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Twilight Freaks and Star Trek Geeks, Handcuffs and Honchos 

Just a typical week in Hollywood

Wednesday, Nov 19 2008
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Entering the Twilight Zone

They were squatting in Westwood outside Mann’s Village theater starting on November 16 to stake out curbside views of the red-carpet arrivals for the Twilight movie premiere the next day. First about 25 people showed, and then 50, mostly female, and growing in size until the crowd numbered 3,000. One of their signs says, “Not Moving Til Twilight.”

And, yes, I checked out whether Summit Entertainment was paying them to pull a publicity stunt. But hordes of teen fans of Stephenie Meyer’s four vampire books also camped out in downtown Toronto in the rain and cold on November 14 to see the Twilight actors arrive at MuchMusic’s studios 24 hours later.

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The weekend before, 3,000 showed up at a similar event in San Francisco and created chaos when organizers had wristbands for only 1,000. And outside Chicago, chaos ensued when Twilight star Robert Pattinson appeared for a meet-and-greet at a mall where 500 fans waited outside, some overnight, to ask him for a “bite.” In Spain, more than 1,000 screaming fans tried to get into a presentation at the Sitges Film Festival, three times over the maximum occupancy.

The faithful first made their ardor known this past summer at Comic-Con when thousands camped out the night before a sneak screening to see the cast and crew present new footage.

Look, these kinds of spontaneous demonstrations of fandom just don’t happen frequently in Hollywood without a nauseating amount of advance flackery. Right now, Hollywood doesn’t quite know what to make of this frenzy in terms of estimating box-office grosses for this low-cost blockbuster’s November 21 opening.

My box-office gurus are all over the place, with estimates ranging from $35M and maybe $40M to guesses of $50M all the way up to $60M from 3,386 theaters. (“Well that would be something, especially for a one, to one and a half, quadrant movie. I guess after this weekend anything is possible, but that seems very aggressive,” one major studio bigwig told me.)

With only a $37 million negative cost, this kind of low-budget blockbuster just doesn’t happen often in the film biz. So if the movie lives up to the advance hype, Summit will be sitting on a big new franchise. As I’ve reported, the start-up studio is already prepping the sequel.

Star Trek XI Goes Global

Paramount launched its trailer for Star Trek XI by pairing it with MGM/Sony’s new Bond pic, Quantum of Solace, on November 14. I’ve been skeptical along with everyone else, but this promo looks intriguing. And, most importantly, mainstream.

Maybe J.J. Abrams has pulled a Chris Nolan and reimagined a stale franchise. But Star Trek has failed to ever do much internationally. Which is why J.J. and studio vice chairman Rob Moore are just finishing a road show sharing 25 minutes of footage, territory by territory, this past week in the UK, Germany, Spain, France and Italy to “extraordinary” response.

That has Paramount feeling optimistic about Star Trek XI’’s overseas prospects — “building what has traditionally been a primarily U.S. franchise into a global one” — which are key to the franchise’s future. Hollywood knows there’s just no economy of scale anymore for a big-budget domestic-only hit. On November 19, the studio unveiled these 25 minutes at a screening for selected opinion-makers. A revitalized Star Trek would give Brad Grey and Rob Moore a third big new franchise in addition to Transformers and G.I. Joe. No other studio can boast that right now. Will the Paramount pinheads have the last laugh?

WGA Activists Handcuffed

The Writers Guild, West, is considering bringing a lawsuit to protect its First Amendment rights. And I think every Hollywood guild member should boycott this hell-hole of a shopping mall whose Kodak Theater is home to the Oscars broadcast. Because a group of WGAW staffers were subjected to “citizen’s arrest” on November 13 at the Hollywood & Highland complex by a bunch of rent-a-cops outside auditions for American Idol.

At about 9 a.m., Hollywood & Highland Center security guards abruptly surrounded, detained and handcuffed WGAW guild organizers Laura Watson and Terence Long and Assistant Executive Director Jeff Hermanson.

So what were the activists doing to get themselves hauled off? Simply passing out leaflets informing the public that American Idol’s producer FremantleMedia “refuses to treat its writers fairly.”

The WGAW insists their protesters did not interfere with or obstruct the shopping mall’s operations or the activities of FremantleMedia. But the guild members were turned over to the LAPD and later released after posting bond. Writers Guild General Counsel Tony Segall said the guild was considering legal action against the operators of the Hollywood & Highland Center for false arrest.

The California Supreme Court has held that the state constitution guarantees the right of expression of ideas in shopping malls on the grounds that they’re the contemporary equivalent of the town square. The WGAW notes that other labor unions and community groups have held public actions such as leafleting and picketing inside the Hollywood & Highland shopping complex without incident.

Thursday’s protest was part of the WGA’s ongoing campaign of rallies, briefings and a nationwide tour to bring attention to what the guild claims are “the substandard industry practices” of giant unscripted programmer FremantleMedia. The WGA’s so-called American Idol Truth Tour shadowed AI auditions this past summer in several major U.S. Cities — including San Francisco, New York, Phoenix and San Juan, Puerto Rico — to demand that FremantleMedia provide its writers and other workers with industry-standard pay and benefits. But yesterday was the first time American Idol Truth Tour participants had been arrested.

“We will continue to exercise our First Amendment rights despite the heavy-handed treatment we received,” said the WGAW’s Hermanson. “The public has a right to know that the top-rated show on television does not provide their writers with basic necessities like health care.”

Whither Walden Media

Geez, what took so long for him to leave? After all, CEO Cary Granat had been marginalized at Walden Media for almost the entire year by David Weil, the CEO of parent company Anschutz Film Group.

“They had gotten along and then things started to go awry. The two men went in opposite directions,” a source tells me. Granat, whose name has been synonymous with Walden Media since 2001, should be out the door no later than the end of the year.

He’d been hanging on by a thread since last January when Walden Media let go many staffers. Granat was in charge of the disappointing Narnia 2, but now still couldn’t get a greenlight for Narnia 3. Which may well explain why “he feels like he did when he left Dimension: I’m done,” an insider told me. Sticking around is Granat’s longtime pal Michael Bostick, the film producer announced as the new co-CEO of Walden Media last March, whom Granat had actively recruited and who reports to Weil.

The real question now: What is the future of Walden Media? Is yet another buyer going down the tubes in this lousy economy? Hard to imagine considering Anschutz still has dough. Until recently, all of Walden Media’s movies had been shared with Disney, Fox or Summit. But in October, Fox Walden became part of Fox, and about a dozen Fox Walden staffers were laid off as part of a restructuring. Pointedly, Granat’s name was nowhere on that press release — only Weil’s.

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