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The Ice Cream And The iSlate

August 28th, 2009

beowulfThese days in movie making, technology is king.  In films like Beowulf and The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, technology virtually created the cast and in Beowulf, made Ray Winstone look very good indeed.

Of course, new machinery is always being invented and as with other industries, in movie making, it’s all in the factory and is generally barely noticeable in the affect it has on the screen.

Like the three times expanded ice cream maker, just invented.  Makes soft ice cream smoother tIce Cream Makerhan McDonald’s two times expanded version.  The movie equivalent might be, the iSlate. the slate for your iPhone. Neat, but like the ice cream, will I notice the difference in the cinema?  In fact with the ice cream, I might!

In movies, inventions, like actors, get Oscars, they have their own ceremony, the Scientific and Technical Awards.  But do techies walk the red carpet, or is it some kind of retro-reflective, CGI carpet that morphs into a starship that takes them to a land far away and It turns out to be all a dream?

The very first SciTech’s as they’re called, were in 1931 when the winners included RCA Photophone and RKO Radio Pictures for noise reduction sound recording and Du Pont and Kodak for an extra sensitive black and white film.  This was the period when sound was the next big thing, and RKO were competing with Warner’s, Jazz Singer, and cinema speaker systems were revealing the poor quality in sound recording. Their work contributed to Photophone becoming a leading sound system for many years and meant audiences could hear the talkies more clearly.

This year there was no Oscar awarded, though other awards went to new lighting equipment, a video assist and a device, the Hylens, to vary the focal plane of a lens – it creates Hylen Lens systema specific point of focus in an otherwise blurred image and has been used by DOP’s on movies including Atonement, World Trade Centre and Iron Man.  It’s subtle.  Notice though that current demands are for innovation in imaging, sound is pretty much ok, for the moment.  The Hylens works on a Panavision camera and interestingly, Panavision and Kodak, have won the greatest number of SciTech awards since it began, with Kodak on 19 and Panavision on 17. The two most fundamental things in film making – the camera and the film.

Panavision began in 1953 and is now probably the most used camera in the movie business.  It’s changed, but has essentially stayed the same, you’d know one if you saw one.   Starting small from the Westwood Village camera shop of Robert Gottschalk, cameras weren’t the first thing on their minds, but projection lenses.

The next big thing in the fifties was widescreen, to attract audiences back from competing television, and 20th Century Fox led the way with their CinemaScope system.  Panavision started making CinemaScope projection lenses for cinemas and later, lenses for cameras.  Panavision became a competing system to CinemaScope, eventually taking all of their business, though they didn’t really get into making their own cameras until 1962.

They went on to make huge developments in camera and lens technology, including the lightweight Panaflex 35 in 1972, Primo,’colour matched’ Lenses in 1990 and their digitlal camera, Genesis in 2004, recently used on The Other Boleyn Girl.  They’ve diversified intoJack Bauer many other camera associated technologies including lighting and grip across many countries.  They’re big!  In Hollywood in particular, it has become the familiar sight on film and TV sets including The Dark Knight and 24.

Panavision’s main competitor used to be Arriflex, but now it’s Red.  The digital newcomer favoured by directors including Steven Soderbergh who shot his two-parter, Che on Red.  Indeed Red shook the 15 year dominance of Panavision as it took over on the last episodes of ER,  and has shot most of the recent TV pilots.  Red is cheaper to rent and you can buy one for half the price of a week’s rental of a Panaflex.  Regular management re-shuffles have lowered confidence in the company, though now, as well as their Genesis camera, they’re developing a competing camera for the digital market.  DOP fans hope they’re not too late.

So while the factory remains busy, the machinery is changing, though like three times expanded ice cream, the audience may barely taste the difference.

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Posted in: The Weekly Wizard

Cameraman Is No Survivor

August 26th, 2009

Ed Wardle in YukonSince Sony gave us the Z1 and its successors, the job of cameraman on documentaries has changed and in some ways declined.  Now, the crew and participants can be one and the same person, opening the doors to some scary possibilities.

While some documentaries and reality shows are still shot by cameramen, others are shot by researchers and assistant producers.  When these small, easy to operate cameras first arrived, they were said to give documentary makers a less obtrusive footprint in the day-to-day lives of their subjects.  Now, the crew and subject are down to one person, who didn’t make it to the end of the run.

Cameraman Ed Wardle had shot in extreme environments, like the North Pole and Everest, so Channel Four chose him to make, and be in, the three month film about one man’s survival in 500,000 square miles of Canada’s Yukon wilderness.  Ed was looking forward to feasting on trout, grayling, hares and squirrels.  Sadly, Ed’s skills with technology weren’t matched by his skills with nature.

Camerman Ed WardleProbably for the first time, such a project was to truly show the loneliness and physical hardship of such an adventure.  No camera crew to chat to or to supply Mars bars when the squirrels got away.  He had no human contact, dropping-off tapes to be collected some time later, with technology to the fore in the form of GPS to track his progress, a satellite phone for an emergency and of course Twitter.

Seven weeks in though, people started getting worried, when he said his muscles were disappearing and they heard him talking to insects.  On the brink of starvation, having eaten mainly berries, he was airlifted home to Islington, to recover.

Channel Four have been criticised for trying to create sensationalist television and I’m sure this wasn’t the ending they hoped for, though they and nature watcher Ed, probably figured if you put a man with a camera into the remotest jungle, nature will do the rest.

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Posted in: UK - TV news

Channel Four Evicts The House

August 26th, 2009

Davina McCallChannel Four has finally had to give up flogging the increasingly failing Big Brother which will have its last series next year.

Despite its poor ratings, Channel Four claims that it still makes money, but after ten years it’s declining appeal has finally made the channel decide next year, will be the last time someone leaves the Big Brother house.

Good news for drama producers though as the axing of the show means the channel will have its ‘most fundamental creative overhaul’ in its 27 year history.  It took that long?  And this means £20m will be made available for drama from 2011 and 200 hours of primetime to fill. A big surprise for indie producers as it was only a few months ago that it was announced that the channel was planning to cut drama to enable it to get back on its financial feet.  Drama being the most expensive programming to make.

Now they’re thinking of event dramas like Red Riding, The Devil’s Whore, along with quirky returning series for the younger audience.

It’s 9.03pm. In the bedroom, reality is no more, as fiction once again enriches the lives of Channel Four viewers.  Davina folds-away her slinky black gloves and northern voice-overs become a thing of the past.

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Posted in: UK - TV news

Paramount Looking For Straws

August 26th, 2009

Shutter Island PosterOctober 2 was a much anticipated date for Marty and Leo as since the early summer, trailers had been announcing it to be the release date for their movie Shutter Island. In a follow-up to recent woes at The Weinstein Company and Summit, Paramount now say they can’t afford to put it out then.

The director and star were relying on the October release to allow a lot of time for Oscar voters to get to see their movie, but Paramount have pulled it as they don’t have the money for the $50m – $60m marketing campaign in 2009.  Or so they say, as word is that they do, but their expectations for DVD sales this year are low because of the economy and DVD sales provide a highly lucrative second swipe at the market.

So Paramount’s planned release date is now, February 19. Why?  Because, they say, in 1991, Silence Of The Lambs, was released on February 19 and went on to win the Oscar.

Now where’s my crystal ball….?

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Posted in: US - Film news

Axed Agents’ Double Dealing

August 26th, 2009

Hollwood AgentsThe recent merger of top agencies William Morris and Endeavor has naturally meant too many agents for too few desks, but those let-go have found a loophole to their benefit.

The merger between the two agencies meant a number of agents were back on the job market when looking for a job didn’t promise the most positive outcome.  A number found jobs at rivals, CAA, UTA, ICM and Paradigm, though for some it meant a cut in their average $225k salaries.

However, part of their contracts with their previous employers said that if they were made redundant and had to take a job for a lower salary, the previous employer would have to make up the difference for the duration of their old contract.  So if they had six months to run at William Morris, then William Morris would have to pay the difference between the lower salary they’re getting at their new job and what they were getting when made redundant.

Agents though are natural wheeler-dealers and some took advantage of this by doing a favourable deal with their new employer. By offering to take a lower salary in return for a bonus at the end of the year or into the next year, making their salary up to what they previously received, they would get the booster extra money from their previous employer, plus the bonus on top!

WME figured this and told them they wouldn’t pay-up on their old contracts so the agents sued and WME backed-down.

And I thought being fired was bad news….

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Posted in: US - Film news, US - TV news

Once More With Feeling

August 21st, 2009

When you think about it, Hollywood is pretty much the only movie maker  that has a constant desire to do remakes. It doesn’t really happen in Europe, India or the far east, the other big centres for movie making.  They even remade, The Italian Job though the Brits, who made the original, didn’t even consider it.  And Alfie, a classic Brit.Italian Job Poster

Hollywood producers prefer the security blanket of spending their money on something they know audiences liked in a previous form, if only on TV, rather than the way of the world’s other producers, who take a risk on an original piece of work and hope it will do well.  The way it used to be.

There’s a huge list of remakes and currently over 55 films in the remake pipeline including, Dirty Dancing, Fame, Footloose, The Dirty Dozen, Poltergeist and Hitchcock’s, The Birds, being produced by Michael Bay.  Indeed Michael Bay seems very keen on remakes having produced nine since 2003, including two Friday 13th’s, two Transformers, two Texas Chainsaw Massacres, a Hitcher and A Nightmare On Elm Street. Foreign films are often remade in English, audiences are less likely to have seen both versions. Notable examples are The Ring and The Departed, both remakes of far-eastern originals.

vince_vaughn_psychoHitchcock films are popular for remaking.  There were three Psycho’s, if you count sequels and prequels, and the 1998 Gus Van Sant, shot-for-shot remake with Vince Vaughan in the creepy-guy role.  The general response was a not unexpected, ‘why?’ But did the audience like it?  Well for its $20m budget it made just over $37m worldwide theatrically, not counting DVD etc and received a C rating – if you saw the blog on ratings you’ll know what C stands for. But people did go. Hitch’s 1960 original took $32m in the US alone and rated a B+.

So what of this year’s flashbacks?  Tony Scott’s, The Taking Of Pelham 123, was indeed a smart move, I doubt anyone except movie nerds would have even heard of the 1974 original, which was good at the time, though not one you’d put in your back pocket for later.  So maybe he thought no one would make comparisons and he has said it wasn’t actually a remake, but a version of the same script.  Ahem.The Taking of Pelham 123

However, making $97m worldwide and a B rating, Tony’s ad director style is still good it seems, and Denzel and Travolta of course. Critics not keen however, only half recommended it. Sony will be eagerly anticipating the returns on the DVD release though, so far they’re not near clearing the $100m budget.

Interestingly and I guess unsurprisingly, remakes aren’t such a new phenomena.  Duck Soup, Laural and Hardy’s 1923 classic was remade as Another Fine Mess in 1930, with…Laural and Hardy.  And when director Ernest C Warde made The Bells in 1918, I doubt he was expecting to see James Young’s remake only eight years later.

One contemporary director, Michael Haneke actually remade his own film for Hollywood, the uber-violent Funny Games. The 1997 Austrian original became the 2007 AmerIt's A Wonderful Life Posterican, virtually shot-by-shot, Funny Games.  Why?  Haneke says he always thought of it as an American story and wanted to bring this otherwise art house movie to American audiences, who don’t generally get to see foreign films.

There don’t seem to be many rom-com or comedy remakes, am I seeing trend here?  Is this the studio’s thinking as well??

I’m looking forward to the remake of It’s A Wonderful Life, made in 1946, so what are they waiting for?   DVD sales at over $17m since 2006, a box office smash at the time.  But are happy, wholesome, life affirming films good remake material?  Well there was Willy Wonka!

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Posted in: The Weekly Wizard

3D For C4

August 20th, 2009

colorcode 3d pictureMy eyes are about to go funny. Channel Four is to run a week of programmes in 3D in the autumn which can be viewed on regular TV’s, but you will need the glasses…from Sainburys.

Way ahead of Sky’s plans to launch a 3D channel next year, Channel Four is to run a series of specially commissioned 3D shows and classic 3D movies at peak time.  Shows include a Derren Brown Magic Spectacular, a compilation of 3D clips from movies including Jaws 3D, topped-off with two sixty minute films, The Queen in 3D, featuring 3D newsreel footage of the coronation and a special, shot at the Garter Ceremony in June.

3D GlassesChannel Four are using an American 3D system, ColorCode, where the glasses have amber and blue filters, through which are viewed a fairly regular colour picture with minute variations giving depth and colour information to the eyes.  Watching it without glasses, you see a regular colour picture with slight fringing and more contrast.  Amazingly the system works as well on computers and even mobile phones!

Sainsbury’s will be giving out the free glasses a week before the fun begins.  Trick or Treat??

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Posted in: UK - TV news

A TV In A Magazine

August 20th, 2009

TV In Entertainment WeekIn the frantic search by advertisers, to find more novel ways to get our attention, CBS have joined with Pepsi to put a TV in the September issue of Entertainment Weekly.

An 84mm LCD screen just 2.7mm thick will be embedded in a page of the magazine within an ad for Pepsi Max and will show clips from CBS’s Monday primetime line-up for its autumn schedule.   Up to forty minutes of video can be stored on the screen’s chip and CBS will be running clips from shows including the comedies, How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory, followed by clips from dramas, NCIS: Los Angeles and Three Rivers.

The screen had to be rugged enough to withstand delivery by mail, though for this one-off, the TV edition of the magazine will only be going out to homes in New York and Los Angeles.

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Posted in: US - TV news

Rivers Of Money

August 19th, 2009

Oyster CafeBBC Scotland’s regional soap, River City, has reached an agreement with BECTU which will mean big payouts for camera trainees and freelancers.

The BBC has accepted it has been paying camera trainees less than BECTU rates, and not paying freelancers for overtime while working on the soap, set in a fictional, urban suburb of Glasgow and broadcast only in Scotland.  Trainees were said to be bullied into accepting low pay and it was also discovered that staff suffered poor working conditions and not given proper breaks during the day or during weeks of shooting.

The agreement means camera trainees and freelancers will be back-paid their shortfall for the entire of the last two series!

River City is due to go national in 2010, to be aired on BBC2.

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Posted in: UK - TV news

Scotland’s Boom Time?

August 19th, 2009

New Digital TechnologyDespite the recent uncertainty about the re-commissioning of STV’s Taggart, and the potential glut of production crew this could create, one Scottish training organisation is creating new talent for what they expect to be the Scottish digital boom.

Glasgow based research and training charity, TRC Media – The Research Centre, have announced the six graduates who will take part in its seven week training placement scheme, to equip the six, the first of many, for what they believe will be a surge in demand for digital skills in television and the games industry.

TRC believe the only thing that could hold-up the growth in production in Scotland is the lack of people with the right skills, so each person will spend time at BBC Scotland, Channel Four, an indie production company, a games company and an ad agency.  TRC say they launched the programme after a great deal of consultation with the television production and games sector and will create a, ‘pipeline of talent with the right combination of digital skills, creativity and entrepreneurship’.

If they’re right about their predictions for the future demands of production skills in Scotland, things may look brighter for the experienced talent pool already there.

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Posted in: UK - TV news

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