Sunday, August 27, 2006

Are Austin-shot films jinxed or something?

Despite the persistent fantasy Austin entertains about itself that it is the "third coast" of filmmaking, the most recent batch of high-profile movies shot in Austin have not fared terribly well either critically or commercially. And the trend doesn't look to be reversing or leveling out.

First there was the disaster that was Disney's The Alamo, a $100 million epic that ended up being so focus-grouped to death that it was rendered incoherent in the editing, and died at the box office, taking in less than a quarter of its production budget. This one really hurt, because it was the most massive production to come our way ever (I walked the sets, and it was really the kind of experience to get an aspiring director pumped about filmmaking), and there was no doubting the dedication of director John Lee Hooker to historical fidelity and narrative integrity. Trouble is, every time those qualities come into contact with the suits, the suits Windex them into oblivion.

Richard Linklater's adaptation of A Scanner Darkly has done all right, but not stunningly. Reviews have been mixed, and after several weeks the movie has yet to expand past 263 screens (the original plan was for 1500), having grossed just over $5 million. It only cost about $15 million to shoot, but with Matrix-man Keanu in the lead, there's no reason why Warner — the very same studio — couldn't have pumped the link to the cerebral-SF crowd and gotten the take up to $15-$20M by now.

Now comes word that Fox is actively trying to bury Mike Judge's Idiocracy. It goes without saying that there has been a lot of anticipation among Judge's fans for his followup to Office Space. Does Idiocracy suck that badly? Or is Fox operating under the bizarre notion that, since Office Space tanked in theaters but became a monster DVD hit, the thing to do is go for a deliberate theatrical flop with Idiocracy in the hopes that DVD history will repeat itself? I mean, WTF? Yes, any of us in this business knows the business makes no sense. But I think we all assumed that Hollywood likes making loads and loads of money. How hard would it have been to put Idiocracy on 1000 screens with "From the director of Office Space!" screaming at you from the one-sheet? Too hard for Rupert Murdoch's bean counters, evidently.

Finally, there have been the smaller indie films, none of which has done jack or squat. The Quiet opened on a meager 7 screens this weekend, to mostly shite reviews. This one was done by Burnt Orange Productions, a company affiliated with the University of Texas. Their hook is they keep budgets down by hiring film students as PA's, not paying them but giving them academic credit. Small wonder the LA members of The Quiet's crew constantly ridiculed the Austin crew for not being up to speed. No doubt they'll take their reports back home with them, further damaging Austin's rep as a worthwhile place to shoot your film.

So where do things stand now? Well, Boys Don't Cry director Kimberly Peirce has a still-untitled Iraq War project shooting right now (after numerous delays and crew shakeups — I almost got the storyboarding job on it), and there's the Rodriguez/Tarantino horror teamup Grind House. The latter will at least appeal to those directors' fans, but it may not be enough to pick up the industry's enthusiasm for Austin as a location, not to the level of production the city enjoyed in the first half of this decade.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The format war: gee, never saw this coming! [/sarcasm]

The latest news about the HD-DVD/BluRay format war is that industry analysts see the whole thing ending in a "stalemate", with, as the linked BBC article puts it, "neither format [gaining] the upper hand and that the rivalry will do damage to the market for high-def DVDs overall."

This didn't have to happen. Competition is certainly a necessary ingredient in any free market economy. But you would think that the business world would be one in which people learned from history, and that in the interest of making money, different groups backing rival formats with the same ultimate goal — providing high definition for the ideal home theater experience — would try to reach common ground to make the whole shooting match a success.

Now no one stands to make money and everyone stands to lose. Consumers, seeing this stalemate in the offing, will hold off from buying either format. They will wait for a winner, and then when one never appears, they will lose interest. Couple this situation with the mediocre reviews that HD-DVD and Blu-Ray have both been getting out of the starting gate, and add to it the fact that the business seems to have collective amnesia regarding Beta-vs-VHS and DVD-Audio-vs-SACD, and you have a recipe for failure.

Next prediction: everyone will retrench and look to the XBox360 (supporting HD-DVD) and PlayStation 3 (supporting Blu-Ray) to settle the issue once and for all. When if they'd had a little foresight, there never would have been a issue needing settling. Sigh.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Lengthy blog drought moistened by Gibsonian public display of douche-baggery

I know I haven't been the world's most active cineblogger, but that's what comes from actually trying to make your own movie. Anyway, as there's been very little to involve me lately on a film-fan level (I have yet to see a single solitary summer movie; I just can't muster up the energy) apart from buying that fan-fucking-tabulous Criterion DVD of Mr. Arkadin, I thought I'd at least throw in my two pesos on Mel Gibson's flamboyant act of career suicide.

A wise chappy once said that alcohol doesn't put words in your mouth, it lets the words that are in your brain come out of your mouth. Gibson's "I'm not an anti-Semite" apology, even in the longer director's cut version, will only seem sincere to people who think Lindsay Lohan means it when she says it really, truly, honestly, I-swear-to-god isn't all-night partying and cocaine binges that's made her so creepily thin. Gibson's mea culpa is, I'm sorry to say, just like those of any public figure caught out in an embarrassing situation involving them being themselves. It's solely in aid of image rehabilitation, not rehabilitation of any other (read: sincere) kind.

Back in the day, I was a Mel Gibson fan as part of my usual geek repertoire. He was Mad Max, which was the most important thing, and also Martin Riggs, though to be honest I've never been that big a fan of the Lethal Weapon franchise. I was even pretty impressed with his Hamlet. But in recent years, culminating in that wretched Jesus movie, too many aspects of his personality that are, ahem, less than pleasant (say, his sexism, homophobia, and "not an anti-Semite" anti-Semitism) have really turned me off to him. Shame. The guy could have saved it all had the Mad Max 4 project ever gotten off the ground, too.

So, yeah, if I needed any more reason not to care about Mel Gibson any more, I guess I got one.