Posted by Danielle Berrin
Sharon Waxman makes no secret of her disillusionment with print journalism. So like everybody else, the former New York Times Hollywood correspondent is running to the net. On the homepage of her new entertainment website, The Wrap, that launched this past Monday and for which she is editor-in-chief, Waxman posted her internet-only raison d’etre.
“A year ago I left The New York Times with a sinking feeling about what was happening to professional journalism,” she wrote. “Today we launch with great optimism what I hope will become an exciting new space to cover Hollywood in the digital age.”
In a paidcontent.org message posted at The Washington Post, The Wrap’s ambitions are made clear:
TheWrap.com, the entertainment news site founded by former NYT Hollywood correspondent Sharon Waxman, is now live. The launch is backed by an undisclosed amount of funding from Seattle-based Maveron; Waxman picked up $500,000 in seed funding last August from private investors.
The site aims to take on established publications like The Hollywood Reporter and Variety with news and commentary; it also aims to take on the other high profile indie journalist Nikki Finke, whose DeadlineHollywoodDaily has remained solo till now, though works loosely with LA Weekly. Entertainment trade pub vets make up the masthead: interim COO Kevin Davis held the same title at Hollywood.com, Managing Editor Tim Doyle is formerly of Variety, and Deputy Editor Maria Russo joins from the LAT.
TheWrap.com is also following HuffPo’s lead by bringing in both journalists and industry vets as contributors; there’s even a prominent call-to-action for guest bloggers via a “Tell Us Something” link on the homepage. And while this may not be the most opportune time to launch an ad-supported operation, Waxman told MarketWatch that TheWrap.com will profit from filling the gaps in entertainment coverage left by larger publications (particularly newspapers) as they cut back across the board. The site secured British Airways and the Four Seasons Hotel Beverly Hills as launch sponsors.
Waxman is certainly setting her sights high by challenging the most widely read media resources in the industry. And yet, her exclusive video of SAG President Alan Rosenberg singing a ditty made waves this morning, and was immediately picked up by Variety.
In the rapidly changing media, Waxman demonstrates the foresight to catch up with progress. Now, we’ll see if The Wrap can catch up with her.
TheWrap seeks to use the myriad tools of the web to marry top quality journalism – breaking news, trends, features, interviews – with the input of the talented and sophisticated community that creates the world’s popular culture.
The time is fortuitous. As our lead story today indicates, the entertainment and media industries are at a fateful crossroads. TheWrap will be a resource for anyone who is interested in understanding the changes in our popular culture, and navigating what has become a global industry.
We need your help to do it. TheWrap seeks to build the best, most dynamic, most discerning community of entertainment professionals and enthusiasts around the world. We seek to be both authoritative and entertaining – yes, it can be done – and know that our content will be enriched by our readers as they comment on our stories, contribute their own blogs and connect to one another.
We believe entertainment matters. It matters because popular culture is a multi-billion dollar industry, American’s number one export, and a source of connection, employment, passion and aspiration for millions of people across the globe. Movies, television, music, games, media – these represent the common language that unites us as human beings. Entertainment reflects our world, and it shapes it.
So that’s why we built TheWrap. We believe it’s time for a substantive, independent and intelligent voice to write about the business of entertainment. And we believe that voice should be at home on the web.
Please consider this a conversation. A dialogue. We will make mistakes, and you will point them out. We will ruffle feathers, as that’s part of an honest conversation. But we hope most of all that you will participate. Write. Comment. Share. And join us in the digital age.
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January 29, 2009 | 3:17 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Is this the emblem incarnate of sheer desperation? Reality entertainment? Tragicomedy?
And the lyrics, thanks to Sharon Waxman and her new site The Wrap:
We don’t care about the future, we only care about us.
and if you don’t earn what I think I can earn,
I will throw you underneath a bus.
I sure do love my Union, it gave me my pension and my health,
but don’t expect me to stand up for nobody
till I’ve had a chance to accumulate some wealth.
I’ll stand up strong so that we might be weak
I insist you take that deal without even a tweak! (You bastards)
Al and Doug and Doug Allen?, they stand up way too hard.
If they keep fighting for my compensation,
I will bury them right in my own backyard.
Just tell my bosses that I’ll take what they’re willing to give,
‘cause I’m just so grateful that they even let me live!
I don’t care about nobody, I only care about me.
Lay down your weapons and stop all that nasty fighting,
don’t you know you should be glad to work for free!
I’ll stand up strong so that we might be weak,
I demand you take that deal without even a tweak.
Tell old CBS that I’ll take what they’re willing to give,
cause I’m just so grateful that they even let us live!
I don’t care about nobody.
No, I only care about me.
Lay down your weapons and stop all that nasty fighting,
don’t you know you should be glad to work,
shouldn’t even be mad to work,
sometimes you should prefer to work for free!
Sometimes as long as it ain’t me!
Meanwhile, come see me on TV!
January 28, 2009 | 8:20 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
It had come eerily close to an Oscar nomination just a week ago, but then it flopped. “Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh” had the scent of promise emanating from every end: its heroic feminist narrative, a Holocaust-era backdrop and an all-female production team that included once superstar television producer Marta Kauffman, creator of “Friends,” who staked a career-changing turn in this documentary.
As most who follow the ups and downs of the industry know, Hollywood is predictably fickle, and this was never intended to be a film that made money. But art-for-Academy-Awards-sake is not quite noble enough, and the The New York Times is apparently a much tougher critic than Hollywood. It did not have a nice thing to say about the little Hannah Senesh doc that (almost) could, but didn’t.
From the review:
An opaque blend of interviews, archival film and tasteful re-enactments, Roberta Grossman’s “Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh” documents courage, but steers clear of character.
But as Todd Boekelheide’s lugubrious score groans in the background and animated arrows forge across maps, Ms. Senesh’s former cellmates and fellow kibbutz members hint intriguingly at an aloof, lonely young woman whose poem “Blessed Is the Match” suggests a hyper-idealized view of her destiny.
“I didn’t like her; I admired her,” a fellow parachutist says dryly. But the director ignores this and every opportunity to excavate the heroine from the heroism, opting instead for a tribute that leaves Ms. Senesh ’s personality as vague in the final frame as in the first.
January 28, 2009 | 7:45 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
I still haven’t forgiven Courtney Love for even being suspected of driving her husband insane, but still, there’s something I like about her. Her edge. Her brusqueness. Her scabrous profile. You have to at least admire, beyond the cursing and vulgarity and troubled psychology, that there is an utter honesty about her, a candor often overlooked and underappreciated. This blithe openness is on full display in her latest interview with Heeb. It’s engendered the usual Courtney controversy, in particular, because of this comment she made about Jews and money: “Every time you buy a Nirvana record, part of that money is not going to Kurt’s child, or to me, it’s going to a handful of Jew loan officers, Jew private banks, its going to lawyers who are also bankers, its going to sixty PAs.”
The woman is a natural born provocateur. So while it’s unwise to accept much of what she says as credible, it’s still fun to hear her say it. There’s a cadence, a rhythm, a poetry to her ramble. Call me crazy but I find sober, sarcastic and reflective Courtney Love way more interesting and intelligent than high-on-heroin, down-on-life Courtney Love. She seems all grown up and cool. And frankly, after eight years of being led by a deceitful and secretive administration, the American psyche so accustomed to phoniness and concealed truth, listening to Love talk about herself is a breath of fresh air. Whouda thought?
On her Jewish grandmother:
She said in The New York Times Magazine that she didn’t like the way I used language. I’m a lyricist. Call it whatever the fuck you want, but don’t talk about how I use language because how I use language is my bread and butter.
On why women musicians aren’t as good as men:
This all-girl fantasy I’ve had my whole life, of you know. . .I’m going to show those Beatles, we’re going to be huge! Well, it’s not going to happen, right now, for my generation, for me. You know what I mean? Like, there are fucking riot grrrls sitting there banging on pots and pans and talking about their vaginas, and that’s all really lovely, and like the writing is great, but the music blows. I mean you have to fucking sit in your room and practice. You have to fucking learn how to play guitar, you have to learn how to play bass, you have to learn how to fucking play drums. You have to go get Zeppelin one through four, and you have to fucking sit in a fucking little room off Hollywood Blvd. for two hundred dollars a fucking month, and you have to play those goddamn drums. And for whatever reason, women just haven’t seemed to want to do that.
I’m a really, really good mother, and the proof is in the pudding. She’s had some bad breaks when I was on drugs, but she never saw me on drugs. I would go to New York, or I would go to a hotel, so she never saw me in that condition.
I realized this the other day: I don’t have any pictures of myself. Other than a few snapshots, like with my band. I have a picture that’s on the fridge of us just getting off of the stage. I have a picture of me and Brett Ratner. I kind of don’t have pictures of Kurt around much or any images of myself. And a lot of celebrities do. I went to take my band to Paris [Hilton’s]’ house. There were images of her everywhere. I mean everywhere. And I like Paris. She’s funny. Is it the fall of civilization that Paris is famous for being famous? Not my job to speculate. I’m not a culture vulture, I’ll let Ariana Huffington fucking talk about that shit. But what’s weird is that Paris had so many pictures of herself everywhere. I mean, she has not only got a grand piano with—I swear to God—maybe a thousand pictures of herself, but I was in the bathroom, and there were, pictures of her everywhere! Everywhere! I’m just trying to pee and there’s just fucking. . .Paris.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I can be bought. I mean, wait: Versace, offered me $180,000. Yeah, $180,000 to go to a fashion show once, back in the day, and I thought: “This is stupid now. I could give my friend her start-up money to start a bakery, you know, I can walk down the Spanish steps, and you know, have all the supermodels climb me, and tell my daughter, you know, that I was hot enough to wear a see-through mauve caftan, right?” So, I said yes, and I did it. . . . And, you know, it really makes you think, do you have a price? And if so, what is it?
On being Jewish:
What’s funny about the Jewish thing is that I did this Barbara Walters special, and I had to watch that thing on TV, and that’s the last time I ever did drugs when I was watching that thing. Cause it Freaked. Me. Out. And, you know, I never watched Barbara Walters before. But, I remember telling her that I was Jewish, and I was really into it. . .and, she looked at me funny, and I remember she looked at me funny in the moment, and . . . being in Britain about half the year, I tend to spend about half the year there, because I really like it there, um, you know, the way that the people who are Jewish, you know, in L.A.? …I don’t know what the fuck I am. I am definitely an underdog though, so that puts me in the Tribe.
On re-entering the spotlight:
This guy interviewed me for the Advocate before Kurt died, and I was reading it, and I was like, oh my God, I was like so fearlessly hysterical. You know, I wonder if I’m the same way. . .or I’ve been scarred, or if I’ve been damaged, or deformed, or you know. . .deformed I mean like a tree that grows up gnarly, you know what I mean? Like, I wonder if all this death and tragedy and shit has really fucked with me. I can’t say I know. You know? Why do you think I have two shrinks?. . .See, my heeb side is coming out.
January 27, 2009 | 6:11 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Okay so it’s old news: Jeremy Piven abruptly left the Broadway run of David Mamet’s “Speed-the-Plow” last December provoking a wave of suspicious criticism. As he tells it, he developed very high levels of mercury due to overconsumption of sushi and was advised by his doctor to quit his job “immediately.” Yet, as anyone who keeps kosher—and is therefore restricted to sushi-only secular dining—could tell you, if that were true, a substantial portion of L.A.‘s Jewish population would be chronically out of work.
My interest in this minor little mishap was reignited this morning when I read Ben Brantley’s updated review of “Plow” under the headline, “With Piven Gone, ‘Plow’ Speeds Apace.” Ouch. Nothing like your Broadway show getting rave reviews after you’ve left the cast. Of course Piven also had to endure the sting from Diane Sawyer, who, while interviewing him on “Good Morning America,” questioned why he was well enough to cavort around New York City nightclubs. I’m thinking that’s part of the problem…
January 26, 2009 | 6:45 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
I’m sick of hearing the gripe, “There are no good roles for women in Hollywood!” Even though it happens to be true. So just imagine the unadulterated thrill coursing through my veins upon hearing that two saucy femmes and their subversive self-expression were getting buzz at Sundance.
One of those gals is Stella Schnabel, daughter of artist/filmmaker Julian Schnabel and star of “You Won’t Miss Me,” about an aspiring actress who finds herself the inpatient of a psych ward.
Karina Longworth writes on SpoutBlog:
By immersing us in the world of 23 year-old aspiring actress/recent mental patient Shelly Brown, and burying the point of view so deep within the character that Shelly’s social imbalance sometimes feels contagious, writer/director Russo-Young and co-writer/star Stella Schnabel remind us how rare it is to see a film about the inner life of a beautiful, troubled young lady without the objectifying filter of the male gaze, without the beauty and the trouble fusing into a fantasy cipher of a postmodern damsel in distress.
Also subverting the gaze is porn star Sasha Grey, with some 150 adult films under her belt, making her work-in-progress debut as the lead character of Steven Soderbergh’s latest innovation, “The Girlfriend Experience.” In it, Grey plays a $10,000-a-night call girl, who treats sex work as a lucrative business practice. When she’s not enjoying the fruits of her labor, or fighting with her live-in boyfriend, she skillfully runs her own website. The film sounds eerily reminiscent of the dysfunctional relationship lore that made “Sex, Lies and Videotape” an indie sensation twenty years ago(!). Only this time, sexed-up, fetishizing James Spader is replaced by real-life, female porn star.
The L.A. Times writes:
Soderbergh seems interested in exploring, as one character puts it, the “transactional,” the exchange that occurs between people at all levels of interaction—in business, in love, in everyday life. Everybody wants something.
One question from the audience was about Soderbergh’s decision to cast an actress who has starred in more than 150 porn films as the lead in his movie. “Even though the film’s not very explicit,” Soderbergh said of Sasha Grey, “there’s a comfort level she obviously has from making all of those films that I think is difficult to fake. There’s a kind of attitude.”
Apart from Grey, no one onscreen has appeared in a film before. Soderbergh said he cast them for their proximity to the characters he wanted. He explained that a journalist character in the film—“intrusive,” is what Grey says of him—is played by Mark Jacobson, who wrote an expose of an escort ring for New York magazine.
“It’s really fun as a director to watch,” Soderbergh said of working with non-actors. “I really like the idea of people speaking in their own words, really speaking for themselves. Everybody in there, that’s them. It’s kind of fun to watch. I mean, when you’re making it.”
As long as roles like these continue to get play at Sundance, we can rest assured that the nation’s seminal indie film fest still has its edge.
January 25, 2009 | 7:35 pm
Posted by Larry Mark
By Larry Mark
Park City’s Main Street is now home to a hummus and nouvelle-Israeli cuisine restaurant, which was so filled each evening during Sundance, that one was unable to get a reservation prior to 9 p.m. It had previously been located a few miles from the town center. Main Street was also home to several Israeli films and shorts, as well as a place to visit for other filmmakers with Israeli roots.
“The Messenger,” which premiered here this week, is an American war story by Oren Moverman, who was born and raised in Israel and moved to the United States after his army service. The film stars Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster as two soldiers affected and scarred by their service, and currently working towards redemption as “messengers” who must inform next of kin that their loved ones have been killed in action. Working for the Casualty Notification Office is an honorable but stress-filled assignment that is guided by specific, unbreakable rules and methods. Between notifications, these two soldiers form a bond that helps them as they struggle to get back to “normalcy.”
At the premiere, Moverman said that no matter how noble their task, the role of these soldiers is among the toughest in the army; he likened it to serving as “two angels of death.” Soldiers would rather be in combat than in this assignment, which is currently being transformed by the Pentagon.
The film is not about the actual casualties, but the people who must continue living after a loved one is killed. One the of soldier characters, who is looking for a new reason to live after surviving the death of his friends, faces a dilemma when he is attracted to one of the young widows, now a single parent.
Producer Alessandro Camon developed the idea for the film in response to the lack of information on the real messengers who bring the consequences of war to families.
Moverman, who co-wrote Todd Haynes’s Bob Dylan biopic, “I’m Not There,” and collaborated with Ira Sachs on the films “Married Life” and the upcoming “The Goodbye People,” took on “The Messenger’s” directorial duties after Ben Affleck bowed out of the project.
Moverman said the script was a way to deal with his own “military experience demons” from Israel, where he was aware of casualty notifications, but never personally experienced them. The late Sydney Pollack, whom Moverman praised as a “one of a kind, real teacher,” was initially involved with the project because he liked its taboo love story, but bowed out as the plot began to focus more on the relationship between the two soldiers.
Viewers who watch closely will notice that one of the families notified of a husband‘s death, the Cohens, display a mezuzah on their front door.
Another Sundance premiere was “Zion and His Brother,” an Israeli-French production that deals with social issues rather than war. As mentioned in an earlier posting, this sibling drama by Eran Merav (“Underdogs”) revolves around 14-year-old Zion (Reuven Badalov), who is constantly fighting with his 17-year-old brother, Meir (Ofer Hayun). The boys live in a poor area of Haifa with their 35-year-old mother, Ilana (Ronit Elkabetz of “The Band’s Visit,” and “Late Marriage”); they wait each week for a call from their estranged father at a neighborhood pay phone. Also present is Ilana’s current boyfriend, who is pressuring her to choose between him and her children.
A train passes behind the neighborhood buildings every 20 minutes, but no one ever waits for it, and it never stops. The weather is hot and sticky, and the sun mercilessly parches the landscape. When an even lower-class son of Ethiopian immigrants, an outsider living among outsiders, is killed in an accident, Zion must decide whether he should keep certain details about the incident a secret. This coming-of-age film has created a good amount of “buzz” for its story and cinematography; the atmosphere of isolation is enhanced by images of identical apartment buildings cutting residents off from the sea.
Merav attended both the Camera Obscura and Sam Spiegel School of TV and Film and is an alumnus of the Sundance Lab, which helped him to hone his screenplay and directorial skills. He filled his script with real-life conversations he remembered overhearing while growing up in the poor area of Kiryat Yam; because that neighborhood has since been gentrified, he said he shot the movie in a decrepit area north of Haifa.
After his first three Sundance screenings, no one asked any political questions, which surprised Merav. He had expected at least a query or two about the current situation in Gaza, and was prepared to lend his opinions, but the questions instead focused on the movie’s production, casting, and the phenomenon of brothers in general.
Merav said he intends the movie to tell a universal story of an alienated immigrant society filled with despair and on the edge of economic catastrophe. “It has no specific place of language,” he said. “It could take place in any country of the world.”
“Bait,” a 12-minute short by Michal Vinik, was selected to screen with Merav‘s film at Sundance. The short revolves around about a tomboy named Nitzan, who plans to go out for a day of fishing near her home in the environs of Ashdod—but ends up accompanying her sister to the beach. They hitchhike and are given a ride by a Filipino guest worker who is heading to a nearby moshav. He joins them for an afternoon of swimming, tanning and more. The audience if left to determine exactly what Nitzan is fishing for.
Vinik graduated from the Film and Television Department at Tel Aviv University and now teaches screenwriting at Tel Aviv University’s Minshar School of Art and the Beit Berl Academic College
She told me she also prepared for questions about Gaza at the screenings. But none came. She did, however, have several private conversations at parties and welcomed those opportunities because they provided time to discuss and get her point across. Because both “Bait” and “Zion and His Brother” are coming-of-age stories about teens, I asked Vinik if she saw this as a trend in Israeli cinema. Her answer was “No.” The emerging trend, in her opinion, is the phenomenon of Israeli women obtaining more work as writers and directors.
While nearly all American Jewish film festival programmers know about the short films from Camera Obscura, the Sam Spiegel School of TV and Film, and the Ma’ale School, fewer are aware of the student films from Tel Aviv University. A representative from that school, Rachel Wallach, visited Sundance this year in an effort to improve the awareness of the program, which is called the Yolanda and David Katz school. She was also a figure on Main Street, distributing flyers and pamphlets about the program.
For more information contact the Sundance site.
January 23, 2009 | 7:59 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Things are not going smoothly for SAG President Alan Rosenberg. He’s been trying, unsuccessfully, to unify his guild in order to renegotiate actor contracts. On the eve of the SAG awards, set for this Sunday, The Hollywood Reporter is forecasting “turmoil ahead”:
Since the Screen Actors Guild officially rejected the AMPTP’s “final offer” last July, SAG president Alan Rosenberg has been a man under siege, enduring an endless barrage of attacks on his character and his competence. He’s lost weight and many hours of sleep.
While viewers will be focused on the stars at Sunday’s 15th annual SAG Awards, insiders will be watching Rosenberg, studying his body language, seeing if he is in any mood to compromise. As for Rosenberg, he’ll have to break bread with some of his mortal enemies. His mood may be even blacker than his tie.
Friday was meant to be the day that Rosenberg was going to find out if guild members would support his request for strike authorization. Instead, he and his main ally, chief negotiator Doug Allen, had to delay sending out the ballots at press time, following pressure from dissenting board members who even tried to have Allen ousted. The strike-authorization vote could be tabled for good and replaced by a possible vote on AMPTP’s previously discarded June 30 contract proposal.
“We have people on our board—even on our negotiating committee—who have vowed never to strike again, from now until the end of time,” Rosenberg complains. “They’ll do anything to demonize me and demonize Doug.”
What Rosenberg’s future will be if he doesn’t win this battle is anyone’s guess. He has managed to infuriate the men who lord over Hollywood and split a guild that has usually been supportive of its leaders. No matter what the cost to his own career, he remains convinced about the rightness of the negotiating points he has so long defended—especially how much the other side should pay for new media.
“They’re going to change from one platform—where they have to pay actors—to another one where they don’t,” he insists. “And they’re using the bad economy and the Writers Guild strike to scare the hell out of our members. And that’s a shame.”