The Hot Blog Archive for November, 2011

Thankful 2011: 15 Years Of Thanks

Oh my…

Being thankful in a time of turmoil is an interesting thing. I find myself more thankful on a daily basis than at any time in this career of covering film and the film industry. And yet, I find myself fearful of what it will all become. Oddly, I am not so fearful for myself, as I have managed to survive and even thrive in times of turmoil. Hope floats… and shit floats… different readers will have different takes on which describes me and my work. So be it. But I do worry about the big picture of it all. I even worry when I seem to anger some by taking that macro view, as some can’t conceive of a person thinking about something other than their own self-interests. We all need to think beyond our self-interest if we are to be standard bearers. That is one of the prices to aspiring to something other than raising our own flags.

I AM THANKFUL FOR distributors who are now reaching beyond their comfort zones. Whether it’s Searchlight pushing out Martha Marcy May Marlene or Shame, Paramount reaching for Like Crazy, The Weinsteins releasing a silent, black and white melodrama-dy, or Sony Classics getting truly excited about Woody Allen again while also flexing for Jeff Nichols and other rising stars… these reaches are not to be taken for granted.

I THANK GOD/GOODNESS we are over the hump of the industry contraction. It’s been almost a year since the sun started coming out for the industry again. I had predicted a 40% contraction in the business. It might have ended up being slightly smaller than that. But I think we’re now on the other side. And everything is different… at least, a little different. The people with money have been forced to think differently. And you can feel those changes all over, starting with film funding (remember 5 years ago, when multiple logos on front of movies were rare?) and through the whole distribution chain.

I GIVE WARM THANKS to the DVD. You were a good friend. You didn’t last all that long, but you were an improvement in quality and ease of use. You also made the industry boatloads of money. This opened the door for the next steps of customer service, whether the distributors were conscious of it or not. I love your spawn, the Blu-ray, too… even if that format is not long for this world either. Much like you, Blu-ray was predicated on getting more money for better quality. True, Blu’s price point dropped even faster than your price point. But I’ll be looking to Blu for another decade, until the streaming hardware offers as much visual quality as it does convenience. It’s a little sad to see you, DVD, reduced to retail shelf space comparable to printer cables. But man, the love was intense while it lasted.

I AM THANKFUL to Lars Von Trier for passing the tipping point, now a much better filmmaker than a self-promoter. Dogme was a brilliant publicity campaign. It should be taught in business schools. It not only got attention, but it launched international careers for a parade of serious, interesting filmmakers… almost none of whom still work in the form. But all of whom, I think, were made of conscious by the effort. With Anti-Christ and Melancholia, you are now doing your best work as a filmmaker, inviting audiences into your soul and not just your intellect.

I ABSOLUTELY MUST THANK you. You know who you are.

I THANK all so many people for making DP/30 possible, as it looks like we will pass 200 half-hours produced in 2011. I feel I should thank ID-PR, 42 West, and Fox Searchlight as the earliest, most relentless supporters of the effort… which is not to diminish in any way the many who now support the effort with their time, their effort, and what is often the most precious commodity in this end of the business, the time of “the talent.” I still don’t know what the future of DP/30 (nee’ Lunch with David) will be, but as it continues, it becomes apparent that the value is historic, perhaps even more so than promotional. We’ll keep working on the latter value, but as we get into the 5th year of the cycles of interviews, I’m excited to check back in with some of the most talented people who make movies as they and their work evolves, while still having the thrill of the new… even from the old, like the recent chance to spend time with The Dardennes or Thelma Schoonmaker. The only thing about DP/30 I am not endlessly thankful for is that, sometimes, it seems like there is not a way to give the deserved platform to every film and every filmmaker I interview. On the other hand, the document of that moment will be there for a long, long time.

THANKS TO Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese and Francis Coppola for not letting old age make them old. Reviewing the movies doesn’t speak to the hunger that they all continue to exhibit. Whether it’s working in CG for the first time… or 3D… or still being a bottom-line independent filmmaker funding 8-figure films out of personal bank accounts… these are the iconic veterans still pushing every bit as hard as the guy with the $3000 camera shooting in a friend’s house with some talented friends. For that alone, attention must be paid.

I MUST THANK the movie exhibitors, with NATO up front, for fighting for their self-interest, but in that process, fighting for all of us who love to watch movies in movie theaters. There are many people at the studios who truly love movies. But sometimes, it stops being art and starts being product. And that’s when mathematical hypotheses start overtaking sanity. Movies are not widgets. If corporations want to sell widgets, they should find something that is easily replicated, easily defined, and naturally low in risk once established. You can’t make the movie business into a low-risk, modest-reward business… because that would be something other than the movie business. Moreover, I continue to argue – and I am 100% right on this – that a strong theatrical business is a critical financial element in the movie life cycle and the history of shortening the window has had clear costs… which up until now were disguised by the huge revenues from DVD. But the lesson cannot be “look for the next DVD.” That is how you get the housing bubble, the internet bubble, etc. If the majors continue to chase this angle, they will destroy the business of the majors completely. Some would be thankful for that. I would be thankful if we could find a place for films of all sizes.

I AM THANKFUL THAT Jean Dujardin, while still struggling with English, is as human and as earnest as I would imagine someone as talented as he is might be. That Michael Fassbender might forgive me for misspeaking about him in an interview with someone else, as I consider him one of the great hopes for the next generation of acting. That Glenn Close pushed to make a film for over a decade and finally got it done. That so many of the next-gen filmmakers have been so nice to me. That Michelle Williams has got the gift she has… cause I don’t think she really quite knows how she gets to the amazing places she gets. That Tilda (isn’t it time for her to become a one-name star?) and Depp exist. That the Brit actors are such a bunch of working stiffs.

I GIVE THANKS for an upcoming Nolan Batman movie. It’s funny, since I thought Dark Knight was imperfect. But I don’t need perfect. I need genius. And Nolan brings genius to the genre form. (I am also more excited about a Marc Webb Spider-Man than many seem to be.)

THANKS, Nolte. And for that matter, everyone involved with making Warrior… the tragic nonstarter of 2011. And what will Tom Hardy be when he can’t hide in character all the time anymore?

I THANK THE HEAVENS for my health. I have been so fortunate. And as I head closer to 50 (still 3 years away, thanks), more of my friends and colleagues are suffering through medical issues that are really mind-boggling as we glibly talk about movies and movie stars. Most have come through these situations as strong if not stronger than they were. And I am so thankful for that.

I GIVE THANKS for the many things I still don’t understand about the film business and more so, the work done by the artists who contribute to films. One of the interesting things about doing so much interviewing of talent is that I see the humans behind the work. I’m not saying that I touch their souls every time I sit in the chair. But you learn a lot sitting down with someone… and almost more, standing up and saying “goodbye” afterwards. We can talk about process all day long, but when you experience the process of how a performer presents themselves… well… there are the things we say and the things we show. Obviously, months of that experience is that much more clarifying. And any one moment in time can be very, very deceiving. But I am thankful for that lesson too.

I AM THANKFUL FOR Steve James and Werner Herzog and Errol Morris and all the great doc makers who weren’t screwed by the Academy doc committee.

I WOULD LIKE TO THANK New York Film Critics Circle for exposing just how cynical and pathetic people who truly care about movies often become in a competitive industry. It’s always easy to minimize the impact of every little step towards meaninglessness. After all, how big a deal is it to vote for year-end award two weeks before LA, for instance, does? Well… LAFCA shouldn’t be voting before December 20 either. Nor should any other legitimate group. But the bar moved back to the second week of December a few years back… and now, NYFCC pushed it further. And it sucks. It the equivalent of seeing a dying man with a machete next to him and deciding to take a few more hacks because, what the hell, he’s going to die anyway. Like the studios, NYFCC lowers the bar and then goes, “Well, we’re just trying to improve our weak position,” never willing to acknowledge that they are as responsible for the last lowering of the bar as they will be for the next lowering of the bar. Situational morality is no morality at all. It’s just self-indulgence packaged in a prettier box.

I THANK my wife for putting up with me and my son for every minute that he watches me work when we’d both prefer to be playing with his Legos or cars or instruments or going outside to run around or even watching the great animated films that he shows surprising patience with. I am a better person for them being in my life… and my work is only a reflection of that, not life iself. And I can never thank them enough for that.

OF COURSE I THANK everyone on Team MCN. The evolution continues, as I have never been one to stand still for too long… and my team gets dragged along on my ride. There are all kinds of commitments and salaries and efforts put forth. But everyone who works with me here has a passion for film. I only wish I could hire every deserving writer who has been killed (professionally) by others in recent years. But that’s not my thing… I wish there was a better answer. But I am thankful that some of those jobs still exist. And in many cases, are based on merit.

I SHOULD THANK all of the people who were not named in this column of thanks… and all of the ideas that I didn’t have time to remember to write about too. I am a part of a community. Some people don’t want me in their community to think I don’t want them in mine. Some are right and some are wrong. But my community is filled with people who I genuinely care for, whether they know it or not… whether I express it or not. In a business of smiling faces, it is not always clear where you stand in reality. But to those who are happy to have me stand close, I thank you so much, as you add to my life, my work, and my sanity… if only by telling me the truth (most of the time).

AND I THANK YOU ALL for indulging me, hour after hour, day after day, year after year. I may not be (enter your idea of what my fantasy role would be here), but I remain one of the most fortunate people in the world. We all have our challenges… every day. But that just means we’re alive. I have been alive, I have worked hard, and I have been indulged and appreciated. To ask for more is just greedy. Not that I am refusing offers… but yeah, greedy. And every one of you who participates in my life and in my work are part of allowing me this indulgence. I know that I disappoint at times. But hope that I can engage you and offer you something of value more often than not.

Happy Happy Thanksgiving.


DP/30: Hugo, screenwriter John Logan

DP/30: The Desccendants, actor Shailene Woodley


DP/30: Hugo, actor Sir Ben Kingsley


My Week In DP30: November 13-20, 2011

It’s been a busy week and I haven’t been on the blog much. Here’s a taste of why…

(11/22, 11:50p – misspelling in credits corrected)


BYOB… Back In Time For The Town To Shut Down


DP/30: We Need To Talk About Kevin, actor Tilda Swinton


Weekend Estimates by Klotty



Friday Estimates by Six-Pack Klady


So, class, what does history tell us? Around $140m – $145m weekend. Around $300m domestic. Around $700 worldwide.

It’s Potter math, off 20%. No matter how good or bad the actual film is in the context of the franchise.


Happy Feet 2 started with less than half its progenitor, however it’s not the only kids film to take a beating this Friday. Puss in Boots is also off in a big way for the first time this Friday. Of course, Happy Feet opened against Casino Royale’s $17m, not Twi4’s 70. Time will tell. But not a happy start.

55% is the best hold in the Top Ten… So tough for mon-kid movies as well.

Will a $30k per-screen for The Descendants be seen as a win or a loss? Well, as Sideways expanded, it did a number similar to what Descendants will do this weekend… on about twice as many screens. Then again, Pauly G isn’t Georgey C. So no real way to read it. The news is positive, no question. But is it underwhelming or just another film being vampire sucked this weekend?


Doc Committee Embarrasses Self Again

You know… I like a lot of films on the Academy’s doc shortlist. I even love a few of them.

Hell & Back Again and Pina really break new ground. Buck and Bill Cunningham: New York offer the kind of pleasures that are not about the filmmaking details so much as the humanity.

Personally, I adore Project Nim and still feel it was the best film at Sundance – full stop – this year.

And I don’t want to say anything negative about the other films. Some are very, very strong… some less so. But it’s the absences that are shocking.

This committee has a long history of pissing on Steve James… so as absurd as the absence of The Interrupters is, I am less shocked.

Senna? What’s the argument against? Non-original footage? Did they watch Paradise Lost 3, which intentionally uses – according to its co-director – outtakes of the first 2 films to qualify for Oscar… so this greatest hits doc wasn’t DQed for this year’s awards.

Herzog? Morris? Spurlock? Page One?

Every year, people ask who I think will be shortlisted. And every year, I say, “No idea.” Why? It’s not a legitimate meritocracy.

Sure, there are a few titles I haven’t seen. God bless them. It’s a big list. But every year, this committee seems to pull this or that out of their collective ass, an indecipherable series of bizarre choices.

I’m sure they mean well. So do the Tea Partiers.


DP/30: Melancholia, actor Kirsten Dunst

AND… two of her Melancholia co-stars…

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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