that if anyone wanted to do a remake, reboot, re-imagining or sequel would have to involve them.

The problem is that if you're 90% of people who have done business with them in the past, you are far less likely to want to do business with them again.

So, is the business really worth $1 billion?

I'm not even sure it was worth the $600 million the investors gave to Disney back in 2010.

Anyway, that's what I think.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1240: There Is A Good Reason No One Likes Gawker

If you've been living in a cave I will give you a little update.
Gawker is a website that specializes in three things. One is gossip, they love anything that might embarrass someone famous, no matter what. 
The second thing is nastiness, if they can couch their gossip in the most petty, childish, and insulting terms, they will do it.
The third thing Gawker specializes in is outrage. They love to find something said by someone that might be construed as offensive or politically incorrect, and then marshaling the forces of social media to destroy the alleged "offender's" employment or life. Now usually Gawker prefers if the outrage is aimed at the people they choose to be outraged at, and preferably over subjects they deem fitting for outrage. (They are reportedly masters of double standards)
However, lately that outrage has been aimed at Gawker itself, and Gawker ain't happy about it.
Here's a quick summary: An executive at Condé Nast was being blackmailed by a gay porn-star/escort. The executive is in the closet, is married and has a family, and the blackmailer told him that if he didn't pay up, the story will go public.
Now any other publication, print or web, would look at the story being given to then by the blackmailer and ask: "Hmmm...by publishing this story, which isn't exactly newsworthy, wouldn't we become part of the extortion and hence be open to all sorts of moral and legal ramifications?" Then they would pass on the story, and possibly call the police.
Not so at Gawker.
Gawker ran with it.
They claimed it was newsworthy because it involved a man, a senior executive at a major publisher, being unfaithful to his wife in a particularly salacious manner since it involved the man being a closeted homosexual.
Now, when someone is "outed" against their will, those who do the outing usually follow a certain criteria.
1. Usually that person must be, if not famous, at least so prominent in their field that they are considered a 'public figure.'
2. That public figure must be involved in political or social activities that is seen as being anti-LGBT, and thus their status as both "closeted" and unfaithful being a sign of great moral-sexual hypocrisy.
The executive was not a public figure. He's essentially a chief number cruncher, he didn't go around condemning homosexuality, infidelity, or any other moral, sexual, or social issue, and his attitudes had no apparent effect on Condé Nast's editorial stances or content.
That means that his life, especially his sex life, wasn't remotely newsworthy, and was henceforth HIS OWN DAMN BUSINESS.
As for infidelity, then that would be between him, his wife, their lawyers, and their children, not Gawker, and definitely not the general public.
Gawker Media, the site's parent company is already embroiled in a pretty pricey lawsuit from wrestler Hulk Hogan over them releasing a sex tape of him fooling around with a friend's wife. Though I am surprised that it's only Hulk Hogan suing them and not a class action from Gawker readers who were traumatized by finding out a Hulk Hogan sex tape exists.
Artist depiction of Gawker founder Nick Denton
Anyway... back on topic. Gawker Media now has another lawsuit looming over them like the grim specter of death, and are on damage control. So they folded faster than Superman on laundry day and pulled the story from the website.
It's too little, too late, the damage has been done, but if all you have is a gesture, then you make that gesture.
But wait, as the late Billy Mays would say, there's more.
The editorial staff at Gawker responded to the story be posting this statement:
Our union drive has expressed at every stage of the process that one of our core goals is to protect the editorial independence of Gawker Media sites from the influence of business-side concerns. Today’s unprecedented breach of the firewall, in which business executives deleted an editorial post over the objections of the entire executive editorial staff, demonstrated exactly why we seek greater protection. Our opinions on the post are not unanimous but we are united in objecting to editorial decisions being made by a majority of non-editorial managers. Disagreements about editorial judgment are matters to be resolved by editorial employees. We condemn the takedown in the strongest possible terms.
Yep, the Gawker editorial staff is unionizing to protect the journalistic integrity of a publication that  ran a story that was devoid of all journalistic interest, let alone integrity. It was pointless scandal mongering.
Also, it's like the crew of the Titanic going to the Captain as the ship slips into the icy depths of the North Atlantic and saying: "We've decided to unionize because you opposed us driving into that iceberg. Oh, why are my shoes suddenly wet?"
Now I'm not a prude, and I don't think that there isn't a place for gossip. People love their tittle-tattle, however, Gawker's brand of toxicity may have finally reached its saturation point.

Of course, within days of Gawker's destruction or neutering, something else will pop it to take its place. It's the internet's circle of life.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1239: Random Stuff.


An anonymous reader, who according to policy, shall be called Dirty Dingus McGee, asked me this question:
Can it be otherwise? Is it possible to have a movie industry that has honest accounting, reasonable wages for stars be they actors or directors or producers, and modest budgets for G-rated films?
Short answer: No.

You see Hollywood has been run poorly for such an unbelievably long time, but has grown so unbelievably huge during that time. That means that you would have an extremely hard time finding experienced people in the industry who have the ability to envision being able to run it another way.

Shoddy business practices have become dogma in Hollywood.

However, there is a way to reform Hollywood, to be the Hollywood version of Martin Luther nailing your 95 theses on the front gates of Paramount.

Be a multi-billionaire who owns their own media conglomerate.

Then you could initiate the reforms and lead by example, but it will only work if you are unbelievably successful, putting out more hits than a short tempered Mafia don and in every medium and genre.

Then maybe, you might inspire reform in the other studios. But your rivals have decades of precedent to back them up

And now a word from our sponsor...

But seriously folks a person or persons unknown has violated the grave and stolen the head of legendary filmmaker FW Murnau.

Murnau is most famous for his silent horror classic Nosferatu, which was a copyright violating adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula. However, he also made Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, one of the most powerful romantic melodramas of the silent era. Sadly, he died at the age of 42 in a car accident in Santa Barbara before he could make much of a dent in the burgeoning sound era.

Now I think I can give you a pretty good profile of the skull thief or thieves. Probably some Goth kids who saw Nosferatu and picked up some BS from the Internet and thought that they could use the skull for black magic.

All I can say is:


All you're going to get out of it is a good chance of an unpleasant infection from handling dead body parts with, I suspect, little thought toward hygiene.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1238: Who Is To Blame?

If there is one thing most people agree on, it's that the movie business is in a sorry state. Too many sequels, remakes, reboots, re-imaginings, and the sequels to the re-imagined reboots of the remakes.
Even Dustin Hoffman, one of the most successful and respected movie actors of his generation thinks the movie biz is in the worst state it's ever seen.
I guess he finally got around to seeing those Fockers movies.
Anyway, some like to blame the executives who decide which films get made, I am one of those people, and some like to blame the audience who they think is getting dumber by the day.
Actually, the blame is more widespread and more complicated than we previously thought.
So let's break it down into something easy to read and give it a swift kick in the listicles:
1. THE PAIN OF THEATRE GOING. The days of the neighbourhood bijou within walking distance of the average North American home is long dead. For most North Americans getting to a movie means getting in a car, driving down to the mall or downtown, finding a parking space that you'll probably have to pay for, buying your tickets, buying your snacks, and finding a decent seat where you can see the screen and not have your head blown off by the sound system.
Now imagine doing that with a spouse and kids.
Basically what used to be just a casual stroll, and the spending of some loose change, is now a major expedition requiring transportation, hassle, and a hell of a lot of money.
That means that people are more likely than not to just stay home and watch TV unless the production is some sort of massive event/experience that simply can't be duplicated on a home-size screen and sound system that the whole family can enjoy.
Couple that with...
2. THE HIGH COST OF MAKING & SELLING MOVIES. Hollywood's business practices, which I call the "self-fulfilling idiocy" had given the industry an inflation rate not seen outside of Zimbabwe or Weimar Germany. It just keeps getting worse even though new technology has made the ability to make professional looking cinema cheaper and cheaper.
It's not just the large scale epics that were busting out budget wise. Genres that were once reliably affordable, like romantic comedies, straight-up comedies, mystery-thrillers, and small scale action films were beginning to cost more than they could possibly deliver on screen and at the box office. 
It's not just production. The "synergy" promised by the mega-mergers of the studios with media companies only succeeded in hiking the costs of advertising upward to ridiculous levels. Plus, try to sell a smaller, mature, movie that's R-Rated and you're in for a struggle with the media outlets, many of them refusing to carry ads for R-Rated movies, even if their own sin was dropping one too many "fucks" in the dialogue.
To stay in business Hollywood realized that they needed...
3. FOREIGN MARKETS. If a film is going to have a chance of at least breaking even it's going to have to do well internationally in non-English speaking markets. Now the smug cineastes love to lecture about how foreign films are so much better than the dreck Hollywood puts out. But many of those art-house films they like the bloviate about are not the everyday entertainment the locals enjoy. Most of those foreign language films that play in art-houses in North America usually play in art-houses in their home nations.
Do you know what the plebeians in those foreign language markets like?
For the most part: Tits and Explosions.
Plus, a lot of foreign audiences don't mind plot holes that you can drive a truck through as long as what they're viewing is visually exciting and has some sort of hook that'll keep them interested, like having a familiar "branding" associated with it, like it being a sequel, a remake, or part of some pre-existing franchise.
Gee, they sound a lot like what people think of North American audiences, don't they.
But since the average return on a ticket is about 25¢ from every dollar the studios are going to need more than just the world buying tickets, they also need to dominate...
4. HOME VIEWING. The studios need you to buy or rent Blu-Rays, downloads, or streams of their movies, or to watch them every time they appear on cable, so the cable channels will keep paying to air them. This is where they make their real profits over the long term and make it possible to stay in business.
The studios hope that by sticking to big budget franchises the fans for those franchises will repeatedly see the movies, as well as buy the merchandise.
But there's a...
5. A BIG FAT PARADOX. Actually, there are many big fat paradoxes that are making things worse for the movie industry. So let's have a list inside our listicle...
  • The dependence on mega-budget franchises, reboots, sequels, etc., is turning off a lot people who just plain give up on going to movies, and stay home and watch TV.
  • The TV channels and streaming services whose license fees have been the profit margin of the movie biz are getting more and more into producing their own original content. Content that's often far better than the stuff playing in theatres.
  • The foreign markets all have their own domestic film industries, and thanks to the affordable technology, are starting to produce their own domestic content that can compete directly with Hollywood without the dubbing and massive expense.
  • Too many movies, just aren't worth the repeated viewing. They're based on fear, ignorance, and greed, not on a desire to entertain, and they will eventually just gather dust on the shelf.

And that's just a few of the reasons why movies are in the shape they're in.