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ENTERTAINMENT NEWS
September 29

Entertainment News September 29 - TOP 3 stories for Saturday

ALSO ON SITE

STUDIO and GUILD RELATIONS GROWING TOXIC

There's growing alarm about the toxic relations between management and the talent guilds, and with good reason. The Hollywood community increasingly is taking on some disturbing characteristics of Iraq. There are hints of tribalism where once there was unity, and the rhetoric has taken on a tone that is more messianic than rational.

So the big question is whether the negotiations, like the war, will become both self-destructive and interminable.

Surely the position of the studios wasn't enhanced last week by the ruling of a U.S. magistrate against New Line (a division of Time Warner). Judge Stephen J. Hillman found that New Line had either destroyed or failed to supply documents demanded by Jackson relating to the profits of his "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, which has sold $3 billion in tickets.

This charge of stonewalling wasn't exactly reassuring to the Writers Guild, which had just been told to adopt a "trust-me" attitude toward studio bookkeeping. Under the management proposal, the revenue stream would not be divided until the studios reached a certain break-even point -- self-defined. If, as the magistrate contended, New Line wouldn't give the numbers to the imperious Peter Jackson, would a studio be expected to respond to a lowly screenwriter? And won't this stalemate be exacerbated as new media markets continue to emerge?

To be sure, Warner Bros.' Barry Meyer has repeatedly complained that his studio must pay residuals on turkeys like "Pluto Nash" that will never realize any profits. The guilds would respond by asking whether Warner Bros. had voluntarily distributed any of its bonanza profits on "300"?

Further, writers are concerned because networks seem to be relying on non-union talent to create new online entertainment; they also believe they're being shortchanged on downloads of TV episodes. To the networks, all this does not as yet constitute "a business," while scribes feel they're being cut off at the digital frontier.

Hence, the reality is that the Writers Guild has issued a shrill battle cry, the studios have threatened a rollback and the Directors Guild, concerned by the angry exchanges, has decided to draw up its own strategy for early negotiations. On the face of things, it looks like the writers want to own the future while the directors want to own the bargaining table.

If neither side budges, the range of possibilities strains the imagination. The WGA could strike, but it runs the risk of defection by some of its loftiest members. Management could try a calculated lockout, but there are strong voices of dissent among the studios and networks, and hard-liners like Barry Meyer may not rule the day.

Thus far there's been more rhetoric than reason, but deadlines are suddenly approaching. The WGA contract expires Oct. 31, but few expect an immediate strike. The DGA contract expires June 30, the same day as SAG's, but while the directors habitually work from a carefully crafted script, the actors tend to be far more theatrical in their negotiating strategy.

There was a time when Universal's fabled Lew Wasserman would sit down with management and then with the Guilds and hammer out a deal. No one today wields Lew's hammer.

The Universal hierarch surely would be reminding his brethren that Hollywood is living very well at this moment, that the benefits packages are rich and so are the paychecks. A strike or lockout would have catastrophic results on all sectors of the community. The moves and countermoves already being made in anticipation of a strike are causing severe disruptions in the workflow.

Hollywood is too wealthy and well-calibrated to fall into tribalism. I don't want to face lunch with a studio Shiite. Or even a WGA Sunni.

NEW DIRECTORS GRABBING SPOTLIGHT IN HOLLYWOOD

Wannabe directors, listen up: This is a good moment to be a first-timer.

This year, nearly 30 newcomers have pics unspooling in theaters, double the number in 2006. And 20 more are lensing or readying to tackle projects that will bow next year.

The numbers aren't expected to go down anytime soon.

First-timers are proving especially attractive to Hollywood at a point when the biz is undergoing an extreme makeover.

For one thing, studios and producers are looking for ways to cut production costs across the board. Tyros work for lower fees and will agree to shorter shooting schedules.

And fresh blood is especially needed as Wall Street dollars launch indie ventures like Overture Films, Summit Entertainment, Sidney Kimmel, Mandate and a revamped MGM -- all of which are looking to fill production pipelines. These companies are often more open to new talent and don't have long-standing relationships with established directors.

They're also seeking talent capable of delivering the increasingly complex visuals auds are demanding in pics like "300."

These days, "first-timer" doesn't translate to "no experience."

Many in Hollywood's new crop of helmers have either directed foreign films, TV episodes, musicvids or commercials. Others have earned their production chops by having shot second unit on feature films, served as editors or f/x supervisors on studio pics or produced vidgames.

Still others are established actors and screenwriters, even former studio execs and architects.

They're landing high-profile projects like the "Harry Potter" or "Mission: Impossible" franchises, or pics headlined by George Clooney, Will Ferrell, Tom Cruise or Nicole Kidman.

"Talent is talent," says producer Adrian Askarieh, who along with Daniel Alter tapped first-timers to tackle three projects: "Hitman," bowing from Fox in November, and "Hack/Slash" and "Lost Squad" at Rogue Pictures. "Look at what Chris Nolan did with 'Memento' and Bryan Singer did with 'The Usual Suspects.'"

Among the latest to break through:

  • Thesps like Ben Affleck, Helen Hunt, Sarah Polley, David Schwimmer and Stuart Townsend bowed their first pics this year. Jada Pinkett Smith recently signed to direct "The Human Contract," and Dustin Hoffman is expected to get his first onscreen helming credit with "Personal Injuries."

  • Scribes Tony Gilroy (the "Bourne" franchise) and Alan Ball ("American Beauty") were in Toronto to tout their dramas "Michael Clayton" and "Nothing Is Private," respectively. John August's "The Nines" rolled out in August, Robin Swicord's "The Jane Austen Book Club" bowed in September, and Michael Dougherty ("Superman Returns," "X2") has "Trick 'r Treat" unspooling early next year. Earlier this year saw Scott Frank's pet project "The Lookout." All were pics the scribes had written.

    CBS WINS THURSDAY NIGHT TV LINEUP

    Paced by a strong start for "CSI" and winning performances by "Survivor" and "Without a Trace," CBS has captured the opening Thursday of the television season, according to preliminary Nielsen nationals. The Eye edged out the Alphabet for supremacy among adults 18-49 while winning rather comfortably among adults 25-54 and total viewers.

    NBC's "The Office" also opened the season strong, while ABC did OK with new drama "Big Shots" closing out the night.

    Although ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" (projected 8.8 rating/21 share in adults 18-49, 20.9 million viewers overall from 9 to 10:02 p.m.)remained the night's No. 1 program among adults 18-49, "CSI" (8.0/19 in 18-49, 24.8 million viewers overall) scored a rare victory over the medical drama in adults 25-54 (9.7/21 to 9.1/20) and was easily the night's most-watched program overall -- rising in all key categories from its year-ago premiere.

    "Grey's Anatomy" was down 20% from last year's premiere and delivered one of its lowest firstrun Thursday scores since bowing on the night a year ago. Still, it stands as premiere week's No. 1 premiere in adults 18-49, with "CSI" edging out Fox's "House" for the No. 2 spot.

    NBC was also looking good in the 9 o'clock hour with the one-hour season premiere of "The Office" (5.1/12 in 18-49, 9.7 million viewers overall), which matched its series high in 18-49 and was up nearly 10% year-to-year despite moving to a more competitive timeslot.

    CBS vet "Survivor" won to open the night (4.6/13 in 18-49, 14.2 million viewers overall) despite tumbling more than 25% year-to-year. ABC's second-place "Ugly Betty" (3.8/11 in 18-49, 11.0 million viewers overall) was off more than 20% itself, although this year's premiere was the show's best average since February. NBC was on ABC's heels with the one-hour premiere of "My Name Is Earl" (3.7/11 in 18-49, 8.5 million viewers overall), which was on par with its year-ago half-hour opener.

    And in the 10 o'clock hour, CBS was triumphant with the slot return of "Without a Trace" (4.8/13 in 18-49, 16.7 million viewers overall), which was up more than 15% from last year's debut of "Shark" in the time period. ABC ran a competitive second in the hour with the series premiere of "Big Shots" (projected 4.5/12 in 18-49, 11.0 million viewers overall), although the drama lost about 1 ratings point in the 10:30 half-hour. NBC's "ER" (4.1/11 in 18-49, 9.9 million viewers overall) ran third, off nearly 40% from its year-ago debut.

    Fox was pretty much on the sidelines Thursday with reality entries "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader" (2.0/6 in 18-49, 7.4 million viewers overall) and "Don't Forget the Lyrics" (1.8/4 in 18-49, 5.4 million viewers overall), while CW's "Smallville" was solid in kicking off its season at 8 (1.9/6 in 18-49, 5.1 million viewers overall).

    Preliminary 18-49 averages for the night: CBS, 5.8/15; ABC, 5.7/15; NBC, 4.3/11; Fox, 1.9/5; Univision, 1.7/4; CW, 1.4/4.

    In total viewers: CBS, 18.6 million; ABC, 14.4 million; NBC, 9.4 million; Fox, 6.4 million; CW and Univision, 3.8 million.

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