Don't Mess With the Fanboys, Not Even for $500 Million Deals
Furious Fans Fume at Lionsgate
I give TV and movie fans a lot of credit: When they get mad, they scare the crap out of the moguls. That’s happening at Lionsgate, where the studio’s phones and e-mail accounts are jammed because new Lionsgate topper Joe Drake appears to be dumping all of ex-prez Peter Block’s movies. That includes Midnight Meat Train, the adaptation of the Clive Barker short story that’s a fave. Supposedly the trailer tested higher than any film in Lionsgate history. But when Drake took over, he promptly bumped Midnight Meat Train from its May 16 release date. The result was that Rogue Pictures’ The Strangers (which was skedded two weekends later) had zero competition in the hard-R category. And guess who was exec producer of The Strangers? Joe Drake. Lionsgate is planning only a 100-theater run on August 1 to merely fulfill the contractual obligation with Lakeshore Entertainment. The plan is to release the DVD immediately after. So fans are asking if the studio that was built on horror-gross (both the gory and cash varieties) is going to bite the hand that’s fed it so well in favor of four Tyler Perry movies a year.
DC Comics is the Superstory Before Comic-Con
With Comic-Con fast approaching (July 24-27) and all the Hollywood studios getting ready, I understand that Warner Bros. and parent company Time Warner have been nervously monitoring the deteriorating situation at subsidiary DC Comics. Senior VP and executive editor Dan DiDio, who oversees the DC Universe line of superheroes, is in major trouble with the fanboys. Meanwhile, John Nee, a strong presence at DC in both business development and corporate politics with Warner Bros., just resigned.
Under DiDio’s leadership, fanboys are disappointed with the direction taken by Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and other characters. Little wonder that “Dan DiDio Must Die” T-shirts are on sale. Average sales of the DCU line are down more than 20 percent from a year ago, and DiDio deliberately failed to reach out to new readers. But the biggest bad news is that DC’s much-hyped summer 2008 release Final Crisis, the seven-issue miniseries, isn’t the huge critical hit expected. And full-page DC Comics ads promoting an upcoming “Batman R.I.P.” storyline could hurt Warner Bros.’ all-important The Dark Knight release next month. (“We can’t kill him during a big movie year,” DiDio finally made clear.) The movie studio’s biggest DC characters remain in development limbo: Superman, Wonder Woman and the Justice League. Warner Bros. Pictures Group prez Jeff Robinov and Warner Bros. prez/COO Alan Horn (who retains green-light authority) chaotically start and stop work on scripts for the biggest DC characters.
Will There Ever Be Grand Theft Auto: The Movie?
Given that Grand Theft Auto IV blew away the global retail-sales record, a day doesn’t go by that I’m not asked when it’s going to be made into a movie. Of course, that happens with every best-selling video game. But this isn’t a case of the project veering horribly off track like, say, Halo. I’ve learned that Fox Atomic owns the rights to Grand Theft Auto. But to the movie title, not the game. It was, of course, Ron Howard who wrote, directed and starred in the little pic back in 1977 for Roger Corman. So Fox optioned the rights for the Howard/Corman movie title a while back. A studio insider clarifies: “Yes, Fox owns the Corman movie. Yes, it has been one of 400 development projects for several years. But they are nowhere on the script. It has certainly not been a front-burner project.” C’mon, the movie can still shrewdly piggyback off the game’s global branding. Let’s just be thankful that Warner Bros. doesn’t own the title, or mogul/environmentalist Alan Horn would insist stunts be done in a Prius ...
$500 Million Is Such a Nice, Round Number
First it was DreamWorks. And then Mark Burnett. Soon everyone in Hollywood will demand deals worth $500 million. Now we know with whom David Geffen has been negotiating: Rajesh Sawhney and Anil Dhirubhai Ambani (one of the world’s top 10 richest men). DreamWorks has secured $500 million from India’s media and entertainment conglomerate Reliance ADA, specifically its Reliance Big Entertainment, and then will add $500 million in debt for a total $1 billion in financing for its new independent film company. DreamWorks 2.0 (yes, the principals get back the name) will make about six movies a year, when it liberates Steven Spielberg from Viacom Inc.’s Paramount and all the acrimony of that dysfunctional relationship.
Meanwhile, I broke the story that the already rich reality-TV czar Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice, Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?) is negotiating to sell his company to IMG and come onboard for $500 million ($250 million up front, and another $250 million earned out). I understand Burnett is “in very serious conversation” with IMG chairman Teddy Forstmann. It sure sounds like IMG drank the Mark Burnett Kool-Aid. At a recent Beverly Hills entertainment conference, IMG’s head of global media operations, Carmi Zlotnick, leaped to Burnett’s defense when a panelist noted how out of place it was for a Pontiac to drive up on the beach in Survivor, and that product placement could be much improved. Zlotnick exclaimed that the car line’s Solstice model sold out its entire first run after its appearance on The Apprentice, then went on to gush that Burnett was a “visionary genius” who’s “re-imagining television and its models.”
William Morris Agency Suddenly Rockin’
In the old days, to be a board member at the William Morris Agency, you had white hair, a slight stoop, Red Buttons as a client, and pants pulled up to the waist. As of today, the Morris board is much younger, almost hipper, suddenly rockin’. Who’da thunk it? Now the ten-percentery just added seven agents to its 20-member governing body and upped them to the rank of executive vice presidents. Morris once was a TV cash cow on the one-time strength of the syndication market, but its influence in television (especially scripted network shows) has waned. Its motion-picture department has always been an insignificant profit center. So the agency is relying on the powerhouse music division to bring in the big bucks, with clients like Kanye West, Foo Fighters, the Eagles, the Killers, Amy Winehouse, Weezer, Pearl Jam, the Beastie Boys, Rage Against the Machine and Rihanna. (WMA booked more than 22,000 dates last year alone.) So chairman and CEO Jim Wiatt jokes that he now finds himself among the oldest on a board of many newcomers in their 30s and 40s.
Ovitz Back in Control ... Sort Of
The old CAA building designed by I.M. Pei, complete with its Roy Lichtenstein mural, is back in the hands of Michael Ovitz. His ex-partners, Ron Meyer and Bill Haber, recently sold to him their financial interests in the Beverly Hills landmark at the corner of Little Santa Monica and Wilshire Boulevard. Ovitz, who personally brown-nosed Pei to design the monument to agency power, was desperate to gain sole custody. I hear he’s probably leasing office space to Sony BMG Music.
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