The Hot Blog Archive for June, 2010

BYOB – Grown Ups Friday


WB Trying To Take Control Of The Hobbit Story?

This is one of those funny stories.
Peter Jackson may end up directing The Hobbit(s). PJ may have always – except when Guillermo was on board – have directed The Hobbit(s).
And Peter may never direct The Hobbit(s).
The story this morning… not from Peter’s camp. Not from MGM. Who is left? Warners.
The misleading piece, floated by Deadline, puts the cart before, after, and under the horse. MGM needs to get a deal done so this can all move forward. MGM seems to be getting closer to a deal… any deal. And so, Warners seems to be getting ahead of the story so that when things do move forward, it will be their strategy that brought it all together.
The truth is and has been that whatever Peter Jackson wants is what will happen. He could hire a circus monkey to direct the movie and WB would ask, “Who’s his agent?” And understandably. Peter, Fran, and Phillipa have written the script and Peter & Fran will produce the film. All a given. Does he want another 5% for directing? “Yes, Mr. Jackson… thank you, Mr. Jackson.”
With Peter producing and/or directing, this is a multi-billion dollar project. Without Peter (and Fran and Phillipa), it is a question mark. Not a complicated equation.
All that stuff about hiring another director makes it sound like someone other than Peter and Fran would be making the call. Same with 3D. Etc. Of course, they hear from Warners and Warners has already thrown millions down this well. Jackson and Walsh are very respectful of that. But no one at Warners is driving this train.
And really, it may be a serious strategic mistake to be pretending in the media that it is otherwise. Expect the next story to break where PJ wants it to break… probably There is, after all, a reason why they all live and work in New Zealand. It’s not to get caught up in all this mess.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that Jackson will end up directing… if he and Fran Walsh decide (or have decided) that is what they want to do. And they might. They would like to get the film shooting before this year is over, don’t want the bloom to fall off the rose, and don’t want a giant hole and a later looong project messing up the WETA schedule. These may be the biggest factors of all.
The more interesting issue, to me, is whether Spyglass or Summit or Lionsgate can commit the $200 million for The Hobbit(s) in the next couple of weeks. Whoever ends up running the leaky ship of MGM, the #1 priority of the people who have lost billions on the company is getting The Hobbit(s) on its merry way.
And the best way to do that is to let Peter do what Peter wants.

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Trying To Find The Journalism Forest Among The Exhibitionist Trees

Three journalism stories have landed in the last three days… one from the right, one from the left, and one from the kitchen. But I all see all three as part of an ongoing issue about the future of journalism.
First, there is David Brooks


Academy Invites

A couple few things struck me about today’s list of new member invitations… though I must admit, my urge to scour the list is limited.
The single ugliest failure to invite is to screenwriters Armando Iannucci, Oren Moverman, and Alessandro Camon. These three did the kind of work last year that every serious filmgoer – however much you liked or didn’t like the specific movies – is constantly shouting about wanting to see in cinemas. And with all due respect to Kurtzman & Orci, who are a part of the commercial cinema in a very real way, I’m not sure their time needed to come at the expense of much more creatively ambitious writers. If this were a judgment call between the District 9 writers and the Star Trek writers, I could see the argument. But at a time when drama and comedy for adults is under siege, shouldn’t The Academy be celebrating the writers who have taken the much, much harder road with such success?
On the music side, Buck Sanders got left out after teaming with Marco Beltrami for Hurt Locker. But wait… I don’t think Marco Beltrami is a member either, after two Oscar nominations in 3 years. I don’t see him in invites for 2008 or 2009. Yet, somehow, the never nominated Brian Tyler, composer for 5 crap movies in 2009, is invited. Hmmm…
Also left out is Ryan Bingham, who won for The Weary Kind… but he isn’t really meaning to make a life in movies. On the other hand, it was a shock to realize that T-Bone Burnett is just now being invited after years of amazing work in films.
In Documentary, both Rick Goldsmith (The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pe0ntagon Papers) and Tia Lessin (Trouble the Water) have filmmaking partners. Where are their invites?
0It’s a VERY veteran year in Public Relations… some surprises in there of people not already in.
Nicolas Chartier became this year’s Bob Yari. But while that was not a surprise, it would have been nice to see Greg Shapiro grab a slot for Hurt Locker, amongst others (like the Harold & Kumar franchise… never a big hit theatrically, but still heading to its three-quel.) And of course, I assume that Ms Bigelow is already a member.


Today's Press Releases

I don’t know if you’ve noticed , but we have now instituted a Press Release blog, which is also available on a Twitter feed @
This is one of the many changes in how we deliver content to you, which will show up in the weeks & months to come, all designed to make things clearer and cleaner.
In any case… new Press Releases include this year’s Academy membership invitations and Fandango’s latest ticket stuff.


Vuvzela Of The Rings


Blu-Ray Catch-Up, June 2010

The “Blu-ray 3D” of Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs landed today… but it won’t play in 3D without a 3D-enabled player and TV. No lookie loos at this technology. Open Season and Monster House are next on the docket.
Meanwhile, Sony added to their Ray Harryhausen Collection. There was a box set of Blu that included It Came From Beneath The Sea, Earth Vs The Flying Saucers, 20 Million Miles To Earth, and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. Two key films from his oeuvre have been missing from that box. One is owned by WB… the original Clash of the Titans… which Warners put out in Blu in March. And now, Jason & The Argonauts arrives from Sony with a two separate commentaries, by Peter Jackson and Harryhausen, storyboards, and a sitdown interview with Harryhausen conducted by John Landis.
IN the realm of Classics, Toy Story 1 and 2 on Blu-ray are remarkable. Digital is their native state and really, they couldn’t be more beautifut than they are on Blu, aside from on a big screen. Disney has loaded them up with goodies, from design work, “outtakes,” filmmaker interviews, and of course, a lot of clever Toy Story 3 promotion.
And we finally purchased The Wizard of Oz on Blu. It’s fascinating. It’s never been so fake for me… or so real. Maybe if I was relaly looking, I would previously have noticed the backdrops looking so much like backdrops or the boundaries of the stages or how much the yellow brick road looks like yellow-painted bricks. But my God, it’s glorious.
The level of craft in this film is greater than the modern measure.
But I guess you knew that…


Instructive Critic Story

Into the ever-running discussion about quote whoring and film critics being influenced by studios comes Josh Ozersky, an online food critic for who had a parade of celebrity chefs cater his wedding, later writing, “There are restaurants all around New York City that are objects of my special passion


Poll du Jour – How Long The Season?

Anne Thompson Argues The Old School Argument Of March Oscars

It’s okay to just not think that January Oscars are a good idea, but Anne Thompson’s piece on it chooses to embrace every weak, self-serving argument – from smart, well-intended people – to make the point.
Just start looking at the ramifications of moving the date that early and you can see why it


The Sad, Sad MGM Story

The ongoing saga of MGM now seems to be coming to its next indecisive fork in the road.
Whether it’s Spyglass or Summit, the plan seems the same… pretend MGM is in business until the value of the library rises again… or wait a while and take the massive hit at some strategic time.
Spyglass isn’t even going to bother distributing or, presumably, marketing their movies, as they don’t as a company now. So, essentially, they bring legitimacy to the table and MGM’s creditors help with a production fund and makes them a faux studio… that will distribute through Sony or Disney. The only real upside for Spyglass, aside from ego, is that they will own a piece of the MGM library as a result of bringing their pretty darn good track record to LeoLand.
Summit, on the other hand, needs to hide Twilight cash, and could use the infrastructure of MGM to do that, making the company too big to take over. They would market and distribute… and while unable to take distribution of The Hobbit(s) away from WB, they would likely try to be the company to go out with Bond. And given their success with the Twilight franchise, who could claim that it was a bad idea?
Either way, nothing real would be happening with MGM… except to keep the ball moving until, they hope, the market for the MGM library heads back uphill.
The difference between this and what Kirkorian/McGurk/Yemenidjian did is that there wasn’t such an obvious weight hanging over their heads. They maintained the “in business” illusion for a long time. Here, you can see the rabbit in the magician’s coat as they take the stage.
Regardless, it should work out well for whoever takes over. And I have very low expectations for the MGM creditors. Good luck, boys.
ADD, 6:51p – Not sure why this (
WHY NOW? Baffling Resurgence Of Rumor About MGM-Lionsgate Merger Talks)
is confusing Nikki Finke.
NONE of these deals being bandied about are actually MERGERS.
These are deals for production companies/studios to try to set up an ongoing production business at MGM that will allow the company to be sold for more next year or the year after, keeping the loss from being as painful. Of course, Lionsgate would love to be in that position. It’s a much, much, much better opportunity than buying a library for a couple of billion. And Icahn would be fine with it. There is no indication that any of the companies vying for position are putting up any cash, aside from production money for new product.
Really, if DreamWorks/Reliance wasn’t at Disney and this kind of deal was on the table a couple of years ago, they would easily be the #1 choice for MGM creditors. AND with Spielberg aboard, they would have the best shot of all of these companies of creating value that would lead to the strongest possible long term valuation of MGM.
But that isn’t on the table.
If Chris McGurk had more of a track record with Overture, you can be sure they would be in the game too. If Imagine wanted it and could get out of Universal to do it, they would be a top choice.

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Stupid Is As Stupid Does: Adults Aren't Going To The Movies Edition – Epsiode 9473

I have a hard time getting too angry at Steven Zeitchik for his idiotic trend piece on an LA Times blog today, entitled, “Is a multiplex full of family films the future of moviegoing?“.
Of course, “The reasons are in a sense less important than the consequences,” is as stupid a single sentence about the film business (or anything else) as I have read this year.
Still, he is just lamely doing what so much of the media does these days. He took a flawed notion that is in vogue this month – “children are the only ones going to the movies” – and he piled it on top of an accurate notion, that family films are the strongest, most consistent business in Hollywood (though he seems to be missing the fact that his has been true for many years), and came up with a moronic piece of trend spin worthy of the bottom of a sick parrot’s cage… only the Times can’t afford to print most of what it produces anymore. That’s okay, neither can I.
He is so busy navel gazing that he can’t look as far back as 2009… when the top five domestic hits were Avatar, Trannys 2, Harry Potter 5, Twilight 2, and Up. So, aside from the highest grossing movie of all time, is there anything that is remotely “a movie for adults” on that list?
The fact remains… as it has for a loooooong time… that people under 25 drive the movie business. They are the ones who get sucked into the idea of must-see and must-see now. Adults simply don’t, even less so with the DVD window practically close enough to be a few weeks away before a 50something gets serious about wanting to see a new release.
And within the under-25 segment, there are two segments (maybe 2.5); the pre-teens and the post-teens (the .5 would be college kids… but let’s stick to the 2 for this piece). The post-teens are your Friday night and Saturday date night. The pre-teens are your Saturdays. The post-teens want to get out of the house. The pre-teens’ parents want to get them out of the house.
There are a lot fewer films made for the pre-teens than for the post-teens and adults. So there is a tendency for even the most mediocre of those releases to do business… parents need somewhere to take those kids. And keep in mind, the under-8s pay less for movies, so a lot of the “family films” are selling more tickets than films for older groups that have the same grosses.
Also… the kids are also more susceptible to NEEDING to see 3D or whatever new gimmick lands. It’s adorable to sit in a room full of 1-digit kids with tiny little 3D glasses on at Toy Story 3. And then you realize that every one of them is now paying more to have that experience than I would pay to go so an R-rated movie at the multiplex, sans glasses. Clever.
Kids films are a strong business. Think of major independent production companies and realize that Disney paid almost double for Pixar what it did for the still-overpriced Marvel. And there is a reason why Pixar limits itself to one film a year. Realize that DreamWorks spun DWAnimation off because it could stand on its own without the weight of the larger company on it… and that it is still the source of the only profit that Paul Allen made on his initial DreamWorks investment.
When I was asked by a table full of adult men what they might like at the movies right now, I had to say that Toy Story 3 was their best bet outside of an art house. They didn’t like that. And maybe that’s the kind of conversation that led to Zeitchik pulling this trend piece out of his rectum. But Robin Hood did over $100m domestic, which is solid, regardless of the P+L on the film. And Date Night, a true adult play, is near $100m domestic. And going back to last year, from The Blind Side to Sherlock Holmes to The Hangover to The Proposal to Taken and on, there is plenty of commercial fare for adults… and still, a load of stuff for the biggest audience… kids.
And by the way… if you think a $50 million gross for Hot Tub (F***ing) Time Machine OR the highest grossing Kevin Smith film ever and the highest domestic gross for a Bruce Willis starring non-Die Hard film in just under a decade OR Greek doing almost exactly what Sarah Marshall did, are “prominent disappointments,” you need to get back on the meds. This is the ultimate media delusion… I though they would do better, therefore when they do okay not breakout business, they are prominent disappointments… well… aren’t we all up our own asses?
Every movie dreams of being a massive worldwide profit machine. Only a few become that. If you start playing the “what I expected” game versus, “did it make a profit?” game, you will live in a world of hurt. I know, losing the Super Bowl may be more painful than not getting to the Super Bowl at all… but long view, that’s bullshit. When today is a memory, coming in 2nd will always be better than coming in 10th. Was Warners idea when they greenlit Cop Out with Kevin Smith directing to get his best gross? No. Is there any rational reason, besides hope, to think it would do better than any other Bruce Willis movie (exceptions noted), comedy or action or drama, has in the last decade? No.
And yet, I am not really angry at Mr. Zeitchik. He’s just doing what so many others – many of whom should know a lot better and have the experience that Zeitchik doesn’t have – are doing. Blog vomit… online or in print.


The Oscar Bump Fallacy In A January Oscar World

In the last entry about the remotely possible and pretty unlikely move of Oscar to January, which I support whole-heartedly and have for years now, a commenter made an observation that speaks to a lot of the fear of the move: “giving the otherwise soon-to-be-endangered species of quality non-presold/non-comic book/non-tentpole “serious” films designed for audiences over the age of 13 a chance to parlay the heat they get off nominations into actually garnering an audience that would otherwise ignore them or wait for DVD? Unfortunately, the two are mutually exclusive.”
Firstly, I respond that this is the kind of thinking that has us where we are… in some sort of MAD arms race for Oscar gold.
But more rationally, I offer this…
oscar bump a.png
This is the last five years of Oscar nominees. 30 movies. And you will note that only 5 films in these years have found more than half their gross (the last column is the percentage of pre-Oscar domestic gross vs the final domestic gross) after nominations. 4 of the 5 were December releases… only 2 of which were released in December for production timing issues and not pure strategy. (Slumdog premiered at Telluride in September, Christmas release There Will Be Blood started screening in September), and Frost/Nixon launched in London in mid-October.)
Also notable, every one of those five films waited for nominations to go wide, though one (Letters From Iwo Jima) never really did go wide (781 screens max). Last year, 3 of the 10 films never got to 800 screens and 3 of the wide release films didn’t do any kind of re-release for nominations at all. (Another argument for 10 nominees… it’s good that it takes all kinds.)
There are a few films on the borderline. I would say that Capote, Babel, An Education, and The Queen would all have lost a significant percentage of their total domestic gross because of a shortened season. But JunoBrokeback MountainAtonement… not so much. These were movies with HUGE hype in the fall and some clear box office heat before nominations and plans to wait for the nods to capitalize.
After that, you get into films that did at least 70% of their business pre-Oscar nominations and you can only say, “Well… you could take a marginal hit… but you have to look at your strategy to rely on Oscar to sell your movie.” And of course, a large group of these films weren’t waiting on Oscar at all. Some just released like they meant it, earlier in the year and some were just December releases whose box office success extended into late January and February.
I also think it is instructive that of the last five Oscar winners, only one grossed more than a third of its domestic gross after nominations. And that would be Slumdog, which waited for noms to go wide… yet still had $45m in the bank before nominations on 614 screens and fewer along the way to 614.
Crash, and The Hurt Locker were in consumer DVD before nominations and The Departed hit the streets before winning (Feb 13). No Country For Old Men waited 16 whole days to enjoy its Oscar Bump before it went into consumer DVD release.
So… yes… I am aware that moving Oscar to January would make some release strategies impotent, though the early December critics nominations would still be key to getting Academy members to watch the less pressing (in their minds) titles over the holidays.
I look at the last 30 nominees and I wonder, “Is there a single title here that was a surprise find that was made by its Oscar run… that wasn’t many millions into their campaigns long before nominations?” Nope.
The one real “Oscar winner,” where the season may have been a primary driver to find a mainstream audience, was Slumdog Millionaire, which grossed almost exactly as much before nomination, between nominations and the show, and after the show. It is a great word-of-mouth movie and Oscar, I think, made it safe for people who might have shied away from sub-titles or poverty or anything foreign.
And still… hardly a surprise movie. And just a year later, when people had a similar movie-movie love affair with The Blind Side, the media couldn’t wait to wag its finger at The Academy for nominating an independently made film that no studio wanted and that audiences were over the moon about. We have seen the Pogo…
You know, I am not making this argument to take money out of Sony Classics’ pockets. And they are the studio division most likely to get hit by shrapnel in this move… were it to happen. But really, Capote was driven by Phil Hoffman’s wins and An Education seemed to me to suffer a bit from a too-long season, becoming an also-ran when it may have had a better shot in a season that ended in January. Maybe January would have worked for them too.


Oscars In January?

Let’s assume that Nikki Finke’s source – and she has gotten a lot from the very top of The Academy in the last year – is accurate and that there is talk about Oscar in January.
It’s not crazy at all.
In fact, I have been suggesting that this is a necessary move to bring the ratings up… and I have been saying it for years.
The old thinking that studios needed January and February to get voters to see the films is not only antiquated thinking, but it’s just plain wrong. The studios still pile up December in order to muscle into the race at the last possible moment. The season is backloaded for all the wrong reasons and an earlier nomination and show would force a lot more quality pictures to roll out over months instead of weeks.
An earlier vote – nominations on, say, January 11, show on January 30, the week between the NFL Conference Finals and The Super Bowl – would put enormous pressure on the TV show producers… but I have to say… the show has been dubious… and lacking spontaneity. This could help bring it back. It would also keep the parade of award shows from boring the world to tears before the one award show that matters lands.
Critics have whined for years about too many movies to see for their year end lists and group voting… but these same groups – the sole exception of consequence being National Society of Film Critics – have insisted in voting on awards in early-to-mid December, not even taking until the end of the year. That’s a mess and I have zero sympathy. Besides which, there has not been a single year in the last decade where I had more than 4 movies that mattered in the awards season left to see after Thanksgiving… and usually, i have seen most of the key movies twice by then.
If I can do it, any critic can do it. If critics can do it by December, Academy members, with screeners, can certainly do it by mid-January.
Would this mean that the studios would have to go back to sending out screeners and getting serious about people seeing movies in November and even October? Yes. But they also stopped seriously worrying about piracy a couple of years ago and now more than half the screeners arrive on the doorstep with no signature required. Let’s not bullshit each other.
And keep in mind, folks… this move would cost my business a LOT of money… minimally, tens of thousands… maybe into the six figures, depending on how things played out. I am not an uninterested party. It is in my personal interest for the season to go on forever. And still I say, for the sake of the importance of The Oscar and the power of the award, this is THE move to make.
I believe strongly that 10 movies works. Movies that people love, but aren’t high art, like The Blind Side, deserve a place at the table. And so do movies like The Hurt Locker, which did no business in the summer and still ended up winning. And so does Precious, which lost a lot of steam in December and may have missed the list with 5 nominees. And the 10 nominees were good for business. It made for a competitive feel up until the last few weeks, when it really became a two horse race.
So say there are 10 films… and the industry goes to a hotel to celebrate itself… and it’s off-the-cuff… and campaigning, while still important, becomes a little less of a factor.
You know, people see the movies they want to see. And they vote for the movies they want to vote for. And great, great movies often are not on the Academy list. And some mediocrity is, whether in 5 or 10. In the end, The Academy is 6000 people, not 6000 film critics. It’s not the Ten Commandments down from the mount.
A month is plenty of time for the year to end, for people to pick their favorites (and I would be very happy for voters to only have to pick 5 and the 10 nominees to come from that), and to put on a show in the barn. All the churning doesn’t put asses in the seats in front of TVs… it’s the glamor and the surprise and the celebration of the art form that is commercial cinema. And churning for two months does not a thing to make that more interesting for anyone other than obsessives, media that lives off of the show, and people who somehow can’t get The Hurt Locker in the DVD until February.
But you know what? If Summit had sent out The Hurt Locker in October, like they should have, instead of trying to bank shot it in December and getting very lucky (much as I love the film), every Academy member would have seen it before the end of Thanksgiving. And if that isn’t strategically sufficient, then you don’t have a good enough movie, do you?
i would celebrate the move.
I’m not sure that it wouldn’t be unfair – as the screener ban was and the move to 10 films was, a bit – to do it in July, when studios have already figured out game plans for the season. I know, it seems early to the real world, but even the choice of whether to take Film X to Toronto for the film festival is a major point of strategy that would change substantively for some films if this went through.
But still… I think that the chaos of it… the “come on, let’s get to it, we’re not waiting for fruit to ripen on trees, these are commercial movies and few Academy members have seen half of what’s on the Top 50 of Critics Lists anyway”… is exactly the way to reassert dominance. Oscar dictates. What’s important is when Oscar lands. And why does anyone need more than a month to make up their minds?


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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