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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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.

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.


When Joey confronted Paula: Future of Film Summit

Posted in indie film, movies, recession, studios, Warner by Diane on December 9, 2009

Ralphie, as we knew and loved him.

“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.

Oren Peli…


Ryan Kavanaugh: Energy to burn

Posted in movies, Uncategorized, Variety, VOD by Diane on November 24, 2009

When I was on the beat, I was never sure what to make of Ryan Kavanaugh. He always had a million financial deals going, but didn’t talk like one. He was always running late, and seemed a bit scattered. And there were rumors about his finances, a couple drunk driving incidents….

Yet studios like Universal and Sony kept doing big slate deals with him.

A couple weeks ago, I had a chance to sit down with Ryan for this Billion Dollar Producer section Variety ran in last Friday’s paper. Ryan was running late, of course, but once the interview began he was all mine. The interview stretched several hours as he showed off several projects he’s working on. Just as I suspected: He’s always running late because he gets caught up in the moment.

Here’s my feature story, which addresses his remarkable energy and those pesky rumors about his business, a story about Rogue, and his ambitions for VOD. At 34, he’s already a mogul.


Yahoo ramps up originals — no, really

Posted in Variety, Yahoo by Diane on October 5, 2009

I tried to write this story several times when I was at Variety, but it kept getting pushed back due to one exec departure after another. And frankly, at the time Yahoo was more interested in me writing a story about the success of “Primetime in No Time” than a broader one on its originals.

In the meantime, a new CEO has come into the company, a search outsource deal with Microsoft finally struck, and a renewed interest in reinventing itself as a media company. The company has been ramping up its original programming, both in terms of web shows and editorial content.

Rest assured, however, that Yahoo is NOT attempting to revive Lloyd Braun’s ambitions to create TV style programming for the Internet. For more, check out my Variety story here.


Army, we already miss you

Posted in Variety by Diane on September 8, 2009

vintagearmyWhen I started at Variety, Army Archerd was about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his column. There was a lavish party — newbies weren’t invited — and a certain expectation that he would retire. He was 80 — and he’d had a good long run, breaking the news of Rock Hudson’s illness from AIDS, among other scoops.

But Army had no interest in retiring, and continued writing for Variety — online the last few years — until two late July. Today, he succumbed to cancer, ankling to the great beyond at age 87. I’m among the many that will miss him.

Unlike some of my former Variety counterparts, I did not grow up reading the trade paper, first becoming acquainted with it as a fact checker for TV Guide. Even then, I was just scanning news items on microfiche.

I didn’t really get to know Army and his work until I started working at the paper in April 2002. Army was so wonderfully old school, scribbling notes on slips of paper, phone cradled under his ear. He was very serious about his column: When I edited Variety’s party coverage, he would call to check and see what we were running, to make sure we didn’t overlap.

Competitive, yet courtly


DVD biz: It’s really got a hold on me

Posted in DVD, Netflix, recession, Redbox, studios by Diane on August 17, 2009

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.

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