Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Amanda Palmer Unashamedly Bleeds You Dry

Amanda Palmer, incendiary lead singer of "punk cabaret act" the Dresden Dolls, just posted a very interesting piece to her MySpace page about why she's not ashamed to ask you for money. I'm going to quote her here, and warn you in advance about rough language. Sorry but it's the future of media at stake.

artists need to make money to eat and to continue to make art.

artists used to rely on middlemen to collect their money on their behalf, thereby rendering themselves innocent of cash-handling in the public eye.

artists will now be coming straight to you (yes YOU, you who want their music, their films, their books) for their paychecks.
please welcome them. please help them. please do not make them feel badly about asking you directly for money.
dead serious: this is the way shit is going to work from now on and it will work best if we all embrace it and don't fight it.
It's a much longer post and I'm only quoting a little bit. You want more, befriend Amanda. I'm inclined to agree with her. The middlemen won't disappear but they're not running the whole show from now on. If you like someone's work, and they're still alive, pay for it. (Unless they tell you otherwise). If you don't, they got to take a day job, and all their material will be about how awful it is to work at "x". Do we really need a generation of songs about being a waiter?

A Medal-Of-Freedom-Shaped Scar On Her Forehead

Look, none of this stuff matters, but did you ever notice that JK Rowling hasn't received a presidential medal of freedom for encouraging millions of young people to read, you know, books? No? Well, if you had, would you have wondered why? Yes? Good.

Harry Potter author JK Rowling missed out on a top honour because some US politicians believed she "encouraged witchcraft", it has been claimed.

Matt Latimer, former speech writer for President George W Bush, said that some members of his administration believed her books promoted sorcery.

As a result, she was never presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The claims appear in Latimer's new book called Speechless: Tales of a White House Survivor.

He wrote that "narrow thinking" led White House officials to object to giving Rowling the civilian honour.
This story is mostly notable because it comes from the BBC, which explains why it's so prominently placed there - famous local girl denied award because of crazy American religious beliefs. It's a perfect storm to those guys. Still, considering this was the last time in history that kids will read books (now they're reading text messages) it seems a shame to have let the opportunity pass.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Weekend Box Office

The chart is here.

Predictable animated 3D extravaganza Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs pulls down $25 mil, which puts it at #1 in its second week. This relegates two newcomers, Surrogates and Fame to the #2 and #3 spots respectively. If only they'd cast Bruce Willis in Fame instead!

Curiosities: Star Trek is still in theatres somewhere, at #49 and making 66K for the weekend. A documentary called The Windmill Movie comes in last (#128) at an even $100. What do ya think - did they round up or down? Me too.

Monday, September 28, 2009

19% Of Amusement Parks Are Fraidy-Cats

Got plans for Halloween? Want some?

Associated Press reports, in the most perfunctory fashion imaginable, that 81% of American amusement parks will be offering some Halloween-themed experience this year. Less than half of them were doing this fifteen years ago, which means that the devil is winning I suppose. Get thee behind me, devil!

Anyway, click on the link and it lists every single one of 'em.

I still don't know what I'm going to dress up as this year, but it will probably utilize the long black wig that I have in storage. Oh what the hell, I'll be Dave Grohl. That's settled. Now to design candy-avoidance strategies.

The Least Noble Roman Of Them All

Just a quick note to acknowlege the absense here of news about Roman Polanski on this blog. We are about show BUSINESS, people! The messy personal lives (and frequently criminal activity) of celebrities is well-covered elsewhere. We are not going to hang a lantern on THAT crap.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Finalist Destination

Recall a few days ago, when I said we semi-finaled at Austin?

Yeah, that's right: I got the call from Alex, the Austin Film Festival screenplay competition coordinator, about an hour ago.

The Sensitivity Program made it to the final round.

This is incredibly big.

This means our humble little narrative is in the top 0.1 percent of the 4000 entrants, and there are only one or two other finalists in our category.

More later. But for now, just... Wow.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bragging For Illustrative Purposes

One of the many schemes I have been working is an attempt to break into the Voice Acting business. It's kind of an extension of my pricey podcasting hobby. After all, I have decent quality mics and recording software already, along with a speaking voice that people frequently tell me is broadcast quality. Even when I'm ordering pizza.

So when I finally landed a paying gig last night (woo hoo! Sample line: "Aren't all gold-resellers the same?") I was thrilled. Especially since the whole job took about an hour and fifteen minutes. That includes the original audition, laying down the tracks, emailing them AND drawing up the invoice.

Here is why the allure of showbiz is so strong: if you look at what I got paid for that time, compared to what I get paid at my straight job, it's a considerable improvement. I don't want to discuss concrete numbers, but let's just say if I got 7 hours a week of VO gigs like this one, I woudn't need the 40 hours a week of accounting. If I ever get a gig at a radio station, I'm sitting pretty. Assuming there still ARE radio stations.

This is why people assume that if you're famous, you're rich.

The fallacy here is that the money I got from this gig can't be considered the result of an hour's work. You should really pro-rate it over a period of six months, because that's how long I've been auditioning for gigs. Presumably I'll do better now, because I've refined my pitch and I have a credit under my belt, but in the meantime I'm eating bagged salads at home, not dining at Spago with hot younger women. Over six months, what I earned (and I'm watching PayPal like at hawk to make sure it comes in) isn't even stamp money.

Still what the hell, I may invite a hot younger woman to Spago, to celebrate.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Very Canadian Cartoon

The latest cartoon I have been watching too much of is “6teen,” an animated tweener "situational comedy." This native product of Canada chronicles the lives, loves and adventures of Wyatt, Jonsey, Jen, Jude, Caitlin and Nikki, six high-schoolers working and hanging out in a huge shopping mall. It’s a colorful show, animated in the line-less Flash style: Erin Esurance would feel right at home there.

Cartoon Network airs this show in the United States (with a TV-PG rating, unusual for a non-"Adult Swim" show) but I've managed to catch most of the episodes on YouTube. As it is with anything on TV I find worthwhile, “6teen” has some quirks to it, both endearing and outright puzzling.

• Six inseparable pals, three guys and three girls, and one “will they-won’t they?” relationship in the mix: sound familiar? Yeah, it borrows heavily from “Friends.” Character traits have been diced up and redistributed from one to the other: “6teen's” Caitlin Cooke is a slightly daffy shopaholic with keen comic timing-- so she’s Rachel and Phoebe. It may be derivative, but all you have to do is recall the lame plagiarism of “The Honeymooners/The Flintstones” to realize this is an improvement.

There is one aspect this Canadian 'toon has way over the American sitcom it derives from: It's characters are (likely by government decree) racially diverse. The "Friends" were lily-white. And “6teen” is, in terms of character, a more mechanically sound and effective comedy than “Friends” ever was. As opposed to the gang of 30-something New Yorkers, the six kids from Canada have a very good reason to carry on like a bunch of 16-year-olds.

• “6teen” is a purely Canadian product. It’s refreshing and unusual to see a show made in Canada that isn’t trying to be American (The late, and very lamented, “Reaper:” set in Seattle, shot in Vancouver). The $5 bills that change hands are blue; everybody is assumed to know how to ice skate. Jonesy-- the tall lothario of the group-- speaks with a strong Canadian vowel rising. (Jonesy is now in committed relationship with Nikki, which makes him both Joey and Ross.)

• If this show is indicative of the society it depicts, Canadians evidently have a strong affinity for humor based on bodily functions. Alright, It might just be the show itself: fart jokes are the definition of sophomoric humor, and “6teen” features, and is demographically designed for, sophomores. The thing that is remarkable is the volume and centrality of gross-out humor, especially considering this show is partly funded by Canadian taxpayers.

Comparing “6teen” to non-cable prime-time sitcoms, it actually pushes the gross humor envelope further than most. One episode is centered on the question of whether or not a man can still love a woman after seeing her excreta. One character is constantly ribbed for having thrown up in his girlfriend’s mouth on a first date—and eventually we get to see this happen on-screen. “Two and a Half Men,” an adult-oriented sitcom on CBS, can barely compete at this level, and remember: this is kid’s programming.

This brings us right to another animated series featuring fart-obsessed Canadians: the Terrance and Philip “meta-show” on “South Park.” According to Trey Parker and Matt Stone, they created the Canadian duo as a response to complaints that their show was all bad animation and fart jokes. But if you tune into “6teen” it quickly becomes plain that Canadians really do own this subgenre of humor. One of three things has happened here:

  1. Trey and Matt actually DID know Canadians are really into poo-poo jokes, and wrote Terrance and Philip accordingly;
  2. The showrunners of “6teen” are knowingly playing into the “South Park” joke;
  3. Native Canadian humor as a whole has, solely by the influence of “South Park,” evolved into a constructed stereotype.

Season four of “6teen” began a few days ago (“Labour Day,” which was shown on Teletoon on Labour Day, the same day as American Labor Day). It was, of course, available online a few hours later.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Forced Into a Life Of Crime

As of last night, the rubber hit the road, DTV-wise. Readers may recall that I live alone and watch little television, therefore I refuse to pay for cable. I see it as the equivalent of buying 8 movies tickets a month and only going out to see one matinee.

However, there is one show I am still hooked on and that's Fox's House. Maybe it's the thrill of seeing Sherlock Holmes Americanized and turned back into a doctor, just like the guy he was based on; maybe it's the wish fulfillment. I want to be an insufferable jerk who everybody tolerates because he's always right. I'm halfway there now, except for the people tolerating me part.

Problem is the switch in early summer to digital transmission knocked a couple of channels off my lineup. I can watch Telemundo and Korean sitcoms in crystal clarity, but I ain't got no FoxTV. So broadcast House is out.

This leaves with two options, and I'm taking the illegal one. I can watch House on Hulu but the quality is poor and no matter when I choose to view it, I'm at the mercy of Hulu's servers and tricky bandwidth. I also can't watch the show live, but then it's not really live when it airs either. Hulu in my place is at least viewable on the real television instead of a computer monitor, but let's be realistic and admit that the only difference is the TV is bigger.

Other option? The industry-despised Bittorrent. In this system, you wait an hour after the show airs, fire up the client (mine is Vuze) and it starts grabbing pieces of House from a swarm of other users. The more popular it is, the quicker it comes. This is why I woke up this morning with a complete 720p copy of the two-hour season premiere, yet I've been waiting for two weeks to get THE BEST OF THE FREE DESIGN, an album by a group who made the Partridge Family sound like the Fuggs.

My point here is that the industry is making it difficult for me to get their a-list property legally, while their sad, unsalable back-catalog items are what I'll probably end up paying for. What kind of business model is that? Let's fix that, mmm? I want to come in from the cold.

Jay and Dave, Observed

I finally got a chance to catch up on Dave and Jay. First off, The brand-spankin'-new Prime-Time Jay Leno Show. A few impressions:

• Watched it in HD, and that is quite a set. Jay does his thing in front of a backdrop full of windows, steel casements, and vibrant scenics. Lots of blue and purple lighting. Guests enter through a metal doorway-- in fact, the whole thing looks a bit like the front of an upscale department store. The number “10” is sprinkled throughout the set-- In particular the monologue stage mark, which is the old-school Indian-head NTSC test-pattern with the numeral dead center. Why remind us so much of when it's on? Oh, right.

• Jay himself looked sort of tired. His hair has gotten quite long and mostly snow-white, the dark stripe in front now quite small. His monologue fell remarkably flat, just recitations and references on the “John and Kate” level. In a few spots he revved up the sarcasm (“What an idiot!”), and some of the old Jay Leno fire came out. He's a great chat-show host, but I remember his HBO stand-up special from the early 80s: He was fast, profane and hysterical. That fire is still there, but he rations it out.

• When Jay sat down in his deskless interview set, he seemed even more tired.

• Jay Ungar, former “Daily Show” correspondent, did a remote piece about... Uh, I forget. It was painfully bad.

• Guest: Jennifer Garner. She looked positively radiant. The way she expertly crossed her legs when she sat down was so amazing, I had to rewind it and watch it again.

• Headlines: I love this segment. I always have. I'm glad he hung onto it.

Over on CBS, David Letterman kicked off his season with an interview with Barack Obama:

• I caught a piece of a Letterman rerun last week, and it was a bit of a shock: and he looked very much his age or older, peering over his glasses at the guest, dug-in and somewhat cantankerous. Not so last night. He was obviously energized by the Presidential visit: He was a dynamo, full of his trademark boyish charm and energy.

• If he was trying to impress his viewers that the CBS late-show franchise is in-place, unchanging and reliably entertaining, he definitely hit his mark. According to the NY Times:

The appearance by the President lifted David Letterman to his best overnight ratings number in four years and his second-best season-premiere number since he started on CBS in 1993. (Audience figures will be released late Tuesday afternoon.)

That performance should easily be good enough to give Mr. Letterman his first win over his NBC late-night competitor Conan O’Brien in the younger audience categories.
Meanwhile, Leno's rating are beginning to predictably slip as the rival networks start firing up their new episodes of procedurals and scripted dramas in the 10 p.m. slot. It's all kind of fun, because this bold strategy represents all-new territory for American television. Could yield some genuine surprises, which is something the nets have not managed to produce in quite a while.

A Transparent Cliché

We were trying out some ideas for premium hand-outs for the Austin crowd. The idea that came up was a combination business card and convention badge, a laminate with a slot cut in it for a lanyard. This is a great idea: It's something you can hand out that will get worn and seen. The even better idea that got batted around was to make it transparent.

This idea stalled out when we found out just how much it would cost to get something printed on transparent plastic, especially on two sides, especially with white knock-outs for text and such. Apparently, only American Express Clear can afford it.

So while the plans got scaled back a bit, I thought about exactly why that was so cool. Well, it's because our story is in the Sci-Fi genre, and transparent is... well, Sci-Fi.

Why the hell is that? I'm not sure, but transparent props-- Gizmos featured very prominently in some of the most famous science fiction films ever made-- have been around for 50 years, showing off their futuristic, mysterious see-through power to generations of awe-struck moviegoers.

Forbidden Planet (d. George Pal, 1955). For the most part the incredible technology of the long-dead Krell was grey and opaque and covered with rings, and even hinted to a charming Mid-Century Modern style that would not look out of place at Sterling Cooper Advertising. But clear is here: The Krell music player (“Much like our phonograph,” I remember Dr. Morbius saying) is mostly metal, but it has a band of see-through something right in the middle. How do it work?

2001: A Space Odyssey (d. Stanley Kubrick, 1968). Most of the film was painstakingly designed to show believable, detailed technology. But to make the technological superiority of HAL 9000 stand out over the general art direction, his Logic Core Modules-- The rectangular units Dave Bowman ejects that makes HAL sing funny-- are perfectly transparent.

(Apparently, Kubrick originally wanted the monolith to be transparent, but then-current acrylic casting techniques were not up to the task of making something that big and the idea was scrapped.)

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (D. Ted Post, 1970). The mutant Manhattanites who worship the big polished-brass Doomsday Bomb use a control interface consisting of clear cylinders. TAP plastics was obviously consulted. There are three translucent knobby things on it (which correspond to Ready, Aim, and Fire, no doubt) that make it... Well, blow up.

Zardoz (d. John Boorman, 1974). The computer which runs Vortex Four, a besieged repository of knowledge in a grim post-apocalyptic world, is called The Tabernacle. It is not church-sized, though: It is a lovely piece of faceted lead crystal, easily held in Sean Connery's remarkably hairy hand. Makes a dandy paperweight.

Aliens (d. James Cameron, 1986). Sweaty corporate bad guy Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) wants to go Alien harvesting, but needs someone with on-the-job Alien-wrangling experience to come along. To that end, he gives his calling card to a reluctant Ellen Ripley. It's perfectly transparent-- and rather bulky. Couldn't carry many of those in his wallet, I'm guessing.

The computers of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” ran on "Isolinear Optical Chips," little frammises which were about the same size as modern computer memory, but came in shades of translucent green and blue. They're “optical,” see, so they're see-through, get it?

The Matrix (d. The Wachowski Brothers, 1999). You can pick either the red pill or the blue pill, both are perfectly valid choices. And both are see-through gelatin caps. Not hard to see why Neo took it: He probably thought it was vitamin E or timed-release cold medicine. He did look sort of green in the gills.

Minority Report (d. Steven Spielberg, 2002). Digital effects finally evolved to their current mind-bendingly realistic maturity when this film was made, so they went positively nuts with the see-through. Huge wall displays, computer monitors, tray-like data cards, all as clear as glass. Even Tom Cruise's sad home movies are on little squares of lucite.

(I'm sure there are more good examples. Anyone?)

What's up here? Why is the future always transparent? This visual metaphor has been going on so long, I am officially pronouncing it a cliché. I have several theories as to why see-through has become short-hand for futuristic:

  1. The Inexplicable. To a contemporary movie-goer, a device that has no working parts is not of our time. And a device with no working OR visible parts: well, that's even more impressive.
  2. The Mystical. Sci-Fi giant and satellite buff Sir Arthur C. Clarke's third law of prediction: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” crystal-clear machines fit that description to a T.
  3. The Metaphoric. Showing a doo-hickey that obviously does something but appears to be invisible may be the filmmaker's way of saying “Sorry, doesn't exist. Don't look here.” That's right: See-through technology is a way to hang a lantern on it.
  4. The Cinematic. The great thing about clear plastic props is you can shoot lights through them, and they refract and glow in a really dramatic fashion, as if they were somehow filled with amazing energies as yet uninvented. Hate to say it, this is probably how it all got started.
We have repeatedly seen the future, and we can see right through it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What Do You Want From The Emmys, Surprises?

First of all, let me warn you that like most Americans, I didn't watch the Emmy Awards last night. I went to a movie. But had I watched, I'd have seen a multitude of awards given to a show I also don't watch often (30 Rock) and a show I don't even receive because I don't have cable (Mad Men) and a fine turn by host Neil Patrick Harris. And the ratings are up 10% for the awardsfest from last year, but they're still abysmal, and they declined with every half hour that the show was on, finally reaching zero at hour fifteen. (I kid!)

Are the Emmy awards irrelevant? Yes. Are they any more irrelevant than they've ever been? Of course not. But the idea of watching televsion about television in which they award television is such a mobius strip or torus or oroborus or Klein Bottle (pick your obscure physics metaphor, it'll keep your mind sharp) that it's just hard to care.

If you DO care, the results.

"Family Guy
"Flight of the Conchords"
"How I Met Your Mother"
"The Office"
WINNER: "30 Rock"

"Big Love"
"Breaking Bad"
WINNER: "Mad Men"

"Generation Kill" (HBO)
WINNER: "Little Dorrit" (PBS)

WINNER: Alec Baldwin - "30 Rock" (NBC)
Steve Carell - "The Office" (NBC)
Jemaine Clement - "Flight Of The Conchords" (HBO)
Jim Parsons - "The Big Bang Theory" (CBS)
Tony Shalhoub - "Monk" (USA)
Charlie Sheen - "Two And A Half Men" (CBS)

Simon Baker - "The Mentalist" (CBS)
Gabriel Byrne - "In Treatment" (HBO)
WINNER: Bryan Cranston - "Breaking Bad" (AMC)
Michael C. Hall - "Dexter" (Showtime)
Jon Hamm - "Mad Men" (AMC)
Hugh Laurie - "House" (Fox)

Christina Applegate - "Samantha Who?" (ABC)
WINNER: Toni Collette - "United States Of Tara" (Showtime)
Tina Fey - "30 Rock" (NBC)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus - "The New Adventures Of Old Christine" (CBS)
Sarah Silverman - "The Sarah Silverman Program" (Comedy Central)
Mary-Louise Parker - "Weeds" (Showtime)

WINNER: Glenn Close as Patty Hewes - "Damages" (FX Networks)
Sally Field - "Brothers & Sisters" (ABC)
Holly Hunter - "Saving Grace" (TNT)
Mariska Hargitay - "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC)
Kyra Sedgwick - "The Closer" (TNT)
Elisabeth Moss - "Mad Men" (AMC)

"Coco Chanel" (Lifetime)
WINNER: "Grey Gardens" (HBO)
"Into The Storm" (HBO)
"Prayers For Bobby" (Lifetime)
"Taking Chance" (HBO) More than one option(Film) Grey Gardens
(Tv) Grey Gardens

Tom Bergeron - "Dancing With The Stars" (ABC)
Phil Keoghan - "The Amazing Race" (CBS)
Heidi Klum - "Project Runway" (Bravo)
Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio - "Top Chef" (Bravo)
WINNER: Jeff Probst - "Survivor" (CBS)
Ryan Seacrest - "American Idol" (Fox) More than one option(Film) Survivor
(Tv) Survivor
Series Information, Seasons, Credits, Awards
(Tv) Survivor
Greg Evigan, David Straiton

WINNER: "The Amazing Race" (CBS)
"American Idol" (Fox)
"Dancing With The Stars" (ABC)
"Project Runway" (Bravo)
"Top Chef" (Bravo)

Kevin Kline - "Cyrano de Bergerac" ("Great Performances") (PBS)
WINNER: Brendan Gleeson - "Into The Storm" (HBO)
Sir Ian McKellen - "King Lear" ("Great Performances") (PBS)
Kevin Bacon - "Taking Chance" (HBO)
Kiefer Sutherland - "24: Redemption" (Fox)
Kenneth Branagh - "Wallander: One Step Behind" (PBS)

Drew Barrymore - "Grey Gardens" (HBO)
WINNER: Jessica Lange - "Grey Gardens" (HBO)
Shirley MacLaine - "Coco Chanel" (Lifetime)
Sigourney Weaver - "Prayers For Bobby" (Lifetime)
Chandra Wilson - "Accidental Friendship" (Hallmark Channel)

WINNER: Jon Cryer - "Two And A Half Men" (CBS)
Kevin Dillon - "Entourage" (HBO)
Neil Patrick Harris - "How I Met Your Mother" (CBS)
Jack McBrayer - "30 Rock" (NBC)
Tracy Morgan - "30 Rock" (NBC)
Rainn Wilson - "The Office" (NBC)

Christian Clemenson - "Boston Legal" (ABC)
WINNER: Michael Emerson - "Lost" (ABC)
William Hurt - "Damages" (FX Networks)
Aaron Paul - "Breaking Bad" (AMC)
William Shatner - "Boston Legal" (ABC)
John Slattery - "Mad Men" (AMC) More than one option(Person) Michael Emerson
(Person) Michael Emerson
(Person) Michael Emerson

Len Cariou - "Into The Storm" (HBO)
Tom Courtenay - "Little Dorrit" (PBS)
WINNER: Ken Howard - "Grey Gardens" (HBO)
Bob Newhart - "The Librarian: Curse of the Judas Chalice" (TNT)
Andy Serkis - "Little Dorrit" (PBS) More than one option(Person) Ken Howard
Actor, Producer, Screenplay
(Person) Ken Howard
(Person) Ken Howard
Music, Song
(Person) Ken Howard

WINNER: Kristin Chenoweth - "Pushing Daisies" (ABC)
Jane Krakowski - "30 Rock" (NBC)
Elizabeth Perkins - "Weeds" (Showtime)
Amy Poehler - "Saturday Night Live" (NBC)
Kristen Wiig - "Saturday Night Live" (NBC)
Vanessa Williams - "Ugly Betty" (ABC)

Rose Byrne - "Damages" (FX Networks)
Hope Davis - "In Treatment" (HBO)
WINNER: Cherry Jones - "24" (Fox)
Sandra Oh - "Grey's Anatomy" (ABC)
Dianne Wiest - "In Treatment"
Chandra Wilson - "Grey's Anatomy" (ABC)

WINNER: Shohreh Aghdashloo - "House Of Saddam" (HBO)
Marcia Gay Harden - "The Courageous Heart Of Irena Sendler" (Hallmark Hall Of Fame Presentation) (CBS)
Janet McTeer - "Into The Storm" (HBO)
Jeanne Tripplehorn - "Grey Gardens" (HBO)
Cicely Tyson - "Relative Stranger" (Hallmark Channel)

"Flight Of The Conchords" - "Prime Minister" (HBO) - James Bobin, Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie,
WINNER: "30 Rock" - "Reunion" (NBC) - Matt Hubbard
"30 Rock" - "Apollo, Apollo" (NBC) - Robert Carlock
"30 Rock" - "Mamma Mia" (NBC) Ron Weiner
"30 Rock" - "Kidney Now!" (NBC) - Jack Burditt, Robert CarlockMore than one option(Film) Reunion
Carmen Duncan, Chris Langman
(Film) Yi Lou Yi
(Film) Reunion
Bree Anthony, Jay West
(Film) Reunion
(Film) Reunion
Denzel Washington, Regge Life
(Film) Reunion: Dogme #17
(Film) The Eden Myth
(Film) Reunion
Carolyn Owens, Sheila Norman
(Tv) Reunion
Kevin Dobson, Russ Mayberry
(Tv) Forgotten Prisoners: The Amnesty Files
(Tv) Reunion
Series Information, Seasons, Credits, Awards
(Tv) Class Reunion
(Tv) Reunion
Marlo Thomas, Lee Grant
(Tv) Reunion
Series Information, Seasons, Credits, Awards
(Tv) Reunion
Series Information, Seasons, Credits, Awards
(Film) Reunion
1991 - Jason Robards, Jerry Schatzberg
(Film) Reunion
2000 - Tim Devlin, Larry David Eudene

"Lost" - "The Incident" - (ABC) - Carlton Cuse, Damon Lindelof
"Mad Men - A Night To Remember" - (AMC) - Robin Veith, Matthew Weiner
"Mad Men - Six Month Leave" - (AMC) - Andre Jacquemetton, Maria Jacquemetton, Matthew Weiner
"Mad Men" - The Jet Set" - (AMC) - Matthew Weiner
WINNER: "Mad Men" - "Meditations In An Emergency" - (AMC) - Kater Gordon, Matthew Weiner

"The Colbert Report" (Comedy Central) - Stephen Colbert, Allison Silverman, Richard Dahm, Michael Brumm, Rob Dubbin, Opus Moreschi, Peter Gwinn, Jay Katsir, Frank Lesser, Tom Purcell, Glenn Eichler, Peter Grosz, Barry Julien, Meredith Scardino
WINNER: "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" (Comedy Central) - Steve Bodow, Jon Stewart, David Javerbaum, Josh Lieb, Rory Albanese, Kevin Bleyer, Jason Ross, Tim Carvell, John Oliver, Sam Means, Rob Kutner, J.R. Havlan, Rich Blomquist, Wyatt Cenac, Elliott Kalan, Rachel Axler
"Late Night With Conan O'Brien" (NBC) - Mike Sweeney, Chris Albers, Jose Arroyo, Dan Cronin, Kevin Dorff, Andres du Bouchet, Michael Gordon, Berkley Johson, Brian Kiley, Todd Levin, Brian McCann, Guy Nicolucci, Conan O'Brien, Matt O'Brien, Brian Stack, Andrew Weinberg
"Late Show With David Letterman" (CBS) - Eric Stangel, Justin Stangel, Michael Barrie, Jim Mulholland, Steve Young, Tom Ruprecht, Lee Ellenberg, Matt Roberts, Jeremy Weiner, Joe Grossman, Bill Scheft, Bob Borden, Frank Sebastiano, David Letterman
"Saturday Night Live" (NBC) - Seth Meyers, Doug Abeles, James Anderson, Alex Baze, Jessica Conrad, James Downey, Steve Higgins, Colin Jost, Erik Kenward, Rob Klein, John Lutz, Lorne Michaels, John Mulaney, Paula Pell, Simon Rich, Marika Sawyer, Akiva Schaffer, John Solomon, Emily Spivey, Kent Sublette, Jorma Taccone, Bryan TuckerMore than one option(Person) King Corn
(Person) Steve Bodow
More than one option(Person) Jon Stewart
(Person) Jon Stewart
ActorMore than one option(Person) John G Oliver
(Person) John Oliver
Actor, Music, Sound
(Person) John Oliver
(Person) John Oliver
PropmanMore than one option(Person) Jason Ross
Actor, Song
(Person) Jason Ross

"Generation Kill - Bomb In The Garden" (HBO)- David Simon
"Grey Gardens" (HBO) - Michael Sucsy, Patricia Rozema
"Into The Storm" (HBO)- Hugh Whitemore
WINNER: "Little Dorrit" (PBS) - Andrew Davies
"Taking Chance" (HBO) - Ross KatzMore than one option(Person) Andrew Davies
Screenplay, Novel as Source Material
(Person) Andrew Gwyn Davies
(Person) Andrew Davies

Julian Farino, "Entourage" (Tree Trippers)
James Bobin, "Flight of the Conchords" (The Tough Brets)
WINNER: Jeff Blitz, "The Office" (Stress Relief)
Millicent Shelton, "30 Rock" (Apollo, Apollo)
Beth McCarthy, "30 Rock" (Reunion)
Todd Holland, "30 Rock" (Generalissimo)

Susanna White, "Generation Kill" (Bomb in the Garden)
Michael Sucsy, "Grey Gardens"
Thaddeus O’Sullivan, "Into the Storm"
WINNER: Dearbhla Walsh, "Little Dorrit" (Part 1)
Ross Katz, "Taking Chance"
Philip Martin, "Wallander: One Step Behind"

WINNER: Bruce Gowers, "American Idol" (The Final Three)
Jim Hoskinson, "The Colbert Report" (No. 4159)
Chuck O’Neil, "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" (No. 13107)
Jerry Foley, "Late Show With David Letterman" (Episode 2932)
Hal Grant, "Real Time With Bill Maher" (No. 705), HBO, Bill Maher Prods. and Brad Grey Television in association with HBO Entertainment
Don Roy King, "Saturday Night Live" (Host: Justin Timberlake)

WINNER: "81st Annual Academy Awards," Song: "Hugh Jackman Opening Number"
"A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All," Song: "Much Worse Things"
"The 2008 ESPYS," Song: "I Love Sports"
"Flight of the Conchords" (Unnatural Love), Song: "Carol Brown"
"A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa," Song: "I Wish I Could Be Santa Claus"
"Saturday Night Live" (Host: Justin Timberlake), Song: "Motherlover"

"The Colbert Report," Comedy Central, Hello Doggie with Busboy Prods. and Spartina Prods.
WINNER: "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," Comedy Central, Central Prods.
"Late Show With David Letterman," CBS, Worldwide Pants
"Real Time With Bill Maher," HBO, Bill Maher Prods. and Brad Grey Television in association with HBO Entertainment
"Saturday Night Live," NBC, SNL Studios in association with NBC Studios and Broadway Video

Michael Rymer, "Battlestar Galactica" (Daybreak -- Part 2), Syfy, R&D TV in association with Universal Cable Prods.
Bill D’Elia, "Boston Legal" (Made in China/Last Call)
Todd A. Kessler, "Damages" (Trust Me)
WINNER: Rod Holcomb, "ER" (And in The End)
Phil Abraham, "Mad Men" (The Jet Set)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Something In The Way It Moves

Maybe because it's a video game that you can give to your parents for a change, THE BEATLES ROCK BAND has exceeded sales expectations.

The "Limited Edition Premium Bundle," which sells for about $250 and comes with a Ringo Starr/Ludwig-branded "Rock Band" drum kit, could sell out by November, Dauman told Wall Street analysts Wednesday at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia XVIII Conference in New York. "If any of you out here want to buy some, you better hurry up," he said.

Of "The Beatles: Rock Band" in general, Viacom sold 25% of its inventory in the first week it was released, assisted by positive reviews that he called "unbelievable."

"It is a work of art," he said of the game. "We think it's going to have legs. We'll see."
Considering that you have to buy an extra controller for the Yoko character, this is quite an amazing feat. By the way, if it runs out by November, then that means no Deluxe Beatles for Christmas! And you know how much the Beatles loved Christmas.

Tangentially, you might enjoy this podcast which is the Abbey Road album cobbled together with cover versions. The ukelele version of Maxwell's Silver Hammer is my favorite.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Long Road to the 2009 Austin Film Festival

My Screenwriting History:

1984, Santa Cruz:
My friend Jeff and I rewrote “Shoes,” a romantic comedy short-film script Dan K. wrote about a house painter who get mistaken for a fine arts painter. Both of us were huge Samurai film fans at the time, so we changed the setting from American suburbia to Japan during the Tokugawa era. It was called “Hakimono.” It was a cute little story.

1990, College Screenwriting Class: wrote the first act or two of a feature. It was so atrocious, I think I blotted out all memory of it. Seriously, I still feel bad for the instructor, who had to read it.

2001: the FX channel starts stripping “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” two episodes a day. I catch up on the entire series in less than two months. In a dazed epiphany, I write up a spec. (Or was it a just a fan-fic in courier with industry indentations?) Either way, out of my addled mind came “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead,” a "BtVS" episode told from a Tom Stoppard-like outside perspective. I liked it a lot, and so did every one else who read it. I was encouraged to enter it into competition so I entered it in the Scriptapalooza TV contest, along with “Three Little Fishies,” another spec in which Buffy and the gang mentally time-traveled to Sunnydale during World War II. “Rosencrantz” quarter-finaled in the One-Hour category, and was the best "BtVS" spec script showing that year.

2004: I partner up with John Harden on a short-film script, “I’ll See You In My Dreams.” It was a rewrite, but it came out as a very funny little story with a nice button on the end. He entered it in (I think) several places, but we hit in Britain: it semi-finaled in the British Short Screenplay Competition.

2007: Wrote a 10-pager called “Arrangements,” about a dying man who has an affair with his cute undertaker. I entered in the Cinemar Short Screenplay Competition in Santa Cruz, and my script won. They produced it later that year with the talented Chip Street directing, and it premiered at the Santa Cruz Film festival.

NOW: The creative synergy with John was good (we have the exact same birthday: the shared existential perspective is a big help), so we decided to try to write a feature. I came up with an idea (that's the hard part, believe me) while I was watching Lingerie Football during Super bowl halftime, and pitched The Sensitivity Program to John to co-write.

Many drafts later, it was finally ready. I hesitated consenting to send it to any competitions. It was a prodigious effort, and it needed to be polished to a gleam before it could be put out. (John is a short-film maker, and as such is fearless when it comes to film festivals.)

When it was good and ready we put it into one, and only one, competition: the 2009 Austin Film Festival, widely considered the finest screenwriter’s festival in the US.

The Sensitivity Program semi-finaled in the Sci-Fi category.

This is big.

For a little perspective, here's an excerpt from John’s press release (italics mine):

As semi-finalists, Harden and Christopherson's work has survived two rounds of eliminations and joins a group that represents the top 1% of approximately 4,000 screenplays submitted to the competition this year.

The annual competition receives approximately 4,000 entrees and only the top 10 to 12 percent move on to the second round of the competition. Fifty entrants qualify for the semi-finalist round, 20 will become finalists and six will qualify for a final award.

Needless to say, I’m goin' to Austin! We’re all booked in. So expect some cool behind-the-scenes, insider reportage at the end of October from the 2009 Austin Film Festival.

The Money Just Leaps Out of the Screen

3D hasn't peaked yet, according to a summit held yesterday at the Universal Hilton in Universal City.

During "The Business Case for 3D" panel, Screen Digest senior analyst Charlotte Jones said 3D remains a strong revenue driver for features, especially for this summer's pics. "Without 3D premium pricing, the summer would not have registered as positive," she said.

But while 3D screens continued to overperform 2D screens so far this year by about three to one, on par with historical averages, that figure is inflated by the overperformance of "My Bloody Valentine." Without that title, the ratio is down to about 2.5:1.

The major crucial factor behind the decline is 3D screen capacity, Jones said, and "3D movie revenues are being squeezed because we're seeing more 3D releases in the same time frame."

Time in 3D theaters per title is down, too, she said, from 8.7 weeks in 2008 to just 3.1 weeks this year. The 2010 schedule, with some 30 3D features slated, could drive the time down to as little as 1.8 weeks.

This crush undermines some of the advantages of 3D, she said, "including a stronger run over the duration of a title."
Which is why you're seeing a stampede of 3D enabled auditoriums across the industry. The demand is exceeding the supply.

Of course, adding to the headaches is ancillary markets - what about home viewing? Gizmodo reviews potential 3D options for 2010. At the earliest. And it's very expensive, and it still sucks. Luckily this is technology we're talking about here, and by the time you finish reading someone will have found a way to make it half as expensive and three quarters less sucky.

This Is The Brain On Drugs

(I) now know that the difference between crack and facebook is that one of them beckons to you, pulls you in, to the point of compulsion, to the exclusion of all else, leaving you mindless and soulless, as your inner, better self sobs helplessly, because it knows there's a beautiful life awaiting you if you can just stop this insane, repetitive, destructive behavior. And the other one is crack.
-Maurice LeMarche's Facebook status message

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Leno Ratings Watch

For its second episode, "The Jay Leno Show" was seen by 11.1 million viewers and drew a 3.4 adults 18-49 rating -- winning its hour with strong numbers, yet falling 40% in viewers and 36% in the demo from its Monday debut.

That's a more pronounced drop than the second night of Conan O'Brien hosting "The Tonight Show" last June, which declined about 30%.

An NBC researcher described the drop as "expected."

Night Two also had Leno against greater broadcast competition, with the NBC program facing the second hour of CBS' "Big Brother" finale, and ABC airing a Barbara Walters special on the late Patrick Swayze. Leno was aided by a strong lead-in from the return of NBC's reality hit "The Biggest Loser" (last night's reality show ratings here).

The heavy hitters at 10 p.m. roll out next week, when broadcasters unleash the bulk of their premieres, including CBS' top-rated dramas such as "CSI: Miami" and "The Mentalist."
Hollywood Reporter, The Live Feed

Weekend Box Office Results for September 11-13, 2009 - Box Office Mojo

4 new top ten movies this post holiday weekend, and as usual, the most interesting (and profitable) is the Tyler Perry movie. The man delivers!

Also in there, the creepy 9 cartoon and guaranteed-miss White Out. Honestly, who greenlights movies that take place in conditions of extreme cold? Didn't Ice Station Zebra teach you people anything?

Most interesting failure: the opening, at #112, of I Can't Think Straight. Earned less than $100 a day despite the prominent placement of hot lesbians in the ad materials! Back to the drawing board; next time, those gals better be carrying guns.

The Swayziest

Hang your head out of the window and wail, for we have lost Patrick Swayze. He was one of the most unusual leading men of the last 20 years, a combination of several different types of leading men: An action hero, a refined Broadway-style dancer, an adherent of Eastern thought, and quite possibly a Brat Pack member.

Appreciations and retrospectives are all over the usual news and websites: I think there is little we can add here, except agree that he tended to be the most interesting part of whatever film he was in.

The best tribute to Mr. Swayze I can think of is actually quite old: A Christmas carol, written for a December 1991 episode of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" (Film: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians):
(Michael J. Nelson)

Open up your heart and let the Patrick Swayze Christmas in.
We'll gather at the Roadhouse with our next of kin.
And Santa can be our regular Saturday night thing.
We'll decorate our barstools and gather round and sing.

Oh, let's have a Patrick Swayze Christmas this year!
Or we'll tear your throat out and kick you in the ear!

It's my way or the highway, this Christmas at my ba-ha-haar.
I'll have to smash your kneecaps if you bastards touch my car!
I got the word that Santa has been stealing from the till.
I think that that right jolly old elf better make out his will, ohh,

Oh, let's have a Patrick Swayze Christmas, one and all.
And this can be the haziest...
This can be the laziest...
This can be the Swayziest
Christmas of them aaallllllllll!
See it here on YouTube.

When I learned of Mr. Swayze's passing, this tune (the only Xmas song with an action sequence, might I add) was the first thing that popped into my head. I think it is, in retrospect, a very touching tribute.

I think if all of us, even in a small way, kept a bit of Patrick Swayze in our hearts this upcoming holiday season, the season would be that much brighter. Namaste.

Addendum: Patrick Swayze actually DID star in a Christmas movie: Christmas in Wonderland (d. James Orr, 2007). Made in a mall in Edmonton, Alberta, it apparently wasn't very good (Rotten Tomatoes Rating: "N/A!"). I seriously doubt that "Let's Have A Patrick Swayze Christmas" was on it's soundtrack. --s

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Great Moments In Bad Advice

"Don't stop 'til you get enough."

-Michael Jackson

It's A Crazy Idea, But It Just Might Fail

The premiere of "The Jay Leno Show" was a ratings dynamo Monday, outdelivering the host's "Tonight Show" finale in May by about 50% and standing as the night's No. 1 program.

According to Nielsen preliminary estimates, "Jay Leno," whose premiere night guest was Jerry Seinfeld, averaged a 5.1 rating/13 share in adults 18-49 and 17.7 million viewers overall during the 10 o'clock hour. This is a larger audience than any episode of an NBC series from last season, and the best overall for NBC in the timeslot since the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

By comparison, Leno's swan-song on "The Tonight Show" averaged a 3.4 rating in 18-49 and 11.9 million viewers overall

A big premiere rating was expected, but it will probably take a few weeks to see where the show's number settles, or what kind of a local news lead-in it provides for the network's affiliates. The 5.1 rating is a bit above industry expectations for the premiere and is about three times what NBC has said it could do on an annual basis to generate a profit.

- Daily Variety

The Leno Show is an audacious idea in programming, if you equate cheapness with audaciousness. At the root of this 5-nights-a-week decision is the admission that NBC can't profitably put hour-long dramas in this slot. No matter how much they whittle down the cost of an episode of Law and Order, it ain't gonna gonna undercut a single-studio semi-scripted property like this.

So if Leno drops to an eighth of these ratings and stays there, NBC can still make money off the show. They can charge less for commercials all week and still make money.

However, there are a couple of big potential consequences of shifting The Tonight Show to 10:00pm, which is what they're really doing. Number one, it might sate people's appetites for the real Tonight Show. Poor Conan O'Brian may wind up a permanent cult figure. Worse, fans who wished they could watch Leno AND Letterman finally have their chance. Letterman rules latenight, NBC loses that revenue stream.

A more indirect consequence: the impact on your local news. Leno is still doing his monolog and like it or not, a lot of Americans get their news from monologs. Maybe they watch Leno, decide they're caught up, and go to bed. Or online. In any event, Leno at 10 has the potential to kill TV at 11.

There are some NBC executives, very popular this morning, who might be running for their lives by the end of the month.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Press Release


The launch of a new blog: Hang a Lantern On It

The wait is over! After a lengthy hiatus, the fellows from Box Office Weekly are at it again, skewering the entertainment world with witty, quirky and thought-provoking insights.

Hang a Lantern On It ( is the new site, named after an obscure screenwriter's catchphrase. A sample of the articles already up and available for your edification:

• "Mad Men" and the erosion of your civil rights.

• We have met Godzilla, and he is us.

• "Wizards:" A cherished fantasy classic that really sucks.

• The new 3-D craze: Enough, already.

Coming Soon: Austin Film Festival 2009!

Hang a Lantern On It is a followup to Box Office Weekly, the popular, oft-syndicated weekly podcast and blogsite on The Podcast Network. The change to the Blogspot publishing site allows the contributors a forum with an amazing amount of content flexibility-- without the requirement of producing what is essentially a half-hour radio show every week. As co-contributor Daniel K. so pointedly wrote, "The ‘cast was just too much for me, and I put in three years, which is plenty for this kind of stuff."

So please check it Hang a Lantern On It, and feel free to comment and subscribe. We'll do our part and keep the quality articles coming!

About the Contributors:

Daniel Krause has a long and unstoried background in showbiz, having authored over ten unproduced screenplays and a number of TV spec scripts. Additionally he was a writer on and performer in SIMUL TREK, a Los Angeles radio show that improvised a new dialog track to currently airing STAR TREK episodes; he bounced around several improv groups in the 90's. He has published online blogs and journals since the mid-1990s: He was the voice of Box Office Weekly and currently podcasts DARK MEAT: MUSIC FOR DEPRESSIVES. He also acts occasionally in plays in the Los Angeles Area.

Skot Christopherson is a Bay-Area post-production and DVD expert-- and a life-long film fan. He has journaled online since 1999 (with the online chronicle of his old truck). A San Francisco State University Film Theory major, his screenwriting efforts have been awarded in four competitions-- Including this year, semi-finaling the in the prestigious Austin Film Festival. He plays bass for No Exit, a Bay Area cover band. He does not have a Facebook account and has never twittered-- due to, as anyone who has met him knows, his painful shyness.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Man About Town

Tonight I'll be in Hollywood at the Hudson Theatre, enjoying Fuggedaboutit!, a play by Emmy-award-winning writer Gordon Bressack. Gordon is best known to me as a major force behind Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain, two cartoons that helped get television animation back on track in the nineties. The play though is not for children. It only runs a couple more weekends after this so see it now, before it's developed into a sitcom for Fox.

Saturday Night Live Is Dead To Me

Word comes today that SNL has cut my two favorite new-ish cast members, Casey Wilson and Michaela Watkins. Watkins (left) is the one who usually plays straight woman to Kristin Wiig; Wilson (right) is the zaftig one who manages to work a song into almost everything she's in.

It appears they were dumped to make room for even newer girls Jenny Slate and Nasim Pedrad. More power to them, but gosh! I'll miss these two. Rumor has it that they have already been snapped up by Jay Leno in NBC's brilliant/desperate 5-night comedy hour project, so maybe I'll finally after all these years start watching Jay.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Credit Lion

MGM once symbolized Hollywood itself. The powerful studio was once known for turning out classic movies, then they kind of lost touch with the audience just after 2001: A Space Odyssey and after that they bounced back with such huge eighties hits as Blame It On Rio, Teachers, Roadhouse, and through partner United Artists, Heaven's Gate.

Also about a decade ago they even had to sell off their historic lot to Sony, who wasn't exactly setting the world on fire at the time.

Anyway, nowadays they're sensibly forgetting about movies and putting all their energy into restructuring debt.

Details of a restructuring proposal are being formulated by MGM and its advisers. But a series of conference calls between Lion execs and studio creditors have made it plain that the MGM owners' hold on the studio is crumbling.

A recent audit confirmed the Lion is in no imminent danger of insolvency. But cash flow is so tight that MGM execs recently met with liquidity consultants to discuss strategies for navigating relations with the studio's many vendors.

Creditor-side sources say the Lion's consortium of owners -- including investment firms Providence and TPG as well as Comcast and Sony -- will do well to come out of the restructuring with even a 10% stake in the studio.

A restructuring would make roughly 150 MGM creditors majority owners of the studio by converting about $2.5 billion in Lion debt into equity.

MGM chief exec Steve Cooper -- a turnaround specialist brought in by current owners -- recently acknowledged in a conference call with the creditors group, "All right, guys, the debt owns the equity."

That could be strategic posturing, but for now, MGM creditors are giving the studio's new CEO high marks for his forthright style.

"He's brought a refreshing level of candor to the process," one call participant said.
I've been to the new MGM studios in Santa Monica, and it's telling that there are no offices more than three stories up. Could you imagine the liability costs? Should I throw the word "suicide" in here somewhere or does the gag just explain itself?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

El Dia De Los Beatles

At work, I listen to streaming music via iTunes. Yes, I know that makes me part of the problem right now: I mean, I'm not even downloading any MP3s, let alone buying CDs. I'm also not playing any LPs and my Edison Wax Cylinder player is in the shop. Anyway, I usually take turns with three streams, all actually radio station feeds.

WCBS-FM from New York City is an amazing oldies station, who are capable of hauling out the deepest oldies cuts you can imagine, like "Beautiful Sunday" by Daniel Boone or "Work With Me, Annie" by Hank Ballard & The Midnighters.

K-EARTH 101 is the Los Angeles oldies station. It's not as adventurous as WCBS, but it has an indefatigable sunniness, a sort of Beach Boys/ Van Halen/ Byrds vibe that instantly reminds me of of Southern California.

The other one is Absolute Radio, a Sky-owned radio station out of London. They tend a more modern pop spectrum, ranging from The Kaiser Chiefs to The Killers to 80s cuts from The Smiths and The Stranglers. Nice DJs with plummy regional accents and strange UK ads that aren't aimed towards me at all.

Yeah, that's a lot of oldies. I have to listen to oldies. I play bass in a cover band: It's all research. Still, bopping between these streams gives me enough musical range during the workday to keep me productive, and provides enough interesting new/old material so I can regularly make recommendations my band-mates. Lots of variety.

But not today.

It's 9-09-09, which is now apparently International Beatles day. It's not quite two in the afternoon and I think I've heard everything they've ever done, including studio noise and outtakes.

London, New York, Los Angeles, all fab four all the time. When I checked into local radio when I was running an errand, guess what? More Beatles.

It's quite stunning. The synergy for the new box set and The Beatles: Rock Band is incredible and, apparently, global. Hey, I want to go out and buy the video game-- and I don't even own a video game console.

Weekend Box Office Labor Day

The always disappointing three-day Labor Day weekend fails to surprise again.

THE FINAL DESTINATION ekes into the top spot with $12.4 million, besting INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS by about a million, making Quentin Tarantino question his decision to not shoot in 3D also. You snooze you lose, Q! The 3 new movies debut in the 3,4 and 9th slots, a sign that the studios know better than to release the A-List this weekend.

Here's something from the bottom of the list: at #107 a comedy called My Fuhrer (Mein Fuhrer). It earned $376 nationally, which means literally about 40 people bought tickets. I bet 10 of them snuck into another theatre.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Matter Of Perspective

Here's something that seems to come at ya every 30 years - 3D movies. Variety reports that the demand for 3D product has produced a demand for people and equipment to crank it out.

Two U.S. camera-rig makers have already become well known in the burgeoning stereoscopic 3-D market: Pace Technologies ("Avatar") and 3ality Digital ("U2 3D").

But the space is about to get more crowded, as manufacturers -- several of them in Europe -- aim to democratize digital 3-D filmmaking with new systems.

"The market for 3-D is growing," says Andreas Dasser, managing director for Munich-based P+S Technik. "Manufacturers are working to democratize digital 3D filmmaking."

"Many of the (early) rigs were self-made," he said. "But the growing market shows that there are more rigs now needed. Now, if you want to shoot 3D, you can buy a rig that offers the standard quality for a proper shoot."
With them, you need cinematographers who understand 3D, and there are said to only about 10-15 of them. So expect them to be as busy as cobol programmers in the year before Y2K.

Meanwhile the Venice Film Festival has instituted the Persol 3D award, an honor specifically aimed at quality 3D movies. And here's potentially interesting news, thrown out as an aside in that article:

European companies are helping home 3-D take its first steps. U.K. broadcaster Sky plans to launch a 3-D channel in 2010, while others, including the BBC, are researching what it would take to add 3-D capabilities. International bodies including SMPTE and the European Broadcasting Union are working on setting standards.
How much of this is just whistling in the dark to forstall the inevitable decline and fall of the format until 2040 remains to be seen.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Summer 2009 Film Season Wrap-up Wrap-up

I think we can wrap up the summer film season here at Hang a Lantern On It: Hey, everyone else has.

The L.A. Times, Time Magazine and many other MSM sources have made lists which summarize the character and flavor of the 2009 summer movie season. Like the films themselves, they're sort of all alike. So in the interest of efficiency, Here's a summary of the summaries:

• A-List actors are out. This is a trend that's been long coming. Will Ferrell, Jack Black, Adam Sandler and Eddie Murphy failed to open their pictures. The likes of Chris Pine, Shia LaBeauf and Bradley Cooper (who?) topped the bills of the winners.

• Toys always bring 'em in (Transformers 2, G.I. Joe).

• Grown-up films don't bring 'em in (Pelham 123, Public Enemies).

• Reviews don't matter that much anymore. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was, amazingly, not pre-screened for reviewers. And when the reviews came out, they were universally blistering. It still made $400 million. (I'm constitutionally bound not to consider the other explanation for this: Summer moviegoers are illiterate. I'll moderate this idea and go with the prevailing MSM wisdom, that people were looking to escape into loud, fast-paced, spectacular popcorn movies featuring Megan Fox.)

• Buzz is now instantaneous. Brüno fell 40% the day after release: Apparently, bad word-of-mouth was likely via texts and Twitter.

• More of the same always works (Transformers 2, Harry Potter, etc.) It seems the law of diminishing returns was suspended for the duration of the season.

• Pixar's success defies Hollywood logic. Up, starring nobody, did $289 million in BO. IMHO, Pixar's stock in trade is not animation, but quality, especially in writing. That's the part that defies Hollywood logic.

• The most successful Judd Apatow film this summer was an imitation Judd Apatow film (The Hangover).

• Julia Roberts may have lost her mad deal-making skills. She passed on The Proposal (not enough $), so Disney gave it to Sandra Bullock. It did $160 million.

• In a bad economy, status quo = success. Overall summer box office was up 1.3% from last year. This uptick doesn't even cover ticket price inflation from last year.

Friday, September 4, 2009

King Of Monsters

I stayed in last night. Now that I'm not married I have those kinds of options. Anyway, I stayed in, and to reward myself for cranking out a podcast and a record 4 voice acting auditions, I watched GOJIRA. I can't imagine you don't already know what that means but just in case I'll clue you in - released in Japan in 1954, the movie was a big enough success that Americans bought it, dumbed it down a little, added footage with Raymond Burr and retitled it GODZILLA, KING OF MONSTERS.

It's been probably 30 years since I saw GODZILLA and I've never seen GOJIRA until last night. It's considerably less fun than its 700 full color sequels but way, way more intelligent. Like any enduring classic, GOJIRA has allegorical elements. I didn't recognize them as a teenage geek, and I didn't much care for this dour, black and white spectacle. But I see now that Ishiro Honda, the director, went to great lengths to invoke the all-too-recent memory of the Nagasaki A-bomb attack, opening the film with a nuclear test at sea that destroys a boat and cemented by a long, solemn pan of Tokyo after Gojira's attack that makes it look exactly like the remains of Nagasaki.

For all that, the interesting thing is that the fearsome giant monster is NOT a metaphor the atom bomb. Gojira symbolizes a marauding army who must be stopped. The subtitle guys translate more than one line of dialogue as "But how do we defeat Gojira?" Not "destroy" but "defeat." The metaphor for the bomb is the Oxygen Destroyer, a weapon developed by a haunted scientist, who is wracked with anxiety over the use of his invention. Yes Gojira can be stopped by it, but once it is deployed, how can he prevent man from using it on his fellow man?

This is extrordinary because in this scheme, the Axis forces are Gojira. Half a decade later the Japanese are reevaluating their role in the great war and it is that of a monster.

I bet one of the reasons the movie succeeded in Japan is that this scientist, unlike others one could name (*cough* Oppenheimer! *cough*) takes the trouble to destroy his notes and even himself so that the fearsome weapon can never be used again.

Like nuclear power itself, Gojira could not be stopped. He (she, as it turns out) kept coming back again and again in sequels. Perhaps inevitably she also became a benevolent hero, defending Japan against even worse monsters. Once in a while, symbolism reared its head again - check out GODZILLA VS THE SMOG MONSTER - but for the most part the series became the cinematic equivalent of Big Time Wrestling. Who knew that Tokyo was so easy to rebuild? It's like they made it outta cardboard or somethin'!

I think it is time for me to check out MOTHRA again. I bet there's some serious symbolic meat in there.

(crossposted from KEEPIN IT REAL, YO)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Beach Blanket Shroud

ABC offers a helpful round-up today of the celebrities we've lost over the summer. This year has been especially... well let's look at it positively, it's been helpful in thinning the herd and allowing new celebrities room to expand.

"This summer saw some pretty spectacular celebrity deaths," said Jeremy Wallach, an associate professor in the department of popular culture at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

"They're dropping like flies."
The sheer volume of famous person loss also has the advantage of clearing hard-drive space at newspapers as they burn through long-stored obituaries. And that's good because they need that space for resumes.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Puppet Opera

I'm in receipt of a CD by the Barry Gray Orchestra. You probably aren't familar with the name, but you may be with the work. Perhaps the title of the collection will help:

That's right, Barry Gray was the house composer for Gerry Anderson, a producer of British adventure TV shows in the sixties which mostly starred marionettes. If you're not of a certain age, the movie TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE looked just like the Gerry Anderson ouvre. Imagine it played straight with a cast of English voice actors, half of whom approximated American accents, and you got the picture.

Gray's work is lush and derivative and shameless, and he's a man who has no qualms about slotting in a harp glissando where a saner composer would just back off. In fact, much of the Gray aesthetic is borne of the necessity of doing the heavy emotional lifting on shows where the actors are expressionless puppets. Later, on the live-action UFO and SPACE: 1999, his music performed largely the same function for the same reasons.

In the sixties, the wedge that divided us all was rock and roll: you were either for it or against it. Gray doesn't seem to have any problem with it. The album includes both THE SUPERCAR TWIST and THIS IS THE TWIST from FIREBALL XL5. Incidentally, another hallmark of Anderson's ouvre is that the lead characters of many of his shows were vehicles. Cars, submarines, the moon blasted out of orbit, stuff like that. Grey steals plenty from popular music at the time, (check out the JOE 90 THEME) just as he rips off Brubeck's TAKE FIVE for a sequence.
Is it corny? Oh hell yes. Some of these music cues sound like they come out of romantic comedies from the thirties. But the sheer lading of element on top of crazy element produces a very listenable stew. You can call it overproduced, I call it muscular. It's background music that stands up on its own. In fact it stands up and saves the world.
(To hear the themes to SUPERCAR and STINGRAY, may I cross plug here and suggest you download this week's episode of Dark Meat: Music For Depressives? Yes I may.)

Forbidden DVDs

Gautama Buddha, sitting under the bodhi tree 2500 years ago, meditated for 49 days and came to enlightenment. The most important step to inner peace he discovered was to abandon desire. Desire is our central source of suffering, for the realization that we cannot possess or achieve all we desire is the core of unhappiness. Desire distorts our very perception of reality, making that object of desire seem more alluring that it actually is.

In that spirit I present to you two films that you cannot legally own on DVD in the United States. And as you will see, they are two pieces of forbidden cinematic fruit that are nonetheless still fairly easy to get. And if somehow you obtain them, you'll know what I meant by distorted perceptions of reality.

Forbidden DVD #1. Brewster McCloud (1970)
This is a Robert Altman joint, released the same year as MASH. It is the story of an odd young man (Bud Cort) who lives in the Houston Astrodome and is obsessed with building a pair of working wings so he can fly. He has a guardian angel (Sally Kellerman) who protects him from the relentless pursuit of The Man. Like MASH, the bulk of the film consists of little intertwining vignettes, anti-establishment thinking, and overlapping dialog.

Altman is not one of my favorite directors. That everyone-talk-at-once gimmick gets old fast. He was hailed an iconoclastic auteur, whose personal style of filmmaking was often at odds with the Hollywood establishment. Personally, I think he tended to sabotage his own films. It wasn't hard to sense a pattern: A successful film (MASH, Nashville) followed by a string of duds (Popeye, OC and Stiggs).

Brewster McCloud was one of those duds. But it shouldn't have been. Unlike a lot of Altman's lugubrious later works, this one is remarkably lively, full of marvelous performances, slick filmmaking, and imaginative plot twists. Check out the opening on YouTube and you'll see what you're missing.

You can still get this film on VHS tape, but what would you do with one of those things?

Forbidden DVD #2: Pop Gear (1965)
I caught this film on AMC late one night, back before they carried ads. It's a sort of big-screen Scopitone of Merseybeat bands, hosted by Sir Jimmy Savile. He was the host of BBC's "Top of the Pops," and with his huge mop of blond hair, blackwatch plaid jacket and buggy eyes he comes off like a mod Doctor Emmet Brown.

Pop Gear is mostly a series of staged performances. And by that I mean really staged: the performers typically stand on a hastily constructed bunch of set-pieces on a cyclorama stage, lip-synching their songs and playing unplugged guitars. Occasionally they would do something, like slowly amble to secondary marks or circle en masse around the set.

The bands and songs ranged from the immortal (two Beatles songs, live performances set as bookends to the film; The Animals, Herman's Hermits and the Spencer Davis Group) to the best forgotten ("Humpty Dumpty" by Tommy Quickly and the Remo Four; The Four Pennies; The Rockin' Berries).

Pop Gear is marvelous in all it's fab details, a Pathécolour and Panavision close-up look at the British Invasion. Check out the Cuban heels; crooner Matt Monro serenading an extra next to what looks like an outhouse; Honey Lantree of The Honeycombs, cool beyond words, driving "Have I The Right" with killer drumming. Standing next to her, playing (unplugged) rhythm on a hideous Burns guitar, Martin Murray is a dead ringer for professor Julius Kelp from The Nutty Professor. I'm now convinced Peter Asher of Peter and Gordon must have been the model for Austin Powers. There's even two bits of fun choreography!

This film was photographed by Geoffrey Unsworth, perhaps the finest cinematographer England has ever produced. He shot 2001, A Night to Remember, Cabaret and Superman. The great lighting and fluid camera moves elevate this film from a cheesy variety-show musical segment to something of a lost gem.

Okay, you can't get this on DVD (I'm sure it's a music clearance issue), but you CAN see an edited version of Pop Gear in its entirety on YouTube. This link will take you to part one: it's all designed to run end-to-end in eight parts (thank you, nyrainbow2!).

the resolution is nowhere near as good as DVD, but it is the correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Nobody Knows Anything, Except This

Variety reports that this grim, dismal economic downturn has somehow produced record box office numbers. Just like most grim, dismal economic downturns. Somehow the studios have generated $4.7 billion in gross ticket sales since mid-may, which is enough to buy Marvel Productions and leave some to make a sequel to TRANSFORMERS. They expect the coming 3-day weekend to drag in another $100 million.

What do you think - more people out of work and tired of spending all day clicking around Craigslist? An intense emotional need to see Harry Potter growing up? Quality air conditioning? What's sucking people into these theatres?

Fantastic Four Billion

Disney yesterday morning announced that they are paying 4 billion dollars US to acquire Marvel Productions, a deal which gives them access to almost all the Marvel Characters. Yesterday evening, Fox weighed in.

20th Century Fox is the latest studio to start the process of overhauling one of its big Marvel Entertainment franchises, “Fantastic Four,” which has already hatched two films. The studio has hired Akiva Goldsman to oversee the re-boot as producer.

New script will be written by Michael Green, the “Heroes” co-executive producer who co-wrote “Green Lantern,” the Martin Campbell-directed Warner Bros. film that will star Ryan Reynolds.
Ha ha Disney, it's clobberin' time! (Green Lantern, BTW, is from the DC universe where Superman lives, and is not affected by this deal.) Meanwhile, across town in Culver City:

With “Spider-Man 4” moving toward an early 2010 production start, the studio recently hired James Vanderbilt to write a fifth and sixth installment of the web-slinger franchise, with the understanding that one or both could give that franchise a makeover with a new director and cast (Daily Variety, Aug. 16, 2009). Whether director Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire return or not, Sony smartly has given itself the chance to shorten the gap between its superhero installments.

And with state-of-the-art visual effects on superhero franchises pushing these pictures toward the $250 million-$300 million range, reshuffling the creative cast gives the studio a chance to save money, since actors and directors usually have a pre-negotiated option or two before the studio is held over a barrell by talent and their reps.
It's not as dire for Disney as you'd think, by the way. Sony and Fox stand to make plenty of money from these movies, but so does Marvel Productions. And who owns Marvel? And let's face it, everybody is probably owned by Coca Cola.

"Mad Men" vs. TMZ

An Open Letter to Matthew Wiener, Producer of "Mad Men"

Many thanks for the excellent show. Everything about it-- acting, writing, all the little bits-- is sublime. There is just one small thing I would like to request.

Actually shoot some part of an upcoming episode-- even just a scene or two-- in greater New York City.

It takes a while to figure it out while watching the show-- and that is entirely due to superb set design and cinematography-- but "Mad Men" is entirely a TMZ deal. The show is produced entirely in the Studio Zone, a thirty-mile radius (TMZ=Thirty Mile Zone) centered on the corner Of Beverly and La Cienega (Between Beverly Connection and Beverly Center, two blocks south of Trashy Lingerie). This is done to keep production at lower "studio rates" with IATSE, the Teamsters and the like.

What's setting in, now that I've been onboard for three seasons, is a sort of claustrophobia. The show consists of interior sets-- offices, houses, and apartments-- with scenic cycloramas outside the windows. They're really good cycs, but for every shot they look effective there's another where the interior and exterior perspective and horizon lines are out of whack, sometimes hilariously so. The few exteriors tend to be of well-manicured places-- backyards and country clubs and such. The production team does a very good job with these, and are as nitpicky and thorough about the outdoor settings as they are about period set decorations and costumes, but it's like the show is never allowed off the front lawn.

And take my word for it-- Not everyone can pull it off. I remember watching an episode of "thirtysomething" back when it was on. In one scene in the Philadelphia-set show, one whiny character was saying goodbye to another whiny character in his driveway. The car door slams closed-- and in the the window's reflection could be seen, in bold silhouette, a row of stately Washingtonia palm trees. Authenticity blown. Apropos, I'm not sure what anybody can do about outdoor shooting this week, with the LA skies turned burnt umber from the wildfires.

The good work done so far notwithstanding, the only time the show really opened up its vistas was towards the end of Season two, when protagonist Don Draper, his marriage in trouble, escapes to the West Coast. He makes out in a pool in Palm Springs, hangs loose on a porch in San Pedro, swims in the Pacific. It's as if his character is relieved to be outside.

So Mr. Weiner: I know relocating to Silvercup studios in Queens is out of the question, but consider flying the cast out for a tiny little bit of location work here and there. Unlike Los Angeles, there are plenty of places in and around NYC that have not significantly changed since 1963. Give the Drapers an outing in Playland Beach in Rye or the Great Meadow in Central Park. Bertram Cooper could preside over a Japanese Art show at the Met. Peggy Olsen could spend the day at Coney Island-- better hurry on this one, because the whole place is gonna be history soon.

One of the many delights in "The Sopranos" (in many ways, this show's immediate predecessor) was it's North Jersey locations. It positively reveled in it. It added incredibly to the immediacy of the show: it was authenticity you could feel right through the screen. "Mad Men" is about New York in the 1960s, and a bit of authenticity sprinkled into the mix here and there would open up the feel of the show and liberate it from the confines of the Studio Zone.

Thanks for your consideration, and keep up the great work.

p.s. Titillating title, huh?