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Oscar Contenders in Production Design Evoke Past, Present and Future
Production designers working on this season’s awards contenders ("La La Land," "The Handmaiden," "Passengers," "Moonlight," "Rules Don't Apply") drew on some unlikely sources to create eye-catching sets that not only provided a stage for the action, but also subtly reinforced the narrative.
Find out more in my feature in Variety.
Visual Effects Shop Makes Big Bangs for Netflix's 'Luke Cage'
When the writers of the new Netflix series “Luke Cage” included a scene in which the bad guys try to kill the hero by blowing up a building he’s in, they couldn’t have foreseen that it would take a VFX team a total of 130 worker days to make those quick keystrokes come to life.
Read the entirety of my article in Variety.
How HBO's 'Game of Thrones' Keeps Its Characters' Costumes in Order
It’s hard enough for viewers to sort out the hundreds of characters on HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Imagine what it’s like for the show’s costume supervisor, Sheena Wichary, who has to keep track of every stitch of clothing (including multiples of the same outfit) and their state of wear at any point in the narrative, across separate units shooting in geographically diverse locales such as Northern Ireland, Iceland, Spain, Morocco, and Croatia.
Wichary used to do things the old-fashioned way: poring over scripts with a ruler and a highlighter. But three seasons ago, she went high-tech with a cloud-based application for the web and smart devices that uses a software algorithm to automate the script-breakdown process. The program, called SyncOnSet, sorts out characters with “all the costume changes and our budget from episodes one to 10,” says Wichary. “This would ordinarily be a two-man job involving weeks of work.”
Read the entirety of my article in Variety.
Lesbians, Vampires & Kotex: How 'Carmilla' Became a Branded Digital Series Sensation
When a brand sponsors a series, it goes without saying that the show’s themes must be compatible with the product it purports to promote. So one can’t help but wonder what the folks at U by Kotex were thinking when they signed on to back “Carmilla.”
Executive producer Jay Bennett admits that many have questioned the weird mix of images conjured up by the brand/story combination (tampons, blood and vampires), but not U by Kotex.
Click here to read the article.
Cinematographers Bring Big-Screen Look to Television
Twenty years ago, when cinematographer John S. Bartley won an Emmy for his work on “The X-Files,” the sci-fi series’ shadowy, cinematic look made it stand out amidst the bright, relatively flat visuals typical of TV at the time.
Today, hour-long TV dramas deliver such uniformly excellent visuals that many viewers find them virtually indistinguishable from what they see in movies.
Click here to read my entire feature in the Aug. 3, 2016, edition of Variety.
Virtual Reality in Sports Poses Unique Challenges for Producers
“The average person thinks they’d love to stand on the sidelines to watch an NFL game,” says Cliff Plumer, president of Jaunt VR’s production arm, Jaunt Studio. “They’ll learn that it’s the worst place to stand. You can have an action all the way across the field, and it’ll seem very far away. So how you cover that for VR is much more challenging than traditional broadcast.”
Read more in my article in Variety.
Hollywood Goes Czech in Variety!
From Lucasfilm's "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles," immediately post-Velvet Revolution in 1990, to the upcoming Amazon/Sky Channel historical drama "Britannia," I examine the evolving state of film and TV production in the Czech Republic in Variety.
Emmy Contenders for Stunts Bring Big-Screen Action to the Small Screen
When stunt coordinator Anton Moon staged the slave ship mutiny for History Channel’s new miniseries adaptation of “Roots,” he had to deliver more than just exciting action with 20 stunt people and 200 extras. He had to make sure the fighting style accurately reflected the background of 18th century Mandinka captives, not modern action movie conventions.
“No kicking, punching, no head-butting — none of the old go-to favorites,” says Moon. “The Mandinka had to be very light-footed, very fast-moving, in contrast to the European sailors, who would throw a normal punch and move kind of heavy-footed.”
Moon’s work in “Roots” is representative of the intricate, large-scale complex stunt work being done in television today on shows such as FX’s “American Horror Story: Hotel,” Netflix’s “Daredevil” and Syfy’s “The Expanse"...
Continue reading the rest of my article for Variety.
NewFronts in Rearview Tell Us Don't Believe the Hype
The go-big, promise-them-everything strategy is common with the media companies presenting at the NewFronts in New York through May 13, and so are the results.
Pick a programming slate unveiled at last year's events and google some of the titles. Often, you’ll find that the only mentions of the programs are articles relating to the original announcement... Continue Reading
Drone Dangers Have Hollywood Worried
Matt Ragan loves telling directors how his drone can follow a car down the street at eye level in a tight shot, like a dolly without rails, then rise into the air like a crane, and soar into the sky like a helicopter.
“That seamless transition is something they really eat up,” says Ragan, an entrepreneur who launched Birds Eye of Big Sky, a company that provided drones to scout for “The Revenant,” among other films.
But as versatile as drones are, they have drawbacks. Small remote-controlled aircraft can be hard to handle and are sometimes flown carelessly — as exemplified by a drone’s close call with a Lufthansa jet near LAX in March.
Click here to read all of my article in Variety.
Because It's Facebook, Stupid: Why Facebook Live is Important or 1.59B Users Can't Be Wrong
At Facebook Live’s big features roll-out in Hollywood, a video screen played Tastemade’s 55-minute live stream of a pair of a hands drawing faces on the creamy surface of a cup of coffee latte with a toothpick, while members of the media roamed the room with their smart phones, eagerly live streaming to what were likely non-existent audiences.
The message of the day was “this is the next big thing, you have to try it,” but it felt as an unhip as Mom’s awkward post about sexting on your timeline…
Click here to read my full article in VideoInk.
How Social Media Can Point to Potential Oscar Nominees and Winners
My latest article for Variety:
In the old days, Oscar watchers would look to Las Vegas to get a quick breakdown of which nominees were mostly likely to take home a statuette on awards night. Today, they can gauge the potential winners, as well as gain actionable insights on how to better market their films, via a process known as “social listening,” an automated analysis of mentions on platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
Check out the full article in Variety.
While Hollywood Squabbles, YouTube Has #NoFilter on Diversity
In the film and TV world, diversity is dictated from the top down by executives who greenlight the projects and the writers and the producers they hire to craft the stories. This means we are left with content that largely reflects the inhabitants of show business executive suites, which tend to be white males. These execs also tend to be lawyers, MBAs and/or sociopaths, but that’s another topic.
In the social video space, individual users greenlight their own no-budget projects, and they’re surfaced organically, without corporate sponsorship or promotion, by the fans. By the time the show business machinery gets its claws on the creators, they are already stars with fully-developed personas and massive followings.
The differences don’t end there. Check out my article in the VideoInk to get the full picture.
One of the YouTube creators affecting this organic flowering of diversity in the social video space is Lilly Singh, whom I profiled as VideoInk's "Creator of the Year" for 2015.
The feature-length documentary “A Trip to Unicorn Island” -- about Singh's world tour last summer that took her to such far-flung locales such as India, Singapore and Trinidad -- will be one of the first four original productions to premiere exclusively on YouTube Red, the video hosting giant's new subscription service.
James Bond Leaves Another Global Footprint With ‘Spectre’
Over the course of 53 years and nearly two dozen films, audiences have come to expect amazing exotic locations from James Bond movies. But the last entry in the series, 2012’s “Skyfall,” while hugely successful, was a little light on the globetrotting. Things are different with 007’s 24th adventure, “Spectre,” once again directed by Sam Mendes, which has the super spy Bond (Daniel Craig) touching down in Mexico, Italy, Morocco and the U.K.
Click here to read my entire article in Variety
On the Set of CBS' 'Code Black'
On CBS’ “Code Black,” the hallways and operating rooms of Angels Memorial Hospital don’t have the gleaming white surfaces seen on the typical medical show. The space is gritty and lived-in, with layers of wear reflecting the building’s 80-plus-year history, as well as its status as a chaotic, overtaxed trauma center.
Click here to read my entire article in Variety taking a behind the scenes look at the "Code Black" set.
Bringing Louisiana Up to Hollywood Standards
When producer Scott Niemeyer came to New Orleans to shoot his 2012 film “Pitch Perfect,” he found a lot of cheap production space: empty warehouses and abandoned stores standing in for soundstages and decommissioned state buildings. But he discovered that, in most cases, you get what you pay for. He had to bring in diesel generators for power, supplemental HVAC systems for air conditioning and erect lighting grids.
And don’t even talk about the soundproofing.
“Anything goes there,” Niemeyer says. “The sound guys pull their hair out, and we spend time in ADR trying to fix it.”
Click here to read the rest of my article in the Oct. 13, 2015, issue of Variety.
How Meghan Camarena Beat YouTube Burnout
Upon hearing that Meghan Camarena (a.k.a. Strawburry17) has a new fall season of shows, debuting today, the initial instinct is to marvel at the fact that the online video ecosystem has become so built-out and sophisticated that an individual YouTube star can adopt the programming strategy of a television network.
But for Camarena it’s more than just a smart, mature business move. It’s a matter of survival.
Click here to read the full article in VideoInk.
YouTube Space LA Comes of Age
What's YouTube Space LA? After the Aug. 21st telecast of an installment of CBS' "The Late Late Show with James Corden" recorded entirely at the facility, the question is probably on a lot of people's minds. I answer it in this article for VideoInk featuring an interview with YouTube Space LA chief Liam Collins.
Zefr Preaches Salvation in Analytics
In an article for VideoInk, Zefr co-founder and CEO Richard Raddon explains to me how his company helped Hollywood studios stop treating people sharing video on YouTube as pirates and start embracing them as revenue-generating promotional tools.
'Daredevil,' 'Black Sails' Take Movie-Style Stunts to TV
TV shows increasingly serve up big screen-style action, but that doesn't mean they have cushy movie schedules to pull it off. In my article in Variety, I explore the challenges faced by the stunt coordinators behind some of this year's most Emmy-worthy action sequences in Netflix's "Daredevil," Starz's "Black Sails" and NBC's "Chicago Fire."
How Talent Agencies Are Changing the Streaming Biz
WME agent Chris Jacquemin remembers what it was like when he first started repping digital native talent back in the old days of the streaming video industry – you know, the early 2010s.
YouTubers had been making their own deals, and "they were a bit shocking," says Jacquemin, whose clients include top digital influencers such as Grace Helbig, The Fine Bros., Felicia Day, Lilly Singh and Cameron Dallas.
The multi-channel networks were typically taking 50% of their AdSense revenue (after Google had already taken its 45% cut) and 80% on brand deals. They were also demanding aggressive splits on ownership of the content and control of distribution rights, as well as requiring talent to promote products or services in which the MCNs had a vested interest.
"It occurred to us that it really wasn't being managed like a marketplace, meaning nobody was shopping the talent to Maker (Studios), Fullscreen, Machinima and Defy at the same time," says Jacquemin. "They had a friend or an in at this place or that place, and they did the deal there. We came in and said, 'No, we think this talent is valued well above what you're paying and we will prove it.' It was nothing innovative. We agented."
Read the rest of my article in StreamDaily, in which digital talent reps from WME, CAA and Collab and manager-turned-producer Larry Shapiro explain the tricks of their trade.
I also went behind the scenes at Young Hollywood's studio, located in a suite on an upper floor of the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, and talked to its founder and CEO R.J. Williams about why he said "no" to cable and syndicated TV deals and "yes" to an over-the-top streaming channel on Apple TV.
Cast and crew can now take pictures on set and immediately leak the images on social media, spoiling the studios' PR campaigns...
Even on big event films where everyone is required to sign nondisclosure agreements, people often forget that sharing info about the production on social media can get them fired.
“They’ll say, ‘Gee, I didn’t realize I couldn’t send out that photo of that endoskeleton,’ ” says [unit publicist Sheryl] Main, who recently worked on “Terminator Genisys.” “Really? You signed something.”
Read about what unit publicists to stop social media leaks in my article in the Feb. 17, 2015, issue of Variety.
When Kathleen Grace first came on board as chief creative officer at New Form Digital last April, she had some advice for her new bosses. She told them that in the digital space, they couldn’t linger in development, Hollywood-style. They needed to move fast.
Having spent 3 years as head of creative development for YouTube Space LA, Grace had the experience to back her words. But New Form’s owners – which include Imagine Entertainment’s Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and Discovery Communications – know a thing or two about the business themselves.
“Luckily, my very intelligent backers said, ‘Great. Here’s some money – go!’” recalls Grace.
Click here to read my full article, "Finding Grace at the Hollywood and Silicon Valley Intersection," in StreamDaily.
In the Feb. 3 edition of Variety, I examine how the Oscar-nominated costume, hair & makeup and art departments brought to life a bygone era that never truly existed in director Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel," with eccentric, meticulous looks mixing historic reality and storybook whimsy.
With film and TV salaries and studio deals declining and music sales in a free fall, the entertainment industry is increasingly turning to brand deals to keep the Cristal flowing into retirement. Read about it in my article for Variety.
"Why would I want to make decapitation believable and then not want to make sex believable? Sex is the best thing ever," Lauren Cohan told me during our interview for the October/November issue of Nylon Guys. Wearing a faded t-shirt and jean shorts, she looked a lot more like the tomboyish zombie-slaying Maggie on AMC's "The Walking Dead" than the sex bomb she portrays in photo shoots, but that probably made it a lot easier for me to focus during our talk. The important thing is that she was refreshingly fun and candid, discussing everything from childhood traumas to the joys of a fast Corvette.
England's The Daily Mail also got into the sex 'n' decapitation action, using the article (titled "Dead Sexy") as the basis for a feature.
In the same issue of Nylon Guys, I also talk to Mark Webber ("Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," the upcoming "Laggies," co-starring Keira Knightley).
In this article for Variety, I take a look at New Mexico, the former home of "Breaking Bad," and examine what the state is doing to keep film and TV productions flowing into the state.
In the August/September issue of Nylon Guys magazine, I interview star Chadwick Boseman about how he went from portraying saintly Brooklyn Dodger Jackie Robinson in "42" to funky wild man James Brown in "Get on Up."
The plot of the revived Fox series "24: Live Another Day," shot on location in London, centers on a terrorist attack on the city. Will it still inspire visitors to trek to the tourism-dependent British capital? I address these and other film & TV tourism-related questions in my article in Variety.
Come with me as I go behind the scenes at Defy Media (Smosh, Clevver, "Man at Arms," etc.), talk with co-founders of digital networks dedicated to yoga and Comic Con, analyze Twitter ad metrics, discuss crowdfunding with the creator of "Video Game High School" and explain where you can find vintage videos of cats on LSD.
From the earnest-yet-smarmy tones of host Bill Tundle (Michael Ian Black) and the vapid narcissism of its contestants to its overlit McMansion setting, Yahoo series “Burning Love” looks and sounds like every other reality dating program — only slightly more profane and absurd.
Read my story in Variety about this "Bachelor"/"Bachelorette" spoof featuring creator Erica Oyama and stars Jude Diane Raphael and Ken Marino.
In the same issue, I explore the wonders of Vine, the year-old Twitter-owned video app that's putting a surreal spin on online video sharing, with company co-founder Colin Kroll .
In my first piece for Nylon Guys Magazine, titled "Bigger Than Elvish," I interview Evangeline Lilly (“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," TV’s “Lost") over drinks and guacamole at Mercado Restaurant in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, I had to leave out the part where she jumped up and asked me to feel the fabric of her gaucho pants.
Read it here.
Mark Wahlberg talks about how members of his real life "Entourage" came together to make his fact-based Afghanistan war drama "Lone Survivor" in this article I wrote for Variety.
AMC's "The Walking Dead" shooting in Georgia.
When the CW series “Vampire Diaries” began shooting in Jessica Lowery’s hometown of Covington (population 13,118) in 2009, she had no idea the production would become her family’s economic salvation.
Click here to read the rest of my story in Variety about the changes wrought by the hordes of vampires, zombies and other Hollywood creatures invading Georgia.
On the set of "The Way Way Back."
Learn about actors-turned-directors learning from their crews in my lead feature for Variety's Below the Line Impact Report 2013.
Check out my two articles in the June 24th edition of Variety, Internships Put Film-School Skills to the Test and Soundstages Extend Their Brands on Global Scale.
Should it be "Oz the Greatly Government Subsidized"?
In this era of ever-increasing partisan rancor, there’s one thing that can still get people to reach across the political divide, hold hands and sing “Kumbaya" – the opportunity to grab as much public money as the law and starry-eyed government officials will allow. A case in point: Michigan Motion Picture Studios in Pontiac, Michigan, where Disney shot “Oz the Great and Powerful,” lured by nearly $40 million in tax credits from the state.
Opened in April 2011, the $80-million complex was financed with just $20 million in private equity. The rest of the money came from a variety of federal and state sources, including $18 million in bonds guaranteed by the State of Michigan Retirement Systems (SMRS) pension fund.
The idea for the studio was first floated by Linden Nelson, a local Pontiac entrepreneur who patented the removable key chain for valet parking in the early ‘90s. He brought the idea to his old friend, William Morris Endeavor co-CEO Ari Emanuel, the inspiration for the Ari character on HBO’s “Entourage” and the brother of Rahm Emanuel, former chief of staff to President Obama and current Chicago mayor. The leadership of the investment group was rounded out by A. Alfred Taubman, a billionaire shopping mall developer who went to prison for price fixing in 2002, and John Rakolta, CEO of construction giant Walbridge, finance chair for Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign and husband of onetime anti-obscenity activist Terry Rakolta, who had 15 minutes of fame when she called for a boycott of Fox’s “Married…with Children" back in 1989.
A month after “Oz” wrapped in early 2012, the studio had gone from employing 3,000 people to just 15 or 20. It subsequently defaulted on bond payments of $420,000 and then $630,000, leaving the pension fund to cover them.
In this article I wrote for Variety, I explain how and why this and other government-funded show biz boondoggles are an increasingly common occurrence. (My voice got flattened out a bit in the editorial back and forth, but it's packed with good info.)
Also check out this article I wrote for The Hollywood
Reporter, in which I call on Kirk Douglas to help explain how runaway production was a common occurrence long before Canada enacted its first movie & TV tax credit.
For more than you'll ever want to know about the subject, visit my Runaway Production Au Go-Go page.
(For what it's worth, my children and I really enjoyed "Oz," in spite of its many faults.)
Writer/director Ric Roman Waugh with Dwayne Johnson on the set of "Snitch."
There are faint scars on the face of Ric Roman Waugh that testify to the injuries he suffered during his years as a stuntman on films such as “Days of Thunder,” “True Romance,” “Hook” and “Lethal Weapon 2.”
But Waugh, son of the late Fred Waugh, a founding member of Stunts Unlimited, is more concerned with prison these days — specifically the unforgiving criminal justice system he depicts in his new film “Snitch,” which opened Feb. 22 via Summit Entertainment.
“You’re not a criminal; you follow the rules of society, and then you make that one mistake … ,” Waugh says.
Click here to read the entire article in Variety.
XYZ Films' "The Raid: Redemption."
I profile James M. Johnston & Toby Halbrooks ("Ain't Them Bodies Saints") and the crew at XYZ Films ("The Raid: Redemption") for Variety's 10 Producers to Watch 2012 issue.
Jeremy Renner in "The Bourne Legacy."
I call on the directors of a gaggle of films (including "The Bourne Legacy," "The Expendables 2," "It's a Disaster" and "The Apparition") and ask what they learned from their below the line brethren in the lead story for Variety's Below the Line Impact Report.
In the same issue, I also profile stunt coordinators and second unit directors from such films as "The Bourne Legacy," "The Avengers" and "Mission Impossible -- Ghost Protocol" and talk to DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, Weinstein Co. co-chairman Bob Weinstein and others about their adventures working with famed Hollywood attorney Bert Fields.
Tom Cruise in "Rock of Ages" (Warner Bros.).
When Oliver Stone made "The Doors" (1990), he painstakingly restored large portions of the Sunset Strip between Larrabee St. and Hilldale Ave. to their mid '60s glory. I know because I was able to observe it from my office overlooking what is now the Viper Room.
I'm embarrassed to say that I was also around for hair metal's heyday in the late '80s, when on Saturday nights the Strip was so crowded with wannabe rock gods and Spandex-ed vixens it looked like someone had turned the Midwest upside down and shook loose every Aqua Netted idiot on to the streets of West Hollywood. So maybe I should be relieved that director Adam Shankman has gone to the other end of the country to Miami, Florida, recreate that milieu for his Warner Bros. big screen adaptation of the musical "Rock of Ages," starring Tom Cruise.
If you want to know why "Rock of Ages" and so many other productions are now choosing to shoot in the Sunshine State, read my article in Variety.
Here are some photos of the "Rock of Ages" set in Miami, along with a few covert video tours (below).
How They Made "Fight of the Living Dead: Experiment 88"
If you want to find out which YouTubers get ripped to pieces by the undead in the new reality-competition series “Fight of the Living Dead: Experiment 88,” you’ll have to subscribe to YouTube Red and watch the show on the BlackBoxTV channel.
But if you have questions about how they cast it, where they shot it, the zombie to YouTuber ratio and the behind the scenes techniques employed by the producers to keep contestants and viewers on-edge, as well as plans for a sequel, you’ll find answers in the video above.
Go90's "The Runner" Series Explained
I visit the command center for Go90's "The Runner" and get the lowdown on the mobile-first reality competition series from host Matt Patrick (a.k.a. MatPat), executive producer/Pilgrim Media Group CEO Craig Piligian, and Chip Canter, GM of digital entertainment/Go90 for Verizon.
VidCon 2016 Explained
Did you miss out on VidCon 2016? Or do you have a mom, dad, aunt, uncle or grandma who just doesn't get what VidCon is about? Then this video is for you.
Trending Streaming Video News 'Explained in a Minute'
Recently, I was interviewing the CEO of a prolific reality TV prodco dipping its toes into the streaming video space when he blurted out, "I like your look. Have you ever thought about doing an online news show about this stuff?"
His appraisal of my look was suspect and the comment may have been just a smoke blow to encourage sympathetic coverage, but, I thought, why not give it a try?
Mindful of Shakespeare's much-quoted line "brevity is the soul of wit" ("Hamlet," Act 2, Scene 2) and the short attention spans of today's viewers, I decided to deliver the news in quick blasts, under the title "Explained in a Minute."
Behind the Scenes at Lily Singh's 'A Trip to Unicorn Island' Premiere: YouTube Red's Big Coming Out Party
The premiere of YouTube star Lilly Singh's documentary “A Trip to Unicorn Island” at the TCL Chinese Theatre was more than just a celebration of the film's release. It signaled YouTube’s arrival in the show business mainstream, not just with its stars, but with its new subscription service YouTube Red.
To learn more about it, check out my feature in VideoInk or watch the video below.
How YouTuber Bryan Lanning Turned a Family Vlog into Pop Music Success
Bryan Lanning is not a typical pop star, nor a likely one. A married father of two small children, he would never be mistaken for a member of One Direction. Yet he’s managed to harness the success of his family vlog Daily Bumps (1.1M subscribers and 610M views on YouTube) to launch a pop music career.
Click here to read the entire article in VideoInk.
On the Green Carpet with Vine Superstars at 'The Outfield' Premiere
If you have tween or young teen daughters, you've probably heard of Cameron Dallas and Nash Grier. If you don't -- and you're not in the streaming video biz -- you likely haven't.
Hollywood is now capitalizing on the online fame of these "digital influencers" by casting them in low-budget, direct-to-digital movies that can be promoted cheaply through the stars' social media channels. The latest in this genre is Dallas and Grier's new film "The Outfield," which skipped theaters and went straight to iTunes, where it shot to the top of the drama charts, beating out "Jurassic World."
In the video above, I go to the film's premiere at Universal CityWalk and talk to Dallas and Grier and co-directors Michael Goldfine and Eli Gonda about what it took to get two teenagers famous for their work in six-second comedic clips sufficiently prepped to carry a 90-minute drama, and outline the economic model for influencer-driven features.
You can also check out my article about the event.
How Disney XD Scored with Gamer’s Guide Live Snapchat Promotion
Yes, studios are now promoting moves and TV shows with live Snapchats by digital influencers. Some of your are probably asking, "What's a digital influencer?" It could be a YouTube star or, as in this case, some teenagers from the Midwest who have a million or so followers on Vine. Find out more in this article I wrote for VideoInk.
In an interview recorded at YouTube Space LA , Paige McKenzie and her on-screen/real-life mother Mercedes Rose talk about turning their YouTube series "The Haunting of Sunshine Girl" into a book, dealing with freaking fans, the differences between Paige and her character, and fear of wet paper vs. fear of E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial.
In the spring of 2014, I attended the shoot of the zombie reality competition series "Fight of the Living Dead" at the appropriately spooky Sybil Brand Institute, a now-shuttered women's jail where Manson Family member Susan Atkins confessed to a cellmate in 1969.
On the eve of the show's premiere on the new geek-friendly VOD service ConTV, I sat down with the show's producers to talk about what happens when you put eight top YouTube stars in lockdown with hundreds of faux undead.
The 2015 International CES (Jan. 6-8) drew an estimated 150,000 to Sin City, turning the Las Vegas Convention Center into something resembling a cross between a techie refugee camp and a high-end electronics flea market.
I decided the best way to capture the mad energy of the scene was with a piece of handheld technology, my Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone, which I used to both shoot and edit video of the event on the fly.
To see all of my CES videos, click here.
In this video, I explore the inspiration and strategy behind Scene@AwesomenessTV, a pop-up store in L.A.'s Fairfax District featuring fashions designed by YouTube stars such as Teala Dunn, Sawyer Hartman and Meg DeAngelis.
At the event, I also got AwesomenessTV co-founder Joe Davola to reveal how he inspired the "Seinfeld" character Crazy Joe Davola.
My video of the store opening was also used as the basis for an article by competing publication Tubefilter.
Disney hosts the biggest YouTube star in the world, Felix Kjellberg (PewDiePie), along with other top online gaming personalities including Joseph Garrett (Stampylonghead), at its first-ever public event at its Burbank studios for Maker Studios, the multi-channel network in purchased in March 2014 in a deal worth up to $950 million.
As reports swirled that its parent company DreamWorks Animation was on the verge of being purchased by Japanese conglomerate SoftBank in a deal worth $3.4 billion, AwesomenessTV staged a "town hall meeting" at YouTube Space LA on on Sept. 26, 2014, featuring Q&As with COO Brett Bouttier and stars Teala Dunn, Meg DeAngelis, Jeffrey Fever and Keith Lemelin, as well as musical performances by Courtney Randall, Josh Levi and Lia Marie Johnson. I captured the action on video for StreamDaily.
Anyone who witnessed the hordes of stampeding tween girls at VidCon 2014 knows there’s a growing hysteria for YouTube stars that the mainstream media has yet to recognize. For those who haven’t seen the phenomenon in person, I took my camera (and my own tween daughter/production assistant) to InTour 2014 at the Pasadena Convention Center on Sept. 13, 2014, and captured fans going gaga over YouTubers like Connor Franta, Ricky Dillon, Jc Caylen, Sam Tsui, JennXPenn and FreshBigMouf. It's part of my coverage of the online video industry for StreamDaily.
I celebrated Labor Day 2014 by taking a DeLorean back to the '80s with my band Bright Shiny Object to record this Martian Motown work song, "Clockpuncher." Fearful of disturbing the space-time continuum, we didn't stick around to let it be the hit it oh-so-deserved to be, but we managed to smuggle it back to 2014 it for your review.
Bright Shiny Object has also crafted a tune for tortured Hollywood assistants, frustrated screenwriters and Comic-Con attendees, titled "Flunky."
Dude, check out this video interview I did for StreamDaily with three of the biggest stars! On YouTube. In Germany. Oh, well. Gronkh, Sarazar and MissesVlog are virtual unknowns in the U.S., but they're nice folks, and they're here in the U.S. for awhile, living "Big Brother"-style in a West Hollywood house for the Studio71 digital series "The Mansion."
R.I.P LAUREN BACALL
I've been lucky to interview a few stars from Hollywood's Golden Age, and Lauren Bacall stands out among them, not because I revere her work, but due to her intimate personal and professional connections to other, more significant show business icons, most notably her first husband, Humphrey Bogart. Also, the experience taught me some important journalistic lessons about dealing with celebrities and interviewees in general.
During our interview, Ms Bacall seemed... how shall I say it? A little loose. It was the fall of 2000, noon-ish for me in Los Angeles and sometime after lunch for her in New York. I had called to interview her about her early years in show business for The Hollywood Reporter's 70th anniversary issue. She had always seemed a bit prickly to me, so I was surprised to find how friendly and open she was, especially when it came to the subject of first husband Humphrey Bogart. It shouldn't have surprised since she explored their relationship in depth in several books. But surprised I was.
Unfortunately, a few days later, I got a glimpse of her prickly side...
Click here to find out what happened next and read the interview.
Former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman (born William Perks, October 24th, 1936) turns 79 this week. Celebrate by reading my 1998 interview with the quiet but prolifically promiscuous Stone.
"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" director Matt Reeves isn't a new newcomer to the upside-down simian-ruled world. As a child he was obsessed with the original franchise, launched in 1968 with "Planet of the Apes," starring Charlton Heston. "I had a best friend named Mark Sanderson," Reeves told Film School Rejects. "We'd call each other on the phone and say "Let's go play apes!' We would act out 'Planet of the Apes.' I made a Super 8 movie with the title 'Galactic Battles,'" mixing "Apes" with "Star Wars."
If you want the full story about Reeves' adolescent cinematic collaborations with Sanderson, J.J. Abrams ("Star Trek," "Star Wars"), cinematographer Larry Fong and others, read my blog post "The Real Kids of 'Super 8.'"
My 8-year-old daughter Hayden looked at my poster of “The Big Carnival” (aka “Ace in the Hole”) on the living room wall and asked me how old its star Kirk Douglas is. “He’s 97,” I told her. “He’ll be 98 in December .” “He won’t be around much longer,” she replied. “No,” I said, “No matter how you look at it, the life expectancy for a 97-year-old isn’t that great.”
It got me thinking that when he does pass, I’d have to post the transcripts of my interviews with him. It never occurred to me I'd soon be digging out an interview I did with writer/director/actor Harold Ramis, who died on February 24th at the age of 69.
It would’ve been nice if I’d gotten to talk to Ramis about, say, his early days at Second City or what it was like to work with John Belushi on “Animal House.” But when I interviewed him in 2004, it was for an article in The Hollywood Reporter about “runaway production,” so we discussed who he had to bluh… I mean, what he had to do to shoot his big screen adaptation of the Scott Phillips novel The Ice Harvest, starring John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton, in his native Chicago instead of Canada, as was de rigueur at the time.
Longwell: Why are you filming in Chicago as opposed to, say, Toronto?
Ramis: Because we’re Americans, goddammit! We’ve had enough! (laughs)
Click here to read more.
What did it take to stage this year's Super Bowl halftime show by Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers? I don't know. But this piece I did about The Who's Super Bowl halftime show in 2010 will give you an idea.
As the minutes tick down to the finale for “Breaking Bad,” I’ve been pondering how much of himself series creator Vince Gilligan has put into Walter White. After all, all art is autobiography to a degree, even when the artist works hard to make sure it isn't. On last week’s penultimate episode, Walt seethed in rage as his Gray Matter co-founders referred to him as a “kind, sweet man.” As I watched, it occurred to me that Gilligan has a reputation for being a kind, sweet man. He had some success as a TV writer prior to "Breaking Bad" on "The X-Files," but that wasn't his show. He worked in the shadow of its charismatic creator Chris Carter.
In honor of the occasion, I’ve pulled out an interview I did with Gilligan back in the fall of 2010 in which he explains how he got the “X-Files” gig (“Hollywood nepotism at its finest,” he said). He told me that the series finale of “M*A*S*H” was one of his favorite TV moments, which I interpret as a good sign that we’ll get some real dramatic closure tonight, not a pretentious cop-out. Read it here.
Anissa Jones and Mrs. Beasley on "Family Affair."
My Facebook feed alerted me to fact that August 28th, 2013, is the 37th anniversary of the death of Anissa Jones, the young actress who played Buffy on the CBS sitcom "Family Affair." She was just 18 when she died of what coroner Robert Creason characterized as "one of the most severe cases of drug overdose ever seen in San Diego County."
It reminded me of the time when I went on a quest to find her autopsy report for a cover story for Film Threat about child stars.
To see the autopsy report and learn more about Jones' short, sad life, click here.
The 2013 release of "Skyfall" marked the 50th anniversary of James Bond's big screen debut in 1962's "Dr. No," starring Sean Connery. The Queen of England celebrated the milestone by parachuting from a helicopter with current 007 Daniel Craig in the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics. I did it by purchasing the Bond catalog on home video yet again, this time on blu-ray. I already owned many of the Bond films on blu-ray, but due to their crazy, haphazard release pattern, complicated by MGM's bankruptcy... Let's just say, I hope this is the last time I have to re-buy them in any format. Yeah, right.
I've also decided to dig up some of my Bond-related writings.
Ken Adam on the set of "You Only Live Twice" (1967).
First, I've reached back into my archives and pulled out a 2002 interview with production designer Ken Adam, the man who defined the look of the 007 franchise with his work on seven Bond films from 1962's "Dr. No" to 1970's "Moonraker."
Click here to read my conversation with Adam.
I've also posted several of my features from The Hollywood Reporter's special issue marking the 40th anniversary of the film franchise, including an interview with Bond #5 Pierce Brosnan in which he discusses such pressing issues as what to do when approached by an autograph hound while using a urinal.
Also check out my behind the scenes look at Brosnan's final Bond mission, 2002's "Die Another Day," and my conversation with the film's stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong, who also doubled Harrison Ford in the first three "Indiana Jones" films and Christopher Reeve in "Superman" and "Superman II."
What better way to ring in the holidays than with a look back at Bob Hope's annual Christmas shows for our troops overseas?
A five-figure bonus check, you say? Downing a bowl of hundred-proof egg nog so large you hallucinate that a young Connie Stevens is wriggling on your lap, dressed in a Santa suit?
Well, all I have is this article I wrote about Old Ski Nose for The Hollywood Reporter back in 2001.
On the plus side, it does feature an anecdote from Connie Stevens. She's still wriggling away at the age of 73, but most of the other people I talked to for the article have since passed away. Hope died in July 2003, fifty-nine days after his 100th birthday. His son Tony Hope died less than a year later at the age of 63. His former head writer Mort Lachman and honorary Hollywood mayor Johnny Grant are gone now, too.
Of course, I didn't actually talk to Hope. He had stopped giving interviews by this point. (Lachman told me Hope's vital signs were good. If one's health is being discussed in terms of vital signs, it's generally time to start planning the funeral.) I was given a canned quote undoubtedly manufactured by his longtime publicist, the reedy-voiced Ward Grant, who died in 2007 at the age of 75.
At this point, I'm supposed to write something like, "Thanks for the memories, Bob!" But that would be beyond cheesy, wouldn't it? So I'll just wish everyone a Merry Christmas.
Recently, I uncovered this profile I did of MGA Entertainment founder and CEO Isaac Larian to mark the 10th anniversary of the Bratz dolls in 2010. Much of the story deals with his battle with toy giant Mattel (makers of Barbie), which he felt was bent on destroying him.
Larian was vindicated in August 2011 when a judge ordered Mattel to pay MGA $310 million in damages, legal fees, etc. He's a fascinating immigrant success story and seemingly much more honest and open than virtually any Hollywood heavyweight I've interviewed.
When I interviewed T-Bone Burnett in 2002, he was riding high as the producer of the soundtrack to the Coen Brothers film "O Brother, Where Art Thou," which sold 5.9 million copies in the United States, hit the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 album chart and won five Grammys, including 2002 album of the year, beating out U2 and his friend and onetime boss Bob Dylan. Still, The Hollywood Reporter only gave me enough space for two or three quotes in my profile of him. So here, for the first time, I'm posting our our conversation in in its entirety.
Also check out newly posted interviews with actor Michael York and writer/director James L. Brooks.
Kirk Douglas was not at all amused.
For the second time, the 91-year-old screen legend had told me he was planning to return to the stage in a one-man show, and for the second time, I told him he should revisit his role as Randle P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (which he had played on Broadway back in 1964) -- this time with an all over-80 cast.
It was the fall of 2008, and I had come to Douglas' Beverly Hills home to interview him for an article I was writing for The Hollywood Reporter about the beginnings of runaway production in the 1950s. I had been there a half hour. I had the quotes I needed. Yet there I sat, repeating the same joke.
Click here to read my entire blog post on the subject.
When I heard of Elizabeth Taylor's passing... my first thoughts were not of the striking violet-eyed beauty she possessed in her youth, her movies (let's face it, she didn't make too many exceptional ones) or even her stormy marriages to Richard Burton and six other men that made her a tabloid icon. No, it was the memory of holding an almost-empty bottle of Demerol, the kind you stick a syringe into. The patient's name on the label was "Mrs. Sen. John Warner." It was dated circa 1979. Taylor was married to Senator John Warner of Virginia from 1976 to 1982. That's right, I was holding Elizabeth Taylor's Demerol: a macabre piece of celebrity memorabilia representative of the pain that came with her glamor and her fame.
Click here to read my entire blog post on the subject.