The Hot Blog Archive for July, 2013

In-Production Trailer: Zero Theorem

I wouldn’t be running this, but Terry Gilliam was promoting it being online, so here it is…


Friday Estimates by RIPK

Friday Estimates 2013-07-20 at 9.33.02 AM

So… what to make of this weekend…

Is The Conjuring a shock? Not so much. The Purge, Evil Dead, The Devil Inside. This is a really good open, but not a shocking one. If there is a surprise, it’s that WB has cracked the marketing formula on horror. This will be their biggest horror opening ever after years of trying with Joel Silver and never opening to as much as $20m.

Turbo can’t be a thrill for Fox or DWA. It’s a little better than half what The Croods opened to… and that film is only a hit thanks to foreign. My sense is that it is selling too young for Fox’s own good. And that as the third new animated film in five weeks, it needed to get lucky. This is also a reason to be suspect of DWA’s 3-films-a-year upturn next year. The market can expand, but it gets riskier the more you saturate.

Despicable Me 2 is holding solid with a 45% Friday drop and should pass $275m domestic this weekend. Grown Ups 2 is down an unremarkable 61% against opening day.

RED 2 is a bit if a disappointment. It’s a better movie than the original, which was pretty leggy. But this opening is actually behind the first, not an improvement as is currently the expected sequel trend. Legs may work here too, as the older characters and their older audiences are slower to get to the multiplex. (Maybe the NYT can rethink their story on the subject of aging action talent.)

No happy news for Pacific Rim, off 68% Friday-to-Friday.

And, of course, RIPD, which is pretty much DOA. OMFG.

It’s a big opening weekend for docs, with two of the most beloved of the year arriving at once. Blackfish, perhaps with the help of Sea World, is the top fish, looking at $14k per on 4, while The Act of Killing will be hoping for 10k per on 3. Another festival fave, Computer Chess, debuts to about $4000 per on 2. Only God Forgives opens to a modest $3500 or so per for the weekend on 75 screens… which reminds me of how problematic VOD is in building tension for theatrical. For that specialized audience, VOD is still cheaper than theatrical and it’s become easy to decide not to show up at the movies. Personally, I would hate to see this film the first time on my big TV… so happy I got to see it in a nice, big theater.


Review: RIPD


I find it very difficult to put RIPD in the right place.

It’s not the worst film ever or of the year or of the summer. But it’s not good.

I think what it really feels like the 3rd or 4th movie is an open-ended franchise that was once fun & original, but has lost its steam. Acting was fine. Directing was fine. Visual effects failed with a lot of the human-like characters who looked like they just hopped out of a computer, but was often quite good in bringing landscapes and stunts to life.

It was almost never offensive (as in “WTF are they doing?”), which is more than I can say about a number of films this summer. But it never really got off the ground.

Perhaps the most obvious problem was the combination of casting and writing. Outside of the film itself, I have heard about a lot of changes over the history of the active development, near green-light for the film. So I don’t know whether, for instance, Ryan Reynolds (who I quite like) ever had an interesting character. As it came out, he’s playing The Girl – good-looking, demanding attention – who happens to be a guy. But does he seem to be uniquely athletic or angry or fearful or ANYTHING? No. Just boring as hell. And Bridges is good enough, but would have been much more interesting in an R-rated version of this, where he got to be raunchier and violent in a more off-putting way.

Kevin Bacon is pretty much by the book in this. And there really is no interesting identifiable villain. Mary Louise Parker is the one bright spot (aside from Stephanie Szostak’s beauty, which is as far as that character goes)… and even she had me thinking about who could have raised the bar on that character even higher.

Story and idea were okay… but what exactly was in play was a mystery for so long that when it finally becomes clear, we are past the point of worrying about it as an audience. Even the missing piece that is meant to be the turning point in the film feels like a throwaway when we see it. On some level, it was clever to make us believe something else was going on with that piece, but the secret is so well-protected that it means nothing to the audience.

Early in the movie, we see this giant, fat character running away… and he looks like a piece of videogame CG. And the film never recovers from that moment of unsuspended disbelief. Of course, if there was great material behind that moment, it could have overcome. But there is never a moment of true excitement, fear or big laughter in the film.

Some have complained about sexism in the film… which after seeing the film is truly hypersensitive, to the point of stupidity. I wish it had been sexist. At least that would be something interesting to watch. Let’s see the model chick adjust her balls (she is the exterior of a guy). Let’s see the Asian guy in a Chinese restaurant. Where is the scene where Bridges seduces someone with his hot chick exterior? Give me SOMETHING!

And of course, this is one of those movies that thinks it’s working. So it does a number of joke recalls that would work if we really loved the moments being recalled. But we don’t. So they seem smug in an unfortunate way… like cutting a sitcom for laugh breaks that don’t come.

It’s not vanilla… because vanilla can be great. It was more like a movie made of tofu, sitting there, waiting to suck up flavor from something else in the pot. But nothing that was put in the pot had enough flavor to add much of anything.

So… not nearly bad enough to be fun as a bad movie. But not nearly good enough to be worth paying to see.


33 Weeks To Oscar: The Season Without A Frontrunner

There are a lot of familiar faces going into the 2013 awards season. Hanks, Streep, Clooney, Scorsese, Ron Howard, The Coens, Payne, Reitman… heck, you pretty much have a do-over with David O. Russell made his own supergroup, combining the forces of The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook for American Hustle.

And yet… in this whole group of films that are generally considered legit contenders, there is nothing with that sense of inevitability that, for instance, last season had with Lincoln or Les Misérables or Life of Pi or Zero Dark Thirty. Everything seems to have question marks around it.

I have a list of 23 titles contending for Best Picture at this point. There will be 1 or 2 additions in September, no doubt. More subtractions.

The Weinsteins have 6 movies in play, 3 each for Sony, Warner Bros, and Paramount, 2 at Universal, and singles at (in alphabetical order) CBS, Disney, DreamWorks, Focus, Relativity, and Searchlight.

The Weinstein Company
August: Osage County
The Butler (pending title change)
Fruitvale Station
Grace of Monaco
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Labor Day
The Wolf of Wall Street

American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Monuments Men

Warner Bros

About Time

Single Servings
Dallas Buyers Club (Focus)
The Fifth Estate (DreamWorks)
Inside Llewyn Davis (CBS)
Out of the Furnace (Relativity)
Saving Mr. Banks (Disney)
Twelve Years a Slave (Searchlight)

There are a few titles I left out, even though the studios involved would like to get them in the game. Focus would like The Place Beyond The Pines to shove its way in, but I don’t see it. All Is Lost is a nice film, but not an awards movie. Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen’s most interesting work in years… but probably an “actress only” proposition. Mud is a tremendous movie… but aside from screenplay, the hill is awfully high. None of the animation this year, so far, is a threat to break out of the Animation category.

I can pick 7 or 8 of the titles out of the list for reasons of distributor, release date, and/or assumptions about the films being limited in the range of likely nominations. So the list already feels rather short… which means that there is more opportunity for a surprise entry out of Toronto or a step up from one or two of what now seem like borderline films.

Here are your On Paper Nominees:
American Hustle
August: Osage County
The Butler
Captain Phillips
Inside Llewyn Davis
Monuments Men
Saving Mr. Banks
Twelve Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

Don’t misunderstand. I am not saying these 9 are all inevitable nominees. But if you look at them all on paper, this is the group.

David O. Russell is 2 for his last 2. Streep and Julia Roberts in the adaptation of a Pulitzer-winning play. Forest Whitaker, also getting a bump as producer of Fruitvale Station, is back with a piece of racial history from the perspective of a man who won by not fighting back. Tom Hanks as the brave captain taking on Somali pirates. The Coens… for the kids. Clooney goes to save stolen art after The War. A movie about a movie (Mary Poppins) with Hanks as Disney and Emma Thompson returning to make us all fall in love with her again. A movie about a free black man who was re-enslaved with a cast of genius actors and a great artist directing. And Scorsese & DiCaprio having flashy Wall Street-smacking fun.

But even in those 9… is there really a seemingly clear frontrunner? Here is the inverted perspective of The On Paper Nine…

Are they really going to nominate three David O. Russell movies in a row? The play was better than the film… stick with Streep. Lee Daniels makes movies too tough for The Academy and won’t it be all too PC? Pirates… they are going to nominate a movie about pirates? Minor Coens. Sounds more like Kelly’s Heroes than an Oscar movie, George. Mary Poppins… seriously? Does anyone really care about Mary Poppins in 2013? If they were going to embrace Steve McQueen, they would have done already… he makes art, not emotionally accessible movies. It’s not like they nominated After Hours or The King of Comedy.

Me? If I were betting today, I’d be all over Saving Mr. Banks. The real world might not care about the making of Mary Poppins in 2013, but The Academy will, especially if it’s a lovely little movie with familiar-but-unfamiliar characters. It seems like the potential heart movie.

But the heart’s wants change with the times. I’ve only seen 1 of the 9 movies on the On Paper list, so I can’t even come close to knowing which film might hit people like a ton of bricks. Some are thinking that Stephen Frears’ Philomena might be that movie in Toronto. Jason Reitman could hit just the right note for the times. Monument Men could unite the audience in a profound way. Does Cuarón’s Gravity turn out to be much more important than just being a thriller? You never know.

I’m kind of excited about a season that might rely so heavily on the movies themselves. Or maybe Forest Whitaker will be snubbed by a taxi driver in Toronto and that will make him the sympathetic character of the season, propelling one of his movies to Best Picture.


Trailer: The Fifth Estate (aka The Wikileaks Movie)


DP/30: The Act of Killing, documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer

Having a conversation with this guy about how people convince themselves of who they are and rationalize what they are doing felt particularly significant as the weekend progressed… at least for me. He really got into these people’s lives and came back to tell the tale.


Trailer: 12 Years A Slave


BYOB: It’s A Long, Hot Summer



Media Consolidation = Survival = The New Bundle

One of the great cons of this era is the idea that cable/satellite are the only bundlers and that the end days of bundling have come.

BZZZT!!!! Wrong.

Let’s get past our parents’ paradigms and deal with today. Every network is a bundler. Netflix is a bundler. Hulu and Amazon and Crackle and HBO and your local PBS station are all bundlers. They all sell their bundles differently. But they are all in the business of buying/creating content and finding an audience that generates revenue, whether by ads, subscriptions, a combination, or some other model.

Because of media’s hipster lust for the new story, the culture lives in the illusion that there is some profound difference between, say, Netflix and ABC. And there are some real differences. But in the end, they are both paying for content to get viewers. ABC needs advertisers so their network can be “free,” but they also generate money from affiliates and cable/satellite retransmission fees. Netflix needs to keep enough content at a high enough interest level to keep subscribers and generate new subscriptions. They are delivered via different wires. But still, they are very much the same at the core.

Differentiation is real, but mostly it’s a game. Newer content on a network. Fuller swaths of older entertainment on Netflix. Put up with commercials on a network. Put up with a monthly fee on Netflix. You know, if everyone who watches network TV paid only $3 a month for that service, a network would generate $36 billion a year on what is aired on the network alone (aka excluding ancillary markets). Obviously there are content costs, but that’s real money. And a network offers more than 1,300 hours a year of original, first-release content. Netflix is selling its originals hard, but you’re looking at fewer than 100 hours a year of new content.

I’m not running down Netflix. Their bundle is of great value—real and perceived—to a lot of people (including this subscriber). But we are at the very beginning of the shake-out of this new technology that allows Everything Everywhere and even just on your TV, the “everything” is a major evolutionary step.

Let’s not even get into the ramification of expanding the options of consumers from a very, very small stream (no pun intended) 30 years ago to a constantly widening one between then and, say, two years ago, to the expansion we are now in, to literally every film and TV show ever made that is in condition to be transmitted. Everything is where we are headed. It’s not that people need it. But there are fewer and fewer reasons not to make more available and the ability to do so width quality is getting cheaper and cheaper, versus and ongoing narrowing of the audience that wants “4-quadrant” entertainment. (There is a whole different conversation about movies there… but not having it today.)

The assumption media has been dining on for the last few years is that the paradigm shift will destroy existing businesses. And some will go. But slowly, the industry seems to be learning a vital lesson. No one really cares about how they get the content. They care about getting it, it looking reasonably good, and it not costing them much more than they are now used to paying on a monthly basis.

The reason for consolidation-mania right now is that the industry is going to be sliced up like a pizza again soon…in the next few years. And if you want to be one of the surviving, thriving bundlers—I suspect that each household will be paying about 10-15 content providers, 1 internet provider, 1 wireless provider, and anywhere from 1-3 big picture bundlers who you actually write the check to/e-debit to every month. If you aren’t one of that group—and there will be competition in all areas, but as we have seen for decade of the wireless/cable era, not many thriving competitors—you are done.

In many ways, this is Betamax vs. VCR and Blu-ray vs. HD all over again. It’s a much bigger picture. But consumer buyers of content do not want to work very hard to make their choices or purchases, no matter how media or hipsters paint the picture.

Aereo matters because it is challenging the ownership of content. However, it is meaningless in the big picture because if there are easy alternatives, no one is going to pay a monthly fee to have local TV streamed. It only works if it is the only option. And that is already iffy, getting more iffy every day. Aereo is nothing but a con to create a sale to a bigger company. Barry Diller is smarter than to believe otherwise. Forget the issue of stopping broadcasting (which is may be a bit early to do), but why would the broadcast networks allow Aereo to continue to grow rather than to give the power of streaming to everyone with cable or satellite? They wouldn’t. And WatchABC and WatchESPN are overt signals of that. (Again, as a DirecTV subscriber, deals have not been made to give me access to either streaming service yet… but it will… because eventually, it will become a problem for DirecTV and a sales tool for all its competitors market-by-market. But that’s another piece.)

Everyone who bundles is getting ready for the war. The War Of Deep Pockets. A war of attrition. A war that resets the map for the next 20-to-30 years once the dust settles. And any “country” that is not prepared to fight will have to be ready to be occupied by one of the bigger groups, whether cable companies, satellite companies, content companies, or even outside players who see an opportunity here to become mega-companies.

Why was Hulu not sold? Because Hulu with deep pockets is a serious asset in these wars. The $750m they say will be invested in Hulu is a little light, but with the price tag of $300m a year for a studio’s film and TV content (for the next 5 years or so), it’s enough to put up a serious challenge to Netflix (though Universal, Sony, and Fox are the only “available” studios right now).

Are you a documentary streaming business? There are a bunch of them. 1 or 2 will survive. And the only way that company (or two) will survive is by eating all the other ones. Very, very few consumers are going to pay monthly for a number of doc streamers. Millions will pay for doc streaming that offers a high percentage of total docs being made and the back library of title. No one is getting out alive with 75,000 subscribers.

People don’t want so much choice.

If you are a local affiliated station, you still have some life in you. But we are near a time when direct delivery by networks is more than a clever notion. ABC is doing it now… though they choose to do it through their local Owned & Operated stations… they have a vested interest in making it work for their own investment. Great. Who will be next for WatchABC (the WatchCBS and WatchNBC and someday, WatchFOX)? The biggest affiliate group that is willing to do it. Divide and conquer. ABC can nationalize streaming and at the same time, increase the value for their local affiliates, who pay for the privilege… and will pay more and more.

Being a small affiliate group means getting the crappiest deal. You will get a deal. But it will be the dregs because you don’t change the game for the big multinational company that is really running the show.

If you are DirecTV, the threat of losing NFL Sunday Ticket looms… and if it goes, it has huge ramifications for the company. Simply, at least 20% of DirecTV customers are there for the NFL and they are locked into a noncompetitive position because there is only one NFL provider like Sunday Ticket. But the day that changes, there will be at least three competitors in every market knocking on the door, trying to pry away customers who were previously 95%+ locked up.

Major League Baseball, which has a lot more content than the NFL, still offers packages through providers, but also offers its own MLB.TV, which offers every non-national (or non-national conflicting) game out of your local TV market for less than the cable/satellite providers and to all forms of streaming, including HDTV, pads, and phones. The NFL will weigh what they think they can generate with their own NFL.TV and DirecTV will be challenged to pay 105 or more over that. And like MLB.TV, if NFL does it themselves, it will surely integrate the local stations so there is no loss to them, only added viewers to their national (and perhaps local) ads.

Now… do you know any major sports fan who pays for these packages who is going to change their cable or satellite package if the price matches or is better than buying the separate bundles and includes similar streaming options? Of course not. Why change? And that is why cable and satellite can survive. The wires are already in the ground or signal in the air. If consumers don’t have to choose one service over the other, they won’t. And even with all these pieces, they are all interconnected and benefit from being so.

But you don’t want to be the little kid on the field. Not now. Not while teams are being picked.

It’s really that simple (and that complex).


Friday Estimates by More Grown Up Than Sandler Klady

Friday Estimates 2013-07-13 at 8.35.28 AM

So… Adam Sandler might have his biggest opening ever this weekend… probably #2. And critics are acting as though the devil won Robert Johnson’s soul (and guitar). Zzzzzzz…

People like what people like. And acting as though Grownups 2 is some moral affront makes people sound as stupid as they feel the movie is.

But there is a good chance that Sandler won’t win the weekend. Despicable 2 should have a big Saturday and either come out on top or come very close.

A likely third for the weekend is Pacific Rim, whose final weekend numbers will be much more estimate-able at Midnight tonight after east coast evening shows start coming in. Will is drop? Will it bump? Will it be flat? No one knows. But the range could be about $8m from high to low for the weekend.

Nice start for Fruitvale Station, opening to about $50k per. Strong number, but on 7 screens, easily given too much significance.


The Problem With Hulu

Why has Hulu once again jilted its suitors at the altar?

Because the trio of owners are correct… the value of the business is greater than the price anyone is willing to pay for it right now.

But the real big question is, what’s wrong with Hulu? Why is it continuing to do well, but not really blossoming on the level of Hulu?

The simple answer is, Hulu’s identity is poorly defined to the public. Start at the most basic distinction… what is the difference between Hulu and Hulu+? Answer: Hulu is an old idea that is on its way out but has a ton of attractive traffic that no one wants to throw away (some profits too) and Hulu+ is the future, but it not well defined enough at this point to define its own future.

There has been some evolution in this. Hulu started as a free browser-based tool that offered reruns of network shows. When HUlu+ came online, streaming to HDTVs, ipads, phones, etc, the amount of content that was available on both services was limited. But Hulu has refocused and it now seems that many shows from ABC, Fox, and NBC carry just the last 5 episodes of series on Hulu and the back catalog is only available with a HUlu+ subscription. But there are still networks, like ABC Family, that don’t have any presence on Hulu+. And more and more, shows that were turning up on Hulu+ are disappearing, getting paid more by other services that are cherrypicking (see: New Girl and Netflix… “Due to content rights agreements, only the five most recent episodes of New Girl will be available on Hulu Plus beginning July 1st. All previous episodes will expire June 30th.”).

Netflix, on the other hand, has been dropping content by the ton… but has everyone talking about their original programming, even when they aren’t watching it in droves (which has been true of all but House of Cards). That’s smart marketing.

What is Hulu?

It is giving value to both free and subscription customers, no doubt. But why is this product something YOU need to sign up for? If you have a DVR, you too can have the last 5 episodes of every series you like. This time of year, Hulu is dominated by Comedy Central… but not this summer, as Jon Stewart is out for 3 months and Colbert is taking long vacation periods. So there is very little new television content. And in the most recent version, there isn’t as much archive on Free Hulu and do people want to pay for it on Hulu+?

I have always felt that Hulu should just stick to being the TV version of Netflix… ubiquitous… as complete as possible. But Netflix has spent them out of that comfort zone and all the studios – including Hulu’s owners – see stream-dycation and pay-streaming paydays in this post-DVD environment as to o valuable to pass up. Hulu is always the hungriest kid at the end of the table, after all the food has been eaten as its passed down past everyone else.

Original programming is a dead end. But now, Netflix is leading that parade to that sewer. Everyrone has to do it because… uh…

Hulu tries to maintain the illusion they have been doing original programming… but they haven’t. They have been picking up international shows. Some quite good. But it’s not clear to the subscriber, much less the potential subscriber. Where is the game changing deal… like with BBC? The Beeb has a valuable cable net in BBC America, but the vast majority of content is still not coming across the pond. Delivering all of the BBC’s content to the US is a lot more sell-able play than, say Criterion Collection, which I love, but is the polar opposite of Family Guy reruns.

OR where is the deal when NBC shows are only available post-air via purchase or Hulu-Plus? Really clear. If you buy 3 or more NBC shows for your iPad each month, you’d be better off with a Hulu+ subscription. Or let it be ABC shows and with a Hulu+ subscription, you quality for WatchABC (if your market has it) and WatchESPN.

Hulu has a lot of great stuff, but there is no shape to the programming they want you to buy monthly. Netflix had the advantage of its history… huge advantage that Hulu missed the window to exploit themselves.

Yes, the reinvestment is important. But much more important than adding more and more content is becoming a dominant player in 1 or 2 areas of content… areas they can then sell to the public. That is the only happy future for this company, no matter who owns it.


The Academy Scores Another Event

This is one of those additions that will most likely end up in a subtraction.

Basic question; If you are going to do a live event for the scores competing for Oscar, why would you do it 3 days before the show… after nominations?

Likely answer: Because the real goal is to take the hour-long event and turn it into 90 seconds on the live Oscar telecast, eliminated “wasted” time on the air playing movie music, getting the award given out in no more than 3 minutes.

With score being a tough category in which to vote thoughtfully, wouldn’t Academy voters be thrilled to have an evening in which to listen to the music live and to decide what score they actually like best?

Duh. Rhetorical question.

Of course, if things go well, expect the live score show to end up on PBS by next season, if not this season.

And thank goodness they have come up with a way of getting that boring old score category out of the show, so they can focus on whatever celebrity is the biggest singing a song from a movie and to do more and more musical numbers in which the host is self-reflective and insults people comedically. That is, obviously, what America wants. (Last graph in the voice of Academy leadership.)

I think the event should be wonderful, in and of itself. But does it add to Oscar? No. Does it distract from the real purpose of the event, to love and honor film? Yes.


Review-ier: Pacific Rim – Part Two, The Flaws (ALL SPOILERS)


I’m going to do this whole SPOILER thing after the jump…
Read the full article »


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