The Hot Blog Archive for March, 2010

BYO Back In LA

Uploading and downloading to commence shortly… though I’m not sure that anything much of any real significance has happened in my absence…


BYO Baltimore

It ain’t Bermuda… but it’s home (of origin).


Ebertfest Line-Up

The College of Media at Illinois Presents



There have been some terrific movies on display here at the 12th Bermuda International Film Festival. But there are two at which Americans should take a serious look.
One is for filmmakers… Last Days of Emma Blank. It’s a little bit Dogma and a little bit Swedish meatball. But it feels a lot like what could be the next step for the mumblecore movement. More structured… more stylized… better shot… and still cheap as hell to make.
The second is for IFC and Magnolia, really… Reel Injun, a doc about natives in the movies… image and reality. Quite a special piece, along the lines of Not Quite Hollywood. It’s not a financial world beater and even though the film has been cleared by Canadians, I would be a little nervous being sure that it would clear in a domestic release… lots of film footage. But really good stuff. Like Chris Rock’s Good Hair, it manages to get into some tough ethnic turf without being either patronizing, onanistic, or bone dry.

On The Finke for Sale Stuff

My first thought is sleepy.
My second thought is, put Nikki in charge of The Hollywood Reporter… two birds killed with one stone.
Third thought… Jay Penske’s best play right now would be to buy The Hollywood Reporter, not put Nikki in charge of anything but what she does, and to leverage the print aspect of the dying paper, because without it, he is never going to make a dollar of profit on the Finke/Fuller/Fool’s Gold empire.
Ironically, print is the only thing that web sites do not do and cannot do as well or better than print. 15 Finke/Fleming blog-like (meaning none of these features where Nikki attempts to come up with a full thought) stories a week that are print exclusive to The Penske Reporter would make it a must-read again. Must-read means that the magazine is opened and sits in offices. That remains they can sell covers again.
Fourth thought… is there a single reason to think of any of this for more than a second other than the disposition of the existing trades? Is Sharon Waxman really so completely lacking in knowledge about her own business that she doesn’t get that the most significant source of Finke’s numbers is the Drudge Report, which delivers hundreds of thousands of views every single week? And why don’t people who are in a position to know realize that the best numbers ever reported are still not being translated into real money?
ADD, 4:10a MCDTThe denial of having made Crazy Nikki and offer from Richard Beckman, I have to say, reeks of a non-denial denial. The precision of the language – “there is no truth to the report that the site’s editor has been offered the job of editor-in-chief” – suggests that though Nikki may not have been offered the E-I-C job, she may well have been offered something else altogether… something even more lucrative. I don’t know a person on the face of the earth – aside from CN herself – who thinks Nikki can manage another human being without turning it into a CSI episode within weeks. Really, I don’t even think that Nikki thinks she is a manager.
Of course, this all gets batted around, with Waxman trying to prove she was right, Nikki pulling the kind of public stunt – making public claims about an offer – that shows why anyone choosing to be in business with her is as insane as she is, and The Hollywood Reporter trying not to look like it’s a joke.
Again, the key idea here that is lost is that Nikki is a single and singular voice… not a website beyond her own voice… and not a business model. If Sharon wants what Nikki has, she should shut down the site, lose the overhead, and start raking more muck. But she is not up to being Nikki – and anyone who is should be hospitalized – and so, she wants to be Variety As told By Arianna… but that is a delusion as the Variety she wanted to be no longer exists and Sharon’s husband is lovely, but not gay, not a billionaire, and not a means to a self-serving end.
Nikki is a grinder. Sharon is a dilettante.
After all these years, I have a lot more respect for the grinder. She is out of her f-ing mind and a truly hateful, pathetic individual… but as Ms. Summer sang, she works hard for the money… harder than anyone else. And no matter how vile the result, there is something honorable in being the object she has become after a career of self-imposed failure.
Right now, Nikki is the glow in the suitcase in Pulp Fiction. It makes people crazy because they think it can, somehow, fix their problems. It can’t.
Or maybe the better analogy is the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders… open it up and it melts your face… and we are all better served by it being lost in a warehouse.
Anyway… one last thought… whenever Nikki claims to be traveling or sick, it’s almost always something else going on in her land of high drama. Sometimes it is her trying to kill a story about her. Sometimes it is a business dance. But “travel in Europe” is likely code for “I’m going to the bunker.”
I will be happy when all of this goes away… and it will. But even though I am as bored with it as most of you, it is a part of the industry. So I feel compelled to keep writing on and around it.


On The Oscar Date…

Am I misreading or are people forgetting that the ONLY reason that Oscar was pushed 2 weeks this year was because of the Winter Olympics? Moving back to its mid-Feb date is not a surprise in any way.
And did people not get that the $2.5b+ grossing movie drove the ratings up this year and that it had nothing to do with the March berth?
The smart move – and former producers of the telecast have said this would make their job nearly impossible – would be to go even earlier… the weekend before or after the Super Bowl. But like I said… won’t happen.


It's not what you WON'T run, Tim… it's what you WILL run.

I am always pleased to see Patrick Goldstein embracing blogging and the web… it’s take him long enough to stop treating the web like… well, like he now is smacking Variety for treating it.
I will give it to Patrick, 100%… he made the call to Tim Gray and got Tim to make transparent what Variety has been trying to do without acknowledgment for years now… and without being quite a cut and dried ( or is that “cut and pasted”?) about it, the LA Times has also been doing for years as well. LAT, especially in its blog space, and NY, especially via Dave Itzkoff and, earlier, David Carr, have gotten a lot better. So I am happy to let bygones be bygones on this front.
Patrick writes – Gray insists that it’s not a knee-jerk reaction “to someone getting some news two minutes before we do and us throwing a hissy fit. It’s [being done] in instances where it was obvious that the story had been fed to an outlet before everyone got it.” Gray added that he’s also talked to reps at talent agencies, a prime source for most announcement-oriented leaks.
Well… with respect to Tim, two minutes is about the length of an “exclusive” these days. And 95% of movie industry news starts – and often ends – with the “news” being “fed to an outlet.” Same as it’s been for decades… only those outlets are no longer just The Trades, the LAT, the NY Times, or Geek Site A, B or C.
Speaking to the exec that Patrick spoke to – yes, Virginia… he reported AND blogged at the same time!!! – “It’s a terribly analog way of thinking in a digital world,” said one studio PR chief. “It’s just a totally unrealistic response, since if we’ve learned anything about the flow of information these days, it’s that it gets out in all sorts of uncontrollable ways. The minute we have a meeting or make a decision, it’s up on someone’s blog. We’re not the announcer anymore. We’re the responder to what someone’s already written. All we can do most of the time is damage control.”
This is the truth. And this is a lie.
And that is a much bigger news story than the dying embers of Variety appealing to publicists to throw them a bone so the egos that need to be stroked will have something to frame that isn’t printed out from a computer.
It is true that information is being disseminated by sources that are not the studio publicity offices. For one thing, Nikki Finke won’t deign to speak to lowly senior publicists, except if she needs someone to yell at maliciously and vulgarly on a weekend morning and is afraid of burning the bridge with the boss. But more significantly, information is being squeezed out of both ends and through holes in the middle of the studio toothpaste tube. By the time the top publicist at a studio is ready to send something out – often still selecting one outlet to get “the scoop” – it’s already been leaked by their bosses or their assistants. And truly irritating to them… they almost never know which one it is.
I have learned, after a lot of loud conversations, to be sympathetic to these men and women, who are not being allowed to do their job. I have also learned to be endlessly skeptical about how each situation occurs because now there is always plausible deniability. And sometimes, it’s true. And sometimes, it’s a publicist doing what they need to do… lying.
The benefit of “breaking news” in the trades has long been that it breaks, mostly, the way the studios/publicists/agents/managers/etc want it to break. But with the print editions of the trades going to less than 30,000 people a day during the non-Oscar seasons, more eyeballs online than off, with information flying at the speed of Twitter, and a bunch of websites every bit as willing to lie down for spin as The Trades ever were – even better, some being so weak in industry knowledge that they don’t even know they are being abused – there is no reason to stick to one outlet to dump your “news.”
Of course, it’s not just Nikki. You see stuff planted all over the place, virtually every day, including the NY and LA Times. Nikki is pretty much full-time servicing her Nikki Whisperers. Endeavor (nee’) should be paying her by the hour because they work her ass and work it hard.
With Nikki, we know that 90% of the time, it’s coming from the boss, their corporate, or someone in the Ari Emanuel army. With Patrick, it’s “friendlies.” With The Wrap, it’s a mix of a more traditional trade reporter – Joe Adalian – who actually does the TV work he’s done with added speed and internet style and a parade of others who are either not breaking much or hearing it third hand. At indieWIRE, it’s almost always the publicists who chose to go there first. And the LAT it’s long relationships and stuff on the over, cooking on simmer, all the time. And NYT is rarely the news breaker, unless it’s actual news or some publicist actually got to hang onto the “scoop” long enough to get it to The Paper of Record and who has news that actually can stand up to a few real questions. (Unfortunately, the longer form coverage is almost always riddled with mistakes of fact and opinion.)
Every studio has a varying degree of willingness to feed the maw. Some bosses truly fear Nikki and/or feel they control her enough that they will put their teams in harms way to maintain that control. Some less so. They all know that if they give the “news” to someone else, they will pay a price with Nikki… more so in angry abusive exchanges than in any form of power she wields. Her actual power remains the power of a playground bully. One slap back and she folds like a deck of cards. But this is an industry of fear and self-loathing.
Agents, who have always been the primary source for leaked news in “Hollywood,” should probably just open a blog or two of their own. But why bother? Everyone thinks of Nikki as a ball-busting bitch… so her willingness to carry their water is worth so much more.
Variety can fight back in one way and one way only. And that one way would likely win them this battle. Find someone who is willing to be as pliable and vicious as Nikki. I mean, I hope they won’t. But that is the game. Roger Friedman is a bottom dweller, but he doesn’t have the stomach to be what Nikki is. Either does Wells. Truth is, I don’t know anyone ambitious and desperate enough. But there has to be some 28 year old out there who is. Do what LA Weekly did… find someone who can’t keep a job because they are abusive and unreliable. (And no, Anita Busch is not even close to Nikki in this regard.)
Maybe Tim Gray should start calling people names on the front page. Maybe run a daily rundown of which execs are screwing which stars, agents, or other execs. It wouldn’t be journalism, but it would get their attention.
All that said… what really fascinates me about all of this is… these people are all fighting over the same tract of dying acreage. Are more of us being drawn into it because it’s become such a competitive area… even though there are a fixed number of interested readers and the primary outlets for this news are slowly going out of business?
It strikes me that a lot of energy is going into a ground war in Southeast Asia. It’s not even Iraq, where at least there is some oil to consider stealing.
But getting back to the original story… this is hardly news… however much quantifying it may be. If another outlet is handed a story or an EXCLUSIVE piece of any kind of content – I consider most movie news to be about as weighty as a new poster or trailer – we’re not likely to link to it unless the elements are high profile or in some other way Important. The standard is higher. And God knows, we feel that going the other way. The amount of MCN Exclusive content that is mined, but never linked by “competitors” is endless. And that is just the way it is. For a long time, if something broke in somewhere other than Variety, it would not run in Variety or it would run days later on an inside page.
Variety is dying. And if it wants to change the playing field, it needs to rethink the whole thing in a real way. Variety suffers from what much Old Media suffers from… the combination of arrogance that domination built and is no longer valid and the comfortable relationship it has with the industry that keeps it from playing as hard as others.
But before it decides what to do, it needs to get over the embarrassment and take a hard look at the competition. Unless Variety wants to become a single page blog or produce a lot less content, there is no online-only film industry news model that comes close to covering their rent, much less the cost of operations. Be careful what you wish for.


The Ugliest Part Of The Sandra Bullock Thing…

… is Us.
Not US. Us. The collective Us that wants to read more about the piece of shit human being who leveraged her stardom and Oscar success for maximum sales value to damage Ms Bullock as loudly as possible. The collective Us that gets of on all the different ways a story like this allows Us to judge Them. The collective Media Us that should cry Ourselves to sleep each night, disgusted by what We see in the mirror.
I like to gossip as much as the next person. It’s a natural instinct. But even gossip has been lessened in the current era. Everything is disposable.
I get surprised, emotionally, every time these things blow up. And I get sick to my stomach. And like so many things that are, simply, wrong in this world, I am powerless to do much about it… except not to contribute to it more. Venality is just too powerful… and has been from the day the snake talked Even into biting that apple.


When Brad Bird Finally Goes Live…

He deserves his own place at the table.
Bird already has passed on offers, like the His Dark Materials franchise at New Line. Too many cooks. And if he took an offer to do Mission:Impossible IV, he would be under Tom Cruise’s thumb in a way that few really enjoy.
Marvel/Disney should be offering him any character he wants… DC/WB the same.
As for M:I4, they should just hire Pierre Morel and get on with it. It’s not brain surgery. They aren’t going to let the director influence the script too much anyway… which is why Kevin MacDonald is probably not a good idea, even though he would be good for the franchise.


Two Pirates Walks Into Twitter…

It’s always awkward to discuss these things without feeling like you’re encouraging something illegal, but this afternoon, someone sent along a link to the new Twitter feed for a movie piracy web site, now being “followed” by 653 and “following” 1202. The tweets are just links to downloads of movies, from Avatar to Shutter Island and on down.
The website, which is linked, instructs viewers on how to do the illegal download with a little video that runs on Vimeo.
In all cases, the words “download” and “movies” are happily displayed, yet none of this has been intercepted.
Ah, the joys of free social networking for the purpose of theft…


Just Wondering… Weinstein Hype Edition #762

Who thinks that The Weinsteins acquiring a film that DIDN’T SELL at Sundance with what seem to be a similar release and P&A commitment as a SPWAG buy-n-dump-what-we-want-is-the-DVD buy is a positive step towards some sort of future?
If so, I can get you in on the ground floor of a Weinstein package to buy the Brooklyn Bridge and rename if the MaxIam Bridge.
I believe The Weinsteins can rebuild, with some luck. But there is still nothing on the table that suggests they have moved closer to that goal anytime in the last six months. And buying Miramax, which they could make happen, is probably a negative, not a positive… at least, in the next 5 years.


Two Veterans Go… Culp & At The Movies

Robert Culp was more of a TV guy than a movie guy. He did have the lead of one true classic, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, which would qualify him for the Oscar “In Memoriam” more than some of those fought over this year.
I loved the guy on camera. He was weird and cool and awkward and slick. He would have played David Carr in Carpetbagger: The Motion Picture and Carr would have felt great about the pick.
He’s worked, but it’s been about two decades since we were used to seeing his TV work on a regular basis. I missed him then. I will miss him now.
Also passing is At The Movies, the final incarnation of what was Siskel & Ebert. There was little chance that the quality teaming of AO Scott and Michael Phillips was going to turn the situation around enough to last longer than Disney’s existing syndication contracts. The show was watchable again, but it was not exciting.
No doubt, Roger Ebert will be pleased to have Phillips back on board his long-gestating TV project, likely joining Roeper and maybe Christy Lemire. Sadly, that show isn’t going anywhere either. It’s an honorable expenditure of energy, but 99% likely to be wasted.
The show died with Gene Siskel. Ebert remained a beloved and respected presence, but the decision to go with a lightweight – and in criticism, he has never been anything but a flyweight, at best – to balance the living legend was a fatal error. And when Roger got sick… that was the end of the end.
It is, in my opinion, an unfairness visited upon that show, to claim that it destroyed criticism. The fact is, a lot more people paid attention to criticism because of Roger & Gene’s personalities and TV style than ever actually read Sarris and Kael combined. Moreover, Roger used the TV opportunity to do great things with his work in print criticism and as a hard-charging advocate for films and filmmakers. He has used that bully pulpit as well as any critic with anything close to his profile ever has.
I don’t hate Roeper. I wish him well doing whatever he’s going to do. But he’s not a film guy. He’s a pop culture guy. And for me, the show died when he was chosen for the job. So I am not really up to mourning the loss again.
Really, I am mostly happy for Roger. He will have some small sadness over the loss, but mostly, he will have a ghost of his past removed and continue to move forward without anyway weight hanging on him. Huzzah. At The Movies is dead… long live Roger.


Bermuda in One-Sheets

As regulars know, I have been in a lot fewer theaters this last number of babied months than normal… so when attending screenings here at the Liberty Theater in Bermuda, these two posters caught my eye because they gave me deja vu. Maybe it’s been said before, but here you go…
Note that he’s touching his hat in the Alice poster…
And of course, the more often seen Alice image of Depp…
And then, this DreamWorks Animation poster seemed to be mining my subconscious…
And it was… D.Gon. Phone Home…
At least the kid wasn’t pointing with one lit finger.


BYOB – Tues32310


A Window On The WB/Blockbuster Deal

I was interested to see that some were confused/irritated by WB’s choice to do a deal with Blockbuster inside of the 28-day window they have now imposed on NetFlix and Redbox.
Of course, it has nothing to do with the studio’s long relationship with Blockbuster. And it has nothing to do with dealing like it’s 1999.
What is left out of the press release is the obvious… WB has gotten Blockbuster to do what NetFlix and Redbox would not do… pay a rate per rental and not just negotiate a deal to buy product for whatever price.
It’s not the innovation of NetFlix or Redbox they are fighting… it’s Price Point.
Essentially, WB is continuing the work of creating windows for Home Entertainment… however under attack windows for theatrical release may be.
What WB is signaling – and other studios will follow – is that after 28 days in post-theatrical, everything is the long tail… negligible revenues (aside from the wholesale DVD sales needed to fill the pipeline). But the heat of demand is over. That is the point at which they are fine with everyone buying discs at wholesale prices and distributing them as widely as they like with no additional revenue for the studio.
Until titles hit that that 28 day window, buy it or pay the studio a per-rental price.
Presumably, the long view of this is a second tier of by-the-month rental or VOD that costs a few dollars more in order to have the benefit of immediate access to new post-theatrical materials, passing the cost of paying the studios on to the consumer.
The next turn is getting Redbox to do $2.50 rentals in the first 28 days of release and $1 after, the extra $1.50 per rental (or at least $1) going to the studios.
As usual, the media is so busy thinking about technology and The Future that the basic economic component is simply ignored.
In this case, Blockbuster is a business under enough pressure to eat some profits in order to have a competitive advantage against their biggest competitors.
This deal will probably be on the table for any major dvd distributor that wants it… just as the Redbox deal has been repeated with NetFlix. But it is also possible that the studios see an advantage – and they would be right to see it this way – in narrowing the number of companies offering premium/early access to their product. In my opinion, we continue to move towards a post-theatrical world in which you pay flat rates to each studio for various levels of access. So as soon as technology allows VOD to be the standard, studios will flip to it as quickly as possible… without any of the retailers… or with much more studio-positive deals than we have seen in the past. It really depends how much more hard-DVD retails slips in the next years.
But I digress a bit…
With Wal-Mart, expect it to go something like this: Studios prime the retail pump by offering lower prices for new DVD titles. Even though Wal-Mart is wanting to get rid of the retail space for these DVDs, this keeps new titles in the stores. This is followed by a set discount 28 days after DVD release… say, from $15 to $9.99… Only At Wal-Mart. On the first day of release, like Blockbuster, Wal-Mart starts streaming the films on Vudu… or whatever it will be called… Wal-Du. But there will be some kind of per-stream amount coming back to the studios, not as much as Blockbuster will pay because f Wal-Mart’s increased value as a retailer.
Meanwhile, I wouldn’t expect the studios to allow either Redbox – which will have to go there – or NetFlix to stream these titles until an even later window… maybe 90 days… maybe 9 months, not wanting to interfere with the pay cable windows.
I’m not sure that adding more windows to Home Entertainment is really going to work. But as long as the studios don’t get too greedy, they can control the marketplace’s evolution. Essentially, we are going back to a hybrid of the old VHS days, pushing away from the idea of it being a sell-thru market, but still hoping there will be significant sell-thru and supporting that notion (and the businesses that support it) in any way possible.
People forget that VOD is price-positive for the studios… relatively insignificant delivery costs and the very real likelihood of all but eliminating the retailing middle men who have been taking their cut since VHS started rolling out. The problem with VOD is pricing… especially when balanced against flat rate monthly rental businesses and $1 rentals.
VOD is not the challenge. The challenge is finding price levels that will inspire spending and will not inspire piracy, which is beyond being stoppable for those who are motivated to engage in it.
So this is just a windows play. And sadly, it makes some sense for post-theatrical. What’s scary is the notion that the next step – already happening – is that this kind of windowing will push closer and closer to the theatrical window with the notion that, as with the 28 day DVD window, demand for a 56 day theatrical window is some firm a market that the DVD window encroachment will not matter. But that is – and has been – a different entry…


The Hot Blog

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon