CinemaCon, like its namesake Showest before it, has always been about exciting the theater owners with new technology and product meant to get them pumped for their direct connection to the customer. While the textures of this year from “Life Of Pi” to “Skyfall” provided some interesting visions, none was more discussed or contested like the footage that Peter Jackson showed of “The Hobbit”, shot at 48fps, which only a year or so after the acceptance of 3D and the near conversion to full digital, takes the string up one more notch. It is all about what you show.
Paramount Heading into summer, Paramount opened the con by honoring Dwayne Johnson with the “Action Star Of The Decade Award” with studio head Rob Moore calling him “franchise viagra”. Johnson, with his textbook charm along with director John Chu, best known for the”Step Up” films, introduced a dexterous element of scenes from the film which both showed humor and drama. Next, Tom Cruise, in a taped greeting from the set of “Oblivion” [directed by Joe Kosinski] in Baton Rouge, spoke before showing scenes from “Jack Reacher” directed by Christopher McQuarrie whose last helming outing was “Way Of The Gun”. Two scenes adapted from the graphic novel distinctified “tone” which Cruise mentioned in his opening remarks. Rob Moore then turned the stage over to Jeffrey Katzenberg who, after a great year with “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Puss In Boots”, brought “Madagascar 3” and “The Guardians”. The third entry into the “Madagascar” franchise showed almost 15 minutes of the opening optimizing new animation techniques since the last one in the series with Chris Rock coming on stage saying that it was the best so far adding that some parts were “trippy” which reflected in a circus montage. “The Guardians” based on a children’s book is a completely different animal using “myth” and “belief” to approach its subject matter with an edge and texture. Chris Pine who leads the cast as the voice of “Jack Frost” spoke about the key in the character to finding “the center”. Interestingly, the whole time he was speaking, all of his remarks also applies everything he sees in this character to James Kirk for which he is currently shooting the sequel to “Star Trek” as. The ending of the presentation did not disappoint with Sascha Baron Cohen making his second public appearance as “The Dictator” complete with girls and soldiers in tow and walking through the crowd. After throwing some zingers on stage as is his MO, Cohen as the character angled out Katzenberg as the other “dictator” in the room before announcing (which most thought as a joke) that the film would be screening at 11pm up the Strip and that it was not a threat before he exited with great fanfare as Katzenberg kissed his ring.
Warner Brothers The texture of Warner Brothers relies in being able to follow up the powerhouse of Harry Potter. While the arrival of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp to introduce an extended trailer of “Dark Shadows”, it was Christopher Nolan talking about shooting almost a 1/3 of his “Dark Knight Rises” in IMAX that offered a stemming view of a brooding dark conclusion so much so that Adam Shankman who showed an extended trailer of “Rock Of Ages” including the first bit of Tom Cruise singing threw a “you fucker” line at Nolan because of how unbelievable bad ass it was. Director Jay Roach then talked about the balance of political “broo-haha” in regards to his new film:”The Campaign” starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis. However it was moving into fall that offered the most interesting view with the first glimpse of footage from Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” in 3D which Luhrmann explained in a taped message from Australia allows you to see the actors shine without any visual effects. Lastly, Peter Jackson introduced in 3D from New Zealand, the first footage of 48 frames per second from “The Hobbit”. Like seeing “Avatar” for the first time, it takes some getting used to because it is a completely different movie experience in terms of perception with Jackson showing distribs around 10 minutes of footage. One piece in particular showing Gollum’s face very close to camera shows the distinctiveness of this frame rate as do flying shots (like those seen in the original trilogy). Another one very specific to the changing viewpoint of the immersion of the technology is when Gandalf is alone in the catacombs. The depth of the shot makes you think you are actually there though the process does retain an almost HD camera quality in terms of perspective which is rather hard to describe.
Disney Balancing out with the texture of brand specifications from Warner, the Mouse House used the cross structure promotion with Marvel, Pixar and Dreamworks to fuel the fire. Marvel presented a short clip from “The Avengers” intermixing Iron Man, Thor and Captain America with bone-crunching sound followed directly with the announcement of Thor II and Captain America II before Marvel President Kevin Feige showed a small clip leading to the production of Iron Man III which begins production in North Carolina later in the month. Progressing into Dreamworks, the aspect of “People Like Us” starring Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks (and directed by Alex Kurtzman of “Star Trek” and “Fringe” frame) capitalizes on the studio’s penchant for more novel based forms. “Lincoln” which makes its distribution stateside through Fox, was also mentioned, without texture of a trailer likely to be seen at Fox’s Presentation two days later. Disney Pictures itself started quietly with sleeper quality textures of the stop motion film “Frankenweenie” directed by Tim Burton which does contain odes to Brad Bird’s “Family Dog” episode of “Amazing Stories” and definitely suburban angles of “Edward Scissorhands”. “The Odd Life Of Timothy Green” starring Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton seems more reminiscent of Disney fantasy/morality films of the 70s like “Pete’s Dragon” depending on the tone of the eventual picture. “The Wonderful World Of Oz”, which just completed filming just a couple weeks ago, boasts a great pedigree in director Sam Raimi re-teaming with his “Spiderman” villain James Franco as the titular character here. The story details unearthed by the director speak to an interesting betrayal in the story of sorts centering around Mila Kunis’ character which fuels the intentions of what happens in the world. The footage shown dictates a mixture of sets, which producer Joe Roth identified as Detroit, as well as some interestingly created background CG mattes which might or might not be the final textures. Conversely, Jerry Bruckheimer was brought out by current live action film prexy Sean Bailey after a short live stage bit about Kermit wanting to be the Lone Ranger and Miss Piggy wanting to be the Good Witch in Oz. Entertaining for sure. Bruckheimer spoke of them shooting in Arizona with Johnny Depp coming out and speaking as well. Depp made reference to that fact that “I just saw a frog and pig out here. Did anybody else see that?” When asked about Tonto, Depp deferred in a show of modesty saying, kindly, that he wants the theater owners to see it when it is done. With no footage to speak of for the title with the exception of a photo, details are still scarce. John Lasseter, head of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, came out next to discuss his slate. “Wreck It Ralph” is a non-Pixar film which is interesting in its own right following a bad guy in an 8-bit video game stuck in an arcade. Lasseter spent a good ten minutes setting up the premise and characters before showing the first ten minutes of the film. John C. Reilly, who spoke about trying to improvise during the recordings with sometimes co-star Sarah Silverman, gives a definite heart to the character. A specific “bad guys anonymous” scene represents this with a dexterity and tongue-in-cheek element replete with visual gag cues. Representing beyond and speaking into the Pixar mode, the announcements in terms of new structures (beyond “Monster University”) border on more esoteric which might be undeniably groundbreaking with one being “The Last Dinosaur” with only a silhouette of a brachiosaurus present and another one that can be encapsulated as “Journey Into The Mind” but probably not in the “Fantastic Voyage” way. Finally, as a perspective of a film which has been interestingly placed without any real knowledge of it, Lasseter unspooled nearly a half-hour of “Brave” which follows the exploits of a tomboyish princess in the highlands of Scotland. While interesting echoes of Robin Hood play through especially when the heroes take disguise, what does seem to ring through. which was not prevalent before as much in the other Pixar movies (because this is inherently a human world), is the reactions of the animals and others in a more realistic way which was a hallmark of say “Beauty & The Beast”. It shows how the feature animation side of Disney is being impacted by Lasseter. While not at the full potential of Disney because of responsibility to the shareholders, he is pushing the bar in subtle ways as he can.
Filmmaker Forum: Martin Scorsese & Ang Lee Whenever you get Martin Scorsese in the room, the perspective becomes one of a film class which is interesting when he is speaking to a roomful of theater owners. The impact of “The Hobbit” footage at 48fps had been ringing for about 24 hours and everybody had an opinion on it, both good and bad. This forum was more about 3D with Scorsese’s “Hugo” pushing the barrier last year in terms of serious filmmakers from a dramatic point of view. Ang Lee, mostly known for his more direct non-genre dramas (but Oscar-winning fare) recently immersed himself in 3D for his Christmas release “Life Of Pi” which many said to be “unfilmable” (and for good perspective reason). While it is interesting to see these men discuss the virtues of this medium, it almost feels like they are behind the ball because the technology is moving so fast. Before the discussion began, a sample of 120fps technology was shown. The eye cannot see, for what is being said, beyond 60fps. The footage here was more smooth gliding elements but the separation dictates the depth. This is one thing that did interact in terms of the Scorsese/Lee discussion because lighting becomes even more of an important structure which Lee said drove him mad in certain respects on “Pi”. Scorsese reflects that the I/O, which determines depth in 3D, was something he and his cinematographer Robert Richardson constantly toiled with on “Hugo”. He however said it was one shot when Sascha Baron Cohen is staring down into the camera with his dog in forced perspective that gave him chills because it showed what the technology was capable of doing. Lee, still in the midst of figuring everything out on his movie, spoke on the essence of using water since a lot of his movie takes place in the ocean. The Taiwanese government ended up building him a massive tank but the camera was the first to use a housing to shoot 3D actually underwater. Neither had seen “The Hobbit” footage so they could not comment though Scorsese seemed visibly intrigued at everyone’s reaction. He compared it to a movie he showed to his daughter, her school friends and some of their mothers at his home in New York recently. It was from back in the 30s where the aspect ratio and the color changes during the film (much like “Wizard Of Oz” in some respects). People, he said, spoke the same way about color. It is just something that will eventually, after growth spurts, become a mainstay. 3D took a little longer but eventually is having its day.
Sony While franchises seem to pile on with respect to the Sony brand, the intention seems to reflect that bigger is better quality. While “MIB 3” and “Total Recall” showed extended structures in 2D, it is interesting to perceive their eventual release.The time travel perspective of Men In Black does not quite have its plot direction set in the footage shown but the humor, as always, plays dry and loose with Josh Brolin doing a spot on impression that you would almost think that Tommy Lee Jones is doing the voice over. “Total Recall” oddly enough recreates an almost deja-vu situation because the set ups in terms of plot device to the original are eerily similar with a swig of “The Fifth Element” thrown into the mix. The world is intense and Kate Beckinsale, melding a character that mixes Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside from the original, is bad-ass especially in an extended foot chase sequence that just screamed with adrenalin yet felt wholly original. The intention of what Douglas Quaid is being accused of here is played a little more than conjecture. “That’s My Boy” looks to bring Adam Sandler back to full resolution after the misfire that was “Jack & Jill” but the man experiments with comedy (albeit more low brow) much like Will Ferrell but with more success on an ongoing basis. This is an R-rated romp that has textures of “Little Nicky” but with more curse words and breasts. Sort of like Billy Madison grown up. It looks hilarious because Sandler’s character can go nuts because Andy Sandberg takes on Adam’s usual role with aplomb. It should kill for sure. And as the announcements proved, “Grown Ups 2” is around the corner a summer from now. “The Amazing Spiderman” also seems to be trying to find its footing. The hardest thing in rebooting the franchise is selecting the right tone and space within which to set it. The humor and action shown here is seeking a balance for sure and the scale surely feels much bigger than the last franchise. Andrew Garfield’s approach is more aloof at times though Emma Stone stabilizes the structure. Denis Leary as the police captain who sees Spiderman as a threat will bring some added tension and the more comprehensive view of Lizard Man promises interesting feelings but it all contains relevance in heart depending on the end product. “Resident Evil: Retribution” shows Paul W.S. Anderson pushing the 3D ideals but the mythology is getting extremely deep. However as long as Milla Jovovich can wield a sword and guns with fire blazing behind her (with extended I/O mind you) people will flock. The final perception allowed was a first look at the Bond film “Skyfall” directed by Sam Mendes. The teaser is dark with overcast skies and dark rooms. It seems almost built like a brainwash sequence. The music is rumbling and has tendencies of foreboding much like “Road To Perdition” which gave chills. Granted it gives no perspective of overall story but the tone indicated feels much like “The Dark Knight Rises”: a dark humor that mixes with tragedy.
20th Century Fox With two summer films that hang on the precipice with different elements at stake, the ideas are humming. With “Prometheus” and a bang up viral campaign, director Ridley Scott seems to know what he is doing. The extended trailer showing the landing sequence onto the planet in its full glory has a dexterity and industrial feeling that only Scott can do. “Alien” DNA plays heavily into the trailer from the ship to the Space Jockey. The blood letting definitely paints it well. It looks phenomenal on the big screen. “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” I have been interacting with over the past couple months. It is a near idea that is perched between real life and genre which is always a hard sell. Director Timor Bekmambetov has the chops to make it happen and the new footage plays to more the historical basis and less of the acrobatics which may be a conscious decision. “Neighborhood Watch” is another interesting amalgamation with Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill moving into an alien invasion hybrid comedy where they become defenders of their community, swilling beer and taking no bullshit. It is interesting but the line being walked is a tightrope. The final perception to be mentioned on Fox’s upcoming slate is “Life Of Pi”, Ang Lee’s 3D epic to be released at Christmas. Lee showed one sequence and one scene from the film to show what he is trying to do. What comes across for sure is a necessity to use 3D as a storytelling mechanism of immersion. The sequence involves the marooning of the lead character on the ocean and the sinking of the freighter he is traveling on. At first it seems almost simple but the single long takes show a deeper thought at work. Like “Titanic” in a way but more intimate, Lee’s camera follows the actor (picked from a worldwide casting search) underwater trying to save his family who is trapped in the water below deck. The 3D camera picks up the bubbles which gives a much more real feel. Pi, the lead character, ends up on a life raft which a zebra (there are a lot of animals on the ship) jumps onto. The perspective of that and then a Bengal tiger (an integral part of the story) jumping on as well while rain is pouring down, makes on realize that there is a lot of stuff going on technically here. One of the most beautiful shots comes around this point where you can see the sinking ship lingering below Pi in an overhead shot with its lights still on. He disappears below the surface and you get a sense of scale. When 3D starts to be used for this kind of thing (which Cameron embraces as well) is when you will get some killer stuff. The other scene Lee showed is very reminiscent of “Old Man & The Sea”. You can tell at a point it is in a studio stage while Pi and The Tiger fight over their food of flying fish along with tuna that sail into the boat. It has that aspect of Anthony Quinn and the primal fight. The tiger (which is probably CG but it is so seamless as not to be believed) blows Aslan from “Narnia” out of the water with its reality.
CinemaCon, showing new advances, continues to challenge theater owners and, by extension, audiences by trying to keep up with changing technology and rights conversion which, while exciting, always seems to come with a bit of apprehension but ultimately interest.
Watching the textural possibilities of a “Hangover” sequel, the thought that comes to mind is how do you capitalize on the notion of lightning trapped in a bottle. With Las Vegas and committing to that experience that everyone has had at one time or another, where do you go that pushes the envelope even farther.
Bangkok is indeed the perfect spot, added to the fact that many people have heard its stories but few have been there. Interesting enough in researching and placing together this idea, writer/director Todd Phillips knows enough about the area and its intensity to both highlight, tempt and resolutely disgust at the same time. What is exceptional is that what comes through at times, which was there in the last one, and upon first viewing, very much so in this one, is simply the character tones inherent in all of the participants.
Zach Galifianakis as Alan accessorizes this notion of a man child who feels truly alive when he is around these friends. Ed Helms as Stu is stuck in his own world of trying to live up to notions of being a man but only releases his demon upon said blowouts. Bradley Cooper as Phil simply goes with the flow although his chastising of Alan shows a very human perception of Zach. It works because they are so disimilar. One never feels as if they don’t get each other. Alan just doesn’t understand what he is doing.
While the first “Hangover” had some cinematic moments, the one that truly stands out here is not the pictures (which are still funnier than hell at the end) but rather Stu singing a new version of a Billy Joel song called “Alan-Town”. It is very unassuming as the three of them travel down a waterway on a longboat. It just seems so effortless and yet almost real. Plus the song’s rewritten lyrics encapsulate the movie at that moment. You get that the actors sense it too.
Moving back from that sense of the movie (which I never quite thought at times Todd Philips would do ten years ago) the simple laugh-out loud possibilities are there in terms of physical comedy but it is Mr. Chow (played with unrepentant energy by Ken Jeong) along with Monkey that truly steals the show. Jeong was good in the last one but now that we know what he is capable of, it is just like music. He and Monkey could do a movie on their own.
Even the car chase through old Bangkok which could have been old hat works because of the set up. The plot importance is there but Chow keeps it like he is going to the store to pick up bread. When he utters the line, when they are almost done with the deal, “maybe get bump”, the whole theater cracked up. From then until the end of the chase, it is bedlam like the old screwball comedies with the Wolfpack simply along along for the wild ride with Chow.
The resolution at the end keeps the structure open and brings the characters back from the brink without too much damage. Again, also showing that Philips knows his landmarks or, at least his location scout connections are killer in Thailand, alot of the third act takes place on top of the LeBua Hotel At State Tower which is one of the coolest hotels in Bangkok which has a Roman temple on top of it with an open air roof that looks like something out of Sodom & Gomorrah. Alot of the high Bangkok shots are shot there as well as some fly by helicopter bits but the place, having been and stayed there, is dope beyond measure.
Thailand, despite any shall we say alternative elements, is painted as beautiful with the opening shots capturing what the country is capable of and is. The first “Hangover” was a postcard of Las Vegas as it really is in all its glory and motivated many people to come back (even in harder economic times) to Sin City. “The Hangover Part II” does the same for Bangkok. Having been there it shows the real side of the city but also the beauty and fun of what makes it a jewel in Asia.
“The Hangover Part II” lived up to the original for me because it took what made the first one exceptional, didn’t lose any of the possibilities and proceeded on. People are who they are and the Wolfpack are no different. No matter what they do, they will end up in these situations again and again. That is what makes them relatable. It’s because their fallible and not dumb, just party animals who happened to hit odd luck twice. Like this movie.
And stay for the pictures again. It is just makes the whole thing funnier.
The cable landscape continues to widen with the permutation of new entries into the crowded landscape.
Starz With the introduction of the TV version of “Crash” the network benefits from being only the third behind HBO and Showtime to be able to take on the “no holds barred” approach.
This is motivated by Bill Hamm, president of originals at the skein, who announced new deals in terms of the ordering of the series “Failure To Fly” about people who have failed at suicide being shepherded by filmmaker Craig Sheffer (to premiere in Spring 2010), a fashion series from Chris Albrecht (formerly of HBO) and Rob Thomas (of Matchbox 20 fame) who is developing an Austin-based drama in addition to a new development deal with Matthew McCougnahey.
“Crash” meanwhile in its sophomore season, begins retaining Ira Steven Behr, formerly of “The 4400”, as a showrunner while also signing Keith Carradine (hot off “Dexter”) for a multi episode arc. Behr speaks that, within the “Crash” world, Los Angeles is a paradise but paradise comes at a price…and everybody has to pay. He relates that Eric Roberts is playing Seth Blanchard, a billionaire who is playing outside the box to situate everyone in his space. Linda Park plays his wife Maggie who has a couple secrets of her own and will be soon dragged outside her comfort space. Behr says that his LA is exciting and different and definitely not the easiest place to live but that it gives the opportuinity for everyone else to change. The stories themselves have multi character arcs and with Starz being premium cable, they can go anywhere. Respective in terms of shooting Albuerquerque for LA, he says that it is a very interesting choice and he would be interested in meeting the guy who made the decision. He respectively says that green screen does wonders and that they have found a way to get over the problem nicely. The stories, he reiterates, have an LA base to them and he is a firm believer that if the characters and stories are compelling then the viewers will come.
Dennis Hopper, in full cool form, says that with the TV series, the ultimate reality is that you don’t have as much time as film. He mentions that he has worked on many indie films over the years and that it is not all that much different. The major alteration here is how much dialogue he has in this series spread over 15 to 17 hour days. He jokes that he never hears anybody complain but him. He enjoys it but it is difficult considering they have three days off every two weeks. He likes the upside of working with Eric Roberts and they have a laugh that they both have made more than a couple bad movies over the years. Hopper also relates a great moment in a recent episode involving his old friend Dean Stockwell. His character is brought out to the desert by this character to get him off drugs which he laughs “is a ridiculous presence” because Dean “had a scorpion biting me”.
On the other end of the tether is the new “Spartacus: Blood & Sand” which takes the legendary story and places it “Gladiator” style with an R rating. Lucy Lawless, always the essence of great genre, off a hot stint with “Battlestar Galactica”, relishes her involvement. She sees her character to Spartacus as “his Lady MacBeth”. If he has to do something against the rules, she is there to “shore him up”. Undeniably though, she sees herself as the power behind the throne despite the fact that their love is “toxic”. She sees this series, tonally, as unlike anything she has ever done especially in the angle of its naturalism. The world of this Spartacus, she says, is one with a lack of empathy. There are high stakes for everybody. To everyone’s chagrin, she admits at some point, she will be (at least partially) naked because, as she says, “some people insist on taking off their pants”. But ultimately when clothes are worn, Lawless says she never thinks about the costumes. She was happy in LA content in doing little bits but she says the role is just “knock out” which made it easier for her to return to New Zealand where the show is being shot. The show has “brilliant women relationships” that are “subtle but also deadly”. She says “deadly” attracts her.
Sam Raimi, who was also involved back in the days of “Hercules” and “Xena” with Lawless serves as an exec on the show. His involvement, he says, was getting the concept moving with Rob Tappert. He admits that the new “Spiderman” films will take him away from this project but is glad he was able to be there for the first three or four episodes. Raimi is fascinated by Spartacus because he is “this legendary character” who goes from someone about to die to an unexpected hero”. It is a story for him “about the oppressed against the oppressor”.
Rob Tappert, who worked with Raimi on the earlier series, explains that the first season starts before Spartacus goes into slavery and ends with him going into gladiator school, adding that they push it a little farther placing him in the fighting. He adds that “Blood” is done with the ballet of a John Woo movie.
HBO In trying to re-estabish their dominance after a building power in the form of cable competition along with the departure of “The Sopranos”, the cabler has been forced to rethink their strategies but is coming in strong at full steam.
The initial implementation involves the perspective of new deals and pick ups. “True Blood” will return in the summer of 2010 and has been picked up for a full season. “Hung” and “Entourage” have also been picked up for next season. “Little Britain” as a series is not coming back but they might do some specials. “Tremane” set in New Orleans will hopefully be on in early April. Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg’s miniseries event “The Pacific” will premiere in early March and “Tremane” will be its lead out. “Boardwalk Empire”, considered the heir apparent to “The Sopranos”, about the birth of Atlantic City, just wrapped their pilot with Martin Scorsese directing. They are just awaiting a cut so they can greenlight it saying “fingers are crossed”. In terms of “Flights Of The Conchords”, he says, it is double pressure since the principals have to conceive both the music and the show. He says that they want to do a third season but that they are waiting for them.
They are also working on a new animated show with Ricky Gervais, who did well with them for “Extras”. He says that they would like to pair it with “The Life & Times Of Tim”. Gervais’ new outing is based on a series of podcasts he did which are simply “funny, irreverent and stream of consciousness conversations”.
The most instantaneous perception in the HBO arsenal is “By The People” which traces the compaign trail of Barack Obama from its inception to win.
Amy Rice, who co-directed the film, says that they started out on an idea but, as all great documentaries do, it revolves and changes as you go. She says that they met Ronnie [Cho] (one of Obama’s young staffers) about six or seven months into shooting which truly gave them a perspective to shoot through. They were always looking for different storylines and the access was always changing. Obama became a candidate during their process but Rice says “it was nothing like it was at the beginning”. They had to become practical and pick and choose the moments they captured Obama. For example, there is a great moment in the doc (which no other media cameras covered) which showed a tear running down Obama’s cheek because he was so moved during a speech. All the media cameras were on a different angle but she was shooting HD inside the photo buffers where the tear actually was visible. She was on the press bus afterwards and asked a colleague if she had seen the same thing. She hadn’t. For her it was just a process. She thought that they would just shoot and see how everyone felt in the end. She said that she came to believe in Obama which she said happened first when he gave a convention speech in 2006. She was blown away by it and bought his book the next day. She admits that he was an underdog when they first discussed the doc but says she was naive enough not to think he wouldn’t run. One of her fondest memories was on the last day of shooting on Jan 28th, 2009 when they were taping in the Oval Office. Obama had seen the movie and that he really liked the Cho story. Obama’s quote was that she “should put more of them and less of me” motivating his ideals.
Alicia Sams, Amy’s co-director on the film, says the angle was to follow Obama on the campaign trail non-stop. Debate prep, she says, was extremely important because it became more difficult for a number of reasons. In her mind, it went from “a very great time” to “a scheduled program”. However she does relate on Election Night, that she was there when Obama met Jon Favreau. It was very emotional but she forgot to press record.
Ronnie, being part of Machine Obama, says that the first time he had to exhale was when they won in November. But, he says, there was no relishing of victory although they could be glad about what they accomplished. He says, of his story, that his beginnings were very modest. His parents emigrated to the US from South Korea and, for a year of his earlier life, they lived in a car though he says he doesn’t really remember it.
Actor Ed Norton, a producer on the doc and always intellectually moving in the right direction, says that when you make a film like this you have to detach yourself from the ebbs and flows of the day-to-day swing of politics. It became clear, as this film was made, that you have no idea where it is going. It became more of a historical document of how the movement operated. He says that they didn’t set out to make a campaign film. His feeling is that, whatever Obama goes through (either with success or failures), nothing will tarnish the greatness of his election. In Norton’s words, it is “a noble and fine ambition of how a certain time transpired”.
The fact, Norton continues, is in the process of how they did it. Norton said that he entered into it because he had some other business with Obama’s office on a policy level. He met with Robert Gibbs (now White House press secretary) in the Spring of 2006. The initial presentation for the doc was that Obama represented a cultural shift in politics and that there was value in that. At the inset, they just proposed a regular check in: a political diary if you will because at the time, he wasn’t a Presidential candidate. His people weren’t trying to insulate him at that time. They were trying to elevate him and were completely open to receiving that kind of interest before it became a guarded affair. He says there were definitely waves. When the machine became an actual campaign, David Axelrod (one of Obama’s closest advisors) was vehemently opposed to them shooting. Norton says that it was Amy and Alicia’s tenaciousness that wore Axelrod down. As a producer, he was calling Axelrod on the phone to explain and rationalize why they needed to shoot. His point was that the doc was not going to affect the outcome of the campaign. There were waves of resistance but everybody knew that they were there so, at some point, “they start forgetting about you”. It then became a portrait in a pyramid of screen time, epitomized through the story of Ronnie Cho.
The entrant from left field on HBO is the introduction of “Bored To Death” which casts Jason Schwartzman as Jonathan Ames, a down-on-his-luck writer in NY who moonlights as an unlicensed private investigator. With Ted Danson and Zach Galifianakis (hot off “The Hangover”) as would-be confidantes, the neurotism that is in full fledge in the marketing makes itself true. The man and stories on which the tales are based on: Jonathan Ames, himself says, that “what is there not to love about the series?” The original story story he wrote had dead bodies. He simply believes there is no time for this character to be bored. Schwartzman, talking via satellite from Toronto where he is shooting a movie, simply reacts to the raw comedy of Zach and Danson in person. Zach says that he is feeling the heat from “Hangover”. He jokes that doing a Reba sitcom would be easier and if he was 36, he would buy 27 Dodge Vipers but right now it is all a big inconvenience. Danson reminds with a laugh that despite all this, he was on a little show called “Cheers”. Zach jumps back at him saying that “if it isn’t that, it’s fucking Becker”. Danson gives his thought on the transforming face of comedy on the small screen. He says that “The Office” is an amazing show on network but on cable, right now, you can be more specific. “Good writing”, he highlights, “can be found anywhere”. He speaks from experience since he is also doing “Curb Your Enthusiasm” where he says “you never know what the hell Larry is going to do”. He also says, depending on HBO, he might do some “Damages” for FX.
Zach, for his success, says that he is “really going to miss the Uncle Chuckles in Tampa”. Stand up, he says, is the world he knows. He jokes, that when he is a wash-up in a couple years, he will go back to it. He says he actually did some surprise shows a couple days ago in LA but he will not be doing anything like a tour. It will just be a spur of the moment thing. Jonathan Ames closes the lid on “Bored” saying you can get the angle just by hearing the three of these guys talk. He speaks of Danson like a “beacon” with his white hair. He hopes that they are filling a void but that he could easily be back out at night getting in trouble.
“Hung” takes the stage as middle age gigolos around the world ramp up with a perception of greatness. With Thomas Jane taking the lead as Ray and knowing that seriousness is a stage of mind, the motivation permeates out the window.
Co-Creator/Executive Producer Colette Burson says that that some shows that “Hung” is compared to are “all about the secret”. She says that they much more interested in the relationship of who Ray is in the room with. She says that initially co-exec producer Alexander Payne (of “Sideways” fame) was against offering the role of Ray to someone. She says that Thomas Jane is someone they had thought of long before. When it comes out funny in the show, it is allowed to be funny which pushes the metaphor to the edge but she says that they try to keep it “gray” in the writers’ room. For her, the show has a cool concept in that it seems accurate to the time giving it a bit of an “existential sting”.
Dmitry Lipkin, who is co-creator as well, says that it was hugely important to shoot the show in Detroit because they area is so evocative to what is going on in the country. He said that they wanted to place the story on a lake, not in conventional suburbia. He says “for each woman who interacts with ‘it’, it is like Plato’s penis: it is perfect for everyone who comes in contact with it.” Lipkin says that they were not interested in making a sex farce but instead searching to examine the true repercussions of these relationships and what these women love.
Jane Adams, who plays Tanya (Ray’s pimp), says that she really thinks that Ray and Tanya are start-up entrepreneurs. Alexander Payne, she said, shot this moment in the pilot where Ray is already doing what he is doing but Tanya is helping him. She says that the darker it gets, the more she laughs when it’s funny. She thought it was a funny idea from the start and a little left of center but, as she play acts, “it is all about a guy with a big dick who fucks people for money”.
Thomas Jane enters in with his deadpan humor saying that on set, he has to goes into the next room to disrobe so he doesn’t hit anyone in the eye. Adams come back at him repealing her earlier statement relating that “I don’t say dick, I say cock” further endorsing that she heard Monique say that “black guys call it ‘their dick’ and white guys ‘their cock'”. But for her, is this what women really want? Her response : “Those poor sullied creatures of the night? I would have to give them $300.”
In terms of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, Larry David is a force of nature. The big news of the season is, of course, the would-be reunion of “Seinfeld”. David had said there would never be a reunion show but that he thought it be funny if they could pull it off on “Curb”. He called up Jerry pitching the concept of seeing the writing, the read through, the rehearsal and then the show on TV. This way you will get to see bits of the show and also what happened 10 years later. He warns that you will not see a Seinfeld show from beginning to end. The reunion bits are scattered through the season over five episodes but that season finale will be a portion of the actual reunion show. He doesn’t quite know exactly how it will turn out as he is still editing it.
In terms of returning for another season, Larry has to feel if he can do it again. The key is if he has a good arc for the season. The arc has to work for him or else it won’t be any good. For example, in the Seinfeld reunion episodes, his character might consider wrecking the good will and he very well might have done so. In terms of coming back with Jerry, he said it came very easily like “getting on a bicycle” but admits that the “true” Larry is starting to combine with the “Curb” Larry.
The process structure of creating a “Curb” episode at this stage, Larry says is that the outlines are a little longer now with a little more detail. He still shows up and “I literally don’t know what I am doing that day”. “Seinfeld”, he says, by comparison, was very scripted.
In terms of real life TV viewing, he mostly watches shows with his daughters like “Gossip Girl” (which is undeniably ironic). He thinks the characters are totally uninteresting and sound “breathy”. His daughters love it though.
Bringing up the rear with the big artillery is Robin Williams, doing his first stand up special for HBO since his heart surgery. Robin begins by talking about the new essence of finding material. He says when you start in small clubs, you see what you can find. You never know if a Shakespearean reference is going to work. You have to do your homework, he says.
After seeing some clips which trace his comic performances for HBO starting from 1979 until now, he says that it is pretty interesting to see the transition. He jokes that “after seeing the sizzle reel, I think I need more therapy”. He says that HBO should brace themselves since they are in for “a long run” since he has run out of the merchandising dollars from “Bicentennial Man”. He recollects the advent of the first Comic Relief when George Carlin walked out with the now-passed comic stating: “Anorexia. Why would I give a shit if the cunt won’t eat?”. And the phone lines are open. In looking at his last specials, Robin has a good perception of their pertinence, saying, with “Night At The Met”, he started talking about his kids. With “Live On Broadway”, it was very political since it was after Afghanistan happened and Cheney made his big entrance. Back on his first special in the late 70s, “technologically, mom and dad weren’t online”, “they were doing lines”.
He says that this special is an all new show. He makes reference saying that it like “Lou Dobbs saying Rachel Maddow is the queen of teabaggers” or that “Anderson Cooper is the king of the strap-ons”. He does motivate on his stay at the Cleveland Clinic where he had his surgery. He likens it to “having sex with a cowbell where it is like a duel to the death”. He relates that worphin is like this rat poison they give you. The big side effect is “rectal ventriloquism”. He says that they give you a little device to regulate pain and medication after the surgery. He says he now realizes that “my doctor is my dealer…and he is a little harder to get ahold of” and jokes that this is why the performance will be in three months time.
Seriously, I ask the question about modulating his energy, especially with his heart condition. Robin says solemnly that he really hasn’t tested it out yet. Hopefully they won’t have to shock him on stage but that he appreciates the concern. In terms of what interests him in terms of comedy, he makes the analogy that he feels “like a leper getting a facial” with the new young acts. He likes Sasha Baron Cohen and that he saw some good new stuff in London, specifically “A Mighty Boosh”.
In terms of structure he says that there is alot of bad news in the economy. He says though that when things are bad, people are going to laugh more. He gives his first perception of Obama saying that the new President is a combination of Walter Cronkite and Paul Robinson. The only thing that people have given him real trouble about was in regards to his jeans. Bush though has been very quiet and hasn’t gone on a “misspeaking tour”. Williams jokes that when Obama got elected “the white guilt went way down”. But there is that uncomfortability, he says on a global level, because the world is looking at us “like we just came out of rehab”.
And the beat goes on…