MEDIA - Film/Radio/TV/Web - May 2002

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Friday May 31

THE DEATH OF INDEPENDENT FILM? "Making movies is not the same as it used to be. The golden era of '80s and early-'90s American independents, in which directors like Jim Jarmusch, John Sayles, and Good Machine-nurtured auteurs such as Hartley, Lee, and Todd Haynes flourished, is no longer possible. Where there once was funding for innovative newcomers through foreign financing and the burgeoning video market, overseas funders are now scarce, video sales are down, and there is an increased reliance on foolproof bets. And like the burst of the dotcom bubble, the very success of the independent film has led to its gradual decline, with studio systems co-opting some of the brightest new talents (David O. Russell, Christopher Nolan) and the challenging economics of the film business excluding so many others." Village Voice 05/28/02

THE ACTION COMIC BOOK MOVIE: Why are they so popular with movie studios? "Above all, these movies are bankable. The audiences are pre-booked. Whatever the critics say, brand loyalty will assure the all-important first weekend take. They'll go to ACBM2 because they went to ACBM1. And if the critics say 'don't go', they'll walk right over the critics on the way to the best seats." The Guardian (UK) 05/31/02

Thursday May 30

WORST CANNES EVER? This year's Cannes Festival was as overhyped as a filmfest can get, and the howling of the critics could be heard worldwide as a result. But was this year's installment of the world's most prestigious film festival really its worst effort, as some have charged? Not likely. "Though the hype continued unabated, the naysaying of the first week proved to be an overreaction. While lacking in masterpieces of the epic variety, the second half of Cannes showed what film is all about--devious experimentation, political films of the moment, and severe art films with little commercial viability in sight." City Pages (Minneapolis/Saint Paul) 05/29/02

Wednesday May 29

THERE'S ALWAYS ONE OR TWO WHO SPOIL IT FOR THE REST: How did the French movie Baise-Moi get banned in Australia? An Australian parliamentary committee wants to know. "The director of the Office of Film and Literature Classification, Des Clark, said that of about 50,000 Australians who saw the film in the three weeks before it was banned, 'one or two' had lodged a complaint with the office." The Age (Melbourne) 05/29/02

  • AND SPEAKING OF DIRTY MOVIES THAT AREN'T... The British Film Classification Board, the duties of which fall somewhere in between a ratings board and a national censor, seems to be relaxing somewhat its standards for what is allowable in English cinema. More films are being allowed to screen, and there is a movement afoot to make national age standards for attending certain films advisory rather than mandatory. BBC 05/29/02

CLEAR CHANNEL'S BLURRY FUTURE: No company is more powerful in the world of American radio than Clear Channel Communications. The company owns more radio stations in more markets than any other company, and is more or less responsible for the generic, predictable, nationally repetitive formats that consultants say are guaranteed to pull in listeners. So why is Clear Channel losing money hand over fist? Washington Post 05/29/02

IMAGE MAKEOVER: Britain's Channel 5 is something of a national joke, known mainly for showing soccer matches, bad movies, and soft-core pornography. But the channel is attempting to broaden its appeal, and programmers see the arts as the way to better demographics. "There will be 28 new half-hour arts shows after successful prime-time trials." BBC 05/28/02

Tuesday May 28

THE END OF FILM? There are many practical reasons to like digital filmmaking. And many are predicting the end of film, as more theatres begin projecting digital movies. But not so fast - "it appears that we're in for a long coexistence, since most cinematographers are not about to abandon shooting on film and digital projection is still in its infancy." Los Angeles Times 05/27/02

"REALITY" IS RELATIVE: The problem with the spectacular digital effects in movies? The real people in the scenes look fake. So they're taken out and replaced with computer graphics. "Interaction is much more believable when digital characters are interacting with digital effects. In the future, to get work actors will need to be trained how to act and interact when no-one is there." Sydney Morning Herald 05/28/02

MINORITY REPORT: After being criticized for their record on including minorities in their programming, American TV network executives say they're doing better. "Executives at ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox last week pointed out how most of the new dramas and comedies coming this fall feature at least one minority character, and several new ensemble dramas feature minorities - primarily African Americans - in key roles. Minority groups disagree. "We were looking for growth, and there isn't any. We have concerns to the extent that there are no central or lead minority characters on the new shows. Yes, there are blacks and Latinos on some of the shows, but the numbers on Asians and Native Americans are dismal." Los Angeles Times 05/27/02

Monday May 27

A RECORD MOVIE YEAR? It's been a great winter and spring for the movie box office, with revenues way ahead of last year. And "with Spider-Man and the new Star Wars as lead-ins to a huge summer film lineup, the season is shaping up to break last year's domestic revenue record of $3.06 billion from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day." Nando Times (AP) 05/26/02

MAYBE IT RUNS ITSELF? The Australian Broadcasting Company has had a rocky year as it's struggled to find a new managing director, after former top boss Jonathan Shier left. But it turns out the TV network has had one of its most successful periods ever in the ratings, with a substantial boost in viewership recorded in the latest ratings period. The Age (Melbourne) 05/27/02

OUR VIDEO FUTURE: "Despite the recession, a prolonged technology slump and Sept. 11, sales of video game hardware, software and accessories increased 43 percent last year, to a record $9.4 billion. A number of industry executives and analysts say that the current economic wave is rooted in both the cycle for new generations of video game players and the demographic shifts that have taken game playing out of the realm of cult status and into the mainstream." The New York Times 05/23/02

WHAT WOMEN WANT? "By and large, designing video games for guys does not require an enormous amount of imagination. Girls are a bit more complicated. Despite countless research projects into women's needs, video game makers still aren't sure what female gamers want. They all know it's a market with enormous potential: 'female' software currently makes up less than one per cent of the total video game industry, which last year made close to $20 billion, more than Hollywood takes at the box office." The Age (Melbourne) 05/27/02

FAILURE TO POP: High-art practitioners have long complained that TV pays little attention to them. But the same can certainly be said for pop culture. British "television's culture tsars either do not understand pop culture, or simply do not like it. There is little other reason for television's tokenistic treatment of both popular music and film, the two most defining cultural mediums of our time. While broadsheet newspapers in this country belatedly cottoned on to the importance of both forms and began expanding their coverage accordingly, television has lagged behind to an embarrassing degree." The Observer (UK) 05/26/02

Sunday May 26

POLANSKI'S PIANIST WINS CANNES: Roman Polanski's film about the Holocaust wins the Palme d'or at the 55th Cannes Festival. "The film stars Adrien Brody as a brilliant Polish pianist who manages to escape the Warsaw ghetto. As boy in Poland, Polanski himself survived the Krakow ghetto but lost his mother at a Nazi camp." Nando Times (AP) 05/26/02

BUYING WHAT CANADA WATCHES: Canadian TV gets most of its programming from the US. "This week, Canada's programming executives flew down to L.A. to hole up in the city's most expensive hotels. From there, they spend several days kicking the tires, by watching pilot episodes for the forthcoming series - often at hype-filled gala screenings. Other countries also participate in the Screenings, but it is really all about Canada: No other country buys so much fresh U.S. programming, or pays as much for it." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/25/02

PIRACY FRUSTRATES PRODUCERS: With their recent thwarting of anti-piracy measures, digital pirates are in control. Film and music producers are at a loss to figure out how to stop digital copying, but security may mean a change in the way they've traditionally done business. But how? Philadelphia Inquirer (Reuters) 05/26/02

Friday May 24

NETWORK AUDIENCE DOWN AGAIN: US TV networks had an average prime time audience of about 45 million in the just-completed season. That's down 3 percent over the previous season, and continues a move of viewers to cable channels. Los Angeles Times 05/24/02

RADIO RALLY: Radio is undergoing a resurgence in the English countryside. "The almost biblical plagues that have afflicted the countryside in the past two years — the floods of 2000 and foot-and-mouth disease in 2001 — have given local radio a new passion and sense of purpose. Radio, after all, is the perfect crisis medium. It’s democratic: you can phone in and air your views. More important still, it’s low-tech. Newspapers stop coming when transport is blocked. Television and the Internet are no good without power or phone lines. But almost nothing can stop you listening to your old battery-powered trannie." The Times 05/24/02

Thursday May 23

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK: For the first time in recent memory, no American TV shows are being filmed in New York next season. Why? "Maybe there's a perception on the part of writer/producers, who are almost all in Los Angeles, that New York is a place that you don't want to be working in right now." New York Post 05/22/02

CBC LOCKOUT ENDS: Workers at the French-language Radio-Canada and CBC networks in Quebec will return to their jobs tomorrow after a bitter, 64-day lockout over wages and job security. Workers staged a one-day walkout in late March, and the network responded with the lockout, which appears to have successfully worn down the union members. The contract approved yesterday is said to be "only marginally better than the one they rejected last week by three votes." Montreal Gazette 05/23/02

Wednesday May 22

LATIN BAN AT CANNES? "The Cannes film festival is ignoring an important revival in Latin American cinema, according to Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles... Two Mexican films, the critically-acclaimed Y Tu Mama Tambien and Amores Perros, have helped boost the international profile of Latin American film after a long period of perceived stagnation. But no Latin American films have been selected to compete for the coveted Palme d'Or award." BBC 05/22/02

VIDEO GAMES AS ART (REALLY, IT'S CLASSIC): Video games already outsell movies. Pretty soon they'll outsell music as well. But do they mean anything as art? "In many ways computer games offer something that works of art have been attempting since the Renaissance. Art historians have commented that the German Romantic painter, Casper David Friedrich painted from what would appear to be an impossible perspective - as if he were floating high above the ground. And think of Picasso, wrestling with the possibilities of cubism, trying to see from all angles simultaneously. The artist wants to be all-seeing, everywhere at once. The new games let us see the world from wherever we wish. Indeed, they let us construct that world completely." London Evening Standard 05/21/02

Tuesday May 21

FAILURE TO MIX: Another report blasts the lack of diversity on American prime time television. "Only 7 percent of TV situation comedies featured racially mixed casts, down more than 50 percent from the 2000-01 season. All of the series with all-black casts were comedies. The only programming genre considered '100 percent mixed' was wrestling." Boston Globe 05/21/02

CANNES EXPLORES VIOLENCE: "At this festival, the 55th, the violence and confusion that afflicts societies from Asia to the Americas have also found their way onto the screens of the Palais des Festivals. Filmmakers from different backgrounds, working in wildly eclectic styles, use the medium to explore, with varying degrees of success, histories of poverty, war, communal hatred and the way these histories continue to shadow contemporary daily life." The New York Times 05/21/02

TRAILING EDGE: Movie trailers are a big business in themselves, and studios are spending ever more time and money on creating new ways to hook an audience. "A recent survey by Variety, the Hollywood trade paper, and Moviefone found that ticket buyers cited in-theater trailers as the biggest influence on their movie choices, followed by television, newspapers and the Internet." Chicago Tribune 05/21/02

Friday May 17

MOVIE AS COMMUNITY: Why are so many people lining up overnight to get into openings of big movies? "Whether motivated by the dark side of the force (competition, pride) or the light (punctuality, promptness) – or just suckered by advertising hype – the movie-going norm is shifting as Americans clamor to share in the collective experience of a movie event. 'It's a huge shared ritual. It means on Monday morning, around the watercooler, there's a notion of a shared experience'." Christian Science Monitor 05/17/02

DIGITAL TRACTION: Digital movies are getting attention in this year's Cannes Festival. Getting the most publicity is George Lucas, who's on a digital crusade. But four of the movies in the Cannes Film Festival's main competition were shot digitally. From China, Russia, Britain and Iran, they all went digital for different creative or practical reasons. Toronto Star (AP) 05/17/02

Thursday May 16

TAXING PROPOSAL: Canada proposes to levy a tax on the sale of digital storage devices. "The fee, based on storage capacity, would add $132 (210 Canadian dollars) to the $500 price of a 10-gigabyte Apple iPod, for example. The collective is also asking the board to introduce a $1.43 copying fee on recordable DVD's and to triple, to 39 cents, a fee imposed two years ago on recordable CD's. The fees are intended to compensate members of the music industry for the use of recordings." The New York Times 05/16/02

I WANT MY DAB: "Digital radio has been available free of charge in most British homes for seven years. So why can't you hear it? It's a sad old story. Not for the first time, Britain has invented an idea and lost the race to exploit it. In radio we were first to Marconi's wire, first to a public broadcasting network and now first to DAB." London Evening Standard 05/15/02

Wednesday May 15

WHY CANNES? Given the proliferation of international film festivals, "why is Cannes still considered the most important film festival in the world? It has something to do with the distinction of its past, built upon with an iron determination to let glamour support art, and vice versa, but as much with the fact that almost every film-maker in the world still wants his or her latest offering in competition." The Guardian (UK) 05/15/02

Tuesday May 14

CENSORSHIP STANDS: The Australian state of Victoria wanted to overturn a national censor board ruling that banned the French film Baise-Moi. But after looking into it, the state's attorney general says there's nothing the state can do. "We don't have any power (to overturn the ban). We don't have any power to review the review. We will adhere to the ultimate decision of the umpire, but the process has been appalling." The Age (Melbourne) 05/14/02

  • Previously: BANNED FILM SHUT DOWN: "New South Wales police last night closed down screenings of Baise-Moi at the Valhalla and Chauvel cinemas in Sydney. Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia had dropped the film from their schedules last week. Melbourne cinema-goers were undeterred by the controversy, many queuing in the rain in Lonsdale Street last night, saying the widely reported ban had encouraged them to see the film." The Age (Melbourne) 05/13/02 

THUMB-SUCKING: What's happened to Canadian movie critics? "While most Canadian critics are giving decent performances, true criticism is taking a supporting role to quick-hit reviews and simple 'I liked it' plot summaries. And it's not necessarily the critics' fault. The thinking at dailies seems to be that readers are looking for advice only on whether or not to spend their $12." Ryerson Journalism Review Summer 02

Monday May 13

BANNED FILM SHUT DOWN: "New South Wales police last night closed down screenings of Baise-Moi at the Valhalla and Chauvel cinemas in Sydney. Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia had dropped the film from their schedules last week. Melbourne cinema-goers were undeterred by the controversy, many queuing in the rain in Lonsdale Street last night, saying the widely reported ban had encouraged them to see the film." The Age (Melbourne) 05/13/02 

  • Previously: DEFYING THE CENSORS: The Australian Classification Review Board banned the graphically explicit French film Baise-moi last week, even though the movie has been showing in Australian cinemas for over a month. The decision has prompted an outcry, and several cinemas are continuing to screen the film in defiance of the order. The Age (Melbourne) 05/12/02

TRIBECA FEST A SUCCESS: The TriBeCa Film Festival wasn't designed to be the most innovative or unusual film festival in America - it was created to revive business in a section of Manhattan which was devastated by the 9/11 attacks. As it happens, it accomplished that goal, and also turned out to be a darned fine film festival, pulled off in record time. New York Post 05/13/02

PIRATE CLONES: The new Star Wars installment is out - on computer. Bootleg copies are out and being traded on the internet even before the movie has made it to movie theaters. "The copy was made at an early screening of the movie, using a tripod-mounted digital camcorder pointed at the screen. Another apparently employed a more sophisticated version of the same technique." The Age (Melbourne) 05/13/02

ART TAKEN OFFLINE: An internet art project that scans the net probing for ways into other computers has been taken offline by the museum that is hosting it. The New Museum of Contemporary Art took the work offline on Friday "because the work was conducting surveillance of outside computers. It is not clear yet who is responsible for the blacking out — the artists, the museum or its Internet service provider — but the action illuminates the work's central theme: the tension between public and private control of the Internet." The New York Times 05/13/02

FILMS OF SUMMER: Summer is important not just for escapist studio blockbusters, but for smaller independent films too. "In the past five years, non-studio movies have regularly chalked up between 7% and 10% of overall ticket sales. Because they are not competing with the studios' meatier Oscar-caliber films, which are primarily crammed into the last six weeks of every calendar year, summer independent releases have consistently been able to stand out with reviewers and linger in the memory long enough to garner mention on 10-best lists at the end of the year. Los Angeles Times 05/12/02

Sunday May 12

AUSSIE FILM INSTITUTE MAKING CUTS: "A financial crisis within Australia's premier film culture body, the Australian Film Institute, has prompted the resignations of three board members and forced the organisation to severely cut back its operations. The AFI is to axe its sales and distribution department, cut its events program and is negotiating to halve the rental bill on its South Melbourne office by sharing with another film organisation." The Age (Melbourne) 05/12/02

MISSING THE POINT OF MATRIMONY: Why does every movie about marriage seem, ultimately, to be about adultery? Surely real life doesn't unfold this way for every married couple. "Part of the problem is that American movies act as if marriage is only about the two people who promise to spend their lives together and not about all the other people who share in that shared life." Boston Globe 05/12/02

DEFYING THE CENSORS: The Australian Classification Review Board banned the graphically explicit French film Baise-moi last week, even though the movie has been showing in Australian cinemas for over a month. The decision has prompted an outcry, and several cinemas are continuing to screen the film in defiance of the order. The Age (Melbourne) 05/12/02

Friday May 10

NO HARM, NO FOUL? Should the Australian ratings board ban the French film Baise-moi? There is pressure for it to do so from morality watchdogs, who say that  "no harm will come from banning the film while a great deal of harm will come if it is released". But "in attempting to assert the narrowest version of public morality the guardians not only seek to make children of us all, they threaten the concept of an open society and its citizens' freedom of choice." The Age (Melbourne) 05/10/02

WHY CANNES MATTERS: Cannes "has become the world's largest yearly media event, a round-the-clock cinematic billboard that in 1999 attracted 3,893 journalists, 221 TV crews, and 118 radio stations representing 81 countries. And then there are the films. For many film people, a first trip to Cannes is kind of a grail, a culmination that tells you, whether you're a journalist with a computer or a film-maker walking up the celebrated red carpet to the Palais du Festival for an evening dress-only screening, that you've arrived." The Guardian (UK) 05/10/02

  • KICK THE CANNES: "A leading Jewish organization is urging Hollywood figures to reconsider their plans to attend the Cannes Film Festival this month, citing a recent series of anti-Semitic attacks in France. In full-page ads in trade newspapers this week, the West Coast chapter of the American Jewish Congress compared the situation in contemporary France to the climate 60 years ago, when the anti-Semitic Vichy government was in power. " New York Post 05/10/02
  • CRONENBERG'S CANNES: No one could ever accuse David Cronenberg of lacking Hollywood's taste for excess. But aside from one or two brief flirtations, his career as a filmmaker has mostly taken place outside of Tinseltown, and his best films have achieved only "cult classic" status. His latest work is called Spider (no "man," thank you,) and it is Canada's only entry in the judging at this year's Cannes Film Festival, a fact of national pride which is not lost on Cronenberg. Toronto Star 05/10/02

THE MOST HATED MAN IN HOLLYWOOD? When Michael Ovitz, once the most powerful man in the movie industry, crashed and burned a couple years back, the glee emanating from the rest of Hollywood was palpable. Even for L.A., the schadenfreude seemed a bit much - how could Ovitz have turned off so may people so fast? An anonymous article purports to provide some answers. Chicago Tribune 05/10/02

Wednesday May 8

ARTHOUSE BLUES: Movie attendance goes up in Britain, but audiences for arthouse films are shrinking. One solution? The government will spend £17 million on the arthouse circuit. Some complain it's too little too late. Good movies are pricey, the prime demographic of yesteryear has abandoned art films, and advertising is expensive. Maybe independent film is dying? The Guardian (UK) 05/08/02

MORE THAN JUST GAMES: Video games are quickly becoming the entertainment of choice for much of the electronic world. They make "more money than the movie business (£10.3 billion last year to the film industry’s £8.2 billion). In the UK we spend more on games than we do on videos or cinema tickets and it is expected that sales of games will soon surpass sales of music too. Despite this success, video games have spent much of the last 40 years being maligned as a low-brow form of entertainment. But now, it seems, video games may at last be about to gain at least a degree of acceptance from the art world." The Scotsman 05/08/02

Tuesday May 7

NEW UK MEDIA RULES: Proposed new laws to regulate media companies are being introduced in Britain today. "As well as regulating commercial broadcasters, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell says she wants to see a 'level playing field' between those companies and the BBC." BBC 05/07/02

WHAT'S REAL? "The quest for cinema truth has existed since the early days of Russian Kino-Pravda; but the idea flourished in the Sixties, mainly because of the advent of light- weight cameras and sound recorders, and fast film requiring minimal lighting. Modern digital cameras mean that cinema truth and its offshoot, reality television, are, in practical terms at least, more tenable than ever. And yet, paradoxically, there is nothing real about what passes for reality television today." New Statesman 05/06/02

Monday May 6

A FILM FOR ALL SEASONS: As the "summer movie season" pushes earlier and earlier into May, many movie studios are abandoning the idea of seasons for movies. "Opening movies in what used to be regarded as the off-season is an inevitable result of the studios placing more of their bets on 'franchise' pictures - that is, pictures with sequels - and other so-called event movies that typically benefit from heavy buzz and marketing." Orange County Register (WSJ) 05/05/02

Friday May 3

CANADIANS STILL VALUE CBC: CBC competitor Global TV wants the Canadian government to do away with the public broadcaster's subsidy. As part of its campaign, CanWest, Global's parent (and owner of most of Canada's newspapers) commissioned a poll to ask Canadians if funding should disappear. The poll came back with a strong no, and to CanWest's credit, its newspapers reported the results. Toronto Star 05/03/02

Thursday May 2

LONDON'S NEW ARTS RADIO: A new all-arts radio station hits the London airwaves. Its founders promise "no play lists, no smarmy DJs or pompous pundits, but a wide range of programmes made by artists representing the diversity of London's arts scene." The Guardian (UK) 05/01/02

NO SCIENCE ABOUT IT: This is the time of year American TV network execs determine what gets on the fall schedule. "Once a boisterous affair, with producers and studio executives passionately lobbying networks on behalf of programs, entertainment industry mergers have made those studios and networks siblings within the same corporate families. And while these step-kids might wrestle a bit with each other, ultimately a very few media barons serve as the arbiters of what gets on and stays on. So instead of a robust debate, the main gatekeepers engage in what has become little more than a high-stakes internal monologue." Los Angeles Times 05/01/02

  • Previously: TV PROGRAMMING - JUST PICK ONE: Four out of five TV series fail. And fail fast - sometimes in just a few episodes. Yet shows are the result of research, focus groups, testing, formulas and lots and lots of money. But for all the planning "TV programming is just another lottery. Pick one, and say your prayers. The networks call this 'churn,' probably because it describes the queasy feeling they get when specialty cable shows draw three times their numbers." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 04/30/02

Wednesday May 1

THE BATTLE FOR A DIGITAL FUTURE: Some content producers are trying to require copy protection technology on computers and entertainment devices. "At some date in the near future, perhaps as early as 2010, people may no longer be able to do the kinds of things they routinely do with their digital tools today. They may no longer be able, for example, to move music or video files easily from one of their computers to another, even if the other is a few feet away in the same house. Their music collections, reduced to MP3s, may be movable to a limited extent, unless their hardware doesn’t allow it. The digital videos they shot in 1999 may be unplayable on their desktop and laptop computers." Reason 05/02

NEW AMERICAN FILM UNION RULES ANGER AUSSIE PRODUCERS: In the American film industry's latest attempt to stem the flow of productions leaving the US to film in other countries America's actors union, the Screen Actors Guild, has "ordered its 98,000 members not to work on films, TV shows or theatrical productions in Australia, Canada or any other country unless they are offered an SAG contract." This has outraged Australian and Canadian producers who say "they will not be able to meet the rates and conditions set by SAG" and that their local film industries will suffer. The Age (Melbourne) 05/01/02