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.
“Hi Paula. It’s Joey.”
Only then did I realize that the flamboyantly-dressed gent across the room was Joe Pantoliano aka Joey Pants aka Ralphie Cifaretto from “The Sopranos.” Thesp commandeered the microphone at Variety’s Future of Film Summit to quiz keynote speaker Paula Wagner, she the former partner with Tom Cruise and head of UA. Why, Joey wanted to know, were studios asking him to take 80% to 90% pay cuts without offering him a piece of the action? Specifically, why did Warner Bros. ask him, a working class actor, to take an 85% cut? After all, he said, Fox gave him a piece of “Daredevil.”
Wagner, a one-time actress who made her bones as an agent and now toils as an indie producer, had no easy answer for Joey Pants. Later in the day, however, QED founder Bill Block, another former agent, stressed the need to give talent a “a fair shake with a real transparent back end,” adding, “We need to find our way to a better model that rewards today’s box office performance.”
Throughout the day, panelists stressed the need for filmmakers to trim costs in line with the realities of today’s movie economics. But studio execs, Pantoliano pointed out, have not been willing to do the same. Hence, the hard feelings.
“At what point do we not need studios anymore and when do they start taking that cut?” he implored.
Again, no easy answer.
Patrick Goldstein makes many good points about studios’ uphill quest to slow the resurgence of rental, and preserve their profit margins as DVD sales fade. The Napster parallels are very instructive. But I would disagree with him on several points:
1. DVD’s decline was not unexpected by studios, who have been trying to prepare for it for years. They knew that the product cycle for DVD was reaching its end, and did their best to nurture alternatives, first and foremost Blu-ray, but also Internet downloads and video-on-demand transactions.
2. Until the economy really took a dive, accelerating DVD’s sales decline, studios espoused the need for ubiquity, stressing that they would make their content available to consumers however they wanted. In fact they tended to state this as evidence how much they had learned from the misfortunes of the record biz.
3. With DVD sales down sharply, and kiosk companies like Redbox are exploding, certain studios are singing a different tune. It’s no coincidence that they are instituting these changes with the release of their biggest year-end releases. The fourth-quarter has always been a make or break period for home entertainment side of the biz.
“By trying to keep their product away from Redbox for as long as possible, the studios are doing what all businesses do when threatened by dramatic change — they’re trying to hang on to their business model for as long as possible,” Goldstein writes. But they delay at their own peril, he warns. Read the story.
Why can’t I quit the DVD biz? I recently stepped away from covering the vid biz for a third time, yet find myself completely taken by the growing battle between the studios, kiosk companies and now Netflix.
There are so many angles of this story that fascinate me: The resurgence of rental, legal claims of studio withholding content, role of the economy on changing consumption patterns and impact the latter will have on Hollywood. Also intriguing: The fact studios are so divided over how to handle Redbox, and that both Universal and Fox were trying to impose revenue-sharing terms before talks broke down with the kiosk company.
Of course, knowing the tortured backstory helps. Studios have hated rental from the beginning and tried their darnedest to prevent retailers from renting movies; the so-called Betamax case revolving around this issue went all the way to the Supreme Court.
By the time I started covering homevid in1994, the sell-through VHS biz was just starting to take off, but the overall biz was still primarily rental, with most cassettes priced at a premium. The DVD boom came; I married my husband, whom I met during my first stint at a video trade.
Then I stepped away for the first time. My first few years at Variety, I had nothing to do with video coverage, editing party coverage among other duties. When the video guy was shown the door, however, I got back into the game.
Covering the biz again, more from a studio perspective this time, reminded me of the aggravations of the beat: Studios have always protected their numbers, to the point of bullying press with threats of economic reprisals. Execs complain they’re under-covered and -appreciated, without seeming to comprehend basic deadline requirements of daily journalism.
So I wasn’t sorry to step back a second time to focus on film. Only that didn’t last long; my editor reasoned I was good at covering the biz, so homevid one again became my responsibility; eventually my primary beats shifted to digital media and home entertainment, two very dynamic areas of showbiz. Earlier this year, however, the powers that be decided those areas were expendable and I was among those out of a job in sweeping layoffs.
Again, no tears. But this darn Redbox story keeps drawing me back in; I’m fascinated by it and how it’s being covered. It’s a huge story, with many implications for Hollywood. I hope it gets resolved soon. Or maybe I don’t.