Category: creators

An authentic tale of success in Hollywood

 

emerge JPEG logo - from Sulmonetti

“Don’t Breathe” from director Fede Alvarez scored big at the box office this past weekend, surpassing all others to debut at #1. And while I haven’t see the film (yet), I thought the trailer was pretty compelling, and its success came as no real surprise.

What I didn’t realize was the lineage of its director and co-writer, Fede Alvarez. I had actually seen his early work years before when this YouTube video was garnering a lot of buzz, for what amounted to five minutes of cool special effects and terrific directing. I’ve seen some promising artists create interesting work online before (most notably, “405 The Movie,”) but Fede actually had a lot of luck to match his talent, leading him to Sam Raimi and his first Hollywood film, the remake of “Evil Dead.”

The story is told best in this interview with John Horn from public radio’s KPCC, and it is fairly detailed in how it all happened. The reason why this stood out for me was it seems that, too often, we hear success stories that omit huge steps in how a project came to prominence. In particular, I reference this article from The Los Angeles Times a few years back about how “Grand Torino” got made. It was this passage that frustrated the hell out of me:

“Schenk managed to get the script to two younger producers, Jenette Kahn and Adam Richman, who optioned the story with their own money. Schenk says everyone they took the script to passed. They finally got the script to Gerber, a veteran producer and one-time Warner Bros. production chief who had worked on a number of Eastwood films. Gerber gave the script to Eastwood, who read it and simply said, “I’m doing it.”

Having been an agent for years, I know that this really gives short shrift to the process, and I felt that this particular series of events warranted much greater attention, for the sake of aspiring screenwriters everywhere, if nothing else.

Anyway, I had to write about Fede’s path to critical and financial success in Hollywood because I still harbor frustration over that LA Times article from 2008. I guess I’m still learning to just let things go. And in the end, as difficult as it is to make it in this business, you can’t succeed if you don’t try, and it helps to have a lot of luck – perhaps more so than talent…

Enjoy!

 

The latest on VR (Virtual Reality) – is it the next media platform?

Depending on how you define a media platform, some experts are calling the impending arrival of mass-scale virtual reality technology as its next incarnation. Having only cursory first-hand experience with it, I can only speculate how it will play out, but the chatter among the technophiles would certainly indicate that it will be very important and a potential game-changer.

With this in mind, I just saw a fantastic discussion about its promise and future on the Charlie Rose PBS show, which you can watch here.

What do you all think?

 

Content is back to being king!

Media’s love affair with content has been in an ebb and flow for years. But as the means of distribution continue down the path of more choices for less cost, the value of owning content has returned to its throne of supremacy in this digital age. Increasingly, content consumers are choosing their online destination by virtue of where it can get the desired programming.

Once upon a time, the major studios would supply content to the highest bidder, even if that was a direct competitor. Indeed, it was common for Warner Brothers Television and others to supply the spectrum of broadcasters, without regard to who was distributing it. But in this age of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc., owning content takes on greater importance.

That is what makes this Ad Age article particularly enlightening. Clearly, Comcast is pursuing a strategy of owning as much of its content as possible, with its move to acquire DreamWorks Animation.

“Content owners have become increasingly valuable as of late and we could argue Comcast sees potential value in the library of franchises, characters that could be integrated,” said Eric Wold, a B. Riley & Co. analyst covering the entertainment industry.

It is likely that the success of Netflix has been largely a result of its being the sole source of programs like “House Of Cards” and “Orange Is The New Black.” And, apropos of the DreamWorks Animation news, Amazon Studios has been an avid producer of children’s programming.

This is good news for creators, but like everything in entertainment, conditions can change on a moment’s notice, so get while the getting is good, because it may not last. One scenario that I think may be a trend is the sourcing of content via app, as opposed to cable, satellite or SVOD (Subscription Video On Demand).

The king is dead! Long live the king! And then there’s Louis CK…

And when I say king, I mean content… as in, content is king. In the halcyon days of multi-million dollars “overall” deals for show creators in network television, the idea was that major TV studios (WBTV, Twentieth Television, Carsey Werner, Castle Rock, etc.) were keeping folks like David Kelley, Stephen Bochco, Dick Wolf, and Angell, Casey & Lee, under their respective corporate umbrellas. The arrangement would go something like this: They would be guaranteed a few million dollars a year over the course of a few years, and anything they created would first be offered to the studio to develop. If they passed, then the creators could take it to other buyers (usually, but not always). If nothing resulted in a series that particular season, then they could either just sit and create for the next season, or might be placed on another of the studio’s shows to help.

After reading this item from Business Insider, I am increasingly convinced that we might be returning to those days. As network loyalty is becoming a quaint notion, the providers of digital media will simply auction their talents to the highest bidder. But this won’t be just a matter of dollars. As Kevin Spacey and David Fincher have demonstrated with “House Of Cards,” artists are willing to exchange some of the upfront money for a piece of the company or greater creative freedom. I recall some rather upset writers who were forced to acquiesce to the “network suits” of yesteryear.

I guess what I’m saying – and seeing – is the creative path will go one of two ways. One is to follow folks like Louis CK and create your own product and distribute it yourself. But as he’s learning, that path has its own challenges. The other is to ply your wares to the highest bidder, and that bid may be in the way of dollars, creative freedom or a piece of the action.

As I was saying…

I just posted this item last week about creators taking control of their own distribution, and then I see this article about actress Elizabeth Banks doing the exact same thing! Not to blow my own horn, but blow I must.

The holy grail for established talent is to pursue their passion without the intrusion or oversight of the proverbial suits. Often, at studios and networks, it is some twenty-something with a friend or family member in the business who landed a job that gives them veto authority. Often, projects are evaluated not by how good they could be, but by providing sufficient “plausible deniability.” In other words, if a movie bombs at the box office or in the ratings, were their sufficient reasons (read “attachments”) that a superior couldn’t blame them. A famous example was the 1990 film “Havana” that was famously packaged by CAA featuring multiple Oscar winners, yet bombed at the box office.

I’m quite sure (although open to being proven wrong) that Kevin Spacey and David Fincher signed on to “House Of Cards” with Netflix because of the artistic freedom they would be given, as opposed to any major television network. Don’t underestimate the frustration that artists encounter with these so-called suits.

No man is an island, but will every creator be a channel?

I recall the time back in 2000 that I reached out to David Kelley (creator of “Ally McBeal” and others) about his interest in writing for an internet site, as opposed to his studio at 20th Century Fox TV. In retrospect, I realize how silly that suggestion must have sounded, but it goes to an idea that I am starting to see in every corner of the digital media universe.

In reading this item from Mashable (Kevin Hart, Lionsgate team up for ‘Laugh Out Loud’ streaming service), I thought that there are now creators who have achieved a certain level of distinction which might warrant venturing out on one’s own. Sure, I had thought David Kelley had reached it back in 2000, but now folks like  Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell have launched web channels that stand alone. And it’s not just comedy – there is FiveThirtyEight from polling wunderkind Nate Silver, Nerdist from Chris Hardwick, and so on.

This begs the question, what is the measure of notoriety that would inspire someone to launch their own channel? One interesting microcosm is YouTube. As certain YouTube stars reach incredible numbers of subscribers, I have to ask when they might decide they can do better on their own – with their own video platform, advertising sales force, production facilities, etc. – than relying on YouTube. Certainly, FunnyOrDie is one example, and perhaps PewDiePie will be next (43 million YouTube subscribers and counting).

It seems that Kevin Hart has decided to let Lionsgate handle some of these duties, but the trend of sports leagues illustrates the perils of becoming too reliant on a creator (or copyright holder) for content, when that person or group may decide going it alone is too profitable to ignore. Just look as ESPN’s effect on Disney’s stock price recently. That seems to be the direction that Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are going. I suppose we’ll see…