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Sony Starts Another Spidey, N.Y. Times Unravels Convergence 

Oh, what a tangled web

Wednesday, Sep 10 2008
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Exclusive Spider-Man 4 Details

It’s time to end once and for all the rampant speculation. Sony doesn’t want any info to leak, but I’m told that both star Tobey Maguire and director Sam Raimi will be returning to make Zodiac screenwriter James Vanderbilt’s script of Spider-Man 4. Sony has recently locked in both veterans of Spider-Man 1 through 3 (the lousy last installment fans would love to forget).

Just a few weeks ago Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal was openly discussing Tobey’s potential replacements with various Hollywood agents because Tobey was hanging tough about a deal. “She was looking around to cover herself because Sony wanted him badly and Tobey wasn’t sure he wanted to do it,” an insider explained to me. I’m also told that, right now, the studio is trying to figure out if it can feasibly shoot Spider-Man 4 and 5 at the same time because doing that is so cost-effective and “it wasn’t so easy to get everybody back together.”

There’s no deal yet for Kirsten Dunst, but Mary Jane Watson will be in the movie. I’m told Sony “would never recast her” despite her rehab problems. But expect another gal part, too. Gone is the black costume from Spidey 3, even though “dark” is all the rage in superhero movies, given the enormous success of The Dark Knight. But I’m told the filmmakers won’t be borrowing from the latest Batman installment because “Spider-Man is its own thing,” one studio insider tells me.

“Sam Raimi made the first serious superhero movie, and others followed. The difference between Spider-Man and Batman is that Batman is dueling with a dark side of himself, and that’s not what Peter Parker’s struggle is. Peter Parker has no dark side himself. In Spider-Man 3 it was the black costume. Peter Parker’s struggle is about sacrifice.”

Sony is taking its time officially hiring the movie’s villain, since principal photography doesn’t start on Spider-Man 4 until next fall because of the recently postponed May 2011 release. I am told, however, that “once you find out who the villain is, you’ll know who’s playing it.”

That should lead to speculation that Dylan Baker’s character of Dr. Curt Connors will ultimately turn into the Lizard, as he did in the comic books. There’s one other character that’s been set up but is a real long shot — Daniel Gillies, who plays John Jameson, the astronaut fiancé of Mary Jane in Spider-Man 2. In the comics, he becomes the villain Man-Wolf. Raimi has said that he wants the best actors to play the villains in the movie, not necessarily the most famous.

 

N.Y. Times’ New Media Desk

It’s Business. It’s Culture. It’s Business. It’s Culture ... Finally, The New York Times is solving its Chinatown-like infotainment dilemma and setting up a dedicated Media desk, physically and symbolically, located between the other two sections on the paper’s third floor.

“This culture clash between Business and Culture for years has annoyed the top of the masthead,” an insider told me, referring to Bill Keller, Jill Abramson and John Geddes. “They think reporters have been working at cross-purposes because there’s nothing clearly defined where a certain kind of media story belongs. Look at our writers strike coverage: half went into Business, half went into Culture.”

The official memo described the beat thusly:

“Convergence is the biggest story in media and entertainment today. Hollywood studios are investing millions in online television, people are reading newspapers on their iPhones and bloggers and YouTube are turning even presidential election campaigns into homegrown affairs. By the end of the decade, we might all be watching Lost on our shoe phones. Accordingly, we are doing some convergence of our own, and today announce the birth of a new and expanded media desk for The Times, joining reporters and editors from Business Day and Culture under one banner to cover media news for both desks. ... It will feed the news needs of both, as well as the feature wells of Sunday Business and Arts & Leisure, among other outlets.”

The real story behind this move is that the paper’s top editors want to shake the staff covering movies, TV, Big Media, advertising and related beats out of what is perceived as a stupor. “The top of the masthead want more media stories. They want newsier reporting, and they want people to work harder,” a source explained to me. “No one has said that, but it’s obvious.” (Certainly to me and the Wall Street Journal.)

The Media editors and reporters announced on Tuesday draw equally from the Business and Culture sections, including movies and television, yet there are some important names missing. Bruce Headlam, currently the editor of the Monday edition of Business Day, will top-edit the Media desk. Underneath him will be editors Rick Lyman and Steve Reddicliffe. The reporters will be Tim Arango, Brooks Barnes, Bill Carter, Michael Cieply, Stephanie Clifford, Stuart Elliott, Richard Perez-Pena, Motoko Rich, Jacques Steinberg, Brian Stelter and Ed Wyatt. Editors and writers alike will answer to both business editor Larry Ingrassia and culture editor Sam Sifton.

But that very fact seems to just re-create the turf war this Media desk was supposed to solve. What the fuck?

You’d think media reporter and part-time movie blogger David Carr would be the Media desk’s star. Nope. He’ll keep doing what he always does, although he’s being copied on all the Media desk memos to keep him in the loop. (Carr does a lot of things well, but breaking news isn’t one of them.) He e-mailed me, “My job has not changed. I do Culture/Oscars for Sam Sifton and a Monday media column for Bruce Headlam, two of the best editors in a building that has its share. I love working for both and will sit wherever they tell me to, although I don’t think it matters much.”

As for movie editor Lorne Manly, who’s also missing in action, his current status is even more confusing. Manly came to the NYT as a media writer/editor, then became media editor, then became media writer, then became movie editor. Now there’s a Media desk and he’s not it. (Understandable, because Manly’s oversight has been more like undersight: His reporter Michael Cieply keeps missing major stories.) I’m told that he’ll stay in Culture to edit features and some of the critics.

Plus, there’s ex-Hollywood business reporter Laura Holson, who now covers mostly cell phone stuff out of the paper’s headquarters and should be included in this attempt at convergence, but isn’t. Didn’t the NYT memo specifically refer to shoe phones? (Or else someone saw the Get Smart remake once too often ... )

Look, if The N.Y. Times editors really want to shake up the paper’s coverage of infotainment, how to do it ain’t rocket science. Simply tell reporters to stop believing anything the CEOs tell them. (And I do mean Tim Arango and Bill Carter specifically. Arango’s recent softball lobbed to Time Warner’s Jeff Bewkes was an embarrassment. And Carter’s never-ending regurgitation of every TV chief’s corporate-line crap is unforgivable.) Only then can truth-telling start.

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