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David Poland

By David Poland

Is Nikki Finke Michael Fleming's Best New Source?

I was struck in recent days that some EXCLUSIVES from Deadline Hollywood/New York that were bylined by Mike Fleming sounded an awful lot more like Nikki, both in style and in source.
Looking on the site, I noticed that Mike has been, in the last couple of weeks, reporting all of the Major Studio stories… and Nikki has been bylined in none, with the exception of box office.
Fleming ran a piece on Sony & Spider-Man, clearly not intended by Sony to get out, but Nikki has friends who gossip loosely close to people who usually feed her the inside story they want out there.
Same with the Hobbit story, that was 100% planted by an interested party – who seems very likely to be at WB – and is not accurate as regards the central subject, Peter Jackson. And of course, neither Jackson and his manager were contacted prior to this gossip running, leaving Team Jackson scratching their collective heads and trying to figure out who was playing games.
(Harry Knowles wrote a piece about both stories and got right what Deadline didn’t… because he actually spoke to principles in both stories, though he quotes neither of his rather obvious sources by name.)
Another odd, inflammatory, studio-source-talking-shit piece was Fleming on the possibility of Paramount getting cold feet on Mission:Impossible 4. So Nikki. So Paramount. Not very Fleming.
Same with the Footloose press release hour-long EXCLUSIVE.
The was even a TOLDJA! on a Lionsgate story with Fleming’s byline.
Meanwhile, Nikki is covering Lionsgate, Summit, The Weinsteins, talent agencies, the futures trading idiocy, Broadcasting & Cable re-reports on Comcast and other Comcast bashing in the name of one of the biggest Nikki Whisperers, Turner Broadcasting, Hasbro, YouTube/Viacom, IMAX, DC Comics, Oscar gossip, Dish Network, WGA, and CBS.
Much of her content is admittedly from (EXCLUSIVE!?!?) press releases by ticket sellers, Summit’s Twilight hype machine, and a number of entries covering the very, very important Harry Potter ride in Florida.
But oddly, not a single solo-byline about a Major Studio from Nikki since she shilled for Paramount’s deal with Redbox on June 15 and the press release that The Last Airbender was moving its release by a day on the morning of the 16th.
It’s not that Fleming hasn’t been busy doing his own work. Stories like a new NY Times Magazine editor… lots of agency signings and deals, primarily leaning on writers… UTA signing spanish-language filmmakers… some spec sales… Fernando Meirelles… a Matt Damon casting… a Night writer deal… a middle manager spinning a studio job exit… Broadway… Graham King… Ruben Fleischer’s deal at Sony… the comedic spin on the marketing turnover at Screen Gems… etc… all sound very, very Mike Fleming.
Overreaching gossip that’s being planted by studio higher-ups? Not really his style. Very Nikki.
I wrote to Nikki:
Subject: Asking in advance, as per your request…
Are you off the major studio beat for your site?
I have been noticing a number of EXCLUSIVE stories under Fleming’s byline – even a Toldja! – that I would normally expect to be coming from you. So I started looking backwards and realized that with the exception of a couple of co-bylined stories, you haven’t written a non-box office word about a single major (MGM doesn’t count) since 11 days ago.
I am pretty sure who handed you the Spider-Man story over the weekend… not Amy or anyone intentionally putting it out there. But I don’t think there is anyone who would be sharing that gossip with Fleming. Same with stuff at WB and Paramount… unless you have them going to Fleming instead of you now… unlikely.
I’m going to write something. I will be clear that I am speculating. Your angry denial is welcome.

Her response:
“As usual your information is wrong. Everyone in Hollywood but you knows I am very much on the beat and reporting behind the scenes of Deadline and on the website of Deadline.”
Okay… but not really a direct answer to my question. Or maybe it was more informative that it seems at first.
“reporting behind the scenes of Deadline,” is kind of a head scratcher.
I followed up:
“Exactly my point, Nikki.
I know it’s you getting the info. The question is why you aren’t publishing any of it under your name lately?”

Her response:
“Again you’re wrong.
From Nikki Finke
Deadline Hollywood”

Well, I am factually correct. She has not been publishing stories about The Majors under her byline in the last 10 days.
Is she feeding Fleming? For the benefit of the site? For the benefit of her studio keepers, who know that Fleming is taken more seriously than Nikki as a straight-player?
Did Paramount and WB suddenly stop calling Nikki and start calling Mike instead? Because if they did, and it wasn’t Nikki’s idea, you would hear the cursing screams from wherever you are reading this right now.
Not likely.
I don’t have the answer.
Maybe it’s her owner. Maybe it’s an unspoken response to the Village Voice suggesting an FTC violation coming from her being paid by Time-Warner while writing about their businesses. Maybe it’s her idea of how to build the Mike Fleming brand so her page doesn’t read like a trade paper laundry list. I don’t know.
Nikki and Mike know. A few executives who covet their ability to leverage Deadline know. None of these people have any motivation to cough up the truth anytime soon… a truth that could be, as noted above, innocent.
And you know, we’ll see if Nikki goes back to doing solids for Paramount and Warners and Universal (aside from slamming Comcast) tomorrow. It could happen.

3 Responses to “Is Nikki Finke Michael Fleming's Best New Source?”

  1. Oddly enough, when he first joined Deadline, I found Mike Fleming’s stuff to be very much worth reading and (perhaps only in comparison) more above-board and professional that the usual Finke stuff (I’m thinking the long Michael Bay and James Cameron vs. 3D article from late March). But, you and Knowles are right, Fleming seems to be slowly turning into a copy of Finke, for reasons not yet revealed. Knowles is dead-on in his own piece by the way. It’s impossible for me (as a random blogger) to comment on the news when I have no idea what is actually news versus gossip or (even worse) a ‘scoop’ based on someone randomly speculating. In a world where Guy Ritchie saying he’d love for Day Lewis to play Moriarty becomes “NEWS: Daniel Day Lewis could be Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes 2!”, what is real honest-to-goodness news anymore?

  2. Sam says:

    Talking to Nikki is like beating your head into a brick wall.
    Reading Nikki is like the wall hitting you.

  3. dietcock says:

    Did anyone else find this aside from Deadline’s suck-up interview with Robert Greenblatt as amusing as I did?
    “How big of a movie buff is Greenblatt? He was preparing to go the Twilight premiere when the news of his departure from Showtime broke last week. He proceeded with his plans and went to see the movie anyway.”

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin