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News – Runaway Film Production is the Star of this Movie

March 10, 2010 Leave a comment

COMPANY TOWN

Runaway film production is the star of this movie

Runaway production

Volunteer cast and crew, including cinematographer Ed Gutentag, left, and actor Jack McGee, seated, shoot “Ordinary, Average Guys,” a short film that is part of a campaign to keep movie and TV jobs in California. (Axel Koester / For The Times / March 5, 2010)

By Richard Verrier

March 10, 2010

In a North Hollywood studio, actor Jack McGee is stripped down to his boxers, his legs duct-taped to a chair in a room draped in plastic sheets. He’s not playing his best-known role of Chief Jerry Reilly in the TV series “Rescue Me” but the unlucky owner of a nightclub, sweating profusely as a mobster and his goons threaten to cut off his legs with a chain saw.

His crime: luring the mobster’s younger brother to perform in drag because the kid couldn’t get other work in California.

The short film, “Ordinary, Average Guys,” a cross between “Goodfellas” and the “Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” doesn’t have a distributor. The cast and crew are working free, and it’s being shot over just three days. And its not-so-comic subtext — that jobs are scarce in California — isn’t likely to warm up studio executives.

That doesn’t faze industry veteran Mike Kehoe, the film’s director and co-producer. Kehoe and his colleagues hope to use the film to promote awareness about the economic consequences of so-called runaway production and build support for stronger incentives to keep filmmaking centered in Southern California.

“If we can get everybody involved and really wake people up to do something, then there’s a big chance we can help,” said Kehoe, a longtime craft service coordinator. “We have to make a statement to the politicians.”

Of course, where there’s a film, there are aspirations for a film festival to go along with it.

Kehoe and his colleagues hope the 20-minute movie will be featured in a festival they’re planning that would showcase short films that are shot in California and public-service announcements highlighting production flight.

The festival would dovetail with a campaign by a coalition of industry, labor and city officials to market the region’s film industry, which has seen a steady loss in production to other states and countries.

Kehoe said he was motivated to make the film after spending three months away from his family last summer, missing his twin sons’ birthday, while working on “Battle: Los Angeles,” a Sony Pictures movie about aliens invading L.A. that was shot in Louisiana.

“I want to make movies here because I want to be near my family, just like so many other skilled professionals,” he said.

Kehoe had no trouble finding volunteers, recruiting about 100 actors and crew members, many of them friends he’s worked with over the years, like McGee.

Cinematographer Ed Gutentag provided his services and enlisted help through a website called Shoot Movies in California (www.shootmoviesincalifornia.com).

The site evolved out of a Facebook group and claims 14,000 users, many of them below-the-line crew members hard hit by the exodus of production.

“We’re using films to get our message out,” said Gutentag, a camera operator on such films as “War of the Worlds” and “Collateral.” “And what better way to hone our craft.”

Vendors donated camera and lighting equipment, and the studio space was provided courtesy of an actors training center in North Hollywood.

Some high-level players pitched in, including sound mixer Jeff Wexler, whose credits include “Valentine’s Day,” and Tommy Harper, a unit production manager on “Alice in Wonderland,” who is a co-producer on Kehoe’s project.

“A project like this shows that we need to come together and formulate a plan of how to keep stuff in L.A. It stirs up the conversation,” Harper said.

richard.verrier@latimes.com

Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

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Categories: NEWS STORY, PRODUCTION

Infographic: Film Industry by the Numbers

On Location: Dutch Director finds L.A. Film Crews Best in the World

Dutch

Sometimes it takes a foreigner to point out what the natives take for granted.

Just ask Hein Mevissen, director of commercials for John Doe Productions in Amsterdam.

Mevissen was hired by a Netherlands ad agency to direct a commercial for a Dutch horticultural association, De Nederlandse Tuinbouw, touting the global reach of Holland’s fruits and veggies. Apparently, Holland’s agriculture business has more to boast than just tulips.

But instead of filming the ad in northern Europe, where the commercial will be aired, Mevissen took a detour: He opted to film the bulk of the $500,000 commercial in the Los Angeles area.

Although the commercial’s star is a 40-foot beanstalk (the metaphor: Holland spreading its agricultural roots around the world) much of the commercial was shot with a California crew of about 40 people, along with 60 Los Angeles-area extras and English- and Dutch-speaking actors.

In one scene, producers converted Gigi’s Bakery and Cafe on West Temple Street into a Dutch cafe, selling healthy fruits instead of the greasy fried food typically found in Dutch snack bars. Downtown buildings were used to depict scenes set at a warehouse in Spain and a board meeting in South Korea that erupts into mayhem when the ubiquitous monster plant bursts up through their table. Even the sprawling Tejon Ranch 60 miles north of L.A. had a role, standing in for Tanzania in East Africa.

So why did Mevissen travel across the Atlantic and U.S. to film a Dutch commercial? After all, he might have saved money by shooting in Budapest, Hungary, or Hamburg, Germany, which are closer to Amsterdam and offer hefty tax breaks to boot. Although California has a new film incentive program, commercials aren’t covered by it.

The weak dollar, which makes filming here relatively cheaper, was a factor, Mevissen said. But so was the diversity of locations, good weather and experienced crews.

“I shot a few times in L.A., and it has the very best professionals here and the best crews in the world,” he said.

Nicholas Simon, the producer of the commercial, added: “Where else can you find the breadth of locations that you have here?”

Such testimonials are music to the ears of local film promoters, who are developing a plan to market the area's film industry. There has been an uptick in activity because the economy is improving and overall production is increasing, but the long-term trend has shown Los Angeles losing market share to other areas.

Southern California’s share of all commercial production fell to 48% in 2008 from 54% in 2007, with projects increasingly migrating to other states such as New Mexico, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, according to a recent report from the Assn. of Independent Commercial Producers. Data for 2009 are not yet available.

For his part, Mevissen says he’s already planning to shoot his next commercial — his client won’t let him divulge what it is —  in Southern California.  “You can always go someplace cheaper, but I don’t think it’s always better,” he said. “When you shoot in L.A., everything goes really smooth.”

For Angelenos, such praise could only come from a foreigner.

— Richard Verrier

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Panavision Cameras Being Taken Over by Creditors – One More Sign of How Bad Production is in Hollywood

HOLLYWOOD

By Richard Verrier

March 2, 2010

Ronald O. Perelman is handing over Panavision Inc., the debt-laden camera rental company that is suffering from a steep downturn in movie and TV production, to its creditors.

Perelman’s holding company, MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings Inc., has reached an agreement in principle with a group of creditors — including Cerberus Capital Management, the former owner of Chrysler — for the billionaire investor to give up his controlling stake in the camera maker that has been a fixture on movie sets for decades, according to people familiar with the matter.

The financial restructuring would cut Panavision’s debt by $140 million and give it an additional $40 million in new financing. After the deal, Perelman would no longer have any equity in the company.

“This will ultimately benefit Panavision by reducing its debt load and providing fresh capital for growth,” said a person close to the situation who requested anonymity.

Panavision had been seeking to refinance $285 million in loans that mature in March 2011 in the face of a severe slowdown in camera and equipment rentals for feature films and commercials.

Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Panavision’s corporate debt rating last September, citing “weak liquidity” and concerns about the state of its core camera business. The restructuring would extend the maturity on the loans to 2014.

Perelman, best known for his controlling stake in cosmetics giant Revlon Inc., took control of the company in 1998 in a complex deal that saddled Panavision with nearly $500 million in debt.

Three years later, the financier attempted to have another company he controlled, M&F Worldwide Corp., buy his 83% stake. But minority M&F stockholders opposed the move, fearing that it would dilute the value of their shares.

Like prop houses and other companies in the Hollywood supply chain, Panavision has been hammered by the sharp drop in production that began during the 2008 Hollywood writers strike and the subsequent standoff between the major studios and the Screen Actors Guild. Then just as Hollywood began to regroup after the strike, the recession hit, leading studios to make fewer movies and advertisers to cut back on making commercials, slackening demand for filmmaking equipment.

People close to Panavision say camera and lens orders for feature films, which account for most of the company’s revenue, fell about 15% last year. The company’s annual revenue for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2009, was about $260 million, according to Moody’s. The privately held company does not disclose its finances, but one person with knowledge of the company’s finances said it still generated an operating profit.

Panavision, which employs 1,200 people, including 300 in Woodland Hills, manufactures cameras, lenses and accessories, but it doesn’t sell them. Instead, the company leases them to studios as well as film and TV production companies through a network of distributors.

Although Panavision remains the market leader, it faces mounting competition from upstart rivals such as Red Digital Cinema, a company that makes low-cost digital cameras.

The pressure to improve results has led to a series of management shake-ups.

Last year, Perelman ousted Bob Beitcher, who had been chief executive since 2003, after the two sparred over how to turn the business around.

Beitcher, in turn, was succeeded by Billy Campbell, a former president of Discovery Networks. But Campbell was on the job for just a couple of months before Perelman replaced him in June with the current CEO, William C. Bevins, a longtime associate of Perelman’s.

A former chief financial officer for Turner Broadcasting System Inc., Bevins also previously ran New World Communications Group Inc. and Marvel Entertainment Group Inc.

Bevins is expected to remain at the helm of the company.

Perelman’s Hollywood holdings also include Deluxe Entertainment Services Group Inc., a provider of production and post-production services, which is not affected by the financial restructuring.

richard.verrier@

latimes.com

Copyright � 2010, The Los Angeles Times

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LA to Film Crews: Come Home to Film

February 26, 2010 Leave a comment

LA to film crews: come home

February 24, 2010 |  9:00 am
Marketing

Hollywood has never been shy about self-promotion, except when it comes to touting its own backyard.

New York touts a “Made in N.Y.” program featuring local film and TV production crew members who share their work experience in the city.

Los Angeles, however, has been low key — some would say complacent — when it comes to singing the praises of filming close to home at a time when rivals beyond California’s borders are grabbing a bigger share of the production pie.

Now, a coalition of industry, labor and city officials wants to remedy the situation by launching a broad-based public education campaign that would herald the economic benefits of the film industry to Los Angeles — while thanking local residents for putting up with the occasional inconvenience of crews in their neighborhoods.

The details are still being worked out, but the marketing blitz, expected to be unveiled by April, would likely feature ads on billboards and bus benches, as well as public service announcements on radio and TV, and even in local movie theaters. Expect to see production trucks plastered with banners trumpeting how many jobs were created on a given show.

“With so much competition, L.A. and the region has to really step up and make the community aware of the value of our industry, and how many people earn their living from it,” said Pamm Fair, who chairs FilmL.A. Inc., the nonprofit film permitting clearinghouse that is spearheading the campaign. “We need to do everything we can to keep jobs here.”

The idea of selling L.A. as a filming destination isn’t new. In fact, city officials and film promoters have talked for several years about launching such a campaign, but it never took off.

Pressure to do something, however, has mounted as the region has lost thousands of production jobs to other locales, sapping an industry that still generates an estimated 250,000 jobs in Los Angeles County.

Although California’s new film incentives have helped to slow the decline, on-location filming last year suffered its steepest drop since tracking began in 1993, reflecting a long-term flight of filming not only to international rivals such as Toronto and Vancouver, but also to Louisiana, Michigan and New Mexico.

The state’s share of U.S. feature film production plunged to 31% in 2008, down from 66% in 2003, according to the California Film Commission. And only 57% of all TV pilots were shot in L.A. in 2009, down from 81% in 2004, according to FilmL.A.

Cinematographer Ed Gutentag, who recently launched a website called shootmoviesincalifornia.com devoted to keeping film projects in-state, says a campaign to promote local production is critical.

“People need to be made aware of this before it’s too late,” said Gutentag, who is filming a documentary about the effects of runaway production on local crews. “This is a critical issue, not just for grips, electricians and camera operators, but all the businesses that service the industry.”

FilmL.A. will contribute about $25,000 to help the campaign get set up with a slogan and logo, but the goal is for much of the overall cost — estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars — to be borne through donated services provided by film editors, producers, local talent and vendors. A theater chain has agreed to provide free use of its trailers at local theaters. Hollywood’s major unions also will be asked to pitch in, while the city is expected to offer use of its space for ads.

The city is considering expanding FilmL.A.’s marketing role, among other steps to help the film industry, such as offering free parking on city properties to film crews.

The nonprofit group handles film permits on behalf of the city and unincorporated areas of the county. Its predecessor, the Entertainment Industry Development Corp., previously played a larger role in marketing and promotion of the local industry, but that function was scaled back after a scandal forced the ouster of former chief Cody Cluff in 2004.

The fallout prompted a series of changes to improve oversight and management, including establishing independent audits and a board run by industry, labor and neighborhood representatives, rather than politicians.

-Richard Verrier

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Categories: CREW, PRODUCTION

Tom Cruise Gets Paycut – The New Reality of Film Deals

February 16, 2010 Leave a comment
 

‘IMPOSSIBLE’ DEAL: Tom Cruise shares risk. (Paramount)

By Claudia Eller

February 15, 2010

It’s hardly a secret that Tom Cruise is no longer Hollywood’s top-gun star.

The 47-year-old boyish-looking actor has had a rough stretch, from an embarrassing jumping episode on Oprah Winfrey’s couch to the clunker “Lions for Lambs.” Many believe that his controversial career has peaked.

Now, in order to revive his big-screen role as dashing secret agent Ethan Hunt in Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible IV,” Cruise consented to a deal that would have once been unthinkable: He’s forgoing a preferential slice of the movie’s ticket sales, the sine qua non of clout in Hollywood.

Cruise will still earn a handsome payday. He will be paid $20 million of his $25-million fee upfront to star in and produce the fourth “Mission” film, which is scheduled to hit theaters Memorial Day weekend 2011.

But he won’t collect a hefty “first dollar” cut of box-office receipts that entitles stars to skim a movie’s revenues before the studio earns back its huge investment and gets a fee for distributing the film, according to people familiar with the deal. If that seems sensible, it wasn’t always the case.

Cruise’s pay structure illustrates the “new normal” for Hollywood’s A-list actors and filmmakers, who no longer can command the super-rich deals that awarded them swollen payouts on movies even when the studios lost money. With once-reliable DVD sales that propped up movie profits in a swoon and other pressures bearing down, the studios are no longer willing to accept second financial billing to talent.

“Over the last 25 years, agents were getting better and better deals for their clients because the studios were star-dependent,” said Jeremy Zimmer, a partner at United Talent Agency. “Now, there’s a complete retrenchment where the studios are less star-dependent and making fewer movies, so they’re more willing to walk away unless a deal makes sense for them.”

A Paramount spokesman declined to comment about financial aspects of the “Mission” sequel.

To be sure, stars like Cruise can still make a killing if their film turns into a blockbuster. In exchange for forgoing a cut of ticket sales, the studios grant a bigger share of the potential profits

Cruise wasn’t the only one who accepted Paramount’s terms on “Mission.” The same take-it-or-leave-it deal applied to filmmaker J.J. Abrams, a producer of “Mission” whose career is on the rise. For its part, Paramount wanted to keep its “Mission: Impossible” franchise — which has generated about $1.4 billion in worldwide ticket sales — continuing and relaunch it for younger audiences and hard-core fans. It was just unwilling to do so under what it regarded as the onerous terms that undermined its 2006 sequel, “Mission: Impossible III.”

Although that movie clocked global box office of $400 million worldwide, DVD revenue of $200 million and an additional $100 million in television sales, the studio barely broke even. Cruise, guaranteed 22.5% of the studio’s gross receipts, walked off with $80 million, leaving Paramount with nothing to gain from its $180-million production investment, said people with knowledge of the matter.

Studio chairman Brad Grey and vice chairman Rob Moore weren’t about to let that happen again. This time, Paramount plans to make “Mission” for no more than $150 million, and co-finance the picture with David Ellison’s Skydance Productions. The film is scheduled to begin production in late summer.

Paramount adopted the financial blueprint for “Mission IV” from other recent movies, including its upcoming July release “Morning Glory,” which Abrams directed, and last summer’s sequel “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” which yielded a huge payday for Paramount and director Michael Bay.

If “Mission” is a smash, Cruise will likewise make a bundle after Paramount recovers all of its production and marketing costs and collects a distribution fee.

Beyond any financial windfall, Cruise’s involvement in the new “Mission” marks a significant turn in his decades-long affiliation with Viacom Inc.-owned Paramount that ended abruptly in August 2006. Back then, Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone banished Cruise and his 14-year-old production company from the studio’s Melrose Avenue lot, castigating the actor for his aggressive promotion of Scientology and occasional outbursts, which included a “Today” show rant against Brooke Shields for taking prescription drugs for postpartum depression.

Redstone believed Cruise’s drop in popularity cost Paramount some $150 million in box office receipts from “Mission: Impossible III.” Two years later, around the time Cruise made a scene-stealing cameo as a foulmouthed movie mogul in Paramount’s “Tropic Thunder,” the actor and Redstone had a lunch to patch things up at the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

The way things are going, it’s possible that Redstone could end up escorting Cruise down the red carpet at the premiere of “Mission: Impossible IV.”

claudia.eller@latimes.com

Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

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Categories: ACTORS, NEWS STORY, PRODUCTION

Kevin Costner to Direct & Star in WWII Picture

February 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Kevin Costner to Direct & Star in WWII Action-Adventure

by Monika Bartyzel Feb 12th 2010 // 3:02PM

Filed under: Action, Casting, Deals, Scripts, War

Kevin Costner is gearing up for his next directorial gig. It all started with his wholly impressive debut with the Civil War era Dances with Wolves, which earned a whopping seven Oscars in 1990, and then the less-impressive follow-ups where he delivered mail in a post-apocalyptic world and protected cattle in the Old West. Now, however, he’s headed for a little small-scale conflict on the backdrop of World War II.

Variety reports that Costner’s next directorial and star vehicle will be the action-adventure film A Little War of Our Own, written by Dan Gordon. (Not to be confused with the Civil War book of the same name.) In it, he’ll play a sheriff who tries to keep “a town from exploding into violence” during WWII. It sounds like some small-stateside story rather than your typical war piece, but the film’s other lead is a German U-boat commander, so your guess is as good as mine as to how a sheriff and U-boat dude fit together.

Costner and producer Armyan Bernstein are currently casting the film, and are planning to get things going this fall. Bernstein says: “This has been a dream project for Kevin and I for years. The themes are timeless — war, peace, and reconciliation.” Could this dream project bring Costner back to his initial directorial fame? Let’s hope so. We don’t need another Postman.

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