Off Hollywood: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Bay!


Michael Bay knows how to make visually stunning, crowd-pleasing content. His production techniques earned him some of the highest achievements in the advertising world, all within a few years of graduating school. In addition, two of his films have cemented their way into the Criterion Collection (the holy grail of laudable films). So, whatever you think of Bay’s plot style, the man knows how to produce a movie. It’s worth picking up a few tips from him.

Go Funny

Remember this commercial? It pretty much dominated the airwaves of the 1990s and bred a generation of milk lovers. The direction of the video is practically flawless. Bay captures the humor of every moment, starting with the details of the museum around the subject, and perfectly captures the thirst-spawned desperation of his situation.

Humor and satire are the most difficult, but effective, means to convey your message via online video. Unless you happen to accidentally catch a goose flying out of a hen house and stealing the toupee off of a famous politician on video, you’re going to need to do quite a bit of planning and perfecting from every vantage point.

Go Big!

Explosions, chases, beautiful people, these are all things that tend to attract viewers. While it’s not recommended that you simulate giant explosions without the help of trained professionals, you can still enact some BIG ideas from the comfort of your home or studio.

Your explosions don’t have to be huge to make an impact. Take “The Rock,” starring Nicolas Cage, where the closest thing to an explosion was the threat of those little green glass balls exploding all over the San Francisco Bay. Although, fire and melting skin do look cool, the threat is what drove the audience’s adrenaline in the theater. How can you cultivate big emotions with your viral videos?

Get Creative

If Bay doesn’t have the right equipment to capture the shot exactly how he wants it, then he invents it. On the set of “Bad Boys II,” instead of relying on locked-off cameras, Bay wanted them moving, bringing you right into the action. So he proposed the idea of the “Bay Buster,” built by John Frazier. It’s basically a Chevrolet 3/4-ton pickup truck with a reinforced front end, roll bars, and safety cage for the stunt driver, and something that looks like a cowcatcher on the front end, like you might see on a train. It’s Y-shaped, low to the ground, and cameras are protected with armor plating. The Y-shaped device on the front picks up oncoming objects and flips them over the vehicle.

Bay’s movies are a staple of Saturday afternoon cable reruns. Learn more about your local cable providers at www.directstartv.org.

“The Watch” and Other Myopic Endeavors


Exhibitors by nature are a cautious lot. They are at the bottom of the feeding frenzy that is called the film business. Producers aka studios make films. Distributors set the advertising and get the films to the theaters. Exhibitors are the theaters. They are totally reliant on the films Hollywood sends them, and without them they would not be able to charge $7 for a box of popcorn that costs about 75¢ to produce.

Exhibition is a business. The people that run them are businessmen and women. Certainly they may be knowledgable and certainly they may be above average in intelligence, but the business does not require an abundance of creativity. It has a tendency to make the people in it become conservative in thought and speech. Exhibitors are constantly amazed when a film they hardly understand becomes a hit. They’ll shrug their collective shoulders and say, “Who knew?” It is this mentality of not understanding the art side of the business that was one of the imperatives towards creating megaplexes. If you play every single film available, it mitigates the chance of missing something that might sell more popcorn, er tickets.

So it comes as little surprise that the industry is abuzz with the Arizona exhibition chain that recently nixed playing THE WATCH. THE WATCH is distributed by 20th-Century Fox. Fox is a ‘firm terms’ company. They disdain and officially put the kibosh on the age old industry dance called negotiations.

In the good old days, when a film finished playing, the person who was responsible for putting the film into the movie theater and the person responsible for selling that film would ‘settle’ the film. Or in a more colloquially manner of speaking, they’d start acting as if the film were a bag of potatoes being purchased by a frugal minded grandmother at an open market dealing with an old established adversary, the grocer. They would start with a standard dance. One would say, “The film tanked.” The response would be, “No it didn’t, you made money.” Then a counter, “It was flawed p.o.s.” Followed by the standard, “You made money.” Which would yield, “What are you talking about?! People walked out.” “Yeah, they may have walked out, but that’s because your floors are sticky.” The argument would go back and forth in a good natured dance. Ultimately they would arrive at an acceptable price for all. The movie industry was like that for years.

Firm term means we will not negotiate. It is what it is, take it or leave it. Remember exhibitors don’t want to miss out on any potential hit, so they will take it. They will grumble, but they will take it. They are over the proverbially barrel. Now comes that 30 screen Arizona theater chain that said “No!”. They said no to Fox’s THE WATCH. On some level you applaud them, but of course they took a film that most knew was a dog, had positioning problems in the marketplace and at a time when there was plenty of product to fill the other screens. They bold statement was hardly bold. Of course, they said it was because an agreement on the rental feel couldn’t be achieved. Hardly. Fox offered what it always does. The exhibitor saw a bad film with little chance to make any money and made a public case of it. They look bold. They appear strong.

Don’t believe it. They are positioning themselves for Fox’s next film. They hope, probably erroneously that they will get a better deal. The distributors doesn’t really care about exhibitors as long as they pay whatever they dictate. It is part of the problem with the film distribution model that was created a century ago. It is archaic and dictated by people who don’t truly care about what’s best for the industry.

So it goes.

Hollywood’s First Action Hero


His education was no higher than elementary school. He could  hunt, trap, shoot, and ride horses with the best. He broke a wild bronco when he was a mere lad of 11. As a 6-foot-tall sixteen-year-old he started bronc riding. At 17 he won the title of World’s Best Bronco Buster. When he ventured to Los Angeles he befriended a few stars who marveled at his prowess. He made a few movies. Then he won more than a handful of rodeo championships. He returned to Hollywood and became a legend.
He is cinema’s FIRST ACTION HERO.


If you’re a film fan you’ve seen him hundreds of times, but don’t know his name. If you’re a true film buff you not only know his name, you understand how important he was, and still is, to stuntmen everywhere. His name was Yakima Canutt.
Yak, as he was called, reigned in Hollywood in it’s early years. He started off as a lead actor, but a broken nose and a flu damaged voice meant his days as a lead would be seriously challenged by the advent of sound. Taking advantage of his knowledge of horses and rodeos, he began developing ‘stunts’ and stunt equipment. The stunts wowed audiences. The equipment saved lives and money for the studio executives. Yakima Canutt became a music sought after commodity.
In 1932, Canutt met John Wayne. A friendship and a working relationship developed that changed both. Canutt and Wayne developed a way of fighting on screen that made them look more realistic. Wayne lifted much of his on-screen persona from Canutt. Their fate was sealed with Wayne’s ascendancy in STAGECOAH, where Canutt was his stand in. Remember he did all his stunts without any CGI, what you saw is what he did. Canutt would also double for Clark Cable in SAN FRANCISCO, GONE WITH THE WIND, BOOM TOWN.
He soon became a well respected second unit and action director. Here are a few of the films he acted as the action/second unit director
- the jousting scenes in IVANHOE
- action sequences for Kubrick’s SPARTANS
- Disney’s SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON & OLD YELLER
- CAT BALLOU, A MAN CALLED HORSE, EL CID and many others.
His career was long and lustrous. He created and patented several safety devices for stuntman, but what he is best know for his action sequences in BEN-HUR. His chariot race sequence is still considered one of the best, if not the best.
Cinema’s FIRST ACTION HERO died at the age of 90 in 1986.

Let The Battle Begin!


A recent article in The Hollywood Reporter exposed the emerging Star Maps Battles. Yes, Dear Reader, it seems that there is no boundaries when it comes to corporate in-fighting. It has even extended into the arcane world of where stars live.

Once a cottage industry where under employed actors or Hollywood wannabes would set up shop on some street corner selling maps to stars homes as a way to supplement their income. Tourists would buy them and get a cheap thrill by seeing where a “name” seen in lights actually went to bed at night, ate his breakfast and had a post morning coffee bowel movement. And if the heavens aligned, perhaps a glitterati glimpse would end up as a story to be told over and over back in the home town.

Over the years, these guides to popular culture have gotten more sophisticated. There are talking CD/cassette tours. There are ‘famous crime scenes’. There are updated maps for the latest reality star or face du jour. Prices range from $6 for a map to $44 for a bus tour. It has become a multimillion dollar business.

Now the new wrinkle is an iPhone app. For just 99¢, a potential voyeur can buy the app with directions, GPS finders and helpful trivia to enhance the experience.

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THR reports that in the old days, that would be last year for the uninformed, many of the star maps people would fight for customers, literally. They would yell at each other. Yell at customers going with someone else. It is, was, a tough business.  The new app, which will undoubtedly, have imitators may quiet the screaming, but it won’t change one very important fact. The information is changing daily and much of it is wrong.

So if you’re planning on going to La-La Land and getting all sight seeing, be warned, many of those “star maps” are either plain wrong or the information has changed. Maybe a better use of time would be not to see the stars’ homes, but rather get some of these purveyors of voyeurism to fight over you.  Different companies fighting their competition for your dollar. It’ll be pure capitalism. Sadly, it looks like those old time paper map entrepreneurs may go the way of mom and pop stores everywhere. Done in by technology.

Mr Peabody & Sherman


In Hollywood’s never ending quest of going back in time to find something that will make lots of money, a new project that taps boomer humor and young’uns sensibilities is a new 3D cartoon. It is currently in early production with an expected early 2014 release. It is an animated updating of MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN. Peabody is the smartest critter in the world, a dog, while Sherman is his ‘pet’ boy. Together they have adventures by traveling through time in the WABAC machine.

Here is an old cartoon to whet your appetite.

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Did you notice how the cartoon proved the fundamentalist Christina theory that man and dinosaurs inhabited the Earth at the same time? Now all I have to do is wait until some undereducated boob accuses me of being politically incorrect or even worse, a liberal.

Oh yeah, I am expecting Hollywood to hire bad writers, create a 90 minute film with tie-ins to some bad for you fast food restaurant, make the film in 3D and charge $14 per ticket. Then they will wonder why it tanked at the box office.

What we need is Mr. Peabody’s WABAC machine to find some good studio executives. 1939 was a good year. Can we go now?

 

Snow White & The Hunstman Just Misses


Hollywood has had a mini-love affair with fairy tales. If you notice I said ‘had’. After this weekend the chances of studio heads green lighting  another film, especially an expensive one, based on a fairy tale will be slim.

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN opens today. It is about some virginal princess beset by an evil step-mom/queen who has a thing for being the most beautiful babe in the kingdom. When the virginal one surpasses the step-mom inn the looks department,  all sorts of evil doings start developing. Yeah, we know the story and we know the tropes. The wonderful world of Disney drilled it into us.

The cast for this latest entry is quite good and they do acquit themselves well. There is Charlize Theron as the evil Queen, chewing scenery quite nicely thank you very much. Liam Hemsworth, the hunk du jour, acting all sorts of like the bad boy, but with a heart of gold. He’s the huntsman, big surprise. Playing yet another virginal waif is Kristen Stewart, who better watch out, she may play a virgin until she dies. She’s OK in the film. She does’t pout like she did throughout those TWILIGHT films.

Overall the film is OK. The ads stress this is not a fairy tale as we know it. This is because the marketing people in Hollywood have see the writing on the wall.  For Hollywood brand name recognition is a pre-requisite for any film to be made these days. They fervently believe that to make gobs of money, the audience is too stupid to see anything unless its name rises above the advertising clutter. If they know it, they will come.  

But there is an inherent problem. Though there is remarkably high brand name recognition for these fairy tale films, the public wants it’s fairly tales like its politicians, full of lies and spouting happy endings. And to achieve that goal requires deft writing to repeatedly repackage the same old, same old.  Sadly, quality writing is an art lost on studio executives who see writers as an expense they’d rather be without.

This has proven to be the downfall of many of the fairy tale films. Trying to update them to a modern audience is at best difficult especially since many of the writers don’t have a clue of what a fairy tale truly is. In MIRROR, MIRROR they took the snarky, wink-wink approach. In SNOW WHITE, they go for a dark, LORD OF THE RINGS approach. In the latter it almost works, but in their desire to be ‘cool’ or ‘modern’, they forget one of the most central of themes for any movie. It has to have a heart, a core.

Ironically the heart theme plays throughout SNOW WHITE. Unfortunately it is never fully developed, it is left weakly beating and ultimately the film does not satisfy. The film’s grosses will be at best so-so. So Hollywood will bemoan the public’s disdain for fairy tale movies and never admit they simple truth. You can’t make a good movie without good, intelligent writing. Now we have to wonder what will happen to HANSEL & GRETEL WITCH HUNTERS. Oh, that’s from Paramount and quite another story, especially after the GI JOE debacle.

 

Battleship vs John Carter: Why Some Losers Lose More


OK, so JOHN CARTER tanked. The media had a feeding frenzy. Disney chopped some heads and a good time was had by all, sort of. The film cost more than $200 million to make. It scored a measly $73 million in the States while doing better internationally to the tune of $232 million. Remember, what the studio takes in after the theaters take their taste runs around 50%. So the film, not even counting advertising and hype, lost at least $50 million. Tack in the additional costs and that number is heading towards $200 million.

Then along comes BATTLESHIP. It cost north of $200 million. It took less than $50 million domestically, but did slightly better than CARTER by taking in over $250 million internationally. It looks to lose at least $150 million., but to hear the quietude from the media, that’s chump change and hardly worth mentioning.

So why does JOHN CARTER get blasted and BATTLESHIP gets a pass?  According to the LA Times, the reasons are as petty as the movie industry itself.

First is one of spite. The media does not like the folks over at Disney. Disney is tighter than a miser with a penny and getting something other than what the handlers hand out of Disney is nigh impossible. So when bad things happen to them, the media just loves it. They get their pound of flesh.

Now toss in the pre-opening machinations. The film’s title was changed because Disney’s marketing mavens knew they had trouble. So rather than blame the film itself and its attendant egos, and blame the name. The MARS NEEDS MOM disaster had them convinced that the Red Planet evoked ill will with audiences. A similar theory was held for years about the name of Paris in a title. All the films that had Paris in them tanked until Woody Allen’s last film. The name Mars got tainted as well, at least by the guardians at Disney.

There is also the unwritten law of Hollywood,  “the first shall always gets the biggest slice.” If there are two competing film films along similar themes, the first out of the gate will usually do much better. The same is true for bad news. The first film to cost a ton and then lose a ton will get the majority of the negative ink.

And finally, BATTLESHIP’S studio, Universal, seems to have done a much better job of mitigating the bad news by handling the flop more gracefully. The folks at Disney went into panic mode and heads started rolling. If heads are to roll at Universal, it will happen sometime in the fall, long after the disaster has become a memory.

Is there any other lessons to be learned from BATTLESHIP? Not exactly or more precisely not just yet, but if there are more mega-flops like BATTLESHIP and DARK SHADOWS, (yes, Virginia, Barnabas has bitten the big loser) we may be looking at a re-thinking of the summer tentpole. Here’s a suggestion for this omnipotent studio heads. Get better writers. Have your seen BATTLESHIP? The opening is too long and since when did poetry theirs become officers in the Navy? The film was on the shoals before it started.