Hot Button Archive for January, 2000

YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS 2000



As I start to write each year’s resolutions, I like to take a look back at the past. So, let’s look at how my 1999 suggestions for each studio turned out.

DISNEY:
The studio took a year off of Bruckheimer, but when he returned, the budget for Tennessee was “brought down to” $140 million, not $80 million as I suggested. And Michael Bay balked at that. The studio has started acting like the animation kings they are and didn’t counter-program as aggressively this year against the other studios’ animated efforts. Sadly, Iron Giant, South Park and The King & I didn’t need to be attacked to tank at the box office. They didn’t make another Jonathan Taylor Thomas movie. They let
Chris Pula loose, though not in the way I anticipated or suggested. And like Rushmore last year, a number of very good movies were labeled “critics films” internally and never really took off. I’m not saying the studio didn’t make an effort, but Cradle Will Rock and The Straight Story could have done better.

DREAMWORKS:
The company did pat themselves on the back for 1998, the best second year of a new studio ever. But they never did add the high profile pictures to the 1999 slate. Galaxy Quest was the only film pushed into production for `99 and the entire slate was six pictures, two of which the studio basically dumped (In Dreams, The Love Letter.) Geffen has not appeared to get more involved and, in fact, Jeff Katzenberg has taken a surreal step down in rank. And the studio still hasn’t made any big aggressive deals. Or any Spielberg movies.

FOX:
Fox didn’t gloat. In fact, they tightened the belts even tighter. Laura Ziskin made Fox Searchlight one of the hippest rooms in town, releasing two more films (of eight total) from her division than DreamWorks did as a whole, but she couldn’t make a profit. Bye bye. As I projected, “the returns from Leo (The Beach,) Drew (Never Been Kissed,) David Fincher (Fight Club with Brad Pitt to boot) and Mike Newell (back to comedy with Pushing Tin) aren’t all huge.” Leo still hasn’t been released and Drew was the only
winner in the group. Thankfully, Bay turned down the Planet of the Apes remake. The Phantom Menace was the monster that was expected, though the backlash was so tough that there probably wasn’t as much joy at Fox as expected. And the one thing the studio hasn’t been able to do that I asked them to, was to make up with Devlin & Emmerich so that ID4-2 could be made. Unless The Patriot tanks, we may never see that sequel.

MIRAMAX:
This studio was probably the least close to my resolutions for them last year. And coincidentally, it was the worst year they have had in a long while. Nothing seemed to work. It’s true, they didn’t make a movie with Famke Janssen in any role or do a Matt Damon movie, though they do have international distribution on The Talented Mr. Ripley. Chicago died and Madonna didn’t get Music of the Heart. (Guess we’ll have to wait for a 2020 revival.) They didn’t hire me for a talk column and look where that got that magazine. (tee-hee) And their employees’ happiness? No one is left to quit.

NEW LINE:
They didn’t create a spin-off studio to handle “genre pictures.” They did capitalize, literally, on their Internet division, even if we haven’t really seen the full results yet. Young talent continued to find a home at New Line, but the results
this year weren’t so hot. No more bald Brits or public corporate fellatio. They’re still on a whole bunch of floors in their building, and Freddy vs. Jason is still as much rumor as anything else. Finally, Heather Graham made only one movie for New Line in 1999. It was their only real hit. Hmmm….

PARAMOUNT:
Changes on high came this year in the person of the high-octane Mel Karmazin. His hire has fueled speculation that there will be changes at Paramount that will make the studio, which has been fairly successful in recent years, far more aggressive. Rumors have also swirled around the Star Trek universe, none of which have Jonathan Frakes in any position of controlling the future of the movie series. And as far as press paranoia… well, we’ll see how they react to this.

UNIVERSAL:
Universal hired within to find leadership, though some people question whether the leadership is any clearer now than it was a year ago. The likelihood of Imagine or DreamWorks taking over the film division seems to have diminished, but a bad run could start the rumor mill back up in an instant. And October? Pretty much dead. Though USA Films, which incorporated the other Universal “arthouse” purchases, released Being John Malkovich, made under the Propaganda banner. Whether that kind of originality will continue to thrive under Barry Diller‘s top leadership is anybody’s guess. If it does, it seems likely to be because Diller isn’t paying attention, not because of his inspiration. His hands are filled with Wall Street driven activities.

WARNER BROTHERS:
The studio’s way of getting over the bloodshed of 1998 was to finally shed Daly & Semel from the top of the WB food chain. The surprise of that occurrence lasted about ten seconds. As I wrote last year, “This column will not resolve to fire Lorenzo DiBoneventura. The problem may be older and more corporate than that. Resolve to get some truly new blood on the lot.” Some suggest now that Lorenzo needs to go as well. Perhaps. As for new blood, they got it in Barry Meyer and Alan Horn, though they aren’t really changing the creative oil, thus the call by some for Lorenzo’s head. No Batman or Superman…just rumors. Oh well.

As for my
general resolutions for 1999
:
None of these things happened:

  • pay-per-view network.
  • seat counting instead of screen counting which isn’t accurate anyway because multiplexes vary screen allocation all the time.
  • more variety in trailer
    length.

  • dumping of SDDS, DTS and Dolby tags, and of non-movie commercials, for that matter.
  • ushers who act like ushers.
  • revival house revival.
  • move to push all these
    critics awards and the Golden Globes into January, where they belong.

This one thing did:

  • Studios continued to try to build new “untested” release days throughout the year.

So, I spent a couple of extra days trying to think of New Year’s resolutions for the studios and the industry alike, but I just never came up with anything inspired. I guess after writing over half a million words about this stuff in the last year alone, I’m tired of telling people what to do… at least for the moment.

And so, I resolve the following:

  • To make The Hot Button as complete and fair as possible.

  • To worry less about the advantages being given other people, traditional media outlets and web sites, focusing exclusively on making roughcut.com better.

  • To demand that studios and publicists understand the value of the web, of you as committed readers and of roughcut.com specifically.

  • To sleep more, play more and maybe even to take a vacation in 2000.

  • To make the readers an even more important part of the site.

Thank you all for your willingness to read a column like this one and for the participation of so many of you. I always tell people that The Hot Button has the best readers in the business. I am one of the few guys I know who doesn’t get crass, thoughtless, childish e-mail. (Well, occasionally.) Hot Button readers have something to say. It’s not gossip. It’s conversation. And I am really thankful that you take the time to be a part of the column. Happy
New Year!

E ME all holiday season long. The Hot Button is back on its regular schedule
starting next week.

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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