Random Oscar thoughts as the night progressed…

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on February 23, 2009

THE RED CARPET….

Funny couples moment that wasn’t even a Hollywood couples moment with Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick when it became obvious during their response to the E! interviewer that she picked out his clothes for the night.

E!’s Giuliana squeals like an idiot upon seeing Brangelina. Really? (pause) Really?

I’m thinking that possibly the toughest thing about Loki’s passing (Mickey Rourke’s dog) is it throws into doubt who will accept the Oscar for Heath Ledger.

I feel for all the guests of stars on the red carpet who get directed off-camera to get out of the interview shot.

Okay, I’ve heard Kate Winslet’s story about her son’s speech advice twice in 5 minutes now. Time to put that little chestnut away…

Now I have reached critical mass with Mickey Rourke and the Loki memorial.

Diane Lane and Josh Brolin – that is some Hollywood Royalty the way it SHOULD be played. Style…mutual support…sharing the right perspective…

I’m enjoying Miley Cyrus blatantly campaigning (and sounding like she expects) to be nominated for her damn HANNAH MONTANA movie next year. Oh, country mouse…


AND THEN THE SHOW BEGINS…

Wait a minute – Is this Supporting Actress thing is like a Skull & Bones initiation ceremony? Will there be hazing involved – like paddling? Because that would be hot.

I have to think that Dustin Lance Black’s acceptance speech for Screenplay just scared the crap out of the hard core red staters. “How can we demonize that?”

The Art Direction winners stand at a little table thingy – looking like they’re at an awkward singles mixer.

Wait a second – Did they make Pattinson and Seyfried present from the “kids’ microphone”?

I’m having very happy thoughts about not having to do a post mortem on one of Ben Stiller’s award show bits at IDPR the next day. “It was funny, right? People seemed to think it was funny, don’t you think? What did your friends think? He picked the right idea. I mean, the TWILIGHT idea was funny too, but the Joaquin thing was better. Right? Okay, get him on the phone…”

Okay, if I had a lot of extra fabric for Jessica Biel’s dress, where would I put it? Uhmm..not there.

Damn, that Holocaust thing even works for short films at the Oscars.

Now we get the big “musicals are back!” number. And I have to think THIS is how middle America likes its gay!

However, does Beyonce HAVE to be the default for these things…?

After each one of these Supporting Actor “a speech from your peers” things, I expect the presenter to say, “You can go now.”

Jerry Lewis proves humanitarian mettle by giving a mercifully brief speech. Think about it – he easily could have done the buck toothed gag or the water glass in the mouth bit or launched into a few versus of his Muscular Dystrophy theme song/ So – thank you – and bring on the commercial break.

They’re rolling out the documentary nominees and people around the country are thinking, “Do I have to watch these movies – like homework or something? I mean, not one of ‘em has a wise cracking panda or adventurous French mouse or even a romantic robot…”

And, courtesy of Mr. MAN ON WIRE, we suddenly have the Cirque de Soleil.

The audience was trying to figure what the titles were for the foreign films after that confusing presentation. Then the winner’s announced and they went wha..?!

Time for the Best Song performances – Hey, is there gonna be a musical rumble here?

I swear this is like YOU GOT SERVED Indian-style!

To this day, Reese Witherspoon opens her mouth and I see and hear ‘Tracy Flick’ from ELECTION. And it scares me just a little.

Danny Boyle wins, does some ‘Tigger’ jumps for his kids and then compliments the production of the show during his moment. He’s like a goodwill juggernaut.

The Best Actress presentations…

Face Off #1: Angelina Jolie can’t help but think that she has more kids than Nicole Kidman – so she wins!

Face Off #2: Dude, I think there’s gonna be a throwdown between Sophia Loren and Meryl Streep…

It’s cool that Robert Garlock got shout outs from both Kate Winslet and Penelope Cruz tonight. He was a publicist who was a good guy. One I really only knew peripherally and yet knew very well of his reputation for old fashioned and basic decency. Because it’s rare in personal PR.

Sean Penn wins and is eloquent yet pointed. He is self aware, but he’s not going to back down from the haters.

Finally, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE wins it’s last award – but only because there are no more left to give out. But wasn’t that little movie supposed to go straight to DVD…? Wha.. happened?

If there is one thing I know after watching the show tonight, it is this: Meryl Streep has received 15 nominations. I know this because it was repeated so often, I thought there was a promotion somewhere, like “Tell us how many nominations Meryl Streep has received and get a free Oscar Taco or Oscar Meyer Oscar Weiner Oscar Hot Dog” or something. And in the words of Kate Winslet, “You’ll just have to suck it up, Meryl.”

At least until next year – and nomination number 16.

PART TWO: INVITING PRESS TO COVER THE FILM FESTIVAL

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on February 11, 2009

This discussion begins with Jeffrey Wells’ shenanigans at the Oxford Film Festival and continues with Karina Longworth’s (and Mark Bell’s and Dave Poland’s, etc.) attempts to broaden the discussion into something beyond his bad behavior into the question of who leads and who chooses the music during the ethics dance that takes place when a film festival arranges for airfare/ accommodations for a journalist to attend their festival.
The discussion won’t end here, but I’ll continue it from the viewpoint of someone who has done exactly that for AFI DALLAS, as well as having done the low grade version (inviting to attend premieres, panels and parties, but not having to take care of flight and room) for my other film festivals (AFI FEST, IFFLA, Lone Star and the Feel Good Film Festival).

There are two key points that all of this hinges on. The first being the thing that for my money was the most egregious of Wells’s way-off-the-mark crap-havior, which was his statement that the lunch he was served at a certain point at Oxford was of much more interest to him and his readers than the film that was playing that day.

Ass.

Simple as that.

Because this stuff begins and ends (and throw in the middle part too) with the filmmakers and their films. Bottom line.

It is why the first thing I did upon my arrival at AFI FEST was institute the nightly red carpet which would involve every filmmaker and attending cast for the films that were premiering that evening. Feature or short, big budget or made with what was left from their school loans, auteurs, legends, or first timers – it didn’t matter and it doesn’t matter. They all get that “rock star” moment, because if they made it through the ringer and got their film programmed, they deserve it.

Now, I know the press on that red carpet wants and needs the movie stars to bolster their coverage because I am well aware of the Brangelina thing. However, what’s just as important (and personally – more important) is to get the other filmmakers in the mix. Because, while a picture of David Beckham posed all cozy-like next to an Audi has cashed my check with the sponsor, having Chris Hansen blog about his experience being sandwiched on the red carpet interviews between Bill Paxton and Lou Diamond Phillips while talking about his quirky little comedy THE PROPER CARE AND FEEDING OF AN AMERICAN MESSIAH is easily the bigger home run.

Because he’s gonna make more movies. And when that happens, I want him back at my film festival. And other filmmakers reading that blog will also put my film festival at the top of their hitlist.

This past fall at one of the AFI FEST premieres, a writer from In Touch Magazine arrived late for the red carpet and threw a lot of entitlement-laden attitude at me when I put him toward the tail end of the press line. As if it was my first movie star picnic, he said, “I’m always put up there where you’ve got Entertainment Weekly and People.” I told him he was lucky I was able to squeeze him in there in the first place and he’d get plenty of people to talk to.

What I didn’t tell him was this – he was even lower on my personal totem pole than the place I put him because I knew he was just there to get a quote from someone like Meryl Streep that night. Who wasn’t? Everyone there was going to try and score that one. I was being kind by putting him where I did knowing the extensive in-depth film festival coverage that we rely on In Touch for.

The movie star coverage? That’s not special. Do I need it? Sure I do. But everyone will clamor and claw for it, so that will take care of itself as long as I make the access to Meryl reasonable and convenient for all concerned.

The other part is tougher. Getting press for the unknowns, the first timers, and dear God…the shorts filmmakers. And that’s the most important part for the long term health of this whole thing. Because those guys, those girls, those men and women haven’t just made very cool films or exhibited some insane potential in what they’ve delivered to that particular festival. Often that’s just the beginning. And when the next one rolls around, I want first dibs.

But it SHOULD BE just as important to the journalists. Because that’s the “new.” Those people are the potential big story if someone has the foresight and good taste to single out a Wes Anderson after his BOTTLE ROCKET short, as opposed to his RUSHMORE arrival. Ramin Bahrani? That guy is exciting to me. I caught up with him on CHOP SHOP. Hell, that was after MAN PUSH CART. I still feel bandwagon guilt with him. The director/star tandem of Richie Mehta and Rupinder Nagra of last year’s AMAL? When people start latching on to them after the next or maybe third film, I’ll feel the same way Springsteen fans felt after the glut of “Born in the USA” people joined the ride.

The second key to all of this is the ethics involved when a journalist or critic is “brought in” by a film festival. This was the thing Karina was trying to get into. And it’s something that all of this discussion has caused me to reassess how we will approach this with AFI DALLAS this year and with all of the festivals I work for in the future.

The question is how much coverage (or more to the point – positive coverage) is implied or even possibly agreed to when that deal (so-to-speak) is struck. Frankly, I want all the coverage I can get from someone we are bringing in. And I’ll talk up the storylines that I feel are running through the festival that year or even the individual stories that have struck my imagination. But that’s all I can do. I would never expect I could ask for a set amount of coverage or demand a positive tenor in that coverage. But it wouldn’t matter to me because I believe so much in the festivals I work for. Each one has a distinctive personality and flavor with solid to fantastic people programming the films. Simply put – I trust. I trust that any coverage can’t help but be positive overall because the films are great and I expect the experience to match that.

Does that mean I expect every film to get a rave review? Of course not. But I’ll let the films and the filmmakers present the argument for themselves. Now, I’ll try to “set the table” – prepare a journalist or critic for what’s in store so they won’t go sit down for a dark, surreal comedy expecting TALLEDEGA NIGHTS, but other than that…that film was programmed for a reason.

BUT…

I now think that I may have to make an adjustment to “protect” the journalists I invite, by ensuring their presence is tied to participation on a panel or a jury. Not everyone assumes fair play is the rule of the day here just because I say it is.

Yes, I would love for the attending journalists to “find” stories like Jeffrey Goodman’s struggle to find the 48 investors in Lafayette to make THE LAST GOODBYE and help Tom Sizemore remember what it feels like to put everything into a performance again or see the genuine spark of improv funny for the bargain price of $50 in Dann Sytsma’s and Daniel Jones’ COMIC EVANGELISTS. But, not only can I not dictate that, I need to do something extra to ensure no one could possibly get the impression that would ever be part of the equation. And other than involve them in specific ways to create that balance – I’m not sure now.

What I am sure about is that the effort to make it work is worth it. Otherwise, those same journalists are going to be stuck reviewing an ever increasing delivery of homogenized and product placed middle-of-the-road films courtesy of the most recent movie studio-media conglomorate-foreign or mass consumption product merger at a multi-plex near you.

So – if they want an alternative to Brangelina, they need to put the same energy into finding something and someone else to write about. Because, let’s face it – as prolific as they are – those two can only make so many films…and so many kids.

To Hell With Brangelina – Part One of Two

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on February 10, 2009

The title of this post is what the first of this two-parter comes down to: To Hell With Brangelina.

And to be fair, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie probably feel the same, much in the same way that John Lennon and Yoko Ono felt about what would have been billed “Jonoko” in their day. I’m sure they’d be fine with a little less scrutiny over public perception of Brad with or without mustache or heated debates over Angie’s weight or speculation about whether or not she’s prepping her incubator again.

Because I’m not talking about them personally, but that media phenomenon.

It’s boring. It’s stale. And the only thing keeping it alive as well as the rest of the celebrity-overkill-TMZ-stalking-entertainment media is laziness. Laziness on the part of entertainment journalism, but worse – the trusty-you-can-depend-on-it laziness that is us. Or U.S. as in U.S. of A. It’s the same crap that makes an absurd box office hit out of movies like WHAT HAPPENED IN VEGAS or HE’S NOT REALLY THAT INTO YOU or TITANIC for that matter, or keeps people watching any show that has the name of a city + CSI after it in its title or sit-coms like TWO AND FOUR FIFTHS OF A KID GOING THROUGH HIS AWKWARD YEARS or a small screen classic like STEP BY STEP (Oh, the comic stylings of a seasoned Patrick Duffy and Suzanne Somers) on the air for a decade at a time.

I come to this from a two different angles:

One – Rare is the festival sponsor that isn’t benignly evil

And Two – What Jeffrey Wells reminded us about at the Oxford Film Festival

PART ONE: THE SPONSORS

I had a conversation recently with Christian Gaines of Withoutabox/IMDB about how film festival press is evolving in the wake of the internet rapidly usurping the print media. He was imploring me to educate anyone that had any governing interest in what I was doing as the Director of PR for AFI DALLAS and AFI FEST (not to mention my other film festivals) to educate them that it’s all changing and they better prepare for that, realize it, and come to terms with it or a shitload of disappointing was heading their way in a Mrs. Beasley’s muffin basket as the nature of the press coverage began to roll in and the final impressions numbers rang up on the big tote board for Jerry’s filmmaker kids.

He was doing that because it is becoming all kinds of different and because he’s nice enough to be concerned about the perception those people would have on how I do my job. Here’s the deal (if you don’t know):

Sponsors dictate a lot of what a film festival can or can’t do because that’s where the lion’s share of the money comes from to put on the thing in the first place. And they want to justify what they’re getting for their money. Simply put – they want to translate that money spent into exposure and exposure and then some exposure. They want their image to bask in something that isn’t a blatant commercial, but they still want the commercial. They just don’t want it to be blatant. Or they at least want to be able to delude themselves that it isn’t blatant.

So – when the dust has cleared and the last screening has been held and the last award has been given out, we have to ring up the impression numbers. (An impression being every time someone has seen the film festival’s – or more precisely – the company’s name or logo in an ad, on a billboard or in my case in an interview or in a picture with a movie star.)

The first challenge (I won’t call it a problem – yet…) is that the majority of film festival coverage is now done by writers on the internet. Online columns, interviews, reviews, blogs, etc. Which is fine – EXCEPT, that no one really has an absolute formula for either tracking down and recording what those numbers are exactly, nor do they have a set and uniform formula for justifying the “worth” in dollars and cents for all of those numbers.

Let me make it simple – for AFI FEST this past fall, the press report we compiled for the coverage we could find and track down on the festival filled two five inch binders and a third four inch binder. The majority of all that content was online press. And we were able to find “numbers” for a third of that.

That’s a lot of work that in a bottom line world that ends up being pointless in the minds of a handful of people that don’t understand at all why someone like me couldn’t instruct Tom Cruise to position his head on the red carpet in such a way that their logo could be seen clearly by the photographers taking his picture.

That’s right, they complained that he wouldn’t move his head the right way so they could see their logo. And it was someone’s fault. If you asked Tom, he’d probably blame psychiatry, but that’s just a guess.

My friend, Mark Woodvine, once told me he actually subscribed to the L.A. Times because they had sponsored the LA Film Festival and he so appreciated their support of that event that he saw rewarding them with his business as the right thing to do. Integrity. Based on him telling me that, I brainstormed on creative ways to pump up the name of our sponsors beyond the old title cards and name following the film festival’s name stuff. I spoke to them about preaching the gospel to the press and public of a real partnership with the film festival. Integrating them in the viral promos we were creating and shooting with our filmmakers. Not just a giving a check for more impressions and movie stars thing.

That’s because I’m a Pollyanna when it comes right down to it.

And they could not have cared less. And I know – I’m a dumbass for thinking that a corporation would have any inclination to embrace an endeavor like a film festival or anything beyond an out-and-out commercial in that way. Because to do otherwise would take some creativity and energy and some longterm vision.

Now here is the capper (and one of the prime inspirations) to this chapter. In a conversation with someone associated with one of the festivals (I’ll be just as vague as I have to be to have a semblance of plausible denial…) we were told that “while the festival was okay the past couple of years, you really haven’t delivered since that red carpet when you had those twenty movie stars come to your premiere.”

This was after the festival has garnered very impressive critical notices and audience numbers that exceeded all expectations for the years in question.

Logic should tell anyone that we’re largely at the mercy of who is in the cast of the films we program. Doesn’t matter. They don’t care. Film? Art? They want movie stars. But make sure it’s the right movie stars. And if the film happens to be “PARIS HILTON AND KIM KARDASHIAN’S PLAY-DOH JAMBOREE,” that’s fine as long as George Clooney, Kate Winslet, Becks and Posh, Ashton and Demi, and early Lindsay Lohan (before she started sleeping with that DJ chick with the hat) show up too.

Oh, and if you could guarantee Brangelina…