Disney’s Oscar Campaign Is A-Crock-Alypto

Okay, I wish this were a bad joke, but it’s real: Disney’s behind-the-scenes Oscar campaign strategy for Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto is to convince Academy members that he’s “not as bad as Roman or Woody.” Pleading with Oscar voters “to look at Mel the artist and not Mel the man,” Disney execs are seriously telling the media and Oscar voters that Gibson’s drunken anti-Semitic ranting was not as bad as Polanski having sex “with an underage girl,” or Allen having sex “with his stepdaughter.” They’re also pointing to Elia Kazan’s “naming names” before the House Un-American Activities Committee to try to bring what Mel did into, uh, perspective, when it comes to judging Apocalypto. I.M. to Disney: Forget that badmouthing rival pics has worked in past Oscar campaigns for your former bad boy Harvey Weinstein. Underscoring the character flaws of other directors just to make your guy seem less of an asshole is abhorrent. Once again, Mickey Mouse is acting like a rat, all in the pursuit of more dough for the studio by greasing some key Academy Award nominations for the film. As it is, Mel’s Mayan epic opened No. 1 at the box office December 8–10 with a bigger-than-Braveheart haul of $14.9 mil despite scandal, an R rating, subtitles for the ancient dialect employed onscreen, rumors of moviegoer walkouts on account of the violence, no stars, and direct competition from AAA-listers Cameron Diaz (The Holiday) and Leo (Blood Diamond). Exit polls show 52 percent men and 48 percent women — especially college kids and Latinos — saw Apocalypto. Must have been the lure of loincloths.

Where Harvey Goes, Shame Follows

Shame, shame, shame on The Weinstein Company, launched by Harvey and Bob Weinstein, and their distributor, MGM, headed by chairman/CEO Harry Sloan, for opening a holiday-themed slasher movie on Christmas Day. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the ads and release date for Black Christmas, a film whose promos make fun of “people who express outrage” at the movie’s timing and body count. And the entertainment industry dares to wonder why it has a huge P.R. problem as promoters of garbage? Granted, Christmas-themed crap is not new: In 2003, the Weinsteins themselves made the distasteful comedy Bad Santa. And Christmas-themed slasher movies include Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984, TriStar), which was deemed so repugnant that it prompted protests at theaters where it was shown. Unfortunately, it also did big box office and spawned four sequels. In show-biz marketing parlance and psychology, scheduling horror pics around Christmastime is savvy counterprogramming. But releasing them on Christmas Day breaks new (and unholy) ground. Just how many disturbed human beings do The Weinstein Company and MGM think actually want to go see a gory movie on December 25 — in this case, a remake of a 1974 horror flick in which a college sorority house is terrorized by a psycho who makes frightening phone calls and murders the girls during the holiday break? Investors in The Weinstein Company and MGM need to protest this deplorable decision.

March of the Penguins .?.?. to Court

Zut alors! There’s a lawsuit over ze hit film March of the Penguins, from the French cinematographer who spent 13 months freezing his butt off in the coldest place on Earth only to see someone else grab all the directing credit. La Marche De L’Empereur was the brilliant $1 million pickup by then Warner Independent Pictures head Mark Gill (ridiculously fired by Warner boss Alan Horn last May) that went on to earn $122.6 million in worldwide box office and more moola in DVD sales as well as win best doc at the 2006 Academy Awards.

Now Laurent Chalet, the film’s director of photography, has challengedLuc Jacquet’s sole directing credit in the French courts. Chalet told me in an e-mail that he’s finally brought the case to claim credit as co-director of the film, win acknowledgment of his creative input, and get a portion of the box-office receipts. He says a Paris civil court should return a verdict next year. His case was assisted when Le Canard Enchaîné, a respected French weekly known for its insider information, revealed that Jacquet, in spite of press declarations to the contrary, spent only a few weeks in Antarctica while the main footage was shot by Chalet, who spent 13 straight months shooting the film in the fierce weather on the South Pole ice shield of Antarctica. This prompted the French Cinematographers Association (AFC) to accuse Jacquet of “bringing shame upon the profession” for freezing out Chalet. At the time of the movie’s U.S. release, it was Chalet, not Jacquet, who received most of the media attention for the incredible odyssey he endured in unbearable temperatures, lethal storms and physical isolation to film the emperor penguins’ annual ritual of mating, birthing and survival.

Given all that hardship, it’s understandable that Chalet would want his directing credit. (Or to be thanked, or at least mentioned, by Jacquet at the 2006 Academy Awards ceremony.) Why isn’t it surprising that, in the end, it wasn’t the birds or the brutal climate but the human beings who gave Chalet the most trouble?

The Hollywood Reporter’s?Winter of Discontent

The trades’ coverage of Hollywood is usually bloodless. So this month’s bloodbath at The Hollywood Reporter is especially newsworthy. First came content V.P. Matthew King’s voluntary exit (fed up with spreadsheets and bureaucratic bullshit) and editorial director Howard Burns’ involuntary departure (because Hollywood didn’t know who the hell he was). “It’s disturbing because they’re doing it so piecemeal rather than en masse,” a THR insider explained to me after that duo left. “Sort of like picking people off with a shotgun from a water tower rather than gassing them all at once.”

Immediately following Burns’ ousting, insiders were predicting to me that the next head on the chopping block was going to be executive editor Peter Pryor — and it was. “He didn’t have a discernible job description,” another source related. (That was Burns’ problem too.) Also out were international general manager John Burman, music editor Chris Morris (who’s being replaced with free content from sister publication Billboard), Chicago-based contributing editor Diane Mermigas (who I’ve long thought was very savvy, but apparently didn’t write enough to suit the bosses, though she had a swell Sumner Redstone “get” recently) and Calendar editor Selena Templeton (basically an editorial assistant, so her salary couldn’t have made much of a difference). The editorial head chopping caused the usual paranoia among the remaining staff. But it follows yearlong upheavals on the publisher side too. Tony Uphoff replaced Robert Dowling as publisher, but then Uphoff announced his departure from the paper in October after just nine months in the post. The new guy sent from New York is Billboard publisher John Kilcullen.

Once upon a time, the trades used to be cash cows. Dowling turned THR’s million-dollar biz into a $30 mil bonanza, with profit margins in the astronomical 20 percent to 30 percent range. But some of THR’s new problems date back to the loss of Lynne Segall, the well-connected former vice president and associate publisher of The Hollywood Reporter who in June jumped to the Los Angeles Times for the newly created position of V.P. for entertainment advertising. Since then THR ad sales have dropped, and the paper isn’t making its Oscar sales projections. Then again, the paper is known more for its TV than movie coverage, which is still an also-ran to Variety, just as Howard Burns was seen as an also-ran to his Variety counterpart, Peter Bart. As a THR insider told me, “Peter Bart was the sun, and this guy was the flashlight.”

LA Weekly