The Hot Blog Archive for December, 2008

BYO New Year's Eve Blog

Add, 2:15p – Too good not to link… Fox is launching its Night At The Museum II trailer… at HappyMeal.com

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Watchman Legal Papers

Sorry this is late… and yet more Watchmen… enough to choke on… but I finally got a look at the legal papers around the Christmas Eve finding by Judge Gary Allen Feess and it does speak specifically to a couple of the rumors that are being floated out there.
First, it states that the judge has found that Warners’ primary argument consists of the notion that Fox never had any direct ownership or control to this material, therefore it didn’t have the right to execute a turnaround agreement or to expect any compensation for the agreement it had.
This is one of the silliest arguments ever made and suggests complete culpability on the part of the studio… willfulness, really (as noted in the judge’s August offering). Apparently, they have represented that they knew… and they decided Fox had no standing… at all… period.
Second, the judge finds that WB didn’t even enter into an agreement with Larry Gordon until AFTER they had been notified of Fox’s position on this. So this idea that WB innocently wandered into this situation and that Fox lay in wait for poor, innocent WB to invest heavlily in production before backdooring a claim is 100% false… if you believe the judge on the facts… which I think we have to.
Third, Warners’ other argument – as though if their frst one was valid they would need a second one – is that, somehow, because Fox negotiated a turnaround and a quitclaim with clear rules agreed to by Largo, Gordon, and Fox, which did not include a clause forcing Largo to make the movie anyway (read that again, if you can do it without laughing), Fox gave up any claims to distribution rights they held.
Ahhhhh… ha.
Finally, there is the general argument that, somehow, the Largo/Fox quitclaim, which preceded the turnaround deal, made the turnaround deal irrelevant. But that really doesn’t make much sense. Arguing that doing the turnaround deal was a mistake – which Gordon’s lawyer is doing – is pretty lame.
So… repeating… the basic claim by WB – according to the judge, as a statement of fact – is NOT what their “it’s not fair” publicity blitz has been about, but rather a claim that Fox gave up their rights with the corporate quitclaim… even though there was a turnaround agreement on the specific property pursued and signed after the quitclaim and that as a result, Fox has no rights, nor any ongoing interest, and should simply be told to go away, not even to get back the monies they spent on development. And the fact that after they gave up their interest in producing a movie, but had a deal to return monies against development in exchange for those rights and distribution rights, the deal itself – a failrly boiler plate thing – made all of their rights invalid because the deal not to make the movie led to not making the movie.
It’s time for the geeks to start getting angry about being played by Warners on this one. I can’t imagine that anyone really believes that either of Warners’ central arguments hold any water whatsoever.
Worst of all… if Warners’ had just paid the million or the $1.5 million or whatever Fox would have taken, this would have been over before it began. Instead, they rolled the dice and this is going to cost not less than 50 times that much. Look for WB to sue Gordon for their losses by summer. And watch Gordon escape that one by noting what the judge has noted… that they knew exactly what the paperwork said and made a terrible legal call that was not his call to make, however he represented the situation verbally or even in a contract indemnifying Warners.
And what of Paramount? Good question. Right now, they are just an “et al” in the suit and the question of “distribution” has not been specified as domestic or international or both. (And isn’t the reason they ended up splitting with WB because they had so much money against the versions of the movie they never made… not unlike Ben Button? I could be wrong on this… there is probably some very specific story that I don’t know and that one of you will offer… but “money against” films unmade… basic.)
Paramount needs the cash and it would be less than shocking if they ended up making some kind of deal to get their money out, take some profit down the road, and to, essentially, sell Fox the international distirbution rights with, esentially, Warners’ money. The only problem is that there is no time for Fox to ramp up worldwide distribution in time for the March release. So could Paramount get paid a distribution fee and its costs and some backend and give the money rights to Fox. Sure. Why not? This could end up being a viable answer, as Paramount made a very wise investment, but can’t really afford to see the money get tied up in multi-player court cases and delayed by a year or more.
But really… it’s completely conjecture at this point.
Some of the paperwork…
watchlegal1.jpg
watchlegal2.jpg
watchlegal3.jpg

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Watchman EPK

Watchmen Exclusive

It is funny that this is on MySpace, a News Corp business. But it is not remotely surprising. Trailer Park on MySpace has the younger traffic that Watchmen seeks. Marketing is marketing is marketing. Strange bedfellows and all that.
Anyway… I must admit… the extended view, coming a few days after I devoured the hardback of Watchmen – my fourth or fifth reading – is a little dissapointing. It looks amazing visually, but more Sin City than the flawed, but deeper images of Gilliam or Burton. Matthew Goode seems like the one casting mistake… which is probably why he hasn’t been talked about much. But it feels like it might be a symbol of what could be a problem with the film… all the visuals… no depth. And that would be a shame, even if it will also be a powerful experience. The lesson of The Dark Knight is not that bigger is better, but that giving the audience what it feels to be more depth counts for more than a little.
Still, $500 million worldwide seems uunavoidable for the spectacle alone.
Anyway… take a look… happy new years!

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Watchman Myopics

I will be brief, since I think I’ve been clear…
It pains me to see smart people act like fools.
If any of you lent a friend $10,000 to start a business they needed $200,000 to really start and you had the understanding that if they ever got their funding, you would be paid back, and if not, you would own some percentage of the business… and your friend took your money, almost got funded but didn’t, then ultimately did, but acted as though you didn’t exist…
Money against film projects is as Studio 101 as it gets. I would be shocked if Drew McW doesn’t have at least one writing deal over recent years that is not in turnaround and carrying the burden of what he was paid on it. I was a screenwriter for 2 years and I have one. Some of the best scripts ever are sitting unmade because of the amount that they have sitting against any future production. Superman Returns had over $60 million against it, but WB went forward because they hoped it would outdo that burden.
Studio 101.
And all this geek whining tells you just why the geek community is not taken seriously.
It’s politicians talking morality and then getting caught with their dicks out.
There is nothing wrong with wanting Watchmen to come out and for creativity to reign over money. There’s nothing wrong (except that it’s mildly delusional) to believe that Tom Rothman is not just a more honest version of every other businessman in this game and that most would be thrilled to have his track record (or Mechanic’s for that matter). But suggesting that something is wrong with Fox getting it’s absolute, legal, moral, not remotely unusual due on this movie is infantile and/or intentionally self-deceptive.
That’s all I’m sayin’…
And before you start telling me that I am in anyone’s pocket, keep in mind… I knew this was going to happen almost exactly as it has the day I read the legal docs. It’s not a borderline call. The only question is who pays what to whom. WB infringed on an existing contract and either maliciously or incompetently moved forward. Whoever compared it to Art Buchwald came close… but Fox is Buchwald and WB is Par… though Fox’s claim is much more solid than Buchwald’s. They wrote checks. They left it sitting like over 50% of written screenpllays sit in this business of turnarounds.
And the Fox Knew… Fox Should Have Pursued Earlier thing is utter bullshit. If your landlord doesn’t ask for your rent every month and you get 6 months behind, does your obligation go away because your landlord didn’t manage your finances and push you to act responsibly?
If “geeks” want to be treated like serious adults, they need to start banging on WB to eat their porridge and pay what they owe, so y’all can see Dr Manhatten hang out on Mars. If someone steals from someone you don’t like, you don’t just keep blaming the guy you don’t like because he is “evil.” Well… you do if you are six.

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BYOBirmingham

Heading back to The Great Big Freeway today…
The year end seems less decisive this year… kinds rolling rather than just coming to a stop. Perhaps it’s because I was at a bowl game yesterday, anticipating the college national championship in 9 days, the same day as tje BFCAees, with Sundance just a week later.
Perhaps it’s because we are really down to 6 legit Best Picture candidates and ballots just went out. (Reminder – Though my sense is that it is really Slummy vs Frosty for the win, Phase Two is always a separate race and no one should forget that… including me.)
2009 is almost here… and scary as things are, hope is just 22 days away. There are no magic tricks, but as all of us have experienced at one moment or the other, it is small victories that keep us going through adversity… and I expect that the new president will offer that.
At least we are not Gaza Strip civilians caught between two very brutal political war machines, both of whom are sincerely convinced that they act out of survival instinct, both capable of doing terrible things towards that end.

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Birmingham News

In the big cities and in the media in general, we have a hard time avoiding media myopia. I write about studios that spend scores of millions every couple of weeks to release new films, media titans like the TribCo, NYT, and USA Today, and worry about how big that big should be.
A year or so ago, I vividly remember looking at the Detroit papers during an airport wait and feeling like I had walked into a P.O.W. camp, they were so thin, pained, and hopeless.
A look at this morning’s Birmingham News had a less shocking – how time and experience numbs – but equally scary reminder of the future. Section A… 8 pages… 4 locally reported stories on the front page. Not a single additional inch of reporting that wasn’t off a wire service… the only additional local work in the section was the row of local editorials, about one- sixth of the 2 page, syndication-loaded op-ed section.
I know… hardly unusual out there. Birmingham ain’t Detroit or LA or even many well loved smaller cities on America. But not only is the local news diet thin, but the narrowing of news sources is scary and the inevitability of a print paper, in a city with a clear division of web-accessing monied and print-at-best poor, going away BECAUSE there is so little non-wire reporting, is sad.

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The Per-Screen Scam

I am kinda sick of seeing screaming headlines/alerts about movies that are opening to “HUGE” per-screen averages at the end of the year… all the more absurd as studio-level wide release marketing budgets are leading to these HUGE exclusive openings.
I get it… I get it. But it is a scam and journalists should be saying so.
This weekend it is a $64,000 per-screen average – estimated, of course – for Revolutionary Road. That’s – get this – fewer than 350 tickets per screen than Frost/Nixon‘s HUGE opening. And what is all the box office maven buzz this week (coming, not surprisingly, from Rev Road HQ )? That Frost/Nixon is underperforming. (Not really fair… but another conversation.)
And then there are the pesky details… like I did the math and realized that Rev Road on 3 screens was mathematically incapable of grossing $64,000 per. Then I looked… it’s in three theaters… on 5 screens…. which really makes it $36,400 per… estimated.
Oh.
The Top 10 per-screen launches this year until this weekend… and no, I have not yet checked for actual screen count for the others… I will as soon as I can.
Frost/Nixon – $180,708 – 3 – $60,236 – $2,659,000 – 12/5/08
The Wrestler – $202,714 – 4 – $50,679 – $648,000 – 12/17/08
Gran Torino – $271,720 – 6 – $45,287 – $2,619,000 – 12/12/08
Kit Kittredge: An American Girl – $220,297 – 5 – $44,059 – $17,657,973 – 6/20/08
Milk – $1,453,844 – 36 – $40,385 – $12,281,000 – 11/26/08
Slumdog Millionaire – $360,018 – 10 – $36,002 – $16,693,000 – 11/12/08
Doubt – $507,226 – 15 – $33,815 – $5,000,000 – 12/12/08
Changeling – $489,015 – 15 – $32,601 – $35,417,977 – 10/24/08
Rachel Getting Married – $293,369 – 9 – $32,597 – $9,785,033 – 10/3/08
Che – $61,070 – 2 – $30,535 – $108,961 – 12/12/08

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A Quick Touch Of Clarity

Yes, I know that I repeat a phrase in the Ly entry…
Much as the ego stroke of everything at MCN being attributed as “David Poland’s,” this is a fallacy. I have not touched a single list this year (aside from forwarding those sent to me). Laura, Ray, and Kim have been driving that train. I, in fact, am still seeing a few stragglers before doing my real list… other outlets asking for early December opinions get early December opinions.
As for the chart, the philosophy behind the list that will top out between 200 and 250 lists has always been to mix the sublime, the mainstream, and even a few of the absurd. This has given the list a nice balance, in our opinion. Indeed, of you want the arty view, check out the very valuable indiewire and VVM polls.
(via iPhone)

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Why Ly'?

The LA Times did a hit piece on Ben Lyons today… Saturday… two days after Christmas… pretty much a burial…
But what really struck me about the mostly cut-n-paste story was that there was not a single full-time critic quoted. Stu van Arsdale came closest to making the point that is basically missed by the existance of a piece like this…
Who Fucking Cares?
While it is, indeed, something to have a syndicated platform, powered by Disney O&Os, after four months of this embarrassing Disney experiment – though not close to being as embarrassing as Ebert’s exit was mishandled – there has been ZERO impact by either host or the thumbless show. If Disney took the show out of prime slots in LA, NY, and Chicago, the ratings would be comedically low (as they are for the pater Lyons’ show) and Disney would be “no commenting” instead of defending a show that was hamstrung not only by hack hosts, but by a lack of a philosophy behind the show or the meager prduction budget needed to have behind-the-scenes talent to drive the machine.
I intensely disagree that there is not a syndication movie review show that can work. Really, that is a stupid argument made only by people who don’t understand television. The big mistake by Disney was thinkng that youth and cable celebrity was a way to draw. Dumb. If that were true, E! would not have programmed itself into a whorehouse and still be getting soft ratings and you’d all be talking about G4.
The shame is that opportunities like this – and Roeper… and Shoot Out, which never figured out how to turn so many good elements into the fun show it always wanted to be – poison the well for “the next show.”. Not only is there a flop, but this will be a flop that signals that such a show should never be tried again. Maltin’s show failed. Lyons Sr and Bailes will be on the deathwatch as soon as NBC has a few months post-At The Movies to see no ratings increase, Shootout is out at AMC. And while I love Elvis Costello and much of the Sundance Channel programming, they are signalling for TV what we see on fashion mags on the racks every day… why just have someone who can deliver when you can have a celebrity deliver with some built-in awareness?
Regardless… Lyons and Mank3 will be gone and forgotten soon enough… like Dixie Whatley and Bill whateverhisnamewas and so many others. Even Roeper, who like him or not had years sitting right there with Roger, was unable, with the support of Roger and other backstagers from the old show, was unable to get a show started that would have had the thumbs and all. No one wants that show. No one wants this show (but Disney wants to role the dice to try to hold valuable syndication slots). If it were a lame animal, we’d shoot it in the head.
But do we really need another column inch used to watch it shoot itself in the foot?
I don’t.
(via iPhone… from Atlanta)

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BYOB – Travel Day

Happy holidays… be nice to one another…

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Oscar Watch?

As I just wandered into EW’s attempt to knock off my video interview franchise (smart… and they spend more on production… which is lovely… and interestingly, have only seemed to have gotten the specific talent that I have not…), more sad was seeing Dave Karger’s award blog called “Oscar Watch,” which is the name that The Academy forced Sasha Stone to give up just a year or so ago.
How is it that a major media company is openly allowed to infringe on Academy copyright while Ms Stone’s independent site is not? It is inexcusable.
I only wish that I had the money to give Sasha to litigate the issue with The Academy and then to go up against EW for the infringement, which clearly trades on Sasha’s years of built up goodwill.
I have nothing against EW or Dave Karger (a guru) or anyone at Time-Warner. But I am a fan of fairness, felt that The Academy pressing its claim against Sahsa – as it once had against a secton of MCN – was reasonable on their part, and that giving up the name was the right choice for her. But not when some bigger outlet gets to walk in and steal the name, generic as it is, that she squatted on and built before anyone else was clever enough to do so. That just isn’t right.

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BYOB – After X

Still not ready to work, but here is some chat space…
According to Steve Mason, the Christmas Day winner was Marley & Me, followed by Ben Button, followed by Bedtime Stories. Valkyrie did over $7 million for the day.
I take Steve’s premature estimijaculations for the 4 day with a big grain of salt, as I did his hyperactive post of 40 hours ago that Bedtime would break records. Doesn’t mean he’s wrong… just keep the salt shaker handy.

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On Watchmen…

The judge has given a ruling… nothing really new for me to say… the only thing I find interesting is that both side must have pushed him for a quick ruling as delaying until the end of January would surely have led to an injunction on the release of the film… settle soon.. Fox wants money and a logo in front, not to distribute the film or to interrupt what seems to be a successful sell by WB… if you do anything because you think the geeks are going to rebel, you’re idiots… just eat your porridge, WB and/or Paramount. You screwed up on Lawyering 101… clear your rights.
Hot Blog, 8/31“Once the judge decides – he may have already – whether Fox is owed money or not, he might grant the injunction just to move the settlement along… but more likely, he will tell the lawyers, in chambers, to settle the damned thing before he settles it for them.”
He’s now done that publicly.
This is not a complex case. Really. Judge Judy could have it done in under 30 minutes. She would either bitch out Fox for knowing and not saying anything before awarding them the full amount and a share of the profits or she would yell at Warners for not being more careful before handing Fox their interest payment and maybe legal fees and throwing them out. And as silly as that sounds, it’s pretty much what’s going on here. Either the pawn ticket was paid or Gordon/WB/Par threw a 20 on the counter, grabbed the property that was once theirs, and ran off with it, hoping not to be chased.
Pretty much what the judge found…
8/19
“And what, dear reader, of Paramount, the owner of the foreign rights to this project? And Legendary, which likely footed about 25% of the overall cost of the film?
300 did 6.6% more at the overseas box office than at home. The film is due for near day-n-date release in most of the major international markets. If Fox prevails, they have dibs on all of that too. So all of a sudden, even if the domestic/world split is 50/50, the math gets uglier for WB.
Made Up Numbers – $400 million worldwide. Fox gets 10% of the gross rentals… $22 million. $11 million of that is Paramount

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'Twas The Night… Hollywood 2008

‘TWAS THE INDICTMENT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
As Told To Inclement Bernie Madoff
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the town
Not a creature was comfy, even Will Smith was down;
The movies were sold with the studios

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BYOB – Christmas Eve…. ahhhhh

If you don’t get the reference, check the Top Ten lists…

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The Hot Blog

Quote Unquotesee all »

Six rules for filmmaking from Mike Nichols
1. The careful application of terror is an important form of communication.
2. Anything worth fighting for is worth fighting dirty for.
3. There’s absolutely no substitute for genuine lack of preparation.
4. If you think there’s good in everybody, you haven’t met everybody.
5. Friends may come and go but enemies will certainly become studio heads.
6. No one ever lost anything by asking for more money.
~ Via Larry Karaszewski and Howard A. Rodman On Facebook

“I expected ‘Salesman’ to take the step backward every day that Chekhov and Beckett did — but no, it was there to help all the time. The circumstances are like a brick shithouse, they are so solid. You can’t really be satisfied, but I am pretty close to it because the cast took it and ran. They get better every day. I’ve never seen anything like that before, and I don’t know if I’ll ever see it again. Is my ambition sated? I don’t know. To get something right, it can’t be sated because you can’t ever get enough of it right—and even if it is right, it won’t stay right. That’s the thing about a play. But with ‘Salesman,’ it’s different. I don’t know how, but they just keep getting better each night. I really don’t think I’ll direct another play. This is as good a time as I’ve ever had, and I don’t want to fuck it up.”
~ Mike Nichols To Stephen Galloway At The Time Of “Death Of A Salesman”