Lost in Translation
Does Howard Stringer really want his job?
TGIF: It's Friday and that's a blessing for most everyone, except those executives who will watch their movies get flattened by 300 over the weekend.
Last weekend, however, was huge in terms of media-business journalism—almost like a graduate seminar on some of the biggest players in today's Hollywood. There was a long piece about John Lasseter and Disney in the New York Times, as well as one about Tom Cruise and his United Artists deal. There was a story about MGM in the Los Angeles Times. And there was the mother of them all in the Wall Street Journal—a remarkable interview with Sony Chairman Sir Howard Stringer.
It took us a while to digest this feast. And since you presumably don't get paid to read these fine articles, maybe you didn't get around to them at all. So, here is what you need to know:
The John Lasseter piece purports to address whether Lasseter can remake the drifting Disney animation operation even while guiding Pixar. Here's what he's really saying: Meet the Robinsons is not the first Disney film under his leadership. Don't blame him for this one. After watching a screening of the film last March, Lasseter beat up on director Stephen Anderson for six straight hours. Nearly 60 percent of the film was dumped. Still, to reiterate, don't blame Lasseter if it doesn't work.
The Tom Cruise piece makes one essential point: Tom Cruise's production company at Paramount did very, very well with Tom Cruise movies but "those that did not feature the actor—pictures like The Others, Elizabethtown, Shattered Glass and Narc—had 'mixed' commercial success." In this sentence, "mixed" is a euphemism. Cruise is not obligated to appear in any United Artists film. And, at Paramount, Cruise and his partner, Paula Wagner, did not quite average a movie a year—at UA, they expect to make several a year.
The Los Angeles Times article about MGM chief Harry Sloan, the guy who made the Cruise deal, reveals that he has a lot of crystals in his office and talks about feng shui. If you're an investor, that might worry you.
The most stunning piece of them all is one that many people somehow overlooked. In his interview with the Wall Street Journal, Sir Howard says his achievements have been masked in part by such problems as Sony's battery recall which, he says, "took too long for bizarre Japanese reasons that I don't want to spend the rest of my life discussing." None of the executives alerted him to various problems, and they're also bitching because he doesn't have a place to live in Tokyo, preferring to stay in a hotel when he's there. Stringer says he won't get some lonely apartment in Tokyo but concedes he should have "faked it better," adding, "I mean that seriously."
We don't speak Japanese but when you translate those remarks, we think it comes out like this:
"I hate this job! Fire me!" (link)
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
Project Greenlight: It's been rumored around a bit on the Web, and now an excellent source says you can count on it: Shia LaBeouf will play the son of Indiana Jones in the upcoming fourth installment in the series, set for release in 2008.
Apparently, the young actor is impressive enough in the upcoming Steven Spielberg-produced Disturbia and Transformers that he won the role.
We liked LaBeouf in Holes and felt inexpressible pity for him in Project Greenlight, when he was suffering through the making of The Battle of Shaker Heights. We missed him in some of the other stuff. So, America, what do you think? He's got the chops as an actor, but does he have enough leading-man appeal to be the son of Indy? Even some of those close to the project aren't sure.
But if Spielberg and Lucas are, that's the end of the conversation. Those two have been kicking around the idea of another Indiana Jones adventure since they all went to an American Film Institute dinner honoring Harrison Ford in February 2000 and watched that boulder roll on the screen. There have been a number of false starts, and by now it's clear that Ford, who turns 65 this year, needs a kid in the movie.
After all, Indiana Jones is completely foreign to the young audience today, and some in the industry have wondered whether the idea will have broad appeal at this point. It's also painful to imagine the kind of deal that Paramount will have to give to this collection of talent, though Spielberg is a comparatively thrifty director. Given this combination of players, most studios would say yes and take their chances. (link)
Friday, March 2, 2007
The Oscars are over, but the gossip isn't quite all gone.
—Who almost got the prestigious Thalberg Award for lifetime achievement? Come on, guess. You're right if you said schlockmeister Roger Corman, producer of such classics as The Wasp Woman and A Bucket of Blood, as well as the original Little Shop of Horrors, Piranha, and other classics. He may seem an unlikely choice for a prestige award that previously has gone to Darryl Zanuck and Samuel Goldwyn, but Corman started so many big careers in the business—Martin Scorsese, Francis Coppola, and Jack Nicholson, among others—that he had lots of support from protégés who signed letters on his behalf.
There's always next year. (No one has taken home the Thalberg Award, which is handed out irregularly, since Dino De Laurentiis received it in 2000.)
Kim Masters is an NPR correspondent and the author of The Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everyone Else.
Photograph of Howard Stringer by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images.Photograph of Shia LaBeouf by Roger Wong/UPI.Photograph of Steven Spielberg by Kevin Winter/Getty Images. Still of Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt in Babel by Murray Close, © Paramount Vantage. All rights reserved. Photograph of Alejandro González Iñárritu by Evan Agostini/Getty Images.