Tag Archives: the los angeles times

Interdependence Day

"118/365/year2 marionette" courtesy of "Riot Jane" aka Bethany

There’s been quite a bit of up-selling of independent pictures in Hollywood.

With the box office success of Slumdog Millionaire, indie films are the new darlings of the movie business after decades of being relegated to the wilderness of limited theatrical distribution and even more limited marketing budgets.

Seeking to capture greater market share, the majors absorbed distributors like New Line Cinema and Miramax years ago.

However, the studios never expected that their independent labels might produce pictures that would threaten to cannibalize their tent-pole productions.

Patrick Goldstein recently wrote in The Big Picture blog about Slumdog’s surprise performance and its likely chances of getting an Academy Award here. [Ed. Note: Goldstein's post has since been removed but can now be found here].

After all, the irony of all ironies is that after giving “Slumdog” the bum’s rush, Warner Bros. spent millions running a best picture campaign for “The Dark Knight,” the highest-grossing film of 2008, which still ended up being largely ignored by Oscar voters, who failed to give it a best picture, best director or even a best original screenplay nomination.

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The sad truth is that most studios today don’t have the patience, the artistic desire or the skilled manpower to release a film like “Slumdog.” My guess is that Warners, having unloaded all of its specialty divisions, both Picturehouse and WIP, eyed its little gem (made for a paltry $14 million) and said–even if we put in months of painstaking work, it’s at best a double (industry parlance for a modest hit). Like most studios today, Warners is an assembly line, built to swing for the fences, eager to make mega-hits like “The Dark Knight” or “Harry Potter,” which not only make far more money but feed the studio’s valuable ancillary markets.

Warners is not alone. 20th Century Fox has little in the way of artistic ambitions, preferring to hire no-name directors, leaving the Oscar game to its Searchlight subsidiary. The same goes for Disney, which is happy to let Pixar take home a best animated film statuette and let its tiny Miramax subsidiary, which spends a fraction of the money it did when Harvey Weinstein was at the helm, play in the awards sandbox. Even Sony, which used to avidly pursue awards, has largely given up, preferring to pursue more commercial goals.

It’s a great article and I was with Goldstein until he wrote:

Of this year’s best picture nominees, only two were made at major studios: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” co-financed by Paramount and Warners, with Paramount distributing, and “Frost/Nixon,” which is distributed by Universal Pictures. “Slumdog,” along with “Milk” and “The Reader,” were financed outside the studio system or by specialty companies. More importantly, if you look at the recent best picture winners, they are invariably made by fiercely independent filmmakers who rarely take their cues from the studio system.

The Coen brothers, who directed last year’s winner, “No Country for Old Men,” are so leery of Hollywood that producer Scott Rudin had to cajole them into even coming to town for a few glad-handing events. The same goes for Martin Scorsese, a lifelong New Yorker who directed “The Departed,” the winner in 2007. Paul Haggis, who directed “Crash,” the 2006 winner, lives here, but as a director operates just as far away from the studio system as Scorsese or the Coens. Clint Eastwood, who won in 2005 with “Million Dollar Baby,” is the ultimate outsider, making his movies with the same crew in the same quiet fashion, brooking little interference from any studio suit.

While I am pleased to see that American (and global audiences) are demanding more sophisticated fare, I demurred in the comments section of my client, Jonathan Wakeham’s blog on film @ mastersvo.com. I wrote that:

Although it may be true that these pictures were independently financed, such financing was likely based on the producers having US theatrical distribution in place prior to principal photography. US theatrical distribution essentially drives the value of foreign distribution rights up increasing the likelihood of financing a project.

For all their laudable (and at times, edgy) works, Scorsese, Rudin, Eastwood and even Haggis are part of the Hollywood establishment. Their involvement in a project can easily (relatively speaking) drive financing of a project. Saying that these pictures are truly independently financed . . . is like calling a wolf in sheep’s clothing a ewe.

While Slumdog is not a litmus test of what truly independent projects can accomplish given meaningful theatrical distribution and a real marketing budget, it does prove that audiences have a big appetite for original stories in an industry that insists on being increasingly derivative and increasingly risk-adverse.

And that’s a pretty happy ending in itself.

Potential Breakthrough In Writers Guild Strike

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The Los Angeles Times and other news outlets reported over the weekend that the broad strokes of a deal between the AMPTP and the WGA could be in the offing as early as next Friday. The parties reportedly closed the gap over how much the studios should pay writers for free streaming of movies and television programs over the Internet. The parties still need to find a mutually agreeable distinction between content exploitation in which residuals would be payable and content promotion which would be residual-free.

The Directors Guild closed their deal over these issues last month but many striking writers (and SAG members) criticized that deal for not going far enough on streaming.

The breakthrough came when Bob Iger and Peter Chernin, the designated studio heads negotiating the deal, included more favorable streaming residuals than those in the DGA deal and separated rights for shows created for the Internet so writers receive extra compensation and credit for television shows based on online programming.

However, Guild leaders issued the following cautionary statement on Sunday morning:

To Our Fellow Members,

While fully mindful of the continuing media blackout, we write you to address the rumors and reports that undoubtedly you have been hearing.

The facts: we are still in talks and do not yet have a contract. When and if a tentative agreement is reached, the first thing we will do is alert our membership with an e-mail message. Until then, please disregard rumors about either the existence of an agreement or its terms.

Until we have reached an agreement with the AMPTP, it is essential that we continue to show our resolve, solidarity, and strength.

Picketing will resume on Monday. Our leverage at the bargaining table is directly affected by your commitment to our cause. Please continue to show your support on the line. We are all in this together.

Best,

Patric M. Verrone
President, WGAW

Michael Winship
President, WGAE

As I posted earlier, the break in the impasse here was the result of the principals fronting these discussions and negotiators likely ghost writing arguments for and against critical deal points. Sometimes, this approach is the only way to make meaningful progress in deal negotiations. Once Iger, Chernin, Verrone and Winship work out these broad strokes, the Guild’s rank and file still have to approve the deal. That would pave the way to resolving the strike and getting writers back to work in time to save pilot season and part of the fall television schedule (not to mention feature work) even if it takes months for labor negotiators to work out the details.

Required Reading

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As part of my daily online read, I culled the following from the past week or so. Usually I post these links and any editorial to facebook. I am going to start posting the most significant ones – those that I think are required reading for reps (and our respective clients) – on a regular basis to dealfatigue. Please let me know what you think.

Scrabulous Facing Copyright Infringement Charges

Change in the Business Model at EA Games

In Tentative Deal, Directors Send Message To Screenwriters

Arts Council in England Taketh (and Giveth), Leaving Anger in Its Wake

Netflix lifts limits on seeing online movies Read this if you read anything today. This is where video (and TV…) are headed. Wondering if it’s possible to do a deal with Netflix and Apple directly as you can with music.

Which comes on the heels of . . .
Apple Bets on Online Movie Rentals

Oprah Winfrey getting her own TV network

TV studios cut more overall deals
Companies cite WGA strike as main cause

Steroids beyond sports
Celebrities now among those linked to drug shipments

American Library Association announces literary award winners

No Strike Waivers For TV Yet But Web Start Ups Tempt Writers

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Variety’s Dave McNary reported that the WGA rejected requests for strike waivers by the Golden Globes and Oscar telecasts today. While the Guild granted waivers during the strike in 1988, I doubt they will now- even to Letterman and Leno -until and unless meaningful negotiations resume for two reasons. Awards shows present a high profile opportunity to make an adverse and very public impact on the quality of these telecasts. Secondly, any waiver now, absent meaningful negotiations and in the face of mounting holiday debts for WGA members, may erode the widespread support of Guild members to the cause.

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The LA Times ran a story that striking writers are in talks with venture capitalists to finance and launch Internet start-up companies. “Silicon Valley investors historically have been averse to backing entertainment start-ups, believing that such efforts were less likely to generate huge paydays than technology companies.” There’s been a change in that perspective, albeit a limited one, after the success of Youtube. I’ve been involved in several of these deals. One started just before the strike and was in production as late as last week. They’re interesting opportunities on the cutting edge of where the entertainment business appears to be headed. However, without the right business model, these ventures will – if they go anywhere – lead to cross-over deals for TV programming rather than a big pay day for an Internet venture. It reminds me of Web 1.0’s icebox.com or my stint with Film Roman’s Level 13 back in the day. Despite the risks, more and more of my clients are migrating to the Internet, if not for the potential payoff then for a chance to broaden their experience and marketability down the road.