Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Executive Death Match

It's rare that so much corporate business ends up in the papers. But, once again, we find ourselves privy to all the dirty little secrets over at Par.

As I speculated in an earlier post, Gail Berman is getting back into television, pulling together financing and turning her frown upside down by leveraging her resume and that of her friend Lloyd Braun. Now is the time when you call in all your favors and get a nice fat baby from the dear showrunner friends and acting talent you coddled and favored when you were on the other side of the fence. Expect Gail to keep making announcements about how great she's doing and how hot she is: you gotta beat back the vultures with sunshine in this town. Good on her. Come out swinging. She definitely didn't waste any time. Probably doesn't want to miss pilot season. She'll probably offer to co-finance something the network or some other production company can't quite pull together. A new shop forming up is great news for anyone with a spec pilot (anyone with a track record and an agent, that is). If you count yourself among those folks put your ear to the ground and find out what type of material she's looking for and then fling it into the open maw. If it's any good it might hit the ground running.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, everyone's winding themselves up for some slow-singin' and flower bringin' (to quote Biggie Smalls, my favorite rapper). It's never a good sign to get this much negative ink. Ever.

And in happier news, the Death Star showed ominous signs of creating an event horizon in the middle of Century City.

I'm glad I work at home....

Monday, January 29, 2007


I started out my career working physical production. I like telling people what to do and how to do it, what can I say? :-)

Anyway, there aren't any blogs out there covering the logistics of making entertainment. The headaches, the joys, the way stuff can go right and the way it can go terribly, horribly, embarrassingly wrong, and then how you can pull it together anyway. Greg Beeman has a great one that covers the logistics of putting HEROES together. I've been reading it and having production flashbacks. In a good way. Most of the time.

I highly recommend it. It's a great read, very informative, it does have spoilers, but nothing too outrageous. If you haven't actually produced anything you are working on, or had your work produced, then think of this as a virtual reality machine. And then get out there and make it happen.

Battles To Be Fought

LAT had an article today about the battle for control over at Paramount. Interesting stuff. Keep your eyes peeled, anytime things get put in the paper, an announcement is not far off....

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Hugh Laurie

I love Hugh Laurie. When I was in England last month I had a chance to watch some episodes of A Bit of Fry and Laurie and came to a new appreciation of him. In honor of his Golden Globe victory, here's a little snippet from the show.

Bon Mots

I'm still working on my screenplay, keeping my ear to the ground for dirt from the Globes and barricading myself from all the Sundancing coming up, so I'll not be posting too much.

I'm working on building some additional conflict into my lead character's relationship with his parents, so I find myself sucked into every psychodrama taking place within 100 miles. Here's a little gem I found via kottke. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Bill Burr

I came across this a few months ago and fell out. Then, I read the blog entry he wrote about it and almost lost my mind. I loved his HBO standup special, but have never seen him perform in person.

As far as sheer guts I give him a hats off -- this rant came three hours into a show in front of 10,000 people in which every comedian had been merciless booed from the first comedian up. Here's the top of his blog entry:

City of Brotherly Love

Over the past two months I..ve gotten about 5 thousand e mails asking me ..What the fuck happened in Philly?.. ..Why were those people booing?.. ..Did you just come out on stage like that, or did they fuck with your first?.. So I..ve decided to answer every fucking question with the longest blog in my space history.

To be honest, I don..t really remember much of the set. All I know, is that when it was over, I had a headache, and I felt like I had just gotten into an argument with a relative.

The weirdest thing about that whole episode, was that my brain got locked in ..Go Fuck Yourself.. mode. I couldn..t shut it off.
For the next three days, I was walking around New York, muttering insulting shit about Philadelphia, as if I was still on stage..


THREE DAYS I walked around New York doing that. I really felt like I was going crazy. I was still pissed at that fuckin.. crowd and I couldn..t stop arguing with them in my head. I was telling a friend of mine that I felt like I needed some sort of comedy healing. That if I could go on stage in front of 12 old people, with some easy listening music in the background, maybe I could get my brain to stop envisioning caning an entire amphitheater with a mic stand. I literally wanted to saw down the roof of that fuckin.. place and have it land on the crowd.

I love comedians. I've had the pleasure of befriending a few of the funniest folks in the business and the war stories I've heard always have me on the ground. This, however, is definitely one of the funniest. It would be funny just to read the blog entry and hear the retelling, but to actually witness him lose his mind and go apeshit on the crowd took me right over the side.

I'll go back to more coherent posting in the next couple of days. Right now I'm in draft hell and can't be held responsible for my ramblings.... :-)~

"Experience Strategies"

Cruising around the internet today and I came across a great post at adaptive path blog about how companies like Google and Flickr are using "experience strategies" to define their mission statements.

Experience strategies are clearly articulated touchstones to guide product teams in all the decisions they make about technology and features. An experience strategy defines a product requirement from the perspective of the user, and what they want to accomplish, achieve, do.

The post goes on with an example from Flickr's About Us page:

1. We want to help people make their photos available to the people who matter to them.

2 . We want to enable new ways of organizing photos.
A related post about the success of the Google Calendar (which I use and love love love) goes on to say:

Here’s a product whose very definition was predicated on empathy for true customer needs.
There's also a great excerpt from the Google presentation about the development of the Calendar code which I think can be reverse engineered for folks who come at filmmaking from other fields. (I couldn't figure out how to get the picture in the middle of the layout, so it's up top, sorry.)

This is very similar to the way that commercial films are put together. Genres are the "handles" we use to shortcut the "experience strategy" we have planned for the audience: horror (we want the audience to be scared), romance (we want the audience to experience love and heartbreak) and so on. Some people call this the "ride" a film offers its viewers. Films that effectively deliver on a genre promise are rewarded with viewers (and sometimes awards, but that's a different post).

In creating commercial films, we also frequently talk about the audience's "buy" or the "gimme" i.e. the logic gaps that sometimes are necessary evils when creating spectacle. Examples of this abound, especially in most popular sci fi films (a recent one is DEJA VU, which readers here will know I really dug, but had a ton of questions about in terms of logic and science paradoxes). Spoof films like SCREAM, and the spoof of the spoof take-off on the idea, SCARY MOVIE, have made a genre out of winking at the audience and playing up these gimmes, making them the "experience."

Film is a temporal art, much more akin to music than literature, and the human brain has a limited attention span. Take advantage of this by making it a part of your strategy (i.e. "to deliver a non-stop emotional journey"), shore up the gimmes in your script by wrapping them in novel/ dramatic/ funny/ scary moments. Most audiences will forgive you -- look at the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN or any other Bruckheimer/ Bay-type movie. They'll even recommend the film to their friends. And that word of mouth is gold.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

**UPDATED** Berman Out, No Surprise

There are tons of theories on why this didn't work, and I think most of them have grains of truth. The reality is that Paramount is a roiling mess right and not an easy place to work for anyone, contract or no contract. The writing was on the wall when Stacey Snider got hired over at Dreamworks and they cut Gail's slate. Still, she'll cash out big, call in some favors, use the one thing no can take from you -- your taste -- and be back. Probably in television. So, don't cry for Gail, she's got her full 2006 bonus coming to her and will either accept some insane pay-out or take a long vacation. Hopefully her stock options vested at 32, since Viacom is trading at around 42 today.

Deadline Hollywood has a little piece on it, and the LAT ran a longer one earlier today. It sucks when your boss talks to the paper before you clean out your office, but based on the level of chatter leading up to today, Gail had been hearing Brad's heavy footfalls outside of her office for at least a month.

What does this mean for people looking to bust in? Nothing. Business as usual. Gail hadn't really made too big an impact on the overall deals at the studio, so the tastemakers on the lot, i.e. the folks with big overalls who command most of the studio money, won't shuffle too much (yet anywho), and the downstream feeders, i.e. indie producers and talent with no overall deals, still have to wait in line to get heard.

Executive change is death to a studio's reputation. It makes it difficult for agencies to know what to bring to a studio and it can wreck havoc on films in development and production as folks hustle to figure out who they can get a "yes" from, and how long it will take to get one. This is why most contracts above the Sr. VP level are multi-years, as in 3-5, and President-level contracts are usually 4-5. All with generous bonuses, of course. Brad Grey is a man about town, so Gail's release won't affect business too badly, and there are several very senior level executives at the studio with strong agency and talent relationships to keep continuity.

For anybody left, it's Executive Death Match time.

If I can break out the time I'll do a little post on the overall deals. Every 18 months or so I update this chart I keep of who has deals where, and if I can cobble it together, which writers have blind deals and "steps" (I'll explain that later, too) at which studios. It's a habit from when I was working as a producer and it can come in handy when you read the trades.

** Two seconds after I posted this, DHD posts this:

I can report exclusively this afternoon that exiting Gail Berman, who won't be getting a production deal at Paramount, won't be replaced, either. That means there'll no longer be a president of Paramount Pictures -- that job is eliminated. Here's why: I'm told boss Brad Grey doesn't think there needs to be one after the Dreamworks acquisition since Berman's slate was permanently reduced to only 6 to 8 pictures a year now. Everything will stay with same with the existing personnel, so there are no plans to up anyone's titles or responsibilities. Instead, Grey will act as ultimate referee of the four creative hubs now reporting to him: Paramount, with 6 to 8 pics, Dreamworks with another 6 to 8 pics, Nickelodeon/MTV with 2 to 4 pics, and Vantage with another 10 pics. Over the years, lots of chairmen/CEOs in the entertainment world have run companies like this. (I hear that Brad Grey's model is the way legendary Warner Communications mogul Steve Ross ran his many music divisions.
This is in keeping with the number super-senior-level executives concentrated on that lot, many of whom would/could/should/will be running studios in their own right. This may calm the waters over there for a while, but anyone running a studio or major production company elsewhere around town ought to be on the lookout because whenever you concentrate a lot of executives with the kind knife-handling abilities of the ones at Par for any length of time there will inevitably be a killing.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

New In Print

A woman I respect and admire has a book coming out. RED RIVER is the story of five generations of men in Lalita Tademy's family. For those you who don't follow the book world, Lalita's first book, CANE RIVER, was an Oprah Book Club selection and was No. 4 on the NY Times Bestseller list for 2001.

I'm a little late to the party on her book tour, but I encourage you all to purchase the book and go listen to her read if you have a chance. She's a wonderful speaker, very knowledgeable about the time period, and the book is great, too. I'm linking to the Calendar of appearances but please poke around the site for information about Lita and the books she's written.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


I was over at Could You Describe The Ruckus? (thanks for the visit!) and read Patrick's post about bad movies, Da Worst. It got me thinking about what a cynical world international film finance is. When I was working as an executive and producer, one of my main functions, the bane of my existence really, was searching for financiers for the projects that I was putting together. The majority of my projects were set-up at major studios, but I had a number of films that were passion projects. To get these done I met with some of the shadiest motherfuckers on planet Earth. And I do mean to use the profanity here. I'm talking about the kind of folks (100% men, may be coincidental, probably not) who not only hang out with porn stars, but actually charter jets to fly them in for "parties" with backers.

For these guys, film finance is an entre to that crazy thing called the VIP-list. Their "slate" is more like an internet money scam. Some of them (who shall remain unnamed on this blog but if you click here you'll get an eyeful) pull together films as fast as possible, dumping money into anything with a recognizable name. The money to be made is pretty staggering since many of the financiers take credits and then collect fees from a few places along the feeding trough. They get a producing fee, "hard" costs (their overhead expenses for things with receipts like desks, phone calls and travel) and "soft" costs (anything else you can amortize like depreciable assets, loan interests and consultants' fees). Oh, yeah, and then there's backend.

If you have a passion project with some sort of marketable element (like Ed Norton's new movie The Painted Veil), financiers like this can be a great way to get a movie made (I'm sure Ed's financiers were not shady, I'm just using his film as an example).

Or, if you just happen to be the man standing next to the man, standing next to the man (h/t to the late comedian Robin Harris) you might get a movie made for the hell of it. These are the crappy movies that show up on late-night cable, or only get released for half a day, then are sent off to parts foreign to die a crapulent death. These films were made for dumping.

If anybody has a fairy-tale story of financing-come-true please share. Make it a happy new year here in Diva-land -- everybody's dreams can come true! I have a friend who found that proverbial group of dentists from the Mid-West to invest in his film, which he then spent three years schlepping around from distributor to distributor until he recouped all the cash. The dentists loved it, they impressed their friends with their stories about Hollywood, took their wives out to a premiere and had a movie poster with their names on it next to a recognizable face. Win-win. One guy had even invested as a gift to his wife for her birthday! I love that guy. God bless him and his Sugar Daddy soul.


OK, I'm watching DIRT, the new Courtney Cox show on FX. I have a fondness for the network and despite the bad reviews was ready to give the show a chance... until a cat turned to its owner and started talking. A scruffy, animatronic, tatty puppet cat. I get the guy has some kind of mental illness, but I'm hoping the second half picks up cuz.... Anyway, let me know what you all think.