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ENTERTAINMENT NEWS
September 13

Entertainment News September 13 - TOP 3 Stories for Thursday

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IVT TO INVEST $400 MILLION FOR INDY PRODUCERS

ITV, Blighty’s biggest private terrestrial web, is setting up a £198 million ($400 million) war chest to invest in production companies in the U.S. and worldwide to beef up its content business.

The strategy, outlined Wednesday by executive chairman Michael Grade, aims to double the broadcaster’s content revenue from its present $1.2 billion to $2.4 billion by 2012.

“Reshaped, revitalized and redeployed, ITV’s unrivaled assets will ensure that it is once again a top- and bottom-line growth business,” Grade said. “The old ITV competed in a £6 billion ($12.2 billion) market—the U.K. television advertising and program market. The new ITV will be operating in a market worth double that.”

Under new ITV topper Dawn Airey, who joins the web next month as director of global content, the outfit hopes to increase revenues overseas by accelerating the development and production of long-running drama skeins, factual and entertainment formats and comedy.

As part of this effort, Airey will have up to $400 million raised from selling noncore assets to spend on shingles in markets where ITV already operates, including the U.S., where ITV owns Los Angeles-based Granada America.

The success of formats like “Hell’s Kitchen,” soon to return for a fourth season on Fox, indicates that ITV can generate a lot more coin overseas, claimed Grade.

A streamlined content arm headed by Airey, who will oversee ITV Prods., aims to raise the broadcaster’s game as a producer both in the U.K.—where Grade acknowledged there had been too much “rights leakage” to indies—and overseas.

ITV also outlined plans for youth-skewed digital web ITV2, which chief operating officer John Cresswell aims to position as Blighty’s fifth most popular network in the 16-34 demographic, overtaking terrestrial rival Five.

JON STEWART TO HOST THE OSCARS

Jon Stewart is coming back to host the Oscars. Producer Gil Cates announced that Stewart, who emceed in 2006, will make his second turn as host for the 80th Academy Awards, broadcast Feb. 24, 2008, from the Kodak Theatre and televised on ABC.

“I’m thrilled to be asked to host the Academy Awards for the second time because, as they say, the third time’s the charm,” said Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s popular series “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.”

Ellen DeGeneres hosted the Oscars in February and Chris Rock handled the duties in 2005.

“Jon was a terrific host for the 78th awards,” Cates said. “He is smart, quick, funny, loves movies and is a great guy. What else could one ask for?”

Stewart is exec producer as well as host of the Emmy-winning “The Daily Show” and the author of “America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction,” which was on the New York Times bestseller list for 46 consecutive weeks.

On the film side, he has appeared in “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” “Death to Smoochy” and provided voiceover work in “Doogal.”

In Stewart’s last turn as host, 38.9 million viewers watched the Oscars. Last year with DeGeneres on stage, 39.9 million tuned in.

'DEAD' SALE REANIMATES TORONTO MARKET

After a modest day, the relatively dead Toronto market rose to life late Tuesday as North American rights, including Mexico, for "George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead" went to the Weinstein Co. for $2 million-$2.5 million.

Earlier in the day, North American rights for Tom McCarthy's "The Visitor" went to Overture Films, and Alan Ball's "Nothing Is Private" went to Warner Independent Pictures and Netflix's Red Envelope Entertainment for more than $1 million each.

And Sidney Kimmel Entertainment completed a three-picture distribution deal with Canada's Equinoxe Films that encompassed the warmly received Toronto premiere "Lars and the Real Girl," starring Ryan Gosling.

WIP and REE jointly acquired Ball's adaptation of Alicia Erian's novel "Towelhead," the most controversial film of the fest, for $1 million-$1.5 million. WIP, which also took an Eastern European territory, is eyeing a mid-2008 domestic release.

The story of a 13-year-old Arab-American girl's adolescent awakening, "Nothing" stars Aaron Eckhart, Toni Collette, Maria Bello and newcomer Summer Bishil and also features graphic scenes involving menstruation, rape, racist language and an all-too-May-December romance. It received many good reviews, but provoked equally passionate positive and negative reactions from buyers and audiences, making it a brave choice for its distributors.

"Nothing" already has received an R rating, but according to a source close to the deal, will be cut solely for length from its current 134-minute running time.

"Alan's film is provocative, warm-hearted and is sure to create a lot of discussion as his past work on 'American Beauty' and 'Six Feet Under' has," WIP head Polly Cohen said.

In one of the fest's most lingering and anticipated sales, new indie distributor Overture picked up all North American rights to writer-director Thomas McCarthy's quiet character portrait and immigration drama "The Visitor" early Tuesday morning for more than $1 million, plus boxoffice and ancillary bonuses for the filmmakers. The Groundswell Prods./Participant Prods. feature is the first film financed, produced and sold under Michael London's Groundswell banner.

Early word was that the sale ran late Monday because new buyers entered the picture after positive reviews. But a production source claimed Tuesday morning that another reason was to work out a large marketing/distribution commitment and hefty share of theatrical and home video for Groundswell and Participant.

"It puts a human face on the issue of immigration and illuminates it in a really beautiful and compelling way," said Participant president Ricky Strauss, who had already been talking to Overture about doing projects and said Overture was the most aggressive and passionate suitor circling the film. An Oscar-qualifying run is one option under consideration.

The latest sequel to Romero's 1968 horror classic "Night of the Living Dead" closed Tuesday night after several offers were considered, including some for video-only distribution. The Weinstein Co. deal includes a theatrical commitment. Several sales were up in the air late Tuesday: Stuart Townsend's "Battle in Seattle"—both First Look Studios and ThinkFilm are said to be interested—could possibly close a deal today. Bernie Goldmann and Melisa Wallack's "Bill," from stalwart GreeneStreet Films, also is in play.

Genre-friendly distributors such as the Weinstein Co. and Magnolia, sporting its new Magnet label, are eyeing Dario Argento's "Mother of Tears." The all-star documentary "Trumbo" could go by Wednesday, and Stuart Gordon's horror film "Stuck" has emerged as a dark horse candidate.

Meanwhile, Julie Taymor's "Across the Universe" had its gala presentation Monday night, and despite the reported battles the production encountered in the editing suites, the movie surprised many. "If you like the Beatles, you'll like it," said one exec, while acknowledging that the movie's commercial prospects could go either way.

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