The MPAA’s changing role: Would YOU want the job?

Posted in movies, studios, Variety by Diane on May 29, 2010

Sure it pays well, but you’ve got to get kowtow to studio chiefs and fight piracy everywhere you look. Here’s my weekly Variety cover story on the movie lobbying org. Peter Bart also weighed in on Bob Kerrey’s  prospects as new CEO.

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Best advice all day

Posted in media by Diane on May 17, 2010

“Calm down.”

Urged the executive as I scrambled to settle on “one last question” following a publicist’s directive.

“You’ve got time.”

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Catchup clicks

Posted in 3D, digital media, media, studios, Variety by Diane on May 8, 2010

Joe Roth, former studio head and erstwhile producer, could not help but stage manage his keynote appearance at Variety’s Entertainment and Technology Summit on Monday, asking to move his chair up closer to the aud at the Loews Hotel in Santa Monica. He then held forth on a number of topics, stressing the benefit of marketing through social media. Before he was done, he also championed the notion that studios once again own theaters in the U.S. This has been a no-no for more than 60 years, but Roth, who got caught in the crossfire between Disney and international exhibitors over “Alice in Wonderland,” argued it no longer makes sense. My Variety story on the confab is here.

Top execs admitted they don’t know the answer to sweeping technological changes but said they can’t wait until the dust settles to figure it out. My report from the Milken Global Conference panel on the outlook for the entertainment industry.

Getty Images, which has been aggressively going after the U.S. entertainment photo biz since at least 2003, scooped up Hollywood stalwart Berliner Studios late last month. I was in charge of Variety’s event coverage when Getty came on the Hollywood scene and can attest to the turf battles between it and rival agencies. Variety, you see, had a deal with Getty, which was determined to get as much access as possible.

Variety also held a day long conference for BritWeek late last month. British reality king Nigel Lythgoe, who helped found the celebration, sounded off on his difficulty getting American networks to take his advice.

Also covered 3D Gaming Conference for Variety, during which I learned why the technology makes me so queasy. “Avatar” was on everyone’s lips at the two-day confab.


Catching up: Linkage

Posted in awards season, books, box office, indie film, movies, Variety by Diane on March 17, 2010

Been remiss in posting links to various stories that have kept me busy the past few months. In no particular order: Here are two stories I did for ShoWest, one on this summer’s tentpoles and the other on potential sleeper hits. (Attempting to answer, in other words, what this summer’s “Devil Wears Prada” might be.)

I did a story on successful mystery novelists that may finally be emerging from Hollywood development hell. Maybe. One of those profiled: Fellow Lord Jeff Harlan Coben. His book “Tell No One” was finally made into a movie in France and now in the process of being remade by producer Kathleen Kennedy.

Four of the best picture nominees dealt with infidelity of one form or another. So I wrote about it, comparing cinematic cheating to the reaction to Tiger’s marital woes. Also did a report on the Film Finance Forum earlier this month (harder than ever for those without domestic distribution to get financial backing they need to make the film in the first place) and ongoing shakeout in the PR ranks.

What else? The tension between creativity and client control in branded entertainment, that’s what.


‘Blood mingled with marinara sauce’: Philadelphia mob story

Posted in journalism trends, LAT, media, recession by Diane on February 3, 2010

Don’t get me wrong, I love L.A. A walk or run on the Hermosa sand always reminds me how lucky I am to live here.

But sometimes I miss the East Coast tabloids I knew and loved in my twenties. New York had its broadly populist tabloid papers, but my true fave was the Philadelphia Daily News. As vibrant and lean as the Inky was staid and self-important, the Daily News was gritty, well reported and a heckuva lot more fun.

Even when it was chronicling mob rubouts or other mayhem in the City of Brotherly Love.

My favorite? A front page story about one rubout, complete with stark photo and description of the murder scene, where “the blood mingled with marinara sauce.” Another story mapped previous rubouts around the city in piquant detail. I reveled reading those passages aloud to my more squeamish coworkers.

Back then, rumor had it, Knight Ridder was propping up the Daily News to discourage another daily from taking on its dominant sibling. (The Inky’s last big competitor, the Evening Bulletin, had shuttered earlier in the decade.) The owners cut back on distribution, making it harder for me to snag a copy on my way to work; oh, how I cursed them for that.

Chicken Man Testa and the Main Line Times…


Conan’s all right, he’s just a little weird

Posted in LAT, media, TV by Diane on January 24, 2010

Contrary to Neil Gabler’s incredibly wrong-headed essay in yesterday’s L.A. Times, Conan O’Brien wasn’t too cool for “The Tonight Show.” Rather,  he was too quirky.

And, judging by comments from the network, and O’Brien himself, both parties had been arguing about what the host should do about it: Defang his comedy further, in an attempt to draw mainstream auds that once watched Jay Leno and Johnny Carson before him, or to let Conan be Conan.

This was not, as Gabler argues, a battle between cool hipsters and dorks. The labels simply don’t fit. It had everything to do with splintering audiences and changing media consumption patterns.

NBC decided to go broad as possible and bring Jay back after his disastrous run at 10 p.m. And Conan decided to be true to himself and the traditional “Tonight Show” timeslot. His musical choices on the  last “Tonight Show” said it all: Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” on his video montage, and “Free Bird” closing out the show courtesy Will Ferrell in ’70s regalia.

Consider the “Surrender” refrain:

Mommy’s all right, daddy’s all right, they just seem a little weird/Surrender, surrender, but don’t give yourself away

and the story about leaving a relationship that wasn’t working in “Free Bird,” that 70’s anthem requested as an encore at so many concerts:

But please don’t take it so badly/Cause Lord knows I’m to blame

But if I stayed here with you girl/Things just couldn’t be the same

Cause I’m as free as a bird now/And this bird you cannot change

Add Neil Young’s acoustic rendition of “Long May You Run,” and you’ve got a pitch perfect score for Conan’s last “Tonight Show.” Can’t embed video here, so click over here for a vintage rendition of “Surrender,” and to Hulu for the montage, and Conan’s last show.

For now, that is.


Back to blather on CNN

Posted in journalism trends by Diane on January 21, 2010

Today was another bad day in Haiti — a strong aftershock rattled the country further and medical supplies remained scarce in the face of overwhelming need. Yet CNN kept spending far more time dissecting Scott Brown’s Senate win yesterday in Massachusetts than on the devastation in the Caribbean.

Anderson Cooper, who has once again done remarkable work covering a disaster, has been squeezed to the margins. And for what: More endless punditry overseen by Wolf “I’ve got a Situation Room” Blitzer.

It’s frustrating as a viewer. It must be exceedingly frustrating for Cooper and the rest of the CNN team in Haiti, where citizens are dying for lack of basic medical care more than a week after the original temblor. The situation has been so dire that Cooper and medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta, among other journalists, have all dropped their observer pose to help ailing Haitians.

But CNN thinks we want endless speculation about the Democrats’ loss of its super majority in the Senate. Guess again.

To watch CNN footage of Cooper’s rescue depicted above, click here.


3D overload

Posted in 3D, awards season, Blu-ray, Variety by Diane on January 8, 2010

Between “Avatar” and CES, it’s hard to avoid the 3D hype machine. Does everyone want to watch 3D at home? Consumer electronics companies, and all the studios pumping out 3D movies, sure hope so.

Here are a couple short stories I wrote for Variety about 3D moves: The first is about RealD’s flurry of deals with TV manufacturers, and the second about the movies arriving on 3D Blu-ray this year.

Last, forgot to post a link to this Variety story about those confusing Oscar rules. Do they really have to be so complicated? Oscar members defend themselves.


Bye bye, Video Business

Posted in DVD, journalism trends by Diane on January 6, 2010

The most amazing thing about Video Business is that it lasted as long as it did.

By the time I worked there in the late ’90s, the mom and pop era of videostores was already over. The battle between Hollywood Video and Blockbuster, which I wrote about for the L.A. Times, was well under way and DVD sales at big box stores were taking further toll on the indies. And these indies were the raison d’etre  for the video trades, subsidized as they have always been by studio product ads.

With fewer retailers to deal with — and direct relationships with the big chains — studios had less reason to spring for those ads. Video Business tried to reposition itself — envisioning studio execs and those toiling in emerging technologies as a broader expanded audience — without much success.

The parent company saw the writing on the wall years ago: When I requested additional resources for the website, the then head of the company likened VB to a broken down old car. And this was before the DVD market started to falter.

Still, VB persisted under various RBI regime changes. Brass trimmed costs where it could, but the past year was clearly a struggle. When RBI announced last week it was going to start shuttering mags it could not sell, I immediately thought of VB.

Despite all that, the actual shuttering seemed sudden. The Jan. 4 edition was the last. Home Media Magazine, the one I always thought would be the first to go, ended up the survivor.


If only Internet stories DID always get right to the point

Posted in digital media, journalism trends by Diane on January 5, 2010

The always provocative Michael Kinsley makes many good points about overcontextualized newspaper stories in the Atlantic but gives online stories a pass on their own failings.

Yes, many newspaper stories are too long and bloated with unnecessary quotes and qualifications, as he argues in the essay, much tweeted about today by fellow journos. But his claim that readers are abandoning newspapers for the Internet because online “news articles get to the point”? Dubious.

First, since when do online news articles get to the point? And who’s producing these online news articles? Kinsley never says: He deconstructs a few articles from the New York Times and  the Washington Post, but never cites examples that meet his brevity standards.

There’s a downside to online writing: Without a news hole to worry about, editors aren’t necessarily compelled to trim copy. And with the ever quickening news cycle, they don’t always have time to shape stories before they’re published even if they wanted to.

So what we get online is a lot of flabby prose and half-digested analysis. In an ideal world writers and/or editors would revisit dashed off stories and polish them. But how often is that done? There’s always more news to process and report.

Another problem with online news articles? Certain sites tease stories about news developments but do not, in fact, reveal what they are, until after the reader has clicked through to another page. Want to know whether the ground hog saw his shadow or your favorite team won? That’ll be another click. So much for getting to the point.

Online sites do have advantages, but they are not immune to the same quality control issues as their traditional counterparts.