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Film

October 23, 2008

Opie and the Fonz Dress Up for Obama

In the waning days of this election campaign, what won't Hollywood do to boost their friend Barack Obama?

They will shave on camera, put on a goofy wig and regress about 30 years into American tv history. Ron Howard offers up a heartfelt plea to American voters to vote for Obama, and apparently he thinks this plea will work better if he makes it as his chlid alter ego, Opie of Mayberry RFD.

Howard also dresses up as Richie Cunningham, and gets Henry Winkler to revive the Fonz, as both banter over the need to vote for their guy. It's nostalgic, amusing and maybe a little desperate. (It's up at funny-or-die. see it here.) Guys, it's not as if Obama ain't ahead by a mile.

October 22, 2008

Round-Up: Relativity and Rogue in Business

Yea, though I am far away, feel the need to note the newsworthy development of Relativity, run by Ryan Kavanaugh, being close to buying Universal's Rogue Pictures, the genre division started in 2004, for $150 million. What does this mean for genre studios within the major movie companies? In today's L.A. Times, Patrick Goldstein questions whether this pending deal is a bad omen for Focus Features, the speciality division that traditionally puts out Oscar-winning movies, but that was the parent of Rogue. Patrick observes: "If Universal is willing to dump Focus' genre arm, the most consistently commercial underpinning of its specialty division, then surely it is ready to put the squeeze on Focus itself." He predicts Universal will remain committed until after the release of the anticipated 'Milk,' announcing changes after Oscar season. We all know that specialty divisions are in trouble and that in the current climate some indie labels are perilously close to closing, just as Warner Independent did earlier this year.

October 21, 2008

Hollywood Steps Lightly: Spielberg and Soft Diplomacy in the Middle East

Transformerspyramids

A major milestone quietly passed last weekend: the first major Hollywood film in decades filmed in the heart of the Middle East. “Transformers II” turned its cameras at the Pyramids in Egypt, and again in the upper Egyptian town of Luxor, near the famed Valley of the Kings. This is significant for many reasons but mainly because it represents a rare move by two Hollywood studios, Paramount and DreamWorks, to connect to a country and culture that is perceived to be hostile the United States.

I say ‘perceived’ because my guess is you’d probably find no more avid fans elsewhere in the world than those clustered around Shia LeBeouf, the star of the film, in this part of the world. But after years of anti-American images in the Middle East, and years of entrenched mistrust, this is the kind of interaction – and publicity - that makes a difference. I hear from sources within the studio that DreamWorks was “petrified” when producers got clearance to shoot at the pyramids and in Luxor, and that LeBeouf was hesitant but decided to take the leap. (I agreed to hold this news until production had been safely completed.)

Hesitation is certainly comprehensible. Even before 9-11, Hollywood studios and major stars were reluctant to set foot in the Middle East. Luxor was the site of a major terrorist attack in 1997, in which some 60 European tourists were massacred by anti-Western gunmen in a horrific bloodletting. And since 9-11, A-list stars were hard to lure anywhere outside the United States. Usually Morocco would pass for anywhere in the Middle East, if it wasn’t Arizona.

There’s more afoot. Another quiet milestone on the road to cultural cooperation with the Middle East passed last month. In 2006 Steven Spielberg was approached by King Abdullah of Jordan to enlist the director’s help in creating a film school for the region. (They’ve known each other since Indiana Jones went thundering on horseback down a mile-long crevice to emerge in front of the temple of Petra, shot on location.) The school, the Red Sea Institute of Cinematic Arts in Aqaba, opened in September of this year to no publicity at all. The University of Southern California, where Spielberg is a major donor, signed on as a consultant to create a curriculum for 25 masters’ students from around the region, including Egypt, Kuwait and Iran. The university has recruited instructors too. I’m told that original plans called for Israeli students to be included, but that security conditions ultimately made this impossible. The hope is for Israeli students to be included in future semesters. This is the way to win over hearts and minds in the Middle East -- that “soft diplomacy” we hear so much about from Washington and policy wonks, and see so little of.

In the end, “Transformers II” shot for several days, bringing together a crew of 150 Americans and several dozen local Egyptians for an effort that producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who called from a cellphone while standing beside the pyramids, told me was “remarkably smooth.”

October 20, 2008

Madonna & ‘Rocknrolla’: Guy Ritchie’s Bad Week. Joel Silver’s Bad Year.

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It’s hard to tell who’s having a worse time at the moment: Guy Ritchie, whose wife, Madonna, publicly dumped him at the very same time as his latest film has opened in the U.S. like a snail in a tar pit.

Or Joel Silver, the producer of said snail-movie, “Rocknrolla,” who is struggling to avoid the Hollywood rumor mill in the wake of six – count ‘em – consecutive box office failures, not even counting this one.

“Rocknrolla” is meant to be a throwback to Richie’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” roots, with tough British criminals snarling Cockney into the camera.

But Warner Brothers has put precious little effort into this latest film, slow-going the release into a half-dozen theaters first week and last weekend 22, for a grand box office take after two weeks of $400,000. Little surprise.

After last summer’s big-budget bomb, “Speed Racer,” the studio seems to have finally noticed that Silver, once a star producer of reliable blockbusters, has become a producer of reliable money-pits.

The creatively desperate "Speed Racer," which cost at least $120 million to produce and was marketed for tens of millions more, took in a grand total of $89 million worldwide. (Including an anemic $44 million domestically). That should have been enough to get Silver called on the carpet.

But others preceded “Speed Racer”: “Fred Claus,” a funny-free comedy starring Vince Vaughn, took in $72 million domestically. “The Brave One,” starring Jodie Foster, managed to take in a grand total of $70 million worldwide.

Before these came  “The Invasion,” a disastrous film that cost $80 million and took in just $15 million. Before that “The Reaping,” with a $40 million price tag, and a $25 million take at the box office. “V for Vendetta” was a mistake even Nathalie Portman couldn’t fix.  Lastly, there was “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” which even at the modest budget of $15 million took in only $4 million.

Once upon a time, Silver knew how to pull in the audience in mega-numbers. This is the guy who helped invent the blockbuster property in the 1980s and 90s, from “Lethal Weapon” to the “Die Hard” franchise. He was in on the phenomenon, “The Matrix.” Silver knew what worked.

No longer. Last month there was an executive shake-up at Silver Pictures. Top executive Navid McIlhargey left to New Regency, and Silver Pictures President Susan Downey (Robert Jr’s wife) just plain left.

Why is Silver still left with a juicy Warner Brothers deal and license to keep making movies? Because Hollywood is a big old boy’s club, and Joel Silver is a big old member of it. Protected by his mogul friends, with whom he shares vacations and cruises and weddings in Venice, Silver continues to keep his deal at Warner Brothers – now in place through 2009 -- and plaster his name on big-budget projects, including “The Book of Eli” with Denzel, and a remake of “Logan’s Run.” On his Dark Castle label he has the upcoming “The Hills Run Red,” “The Factory,” and “Whiteout.”

How long can his friends protect him? Hard to say. But I’d bet that Silver’s deal is likely to outlast Guy Ritchie’s marriage.

October 19, 2008

Weekend Box Office - Max Payne Wins the Weekend; W. Not a Hit

Looks like Lions Gates' fears that it's too soon to laugh over George W. Bush and too late to cry were realized in the box office performance of "W," Oliver Stone's heavily-promoted new film about our lame duck prez.

The film, rolled out in 2,000 theaters, took in just $10.5 million, according to both Media by Numbers and Box Office Mojo. This makes a per theater average of $5,200, respectable, certainly but hardly a huge hit considering the back to back publicity appearances of Oliver Stone, the high interest in politics at the moment and a pricey advertising campaign.

"Max Payne," on the other hand -- a straight up, shoot--the-mothers R rated flick starring Mark Wahberg -- won the weekend, taking in $18 million. (His per theater average was not that much better, it should be noted.)

Meanwhile, "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" keeps rolling along, taking in another $11 million, and "The Secret Life of Bees" was a hit in its category, for sure. It took in $11 million, in 500 fewer theaters than Dubya.

October 15, 2008

Paramount Tightens its Belt. Blame DreamWorks.

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UPDATE: DreamWorks has a different point of view to all of this, my readers won't be surprised to know. They calculate this stuff differently. First, they say that "Transformers" was a DreamWorks property that they brought to Paramount, and thus shouldn't be discounted, or at least discounted only by half. (One Paramount source disputes this, saying that it was developed by Lorenzo di Bonaventura's company. Call it even.) Second, Paramount has benefited from a distribution fee for the DreamWorks library. Third, Paramount has netted big cash from distributing DreamWorks Animation movies, a deal it would not have gotten without having bought DreamWorks. I take the last point, but it still doesn't go into the bottom line calculation. It also doesn't alter this fundamental conundrum: Paramount bought DreamWorks. But it didn't own the company enough to be able to sell it.

Original Post:

Only in Hollywood can you buy a company and not actually own it.

That’s the bottom line from a close look at the power shift in Hollywood this month,  with DreamWorks closing its deal with Reliance ADA, and Universal nabbing distribution rights to their movies.

Over on the Paramount lot this week, some executive is pacing in his office just across from the Sherry Lansing Theater and wondering: Didn’t we buy DreamWorks in 2005? And if we bought DreamWorks, why didn't we get to sell it?

After all, even Harvey Weinstein had to hand over the Miramax name to Disney.

An analysis by one rival studio of the Paramount deal suggests that the loss to the major studio’s bottom line for its $1.6 billion purchase of DreamWorks in 2005 is some $250 million.

By my back-of-the-envelope estimate using published figures (which are usually massaged to the studio’s benefit), it’s more than that. And today, we see evidence of that in Paramount’s decision to tighten its belt. The studio announced it will be making only 20 films a year (watch this space, I predict other studios will follow) , and has consolidated operations. (Read the release here).

Here’s my analysis:  Paramount bought DreamWorks in 2005 for $1.6 billion, including $400 million in debt. It then made a cash-rich deal to sell the library for $900 million to a George Soros-related group.

That was the last of the good deals. In that time, the studio has released 16 DreamWorks films, which took in a total of $2.115 billion in worldwide box office revenues. A conservative estimate of the production cost of those films is $835 million, and you need to throw in another 30 percent ($250 million) on top of that for marketing costs. (Here’s a list; see for yourself.)

If you add it all up, that leaves revenues of $1.08 billion from the movies, with no factoring in overhead costs for the studio, which are considerable. But wait – even that’s too generous. You have to subtract the biggest hit in the group, “Transformers,” which was a Paramount-owned property anyway.

If you do that, the revenue number is reduced to a paltry $800 million or so. That’s perilously close to the $1.6 billion purchase price, minus the $900 million library deal. And, as I say, that includes no overhead or other development costs.

Here’s what Paramount bought: In 2006, “Dreamgirls,” which was only a modest box office success, and a bust at the Oscars. “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima” lost money. “She’s the Man” was a critical rout, and a box office loser too.

2007 was the one year DreamWorks saved Paramount’s bacon. The biggest hit was “Transformers,” though this property had been owned by Paramount to begin with. “Disturbia” and “Norbit” both made big money for the studio. There’s one year in DreamWorks’ column.

But 2008 was a big fat downer financially speaking. “The Ruins”? (Worldwide gross: $22 million.). Or “Ghost Town”?  (Domestic gross: $12 million.) “Tropic Thunder” was a modest hit ($159 million), but it cost a fortune to make ($100 million). I suppose “Eagle Eye” will be a winner, but it wasn’t cheap either. And we’ll have to wait and see about “Revolutionary Road” and the Oscars.

So now the wheel has come full circle.

Universal, which was left standing at the altar in 2005, gets the distribution business. That’s guaranteed 8 percent fees for distributing DreamWorks movies.

And Paramount, which foolishly thought it owned DreamWorks, gets to smile politely and wave good-bye as Steven Spielberg drives off the lot, taking the studio that Paramount owns with him.

October 13, 2008

Universal Announces Pact with DreamWorks; Geffen Retires. (Seriously?)

Now it's officially official. As we told you last week, DreamWorks and Universal have agreed to get back in business together. The two companies announced a seven-year distribution deal today, in a press release.

In the release, Spielberg said: "Universal has always been my home base so this agreement starts a new chapter in what has been a long and successful association. While it feels great to come home again, it feels like I never left, and Stacey and I look forward to working once again with our friends and colleagues, old and new.  It’s an exciting time for us and we want it to be equally as productive and rewarding for Universal.”

And apparently, David Geffen - who the press release was careful to name as instrumental in the deal -- will now be bowing out of the entertainment business.

I'd like to know where all that energy will be going. It may upset the natural order of things.

October 11, 2008

Box Office to the Dogs, Again

UPDATED: From Media By Numbers. Here's the box office numbers, quick and dirty:

"Beverly Hills Chihuahua" is top dog, again, taking in $17.5 million, according to studio estimates.

"Quarantine," the pulpy horror film from Sony's Screen Gems, took in $14 million.

"Body of Lies" is a head-scratcher. Here's an A-list director, Ridley Scott, with a AAA-list cast -- Leo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe -- in a thriller that has had a little to no traction. The Warner Bros film opened in 2,700 theaters and took in a modest $12.5   $13.1 million.

Is the Ridley-Russell dynamic duo worn out? This is the second joint endeavor of theirs to disappoint at the box office. Last year "American Gangster" did decent, not great, business. But the previous year's effort, "A Good Year," was an unvarnished disaster, taking in a total of $7.4 million (!!) in this country.

Elsewhere on the list, "Eagle Eye" took in another $10 $11 mill, and good old "Nick and Norah" found $6.5 3 mill at the box office.

October 08, 2008

Sources: DreamWorks To Close Deal with Universal

Unispielsnider UPDATE TO READERS:  A warm welcome to readers coming from The Daily Beast, our new editorial partner. Read the same post there.

DreamWorks has all-but-officially closed a distribution deal with Universal, with an announcement expected in the next few days, my sources tell me.

Three major studios were vying for the guaranteed cash that comes from the right to distribute DreamWorks’ movies. Now that the billion-dollar deal between the Steven Spielberg-David Geffen-and-Jeffrey Katzenberg machine and the Indian media conglomerate, Reliance, is closed, Universal, Fox, and Disney are all keeping communication lines open to get this deal done, according to two people close to the deal-making. A senior figure at DreamWorks said that the deal is not yet done, but that Spielberg would decide by the weekend.  He declined to say who had the edge in the discussions.

But Universal has had the lead position from the start. It is no secret that Spielberg considers the Universal lot his home – it’s where he started his career, and where his production company, Amblin, has been based, even with DreamWorks’ purchase by Paramount in 2005.

The devil is still in the details. (And I don’t specifically mean Geffen by that reference.)

The terms are complicated by the fact that DreamWorks and Paramount are still contractually intertwined for the next several years. Paramount has the right to co-produce any DreamWorks films that were in development at the time of the Reliance ADA deal, which officially closed in September. Therefore Paramount also will have the right to share distribution with whichever major studio gets DreamWorks distribution.

Second, Geffen is peeved at Universal for not putting up the cash to bring DreamWorks back onto the lot from Paramount in the first place, which forced the mini-studio to seek funding outside of Hollywood.

Meanwhile Spielberg is non-plussed that Universal passed on the opportunity to co-finance his epic 3D animated adventure tale, “Tintin,” which he is making with director Peter Jackson. (Universal ran the numbers, and found that with the guaranteed gross paid to Spielberg and Jackson, the film would have to take in well over $400 million to be profitable for them.)  Universal’s reticence has held up progress on the film, which had been scheduled to start principal photography in October.

Third, DreamWorks is seeking favorable distribution terms, in which they would be fronted cash by the studio, one person involved in talks tells me. Distribution deals are highly sought after by major studios, because it generates guaranteed cash for their bottom lines. They typically are able to charge 12 to 15 percent of the box office in exchange for distribution, and in the past Universal distributed DreamWorks films for about nine percent.

But all the parties involved are making nice. GE’s Jeff Immelt and Universal chief honcho Ron Meyer had dinner with Spielberg and DreamWorks co-chairman and CEO Stacey Snider recently. The word is they were not talking business, but the bonding experience was apparently priceless.

In Hollywood terms, this will be a long-term deal, an alliance expected to last six years,  well beyond the current development slate which is shared with Paramount. I’m told negotiations are being handled mainly by Spielberg and Katzenberg lawyers Skip Brittenham, Bruce Ramer and a host of other high-powered attorneys.

October 04, 2008

"Chihuahua" Bites Man: Bev Hills Dog tops at Box Office; Greg Kinnear Film a Flop

Give the people what they want. What do they want? Singing Chihuahua movies.

Beverlyhillschihuahua Two early estimates from the weekend box office: Disney's "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" movie will rake in $28.5 million, a serious box office sweep. Let's just get the concept behind this movie straight: a dog, best known from a taco commercial, visits Beverly Hills and experiences grand, Busby Berkeley-style celebration. That's entertainment!

Pity, by contrast, Marc Abraham. The talented and well-liked producer got his first shot at directing this weekend, with the Greg Kinnear film, "Flash of Genius." It's about a regular guy who invented windshield wipers, or something like that, and sues Detroit automakers for stealing his idea. (I admit: I haven't seen this film. Or Chihuahua-ville. I went to "Religulous," see previous.)

This may well be Abraham's last directing foray. The movie was rolled out in a very respectable 2,000 theaters, and is expected to take in $2.3 million. As the chihuahua would say:  Ooooouch.

Even "Religulous" made more than that: $3.4 million, by the first estimates. Meanwhile, Shia Lebeouf's "Eagle Eye" keeps pulling in big bucks, an estimated $17.5 million this weekend; so did "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist," another of those light comedies, this starring the likeable nerd Michael Cera, taking in $12.1 millon, according to early numbers.Kinnear 

Updates and final numbers tomorrow.

October 02, 2008

Is SAG strike imminent? A Call for a Vote

Yesterday, the Screen Actors Guild negotiating committee passed an advisory motion recommending that the board whip up a resolution to vote on an authorization to strike.

This sounds like madness, and maybe it is, but my read is that the guild is looking to put pressure on the studios to return to the negotiating table. The motion recommended that the national board "adopt a resolution strongly supporting such an action, and recommending that the membership vote in favor of a strike authorization."

In a country where the economy is teetering on the brink of crisis, and in an industry where there is almost no new movie production underway because of the lapsed SAG contract, one wonders why the guild is now prepared to push for a strike vote. The answer is that the guild has precious few options given the unmoving position of the studios, represented by the AMPTP, and is seeking to force the studios back to the table.

The studios, however, do not seem to be feeling the pressure. The scary state of the economy undoubtedly gives them comfort that strike talk is bluster. The AMPTP put out this statement last night: "Is this really the time for anyone associated with the entertainment business to be talking about going on strike? ... It is unrealistic for SAG negotiators now to expect even better terms during this grim financial climate. This is the harsh economic reality, and no strike will change that reality."

On the other hand, self-destructive acts by Hollywood guilds are not exactly unusual. Just because a strike might not achieve the desired goal (as in the case of the writer's guild) is no reason to believe that SAG might not go there.


October 01, 2008

"Religulous": Bill Maher Spreads Interfaith Harmony (Not Really)

What better way to greet the Jewish New Year than with a packed sneak preview screening of Bill Maher's new religion-skewering documentary, "Religulous"? Religulous

For years now we have been listening to Maher diminish and mock religion in general, religious people in particular and especially Catholicism, with a very special glee. Now he sets out across the globe on a more pointed anti-faith inquiry, adopting a style that's kind of Borat-meets-Michael Moore, but without the comic commitment of the former or the intellectual acuity of the latter.

What I mean is, religion is easy pickings. We all know about the suicide bombers, the pedophiles, the golddiggers and the closeted anti-homosexual preachers. Where's Maher going by putting these all end to end?

When he chooses to probe the inconsistencies in Christian dogma by querying truck stop drivers at a roadside Mass, or playing 'gotcha' with the guy who plays Jesus at the Holy Land amusement park, it isn't exactly a fair fight. And when Maher unexpectedly comes across a maverick priest at the Vatican who scoffs at his religion's hypocrisy, Maher seems unsure where to put this iconoclast in his religion-bad; agnosticism-good cosmology.

More revealing is when he gets U.S. Senator Mark Pryor, who is a fundamentalist Christian, to admit that you don't need a particularly high IQ to get into the Senate. Or when he queries his own Jewish mother about why he and his sister were raised Catholic, with no acknowledgement of her religion, nor discussion of the family decision to abandon the church.

In many scenes, Maher does all the talking, laying out his own doubts while allowing the interviewee only a few words - or a shrug - in response. (And by the way, that guy on the left in the picture is Larry Charles, the director, not some religulous nutbar; it would have been a good idea to tell this to viewers, since Charles appears inexplicably in lots of frames.)

But Maher must be given credit for attempting a courageous statement of militant secularism in a world where religion evokes knee-jerk support. He clearly believes that faith - or belief in God, or truth, or whatever you call it - is behind many of the ills in today's world, that blindly following religion is leading the world toward Apocalypse, a manmade one. The missing piece in the film is the more balanced reality, which is that most people temper their religious observance with the practical realities of the material, science-based world, even when those two things stand in stark contradiction.

Nonetheless, Maher's impassioned plea for a world where reason rules decision-making rather than religion, is valid and relevant. In our age of politicized religious fanaticism, one might even call making this film a leap of faith.

September 28, 2008

Celebs Amuse Each Other at Private Political Fundraiser: Steve Martin, Larry David, Ben Affleck

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Did you know Diane Keaton could sing? She doesn't, in public.

But this is the kind of thing celebrities do when no one is looking: they amuse themselves. At a no-media-allowed fundraiser for six Democratic Senate candidates at the home of CAA partner David 'Doc' O'Connor on Saturday night, a crowd of 400 glittering celebrities kicked back and let loose. The evening was a far cry from the serious Obama event in Hollywood a couple of weeks ago, and at a $1,000-plus per head, it was a lot less pricey too. (Over $1 million was raised.)

Martin Short emceed the evening as his alter ego, Jiminy Glick. Marc Shaiman accompanied him on the keyboard, as per usual. Steve Martin led his banjo band in some rousing tunes. Catherine O'Hara killed the crowd with her portrayal of a boozy, over-the-hill singer. Jennifer Garner and Victor Garber sang. Ben Affleck and Sally Field introduced the honorees. But it was Larry David who rocked the house with his introduction of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. He explained that he was antithetical to everything Kennedy stood for: the Kennedy family stands for sailing, touch-football, outdoor sports. David's family never, apparently, went outside.

The evening's beneficiaries, candidate Mark Udall of Colorado, Mark Begich of Alaska, and others, were delighted, naturally. Especially when Diane Keaton took up the microphone to sing. She did a whispered chanteuse rendition of "God Bless America."

Sacha Rules the Catwalk: Bruno!

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Sacha Baron-Cohen has been arrested twice now in Milan for crashing his way down the catwalk as he shoots his new cinema verite film as the fashionista character, "Bruno." Here he is in a velcro suit at the Agata Luiz della Prada show. As he was arrested, he covered his head with a green piece of fabric, perhaps to keep more of the film under wraps. I'm sure Universal, who is producing the film, doesn't care that he's wreaking havoc with fake credentials and sneaking past security to get backstage.

If I were going to get myself arrested, it would definitely be in Italy. I'm sure the food in jail is a lot better. And the carabinieri would probably let me call my mother.

Box Office: "EagleEye" No. 1, "Fireproof" finds the Faith-Based Cash

A strong opening for the DreamWorks-Paramount thriller, "EagleEye," at $29.2 million, says Media By Numbers. The film starring Shia LaBeouf was in 3,500 theaters, and averaged $89,319 per theater.

  • "Nights in Rodanthe," from Warner Bros, took in $13.5 million
  • "Lakeview Terrace" dropped 53%, and took in $7 million

The most interesting development at the box office this weekend was the performance of "Fireproof,' a faith-oriented film about a firefighter who finds God as his marriage is falling apart. The Samuel Goldwyn company released it, and the film -- with a $500,000 budget and no-name actors -- took in serious cash, $6.5 million. Tickets were bought in blocks by "action squads," I'm told, and audiences turned out in force in the 839 theaters where the film was shown.

The religious trend in filmmaking has not been delivering on the promise of early efforts, but this film seems to have broken that mold.

September 27, 2008

Anand Jon Trial: Holly Gavel In the CrossHairs

Anand3Trial Update: Two alleged victims of the former designer have testified this month. The first Heather, had a blonde bob and a sweet smile. She testified that when she was just 14 in 2003, Jon tongue-kissed her at a fashion event. She trembled and teared up on the stand. Jon “terrified” her, she said. Under cross-examination, she admitted that at the time of going to the police about the incident, she had not mentioned that she was terrified, a key component in proving sexual assault.

More troublesome was Holly Gavel, who testified that Jon had raped her, but was among the group of 11 who the prosecutors removed just before the trial began. She was nonetheless called to testify, presumably to establish a pattern of Jon’s behavior.

But the prosecutors took a decided risk. Gavel's grand jury was among the least believable of those I read earlier this year, and she was similarly problematic on the stand. The 20-year-old detailed how Jon raped her in 2006, including oral and anal sex. But under two hours of cross-examination by Tony Brooklier, she seemed unable to remember much of what was asked of her. By one count, she said “I don’t remember” or ”I don’t know” more than 70 times.

Brooklier: “Why didn’t you ask for help?”

Gavel: “I don’t recall.”

And later:

Brooklier: “Isn’t it true that you have been lying throughout your testimony?

Gavel: “I don’t recall.”

Gavel lived with Anand Jon, paid him rent, and worked as his assistant. After she was supposedly raped by Jon, she went with his mother and sister to India. Why? “I wanted to get away,” she testified, “and AIDS awareness is a very important thing people need to know about.”

Victims who are not credible are not value-neutral in this trial. They will tip the balance in favor of the defendant, whether or not he is guilty, and whether or not other plaintiffs are credible. One wonders what prosecutors believe that witnesses like Holly add to the case. If her story is not strong enough to stand up under scrutiny, witnesses like this, with fantastic tales of assault and weak rejoinders under cross, lend weight to the argument of the defense, that there is some kind of vendetta at work in this case.

Next week – more victims.

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Overheard at Starbucks on Montana

Bobby Shriver, brother of Maria, son of Eunice Kennedy and Sargent, wearing a large "Bobby Shriver, City Council" pin. The local Santa Monica election looms. Shriver, an incumbent on the council, is certain to keep his seat.

Bobby: "Are you going to vote for me?"

Me: "Of course I'm going to vote for you, Bobby."

Bobby: "Are you going to tell all your friends to vote for me? I want to win big."

Me, turning to Peter Mehlman, lead writer on "Seinfeld," white hair emerging horizontally from under a baseball cap: "Will you vote for him?"

Peter (noncommittal): "If I ever win an Oscar, I'm going to say in my speech, 'I'm glad I won, but I really wanted to win by a lot.'"

Peter has been nominated for 8 Emmys. He has not won yet.

Bobby: "I want to win by a lot."

(Scuffle as Bobby attempts a rib-jab at me. Non-fat cappucino arrives.)

Paul Newman: 1925-2008

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A giant passes. I was sure he was immortal. A native of my hometown, Cleveland, Ohio, Newman brought us romance, intelligence, wit and the epitome of leading man sex appeal. As he aged, he never lost those qualities. Sadly, there's not a soul like him on screen today.

Rest in Peace, Paul Newman.

September 26, 2008

Financial Turmoil Will Not Stop the "Dreamgirls" Oscars

Folks, I've been away all week building The Wrap News, now playing catch-up on the actual news. From what I hear, the financial markets are a mess.  Billions on the line for the banks, credit impossible to get for the average business, new banks about to crumble. Something about McCain, and a debate.

Never fear: the Oscars are coming! The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has announced that the team that brought you "DreamGirls" -- producer Laurence Mark and writer-director Bill Condon -- will be in charge of this year's show, in February.

Dreamgirls_2

Does this mean a musical production? Back to the days of the "best song" interpreted in dance moves? Clearly, Academy director Sid Ganis is looking for fresh ideas for a telecast that, like most award shows, has been losing audience. This year's Oscars attracted the lowest audience since ratings began to be tallied in 1974; it was seen by about 32 million viewers.

The question is -- can anything that Mark and Condon do make a difference? The biggest problem, year after year, has been the movies themselves. This year was an audience killer, with the subtlely-themed, brutally violent "No Country For Old Men" dominating the awards. (Its rival, "There Will Be Blood," was not exactly cheery, mainstream entertainment either.)Oscar 

Unfortunately for the producers, this year's early Oscar buzz does not point to any particular production as raising the glamour quotient of our one annual national event that is supposed to be all about glamour. "Milk"? "Choke"? "Zach and Miri Make a Porno"?

The gifted Mark Condon and cheery Laurence Mark will certainly give it their best shot. But I think you can pretty much rule out Jon Stewart as a host.

September 22, 2008

Does SAG Have Your Money? $25 Mill in Unclaimed Cash (Part I)

Saggraphic2 Michael Douglas, do you know where your money is?

Twenty-five million dollars. That’s the sum the Screen Actors Guild says it owes you, and thousands of your fellow actors. In answer to questions from Waxword, the guild acknowledged last week that it is holding millions of dollars in unclaimed residual payments owed to actors, both members and non-members of the union.

While noting that this is a large sum, a lawyer for SAG said that the guild has been unable to locate performers who have moved, or are unable to pay actors whose financial affairs may be in dispute.

“When performers move or change professional representation, they may fail to inform SAG of the new contact information,” said Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, general counsel for the guild. “For others there may be legal disputes over their residuals, including business disputes or family law issues.”

But few would imagine that there are thousands, indeed tens of thousands, of actors on the guild’s list who cannot be found or whose affairs are in dispute. A visit to the union’s web-site, www.sag.org, reveals that this $25,136,877 belongs to 66,848 actors. (The number can be tallied by clicking on each letter of the alphabet and adding up the figures. Membership in SAG is required to access the website.)

The sum came to light when Waxword queried the guild about the unclaimed residuals, brought to a reporter’s attention by a SAG member, Eric Hughes. Hughes has challenged the guilds over allegedly missing foreign levy payments, and has been involved in resulting lawsuits filed against SAG and other guilds. Crabtree-Ireland said the residual money is held in a trust separate from the guild’s other finances. A spokeswoman could not confirm the total number of actors who are owed residuals. They did not comment on what happens to the annual interest on this unclaimed sum.

Among the vast list of actors who have not claimed residual payments are some of Hollywood’s most famous figures, both living and deceased.

Among deceased actors are: Natalie Wood, Richard Burton, Dirk Bogarde, Deborah Kerr, Lana Turner, Simone Signoret, Frank Sinatra, Robert Taylor, Tallulah Bankhead, Jayne Mansfield, Alan Ladd, Roy Rogers, Joseph Cotten and even the former president of SAG, Charlton Heston.

The also include comedy stars Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy and Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. They include Judy Garland, Myrna Loy and Clark Gable.

Two political titans are on the list: John F. Kennedy, who appeared in a documentary called “Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment,” and his brother, Ted Kennedy.

Among the actors who are alive are many boldface names, whose whereabouts are common knowledge in Hollywood, and who have business managers and agents prominent in the industry. They include Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Paxton, Beatrice Arthur, Michael Douglas, Patrick Dempsey, Dr. Dre and RuPaul.

The list also includes Eric Bogosian, who was just elected to the board of the Screen Actors Guild. It is unclear how the guild can claim that he cannot be located.

Many famous foreign actors are also on the list, including Isabelle Adjani, Isabelle Huppert, Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ian McKellen.

Crabtree-Ireland said that SAG has staff working full-time, trying to locate actors to pay unclaimed residuals.

“For deceased performers, there are often disputes over entitlement to their estate's assets (including residuals) or the estate may have failed to provide the documentation required for SAG to turn over residuals to the executor or beneficiaries,” he said.

But in the case of Alan Ladd, who is on the list, his principal heir is the producer Alan Ladd, Jr.  A family spokesman said he could not understand how the guild could justify not finding the family.

“It’s kind of astonishing that they don’t know,” said John Gatti, an entertainment lawyer who is married to Alan Ladd’s granddaughter. “Alan Ladd, Jr has been employing SAG members for the last 40 years as a studio executive and producer. For them to say they don’t know where the heirs of Alan Ladd are is just not believable.”

Gatti added that there is no dispute in the estate of Alan Ladd.

Other deceased actors on the list have well-known heirs, including Lloyd Bridges, whose children are famous actors. Judy Garland, who died in poverty, has daughters, Liza Minnelli and Lorna Luft, who are easily located, along with a third child, Joey Luft. Princess Yasmin Khan is the sole surviving daughter of Rita Hayworth, who has unclaimed monies.

The guild declined to respond to individual cases of unclaimed residuals.

Sid Ganis, the president of the Association of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, said he was surprised at the sum of unclaimed residuals, and that the guild said it could not find so many actors.

“That’s a huge sum,” he said. “Twenty five million dollars of unclaimed residuals is huge, given that actors consider their residuals a big part of their income.”

He said it should not be that difficult to locate actors. “It seems odd. You can track almost everybody,” he said. “We do that all the time when we are looking at the path of an Oscar once a recipient is deceased. They should know how to trace them. The world of SAG knows where Claudette Colbert lives.”

But Claudette Colbert, who died in 1996, is indeed on the list for having unclaimed funds.

Said Crabtree-Ireland: “There are some well-known actors who leave the industry or take time off and may be more difficult to find than one might expect. SAG has a professional staff in our Trusts & Estates Department who work full-time to find performers and to help them claim their residuals.”

There is reason to believe, however, that this $25 million does not represent residual payments at all. That and other questions raised by this revelation will be explored in Part II.

HBO Sets Another Record: 13 Emmys

JohnadamsIn the course of human events, the Emmy awards have come to be a franchise mostly owned by HBO. Every year for the past decade and maybe more, the pay cable network has come to dominate the annual television awards, whether with “The Sopranos,” which won year after year, or “Six Feet Under,” or their feature-length movies, or their “Band of Brothers” mini-series. Reliably interesting, consistently willing to explore, HBO manages every year – even recently, when the network has lost some of its creative spark – to put the broadcast networks and everybody else on television to shame.Hbo 

So it’s no surprise that at the annual awards for the best television of the year, HBO broke its own record last night, taking in a total of 13 Emmys for its seven-part series about America’s second president, “John Adams.” The series featured stunning lead performances from a brooding Paul Giamatti, who won best actor in the category for the title role, and Laura Linney, who won best actress in a miniseries for her portrayal of flinty Abigail Adams. The total bested HBO’s previous record of 11 Emmys in 2004, the year of its series about AIDS, “Angels in America.”

With so many years of Emmy statues lining the shelves of HBO, what is it that keeps other networks from following HBO’s creative lead? The cable channel is freed of the tyranny of nightly ratings, true, and has hundreds of millions in subscription revenues to bankroll its slate. But not every effort takes hundreds of millions of dollars (and something tells me “John Adams” was not the most expensive production at HBO last year.). For decades now, HBO has invested in its brand. It has steered clear of fad programming. It has invested, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, in a scarce commodity in the television universe: quality.

HBO didn’t rule every category last night. Other awards spread around the tv dial included best drama for “Mad Men,” the AMC series set in New York’s advertising world in the early 1960s, and best comedy to “30 Rock” – the NBC show that has teetered on the cusp of cancellation. Tina Fey won best actress and best writer in a comedy series for “30 Rock.” AMC had another winner, this one unexpected, in the best actor award for Bryan Cranston, who plays an ailing high school teacher with a crystal meth habit on “Breaking Bad.”

Congratulations HBO, and thanks for giving us something to watch (and would you mind making "Entourage" less raunchy so my kids could watch it?).  Would that other networks follow suit.

            

September 20, 2008

DreamWorks and Reliance Close their Deal: Hollywood Faces a Sea Change

Reliance It's official. The DreamWorks dream team is leaving Paramount and has signed a deal to make movies over the next several years with the huge Indian media conglomerate, Reliance.

The deal ends an acrimonious three-year relationship with Paramount. Predictably, this has been the focus of the media coverage: the tit-for-tat, ego-centric, who-won-and-who-lost scorecard. Did Paramount lose more, or did DreamWorks? Who should be more embarrassed? Did Geffen fail? Did Brad Grey? Is Sumner peeved?

This coverage misses the huge shift in the Hollywood landscape that the Reliance deal may ultimately herald. It provides Steven Spielberg and his colleagues with a total of $1.2 billion to bankroll their company and make new movies, $500 million from Reliance ADA, and $700 million in bank-financed credit.

This is an unprecedented alliance, and I believe it heralds the start of a new era. Hollywood's most sought-after nexus of creativity and influence is combining forces with a media powerhouse in a rising market abroad. By sinking billions of dollars into their media and entertainment strategies, Dubai and Abu Dhabi have opened yet another new frontier of influence, and it has broad implications for the movie industry in a period when the fundamentals of the industry are shifting.

The Old Hollywood is dying. A New, hybrid Hollywood is rising to take its place. Those who want a place in that new cosmos ought to be paying attention. The crisis in American banking only underscores the reality that credit is going to become ever tighter within our borders. The vistas of growth are abroad, and they predominate in cash-rich markets where American film has a relatively low profile.

As for the tit-for-tatness of it all, Variety's story has more details, and seems to take the view that this deal somehow works in favor of Paramount, which I don't quite get. Either way, Paramount is holding on to the properties developed at DreamWorks, since it did indeed buy the studio. Meanwhile Paramount announced that it had "waived" certain provisions of its original deal, in order to "facilitate" getting DreamWorks out the door.

Box Office Down by 10 Percent

The Box Office has been looking peaked all summer, and now that it's fall, it's not picking up perceptibly.

The early estimates for this weekend put the total box office figure down by at least 10 percent from last year, and down significantly from last week.

The early numbers indicate that "Lakeview Terrace," with Samuel L. Jackson, will take in $14.5 million.
The Coen Brothers' farce, "Burn After Reading," will take in $11.2 million.

That's it for double digits at the box office. The rest are:

"My Best Friend's Girl" $8.3 million

"Igor" $7.8 million

"Righteous Kill" and Tyler Perry's latest, around $7 million each.

"The Women" from Warner Bros is a real bomb, taking in $5.9 million this week.

Final numbers tomorrow.

September 18, 2008

SAG Election Results: Amy Brenneman and Morgan Fairchild Make the Grade; so does Sacha Baron-Cohen's brother!

The election results for the Screen Actors Guild are in. Here's the list from the SAG website:

  • Board members elected from the Hollywood Division:

Amy Brenneman, Adam Arkin, JoBeth Williams, Scott Bakula, Ken Howard, Lainie Kazan, Kate Walsh, Keith Carradine, Joely Fisher, Morgan Fairchild and Pamela Reed (all three-year terms.)

Joe Bologna, Marcia Wallace, Dule Hill, Doug Savant, Clancy Brown, Gabrielle Carteris, Clyde Kusatsu, L. Scott Caldwell, Ashley Crow, Ned Vaughn, Richard Speight, Jr., Alan Ruck, Stacey Travis, Jane Austin, France Nuyen, Anthony DeSantis, Eugene Boggs, Tim DeKay, Bill Smitrovich, Charles Shaughnessy, Assaf Cohen, and Yale Summers were elected to serve as national board alternates and to the Hollywood division board of directors (all one-year terms).

  • Board members elected from the New York Division:

Sam Robards, Rebecca Damon, Matt Servitto, Traci Godfrey, Mark Blum. (all three-year terms).

Jack Landròn, Eric Bogosian, Ralph Byers, Joe Narciso, John Rothman, Jay Potter, Kevin Scullin, Marc Baron, and Manny Alfaro were elected to serve as national board alternates and to the New York Division board of directors (all one-year terms.)

September 16, 2008

Meet Hollywood's Newest Billionaire Player: The Abu Dhabi Media Company

BorgerdingHollywood has a new player and he’s in Abu Dhabi. Edward Borgerding, CEO of the Abu Dhabi Media Company (ADMC), will spend $1 billion making movies over the next five years. Last week at the Toronto Film Festival, he revealed his first partner to be Participant Media, representing $125 million of that investment.

In a telephone interview from Abu Dhabi, where he was fasting for the month of Ramadan, Borgerding laid out his filmmaking goals, the kinds of movies he would like to make, and the global media ambitions of Abu Dhabi. He said that two more partnerships will be announced in the coming weeks and that, yes, he has producers lined up outside his door.

Q: Why is the Abu Dhabi government, which owns ADMC, interested in making movies?

A: We’re a media company. We create and distribute content, so it’s natural to invest in the creation of content. The goals are nothing more than that. We’re a commercial company. We operate for profit, but it’s more like the BBC. You don’t necessarily notice that we’re a government company. The opportunity we see is to invest in global content. The deal with Warner Bros was the first manifestation of that strategy.

Q: Let’s talk about that. You have a deal with Warner Bros regarding gaming, but the $1 billion reserved to make movies will not be with a major Hollywood studio. Why is that?

A: There’s nothing wrong with studios. We value our relationship with Warner Bros. But

I think even the studios now are more financing and distribution companies….They deal with lots and lots of companies. We’re doing the same thing. To some extent, when you put in with those very managed environments, you’re not going to capture fresh new talent. Fresh new talent comes from more independent environments. For us to manage our portfolio, numerically and creatively, it’s interesting for us to deal with companies like Participant, where we can have access to storytelling and storytellers. That’s what’s  exciting about the film industry.

We also are looking at doing films in world cinema, with projects in China and India. The

money we have is enough to allow us to participate in a lot of places at once. It’s an awful lot of money.

Q: What are the long term goals of this investment in film?

A:  A lot of what we hope to achieve is to help develop the skills required to build a film industry here. You can hire a few directors. But if you teach people the basic skills to produce content, then the industry can sustain itself in Abu Dhabi for 50 or 100 years.

Participant will be opening an office in Abu Dhabi , as will our partners. We will develop projects here. We will learn from best of class professionalism. It’s part of a lot of things going on in Abu Dhabi. It’s a meritocracy now. Not patronage. The success of Abu Dhabi has to be based on productivity, and best of class business practices. 

Q: What kinds of movies do you intend to make?

A: Primarily I run a business. I’m looking for movies that will make money. We’re going to try to make commercial movies. I think there will be a wide gamut of genres. We are looking for the right stories, told the right way..

Q: Would you make, for example, an R rated comedy? Are there religious restrictions on the films you would make?

A: We’re not going to do anything that’s insulting to the culture that we come from. But 99.9% of movies made in Hollywood are released here in Abu Dhabi and don’t insult anybody. I don’t think that’s an issue. For the kinds of stories we want to make, we’re not going to have to go there (to R rated territory). Most successful movies in the financial sense have been G and PG: ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Gandhi,’ ‘Lord of the Rings.’

Q: Would you back a major production like a ‘Lord of the Rings’?

A:  I don’t think we’ll be in the studio business of launching $200 million summer tentpole movies and hoping against hope they succeed.

Q: What’s your favorite movie of the past few years?

A: I loved ‘Gandhi’. I love movies like ‘Chariots of Fire’. ‘Dances with Wolves’. ‘Star Wars’. I like comedies. I couldn’t sit through ‘Borat’. We won’t be making ‘Borat 2’.

                                                            ####

September 15, 2008

Wall Street Jitters in Hollywood

Frankfurtstockexchangebearmarket The turmoil in Wall Street banking is having a palpable ripple effect in Hollywood. My phone is ringing with executives sounding nervous for themselves and their business.

As credit has dried up for the movie industry, the failure of more banking institutions does not bode well for the industry, which has taken to financing its movies by outsiders in recent years.

All of this only serves to focus the mind on the electoral campaign in full swing. Those who support Obama - which is most of the entertainment industry - see the latest bad news involving Lehman Bros and Merrill Lynch (and soon, perhaps, for the likes of Washington Mutual) as an urgent sign of the need for change.

Let's see if they put their hands in their pockets at the Obama fundraiser this week, hosted by Jeffrey Katzenberg, with Barbra Streisand headlining entertainment. At $58,000 a pair of tickets, attendees might need to call their brokers.

September 13, 2008

Finally, Box Office Perky: Tyler Perry Rules, $19 Million for "Burn After Reading"?

Tyler_perry_3

I want to be in the Tyler Perry business. This guy just can't miss. His latest film, "The Family that Preys Together," which has been completely off the general admission radar, but is clearly anticipated in his niche audience, is estimated to nab the top spot at the box office this weekend, according to my studio sources.

Early estimates put "Prey" at $21 million for the weekend, with "Burn After Reading" close behind. And just for the record books, the film stars Perry along with a couple of middle-aged broads, Alfre Woodard and Kathy Bates - not exactly box office bait. This is after hitting it earlier this year with "Meet the Browns," starring another middle-aged hottie, Angela Bassett. Let's hear it for middle-aged broads!

The Coen Brothers' new oeuvre, "Burn After Reading," did strong business, considering they have never been mainstream filmmakers (although they did win Best Picture this year with "No Country for Old Men"). The spy-exercise spoof starring Brad Pitt, George Clooney and the always-sublime Frances McDormand will take in $19 million. A subtle, smart and hilarious film like this is usually doomed at the box office. Perhaps the prospect of seeing Brad Pitt in shorts was enough.

Of Note: a disastrous opening for "The Women," the Warner Bros film that had been left to gather dust on a shelf, and won new life with the success of "Sex in the City." It took in $11 million. (All I can think: more plastic surgery?)

"Righteous Kill," starring De Niro and Pacino, will take in about $17 million. The Nic Cage stinker "Bangkok Dangerous," a mere $2 million in its second week.

A very good weekend for Hollywood, overall, high above last year's box office take, and a welcome bounce-back from last weekend's low.

Will update the numbers as they come in.

September 12, 2008

Producers Strike Accord With Casting Directors

The organization representing Hollywood studios and production companies - the Association of Motion Picture and Televison Producers -- has reached a tenative agreement for a new contract with casting directors, the AMPTP announced today.

Presumably the announcement is meant to highlight the fact that the companies have yet to make any progress at all with the Screen Actors Guild, which is still working -- if at a grindingly slow pace -- without a contract.

September 10, 2008

Hollywood East: Abu Dhabi Finances Do-Good Movies

Abudhabi_3 We should start calling it Hollywood East. The Abu Dhabi Media Company announced yet another major film fund today, this one a $250 million partnership with Jeff Skoll's Participant Productions  Media to make 15 to 18 feature films over the next five years, according to the release.

The deal was announced today in Toronto at the film festival between Edward Borgerding, of ADMC, and Jim Berk, the CEO of Participant.

This fit is not intuitive, I must say. Participant focuses on making socially conscious films, like "Darfur Now," and "An Inconvenient Truth," and "Syriana."

It's not clear what Abu Dhabi is seeking to accomplish with this filmmaking fund. But outside financiers such as these are usually motivated by the allure of Hollywood glamour along with the dazzle of robust profit (and both are often ephemeral). Participant's films, while noble in their intentions and often high quality in their execution, do not fall into this category. That said, this is a much-needed shot in the arm for independent film.

This is the second major announcement by the government-owned Abu Dhabi media venture in the space of a week, the first being a $1 billion filmmaking fund that will be divided among Hollywood studios. (See previous "New Money: Abu Dhabi Goes Hollywood.) We should be paying attention to the fact that this is a government-owned fund, what the implications may be in terms of the kinds of films that will be financed, and the cultural impact these films will be likely to have.

Perhaps Mr. Borgerding will enlighten us soon enough with insights into the motivation behind this flurry of funding.

Soderbergh's "Che" Bought by IFC

Che11_2 Steven Soderbergh's epic biography of the revolutionary Che Guevara, titled "Che," has been acquired by IFC Films for distribution in North America, the company announced. It is currently screening at the Toronto Film Festival.

This is undoubtedly a welcome relief for the director and producers -- his star Benicio del Toro with producer Laura Bickford -- who have been trying to sell distribution rights for months. The film debuted at Cannes to a warm reception -- del Toro won the top acting award for his performance.

But it is looooong, possibly the longest film in recent Hollywood history: four hours and 18 minutes at Cannes. (I'm checking if it's shorter yet.) The film is 15 minutes shorter than the Cannes version, I'm told by a spokesperson. Soderbergh initially thought to release it in two parts, but at Cannes insisted he wanted it to screen as a single oeuvre.

Apparently he has now seen the light of compromise. The film, I am told by one of its representatives, can be broken into two separate parts. It will be screened for Oscar consideration in late December as a single film, but will have the option of being shown in two parts once in theaters in January. No decision yet on which way it will be presented in wider release, as one film or two.

September 06, 2008

'The Wrestler' Wins Venice; Hotter at Toronto

Wrestler I had heard strong buzz about this film in Toronto, and apparently there's good cause for it. Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler," with Mickey Rourke in the title role, just won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

The film is about a retired wrestler making his way through the independent circuit, hoping to make it back into the mainstream. This might be the story of Aronofsky himself, a talented maverick with early success ("Pi," "Requiem for a Dream"), who stumbled painfully when he hit the mainstream. In the wake of his big-budget debacle at Warner Bros, "The Fountain,"  Aronofsky has gone back to his scrappy, indie roots.  This movie was financed on a wing and a prayer, and the distribution rights are up for sale in the United States, but something tells me: not for long.

(Incidentally, Aronofsky must be in a pugilistic mood. He currently has a film in pre-production called "The Fighter.")

Update: Box Office is Bluer than Blue

Sunday Update: Not only is this the worst earning weekend of the year, it's the worst-earning weekend since 2003. The top 12 pictures in release took in a total of $51.6 million, according to Media By Numbers, worse than every year in recent memory except 2003, "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star" ruled the box office.

The Nicolas Cage action picture, "Bangkok Dangerous," did even worse than early estimates indicated, taking in a feeble $7.8 million for LionsGate, according to Media By Numbers. This former A-list star has had precipitous ups and downs at the box office in recent years, and it's more down than up.

The only thing to cheer Cage up might be that Vin Diesel had as bad a weekend as he did. "Babylon A.D." took in $4 million, for a two-week cumulative grand total of $17 million.

Overture's Don Cheadle film, "Traitor," is also a bust, dropping a vertigo-inducing 318 percent this weekend, and taking in just $4.6 million in more than 2,000 theaters. Cheadle is Oscar bait, sure, but as a leading man he has not proven to be a draw.

"Tropic Thunder" is still holding up, taking in $7.5 million.

"The House Bunny," which we presume cost $3.50, took in $5.9 million, and has racked up $37 million at the box office for Sony.

"The Dark Knight" continues to soar past a $500 million domestic total at the box office, now at $512 million after this weekend.

PREVIOUSLY:

Apparently this weekend will be one of the worst of the year, nothing is cracking $10 million. Early estimates from my studio sources:

  • Bangkok Dangerous $8.5 million
  • Tropic Thunder $6.5 million
  • House Bunny $5.5 million
  • Dark Knight $5.5 million

The year to date domestic gross is running behind 2007, though not by much. 

September 05, 2008

Wagner gone, UA Gets Moving, Buys Bestseller: the Backstory

Monster

Within weeks of Paula Wagner's exit of United Artists, the studio appears to have gotten some get-up-and-go, buying the option rights to the best-selling thriller by Douglas Preston, "The Monster of Florence" for a six-figure sum.

Coincidence? We think not. Here's the backstory: screenwriter Chris McQuarrie, who wrote "Valkyrie" for United Artists, has had an option on Preston's book for over a year. He befriended the writer back in 2006, when Preston wrote the story of the Italian serial killer for The Atlantic Monthly, and got a handshake deal to develop a screenplay.

The book came out while Tom Cruise was busy shooting "Valkyrie" last year, and became a huge hit, spending two months on the New York Times bestseller list. Studios came after the rights, but McQuarrie had gotten there first. McQuarrie gave Tom Cruise the book, who liked it.

So why has it taken 10 months to make the deal? Good question. I asked MGM, they declined to comment. I asked a spokeswoman for United Artists, they said: "Tom made the decision, with Don Granger, the head of production," said the spokeswoman.

Sort of. Three people on different sides of the decision-making process confirm that it was Granger and MGM that got this deal done. "It was a mixture of Harry [Sloan] and Mary [Parent]," the top executives at MGM, said one of these individuals. By the way, McQuarrie will both write and produce the project. Cruise is not envisioned either as producer or star in the story, whose main character is the serial killer who terrorized Florence between 1968 and 1985.

The secondary character, who is not a murderer, is Mario Spezi, the Italian crime reporter who dogged the story for three decades, and contributed to the book.

Full disclosure: Preston, an acquaintance, has written a blurb for my new book, "Loot."

September 04, 2008

Toronto Opens: Acquisitions Already

The 33rd Toronto International Film Festival opens tonight in the Canadian metropolis, with the dollar at dismal near-parity with her Canadian facismile.

Yours truly is not there, being tied to her desk and ever so busy building The Wrap News. The festival, the unofficial opening of the serious movie season, will last until September 13.

But wait! Already four acquisitions were announced today, ahead of opening night, according to IndieWire:

  • Strand Releasing took the U.S. rights to Terence Davies' "Of Time and City," which will have its North American debut during the festival
  • Cinema Guild picked up the U.S. rights to Jia Zhangke's "24 City."
  • Brillante Mendoza's "Serbis" was picked up by Regent Releasing in North America.
  • Samuel Goldwyn Films announced its acquisition of U.S. rights to Rachel Samuels' "Dark Streets."

TO PR FOLKS IN TORONTO: I may not be there, but I still care. Please call or, preferably, email when you've got acquisitions to announce, bidding wars won. We'll post them here.

September 03, 2008

"Juno" Director Says: Don't Judge the Palins

Jeneau__opt Mac MacGuff: And this, of course, is Juno.
Mark Loring: Like the city in Alaska?
Juno MacGuff: No.

-- from "Juno," directed by Jason Reitman

Honest to Blog. What were the odds that commie-leftie-Obama-loving Hollywood would create the real-life template for the shenanigans playing out at the Republican Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota?

We're talking about the Sarah Palin drama about to come whirling down into the Xcel Energy Center like some hurricane blown up from the south. Except that this hurricane is coming down from the north, west of Juneau, Alaska, led by a former beauty queen turned schoolmarm politician-turned-vortex of hot molten media interest.

Juneau, Juno, what were the odds? It sure seems as if life will be imitating art today, as Palin brings her MacGuff-like clan -- teenaged pregnant daughter, Bristol, and the teenaged father of the baby, Levi Johnston. Rise, evangelical base, and hail their choice to keep the baby.

This sounds way too familiar. So I called my friend Jason Reitman, the director of "Juno" to ask him. " You'll recall that this tiny film that was not about teenaged pregnancy even while being about teenaged pregnancy somehow grossed over $100 million, and became Oscar nominee for Best Picture.

Reitman, first of all, is Canadian and not voting.  Regardless, any similarities between Juno and Juneau are, he insists, pure coincidence. "Twenty-four hours into this story, there's no real way to tell whether life is imitating art or not," he said from his home in Los Angeles. "You've got a 17-year-old pregnant teenager, and Juneau is the capital of Alaska. The coincidence is cute."

But, he insisted, his movie tried hard not to make a political statement. "'Juno' is not about pregnancy," he said. "It's a location. I do not want to tell people what to think. They have to come up with their own conclusion. Just don't judge." (Isn't that its own kind of conclusion?)

Reitman insists he has no political point of view on any of this. Who's business is Palin's daughter's pregnancy anyway?

"Juno" is not about choosing to keep a baby or not, he said: "It's just about a teenaged girl who grows up too fast, and a 30-year-old man who won't grow up." Then the director went to put his toddler daughter to bed.

September 02, 2008

New Money: Abu Dhabi Goes Hollywood

From Abu Dhabi we hear news of the cash float Hollywood has been waiting for: a $1 billion filmmaking fund, financed by the tiny, cash-rich emirate.

This is government money, (I feel the need to repeat this: Government. Money.) earmarked to make up to eight films per year over the next five years, a fund to be run by Edward Borgerding, a former Disney executives who now heads the Abu Dhabi Media Company.

Borgerding told all this to the Financial Times of London, ahead of a formal announcement on Wednesday.

This is fascinating news for a lot of reasons. First, Hollywood is getting hard up for cash as the money has dried up from private equity and hedge funds in recent years. Second, it is Dubai, not Abu Dhabi, that has been vying to become the capital of popular culture. Dubai has poured millions upon millions into its annual film festival, has built gleaming new entertainment spaces and pays vast sums to lure top entertainers.

Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, has spent a few billion to hire the Louvre and the Guggenheim to build satellite museums.

But apparently Abu Dhabi got the moviemaking itch too.

(Note to readers: I will be travelling to Dubai and Abu Dhabi both in October to report on cultural developments there and get to know the region. I look forward to sharing my discoveries with you on this blog, and in ArtNews magazine, which is sending me on assignment.)

This can only be good news for the movie industry. And I can't wait to see what fashions Armani comes up with to dress the new moguls from the Middle East, the Red Carpet Abaya.

SAG's taking a poll

Still without a contract, the Screen Actors Guild has sent a 12-page mailer to its members, arriving in mailboxes today, with a poll attached. It lets members choose one of two options regarding the $250 million offer from Hollywood studios and producers, the AMPTP:

  • Continue negotiating with the AMPTP to secure a fair TV/movie theatrical contract for actors with better terms than the AMPTP’s June 30th “final offer."

  • Accept the AMPTP’s June 30th “final offer" without modification.

The intention is to take the sense of the membership before September 15. With no deadlines or other upcoming lines in the sand, the stalemate has no pressing reason to be broken.

Nonetheless, the AMPTP wasted no time in sticking out its tongue in this statement:

"The two questions on the postcard "poll" are written in a completely one-sided way, characterizing the June 30 final offer as unfair.

The two sides then proceed to bicker over whether they are having "informal" talks. Yes they are, says SAG. No they're not, says the AMPTP.

Sounds like progress to me.

August 31, 2008

Box Office Slooooow

The first official weekend estimates reflect a slow, leisurely Labor Day weekend. Kind of numbers that put Hollywood on edge.

Media By Numbers has the estimated tallies for the weekend, Friday-Saturday-Sunday, not yet including tomorrow's moviegoing: So far, "Tropic Thunder" has taken in $11.5 million, for a weak $3,311 per theater average. "Babylon A.D." has taken in $9.7 million; "The Dark Knight" $8.75 million; and "The House Bunny" $8.3 million.

With each of these films, the per theater average hovered around $3,000, which is hardly an enthusiastic audience. Like most families, I weeded my garden this weekend and shopped for back to school supplies. There was nothing that made it worth driving all the way to the cineplex. And no one is headed to the movies down in Louisiana.

August 30, 2008

Early Weekend Box Office:

The early estimates, according to my studio sources, will put "Tropic Thunder" at the top of the Labor Day weekend box office sweepstakes with a $14.6 million take at the box office.

Close behind, competing neck-and-neck, will be: "The Dark Knight" taking in a still-amazing $12 million; "Babylon A.D.," taking $11.8 million; and "The House Bunny," with an impressive $11.8 million too. ("The Dark Knight" inches ever close to the $500 million box office figure domestically. It will get there.)

Tip of the hat to Universal, who put out a sing-along version of "Mamma Mia" on 300 screens, which bumped the movie up 18 percent this weekend to take in $5.9 million. It is now over $132 million cumulatively.

More later on the box office as a whole. This year to date is running slightly behind last year, according to Box Office Mojo: $6.72 billion versus $6.78 billion.

August 29, 2008

Pellicano, Christensen Guilty; Wish I Cared More

Private investigator Anthony Pellicano and attorney Terry Christensen were found guilty, guilty, guilty today of illegally wiretapping the ex-wife of billionaire Kirk Kerkorian.

Christensen was Kirk Kerkorian's lawyer, digging up the dirt during a nasty divorce. He hired Pellicano, who was known to get the goods.

I know this stuff is important, but it is the essence of anti-climax. This trial was supposed to turn Hollywood upside-down; supposed to doom the career of power attorney Bert Fields (remember?); supposed to undo dozens of verdicts in high-profile cases in which Pellicano played a role.

In the end, Pellicano wouldn't talk. Christensen, the only attorney implicated, will lose his law license. Having already been convicted for similar shenanigans, Pellicano will serve his sentence - not likely to be more than a decade - concurrently with his current ones. (Here's the L.A. Times story.)

So: two felony convictions. Now stay tuned for the civil lawsuits. Also not very interesting.

Actually, stay tuned for a post I am preparing about the far more interesting, but complicated and decidedly unsexy investigation into guild and studio complicity in keeping money that should have gone to members of the Hollywood guilds for foreign levies.

August 26, 2008

Obama Documentary Fever: HBO to Buy Behind the Scenes Portrait

Obamadnc

When Barack Obama mounts the shimmering blue stage at the Pepsi Center on Thursday night, he’ll be trailed by a film crew, one of six or seven cameras that are following his every step in Denver for a feature-length documentary about his historic journey. With two years of behind-the-scenes access to the candidate the film, co-produced by Edward Norton and directed by Amy Rice and Alicia Sams, may turn out to be a uniquely historic account.

Norton believes it will be. “Whether he wins or not, this will be one of the most intimate records of a presidential campaign,” he said in an interview. “I’d say with confidence there’s never been as thorough a documentation of a presidential campaign from the inside.”

HBO seems to agree. The cable channel is poised to acquire the still-in-progress documentary, according to individuals on both sides of the deal. A movie studio may also buy theatrical rights, I’m told. 

The crew has spent Thanksgiving at the Obamas’ home, has been backstage at every major campaign speech, traveled with the candidate to Kenya, and conducted lengthy interviews with Michelle Obama, speechwriters and other key staff. But a key component of the crew’s access has been its agreement not to release anything before the election.

That’s fine by the filmmakers, said Norton. “We’re very much taking a non-partisan approach,” he said. “It is not in any way a laudatory or partisan angle on him. It’s not a campaign film. Our angle is we wanted to document for the historic record as intimate a portrait as possible of the first major African-American candidate for president.”

Norton admitted, however, that the Obama machine has frustrated the filmmakers in restricting access at key moments. I asked if there was footage from the tense days around the Rev. Wright affair. Norton said: “No one in their right mind will put their toughest moments on film. We hope to get a few of them. But we’re sticking to the mission statement, which is to reveal the country through his candidacy, as much as to reveal him.”

The filmmakers aim to complete and release the film within the first 100 days of an eventual Obama presidency.

At least one other Obama documentary, this one with no special access to the candidate, is complete. “Hype: The Obama Effect” was made by the pro-Republican group, Citizens United Productions, and debuted at a Denver theater on Sunday. It will also screen next Wednesday in Minneapolis, before heading to a limited theatrical release and DVD sales. The film focuses on what it considers Obama’s weakness – how dazzling he has been to those around him, based on little substance.

A trailer on Youtube features a clip of Obama dancing with Ellen De Generes (subliminal message: She’s Gay!) and bits of the interviews conducted for the film with the likes of Tucker Carlson and Dick Morris. “There’s a void when it comes to conservative filmmaking,” said a spokesman for the group, Will Holley. “There’s a market there. By virtue of being the only ones, we are the leaders.”

August 25, 2008

No, but Really: MGM Isn't For Sale

UPDATE: My thanks to Defamer for this genius graphic of the battle of the titans about to happen (not, sorry guys). Waxmanfinke But I found it hilarious!

Ron Grover at BusinessWeek and Nikki Finke are convinced that MGM is for sale, and are reporting as much. MGM took the unusual step of issuing an official, strong denial earlier today:

"Contrary to recent media reports, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. (MGM) is not for sale. There is no 'asking price' for the company.  MGM's existing financing arrangements are sufficient to meet its needs.  Goldman, Sachs has been retained to explore enhancements to MGM's long-term capital structure."

So I wanted to know what the hell that meant -- "enhancements" to the "capital structure"? Finke says that this still means a sale. It doesn't really sound like it to me. I'm told from inside the studio that Goldman Sachs was in fact retained to help the studio come up with solutions to its debt problem - a matter that only looms seriously in four years time - but emphatically not to broker a sale.

Still, rumors - even false ones - have a way of taking on lives of their own. Just a week ago or so, MGM executives were hinting that a new round of $500 million in film financing was about to close. I wonder if this talk of a sale, true or not, will affect the conclusion of that capitalization.

August 23, 2008

Box Office: "House Bunny" Gives "Tropic Thunder" A Run for the Money

Update: Final weekend boxo office estimates are out from Media By Numbers. As expected, "Tropic Thunder" won the weekend, bringing its total box office take to $65.6 million:

Tropic Thunder: $16.1 million.

The House Bunny: $15.1 million

Death Race: $12.3 million

The Dark Knight: $10.3 million

What can we say about our popular culture when "House Bunny," a celebration of dumb blondeness, threatens to edge out "Tropic Thunder," a celebration of Hollywood self-obsesssion?

Studio sources tell me the early box office estimates for the weekend give the Ben Stiller comedy the edge, taking $15.2 million for the weekend for a cumulative total of $64 million, but the heavily-promoted Anna Faris comedy was not far behind, taking an estimated $14.8 million. "The House Bunny" actually beat "Tropic Thunder" in the Friday tally -- $6.2 million to $4.6 million.

"The Dark Knight" finally fell from its stratospheric heights to 4th position; it will take in $9.9 million if the trends hold. Don't forget, though, that it is now the second highest-grossing film (domestically) in Hollywood history. "Death Race" took in a respectable $12.2 million.

We'll have the official numbers for you tomorrow.

August 18, 2008

12 Bids for Variety's parent, Reed; Sale Expected in 3 Months

Variety's parent company, Reed Business Information, has received 12 offers for the division of trade papers, believed to be valued at about $2 to $2.5 billion, the London Telegraph reports today.

The bidders reportedly include McGraw Hill, the U.S. publisher, but as expected come largely from private equity buy-out firms including Advent, Quadrangle, a joint bid by TPG and DLJ Merchant Banking, the private equity arm of Credit Suisse, and another group bid by Cinven and Candover, the latter being advised by Goldman Sachs, according to the article.

Notable is that the owner of The Hollywood Reporter, the Nielsen Company, is cited as having "shown interest." What is unclear from the article is whether all 12 of these bids are for the entire division, a pricey bet in print at a time when print is considered a dying business, or merely for chunks of it. A deal is expected within the next few months. 

In a related topic, the sale of The Hollywood Reporter, a former employee at Nielsen from New York writes in anger that the company's official denial of a sale are belied by its actions in-house:

If Nielsen is not selling NBM, how come in the last year they have given up 3 floors (to AOL) in their NYC office and packed their remaining employees on to the 4 floors they have left. Laid off their entire finance, billing and IT departments and outsourced them to India. In my time at Nielsen, department groups/brands had cutbacks that made day to day job functions difficult. The Fed Ex privileges were taken away from the sales reps and we were directed to ask our clients for their Fed Ex acct numbers, should they need something in a hurry. The ordering of supplies had been extremely cut back as well. Employees are left to raiding the desks of former colleagues who have left or been laid off. My final question is, if Nielsen has no intention of selling NBM how come they have cut circulation, issues published, magazine size, paper stock and employee head count on all of its brands?

Paula Wagner Whines; MGM Nears New Financing

Cruise_wagner

Will MGM become a real studio again? The task keeps getting harder.


When veteran Mary Parent came in five months ago to get the studio into gear and make movies other than James Bond, she faced a number of challenges, but none more delicate than dealing with the two elephants that were already in the building: Tom Cruise and his partner, Paula Wagner, at the newly-reconstituted United Artists.


Were they a blessing or a curse? Were they a desperation deal cooked up by Harry Sloan, in need of some glitz to impress Wall Street? Or were they a major leg up for a studio attempting to reestablish itself as a player in Hollywood?


The answer came with the exit of Paula Wagner last week. Though a veteran as Cruise’s longtime producing partner, Wagner had never before run a studio division, a job that requires decisiveness, focus and hardheaded number-crunching. She’d never green-lighted movies, nor been responsible for losses or wins. This turned out to be a critical gap.


Under Wagner, UA’s one release, “Lions for Lambs,” lost the studio close to $40 million, according to one person close to the film. And Cruise’s upcoming “Valkyrie” drags bad buzz and shifting release dates in its wake.


In abruptly exiting the studio last week, Wagner made it known that she believed Sloan was after the $500 million that was United Artists’ fund for making movies. She’d been squeezed out and stymied from doing her job. (See Patrick Goldstein, in which someone “close to the situation” complained that “whenever Wagner tried to greenlight a movie, Sloan blocked it.” The someone gave no specifics.)


This whining is unpersuasive. Wagner had the authority to green-light movies at budgets up to $60 million. Contractually, Sloan couldn’t block her from doing so, so what gives?


From what I have heard over the past months, Wagner never got around to doing her job, finding a strategy to get UA on profitable footing. Instead she proceeded to run the studio more like the producer she once was -- buying properties, developing pitches on the basis of taste and judgement. She bought books, but didn’t get scripts in the door. She pulled the plug on Oliver Stone and his movie, “Pinkville.” Moguls don’t have that luxury. They need to release movies, fill a pipeline, bring money to the bottom line.


Wagner’s failure puts MGM in a poor position. Under the terms of United Artists’ financing, the division is obliged to release two films by early 2010, according to individuals familiar with the terms of the deal. As of now, UA has no two such films in the pipeline. The overall slate deal requires the release of 15 to 18 films in five years. Merrill Lynch will want its money back.


This now becomes the problem of Sloan, Parent and Cruise. “There will be be resource sharing. We will figure things out as we go forward,” said one senior executive, who wouldn’t talk on the record. “We’ve always said this was a rebuilding process.”


No one at MGM would comment officially, including on what I’m hearing is a deal close to conclusion with the Royal Bank of Scotland for another $500 million in financing for MGM. If true, that will quiet critics who keep saying that Sloan doesn’t have the money to make movies, or that he’s after UA’s filmmaking cash. But it won’t quiet them for long, unless MGM starts showing some stability and results.

 

August 16, 2008

"Dark Knight" Rising in the History Books

Sunday update: "Tropic Thunder" finally took in an estimated $26 million, according to Media By Numbers. "Dark Knight" took in $16.79 million, and now has a cumulative $471.9 million in domestic gross, surpassing "Star Wars," as expected.

I'm travelling and missing some of my blogging tools, but wanted to weigh in with the latest of "Dark Knight's" record-breaking journey:

The Warner Bros Batman movie is poised on Saturday to overtake "Star Wars" as the second highest grossing film of all time at the domestic box office. "Star Wars," first released in 1977, has taken in $460.9 million over the past 30 years. "The Dark Knight" is already at $459.6 million as of this morning, according to Media By Numbers, and will almost certainly surpass George Lucas's classic today.

In other news, "Tropic Thunder," the Ben Stiller comedy, will win the weekend with an estimated $24 million take at the box office. Quite a good showing, but this was no low-budget affair.

Here's the historic list from Media By Numbers:
1. TITANIC PARAMOUNT $600,788,188 Fri, 12/19/97
2 STAR WARS** FOX $460,998,007 Wed, 5/25/77
3 THE DARK KNIGHT WARNER BROS. $459,608,000 * Fri, 7/18/08
4 SHREK 2 DREAMWORKS $436,471,036 Wed, 5/19/04

August 13, 2008

Rafat Says I'm "Late to the Party"

I'm a little late posting this, but worse than that, Rafat Ali at Paidcontent.org has decided that I'm late to the Internet party, in a front-page story in Variety yesterday. I'm sure that he's right. But you know what? We're going to push ahead anyway. And Rafat, we'll check back later on our timing.

August 10, 2008

"Dark Knight" Sails Into #3 All-Time Spot

Final box office estimates put "The Dark Knight" in the number one spot for the weekend, with a $26 million haul. But that's not the fun part. That number pushed the Warner Brothers film to a $441 million total so far in its domestic release, knocking "Shrek 2" out of its path to become the third-highest grossing successful film of all time (domestically; worldwide is another matter). Back in 2004, "Shrek 2" took in $436 million in its domestic release.

"Pineapple Express," the R-rated pot-smoking comedy, took in $22.4 million, a huge number for a movie that reportedly cost less than $40 million to produce.

Here's the rest, all from Media By Numbers:

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, $16,113,170

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, $10,770,000

Step Brothers, $8,900,000

Mamma Mia! $8,080,820

August 09, 2008

Losses of the Bernies: Mac, young. Brillstein, old. Both missed.

Berniemac Hollywood lost two Bernies in the past two days: one young, one old. One healthy, one ailing. Both broke new ground in the industry. Both losses are harsh.

Bernie Mac, the charmingly self-deprecating family guy of "The Bernie Mac Show," died suddenly at 50 today in Chicago, from complications due to pneumonia, a publicist said. He'd recently been hospitalized, and had overcome a lung disease in recent years.

Bernie Brillstein, the talent manager whose very name sounds so ... Hollywood! was a towering figure especially in television for decades. He mentored dozens of those in the circles of power in Hollywood today (not only Brad Grey, his former partner who now runs Paramount Studios). Brillstein succumbed to pulmonary disease at a Los Angeles hospital on Thursday night. Berniebrillstein RIP to them, and condolences.

Box Office Beat (EARLY!): Expected 20 Percent Drop due to Olympics, Dark Knight Holds Top Spot

Bad news for Hollywood: I'm hearing from studio sources that despite the huge interest in "The Dark Knight" and "Pineapple Express," the box office total is expected to drop 20 percent this week over last year because of viewer interest in the Olympics.

Other news: In the neck and neck sweepstakes between the blockbuster thriller and the stoner comedy, Warner Bros' "The Dark Knight" is going to take the weekend with an estimated $25 million haul at the box office, according to estimates within the studios. That will beat out of Sony's "Pineapple Express," which is doing strong business, but will not be able to beat the caped crusader, with an estimated $22 million.

If these estimates bear out through the weekend, it will mean that "The Dark Knight" will have dominated the Number One spot at the box office for four straight weeks. Don't forget that it soared past the $400 million mark this week, and at this rate is expected to end up as the second biggest gross at the domestic box office in Hollywood history.

The Judd Apatow comedy - which has been greeted with great reviews and a Seth Rogen media love-a-thon the likes of which hasn't been since.... Steve Carell! - already took in  $12 million on Wednesday, $6 million on Thursday, and at least that much on Friday.

Here are the other estimates: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor - $15 million; Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 - $11 million; Step Brothers - $9 million; Mamma Mia - $8 million.

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