Posted by Danielle Berrin
A week ago, Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer ignored the predominant mood in Hollywood and chose to boost industry morale with optimism.
He delivered an assured and upbeat address to the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) who were assembled in Las Vegas for their annual conference. A strategic cheerlead for the lords of television, he outright refuted “the death of Broadcast” and said, on the contrary, things are better than ever. So what if the way we watch television is changing, that’s just fundamentals, the demand for content is still vital. As it were, if “High School Musical” could become a billion-dollar franchise, and “Slumdog Millionaire” an Oscar contender, Feltheimer said, that proves there’s still room for unexpected success in the unlikeliest of places.
Call him a renegade.
“Can things be so bad when a film like The Dark Knight captures the second highest box office gross on record and then helps usher in a brand new technology by selling four million BluRay discs in its first month?” Feltheimer asked. “Or can things be so bad when new shows like ‘Mad Men,’ ‘Damages,’ ‘Dexter’ and ‘The Tudors’ are coming out of a cable television environment that has tripled in size in the past 10 years?”
(As much as I love “Mad Men,” things aren’t exactly peachy if its star accepts a Golden Globe award and thanks the “two dozen or so” people who tune in to watch it.)
But that’s beside the point. A week later, after his exuberantly positive pontificating, the NY Times reported that Lionsgate spent $5.5 million buying the most depressing film in all of Sundance. “Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire” was a critical success, garnering three awards—the Audience Award, the Grand Jury Prize and a Special Jury Prize for Acting. It’s a sound choice for a company that appreciates quality independent moviemaking and prides itself on a marketing challenge. So why then, mere minutes after announcing its purchase, did Lionsgate begin backpedaling from the glory of their prize?
From the NY Times:
On Monday the company initially agreed to discuss the inherent marketing challenges. A few hours later it backtracked, rejecting any marketing talk but saying executives would be happy to speak broadly about their delight in nabbing the movie. Before long that offer was also rescinded.
I’ll give Lionsgate the benefit of the doubt, but mostly because I trust their backers. Oprah Winfrey agreed to promote the film. So did Tyler Perry. And yet, it’ll likely be Feltheimer’s strategy that will win the day. He’s not going to let a film about “an illiterate and obese African-American teenager in 1980s Harlem who is pregnant with her father’s child — for the second time — and is also abused by her mother” prevent him from making his company money. Who cares that it’s a hard sell, with dark subject matter, in a tough economy? Feltheimer’s answer is to do away with “big, soggy star vehicle[s] with no discernible story line” and target smaller, niche audiences.
“I’m making a point beyond the obvious one that commerce continues and the show will go on. Consumers are still spending but, like each of us, they’re rationing their dollars a little more carefully. Like each of us, they’re becoming a little more selective in their purchases. And, like each of us, they’re exercising the most awesome and dreaded weapon in their arsenal-the power of choice. They’re wielding it not like a club but like a laser, to target the best, the most familiar, the most recognizable and the most appropriate to their lifestyle, taste and peer group,” Feltheimer said.
“Now, think about that for a moment, because it has profound implications for what is produced for, delivered to and consumed by the world marketplace. The message is clear. A bad economy is the best critic on the planet.”
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February 3, 2009 | 4:00 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Still suffering for his art, director Roman Polanski’s plea to have his 30-year old sexual misconduct case dropped was denied yesterday by Los Angeles Superior Court. Polanski’s appeal relied upon new evidence revealed in the documentary “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,“ which suggested that presiding Judge Lawrence Rittenband may have unlawfully discussed the case during legal proceedings. Polanski fled to Paris before sentencing in 1978 and has not been permitted to re-enter the U.S., even when he won a best director Oscar for “The Pianist.” It seems the Los Angeles legal system has little sympathy for a man who admitted guilt and then evaded punishment for three decades. On the other hand, come on Polanski! Paris ain’t so bad!
Roman Polanski’s attorneys have lost their bid to disqualify all Los Angeles Superior Court judges from considering their request to dismiss the 31-year-old sex case against the fugitive director.
The California 2nd District Court of Appeal issued the decision Monday, and also lifted a stay on all proceedings.
Polanski’s attorney, Chad Hummel, claimed the entire Los Angeles Superior Court bench is biased against the director. Prosecutors countered that the claim was frivolous.
Polanski pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl in Los Angeles in 1978 but fled to France before he could be sentenced.
February 3, 2009 | 3:48 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
All I want to know is: who’s buying the movie rights to the SAG drama?
The latest development in the SAG ordeal has president Alan Rosenberg filing a restraining order against fellow guild members. He’s trying to prevent the higher-ups who voted to oust national executive director Doug Allen last week from starting contract talks with the AMPTP.
SAG prexy Alan Rosenberg has filed a motion seeking a temporary restraining order to bar other guild leaders from restarting contract negotiations with the majors.
A lawyer representing Rosenberg filed a motion in Los Angeles Superior Court Tuesday ayem seeking the restraining order, filed with Judge James Chalfant. Rosenberg is listed as the plaintiff, along with SAG first VP Anne-Marie Johnson and board members Diane Ladd and Kent McCord.
Rosenberg and the others are taking the legal maneuver in protest of the decision made last week by a slim majority of SAG national board to fire national exec director Doug Allen and to relaunch contract talks with the AMPTP with a new task force of SAG negotiators. The SAG board members who voted for Allen’s ouster are listed on the motion as defendants.
It was not immediately clear when Chalfant would hear the motion.
February 2, 2009 | 7:33 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Every week there is more news that studios, agencies and production companies are tallying mounting layoffs. The assumption is that Hollywood has hit some choppy waters and the once flush Tinseltown is in danger of economic desiccation. Yet, even while economists predict that things will worsen, January box office numbers suggest that things aren’t quite as bad as they seem. And unsurprisingly, the industry is mum. There’s nary a mention of this news in any of the trades today, which is why we’re lucky to have Nikki Finke.
Here, Finke sets the record straight. She also suggests a motive for the tight-lipped numbers game—and rest assured, it has absolutely nothing to do with a pending SAG strike (yeah, right).
From Deadline Hollywood Daily:
...compliant Hollywood news outlets are hardly publicizing the latest big bold movie precedent set this month. MediaByNumbers.com was first to spread the news Sunday: from January 1, 209 to February 1st, 2009, year-to-date North American grosses were $1.028 billion, compared to 2008’s January take of $867.2 million. And let’s not forget that every week this January the studios boasted to me how cheaply they made and marketed all these films that did so well. So revenue was up 18.57%. Attendance was up 16.78%.
Yet there’s no lead story about this $1B gross benchmark in either Variety or The Hollywood Reporter. At the same time, NBC set a record and sold out its Super Bowl ads for $201 million. But that isn’t prominent in the trades either. Here’s what I think: the studios and networks want this good news played on the downlow in Hollywood (as opposed to the layoffs bulletins) when the AMPTP is restarting contract talks with SAG’s “task force”—aka the newly configured negotiating committee—on Tuesday. Because isn’t it amazing how Big Media can keep making so much money but never filter it down to either their staff or the showbiz guilds?
Sure enough, Variety reported on Superbowl ratings, but said nothing about its revenue.
February 2, 2009 | 6:33 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
On the internet, the name Bar Refaeli is synonymous with “hottest Jewish girl alive.” Whether it’s true—or not—the notion that the Israeli supermodel is simply “hot” fails to acknowledge her other salient personality traits.
To be fair, Refaeli is an uber-ambitious supermodel who would do anything to nourish her career (even if it means dodging her country’s required military service and then saying, “I don’t regret not having been drafted . . .because I made out big,” as she told Yediot Achronot over a year ago. “Why is it good to die for one’s country? Isn’t it better to live in New York?”)
So far, her audacious methods are working: MTV is reportedly courting Refaeli to host the revival of “House of Style,” the popular fashion and design show of the 90s, then hosted by Cindy Crawford. Contracts are currently under negotiation, though nothing is final.
In any case, we should consider forgiving Refaeli for her shameless draft dodging; she’s obviously a pacifist. Otherwise, can you imagine the cat fights that might ensue between she and boyfriend Leonardo DiCaprio’s ex-flame, Gisele?
Besides, it’s substantially more challenging to express loyalty to your country when you’re so darned busy sustaining your boyfriend’s.
From the NY Post:
“HOUSE of Style” is making a comeback. The popular ‘90s show about fashion and design, which helped make a household name of original host Cindy Crawford, is being revived by MTV, says a source close to production. Contracts are out to Leonardo DiCaprio’s girlfriend Bar Refaeli and recent Page Six Magazine covergirl Chanel Iman to host, though neither has officially signed on yet. We hope some of Refaeli’s assignments will bring her to the beach, where she can show off her bikinis.
February 2, 2009 | 12:49 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Oscar night has always been a ritual for me. And frankly, I don’t care that last year’s ratings were so pitiful, ABC is probably regretting that they signed a broadcast contract through 2014. Or that Walt Disney is hesitating to renew its deal for foreign rights. And furthermore, it means little to me that all five best picture nominees grossed less than half the earnings of “The Dark Knight,” which wasn’t nominated (while The Academy may prefer to award box office hits, those films are usually less nuanced and interesting than the smaller, art-house fare anyway; though, in this case, “The Dark Knight” was fantastic!). What bothers me is that the show’s producers are pulling out all the stops for a never-before-seen version of Hollywood’s biggest night and the media seems determined to ruin the surprise.
Last Friday, I posted a story published in USA Today featuring an interview with Academy Award producers Laurence Mark and Bill Condon. It was enough to peak my interest without thoroughly rendering the act of watching the Oscars obsolete. Not like this morning’s NY Times story, Oscars Suspense: Will People Watch?, which applies both sophisticated analysis and investigative journalism to decipher the top secret ceremony, but in the end, gives too much away.
January 30, 2009 | 7:00 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
When Sid Ganis hired Hollywood filmmakers Bill Condon and Laurence Mark to produce this year’s Academy Awards, Mark says Ganis was “open to new ideas.” But uninterrupted speeches? No cheesy opening monologue? A nightclub atmosphere? And a celebration of all 2008 movies, even the bad ones? That’s the kind of Oscar show revolution Condon and Mark have in mind. They’re flying by the seat of their pants, they say, and they’re willing to challenge the ultimate establishment in all of Hollywood.
Susan Wloszczyna from USA Today writes:
“The only thing you must do is give all the awards out live onstage,” Mark says. “You have to respect that. But there are many ways to do that, mind you.” What is in the works:
•The host from Oz. The producers were out to make a statement when they selected X-Men star Hugh Jackman after a string of comedians such as Jon Stewart and Ellen DeGeneres.
Yes, Wolverine has animal magnetism galore. But the Australian actor, who previously handled the Tony Awards with aplomb, also has some considerable musical chops after starring in The Boy From Oz and Oklahoma! on stage.
“He can sing, dance and looks great in a tuxedo,” Condon says. At some point in the evening, Jackman will perform in a production number that was conceived by his Australia director, Baz Luhrmann.
•A cozier atmosphere. Condon doesn’t just want a ceremony. He wants to throw a party.
If that means dismantling the Kodak Theatre to better encourage a sense of community among the attendees, so be it. “You don’t have to have large columns or a big staircase or 20-foot-tall Oscars on stage,” he says. “That’s not in the bylaws.”
They have hired David Rockwell, who designed the theater, to make adjustments and create sets.
•Room for spontaneity. Both producers believe the show has relied on too much pre-recorded material.
“That tradition started a few years ago, when they tried to avoid mistakes,” Condon says. “But we have decided that mistakes are our friends. Out of more live segments will hopefully spring more spontaneity.”
•Mystery presenters. When it was announced that the identity of the awards presenters would be kept secret, more than a few Oscar watchers questioned the move. Why not publicize who will appear?
“Do you actually think anyone tunes in to see someone present an award?” Mark says. “They suddenly hear so-and-so is presenting, and young males will watch? Well, no.”
One switch: Instead of lining up last year’s winners and stars with upcoming movies to tout, Condon and Mark are reaching out to those names associated with a 2008 movie. And there will be a few blasts from Hollywood’s past, too.
•Three-hour show, not three-hour speeches. Both vow to adhere to the three-hour mark. “We have done exercises to see what we can better speed along and streamline,” Condon says.
As for having the orchestra play off long-winded speechmakers, it’s a situation they would rather avoid.
“It’s so ungracious,” Condon says. “We will do everything we can not to have to do it. We will still put a little fear into the winners not to go on.” However, the 45-second rule still stands. Mark’s suggestion: “Don’t thank your laundress.”
•Jack Nicholson — probably. One connection Mark will try to capitalize on is his long association with the epitome of Oscar cool, whose mischievous leer is always welcome, even if he didn’t appear in a movie this year.
“He does embody Oscar,” says Mark, who was involved with Terms of Endearment and As Good as It Gets, for which Nicholson won two of his three Academy Awards.
“The show went way out of fashion in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” Condon says of the man behind the shades. “He singlehandedly brought it back when he was nominated for Easy Rider.”
•Applause-free “In Memoriam” tribute. Regular Oscar watchers often cringe when homage is paid to those in the movie business who died in the past year. That is because the audience can’t help but clap harder for better-known names, essentially turning the solemn segment into a popularity contest.
Not this year. “We can’t control the applause,” Condon says, “but we can control what you hear on TV.”
If Condon and Mark can manage to channel the spirit and drive they usually invest into what they do and put it into the Oscar show, it probably can’t help but make some sort of difference.
“It is fun putting on a show,” Condon says.
“Yeah,” Mark says. “He’s Judy Garland. I’m Mickey Rooney.”
Intermission is over. Back to work. “We have to dash and beg someone to present foreign film,” Mark says. “We are hoping for Hillary Clinton.”
January 30, 2009 | 4:38 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Last time we saw Jason Segel, he was pathetically stripped to his skivvies—OK, fine—absolutely threadbare, and desperately humiliating himself for love of a girl. That was the reckless and comic, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” which Segel wrote and Judd Apatow produced, and qualifies as a brand of movie-making that has earned a cult following and re-defined slacker syndrome for the 21st century. Which makes it all the more interesting that Segel is in talks to star in “Gulliver’s Travels” the classic epic satire by Jonathan Swift. More expectantly perhaps, is that this “modern re-imagining” will star Jack Black as Gulliver, in what can only be a surefire spoof, and Segel as Horatio, his Lilliputian sidekick. Emily Blunt, the sassy brunette from “The Devil Wears Prada” will spice things up as Horatio’s love interest.
The move to literary adaptation may require more sophisticated humor from Segel and will likely expand his fan pool, but I wonder if it’s a far enough break from his usual style to illuminate a deeper talent—that is, if there is one.
From The Hollywood Reporter:
Jason Segel is in negotiations and Emily Blunt has been offered to sign up for “Gulliver’s Travels,” Fox’s Jack Black-starring modern re-imagining of Jonathan Swift’s classic tale.
Rob Letterman is directing the story of free-spirited travel writer Lemuel Gulliver (Black), who on an assignment to the Bermuda Triangle washes ashore on the hidden island of Lilliput, home to a population of industrious yet tiny people.
Blunt would play the island’s princess and the love interest of Horatio, Segel’s character, a Lilliputian who befriends Gulliver.
Nicholas Stoller, who directed Segel in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” wrote the screenplay with Joe Stillman.
Segel, one of the stars of CBS’ “How I Met Your Mother,” next appears on the big screen with Paul Rudd in John Hamburg’s “I Love You Man.” He is repped by Endeavor and Abrams Entertainment.