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ENTERTAINMENT NEWS
November 17

Entertainment News November 17 - TOP 3 Stories for Saturday

ALSO ON SITE

WRITERS, STUDIOS AGREE TO TALK

Studios and networks will resume negotiations with striking writers on Nov. 26.

The WGA remains on strike. The companies recently dropped their insistence that the strike had to stop, at least temporarily, as a condition of restarting negotiations.

The Friday night announcement came on the 12th day of the strike in the form of a joint statement from the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.

Both sides have agreed to a news blackout.

"Leaders from the AMPTP and the WGA have mutually agreed to resume formal negotiations on November 26," the statement said. "No other details or press statements will be issued."

Shortly after the joint statement was released, WGA West president Patric Verrone sent an email to the WGA membership.

"This announcement is a direct result of your efforts," Verrone said. "For 12 days I have repeated that a powerful strike means a short strike. ...Now it is equally important that we now prove that good news won't slow us down, either. We must remember that returning to the bargaining table is only a start. Our work is not done until we achieve a good contract and that is by no means assured. Accordingly, what we achieve in negotiations will be a direct result of how successfully we can keep up our determination and resolve."

Backchannel efforts have been ongoing throughout the strike to restart the talks, spurred partly by the fact that the negotiations were progressing on Nov. 4, the final day of bargaining. Since then, as job losses and show cancellations gained momentum, agents, high-profile screenwriters and showrunners have exerted pressure for a resumption of talks.

WGA leaders were angry over what they saw as a lack of substantive response by the AMPTP after the guild took its DVD residuals increase off the table. By contrast, the companies contended that they had made significant moves in new-media compensation for streaming video, providing a six-week window for promotion and giving the WGA jurisdiction over made-for-Internet work that was based on existing properties.

Verrone had indicated that for his union to restart negotiations, it needed to receive assurance that the companies would offer more in new media than they did on Nov. 4.

As for the companies, AMPTP president Nick Counter had said he needed to be convinced that the guild wanted to make a deal. He had moved away from last week's stance that the guild would have to stop striking in order to return to the table.

"For true negotiations to take place, there has to be some expectation that a deal can be made, but by their past actions and their current rhetoric that certainly doesn't appear to be the case," Counter said in his most recent statement.

DAVINCI PREQUEL HIT BY STRIKE

Sony's "Angels & Demons" has become the first major casualty of the ongoing writers strike.

Studio said Friday that it is postponing production on the Tom Hanks starrer, which is a prequel to last year's megahit "The Da Vinci Code." Sources said the script, which was penned by "Da Vinci" scribe Akiva Goldsman, was rushed to meet the WGA's Nov. 1 deadline for reaching a new contract with producers, and came in with insurmountable problems. Furthermore, no cast had signed on beyond Hanks.

The Vatican-set thriller was scheduled to begin shooting in February, with Ron Howard at the helm. Studio had set a Christmas 2008 release date.

"While the filmmakers and the studio feel the screenplay is very strong, we do not believe it is the fully realized production draft required of this ambitious project," a Sony spokesperson said. "At this time, there is no new start date for 'Angels & Demons,' but we are setting a release date of May 15, 2009, and are hopeful to deliver the movie worldwide to theaters on that date. We do not expect any other film on our 2008 slate to be affected."

Move is significant because it puts Hanks back in play to book one project before a potential SAG and DGA strike in June.

OSCAR RACE RULES CHANGING

The next few weeks are crucial -- not just for the box office, but for the awards season.

"Usually by this time, you can start betting on one or two movies for a best picture nomination," says one strategist. "But not this year."

Awards campaigns are always stressful, but the tension may have hit an all-time high -- because the uncertainty of this season started last season.

Strategists were hit by the double whammy of "Dreamgirls" and "The Departed." The former had six months of Internet buzz as the front-runner for best picture and won a Golden Globe, but failed to land an Oscar nomination; even after the latter opened, Warner Bros. execs insisted that "Departed" was not a best picture contender. It ended up winning the top prize.

With the rules being broken, strategists knew they had to do things differently, so this year they're making some changes:

  • They're betting more on crowd-pleasers. "3:10 to Yuma," "Juno" and "Hairspray" are getting campaigns, partly encouraged by the fall crop of "serious" films that failed to ignite.

  • Some big-studio films are adopting a "Departed"-like slow timing. The myth is that Warner Bros. never campaigned for "Departed." It did -- but the crusading started in December, even though it opened in early October. This year a lot of key films have not been widely seen, including "Sweeney Todd," "Charlie Wilson's War," "The Golden Compass," "The Great Debaters" and "I Am Legend." So for now, it's all quiet on the western front, but expect campaigns for a lot of films to kick into high gear in December.

  • The specialty divisions have started screenings earlier than ever, trying to build buzz before the year-end onslaught. Miramax began screening "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" in September, though it bows in December. Paramount Vantage's "The Kite Runner" had its official Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences screening unusually early: November, a month before its theatrical bow.

  • DVDs are going out earlier as well. Fox Searchlight sent "The Namesake," "Once" and "Waitress" to awards voters Sept. 4, beating the previous record-holder for an early mailing (Sony Pictures Classics' "Junebug") by nearly a month. Oscar voters got "Things We Lost in the Fire" on Oct. 19, the day it bowed on the bigscreen; Paramount Vantage's "Margot at the Wedding" arrived Nov. 15, the day before its U.S. bow.

  • They're tubthumping films that are hard to find. Studios like to open awards hopefuls in the fall and keep them playing on the bigscreen, particularly in Los Angeles and New York, during the November to December campaigns. But many of the fall openers disappeared after a few weeks, meaning studios are running campaigns for films in limbo: They have exited theaters but the DVDs haven't yet arrived.

    As one exec says, "Voters are seeing the big stuff at theaters, but they're waiting for the DVDs to watch all the depressing movies."

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