It's 8:30 or so, Pacific Standard Time, and - no deal. No strike. No nothing. What we have, instead, are duelling press releases. The studios have released their "final offer," -- "a final hope for avoiding further work stoppages and getting everyone back to work." You betcha. Their offer is a package worth a whopping $250 million in new compensation to SAG members (this will buy one Spiderman sequel, and not more), "with significant economic gains and groundbreaking new media rights for all performers." Will you be surprised to hear that SAG disagrees? On its site, the guild neither accepts nor rejects this offer, but promises its members to "continue to stand strong and work hard to negotiate a fair contract for all actors." That doesn't sound like progress. But everyone is urged to show up to work on Tuesday under the expired contract. The protagonists promise to meet on Wednesday, to bargain some more. Sigh. It's going to be a long, long summer.
June 30, 2008
The deadline for the Screen Actors Guild contract passes at midnight, and there is no deal on the horizon. But there's also no talk, as yet, of a strike. Hollywood can continue functioning under SAG's now-expired contract, and for the moment that's where things stand. My read, as I explained on John Hockenberry's show "The Takeaway" last week, is that the union is in an historically weak position. The studios feel themselves to be in a win-win place. If there's a strike, they can take it, and they have the benefit of having given little quarter during the painful writer's guild strike earlier this year. Production has slowed to a near-standstill in any event. And if there's no strike, they continue business, slow-go, as needed. Either way, they don't seem to see a need to compromise on the guild's demands for more money. Stay tuned, we'll be following this.
June 27, 2008
The man of clay is Donald Douglas, one of the most important aviators in American history and the latter part of the famed McDonnell Douglas corporation. In the 1930s, Donald Douglas, an engineer and entrepreneur, dominated the burgeoning world of aviation. He designed the DC-1, DC-2, DC-3 jets, his company built thousands of C-47s, used by the US military in World War Two, Korea and Vietnam. His factories produced nearly 30,000 airplanes between 1942 and 1945 alone. Douglas lived in Santa Monica, and the airport there has commissioned a statue to commemorate him. (Which is a good thing, because before this I knew next to nothing about the guy.)
It turns out that making a bronze sculpture takes great engineering as well. Above, sculptor Yossi Govrin, whose studio happens to be at the Santa Monica airport, walked me through the amazing process of making a lifesized likeness of Douglas. You can follow along with a series of photographs here. He started with small blocks of wood, attaching them to an iron frame. You see the welder making the frame, Yossi attaching the wood blocks, and then laying the clay on the frame in heavy chunks. Working off a series of photographs of Douglas, he then gradually sculpted the clay into a remarkable likeness. By the time he got to this point, he said, "I could feel him talking to me. One day I turned around and it was like I could feel his spirit coming out." The final process, the pouring of the bronze, takes several months and lots of versions. By next year you will be able to visit the sculpture at a newly built plaza at the Santa Monica airport.
June 25, 2008
"Sharon Waxman's Loot is the most instructive as well as the most intelligent (and the most entertaining) guide through the labyrinth of antiquity and the ways in which the claims of the departed intersect with the rights of the living."
-- Christopher Hitchens, author of "God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything," and "The Elgin Marbles: Should They Be Returned to Greece?"
June 24, 2008
The LA Times' Claudia Eller and Richard Verrier have a story today that pulls together what I've been hearing for weeks, namely that work in Hollywood has crawled to a near-halt in anticipation of a possible actor's strike. Green-lighting has dwindled to a trickle, and the creative community across the board is tightening its belt, seeing the dreaded signs reminiscent of the writers guild strike that just ended months ago. Actors tell me there are precious few auditions going on, and writers and directors are embracing the "staycation" instead of making plans to go to Europe. The Screen Actors Guild contract with Hollywood's major studios expires at the end of this month, and few believe that there will be a resolution by that time. The secondary acting guild, the American Federation of Television and Radio Actors (AFTRA), has reached a new contract; its members need to vote on whether to stand with SAG or ratify the agreement. Will there be a strike? No one, but no one is in the mood. The membership will have to decide whether to follow in the footsteps of the writers guild, a standoff that caused tens of millions of dollars of economic dislocation, and resulted in extremely hard-to-define gains. Or they must choose to continue working without a contract, not a very strong position from which to bargain. Either way, the movie and tv producers continue to have disproportionate clout in this battle. They are preparing to wait it out and protect their bottom lines.
Madonna machine in trouble?
Poor ticket, album sales raise eyebrows over $120 million Live Nation deal
Strike threat worries Hollywood
Production slows in anticipation of walkout by actors
Imus in new racial controversy
Reborn radio host calls comments "sarcastic"
Nokia takes full control of Symbian
Cellphone maker revs up for fight with Apple, Google
Google tackles obscenity
Data from the search giant may bring precision to the community standards test
June 23, 2008
Steve Carell ought to check his media profile: no matter how well "Get Smart" did this weekend, the guy is dangerously close to overexposed. Between "The Office," the advertising glut on "Get Smart," the DVD for "Evan Almighty" and the media lovefest that surrounds him, there's only so much Steve Carell that anyone can take. (Here’s a list of full appearances, for the record.) The billboards, all those magazine covers, and long take outs about him – wh ere's the story? Nice guy, married, stable, success at 40. Dullll. Give me a post-rehab, box-office comeback over that any day: Calling Robert Downey Jr. Carell seems to feel this instinctively; he actually looked embarrassed when he appeared on his pal Jon Stewart's show last week, and seemed bored with himself on the David Letterman Show. True, there was nothing embarrassing about the box office performance of "Get Smart," which took in $39 million. But I've said it before: the box office figures can lie. Movie stars who indulge in every available spotlight do so at their peril.
Mike Myers, on the other hand, just seems desperate, past his prime, and out of touch. During his visit with Stewart the day after Carell, he appeared positively medicated. The comic actor lay half-prostrate on the desk for much of the time, and made serial references to "peepee from his bumbum," displaying an apparent obsession with diarrhea that goes back to Austin Powers and may have met its apotheosis in "The Love Guru." Despite clever trailers and marketing, the negative word of mouth found its way to the box office, where the $62 million budget movie, dismissed by critics as a series of unfunny sketches, sucked in just $14 million. Myers made a big deal of the years he invested in creating his new character, Pitka. And indeed, it's been a decade since Austin Powers first came to delight audiences. In the meantime his reputation for diva-not-guru-like pomposity precedes him. If this is the best he can do in all that time, perhaps Myers should switch gears to something more in keeping with his gastro-intestinal obsessions. How about as a pitchman for Pepto-Bismol?
Mark Burnett, IMG in talks
Reality TV titan Mark Burnett is looking to sell at least half of his production company to IMG for a rumored price of $250 million.
Rambo to lead Bollywood's US invasion
Sylvester Stallone is set to star alongside Indian actors and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the most expensive Bollywood production of all time, and the first to shoot at Universal Studios in Hollywood.
Fandango buys Movies.com
The last remnant of Disney's failed Internet strategy has found a new home at Fandango, the online ticketing site.
NBC axes employee who gave Wikipedia Tim Russert scoop
Wikipedia, not NBC, broke the news of Tim Russert's death, and now the news network has fired the low-level staffer responsible.
Trades not playing nice with indie film Web sites
Variety and The Hollywood Reporter stand accused of poaching stories from popular film Web sites without attribution -- and the fanboys are hopping mad.
June 22, 2008
The debate over restitution of treasures from antiquity is only rarely troubled by facts, but recently some have emerged to embarrass the Greek government, and spark a response. Tourists and travel companies have been complaining that too many ancient sites, including Delphi, where the famed oracle sat upon Mount Parnassus, or Delos, the island where Apollo had his mythical home (pictured), are poorly maintained or too often closed to the public. Until complaints changed the policy this month, Delphi was only open until 1 pm; the museum of Delos was closed until last week for lack of staff, according to this account in the Guardian newspaper. "The situation at museums and sites around the country is bad," the culture minister, Michalis Liapis, conceded in parliament last week. "It has to be corrected." The government has quickly voted funds for extra staff for museums and sites that have been otherwise closed. But this is an ongoing problem in all the countries that have been clamoring for the return of their treasures from Western museums like the Metropolitan, the Getty, the Louvre, the British Museum. The problem is one of hypocrisy. Countries like Greece cannot justifiably demand the return of objects taken in recent decades by looters, or a century ago by imperial-minded "collectors," if they cannot adequately care for the objects and sites they already have. But reality is a harsh taskmaster. Caring for antiquities costs money. The answer lies not in pointing fingers, as is suggested by the article in the Guardian. The answer - the only possible answer - lies in recognition that the responsibility for preservation lies with us all. That concern, the concern over preservation, must take precedence over the issue of possession.
June 20, 2008
Swan song for Live Nation boss
Michael Cohl, the man who negotiated rich deals with Madonna and Jay-Z, is exiting the stage as Chairman of Live Nation, leaving behind a flagging stock price and a company riven with internal conflict.
Spielberg running up the Jolly Roger?
DreamWorks has landed itself a big pile of Indian treasure -- and an alliance with a conglom accused of piracy by Universal Studios.
Turnover turmoil upends Yahoo!
Bar the doors, Jerry Yang. You may have fended off Carl Icahn with a last-minute Google deal, but your top talent is deserting you in droves.
June 19, 2008
The latest news that DreamWorks is close to a deal with the Indian media and entertainment conglomerate, Reliance ADA, to raise $500 to $600 million in production financing makes sense. It was a logical move in the wake of Universal's position in negotiations last year that it would distribute, but not fully finance, the mini-studio. Late last year, David Geffen seemed confident that he could find a way out of an acrimonious relationship with Paramount by turning back to NBC-Universal, which he seemed to believe would ultimately see the logic of bringing DreamWorks back into the fold. And he was trying to dangle rival deals with Warner and Fox to press that outcome. But as I reported in November, Universal wasn't interested in taking on the threesome as a fully financed entity. Too expensive. Too much overhead. Too many moguls. Instead, Universal wanted DreamWorks to find outside financing. This, it seems, is what has happened. I reported in November that DreamWorks was seeking $600- $700 million in financing from a major, a step up from the $400 million in the Paramount deal. The reports this week put the Reliance investment at just between those two sums.
As for distribution, that's another matter. At the time, Universal was interested in a distribution deal with DreamWorks. If the deal with Reliance goes through, that seems a logical scenario. It is the studio that has long been the preferred home to Steven Spielberg. See Variety's story today for an interesting backgrounder on Reliance, a behemoth that has a pair of feuding brothers in the background.
Is Geffen still the 'G' in DreamWorks SKG?
David Geffen is staying out of DreamWorks rumored deal with India's Reliance behemoth. But Spielberg and Katzenstein may well want this pit bull on their side. Variety reports that the Indian company, valued at $100 billion, is built on a background of sibling rivalry, between owner Anil Ambani and his brother, Mukesh, who runs Reliance Industries.
Slow 3-D rollout threatens next generation of Hollywood movies.
Despite industry boosterism of the 3-D revolution, only 1,500 theater will be ready to show films in the format by next year. Some moguls may be left holding the bag.
Documentaries no longer golden at box office
John Horn reports that noe of this year's crop of documentaries, including "Bigger, Stronger, Faster," "Standard Operating Procedure," "Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains" and "My Kid Could Paint That," have taken in more than $250,000 each in theaters.
June 17, 2008
Wonderful photos by Jonathan Alcorn of the first same-sex wedding in Beverly Hills yesterday. Longtime couple Diane Olson and Robin Tyler celebrate at the Beverly Hills courthouse. More here.
June 16, 2008
June 13, 2008
June 12, 2008
Will anyone notice Ian Austen's story today, buried in the NYT's Foreign section, about Canada formally apologizing to the country's Native Americans, for forcing them into residential schools where they were physically and sexually abused? This is major news. Canada has apologized, and agreed to pay nearly $2 billion in reparations. It will establish a truth and reconciliation commission so that the true suffering inflicted on Native Americans can be aired and acknowledged. Where are we in America on this issue? Absolutely nowhere. But know this: the very same abuse by members of the clergy, priests, nuns, teachers in Canada was inflicted on Native Americans on this side of the border. Does this occur to no one at the New York Times or elsewhere? To members of Congress? Why is there no interest in this huge story of racial injustice? I wrote an investigative piece on this topic in 2003 at the Washington Post, which resulted in the removal of one of the priests interviewed in the story. But the tales of abuse that I heard, and that I guard closely in my archives, were among the most chilling things I have ever heard in 25 years as a journalist. Here is that old story. Shame on all of us.
June 11, 2008
It turns out that Hollywood couldn’t kill Joe Eszterhas. But it did send him running to Jesus. The writer whose movies defined an era – “Flashdance,” “Basic Instinct,” “Sliver," and (unfortunately) “Showgirls” -- and whose personal battles with Mike Ovitz and extramarital exploits made modern Hollywood legends, has gotten religion. The old-fashioned kind. Eszterhas has just finished a book about himself and his relationship with Jesus, called “Cross-Bearer.” The title refers to himself, not to Jesus; Eszterhas now carries the cross at Sunday services in his Catholic church. I went to see him at his home in the countryside east of Cleveland, where he lives with his second wife Naomi and their four sons. His voice is a fainter version of the old grizzled rasp, but his hair is still a thick, Hungarian mane and his face still looks like a Harley biker’s after a bar brawl. Eszterhas came close to dying from his addiction to drinking and smoking. He contracted cancer, struggled with a tracheotomy – and, finally, he had an epiphany. Faith descended. Or ascended. It is this transformation that he describes in his book (out in the fall), even while he insists on differing with some central aspects of Catholicism. He takes issue with the church’s “wimpification” of Jesus, for example. Does Eszterhas see irony in his spiritual flip-flop? The man who defined carnal pulp for more than a decade, who religious conservatives blamed for dragging American culture into the gutter, has now joined the Jesus brigade? Eszterhas laughs, a carburetor turning in someone’s garage. Strange, indeed are the ways of the Almighty. He suggests I might better ask his old partner, Paul Verhoeven. The director too has gotten religion, and written a book about the Virgin Mary, scheduled to appear in bookstores next year. Hmmm. The maker of “Showgirls” takes on the Blessed Virgin? What’s next? Elizabeth Berkeley joins a convent?
June 09, 2008
You'd have thought that Paramount might not want me on their marketing team for the "Love Guru," considering my previous revelation of the studio's absurd demands of journalists on the promotional press junket. But you would be wrong! Paramount has reached out to me - me, personally - to help spread the word about their summer blockbuster. They are offering me the most wonderful tools that I can embed in my site to help drive audiences to their movie, in exchange for which I might be granted ... a visit to my site by Mike Myers himself! Here's the note from Paramount's new "online marketing manager.":
"Here's what we have: Love Guru E-Cards (perfect for Father's Day), Pitka's Book Club (very similar to another famous book club), Just for Pubes (a must for your aging father) and this ridiculous bobblehead." The note goes on to mention that "Mike is checking out every site that posts something about the movie and we'd love to send him over to your site."
Now, if I do sign on to help virally market Paramount's movie - because I am the milk of movie kindness - how do I know for sure that Mike himself has visited my site? Do I get an email? Is there a follow-up call? I need to know before I sign on. Folks, if you were wondering where the $50,000 ads in the New York Times were disappearing to - here's the answer.
June 04, 2008
UPDATE: My sources tell me that the studio has backed down and the contract is no longer. Ladies and gentlemen, the power of the Internet.
JOURNALIST AGREEMENT #X- Publication
1. Single Issue License. The article, excerpts or other literary material to be written or created concerning Artist (or Artist and any third parties) (the "Material") are to be published once in the inside of the ______________ [date] issue of _____________________ magazine (the "Publication").
2. Artist Approvals. All Material which Journalist intends to use first must be submitted to Company and Artist for approval. The print, negative, or other material embodying disapproved Material will be promptly destroyed by the Journalist. This license will automatically expire without further notice if the article containing the approved Material is not published by the issue date above.
3. Additional Licenses. Journalist will not make any further license or use of the Material for any other use whatsoever, including, without limitation, retrospective or additional use by the Publication, advertising, promotional, publicity, commercial tie-in, merchandising, or other use and may not sell, assign, auction, transfer, give away or otherwise dispose of the Material without first obtaining the written consent of Company or Artist (or Artist's representatives) in each instance. [Artist and Company pre-approve the reproduction or display of a cover of the Publication bearing an Artist approved Photo in connection with the normal and customary consumer subscription marketing activities of the Publication (e.g., pre-addressed postage paid subscription order cards inserted in copies of the Publication), provided such use does not occur more than 12 months from the initial publication date of the Publication bearing the Material.]
4. Portfolio Use. Journalist may use approved Material for non-commercial, non-publication purposes to promote Journalist's work to persons other than the general public, including promotional cards and portfolios, provided the Material are not displayed or transferred over the Internet.
5. Copyright. Copyright in the Material will be retained by Journalist, subject to the restrictions and Artist's approval rights in this Agreement. Journalist agrees that no publication, distribution, reproduction, display, or other right under copyright will be exploited by Journalist other than in strict conformity with this Agreement. Journalist grants Company and Artist a perpetual, royalty-free license, without restriction, to use the Material in connection with any of Artist's activities, including, without limitation, in connection with any commercial or non-commercial enterprise involving Artist. Journalist shall deliver Material to Company and/or Artist in print form and by transmittal of a Microsoft Word file. At Artist's request, Journalist will assign its enforcement rights to Artist and/or Company so that Artist and/or Company may enjoin or otherwise remedy a third parties' violation of the terms, conditions, and restrictions of this Agreement.
6. Third Party Clearances. Journalist will be solely responsible for any and all other individual authorizations, releases, consents, clearances, licenses, and payments as may be necessary with respect to the use of the Material.
7. Reserved Rights. Any use of the Material not expressly licensed to Journalist hereunder is reserved by Artist, and Journalist acknowledges and agrees that Company and Artist reserves all right, title and interest in Artist's name, voice, likeness, merchandising, commercial tie-in, publicity rights, privacy rights, trademark rights, and other rights under applicable law.
8. Confidentiality. Journalist acknowledges that the privacy of Company and Artist are highly valued and that all efforts are made to maintain confidentiality. Accordingly, Journalist agrees not to disclose to anyone any confidential, personal, or private information about Artist, Artist's family, or Artist's personal relationships at any time, or to write or assist in the writing or preparation of articles, news stories, books, or other productions or materials of any nature whatsoever about or referring to Artist.
9. Indemnity. Journalist shall indemnify and hold harmless Company and Artist from any and all damages, costs, and expenses (including legal fees) arising out of or in connection with any unauthorized use of the Material by Journalist, or any party acting under the authority of Journalist, or any breach of Journalist's warranties, representations, or obligations hereunder.
10. Law. This Agreement shall be governed by and interpreted under the laws of California applicable to agreements made and to be fully performed therein, and where applicable, under U.S. Copyright Law. Journalist consents to the exclusive jurisdiction of the applicable state or Federal court located in Los Angeles County, California. Journalist acknowledges and agree that the damages caused Company and Artist from a violation of this Agreement are irreparable, and that Company and Artist may seek appropriate equitable or injunctive relief to prevent or remedy a violation of the terms hereof, in addition to damages. In any controversy respecting this Agreement, the prevailing party will recover its attorneys fees and costs. The license hereunder shall not become effective and Journalist may not use the Material unless and until a signed copy of this Agreement signed by Journalist is received by Company.
AGREED TO AND ACCEPTED:
Has Justin Timberlake lost his mind? His handlers at Spyglass Entertainment had journalists at the "Love Guru" junket signing one of those Tom Cruise-ian ("do not stare at the star") contracts that demands, among other things, that the journalist not mention anything personal or private, destroy all materials not approved in advance, and make the freelancers personally liable for anything they might write about the guy.
Here it is from the contract, in legal chapter and verse: "All Material which Journalist intends to use first must be submitted to Company and Artist for approval. The print, negative, or other material embodying disapproved Material will be promptly destroyed by the Journalist." And this: "Journalist agrees not to disclose to anyone any confidential, personal, or private information about Artist, Artist’s family, or Artist’s personal relationships at any time." and this: "Journalist will be solely responsible for any and all other individual authorizations, releases, consents, clearances, licenses, and payments as may be necessary with respect to the use of the Material."
Paramount and Spyglass and Mike de Luca -- what's up with you guys? Why not just hand out pre-written publicity copy and make it easier on everyone involved? (Note to journalists: none of you should agree to sign such a ridiculous document. Hollywood will push you as far as it can. If you sign this, you can expect to see more of such nonsense.)
The Association of Art Museum Directors, the group that represents most major museums in the United States, is finally coming around to adopt the accepted international guidelines for acquiring antiquities. As my former colleague Randy Kennedy reports in today's Times, the group will announce today its new policy recommending that museums not acquire objects that have no known provenance after 1970, or without proof that the object was outside its country of origin before that date. (And yes, it is often difficult to pinpoint a country of origin.) That year, 1970, is the date of a UNESCO convention governing acquisitions, its attempt -- now dating back some 40 years -- to stem the tide of illegal antiquities smuggling. In the absence of clear international laws on the issue, the UNESCO convention has served as the benchmark for institutions and collectors internationally. But many American museums have been slow to sign on. The Getty recently adopted this policy, but other major museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of New York, still have not. The fact that the old school AAMD has come around to this is a sign of the times, and an indication of the reigning fear among museum directors that they will continue to be targetted by foreign lawsuits and pressure campaigns.
June 02, 2008
Here's the video from my appearance on "Reliable Sources" on CNN.