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

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Monday December 31

THE LOWLY WRITER: So TV writers' pay is getting cut because the American networks are losing money? No one's getting rich here, certainly not writers. "There are about 150 series per year with about an average of 10 staffers each, or about 1,500 staff writer/writer-producer, prime-time jobs per year. There are a required two freelance scripts given out per series for a maximum of about 300 freelance scripts per year. That's 1,800 possible jobs being fought for by over 10,000 active WGA West members (not including East Coast WGA members) and the additional how-many-more tens of thousands more non-guild members attempting to break in." Los Angeles Times 12/31/01

  • Previously: LOWLY SCREENWRITERS REGAIN THEIR LOWLY PLACE: For a brief time in the mid-90s, screenwriters were pulling in multi-million-dollar contracts for scripts they hadn't even written yet. But after some high-profile flops, "screenwriters are back to being the bastard children of Hollywood. There was a bit of a backlash to all the big screenplay deals in the late 80's and early 90's. We're paying for it now." The New York Times 12/09/01 (one-time registration required for access)

NOT INTERESTED IN DIGITAL TV: One year after digital TV became available in Australia, fewer than 10,000 Australian households have bought digital converters. That's 80 percent below projections. "Advocates of the new digital technology - which allows for interactive viewing - hope for improved sales next year." Sydney Morning Herald 12/31/01

THE STAR IS A MURDERER? The Iranian movie Kandahar has had rave reviews in the international press this year. "However, it is now being claimed that one of the film's amateur actors is in fact the prime suspect in a political assassination that took place more than 20 years ago." BBC 12/30/01

Sunday December 30

AT ODDS WITH THE CRITICS: The Top 10 Movie lists of critics and audiences are very different. "Comparing our Top 10 list with theirs is like scanning the menus at McDonald's and Chez Panisse. Both have potatoes. We loved Rush Hour 2. The critics adored The Man Who Wasn't There. We dug The Mummy Returns. They preferred Ghost World. Not a single foreign word appears on our list." So what good are critics? Washington Post 12/27/01

ANOTHER SIGN OF MOVIES MOVING OUT OF AMERICA: Every American state has one - a state film office that markets locations and facilitates permits for the movie industry. Now Washington State, which attracted $50 million worth of movie business in 2000, is considering closing its film office because of huge state revenue shortfalls. One reason for the cut? Movie business has dried up in the state as productions shoot in Canada. Seattle Times 12/30/01

Friday December 28

THE EVIL THAT IS HOLLYWOOD: Is the Hollywood film industry "a sort of Frankenstein that has high-concepted itself into a weird, ugly blandness while stomping on fragile cinematic cultures worldwide even as it attempts to befriend, co-opt, and sometimes imitate them?" A new book charges corruption and coziness between Hollywood and the American government, which encourages a bland status quo. American Prospect 12/17/01

  • CONSPIRACY OR PLAIN INCOMPETENCE? So when exactly did Hollywood go bad? The whole culture of big-budget filmmaking is so generic and unadventurous that even as earth-shaking an event as 9/11 failed to change anything in the long term. And most films these days seem to be little more than "sense-stimulating bombardments designed for pacification and crude social programming." The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 12/28/01

Thursday December 27

SUCCESS ABROAD DOESN'T TRANSLATE AT HOME: India is the biggest producer of movies in the world. But India's film industry is trying to crack the world movie market outside India. Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Ghum ("Sometimes Joy Sometimes Sorrow") is the most expensive Indian film ever made. "The 400 million rupee ($8.3 million) production made it to number three in Britain in its first week, the highest position an Indian movie has ever reached in the British top ten, and earned 450,000 pounds ($647,000) in the weekend ending Dec. 16." But at home the movie is not faring well... Nando Times (AP) 12/24/01

TOTAL OVERREACTION 101: In the mid-90s, the satirist Christopher Buckley penned a novel in which Big Tobacco concocted a scheme to pay Hollywood to feature its top actors and actresses smoking onscreen. There's no evidence that this ever actually happened, but an astounding number of movie characters seem to be leaning fairly heavily on the nicotine crutch these days, even as "real" people are cutting down. One California professor is agitating for an automatic 'R' rating for any film containing smoking. San Francisco Chronicle 12/27/01

DIETRICH AT 100: "Marlene Dietrich's 100th birthday is being celebrated in Berlin, the home city of the late Hollywood star." Among many events celebrating Germany's dark diva, "the Berlin Film Museum is staging a special exhibition and showing never-before-seen private films of the late star." BBC 12/27/01

Wednesday December 26

THE NEED FOR QUALITY TV: Many critics have been predicting the end of quality television drama. "Television’s perennial problem, which can only worsen during an economic downturn, is that 'formulaic' is far cheaper than 'original'." But “unless television produces big, event pieces that cannot be seen anywhere else, it’s just going to become an output box for movies — a worthless piece of machinery.” The Times (UK) 12/26/01

BOOKS ON SCREEN: "The process of turning novels into movies is an inexact science. When it happens, it happens. Getting there, novelists and filmmakers said, can be delicate and harrowing." Los Angeles Times 12/26/01

Monday December 24

THE DIGITAL MARCH: Digital art flourished in 2001, even as the Dot-bust gained momentum. Perhaps they were motivated by the recognition that making digital art might yield greater, if less tangible, rewards. 'We're past the initial glow of excitement about a new medium. Now the challenge is to take this beyond a small group of intrepid explorers and the gee-whiz of a new technology and into an art form that can engage a larger audience and sustain itself in the long run'." New York Times 12/24/01 (one-time registration required

Friday December 21

AWARDS SEASON GETS GOING: The Golden Globe nominations help clarify the Oscar field. "The competition for best dramatic film pits A Beautiful Mind, Ron Howard's adaptation of the story of a brilliant but schizophrenic mathematician, which earned six nominations, against Peter Jackson's epic adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; Todd Field's intense In the Bedroom, about a middle- aged couple torn apart by the murder of their son; David Lynch's nightmarish and enigmatic Mulholland Drive; and Joel Coen's black- and-white neo-noir The Man Who Wasn't There." The New York Times 12/21/01 (one-time registration required for access)

NOT TO MENTION THE PRICE OF REAL ACTORS: Animation used to take time: each frame was a separate work of art, and 7200 of them were needed for a five minute film. But with computer techniques, the task has been considerably quickened and simplified. Add to that an audience willing to accept a less-polished look, and suddenly there's a rush of animated films showing up on line, at festivals, and in theaters. Wired 12/20/01

JOKE-WORTHY: How will we know when computers can really think? One criterion might be the ability to tell a joke. Off the evidence so far, computers still fall short. In a recent survey of humor - 100,000 people from 69 countries - the jokes generated by computers were far less funny than those made up by people. Then again, maybe we just don't know what computers laugh at. The New Scientist 12/20/01

Thursday December 20

RECORD YEAR FOR MOVIES: Hollywood has already surpassed its biggest grossing year - last year's record $7.7 billion. "We're definitely going to surpass $8 billion - it's just a matter of by how much." BBC 12/19/01
  • THE BILLION DOLLAR CLUB: Think it was a bad year for movies? Think again. Three Hollywood movie studies each made more than a billion dollars this year. "Buena Vista International, a unit of entertainment giant Walt Disney Co has joined fellow studios Warner Bros and Universal in hitting the coveted target, marking the first time since 1999 that three studios have hit the billion mark." Sydney Morning Herald (AFP) 12/20/01

THE EMPEROR'S NEW MOVIE: The movie Mulholland Drive was put together with left-over bits of a rejected network TV series. Critics across the country love it, but "their endorsement reflects the ultimate example of intellectual hubris - the assumption if you don't understand it, it must be brilliant. Because the film was stitched together with less of a blueprint than Frankenstein's monster. Not to sound like an old fuddy-duddy, but the only real problem with Mulholland Dr. the movie, is that due to the way Lynch patched it together, it makes absolutely no sense." Los Angeles Times 12/19/01

  • Previously: NY CRITICS IGNORE HOLLYWOOD BLOCKBUSTERS: "In a snub to Hollywood, the New York Film Critics Circle yesterday named David Lynch's cryptic, arty thriller Mulholland Drive the best movie of 2001. At the same time, In the Bedroom, the directorial debut by actor Todd Field, snagged three prizes, best actor (Tom Wilkinson), best actress (Sissy Spacek) and best first film." New York Post 12/14/01

THE NEW NEMESIS OF FRENCH FILM: "When French media mogul Jean- Marie Messier announced he had bought the entertainment arm of USA Networks in a multibillion-dollar deal, stock markets cheered but the French cinema world went into mourning. Film producers fear the deal, which gives Messier's Vivendi Universal conglomerate a U.S. outlet for its blockbuster movies like Jurassic Park and The Mummy, will sound the death knell for the financing system that is the lifeblood of French film." MSNBC 12/20/01

Wednesday December 19

NAVEL-GAZING OF THE BEST KIND: The story couldn't be any more perfect for Hollywood. A bitter, divisive politician gains an inordinate amount of power in a difficult time for the nation, and draws up a list of people who are anti-American, parading them and their supposed wrongs in public view, ruining careers, families, and lives before he is finally stopped by the prevailing of common sense. So why has it taken so long for a decent movie to be made about Joe McCarthy's blacklist? The Christian Science Monitor 12/19/01

Tuesday December 18

VALENTI'S (NOT-SO-VEILED) THREAT: Motion picture industry lobbyist Jack Valenti took his campaign for new forms of digital copyright protection to a government-organized technodweeb seminar this week, warning that if new forms of encryption are not voluntarily developed for the predicted influx of broadband video content, he and his pals in Congress will not hesitate to force the issue. Wired 12/18/01

DISNEY BUYS HIGH-PLACED HELP: The Disney Company is competing with the BBC as commercial broadcasters go head to head on new services with the government-owned broadcaster. Now Disney has hired former culture minister Chris Smith as a "senior consultant" "Mr Smith's appointment comes in the run-up to the planned launch by the BBC of two new children's digital channels, which will be competing with Disney for an audience." BBC 12/18/01

Monday December 17

CULTURE WIRE: All over Europe, new cultural centers devoted to digital art are coming into being. "We want to bring digital art and its creation to a wider audience, as well as provide a suitable base for artists-in-residence to use the Cube as a type of personal studio. We also want to function as a sort of creative launching-pad for artists to explore new forms of artistic expression using digital technologies." Wired 12/17/01

REAL MONEY: The thing about TV reality shows is - they're cheap to make. You have to pay actors a lot of money, while reality TV participants get peanuts. Participants on MTV's The Real World have been paid as little as $5000 in one-time payments for their participation, even as the shows have found a lucrative afterlife in reruns. Now, some of the Real Worlders are demanding more of the pie. The New York Times 12/16/01 (one-time registration required for access)

Sunday December 16

NOT OKAY TO BE SMART: "In Hollywood, you can never be too rich or too thin, but you can be too smart. It's OK to have a beautiful face. It's not OK to have a beautiful mind. Smart people are socially inept, inward-looking and compulsive, bedeviled by their obsession with whatever it is that they do, be it mathematics, piano, painting, lexicography, chess, cryptography or just general "Jeopardy!"-like knowledgeableness. Lurking in the background is the computer nerd. There has been a frenzy of projects featuring such characters recently, and there's more to come." Los Angeles Times 12/16/01

THE PROBLEM WITH DIGITAL ART: "Galleries don't really show a lot of new media - it's hard for them to present it. It's not like a painting that they know how to hang. Another problem is commercial: Many pieces aren't meant to be sold, and in any case, the market for such works is small. Part of that is due to newness; part is due to 'problems of the future' - like, is there tech support for the art when things break down?" Los Angeles Times 12/16/01

ALL ABOUT DREAMING: The movies encourage dreaming. But "a trio of films that ask us to dream about dreaming. Like other recent movies – including the virtual reality universe of The Matrix and the disorienting backward narrative of Memento – the new dream movies look to shake up our thinking and get us to question our perceptions of reality. They don't just feature dream sequences; they want us to think about the process of dreaming itself. But they also go a step further by making the connection between dream and death." Dallas Morning News 12/16/01

ALL ABOUT THE SCREENWRITING... How is it that a country that could produce Shakespeare has so few decent screenwriters? "There's a dearth of film dramatists in this country. When you try to think of writers to attach to projects it's very hard. You could recite a rosary of [accomplished] British screenwriters and it wouldn't go beyond a few... " The Guardian (UK) 12/15/01

Friday December 14

FINALLY - PEACE AT PACIFICA: The board of Pacifica Radio Network has been at war with some of its long-time fans and supporters for two years as the board tried to professionalize the operation while listeners (and many staff) tried to preserve the network's alternative community base. Now the factions have come to a settlement that will return control of Pacifica's stations back to local interests. San Francisco Chronicle 12/13/01

NY CRITICS IGNORE HOLLYWOOD BLOCKBUSTERS: "In a snub to Hollywood, the New York Film Critics Circle yesterday named David Lynch's cryptic, arty thriller Mulholland Drive the best movie of 2001. At the same time, In the Bedroom, the directorial debut by actor Todd Field, snagged three prizes, best actor (Tom Wilkinson), best actress (Sissy Spacek) and best first film." New York Post 12/14/01

Thursday December 13

ARTS ON AUSSIE TV - M.I.A.: For the first time in a decade, the Australian Broadcasting Company doesn't have an arts magazine to broadcast in prime time. "The ABC is now asking whether the arts-magazine format has had its day and whether a more cost-effective and successful way to cover the arts is through documentaries and specials." The question is whether ABC is living up to its charter obligation to provide arts programming. The Age (Melbourne) 12/13/01

WHO KNEW THEY HAD A UNION? "On Wednesday, the Hollywood directors union reached a tentative deal on a new contract, almost seven months before the current agreement expires." Nando Times (AP) 12/12/01

Wednesday December 12

PAYING FOR WEBCASTING: The Canadian government is acting to stop free re-broadcasting of TV programs over the web. "For the first time, we're introducing creative recognition of artistic production on the Net. 'If you want to take someone else's signal, you'll have to pay for the creative rights. Producers and broadcasters have to pay the actors, pay the producers, pay the news people. This creates a level playing field between traditional forms of transmission, satellite and cable, and the Internet." Toronto Star 12/12/01

Monday December 10

PENALTIES FOR FILM SUBSIDIES? US filmworkers have filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Trade Commission "asking the government to examine the legality of Canada's subsidies to U.S. filmmakers. It proposes tariffs be levelled against U.S. filmmakers in the exact amount of the Canadian subsidy they receive." Predictably, Hollywood studios oppose the idea. Toronto Star 12/09/01

TECH PERFORMANCE: Some internet art is evolving into performance art. One project at the Brooklyn Academy of Music monitors "the live activity in thousands of Internet chat rooms and message boards, then converting these public conversations into a computer-generated opera. The New York Times 12/08/01 (one-time registration required for access)

Sunday December 9

THE POWER BEHIND THE AWARDS: We're getting into movie critic awards season. Though they're not as widely recognized by the general public, critics associations have enormous influence. "Film reviewers' organizations abound, but only three really rate in Hollywood: New York, L.A. and the overall National Society of Film Critics. These media prizes may be widely esteemed, insomnia-inducing and even copied by the Oscars, but they also have a scandalous history. The voting conclaves are so mysterious - and regarded by many as being so sacred - that it may seem as if the critics are powwowing to pick a pope, but in fact their secret antics can be quite devilish." Los Angeles Times 12/09/01

LOWLY SCREENWRITERS REGAIN THEIR LOWLY PLACE: For a brief time in the mid-90s, screenwriters were pulling in multi-million-dollar contracts for scripts they hadn't even written yet. But after some high-profile flops, "screenwriters are back to being the bastard children of Hollywood. There was a bit of a backlash to all the big screenplay deals in the late 80's and early 90's. We're paying for it now." The New York Times 12/09/01 (one-time registration required for access)

Friday December 7

ONE BILLION SERVED: "It is estimated that by the end of its cinema release more than one billion children will have seen Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. This is on top of the those who have read the books, which thus far have sold more than 160 million copies throughout the world." The Age (Melbourne) 12/08/01

Thursday December 6

TARGETING KIDS: Last year, the Federal Trade Commission reported that adult-rated movies, records, and electronic games were being marketed to children. This year, the FTC reports some improvement. "The movie and video game industries have largely stopped the direct targeting of adult-rated materials to children. The bad news is that the music industry has done little if anything to curb the marketing of inappropriate records to kids, or to provide parents with better information about lyrical content." Boston Globe 12/06/01

TRAILER TRASH: Is there a growing backlash against the pile-up of movie trailers theatres are forcing audiences to watch before the main attraction this holiday season? "Now, most moviegoers enjoy a trailer or two. But the half-dozen or more they get during the holiday season, when the studios trumpet new pictures, strikes some as too much of a good thing. Traffic in movie trailers has reached gridlock proportions." Philadelphia Inquirer 12/06/01

OR MAYBE THE SHOWS THEMSELVES ARE DUMB: Weakest Link and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire are still on the air - barely. "Viewers who once tuned in to watch ordinary people compete for big bucks are tuning out at the first glimpse of another tiresome group of pseudo-celebs - who have included everyone from grown-up Brady Bunch kids to Playboy Playmates. What ordinary people learn most often when celebrities take over a quiz show is that some celebrities are as dumb as fence posts." New York Post 12/06/01

Wednesday December 5

WALT'S CENTENARY: "Hollywood is celebrating the life and career of one of entertainment's most influential figures. Walt Disney, who would have been 100 years old on Wednesday, played a pivotal role in developing family entertainment - most significantly as a pioneering animator. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organisation which stages the Oscars, is presenting a special tribute at its Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills." BBC 12/05/01

  • HATING DISNEY: What could be more American than the love of that creator of Snow White, that father of The Mouse, that delighter of children worldwise, Walter E. Disney? Um, despising him, actually. Washington Post 12/05/01

Monday December 3

TOLKIEN FAMILY DISPUTE: A dispute over the soon-to-be-released Lord of the Rings movie has split members of the Tolkien family. "J. R. R. Tolkien signed away the film rights to The Lord of the Rings for just £10,000 in 1968, five years before his death at the age of 81." New Zealand Herald 12/03/01

Sunday December 2

THE PROBLEM WITH COMMUNITY STANDARDS: The movie Fat Girl has been banned in Ontario because it violates "community standards." Of all the reasons to ban something, this kis the most idiotic. "Quite simply, there is no community. There are thousands of communities. And there is no reason for the most conservative and least sophisticated of those communities to impose their standards - to impose what amounts, at root, to taste - on my community. Just as my community doesn't force other communities to watch French art films." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 12/01/01

THE NEW FACE OF ART FILMS: "A new kind of art house movie has come to town, a distinctive type of picture with its own audience that exists alongside traditional (and still very much admired) fare, but is as different from it as chalk proverbially is from cheese. Several qualities, at times together, at times standing alone, typify these new kinds of films. But it's what they lack that defines them: Let's call these features, for shorthand's sake, heartless art films. It's the new face of alternative cinema, so we'd better get used to it." Los Angeles Times 12/02/01

THE NEXT DISNEY? John Lasseter, the animation wiz behind Toy Story is being called the Walt Disney of the 21st Century. "He gives the impression of being a sane man who has, until recently, been considered crazy. 'In order to work in animation, part of you has to be a child that's never grown up." The Telegraph (UK) 12/01/01