Hump Day This-and-That Dweebing
Uncle Ben Back in SPIDER-MAN 3
A few days ago, actor Cliff Robertson told the Palm Beach Post that he received a call to tell him his character, Uncle Ben, would return in SPIDER-MAN 3.
Robertson will be back as the "ghostly personae of the murdered Ben Parker," when his part is shot this May. EDITOR'S NOTE: FOR A DEAD GUY, HE REALLY GETS AROUND ,EH?
Del Toro is the Man... THE WOLF MAN
Universal Pictures has set actor Benicio Del Toro to star in the remake of THE WOLF MAN.
The story will be set in Victorian England. Del Toro will play a man who returns from America to his ancestral homeland, gets bitten by a werewolf and begins a hairy moonlight existence.
Andrew Kevin Walker is writing the script. Scott Stuber, Rick Yorn, Mary Parent and Benicio Del Toro will produce.
The plan is to shoot the film in 2007 for a summer 2008 release.
Johnston to direct Jurassic Park 4
So apparently Steven Spielberg is taking a year off to come up with a name for the next “Indiana Jones” movie – well, at least I’m sure he’ll use that as his next excuse as to why the film is taking so long – and that’s probably part of the reason why he won’t be directing “Jurassic Park 4”, as previously rumoured, as it's gearing up to go soon.
According to the register-ringing series’ producer, Frank Marshall, “Jurassic Park 3” director Joe Johnston is being bought back to T-Rex territory. And based on what he tells MTV, it sounds like this could be out well before Indiana Jones gets back on the mine trolley.
"'Jurassic Park 4' is coming to life," he proudly reported. "There's a script, we're getting a director and we're going to get going probably toward the end of this year. EDITOR'S NOTE: THERE'S A SCRIPT? WELL, THAT'S MORE THAN JP3 HAD, SO THIS SHOULD BE AN IMPROVEMENT. (AHEM).
"Joe Johnston could be back. We want to get the script right before we go forward, which is exactly what's [happening with what] your next question is going to be about, 'Indy 4.'"
And so Frank, what's the latest lame excuse on the Indy 4 delay?
"We're getting the script right, we're working on it. It's not one of those things that's on the back burner." Grinning, Marshall added that he might try to get both films made by simply combining them. "Indiana Jones goes to the island," he said. "Indy versus the raptors. Get him with that whip." EDITOR'S NOTE: AND THEN, BECAUSE INDY IS SO VERY OLD, HE TRIPS ON A PREHISTORIC TREE ROOT, AND THE T-REX EATS HIM. DRAT, NO INDY 5.
Lara Croft journeys to Sin City
Remember a few months back when we relayed a rumour that suggested Angelina Jolie might be up for the role of ‘The Dame to Kill For’ in the “Sin City” sequel? Yeah? Well, according to a report on SciFiWire, it’s a deal that’s close to closing.
"The film's been kind of postponed because Robert [Rodriguez, the director] has been interested in Angelina Jolie for the lead," Dawson tells the site. "But she's very pregnant right now. So that's putting an understandable hold on the film." EDITOR'S NOTE: HEY! I'M NOT PREGNANT. THEY COULD HAVE ME NOW. AND CHEAP, TOO!
Dawson returns in "Sin City 2", which is based on Frank Miller's graphic novel stories "A Dame to Kill for" and "Lost, Lonely and Lethal." "I don't think Gail changes all that much from the first film to this one," Dawson said. "Gail is always Gail. The only preparation I've had to do was just to stay healthy. I think the main question in regards to Gail is whether or not I'll cut my hair this time. It's starting to get a bit long now."
The role of Gail in “Sin City” may just be her most popular role though, she explains.
"People are always coming up to me and asking me to sign the Gail action figure," she said with a laugh. "And it's kind of weird to be signing a doll that has an Uzi and handcuffs."
EDITOR'S NOTE: AND NOW....ANOTHER IN OUR SEMI-CONTINUING SERIES "FURTHER SIGNS OF THE APOCALYPSE" -----
The Vin Diesel Musical Extravaganza
Vin Diesel considers himself a bit of a music-man, and has long favoured the idea of doing a remake of “Guys and Dolls” at one-stage even trying to coax Nicole Kidman into getting behind his idea, and appearing in a redo with him.
According to Sky.com, the hairless hero is still pretty keen to do the film, and now that it’s gearing up – as a vehicle for Catherine Zeta Jones, no less – he’s out to let the decision-makers know that he’s their man.
“This is the role of a lifetime”, says Diesel, currently appearing with wig in “Find Me Guilty”. “I know I can pull it off”.
Apparently he has already taped himself in character as the film’s Sky Masterson, sort of an impromptu audition reel, in the hopes that producers will see that he has what it takes. EDITOR'S NOTE: THAT SHOULD BE GOOD FOR AN EPISODE OF FUNNIEST VIDEOS, EH? (AND BY THE BY, SHOULDN'T THE PRODUCERS OF THIS FLICK BE CALLING EWAN MCGREGGOR POST-HASTE?!)
CBS pilot lands with Tucci
Stanley Tucci is set to star in CBS' untitled Peter Ocko drama pilot.
Meanwhile, Campbell Scott is in negotiations to join ABC's drama pilot "Six Degrees"; Lolita Davidovich has joined ABC's comedy pilot "Help Me Help You"; Brittany Daniel is set to star opposite Jay Mohr in NBC's comedy pilot "Community Service"; Andrew McCarthy has joined CBS' drama pilot "The Way"; Marla Sokoloff has landed a lead in ABC's comedy pilot "A Day in the Life," with Kurt Fuller and Miriam Shor also cast in the project; and Geoff Pierson has joined NBC's untitled Jace Richdale comedy pilot.
Additionally, Peter Cambor has been cast in ABC's comedy pilot "Notes From the Underbelly," and Lauren Stamile has joined Fox's comedy pilot "That Guy." EDITOR'S NOTE: SO FEW OF THE PILOTS MAKE IT TO SERIES, AND SO FEW OF THE SERIES ARE ANY GOOD (OR EVEN IF GOOD, LAST). SO WE HAVE TO REMEMBER NOT TO GET TOO EXCITED BY ALL THESE COOL PEOPLE MAKING TV PILOTS, I GUESS.
A SMIDGE OF HARRY:
New Order of the Phoenix filming information
At the awards event, two interviews that give nice Order of the Phoenix updates were conducted with Dan, Rupert, and David Heyman.
Heyman was interviewed for a small article on Empire's website, updating us on Order of the Phoenix:
We’ve done a little bit of action so far. We’ve done some stuff involving centaurs and Grawp, who is Hagrid’s 16ft brother. The kids have to act against a lot of blue screen for characters like Grawp, but thankfully they’re used to that by now.
He also updated everyone on the schedule for filming:
We’re actually shooting until the middle of May,” said Heyman, “and then we break up for two months so the kids can do exams. Then we pick up in July and we shoot until October or November.
Additionally, Dan was quoted in an article from BBC1, where he talks about filming his first kissing scene in the series:
It'll be odd because one of my parents will be on set. It will be embarrassing but hopefully I'll work past that and be utterly professional but I'll probably keep screwing it up so that I can keep doing it.
Dan had this to say about David Yates:
"The new director’s fantastic. I’ve never been quite this pushed before, so regularly. He’s really pushing Harry’s emotional and psychological journey. But he also seems to have an incredible eye for sets and shoots and things."
JK Rowling updates official site (big time)
JKRowling.com has been updated with several new changes this morning.
There are many visual changes and five new easter eggs to hunt for!
MuggleNet reader Ashley went through the site and sent us some of the biggest adjustments:
The "?" room, with the closed door, now has two bottles that you can pick up and pour drops from. They do nothing, so far.
In the "Extra Stuff" bulletin board, there is a small doodle pad, which you can pick up the pen and draw on.
There are a few new books on the bookshelf in her "Links" area, including "Sense and Sensibility" and "My Favorite Spells".
Her "Fan Sites" trophy shelf is new, and in the "Rubbish Bin" there are some baby toys, Mackenzie's bib, and a small stuffed piggie.
There is also a small pile of magnitized word magnets, that are movable, and a very old and gross looking cup of coffee. Oh yes, and the butterfly is now orange.
THEME PARKS AND SUCH:
MGM plans £585m South Korea theme park
Hollywood studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is planning to open its first overseas theme park in South Korea.
MGM officials today signed a memorandum of understanding with counterparts from the south-eastern port city of Pusan and South Korean entertainment company Glovit to build MGM Studio City on 990,000 sq metres of land provided by the city.
The attraction, which is estimated to cost one trillion won (£585.5m) and projected to open in 2011, will comprise seven zones including a film academy with movie sets and an entertainment school, leisure facilities, shopping centres, restaurants and accommodation.
MGM will be hoping for roaring trade at the park. It faces stiff competition from three popular theme parks in Seoul alone, as well as Disneylands Tokyo and Hong Kong, and Universal Studios in Osaka, Japan. The latter, the largest non-Disney theme park in Asia, has reported several years of losses since opening in 2001.
MGM, home of the James Bond and Pink Panther movies, is one of the world's seven major movie companies. It also operates theme parks, including Disney MGM Studio, one of the Walt Disney World's five theme parks in Orlando, Florida. EDITOR'S NOTE: WELL, I GUESS THAT KINDA SEALS IT; WE HAVE TO MAKE A TRIP TO THE ORIENT, HUH?! (MAYBE BY 2011, I'LL HAVE A JOB AGAIN!)
Amazon, Hollywood studios in talks for downloads
By Alexandria Sage and Bob Tourtellotte
Amazon.com Inc. is in advanced talks with several major Hollywood studios about creating a service that allows consumers to download and copy movies and television programs, sources familiar with the discussions said on Friday.
The No. 1 online retailer has stayed mum in recent months over plans for a music download service to rival Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes, as well as film and TV shows from independent producers. An Amazon spokeswoman declined to comment on Friday about talks with major movie and TV makers.
Several publications reported that Amazon was close to completing a deal with Paramount Pictures, Universal Studios and Warner Bros, specifically, but spokesmen at the three studios either declined to comment or were unavailable for comment.
One source said a deal was not imminent in the next two or three days, but added the studios were enthusiastic and an agreement, if one is concluded, might come soon.
Amazon has been increasing its spending in research and development. Financial analysts have thus far reacted positively to the prospect of Amazon entering the digital download business, which boasts higher margins than the retailer's traditional business. Amazon's investment in technology and content grew 57 percent in the fourth quarter.
The online retailer already owns movie web site IMDB.com, which boasted more than 15 million unique users in February, and sources said Amazon would utilize IMDB to capture movie fans' attention then sell them downloads of films that could then be copied onto DVDs.
DOWNLOAD TO OWN
The studios already own an interest in online service Movielink, but it offers downloads to rent, not to own. The sources had no details on potential prices for the movies that might be offered via Amazon.
Amazon watchers have cited the retailer's experience in selling movies, TV shows and music and say it would be a logical extension of the product lines to have them sell downloadable versions of the entertainment.
Amazon says it has sold more than 55 million active customer accounts.
In February, sources familiar with the matter confirmed that Amazon was in talks with four major music labels on starting a digital music service.
The labels -- Universal Music Group, Sony BMG, Warner Music Group Corp and EMI Group Plc -- would allow Amazon to license their music, and the service has the potential of undercutting Apple's stranglehold on the nascent, but growing industry. EDITOR'S NOTE: I WOULD THINK IT WOULD ALSO PUT A DENT IN SOME OF THE MOVIE RENTAL BIZ. IF AMAZON PRICES IT FAIRLY REASONABLY, IT WILL BE EASIER JUST TO BURN A DVD THEN RENT. (FOR THINGS WHERE YOU DON'T CARE ABOUT OWNING THE FANCYSHMANCY STUDIO VERSION).
Apple, as of February, had sold 1 billion music downloads at a cost of roughly 99 cents each since it introduced iTunes three years ago.
Warner Brothers is part of Time Warner Inc., Universal Studios is owned by General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal and Paramount is part of Viacom Inc..
In January, media reports put Amazon in talks with three independent movie studios -- Image Entertainment, Ardustry Home Entertainment and First Look Home Entertainment -- for content.
Success Of Small Movies Means More Ad Dollars For Boutique Film Brands
by Wayne Friedman
THE HIGH PROFILE OF SMALL movies during this year's Academy Awards has studios looking to raise their marketing budgets for their boutique film brands.
One division, Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Classics, will soon lift is marketing and media budgets to some $100 million or more per year, according to executives. Previously, Paramount wouldn't even spend $10 million in marketing dollars for its entire yearly slate of movies.
All this is in response to more small, independent movies gaining ground on the wide-release, more heavily marketed films. "Brokeback Mountain," "Crash," "Good Night, and Good Luck," and "Capote," all nominated as best picture, came from small studios' divisions. For years, bigger movie studios have taken notice, and soon more marketing dollars will head to boutique labels to grow the niche.
For Paramount, the move is part of a massive restructuring under Paramount Motion Pictures Group Chairman/Chief Executive Officer Brad Grey. Paramount Classics, the division headed up by John Lesher, who holds the title of president, looks to ramp up the group's slate of films with moderately sized marketing budgets. A former high-powered agent, Lesher took over the Paramount post last November. The new Paramount Classics label will be a place for a variety of film genres, as well as a place for independent-minded filmmakers. Paramount executives did not return phone calls by press time.
Paramount Classics has somewhat started this process, releasing the critically acclaimed "Hustle & Flow" in 2005. In 2005, Paramount Classics spent some $23.9 million in media, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR data obtained from media executives. But $17.7 million of that came from "Hustle & Flow." In previous years, Paramount Classics spent $9.7 million in 2004; and $7.3 million in 2003, for an entire yearly slate of movies.
All of this means good things for current Paramount Classic's media agency, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Palisades Media Group. "There'll be something coming soon," said Roger Schaffner, chairman/CEO of Palisades, who declined to provide any specifics about any clients.
Paramount wants to move up into the league of the other studio boutiques that have sizable production and marketing budgets--such as Fox Filmed Entertainment's Fox Searchlight, NBC Universal's Focus Features, Sony Picture Entertainment's Sony Picture Classics, and Walt Disney's Miramax Films--the original movie studio boutique of small independent-like films.
Warner Bros. Warner Independent Films has been the most recent to join the club. In 2005, it spent $60.1 million in media, mostly from two releases--"Good Night, and Good Luck" ($24.7 million) and "March of the Penguins" ($22.9 million). This is a drastic hike from $13.7 million the year before for its entire 2004 slate.
Others, like Fox Searchlight, have seen the light for some time. Recent noteworthy movies included "Sideways" and "Napoleon Dynamite," and "Antwone Fisher." It spent $65.3 million last year, and $115.0 million in 2004.
That's not all. New movie companies will add to the hunt for small- to medium-size movie success--The Weinstein Company and the new MGM will be considerable spenders. Both are Palisades Media Group clients.
Palisades has the rare distinction of handling media buying and planning responsibilities for multiple movie studio companies. Palisades keeps conflicts at bay by having a Chinese wall of separate media buying and planning teams for each of its clients.
Weinstein is expected to spend some $170 million in its first year in operation. MGM will start with $120 million, but could quickly grow to $200 million. EDITOR'S NOTE: NOT THAT THOSE FIGURES ARE ACTUAL MONEY, HUH? (A WHOLE DIFFERENT UNIVERSE)
US cinema suffers year of slump Box office takings in the US slid by 6% in 2005, final figures have revealed.
Cinema ticket revenues amounted to $9bn (£5.2bn), while total attendance fell by 9% to 1.4bn people. EDITOR'S NOTE: I'M NOT SAYING HOLLYWOOD SHOULD HAVE A PARTY AND CELEBRATE THIS DROP, BUT ONLY 6%? ALL THAT BEMOANING AND BEWAILING WAS JUST 6%?! (CHILL PILLS FOR EVERYONE, FOR PETE'S SAKE!)
Some 240m fewer tickets were sold in 2005 compared with the previous year, according to data from The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).
The average cost of making a film in Hollywood dropped by $2.5m (£1.44m), but the budget for marketing new releases rose by 5%.
The costs of promoting smaller budget films such as Brokeback Mountain soared by around a third.
But the price of making a movie did not account for contributions of outside investors, which in some cases made up at least half the total budget.
Cinemas have become increasingly concerned that their market is being threatened by the rise of DVD sales.
The MPAA revealed the results of a survey of 3,000 film-goers which revealed that those with DVD players, big screen televisions and digital cable watched the most films at the cinema.
Almost 70% of those questioned said they preferred the full cinema experience and saw around eight films per year. EDITOR'S NOTE: EIGHT? ONLY EIGHT? (I'M NOT SURE IF WE SEE TOO MANY MOVIES, OR THOSE PEOPLE NEED TO GET OUT MORE).
But a third also admitted that their home offered "the ultimate movie-watching experience".
Seeing DVD's as a Boon to Theaters
By KEN JAWOROWSKI
YOU might think that Michael L. Campbell, the chairman and chief executive of the Regal Entertainment Group, the nation's largest chain of movie theaters, would be nervous after 2005, when total admissions in the United States fell 8.7 percent,EDITOR'S NOTE: 6%. 8.7%. WHATEVER. the third consecutive yearly decline. But if he is worried about the drop-off, he's not letting on.
Indeed, Regal, with 6,463 screens in 555 locations, has had a promising start to 2006, he said. And even as critics see DVD's as a threat to theaters, Mr. Campbell, 52, says the format is a boon to his business. Mr. Campbell spoke recently about the industry.
Following are excerpts:
Q. Is this a good time to be in the movie theater business?
A. There are a lot of reasons it is a good time.
Sometimes people focus too much on short-term trends and try to extrapolate when the evidence to the contrary is very strong. I believe that the softness in attendance for 2005 was primarily a function of just the product versus other periods.
Let's go back to Thanksgiving of 2005. Since that time, over 70 percent of the weeks have been up versus the period last year. Yet we've seen very, very little coverage in the press saying maybe attendance is beginning to turn around.
Q. Are film studios doing enough to draw people to theaters?
A. We're already having an up quarter. The balance of the year looks pretty strong. I think the studios are doing all they can do to deliver, but consumer taste is fickle. It would be unfair to point fingers at the studios and say "You guys didn't provide commercial product last year." I don't think any studio consciously sets out to make a noncommercial movie. EDITOR'S NOTE: NOT TO MENTION, IT ISN'T JUST INCUMBENT ON THE STUDIOS TO SELL THE MOVIE-THEATER-GOING EXPERIENCE. THE THEATERS...MR. REGAL ENTERTAINMENT GUY....NEED TO DO THAT TOO, HMMM???!!!
Q. Is variable pricing — pricing a film by when it is shown, and charging different ticket prices for different films — inevitable?
A. As it relates to pricing on different days of the week, on different times of the day, that's always been part of the pricing grid. I think that model can be tweaked to include more variation. I don't think it's going to happen in individual films. I don't think we want to get into the business of trying to pass judgment on the quality of films and relate that to our pricing structure.
Q. Is the threat of DVD's to movie theaters overstated?
A. I think DVD's have been the savior of not only the studio model but have been beneficial to theater owners, too, because it funnels more money back into the studios, which in turn fuels higher production budgets, greater numbers of films, and so on.
We have seen the window shrink from an average of about six months between theatrical to video 10 years ago to about four and a half months today. Some compression of that window over time is justified, or has been justified at least in the past, because we generate our piece of the pie at the box office much quicker today than we did a decade ago.
People who run the studios are smart people, EDITOR'S NOTE: WELLLLLL... SOME OF THEM ARE. SOME OF THEM. and I think they realize the tremendous value of having that theatrical launch pad. And I don't think that's going to change. They make films to be released on the big screen.
Q. What percentage of your revenue comes from concessions?
A. Generally it's two-thirds tickets, a little less than a third concessions and the last few percentage points would be miscellaneous revenue. EDITOR'S NOTE: OK, THAT SEEMS TOO SMALL A % FOR CONCESSIONS. ESPECIALLY GIVEN THE COST OF THE FOOD ITEMS AT MOST THEATERS. (YOU HAVE TO TAKE OUT A SMALL LOAN TO PAY FOR A SODA!)
Q. As for commercials before movies, how do you try to show them without angering customers?
A. Granted, not everyone likes advertising. But we're saying, look, give us credit. We have improved what has been here for a long time. And given a choice of either looking at a blank screen for 20 minutes or looking at the old slide carousel with faded, upside down ads and trivia questions, would you rather look at a sleek, new, entertaining digitized pre-show? And most people, when asked that way, would say, "Oh, yeah." EDITOR'S NOTE: IF THEY WOULD CHANGE OUT THE CONTENT MORE OFTEN. (BUT NOW THAT I KNOW THAT MOST PEOPLE ONLY SEE 8 FLICKS A YEAR, I SEE WHY THE THEATER FOLKS DONT' FEEL LIKE THEY NEED TO CHANGE IT THAT FREQUENTLY).
Q. Are ticket prices too high?
A. Ticket prices in movie theaters have increased far less over the 10- to 15-year time period than live concerts, live plays, sporting events and other similar out-of-home venues. And during that period I think we have dramatically improved and invested in our business, billions of dollars as an industry to upgrade the theatergoing experience.
Going to the movies is probably not only the absolute cheapest form of out-of-home entertainment today but it's probably the best value.
Can This Man Save The Movies? (Again?)In the digital era, is film dead? As audiences gravitate to DVDs, Hollywood wonders if the movie theater can survive. The rebels are surging. Can the Empire strike back? EDITOR'S NOTE: AND HOW MANY ANGELS CAN DANCE ON THE HEAD OF A PIN?!
By RICHARD CORLISS
Here's a magic glimpse into the future of movies. A big blockbuster opens. Some people see it in sparkling digital clarity on wraparound screens in ultraswank theaters; others watch the same movie the same day on an 8-ft.-wide screen in their home media centerEDITOR'S NOTE: 8-FT-WIDE?! I SUDDENLY HAVE SERIOUS SIZE ENVY.; still others get it transmitted instantly through their computer, iPod or cell phone. It's a looking-glass scenario that could happen in a future near you--if the people who finance and exhibit Hollywood movies want it to.
On Oscar night last week, though, the looking glass was not a crystal ball but a rearview mirror. Hollywood's gentry celebrated the past--the misty history of cinema, evoked with montages of ancient genres and deceased artistes. From the films honored, you would hardly have noticed that under the academy members' smartly shod feet, a seismic shift was taking place.
We are at the bright dawn of the movies' digital age, but the Hollywood establishment still has its shades drawn. In the Oscar show at the Kodak Theatre (named after a company that is crucially invested in the film-stock status quo), the most popular live-action digital movie in history, George Lucas' Star Wars: Episode III--Revenge of the Sith, won no awards, not even one for technical achievement. EDITOR'S NOTE: GRRRRRR. DON'T GET ME STARTED!!! The year's boldest, most innovative digital experiment, Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller's Sin City, got no nominations at all.
The Oscar revelers seemed unaware that movies have two big problems: the way they're made and the way they're shown. EDITOR'S NOTE: SOME OF THEM ARE AWARE OF IT. BUT FIDDLEDEEDEE, TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY MS. SCARLETT.
It has often been noted that if Henry Ford were to come back today, he would wonder why no one had come up with a better idea than the internal combustion engine. EDITOR'S NOTE: VESTED INTERESTS? GOVERNMENT CORRUPTION? LAZINESS? (OR WAS THAT A RHETORICAL QUESTION?) A similar thought may occur to any visitor to a movie shoot.
Dozens, maybe hundreds of technicians adjust the lights, apply the makeup and dress the set, much the way it was done almost 100 years ago. And as in D.W. Griffith's day, the film still runs through a camera, then is processed, reproduced many times and sent to theaters.
The addiction to doing things that way baffles Lucas. "Do you still use a typewriter?" he asks a TIME movie critic. EDITOR'S NOTE: SEE FULL UNCLE G INTEREVIEW/ARTICLE BELOW. "Do you go to a library and consult books for most of your research? Is your story set in type, letter by letter? No. Your business takes advantage of technological advances. Why shouldn't my business?"
Well, for one thing, say the movie atavists, film has a more human texture, an emotional weight.
"Digital is just too smooth," says M. Night Shyamalan, writer-director of The Sixth Sense and a defender of the film tradition. "You almost have to degrade the image to make it more real. If you take a digital photo and I take one on film, there's just no way you're going to compete with the humanity that I can create from my little Hasselblad. Yours will be smoother, crisper, perfect in every way, and mine will be grainy, but you would definitely grab my picture over the digital one." EDITOR'S NOTE: AS PRETTY AS THE SOUNDS OF MY CDS, I MUST ADMIT, I SOMETIMES CRAVE A GOOD OLD SCRATCHY LP. (FOR YOU YOUNGSTERS......LOOK IT UP).
Directors who have worked in digital don't agree. They say it's capable of a chromatic subtlety that film can't match. Michael Mann, whose 2004 Collateral was, he says, "the first photo-real use of digital," is using the same process to shoot the big-screen version of his old Miami Vice TV series. "In the nightscapes in Collateral, you're seeing buildings a mile away. You're seeing clouds in the sky four or five miles away. On film that would all just be black."
What Mann pioneered is now a trend. "When we shot Collateral, we were one of the first," he says. "This year there were about 25 films shooting digitally." That number is bound to mushroom as young directors, whose computers were their boyhood buddies and who have no nostalgic attachment to film, come to the fore.
One is Rodriguez, 37, the Lone Star maverick who writes, directs, shoots, cuts and scores his own movies as well as supervises the special effects, doing it all at his home ranch on the Pedernales River and at a small Austin, Texas, studio. Using high-definition cameras, he shot his Sin City actors against a green screen, filling in the backgrounds digitally, and rarely went beyond a second or third take. That's one secret to making a gorgeous all-star movie for $40 million--less than half the average Hollywood budget.
It was Lucas who turned Rodriguez on to digital after a visit to the elder's Skywalker Ranch more than five years ago. All Lucas had done was perfect the modern blockbuster and create the first major special-effects company (ILM) and the first digital-animation outfit (which became Pixar). He changed the way movies were made and marketed. Now the richest, most influential maker of movies had found in Rodriguez an apt pupil, another "regional" filmmaker who could buck the system.
In one aspect of moviemaking--crew size--Rodriguez has outstripped Lucas. The two most recent Star Wars movies, made digitally, employed as many on-set crew members as did the last filmed episode, The Phantom Menace. (Lucas offers that as an argument that Hollywood technicians need not worry that a switch to digital would put them out of work.) But do-it-himself Rodriguez has a crew that is tiny and tight.
"It's nice because you don't have this huge army," he said in 2003. "It's a commando group of people really into the project." Rodriguez loves his outlaw status, boasting, "I'm years ahead. The professionals are not paying attention." EDITOR'S NOTE: DOES IT NEED TO BE EITHER/OR? IT SEEMS TO ME THERE IS ROOM IN THE MOVIE-MAKING PROCESS FOR BOTH TACTICS. FOR BOTH LUCAS AND SPIELBERG.
But the independent directors are. Many of them have used digital equipment for years.
Steven Soderbergh shot his indie movie Bubble with the same camera, a Sony F950, that Lucas used on Sith and Rodriguez on Sin City. And indie imp-guruEDITOR'S NOTE: I BET SMITH IS GOING TO WANT A T-SHIRT THAT SAYS 'INDIE IMP-GURU' ON IT, HUH?! Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy) notes, "There is a Panasonic camera, the 100, that gives a picture that's about as good-looking as 16-mm or 35-mm film. The kids today who are making their do-it-yourself features are doing it with high-definition video. If I was shooting Clerks today, I'd probably use that camera."
Smith wanted to use a digital camera for Clerks II, the sequel to his 1994 debut hit, but his director of photography didn't feel comfortable with the process. "A lot of directors and directors of photography are resistant to put down what they're familiar with," Smith says. Besides the shock of the new, there's the love of the old. "Most people in film have a great affection for film stock, for the medium. And they feel that moving in a digital direction is kind of leaving their history behind. It's more sentimental than anything else."
If moviemakers won't shoot digitally, they'll edit digitally, citing ease and efficiency. But Steven Spielberg and his longtime editor Michael Kahn don't. "Michael and I are the last persons cutting movies on KEMs," he says, referring to the German flatbed machine that is no longer manufactured. "I still love cutting on film. I just love going into an editing room and smelling the photochemistry and seeing my editor with mini-strands of film around his neck. The greatest films ever made were cut on film, and I'm tenaciously hanging on to the process." EDITOR'S NOTE: AND WHO ARE WE TO TELL COUSIN STEVIE THAT THAT ISN'T WORKING OUT FOR HIM? I MEAN, CAUSE HIS MOVIES AREN'T ANY GOOD THAT WAY, OR ANYTHING?
Once a film is shot and cut, it has to be copied, sent to theaters and put on the screen--steps that are expensive and risky. Print quality, for example, can vary drastically from frame to frame and print to print. The quality of projection may also vary. "There are still theaters that run the projector lamp at less than proper brightness," says Mann. (A digital projector is much more accurate.) Finally, film degenerates, the way a vinyl record does under a stylus or a videocassette does with frequent use. "With film you have degradation problems," Smith says, "where the stock starts breaking down. Frames get lost when they cut reels together." The digital look will stay fresh for the life of the theatrical run. EDITOR'S NOTE: SO IF IT'S A PRISTINE REALLY STINKY MOVIE TODAY, IT WILL BE A PRISTINE REALLY STINKY MOVIE 10 YEARS FROM NOW!
If there's an argument for digital that Hollywood can get behind, it's this: it's far cheaper than film--cheaper to shoot, cut and duplicate. But the big savings come in getting the product to the public.
Says Lucas: "Making a big movie, a Harry Potter or a Spider-Man, you're spending $20 [million] to $30 million for the prints just to strike them and ship them to the theaters. Smaller movies have to spend a huge part of their budgets on prints." Digital would cut print and shipping costs about 80%. Even Spielberg, who wears many hats, sees the efficacy of digital. "I may be the last person as a director to accept it," he says, "but I won't be the last person to accept it as someone who runs a film company."
So who doesn't love the new movie deal? Well, some studio chiefs, who are worried that a movie on disc is much easier to dupe, and piracy is a huge drain on their income. But mainly theater owners. When they hear the word digital, they reach for their digitalis. Already feeling the hit from the 13% slump in moviegoing over the past three years, they aren't eager to spend the more than $3 billion or so that it would cost to convert approximately 36,000 film projectors to digital.
"Digital cinema is probably a lot further away than most people would think," says Kurt Hall, president and CEO of National CineMedia, the marketing arm of AMC, Cinemark and Regal Entertainment Group. "There's still a lot of work to be done on the technology, both in making it secure [from piracy] for the content owners and in making sure that the systems work and can be operated efficiently by the theater circuits."
In the late '20s, when talking pictures replaced the silents, theaters converted to sound within two years. But the coming of sound was immediately and immensely popular. Today, although films shown on the giant IMAX screens make money and although computer-made animated features have been spanking the butts of traditional cartoons, there's no conclusive evidence that the billions it would cost to go digital would be repaid by a box-office surge. "Our research shows that the audience generally isn't going to pay more and isn't going to go more," Hall says. "So there's no financial model that creates an incentive for the exhibitor to make this investment." EDITOR'S NOTE: IT SURE IS LONELY OUT HERE IN FRONT. (CAUSE I WOULD PROBABLY PAY MORE FOR IMAX OR 3D, AND I CERTAINLY PREFER THE STATE-OF-THE-ART THEATERS).
Lucas has tried for years to be the irresistible force to the exhibitors' immovable object. In 2002, when he released Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones, he opened it on 63 digital screens in North America, along with the thousands of screens showing the film version, and declared that in three years, when Revenge of the Sith came out, it would play only digitally. He says he even offered the exhibitors a financial incentive: "It costs about $1,200 for a film print and about $200 for a digital print. So what you do is charge the distributor the same $1,200 they would ordinarily be charged, and $1,000 of it goes into a pot that eventually pays for all the projectors and everything. In about five years you would reconvert the entire industry." And who bought in? "No one's bought in yet. But they will. It's just a matter of time."
Digital Sith played on 111 screens in the U.S. and Canada--still a tiny slice of the total number of venues.
Lucas and other directors don't subscribe to the cheap-date theory of movie attendance--that kids go to get out of the house, to be with their peers and away from their parents. Directors also ignore the complaints about moviegoing--the glop on the floor, the indifferent projection, the half an hour of ads and in the row behind you a nattering couple rehearsing their Jerry Springer act. No, to directors, moviegoing is an almost religious act: a Mass experience. You walk into a cathedral, feel your spirit soar with hundreds of other communicants and watch the transubstantiation of images into feelings. The audience becomes a community, the movie the Communion. EDITOR'S NOTE: THAT IS AS RARE AN EXPERIENCE AS ITS RELIGIOUS COUNTERPART. IT DOES HAPPEN (OR SO THE CATHOLICS TELL ME). BUT IT IS SPECIAL. AND YOU CAN'T MAKE IT HAPPEN 100% WITH TECHNOLOGY.
"A 65-ft.-wide screen and 500 people reacting to the movie--there is nothing like that experience," says Mann. EDITOR'S NOTE: I PRESUME MANN IS TALKING ABOUT WHAT HAPPENS WHEN HE GOES TO SEE OTHER PEOPLE'S MOVIES? CAUSE I CAN'T IMAGINE TRANSCENDENCE IN A MICHAEL MANN FLICK. DEAFNESS. SENSORY OVERLOAD. BUT NOT RAPTURE.
Shyamalan sees it as a mystic conversation. "With enough strangers in the room," he says, "you become part of this collective human soul--which is a much more powerful way to watch a movie" than seeing it alone at home.
But will they still go--if day-and-date distribution comes to pass, that is--when they can buy a DVD the same day and see it with a bunch of friends on a 45-in. screen?
Much was made of Soderbergh's experiment with Bubble--a minimalist, low-budget, no-star movie that opened nearly simultaneously in theaters, video stores and homes. And people didn't go for it in any format. Shyamalan sees a lesson there: "Bubble had $10 million worth of free publicity. Bubble had the advantage over any independent movie of its same ilk. It had so many advantages, and still it didn't perform. If Bubble did well, wouldn't that have been evidence that day-and-date works? Well, they tried it, and they failed." EDITOR'S NOTE: ONE TEST DOES NOT CONCLUSIVE MAKE. MAYBE NO ONE WANTED TO SEE THAT PARTICULAR MOVIE. THIS DOESN'T PROVE NEW DISTRIBUTION SCHEMES WON'T WORK.
Lucas, who thinks day-and-date is an inevitable step to fight piracy, also believes it won't hurt the box office. Moviegoing, he says, "is like watching a football game. Who in the world would go out in 20-below weather and sit there and watch a football game where you can barely see the players? Football games are on TV, and it doesn't affect stadium attendance at all. It's the same with movies. People who really love movies and like to go out on a Saturday night will go to the movie theater." EDITOR'S NOTE: UNCLE GEORGE IS SO SMART. (WE LOVE YOU, UNCLE GEORGE).
Some blame the shrinking theater audience on the narrowing gap between a movie's premiere in theaters and its debut in video stores--from six months a few years ago to about four months or less today.
"With the window getting smaller and smaller," says Smith, "people don't want to leave the house. The audience is being trained that they don't have to run out to the theater to see something." For many viewers, especially adults, the kids who see the big blockbusters and the critics who review the little indie films have essentially become focus groups that help them decide whether they should see a movie--when it comes out on DVD.
The genius of late 20th century entrepreneurism was to get people to pay a lot for things they were used to getting cheap (coffee) or free (water). A quarter-century ago, Hollywood made most of its money from showing films in theaters. Now the biggest bucks come from DVDs and pay TV. Producers also got something for nothing by packaging recent and old TV shows for the DVD market. All those revenue streams give folks more reasons to stay home, encased in their all-media cocoons, in some cases chained to the desktop deity that can never get enough attention. Just as the computer helps them do many things that used to take them out--work, shopping, buying books, renting movies--so will it soon allow them to download movies to watch on it. As Smith notes, "It's tough to cram three or four people in front of a computer to watch something. But no doubt Steve Jobs is working on this." EDITOR'S NOTE: ESPECIALLY SINCE THE PEOPLE ARE GETTING BIGGER!
If the Internetting or iPodding of movies does take over, that would be a strange revolution indeed. It's one thing to miniaturize phones and radios for easier use. It's another to reduce the 65-ft. movie-palace dream images of old--the ones revived for last week's Oscar show--onto a screen the size of Dick Tracy's wristwatch.
Directors say they frame a shot with the big--not the small--screen in mind.
"I only paint on the one size sheet of paper," Spielberg says. "I make my movies for a movie theater, and I like to imagine how big that screen is. But I also realize on a laptop on an airplane or, even worse, on an iPod, they are never going to see that character, and an element of the story will be lost." Whatever is lost on the smaller screen, DVD has become, in Smith's words, "historically the final record of your movie. That's the one people watch over and over."
Rodriguez has said that the "real versions" of his movies are the extended, unrated ones on DVD.
So what can lure us to a movie theater? One thought: better movies! But by better, most directors mean "more sophisticated technically." Because with Star Wars in 1977, Lucas spurred another revolution: the triumph of the special-effecty, kid-friendly fantasy blockbuster. With space-age technique and retro, '40s-serial content, the film made so much money, it seduced the studios and fired the imaginations of directors.
"The great thing about computerized effects," says Spielberg, "is that now we can do anything our imaginations tell us." Absolutely--if your imagination runs to dinosaurs and space aliens. EDITOR'S NOTE: YOU MEAN YOUR IMAGINATON RUNS TO SOMETHING ELSE? (HOW WEIRD).
And no question, those critters sell tickets. All five of last year's top worldwide grossers were fantasies, and all but one (The Chronicles of Narnia) a sequel or a remake.
In the brave new digital world, form is defining content. Because the toys are so cool, directors make movies to exploit their technical possibilities. That's why James Cameron, after doing Titanic,EDITOR'S NOTE: STILLLLLLLL SINKING..... the all-time top grosser, stopped making feature films to shoot underwater documentaries with his favorite new toy, the 3-D camera. Going back to his old camera, he told ComingSoon.net "just seemed like going back from a car to a bicycle." Battle Angel, his first feature since 1997, will be shown in 3-D. (And yes, with the funny glasses.) Lucas is planning to release all six Star Wars episodes in 3-D as well.EDITOR'S NOTE: YES YES YES YES YES YES YES!!! (CAN'T WAIT!)
That's one future of movies--IMAX-size extravaganzas you can see only in a movie house. It's a throwback to the Cinerama and CinemaScope the studios used against the first home-viewing medium, TV.
But Shyamalan has an even more radical--or counterrevolutionary--idea.
"Let's say you can see any movie you want anytime. You can see it on a phone in the toilet when it opens," he says. "Well, somebody like me is going to go to somebody like Warner Bros. and say, 'I want to make a movie but only for the movie theaters. How much money will you give me to make a movie like that?' And they'll do the math and say, 'We'll give you $20 million.' And someone like me is going to say, 'O.K., I'm in.' Well, one of these someones is going to be successful at it. And people will go see it and fall in love with it and tell everybody, 'Hey, did you see that movie? It's only playing in the movie theaters!' And it's going to be magic." EDITOR'S NOTE: SUCH A FANCIFUL IMAGINATION OUR M.NIGHT HAS. THEN AGAIN, HE'S PROBABLY CORRECT. EVERYTHING IS CYLCICAL, HUH?
UNCLE GEORGE STANDS ALONE:
Star Wars TV And Indy 4
At the Sony Ericsson Empire Awards Rick McCallum was kind enough to get the buzz going again on the topics of both Star Wars TV and Indy IV.
Below is a snippet from EmpireOnline.com.
First up, the Stars Wars TV series that we’ve been hearing about since Sith came out.
“That’s not going to happen probably for another year and a half while we develop scripts and everything else. But it’s fantastic; we’ve got some incredible writers. It’s going to be much darker, much more character-based, and I think it’s going to be everything the fans always wanted the prequels to be. They’ll be one-hour episode. It takes place between Episodes III and IV. It’s going to be all-new characters, maybe a few bounty hunters in there to start the series off." EDITOR'S NOTE: DARK IS GOOD. CHARACTER-BASED IS GOOD. A YEAR AND A HALF A WAY, NOT SO GOOD. AND OF COURSE, FROM THE LIPS OF TRICKY RICKY MEANS GRAIN OF SALT ON ALL THE HYPERBOLE.
And on the subject of Indy IV...
"He’s just finished the Indiana Jones script, and Steven’s having that rewritten and a few things done." EDITOR'S NOTE: AND HOW MANY TIMES HAVE WE HEARD THIS? HMM?
Science Fiction Hall Of Fame Inducts George Lucas
"The Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame (SFM) announces its inductees for 2006's Hall of Fame celebration. George Lucas, DUNE author Frank Herbert, THE DRAGONRIDERS OF PERN writer Anne McCaffrey and book cover illustrator Frank Kelly Freas will be honored during SFM's annual induction ceremony at the museum June 17, 2006. Best-selling author and filmmaker Neil Gaiman will host the evening's events." EDITOR'S NOTE: BRAVO UNCLE GEORGE!
A Conversation with George Lucas
TIME's Film Critic Richard Corliss talks with Lucas about his ‘retirement’ and the future of digital filmmaking
By RICHARD CORLISS
Movie history can be divided, without much forcing of the issue, into two eras: before Star Wars and after. The landscape before the first STAR WARS film, in 1977, was a very different terrain. The best Hollywood directors, freed from censorship and the nagging sense that they were cranking out movies while their European brethren were hand-crafting films, had begun to forge a distinctive adult American cinema. Few thought in terms of box office megamillions. The idea was to earn enough to entice someone into financing your next picture. (Jean-Luc Godard had done this successfully in France in the 60s; Robert Altman adopted that model for his pioneering 70s works.) Most films by the most gifted Americans were present-day dramas that picked at some social scab until, in the last reel, it burst. EDITOR'S NOTE: AND AIN'T THAT A PURTY IMAGE? (AND YOU WONDER WHY I PREFER DINOSAURS AND SPACE ALIENS?)
In the larger marketplace, the most popular films were the ones that were made for everyone, and that everyone wanted to see once: you, your kids, your mom. That’s the broad, if thin, constituency that made blockbusters out of The Love Bug, Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, The Godfather, The Sting—and Jaws, by Lucas’ contemporary Steven Spielberg. The majority of these pictures made their money slowly, playing first runs, then gradually reaching the smaller towns and theaters; the theatrical life of one of these crowd-pleasers might be a full year. There were genre movies, of course, but not many science-fiction films. Those were kids’ stuff; movies of the 70s were for adults. Besides, special effects weren’t sophisticated enough to open viewers’ eyes to the fantasy worlds its makers might be dreaming. Even Jaws, which broke a few rules by opening in a thousand or so theaters, and by reviving the monster-from-the-deep subgenre of Atomic Age s-f, was bound to rely for its special effects on a hydraulically operated shark that kept short-circuiting off the coast of Martha's Vineyard waters.
Star Wars changed everything. EDITOR'S NOTE: MY HOME DECORATING SCHEME, MY FOCUS IN LIFE, MY ABILITY TO REMEMBER ANYTHING UNRELATED TO CORUSCANT MEAN-TIME....... It quickly became the top-grossing movie in the 65-year history of feature films (replacing The Sound of Music, if you need evidence of how much things had changed). EDITOR'S NOTE: NEW DOCTORAL THESIS.....'HOW STAR WARS AND THE SOUND OF MUSIC ARE REALLY THE SAME' .....DISCUSS. With its then-wizardly special effects, and the cheerleading use to which they were put, it cued a revival of the s-f genre, which had been a B-movie fad in the 50s. Back then, the kids who gorged on s-f were a Saturday matinee minority. Star Wars arrived just as teen culture was taking over movies. Lucas’ film proved that a movie could be a smash by creating a textural density that lured a part of the audience back through the wickets a dozen times. This wasn’t your uncle’s, and aunt’s, hit movie; but if they didn’t get it, who cared? The kids (mostly boys) EDITOR'S NOTE: I WAS NEITHER A KID NOR A BOY. SO THERE! were pouring all their disposable income into return visits. Thus Star Wars became the first cult-movie megahit.
And the first live-action movie to franchise its popularity into merchandising at a level that equaled, and then surpassed, the Disney cartoon features. (That revenue, not Lucas’ share of the film’s take, was what made him a billionaire.) and the first Hollywood epic, at least so far as I know, that was conceived as a trilogy—proof of Lucas’ capacious vision and audacious entrepreneurial reach. AND, as Lucas mentioned in an interview I had with him two weeks ago in preparation for this week’s TIME story on the future of movies, Star Wars was one of the hits whose profits, shared by the theater owners, financed the multiplexing of America.
The light-saber epic changed Lucas too. A graduate of the USC film school who also felt a kinship with Bruce Conner, Scott Bartlett and other members of San Francisco’s vital avant-garde scene, he had made two features before Star Wars. In 1971 he hatched the stainless-steel-cool, THX138 —a project received by its sponsors at Warner Bros. with so much bafflement and meddling that it stirred in Lucas a resolve to be a truly independent filmmaker. In 1973 he moved to the middle with American Graffiti, a feel-good blast of instant-nostalgia (it re-imagined a California car culture only a decade in the past). The two works were, respectively, boldly European-ish and familiarly humanist. They hardly hinted at the Empire Lucas would create on film, or the empire he would build in Marin County.
Out of Star Wars came Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), his computerized effects company, and THX, the advanced sound system for theaters, and a little studio, specializing in digital animation, that became Pixar. (Lucas sold that one to fellow visionary capitalist Steve Jobs.)
The film’s triumph also allowed him to become his own mogul, essentially renting later episodes to 20th Century Fox, rather than working for hire. Most surprising, perhaps, was Lucas’ fidelity to the fantasy world he’d dreamed up. He could have gone back, or on, to making the gnarly little independent movies he has talked about, to increasingly incredulous listeners, for 35 years. Yet he has extended the original Star Wars trilogy not just to the three episodes he made in the past decade but to an Ewoks TV show and, now, a Star Wars cartoon series for cable TV and a rerelease of all six chapters in 3D. He is a father who feels obliged to raise the children he sired. Luke and Anakin...
...and Indiana Jones, another Saturday matinee hero, the icon of the three-film collaboration with Spielberg that promises another installment one of these years. He’s also preparing a DVD release of the Young Indiana Jones TV series, with a one-hour documentary on the subject of each episode. EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS TOTALLY ROCKS! I MEAN, NOT ONLY DO WE GET SEAN PATRICK FLANERY ON DVD (DROOL....I'M STAYING SINGLE FOR YOU, SP!), BUT WE GET MAYBE SOME HISTORICAL FILLER INFO, SOMETHING THAT I LOOKED UP AFTER ALMOST EVERY HISTORY-BASED EPISODE.
At 61, a man with so much past could be pardoned for not paying much attention to the future. Lucas refers to himself as "retired"—meaning, he explains, he has no more Star Wars movies to make. Yet, as these excerpts from our two-hour phone conversation indicate, he has thought a lot about where the medium is going, or where it ought to go. He wants the movie industry to move at the pace his mind does: warp speed.
I’m a 19th century guy when it comes to technology, so before plugging a tape recorder into my office phone I asked Lynne Hale, Lucas’ indefatigably cheerful and helpful assistant, to record the interview on her end too. It happened that, on both sides, a few minutes were lost. I’m amused that neither the world’s largest media company nor the galaxy’s preeminent group of movie futurists could pull off recording the entire conversation. But, as you’ll see, there was enough left on the tape to give you a peek into the mind of Lucas Skywalker. —R..C.
HOW BIG MOVIES MAKE LITTLE MOVIES
Richard Corliss: Let’s talk about the effect Star Wars had on movie studios and theater owners—how a big hit can create low-budget hits.
George Lucas: It was the money from Star Wars and Jaws that allowed the theaters to build their multiplexes, which allowed an opening up of screens. The money that Star Wars made, half of it goes to the theater owners. The theater owners said, "Let’s do some expansion. Let’s build this idea of a multiplex," which was sort of floating around. So they started building multiplexes, they had all these screens, they needed to fill them. So all the little Miramaxes came up and said, “We’ll help you fill those.” And they started doing that. And those companies were able to start making some money, and so then more people were doing it, and then the studios were saying, “Gee if we can get a movie for ten million, it’s not a big investment, let’s start a little company that does nothing but distribute little movies.”
THE DOYEN OF DIGITAL
R.C.The cost of making movies is going to go way way way down because of digital. It allows more people to get into the process, which makes cinema more democratic. It’s more like literature or painting, where anybody can do it if they have the talent—it’s not this huge impossible economic barrier.
G.L.The problem is, Making a big movie, a Harry Potter or a Spider-man, you’re spending $20 to $30 million for the prints, just to strike them and ship them to the theaters. Smaller movies have to spend a huge part of their budgets on prints. Now, if you don’t have to spend any money on prints, and all you have to do is spend some money on advertising, and you’re willing to look at different alternative ways of advertising, like The Blair Witch Project did, then you have access. You can go directly to the theater and say “Hey I got a movie. Will you book this for three weeks?” And the theater doesn’t have any costs involved.
R.C.You had an idea for sharing the cost of conversion to digital distribution with the exhibitors...
G.L.It costs about $1,200 for a print and about $200 for a digital print. So what you do is charge the distributor the same $1,200 they would ordinarily be charged, and $1,000 of it goes into a pot that eventually pays for all the projectors and everything. In about five years you would basically reconvert the entire industry.
R.L.And who bought in?
G.L.No one’s bought in yet. But they will. It’s just a matter of time.
R.C.But the switchover would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. [More like $4 billion, actually.]
G.L. But that’s like: the Internet’s been invented, now I’m not going to use it until I can figure out how I can own it. Well, you can’t. It doesn’t work that way. This is a new world; it doesn’t work the way the old world worked.
They’re trying to work it out. But now it’s a matter of greed and control, who’s going to control this. One of the real problems has been that everybody’s trying to figure out a way to control everything. And they’re afraid that some outsider is going to come in and try to control it. And it has nothing to do with making movies or showing movies or anything. It has to do with trying to be greedy and control it.
R.C. And who will get rich making the projectors?
G.L.Everybody. There’s a whole group of people that make the projectors.
R.C.The makers of the equipment are not the ones who are complaining.
G.L. No, it’s the studios and the theater owners. Each one is vying to see if they can better their position with each other. And they shouldn’t. What they should be doing is saying how can we make this a better process for everybody, and especially for the audience. How can we streamline it so we all win. But no, they want to—it’s one of the problems we have in this system we’ve created called win at all costs. And the idea of cooperating and everybody wins is not in the cards. EDITOR'S NOTE: SMALL MINDS AND BIG BUCKS.
DAY AND DATE
R.C.There’s been a lot of talk about day-and-date: releasing a movie on DVD or in video stores at the same time it opens in theaters. Do you think audiences will go to theaters if they can buy the movie for the same price and play it at home with a half-dozen friends?
G.L.It’s supply and demand. It’s not going to work that way, it’s simply going to be, the theater’s going to have to do a lot of work and spend a lot of money, they’re going to be competing with day and date, and that’s inevitable. It doesn’t have anything to do with DVDs, it has to do with online. So eventually it’ll all be online, eventually it’ll all just be downloaded into a server, and it will be cheap so that they can compete with—that’s the only way you’re going to beat pirates, that is the only way because you can already download anything you want and it goes to the pirates instantly. The day it’s released.
R.C.So why will people go to the movies?
G.L.Because it’s a social experience. Sure, you can see a movie at home, the way can read a book. You can do it at home on your little laptop. But a lot of people go because it’s a social experience. It’s like watching a football game. Who in the world would go out in 20-below weather, and sit there and watch a football game where you can barely see the players? Football games are on TV, and it doesn’t effect stadium attendance at all. It’s the same with movies. People who really love movies and like to go out on a Saturday night will go to the movie theater. If you haven’t built a fan-base or you’re not selling something that people want, then the attendance is going to drop. But if you have a good product that you’re putting into the theater, then they’re going to always go there. EDITOR'S NOTE: YES, BUT THE NFL HAS BEEN GOOD AT KEEPING THE CORE FAN BASE REMINDED OF WHY THEY GO TO THE STADIUM, AND EVEN GROWING THAT BASE WITH ITS CROSS-PROMOTION ON THE TV BROADCASTS. THE MOVIE THEATER CHAINS ARE GOING TO HAVE TO REMIND PEOPLE WHY NO HOME THEATER (NO MATTER HOW LOVELY AND COMFY) IS A TRUE REPLACEMENT FOR THE THEATER-GOING EXPERIENCE. (AND THEY'RE GOING TO HAVE TO REINVENT SOME ELEMTENTS OF THAT EXPERIENCE WHILE THEY ARE AT IT).
BIG SCREEN, LITTLE SCREEN
R.C.Movies are seen in theaters, on big and small screens at home and, now, on iPods. How do you compose a frame when you know that the image might be seen on a 60-foot screen or a three-inch screen?
G.L.I compose it for the big screen, I don’t worry about the little screen. Even when we did our TV series (Young Indiana Jones), I said, 'Make this as if it were going into a big theater', because I knew that eventually the screens would be rather large. And movies work great on television. Yeah, it’s a smaller screen. Yeah, you don’t get the full scope of Lawrence of Arabia on a small screen. But you still understand it. And it’s still just as emotional. Eventually, screens are going to get much bigger at home, and then Lawrence of Arabia will have that effect. It won’t have the effect of sitting around in a theater, where it’s just overwhelming—but that’s why people are going to go to movies. Because there’s that kind of experience that they can get in the movie theaters that they’ll never be able to get at home, no matter how big they make the screens for the home.
I am a giant proponent of giant screens. But I accept the fact that most of my movies are going to be seen on phones. Because that’s what’s going to happen. People can get whatever they want out of it on a phone. If they do, then that’s great. I don’t recommend it, but I certainly don’t say don’t do that. Because people have a right to do whatever they want to do, and see it under whatever conditions. But if you really love films, and you really want to get the full impact, there’s a huge difference between watching something on a small screen with a mediocre sound system and watching it on a giant screen in a giant theater with a huge beautiful sound system. I mean the difference is electric.
R.C.Do you think audiences are so technically sophisticated now that they know the difference between formats? Virtually every CGI animated feature has been a much bigger hit than any non-CGI over the last ten years. Is that just a coincidence or a better story?
G.L.What happened with Pixar is they made brilliantly creative movies, but they looked different. They had a different quality about them than on television, than Rugrats. When you see a 3D movie, you assume it’s a higher-quality movie and it’s something you don’t see on television. Now the television show I’m working on, the Star Wars television show, is 3D.
R.C.When you said you were going to do Star Wars in 3D, do you mean in the old-fashioned 3D?
G.L.Yeah, with glasses and everything. EDITOR'S NOTE: WOOHOO!!!
R.C.Did you think of this when you were making the movies?
G.L.No, no, no. I had no idea. And that’s what makes it great. There’s a difference, because it used to be a cheap trick, which is you had a 3D movie. Now it’s a movie, but it happens to be in 3D. It’s just a 3-Dimensional way of looking at a movie that doesn’t call attention to itself, it just works. And the quality is higher. I was very much against 3D until I saw this new process and said, hey, this actually works in a way that it should work, which is it doesn’t call attention to itself, you forget that you’re watching in 3D, it’s just a nicer process.
R.C. I have to say that when I saw Spy Kids 3D, the glasses kept slipping down my nose.
G.L.Well, now they’ve got better glasses. EDITOR'S NOTE: "POLAR EXPRESS" IN 3D ON THE IMAX CAUSED ME TO SALIVATE ALL OVER MYSELF. (IN A GOOD WAY).
RENEGADE AND RETRO
R.C.Try this one on: Star Wars was pioneering in its technology but retro in its content. In the movies that you and I saw when we were growing up, movies were trying to be adult. And one of the things that Star Wars did was validate the Saturday-matinee impulse in filmmakers—which meant that there were a lot fewer exciting films by the best filmmakers that were made for adults.
G.L. Well, I don’t agree with that. Because if you look at the Academy Awards, and the top ten lists of the critics, every single year there are some amazing, artistic adult movies. And they’ve always been that way ever since the very beginning.
R.C. I mean that Godard, Bergman, Fellini, they were stretching film form. Adult movies now are adult in content: the equivalent of the Elia Kazan movies of the 50s.
G.L. Well, I would consider Kazan movies adult. And the movies up for Academy Awards this year, I would consider those adult.
R.C.They’re adult in content. The idea of pioneering form is not so important.
G.L. The experimental side of things, the experiment in form, happened in the 20s with Eisenstein and the other Russians did a lot of experimenting. In the 60s, you did get a lot of experimentation, especially here in San Francisco with Bruce Connor and all those guys. But it was too far out of the mainstream. And in the end the foreign film industries wanted to do what America was doing. They wanted to have their movies seen all over the world, they wanted audiences to love them. And to do that, you can’t be too experimental, because most people aren’t going to be attracted to that. They’re going to be attracted to storytelling—storytelling in a way that they’re used to. Today, some of the experimentation comes in music videos and commercials and TV show. But that will eventually spill over into movies.
The area I’m interested in now is to go do some form-experimenting—to try and figure out different ways of telling movies. I grew up in the Godard, Fellini world and all that. To me that’s where my heart is. But I realize that’s not commercial. That’s why I can say I managed to do something that everybody wants to do—all those guys wanted to do—which was to get a pile of money so I can sort of waste it, burn through it. It’s like a government subsidy, which is what (the Europeans) were able to deal with. I have my own little government subsidy that I’ve built myself, and now I can go and do stupid things with it. I mean, I’m old enough and I’m kind of retired...
R.C. What do you mean, you’re kind of retired?
G.L. In that I don’t have to do Star Wars anymore. I don’t have to make money any more. I can just waste it. I call it hobby filmmaking, where you just get to do what you want to do, and you don’t have to worry about what anyone thinks about it.
R.C. So you’re finally going to make good on your promise to do your own little movies?
G.L. Yeah, after the TV series, I’m going to do my own little movies. The stuff I’m thinking about it has to do with pushing the vocabulary in the medium. Basically, you have to accept the fact that it’s going to be the land of THX (the movie), and worse. EDITOR'S NOTE: I AM VERY CURIOUS TO SEE WHAT HE COMES UP WITH. (I AM MORE EXCITED ABOUT THE STAR WARS TV SHOWS AND THE SW MOVIES IN 3D, BUT STILL...LET'S SEE WHAT WEIRDNESS UNCLE G HAS IN STORE FOR US!)
R.C. But having an idea, making a movie—going from notion to release in a couple of months—that simply doesn’t happen any more, right? You can’t follow that kind of impulse.
G.L. I’m not saying I’m going to make these features fast, I mean, I ruminate a lot and sit around. I’m one of these guys that come back and paint a little and then go back and paint a little bit more and come back a month later and paint a little bit more. I don’t do things particularly quickly. I do when there’s money involved, because I just can’t afford to spend the money. And I will probably try to get this money to last as long as I possibly can, which means these are going to be reasonably low-budget movies. But I can try ideas out that I wanted to try out when I started. I’m more interested in the avant-garde underground kind of moviemaking—where you go to your uncle or somebody and ask for the money. They were making movies for $2,000.
R.C.You have a few dollars.
G.L. Yeah, I have a few dollars, but when you’re getting up to the point where the average movie costs $80 million, anything under $20 million is pretty cheap. Anything under $10 million is almost impossible. And anything under $5 million is Roger Corman. EDITOR'S NOTE: WHICH ROGER WOULD CONSIDER A MAJOR COMPLIMENT, I'M SURE!
R.C. If you’re retired, I guess you’ll be less involved with an Indiana Jones 4 than you were in the first three?
G.L. Well, I’ve been working on Indy 4 for ten years. So I’ve been more involved, so no matter how you count it on this one I’ll be more involved than I’ll have ever been on the other three put together. It’s taken forever to get a script of it. That’s my part of it.
R.C. Isn’t Harrison Ford now older than Sean Connery was when he played his father in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade?
G.L. Uhh, yeah. But the thing is designed for that. And I think it’s funny, it’s exciting. You know the problem there, which is not a problem, is that we don’t have to make that movie. All we can do is hurt ourselves, all it’s going to do is get criticized. I mean it’s basically Phantom Menace we’re making. No matter how you do it, no matter what you do, it won’t be what the other ones were in terms of the impact or the way people remember them.
R.C. But there’s also no need to complete the holes in the epic.
G.L. We don’t have anything like that. We just had a great time making those movies. And if we can have a great time doing this one and we can enjoy ourselves, and make something that’s entertaining to us, no matter what the world thinks, let’s just do it. EDITOR'S NOTE: PLEASE JUST MAKE IT BETTER THAN "TEMPLE OF DOOM" (SHUDDER. I STILL HEAR KATE CAPSHAW SHRIEKING IN MY NIGHTMARES.....)
R.C. But you also have to decide on the format, right?
G.L. In terms of what?
R.C.Do you say, "Dammit, Steven, do it in digital," and he says, "Dammit, George, I’m doing it on film"?
G.L. Pretty much.
G.L. He’ll win. He’s the director. The great thing about working with Steven is that we don’t have agendas. We want to make the best movie possible, I want him to be happy. If he he wants to shoot it on film and cut it on a Movieola... Hey, he’s got a great editor. Michael Kahn can cut faster on a Movieola than anybody can cut on an Avid. And I don’t really care. But I do tell him, 'This is your chance to play with this and experiment with it and blame it all on me'—say, ‘He made me do it.’ And then you can go back to film if you want. But he has relented after all these years to maybe cutting it digitally. We’ll see what happens.
R.C.What’s the next big thing in home gizmos?
G.L. The things they’re going to be selling are larger servers, storage units. That will be the next big thing you buy to put in your house. Now, with TiVo, it goes into a mysterious server somewhere. But this is actually going to be in your house, your server, and anything you want to download and store there, like a safe, is just going to be stored there. It’s just going to be huge. It’s not going to be like what they have now. EDITOR'S NOTE: DROOLING....(MUST GET A REAL JOB......)
R.C.And a movie downloaded from such a storage unit has the same quality as a DVD?
G.L. It’s actually better. That’s where Hi-Def is going to run into problems, Because you can download it off your hi-def internet line and you don’t have to worry about Blue Ray or all this competition that they’re going to be fighting over for the next few years. You can just do it. And play it.
R.L. In the late 70s you started THX and Pixar and ILM to explore and exploit the new technologies. Have you started new companies to follow these particular technological dreams?
G.L. All of those things were designed really to make the process of making films easier and at the same time make the quality higher. Stanley Kubrick was doing that, too; he just didn’t have a company. He did it himself. It’s better to try and do it with a company and let your friends in on it, which is what I did. ILM was there because there were no real special effects companies at the time. I had a special effects movie and I needed to create one from scratch. The same thing with THX and everything else. But right now, and I don’t think there are going to be companies, I mean I don’t know exactly how we’re going to exploit this.
Right now we’re working on a Pre-Vis system, which is pre-visualization in movies. It’s very quick, almost like a video game: you can make movies very quickly and shoot them and them put them together. It’s just basically a moving storyboard, so it’s very easy for you to figure out how your movie is going to get made, and what it’s going to look like when it gets done. And it doesn’t cost hardly anything. Any big movie all has pre-vis, which are computerized versions of the movie. But we can do that now without having the technicians there to do it. And if you’re a Victorian like I am, you can handle it. Directors can just sit down like a writer and direct their movie on a desk.
A lot of directors are going to fight this. They’re going to say, "Well, then, the studio’s going to look at my movie and say, ‘We want it done this way.’" But if you ignore the essential problem of the corporate overlords, it’s actually a great way to make movies, because you can really see what your movie is, structurally, before you go out and shoot it. It’s a great thing for anybody that’s doing any kind of large movie. Because you have to do it anyway. I come out of documentary filmmaking, so I’m used to getting a lot of material and putting it together that way. Steven is just the opposite. He’s a guy who conceptualizes and storyboards it and shoots exactly what he needs. But I have to see it moving.
R.C. Spielberg still does storyboards?
G.L. Yes, on paper. I let him do some pre-vis on the last film, on Sith. And he loved it, and he did it on War of the Worlds. So he has accepted that part now because it’s so much better.
We’re also taking a more intuitive look at digital editing. I’m building a digital editing system which is much simpler. And it’s got a different interface, it’s got the kind of interface we had on edit-to-write, which is a different kind of controller that allows the editor to not to have to think about what he’s doing in terms of manipulating the machine, it just happens automatically.
R.C.So that’s the brave new world, where the computer is your super-efficient, obedient servant.
G.L. Unfortunately, we live in a new world where all the fun things are gone. Everything is virtual. EDITOR'S NOTE: NOW NOW, NOT SO MOROSE, UNCLE G. ISN'T VIRTUAL PART OF THE FUN? (AND ISN'T IT THE FIRST STEP TOWARDS HAVING AN R2 UNIT OR A 3P0 UNIT?)