Hot Button Archive for February, 2008

The SAG Missive Crisis

I was not in favor of WGA going out on strike when it did.  I felt it was premature and poorly timed.  Nothing about the settlement has changed my perspective on that.  I feel that the AMPTP gave WGA almost exactly what they were always willing to give up.  And WGA, by striking, gave AMPTP an extra gift that they may not have had to give AMPTP… force majeur and an excuse for in-house “layoffs.”

Truth is, we will never know for sure whether the strike was necessary.  The contract WGA got, and DGA before them, is fine.  It was not a great step forward… but it was not a step backwards either.  The elephant in the room remains the $100 million-plus a year in DVD residuals in the life of this contract that came off the table and more than paid for any concession that AMPTP made, at least in the life of this contract.  And the house cleaning opportunity made this 100 day strike a likely money maker for most AMPTP members.

That said… the growing wave of pre-contract civil war at SAG is making the WGA guys look like a bunch of unmitigated geniuses.

There are three fronts in the war.
1. We Don’t Want Another Strike This Year
3. Qualified Voting

The biggest problem facing SAG leadership right now is trying to separate the three issues… a problem made harder by questions of who might be lurking behind some of the maneuvers.  But first, a brief primer on the three fronts.

1. We Don’t Want Another Strike This Year
This is where I am willing, at least until proven otherwise, to give Clooney, DeNiro, Hanks, and Streep the benefit of the doubt in this situation.  They took out this ad in Variety:


The does not speak to any of the major issues facing the Guild, internally or as a part of the AMPTP negotiation.  It simply asks that there be forward motion.

One of the problems, again, with this situation is that the Guild’s internal issues – which may be much more dangerous than the AMPTP – have the most political members of the Guild wanting to open those issues to debate in the same period as the AMPTP contract is being negotiated.  Why?  Because that is the time when membership is most likely be willing to listen to the debate over these issues.

Having had the chance to speak to Clooney about the WGA strike in November, he was pretty confident that the town would be shut down until the end of summer.  That is not the case.  And I am completely willing to believe that he simply wanted to take a position that the tone that precipitated the WGA strike should not overtake SAG.

However, there are a few problems with this ad.

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Keep Your @(&$*ing Chocolate Out Of My Mutha@&(#&(ing Peanut Butter!

I just keep wrestling with this …
How do Traditional Media and New Media match up?  Just what in God’s name is going on in the battle?  Is anyone winning?
Every once in a while, I have an epiphany.  And this is the one this month …
Traditional Media is already well into its unfortunate morphing into New Media and, in the process, is failing both its traditions and its future. 
I’m not saying that many on TM will not come out of the tailspin and find endless innovative ways of using the prestige of the past to dominate the future.  The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have already been leading the way in that regard.  But right now, it’s pretty iffy.
The circumstance that inspired this bubble to burst in my mind was reading, ongoingly, Brookes Barnes’ attempts to cover the film industry and, by unavoidable extension, the television industry in the New York Times.  Clearly the guy is bright and capable of doing what Traditional Media has always done, none better than the NYT.  He gathers facts from strong sources, stronger than almost anyone because of the cachet of the NYT.
But Barnes is the first reporter on the movie beat to really start in the era of the blog.  For Sharon Waxman and Laura Holson, unfortunately tasked with the melding of forms, they were way over their heads and it was truly a disaster.  Both came onto the beat as solid reporters.  But in the desperation to find footing against New Media, they jointly screwed up a majority of their stories, either by overreaching, underreaching, or sheer arrogance.  All that said, that’s in the past now.
Barnes came to the table as a fresh, younger face, presumably more in touch with how things in New Media worked and thus, offering a hope for a better transition.  But sure enough, his coverage has gotten worse and worse and worse as he thinks he knows more and more and more. 
This is not a syndrome unfamiliar in the entertainment media.   But here is where I see a shift … in the New York Times, your opinion as a reporter could shape a story, but your opinion remained subtext.  It didn’t really matter whether you were right or wrong because the facts led every story.  Nowadays, inspired in all the wrong ways by the New Media boom, stories are led by and headlined by a lot more opinion. 
Now … that could be interesting too. 

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The Races – Presiential & Oscar

There is a tendency towards self-loathing in our industry, whether entertainment journalism or the various areas of the film business.  After all, they are only movies … right?
But the basic notions of human behavior apply to all endeavors, whether they seem more or less trivial.  Rich oil men can be as self-absorbed and disappointed with the world as movie stars.  The publicists at the White House have pretty much the same job to do as the personal and studio corporate publicists, albeit with very different stakes.  And the wide range of coverage in the movie world, from gossip to hard news, is reflected in the Washington Press Corps, who deal with personality as often as policy these days.
And so, reading more coverage of the last few weeks of electioneering and the internal arguments in the Clinton and Obama campaigns, I also recognize the desperation on the part of journalists to put a bow on it ASAP.  Things are redefined week by week, yet every week, there is a search for "The Answer."
What it really reminded me of, in my bi-focalled myopia of these last few months, was how the Oscar season presents itself. 

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“I was 15 when I first watched Sally Hardesty escape into the back of a pickup truck, covered in blood and cackling like a goddamn witch. All of her friends were dead. She had been kidnapped, tortured and even forced to feed her own blood to her cannibalistic captors’ impossibly shriveled patriarch. Being new to the horror genre, I was sure she was going to die. It had been a few months since I survived a violent sexual assault, where I subsequently ran from my assailant, tripped, fell and fought like hell. I crawled home with bloody knees, makeup-stained cheeks and a new void in both my mind and heart. My sense of safety, my ability to trust others, my willingness to form new relationships and my love of spending time with people I cared about were all taken from me. It wasn’t until I found the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre that something clicked. It was Sally’s strength, and her resilience. It was watching her survive blows to the head from a hammer. It was watching her break free from her bonds and burst through a glass window. It was watching her get back up after she’d been stabbed. It was watching her crawl into the back of a truck, laughing as it drove away from Leatherface. She was the last one to confront the killer, and live. I remember sitting in front of the TV and thinking, There I am. That’s me.”
~ Lauren Milici On “The Final Girl”

“‘Thriller’ enforced its own reality principle; it was there, part of the every commute, a serenade to every errand, a referent to every purchase, a fact of every life. You didn’t have to like it, you only had to acknowledge it. By July 6, 1984, when the Jacksons played the first show of their ‘Victory’ tour, in Kansas City, Missouri, Jacksonism had produced a system of commodification so complete that whatever and whoever was admitted to it instantly became a new commodity. People were no longer comsuming commodities as such things are conventionally understood (records, videos, posters, books, magazines, key rings, earrings necklaces pins buttons wigs voice-altering devices Pepsis t-shirts underwear hats scarves gloves jackets – and why were there no jeans called Bille Jeans?); they were consuming their own gestures of consumption. That is, they were consuming not a Tayloristic Michael Jackson, or any licensed facsimile, but themselves. Riding a Mobius strip of pure capitalism, that was the transubstantiation.”
~ Greil Marcus On Michael Jackson