MEDIA - Film/Radio/TV/Web - March 2001

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Friday March 30

NO INSURANCE: Making movies is a huge financial risk. Nine out of ten Holywood movies lose money. So a few years ago someone came up with the idea of writing insurance policies against production costs. It worked great for producers, but was a disaster for insurers. The Economist 03/30/01

PAY TO READ? "A survey published by the Consumer Electronics Manufacturer's Association last month found that 77 percent of consumers objected to paying for online news, driving directions, financial reports and other 'commodity' information." Nonetheless, desperate to earn money, more and more content sites are beginning to charge subscriptions. Wired 03/30/01

THE COST OF A STRIKE: According to the Screen Actors Guild’s latest earnings report, SAG members lost more than $100 million in income during last year’s six-month strike against the advertising industry - and that doesn’t include the losses suffered by SAG’s sister union, the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, whose commercial earnings losses are estimated at another $15 million. Backstage 3/29/01

Thursday March 29

TAKING TINSELTOWN TO TASK: Critics and serious moviegoers have always complained about the lackluster fare coming out of Hollywood. But lately the grumblings of the discontent have reached a fever pitch. "You could look at any of these trends as proof of a new brand of adventurousness sweeping the land, as evidence that moviegoers are more open to nonmainstream pictures than they've ever been. But there's more than a whiff of sanctimoniousness in the anti-Hollywood sentiment that's been going around." Salon 3/29/01

Wednesday March 28

ALL IN THE NAME OF POLITICS: Last year during the American presidential campaign, Al Gore and Joe Lieberman attacked Hollywood for its violent ways. But new numbers show that "the number of R-rated wide releases from the studios had dropped 33 percent last year compared to 1999, to 58 from 87." 03/27/01

Tuesday March 27

WE KNEW THERE HAD TO BE A CATCH: 154,000 Americans are subscribed to the "TiVo" service, which allows the user, among other things, to pause live TV, skip commercials, and record hundreds of hours of programming digitally. But a new report charges that TiVo is using its equipment to spy on users, and sell information on their viewing habits to the highest bidder. New York Post 03/27/01

HOW TO MAKE AN AD COST $10 MILLION: With the continued blurring of the always-fuzzy line between entertainment and advertising, many of Hollywood's biggest stars have begun to pop up in high-end ad campaigns. In past years, movie stars considered such shilling beneath them, but ads are apparently now considered "art", and that makes it all better. New York Post 03/27/01

Monday March 26

OSCAR WRAPUP: Just in case you fell asleep before the end finally came, here's the short list: Julia, Russell, Soderbergh, and "Gladiator." (Here's the complete list of winners.) "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" won several awards, but none of the big ones, and Bjork wore what appeared to be a dead swan wrapped around her neck. All part of the fun on Hollywood's Biggest Night. Los Angeles Times 03/26/01

IS HOLLYWOOD FUNDAMENTALLY CONSERVATIVE? "Look into the very heart of American counter-culture and you will find films like Taxi Driver and Blue Velvet, films which penetrated the mainstream with a spirit of the avant-garde. Yet at the core of their innovative visions there is also a spirit of right-wing libertarianism and rage against modernity." Prospect 04/01

Sunday March 25

OSCAR AND THE NATIONAL ZEITGEIST: Tonight is, of course, Oscar night, and the whole country will be watching. But the Academy Awards are part of a dying cultural tradition - the TV event that is "required viewing" for nearly everyone. In an age of ever-widening programming choice and the continued factionalizing of the populace in general, some experts are worried that Americans just don't have enough common ground anymore. Dallas Morning News 03/25/01

  • IT'S TOO FLIPPIN' LONG! How long is the average Oscar broadcast? Wagner's "Ring" cycle is the picture of brevity by comparison. This year, the producer of the telecast has promised a free high-def TV to the winner who gives the shortest acceptance speech. Philadelphia Inquirer 03/25/01

THE FAILING FRENCH: In the 50s, 60s and 70s French cinema was a vibrant art that caught the world's attention. No more. The industry is in the doldrums. "Last year, for the first time in history, the share of French films at the domestic box office dropped below 30 per cent - and at the same time, it's getting harder to export French cinema." The Telegraph (London) 03/24/01

THE ART OF MOVIES: Julian Schnabel was a celebrated artist before he started making movies. "Making a movie was similar to making art, Schnabel found. A movie was like a series of paintings. He tried to create those images in the moment, without much rehearsal. And he exercised a gruff authority." New York Times Magazine 03/25/01 (one-time registration required)

Friday March 23

A SLICE OF THE PIE: Latest estimates of the global media/entertainment market peg its value at about $5 trillion. So how to get your slice? "With the average American now cramming 11 hours of leisure into seven hours a day by multi-tasking even rest and recreation (for instance, by watching TV while surfing the Net), the biggest problem, according to some of the panelists, lies in sorting things out." 03/23/01

GOING GLOBAL: It may be difficult to define, but globalization sure is easy to spot on screen. "A handful of recent films - from different corners of the world, divergent in style and scope - address globalization not as an idea, or even as a theme, but rather as a half-invisible context, a source of jokes, stories and serendipitous metaphors." New York Times 3/23/01 (one-time registration required for access)

BETTER THAN OSCAR? It's here - award weekend, when all of Hollywood gears up to collect miniature statues in exchange for movie excellence. Oh, and the Oscars are next week, too. But for true film connoisseurs, it just doesn't get any better than the Independent Spirit Awards, which have risen from obscurity to become highly coveted commendations. New York Post 03/23/01

Thursday March 22

MOVIE MAN: In a little more than a year, Philip Anschutz — whose net worth is listed at $18 billion in Forbes (the country's 6th-richest person) — has taken over three of the nation’s largest movie-theater chains, and now controls one-fifth of America's movie screens. This when movie houses are losing money and declaring bankruptcy. What does he know that the rest of the industry doesn't? Go digital. New York Observer 03/21/01

A FILM BY... Hollywood directors have rejected writers' demands to end the practice of tagging a movie as "a film by" and crediting a director. Writers feel the proactice belittles the writers' contributions. CNN 03/21/01

Wednesday March 21

A DISASTER AT ABC: The Australian public broadcaster ABC has had a rocky first year under chief John Shier. Now one of the broadcaster's unions has written to the ABC board to urge that Shier be reigned in. He's not competent. "Under his stewardship the ABC has wasted millions of dollars of taxpayers' money on a restructure that is ineffective and unworkable." The Age (Melbourne) 03/21/01

HOLLYWOOD WRITERS' STRIKE? MAYBE NOT: "[T]he two sides' bargaining positions aren't really all that far apart. When contract talks recessed on March 1, the negotiators for the Writers Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers were only about $70 million-$80 million apart on their proposals for a new three-year contract. That's a difference of only about $25 million a year -- chump change, by Hollywood's standards." Backstage 03/20/01

Tuesday March 20

D IS FOR DOCUMENTARY: To the academy handing out Oscars, "documentary is less a popular art form than a public service medium: Over the past decade, the films nominated, with a few honorable exceptions, have been the cinematic equivalent of castor oil. Then-New York Times critic Janet Maslin described them as 'films about the Holocaust, the disabled, hard-working artists and inspirational programs in the inner city' - worthy subjects that all too often get mediocre or sentimental treatment." The Nation 04/02/01

HITCHCOCK BEFORE HE WAS FAMOUS: Even as a young director, Alfred Hitchcock impressed critics. "He works with the mind of an intelligent child who gets angry when his adventure story bogs down midway with talk of love, duty, and other abstractions. Let's skip that part, he says; what happens after that? Hitchcock's favorite story is the odyssey, the journey made in a great cause, with the hero beset by plots, accidents, and malign coincidences." The New Yorker 03/19/01

Monday March 19

CHINESE CINEMA LANGUISHES AWAY FROM HOLLYWOOD: "Chinese cinema has come into the media spotlight in the wake of Taiwanese director Ang Lee's martial arts box office smash 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.' But while Chinese directors in Hong Kong and Taiwan have wooed international markets with a vision of China gone by, mainland cinema is in the doldrums and getting progressively worse." China Times (Taiwan) 03/19/01

AS SEEN ON... "Now that museums are commissioning Internet-based art projects, they are confronting a digital dilemma: how to present virtual, small- screen art in a real-world, public space." The New York Times 03/19/01 (one-time registration required for access)

A WORRIED HOLLYWOOD: It's movie award season. But "while nominees jet from award show to award show, the mood for the rest of Hollywood remains glum. Indeed, for those not directly involved in the festivities, the hubbub of the Oscar season sounds much like the band playing as the Titanic went down, so palpable is the sense of foreboding that has begun to circle the industry." Los Angeles Times 03/19/01

Sunday March 18

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE PROCESS: Seven German artists are bringing the spectacle of creating art to the public with a seven-day marathon Internet broadcast. "Art lovers around the world can go to and watch one participant a day paint, develop or sculpt an original work to be completed within seven hours in a studio at the Museum of Fine Arts in the western German city of Celle." Nando Times 03/18/01

DIGITAL MOVIES ARRIVE: The time for digital movies has arrived. Within a few years, movie theaters without digital projection systems won't be able to show the most popular movies. "This is the future. Six months ago, people were saying it would take five years to get to this point, but here we are. We love that there are no more cans of film to fall off trucks." Christian Science Monitor 03/17/01

PHONY APPRAISERS INDICTED: Two antiques experts are indicted for staging phony appraisals on the popular PBS antiques appraisal program "Antiques Roadshow." Boston Herald 03/17/01

TV TURNS TO THE STAGE: The next few weeks will see an astonishing number of stage plays make their debut on the small screen. And while the struggling world of theatre is certainly in need of the boost TV can provide, there is always the risk that the dumbed-down, sound-bitten world of the tube can suck the life out of a great stage piece. San Jose Mercury News 03/18/01

Friday March 16

TOEING THE UNION LINE: The battle between the big Hollywood studios and the Writer's Guild is ongoing, and with a strike looming if a settlement is not reached soon, analysts are weighing in on the union's chances. "While studios dig in their heels against what they say are unprecedented union demands, both sides must weigh the realities of a slowing economy, changing industry, and labor relations in Los Angeles." Boston Globe (AP) 03/16/01

TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT: The Oscar-nominated "Traffic" opens in Mexico this weekend, amid shrieks of protest and sad smiles of recognition. The film, which focuses on the darkest aspects of the Mexican and American drug trades, is cutting awfully close to the bone in a country overwhelmed by poverty and the fear of powerful drug kingpins, and many Mexicans hope that the movie somehow raises American awareness of the problem. Dallas Morning News 03/16/01

DRIPPER'S LEGACY: Ed Harris's riveting portrayal of one of the 20th century's most fascinating artists has earned "Pollock" an Oscar nod and critical raves. But art historians have been irked by Harris's decision to make it seem as if Jackson Pollock's innovations were nothing more than an outgrowth of his descent into madness. "Pollock's epiphany likely didn't arise out of locking himself in a Greenwich Village walkup for three weeks, as the film suggests. Abstract Expressionism built on European modernist painting." The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 03/16/01

Thursday March 15

WHAT IF NOBODY CAME? Last year, convergence - the idea that all media would come together and be distributed through portals - was all the rage. This year the talk has died. A high-profile panel on the subject at a prominent internet convention in Hollywood failed to attract anyone to even talk about it. Toronto Star 03/14/01

Wednesday March 14

KEEP IT SHORT: One hundred Academy Award nominees gathered at the annual pre-Oscars lunch on Tuesday were urged by the ceremony’s producers to keep their acceptance speeches brief. The show clocked in at just under 4 hours last year, and the show producers fear its length is costing them viewers. "The Academy is calling upon all nominees to write up a laundry list of people to thank. Winners' lists will be immediately posted on the Oscar Web site," Variety 3/14/01

Tuesday March 13

THIS MESSAGE WILL SELF-DESTRUCT... An Austin-based software firm comprised largely of former intelligence agents has developed the next generation of copy protection for online media. The program works by taking control of your computer, and disallowing the copying of trademarked material. Try to hack the nearly invisible program, and it destroys itself, and all your copyrighted files. No doubt, some 15-year-old in Topeka is already working on how to crack this one. 03/13/01

HOW KIDS WATCH TV: It used to be that teenagers all watched more or less the same TV programs. No more. "This fragmentation of viewers has become a disturbing fact of life for television executives, especially at the three traditional broadcast networks. Once they could ignore teenagers, figuring that they would watch the networks because they had no choice. The changes in the past decade have left those executives feeling rather like children after a visit to the planetarium, realizing that they are not the center of the universe but only a speck in the cosmos." The New York Times 03/13/01 (one-time registration required for access)

THE DAY THE BLACKLIST BROKE: For more than a decade, the Hollywood blacklist drove writers, actors, and directors underground, with Joe McCarthy's reign of terror helped along by the complicity of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. But then, one glittering evening in 1957, the chokehold began to loosen, when a blacklisted writer, working under a pseudonym, was awarded the Oscar for Best Motion Picture Story. Los Angeles Times 03/13/01

Monday March 12

AUSTRALIA'S ABC IN TURMOIL: Australia's ABC, the country's public broadcaster and one of its primary cultural institutions, seems to be unraveling in some important ways. John Shier has been running the corporation for a year now, and his vision for the company seems increasingly difficult to comprehend. Sydney Morning Herald 03/12/01

MOVIE THEATRES IN DANGER? "No one believes that movie theaters are in immediate danger of losing their cherished theatrical primacy — it is too ingrained, and the buzz that a film's initial release creates is still the greatest engine for its subsequent earnings — but there are some disturbing trends for theater owners." The New York Times 03/12/01 (one-time registration required for access)

PUMP EM UP, MOVE EM OUT: Vancouver is the third-largest film-making city in the world (after Los Angeles and New York), and the second-largest TV-series factory. About $1.8 billion is spent on making movies there. But here's a secret no one talks about: they're almost all bad movies. The reason - the cheap Canadian dollar lures cheap, mediocre productions. Ottawa Citizen 03/12/01

OF MYTH AND POLLOCK: The new bio-pic of Jackson Pollock has a lot to cram into it. But, beautiful as it is, it's not possible to fully put into perspective the artist's life, legend and myth. Herewith an attempt at clarification. The Idler 03/12/01

Sunday March 11

SOMETHING YOU CAN'T SELL ON EBAY: Lucien Lallouz had what he thought was a great idea. The Ebay auctioneer offered a deluxe trip to the Academy Awards - including admission to the Oscars ceremony and the Governors' Ball. But the Academy threatened legal action - Oscar tickets are "non-transferable" - and Lallouz backed down - even though bidding had reached $11,000. 03/09/01

Friday March 9

PITY THE POOR DESPISED CRITIC: "I've been examining fictional works that include critics as characters. The result? Forget about positive role models. Each film critic I've discovered in a movie is a walking and laboriously talking stereotype. Some portraits are playful and satirical; others are malicious. In every case, though, the film reviewer is boorish, obsessive, and neurotic (and almost invariably male), someone you wouldn't want to be stuck next to at a movie. Boston Phoenix 03/09/01

THERE'S GOLD IN THEM THAR KERNELS: The most intense battle for movie-goers' money is not at the box office. It's at the concession stand. Dozens of new flavors of cookies and pretzels and countless new varieties of candy are available, at a mark-up of 300 to 500 percent. The money-making champ, though, is still popcorn: one brand promises theater owners a 2500 percent markup. Newsweek 03/09/01

Thursday March 8

TV AND ALZHEIMER'S: Researchers have discovered that those who spend a lot of time in passive activities - like watching TV - in their middle years are more likely to develop Alzheimer's later in life. Exercising your brain by reading, on the other hand, helps delay onset of the disease. The Age (Melbourne) 03/07/01

THE END OF CELLULOID? Two of Hollywood's biggest technology vendors are trying to sell their plan to finance the conversion of America's movie theaters to full digital projection. The conversion would allow distributors to send pictures to theaters electronically, but would require a large capital investment. The plan is for a small portion of each ticket sold to go towards the conversion, and execs doubt that theater owners will go for it. Variety 03/08/01

Wednesday March 7

CAN THEY GET ANY BIGGER? AOL Time Warner is merging the Turner Cable networks with the WB television network, creating the nation's largest television group. How large? The group will include the WB, TBS, TNT, TCM, Cartoon Network, CNN, Headline News, CNNFN, CNNSI, and several others we've forgotten the initials for. Nando Times (AP) 03/06/01

MOVIES ON DEMAND: Movie studios are set to start offering movies for downloading over the internet. "At least three studios or more will begin offering movies that can be downloaded in a form of video-on-demand or pay-per-view type of service" within three to six months. Wired 03/07/01

PRAYING FOR DAYLIGHT: The Screen Writers' Guild is trying to quash the notion that a strike is inevitable in the ongoing dispute between writers and Hollywood studios. "'To put it in football terms, this is half-time,' said John McLean, chief negotiator and exec director of the Writers Guild of America, during a town hall meeting at the Sheraton Universal. 'We've got eight more weeks.'" Variety 03/07/01

THE STORY OF "O": Miramax has shelved, for the second time, its modern-day remake of Shakespeare's "Othello," in the aftermath of Monday's school shooting in California. "O" ends with a shootout in a high school that kills off four main characters. The studio had previously delayed the release date following the Columbine massacre. New York Post 03/07/01

REDEFINING PUBLIC TV: Public broadcasting is feeling pressure everywhere - in Britain, in Canada, and in Australia. The head of Australia's ABC lays out a roadmap for the next five years: "To do nothing is not an option for the ABC. We are at an early point in the digital communications revolution - one in which the rules will be rewritten for all, commercial and public broadcasters alike." The Age (Melbourne) 03/07/01

Tuesday March 6

THE TITLE SAYS IT ALL: Universal Pictures has decided not to release the debut movie of one of its hottest directors. In the carefully-chosen yet highly-revealing words of one executive, "We have the utmost respect for Rob [Zombie], who made a really intense and compelling movie, but it turned out far more intense than we could have possibly imagined." The title? House of 1000 Corpses. Los Angeles Times 03/06/01

Monday March 5

NEXT GENERATION HYPERTEXT: A number of digital artists are "using the interactive elements of motion graphics (as online animations are called)" to enhance their stories. "Characters and objects may move on the screen, but what matters more is that they also respond to the reader's mouse click. The story will progress without any help, yet a click can change what the reader sees and feels." The New York Times 03/05/01 (one-time registration required for access)

Sunday March 4

THE QUESTIONS OF SUCCESS: So PBS' "Jazz" was a big hit. "As PBS congratulates itself for making a program that many Americans actually wanted to watch (creating Sidney Bechet and Bix Beiderbecke fans in Iowa in the process), this uncomfortable question pops up: Why can't more of its shows be like that?" San Francisco Chronicle 03/04/01

THE CASE FOR MICRO-RADIO: The US Congress has all but killed a plan that would have allowed thousands of small micro-radio stations in the US. "To low-power advocates, radio deserves special government protection because it is or ought to be the ultimate grass-roots medium. Even in the age of the Internet and cable television, radio remains the cheapest way (short of a bullhorn) to be heard by your friends and neighbors." The New York Times 03/03/01 (one-time registration required for access)

Friday March 2

"HARRY POTTER" TRAILER: The trailer for the movie adaptation of "Harry Potter" went live on the film’s official web site Thursday. "Early evidence suggests a high-gloss tale strung someplace between Roald Dahl and Charles Dickens." The Guardian (London) 3/02/01

NO DEAL: After nearly six weeks of haggling over a new contract for Hollywood’s writers, negotiations between the Writers Guild of America and film and TV producers broke down on Thursday, making the prospect of a summer strike even more likely. "There's still one major factor keeping them apart: Money." E! Online 3/01/01

US STRIKE A MIXED BLESSING UP NORTH: A strike in Hollywood will have a pronounced ripple effect in Canada, where some 300 US movies and TV shows are shot every year. There will be less big-dollar work from the south, but it may re-focus some energy on the Canadian culture. As one Toronto film maker noted, "From a strictly selfish point of view, this would make it a lot easier to make a movie." Globe and Mail (Canada) 03/02/01

Thursday March 1

A NO WIN: The British Board of Film Classification is all over the news lately, and for two seemingly contradictory charges: granting two extremely violent foreign films certification, and recent remarks by its director that suggested the end of mandatory ratings. But is anyone asking if Britain still needs an official censor? The Guardian (London) 3/01/01

GOING DIGITAL: Digital filmmaking has been steadily gaining popularity in Hollywood, and now director Robert Zemeckis has founded a 35,000-square-foot digital arts center to show new filmmakers the ropes. "The grand opening is as good an occasion as any to ask how the rapidly evolving digital world will influence new filmmakers, many of whom grew up with home video cameras and have never worked with film in their lives." New York Times 3/01/01 (one-time registration required for access)

GOING OUT WITH A CYBER-FLOURISH: If you don't watch "The Sopranos" on HBO - and many millions do - you may not know about Livia, Tony's mother. Think Lady Macbeth. Think Mommy Dearest. Nancy Marchand, the actress who played Livia, died last year, but like any good villainess, Livia isn't quite gone yet. With file footage and computer wizardry, the show's third season will debut Sunday with a four-minute death bed tirade by the old girl. New York Post 02/28/01