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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.
A sketch of Fantine's dress from "Les Miserables."
Spanish costume designer Paco Delgado didn't merely design and build every piece of clothing worn by the masses of bedraggled 19th century French beggars, prostitutes, prisoners and revolutionaries in the epic bigscreen adaptation of the musical "Les Miserables," he also destroyed them a little -- sometimes a lot.
On the production's busiest days, Delgado had as many as 20 people (led by chief costume breakdown artist John Cowell) attacking fabrics with cheese graters, sandpaper, bleach, paint and other devices, both mechanical and chemical, to make the clothing look appropriately dirty and distressed.
"Sometimes we had to age hundreds of costumes in a week," recalls Delgado, who made approximately 1,500 outfits and rented 2,200 more to clothe the 4,500 actors and extras in the film. "I'd walk into the aging department and see people with blowtorches and sandblasters."
The techniques used by costume designer Joanna Johnston to dress the Civil War-era milieu in "Lincoln" were less heavy-handed. For instance, sometimes cut fabric would be washed before it was sewn together, then washed again.
Click here to read the entire article in Variety.
While shooting digital may be the prevailing trend for everything from
micro-budget indies to blockbuster tentpole releases like "Skyfall," it was never an option for "Lincoln," as far as director Steven Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski were concerned. I explain why in this 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.
I go behind the scenes at the offices of Bento Box Entertainment, the rising animation house behind such shows as "Bob's Burgers," "Brickleberry" and "Allen Gregory" (co-created by Jonah Hill).
It’s hard to put a price on the visual and emotional authenticity director Steven Spielberg gained by shooting his DreamWorks’ biopic “Lincoln” in Virginia, but I give it a shot in this feature for Variety.
"The Master" on location in San Francisco.
Check out my latest location reports on Northern California (featuring behind the scenes details about "The Master" and Woody Allen's next film), Puerto Rico, Massachusetts and New Mexico.
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).
To mark the 91st birthday of Carl Reiner (born: 3/20/1922), I've posted my interview with the comic legend from The Hollywood Reporter's 70th Anniversary Issue focusing on the genesis of "The Dick Van Dyke Show," along with previously unpublished portions of our conversation in which he details his early years in show business and his work with Sid Caesar on "Your Show of Shows." The best thing about it? It's presented as a first-person narrative, so you don't have to endure my attempts at being clever.
As a bonus, I've dug up the unaired 1960 pilot "Head of the Family," with Reiner in the role of comedy writer/family man Rob Petrie, more famously portrayed by Dick Van Dyke.
I also highly recommend this installment of Jerry Seinfeld's "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" with Reiner and Mel Brooks.
Lauren 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.
Last year's 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.