Monday, 31 August 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1249: An Open Letter To International Audiences

Dear Movie International Movie Audiences.
Stop it.
You know what I'm talking about, if not, here's a little reminder from the twitter feed of Exhibitor Relations, the service that monitors the global movie box office:

Now do you see what you've done, or do I have to rub your nose in it?
You took two movies that North American audiences had the good sense to spurn as one would spurn fly-laden dog turd and you made them, not successful, but given them the APPEARANCE of being successful.
You see, Hollywood operates along a philosophy of appearance over substance.  
But to understand it, you have to understand how films make money.
It's next to impossible for a major Hollywood movie to profit in the theatres. It just costs too damn much to make and release a so-called blockbuster these days. Even including the international markets doesn't help, because the studios don't have as big a share of the box office, called "The Rental," in Asia and Europe as they do in North America.  
If the film is going to turn a profit it needs to be seen as worthy of repeat viewing either on DVD, Blu-Ray, or licensing to television channels and video streaming services like Netflix, or Amazon.
To key is the licensing deals. They are where the profits lie, but there's a catch.
The people who run TV channels, and streaming services will only pay the big bucks to license hits, or, what look like hits.
That means that the studios can now take a dropped deuce like Adam Sandler's Pixels and say: "Look, it was a huge success internationally, you show things internationally, so give us some big money."
Then there is message the international audiences give studios, filmmakers and stars.
Companies that went under after making
a Terminator movie.
In the case of Tyrmynatyr: Gynysys it means that producers won't take the franchise off the life support it's been on for 20 years, and will keep grinding out more installments, regardless of quality, or how many producers go bankrupt.
In Adam Sandler's case it means he'll just keep on squeezing out the lazy, tedious, and unentertaining movies and not stop and buckle down, and put his nose to the grindstone to do something that might actually be entertaining.
This makes you, the international audience, the equivalent of an uncle who greets his nephew, who is fresh out of rehab, with a celebratory crock of rum and a dime bag of heroin.
Is there a way to stop this?
Not really.
That's because Hollywood doesn't see that it has a problem, because the "international audiences" seem to love what they're doing, and it gives them the illusory appearance of not only success, but of being cosmopolitan and shrewd.
It's just that, an appearance, and it's a lie, but appearances are all that matters.
So if you're a member of the international moviegoing audience, and you're wondering why Hollywood keeps putting out so many bad movies, take a look in the mirror.
You're a part of the problem, please become more discerning, and then you'll be part of the solution.

--Furious D.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1248: A Matter of Sex?

Director Colin Trevorrow is the latest target of the Twitter outrage mob, but it's not for stealing jokes, instead his sin appears to being successful while in possession of a penis.
Trevorrow's career is being touted as an overnight success story, ignoring the fact that he spent well over a decade struggling to get things made before he finally was deemed employable on a major gig with the offbeat and critically acclaimed sci-fi film Safety Not Guaranteed. That film got him the gig on Jurassic World, and Jurassic World went on to make over $1.6 Billion at the box office, and that led to him getting signed to direct an upcoming Star Wars movie for Disney.
Naturally when someone explodes into success like that there are critics who imply that Trevorrow's success isn't due to his hard work, that he had some sort of privileged "in" with the industry. In the old days that alleged "in" was a rumoured relationship with someone high up, be it familial or sexual, but these are modern times, and the critics now say it's all about gender, which one you have, and which one you would like to have sex with.
Overnight Trevorrow went from indie darling to twitter's favourite cisgendered boogeyman who only gets the big jobs because he has the correct genitalia.
When asked directly on twitter Trevorrow made a horrible mistake, he tried to defend himself:
Now some say that Trevorrow chose the wrong words, but let me explain something about crises like these:
Nothing he can say or do, short of announcing that he's quitting Hollywood to join a monastery in Tibet, and can somehow magically force all the jobs he's signed for, and will ever would be signed for will now go to women directors, whether they want to do those jobs or not.
If he explains how he got the job then he's "mansplaining," and is thus officially worse than Hitler, and if he says nothing, then he's acting disdainful towards women, and is officially worse than Hitler.
It's the ultimate Catch-22 of the Internet. Be damned for existing, be damned for defending yourself, or be damned for not defending yourself.
Now I'm not saying that Hollywood doesn't have a gender problem.
It does have a bad gender problem. 
When Sandra Bullock, who is a pretty reliable box-office player, capable of carrying a dead weight like George Clooney into blockbuster land, has a hard time finding a decent role, Hollywood has a gender problem.
The problem's roots are not a bunch of men sitting around a conference table saying "How many qualified women can we deny employment this month?" If it was, then it would just be a matter of getting around or rid of those guys.
Only the problem is more complex, and the solutions aren't coming because of these major problems:
Imagine that you're a studio mogul and you hear that not enough women are working in Hollywood your first thought will be: "Those other guys must be horribly sexist." That's because you can't conceive that you might contribute to the problem in any way. There are lots of women working in your office, you might be a woman yourself, you also hold fundraisers for the correct candidates and the correct causes, and you vote for the correct candidates. There's no way in your mind that you can see that you're causing this inequity, and you won't hear it from the critics because...
Now Colin Trevorrow did not hire himself to direct Jurassic World. He was hired by Stephen Spielberg's production company and Universal Pictures to direct the movie.
So why is Trevorrow the target of so much anger and blame?
Because Trevorrow is essentially powerless when it comes to people's careers. Amblin and Universal are not. If they're doing a Google search on a female director they're considering hiring and find her bad-tweeting them as sexist pigs, they're not going to hire that person.
However, if they see her picking on some other hired gun, then it won't matter to them, because unless they're mentioned by name, they can't imagine that they're involved in any way.
Trevorrow's defence mentioned cases of female directors turn down the big monster and superhero heavy blockbusters the studios are dependent on, and he might be right.
I don't know, and you don't know, because neither of us can read the minds and souls of other people, and fully understand why they take or turn down jobs.
It's the same problem with the whole women are paid 75¢ for every $1 a man is paid. People are led to believe that a female teller is paid less than a male bank teller with the same seniority because he gets a magic 25% penis bonus. 
That's not true.
The inequity in incomes comes from the simple fact that it encompasses all occupations. That means that the women who choose to take a lower paying retail or office jobs over the high paying, but dangerous male-dominant job of Alaskan oil rig roughneck because they don't want to give up a few fingers for cash, are skewing the results. 
Ironically, Hollywood who is a big proponent for the 75¢ myth is the one workplace where actresses actually are paid less and have a smaller choice of roles than actors of equal box-office appeal. 
So what can be done?
Well, many moons ago I worked out a formula to determine star power, and thus the appropriate salary, and it'll solve this problem, because it doesn't include genitalia in the calculations.
Here it is:
(A+B)-C= B.O.S.S.
B.O.S.S. stands for "Bums On Seats Status" or if you want to be more scientific sounding "Box-Office Sales Status" and is a fair and accurate assessment of what a movie star's real box-office appeal is.
So here is how you do it.
A: This is a percentage of how many profitable films the star has been the lead in for the past 5 years. 
Don't go by the studios profit/loss statements, they contain more fiction than a Barnes & Noble superstore. 
For the purpose of this formula you take the production costs of the film, double it, and add $30 million. This will give you a rough estimate of the total costs of the film, including prints, marketing, distribution as well as the theatre's piece of the action. If the box-office take is more than this amount, it's profitable, if it's less, it's a money loser.
B: Now this is the only part of the formula where market surveys are used. You do a poll of average moviegoers about the star in question and take the percentage of people who say that they would pay to see that star in a movie, and deduct 90% of that value. 
I call for the chopping of the 90% because the majority of people who answer the poll are just being polite, or so lonely they will talk to anyone and say anything to keep the talk going.
Trust me, I know how wildly inaccurate they can be having been involved with a clever sketch comedy pilot that was bastardized into a sitcom about mischievous angels based on a cream cheese commercial because of market research.
C: This is a percentage of movies that have been negatively affected by the star. Now this can be interpreted in several ways. The most concrete involve profitability lost due to the over-sized salary or unprofessional behaviour of the star in question. A star who drives up the budget isn't really worth it.
Now you add all that up together and you should get a score between 1 and 100, you then compare that score to this easy to read chart.
SCORE 0-10: This actor's next role should feature the line: "Do you want fries with that?"
SCORE 11-30: This actor might be okay cast as a wacky neighbour on a sitcom on the CW network.
SCORE 31-50: This star could be either on the way up, or on the way down. Stick to supporting roles in big-budget projects, leads in small budgets.
SCORE 51-70: You can call this person a "star" but unless you have a good script and a good director making a good film, it will still be a bit of a crap-shoot. They should get good money, but not so much that it cripples the budget, and points only if they are willing to take a cut in the up front money.
SCORE 71-90: The word 'bankable' might be used now. They have the charisma to sell a picture, and may even be forgiven the odd stinker or two, but you shouldn't push it too far. They should get good money, and a modest points deal.
SCORE 91-100+: These actors can sell out a theatre with dramatic readings of the Peoria Illinois phone book. They are worth every penny they can get, and a heap of points too because you're going to be swimming in money like Scrooge McDuck on a meth binge.
My solution is rational, logical, can be adapted to handle hiring behind the camera as well, and it leaves gender out.

Which means it will never be used.

Monday, 17 August 2015

On Comedy: Stop Thief!-- Joke Stealing Is No Laughing Matter!

Hardly a week goes by without Twitter exploding in righteous indignation about one offence or another. Be it a dead lion, or an insensitive quip, livelihoods and lives can be ruined by a wave of righteous torch-bearing mob-indignation. Normally I steer clear of such outrage, but this time I just had to comment.
It all started when someone on my timeline retweeted this:

Before this post, I had never heard of Josh Ostrovsky who tweets and instagrams under the nom-de-douche "The Fat Jew," but I felt compelled to investigate.
Because while jokes are inherently silly, joke theft is not. 
My research, thin as it was, revealed that Ostrovsky fancies himself a "performance artist" and the "curator or aggregator of the internet." Those titles require a little translation. "Performance Artist" really means unimaginative hack who seeks to get paid for acting like a pretentious hipster dickhead, and "Curator or Aggregator" is pretentious hipster douchebag-speak for "guy who steals other people's jokes and passes them off as his own." Not only has he been stealing jokes from hundreds, maybe thousands of people, he's been, according to professional Canuck shit-disturber Gavin McInnes, doing it for years.
Now if he just stuck to just tweeting stolen jokes, he'd be nothing more than a nuisance. However, Ostrovsky landed TV and radio gigs with E!, Comedy Central, Apple's Beats Radio, and representation with CAA, one of Hollywood's most elite agencies on the basis of his douchebag image, and his alleged wit on social media. 
Now he's making serious money off of the work and sweat of others, which makes his thievery more of a crime against comedy than a nuisance. He's literally taking money out of the pockets of real joke-makers.
Sadly, crimes against comedy aren't punishable under the law, but we can name, shame, not only the thief, but the media companies and agencies who are literally rewarding him for being a thief.
Joke theft is not a new phenomenon borne from the internet. It goes back to the stone age when Ag stole Ug's one about the hunter and the gatherer's daughter.
Ug responded by clocking Ag on the head with a rock.
And thus the concept of intellectual property was born.
A more civilized response was one done by Bob Hope against fellow vaudeville star Milton Berle back in the 1920s. Showbiz insiders considered Berle most famous for two things; he had the biggest schlong on the circuit, and he was terrible for stealing jokes.
Hope and a young writer, who both just made successful leap to Broadway, wanted to teach Berle a lesson. So Hope and the young writer made a careful and exact plan of attack, and waited for the right moment to strike.
That moment came on a fateful Monday night.

On Monday's the musicals traditionally go "dark" or don't perform, because they're doing an extra matinee on Sunday and the cast needs a break. Back in the 1920s they used to use the theatres on Mondays for charity variety shows called Benefits.
Benefit Night, as it was known then, was a big deal. All the top show-biz people and New York power players were in the audience, and it was the perfect spot for an aspiring vaudeville comic like Berle to get off the circuit and into a major Broadway show.
Now every theatre would be having a benefit show, and it was common practice for comics to perform in one theatre, run up the street, perform there, and so on, literally until the wee hours of the morning.
Hope and his partner arranged to perform right before Berle, which was literally the time Berle was closing his act in the last theatre and he was literally running to the next one. Berle would arrive just as Hope was leaving the stage and heading for the next theatre.
Berle would then go on stage, start his act and....cue the cricket sound.
You see, Hope would go out and do Berle's mostly stolen act, verbatim, which meant that it looked like Berle was just repeating Hope's act.
Berle learned his lesson and didn't steal another joke...for a while.
Now there isn't one kind of joke theft, and some is not really theft at all, and I'll attempt to explain most of this probably incomplete list.

  • COINCIDENTAL: Now this doesn't really count as joke theft, but is often mistaken for it. The world is big, there are literally billions of people and if it's something topical, then more than one person is going to make the same joke. I know, it happens to me all the time, probably because my sense of humour is so obvious and banal, and I'm probably even a victim of it as well. When that guy threw a shoe at President Bush I sold a joke to a comedian for $50 about how the Shoe Thrower was hired as MSNBC's new pundit. The comedian used it in a web video, and two days later it was in Jay Leno's opening monologue. I'm sure that was purely coincidental, he said while rearranging the pins in his Jay Leno voodoo doll.
  • SUBCONSCIOUS: Now this does count as joke theft, but it lacks one key ingredient that separates it from what I consider criminal joke theft: INTENT. It happens when you hear a joke, forget where you heard it, and then blurt it out fully convinced that you just came up with it out of the blue. Robin Williams used to be bad for this, but I don't recall anyone resenting him for it, because it was mostly because his memory and rapid fire style was better at remembering the joke itself rather than the source. 
  • AMBITIOUS, YET INSECURE: Now we're delving into the realm of deliberate joke theft. Theft, and intent are arm in arm in this one, but motive can be a contributing factor. You see intent means that you mean to deliberately commit a crime, but MOTIVE is your reasoning behind your intent. Many comedians, Berle being a classic example, can often let their ambition outrun not their talent, but their faith in their own talent. They want to reach the top, but aren't sure if all their material is "A Grade" so they poach material that they're sure works because they've seen it work with someone else. Often these kinds of joke thieves present a cocky and brash exterior to hide the mouldering bucket of anxiety worms that makes up their psyche.
  • MALICIOUS: These kinds of joke thieves are the lowest and worst kind. They know they are deliberately stealing material from people who burnt the calories needed to create original material, they just don't care. They also aren't acting out of insecurity, but entitlement. They assume that they are entitled to fame and success but don't want to actually work for it beyond making sales pitches to surprisingly gullible media insiders who all yearn to be one of the "cool kids." If getting that fame and success requires stealing, then that's just fine, because this joke thief's victims aren't viewed as cool enough to be worthy of consideration. When caught, they usually try to brush it off with lame excuses/double-talk, and/or jump straight into attacking their accusers.

That Josh "The Fat Jew" Ostrovsky committed joke theft is pretty much beyond doubt. What's being discussed here is what kind of joke theft did he commit, and that, ladies and gentlemen of the jury of public opinion, I leave to you to decide.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1247: Friday The 13th The Series?

Flush with success from DC superheroes, magicians, and a pregnant virgin, the CW Network now thinks it can work miracles by raising the dead. The stinking foetid corpse in question is the Friday The 13th franchise which they hope to adapt into a TV series about the people of Crystal Lake facing the return of a more "grounded" version of the unstoppable killer.

Now I've never been a fan of the franchise, it came to embody the worst of the 1980s slasher-horror boom, coming up with lamer and lamer excuses to ramp up the gore and keep Jason coming back no matter what happened to him. It got very silly and very boring, and it showed in the diminishing returns at the box office.

Even a big budget remake failed to revive interest in a franchise that was deader than a Voorheez victim.

The funny thing is that the franchise had already branched into TV back in the 1980s.

Sort of.

Back in 1987 the producers of the Friday the 13th movies were branching into television with a Canadian-USA syndicated late night horror series that was originally going to be called The 13th Hour.

They decided that title was too obscure and went with the more famous "brand" even though the show had nothing to do with Jason Voorhees.

The premise of the show was pretty straightforward. An antiques dealer named Louis Vendredi made a pact with the devil for wealth and immortality. To cash in the stock in his store had been cursed to lead those who buy them into madness and murder by bombarding them powerful temptations.

But in the pilot Louis had an attack of guilt and broke the pact, and ended up dead and in hell.

Two distant relatives then inherited the store, which they then cleaned out in a huge sale. Shortly afterward, with the help of their uncle's ex-partner, they discover the curses and spend the rest of the series trying to get the stuff back and locked up safely in a supernaturally fortified vault.

Now I was just a kid when I saw it, and it ended 25 years ago, but I remember that it was one of the scariest things I had ever seen made for TV, and that includes Dark Night of the Scarecrow.

As far as I can remember, it sure was scarier than anything the Friday the 13th movies dished out.

Which is why I'm not holding out much hope for the CW's idea.

They should stick to DC superheroes.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1246: Can Relativity Media Be Saved?

As a regular reader of this blog will know indie production company and distributor Relativity Media has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection because it has about $500 million in assets and about $1 billion in debt.

Can it be saved?

The answer is "Yes" but with caveats. It would have to meet certain conditions if it is going to have a second chance. 

1. Dump Ryan Kavanaugh. Sure, the Hollywood business press seems to love him, and he seemed to be really good at getting investors to pony up the dough for a while, but he still managed to rack up a hell of a lot of losses and debts in a whole variety of hare-brained schemes that were heavy on sales jargon but low on results. I know he's a major shareholder, but if former newspaper mogul Conrad Black can be forced out of two companies, one where he was the sole proprietor, on the basis of crimes that the appeals court ruled hadn't actually happened. If that's possible then you can get rid of Kavanaugh for driving the company into the ground.

2. Trim Fat/Find Money. One big problem the company has is that there isn't enough money coming in to service the debt and keep the company running. Naturally a selling off of assets will have to come. The sports agency, the "branded content" agency, and all the other schemes will have to be either sold off, or shuttered completely. Then there's the company's distribution capability. They may have to open themselves to even more distribution only deals with other independent producers than they already have.

3. Stick To The Core Business. Relativity was originally founded to produce, and eventually distribute, movies and television shows. 

Maybe it needs to do that and only that.

It should also avoid trying to compete with the studios for the massive blockbusters. The new Relativity should target the middle ground, smaller scale pics that the big studios don't seem to make anymore even though, back in the day, they were seen as the profitable backbone of the industry. They should also be budgeted tightly to decrease risk, and increase the potential for reward.

They should just follow this simple formula:


No more wacky schemes to produce only hits, no more "lifestyle brands" and no more BS, just stick with making stories people would enjoy seeing more than once.

Then Relativity might have a shot to live again.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1245: Don't Let Your Dungeon Be Draggin'!

Warner Brothers has announced that they're going forward with a Dungeons and Dragons movie based on the long popular flagship role playing game. This comes after a long legal battle between Warner Brothers, Hasbro, and Universal pictures that I described as akin to two junkyard dogs fighting over a broken fan belt. A lot of noise, dust, and blood over something the winner wouldn't know what to do with when they got it.
That's because Dungeons and Dragons isn't really the story/characters combo that makes a successful film franchise, it's merely a set of tools to enable players to make up their own characters and stories. No adventure on the screen will ever match the millions of adventures that have played out in player's heads of the last four+ decades.
We know that's a fact since there's already been one unsuccessful big budget feature film, and two direct to video sequels that were forgotten even before they were dumped in the Wal-Mart $5 movie bin.
Now while it's likely that Warner Brothers will repeat history, I'm going to offer them a way out. A way to use the D&D game to make a movie that won't suck the balls of a beholder.
The chief reason the last attempts at a D&D movie franchise failed was because they tried to be straight up fantasy adventures using elements from D&D which D&D cribbed from fantasy literature and mythology, so it came across as a bland mishmash rather than a vivid original world like Middle Earth.
So here's what you do, incorporate the game into the movie, and here's how:
It begins with a group of Dungeons and Dragons players who meet every week and have done so for years. They are:
JACK HARDCASTLE: Been a player since college, and his day job is as a police detective. He used to be the department's top ass-kicker, but for the last two years a knee injury has trapped him in a desk job. His D&D character is Hardrock, a dwarf barbarian-fighter.
CYNTHIA MACKY: She's a therapist and marriage counsellor, and the stress of her job, dealing with other people's misery, has left her with a raft of anxiety issues. Her D&D character is Illyria, an elven magic user.
BUCK WELLER: Used to be the proverbial 98 pound weakling, but got super-buff in college. Now he runs a chain of fitness clubs and shills the "BUCK THE SYSTEM FITNESS SYSTEM" on the shopping channel. Since his transformation he's become a bit of an egomaniac and a womanizer. His D&D character is Silverblade, a human paladin.
DENNIS CRANE: Is a chemist for a pharmaceutical company. He dropped out of the group a long time ago when he married his college sweetheart and had a family. He's rejoined the group recently after his divorce, but doesn't feel like he fits in anymore. His D&D character is Greymalkin, an elven rogue.
LINDA BAILEY: Civil lawyer, and is on the fast track to partner in her firm. She's career driven and treats the weekly game as a substitute for vacationing and socializing. Her D&D character is Redleaf, an elven ranger.
Every Wednesday night they meet in the back room of a comic/game store owned by their Dungeon Master SPENCE. 
To add some atmosphere to the game room, Spence has kept a strange looking orb he found in a junk shop in the middle of the table. One night while Spence is in the bathroom the orb starts to glow, then it unleashes a blinding flash and...
Our players are in a strange magical fantasy realm. An aging sorcerer has been listening in on their games, through the orb, and thinks they're just recounting real adventures. He's brought them to his world to save it from a rival who wants to do the usual conquering and enslaving. He's even given them gear just like the ones in their games, but there are some problems.
JACK is not really a dwarf barbarian, so his armour doesn't fit.
CYNTHIA can now cast spells, but her aim is not exactly...exact.
BUCK is given the unbeatable Speaking Sword, but it will become literally harmless if he breaks a vow of celibacy, which Buck will find impossible to keep in a world with real life elf babes. Whenever he violates the vow he has to recharge the sword by doing a humiliating penance ritual, goaded by the increasingly sarcastic sword.
DENNIS is supposed to be a master thief, but he is not built for stealth, and pretending to steal in a game turns out to be a lot easier than stealing in real life.
LINDA is supposed to be an expert in living in the wilderness, but her idea of "roughing it" is settling for a hotel with only a four star rating, and she's scared of not only monsters, but animals in general.
Naturally what follows is a mix of comedy and adventure in a world full of monsters, magic, and mayhem, where the locals play a game called Spreadsheets & Supervisors about office workers. The lead characters have to learn to work as a team, beat the bad guys, save the world and return to Earth before Spence gets out of the can.

So call me Warner Brothers if you don't want another serving of turkey.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1244: Random Drips From The Brain Pan.


"I'm just a comedian, except when I'm not."
Jon Stewart, the outgoing host of The Daily Show, has been getting criticized, mostly in conservative media for meeting with President Obama in the run-up to and during the 2012 election. Stewart's been trying to deflect the criticism with his usual defence of "I'm just a comedian" that he brings out in between telling people that he's the most trusted source of news for the millennial generation for which he's paid $30 million a year, more than Leno & Letterman despite averaging 1/3 of their ratings.

All I really have to say is to offer a little thought experiment: How would Jon Stewart react if a rival satirist had secret meetings with a Republican president and his material was seen as having a pro-Republican slant?

He would shit kittens and go after that rival with both hands as a craven political toady.

You know he would.


AMC is doing a spin-off from their mega-hit The Walking Dead, called Fear The Walking Dead, and are hoping to have some sort of crossover with the flagship in some future season.

Here's what I would like the spin-off show to do.

At the end of the first season, they find a solution to the zombie problem, and clean it up to the point where life quickly goes back to normal. However, they run out of money to clean up the zombies in a narrow corridor between Atlanta and Alexandria. For the rest of the show's run it's just a family-based kitchen-sink drama with only occasional scenes of characters wondering if any living people are still in the zombie zone and then going, "Nyah, we run the evacuation instructions during every PBS pledge break, they're bound to have seen it."

That also opens the door for The Walking Dead finale to feature the last surviving character finally stumbling out of the quarantined zombie zone and going "Aw shit."


Some producers are planning to make a Pez Movie. Yep a movie about those little candy dispenser that look like candy's being ripped out of a cartoon character's throat.

Time to put a big "CLOSED: OUT OF IDEAS" sign out on Hollywood.