The Oscars: Animated Voting Procedure Change

On Friday, March 7th, 2017, Awards Editor for Variety Kristopher Tapley examined the changes made to the voting system in regards to the animated film category. Noting: “Going forward, nominations in the animated feature category will be open to anyone in the Academy willing to join a nominating committee” (Tapley 2017). Normally, the Academy’s committee of voters: “was supposed to be a 50/50 composition of animators and members from other branches” (Tapley 2017), and due to declining voter turnouts, the Academy hopes that this shift will promote animated films.

Tapley notes one of the main issues with the Animated Film Category is the inclusion of short films along with the features, which usually splits the vote. The splitting up between animated shorts and features has been talked about but the talks at the moment are simply opening up to a wider selection of persons to vote if they so chose (Tapley 2017).

“The big studios have no doubt been annoyed by scrappy indies that have found purchase in recent years because of the die-hard traditionalists that permeate the branch” (Tapley 2017).

The die-hard tradtionalists, or animators that follow the original Disney formula using traditional animation, or use traditional animated techniques in general, allow the category of Best Animated Feature to be “diverse” (a word that is over-used to describe essentially everything that is “different”).

“Will the studios come roaring back? I’ve heard they lobbied for these changes and I’ve heard they didn’t, but either way, they could ultimately benefit from them. More people certainly have a potential say in the process now” (Tapley 2017).

What this rule means is that bigger productions, such as “Finding Dory” and “Moana” will have the potential to generate a Win in the Category as opposed to a piece like “Ernest and Celestine” (2013) (which lost to “Frozen” anyway) but paved the way for more recent nominees to come pouring in, i.e. “Song of the Sea”, “The Red Turtle”, and the like.

The troubling issue is the entire category all together, Best Animated Feature. While a fantastic idea and a loving labor, should not be a category in the Oscars, in face, the archaic nature of the Oscars should be in question (see this year’s mix-up between “Moonlight” and “La La Land”). The Awards is an arbitrary accolade that simply exists because it’s been there since Hollywood’s origins. Originally starting out as a grand idea, but now it seems superficial and… stupid, to use a word. Will this move hurt small independent animation? Yes. Will there be more independent animated films coming out? Of course there will. The problem now becomes- how with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which was co-founded by Mary Pickford (who’s 125th birthday is today), handle the situation in a fair manner as they should or do as they always have done and become a pit of lobbyists. However, that is more so disdain for the Academy than the move itself. Frankly, the move is not necessarily needed, much like the Academy itself, but only time will tell if this action will bear any fruit.


Work Cited

Tapley, Kristopher. “Oscars: Will New Animated Voting Procedures Hurt Smaller Films?” Variety. N.p., 07 Apr. 2017. Web. 08 Apr. 2017.

 

Box Office Follow Up (Part 2): China’s Box Office Suffers Due to a Dismal March

Despite “King Kong: Skull Island” and “Beauty and the Beast” delivering box office success overseas, China still suffered in March. Variety’s Patrick Frater reported on April 3rd, 2017 that China’s box office revenue for March was $488 million (RMB 3.37 billion) which is 9% lower than March of last year. Admissions were also down from last year, with March 2016 bringing in 109 million while March 2017 received 101 million (Frater 2017).

Frater notes one of the reasons is due to online-ticket sales, which since the beginning of the year have been calculated separately from the total box office, making March appear weaker than it was: “Removing those from the calculation… with an adjusted gross figure of RMB3.11 billion ($451 million)” (Frater 2017).

The first quarter of 2017 was calculated to be equal to that of the first quarter of 2016, but again, removing the online-ticket sales creates a drop, with “a year-on-year drop of 6%. In terms of ticket sales, the first quarter of 2017 saw 411 million admissions, down 2% from the 418 million in 2016” (Frater 2017).

Patrick Frater attributes this drop in sales to two main factors. Firstly, in mid-2016, China reduced the subsidies provided to consumers by competing online-ticket sellers (i.e. Fandango), this drove up ticket prices (Frater 2017). Secondly,  there was “a weak crop of films, both Hollywood and local, in 2016. In order to keep the turnstiles spinning, Chinese regulators allowed in far more Hollywood films than in previous years” (Frater 2017). Weaknesses for 2017 seem to lie in more domestic territory however, as only films released during Chinese New Year seem to have an impact so far.

While Wanda Cinemas president John Zeng attempted to sound optimistic at CinemaCon, saying  “that growth would normalize at 15-20% per year” (Frater 2017), China’s box office appears to be in stagnation; hopefully, what can occur is a miracle with the summer releases to bring the growth back up to make China, and consequently the United States’ studios, a larger profit.


Work Cited

Frater, Patrick. “Weak March Means China Box Office Recovery Is Not Yet in Sight.” Variety. N.p., 03 Apr. 2017. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

Box Office Follow Up: “Beauty and the Beast” and “Kong: Skull Island”

Variety’s Dave McNary reported on Sunday, March 26th, 2017 that Disney’s live action remake, “Beauty and the Beast” amassed $207 million over its second weekend, making the total box office run of two weeks approximately $690 million.

Internationally, “Beauty and the Beast” grosses $119 million, followed closely by “Kong: Skull Isand” with $91 milion according to McNary, who states that the later film came out to be a big winner in China: “including $72.1 million in China for “Kong” with 13.9 million admissions from approximately 18,000 screens for a 71% share of the total box office and the second-biggest international opening in China this year after “Resident Evil” grossed a stunning $91 million” (McNary 2017).

This is good news for Legendary  Pictures, which just two weeks ago, was riding all of their hopes and dreams on “Kong”, well, it has paid off: ““Kong: Skull Island” has now taken in $258.6 million internationally and $133.5 million in the U.S for an impressive worldwide total of $392 million” (McNary 2017). This means that, in terms of box office, “Kong” has made a profit against its production budget of $185 million by doubling the returns. However, there could be many factors in this pursuit, resulting in either loss or gain at this point, as either result is fair game at this point, but we shall have to see how the numbers play out when the run is complete.

In terms of comparison, “Beauty” has trumped “Kong, surpassing it by $300 million, making “Beauty” among the top 100 of all time grossers, taking the 92nd spot. Disney noted that as of Sunday, March 25th, 2017, “Beauty and the Beast” is the fourth consecutive film to surpass the $600 million mark in terms of worldwide gross: “Doctor Strange” ($677,561,661), “Moana” ($617,080,355), and “Rouge One: A Star Wars Story” ($1,055,121,310) (McNary, BoxOfficeMojo 2017). If this is any indication that the Walt Disney Company is making smart business decisions, then perhaps nothing else is. Especially since over the weekend, Disney CEO Bob Iger extended his contract til 2019 (Masters 2017).

We’ll have to wait and see with Disney for how well the summer films will do. In terms of Legendary, hopefully “Kong” puts them in a more comfortable and easy state to push on and make something even more extraordinary in the coming years. Perhaps we shall see a resurgence in monster movies, at least, that’s the hope anyway.


Work Cited

“”Doctor Strange”, “Moana”, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”.” Box Office Mojo. N.p., 25 Mar. 2017. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.

Masters, Kim, and Bill Condon. “Bill Condon on the challenges of adapting a ‘tale as old as time’” Audio blog post. The Business. KCRW, 25 Mar. 2017. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.

McNary, Dave. “‘Beauty and the Beast’ Nears $700 Million Worldwide, ‘Kong’ Strong Overseas.” Variety. N.p., 26 Mar. 2017. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.

 

 

In the Spirit of Howard Ashman: Bill Condon on “Beauty and the Beast”

Kim Masters interviewed Bill Condon, director of “Dreamgirls” (2006), who also directed the new adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast” (2017) on Saturday, March 25th, 2017. Speaking on the film, Bill Condon noted how he wanted to make the remake in the spirit of the original lyricist of the 1991, Howard Ashman, who died before the premiere of the original animated film in March of 1991 due to AIDS:

“Here, you are dealing with something that is not only a classic, but something that is nearly perfect in the form that it’s in… and so that the original animated film was based on musical theater and live action…. [Howard] was this kind of guiding force for us, because he’s the one who came up with the objects who sing and dance, that hadn’t been there before he arrived” (Masters and Condon 2017).

Condon did not wish to make a shot for shot remake of the film, instead, he wanted to make a film that appeared realistic and felt real. The production design consisted of large sets, some of which took five minutes to cross, and the Wardrobe character, which was actually constructed, had pulleys and various traditional mechanisms similar to “Mary Poppins” (1964 Stevenson) (Masters and Condon 2017).

In terms of the “gay moment”, the widely publicized issue that spoke of Disney including a gay moment in the film, this sparked an international issue, with Russia outright banning the film but allowed it to be played to audiences 16 and over. “Malaysia demanded cuts to the film, which would eventually allow an uncensored version to a PG-13 rating. Obviously, this became a distraction from Disney’s point of view, as they had invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the film and probably just as soon had avoided any further discussion of the controversy” (Masters and Condon 2017). Condon notes that he certainly did not intend for this to be an issue, and was originally intended to be a surprise. According to Condon, a reporter leaked the information without the full context resulting in the widely publicized news which lead to overreactions: “I feel that it’s a conversation that’s happening outside of the context of people having seen it… It’s turning animation into real life, and you try to get to the human aspects that make people behave the way they do and the story’s been around for three centuries* now and it keeps getting told and it’s about this basic thing of looking beneath the surface, and looking deeper and accepting people for who they are and if you’re going to make that in 2017, you have to been more inclusive…” (Masters and Condon 2017).

*To correct Condon, just for fun, the story of Beauty and the Beast can be dated back to 16th century Italy.

However, the problem that the remake has is that it is essentially a shot for shot remake of the 1991 film. It does Howard Ashman a wonderful service, but it attempts to make something, like the “gay moment” (which was hardly noticeable in the film to begin with) and turns it into nothing spectacular. While the film broke box office records and is a continuation of the new trend that the Disney Company is taking, the film has an interesting production history, even if the film itself is nothing groundbreaking, in terms of technological innovation, like the original was.


Work Cited

Masters, Kim, and Bill Condon. “Bill Condon on the challenges of adapting a ‘tale as old as time'” Audio blog post. The Business. KCRW, 25 Mar. 2017. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.

 

Why Race Doesn’t Really Matter When Writing Scripts: Scriptnotes

On Tuesday, March 14th, 2017, Scriptnotes hosts John August and Craig Mazin tackle viewer questions and answer them to the best of their ability. Ranging in a variety of questions in regards to screenwriting, this podcast was generally focused on writing credits, the importance of an agent, and, what caught the eye the most, the portrayal of race and history in screenplays.

Several questions dealt with the issue. The first in the episode came from a Los Angeles viewer who asked: “I try to mindful of representation when describing characters in terms of race; however, in my current project, the characters races don’t play any significant role in the plot or interactions with other characters. They could be played by an actor of any color despite how I’ve described them. Is it better to describe the character in colorblind terms… or with racial implications?”

Upon answering this question, both hosts came up with similar answers, John noted that there will always be two competing ways of thinking – if the other characters are diverse, then it allows the reader to think of the main character as diverse and that a choice is a choice and that the writer made that specific choice for a reason or that it ultimately doesn’t matter (August and Mazin 2017). While Craig suggested making a list of people who could possibly fit the role as sometimes “it’s really more about age or gravitas and other things that are just more important than skin color. So I think it’s fair for you, especially if you’re writing a spec script, to include – here are some general ideas of who I was thinking when I doing this…” (August and Mazin 2017).

Later, Craig Mazin made an excellent point that is extremely important in writing scripts. “I think sometimes what ends up happening is people start to get nervous, and it’s white people that are getting nervous, let’s be clear about this, white writers get nervous (not all of them), but some of them about seeming racist or falling into some kind of trap, and so they overthink and they start to suddenly pepper the script with all of these racial descriptions to say ‘look at me, look at me, I’m not default white’ which is fine except that, you’re actually doing somewhat artificial at times” (August and Mazin 2017).

The most artificial thing a screenwriter can do, in my opinion, is to not be honest with yourself and to make a world inclusive for inclusivity’s sake. In other words, it is not progressive to have the television commercial with every single race on the planet represented because you want to be seen as a person who is inclusive. If this occurs, it may likely be seen as the opposite, that you are pandering to a specific group just to obtain a “non-racist card” as it were.

The problem that exists in screenwriting is that people are sometimes oversensitive when it comes to characters and their race. Is it nice to have people who are diverse, of course it is, but as Mazin points out “It doesn’t really matter” (August and Mazin 2017). This is not a Social Justice Course. It’s screenwriting and filmmaking. Let’s stop with the extreme politics and just write and make movies without the fear of being called a racist. It’s not always about race. It’s mostly about character and characters.


Work Cited

August, John, and Craig Mazin. “Scriptnotes: 292 – Question Time.” Audio blog post. Scriptnotes. N.p., 14 Mar. 2017. Web. 14 Mar. 2017.

How Wang Jianlin May Have Killed the Chinese Film Market… and How “Kong: Skull Island” Could Save Us All

On March 14th, 2017, Variety’s Gene Maddaus and Brent Lang reported on a massive mistake left by China’s richest individual, Wang Jianlin, chairman of the Dalian Wanda Group, who failed to pick up Dick Clark Productions (DCP) and faces trouble with Legendary Entertainment. Last fall, the Wanda Group agreed to pick up Dick Clark Productions, which syndicates the Golden Globes and the “Rockin’ New Years Eve” program was passed up last week for $1 billion, but after huge box office (BO) losses from Legendary, the deal was not struck (Maddaus and Lang 2017).

The stunning reversal is a major embarrassment for Wang and puts his conquest of Hollywood, once seemingly inevitable, in grave doubt. It also raises broader concerns about the future of Chinese investments in the U.S. entertainment business…(Maddaus and Lang 2017).

While some suggest that the DCP acquisition price was too high, others point to second thoughts on Wang’s part due to DCP not having full rights to the award shows, simply the rights to produce them – but close sources find the second theory to be ridiculous due to Wang hold a cocktail party with the Hollywood Foregin Press, suggesting Wang’s knowledge of HPFA’s rights to the Globes (Maddaus and Lang 2017).

The problem, according to these sources, is a change in government policy, as Maddaus and Lang state: “Foreign investment by Chinese firms soared to record heights in 2016, but in November the government began to tighten the reins…. under the new rules, the conglomerate could not move its domestic capital overseas” (Maddaus and Lang 2017).

Legendary Entertainment, which had been bought by Wang last year for a brow-raising #3.5 billion, has struggled with BO returns – recent failures “Warcraft” and “The Great Wall” have left Wang sort of funds, thus resulting in not enough money to purchase DCP (Maddaus and Lang 2017).

Despite all of this however, there is hope in “Kong: Skull Island”, which so far, has boasted a fantastic box office return, within the first week alone taking up half of the film’s budget. “The film debuted to $142.6 million worldwide last weekend, a hefty result save for its $185 million production budget. It will need to do well overseas in order to wind up in the black” (Maddaus and Lang 2017).

While once a non-risk box office return, with these recent troubles, China may have to be given up for companies looking to make an overseas profit; as media analyst Hal Vogel pointed out: “The game is going to get tougher to raise money, Hollywood may not want to find another source of financing, but the market conditions may be such that they have no choice” (Maddaus and Lang 2017).

Perhaps it is time then, to consider another market to appeal to, I hear that Japan and South Korea are promising.


Work Cited

Maddaus, Gene, and Brent Lang. “After Dick Clark Productions Deal Fails to Close, What’s Next for Dalian Wanda?” Variety. N.p., 14 Mar. 2017. Web. 14 Mar. 2017. <http://variety.com/2017/film/news/wanda-dick-clark-productions-deal-failure-hollywood-1202007964/&gt;.

The Illegal Practice of Hollywood Casting Workshops: Pay to Play

On February 25th, 2017, Kim Masters of “The Business” podcast interviewed Gary Baum, who in 2016, investigated the practice known as casting workshops. According to Baum, a casting workshop is “… an educational experience put on by a casting director, an associate, where an actor can learn how to audition better. It practical terms, it is often times really just an audition…” (Masters, Baum and DaMota). These “casting workshops” usually run around $50 and if an actor goes to these places several times a month throughout the year, “it adds up,” Baum says. “If you’re main gig is a barista at Starbucks, that’s a lot of money” (Masters, Baum and DaMota).

These workshops have become so common that Baum says that “a struggling actor found that this was really the benchmark, the cornerstone of how you became an actor, really how you got those initial gigs… it became part of the system, it became central to the system so that there really was no way to maneuver other than to engage with this problem” (Masters, Baum and DaMota ). For the fist time, Los Angeles city attorney Mike Feuer filed criminal charges against this practice earlier this month, “naming 25 people involved in running 5 pay to play workshops” (Masters,  Baum and DaMota). As Feuer states: “It is unlawful to charge anyone, any performer, for an audition. Even if that supposed activity is disguised as some educational workshop” (Masters, Baum and DaMota).

Billy DaMota, a casting director, spoke on the podcast about his opposition to casting workshops. He speaks of when he served on the Board of Directors of the Casting Society of America. “One night in the mid late 90s, we talked about the problem of casting directors charging for these workshops and there were certain rules that we had in place in our bylaws that were continually being violated… so the fact is, they literally threw all of the rules out in 1996” (Masters, Baum and DaMota).

The issues plaguing Hollywood, besides political biases, is the illegal practice of paying to audition. Fortunately, this issue is hopefully being solved and in the future will be an issue that will be diminished in the future and with legitimate workshops surging back into the fray of getting that foot in the door.

Work Cited

 “Cracking down on pay-to-play auditions & a bonus Oscars banter.” Interview. Audio blog post. The Business. KCRW, 25 Feb. 2017. Web. 25 Feb. 2017.