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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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