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NEWS
October 20

Entertainment News October 20 - TOP 3 Stories for Saturday

ALSO ON SITE

SEE what Matthew Toffolo Learned Yesterday

WGA WRITERS VOTE TO STRIKE

The WGA's negotiating team has its strike authorization, with 90.3 percent of those returning ballots voting to grant the authority.

The town won't know whether guild leaders will actually exercise that authority until after a current contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers expires on Oct. 31. But with the vote, WGA members have authorized the calling of a strike any time after that date -- if guild brass determines a walkout would be strategically beneficial.

Industryites may get more of an idea whether an actual strike still can be averted when the WGA and the AMPTP return to the bargaining table on Monday. The parties have been talking since July 16, and the thorny matter of Internet compensation and other pay issues appear as nettlesome as ever.

Meanwhile, the guild's effort to turn out a big vote in favor of strike authorization appears to have worked, with officials claiming the number of ballots returned represents the largest vote turnout in WGA history. WGA West members cast "almost 5,000" ballots and WGA East members "almost 1,000" for a total of 5,507 votes, they said.

"I am both impressed and gratified by this vote," WGAW president Patric Verrone said. "It shows an overwhelmingly engaged and activated community of writers who care about this negotiation and support our goals. It is now up to the AMPTP companies to begin to bargain seriously concerning the issues important to our members."

"Writers do not want to strike, but they are resolute and prepared to take strong, united action to defend our interests," Verrone said. "What we must have is a contract that gives us the ability to keep up with the financial success of this ever-expanding global industry."

Said WGAE president Michael Winship: "We're gratified by the massive show of solidarity our members have given our negotiating team by voting in such overwhelming numbers for a strike authorization.

"Our negotiators can now begin the next round of bargaining strengthened by the knowledge that their hard work and commitment to a fair, meaningful contract -- no matter what it takes -- are so fully recognized and supported by television and screenwriters across the country," Winship continued. "This historic vote sends an unequivocal message to the AMPTP, loud and clear. We will not be taken advantage of and we will not be fooled."

OSCAR HOPEFULS HOLDING OFF

It used to be that you couldn't start tubthumping your Oscar movies too early. But thanks to the lessons of last year, many key contenders this year are holding back, wary of peaking too soon.

With some early fall releases having stumbled and the second wave of contenders yet to arrive, there are few sure bets this year.

And that's how everyone wants it. The big question is which films will emerge from that void.

October marks a midseason hump, when one batch of fest movies seems to have been filtered out of the race -- just a month ago, so many possibilities! -- and a clump of year-end releases are still to be seen.

"It's an odd year, because there's a fall box office malaise," says Sony PicturesClassics co-prexy Michael Barker, who has high hopes for France's foreign-language entry, the animated "Persepolis," which opens December 25. "The key is to make your film distinctive. The feeling is to look for the new."

A raft of well-liked movies are taking the usual fall fest and guild-screening route. "The rule of thumb if it's a crowd-pleaser," says one Oscar campaigner, "is screen it early and often."

That's the plan for World War II romance "Atonement" and the Coen brothers' Western "No Country for Old Men" as well as Jason Reitman's relationship comedy "Juno." Warner Bros. released the George Clooney lawyer drama "Michael Clayton" in October to strong reviews. And Universal is opening Ridley Scott's well-tracking "American Gangster," starring Denzel Washington as a Harlem kingpin, on Nov. 2.

All look likely to factor in this year's Oscar race.

But several studios are pulling back on the Oscar hype. This course correction is a reaction to last year's "Dreamgirls." Concerned about the commerciality of the $75 million Bill Condon musical starring an all-black cast, DreamWorks marketing exec Terry Press promoted "Dreamgirls" with early footage at Cannes in May plus later show-and-tells in Los Angeles. Critical and online buzz, based on only 20 minutes of footage, started predicting in May that the film was the Oscar frontrunner, which may have hurt the pic in the long run.

The advance hype pushed the glitzy musical to a $155 million worldwide gross and eight Oscar nominations. But what many remember, more than its two Oscar wins, is that "Dreamgirls" failed to land a best-picture slot.

"There's never an upside to positioning a big film as an Oscar contender," says one Oscar promoter. "The media does that for them anyway."

CLINTON, OBAMA LEAD WEB VOTE

With the Web having emerged as a vital front in the 2008 presidential election, the candidates' official Web sites are in position to be an important forum in the race to the White House.

According to Nielsen//NetRatings, the top Democratic candidates outpaced their Republican counterparts in August in terms of visits to their official Web sites. The sites for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were first and second, respectively, by a considerable margin, attracting more than 300,000 additional visitors for the month than John Edwards and Republican candidate Fred Thompson, their closest rivals.

In July, however, Obama had the most-visited site with Clinton leading all candidates in June in this metric.

Max Kalehoff, vp marketing for the newly formed Nielsen Online, stressed the importance of these official Web sites in the run-up to the election. He said that the presidential hopefuls, like any other brand, need a strong online backbone and that their official Web sites should play this role.

"What you often see is that the brand Web site is such an important force because it's looked at as an anchor," Kalehoff said. "It's an in-depth link and a referral for further background as people interact on the Web. It's sort of a currency."

He drew a parallel to Apple's launch of the iPhone, which was surrounded by massive blogosphere hype. A big reason for this, he said, was because the official iPhone site was "absolutely optimized" to this end and served as a hub for information about the product, something the candidates should strive toward.

Kalehoff also said that the candidates have been increasingly "experimental" with their Web presence and that online video has emerged as an important medium and has become the "norm" in this campaign.

Clinton showcases a campaign commercial on her homepage which, when clicked on, leads to a section called HillaryTV that features other commercials and short videos, one featuring director Rob Reiner. Obama has a similar section on his page featuring the candidate giving speeches alongside short clips featuring supporters of his campaign.

The candidates' Web presence, of course, goes beyond their official Web sites with the blogosphere and social networking sites getting involved with campaigns as well.

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