Saturday, May 29, 2010

How To Survive The Death Of Print Media

I have been lamenting, for some time now, letting my subscription to Daily Variety lapse. It was a luxury that I just couldn't afford; and after a while I had to admit that the only reason that I maintained it was to enjoy the For Your Consideration ads that producers took out in their effort to score awards. Entertaining, but not $200-a-year entertaining.

Well, that was a decade ago, and now the print edition of Daily Variety is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. However, I was just at the Westfield Topanga Mall near my apartment (there are four malls near my apartment - it's a gift! And a curse) when I came across this, right smack dab in the middle of the concourse. The reflection you see is me, holding up my iPhone.

This bespeaks a couple things I hadn't considered. One, print is dead. Two, I must be surrounded by industry people. If there wasn't a high concentration of Emmy voters in this area, Fox would be buying kiosk space in the Beverly Center instead.

I gotta admit, it's a little weird to have a pint-sized Hugh Laurie glaring at me while I'm shopping for jeans.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Paradise Lost: THE APPLE

In my youth, I took a shine to bad movies.  God help me, I love 'em. When a particularly inept line of dialogue somehow makes it past the hundreds of people who approve these things to get all the way to the screen, my heart leaps for joy a little. When I see an expensive train wreck like Battlefield Earth or Ishtar, it reignites my sense of wonder - anything is possible! Plus there's the schadenfreude.

Even though it was released in 1980, the peak years of this obsession, I had never seen The Apple. Despite the distributing muscle of Canon Pictures, I can only assume that this movie never made it to Santa Cruz. And then was largely ignored by video stores. And frankly I'm amazed that Canon didn't buy up and destroy all the copies, but it's available from Netflix now, or it will be in a couple of days when I mail it back.

It has a reputation as the worst movie ever made, though it is not. The thing that makes The Apple so bad is, in fact, that balance between the moments of genuine inspiration and jaw-dropping stupidity. Seriously. The movie is pretty well-cast for example, if you don't count the romantic leads. The "futuristic" set design is mostly awful but sometimes clever, and the staging of the numbers shows a canny understanding of the role of the camera in cinematography.

Rather than explain what it's about, let's just say it's a musical allegory about the devil and the music business, and it doesn't really work anyway. As you watch, I defy you to keep your jaw from dropping less than once every 3 minutes. You will never be more compelled to mutter "what were they THINKING" to yourself more than when you watch this movie.

And indeed, Menahem Golan never showed any particular affinity for musicals, especially this one. My guess is that he and Yorum Globus decided that they could make a bundle in ancillary soundtrack album sales. If this was the strategy, it backfired - reportedly at the premiere angry audience members chucked their souvenir cassettes at the screen, causing extensive damage.

I just read another blogger who described the movie this way:
If you took Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise (1974), Ken Russell’s Lisztomania (1975) and Milos Forman’s Hair (1979) and boiled them down, carefully distilling everything that made them good, then threw that distillation away, you might get something very like The Apple from the dregs.
I'm not going to top that.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Word From Our Sponsor

Weekend Box Office

Numbers here - what did people watch if they weren't taking pitch meetings this last weekend?

Most of them watched the 4th, extradimensionalized sequel to Shrek. Shrek Forever After took the weekend with $71 mil. A huge amount of money, but said to be a disappointment in Shrek terms. Looks like character parts for Mike Meyers from now on! Or God forbid, a sitcom. I'm offering a prize for whoever calls the network accurately.

Opening alllllll the way down at #6, another SNL alumnus brings stillborn franchise MacGruber to the big screen. Audiences, apparently fearing 180 explosions for punchlines, largely stayed away. It made $4 mil. At #10 is Kites, which is either a 3 hour Bollywood musical or a 90 minute re-edit with all the songs taken out, supervised by Brett Ratner. I think it's the original - the re-edit is supposed to premiere next week. Anyway, it's the opposite of Shrek Forever After - for a Bollywood movie to crack the top ten is quite an achievement, so even though it made under a million, it's doing fine.

Iron Man 2 grabs the number two spot with $26 million. It reportedly cost $200 million to make and has grossed $251 million to date, but remember that the theatres will wind up keeping half of that. However, once you factor in the DVD sales and overseas and halloween costumes... well let's put it this way, look forward to Iron Man 3.

Pitch Meetings

I've been to LA on business before, and I've been to LA on business that involves going to producer's offices and meeting up. But this is the first time I have come to LA on creative business.

And I'm telling you, I should be doing more of it. The biz relies on face-to-face meetings: Ideas are pitched best that way, and the development and creative executive running the meetings get to, quite honestly, show the big execs they can bring in fresh talent.

Of course, anyone who reads the trades knows this is a terrible time to be pitching as-yet-unwritten scripts. There's an economic downturn to deal with. Nobody is really making development deals, and spec script sales have never been harder to make.

John and I came to LA armed with seven script pitches and two completed screenplays. We had scheduled three pitch meetings over two days, with people who have over the last few months requested to read our script The Sensitivity Program. Here's the play-by-play, with details obscured (there is some chance we may be in business with these folks, after all!)

Meeting 1, Thursday Morning: Met with SW at the lovely offices of ---- Entertainment in Santa Monica. The first thing she said was something like "I'll be very surprised of you brought me something we can use." Looking at the movie posters on the office walls, we had to agree. Still, an excellent meeting with a very intelligent and personable young exec, who John and I really connected with on a personal and film-history-appreciation level.

Meeting 2, Friday Morning: Met with NA on the Paramount Studio lot on Melrose. As you'd expect, it is quite a thrill to get a lot pass with your name on it and drive through those historic gates. We met in the offices of ------- Pictures, in the former offices of Desilu Studios. NA was gracious, pleasant, with an encyclopedic knowledge of our script and it's deeper themes. An impressive person. We gave her printed copies of every pitch we had.

Post-meeting we took lunch at the Studio Cafe and took in some sights on the lot. Unfortunately, most TV shows have wrapped for the season, so there wasn't that much interesting going on. I did see some of the settings for "Community," my current favorite sitcom, and the New York street where Don Draper moved to in the Season 3 finale of "Mad Men."

Meeting 3, Friday Night: this was more of a dinner social/advice meeting, but we're counting it. JJ, a development exec from a rather prominent auteur's shingle, met up with us at the Westfield Century City, at a Mexican place with the unfortunate name Pink Taco. If you crossed an El Torito with a Hooters, this is what you'd get. JJ dispensed excellent advice over tacos and Corona. John and I are still chewing on some of the priceless bits of strategy he gave us.

At the end of the meal, the three of us were the victims of a sustained verbal attack by a full-on Westside jerk in a loud, expensive shirt who became fixated on the three of us and our booth. He'd lean in on us semi-menacingly and say "are you done here, can you leave? My wife and I have been waiting an hour!" There were a number of other booths and tables quite empty, might I add. He came back and started in again two more times. The security guy had to eventually drag him away. when it was all done, I think it strengthened the bond between JJ and us: we were now blood-brothers in The Battle For The Pink Taco Booth.

All in all, it was an excellent series of meetings. Relationships were established, and connections were made. No, we didn't sell anything, but now we have the tools to make a sale happen.

Monday, May 24, 2010

That Long "Lost" Moment

Rushed home from Los Angeles to catch the two-and-a-half-hour finale of "Lost," ABC's puzzle-box series detailing the adventures of the survivors of Oceanic 815.

It was a very satisfying, cathartic episode. In particular, the last few minutes which, sweetened a bit by string music, were nonetheless devastating, joyous, clever, hopeful and sad all at once. I'll admit I teared up: if there weren't family members in the room watching with me I probably would have bawled. I can't remember the last time a show on commercial television had that sort of emotional pull.

As sad and devastating I found the ending, I was also incredibly happy-- the happiness of being shown incontrovertible evidence that I had successfully figured out this show's big secret years ago.

Okay, this sounds like I'm bragging-- but in all seriousness, I have been bending the ear of everyone I know who watched "Lost" for five years about the fact that I saw the show give out a vital, subtle clue in it's second season, one that makes sense of all of it's labyrinthine storylines and details.

In Season Two, many of the survivors of Oceanic 815 were spending time residing in The Hatch-- an underground facility where a number series had to be entered into an Apple II or the whole island would blow up or something. The Hatch also had canned food and hot showers, which must have been quite attractive for a bunch of beach-dwelling castaways. In one episode, John Locke (Terry O'Quinn) is in The Hatch sorting through a shelf full of books. The show often throws out clues in names and titles, physicists and philosophers and whatnot: But the book Locke pulled out, on screen for maybe a second and a half: "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce, published in 1890.

In this story Peyton Farquhar, a Confederate sympathizer, is condemned to hang from a bridge by the Union army. The rope breaks and he manages to escape. He travels for days to get back to his home and his wife. Moments before they embrace, he feels a pain in his neck-- and blackness. Peyton's long escape was imagined, the attenuated final second of his life.

The storylines of "Lost's" final season, a split between the travails on the Island and an alternate timeline where the crash never occurred, bear this out. The primary themes of the alternate timeline were redemption and self-actualization: finding peace. Fans of the show could obsess about numbers and polar bears and Jacob and whatnot, but the ultimate truth is it was all a reverie, with internal rules as mutable as the imaginations of those clinging to their last moments of existence.

Another big, big clue ran throughout the entire show-- one I am delighted and puzzled to say nobody ever got. The audio bump between segments on "Lost" was the roar of jet engines. Was it a theme-- or the awful sound of reality the doomed passengers of Oceanic 815 were desperately trying to drown out?

(Oddly enough, "Lost" was the second excellent series to use this exact same "Owl Creek" ending. "Life On Mars," the engaging BBC time-travel detective show, left it's main character back in the 1970s-- in his mind, a construct that was, according to a producer, "a final moment of existence, stretched out forever." I'm definitely not talking about the American "Life on Mars," which may have had the all-time worst finale ever.)

Finally: The Season Two episode the explanatory book makes it's fleeting cameo was titled "The Long Con." Get it?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Throwing Out the First Pitch

Alright, if you recall from many months ago, The Sensitivity Program, the script John and I wrote, won Best Sci-Fi Screenplay at the Austin Film Festival.

And now-- finally-- we are doing something about it. We're traveling down to Southern California to take a few pitch meetings.

After the AFF win, we have had many inquiries to read the script after the win. It turned out to be rather easy to get those still interested in our writing to take a meeting. We asked three development people who had read it to meet us and all three said yes.

And bear in mind, two of these people actually passed on the script. Initially I though we had waited too long to make a splash down there, but in retrospect the time between October and now was quite beneficial-- It was spent developing an impressive amount of pitches for new scripts. We have a total of nine: The original Sensitivity Program (in yet another rewrite) and eight outlines in a surprising number of genres-- thriller, true crime, black comedy, horror and a few more sci-fi offerings.

From what I read about how a writer is supposed to do a pitch meeting right, the number one thing to remember is not to be too needy. The studio guys are there to see what you have to offer. Be relaxed, friendly and open to new ideas. I think we both had that mode nailed down solidly. We have a unique advantage as a writing team: our process was to pitch new ideas to each other-- and the feedback could be merciless, believe me. We're toughened and ready. Another advantage is "tag-team" delivery: If John freezes, I can sweep in, and vice versa.

First meeting: Thursday morning, two hours after I arrive at LAX. I'll let you all know how it went. This is a show-biz blog,after all, and for the first time in a long time one of us gets a chance to peek under the hood and see how the thing runs.

On pwning Cyberspace Open, Round One

For those of you not conversant with the variegated, slightly geeky world of screenwriting competitions, The Cyberspace Open (retro name? or just slightly antiquated?) is a scene-writing derby put on by Creative Screenwriting magazine. It has a few features that appeal to my short-attention-span personality: strict time limits, a five page or less requirement, and it's something like fourteen dollars to enter.

In round one they give you a weekend to write up a scene. The best one hundred from those move on to round two, where they give you twenty-four hours to write a scene. The three survivors of that round... I forget exactly what happens next, but it's likely you have to write another scene in even less time. Whether this thing sounds like fun or some weird high-school homework nightmare is in the eye of the beholder.

The Round One standings were posted. Not only am I advancing to Round Two, but I received the best score of all 100+ Round One winners, 98 out of 100. Here, check it out: name on top and everything.

John Harden and I both entered the current competition, and the one the fall before. We're writing partners, so I think we both subconsciously use this contest as a friendly way of competing against each other. Okay, not so subconscious: The typical email exchanges were on the level of "Just submitted my entry: gonna pwn you, bee-otch!" All in good fun, I assure you.

When we entered last Fall's contest, John advanced out of round one and I didn't. This season, I advanced and he didn't. Just more spooky symmetry from the guys with the exact same birthday.

This is great fun-- but the problem is when the CS Open posts the Round 2 instructions I'm going to be in Los Angeles, fresh from a round of studio pitch sessions (more on this elsewhere). So this little win is, if you ask me a very good omen, and definitely something we can bring up with the CEs we're meeting with. But still: no fun Saturday cruising around LA in an air-conditioned rental car. I'll be at Dan's place in the Valley, grinding out a scene on deadline. But then again, it sounds like great, non-distracting place to write, and Dan is one of the finest writers I know, so hopefully some of that karma will rub off. Or even better, I just might pose as one of those screenwriting phonies and hole up at a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf with a laptop.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


The upfronts, an annual attempt by the networks to presell advertising for their shows, concluded over the weekend. Lo and behold, comes the new week and networks start making their programming announcements. Here's what you can look forward to not seeing this fall! Or sooner. In fact, presumably you're not seeing these shows now, which is why they're on the way out.

Cold Case
Miami Medical
Accidentally On Purpose
New Adventures of Old Christine
Ghost Whisperer (I bet this last one is because they got Medium from NBC, and it's just better)

Law And Order (pressure from the powerful Gunsmoke lobby, which is the only hour-long dramatic to be on the air longer)
Heroes ("we have satisfied the viewers desire for the show,” Bromstad said.)

Romantically Challenged

This list is not complete. Though everyone has announced new shows, not everyone has firmed up what they're clearing out. And remember, if you liked a show there's always a chance that it will be picked up by basic cable and produced for a fraction of the current budget. So it's almost a certainty that Corey Feldman will be working!

Weekend Box Office

I'm a numbers man, myself. (Speaking of which, did you hear that CBS has canceled Numb3rs? This could be worth another post)

Iron Man 2 drops 59% from opening weekend, but that means it's still #1 with $52 million. In the "fresh" category, #2 is Robin Hood (why didn't someone think of making a movie out of this before?!) at $36 mil, #3 is Letters to Juliet with $13 mil and #4 is Queen Latifah vehicle Just Wright with $8.2 million. Two romantic comedies for counter-programming and a market dump! Grim weekend. Look for Robin Hood to fail quickly and efficiently.

My favorite new movie of the week opens somewhere below the top 40: Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo. Pulling down only $6k and change, I can't tell you anything about this movie except if I were strolling past the theatre and saw that title on the marquee, I'd be inside in a hot minute. Admit is, so would you!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Official: NBC cancels 'Heroes' -- The Live Feed | THR#more#more

Official: NBC cancels 'Heroes' -- The Live Feed THR#more#more

Has Heroes even been on this year? I kinda lost track of it. And it used to be my favorite show! Along with House, which I also haven't been watching. I fear that it's going to take a lot to get me back with a Network hour long episodic.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Weekend Box Office

Numbers! You like mister?

To quote Peter Serafinowicz, "Iron Man also designs casual wear, but that's not his strong suit." Proving the franchise can easily withstand dopey jokes, Iron Man 2 opens at #1 with $128 million. Talk in the streets is a probable 60% drop next weekend, but by then they will have enough money to buy back all those other Marvel characters from Disney.

Meanwhile, at a farrrrrrr distant 9th place, the French documentary Babies pulls down $2.2 million. Perhaps if the theaters had taken the trouble to baby-proof that money, it couldn't have been pulled down! Too late now. New parents have to learn as they go.

A Nightmare on Elm Street, with only $9.1 million in 2nd place, already seems like a distant dream.

For kicks, a reminder: when you adjust for inflation the number one movie of all time is Gone With The Wind. If every ticket bought for this movie was priced like this last weekend, the civil war romance would have made $1,606,254,800. Also, Turner Classic Movies wouldn't exist because Ted Turner would never have been able to buy up all that MGM material at bargain basement prices. And I'm not sure how this would play out, but I bet the Nazis would be running England.  In any event, big deal Avatar.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Weekend Box Office

Numbers here, not here anymore.

Nothing succeeds like successes, especially if you throw a generation or two between 'em: A Nightmare on Elm Street returns with a whopping $33 million and the number one spot for the weekend. Welcome back Freddie! As a colliery, nothing fails like failure; and that explains Furry Vengeance. Debuting at #5 with only $6.6 million. So long Brendan!

How To Train Your Dragon (#2) only pulled in $10 mil and change, but has generated $192 million in 6 weeks. Weep not for Dreamworks.

I'm fascinated by the Box Office Mojo chart, which differs from the Daily Variety in two ways. One, they don't insist on an expensive subscription to read the chart and two, the bottom ten films aren't ranked at all! They're just there, floating loose, as if there were no figures at all to rank them with. There are. Check it out!

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Real Cost Of Piracy

With the North American debut of "Iron Man 2" still five days away, scores of pirated copies of the comic-flick began popping up online this weekend.

The film, starring actor Robert Downey Jr., generated a whopping $100 million in ticket sales this weekend in its overseas debut, according to Reuters. Apparently, among the millions of International moviegoers to see the film were some hiding handheld cameras.

At The Pirate Bay on Sunday evening, there were dozens of copies of the Paramount Pictures' film available for download. According to comments by users, the copies available were recorded by people sitting in the theater who videotaped the movie off the screen using handheld cameras. This kind of pirated film often offers mediocre viewing quality: unsteady picture, blocked views, and poor sound.
Listen you boneheads! IT'S ONLY 5 MORE DAYS! You want your first blast of Iron Man to be on a crappy computer monitor VHS quality version or a 70-foot-tall 5.1 dolby surround version? Just because you CAN see it now, doesn't mean you should. It's like having sex with an ugly person instead of waiting a few hours for that hot person you know is coming to the party. The hot person is worth waiting for.

If you must see it for free, sneak into a movie theatre this Friday. Believe me, it's easy.