Thursday, February 14, 2008

Striking observations.

When I woke up this morning my internet news pages were full of articles heralding the return of Hollywood writers to their long, strike vacated jobs. It's terrific to have them back but frankly, did you really care that they were gone? Did you're favorite TV shows collapse in the creative whoosh of a vacuum that was left behind as the creative types were sucked out of the process? Did movie theaters board up the box-offices for a lack of new releases? Without the barrage of news stories would you have even remembered they were MIA? So what's all the excitement about?

The fact is, it was difficult to stay on top of an industry issue as big as the Writer's Guild Strike, while there is such a pervasive glut of badly written and (in the case of reality shows) not written at all filler, passing as television entertainment already saturating the airwaves. On the movie side of the equation, the missing writers were even more of a non-issue as the script production lag never caught up with the realtime lack of new product flowing in. Now, as the strike fades into nostalgic headlines, there is a flood release of new material for studios to choose from, evidence of lots of strike hours spent "spec" writing, now poised to hit the production market.

So what was it all about? Some valid and serious issues that determine the fair sharing and distribution of the tremendous revenues generated by the television and film industries open up a large enough resource that the writers, the first step in the process if you will, should indeed be fairly and justly compensated. Just as DVD's opened a new source of profit requiring the restructuring of compensation for writers, the internet and the increased feasibility of digital download purchases/rentals should also merited consideration. The ultimate distribution of these new found and increasingly significant streams of income, over the various resources studios utilize to create product, was an inevitable topic of discussion. The outcome of that debate, just now resulting in a return to work by the WGA, was also inevitable. One does not exist without the other, and cannot, in the future of this multi-billion dollar business. So the talks would have to happen, the settlement would have to be arrived at and the agreements would have to ratified. Most importantly, the writers would have to go back to work and the studios would have to maintain new production. The shame of the situation is the very fact that there could be no other outcome than an agreement and ultimate resolution.

So while (according to AP reports) some 10,500 writers and basically 6 major studios were playing hardball and passing out picket signs, here's who really noticed that the writers were on strike - all of the related crafts and services involved in the daily business of making television and movies.

Lighting and sound technicians, make-up artists, set designers and carpenters, painters, electricians and grips, wardrobe fitters, seamstresses and designers, drivers, animal wranglers, truck movers and delivery services, caterers, servers and food providers, studio services, runners, security personnel, equipment rental companies, special effects houses and all of their support businesses. The list is as long as those credits you never sit through. And then there are the indirectly related businesses, the local restaurants, the courier services, location permits, hotels and airlines. Add in the businesses where writer salaries are usually spent and the impact begins to take on sobering dimensions. The New York Times reports that the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation  is estimating a 3.2 billion dollar loss to the LA's local economy. A business that generates billions, spends billions. Just ask those economy whiz kids scratching their heads in Washington right now.

So if an agreement between studios and Hollywood writers was a forgone conclusion and the time for debating the issues the only variable, should we be congratulating the industry on reaching their strike resolution or should we be angry that these two sides took so much time to ultimately do what both knew they must? Is this simply an exercise in American business or is this an example of selfish and stubborn stupidity. Should we congratulate writers for standing up for their rights, (even as many continued to produce work in the background) or should we point at both writers and studios and call the callousness of their actions irresponsible and unappreciative to all of those who, like themselves, could shut down an industry that depends on them. I hope the members of the WGA and the executives and financial structure of the television and movie industries have very, very long memories. So forget the slaps on the back and self important rhetoric and do what you should have done months ago. Get back to work. Here's hoping your audiences don't picket you.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Roy Scheider, "a knockaround actor".

That's how Richard Dreyfuss referred to Roy Scheider when commenting on Mr. Schnieder's passing yesterday at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences hospital. Roy Scheider's appearances in three of cinema's most memorable classics, The French Connection, All That Jazz and Jaws, cemented his standing as one of our favorite actors. Only weeks ago, I re-watched a favorite from 1986, the John Frankenheimer directed 52 Pick-up, co-starring Ann Margaret.
When an actor takes front and center, it can be easy to recognize the craft of acting that lingers behind the surface of the film, for me, Roy Scheider assumed a character so completely that the journey always felt new and fresh. From Detective Buddy Russo (The French Connection), Choreographer Joe Gideon (All That Jazz), to Police Chief Martin Brody (Jaws), we followed characters weaving stories and unspooling dramas as we we're invited along. All journeys worth taking again and again, and all with a wonderfully wry and sharp sense of comic timing.

Among the Roy Scheider films that will remain as all time personal favorites - 2010 (1984), The Men's Club (1986), Blue Thunder (1983), Marathon Man (1976), and The Seven-Ups (1973). Roy Scheider was also part of one of Francis Ford Coppola's finest ensemble casts (headed by Matt Damon and Danny DeVito) in 1997's The Rainmaker.

Our prayers and warm wishes to Mr. Scheider's family, friends and fans.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Superbowl Summer Teasers

What with the dominance of 3D over last weekend, we never got to mention the movies chosen to be promo'd during this years Superbowl broadcast on Fox. The usual strength of Superbowl advertising, in our eyes, has grown relatively weak on the creative side in recent years, perhaps a product of overly hyped expectations. Aside from doing the cute (Budweiser's take on a Rocky-esque Clydesdale in training), the animated (Sobe's "Thriller" lizards), and Justin Timberlake repeatedly getting yanked on his ass for Pepsi, the only remaining interest in staying in the room during commercial breaks was to see what movie studios were willing to pony up premium portions of their advertising budgets to hawk their shots at a blockbuster summer. To my count there were 6 1/2 pitches to get dibs on your ticket money, 1& 1/2 (I'll get to that "half" in a moment) that hyped movies opening this month, 1 that pushed a flick not really opening in contention as a bona fide event movie and 4 that are legitimate contenders for serious box-office mega-dollars.

Opening just around the corner this month, Jumper from Twentieth Century Fox aired their most recent trailer. A high concept sci-fi "thriller" built around the idea that the lead characters have the ability to willingly jump to any location (seemingly) on Earth. 
If you saw it and recognized it, you've likely seen earlier trailers where the emphasis was very heavily focused on the effects, which on television are never all that impressive. As the release approaches, the focus has smartly zoomed in on Jumper's only hope at "star" recognition by giving up lots of screen time to Samuel L. Jackson's character (who looks like an aging brother to Wesley Snipes' Simon Phoenix  from 1993's Demolition Man). 
After all, how impressive is it to watch someone "jump" across their kitchen to their refrigerator (which was the inexplicably idiotic first shot in earlier advertising). Jumper is opening on Valentines day for all of those adolescent movie dates where Mom and Dad will be driving high school teens to the local mall.

Opening in early April, Universal helped stoke some advertising for George Clooney's Leatherheads, the comedy follow-up to his Oscar nominated turn as Michael Clayton. Not all that impressive on a movie screen, this limp, period sports fluff looks far more at home on a small screen. While talking about lame sports humor, lets get back to that "1/2" pitch. New Line may have gotten the best value for their buck by partnering with Budlight and letting Will Ferrell roll out his really worn sports idiot spoof schtick for the new Semi-Pro which opens on Leap Day. That seems appropriate in that it would be a giant leap to think that there could possibly be any humor left to bleed out of the dead creative concept of over-the-top goof-ball sports characters. In an ad for beer rather than a movie trailer, basketball team owner/player/coach of the Michigan "Tropics" Jackie Moon (Ferrell) pitches suds. From my memory of having once tasted a Bud Light, the beer tastes every bit as bad as the movie looks. My once found respect for Will Ferrell's refusal to reprise his oafish role in Elf, has been chained to a locker and put in the path of a speeding team bus. I can only hope that Will's comedies will someday find the audience they deserve, the French. 

The real blockbuster glimpses came from three remaining studios. Disney (and Disney's Pixar) presented their substitutes for Pirates and Ratatouille, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and from Pixar, Wall•e. Both look like they will attract the usual fans, but like so many others, the sword and sorcery, talking animals fantasy stuff is wearing incredibly thin. Pixar's efforts once again look superior to every one else in that business so there still doesn't seem to be reason to think that Wall•e will be anything less than serious money in the bank.

Columbia aired the first trailer (also currently playing in theaters) of Adam Sandler's upcoming You Don't Mess with The Zohan. For our ticket money, Sandler's following up last summer's abysmal I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry with another pathetic effort. We've talked a little about the movies we'll be rooting for and against this year (Cloverfield being one of the first solidly ensconced in the "against" column). Zohan, and Sandler himself for that matter, will be right there as well. If you honestly don't think Sandler has burnt through the screen with unfunny material and performances since his very earliest outings, you are suffering from some brain cell deficiencies. The last time I unconsciously laughed aloud at Sandler in a movie was '98's The Wedding Singer. Ten years. No more excuses for making bad movies.

And that brings us to Iron Man. Ahh, Iron Man. Marvel meets Robert Downey Jr. I love the whole idea of this. Paramount even had the class to cut together a special TV trailer just for the Superbowl. Could this be a studio actually confident and excited about what they have in store for us? The trailer barage of special effects, great art direction and perfect-take, understated lines ("Yeah, I can fly"), just looks like what every big budget super hero flick should look like (and what none of them looked like last year), pure, wall-to-wall, high concept FUN. Iron Man is scheduled for it's opening weekend on May 2. Mark it in your calendar. For movie fans, this will be the start of summer.

So here's the winner of the Suerbowl Summer Teasers through the courtesy of YouTube. This is as high a resoution copy as we could wrangle, so if your computer processors are less than heroic, let it load first. Then hit play and day dream about those summer movie nights that are fast approaching.

Monday, February 4, 2008

More than Super, it was a 3D weekend.

There's a lot of news coming in from over the weekend. Let's see, if you're from my neck of the woods in the North East (which today is a world away from New England) the New York football Giants have definitely made some headlines. Something very super about brothers winning back to back Superbowl MVPs. (I've met some of the Giants and can't congratulate them enough. Well done.) There will be a parade on Tuesday down New York City's "Canyon of Heroes", making for a very Super Tuesday in New York. Speaking of, there's also some kind of political thing happening Tuesday as well. But in showbiz, the only biz we know, there was another very clear and very loud signal that's reverberating through the movie business. So forget the Manning brothers (just for now) and  forget Hilary and Barack. The name emblazoned in 3D on this past weekends box-office is Hannah Montana.

The Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus : Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour sold 29 million in box-office taking the number one slot for it's 3 day opening weekend and making the estimated 7 million production cost seem like a flat out bargain. Now Disney's blowing out it's original plan of a one week release to at least two, and pushing the film into Valentines Day, effectively pushing back the previously planned debut of U2's 3D concert flick, which has already been generating positive buzz of it's own. And there's the rub for 3D at this very early stage of it's widening acceptance. It's quickly becoming apparent that there just aren't enough theaters.

To put this into the language all movie studio marketers understand, a typical big budget, big name release, opens in some 3,000 theaters and can generate a daily per screen average of some $7,000. According to press releases from Reuters yesterday, Hannah Montana, which bowed in only a little over 680 theaters, brought in a whopping $42,500 per screen. Trust me, there's no one in Hollywood that didn't set their latte cups down when they heard that number.

Bob Tourtellotte, in his article for Reuters, went on to report "... elevating the importance of the "Hannah Montana" movie is the idea that the new digital 3D movies are seen as a growing industry trend because theater owners want to put new types of entertainment in their venues... The format also allows live concerts like the Hannah Montana shows, or sporting events like football or basketball games, to be shown in theaters in 3D."

I could not possibly agree more. If you think Giant fans enjoyed watching their Superbowl victory on brand new HD flatscreens, imagine their reaction to reliving every glory filled moment in full-theater size 3D. Think all of those advertisers who produced expensive commercials and dropped an extra few mil for Superbowl airtime. Wouldn't they love to add 3D screenings to their production justifications? What about the Olympics? What about political rallies? What about Cirque Du Soleil productions and Vegas shows? Isn't it great (and exciting) to discover a whole new way to let your imagination run wild?

At and here on Moviedozer Dailies, we've been touting the resurrection of 3D in it's new digital iteration as a true milestone for cinema based entertainment. We are truly coming into an era where movies are only one color on a palette of entertainment that runs from sporting events, concerts, theatrical productions, documentaries and live events. The tip of the iceberg bobbed just a bit higher thanks to the talents and energy of a new teen singing sensation but I assure you, the decision to augment The Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus Best of Both Worlds Tour live appearances, with a digital 3D concert film, has taken another enormous step in signaling that there is a whole new world peeking out over movie theater horizons in our very near future. Watch this trend, I promise the results are going to be jumping right off the screen.